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!

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