Monday, January 07, 2008

Logbook: Freighter Days II

Freighterdaysii1Day 1 - January 5th

My first full day at sea began at 7am with coffee and some staring out at the sea, followed by breakfast from 7:30 to 8:30 then some "quiet time" -- books, iTunes, naps, etc. -- until lunch at noon. After lunch, the 3rd Officer gave us an extensive "familiarization" tour of the ship and its facilities -- including the laundry, the ping-pong room and the swimming pool (which the Chief will fill with sea water upon request!) -- emphasizing the location of all the safety and fire fighting equipment on board. Although this is surely mostly a formality, the passengers' responsibilities in case of emergency are specified "as directed" and it will be good to have some idea where things are if needed. After the "familiarization" we had an all-hands lifeboat drill which started in the usual way of donning life jackets and meeting at the muster station but included the unusual experience of actually climbing into the lifeboat, strapping in and having a lengthy -- if only marginally understandable -- explanation of its operation, equipment, rations and stores. All four of us passengers are assigned to the same life boat, along with about a dozen of the crew -- approximately half of the total complement of 24 crew members -- who were obviously amused by our performance. With all of that activity behind us, I made a brief visit to the bridge then had quiet time before dinner. Late in the evening we transited the Straights of Messina, a remarkably narrow passage surrounded by city lights. It was a beautiful sight and a very nice way to end the day as we cleared the Italian peninsula and headed out into the Mediterranean Sea.

Freighterdaysii2Day 2 - January 6th

It is immediately clear that many of my logbook entries during these "Freighter Days" are going to be very, very brief. Today, for example, I have already gotten into what I think I'll call the "routine": Coffee and staring at the sea, followed by breakfast, quiet time, lunch, more quiet time, dinner and still more quiet time. I'm sure this at-sea lifestyle could be hell for a lot of people, but it is heaven for me. There is just enough interaction with the other three passengers and various members of the crew to feel like I am "connected" with people, but the unstructured, uninterrupted time by myself to think, read, write, iLife, etc. is blissful. The food is good, the view is great and the time seems to fly by. So far, being on a freighter is a lot like being on a cruise ship, but without all the annoying tourists, entertainment staff, activities and announcements. In a word, perfect.

Freighterdaysii3Day 3 - January 7th

There were a few alterations to the "routine" today, beginning with the fact that the ship's clock moved ahead one hour during the night. So, although I had been informed that this would happen but promptly forgot, I arrived in the Mess promptly at the end of the breakfast hour. Randy and the Cook would have been happy to make me breakfast anyway, but it's not my style to create more work for those guys than they already have, so I just grabbed a cup of coffee and a couple of bread rolls and called it good enough. Later in the morning the four passengers gathered in the Chief Engineer's office and the Chief -- George -- proceeded to give us a complete tour of the physical plant of the ship. Beginning in the ballast control room and continuing through the refrigerated food lockers, electrical control room, shop, water system, electrical generators, steam plant, fuel processing, etc., etc., we ended up inspecting the main engine from all three floors of its observation decks and having our picture taken standing next to the beast. What you see on the left of this picture is only the top quarter -- really just the injectors and cylinder heads -- of the engine. It is a huge machine but it is really only one relatively small part of of the overall physical plant. It was a great tour and we got a very good sense of what all is involved in running the ship. In the afternoon I added some much needed physical exercise to the "routine" in the form of a solid hour of walking around the deck. The process requires "asking permission" from the bridge officer -- it's really more like "informing" him that you'll be out on the deck and making sure there's nothing dangerous going on there -- then heading down seven flights of stairs, doing as many laps as you want and checking back in with the officer of the deck when you've had enough. The overall length of the ship is about 200 meters, so twice that plus for and aft crossovers makes one lap equal to a bit less than half a kilometer. I didn't count my laps -- though several of the crew who saw me kept asking me "how many?" -- but instead just walked for the duration of an hour long audio podcast on my iPod. It's a little boring, but it feels good and I plan to make it a part of the "routine" on a fairly regular basis. The last novelty of the day was our evening approach to the port of Damietta, Egypt and our arrival at the dock at about 11pm. I stayed up to watch the beginning of container operations, but they were pretty much the same as I'd seen in La Spezia -- and would be going on throughout the night -- so I called it a day and went to bed.

No comments: