City of Xiamen - passenger number 1 / Indian Ocean
What is it like being onboard a containership for 13 days?
Well, generally you cannot generalize like this, but I'm going to do so anyway or at least say something about being onboard the "City of Xiamen". And to do that I will begin with some information about the ship.
The "City of Xiamen" is a Panama class 2600 TEU container. What that sentence tells us is that is a very commonly sized containership and not among the largest in the world. "TEU" is an acronym for: twenty foot equivalent unit. It basically means: 20' container. And as such the "City of Xiamen" can carry 2,600 containers. It sounds like a lot and it is. But the largest ones can carry over 16,000!! They are however too large to pass through the Panama Canal and this one isn't. Hence: Panama class.
Full speed ahead is 37kph (23mph).
The "City of Xiamen" is 212m (695ft) long. So that's more than the area of 2 football fields! And remember this ship isn't even that large all things considered.
I'm treated with respect onboard most ships. Basically like an officer and therefore given a proper cabin. Everyone onboard have their own cabins which include showers and toilets. This time I was given the "supercargo's" cabin as we didn't have one onboard. That meant I had a larger bedroom (with 2 beds) and even some living quarters.
The "City of Xiamen" is from October 2007 and was built in China for Reederei M. Lauterjung and it's being managed by Sunship. However Maersk is time leasing her so all together this means:
- Reederei M. Lauterjung owns it.
- Sunship manages it.
- Maersk operates the cargo.
After I get onboard a ship like this, they request to have my passport and vaccination card which are then both stored with the captain until I disembark. While all three of the above mentioned parties can approve my request to travel onboard, the captain can always deny me access. The captain is the master and commander of the ship. He makes the final decision and he is the boss. Think of him as an office manager.
Barbwire makes it even more difficult for pirates to board.
The "City of Xiamen" has a crew of 19 members onboard plus armed security guards as our route took us through a "high risk area". The high risk is in regards to pirates off the coast of Somalia. I've decided not to reveal how many guards as this blog is no doubt being followed by a bunch of pirates looking for good intelligence. Or probably not...but anyway...
So in this case the crew was:
- chief officer
- 2nd officer
- 3rd officer
- chief engineer
- 2nd engineer
- 3rd engineer
- electrical engineer
- 2 x able bodied seamen
- 2 x ordinary seamen
- engine fitter
- deck fitter
- engineer cadet
Bridge on 12th, Capt and Chief Eng. on 11th, me on 10th, crew on 9th and 8th, food on 7th, office on poop deck, laundry, gym and access to engine room on main deck.
It makes for a lot of up and down the stairs.
The captain mostly does administrative work, while the 3 officers steer the ship. The engineers are in the engine room. The bosun delegates work to the deck crew which includes the seamen so he is a bit like a worksite foreman. The steward is a bit like a waiter who serves food, coffee and runs errands.
I always dine in the officers mess and I'm generally welcome to move about freely on the ship. But I'm naturally restricted regarding touching things and pushing buttons. Everyone is busy as the ship is their workplace. Sometimes I get a chance to engage in conversation, but generally the routine for everyone is: Work, eat, sleep. On the bridge I find it easiest to engage in conversation as the officers normally can manage talking, while the ship is moving forward. But I need to tread lightly in case they want to be left alone with their thoughts and the never ending ocean. I can be unwanted and a crew member can have a hard time understanding why I'm onboard since it's not a passenger vessel. Everyone has a job. Everyone has a function. I'm "just" a passenger. It's hardly ever an issue and I'm almost always treated like a welcome guest and treated with outmost respect.
As soon as I get onboard a containership and have been seen to my cabin, I'm usually guided around the ship by an officer and given a safety briefing. This involves learning about the location of the muster point in case of emergency as well as lifeboats, life jackets, fire extinguishers etc.
We did a fire drill somewhere on the Indian Ocean.
You can constantly hear the sound of an engine while onboard. However the engine might be off while at anchor or at port. What you hear is the generator. You can even feel the vibrations and might think it's the engine if you don't know better. So the ship is never quiet. When you feel the engine for the first time you'll never again mistake the generator for the engine, because the engine is a severely powerful entity! It sends a lot stronger vibrations up through the ship. This was my 8th journey onboard a containership and yet I'm not sure about what follows, but I felt like there were more vibrations on this ship than normally, and it really got to me sometimes. But perhaps it was just like going mad from listening to a water tap dripping. Once you notice you can't stop thinking about it? Who knows? I forgot about it every time I was occupied by something.
The ship generates its own water by an evaporation process which desalinates the saltwater. And there is plenty of power and heat onboard the ship to heat the water. So for me, taking a hot shower onboard the ship which lasts 2 hours is pretty much the only place I think I can do it without feeling guilty about destroying Mother Nature. But I get too hot and too tired already after 15 minutes anyway :)
Food is served 3 times a day:
- breakfast at 07:00-07:30am
- lunch at midday
- dinner at 5:00pm
On some ships you get snacks and fruit between meals along with juice, milk and soft drinks. On some ships you don't. On this ship there was water included for meals and tea/coffee ad libitum. In any case you were welcome to buy juice, soft drinks, water, toothpaste, deodorant, shaving equipment, phone cards, snacks and other stuff by informing the steward who will fetch it from the store. You pay the captain and while writing this, I just realized that I owe the ship $8.00 for 12 bottles of water, 1 liter mixed juice and toothpaste?! How will I get that to the ship now? Crap! Sorry guys!
There is usually a gym onboard, but this one was kind of empty. The ship is for sale and it wouldn't make sense to fill it up with treadmills and stuff now. There were a few weights and a table for table tennis. Table tennis?!? Who ever though that was a good idea on a ship? :) Other forms of entertainment include the officers and the crews recreation rooms. Often there is a television, a DVD player and a lot of DVDs. If the crew has a lot of Filipinos onboard then karaoke is GUARANTEED! But this ship was mostly a mix of people from Poland, Ukraine and Sri Lanka.
Crews recreation room.
Something the crew often mentions is that ships used to be more lively "back in the day". They used to get together in their spare time and play cards, watch a movie together and other social activities. Laptops have killed that. These days everyone usually go to their separate cabins and watch something on their laptop. The recreation rooms are commonly empty. Some ships even have wifi and then everyone stares into their phones in their free time. There was no wifi available for the crew onboard the "City of Xiamen". But there is a satellite connection on the bridge for work purposes. Generally I must say that I personally enjoy getting offline and having a forced break from social media. So I'm not particularly bothered. But some crew members can be onboard for 12 months between going home and that is quite different. Many port cities however have a seaman's club which provides shuttle service to and from the ship so that's the place they get connected.
The ships wheel on a modern ship doesn't quite have the charm as the large wooden ones.
Unless the ship is docked at port there is always an officer on the bridge. That's 24/7. Pretty boring I imagine, if the ship is at anchor for 3-4 months as the "City of Xiamen" was not long ago. But it doesn't matter. It's safety first and there is enough which needs an alert eye even at anchor...just in case.
As you may recall I pretty much exhausted myself on an improvised extreme hike the day before I left the Seychelles. My fingers and hands were torn and my entire body was aching from doing stuff in the wild, which I was barely fit enough to pull off. So I slept a lot the first 48 hours while onboard. It took 9-10 days for my hands to heal completely. I did some reading, I watched a lot of movies and managed to watch season 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of Boardwalk Empire while onboard. That's 56 episodes of 50 minutes each! I also did ANYTHING I could think of which didn't require being online. It turns out that was actually a lot spanning from cleaning equipment and sewing my pants, to backing up my dying iPhone and writing Red Cross stories. I was pretty productive.
I would frequent the bridge as that's my favorite place onboard. On the bridge you have all information in one place and sometimes a spectacular view. The ocean was less eventful on this voyage though. No whales, no dolphins, no pirates and no storms or cyclones. Just pretty smooth sailing. There is no line on the ocean when you cross the equator. Just water ;) We crossed the equator twice. First going north to Salalah in Oman and then while returning south to Reunion (French territory) and reaching Mauritius.
Salalah, Oman. Couldn't leave the port without a visa.
Reunion (French territory). I left port to have a look around.
Food is usually good and plentiful onboard container ships. The food was generally okay, but sometimes a little strange for me? One evening I was served tongue. It really looked like what it was...a big fat tongue on my plate. A had some of it, but then decided I wasn't hungry enough.
Then one morning I was served white rice with fruit salad on top? They called it sweet rice. First I thought it was a joke, but everyone else has the same. And on my final morning before disembarking I had hotdogs. At 07:00am in the morning? Well, it's an experience...
I would like to thank Capt. Borucki Mariusz Roland and his crew for having me onboard as their passenger. Capt. Roland has an astonishing 51 years at sea! I would also like to extend my great appreciation to Reederei M. Lauterjung, Sunship and Maersk for assisting in an important and difficult leg of this project by getting me to Mauritius. Anyone reading this should know that passengers do not commonly get access to travel on such ships and that this has been a very special occasion.
I know I should perhaps encourage people and say "if I can do it then so can you". But frankly the odds are against you. I don't think you can do this. But good luck to you if you try.
On August 21st another containership will arrive to Mauritius and bring me to Durban in South Africa. From there I will backtrack up to Tanzania through Zimbabwe and Zambia to Dar es Salaam and be back on track. The total distance over land will be 4,406km (2,738mi) and I hope to conclude that in less than 10 days. Conquering the Indian Ocean has been an extreme journey which is yet not concluded. But my plan for it has surely been the most economic and time efficient for covering these great lengths.
That was a little bit about that :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - moving forward
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga