The good ship “ALS Vesta” – passenger number one
Day 2,024 since October 10th 2013: 179 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross).
The extremity of the Saga is quite extreme
First of all: who the heck leaves home determined not to return until every country in the world has been visited for at least 24 hours and completely without flying? Well, somebody pretty tired. In 2014 my ship was caught in a four day storm heading across the North Atlantic in the wintertime. In 2015 the rain season caught up with me heading through West Africa. In 2017 I spent the hottest time of the year in the Middle East. In 2018 I visited the two coldest capitals in the world during the winter. Extremes are plentiful…
I spent nine nights under the same roof as the loving family who gave me a home during my time in Tokyo. Speaking with the parents, playing with the children, eating with the family, joking with them all…I was given my own room and was free to come and go as I pleased. It was of course very social as we would see and interact with each other every day. Then last Friday it became time to say farewell and board yet another containership. On the ship I was given the owners cabin and only interacted with the crew during meals or occasionally on the bridge. The Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area is home to around 33 million people. The good ship “ALS Vesta” has a crew of twenty. I became soul number twenty one. Tokyo presented me with plenty of interaction: skiing with the family, meeting the Japanese Red Cross, making a presentation at Maersk, doing some fascinating sightseeing with Kyoko of MyPal.jp, meeting up with Adam for dinner, speaking at Adam’s school, mingling at the reception of Her Majesty Queen Margrethe the Second’s birthday at the Danish Royal Embassy, spending half a day with Carmen and Chris, walking about in a rather silent but definitely crowded city and finally living with a family of five. The ship offers solitude. Time to rest up, get sorted, prepare, reenergize and think. Tokyo offers everything imaginable. Onboard a working ship the offers are limited and there isn’t really anywhere to go.
I owe a lot to this family...this family and many others during the past years. Thank you!
I needed both. I needed the companionship, love and care of the family. I needed the introverted solitude of being disconnected from the world for seven days at sea. I have this idea about introverted and extroverted people. I basically believe the introverted people can act extroverted and vice versa. However introverted people spend vast amounts of energy in the “land of the extroverted” and need to pull back into introverted territory in order to recharge. Just like extroverted people gain their energy in a room full of people or standing on a stage before an audience. I’ve been classified as an ambivert in several test. That is someone who lives in the borderlands between being introvert and extrovert. Some say it offers the best of both worlds. I figure that most who observe me would say that I have an extroverted personality. I’m not shy in regards to speaking to new people, I enjoy sharing my experience from five and a half years across 82% of the world’s countries and I’m often mingling with people. However I have long ago realized that I need to plug out of that to recharge all by my lonesome or in quiet company with someone I care about. So in other words I absolutely loved being with the Reunert’s in Tokyo and I absolutely needed to pull the plug out onboard a ship in the East China Sea.
I also owe a lot to the men of the sea and those who have arranged for my passage! Thank you!
Just for the sake of good order I should mention that coming onboard a containership is a huge privilege and not within reach of most people. If you want to travel onboard a containership for fun then several companies offer that experience against money. However most containerships would never allow a passenger onboard and all you need to do in order to understand that is think about what you have to offer the company for your passage? Chances are that you can offer nothing. There is no incentive for a shipping company to bring an unknown factor onboard. You could get sick, you could bring a disease onboard, you could break something, you could be annoying, you could fall overboard and I’m sure the list goes beyond all of that. In terms of payment then realize that a midsized containership has to pay a toll-free of $500.000,00 USD every time it passes though the Suez Canal. So you couldn’t possibly pay anything that would significantly contribute to the ships economy. Having said that, I can now add to the extremes of the Saga as this became my 18th passage onboard a containership. Ten of those have been Maersk vessels or affiliated with Maersk. I’m grateful to Maersk for playing such a large role in what has been called “Our times toughest project in modern travel history”. My passage onboard the good ship “ALS Vesta” was organized by SeaLand which is a division of the Maersk Group. SeaLand is an intra-regional container shipping company which handles the cargo (containers) onboard “ALS Vesta” while the ship is actually owned by Asiatic Lloyd in Germany. It is called time chartering. SeaLand decides where the ship goes and what it carries. Asiatic Lloyd operates the ship, maintains it and runs the crew onboard. It is sort of like when you rent a car. Only much bigger. So in reality I am grateful to Sealand, Maersk and Asiatic Lloyd for this one!
There used to be ferries between Japan and Taiwan but they stopped operating before the Saga began in 2013. However people’s memories are not always updated with such information so I have heard a lot of: “why don’t you just take the ferry?” It has been a problem several times throughout the Saga. On several occasions I have spoken to people who swore that there was a ferry when in reality the ferry connection had ceased to exist long before I arrived. And on one occasion I know of the ferry was operating when the Saga began but not when I arrived years later. Ferries are disappearing. Cheap flights have long ago begun to take over. It’s a part of what makes the Saga so complicated. And now: let’s get to my story onboard!
April 19th 2019 - Friday
The crew agent from Japan Crew Service Cooperation arrived to pick me up at 6pm as agreed. It took about an hour to reach the customs office who swiftly cleared me to go onboard the ship. On route to the customs office I picked up a bento box (sushi lunch box) as my dinner and last meal in Japan. Although technically the ship was not scheduled to leave Japan until April 22nd after loading in Kobe. The agent and I entered Tokyo port and soon drove up alongside the good ship “ALS Vesta”. She was built in 2014 and measures 208.79 meters (685 ft) in length and 29.26 meters (96 ft) in breadth. The overall container capacity is 2,546 TEU (twenty foot containers) so she’s not a large ship however given that you’d fit at least a car into a twenty foot container that becomes relative. The agents name was Mr. Yoshitsuru and he was really kind and helpful. A perfect ambassador for a kind a friendly country. Mr. Yoshitsuru is married and has a one year old child. We said farewell to each other on the ship as I signed onboard and was greeted by the 3rd officer (Montenegrin) who guided me up to the Owners Cabin which would be my home until we reached Taiwan. That is an honor. The owners cabin is on the same deck as the Captains and the Chief Engineers. It is also twice the size of the Pilots cabin which is large enough as it is. It was late, I was tired and my bed was calling. There is something about going to sleep while the ships generator hums through the massive structure.
Not my first time but always an honor. Thank you.
April 20th 2019 – Saturday
I set the alarm for 07:20am and headed down to the galley for breakfast. Being that this ship was my 18th I pretty well knew the routine. The Filipino messman and Philippine chief cook greeted me and served me my first meal onboard. I asked about the meal times and was told: breakfast from 07-08:00am, lunch from noon to 12:30pm and dinner from 5-6pm. That’s pretty standard. The food was good. Then I headed back to my cabin and watched “Everest” from 2015. Great movie! Afterwards I began organizing. I began playing with my new GoPro 5 Hero Black, which was handed to me recently by someone I can’t reveal yet. Uuuuhhh…intriguing ;) I’ve been asked to film some sequences with it so I needed to familiarize myself with how it works. Then I moved on to charging all my devices while sorting through my documents: what do I need to keep, what should be sent home and what could I throw away. It turned out that I could throw out at least thirty pages and send another thirty home. With the new passport I picked up in Tokyo all the copies I had of the old became obsolete.
If the crew includes Filipinos then you can bet that there is karaoke onboard ;)
Generally I find that I can work offline for up to three days. I can read though emails, reply to emails, prepare documents, sort photos, structure my luggage, make repairs, clean equipment and then I begin to run out of things to do. Then I am on holiday!! I do not need to worry about meals, accommodation and transportation as the ship takes care of all of that. And if I’m lucky enough that the ship has no Wi-Fi (which is becoming rare) then I’m literally disconnected from the outside world. I can shower as long as I please as the ship takes in water from the ocean and desalinizes it. The heat is generated by the ship itself so it’s the only place I know where I can take an hour long shower and not feel guilty. I can sleep as much as I like as I have no duties onboard. I’m not permitted to work onboard without proper insurance, training and licensing. I can read my books. I can watch movies or series. I’m off!
If Maersk alone has not made Denmark famous among seamen then the cookie industry has! These are almost always onboard!
I ran into the Master (Montenegrin) on the staircase. Master and Captain is the same thing. Captain Ivica Fazo appeared to be a really nice and very busy man. As long as the ship as at port everyone onboard is crazy busy! Cargo operations are demanding and being alongside is super expensive so the ship needs to finish up ASAP and leave. Furthermore the time slots for coming alongside are often at odd hours which interrupts everyone’s sleep patterns. Well, not mine…I hardly noticed that we left Tokyo at 02:00am. I had lunch at 11:30am and then headed up to watch “Life” from 2017. Afterwards I made my way up on the bridge to see us come alongside in Nagoya. The pilot came onboard four hours before we reached Nagoya. I was offered tea on the bridge and had a look around. Nice ship. Then I headed back to my cabin and continued to organize myself by sorting files on the laptop while listening to music. Among the backlog of files I found a video from my father in which he plays his guitar and sings the song he wrote for my fortieth birthday (December last year). He’s good like that. I have a good family. Crazy!! But good.
April 21st 2019 – Sunday
I remember reading that it is not possible to catch up on sleep by sleeping a lot at a later point. However I have felt sleep deprived for a while. Reaching the train to North Korea on time was a race against the clock since the Saga was still roaming around in Bangladesh long ago. Spending time with my sister in South Korea was great however the Saga went on with all its emails, social media, preparation and research. So I mostly tried to catch up on that at night while she was sleeping. And most nights in Japan didn’t consist of much more that 4-5 hours of sleep. So Sunday April 21st onboard the good ship “ALS Vesta” became a day of sleeping. The alarm went off at 07:20am and I made my way down for breakfast. Then I came back up to my cabin and brushed my teeth. My bed looked mighty inviting. I woke up again in time for lunch. Afterwards I sat down and watched my all time favorite movie which is Casablanca from 1942. “Here’s looking at you kid”. The movie came to an end and my bed called again. I woke up in time for dinner. After dinner I finished up sorting paperwork and began organizing photos. Then I went to bed again.
This day incidentally marked 2,019 days of unbroken travel over land and sea conducted by: 311 buses, 62 minibuses, 190 taxis, 78 shared taxis, 38 motorcycle taxis, 2 shared motorcycle taxis, 30 motorized rickshaws, 27 4WD/taxis, 153 trains, 119 metros, 19 trams, 32 boats/ferries/ships, 7 fast boat ferries, 18 containerships, 3 sailboats, 2 cruise ships, 9 trucks, 1 police car, 1 horse carriage and 1 high performance yacht.
With those various forms of transport the Saga has covered a distance of 266,974 km (165,890 mi), reaching 178 countries, spending an average of 11.34 days/country. The overall average speed has been 5.5 kph (3.42 mph) while the shortest stay in a country has been 24 hrs and 17 minutes (Vatican) and the longest reached 102 days (Lebanon). Mind you that the overall budget for all of this has been $20/day (as average). So far the journey has demanded eight passports of which two are currently in use. I seriously thought about giving up three times, I gave up ZERO times, I’ve returned home ZERO times, there were ZERO occasions in which we have been unable to find a solution and I have flown ZERO times since the Saga began.
I slept well…
April 22nd 2019 – Monday
The alarm went off at 07:20am again. After breakfast headed up on the bridge and watched as we came along side in Kobe. This was to be our last port in Japan before heading towards Taiwan. Once the ship was being tied up and the gangway was being lowered I returned to my cabin and waited for a call to let me know that the crew agent had arrived. I continued sorting photos until the phone rang and I was told to bring my bags and report at the ships office. There I met the crew agent who would first take me to customs and afterwards to immigration where I would be cleared out of Japan. He was a really nice guy and everything was routine so it went super easy. I wonder if my days of tough border crossings are all behind me? In the short time I spent off the vessel I didn’t get to see the most charming part of Kobe. I mostly saw industrial areas however I could see a large green hill/mountain in the horizon which invited for hiking. I had no time (or money) to try the fabled Kobe beef. I asked the crew agent if it was true that the cows are massaged and fed with beer? He just laughed.
Back onboard I continued organizing myself, cleaning and repairing equipment. The smaller of my two bags has suffered a pretty bad tear and I pondered whether I should try to sow it up? However I assessed that I did not have enough tread and would also end up doing a mediocre job. Besides I’ve heard that Taiwan is quite economic so I might find a tailor who can fix it for me. Everything breaks within the Saga. I’ve seen the most unlike items tear in half. It does speak to the resistance of the human body. While all my equipment keeps breaking and my body clearly ages both keep going.
The food onboard was good. There was no risk that I would disembark skinnier than when I came onboard. I however found myself missing chopsticks on several occasions. Chopsticks became a part of my daily routine since I entered Myanmar in February 2019. They are highly practical for picking food up and it often appears to me that it is more elegant than stabbing food with a fork. I’ve also been missing the high-tech toilets with heated seating, automatic flushing and a variety of buttons to push. It is amazing how quickly you can become accustomed to something.
April 23rd 2019 – Tuesday
A full day at sea. Every day before this the good ship had either reached a port or left a port. I have yet to meet a seaman who enjoys a fast schedule like that. Within life at sea calling a port means extra work, stress and often odd hours. There are similarities between being an explorer stuck inside the Saga and being a seaman stuck onboard a ship. Certainly most people seem to think it is a “fun” thing to do filled with good times and adventure. Maybe some even think the life is romantic. In both cases it’s more work and routine than anything else. There are no doubt some good moments and such memories are carefully collected and stored. Who in life does not experience good memories? The working parents with three children and a severe lack of sleep have good moments to look back on although life is undoubtedly hard. The student who is trying to keep up while earning some money from a temporary job… The single career woman fighting against the odds in a male dominated business while trying her best to be in control. The refugee between camps… Everybody finds good moments to savor from whichever lives they have, whether it be a personal moment, a conversation, a football match, an unusual sunset, a good meal, a friendship or something else between the sky and earth.
I don’t really enjoy being inside the Saga however it is hard to quit it at this point. I suppose a lot of seamen feel like that too? Captain Ivica Fazo handed me a pen drive with a documentary called “Modri Kavez” (Blue Cage). It was a documentary about life onboard. Some love life at sea and are in their right element. 3rd mate Uljaveric Uros (Montenegrin) is one of those. He was the first to receive me onboard and also in charge of my familiarization of the ship. Familiarization is basically a walk around the ship in which you are introduced to basic locations as well as safety features. In case of an emergency you need to know what to do and where to be. Uros was quite thorough which is always a good thing. As we walked around he would fist bump crew members and say “que paso amigo?” It’s good when people like what they do. I suppose many do not feel the same way about their jobs as Uros does. In “Modri Kavez” experienced seamen tell how they had stars in their eyes as children having been on the bridge of a ship and having sat in the captain’s chair. However reality sometimes hits hard. Life onboard can be a blessing or a course. The way it works is that you are contracted to be onboard for X amount of time. Then you go home for a while. After some time at home you get a call and once again report to whichever ship you have been assigned to. Rarely the same ship or the same crew. So life as a seaman is one of uncertainty. You could be on a good ship or a bad ship. You could be onboard with a good crew in which you feel a sense of family. However you could also be part of a ship in which you feel an icy silence among everyone. I’ve experienced both as a passenger. One is definitely more pleasant than the other. Imagine the icy isolation of an asocial ship going on for two, three or even ten months! What if the cook is no good? You don’t have an alternate option to the menu onboard. You must eat what is served. Work schedules are sometimes unpredictable so holidays, birthdays and other events are hard to plan around. Will you see your new born’s first steps? Are you there for your friends when they need you?
So what do you think: a good crew or what? ;) Thank you all!! You were great!!
When you can look at your soup and judge the weather outside ;)
The work onboard can certainly be hard and repetitive. However there are good moments too. Good memories! Good stories. Friendships are formed and experience is gained. Horizons are stretched and there is a financial incentive to work onboard as well. One of the seamen in “Modri Kavez” mentions that the word ‘prison’ has been replaced by “ship” and that ‘slave’ has been replaced by “seamen”. If that is how you feel about life onboard then you better look for another profession. However “Modri Kavez” argues that not being able to leave the business is exactly the “Blue Cage”. The documentary also mentions another hard element of splitting your life between home and the ocean. You are often not needed when you return home as the family out of necessity works out a way to cope without you. So what is your role at home? You are essentially a guest being hosted by your own family until you leave again. That does make me think about how my own transition will be after more than six years away? However it is different for me. I will be starting a new life. Not returning to an ongoing one. And while I did mention that I often do not enjoy being within the Saga, I also have to mention that I do enjoy much of what comes from sticking with it anyway.
April 24th 2019 – Wednesday
If the ship moves from side to side then it is called “rolling”. If it moves up and down from front to back then it is called “pitching”. We basically had none of either. The voyage had been smooth apart from a little bit of rolling Tuesday. While the good ship “ALS Vesta” by no means is the largest at sea she is still quite sizable and the side of the ship is in reality a great surface! If the wind comes directly from the side then it can push the ship with an enormous force. We had a bit of that Tuesday. Nothing that would raise anyone’s eyebrows though. As it has been with every ship before this one my favorite place to be has always been on the bridge. It speaks to my nature. You’ll find the best view from up there and all information comes through the bridge. As a result I also got to speak more with the officers of the bridge and less with officers of the engine room. However I did get to exchange a few words with the Chief Engineer who is Romanian. Romania is such an overlooked country in the EU and I look forward to returning again. The twenty crew members onboard came from five countries of which I have been to four: Montenegro, Ukraine, Philippines, Romania and Russia. The Philippines is soon coming up on the Saga’s list. Very soon. I would not hesitate to revisit the other four. While I’ve been on eighteen containerships at this point I believe the good ship ‘ALS Vesta” is the first to introduce me to seamen from Montenegro? The other four nationalities are quite common at sea.
Playing with my new gadget. Seeing how it works.
Well…although I’ve been taking it slow onboard I still managed to run out of things to do, repair, sort, prepare…it does feel good to have no obligations. I watched “Interstellar” from 2017 that night before going to bed. Who knows how many times I might have watched that movie by now? It’s definitely always worth while.
April 25th 2019 – Thursday
I went to the bridge the night before and looked towards the horizon from where I could see the lights from Taiwan. Other than that it was pitch black outside however stars could be seen above. Captain Ivica Fazo was on the bridge and said that the pilot might come onboard around 01:00am and that we should come along side in Taichung around 02:00am. Cargo operations would commence soon after and go on all night. I had another look at Taiwan from the bridge and then said goodnight. I slept like a baby and didn’t hear the cranes offload and load containers throughout the night. When my alarm went off at 07:20am we were still at port.
We were also at port when I looked out the window at 2pm. The captain had said we might leave at 07:00am but that is the life. Delays are common and in my experience rarely due to the ship but due to all sorts of surrounding factors: cranes, congestion, strike, wind, delay of cargo etc. While Taichung is so definitely Taiwan it would not be the place where my feet would first met the ground within country number 179. Maersk had requested that I would disembark in Kaohsiung which was the port after Taichung. The view from onboard presented the port and some industries. On a side note Taiwan might have been one of the most welcoming countries for a very long time. In spite of having visited the Red Cross in over 170 countries they usually do not know I’m coming until Jonathan (my voluntary and precious assistant) reaches out and notifies them. The dissemination of Once Upon A Saga within the Red Cross has been very poor and the organisational structure of the movement hasn’t been able to accommodate a global project as this. So I’m generally not used to being welcomed long in advance. However I had received emails from both Maersk and the Red Cross in Taiwan, welcoming me to Taiwan, long before I departed Japan. That bodes quite well for our newest country ;)
Maybe I shouldn't have too much time on my own? Maybe I just need to see my fiancee ;)
We left the port around 4:30pm. In my humble experience it is hardly never the ship which is at fault when delays occur. It is nearly always surrounding factors. The weather was good outside, the cranes were operating, the cargo was ready to be loaded and I have no idea what caused a nine hour delay? However the distance from Taichung to Kaohsiung is relatively short so the ship managed to call its second port in Taiwan around midnight. Unfortunately that means another late night for the seamen onboard but they are used to it. It is life at sea.
April 26th 2019 – Friday
My alarm went off at 05:30am. My laundry which I had decorated the entire cabin with the night before was dry. I packed up and headed down to the ships office with my luggage. Then I visited the galley and had some tea before meeting Joey from Maersk in the ships office at 06:15am. I said farewell to those around me and headed out and down the gangway behind Joey. Joey has been a Maersk employee for 28 years! He knows a thing or two and quickly got me out of the port and through customs and immigration. Then he bought me a café latte and put me on the high speed train towards Taipei. It was a two hour journey in which I managed to get online and attend to a weeks worth of comments and other activity across social media. At 09:41 the train reached Taipei and Anthony (Maersk) picked me up and welcomed me. We headed straight for the Maersk office where I met Iris who runs the office. Then I made a 90 minute presentation for a fifth of the office which we followed up with a delicious lunch. My first meal in Taiwan.
Solid #MaerskMoment with these happy souls! Thank you one and all!
Sometimes life isn’t too bad! I’ve got a good feeling about Taiwan. Welcome to country number 179 in a single unbroken journey completely without flying ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - rested and ready for more!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga