Friday, January 04, 2008

Logbook: Freighter Days I

Freighterdaysi1Day 0 - January 4th

Early on my last morning in La Spezia, I got some coffee then wandered down to the waterfront and saw that my ship -- the dark blue one in the middle of the photo -- was, in fact, already in port and being loaded. With that reassurance, I went back to my hotel, finished packing up, checked out and got a cab to the now famous reception booth at the port entrance. After a few minutes of waiting around while the security guard finished a very animated phone call, he waved me through with instructions to walk to the customs building a short distance inside the gate. Once there, nothing "official" happened -- neither my documents nor my gear were inspected -- and I was simply told to wait for the shuttle van which would take me to my ship. A few minutes later a car pulled up and the driver popped the rear hatch then signaled me to load my gear and get in. A minute's drive through the port later, he stopped the car next to my ship, popped the rear hatch again and signaled me to get out. Thus, I had arrived at "my ride" and was standing with my gear at the bottom of a very long ladder that went up the side of a very, very large ship. A young Filipino man on deck saw me then came down to give me a hand with my gear and lead me aboard. After climbing up two more decks I was led into a conference room where I was checked in, photographed for my ID badge then led up three more decks to my cabin on the port side of E Deck. I was met there by Randy -- the steward -- who told me to make myself comfortable and feel free to walk around anywhere inside but not to go out onto the deck during the loading process. Pointing at the clock which read 10:30, he said lunch would be served in the Officers' Mess at noon, then left me alone.

Freighterdaysi2My room -- my new home for the next month or so -- is quite spacious and very comfortable. I will document it later, but for now I will simply say that it has a bed, a small desk, a love-seat sized couch with a coffee table, a small refrigerator, a small closet and a surprisingly large private bathroom. It is at least as large and as nice as most of my hotel rooms have been, so I was immediately quite happy with it. Most important to me, however, is that it has a fairly large porthole/window that looks out over a small deck space then straight out off the port side of the ship. Not having known what to expect, I was simply delighted to find that I will have a permanently unobstructed view of the sea from my cabin window! After taking a little time to stow my gear, I wandered around inside the superstructure and found a large salon on my deck, various cabins on the deck above mine and the bridge -- to which open access is allowed except when there is a harbor pilot on board -- on the top deck above that. The two decks below me have various crew cabins and Deck B below those includes the Officers' Mess which I entered promptly at noon for lunch. There, I met a few more of the officers as well as the other three passengers: Hedi and Aldo are a retired Swiss couple headed to Australia, and Charlotte is a young French woman headed to New Zealand. Thankfully for me, their English -- which is actually the "official" language on board for the Romanian, Polish, Chinese and Filipino crew -- is pretty good, so although idioms, irony and innuendo are not too well grasped I am thankful that basic conversation will be possible throughout our voyage. Plus, it was immediately clear that they are all three delightful people and that we will no doubt get along well.

Freighterdaysi3After lunch, I spent the rest of the afternoon alternating between hanging out in my cabin, exploring the ship and observing the loading process. It is pretty amazing to watch containers loaded form an onboard perspective, and I shot quite a bit of video that I will try to edit into a Report. The most amazing part is that the containers are stacked six deep below the main deck, and up to six high on top of it. When the cargo hatch directly in front of the superstructure was open, I was able to grab this shot to give you the barest idea of just how big the ship is and how much it can hold. The maximum capacity -- stowed 12 deep, 10 wide and 10 long -- is 1200 containers, probably more than the longest freight train you have ever seen. Amazing! As fast as the gantries are at loading them, it still took the entire day, through dinner and into the evening to complete the process. At about 9:30pm we cast off lines and began to make our way slowly out of the port. By that time it was completely dark, cold and raining. Somehow it seemed a fitting farewell to the weather I have had for almost all of the past 2-3 months I have spent in Europe. Happily aboard my new home, with my belly full of good food and in the company of fine passengers and crew, I went to bed and slept reasonably well to the sounds, vibrations and movements of a huge ship on the open sea.

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