Saturday, February 27, 2010
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Came off the ship this morning at about 8am, saying goodbye to the captain and crew and thanking them for a comfortable trip. Shared a ride into the city with the other passengers who were going to a hotel and I am now on a train to my aunt’s house north of Brisbane. Coming into port last night was a marathon effort. We seemed to sail up and down the coast a few times before coming in. And then it was a delicate exercise in parallel parking the ship into the wharf between two other ships already berthed. Before that, we waited in Brisbane harbour about 18 hours before being allowed to approach and have a pilot come aboard. For that long period of waiting, I’m lifting the endurance rating to a six.
I haven’t finished reading ‘Moby Dick’ yet. Its a bit boring. 300+ pages in and this is what’s happened: the narrator has gone aboard a whaling ship and since setting out has discovered that the captain is obsessed with catching the particular while that bit off his leg. They have caught one whale (but not the right one). That’s it. For 300+ pages. And this is supposed to be the greatest American novel. Anyway I’m determined to finish, having once before started it and given up several years ago. You might say that Moby Dick, the book rather than the whale, is my white whale. I will not give up until the final page is finished. The book probably deserves an endurance rating of seven.
We should be reaching Australia tonight according to the captain. Whether we will berth is uncertain. We may have to wait until the morning. Either way, I will probably spend the night on board the ship since it’s already booked and paid for. I’ve fared fairly well on board the Basel. It’s difficult to get exercise and the meals are sometimes a bit stodgy but overall its been pretty comfortable. The biggest hassle has been not completely recovered from flu which I’m certain is partly due to the air conditioning system here. I’ve got it switched off in my cabin but whenever I go to the dining room which has it switched on, I start coughing and spluttering again (I pity the other diners). I’ve decided to give Endurance Ratings to various parts of my trip, measuring how difficult a part was to get through on a scale of one to ten, where one is a bus trip to your local shops and ten is walking through the Saharan desert. Spending nine days on a freighter ship I’d give an endurance rating of five. Its a bit like being in a hotel, only you’re stuck in the hotel and there’s not much to do. On the other hand, taking walks around the ship and sitting up in the bridge are fun. Around 10 days seems to be about the right length - enough to be a real voyage but any more than that would be too monotonous.
We’re about halfway through the voyage to Brisbane and thankfully its been an uneventful one. No storms, just a slow steady journey to the destination (the Basel travels at about 15 knots which is roughly 30 km/hr). Yesterday we saw the last of New Zealand, the stretch of land between Cape Reinga and North Cape at the top of the North Island. If you look very closely at the photo you can just make it out. The other picture is a typical view from one of the two portholes in my cabin. So far I’ve seen a few whale-spouts in the distance and one whale more closely swimming past us, diving and reemerging every now and then to spout. No dolphins, but my fellow passengers say they saw a school of about twenty. (Some of you may say that ‘school’ is the wrong collective noun since it applies to fish and dolphins are mammals. However, Melville in Moby Dick insists that whales and dolphins are fish, not finding any of the reasons given for classing them otherwise to be convincing. If it’s good enough for Melville then it’s good enough for me.)
Last sight of NZ. If you look really closely you can see some land. It's the stretch of land between Cape Reinga and North Cape at the top of the North Island.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
We're docked at Tauranga port and its a grey drizzley day. I still can't get photos from my camera to my laptop but I have remembered that my phone takes photos, though low quality ones, which I can email to myself. Here is a picture of me coming out of Tauranga port.
I’ve started to perform a useful function aboard the ship, that of telephone assistant. Whenever we come into a port, a phone is hooked up so that crew can make calls to family. They use various types of calling cards but these cards are not always easy to use, the automatic instructions sometimes difficult to hear, so I have become the go-to guy for figuring out how to get a call through using calling cards. I’ve also learned the wide variance between calling rates: a $5 card will get you 71 minutes to Estonia but only four minutes to Kiribati. So calling from Napier port to Estonia is actually cheaper than calling a cellphone in New Zealand.
The other passengers aboard are a married couple from Berlin who have been going round NZ. Their English is not so good and they are of the stare-at-a-person-until-he-says-something type. Whenever I say something they look at me as if I’m insane, even when it’s something as innocuous as ‘having a good day?’ We are permanently assigned to the same table at mealtimes, so I’ve started going to meals early in order make my escape as promptly as possible. I told them that I was an admirer of the German film director Werner Herzog but they’d never heard of him. They were more excited by the fact that Germany had won a gold medal at the Winter Olympics, an event for which I have almost zero interest.
It’s several hours later now and we’ve just pulled into port at Tauranga at 10pm. I sat up in the bridge and watched as the pilot guided us in. This was the highlight of the trip so far. It is a perfectly still night and we moved with precision past Mount Maunganui and slotted into a position alongside the container wharves. The Basel is 215 metres long and 32 metres wide, so seeing such a big ship moved so delicately is fun.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Traveling on the ship is a strange experience. It feels like I'm in a foreign country because all the signs are in German and nobody on board speaks English that well but they all speak it a little. But then we come into port and suddenly I'm in familiar New Zealand again. Then back to the ship and it seems I'm in a foreign land again. I guess it prepares me for future travels when I really will be in foreign lands, but in those cases I won't have momentary returns to NZ! I have, however, settled in now and am enjoying the experience.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
As I write these words I am still on board the ship, even though I will have disembarked in Wellington in order to post them online. The ship left Lyttelton early this morning and I felt it start moving as I was half-awake. So, what does a person do while traveling on a freighter? There’s not much - a very small gym, a TV room, a games room, and a small pool but nothing in them to keep me occupied for long. I felt a bit restless and then worried that this was only my first of nine days aboard! However, I think the restlessness is due to having been rushing around the previous two weeks doing lots of things preparing to leave and now suddenly being constrained in a smallish space. Once I get used to it I reckon I’ll relax. After all, some of the crew (as I just learned over a cup of tea) spend eleven months on board. I have books, magazines, music and dvds, and chatting with the crew is also good. I’m the only passenger on board at the moment but apparently a married couple are getting on in Wellington, bound for Brisbane.
I’ve started reading Moby Dick by Herman Melville which I brought along with me, thinking it would be ideal reading on a sea ship. According to the book’s narrator Ishmael, I’ve chosen the wrong capacity to travel in: ‘Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea ... I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger... Passengers get sea-sick - grow quarrelsome - don’t sleep of nights - do not enjoy themselves much.’ I’ve felt a bit sea-sick, for which I’m taking some ‘Travel Ease’ and I didn’t sleep great, but haven’t yet grown quarrelsome. However there’s still time.
The only disturbing thing I’ve noticed so far is the racial segregation. There are two mess-rooms, one scummy and like a tiny factory canteen, the other relatively plush, and could be a dining room in a mid-priced hotel. The Kiribatis all use the first while the rest of the crew have the second. Now perhaps there is some good reason for this - perhaps one is for engine-room crew and the other for navigators, technical officers, paid passengers and so on, and it just so happens that the first are Kiribatis (though arguably even that would not be a good reason). But to see a workplace in which all the workers with dark skin have the scummy tea-room while everyone with white skin has relative luxury is not a good look. Will there be a race-based mutiny? I’ll keep you posted.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
I got on the MSC Basel this afternoon in Lyttelton, bound for Brisbane with stops in Wellington, Napier, and Tauranga. Departure is in a few hours so they let me come ashore and I found an internet cafe to write this. The Basel is huge and walking past the gigantic machines loading containers is a little intimidating. My cabin is great though - en suite and a TV and very comfortable. Crew seems to be a mix of eastern European and Kiribati though the captain is German. As I boarded, a Canadian woman in her 70s was disembarking! It all feels a bt scary but also very exciting.
Not sure when next I'll be able to post here, it depends on whether I can find internet access at our stops. Anyway, this time tomorrow I will be arriving in Wellington according to the captain (though all the times I've been given seem very changeable!)