I boarded last night at about 0200, the small hours. The Chinese immigration and customs guys did what Chinese officials seem to always do with a foreigner (and more so, an American) and made me open all my possessions, delay the paperwork and generally make my life under their control for the limited time they could. Of course, I was the only thing going on for them at 0200 so this made them all the more certain to exercise their control and authority.
I had to make it up the gangway on my own, it is a requirement that you be responsible for your own gear. I actually like that and I have said more than once while traveling that if you bring it you should be able to carry it. There seems to be these little Asian people who bring bags with them that are bigger than they are. They always struggle to stow them and move them about. So, in the end this made me pleased. The gangway was not what you would think of as a classic gangway. It was a very narrow stairway that was lashed to the side of the boat and then lashed to the dock. The width was about 14 inches and the stairs were aluminum. The angle was steep, I mean really steep. To make it even more challenging, it was raining. Man, I should have brought a lighter bag.
I made it up that unsecured gangway without incident other than grease on my arms and shirt from pitching into the lashing while climbing the stairs. I need to remember that this is a working ship and that there is working going on.
I was greeted by a super nice seaman and he showed me to my cabin, the paperwork to be completed in the morning. The cabin is huge, nicely appointed and very private with a bathroom, sitting room, desk area and a double bunk. Windows face forward with an impressive view of the containers being loaded. The cabin is on the “passenger deck” which is Deck F, just below the bridge and 54 meters above the deck. Across the hall is a “recreation room” which is really a TV, table and chairs and a couple sitting areas. This would be where passengers could play cards, puzzles, sit and share time. On this voyage, there is one other passenger, a Canadian who took the ship from Vancouver and will be getting off in Ningbo. That means I will be the only passenger on the trip for 17 days after he departs.
The officers are all French, this company is a French company. The officer count is 13. The deck crew are almost all from the Ukraine. There are 2 Indian guys. The deck crew is 18 for a total headcount of 31, plus me. This morning I met the head of the Ukraine division of the company who is on board to review how they are working together. The French have only been with the Ukraine crew for about 6 months. Prior to that most of the crews were Filipino or and sometimes other Asian countries. It is pretty interesting, this cross cultural blending. The French speak French to one another, the Ukrainians speak their native language to one another but when they interact it is all in English. Some of them are perfectly proficient, others are not. There is a distinct division of the cultures and it comes through quickly that this is a period of adjustment for them all. I like my first impressions and feel very comfortable here. I am somewhat isolated, essentially on a deck by myself but it will be good therapy for sure.
I am watching containers being loaded and this is a perspective that I think anyone who ever shipped a container should be able to witness. When you see a container at the loading dock it looks big, when you approach the ship, it looks massive.
The containers go from below the waterline to 7 high on the deck. There are about 10,000 of them. The loading is amazing and although appears chaotic, it is really is a ballet of huge boxes being stacked in a highly organized and exceptionally efficient system. It is noisy with huge heavy boxes being set on one another and cranes moving them about with precision and speed. The scale of it all is impressive. I am really looking forward to discovering how they plan it; which containers go where, by location, destination, etc. The amount of loading and unloading is mind boggling. There is some serious planning and system implementation going on here. I hope I can learn about it.
As the containers are loaded and when they reach a deck level, a steel “floor” is placed above them at deck level. These are massive steel plates that are set into the hull with a resounding clunk and bang. The force shakes the superstructure that is the house. I can only imagine the feeling on deck and also the noise on deck. This has been going on nonstop since about 0300 and it is now 1100. There are four cranes working at different stations on the dock constantly moving containers so the scale is really something I had no idea about.
About the galley. The chef is French and the food has a flair that is on the European side for sure. Breakfast was bread, cereal, coffee and fruit. Continental if you will. Lunch was clearly the big meal of the day with a wonderful spread; an avocado half, French bread, spaghetti with a terrific meat sauce and a crème caramel for dessert. Dinner is a button up affair and a more social time with wine, cheese and fruit, a seafood pasta salad and roast pork. As a passenger, I enjoy the officers mess but sit at a separate table from the officers. I am told that on Sundays, which are special, I may receive an invitation to sit at the officers table.
We got underway today and are sailing north to Xiamen at about 16 knots. The wind is at our stern and the ride is almost imperceptible. I did receive an orientation and a safety seminar, along with a written exam afterwards. I was also exposed to the deck areas I may access which are few. Basically the railings and stairwells around the house are accessible. If I want to see the rest of the ship I will need to make a request and be escorted. I will to this. I will also request to tour the engine room which I know will be an incredible experience.
First day out and I am feeling more at ease, starting to get into “voyage” mode like I do when we sail on fishing trips. I know the first few days are best spent at a slow pace in discovery and rest rather than trying to do too much. I think this will be slow and rather uneventful trip but I do expect it to deliver on the therapeutic level much more than the excitement level.
I will sleep well. I need that. Last night was a 3 hour night for me after the boarding and getting to bed late.