“Gjertrud Maersk” – passenger no 1. Another ship story :)
Day 1,794 since October 10th 2013: 154 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Badminton, pirates and kindness
Sometimes I wonder. Nah – who are we kidding. I’m always thinking about something. Right this moment I am thinking about who or what has been the greatest support to the Saga? And what a privilege to be able to look back across several sources of support. The Saga is doing well…we are moving forward.
In my last entry I left you all in the Sultanate of Oman as I was about to sign on to the good ship “Gjertrud Maersk”. She was not due to come along side until 10pm, so Victoria from Anantara’s five star Al Baleed Resort in Salalah had offered me to spend the day with a complimentary day pass. That was more or less perfect as I was really tired after the overnight bus ride (1,000km / 625mi) from Muscat. At Anantara I immediately went to sleep on a beach bed while the waves roared somewhere below my feet. Around midday I called the ships agent and told them where I was. Then I had lunch, got on the treadmill at the gym and finally ended up at the library where I wrote and uploaded the Friday Blog for you all.
Windy and a bit damp. But I cought a few hours of sleep ;)
Late in the evening I left Ananatara and found a taxi which could bring me to the port for a reasonable price. Then I met with the agent and we cleared immigration without further problems. Afterwards we left towards the good ship. Now, at this point someone at the port had it in for me for whatever reason, called the police, spoke Arabic to them (of which I only understood “Danish” and “problem”) and I ended up being detained for about 90 minutes at the police station. I was completely without fault but I went along with it since putting up a fight would definitely have made things worse. I can’t tell you the full story here and now but, maybe someday over a good bottle of wine - if you remember to ask me. Suffice to say that the policemen were super cool about everything, treated me well and we ended up taking selfies and exchanging Instagram accounts. Welcome to my world. Traveling overland through the most bureaucratic countries in Africa have prepared me for a lot and I was never in doubt that my detention was a short lived affair. The police finally drove me back to the ship and I was permitted to come onboard. The duty officer was quite naturally somewhat perplexed towards what had happened but it was late so I was just assigned a cabin and we said goodnight.
There are ships, and then there are ships. Maersk Group is the greatest shipping company of containerized cargo on the face of this planet. Who could possibly contest that? They have been setting the trend for many years and the largest container ship in the world is often flying a powder blue Maersk flag decorated with a seven-pointed white star. The “Gjertrud Maersk” was once the largest ship in the world and she is still a great ship today! Amazingly she was built at Lindoe shipyard in Denmark only 15 minutes from where I was born. And even more incredible she was delivered from the shipyard on MY BIRTHDAY in 2005. What are the odds? When you walk her hallways you sense the pride the workers put into building her. The materials are quality and she has been well looked after by hundreds if not thousands of seamen over the past thirteen years. I always sleep like a baby onboard these ships. The generator is never off so even when the engine is off there is still a gentle humming going through the ship.
What did you think? Off course suction cups need to be large if they are to hold a ship! ;)
The next morning I met the Captain, the Chief Engineer and several of the officers for breakfast. They were curious to see their passenger for the next few days and also to see if I was a troublemaker. My detention at the police the night before was a story which had quickly spread and I had my chance to tell them what really went on. The crew onboard “Gjertrud Maersk” was great so I had nothing to worry about. Salalah is by the way a port which faces the Arabian Sea and the container ships need to be secured to the wharf by large suction cups in order to combat the tide. Otherwise the ships would move too much during cargo operations. I do not know how frequent ships are held down by massive suction cups but “Gjertrud Maersk” was my 16th container ship and I have never seen it anywhere else than in Salalah? I told the officers that I had plenty of experience as a passenger but that I still most often do not know what I am looking at while onboard the ships. Someone replied: “Then you should feel right at home. Neither do most of us”. At that point I knew there was humor onboard ;)
Maybe I should have said "cheese!" No matter, this is more realistic :) Every Saturday everyone onboard dine together. The rest of the week the deck crew is seperated from the officers. It's just tradition...but it also serves a purpose as some jobs are more dirty than others.
And there was much more onboard than just humor. I’ve blogged a lot about being onboard container ships. This is the sixth time Maersk Group has helped me out with their own vessels. The ones I have signed on to have been: Maersk Carolina, Clara Maersk, Gunhilde Maersk, Maersk Lima, Maersk Kampala and now Gjertrud Maersk. In addition to that I have signed on to three container ships which were time chartered by Maersk. That means that Maersk doesn’t own them but is responsible for all the cargo onboard. Sort of like a long term agreement with a taxi driver. Those three vessels were all in the Indian Ocean and they were called: Cape Moss, City of Xiamen and Northern Magnitude. So I think it’s pretty clear that Maersk has been a good friend to the Saga for a long time now. These ships are like floating cities and “Gjertrud Maersk” is outfitted with a library, conference room, IT café, ships saloon, gymnasium, duty mess, dinning mess, small saloon, laundry room and since she has void space they also have table tennis, a badminton court and a basketball court. You might have noticed that I reference “Gjertrud Maersk” as “she” and Chief Officer Daniel Tode from Romania explained why we do that: “like with a woman, if you take care of her, then she will take good care of you and keep you safe”. The Captain onboard was also from Romania, a country which I remember for great things: 20 million people, the name itself comes from the Roman Empire, it’s the ninth largest wine producer in the world, it has the first European city to have street light, it has ancient fossils, the fountain pen was invented there, Johnny Weissmuller was born there and it is sort of shaped like a fish :) Captain Laurentiu Sandru is a great captain in my opinion and I will tell you why in a moment.
That's my country right there on the wall! The Great Kingdom of Denmark in the High North of Europe ;)
On each ship I sign on to I always hear the same old song: “The sense of community has long ago been lost. Since the laptop became commonly owned the social life has disappeared onboard the ships”. Experienced seamen tell me how they used to play darts, play cards, watch movies together and talk about their wives (and other things I suppose). All the facilities still exist onboard but most seamen chose to disappear into their cabins after duty. Everyone has their own cabin and today most of these ships have WIFI as well. However the WIFI onboard a lot of them is barely enough to send a text message on WhatsApp or perhaps receive an email. “Gjertrud Maersk” is currently waiting to have 4G internet installed, which Chief Engineer Lars Kjelgaard (Danish) believes will create more social life onboard. As he explained: “Today we use a lot of time on simple tasks because of slow internet. Once the internet speed becomes faster everyone will be done sooner leaving more time for other things. That may be true?
There is plenty of void space on the ship. The accomodation has been made extra tall in order to get the bridge higher so more cargo can be loaded onboard.
The gym has probably rarely seen this many people in it all at once?
Now let me explain the reason I think Capt. Sandru is a great captain. It is because he has initiated a sense of community onboard. On my first day I was asked if I would like to participate in the table tennis, badminton and dart tournament? Would I?!? Absolute yes I would! I haven’t played table tennis or badminton for at least twenty years so I wasn’t expecting to win first price and my dart skills likewise leave something to desire. But how great an initiative was that? Capt. Sandru is also planning to have a BBQ for the crew next week and I remember being on a vessel which had “movie night” every night. Meals are typically at 8am, at midday and at 6pm so it’s easy to organize a 7pm movie at the ships saloon. Those who want to join can show up and often people will. The ships “slop chest” is like a small kiosk, where you can buy snacks, sodas and other small things which you might need. With six nationalities onboard (Romanian, Indian, Danish, British, Filipino and Thai) you may experience some segregation among the crew but with initiatives for joint activities you see everyone getting along and seeing each other in roles out of the ordinary. Friendships form and a sense of belonging is generated. A good captain will command the ship and do his duty. A great captain goes beyond that and also ensures a good sense of community onboard. Well that’s my opinion anyway and Capt. Sandru was present and participated at every event. Good stuff.
Visnu Visnubhavan Sathee was the 3rd officer onboard and took me around the ship for familiarization. In case of an emergency I need to know the basics. Here he is putting his hand on one of the anchor chains! "Gjertrud Maersk" has two anchors.
Now you may be thinking that these guys are on a cruise. And you’d be wrong. They work a lot more than average people and 60-70 hours a week is not uncommon. After all the reason why everyone is onboard is because of work and not for fun and games. Having said that, then meals are served, the dishes are done, shopping for groceries is obsolete and the workplace is nearby so it all becomes really optimal in terms of time management. A seven day week has 168 hours. 8 hours a sleep per day adds up to 56 hours a week. So with 70 hours of work and 56 hours of sleep you are still left with 42 hours of free time every week (6 hours per day). With my experience from 16 container ships I can say that I have been onboard ships that felt like ghost towns. If the crew wasn’t working then they were eating in silence and then afterwards they would disappear. It’s worth keeping in mind that some ships call a new port every second day and then the schedule becomes a lot more hectic as the sleeping pattern also becomes irregular. On the good ship “Gjertrud Maersk”, between Salalah and Port Said, I heard lots of laughter, I saw crewmembers talking, joking and watching movies after hours and it was clear from the beginning that it was a good ship to be onboard…in fact I believe this voyage has been one of my absolute favorites!
Yeah! So of course I couldn't NOT try this. Especially after my fiancee completed her Ironman. But who the heck set THIS record?!? I was 5 MINUTES off with 29,56 minutes. Rowing: 8,19 / bike: 10,18 / thread mill: 10,18 / lost time between diciplines: 1,01! No matter...I'm now a "Gjertrud Man" ;)
Nitish works at the LOC office for Maersk in Dubai and has been very helpful in coordinating my permission to come onboard the latest three vessels. While coordinating for this voyage a question popped up regarding safety as we would be heading through pirate territory. I didn’t mind at all but someone in the approval process brought it up. That’s Maersk in a nutshell: nothing left to chance (Constant Care). I was fortunately cleared to sign on and we didn’t see the shadow of any pirates. From Oman we followed the coastline of Yemen aka Arabia Felix (Happy Arabia) until we reached the Red Sea by Djibouti just north of Somalia. Then we passed Djibouti and Eritrea on the left (west) while Saudi Arabia appeared on the right (east). Saudi Arabia’s coastline remained our companion for a while as we proceeded north, but to the west Sudan took over after Eritrea and then finally Egypt appeared on the map. None of this was of course visible to the naked eye as we were too far at sea to see land. Except for about an hour when we entered the Red Sea – at that point land was visible on both sides. Usually you don’t see a lot else than water when onboard. This time I did however see a dolphin playing alongside the wake of the ship.
And I have now seen a Maersk container in 154 of 154 countries. Back on track ;)
So what about the pirates? Well, I think I already went into why the pirates are pirates when I visited Somalia? And it’s healthy to keep in mind that most Somalis are fishermen, camel herders and family people - not pirates. While on the subject of Somalia I might just mention that they have 10,000 year old cave paintings, super-fast internet and Africa’s longest coastline of more than 3,000 km (1,875 mi) pristine beaches. But piracy does unfortunately exist although it is much less in this part of the world today compared to a few years ago. “Gjertrud Maersk” is a large lady which makes life a lot harder for the pirates. The distance between the water and the deck (freeboard) is too great and complicates an eventual attack (ca 15 meters / 50 feet). Furthermore her engine power is also a problem for the pirates as we might be able to outrun them. In any case the wake we would create at high speed would make it near impossible for pirates to come onboard. Besides, there is a well-protected corridor which all the vessels follow within the high risk area. And help is never far away. It has become tough to be a pirate. Just remember that Somali piracy was not born out of the will to be evil…it came because all other options were obsolete.
I still enjoy coming onboard these ships. I sleep well, I eat well, I get a lot of work done, I get a mental pause, I get laundry done, I organize, I plan and I get some exercise in the gym. The quality of the meals depend on the cook’s skillset and on the budget. Our cook, Ernesto Lloa from the Philippines, knew exactly what he was doing. I left every meal satisfied. Regarding work I had two interviews I needed to reply to, I had a video I needed to edit, I had a video I needed to make from scratch and I managed to work myself down to 84 unanswered emails. So all in all it has been a great voyage for me. I also learned a bit more about navigation as well as I understood more about the engine room which all in all means that I now know slightly more than a lab rat. There’s a reason these guys go to school for a very long time ;) We also crossed two time zones which meant that we had to retard the clock an hour twice. Jetlag is no issue when you are traveling this slowly. Although slow is relative as we are hitting speeds which compare to those of a speedboat. In terms of time zones we speak about retarding the time or advancing it. I still giggle when I see a sign that reads: “TONIGHT: RETARD 1 HOUR”.
Looking back at the Mubarak Peace Bridge while passing through the Suez Canal.
Having worked twelve years within shipping and logistics it was exciting for me that “Gjertrud Maersk” was taking us though the Suez Canal!! That’s a big deal for a shipping nerd like me! The Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea though the Isthmus of Suez. At the Mediterranean entrance you have Port Said and by the Red Sea you find Suez which has given name to the canal. The canal was constructed by the Suez Canal Company between 1859 and 1869. Passing though it saves you traveling once around Africa which I might remind you is equal to traveling once around the world (40,000 km / 25,000 mi). A midsize ship needs to pay a fee of $500,000 USD for the privilege to pass through. That seems like a lot until you start making calculations on bunker (fuel), time and running costs. Interestingly the container wasn’t invented until 1955 and today we all depend on cargo being shipped all around the world.
Chief Engineer Lars Kjelgaard (in photo) took me on a tour through, over and under the engine! Imagine you are the size of a matchstick compared to a regular engine in a car. That's kind of what it is like.
It has been a great privilege to be onboard the good ship “Gjertrud Maersk”. She is a fine lady and it makes me happy that she is Danish. She and I come from the same hood and I have found all sorts of Danish products onboard. Anything from lamps (Louis Poulsen) to pillows (Nordisk Fjer). The dinning mess has a Danish landscape decorating the wall and portraits of my Queen and her late husband smile royally within in the room. I have had many memorable conversations with the crew onboard who were all kind to me. To mention them all would however add a few more pages to this entry so I will spare you that. And while I may be signing off, these seamen will continue for a while to come. “Gjertrud Maersk” will be crossing the Atlantic Ocean next and she will eventually bring the seamen onboard full circle around our planet – something I won’t experience within the Saga. It will be a while before I once again need to board such a vessel if all goes according to plan. We are heading east from Egypt and will do so until we reach the Pacific Ocean next year. There are many new and interesting countries coming up over the next many months. Let’s keep on keeping on! ;)
Your personal Jason Bourne (wannabee) walked down this gangway and jumped onboard the smaller vessel while we were all moving forward. Oh yeah! ;)
And a postscript for you all. Because I wrote this blog onboard the vessel but after I got land under my feet in Port Said I really feel I need to thank Arkas Egypt Agency. They are the agent for Maersk in Port Said and wow! They have really taken good care of me! Arkas insisted on paying for my Egyptian visa (USD 25) and also want to cover my costs from Port Said to Cairo. Because I’m off to Cairo in order to catch a bus to Nuweibaa as we did the last time (video) when I first reached Jordan across the Gulf of Aqaba. They told me they appreciate what I do and wanted to take part in the Saga. That is Egyptian hospitality for you! :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - can you tell that I'm smiling?
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga