“Kota Hening” – passenger no. 1 (incredible distances and more blue ocean)
Day 2,301 since October 10th 2013: 194 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).
Blue oceans, blue skies and an endless horizon
(continued from last week’s entry)
There is more beauty in this world than most people know. There is more kindness too. There is far less danger than what people realize. There is a great deal of help to be found. Progress is outstanding in most fields of development. There is also a great deal of inefficiency, corruption, bureaucrazy and nonsense. It can’t all be a bed of roses ;)
I was sad to leave FSM (Federated States of Micronesia) so soon. I do not mind the beautiful atolls I have seen in Kiribati and the Marshall Islands. I am perhaps simply on a personal level more attracted to islands which offer more elevation. I liked Nauru for that although it does not compare to the elevation of the Salomon Islands, PNG (Papua New Guinea), Fiji or FSM. I did not have much time to explore Fiji while there and we will be taking the Saga back later this year. However it was clear to me that they enjoy a fair amount of tourism in Fiji. FSM does not have the same level of tourism. Not much at all to be frank. It is a shame as people are certainly missing out. However it is also the exact type of tropical environment I would seek out for myself. Less explored, friendly, adventurous, mystical and remote. There was something in FSM which took a hold of my heart. My tired old heart which has been shattered into pieces across far too many nations by now. I wonder if my heart will grow back to its full size or if it will remain longing for its lost parts until the end of time. Who can say? I constantly return to the same old thoughts such as: am I a bad person trying hard to be good or am I a good person who sometimes missteps? Has all of the work I have put into the Saga been worthwhile? Will I be able to adjust to a different life when it comes to an end? In fact…there is no end to the questions… A friend recently reminded me of a story in which a Native American had raised his tepee on the parking lot of a major airport. He was asked what he was doing there and replied: “my flight was so fast that I now need to wait for my soul to arrive”. I truly understand the sentiment of that story.
Pohnpei, Micronesia. Swells like adventure to me! ;)
Day SEVEN onboard – January 17th 2020
It was another day on board. Another day of light blue skies and calm blue ocean surrounding us…running all the way to the horizon in all directions. People who say the world is a small place really need to get out more. This planet is gigantic!! No wonder this project is taking as long as it does. Most people have no idea how large Africa is so how can those people possibly understand the size of the Pacific Ocean? And how can I make people relate? Recently I have been thinking about the threat of the world wide rise of ocean levels. I cannot comprehend the numbers. Looking at the enormous surface of the ocean it seems implausible that there could possibly be ice enough on earth to make the water rise to any significant level? However maybe I do not understand how much ice Greenland and Antarctica is home to? They say the ocean will also expand as it heats up. However I have seen water in every temperature from freezing to boiling. And I have never noticed that water in a glass expands or shrinks as temperatures varies? But then again: maybe my mind just cannot comprehend the size of all of it and the effects on a larger scale. Looking across so much ocean makes me think: we are an almost impossibly small planet in comparison to the size of our solar system, which again is almost impossibly small in comparison to our galaxy. So what the heck are we doing fighting each other, ignoring each other, threatening each other, undermining each other, dominating over each other and all of that nonsense? The more than seven billion beating hearts across our little pale blue dot are as significant to the universe as an ant is to the tire of a car, which it was just run over by. We should all work together every day and look for the best within each other, which I guarantee we have more of than anything else. That big blue ocean. Why is there nothing to see but water? Why is it so big?
Endless water and sky in all directions.
Day EIGHT onboard – January 18th 2020
Breakfast at 08:00am, lunch at midday and dinner at 6:00pm. A gentle vibration through the ship from the engine and propeller as it pushed us forward. A light blue sky and a deep blue ocean. A gentle 5 degree rolling from one side to the other. I saw a couple of birds. I saw a piece of garbage in the sea. Garbage? We must have been close to an island. We were although it was too far away to see. I was tremendously sleepy. I guess the excessive interviewing in Majuro along with the rushed but fruitful visit to Kosrae and Pohnpei was catching up with me. I slept…
Endless water and sky in all directions.
Day NINE onboard – January 19th 2020
Seamen are truly a special bread in their own class. The romantic life of the seamen has come and gone with the modernization of the trade. The shipping industry has been optimized to a degree where a port visit is often a rushed, highly efficient and sometimes hectic affair. No time for any yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum. It is all about paperwork, inspections, maintenance and routine. Few seamen get a chance to go ashore. Some who do prefer to get some rest instead. The ship is a floating workplace of “endless” work hours and no weekends or holidays. Some are at sea for 3-4 months while other contracts run for up to 10 or even 12 months depending on rank. Some chose the life at sea while others had to do it for their families…they had to become the providers. Some seamen get seasick while others laugh of the thought. Some seamen are open and jolly. Some are introverted and negative. They are of course all people as people are just people. However they are people who often spend more time at sea, away from their family and those they love, than on land with them. And as I have mentioned many times before: life on board comes down to a routine of work, meals, sleep and a little recreation time.
I found that I have mostly kept to myself since boarding the ship in Majuro. This being the 25th container ship for me…I cannot not say that I continue to be excited. There is a great deal of routine in being on board for me too. The crew had all been kind and accommodating. The officers under the command of Captain Chuanpeng Huang have been very kind and happy to attend to my every need. My needs have however been limited. I’m quite self-contained. It had become time to create a list of contacts/witnesses across the world. If we are to have any hope creating a Guinness World Record in relation to every country then I must be able to present two witness statements from each country. It is a shame that I lost several hundreds of Red Cross and Red Crescent business cards from the first 116 countries when my day bag was stolen. All of those people would have been excellent witnesses. As I created an excel spreadsheet and began entering contacts into it, I began to answer my own question from earlier: Has all of the work I have put into the Saga been worthwhile? Yes it has! I cannot believe all the wonderful people I have met over the years who I have so many amazing memories tied up to!! The Saga is a ridiculously large project which has involved tens of thousands of people across nearly every country in the world. Once I began going through my address book I began to smile: Wales, Iceland, Greenland, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Uruguay, Trinidad, Dominica, Bahamas, Morocco, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Gabon, Congo, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Somalia…oh me oh my…those are just some of the countries in which I have met amazing people which makes me smile. The Saga truly is a lot more pleasant to look back at than to be in.
Fire. Around 6:00pm I was heading to the bridge when I could smell smoke. The Chief Officer was on watch. We could both smell the characteristic odour of burning wood. A ship on fire can quickly turn into a nightmare with no outside help to be found and fire drills, which are rehearsed over and over again, are a serious matter in a ships safety. In this case it was however quite alright because what we could smell was the grill being lit for the party :) I never fully worked out why we were having a party but I gather that it was a combination of the ship completing another full voyage and the Chinese New Year which was due five days later until the end of January. In any case I have never known a seaman who did not take the opportunity to party when the occasion presented itself.
Good times at sea! Good Captain, good crew, good ship! ;)
Fish, snacks, drinks and dessert was available in the crews mess while chicken, beef, mutton and prawns where outside near the grill. A bucket with skewers stood ready for us to arrange any assortment of meat we desired. Good stuff! I had a beer and a couple of skewers with perfectly spiced meat. The weather was brilliant and the day ended in a beautiful sunset. It was hard for me to suppress flashbacks from Christmas 2019 on board the good ship “Kota Hakim”. The sister ship of “Kota Hening” where the crew and I had enjoyed a similar party however during hard rain. The grill was located the same place (on port side) during both parties. The ships looked more or less identical to me. Had it not been for the weather then I might have thought I had travelled in time. Good food, music, high spirits and a boost to moral. Sometimes life at sea is good.
Endless water and sky in all directions.
Day TEN onboard – January 20th 2020
This became the third day in a row where I did not head down to the galley for breakfast. I wasn’t sure why. Didn’t feel that hungry in the morning. My phone records how many steps I take throughout the day. On January 5th I took 15,952 steps. On this day I only took 1,087 steps. That means that this day’s activity amounted to less than a kilometre (0.6mi). Considerably less than the 5th of January’s 12.7 km (8 mi) when I was on land. The ship was rather warm as was the outdoor climate. So I suppose I didn’t need the energy and that could explain why I would eat less? The food on board was good though. Nothing to complain about. A good Indonesian chef adding up to one of nine Indonesians on board. In addition to them we also carried four Chinese, four Indians and seven Burmese seamen. Twenty-four in total plus myself made twenty-five beating hearts at sea. I completed a ten part series from 2018 called “The Terror”. The story follows a British exploratory mission to discover the North West passage in the Arctic Ocean. In 1845 two ships set out never to be seen again. One was the good ship “Erebus” and the other “Terror”. They quickly get stuck in the arctic ice and the story unfolds. A good story which made me miss the serenity of Greenland and its wonderful people. Our country number forty back in 2014. We retarded the clock (love that expression!!) another hour this night as we headed further west.
Endless water and sky in all directions.
Day ELEVEN onboard – January 21st 2020
What new, what new? Not much really. The ship was rolling a lot more - sometimes as much as 15 degrees but that isn’t really a whole lot. Almost a month ago the crew on board the good ship “Kota Hakim” told me I could expect much more than that between Majuro and Hong Kong. The deck officers on board the good ship “Kota Hening” also hinted that we would be rolling significantly more. However it appeared that we never encountered that kind of swell and the weather forecast was now predicting calmer waters again. A shame because I was kind of looking forward to some rough weather. What is wrong with me? I should feel blessed that King Neptune looked kindly upon our voyage. I find that the rolling can be fun at times. In terms of motoric skills it is slightly like being drunk without being under the influence of alcohol. What I mean is that I would feel perfectly confident walking down the hallway, however suddenly lose my foothold and walk into a wall…and then laugh about the lack of control. A simple task like folding my laundry was also complicated slightly by the rolling. Captain Huang has a good sense of humour. He has decades of experience at sea and has seen it all. I often sense that seamen think I am a complete novice at sea, which I of course am in some aspects. However I do carry a little experience by now. During lunch I sensed that the kind Captain was mentally preparing me for rough seas so I decided to share a story with him about the time I was on board the good ship “Westerkade” in the North Sea in the wintertime! I explained to the Captain that chairs were falling on their sides. A story which usually underlines my point of not being a complete novice. Captain Huang, who speaks english with a heavy Chinese accent, simply laughed and said: “Oh…so chairs were falling? But have you seen plates flying through the air?” Then he left with a smile as be both laughed. Even in writing I can’t help laugh to myself. I like his humour. There is always a bigger fish :)
I love the lighting in this photo. My cabin window.
Day TWELVE onboard – January 22nd 2020
I guess King Neptune wanted to show me something? Because the last time I checked the time it was 04:00am and I had just turned on the lights to see what had fallen on the floor. We were rolling quite a bit throughout the night and although we did not surpass 25 degrees of rolling it was still enough to send my relatively heavy chair across my cabin floor a few times. I skipped breakfast once again to get some more sleep. The ocean had calmed down by lunch time and from that point on the swell and wind continued to diminish. Looking across the calm sea I once more said to myself: I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW MUCH NOTHING THERE IS OUT THERE!! We were on our sixths day of cutting our way through nothing! Ocean in every direction. No islands, no garbage, no jumping fish, no dolphins, no whales, no ships, no airplanes, no mermaids, no Aquaman, no Kraken, no nothing. Water all the way to the horizon in all directions and then the sky as a canopy above us. At no point had we been going any slower than 14 knots which is equal to 26 kph (16 mph). That is a lot of nothingness when you consider that we had been moving constantly for days. In fact that would amount to 3.744 km (2,340 mi) of emptiness. Presumably in all directions? Astonishing.
Endless water and sky in all directions.
Day THIRTEEN onboard – January 23rd 2020
Two birds have been with us since we left Micronesia. When they were not flying about or fishing they would sit and rest on the forward mast. The nothingness out there continued. The good ship’s stability surprised me. Hardly any rolling at all on this day. While she weighs as much as 950 African elephants (5.702 metric ton) at her lightest conditions she can weigh as much as 2,250 African elephants (13,497 metric ton) when fully loaded. African elephants are of course the most common form of weight measurement at sea in case you did not already know that. Just as everyone who works in the engine room compares the main engines power with 100 Toyota Corolla’s instead of simply saying 13,869 horse power, which indecently would be a lot of horses to feed and shoe! The 159.53 m (522 ft) overall length makes her longer than a football field no matter if you are from the USA or Europe. In terms of ships she is not very large and with most of the containers on board being empty the GM was at 3.16 between Pohnpei (Micronesia) and Nansha (China). It is hard to explain what GM is because it is a calculated number and I don’t really understand it. However a high GM means the ship sits high in the water and is more likely to roll. As such a fully loaded ship would have a low GM and therefore offer more stability. Apparently most ships built in Japan have a higher GM than ships built elsewhere and the good ship “Kota Hening” came to life in Kochi (Japan) back in 2003. While she is the sister ship of “Kota Hakim” and nearly identical, “Kota Hening” has home in Hong Kong while “Kota Hakim’s” homeport is in Singapore where PIL’s head office is also found. All in all PIL operates more than 160 vessels and is a top ten shipping company in the world.
Endless water and sky in all directions.
Day FOURTEEN onboard – January 24th 2020
The days had by now grown long for me. I get stuck on a lot of activities when offline and can only do so much while at sea. Coming on board a container ship used to be a blessing for me. Sort of like a vacation. In any case as a break from the intenseness of the Saga where I could rest up, eat well, disconnect, sleep, shower, catch up on emails, repair/maintain equipment, prepare for the next country and not feel guilty about doing nothing. That has changed a bit now that I am spending more time at sea than on land. I would not go as far as to say that it feels like time wasted but it certainly feels like time I am not spending with family, friends and those I love. Perhaps it is the added element of being disconnected from the internet. Or the thought of how much faster we would be done with the Pacific countries if only we were flying. I can however not underline enough how grateful I am to Pacific International Lines (PIL) for collaborating with Once Upon A Saga. This good ship became the third from PIL’s mighty fleet and it is truly a privilege to be on board. Not an honour which is bestowed on most people. It is comparable to a form of sponsorship and for that I am grateful. As a passenger (supernumerary) on the good ship I was the only one who served no function. Everyone else had a job to tend to and was vital to the ships operation. The crew was kind to me and I have had many good conversations when time has allowed for it. Those I spoke most with were Captain Huang and Chief Engineer Cong whom I often dined with. That is quite an honour as they hold the two highest ranks on board the good ship. I would also speak with Chief Officer Aung Kyaw Thet who often happened to be on duty when I would head up to the bridge. A good man from Myanmar, a country which is dear to my heart. Captain Huang was concerned with my safety which is always nice. However it restricted my movement on board to the accommodation and prevented me from taking a walk on deck or paying a visit to the engine room. While I am grateful for any concern for my wellbeing the limited movement on board did make me feel even more confined, isolated and very far away from anything. Still…grateful to be on board and excited to see Nansha port the following day. Chinese port operations would be something special for a shipping nerd who always thinks about logistics. On this day the two birds had left and were nowhere to be seen. Instead I could now see the first ships in the horizon. My first indication for a while that we were not alone on the planet.
Sign of life!
Day FIFTHEEN onboard – January 25th 2020
Apparently I had misunderstood our arrival time to Nansha. It was true that we would reach it on this day however only shortly before midnight. So it was another full day at sea. The South Chinese Sea! The sky was grey, the sea was grey and our good ship was rolling up to 22 degrees at times. I had a ball! I thought the rolling was great and spent a lot of time on the bridge filming and observing it. Mostly we would roll 10-15 degrees but ever so often we would get “a good one” and go above 20. It was misty out there. Captain Huang pointed out some oil rigs in the horizon. A few ships were visible in the distance as well. This was the first day of the Chinese New Year. Apparently a superstition exists amongst Chinese fishermen which promises good fortune if they can cross in front of a large ships path. A rather dangerous “game” which also isn’t legal. However superstitious fishermen care more about their catch than anything else.
This is approximately a 15 degree roll.
On a different note I wanted to tell you a little something about fitness on board. Ever since I got a hold of that 30 day push up challenge last year I have faithfully been doing them (that’s 748 push ups/month). I am in fact doing a lot more push ups than required by the challenge because anything less than 25/day isn’t really worth it anymore. The ship has a small gym with a treadmill, some weights and other basic stuff. The treadmill isn’t a good idea when the ship is rolling but I started doing daily chin-ups on a vertical metal bar. For years I have noticed some of the officers pacing back and forth on the bridge. Those are the ones actively trying to keep their step count up. A ship is no different than anywhere else in the sense that some care more about staying fit than others. Those who care less will make up excuses such as “the gym isn’t good enough” or “it is too hard to find time to work out while on board”. The others find a way. I see my belly growing while on board all these ships and look forward to reaching Hong Kong where I can go for a few runs. Meanwhile walking up or down the staircases on board is also a fine workout when the staircase suddenly leans an extra 20 degrees ;)
The Chief Cook wearing a McDonald's uniform in the galley :)
Day SIXTEEN onboard – January 26th 2020
At 02:00am I went up to the bridge. I probably should have been sleeping but instead I was working on adding photos to an audio file of the latest radio interview with Sonal, Chris and Robbie from Dubai Eye, so that I would be able to upload it to YouTube while in Hong Kong. I’ve lost track of how many we have done? In this one they jokingly referred to me as their unofficial travel correspondent. Good interview. Always fun speaking with the three of them. As I reached the bridge I was met with the sight of the many lights breaking the darkness of the night. It was cold (14C/57F). Very cold compared to the tropical temperatures we had just arrived from. Wintertime in the northern hemisphere. A familiar feeling. Time to put on a jacket again for the first time since Japan back in April 2019. The Pilot was on board and we were slowly coming along side at Nansha port. The Captain is still responsible for the ship while the Pilot is on board (except at the Panama Canal, Suez Canal and Kiel Canal). However the Pilot is familiar with the waters and gives commands to the ships officers. The Captain could technically interfere. In our case Captain Huang, who is Chinese, was very familiar with the Chinese waters and might even have known more than the Pilot. However Captain Huang, who was now wearing a black leatherjacket, stood quietly by and observed. I went outside which was really cold. I was immediately struck by a distinct smell of trees. The only time I do not miss the smell of trees is when I’m in a forest and I so definitely long for returning home to go running in the nearby forests of my apartment.
Arriving to Nansha, China.
My alarm went off at 07:50am but it did not convince me to get out of bed. We stayed alongside until 2:00pm when the Pilot once more boarded the ship and navigated us out of the port area. My day passed as I took care of various matters. I exchanged my leftover Indonesian Rupiah for USD with the Chief Cook. He is Indonesian and I knew I wouldn’t likely be returning to Indonesia anymore within this project so I gave him a good exchange rate. I also maintained my LifeSaver water bottle. It has been with me for a very long time now. Apart from providing me with safe drinking water it also spares me from purchasing thousands of water bottles which is important to me as it is depressing to see how much of our planet is covered in plastic waste. I finished a few videos I’ve been working on for a while and sat down to watch Mary Poppins from 1964. That movie definitely still holds up! Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! ;) There was something about being back in China. China is such an impressive and often misunderstood country. It became country number 175 in March 2019. For our port call we had received notice regarding a new virus: Novel Corona Virus (nCoV). For the same reason the officers were wearing masks as we left Nansha. More as a precaution than anything else. The outbreak was in Wuhan more than a 1,000 km (625 mi) from Nansha. China is roughly the same size as the USA but they manage a BILLION people more in the same space. Fascinating country. That night we cast anchor not far from Hong Kong.
I've never understood why "Danish Style cookies" are all over the Seven Seas! Some good salesmanship I guess :)
Day SEVENTEEN onboard – January 27th 2020
Full day at anchorage. Nansha, which we called the day before, is usually a busy port but was quiet when we visited due to the Chinese New Year. However Hong Kong must have been congested since we were at anchor waiting our turn? The distance between the two ports is only 63 km (40 mi). The weather was sort of colourless but the sea was calm. I did my laundry and packed my bags. I also watched La La Land from 2016 featuring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. A movie which I didn’t have high hopes for as the cover and name did not appeal to me. It turned out to be surprisingly good. Never judge a book by its cover…
At anchorage near Hong Kong.
Day EIGHTEEN onboard – January 28th 2020
It was my last day on board. The Pilot joined the ship at 06:00am and we were alongside before breakfast. The Saga had a lot riding on how my interview with immigration would go. I was hoping that it would all go smooth. However what if tensions between Hong Kong and main land China had increased while we were at sea? What if immigration didn’t like my profile with all the countries I have been to? What if the only immigration officer who could clear me was away during the Chinese New Year and those left in office were strict by the book? Worst case scenario is always deportation with direct escort to the airport. Two more probable scenarios were: A) I would have to stay with the ship until the next flexible port (possibly Lae in PNG), or B) be allowed to disembark but be denied to embark the next vessel, in which case I would need to apply for another Chinese visa and travel great distance to solve the logistics. In both scenarios the Saga would encounter great delay and grief. Fingers crossed for best scenario. This reminds me that when the Saga reached Pakistan the authorities handed me free Pakistani merchandise (cap, pen, keychain) on my first day! Pakistan is the only country to show me that kind of hospitality. However all of Asia is generally top notch when it comes to hospitality so I was expecting that all would go well.
In Hong Kong with the wonderful Mr. Keith Leung from Pacific International Lines :)
Pacific International Lines (PIL) agent Mr Keith Leung came to meet me on board at 08:30am. I said farewell to the good ship and its brave crew as Keith and I headed down the gangway and made our way to immigration. Everyone was really kind and professional. No problems whatsoever. Welcome to Hong Kong and enjoy your stay.
The brave crew of the good ship "Kota Hakim" under the outstanding Captain Huang! Thank you all! :)
As always I would like to thank the amazing crew which brought the Saga safely to our next destination. Hong Kong is a great place which I look forward to showing you all. Captain Huang, his stellar crew and the good ship all treated me with the kindest hospitality one could imagine. I left the ship having had many good conversations with the many hardworking seamen – too many to mention them all. Good Captain, good crew, good ship. I wish them all:
Fair winds and following seas.
If you enjoyed this blog or think I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga needs funding. Thank you :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Happy Chinese New Year!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga