Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Logbook: Freighter Days VII

Freighterdaysvii1Day 23 - January 27th

We made our approach to the port of Melbourne, Australia during the morning, and with the help of a couple of powerful -- and amazingly agile -- tugboats we were alongside at about noon. Right after lunch I grabbed my day pack, made my way down to the main deck and waited for the customs and immigration paperwork to be finished before being the first one to "go outside." That term has always cracked me up, but it is what every crew I have ever sailed with calls "going ashore." I think they use it to denote the difference between technically going ashore on the dock and actually going outside the port and into the local environs. Either way, the moment I was cleared I scrambled down the gangway, caught the first shuttle to the gate and inquired about getting a ride to town. The gate guard told me that the next van would not be available for about an hour, so I happily decided to walk instead. Except for it being quite hot -- and there being an annoying number of pretty aggressive flies -- the hour-long walk felt really good. I stopped by the seafarers' center but it wasn't open yet, so I continued to hoof it around the city -- an attractive place that warrants further exploration given more time -- until the heat finally wore me out. I popped into a McDonalds for a cold drink and was delighted to find it had pretty good wi-fi, so I spent some time cooling off, downloading mail, etc. and uploading new stuff to the website. After that I made my way back to the seafarers' center and found yet another delightful oasis which caters to the maritime community. With a casual, comfortable ambiance, easy chairs, big screen TV, table games, a bar, an outdoor patio, internet connection and incredibly warm, friendly volunteers -- including many moms and widows of seafarers -- it is a haven for working seamen and bums like me. I got back on the web and finished my update, taking advantage of upload times to have a couple of frosty brews and to converse with kindred spirits. Randy, Cookie and a few of the crew arrived while I was there and I set them up with a little credit at the bar. It was great to be able to buy them a few beers and have them be able to relax for a change. I took the center's 10pm van back to the port, cleared the gate, got the shuttle to the ship and checked in with the officer of the deck then headed up to my cabin and called it a night. Thus, I had a brief but very enjoyable and productive port call in Melbourne.

Freighterdaysvii2Day 24 - January 28th

Cargo operations concluded in the wee hours of the morning, so by the time I got up for breakfast we were already out at sea. It was a very "routine" day, with the exception that I noticed substantially more vibration throughout the ship. I discussed my observation with the first officer during coffee break, and he explained the situation as follows: Because the ship is headed toward dry dock in Singapore for a few weeks after this sailing is complete, all of the containers must be removed along the way and not be replaced by new cargo. We discharged many containers in Melbourne and although we took on a few that are bound for ports between Melbourne and Singapore, the net reduction in the ship's total tonnage has been substantial. As a result, the ship is riding higher in the water and the propeller is correspondingly closer to the surface of the water. This creates a surface cavitation effect that causes the ship to experience much more and heavier vibrations. It also means that we are more prone to rolling in high seas, so the ride may get more interesting as we go along. Considering that we will continue to decrease our net tonnage at subsequent ports, the ride could become very interesting by the time we approach my destination at the southern end of New Zealand! We had another beautiful sunset at sea, made more picturesque by a freighter which happened to be on the horizon.

Freighterdaysvii3Day 25 - January 29th

We arrived and moored in the Port of Botany Bay near Sydney late in the morning and did the usual routine. As the port workers began getting ready to conduct cargo operations, we waited for Customs -- "The Man" -- to come onboard and do the seemingly ridiculous amount of paperwork that is involved in clearing the ship's cargo form import and us for shore leave. A little after one o'clock we got the word and scampered down the gangway to catch a shuttle van to the front gate. Hedi and Aldo -- the Swiss couple -- were leaving the ship for good to begin their Australian vacation in Sydney, so they set about arranging a taxi to their hotel. Charlotte and I were joined by a few lucky crew members heading out for the afternoon/evening and inquired about options for places to go and transportation to get there. We were informed that we could walk to the nearby seafarers' center and catch their regularly scheduled van service into the city, so we marched about a mile in the blazing Australian sun and heat to a very modern facility that had all the comforts including excellent air conditioning. When I discovered that the center's internet connection was very high speed, I decided to skip the four o'clock van into the city and catch the next one at six. I bid my colleagues farewell for their journey into the city and settled down for some much needed quality time online, quickly becoming so happily engrossed in catching up with everything that I missed the six o'clock bus! Realizing that the eight o'clock bus would get me into the city too late to do any quality exploration, I decided to alter my program and explore the suburb near the Port instead. After a nice little walk I found a great little pizza place to have dinner then went back to the center and finished up some online stuff. Just before closing time at ten-thirty, I packed up my gear and started wandering back to the dock, laughing to myself that although I hadn't made it into Sydney I'd still had a very enjoyable and productive port call. I missed a turn on the way back -- it's amazing how different things look at night that they do during the day -- so I had a much longer but very nice walk in the much cooler night air. Finally finding the gate I needed, I had a chat with the guard on duty who turned out to be from Ushuaia -- small world! -- and we compared notes about how that little city of which I am so fond compares now to when he left it twenty years ago. In due course, the van arrived and shuttled me to the ship where I was checked aboard and in my rack by about midnight.

Freighterdaysvii4Day 26 - January 30th

I've mentioned that there is a lot of waiting involved in freighter travel, and today was a good example. Although our shore leave didn't technically expire until noon, there really wasn't enough time to try to get into the city and back. The seafarers' center wouldn't be open again until one o'clock, so that wasn't an option either. Thus, I stayed on board and conducted a dockside version of the "routine" while watching a couple of the main cargo holds being completely emptied. It was obvious that we were going to be even lighter than before and when I made a humorous comment to the Captain about looking forward to a "lively" ride going forward he said, "Yes, I know. We take on fuel because of this!" Sure enough, I found an oiler alongside which pumped 1200 tons of fuel into the ship's tanks. This won't completely counteract the reduction in cargo weight, but it will certainly help keep us from getting too high in the water. (By the way, you may be interested to know that -- according to the Chief Engineer -- the ship burns about 28 tons of fuel per day. By my rough calculation, that's about 7,000 gallons per day and must be a staggering gas bill, even for heavy bunker fuel!) Cargo operations were concluded mid-afternoon and we set out for a "routine" evening at sea.

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