Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pirate Waters

Pirate Chase off Somalia

Aboard the APL container ship
President Jackson, in the
Gulf of Aden off Somalia,
June 20, 2010

Run, run back,
        Oh; no, run the other way,
        they're coming.
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,
        narrow, narrow,
        don't slip, don't trip,
Protected here,
        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,
vessels approaching—

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 Jackson is a container ship, 906 feet long. Everything as to engines and machinery is working, the food’s OK, and we all still like each other.

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.
North Atlantic Ocean
Course: 077°
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.

After we got out to sea from Norfolk, we got a distress call relayed from the Coast Guard. A guy in a little sailboat was wandering about, with half a sail up, no power, and he was “delusional,” apparently not knowing where he was. Might have been insulin meltdown. We were first on the scene, but another ship showed up with a small rescue boat, so as a Coastie C-130 circled overhead and a chopper was en route, they sent the rescue boat over. The sailboat guy refused to leave his boat, and the rescue guy got seasick, not being used to the little rescue boat after being on his big ship. We were allowed to leave the scene then, so after a fifty mile detour and a couple of hours delay, we got underway again. Never did find out what happened to the guy in the sailboat.

******************E-mail sent 5/8/10*****************


Saw a sea bird today. Getting close to the Azores.


40° 26’ N.
32° 35’ W.
19.97 kt.
Course: 097°
North Atlantic, about 60 miles NW of the Azores.

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, 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 everybody died.

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 Liberty ships 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 units.

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.

*********************Sent 5/14/10********************


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 South Atlantic 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 when.

*************************Sent 5/16/10******************

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 Mideast 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.


Approaching Gibraltar 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 Casablanca. 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

********************Sent 5/18/10******************

36° 56.5’ N.
001° 35” E.
Course: 083°
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 morning.

Bad news from off of Cameroon, West Africa: The Northern Star, a 7,000 ton ship, was attacked by pirates near midnight Monday night. Twenty armed pirates in three boats came aboard, stole cash and computers, smashed all the communication equipment on the bridge, and took the Capt. and Chief Engineer with them as hostages when they left. No word on a ransom demand. All the other crew are apparently safe. Don’t know what flag she was.

Watches on a ship have been divided into three since Capt. Cook initiated it in the 18th century. They are 12-4, 4-8, and 8-12. The Mates and the Watchstanding ABs stand two bridge watches a day, so as the 8-12 Watchstanding AB, mine are from 8 am to noon and 8 pm (20:00) to midnight (24:00). After lunch, if there is additional work on deck to do, I work from 1-5 for four hours of overtime. Yesterday there was OT, today there wasn’t. We will be changing out the wires that haul the starboard gangway up and down tomorrow; yesterday we did the port gangway. The Bosun and two Dayworker ABs work from 8-5 daily and on weekends. Weekends are automatic OT for Dayworkers and Watchstanders.

I am finally making a living.

*****************Sent 5/19/10****************


37° 19.5’ N.
011° 61’ E.
Course: 122°
Speed: 19.3 kt.

A good bridge watch is one where there’s enough traffic to keep you busy, but not enough to drive you batty. Last night on the 20:00 to 24:00 was a good watch.

We got a report that a passenger on an Italian cruise ship was missing, perhaps fallen overboard. We’re too far away to join the search. Right now we’re off Tunisia, though no land’s in sight. Quite a bit of haze; visibility about 10 miles. Wonder if the haze is from the Sahara or is just smog. If smog, is it from ships or land?

Commercial ships do not normally fly the flag of their country of registry while at sea; the shipping companies are too cheap. With the wind and weather, we’d go through two or three flags a voyage, and that costs money. So we only fly the flag while in port. NOAA and Navy ships use proper flag etiquette and fly the flag at sea, up at sunrise and down at sunset. To check a commercial ship’s registry at sea, you have to be able to see the stern, where the ship’s name and her home port are painted.

Passed the south coast of Sicily last night. Very pretty; small lights in bunches along the waterfront. No sign of Mafia activity; no bodies floating by in the water, no fish wrapped in newspaper.

Louie Louie

                                    A fine big container ship she sails the sea
                                    I stand my watch most constantly
                                    The Mate calls to ships that get in the way
                                    Leave us room so we can live today

                                    Loading containers, it is a job
                                    Like putting together a Rubic’s Cube
                                    The heavy ones go low and the light ones high
                                    They pile them up till they reach the sky

                                    I drive my ship to the port and then
                                    We tie her up and the voyage is ended
                                    I take my pay but it doesn’t last
                                    Have to ship out again real fast

35° 32’ N.
018° 38’ E.
Course: 106°
Speed: 16.1 kt.
Wind and sea: Hardly any

Another pirate drill today; the unfortunate news is that if we get attacked, the U.S. Coast Guard (even though they’re not on the spot, their rules govern us) considers us a federal crime scene, and that means a communications lockdown. We wouldn’t be allowed to make a satellite phone call home, or use our cell phones if we’re close enough to shore. Our families and friends would be in the dark until it was all over. Crummy policy. Think I’ll write Senator Murray about it. I believe she’s on the Transportation and/or Commerce committees, which include us. This is the same line of reasoning that kept people fleeing Katrina from taking their pets with them; officialdom trumps plain common sense human decency. Even the people on United Flight #93 at least got to call home and say goodbye.

When we were in our safe room, I asked the Mate, “What happens if they penetrate here?” It would be grab the nearest fire ax and go down fighting. We’ll be rigging some surprises for our pirate friends next week. The good news is that we’re a big ship and go fast. Pirates like small ships that go slow.

Once we’re past Suez, I won’t be giving our position anymore. You never know who might be hacking this.


The deck dept. is not pleased with my four years off and forgetting nearly everything; neither am I, but so far there’s been no damage to ship or cargo, and no injury to anyone so I must be doing something right. Trust I’ll be an old hand again by voyage’s end.

Port Said has an elegant mosque, Sah-LEM (Peace), which looks a bit like a Moorish version of Dr. Seuss illustrations. There are loudspeakers on the twin minarets so people can hear the muezzin. There is even a small mosque within the dock area itself. With little time ashore, I asked the cab driver to just drive me around, and for $20 got a pretty good tour of the city. No meter in the cab; you dicker for the fee. The cab driver said he’d like to see me again. Ah, Egypt. The guys come on to you as a matter of course. Is it because we’re Western women and they can’t do that to the Egyptian ladies? Wore my head covering ashore, a wide brimmed straw hat that looks rather chic, even more so when I’m not wearing my grubbies.

Men walk together, women walk together, but I only saw one man and woman with their kids walking together. Most of the women wear traditional Arab dress, in very bright colors. Don’t know about the construction standards—some apt. buildings looked like they were literally ready to fall down.

Traffic control is nearly non-existent (Beep! Beep!), and I forget the last time I rode in a car without a seat belt—there weren’t any. Amazing that we didn’t run anybody over. There is Kentucky Fried, Pizza Hut, Levi’s, and a street sweeper man with a cart that looked liked something out of turn of the 19th-20th century New York, with hand pushed brooms.

Vendors came aboard the ship with tourist stuff, some of it very nice. I got a few things, but didn’t buy any of the purses made of giraffe hide. The head vendor was an Egyptian guy named Charley Brown. Weather warm, a bit humid, but breezy, a little like Hawaii.

Did I mention corruption? The “Customs Men” come aboard with no ID, pick up their cigarette bribes, and leave. The Pilots must be bribed. The starving dogs and cats don’t get any cigarettes or vodka; when I have a few scraps, I always feed them. Poor things. Poor starving kitties. Jean Lafitte, my big black rascally cat, better appreciate what he’s got.

And you were slaves, “and I led you out of bondage in Egypt.” (Exodus) Slaved away in the dumpster, had the bondage-to-the-tug line part when leaving, threw a last minute vendor off the boat, politely, and headed on out for Suez. Four am and I’m going to bed. Up again for bridge watch at 8.


Steered the Suez Canal. Piece of cake. Narrower than the little Beaumont River in Texas and twists like the Sheldt River in Holland. Little wind today. Looks like the Arabian Nights out there; passed the sports complex where Egyptian athletes train for the Olympics. One way traffic only; all boats heading south now. Don’t know when they change to north. Twelve hour trip max at dead slow, seven knots. I’m doing nicely on counter steering to meet the compass course. No complaints from the Captain or Pilot; this Pilot seems to know his stuff a lot better than the Port Said Pilots, who I suspect may have gotten their positions through bribery or family connections or both.

Plus it’s Sunday, so all this steering is on overtime. Huzzah, me hearties! Can I go back to bed now?

********************Sent 5/23/10*******************


And comin’ out of da narrows, by da powers we had ourselves a convoy, aye, Maersk and Yang Ming and us’ns, three more galleons ahead of the Maersk ship, couldn’t see who wuz on point, but we’re a turnin’ da shaft at Dead Slow (they couldn’t ‘a chose a better name den Go Slow An’ Yer Ded?) and all of us good lil’ scallywags is a headin’ down to the ol’ Red Sea, down thar by whar ol’ Mose crossed wit da chilluns o’ Israel, aye bejesus, an’ we be havin’ ourselves a celleberlation thar fer sartin, wit da camp meetin’ preacher hollerin’ Holy Hallelujah, praise be to da God ‘o Israel, da God o’ Abram an’ Isaac an’ Jacob, an’ if ye don’t do whut John da Baptist and da good Lawd Jesus say, you be facin’ hellfire an’ damnation, so repent ye sinners an’ turn from yer evil ways and follow de Good Lawd and do what He say, and you be singin’ wit de angels forevermore an’ Amen, brothers an’ sisters, Amen! Shout Hallelujah, Amen!

OK, somewhere in this pirate is an old time southern Baptist preacher. But somewhere between the Med and the southern end of Egypt, the Israelites crossed over to the Promised Land on dry land, whether it was the Nile delta or the Red Sea, and the entrance to the Red Sea out of the Suez Canal is relatively shallow and has flat plains surrounding it, giving easy access to a multitude. Might not it have happened here? Gave me weird feelings.


So from Club Med we’re now into Club Red. Rigged the fire hoses on the rails as counter measures to pirates today. Found out via e-mail that my carrots have come up and are doing well, and that both my kitties are being well cared for. Yesterday AB Dustin got called up to the bridge for a special satellite phone call from home. Usually that means it’s bad news, but it was his girlfriend, who apparently was lonely and just wanted to talk to him. Ain’t that sweet? He was a bit red in the face as he left the bridge, saying, ”I can’t believe she did that.” It really was charming.


Out into the Gulf of Aden. Commencing pirate watches tonight. I’m on as rover on deck from 00:00 to 04:00, after my regular 20:00 to 24:00 watch. Watch out, bad guys, Bloody Wendy is waiting. Grabbing some sack time so I’ll last through the night, then up again for my 08:00 to 12:00 watch. One warship was nearby.


Off pirate watches as of 09:00 this morning. Warm and very humid night, like New Orleans in July, but clear and beautiful, with a nearly full moon. No pirates. Passed a convoy heading the other way last night; about fifteen ships, with Coalition warship escort. Saw what looked like a Coalition destroyer. Couldn’t see which flag she was. Warships don’t show up on our AIS (Automatic Identification of Ships) readout. That’s how we know an unidentified blip on the radar with the convoy is a warship. Two looked like carriers. Nice to know they’re out there looking out for us. We hear them announcing on the radio to contact them if we see any illegal activity. Not sure which countries besides us and the Brits have warships out here, but I had a really good feeling about them and want to send all the crews Christmas cards with a thank you note.

Days are still very hazy with what looks like desert dust from Africa and Arabia. Can’t be good for asthma. No land in sight since yesterday, but we’re between Somalia and Yemen. One of the crew has a daughter in Dubai, our next stop, and is eager to see her. Only a few hours there but we will have shore leave.

Passed the Sally Maersk going the other direction, one of Maersk’s big girls; she and her sister ship Susan Maersk are too wide for the Panama Canal, but I think they can fit through Suez.

*******************Sent 5/27/10*****************


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 Dubai. 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 (United 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 Karachi tonight.

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.

******************Sent 6/2/10*****************


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 Singapore 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 Karachi, Pakistan, 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.


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 Singapore 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 Philippines, 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 necks.

More good ship’s names: Genius Star VIII, Sunbird Arrow, C. Mighty, M/V Surplus and Holy Victoria.

There was a rumor that instead of spending any time in the shipyard, we might be leaving Singapore 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.

*******************Sent 6/7/10****************


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 Singapore.” 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.


Away from Singapore this 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 California, 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.

******************Sent 6/12/10*****************


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 Colombo, Sri Lanka. 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.

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 awfully close.

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 Singapore: “No Smoking. No Naked Lights.” No open flames, that is. Lights must remember to be modest.

Also from Singapore: the 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.

Leaving 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 Sri Lanka 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.

**********************Sent 6/19/10********************


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.
                                    Mate. Uhh.
                                    AB. More coffee, mate?
                                    Mate. Uhh.
                                    AB. Pirates attacking astern!
                                    Mate. Uhh.


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 Colombo (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 Suez. 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 Somalia and Yemen. 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.


Suez Canal. The Egyptian pilot made little paper boats out of his piloting papers when he was through with them. Charming and sweet.


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 Mideast. 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.

*******************Sent 6/26/10*****************


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:

                        Additional Fees
                        Mandatory Donations
                        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 south.

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.

In the 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.
North Atlantic
Course: 293°
Speed: 20 kt.
Temp.:69° F.
Wind: 27 kt.

Out through 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 Ukraine, 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.


Off the Azores. Saw three or four whales along the starboard side. Looked like finbacks. First cetaceans this trip.


40°39.4’ N.
25°19.5’ W.
Course: 286°
Speed: 18 kt.
Temp.: 72°
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.


42°05.03’ N.
34°41.01’ W.
Course: 277°
Speed: 20.kt.
Temp.: 64°
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 time.”

                                                    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


42°43.1 N.
44°47.8 W.
Course: 272°
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 Gibraltar yesterday, so I told the Chief Engineer, “Hey! We’re in the middle of the ocean!” Literally.

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 Sudan 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.


42°23.1’ N.
55°50’ W.
Course: 260°
Speed: 20 kt.
Temp.: 58.4°
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!

41°00’ N.
66°29’ W.
Course: 261°
Speed: 20 kt.
Temp.: 69°
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,   Hope you enjoyed these scribblings; will be sending more when I ship out again.

************************Sent 7/10/10****************************