Sunday, May 25, 2008

Logbook: The End Of The Voyage

EndOfTheVoyage1I woke up on the train this morning and looked out the window to see the beautiful and familiar sight of the Cascade Mountains. After coffee and breakfast onboard, I watched the scenery go by for a couple of hours as we reached the coast and headed south. We arrived in Seattle a few minutes after 10am and I was delighted to be met by Greg, my good friend and frequent Co-Voyager. His first comment to me as we shook hands really said it all, "What a momentous occasion!" In lieu of finding and taking the city bus, I happily accepted his offer of a ride and we set out for the short drive to the north side of the city.

A few minutes later -- at precisely 10:33am -- I stood at the corner of Greenwood Avenue and North 85th Street in Seattle. As I touched the very same bus stop sign where I began my circumnavigation of the surface of the earth 658 days ago, The Voyage of Macgellan officially came to an end.

To say that The Voyage has been extraordinary is an understatement of epic proportion. The places I've been, the things I've seen and the experiences I've had simply boggle the mind, but they pale in comparison to the people with whom I have had the pleasure and privilege of sharing The Voyage. For your participation, fellowship, kindness, assistance, enthusiasm and support, I offer each and every one of you my profound thanks. The world is an amazing place, but it is the people who make it truly special. Thank you.

What's next for me? I don't know. While I have a lot of ideas for things I'd like to do in the future, I don't have plans for any of them at this moment. Frankly, I expect it will take some time for me to "catch up with myself" and that's what I am focused on now. After that, I honestly don't know.

What I do know is that The Voyage is over. I know that I have completed my "mission" to explore the world, live by my wits and report my findings. I also know that making my life "public" is behind me and that I am ready to be a "private" person again. Thus, although I plan to leave this website up for a while, I do not expect to add anything more to it.

So, in closing, let me share with you what has been my most profound learning from The Voyage:

"I once believed we each make two journeys in life, a journey outward and a journey inward. I was wrong. They are the same journey."

With best wishes for fair winds and following seas as you continue the journey of your own life...


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Logbook: Closing The Loop

ClosingTheLoop1My niece Jennifer and her friend Amanda met me in Chicago on Thursday afternoon. We went straight to the theater to see the new Indiana Jones movie, and followed it with dinner at a popular local restaurant. Although I can only give the film a modest review -- good, fun entertainment but a not so great movie -- and the dinner only slightly higher marks -- decent food but not so great service and ambiance -- my time with Jennifer and Amanda was just fantastic. If there's anything more fun than spending time with bright young people I don't know what it is, and I thank them both for a really great evening! I slept in a bit yesterday and enjoyed a leisurely morning of coffee and a crossword puzzle, then packed up and made my way to Union Station where I boarded Amtrak's "Empire Builder" train to Seattle.

ClosingTheLoop2I don't really have much to say about the two day train trip except that it has been a comfortable, easy and relaxing way to cross the country. I've ridden a lot of trains on The Voyage, and although Amtrak isn't the best service in the world I do renew my encouragement that folks give it a try as an alternative to air travel or driving. With airport hassles and gas prices being what they are, traveling by train makes more sense than ever. In my case, the slow but steady progress across the "Hi-Line" has given me time to reflect on The Voyage and to process all that I have seen and done, as well as to try to prepare myself for completing my circumnavigation of the surface of the earth tomorrow morning. I haven't been able to think of a "sound bite" to summarize my experience on The Voyage -- and I honestly doubt that I ever will -- but as I "close the loop" I am profoundly aware that I have accomplished everything I intended to do, and much, much more.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Logbook: Re-Entry

Re-Entry1We left Savannah early Last Monday morning and enjoyed a beautiful day, with the Atlantic Ocean treating us to calm seas and brisk following winds. We all swapped stories of our brief time on shore and there was a great deal of goodwill among passengers, officers and crew. In anticipation of disembarking in Philadelphia, I did some laundry, packed my gear and spent time with my various friends. The seas and winds started picking up during the evening and became quite heavy overnight. I was up early on Tuesday due to the rough ride and spent much of the morning on the bridge, at times quite in awe of the massive exchange of energy that occurs when a 38,000 ton ship pitches into a 20 foot high wall of water! The Captain had us throttled back to about 50% power, but even at that greatly reduced speed the sudden fore/aft decelerations from what really amounts to a collisions with waves was a bit unnerving -- much, much different from normal rolling and pitching on sea swells. The seas calmed a bit late in the afternoon and we were able to resume most of our normal speed to approach Philadelphia. We picked up the pilot around 9pm and were about half-way along the 7 hour river approach to the port when I hit the rack for my last night of sleep on board ship.

Re-Entry2I woke up when the ship docked in Philadelphia on Wednesday, despite the fact that it was still dark and only about 4 o'clock in the morning. I didn't even try to go back to sleep, opting instead to get coffee and spend some final time with my friends on the night shift. I finished packing my gear and stayed on board just long enough to have breakfast and say my farewells before heading down the gangway and out of the port. I had decided that unexpectedly finding myself in Philadelphia -- only a short distance from where my folks live -- was too good an opportunity for fun to pass up, so I made an easy cab-train-cab ride to Dillsburg and walked up their driveway. I honked the horn on my Mom's car which got the attention of her dog Sasha, whose barking prompted my Dad to come outside and take a look. After chatting with him for a few moments there was still no sign of my Mom, so I went into the house then down the stairs to where she was playing solitaire on her computer and said, "Hey! What time is lunch?" As you might imagine, this surprise visit was pretty much a "10" on the Mom scale and well worth the effort. I spent a nice weekend hanging out with them on the farm, making a few trips to the local internet cafe and enjoying some really good doggie time with Sasha. Everything was exactly the same as it was when I was last there almost two years ago -- which was a bit of a surprise for me in light of where all and what all I have done in the meantime -- but my visit there made for a good "re-entry."

Re-Entry3Yesterday afternoon I took a train from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh where I had a few hours to walk around, stretch my legs and get something decent to eat before connecting on an overnight train to Chicago. My niece Jennifer goes to school here and she came into the city after her classes were finished and we had a fantastic afternoon. We had a late lunch then walked all around over the place, saw the sights, took a ride on the famous Ferris Wheel and even had a boat ride, all the while enjoying the same kind of lively, non-stop conversation that is the hallmark of our time and travels together. By the time we finished dinner it was well into the evening and we were both pretty worn out, so we made plans to meet up again tomorrow afternoon -- when we hope to see the new Indiana Jones movie! -- then hang out, dine and talk well into the evening. On Friday I will board the two day train to Seattle and complete the last leg of my mission, the circumnavigation of the surface of the earth that has been The Voyage of Macgellan!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Logbook: Panama To Savannah

Panamasavannah1Following Marius' suggestion, I hit the rack late last Tuesday night and got few hours sleep before my alarm woke me at 3:30 when I could find out whether or not we'd made it in time to meet our convoy's deadline for transiting the Panama Canal. When I glanced onto the bridge and saw that the Panamanian pilots were on board I knew we had made it, so I got coffee and spent the next hour or so setting up my camera and experimenting for the Report you see below. It was a busy, long and very hot day of transiting the Canal, and I was completely wasted by the time evening rolled around. I tried to hit the rack early, but we proceeded straight to the port of Manzanillo and conducted cargo operations throughout the night, the noise of which made getting good sleep impossible. By the time we headed out to sea early Thursday morning, everybody was showing signs of real fatigue and it was a very quiet "recovery" day aboard ship. Unfortunately, the heat and humidity remained really oppressive as we steamed across the Caribbean and the ship's air conditioning could barely make an impact on it, so that continued to wear us down and interfered again with getting decent sleep Thursday night.

Panamasavannah2We turned the corner south of Cuba on Friday and headed toward the Bahamas on smooth seas with moderate winds. It cooled down a bit in the evening so I was finally able to get a good night's sleep, and I awoke Saturday morning greatly refreshed. The weather was absolutely beautiful and the seas were perfectly calm, so we had a delightful day of sailing and capped it off with a nice BBQ on F-Deck. Another highlight of Saturday was final confirmation of my point of disembarkation in the US. You may recall that when I booked this cruise my destination was uncertain and Hamish could only assure me that the ship would be making port "somewhere on the east coast." Shortly after I got on board in Napier, the Captain informed me that we would be making port in Savannah and I started thinking about how I might get back across the country to Seattle from there. Last week the Captain told me we the ship would also be stopping in Philadelphia and -- since that offers a much easier rail-route to Seattle -- I immediately requested that destination instead. After some back and forth with the home office, the Captain was finally able to confirm my extended passage and I ended Saturday with the first real sense of destination I've had in quite a while!

Panamasavannah3We approached the coast near Savannah in pretty heavy weather on Sunday morning and I was up on the bridge listening to a local weather forecast for high winds, thunderstorms and possible tornados when I caught the first glimpse of US land that I've had in almost two years. Thankfully, the weather started lifting as we continued our approach and by the time we had made the slow, two-hour river journey to the city of Savannah it was bright and sunny. The actual Port of Savannah is up-river from the city, and the view during final approach through the heart of town was very attractive. Standing on deck, I replied in kind as various people on shore waved at our large ship passing by them in the narrow river channel and enjoyed a real sense of "returning from sea" with my fellow passengers and crew. As soon as berthing was complete, the US customs and immigration agent came aboard and conducted the formalities. Although still far from my ultimate ending point on The Voyage, I was "back in the USA" and I took a nice moment to reflect on all that I have experienced since I crossed the border into Mexico such a long time ago.

Panamasavannah4At the BBQ party on Saturday, Marius had told me that he needed to go ashore in Savannah to get some things for himself and the other officers, then asked if I would be willing to go along with him to act as "translator" and "guide" on his quest. With so much personal experience of how hard it can be to navigate and negotiate in strange lands, I immediately said I would be delighted to. Although I knew nothing about shopping in Savannah, I was pretty confident that I could be of some help to him and I was honored to have been asked. So, when the other passengers went ashore and into town for an evening of sightseeing, I arranged transportation to a local mall where Marius and I hustled around to many different stores. We eventually got everything on his shopping list -- everything from underwear to computer hard drives -- including the most important item, a new suitcase for him to use when he finishes his contract and goes home to Romania in a few weeks! We'd had a hilarious time together and returned to the ship in triumph, distributing the goods, telling stories and hanging out with the other officers well into the evening.

Thus, what I would call my "technical" re-entry into the US was really just like a port call anywhere else in the world. Even though I was back on US soil, the time was so short and hectic that it didn't really feel like a "true" re-entry. That experience, I believe, will happen in a couple of days when I reach Philadelphia!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Report: Panama Canal

You may recall that during my previous transit of the Panama Canal on The Voyage I focused on what I think is the most interesting aspect of the experience, the "Mules" that assist ships through the locks. As we approached the Canal over this past week, I thought about how I might share the "larger" experience and decided that rather than shoot hours of memory-consuming video then try to play it back at high speed I would shoot it in stop-action.

So, in the dark at 3:30 this morning I lashed my camera to the starboard F-Deck railing and started filming as we made our final approach to the Miraflores Locks. Thankfully, this coincided with the breaking of dawn so only the first few frames are in the dark. I had planned to take shots at one minute intervals throughout the transit, but the rains came shortly after we cleared the first set of locks and forced me to interrupt the filming to protect my camera. Showers continued as we steamed through "the cut" and across "the lake" but abated just as we approached the Gatun Locks, so I was able to resume filming our exit from the Canal.

It's just as well, though, because the hours of travel between the locks isn't really very interesting and I probably would have edited it out of the final movie anyway. So, the result is this Report which presents what I think is a pretty good "summary" of what it is like to climb the locks from the Pacific side and descend the locks to the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. I hope you enjoy it! (Note: Thanks to Stephen Jacob for yet another lovely piece of background music!)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Logbook: Pacific Crossing

Pacificcrossing1Besides crossing the 180-meridian -- about which I have posted a Musing below -- not much of note happened during my first week crossing the Pacific Ocean. I received a "safety/familiarization briefing" from the Third Officer that was pretty comical, consisting of him saying, "Everything is the same as before. Any questions?" He knew, of course, that I had travelled on an identical ship just a few months ago and was simply trying to save us both the bother, but it was pretty funny and we both had a nice laugh about it. We had a BBQ party on Saturday night, but with Force 7 winds and pretty lively seas it was both noisy and challenging. Nevertheless, it was a good chance to meet some more of the crew and establish some common bonds. We also advanced the clock four times -- once every other day -- and I was quickly reminded of how grueling "the clock thing" can be. The weather was moderate most of the time, with only a couple of rough days while we passed through a low. The winds, though, were consistently strong enough to prohibit walking around the deck, so I happily occupied myself with the inside aspects of the "at sea" routine: Reading, iLife, movies, etc.

My first impression of the officers and crew was a bit mixed, as I sensed less joviality with and from them than I had become accustomed to on my last cruise. This feeling was abated somewhat when I realized I was making a comparison with what I remembered after being at sea with the last crew for over a month, and reminded myself of what my last experience was like at the beginning of that cruise rather than at the end. Plus, I found out that the crew has only been on board and working together for two weeks, and realized that they are only just getting to know each other as well as. The BBQ helped to open things up -- which probably explains why the Captain persisted in having it despite the marginal weather -- and over the course of each day I was able to incrementally increase my interaction and integration with the crew.

Pacificcrossing2The second week of our Pacific crossing has been equally uneventful, with only a couple of noteworthy moments. One is that the ship's muster alarm went off one morning, and because it had not been preceded by any ado I knew we were finally having our first drill. As required, I put on my shoes, safety helmet and life preserver, grabbed my immersion suit and went down the five flights of stairs to the main deck then made my way aft to the muster station. Once there, I saw that none of the other passengers or crew were similarly clad and was informed that the word had been spread at breakfast -- which I missed due to "the clock thing" -- that it was a muster-only drill. I smiled and said, "That's what I get for missing breakfast again!" which gave everyone a laugh. Another moment was crossing the equator again, my fourth time on The Voyage. Everyone on board has made the crossing enough times before that it is virtually a non-event, and there was no ceremony of any kind. I did have some fun with the Third Officer by predicting several days in advance the exact time I thought we would cross, receiving his admonition that it was impossible to predict due to all the variables of wind, current, course, etc. When it turned out that my prediction was only off by almost exactly one hour, he was a good sport and said, "You must have forgotten about moving the clock ahead one night." Seriously folks, it's the littlest of things that become noteworthy in the routine of life at sea on a freighter.

There has been quite a bit of speculation going on among the officers about whether or not we will make it to Panama in time to catch our scheduled convoy through the Canal. Due to the fact that the ship was delayed more than a day in Napier, combined with adverse winds, currents and weather -- which required us to take a course slightly less direct route than usual -- we were more than two days behind schedule after the first week. Conditions have improved since then and we have made up some time, but it has been looking very close. Throughout the week, the First Officer has been maintaining that we will make it in time, while the Captain has been saying we will not make it and may have to wait 4-5 days for the next convoy -- thus illustrating, I suspect, the different perspectives of youth versus experience.

I've been playing along with the drama by making frequent trips to the bridge, checking the navigational computers and exchanging smiles and shrugs with the officers -- especially the Third Officer, Marius, with whom I have become quite friendly. It is now almost midnight and it is still very uncertain whether we will make our 3:30 am deadline. Depending on the winds and currents of the moment, the navigation computers are calculating our arrival at a few minutes either before or after. Marius has the watch and since -- in his words -- "we will not know until we know" he has suggested I get a few hours of sleep and check back closer to the deadline. After two weeks of such uneventful sailing, my Pacific crossing is ending up with quite the drama!