Pirate Chase off
Aboard the APL container ship
President Jackson, in the
Gulf of Aden off
June 20, 2010
Run, run back,
Oh; no, run the other way,
How am I going to call
pirate boats approaching from both sides
when they rush us at the same time?
Careful on the catwalk here,
don't slip, don't trip,
bulkhead this side,
containers that side,
what about RPG attack?
Goddam they're close.
Bridge, Bow Lookout,
two small vessels approaching
broad to port;
one small vessel approaching
three points to starboard,
Bloody hell these can't be fishing boats,
vessels approaching rapidly,
Hey this is fun!
Two more vessels
approaching fine to port
Do they have AK-47's?
Wouldn't they have used them by now?
Hey the cook said
he's got something hot for them
if they get below but we'd
all be in the safe room by that time
Hey, we're getting attacked by pirates!
but is it an attack if
they aren't shooting at you yet?
Bridge, Bow Lookout,
Wendy’s Sea Log, M/V President Jackson, APL Shipping Lines
Signed on as Able Seaman, Watch Stander, 5/3/10
Greetings to all who asked to be on this list, and if you don’t want to be on it, just e-mail and tell me. For those of you who have sailed, some of this will be familiar, and for those of you who haven’t, most of it will not.
No sign of pirates yet. We are about to pull into Norfolk, VA, after leaving Newark, NJ, on Tues, and having stopped at Charleston, SC, and Savannah, GA, this past week. Less then 24 hrs in each port, enough to offload and load cargo and ship’s stores. Seas have been calm, winds fair. The
container ship, 906 feet long. Everything as to engines and machinery is
working, the food’s OK, and we all still like each other. Jackson
The crew is a mix of Philippino Americans, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Arab Americans, and us Poor White Trash Americans. The US Merchant Marine has always been diverse; think of Queequeg and what’s their faces the black guy and the Indian in Moby Dick. [Daggoo and Tashtego] We get along better on ships than some of our counterparts on land, because we have a job to do and everyone has to pull together to get it done.
There’s also the little matter of survival. We have to fight fires, abandon ship, and/or secure the ship against pirates if necessary, and we have to look out for each other in what is also normally a dangerous environment, with trip hazards on deck, the ship’s rolling in nasty weather, and heavy machinery moving heavy stuff around. Getting along is more than desirable, it’s a necessity, and as such we give serious time and effort to keeping it light, making jokes, finding out what ticks off the other guy, and listening to her or him as a human being, considering that we all can be tired out, hungry and sleep deprived. Divisive behavior is not an option.
Rooms are roomy enough, and are comparable to a medium price range hotel. Everyone has their own head; on some ships two crew share a head between their rooms. This ship is the first one I’ve been on where we have a swimming pool, but it is only about 10x 20 feet. Haven’t used it yet.
We monitor Channel 16, the emergency radio channel, at all times, and are about fifty miles offshore. Today there was one leaky sailboat taken in tow before it sank, and a chopper rescue of a guy having a heart attack on another boat. If we’re close enough to be of practical assistance, we help out, but these boats were too far away.
Fair winds till next time,
39° 15’ N.
63° 16’ W.
Speed: 20.53 kt.
I was out among the containers tightening lashings today—fifteen to thirty feet up on the catwalks between the rows of containers, making sure the big turnbuckles were secured tightly. The vibrations from the engine and the rolling of the ship can loosen them, and the stevedores sometimes leave out that last twist to make the turnbuckle nuts tight. We have over a thousand containers aboard, but the ones on deck are only secured to the deck up to the second or third container; above that they simply fit into each other like Legos at the corners. We stay away from weather that would cause the ship to roll enough to make them fall off.
There’s a nice breeze up there, but it’s not like being up in the rigging on the Lady Washington.
After you get off the deck and wash off all the grease, it’s almost like being on a cruise ship, looking out the window at the sea from your nice clean cabin. Clocks went ahead an hour last night and will go ahead another hour tonight. Going to watch on the bridge now.
Sea salt is great for the skin. I highly recommend it. Everyone should have at least one skin. Did deck washdown today; we pump sea water up through the fire hose system for that, but had to wait a few minutes for full pressure, so I’m standing there sort of like I’m watering geraniums or my lettuce with a little trickle. Don’t know if my carrots back home have come up yet.
Saw a sea bird today. Getting close to the
40° 26’ N.
32° 35’ W.
North Atlantic, about 60 miles NW of the
Living in such close quarters is kind of like instant family; the deck and engine depts. share a laundry room, and everyone knows what size underwear you wear. The persons you Must Get Along With are the Chief Steward, Cook, and Steward’s Assistant; they feed you. Getting along with the Bosun and the Mate is also good.
The bridge is about 40 x 25 feet, with one large console for the electrical gear, alarms, navigation lights, compass readout, rate of turn gauge, and the wheel, and another console for the radar screens, computer chart readout, and the throttles. My watch chair is to one side of the wheel; we always stand when we’re steering manually, and can sit when we’re not steering. It is only a high wooden chair with seat padding, but the first time I sat in it, I felt like Capt. Kirk and wanted to say, “Engage.”
We discuss pirate attack the same way you’d talk about bad traffic on the freeway. The ship has numerous barriers and obstacles to prevent pirates from successfully storming the ship, and you will understand if I don’t tell you what they are. We did one pirate drill, which essentially is to circle the wagons and wait for the cavalry. At the PA announcement, “Alamo, Alamo,
we go to a secure room, and I’m not saying where that is either, with extra
food, water, and a radio, and call the nearest coalition warship. Somebody aboard
wondered why they chose a call word to get us to safety from a battle where
Too many liability issues if we shoot back ourselves, though many would like to. I’d love to get one of the Lady Washington’s cannon off at them. We are trying to get Uncle Sam to give us, the US flagged commercial ships, a military unit aboard for protection, as the Military Sealift Command ships have (they are military cargo ships owned by the Navy but crewed by civilians). There is a Natl. Guard unit on those ships; during WWII the civilian
that delivered cargo carried Naval Armed Guard units. If the war on terror is
truly a war, shouldn’t we have the necessary protection against terrorists? The
shipping companies don’t want to spend the money for armed private security
But pirates are nothing compared to what my dad went through in WWII; he had one ship torpedoed out from under him before Pearl Harbor, then on the Murmansk Run in ’42 he ran a 24/7 gauntlet against mines, submarines, air attack and icebergs. He came through all without a scratch. I have his Merchant Marine dogtag from then, and figure if that doesn’t bring us luck, nothing will.
Saw another seabird. NW Seaport Shanty Sing is tonight.
Today’s the Preakness, and I don’t know that we’ll have a Triple Crown possibility this year. We get e-versions of news from the NY Times and a couple of other sources, so I can stay up on the baseball standings. Not like the old days where you just disappeared for a couple of years, whaling. When wireless came along you had some contact with the rest of the world; if the atmospherics were right you could transmit and receive quite a ways. Once a boat my dad was on in the 30’s in the
picked up a Brooklyn Dodgers broadcast. He was a wireless operator and a Brooklyn boy, and would have been happy as a clam, except
dem bums lost.
While still stateside, one of the crew was taking a shower with the door from the head to his room open, and the steam heat from the shower set off the ship-wide fire alarm. Nice to know the alarms are that sensitive, but the engineers turned his down a bit so he can shower without a ruckus. We all reported to our fire stations anyway, till told to stand down.
Yesterday we did fire and abandon ship drill, and I was one of the ones to suit up in full firefighting gear and go through hatches and up and down ladders to where the “fire” was. At 5’4” and 110 lbs, some of the guys give me looks when I get all that gear on, but I’ve always done well in fire fighting classes and have never fallen down or stubbed my toe. I can fit into smaller places, too. In fact, four of the six deck crew are on the small side. We tried to see if two of us could fit into one Jumbo sized survival suit, but that didn’t work.
The engineers have been having no luck in getting the pool heater to work, so it looks like we’re going to have to wait till the Red Sea and
Indian Ocean heat it up for us. I told the Bosun that, since the Deck Dept. is
responsible for the safety of all things on deck, and the swimming pool is on
deck, we should be the first ones to test the water, to make sure it is not too
hot or too cold. Full immersion would be the best option. Waiting for word on
Mom’s birthday. She would have been 88. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Seeing emeralds within, her stone.
One of the Mideast-born guys aboard wanted to know if we could buy a live goat ashore in one of our
ports, bring it aboard and butcher and barbecue it. The Capt. said no.
An Incident on the Bridge
The AB on lookout watch paced the bridge with a grim tread. The ship had been violated, its territorial sovereignty broken, and the culprit, though not in sight, was near. Very near. The AB wished the engine vibrations and air conditioning vents were quieter; it might be possible to hear the invader then.
Lethal though it was, the weapon in the AB’s hand felt flimsy, inadequate. Would it have the necessary force to vanquish the foe when called upon?
A high-pitched whine hit the AB’s ear, and with sure motion, the weapon was brought to bear upon the fast moving victim, who had momentarily paused on the counter. That was his undoing; the smack of the weapon’s impact resounded through the bridge. Stooping a bit, the AB removed what was left of the fly from the fly swatter, and deposited it in the “Burnable Trash” can.
today. Picked up Spanish radio transmissions, and some Arabic. Vessel traffic
channel through Gibraltar is VHF 10. There’s
white Sahara dust ahead to starboard.
Passed through the Straits of Gibraltar about 3 pm. Ah, Molly Bloom’s words from Joyce’s Ulysses: “
Gibraltar as a girl
where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair” Wonder where the British fort was exactly?
I finally saw the Rock; it was fogged in when I first came through in 2004. From the west it looks like a sea slug, crowned with a can opener on the north side and the famous promontory on the south. The bottom part looks like the old Art Deco ferry Kalakala pushing up a bow wave. Colors on both the Spanish and Moroccan side —light cream and faded olive— are similar to southern California, but the hills and ridges of both continents are sharper, more like the mountain shapes in Washington State. Wish I could get down to
I’d go to Rick’s.
Could somebody sing the following at the next shanty sing? Thanks.
Little (Container Ship) Boxes
After Malvina Reynolds’ “Little Boxes”
Little boxes on the deck top
Little boxes full of flip flops
And they’re stacked up on the deck top
And they all sorta look the same
Chorus: There’s a rust one, and a blue one
And a blue one, and a rust one
And they’re stacked up on the deck top
And they all sorta look the same
And the boxes with the Haz-Mats
Are stacked way far forward
Cause the Haz-Mats might go boom-boom
And we don’t like that at all
And the reefers with the frozen fish
Are stacked up by the deck house
So the cook can steal the fishies
And make us bouillabaisse
When the big waves hit the boxes
They fall off in the ocean
And they’re taking all the flip flops
To the folks in Davy Jones’
And the pirates like the big boats
So they sail up in their little boats
And they try to take the big boats
But we shoot them in the head
And the big ship sails the ocean
And it’s taking all the boxes
All the boxes full of flip flops
To a Wal Mart nearest you
36° 56.5’ N.
001° 35” E.
Speed: 17.92 kt
Wind E, Beaufort Force 5
Sea E, Beaufort Force 2
We crossed the
Greenwich line earlier today, and are now in the Eastern Hemisphere. Algeria
is visible to the south, but Spain
has vanished. Algeria
looks a bit like Catalina from LA; from where we were during my watch, there
was even a part that looked like the Isthmus.
“Good Morning” and “Have a good watch” are not just polite pleasantries here, they are a necessity. You have to always try to have good relations with everyone aboard, and that includes remembering to tell the cook how good the stuffed cabbage was. Let that sort of thing slip and you soon start being nasty to each other.
We’ll be heading past the shores of
Tripoli soon; these are the waters
of the old Barbary Pirates, the Barbary Coast
itself, and I tried to get excited about it but it was too early in the
37° 19.5’ N.
011° 61’ E.
Speed: 19.3 kt.
Folklife starts in
Seattle today. Wish I
could be there.
God be my anchor
Holy Spirit my speed
Christ’s hand on the tiller
And St. Peter to kvetch
Deck Sports=Fire and Abandon Ship Drill today. The crew got a guided tour of the engine room from the First Assistant Engineer. I love shaft alleys, watching the drive shaft go round. Ours is about three feet in diameter. Thought it would be bigger for a propeller for a ship this size.
Air and water temperature in the 90’s. Three fans and AC on the bridge and it’s still warm. All are tired.
Saw a ship’s name, Brillante Virtuoso, on the AIS last night. Nice name for a ship or anything else.
The Chief Steward said he’s got something special and hot for pirates in the galley. “Just send them down here.”
Two more ships with good names: Easy Prosperi and Iron Butterfly, both tankers. Threaded the Staits of Hormuz today and down to tie up at Jebel Ali, near
There’s a good Seaman’s Mission
there with Internet access.
Overhearing a lot of interesting radio traffic in the wee hours. Some of it sounds like 3 am SF Bay Area talk radio, and that’s the English I hear. Suspect the other tongues are saying similar stuff.
Didn’t get off the ship in Jebel Ali but heard the Pilot say last night that the depression hurts even here in the oil rich UAE (
Arab Emirates). Their
palm-tree-out-in-the-water-shaped development is built, but no one is buying
units there. Interesting approach from the water; the entry lane is a narrow
channel marked by buoys, with a strong SW current running across it, and you
would think the pilot pick up place would be much sooner than it is. The
Captain conned us through most of the entrance channel, and there he stood,
with his binoculars, silhouetted in the bridge window and calling the compass
course or number of degrees to turn, absolutely in his element. And there I
was, on the helm, calling out in repeat his commands, and steering to the tenth
of a degree. Dead on it most of the time. Counter steered 5° to 7° against the
current. Captain said I did a good job.
The other deckies don’t think I’m so good on deck as I am very rusty there, but I asked the Captain today and he said I’m still employed. On to
I used the proper term, “Small vessel” when calling out a sighting, but the 2nd mate said with feigned vexation, “Wendy, that’s a little boat.”
Didn’t get off the ship at
Karachi but the birds on
the dock are immense. Not sure which kind they are; some looked like raptors.
Boats, 2nd Mate and I did the let go on the bow yesterday, Boats on
the winches, Mate calling the shots, and me humping lines all by me lonesome. A
couple of snags but got them cleared before turning into major foul-ups, and
all secured. About 100°, 90 per cent humidity.
All quiet on bridge. No traffic, clear, some clouds, mostly blue sky, small swell in a blue sea. There’s all the crap and then sometimes you get a day like this.
Had a DIW (Dead in the Water) alarm last night on my watch, about 23:30. I had just changed the autopilot to 150° and was waiting for the compass to swing to check the magnetic course against it, when every alarm on the bridge went off, and we lost steering, engines, gyro, everything. I stood by the helm till the Third Mate switched to hand steering, then kept her on course as we went from about twenty knots down to five, drifting without power. The Captain, Chief Engineer and First Engineer all came up to the bridge, and got us underway again after a few minutes, but they still don’t know exactly what went wrong.
I think it was just a fine old lady’s way of saying, “I’ve been sturdy and true in the water for many years. It is a bit warm out. I’d like to stop and rest my flippers a bit.”
Think a better way then all the bells and whistles going off would be to have a female computer voice: “You have had a malfunction. Please hang up and try again. Thank you.”
All quiet on watch today. When AB Rhonda came in to do bridge sanitary, she pointed her finger at me and laughed, “All right, Wendy, what did you do?” to cause the DIW. Swore I didn’t do anything but she didn’t believe me.
A void, an empty space below decks forward, filled with water yesterday and today the day workers were emptying it and cleaning it out. Not sure where the water came from, the sea or a water ballast tank. Saw a tidal chart for the shipyard in
Singapore on the Chief Mate’s
office door. We may be going in there.
Just got a knock at the door. AB Romy and the Chief Engineer were there, asking if the smoke alarm in my room had gone off. I assured them it hadn’t, and there was no fire in my room. Apparently the indicators on the bridge and engine control room said there was a fire on this deck. Weird. Maybe we’ll spend more time in the shipyard.
Nobody will complain if we have to stay in
a while, even if things are expensive and you get arrested if you litter or
spit on the sidewalk. Shore leave is shore leave, and it’s even nicer when it’s
not in a Third World country, where you don’t
have to worry about terrorists or drinking the water. In ,
the security guards had AK-47’s and big, mean looking shotguns on the dock, and
I made it a point to be friendly with them, waving from the deck and smiling
when I was on gangway watch. Stand your watch and don’t get shot. That’s a good
watch. Karachi, Pakistan
Our #2 gyro compass went out at 09:00 this morning during my watch, and our steering went cattywampus without the compass for a moment, then we put it in hand steering until the Captain came up and switched to gyro #1, growling, “Piece ‘a shit.” Don’t know if they’re going to get it repaired in
or have the mate on the APL ship Philippines take a
look; the Captain said he was good at fixing them, but as to the whereabouts of
the mate or the ,
I haven’t a clue. If we do have to steer home by hand on magnetic, we can
switch the gyro dial by the wheel to indicate the magnetic compass heading
instead, so the helmsperson doesn’t have to look up at the magnetic reading
overhead, its standard position on most ships. That would save a lot of stiff
More good ship’s names: Genius Star VIII, Sunbird Arrow, C. Mighty, M/V Surplus and Holy
There was a rumor that instead of spending any time in the shipyard, we might be leaving
earlier than scheduled (Rot!) but the Third Mate said this morning that it was
only a rumor. We’ll see.
We have no falling down drunks aboard at present, though one AB was fired once for showing up smashed, and on another ship I was on, the previous Chief Engineer lost his job for coming up to the bridge under the influence and hitting the Captain in the jaw. Very unmannerly, particularly so as this skipper was a fine and decent gentleman who knew his stuff ship-wise, and could teach an AB a thing or two about steering; he took the wheel himself once.
Shipping has cracked down on naughty chemicals and alcohol since the Exxon Valdez in ‘89, and we are all subject to spot check urinalysis as well as a required one if there is any accident aboard, plus the required pre-employment one. I believe the official alcohol blood level limit now is 0.04. I’ve never failed a drug test and don’t plan to in the future.
We are allowed spirits aboard, though the options from the slop chest are somewhat limited. The wines are Wal Mart specials, and would not win any contests. I’m the only sailor I know who doesn’t drink beer, so the others can have that, and the Dom Perignon will have to wait till I get ashore.
On the cruise ship I worked on in 2005, the crew had their own bar, way below decks, far from the elegance of the passenger dining areas, and the difference was something like that scene in Titanic; “Want to go to a real party?”
My shipmates include an experienced AB named Rhonda, who has reverse pride in being pure white trash. She has a mouth like a whip and a heart of gold. She collects discarded life rings from ships she has sailed on, and hangs them on her wall at home. We were below decks in the void that had filled with water, purely from condensation, and we were pumping it out. Really filthy work. So at the end of the day, on the way out, I was about to cross a catwalk and Rhonda said I would have to take the ladder down to the deck, cross the deck, and then go up the ladder to the other side where the exit was. They didn’t trust me on the catwalk, she said, as I was new on this ship. I politely explained that I was an experienced tall ship sailor with plenty of time up in the rigging and no fear of heights. She then gave me a ten minute lecture on safety, while all this time I’m standing on a ladder twenty feet above the deck, with no safety harness on, as the ship rolled back and forth.
It is sad to find out how limited a life some of the sailors have had. One, in his forties I think, looks and sounds a bit like Yul Brynner, but had never heard of him or seen The King and I, and another, 29, had never heard of Lawrence of Arabia or seen that movie. I am going to send them the movies when I get home. Some guys really do spend all their shore time in bars, apparently.
Saw a printout on the bridge this morning that said a 7.5 earthquake had hit the same area that got trashed so badly five years ago out here. We passed through those waters last night, but I didn’t feel any notable swell or rise from a tsunami. At sea though, they say you usually can’t feel anything as it’s too gradual to notice. Haven’t heard any tsunami reports. Will check the papers in
Singapore. English, Malay and
Chinese are all official languages there, so there will be an English paper.
More good ship names: Y.M. Great, Ever Useful,
St. James Park,
and Front Hunter.
Saw a piece of driftwood on watch that looked just like a miniature submarine; it had two pieces of wood that stuck straight up, like the periscope and radio antenna, and for all the world it might have been one of those Japanese mini-subs from WWII, maybe with a guy 80 or 90 years old in it, still thinking the war was on. Didn’t report it as a sub; just called out, “Contact, two points to starboard.”
Got to Raffles Hotel; 19th century British colonialism to the hilts, with white marble walkways and balustrade upon balustraded stairways descending to meet each other. The on site museum had a lot of info on her illustrious guests, and an old rickshaw, but no sign of John Wayne or Sidney Greenstreet from the movie. I found a veranda with round tables and wicker chairs, low and wing backed, the wicker a chestnut color and elegantly woven, the seat cushions a forest green and chestnut pattern. I sat in one and pretended to be Sidney Greenstreet: “Your tale is intriguing. Alas, I am unable to assist you. Do have a pleasant time/enjoy your stay in
Wine was $30 a glass. I passed.
Tonight I came back to the ship with a sandwich from Subway, identical to the ones at home, down to the breads (they also have 7-11 and McDonald’s), and saw a thin tuxedo black kitty, about eight or nine months old, by the entrance to the Immigration building. Its bones were very fine, like Asian people’s bones, and I wondered if cat food here was more rice and fish based than
US meat based cat foods. He looked
a bit like my Bijou at home, but with a more elongated face. It turned out the
kitty had two identical siblings crouched nearby, all ferally shy but hungry,
and I tore off some of my sandwich for them. I have fed starving cats in Venice, Crete, and now Singapore. My Jean Lafitte at home
thinks he’s a starving kitty, but he is delusional. You wouldn’t know it to
hear his piteous little kitten mew at mealtime, crying like a four week old when
Mommy leaves the litter, for all the world like a poor abandoned kitty who
hasn’t eaten for a month. Ha.
Before I could feed them the rest of my sandwich, the Third Engineer, who had been putting down some highly supercharged fluid, and had arrived back at the dock gate the same time I did, started hollering if I wanted to go back to the ship I’d better come now. I couldn’t see our #35 shuttle bus, but it turned out the Third had befriended a dockworker with a car, and had called him for a ride. “We are brothers from one mother!” the Third kept repeating as he drove, hitting the poor guy in the shoulder each time. I put my hand between his and the shoulder, and pointed out that the driver’s shifting arm might be in jeopardy if he continued, and without a shifting arm we might not get back. I gave our good hearted friend, who had obviously escorted more than one drunken sailor to his berth, a few dollars for his trouble.
When we got to the ship, the Third held out his hand to me like a courtly gentleman, and graciously assisted me up the one step to the gangway. It’s the first time this trip anyone’s done anything like that, and it was genuinely charming. He followed me up and actually made it to the top without doing a Jack from Jack and Jill went up the hill. I signed him in with an “X.” Didn’t see him again till this afternoon, when he appeared to be OK.
morning; I took her out leaving the dock. We got the gyro fixed here, so there
shouldn’t be any more alarms from it. Shouldn’t be.
Time line: Called at 02:30 for 03:00, got dressed and went down, but found it had been a mistake and call was to be an hour later. Called at 03:30 for 04:00, did a trash sweep around the deck, stowaway search up and down through the house, stood around and waited a while. Up to the bridge to steer at 06:00. Relieved at 07:00. 07:45, back up to the bridge for regular watch till 11:45. Did our deck sanitary 13:00 to 15:00. Stand down. 20:00 to 24:00, regular watch. 00:00 to 04:00, pirate watch. Stand down. Up again for regular watch at 08:00.
Night watch. Standing on the starboard bridge wing, warm, dark sea green water below, like the ocean off southern
a salt breeze up, and I thought, nowhere else I’d rather be! Halfway around the
world, dropping from exhaustion, in the middle of pirate waters!
Saw a flying fish zipping away from the ship; first one I’ve ever seen. Haven’t seen any dolphins, anywhere, and few birds either; this trip has been a disappointment as far as bird watching goes.
One thing you don’t have to worry about out here are bad hair days. Bad hair doesn’t matter much here, only ashore.
Went ashore in
. Two guys took me on a tour of the
city in a little van for about $30. Their Thirty Years War is finally over, and
they’re going to have a victory/memorial parade this Friday the 18th.
Numerous soldiers still about on street corners, armed with shotguns and AK
47s. Taxis are little three wheeled golf carts. Bit of British colonialism in
some of the old buildings’ architecture. Saw a book on FDR driving by a
sidewalk bookstall. Passed a fine looking modern public library. Where there’s
books, there’s hope. Colombo, Sri
Fishermen came to the boat with a chunk of tuna, shrimp and crabs in ice chests and plastic bags for the Chief Steward to peruse for our mess; saw other fishermen on the street carrying their catch between them, hung midships from their poles that they had on their shoulders, one guy fore and one aft. Sengalese and Tamil spoken here; I have neither one.
People extraordinarily friendly, especially to us rich sailors off the container ships. Dogs all seemed to be one breed of sandy hound; thought they were all clones. I put identification wrist bands on the local workers who came aboard to work cleaning the engine room, and some of these grown guys’ wrists were almost as thin as my own.
Gem sellers came aboard with some fine looking stones, but the ones you can get ashore are cheaper. Gems are a big industry here; star sapphires are excellent, as are the amethysts.
The entrance to the
Colombo harbor is the
narrowest I’ve ever taken the ship through; felt like we were going to scrape
the stone breakwater light towers on both port and starboard sides. Found out
it was 800 feet across; this seems fine and wide enough, as we are only 130
feet abeam, leaving more than a football field on each side. But we are also
900 feet long, and if the bow thruster or steering had gone cattywampus, we
could have racked ourselves up in the entrance. And those towers still seemed
Saw on the Internet at the Seaman’s
Mission here that Afghanistan has
a huge array of mineral wealth, newly discovered. This is fantastic; they will
not have to rely on the poppy industry any more. Hope they can mine the stuff
without totally destroying the environment.
Remembered a sign from
“No Smoking. No Naked Lights.” No open flames, that is. Lights must remember to
container cranes are the most unique I’ve seen yet. The unit that attaches to
the container has a contraption in the middle that looks like a cross between a
smokestack and the Tin Man’s hat. Vivo, the shopping mall near the docks, looks
like the Sidney Opera House under construction.
Bloomsday. “Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.” Hope the Wild Geese Players’ Circe reading in
Seattle goes well.
Colombo—Call out was 00:30 for 01:00, after a
long day and twenty minutes lying down but not sleeping. We stood to and
waited. And waited. Didn’t get away till about 05:00, off watch at 06:00.
Enough time to get cleaned up and lie down for another twenty minutes before bridge
watch at 07:45. Third Mate had had the same hours so we pulled down all the
window sun shades to spare our bloodshot eyes from the cheery morning light. No
OT today; everyone catching up on sleep.
Flash! Zombies Take Over Ship!
Mindless maniacs sail ship in great circle off the coast of
Sri Lanka, as long dead creatures
rise up out of the sea, and with zombie riders, slosh ashore to steal popcorn
and spread green slime around! Stay tuned!
We’ll be going against the sea and current all the way from
through the Arabian Sea, and Red Sea to Suez,
and the forecast is for a considerable swell. But we are still turning from 85
to 90 rpms, and making 20-21 knots. We have already had several engine
overheating alarms on the bridge. The engineers are not going to be very happy.
One of our AB’s didn’t know how many sheets a ream of paper was. Some of these guys don’t seem to have gone to high school, let alone finished it.
Another pirate drill tomorrow. Haven’t seen any stinking pirates.
Poetic ship names: TH Symphony, Ocean Prelude, Orion Trader, Aphrodite Leader,
Saigon Princess, and Sky Dream. A very positive ship name: Double Rejoice.
Sailors are the most self reliant, fix-it guys there are. They can handle any situation and come out on top. I can’t help but think that if my salty old dad and a few merchant seamen had been aboard United Flight #93, the plane would have landed safely, with the terrorists tied up, ready for the authorities. And anything wrong with the plane would have been fixed.
My steel toed boots are still giving me blisters. Guess they never will fit right. After the first three days out, both heels were a pulpy mess. Know how orange juice has “No Pulp, Some Pulp, and Lots of Pulp”? Well this was A Whole Lot of Pulp. Pretty much wear my sneakers all the time now. Heels fine that way.
The AB and the Uncommunicative Mate
AB. Contact, two points to starboard.
AB. More coffee, mate?
AB. Pirates attacking astern!
Sat., 09:15. Off of
Oman. Rough and
choppy, many whitecaps. 40 kt. wind on the bow, a little to port. White water
and spray over the forward port side; spray arcs up over the containers to
starboard, sun catches it and makes rainbows.
I thought nobody in their right mind would be out in a small boat in this stuff. But then pirates aren’t in their right minds.
Out here we sign off radio calls to other ships with variants on “Thank you, and have a nice watch/safe voyage/good trip.” But out here we mean it. Things can go from nice to nasty pretty fast.
One of the deckies evidently drank the water in
(dumb), and has been out with a dysenteric sort of tummy since this past
midnight. The dayworkers are splitting his watch between them. A bit awkward.
After dark. Lots of ships out tonight, most headed for
They were all cranking, as these are pirate waters but we were cranking too,
and slowly passed everyone else.
We were the fastest ship in the fleet.
On the bridge wing, night vision binoculars slung over my shoulder, I yelled, “Hey, Pie-rats! Get outta here!”
02:30. It was a very warm night/early morning on pirate watch, and I was on roving patrol on deck. We carry a hand held supercharged searchlight known as the Ronnie Ray-Gun, after the late president, and I was also armed with a radio, a knife, a Leatherman multiplex, a small flashlight and my keys. Those pirates better not mess with me. Got up to the bow where there was a bit of a wafting wind, and wanted to cool off, so I sat down, unbuttoned my shirt and let God admire His handiwork. Felt a bit like the Little Mermaid, or like pirate Mary Read, who, disguised as a man, killed another man in a duel. As he lay dying, she ripped her blouse open so he could see, to add insult to fatal injury, that the man who had killed him was a woman.
Day. Visual on a warship, looked like a destroyer or light cruiser, broad to starboard, #101 on her bow. A white chopper with black doors on her aft deck. Couldn’t make out her flag as it was fouled, but it appeared to have orange and black in it. Belgian, German?
This is Pirate Central, where the Gulf of Aden joins the Red Sea, from about 12°12.5’ N., 45°47.5’ E., to 13°08.4’ N., 43°05.9’ E., between
Collected some Genuine Pirate Water up on the bow at 12°24’ N., 44°16’ E., and
put it in a bottle. Maybe I can sell it on E-Bay.
On the bridge, looking at our computer chart with AIS ship names and positions on it. Big cluster of ships ahead, so dense you can’t read the names. Feels like we’re at the back of the pack in the Indy 500. Shipping lanes are marked on the charts here so the pirates know where we’ll be. Still no sign of any. EU warship out of sight broad to port, six miles out; visibility poor, lots of haze. British by the sound of their radio calls. Nice to know they’re out there. Two choppers flew by as well.
16:00 to 20:00 pirate watch. It’s Rhonda’s 43rd birthday so I took her watch. Over an hour’s time, half a dozen very small launches, in ones and twos, sped toward us and tried to keep pace. None could, and they all fell away. There were two or three guys in each boat, no room for more, or for any artillery bigger than a shotgun; more then that and the recoil would capsize them. I was told they were fishermen. Fishermen? Drug runners? Or pirate scouts? They didn’t look like fishing boats; no room for any real gear or fish. The fishing boats around here are bigger, enough for five or six guys and a reasonably sizable catch, thirty feet long at least. These were much smaller. And if they were fishing boats, I’m Prince William.
I called their positions in to the bridge, from the forward catwalk on the bow. It’s between the forward mooring station bulkhead and the first row of containers, you get a good view to port or starboard, and it’s well protected. It was exciting, running back and forth on the catwalk to check both sides, and not scary.
They didn’t fire at us so technically we weren’t under attack. But were they pirates or drug runners or joyriding fishermen? Why would fishermen do that? Exciting anyway. Chased by pirates!
Night. The half moon, sunken yellow, dissolved into the murky mist. “Hover in the fog and filthy air.” Macbeth, I.i.
Looking for Pirates
Looking for pirates is all fun and games
Till somebody stubs their big toe
It swells up and falls off
Needs a dolly to haul off
And no one listens to your tale of woe
But now there’s a space
In the missing place
To smuggle in jewels from
Colombo ( Sri Lanka)
Looking for pirates is all fun and games
Till somebody stubs their big toe
Oh, it’s all part of looking for pirates
For pirates! For pirates!
And you can’t find a pirate
With all of your parts (2X)
Looking for pirates is all fun and games
Till somebody jams their pinky
The pain never leaves
And you can’t believe
So much hurt from something so dinky
Put on some ice
And it feels so nice
And fixes you up in a twinky
Looking for pirates is all fun and games
Till somebody jams their pinky
Looking for pirates is all fun and games
Till somebody loses their tummy
You can’t go aloft
‘Cause it ticks people off
Sending down something that was so yummy
The pirates say, “Judy,
Cut throats and take booty,
And then you won’t feel so crummy.”
Looking for pirates is all fun and games
Till somebody loses their tummy
With thanks to Don Freed and Tom Lewis
Was needle gunning on the flying bridge and the needles went through a small hole in the metal and got stuck. Took our biggest deckie to haul it out, after half an hour of everyone else trying. Haven’t had anything stuck that tight since I was a virgin.
The more I see of the world, the less I believe in the necessity of war. It is a terrible thing, and there are enough terrible things in the world without it.
Port Said. Call at 01:30 for let go; actual let go at 05:45. Sang “Go Down, Moses” at let go; “Let my ship go.”
The Med is an incredibly deep crisp blue, and visibility is clear and excellent, after the haze and murk of Sandyland, aka the
Looks like the Pacific on a fine day.
Watchstanders never get a full night’s sleep, and with call out from 01:30 to 05:45, then bridge watch from 07:45 to 11:45, you carry a layer of weariness that fluctuates, increases or decreases, but never goes fully away. And then there is the boredom of long, uneventful watches; sometimes an entire four hour watch goes by without a ship sighting or significant change in the weather.
08:00. Captain just came to the bridge in a sweatshirt and his jammie bottoms.
Was actually cool on the bridge last night. Felt like getting a sweater. Hooray! Normal weather.
08:45. Captain, in jeans, just brought a roll of paper towels to the bridge. “Rhonda delegated me for sanitary; ‘Are you going to the bridge? Could you take this up for me, please?’” Don’t know anybody but Rhonda who could get any captain to do that. She turns on the sweet southern charm (she’s from
Louisiana) and men, particularly captains,
melt like butter in her hands.
Republicans never raise taxes. They impose:
Increased Library Fines
Ship names: Gisela Oldend, Cielo di Vancouver, Adventure of the Seas.
Don’t know why it is, but I never get tired of looking at the ocean. Well, sometimes. But hardly ever. Good thing for a watch stander.
Back on the
Barbary Coast. Very quiet these days. Pirates all went
Boats has a maroon knit cap that makes him look exactly like a bag lady. I go into hysterics whenever I see him wearing it.
Our big deckie opened a watertight door that had a lot of pressure behind it and it shot open and banged him up. Don’t know if he opened it properly, from the hinge side out, or not. He’s been coming to watch with a big sack of ice and a pillow. First his tummy, now this. Being big and strong doesn’t make you invincible, especially against steel; when flesh and blood meets steel, steel wins. Always.
A heroic ship name: Alexander the Great. Passed a cruise ship, Adventure of the Seas. Don’t know what her registry was.
US and Europe,
VHF Channel 16 is the emergency and first contact frequency, to be used only
when necessary. In the Med and Mideast, it’s
an open party line, for anyone to say anything, including love letters and
insults to someone’s mother.
38°09.8’ N., 15°12.2 W.
Speed: 20 kt.
Wind: 27 kt.
Gibraltar yesterday morning, but the Rock was hidden in
haze. Nice then, gray and choppy in the evening. Lots cooler. Nice again today.
Welcome back to the North Atlantic. Heading
west to the New World and home. Thought of my
mother’s people, Irish Catholics heading for Canada
in 1835 in one of the potato famine coffin ships, and of my father’s folks from
Jews fleeing the pogroms in 1906, over in steerage on the S.S. Amerika, Hamburg-America Lines. They left everything behind,
not that there was much to leave, except that it was home, and sailed to the New World. They didn’t know what would be there for them,
didn’t speak the language, but they came. Dad’s people saw the Statue of
Liberty and went through Ellis Island. So will
I, soon. It’s the same trip.
Azores. Saw three or four whales along the starboard
side. Looked like finbacks. First cetaceans this trip.
Speed: 18 kt.
Wind: 40 kt., over port bow
09:15. Overcast, bit of a chop with whitecaps. Went out on the flying bridge to check temperature. I love standing out in the wind. Don’t know if we’ll be able to chip on the flying bridge this afternoon. Pretty blowy. Might have to lash myself to something to keep from blowing away.
17:00. Didn’t blow away after all and didn’t need lashing down, though a few knots more would have made it iffy.
20:00. Rain and fog; visibility about one and a half miles. Wind more insistent and starting to howl.
Wind: 20 kt., over the starboard bow
Much nicer. Few clouds out, no whitecaps. Visibility good. Perfect
Seattle weather. Looks like our weather
system from last night went south. Maybe the first tropical storm of the
season? Where we were, between the Azores and
the Canaries, is where hurricanes start. Wonder what we’ll get this year.
Signed my official discharge papers today; sixty-three days of sea time. Another two month trip and I qualify for SUP health insurance.
One can get cut off from things out here, but now that is by choice, not necessity. Before GPS and e-mail, before satellite phones, before radio and radar, a ship’s only communication with land was with letters sent via any homeward bound ship they met, which could take months to arrive. And not all ships made it back. Sometimes you literally sailed away forever, with no word of what happened. Now you can actually keep your life going ashore, pay bills, keep in touch with family and friends, etc. But it’s not the same as being there. Will be home soon.
Went out on the starboard bridge wing. Sunny and excellent, salt air in the breeze, bright water in the sun astern. But even so, the ocean is always trying to kill you, and the waters are cold out here. I looked over the bridge wing and said, “Not this time,” to the
North Atlantic. “Not this
Cold Stone Below
Off shore, granite cliffs, and there is
Cold stone below
Curl of hot bacon crisp
Pancake flipper swipes
Off to paint the deck this morn
But a thousand meters down
Is cold water, cold stone,
Cold stone below
Celebrate the summer, celebrate July
Dine outside in the salt and freshing air
But do not celebrate the cold stone below
Tie up safe and home
No more granite cliffs
And raise a glass to sailors
But do not think too much
Of the still tomb that waits
On cold stone below
Speed: 19 kt.
Wind: 30 kt. over the port bow
08:00. Haze, about six miles visibility, but cumulous clouds breaking up overhead, and patches of blue sky. No one out here but us for two days, no radar contacts. We were equi-distant from NY and
yesterday, so I told the Chief Engineer, “Hey! We’re in the middle of the
09:00. Visibility down to one to two miles.
Two officers were griping over their union’s hiring policy; neither has a permanently assigned ship. Oh, insecurity! Hell, they’ve got jobs and get paid more than I do. Go live in
awhile, guys, and shut up. Or go be unemployed and live on food stamps and food
bank food in the US.
That is starvation in the long, drawn out way; there’s little nutrition in
stuff that’s past its shelf life and fruits and veggies about to go bad. Or
live on junk food. Potato chips are cheap. Why do you think the people in third
world countries are always trying to sell you things? They’re hungry. Can’t say
this stuff to those who out-rank me; I’d be cited for insubordination.
23:45. Got some condensed water from a glass on the bridge wing, gathered from the Grand Banks fog that was coming over our starboard bow tonight, 43°52’ N., 50°24’ W. Put it in a bottle, and now you can put the bottle in the microwave and voilá! It turns back into fog! I’ll sell it on E-bay. Now everyone can have their very own vial of Genuine Grand Banks Fog, the thickest soup in the world.
Speed: 20 kt.
Wind: 14 kt. over the starboard bow
I try to treat everybody equally, maybe too equally for the hierarchy on a ship. Too democratic for my own good. But everybody is important here, from the Steward’s Assistant to the Skipper. All jobs are important; they are magnified out here, from cleaning the head to steering the proper course. I do not like snob hierarchies, and they really have no place on a ship. As I say, it’s about respect. I give little deference to place per se; I have courtesy and respect according to personal and professional admiration for quality and performance. And when I can’t do that, good manners are also good policy.
Happy Fourth of July!
Speed: 20 kt.
Wind: 30 kt. over port bow
08:00. Sunny, some haze on horizon. End of voyage and some nerves are frazzled; step lightly. As for me, I have pen and paper, and am happy. Saw land on the chart marked “
United States of
America” and smiled. The Maersk Kokura is still 38 miles ahead.
Been chasing her since Suez.
Wonder if we’ll tie up anywhere near each other.
Scheduled to pick up pilot at 04:00 tomorrow and tie up around 06:30. Then Coast Guard COI inspection and payoff. Hope to get off ship by early afternoon.
09:30. Dolphins to port and a small pod of finback whales to starboard. First of these cetaceans this trip. Hooray!
Signed off on July 5th, am back home, and will be sending this last log from
Seattle. Please do not
send any more correspondence to my ship e-mail, as I won’t get it. Do send any
comments to my regular e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org Hope you enjoyed these scribblings; will be
sending more when I ship out again.