Thursday, February 28, 2008

Logbook: Coast - Christchurch - Co-Explorer

CoastchchcoexplorerI drove out of the hills, off the plains and down to the coast on Wednesday morning where I had a delicious, fresh fish lunch at a charming little cafe in the tiny village of Moeraki. As I was eating, a mother dolphin and her baby were frolicking in the bay which made the experience all the more enjoyable. By mid afternoon I had moved up the coast to the town of Oamaru where I checked out the public gardens, the local whiskey museum and a few other reasonably interesting attractions before finding a place to stay and calling it a day. Yesterday morning I continued my northern migration and stopped for lunch in Timaru, a large-ish town with substantial local commerce but not much in the way of attractions. By mid afternoon I was up in the town of Ashburton where I was able to find a decent place with good, unlimited, fixed-cost internet. I make this point in particular because I have found that many places in NZ charge not only for online time, but for download quantity. At an average charge of ten cents per megabyte, each of my otherwise free favorite podcasts can cost $3-$5 each to download, and a 1+GB movie that costs $3.99 to rent from iTunes can cost over $100 to download! My point is that some folks in NZ are still in the "gouge 'em if you can" state of internet development, and you have to be really careful about what you do online and where. So, being able to take advantage of unlimited access at my motel in Ashburton to download almost 10GBs of media -- that would cost a whopping $1,000 elsewhere! -- was a very cost-saving way to spend the afternoon!

I completed my drive north to Christchurch this morning and found a place to stay, then had lunch in a little cafe nearby. After that, it was time to set the next phase of The Voyage in motion by calling my next co-explorer and arranging a meet-up. So, now, to announce the mystery person you've all been waiting to hear about: It's Betty! You may recall that Betty was the "other passenger" with me this time last year on the Polar Star repositioning cruise from Ushuaia to Canaria and that I visited her for a few days last summer at her home in Dawlish, England. Well, we were talking back in December when I had made my arrangements for the freighter cruise to New Zealand and she said something to the effect of "I've always wanted to go to New Zealand!" As you might imagine, I simply replied "Well, why don't you meet me there?" So, while I was at sea Betty made arrangements and arrived here in Christchurch yesterday after an unbelievably long series of flights.

We have no "plans" for our NZ co-exploration, but we have plenty of time to "wing it" because we both expect to be in country until mid-April! I'm looking forward to spending so much quality time with Betty, to fully exploring the country with her and to enjoying her always upbeat attitude and delightful sense of humor. Hopefully, I'll be able to talk her into making a guest post or two to this website! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dram: What Are The Chances?

Just a brief glimpse at this photo is probably enough to help you understand why I did a double-take in the parking lot of my little motel this afternoon. A little bit closer look may explain why that became a triple-take plus a look at my key to see which was actually mine! Seriously, what are the chances of these two cars winding up in the same place at the same time?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Logbook: Gore - Ranfurly

Goreranfurly1Heading north out of Invercargill on Saturday I had made arrangements to stop in the small town of Gore, the attraction of which was a nearby airport that was highly publicized as having an extensive collection of antique aircraft and an elaborate restoration shop. I'll probably never know if this is true, because -- true to form on The Voyage -- the entire facility was closed when I arrived. I was able to peek in a window and see a couple of old biplanes, but the facility didn't quite seem to live up to its hype (Note: Exaggerated promotion is another aspect of New Zealand's tourism marketing that I am becoming familiar with. Not everything is quite as good as it is advertised to be!) Also true to form for The Voyage, however, Gore turned out to be a good choice of places to stay due to a couple of unexpected coincidences. The first was that Saturday just happened to be the annual "Moonshiners' Festival" -- celebrating the region's long and glorious history of Hokonui Whiskey -- and I was treated to a delightful afternoon at a small town festival of food, music, history and pretty decent local whiskey. Lucky break!

Goreranfurly2The second fortunate turn of events for me was striking up a lively conversation with one of the festival volunteers named Allan who invited me out to visit his nearby sheep farm! So it was that after breakfast on Sunday I drove down the road and found my way to his place, a thousand acre spread with almost ten thousand sheep and lambs on it. We spent about an hour cruising around in his 4x4, talking about general agricultural in New Zealand and sheep farming in particular, as wells as a wide variety of other topics of mutual interest. It's impossible to describe the magnitude of his farm, but clicking on the photo will at least give you a representative glimpse. Allan and his wife very graciously invited me to stay for lunch and we dined and talked until mid-afternoon. Once again, the "kindness of strangers" has given me yet another very interesting and enjoyable experience on The Voyage!

Goreranfurly3I spent yesterday morning driving generally north, through mile after mile of landscape that ranged from fertile farmland to barren badland. One of the things that amazes me about New Zealand is how varied the terrain is in such a small place, and I'm hopeful that my photos will show this during my exploration here. I stopped for the day in the small town of Ranfurly where Sandra from Incargill had set me up at the delightful little motel of her good friend Cindy. After checking in and dumping my gear, I walked into the charming but also slightly creepy little town center. Ranfurly has carved out its tourist niche as "A Rural Art Deco Oasis." Following a series of disastrous -- and suspicious -- fires in the early 1930's, the town was rebuilt with an Art Deco theme. It is charming in a way, but the middle-of-nowhere location combines with it being a little "over done" to make it -- as I said -- a little creepy. Nevertheless, the people are just as warm and friendly as everywhere else around here and I enjoyed my afternoon visit.

Today I drove to the nearby town of Naseby for lunch via a series of dirt and gravel roads which -- had it not been for the road signs at every intersection -- almost had me believing I was lost in the badlands. Talk about creepy, Naseby was the major town of the area during the gold rush of the late 1800's but is now a sort of a semi-historical, practically deserted town. Proof of what happens when the railroad bypasses your town, Naseby is a small collection of buildings that have well-noted links to the past but little evidence of current prosperity. A bit farther afield, I stopped at the historical "Hayes Engineering Works" which once made all sorts of farm tools. It was worth a brief visit but hardly lived up to its promotion or even its slick color brochure, providing further data for a formula I'm developing as an informal rating system for NZ attractions: "Marketing x 80% = Reality" Nevertheless, it's been another couple of good and interesting days on The Voyage.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Dram: Dag Crushing

Dagcrushing1 Dagcrushing2 Dagcrushing3
I'd never heard of "Dag Crushing" before, so I stopped in to check this place out. It turns out that there is enough wool content in "dag" -- the Australian (and therefore New Zealand) term for the dung-coated wool on a sheep's hindquarters -- for an enterprising young man to make a business out of it. He collects bags of dag, dries it in the sun then runs it through a custom, purpose built machine of his own design which thrashes the "non-wool" matter out and mostly -- though not completely -- ventilates it out of the building. The clean wool which has been extracted is then bagged and sent off to market right along with all the other "normal" wool. It's a pretty nasty job and I didn't get the sense it pays particularly well, but it seems to be a busy little business... and something else you probably wouldn't hear much about except from The Voyage of Macgellan!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Logbook: Invercargill - Stewart Island

Invercargillstewart1I picked up my rental car on Monday morning and headed south along the "Southern Scenic Highway" -- mostly along the coast -- stopping to enjoy many scenic views, a number of roadside attractions, a few snacks and one RV wreck noted below. I had planned to stop for the night somewhere along the stretch of coast known as "The Catlins" but nothing really appealed to me, and before I knew it I was entering the southern-most city of Invercargill. I cruised the town's main street for a few minutes then let my intuition lead me to pull into a tidy little place called Surrey Court Motel. I walked into the office and was met by a very friendly woman named Sandra whose lively sense of humor was immediately evident and we hit it off right away. Once again, my instincts had landed me in a perfect little place to stay for a few days!

Invercargillstewart2Invercargill is kind of a quirky little city. The first thing that seems a bit odd is that the entire town -- the entire area -- is completely flat. This was unexpected to me having come down out of the hills -- it is no doubt the result of some kind of geological/glacial idiosyncrasy -- and it gives the area a definite "seashore" kind of feeling. The community is fairly spread out, consisting of the eclectic "downtown" you can see in the photo surrounded by an extended sprawl of tidy, one-storey, cottage homes. I spent most of the day on Tuesday exploring the area, taking in the few local attractions and enjoying a lengthy visit to the large and very delightful Queens Park. I had lunch downtown, did a little wandering around the shops -- including finding a much needed iPod-to-car-radio accessory -- then got my haircut and called it an afternoon. In the evening I took a drive out to the coastal beach and found a great place to have a fabulous steak dinner, quite possibly the best I have had yet on The Voyage!

I was up and out early Wednesday morning for a half-hour drive down to the town of Bluff for the morning ferry to Stewart Island. Now, tourism is a very important part of New Zealand's economy, and it is something that the country does very, very well. In fact, I would go so far as to say that New Zealand is the best in the world at tourism. This is a topic I expect to touch on from time to time, but my reason for bringing it up here is that this highly efficient tourism model is perfectly exhibited in "The Stewart Island Experience." Run by one of the country's major tourism companies, it offers the visitor a completely easy, hassle free, "fire and forget" way to explore the island. In less than five minutes, I had purchased a round-trip ride on the fast, one-hour ferry to the island, a seat on the hour-and-a-half "Villages and Bays" morning tour and the two-and-a-half hour "Paterson Inlet" afternoon boat cruise. Just like that, my day was planned, arranged and ready to execute! If one wanted to stay longer, the company would happily arrange accommodations, additional tours, hiking passes or anything else a visitor might want.

Invercargillstewart3As I result, I had a really easy and outstanding day. After a ferry ride that was indeed fast, I disembarked on Stewart Island at the tiny -- and only -- village of Oban then almost immediately boarded a van for the morning tour which turned out to be delightful. Unlike so many of these tours during which the driver tells a canned story and some really dumb jokes, our driver told us of her own experience growing up on the island and gave real insight into its history, people, culture and lifestyle. There are only 28 kilometers of road on the island -- in and around the 2% of it which is populated -- and the rest is national park and wildlife preserves. We covered much of those roads during our tour, stopping at several lovely little bays along the way and ending up back in town where several local businesses -- like the fish and chips shop, the internet cafe, the grocery, the cafe, the restaurant, etc. -- were appropriately promoted as being "worth a visit." It was obvious cross-selling, but it was done in such a natural, informative way that it was really quite charming.

After the van tour, I had just enough time to stop at the cafe to grab a sandwich before boarding the boat for the afternoon cruise. Like a water-borne version of the morning's land cruise, we meandered along the coast and checked out many little coves where historical figures lived, ran saw mills and whaling stations while hearing tales of history and culture. About mid-way through the tour we docked at Ulva Island which is a bird sanctuary and had an hour long guided walk that was informative and enjoyable. (Though I have to admit once again to struggling with the whole "conservation" thing where practically every bird "in the wild" is banded and exhibits clearly learned behaviors with respect to begging for food from the human visitors... but I digress!) From there it was back on the boat and a return to Oban where I had -- surprise, surprise -- enough time to get some fish and chips, a cup of coffee and a bottle of water from local merchants before boarding the ferry for the return ride. Like I said, it was a very easy and very enjoyable day of "The Stewart Island Experience."

Invercargillstewart4I spent practically all of yesterday doing file work of various kinds, hanging around the motel with Sandra and playing with her cute little dog Pep. I got going at a reasonable hour this morning and headed out to explore some more of the coast, the highlight of which was a visit to Slope Point where I had my picture taken at yet another "southern most point in the world." In the morning I am going to start heading north toward Christchurch -- stopping a couple of times along the way -- where I will be meeting my next co-explorer on The Voyage later in the week. Just for fun, I'm going to leave you in a little suspense about who that will be! Stay tuned!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Dram: Driza-Dog!

Drizadog1 Drizadog2
How cute is this!

A "Driza-Bone" is the "Down Under" -- and arguably best -- version of a full-length, waterproof riding coat. While wandering around Invercargill today I happened to see this modified version for dogs! They come in all sizes from puny to gigantic, and you can even get them with fleece lining for those really cold days!

I was really tempted to send one to Teddy in time for the Iditarod -- which starts in just 10 days! -- but I'm pretty sure all the other dogs would be jealous and make fun of her for having such a cool coat! (Plus, Aliy has plenty to do without having to manage a custom wardrobe for my dog!)

So, it'll have to be the thought that counts... Good luck to all of my human and canine friends in this year's Iditarod! I'll miss you again this year, but maybe next year...?

Haircut Chronicle: #12 - Invercargill, NZ

Hc12invercargill1 Hc12invercargill2 Hc12invercargill3

#12 - February 19, 2008, Invercargill, New Zealand. It has been exactly two months since my "recovery" cut in Vienna, a day over four months since the debacle in Poland and a day under six months since the massacre in Scotland. With a good amount of hair finally grown in, I got a referral from the hostess of my motel here in Invercargill to Natasha who -- I was promised -- was very good, would listen to me when I told her what I wanted and spoke fluent English! I was a little concerned when I saw her own haircut, but true to her reputation, she gave me a very good cut! Taking only enough off the length to truly "even things up" -- unlike her counterpart back in Scotland had done! -- and thinning out enough to give my head a more normal shape again, Natasha has given me renewed hope that my hair will survive The Voyage! Cost: NZ$22 ($18)

Dram: NZ Rent-A-Wreck

Nzrentawreck1 Nzrentawreck2
First of all, don't worry... It wasn't me!

Okay... now here's the story: For my extended exploration in New Zealand, I have rented a Toyota Corolla. It's not much of a car but it was relatively cheap, especially after the great deal I got from the manager of the Thrifty office in Dunedin whose dog I happily made a big fuss over. (It pays to be a dog-person!) I picked the car up this morning and headed south -- more or less along the coast -- on the "Southern Scenic Route" between Dunedin and Invercargill. Because I did so much driving "on the left" in Scotland and northern England last summer, I was quite comfortable with that aspect of the experience. Because all of the road signs are in English and the signals are all pretty normal, I was feeling quite at ease. Along the way, however, I became mindful that driving in New Zealand can be tricky and even dangerous.

For one thing, the roads are pretty narrow, even the main highways which are only one lane in each direction with occasional passing lanes. For another, there are a lot of big trucks that create such a big wind effect when passing that a dinky car like mine gets a pretty good shove toward the shoulder. Add in high gusting winds that roll off the sea, steep and winding hills, the distraction of beautiful scenery, etc., and you can easily find yourself in trouble pretty quickly.

At one point the road changed from asphalt to gravel and I had limited traction to add to the equation. Driving along a riverbed between steep hills which created poor visibility around curves, I slowed myself way down and thought, "Wow... This could really be dicey for someone not accustomed to driving on the left, in an unfamiliar vehicle. Especially some of those folks who are driving RVs."

No sooner had that thought made its way through my brain than I came around a corner and saw the sight in the first photo above. It had obviously happened just minutes before because I was only the second car on the scene. I hopped out and found the first passer-by talking to the people involved, quickly finding out that there were many bumps, bruises and small cuts but no major injuries. The fire/rescue truck arrived a few minutes later and the professional took control of the scene.

Based on the amount of damage you can see in the second photo, the people involved were all very, very lucky to avoid major injury. I didn't stick around to find out the details, but it certainly looks like both vehicles were going too fast, saw each other too late around a blind turn, lost traction on the gravel and maybe even instinctively turned the wrong way at the last instant. No matter what happened, you can count these as two NZ rental RVs that won't be back in service for a while.

As for me, I turned my dinky little Corolla around, found a detour back to the highway and took a while to really let it sink in: Be especially careful when driving in New Zealand!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Logbook: Chillin' In Dunedin

ChillinindunedinI must have been really tired last Sunday night, because when I woke up on Monday and looked at my watch I saw it was already half past noon! Lunch became my first order of business for the day, followed by a good cup of coffee and a review of some material I'd picked up. The weather was pretty good and I decided it was time to do a little exploration, so I booked myself on an afternoon/evening wildlife tour out onto the Otago Peninsula. About twenty of us were picked up by a van at The Octagon and driven out to Taiaroa Head on the end of the peninsula where we toured the Royal Albatross Centre. As you know, I have recently had the unparalleled experience of very close encounters with many albatross -- on the Polar Star sailing in the Southern Ocean, on South Georgia Island and on Steeple Jason Island in the Falklands -- so I am admittedly a little spoiled. Thus, watching a 30-minute video and standing in a glass enclosed viewing room to observe only a few albatross was not particularly thrilling for me. In addition, the Centre takes an active role in "conservation" by tagging and monitoring birds, fostering orphaned chicks with adults who have lost their own young and even removing eggs from the nests of "clumsy" or "inattentive" parents and incubating them mechanically. Once again, I struggled with the "good" idea of preserving an endangered species and the "bad" idea of intervening with nature. Nevertheless, it was fun to see a different species of my old friend the albatross soaring over the bluffs, and I got enough decent video to put together the Report below.. The Royal Albatross is very similar to the Wandering Albatross and one cannot help but be amazed by how large yet graceful they are. Weighing up to 10 kilos -- or about as much as a medium-sized turkey -- and having a wingspan over 3 meters -- or about 10 feet -- these birds are truly the masters of dynamic soaring! From there we drove to the ocean beach side of the peninsula where we walked up and down the bluffs for a couple of hours to see Fur Seals, Sealions and Yellow-Eyed Penguins -- photos of which you can see in the Photo Log -- then returned to town late in the evening.

I am delighted to report that I have spent the entire rest of the week very happily just "living" in Dunedin -- I'd go so far as to call it "Chillin' in Dunedin!" It may not sound like much, but after being on the move for months through foreign lands with limited communications and conveniences, being able to walk down the street of a comfortable little city at any time I want and really understand what's going on around me is a real treat. Add to that the pleasure of being able to order anything in a wide variety of restaurants with a high degree of confidence that I will get what I order, and you've got the recipe for bliss. To top it off, in one of the many, large, all-English bookstores I found three more Jack Reacher novels and have had an absolutely grand time immersing myself in them! The list goes on -- including being able to watch TV, striking up a spontaneous conversation with folks in a coffee shop, touring museums without having to rely on semi-useful, second-language info sheets, etc. -- adding up to a very nice, relaxing, refreshing week on The Voyage!

Along the way, I have done some research and made some "plans" for my NZ exploration, starting tomorrow morning when I will pick up a car and start a road trip to the south. I am all caught up online, my gear is all clean, sorted and packed, the iPods are all fully charged and I am well rested and energized. As always, I'm not sure what internet access will be like along the way, but I shall endeavor to keep this website as up to date as possible!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Report: Royal Albatross

In Taiaroa, New Zealand, you can watch Royal Albatross soar overhead from inside a glassed-in observation room. Although this is a far cry from the open-air filming of Albatross I was able to do at sea near South Georgia Island, I was at least stationary rather than shooting from the deck of a rolling and pitching ship. Despite the glass, I think the footage in this video Report turned out pretty well, in particular offering some excellent views of the full 3-meter wing-span of the Royal -- the largest species of Albatross -- and a rare glimpse of one sitting on a nest. Enjoy! (Many thanks to Annastasia Workman for an exquisite new piece of music!)

Logbook: Dunedin "Re-Entry"

Dunedinreentry1The ship arrived in Port Chalmers too late to disembark on Thursday evening, so I spent a final, quiet and uneventful night onboard. By nine o'clock Friday morning I was dressed, packed, fed and cleared by "The Man" -- who turned out to be a very nice woman -- to go ashore. After a few final farewells with officers and crew, I descended the gangway and met up with Charlotte and Randy who -- bless his heart -- had gotten special permission from the Captain to escort us on the short walk along the dock, through the gate and a block into town to the bus stop. There, we said good-bye to our good friend and watched him retrace his steps back to the gate and on through to the ship. As you can see in the photo, the cargo gantry is almost as big as the town of Port Chalmers, and it was with a mix of nostalgia for the past month at sea and excitement about the next months on land that I took one last look at the ship. After a quick cup of good coffee at a local cafe, Charlotte and I hopped on a local bus for the twenty minute ride into Dunedin where we got off in the middle of town -- at "The Octagon" as it is called -- and went right into the tourist info center. Because I had all my gear in tow and didn't feel like dragging it around looking for a place to stay, I got one of the center's staff to suggest and book me a room for two nights at a mid-range place with internet. Charlotte opted for a "backpackers" so we parted ways after making plans to meet up later in the evening.

It was an easy three block walk to my hotel which turned out to be a generic tourist place in what I would soon find out is the uninteresting side of town. It was still before noon and my room wasn't ready yet, so I stashed my gear and took off for a walk around town. Back through The Octagon I found the more interesting part of town, had a delicious lunch of fresh fish and salad then walked around some more on my way back to formally check in at my hotel. I spent much of the afternoon online -- as usual when I've been offline for a while -- then went out for another exploratory walk and another good, fresh meal before meeting Charlotte and going to see a real movie in a real theater. It may sound like a funny thing to do, but it was a real treat after living in foreign languages without current entertainment for such a long time. I crashed pretty hard that night, the first time I've been in a room that wasn't noisy, vibrating or moving in over a month.

Dunedinreentry2Yesterday was a mixed use day. I spend most of the morning on Skype with a client doing "other work" then went out for lunch and a walkabout, during which I found a much better place to move to, got a NZ chip for my phone, picked up a few supplies, did a few other chores and had some fun wandering around the big festival that was taking place in town. Dunedin is a very attractive little city of about 100,000 people and I have very quickly become quite fond of it. There is a lot of tourism centered here, but the town does not feel "touristy." With lots of interesting things to do both in the city and in the area I have decided to spend a week here, giving myself a really good chance for "Re-Entry" into land-based life. Because I expect to be in New Zealand for a couple of months, I have decided to do some overall "planning" of my exploration here and have started to gather up maps, brochures, etc. to piece together a rough itinerary.

I got up this morning and moved to my excellent new home for the week, then went out for a huge Sunday brunch. I continued my "Re-Entry" by walking around town, gathering info, looking at maps, catching up with myself and others online, updating the map and generally doing all the stuff that has been on-hold while I've been at sea. As you can probably tell by the way I have emphasized my meals over the past few days, I am really, really enjoying the food around here. Not only is it all very fresh, there is also a wonderful variety available. Compared with the adequate but not very fresh or diverse food onboard ship, Dunedin is an eden of eating and I am enjoying every opportunity and morsel. Although I don't feel like I've been all that busy or active over the past few days, I am feeling very tired. It may just be the change of pace, or it may be that I didn't really sleep all that well on the ship and it has caught up with me. Either way, I am in a great, quiet little room with what looks like a very comfortable, stable bed, so I am going to crash early and see how my "Re-Entry" continues tomorrow.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Logbook: Freighter Days IX

Freighterdaysix1Day 31 - February 4th

While having coffee on deck this morning, I enjoyed my first views of the New Zealand coast. The rolling headlands of the north island are very attractive and further enhanced my anticipation of exploration throughout the country. The weather was beautiful and we had a very nice day at sea, ending with a late afternoon arrival in the port of Auckland. After the usual docking process -- and a little more than the usual paperwork -- we were given permission to "go outside" and I bolted to the gate a little after six o'clock. It was a pleasant 20 minute walk along the waterfront into town, made all the more enjoyable by the moderate temperature that comes with being back in a higher latitude. I have been to Auckland before and it looked just like the last time I was here, so I opted to head straight for an internet connection which I was happy to find at a comfortable little cafe. Over the next few hours I caught up on email, posted a full website update and downloaded a bunch of media from iTunes. By the time I looked at my watch it was a little after eleven, so I packed up my gear and enjoyed the return walk to the ship. Signing in just before midnight, I chatted with the deck officer for a few minutes then went up to my cabin and called it a night. Although my time in port was typically brief, I had succeeded in getting a lot accomplished and was pretty happy about it.

Day 32 - February 5th

My morning began "pre-coffee" with the Customs inspection described in the Musing below, followed by the usual waiting around while cargo operations were concluded and the ship was buttoned up for heading back out to sea. Just before lunch we departed from Auckland and had a delightful afternoon cruise. The wind was really up and the surface of the sea was very lively with white caps everywhere, but the swells were small and we did little rolling despite our very light weight. With a fresh download of "24 - Season 6" on my Mac, I very happily spent the evening engrossed in Jack Bauer's latest crisis. Once again, this is a series in which you just never know who is going to die, reappear, torture, be tortured, commit treason or be a hero. Except, of course, for Jack who does all of these -- often repeatedly -- in every season. Good stuff!

Freighterdaysix2Day 33 - February 6th

After being aboard ship for over a month, I have become very familiar with all of the sounds, vibrations and motions of the ship in all of its operating modes. Thus, when I first opened my eyes this morning I was immediately aware that we had either stopped dead in the water or -- at best -- were proceeding ahead "dead slow" on calm water. The fact that we were rocking very gently told me that we were neither adrift on the high seas nor tied up at a dock, so I concluded that we must be holding station just outside of the port of Napier, probably waiting for the pilot to arrive and/or for our berth to be vacant. Sure enough, it was the former and the captain expressed his usual disgust at being made to wait for a required but useless "advisor." I took the time to eat a good breakfast, shower and dress, then be ready to go ashore as soon as possible. While waiting on deck, I saw an immense pile of wood shown in the photo stacked up on one of the port's docks with a similarly loaded ship next to it, a clear sign of one of the area's primary exports. When I received my clearance at about ten o'clock, the duty officer called for the shuttle only to be told that it would arrive to pick me up in about a half hour. This was not good news for me because shore leave was set to expire in only a few hours at 14:30 and my limited time would reduced by waiting for the van. I hadn't seen Charlotte at breakfast so I climbed up to her cabin to inquire about her plans for going ashore, and it was obvious from her appearance at the door that my knock had woken her up. "The Princess" -- as she has long been called aboard ship -- claimed that she was up late working on an iMovie, but I suspected that yet another informal party with the lads in the crew was to blame! I quietly informed her that the van would be alongside within the half hour then went back down to the main deck where she joined me in a surprisingly short time, quite ready to go. The Napier seafarers' center is right outside the port gate and we stopped in to inquire about internet connection. They said they were sorry they didn't have any internet, but they'd be happy to give us a lift to a good internet cafe in town. Within just a few minutes I was online -- finally at a good time to call friends and family -- and putting my beloved Skype to good use. A little after noon Charlotte and I logged off and walked down the main street of Napier -- a lovely little town that I look forward to spending more time in very soon -- then had lunch in a local pub. After that we made the short, very pleasant walk back to the port and got a van ride directly back to the ship. After a few hours of waiting around for cargo operations to conclude we set sail and had another very nice evening at sea, the highlight of which was an informal celebration of the Chinese New Year with some of the crew.

Day 34 - February 7th

I woke up this morning to start the last of my "Freighter Days" and thus my last day at sea for some time to come. I started with the usual "routine" of coffee and breakfast, after which I returned to my cabin and began the packing process. Although I have been in this cabin for just over a month -- and have strewn my belongings throughout the space accordingly -- I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't take me very long to gather up all my gear and pack it into my bag. Then again, after 550 days on The Voyage and all the times I have packed up my gear along the way, I guess it really shouldn't surprise me that it is pretty much a routine procedure. We are scheduled to arrive in Port Chalmers late this evening, and although it is unclear whether I am to disembark tonight or in the morning, I am wrapping up "Freighter Days" and this sea log. It has been an excellent voyage and I presume you can tell that I have enjoyed almost every aspect of it. The "routine" at sea has suited me very well and I would look forward to doing it again anytime. The ship and my accommodations have been entirely satisfactory, as has the food and other ammenities. The officers, crew and other passengers have been excellent companions, offering a very nice mix of friendliness, interaction and amusement as well as a courteous respect for my private time. There are only two drawbacks that I can think of. The first is the lack of any kind of internet connection which has been especially difficult for me as a "virtual person" who almost literally lives on the internet. I suspect that internet facilities will be added to the ship in the near future and would strongly encourage the shipping company to do so. Not only for passengers like me, but also for the crew as a way to substantially improve their quality of life and ability to communicate with their families around the world. The second drawback has to do with the lack of organization and information regarding shore leave in ports of call. I understand that time in ports must be kept to a minimum for business reasons and there is nothing that can be done about the correspondingly short time for shore leave. What I think could be easily remedied is the confusion about when shore leave actually starts, when passengers are clear to leave the ship and what is available in terms of facilities and transportation in the area. When time is of the essence, losing time due to poor organization and information is just plain annoying. Despite these two drawback, "Freighter Days" has been an extraordinarily positive experience for me. I believe I have provided a complete and accurate account in this sea log, and if you like the sound of what you have read it would be reasonable to assume that you would enjoy this kind of experience as well. On that note, I am officially declaring "Freighter Days" to be over.

As my good friend Rob often says, "The next starts now or maybe sooner" as The Voyage of Macgellan continues in New Zealand!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Musing: Computer Search

I was awakened this morning in the Port of Auckland by some pretty loud knocking on my cabin door. I rolled out of bed to answer it and was confronted by two very large men in blue uniforms who announced themselves simply as "Customs" then invited themselves into my cabin. As one of them proceeded to look in every drawer, closet and potential hiding space, the other sat down on my couch and opened up my Mac.

I am not the quickest at waking up, but seeing a stranger molest my beloved Mac got me revved up fast. I ignored the guy going through my belongings -- I haven't got anything that's even remotely on any forbidden items list -- but said "What the hell are you doing?" to the guy pawing my Mac. His reply was, "I'm looking for anything that is prohibited by The Act." I didn't -- and still don't -- know what "The Act" is, so I asked "Like what?" but received no reply. In the silence, I figured "The Act" must have something to do with censorship of pornography, illegal copyrighted works, etc. Since I don't have anything of the kind on my Mac, I figured I could either make a stink on principle or just let him do what he wanted. Curious more than anything about what his search would involve, I decided to just let it play out. To get the best possible view of his procedure -- and to make sure he didn't do any damage -- I sat on the couch next to him, folded my arms and just watched.

By the way he got stuck looking at the Finder menus, it was immediately obvious to me that he was unfamiliar with Macs and may never have even seen one before in his life. This impression was confirmed when he asked me, "Where's the Start Menu?" I barely suppressed laughing out loud and replied "What's a Start Menu?" Although I had probably illuminated the divide between the PC and Mac cultures in the most succinct way possible -- and implied that I was not about to help him do his evil deed -- he nevertheless proceeded to ask me, "How do you search for things on this?"

Now, here is where it started getting fun -- at least for me. You will note that he didn't ask me how he could search for things on my Mac -- to which the answer would have been to use the Mac's amazing Spotlight feature -- but instead asked me how I do it. My answer was, in truth, "I don't search. I know where everything is." With a sigh which conveyed his realization that I was neither going to resist his intrusion nor be helpful to him, he double clicked on a few of the folder icons on my desktop and was rewarded with Finder windows containing the folders within folders within folders that is the hallmark of my highly organized and structured file hierarchy. Obviously not finding a folder entitled "double click here to see all my illicit files" -- and probably not wanting to admit he was clueless -- he browsed around for a while then closed the lid.

Although some subsequent Q&A about my itinerary for New Zealand and my travels in general lightened up the "conversation" enough that my encounter with "The Man" from New Zealand Customs ended amicably, we didn't get to a point where I felt comfortable asking the question that was foremost on my mind: "Does searching people's computers actually get you anything? Or is it just an arbitrary and capricious activity enforcing a stupid law promulgated by mindless legislators who don't really have a clue about computers?"

You can probably see why we I didn't think our nascent relationship would support that level of "sharing."

The question still bugs me, though, and it is the point of this Musing: Does searching computers actually accomplish the seizure of prohibited material? I doubt that it does because I suspect that it can't.

Granted, "The Man's" lack of facility with my Mac may have hindered his usual effectiveness, but I really can't image he would be any more successful with a PC. Unless someone has a folder on their desktop entitled "Illicit Media" an in-depth browsing of folders/directories would be necessary. Though I am aware that some people are just stupid, I have to seriously doubt that many people would keep such material "in the clear." Similarly, unless someone uses clearly incriminating filenames, a context search isn't going to yield any results either. So, how likely is it that a superficial browsing is going to accomplish anything? I don't think it can.

The bigger problem, of course, is that such a search completely ignores far more likely "hiding places." For one, how about other user accounts -- or even partitions -- on the same system. I have several user accounts on my Mac that I access for different purposes. The one "The Man" was browsing happened to be my "Macgellan" account which is "all business." Although I don't happen to have anything illicit in my other user accounts either, he was either completely unaware of their existence -- perhaps even unaware that they could even exist -- or he didn't care to check them. His search didn't and couldn't find anything there.

I also have a 120 GB external hard drive that was sitting in the desk drawer which he never saw, accessed or even asked for. I don't presume to really know the mind of a "criminal" but I do know that illicit media requires big files which are frequently stored on big external drives rather than on small laptop drives. I could be wrong, of course, but I would suspect most "bad" stuff is kept on remote media that doesn't get looked at. Superficially browsing a computer can't find anything there either.

I am not going to comment on the legitimacy of a law that prohibits people from having any kind of media and am just going to leave it as an unfortunate fact of life in the modern world. What I am commenting on is the stupidity of invading people's privacy by browsing their computers without any real likelihood of finding any of the material in question. I understand that most lawmakers are clueless about the reality of computers -- and technology in general -- and pass laws that have little practical effect beyond their PR value. I also understand that the guy who browsed my Mac has a pretty easy job which probably pays pretty well and has good benefits, not to mention the possible entertainment value of stumbling upon some amusing files and the certain smug satisfaction of having the power to invade someone's privacy. So, I can see why such laws are passed and why such practices are carried out: It's good for everybody except the people being searched.

For them, it is arbitrary, capricious, invasive, ineffective and just plain wrong. I hope my first encounter with "The Man" in New Zealand is not indicative of what else I will experience here.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Logbook: Freighter Days VIII

Day 27 - January 31st

Charlotte and I are now the only passengers on board, so the breakfast table was even quieter -- and less populated -- than usual. I spent the day doing the "routine" and taking my camera along while I went for a walk around the ship to gather video for the "Freighter Tour" Reports which I edited during the afternoon. Late in the evening we sailed "up the river" -- as the crew called it -- to the Port of Brisbane, and I stayed up late enough to observe the now very familiar process of mooring and getting ready for cargo operations before going to bed.

Day 28 - February 1st
I awoke this morning to the sounds of the Brisbane Port in full scale cargo operations and went down to breakfast. I inquired about the possibility of going ashore but was informed that due to our limited, "pre-dry-dock" cargo operations having been conducted throughout the night we were only an hour from the end of shore leave and subsequent departure. In that amount of time I would only have been able to get to the front gate and back, so I skipped it altogether and stayed on board to "supervise" the activities. Thus, all I got to see of Brisbane was the city skyline far in the distance from the deck of the ship. It's worth mentioning that "in the old days" freighters would typically pull into a port for a few days or a week in order to conduct cargo operations, giving everyone plenty of time to go ashore and really "visit" the various port cities. Modern container operations are so efficient -- and there is such an emphasis on speed of delivery -- that overnight or one-day port calls are now the norm. As a result, much of the crew never gets to really go ashore and you know by now that passengers typically only get a few hours ashore if at all. Thus, I think it is fair to say that modern freighter cruising is an excellent way to have many "routine" days at sea but not particularly good for "visiting" ports of call. Something to keep in mind if you think about giving freighter travel a try. As predicted, we departed around lunchtime and after a couple of hour cruising back "down the river" we headed out for a quiet night at sea.

Day 29 - February 2nd

After a brief respite from the "clock thing", the ship's clock advanced an hour last night and again this afternoon. The Captain informed us that he will advance the clock another hour again tomorrow in order to be acclimated for our arrival in Auckland in a couple of days. Speaking of Auckland, it looks like my "plans" may have changed. As you may recall, in order to sync up with the summer/fall season as much as possible, I had intended to sail as far south in New Zealand as possible then work my way north. When I went through what I'm sure you will recall was the rather chaotic process of booking my passage on this freighter, I was told that I could certainly get as far as Auckland with Port Chalmers -- way down south at Dunedin -- as an "optional" destination. I have since learned that the "option" was the ship's -- not mine -- and thought I had learned early in the cruise that the ship would not be calling at Port Chalmers after all. So, I had just started to make my "plans" for begining my New Zealand exploration in Auckland when the Captain asked me this morning if I want to go to Port Chalmers instead. Forget trying to straighten out whether the ship's plans had changed or whether I misunderstood things, the answer I gave him was an emphatic "Yes!" So, as of today, I am headed to Port Chalmers instead of Auckland, schedule to arrive there on Saturday. To round out this uncertain picture, I will add that the Captain also said something about a possible change of plans in Auckland! Although the ship's "sailing schedule" has us arriving there late at night and leaving late the following afternoon, the Captain is in "competition" with another ship to arrive earlier in the evening and leave the following morning. Depending on who wins the "race" for the pilot and the berth, we may or may not have any shore leave in Auckland. Thus, you may or may not about my change of destination plans until it is all over! Besides all that, we had yet another safety drill this morning and, because it is some kind of "holiday" in France, Charlotte got permission from Cookie to make yummy crepes which we all enjoyed as dessert with our lunch. Vive la France!

Day 30 - February 3rd

We had an "officers and passengers only" barbecue party last night in the Salon. Although I would have enjoyed having more "informal" time with the crew -- and the exclusive nature of the evening raised further questions in my mind about the veracity of the company's "no discrimination" policy onboard -- it was fun to dine with the senior staff and enjoy lively conversation. During the party, the Tasman Sea treated us to heavier seas which caused the ship to pitch and roll considerably -- the first significant "liveliness" of our month at sea -- and we had the usual fun of trying to eat and drink while our chairs slid around the table. The motion continued to build throughout the night and although I was not particularly affected by it, a general lack of quality sleep was noticeable at breakfast this morning. The ship's clock advanced for the last time this afternoon and we are finally on New Zealand time! With that change, I can leave the "clock thing" behind me with the final observation that it has probably been the most difficult aspect of my entire month-long freighter cruise. That may not sound like much of a hardship, but don't underestimate the impact of so many incremental time changes. The details of our arrival in Auckland are still uncertain, but I have pre-prepared a full upload to the website just in case there is time -- and facility -- for doing so. Either way, I expect to see the coast of New Zealand when I wake up in the morning and am very much looking forward to spending an extended amount of time exploring there.