Leaving the Pacific and MV Rabaul Chief - passenger no. 1
Day 3,459 since October 10th 2013: 201 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).
Leaving the Pacific
This voyage marks the beginning of the end. Swire’s good ship Rabaul Chief is the last of Swire’s ships we will join. The 24-day voyage onboard her is among the longest I have experienced. And this is the first time we are turning west for a very long time
Last week’s entry: Farewell Fiji, farewell Pacific, see you soon Singapore
My gratitude towards Swire Shipping should not be underestimated. While most shipping companies shut their doors during the pandemic, I was given access to join their fleet six times during 2022. Each time bringing this historical project closer to its completion and each time bringing me closer to home. I’m now writing you while onboard the good ship Rabaul Chief. More about that in a moment. First I’d like to thank all the wonderful people I have met all across the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Island nations each have their unique fingerprint while they all simultaneously hold something in common. They are as countries like brothers and sisters. For the most part they were settled by skilful navigators some 3,500 years ago. They were much later all colonized by European nations and individually regained independence within the last century. While I have now visited every sovereign nation within the Pacific I have only seen a fraction of what this colossal region has to offer. There are more than 10,000 islands within Oceania and my feet have been planted on less than fifty. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention in school as a young boy in Denmark, or perhaps we were never taught about the Pacific? In either case I have found it both eye-opening and interesting to explore the far side of the planet from where I was born. My Norwegian friend Gunnar Garfors, who has been to every country twice, told me that the region was hard enough to visit when one flies. Gunnar said it would be an incredible achievement to do it without flying. Well, it has certainly been a lot of work and a lot of collaboration between different actors. I’m grateful to all. It is with a somewhat heavy heart that I’m now on my way west.
Solomon Islands - 24/10 2019
Kiribati - 26/11 2019
Nauru - 01/12 2019
Fiji - 16/12 2019
Marshall Islands - 30/12 2019
Micronesia - 15/01 2020
Hong Kong for 743 days
Palau - 20/01 2022
Hong Kong for another 30 days
Australia - 02/04 2022
New Zealand - 21/06 2022
Fiji for 13 days
Samoa - 22/08 2022
Tonga - 13/09 2022
Vanuatu - 18/10 2022
Fiji for another 55 days
Tuvalu - 10/01 2023
Fiji for yet another 20 days
Fiji has over the years become central to the Saga. We we’re according to the original plan meant to visit Fiji three times but due to pandemical restrictions it became four times before the gordian knot was solved. My friend Mike Douglas, pro athlete and award-winning filmmaker, visited Fiji on two of those occasions to capture footage for the now full feature documentary about reaching every country without flying. During the week leading up to my departure we added another eleven hours of interview footage to the existing twelve! Mike will have to sort through it and collect the best bits and pieces to tell a near decade long journey in about ninety minutes!! Good luck Mike :) I first met Mike over the phone when he called me in Papua New Guinea back in October 2019. We first met face to face in the Marshall Islands back in January 2020. During his three visits we have spent an intense amount of time together. I would imagine so much time with anyone could surface frustrations and call for heated arguments? That has never been the case for Mike and I and as a result we have forged a friendship. Last week we spent more than a hundred hours together conducting interviews, shooting b-roll material, discussing ideas, exploring stories, eating meals, and scouting for locations. The credit really goes to Mike who arrived well prepared including spending hours finding the right accommodation (lighting and quiet) for us to live and film in.
Mike setting up the perfect shot at the perfect location before asking me to run back and forwards to the end of the road.
While I have some hardcore fans out there, many dedicated followers, a large family, many friends, and not to forget my wonderful ultra-wifey…there is no doubt that Mike comes second to me in knowing and understanding the Saga the best. He has spent a painstakingly number of hours looking through my video footage and still photos as well as following the Saga’s social media closely. In addition, he has asked me more questions than anyone else and has collected at least twenty-three hours of interview on camera. The poor thing! As a result I feel confident that there is nobody else out there who would be able to tell the story right. And that would be a story of hardship and beauty.
Most meals would be at “the cult” (Grace Kitchen) but our final meal had to be at Kanu Restaurant. We both like that one.
I’m not done with Fiji. There are several islands I’d like to explore, I would like to go rafting on Viti Levu, and I would like to climb Joske’s Thumb. Thursday last week Mike and I enlisted some help from Mac Bishop whom I introduced in the previous blog. He’s a great guy and highly capable. All we needed was however someone to drive the rental while Mike was filming and I was running. It is interesting for me to experience all of the “behind the scenes” moments of a documentary. It alters how I see the world. Most things in life really aren’t what they seem. A smart person probably reads a lot of books. A fit person likely works out a lot. A five second sequence of someone (me) running down a dirt road might just involve a truck, a Mac, and a Mike, in addition to hours’ worth of filming. The three of us actually attempted to climb up Joske’s Thumb on two occasions. The first time the chief of the small village which the path runs through wasn’t there. The following day we met with the chief, presented a bundle of kava for the sevusevu ceremony, negotiated a price and gained permission to climb/hike the mountain. Unfortunately, I underestimated the trail and turned down having a guide follow us. I was under the impression the relatively short trail was easy to follow. We made a wrong turn at a river and wandered deep into the forest in the wrong direction. After a few hours we had to turn around as we were out of time. I don’t feel too bad about it as Sir Edmund Hillary also didn’t succeed on his first attempt.
Sunday arrived and Mike drove me to Swire Shipping’s office in Suva where we met up with Mr. Shyam and Mr. Tevita where I had a chance to say thank you. Not long after we were heading inside Suva Port where I avoided joking with port security by saying something stupid like that my bags were full of machineguns and cocaine. I instead told Mr. Robert that my bags contained clothes, books, Red Cross material, running gear, a sleeping bag, a hammock etc. What kind of an idiot would be dumb enough to tell security that the bags were full of machineguns and cocaine? ;) Mr. Robert was thorough and kind. It turned out he knew me and followed the Saga online. That called for a photo in front of the ‘Welcome to Fiji” sign.
You never know what you’re going to get when it comes to authorities. But the ones across the Pacific have mostly been really nice. Including Mr. Robert.
Mike was permitted to join me onboard and film for the documentary. The good ship Rabaul Chief is after all the thirty-firth container ship I have joined and these ships have played a central role in crossing between continents and reaching countries. It would be strange not to feature any of that within the film. After a while Mike and I parted and he disembarked the good ship. I returned to the ‘Owners Cabin’ which I had been accommodated in for the voyage to Singapore. I have only been given the owners cabin a few times over the years so one must say my last Swire voyage is in style! Not only due to the cabin but the good ship is in fact only a few years old and still has that fresh ship smell. She was delivered on December 14th 2020 from a Chinese shipyard and flies the flag of Hong Kong as her home port. On December 14th 2020 I was living in Kwai Chung, Hong Kong, where I was working for the Danish Seaman’s Church. Two months later ultra-wifey entered three weeks of hotel quarantine before spending three months with me in Hong Kong. About two years later I had returned to Hong Kong having successfully visited Palau. You may remove the man from Hong Kong, but you will never remove Hong Kong from the man. My goodness the memories.
Onboard Swire Shipping’s good ship Rabaul Chief together with Captain Weerasinghe. It’s a pleasure to be onboard!
Captain Weerasinghe is our master and commander onboard. He’s Sri Lankan which is always a good thing in my experience. Sri Lanka’s tend to be kind, full of hospitality and find it easy to smile. Captain Weerasinghe is no different. It feels like coming home when I join one of Swire Shipping’s vessels. This being the 8th would explain why. All of them have had internet access and I have been given my own login to dualog/CrewConnection, which allots me 1GB data per week through the ships WIFI. I left Fiji with 35GB data remaining of my 90GB package. You really can’t compare through. Most ships I joined in the early days of the Saga did not have internet for the crew. These days they all seem to have.
First things first. And the first thing is safety. 3rd Officer Hapuarachchige (Sri Lankan) took me around the ship for the familiarization. It is as the name indicates a familiarization with the ship including all the safety features.
There is much which I like about Swire. I like that they have been operating ships since 1872!! Back then it was a modest fleet of Mississippi-style paddle steamers. Their motto is “Esse quam videri” (To be, rather than to seem) which definitely seems true to me! I like how well they treat their crew, I like the officers uniforms, I have always found the food onboard to be good and plentiful, I have always found the gym to be well equipped and the list goes on. I particularly like their attention to port safety wherever they operate. Swire has a very high focus on PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and personal conduct within port areas which has led to fewer injuries and fatalities. It wasn’t long ago that I arrived to Tuvalu onboard the good government ferry Manu Folau. On our arrival the stevedores were in beach slippers or even barefooted. Nobody was wearing any form of PPE. That would never be accepted by Swire. Unfortunately, Swire doesn’t call Tuvalu. If they did then I would be much closer to home today.
I absolutely love that there are no single use plastic bottles onboard Swire’s vessels. The fresh water generator provides plenty of water for all and there are several refill stations to make it easy. Minerals are added and it tastes good.
Given that this voyage is as long as it is I have actually done something for the very first time while at sea: I have unpacked!! These voyages have always been good to get things sorted, repaired, and cleaned. As such I was going to empty out my bag in any case but this time, I decided I might as well install my clothing within the closet and make myself feel at home. Most of the twenty-four-day voyage is spent at sea. We left Suva, and headed up to Lautoka, before we departed Fiji. Next stop is Port Klang in Malaysia before reaching Singapore a few days later on (or around) April 19th. I’ve been on the treadmill four times already and enjoy having nice shower facilities, laundry facilities, food served three times a day, a good bed, the privacy of my cabin, access to the bridge, and a good feeling about the completion of the Saga. I’m still in “shackles” but at least I can foresee that they will soon be coming off and I will experience true freedom again for the first time in nearly a decade. And being onboard feels more free than anywhere else in spite of the confinement of the ship. Accommodation, meals and forward movement all in one. Thank you, Swire Shipping!
This concludes another week’s entry. Ultra-wifey is set to arrive in Singapore the same day as I and will stay for ten days. I really look forward to showing her Singapore which is a country I hold in high regard. I might be in Singapore for another week after she returns home as I have already been requested to do five speaking engagements while there. Our friends at Maersk are helping us across to Sri Lanka (May) which is a relatively short voyage from Singapore of less than a week. We’re also set to head across to the Maldives which is an even shorter voyage. As such I could be setting my feet within the final country around May/June. And given the support from Maersk I could be back in Denmark before the end of August. Yeah – it is all looking quite promising!! Let’s keep our fingers crossed. This is by the way a 9,757km (6,091mi) journey without flying, through the Torres Strait, across several time zones, and we’ll be crossing the equator for the 16th and final time. I thought you might like to know.
I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross Energy / Geoop
If you enjoyed this blog or find that I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga welcomes funding. Thank you :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - progress makes me feel good!!
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Once Upon A Saga