“Shengking” – passenger no. 1 (reaching Solomon Islands)
Day 2,205 since October 10th 2013: 189 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).
Let the island-hopping commence
“A stranger is a friend you’ve never met before” has been the Saga’s motto from day one. It was taken from a Danish song by Gnags and translated directly into English. And it is a very fitting motto for this project as it is friendship and kindness which has gotten us thus far.
In last week’s entry I was still in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG), waiting for the good ship “Shengking” to arrive. It had been delayed by the save typhoon which struck Japan hard. In Port Moresby I was still in the good care of my hosts Craig and his wife Theresa. Although as the days went by Theresa had to leave the country for the purpose of several meetings and it became time to say farewell to her. Craig and I drove her to the airport and I gave her a farewell hug hopping that we would someday meet again. Now that “the boys” were in charge of cooking Craig and I opted to head to back to Royal Papua Yacht Club for yet another kebab night. Saturday night is kebab night and during my stay in PNG we had successfully managed to fit in three of such nights. You can either go for a medium or a large kebab and the first time we went I had the large which was surrealistically heavy, not unlike if I was holding a brick in my hand! How would that ever fit into my stomach?!? But it did and as we returned a week later Craig and I both agreed that a medium would be more than enough and yet ended up chowing down two large ones for a second time. Theresa was smart enough to stick to the medium. Now that Theresa was gone and Craig and I returned for the third time we were certainly going to stay away from the large kebabs but we failed again and sat down with two large bricks of meat, bread, vegetables and sauces. You would think we would have learned…but alas :)
I spotted this beautiful Praying Mantis before leaving PNG.
One day took the next and apart from a little sightseeing with Craig I mostly kept to the apartment where I could sort everything out in luxurious surroundings. I was ready to leave PNG and had been ready for several days. I care very much about PNG but it was time to leave. I have not been home for six years and getting home is daily on my mind. The good ship “Shengking” arrived and Swire Shipping coordinated my collection and drop off at the ship. Swire Shipping is the brand name for all liner shipping services operated by The China Navigation Company (CNCo) which was established in 1872 by John Samuel Swire from the UK. Swire dates itself back to 1816 when John Swire (father of John Samuel) established himself as an important merchant in Liverpool. Today CNCo offer links between over 130 ports globally while the core business has always been the Asia Pacific area. I first had the pleasure of meeting with Swire back in June 2019 when we reached Singapore. That is when Swire Shipping and Once Upon A Saga entered into a collaboration in relation to connecting the Pacific islands without flying.
About to embark. That's Philip in the middle and Mark on the right :)
Philip from Swire was the ships agent in Port Moresby and picked me up at the apartment. On his way he had collected Mark from customs and together the three of us would proceed to the port. I said farewell to Craig who had lately been educating me on Australian rugby during the “niners” which is a fast pace version of rugby in which a lot of short games are being played during a tournament instead of just one. European football seems fairly underappreciated in this part of the world. As Craig handed me over to Philip and we drove off, I waved farewell hoping that Craig and Theresa would someday find their way to Copenhagen so I could bring them to my favourite kebab joint repay a small part of all their care and hospitality. Fifteen minutes later we reached the port and Mark realized that he was the same customs officer that received me 17 days earlier. I recognized him the moment I got into the car and said hello so I was rather surprised he didn’t immediately recognize me as well. How many bearded men in hats travel by container ship to and from Port Moresby? Well…his teeth and lips were red from betelnut (buai) so perhaps his mind was somewhere else ;)
The Swire Group also owns Cathey Pacific airlines and I came across this photo of the Beatles traveling with them back in the 60s. Not super relevant but I thought it was cool ;)
The three of us soon walked up the gangway and met the kind Captain Jeffrey Kum Fai Liew (Malaysia) for the first time. The Captain was ready to go through all the required paperwork so as soon as Mark stamped my passport I said farewell and left the bureaucrazy-party, which has set more than one grey hair in the heads of many seamen. I headed up one deck where the Captain told me my dinner was waiting. There I had a delicious meal which was followed by a cup of ice-cream for dessert (because it was Sunday). At dinner I met 2nd engineer Denys Nauchu who is from Romania and immediately offered me a beer. Good man. Afterwards I headed further up to C deck where I had been issued the “Cadet cabin” which suited me perfectly. Within the cabin I had a sofa, a bed, a window, a desk, a chair, a closet, shower, toilet, refrigerator and a clock on the wall. What more can one ask for? On my bed I found four rolls of toilet paper, two bars of soap and a deep blue towel. They had also left a plate of fruit for me. Welcome onboard! :)
The app I use for Instagram is called Tailwind and for Facebook it's built into the group application.
That same evening I met up with 3rd officer Zhimin Wang (China) who issued me a pair of safety shoes, a boiler suit and a hard hat. We were initially going to go through the familiarization of the ship that same evening but three new crewmembers were joining the ship and had still not arrived so we postponed the familiarization for the next day so that we could all do it together. I still had 400mb data available on my phone and began scheduling social media for the next four days. For some reason there are still people that believe that I am online all the time which is sometimes the case but not always. I have the ability to schedule the release of the blog as well as social media on both Facebook and Instagram so that posts go online at specific times on specific dates. I finished my day by saying goodnight to my fiancée while expecting to be offline for the next three to four days. The good ship “Shengking” is actually outfitted with Wi-Fi for the crew but everyone has an account and it would be a hassle to get me connected, which had to be through the head office. Bliss!! I’d much rather not be tempted by having an internet connection and enjoy a few days offline.
View from the Officers mess room.
Breakfast at 8am, lunch at midday and dinner is ready at 6pm. The routine had begun. The good ship “Shengking” was built in China in 2013 and has her home port in Singapore. She can carry a total of 2,118 twenty foot containers and measures 199.9 meters (655.8 feet) from one end to the other. I really like her design and think she looks good: the staircase, the rooms, the hallway, the facilities…it all looks rather pleasing to me. So in that sense the user experience was good although I can say nothing about the engine or navigation of the ship. Generally I know that seamen prefer ships built in South Korea, Japan or Europe. If you want to save money you buy your ship from China. This beauty is owned and operated by Swire Shipping | China Navigation Co. and became the 22nd container ship to carry the Saga forward. For that I am immensely grateful as I have recently learned that people I thought would easily be given access to travelling onboard container ships have been denied coming onboard. Not at Swire but in general. And that honestly surprised me a great deal and made me realise how privileged I am to be onboard.
On the familiarization round.
The next day I joined the 3rd officer along with the three joining crewmembers for a very thorough and clear familiarization of the ship. The paperwork a theory alone took about 40 minutes before we walked around and located all the safety features of the ship. Safety is given a lot of priority onboard container ships, as if things first go wrong…then they can go really wrong! Help might be several hours or days away so keeping a tight operation and having everyone clear on their responsibilities is essential to everyone’s safety. Out in “the real world” people chose whether or not they want to wear a seatbelt and live by the consequences. Onboard a working ship everyone follows the rules and regulations or go home. Segregation of garbage is also a very serious matter onboard at the seamen take great care in sorting waste into plastics, paper, wood, foodstuff, chemicals, oils, glass etc. While I was onboard the crew was busy cleaning the fourth fuel tank as regulations for purer fuel is now being imposed globally. I recently learned from speaking with the Captain, that the USA and Canada have the strictest regulations in relation to pure fuel sources, and that all ships that want to call a port there must comply. Apparently these regulations are being imposed on the naval world by IMO (International Maritime Organization) region by region and North America was first.
Thank you one and all!! :)
I didn’t have time to socialize much with the crew as the voyage was short, but still managed to have a few good conversations with some of them anyway. The Captain actually retired a few years back but continues to sail on a limited basis. He simply accepts one tour (four months) per year and has the rest of the year off. Well-deserved after more than forty years at sea. Can you just imagine that? Can you picture the chance he must have gone through over all those years? Think about it like this: the World Wide Web was invented in 1990, first smartphone in 1994, CD’s and DVD’s in 1995 and the iPhone in 2007. Captain Liew was at sea when seamen actually wrote letters and hoped to receive some at the next port. The world was much slower back then and there was time to leave the ship and go sightseeing. “A girl in every port” kind of stuff. These days everything is fast paced and constantly striving toward more and more efficiency. And the days where seamen were playing cards, talking about family and writing postcards are long gone. Well, in 1975 Filipino Roberto del Rosario patented the “sing along system” which would later be known as karaoke. I wonder how early karaoke took to the seas? Of the 21 crewmembers onboard the good ship “Shengking” 11 were Filipinos so karaoke was guaranteed. As such we were five nationalities onboard including me: Malaysian, Ukrainian, Chinese, Filipino and Danish. Here are some fun facts for you: Malaysia is the world’s third largest rubber producer, the world famous song “O Sole Mio” was composed in Ukraine, every panda in the world belongs to China, three of the ten largest shopping malls in the world are located in the Philippines and the national anthem of Denmark just turned 200 years old this year which I think the Danish media has completely overlooked? ;) Yeah – we’ve been to all of those countries and I sure wouldn’t mind going back :)
Debriefing on the bridge after the safety drills.
The ship ran a few safety drills while I was onboard. One of them was a rescue from an enclosed space and another simulated a fire in the engine room. Other common exercises are “man over board” and “abandon ship”. Running such exercises is a part of the ships routine and keeps everyone ready in the unfortunate event that it would someday become reality. Repetition and practice is good in many aspects of life and the only way to become an expert.
Fun to find the safety instructions in my own language :)
I recently heard a song which I have since then heard on repeat and is now set as the alarm on my phone. It is called “Fever dream” and is performed by Nightgames. I’m not sure what it is about that song but it really appeals to me as a “let’s get out there and do this” song. It opens like this:
“Wake up, wake up
Leaving in a minute
The big come up is
Get your mind right
The king just died
Every minute that we killin’
Is another minute finished”
For years I’ve been comforted by a sentence which goes like this: “Time is not something which passes, it is something which comes”. That is so soothing to me. However in Nightgames song we have the contrast of “every minute that we killin’ is another minute finished”. So which is it? DO we have plenty of time or is the sand running away between our fingers? Yeah – I’m still on the “the Saga has now lasted six years” topic if you had not guessed it. Is this a truly good investment in my life or has this gone on for too long now. I know that we are technically not far from the end however it is still my time and not yours which we are speaking about. I’m not homesick. Not even the slightest. And yet I do miss home and look forward to doing it. I do not want to be the man who quit. I want to be the man who set a goal and reached it. However I do want to let people know that there are times in life when it is okay to back out. With the Saga I will continue to push through and estimate that we have a solid six months left if all goes well. As such I will be the man who proved that if you work hard, work smart, stay persistent, never give up, behave well, make friends and nurture relations then you can succeed with nearly anything. Tictoc – do you hear the Saga clock?
So...I opted to watch "Captain Phillips" about the pirate attack in 2009. The ship is actually regularly calling Port Moresby these days.This is the scene where Barkhad Abdi looks at Tom Hanks and says: "I am the captain now".
Last week I wrote that the sadness was back and had been for a while. I’m open about it as I do not want it to destroy me. I’m open about it here in the blog and I also speak to friends about it. A friend in Lebanon immediately began asking me if I was eating right, sleeping right and getting some exercise. I guess I’ve dropped off a bit in terms of exercise. It turns out I have not been for a run since we left Singapore (June 2019). I do push-ups on a near daily basis, a do a fair amount of walking, in July I hiked to the top of Mount Kinabalu and I have been swimming in the ocean on several occasions. So I do get some exercise but perhaps not enough. The ceiling in the gym onboard the good ship “Shengking” was fortunately high enough for me to get on the treadmill. With my 193 cm (6’4) my height plus the treadmill has actually been a problem onboard ships. But we got it done on this one and to my surprise I had no issue whatsoever in keeping a pace of 12 kph (7.5 mph) for at least 20 minutes. I promised myself I would run for twenty minutes so that’s when I got off. But that means I managed 2,400 m (1.5 mi) in 12 minutes. Not bad given that I’m closing in on 41 years and haven’t been running for four months. Well…that might not be as important to you as it is for me. In any case I never feel sad when onboard these ships for some reason I have yet to identify? So the running was just to get myself started again and as a precaution.
The officers laundry room.
The weather was good for the entirety of the voyage to the Solomon Islands. However we had the wind coming straight against us which slowed us down about 2 knots per hour. That meant that our speed was about 15 knots per hour which is about 27 kph (17 mph). It is still faster than what most people expect a huge ship would be traveling but over time we lost four hours. You may remember that she arrived five days late to Port Moresby due to the typhoon so we have been trying to win some time and get back on schedule. Fortunately we were given priority in Honiara which is the capital of Solomon Islands. Our eta for Honiara was 4pm on October 23rd and the pilot came onboard at 4pm so that was just perfect. We were alongside with an hour and then the sun began to set over the Saga’s country number 189 in an unbroken journey completely without flying. There was no point in disembarking as I would be walking into a new city (town) after dark without a reservation for a place to stay. Not a scenario I prefer. Fortunately cargo operations were set to last until the following day and the Captain said I was welcome to stay onboard for the night. I did my laundry and returned to my cabin where the Captain after a while knocked on my door and handed me my passport which had already been stamped. That was easy? I suspect that was due to Swire’s agent Tradco Shipping Limited whom I have been in touch with for a while. You will hear more about them later.
At Swire Shipping in Singapore, June 2019.
For now I am just grateful to have reached yet another country in this perennial project which on the bottom line means that I am a country closer to home. And the list of gratefulness could go on for ever but for the sake of keeping this entry somewhat short I will just pull a few out of the hat for now. I’m very grateful to James Woodrow and his entire team at Swire in Singapore for getting all of this off the ground (so to speak). I owe thanks to Alistair Skingley, Grant Barrett and Philip Ola at Swire in Port Moresby for keeping me updated and making it easy to board the good ship. Finally a huge thanks to Captain Jeffrey Kum Fai Liew and his brave crew for treating me so well onboard and bringing us safely across the deep blue to yet another island nation. We just added another 1,573 km (977 mi) to the Saga.
To all I say: fair winds and following seas ;)
Honiara, Salomon Islands.
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - brought my Salomon's to Solomon ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga