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!

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