MV “Kota Ratu” – passenger no. 1 (heading home)
Day 3,053 since October 10th 2013: 195 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
Heading “home” to Hong Kong
We had barely left the outer reef of Palau before the vessel began rolling from side to side. The sky was blue with a few white clouds. The sun was reflected like a million small mirrors on the otherwise calm surface of the ocean. The water around us had a deep blue color and there wasn’t much wind. Yet, we were already rolling.
Last week’s entry: Palau – the perfect tropical tourism destination
I imagine there are few people who have any idea about how much work goes into Once Upon A Saga. Pacific International Lines (PIL) good ship ‘Kota Ratu’ arrived to Koror, Palau, on Wednesday February 2nd and left the following day. PIL’s agent in Palau, Eurasia Pacific Lines, was there at Koror Port when I arrived sixteen days earlier – and now Ian from the agency was dropping me off where I had arrived. I looked up at ‘Kota Ratu’ and recognized her. She is the sister ship of ‘Kota Ratna’ which brought the Saga safely to this West Pacific Island nation. I was severely tired having been up until 03:00am trying to get the Friday Blog ready and online a day ahead of time. The few days in Palau outside hotel quarantine had been packed with activity. Touring and exploring the main island, meeting Tova and Dieter of Fish’n Fins, hanging out with Roel, heading up north with Swing to his family island, kayaking with Lee, meeting with Palau Red Cross, encircling the main island on a Harley with Swing and co., arranging for a PCR test outside of the healthcare systems schedule, visiting Jellyfish Lake and snorkeling with manta rays… Those are simply the headlines. Meanwhile I was keeping the Saga’s social media alive which counts more than 100,000, often inquisitive, people. I was coordinating with PIL to join the ship. I even had the pleasure of meeting with Australia’s Ambassador Richelle Turner on two separate occasions. She is a very kind woman and is helping the Saga. It remains tough times for flightless travel in the Pacific and preparations have long since begun for our next country, and the next after that.
I would have loved to visit Koror’s museums but time did not allow and furthermore, I expect that they would have been closed due to the precautions taken related to the continuous rise in COVID-19 cases. It’s interesting to think about how things have played out. We reached Hong Kong in early 2020 ahead of the Pandemic and could easily have been on our way to Palau within days. But as it turned out, Palau closed its boarders to greater China before I could join the ship. As everything unfolded, I was stuck in Hong Kong for nearly two years. Could I have been stuck in Palau for two years? If Palau had closed their border a few weeks later then that may well have been the case. What would I do in Palau for two years? Now, having been to Palau, I think it is safe to assume that I would have made it to all 16 states pretty quickly. I would likely also have refreshed my scuba diving skills. The kayaking I experienced was extraordinary, so I picture myself owning my own kayak in Palau and exploring rock islands. Who knows? Perhaps I could have made it to the southern most islands and found a way to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and maybe even Australia? That did not happen.
The sun was shining when I joined ‘Kota Ratu’. I was greeted on deck by Captain Dhillon (from India), Chief Officer Raskov (from Ukraine), 2nd Officer Sandeep (from India), and 4th Engineer Rustum (from India). They gave me the VIP welcome with a banner created on the backside of chart. Spectacular.
Now, with this being the 27th container vessel within the Saga, I do feel like we have covered life onboard and at sea a multitude of times. And only recently I wrote about the voyage from Hong Kong to Palau onboard the good ship ‘Kota Ratna’, which is the sister ship of the good ship ‘Kota Ratu’. That means that for all practical reasons these two beautiful vessels are identical. And yet they differ in a variety of ways. On D-deck, just below the bridge, there are two cabins. One to the left and one to the right. Or as you would say at sea: port and starboard. On “Ratna” I was given the portside cabin and here on “Ratu” the starboard cabin. The two cabins are similar but mirror images of each other. And furthermore, pretty high up on the ships super structure. Not something you would give much thought - apart from perhaps these two reasons: 1) the higher up you are, the better the view is, and 2) the higher up you are, the more the vessel moves when it rolls and pitches. The leg from Palau to Hong Kong passes by the north of the Philippines and with a virtually empty ship, a lot of “dancing” is pretty much guaranteed. So much so that I heard the stories from the good crew on “Ratna” well in advance.
A nearly 20 degree roll.
Seafarers do get seasick contrary to what some people might think. It does seem counterintuitive but at sea people are just people as well. Some never experience motion sickness while others feel it under certain circumstances. In my experience a calm roll of 5 degrees to one side and then 5 degrees to the other side is nothing. But bring that up to 15-20 degrees and then you’ve got something. We had a few days onboard where 20 degrees were not uncommon and every so often the swell, wind and possibly other factors would get us close to a 30-degree roll, which you would definitely notice. That’s when stuff starts flying off the table and chairs and bags move across the floor. It can both be fun and annoying depending on the situation. It’s a little like being drunk and loosing full control of balance. You may lose your footing or walk into a wall. In fact, the human body is simply astonishing! Have you ever given any thought to the balance and coordination you act out heading up and down stairs? As humans we do that with such remarkable ease. Well, “Ratna” and “Ratu” do not have elevators and there are plenty of steps. Heading up or down during a good roll can be interesting and challenging. Some things just get unnecessarily complicated during the ships “dancing” across the deep blue. Try putting on socks or shoes. Or simply taking a shower in a cabin which constantly tilts from one side to the other at an unpredictable angle. It’s either fun or annoying in my experience. And often hard to tell which it will be before you experience it.
Chief Cook Muhariyono from Indonesia (right) and 2nd Cook Fernando from India (left). Always in good spirit.
Three good meals a day. Often in good company.
The life of seafarers is many things. Naturally dealing with the conditions of the ship and the ocean itself but also the unforeseen in other aspects. The pandemic is a downright despicable thing and it has come at great cost for many. Seafarers have, in my opinion, certainly paid a price to an unreasonable degree. We’ve seen governments shutting out seafarers to a level of madness, keeping families apart and testing mental capabilities to the limit. Under Hong Kong’s recent surge of new COVID-19 cases, flights have once again been cancelled and crew changes of both ‘Kota Ratna’ and ‘Kota Ratu’ had crew scheduled to signoff in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, they were told to stay onboard and continue with the vessel. Can you even imagine that? It has to be said that the situation has gotten much better over time – but it’s still very volatile. With 80-90% of all cargo in the world being transported on ships, there is truth to the tagline: “no shipping, no shopping”. My shoes were made in Vietnam, my pants and polo shirts in Bangladesh, my phone in China etc, etc. What do you have which was sourced locally? Seafarers and shipping companies kept the world spinning as borders closed, flights were cancelled and restrictions tightened. Seafarers paid a heavy price. Commonly contracts range from 4-10 months but some have had to stay onboard for well beyond a year as every port rejected them. Meanwhile some people complain about wearing a mask or having to get a vaccine. Perspective is reality.
It is hard to have anything but respect for these men!! #TeamKotaRatu :)
Mocking about on the "Monkey Island" (on top of the bridge). #TeamKotaRatu and Thor with his hammer ;)
Moses is the 'Wiper' in the engine room and has an act for photography. I have several of his shots from onboard and was given permission to use them. Some are in this entry.
I thoroughly enjoyed many conversations with the crew of both ‘Ratna’ and ‘Ratu’. ‘Ratu’ being the most recent one also harbours the most recent memories. The kind Captain Dhillon, with his philosophical mindset, was good for many interesting conversations. On day-two onboard, he assembled the crew and told them I was no longer to be regarded as a passenger but rather as family. And I was very well taken care of while onboard. Seafarers are special people. The isolation from shore and the confined “blue cage” surrounding them for months shapes a certain kind of mind. A 70-hour work week is not uncommon and on PIL’s ‘Micronesia Express Service (MXS)’ it is common to work while the ship rolls and pitches. If it’s hard to put your shoes on due to the ships movement then you can just imagine what it would be like to complete a professional work task. The rolling makes me sleepy. And yet, they get it done.
Crossing time zones.
During the drill two of these seven seafarers were told to wear a hard hat. That's what drills are for. To learn and correct errors along the way.
Safety is important and a drill was conducted while I was onboard. Training is paramount as it prepares the crew for the eventuality of a real incident. And when something goes wrong at sea it can quickly turn into a severe matter. There are standard operating procedures for nearly anything you can think of, but they require familiarization and repetition. The ship is also held to very high standards in regards to discharge of ballast water, waste management, fuel consumption, environmental impact, and work environment. It’s a symphony in which every note must play perfectly. As always, I spent most of my time in my cabin or on the bridge. The bridge makes sense to me as it is from where the ship is commanded. The engine room is equally important but I find it hard to relate to the generators, conductors, tanks, pipes, cylinders, and what not. I’m sure I would be deeply fascinated by the engine room if I began to understand how the individual pieces are connected. And many enthusiastic engineers have given me many tours over the years. The shoe just doesn’t fit me. But my goodness how I like the people who possess this passion!
The engine room crew under the competent management of Chief Engineer Fernandes (4th from the top in this photo).
So, what's the point this washing machine? If my clothes are clean I wouldn't need it? ;)
'Kota Ratu' had two treadmills and no deck cadets. 'Kota Ratna' had two deck cadets and no treadmills. Maybe that's how it works? ;)
Besides sleeping and eating I managed to make my way to the treadmill seven times for seven fast paced walks of 10km (6.2m). I would have run if it had not been for the ships rolling which at times even challenged walking. Running would have been hazardous. Besides, there wasn’t much more than a fingers width between my head and the ceiling. I got through a lot of podcasts, a few movies, some series and I read a bit. I watched first season of the Spanish series ‘Money Heist’ which I found so bad that I got upset! I feel like the boy in ‘the Emperors New Clothes’ when it comes to that series. Everyone has been praising it and it receives high ratings online. I thought it was rubbish and an insult to intelligence. On the other hand, I loved ‘Squid Games’ which I thought was very thought provoking and I was furthermore mesmerized by HBO's ‘Chernobyl’!! Chief Officer Raskov is from Ukraine and we also had a lot of good talks. He shared my fascination with ‘Chernobyl’ which portrays the nuclear accident which took place in his country back in 1986. What a story when told in detail! Internet onboard was scarce although we did catch a window of connectivity as we passed by the north of the Philippines on our way further north to Hong Kong.
Internet is a funny thing. I have come to realise that I prefer nothing or all in that regard. Having a terrible internet connection does not agree with me. It is like having a fickle hope. We cast anchor for about a week outside of Hong Kong’s territorial waters. We were some 30km (19mi) from Hong Kong which could be seen on clear days and the cities lights were visible at night. Internet would just about carry the distance depending on the provider. 3 was good and HK Mobile was rubbish. Often resembling the connection speed of the 90s. At times I would need 20 minutes to send a sentence. And yet, I had the time. We conducted a Q&A (questions and answers) between Once Upon A Saga’s online following and the 21 seafarers onboard. I asked what people wanted to know and got nearly seventy questions which I shared with the ship. It was nothing less than fascinating! And the online response have been heart-warming as many thanked for the insight into life at sea. It was a huge hassle to get it online – but I’m happy that we did. I’m grateful to the seafarers onboard who took their time to answer questions.
Party time!! I wish I could dance like an Indian :) Parties/BBQ are held once a month if possible. 3rd Officer Saneet (another good guy I spoke a lot with) is making his signiture move in the right side of the photo (arms up).
Alcohol is generally prohibited but for parties crew can have two beers. No hard liquor. There are a lot of good men in this photo.
Yeah…a good ship is often the result of a good crew, and ‘Kota Ratu’ certainly had that. I will miss them. And it is once more with great appreciation to everyone involved in this complex mission within Once Upon A Saga that we succeeded in “ticking Palau of the list”. Few will know how big an ordeal this in reality was. It was nothing short of a large scale logistical and bureaucratically accomplishment. Hundreds of people have been involved and to think that it required the involvement of two container ships to pull it off is just mindboggling. When did you last plan anything which involved container ships? The planning took 6 months and the execution took 42 days. One country in the Pacific. The only one left north of the equator. And we did it in the heat of a global pandemic. This was huge and it will largely go unnoticed. I hope everyone involved has taken great pride in this accomplishment. It was an exercise of teamwork and collaboration. 195 down – 8 to go.
Arriving in Hong Kong. The fragrant harbour. My second home.
Re-entering Hong Kong was super easy for me. Thanks to the Danish Seamen’s Church I hold a Hong Kong ID and my employment visa runs until the end of July 2022. ‘Kota Ratu’ came along side at Hong Kong Port Tuesday before midnight and a COVID-test was delivered which I self-administered (nose and throat swab). It was then brought to a lab and I went to bed. The next day, at 09:00am, I was informed the test was negative and around 11:30am a COVID-safe transport brought me from the ship to my hotel quarantine at the Marriott Courtyard. I’ve heard of all the waiting ultra-wifey went through at the airport and the many stops between various quarantine hotels during her visits. In reality there wasn’t much of a different for me between disembarking during pre-pandemical times and now. It was really easy. In part thanks to PIL’s agent Keith Leung, in part due to the perpetual efficiency of Hong Kong Immigration, and in part thanks to my friend Jessi Chai who helped me organize the hotel. And here I am: in quarantine – back in Hong Kong. And much more about that next Friday. It was never given that we would bring the Saga back to Hong Kong. Taiwan was also in play. For now, all there is to say, is that I wish the good crew of ‘Kota Ratu’ to have fair winds and following seas. And I hope that YOU will have a great day.
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - fighting for the last eight.
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