19 September, 2005

Today I was greeted by the sound of people working outside my window and a rope that stretched up the side of the ship.

Believe it or not there's a guy up there painting.

The weather wasn't bad at all today which is probably one of the reasons why all of this outdoor work was being done.

A look up from one of the lower levels of the engine room.

There are all sorts of little catwalks and passageways between the roaring machinery.

The mechanisms that actually make us move all come together down here.

One of the work areas near the engine room.

This is an office down by the complex, again looking very neat and organized.

An indicator of the various alarms that can and do go off.

Not quite sure what the significance of this poster in the engine room was. But if it makes them happy, it must be a good thing.

The Tween Deck is where the engine room actually is. The order of decks is Tween, H/C Top, A, B, C, D, E, F, and NAV where the Bridge is.

An example of what can be found on a typical deck, in this case the main floor, the one you first see when you get on board.

19 September, 2005

Day 66. I think I'm really starting to lose my sense of time here. It's one thing to be in such a closed environment for an extended period. But the nightly time change is really starting to screw with my system. I think a 24 hour day is bad enough. I seem to be more comfortable with something closer to 30 hours myself. So these 23 hour days just make it all the harder. Today I woke up at 7 in the morning! I actually could have made it to breakfast if I had bothered to stand up. But I wasn't about to do that.

You see, it's confusing enough when I look at the time on my phone. It's still set to New York time which is important for when I'm doing "Off The Hook" and want to be sure I've got the time right. The rest of the week all I have to do is add or subtract the appropriate number from the hour displayed and I've got the time of day. (I don't really need to know the time all that much.) But when I woke up today I got it so wrong that I thought it was after 9 am and almost tricked myself into starting the day. I don't need those kinds of close calls.

The reason I wanted to be up in the morning at all was because 10:00 am was the time to go and see the engine room. That was when the crew there had a break and it was considered the best time of the day to go. Let me say now that if you ever have a chance to see an engine room, grab it. I really wasn't expecting what I saw.

First off, I wasn't expecting the chief engineer to be so happy to see me. After all, I had seen him on a number of occasions after being introduced shortly after boarding and I just assumed he was very busy and didn't have time for passengers. But when I called downstairs to see if it might be possible to see the engine room, he sounded quite enthusiastic and told me to come down right away. When I came downstairs he was positively bubbly with excitement and led me all throughout the complex.

And it really *was* a complex. I guess I didn't quite know what to expect. I knew the engine room had to be big but this was absolutely huge. Several stories tall, obviously much bigger than the length of the building that we were confined to, and so incredibly loud. You had to wear ear goggles or you wouldn't have heard a thing, during or long after your visit.

Every aspect of the ship's operations is born down here. From air cooling to heat to water filtration to the actual movement of the whole operation, this is the real heart. I can only imagine what the one in the QM2 must have looked like although I never saw a hint as to where it might be or how it would have been accessed. Since they're so much more open here and since I'm so much closer to being an actual part of a community, there are no secrets here. But there might just as well be for all of the complex apparatus chugging away that I could never hope to understand. But this is yet another reason for someone to go on a freighter cruise: if they have even the slightest interest in the mechanics, you will never have a better chance to see something like this in action. It served as a reminder of something I've always known. For every bit of equipment that you take for granted, there's a room like this someplace making it all possible and people who understand that room who know how to make it all work. I can only imagine the tremendous feeling of pride that must be felt by anyone who is somehow a part of this. Taking 350 container vessels across the Pacific Ocean at 25 knots is by no means a trivial task.

I got to see pretty much anything I was interested in seeing. And that involved walking up and down ladders, crossing narrow plates that went over spinning turbines, and wondering just how many ways I could instantly die by making the wrong turn. Like many aspects of freighter life, you need to know what you're getting yourself into. And for some people, that process will be a great thing.

When I got back to my room it was like I had just been through a remarkable adventure. I had to rest for a while before heading down to lunch. Apparently today was also the day that some significant work was being done outside the cabins as people had been hammering away all morning. At one point I looked up to see a guy directly outside my window with a paint brush looking in. I waved. He waved back.

The captain was at his usual spot at the appointed lunch hour. We talked a bit about the just concluded German elections. He had been able to get Radio Deutsche Welle on the shortwave and had heard that neither side had gotten a majority and some sort of coalition would have to be worked out. It would be especially hard since both sides had sworn not to make a coalition with certain other parties. We could each only imagine the turmoil these results must be causing half a world away.

For some reason I felt like taking a nap after lunch which I don't usually do. I wound up waking up right before dinner which is one of the reasons I avoid taking naps. I don't know if I owed myself sleep or if I was just mesmerized by the ship's movement but I pretty much slept the entire day away. I met up with Ben and we headed down to the dining area together. We made plans to record "Off The Wall" afterwards and had the usual long conversations about various world situations. I couldn't help but notice that, with the exception of the occasional conversation with the captain, nobody else was really that talkative at meals and I wondered if it was considered out of place for us to stick around so long. The mode of operation here seems to be pretty down to earth after all with only as much time allocated to something as is needed. But as civilians I think we'll always be somewhat out of step with that philosophy.

We were about to begin recording the show when alarms rang out again. It took a really long time for them to be turned off this time and I was very aware of the red fire lights that were lit up in the hallways. We went to the stairwell once more where there were people heading down to the engine room. Again nobody seemed to be in a major state of alarm but they were definitely dealing with the situation as quickly as possible. I don't know if this kind of a thing happens all that often or if we've just been lucky. But I have to say it really does put you in a state of alert. I suppose that's a good thing. After seeing the power that exists downstairs, even the slightest sign of any trouble had better be taken extremely seriously. Everyone here knows this.

Ben and I had quite a bit of fun doing the radio show and the time went by extremely quickly. We talked about our respective trips and some of the adventures and experiences we had been through. We even found time for a quick game of ping pong and a walk out on the deck before heading downstairs and raiding the kitchen. This will either be my last or second to last show on the road and I think it went quite well. Tomorrow I'll try and do some recording for the movie. I don't know how successful I'll be getting members of the crew to go on camera but I'll give it a shot.

Tonight's film was "The Usual Suspects" which is one of my favorites. It came from a German DVD which had the original English audio as an option. I've noticed that European DVDs have a lot more subtitle choices as a rule than their American counterparts. Another reason to go region free. I also have to admit that I seem to be seeing a bunch of films lately with really convoluted plots that wrap around themselves. I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned in there somewhere.

We played around with the AM radio again tonight and found some more American stations including KSL from Salt Lake City. I got some signal from KFI but not good enough to actually listen to. Tomorrow looks good. Of course, last I checked Phil Hendrie airs in the early evening which would still be afternoon for us so we wouldn't get a signal then. Hopefully his shows are repeated during the overnight or on some other station we can hear. I always need my Phil Hendrie fix whenever I'm anywhere near the west coast.

I think some of my friends back home have finally figured out how to SMS my satellite phone which I'm told doesn't cost me anything. Of course I can't reply, at least not until Wednesday's "Off The Hook" after which I can use whatever remaining prepaid minutes I have. It might make sense to save a few though in case the boat's in distress or something.

Tomorrow we'll only be three hours off of west coast time which somehow sounds like it's getting really close to home.