Thursday, January 10, 2008

Logbook: Freighter Days III

Freighterdaysiii1Day 4 - January 8th

It was quiet when I woke up at about 8am and headed down for coffee and breakfast. Aldo and Hedi had already eaten and were gone, but Charlotte was there -- pretty obviously just awakened as well -- so we had a quiet breakfast together while the ship finished up the last of its port activities. I got outside in time to see the tugs come alongside and stayed on deck as we left the dock and worked our way slowly out of Damietta. The scene was not very appealing, composed mostly of flat, dry land with an assortment of harbor facilities and ships. Most evident was a pretty thick layer of smog that covered the area for as far as I could see. Just after lunch we approached Port Said and took on a number of local characters who were purported to be harbor pilots, inspectors, boat men and other required "advisors." They pretty much just hung out on the bridge and on deck, talking loudly among themselves. Frankly, I got the sense that they were really part a "jobs" program. By early afternoon we had tied up to some mooring buoys and spent the rest of the day waiting. From bits and pieces of information we -- the other passengers and I -- got from the crew, it sounded like we had to wait for some other ships to join us to form a proper-sized convoy through the Suez Canal. A little before midnight I checked in with the bridge and was told it would be at least another hour before we started on our way through the canal. Since there really wouldn't be anything to see in the dark, I set my alarm for early in the morning and went to bed.

Freighterdaysiii2Day 5 - January 9th

I happened to wake up at about 3am and could tell that the ship was moving. I went out on deck to take a look and could see the lights of Port Said not too far behind us, so I knew we had only recently gotten under way. By the moonlight and minimal glow of the ship's navigational lights I could tell we were moving slowly through a narrow channel -- which I presumed was the Canal -- but it was too dark to make out any detail so I went back to bed. When my alarm went off a few hours later, I got some coffee and went out on deck to see this sight of some ships behind us in convoy. As soon as I shot the photo I remembered that we are not supposed to take pictures in the Canal so I quickly put my camera in my pocket. It's a good thing, too, because the very next thing I saw was a military observation post! As we continued our transit through the northern section of the Canal I saw many, many more such outposts and it was obvious that security -- or maybe just something for the military to do -- is a major priority around here. The best I can do to describe the Canal in words is to say that it is a straight, narrow ditch dug through the desert. There isn't really anything to see besides sand, the occasional small settlement and many, many military compounds. If it wasn't for the novelty of being in the famous Suez Canal, I'd say it is just an ugly shortcut. By late morning we had reached Great Bitter Lake which is about the halfway point of the Canal and we came to a stop amidst a couple of dozen other ships that were already waiting for the remainder of the route to become clear of northbound traffic. We ended up waiting for the rest of the day and finally got going just after dinner. Between the all-day wait in Port Said and the all-day wait on Great Bitter Lake, it is fair to say that transiting the Suez Canal involves a lot of waiting. I suppose you could call it bad luck that we sailed during the night and waited during the day, but since there really isn't much to see anyway it wasn't really much of a hardship. I stepped out on deck from time to time during the evening but couldn't see anything, so I finished up my evening with some iLife and a book then went to bed.

Day 6 - January 10th

We obviously cleared Suez -- and the end of the Suez Canal -- during the night, because when I woke up this morning and looked out my window all I could see was the flat, calm expanse of the Red Sea. (Just so you know, the Red Sea isn't red, it's dark blue.) I spent the morning doing iLife, catching up on editing of all the media you are now seeing. During lunch we were informed by an announcement from the bridge that the ship's clock would be moving forward another hour at 12:30pm, and we all sat and watched the clocks simultaneously advance. At first I was a little surprised by the changeover time -- seems to me it is always done at night -- but I realized that on a freighter the time changes so often that it probably isn't fair for the night watch to have all of the forwards and backs. We'll go through many more time changes over the next three weeks, so I'll see if my theory holds up. I spent much of the afternoon reading and doing the "routine" with an emphasis on being outside. We crossed the Tropic of Cancer today and the temperature is already so much warmer than I've been used to that it feels downright balmy. I may even take some time to pack up my cold weather clothes! I finished a pretty good book tonight, so I'm going to start another one and hit the rack.

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