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.