Life onboard MV Rabaul Chief - as passenger no.1
Day 3,466 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).
Another week at sea
Welcome to another week onboard Swire Shipping’s good ship Rabaul Chief. We’re almost halfway to Singapore now.
Last week’s entry: Leaving the Pacific and MV Rabaul Chief - passenger no. 1
I’ve been trying to remember when I began calling these ship entries the name of the ship followed by ‘passenger no. 1’. I can’t remember. It goes back a very long time. More than a hundred countries for sure. I do remember that it began because I was onboard a ship which listed me as passenger no. 1. I found that funny as I was the ONLY passenger onboard. And that has mostly been the case for all thirty-five container ship voyages so far. Coming onboard as a passenger is a privilege and should in my case be seen as a form of project sponsorship. It is by no means common and assuming that you’d be able to join a container ship because I have is false correlation. Here in life certain doors open because of who you are and what you have done. Likewise, some doors close based on lack of merit. Those are the hard odds of life. You will not always get what you deserve – but you can increase your chances of success by doing ‘something’ instead of ‘nothing’.
I’m really impressed with the cooking onboard Swire’s vessels. It seems it’s prioritized. Thanks to Chief Cook Gaetos and 2nd Cook Pedrosa.
Seafarers are a special breed. As the word indicates they are the ones who ‘fare at sea’. And they were the ones who discovered all the continents and connected all the islands of the world. A modern seafarers life can be hard. Being onboard a ship is by nature a confined existence and one which is strongly influenced by a number of factors such as: rank, colleagues, food, living quarters, weather, duration etc. If you join a ship and the cooking isn’t to your liking then you might be in for a long voyage. Your personal attitude is important. If you are a seafarer because you want to be a seafarer then you are at an advantage. Reality is that many seafarers saw the profession as a means to provide for family. Regardless of how you ended up onboard a ship you have entered a noble family of those who fare the sea. The stories are legendary and in no short supply. Vikings who explored the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean Sea, and the rivers of Europe. The seafaring peoples who began settling the Pacific Ocean thousands of years before. Chinese explorers, European explorers, Middle Eastern explorers…the airplane did not come about until 1903 so seafarers have played a tremendously important role for human civilization for most of our existence.
Yeah – I wasn’t going to risk the good ship didn’t have any tabasco onboard. And I do like Fiji Fire. Hot sauce will forever send my thoughts to my friends in Hong Kong. We had some solid experiences together :)
Us who are not seafarers owe those who are a great deal. Modern life as we know it would not exist without the movement of cargo which is navigated by seafarers. By some accounts 80-90% of all material items travel onboard ships before they reach their end users: us. Seafarers’ onboard container ships work long hours compared to most people anywhere on earth. There is generally no such thing as a forty hour work week. The officers alone take turns being on duty on the bridge and have two four-hour watches every twenty-four-hour cycle. So that alone is fifty-six hours a week not accounting for all the extra hours spent on other duties. The ship doesn’t stop for weekends. The engine keeps running, meals must be prepared, navigation, logging, cleaning, reporting, maintenance, safety – it is an endless cycle of work which calls for seafarers to put in the hours. It has been extra rough during the pandemic but it has definitely lightened up recently for the Swire crews. They are granted shore leave in certain ports and no longer need to provide a negative PCR test before joining. The mood onboard the good ship Rabaul Chief seems really good which in turn creates a good work environment for the crew. Captain Weerasinghe is kindhearted and competent which likewise reflects well on the crew. The good ship is less than three years old. Under such conditions it would seem less hard to be a seafarer – but never less noble.
While some people envy us who are tall, I have often envied those who aren’t. Like when sitting in a bus or like here, getting on the treadmill. It works out though as when I run I crouch a bit and lean forward – but it leaves very little space!
With this being my thirty-fifth container ship voyage, I joined prepared. I knew ahead of time that I would likely have internet although it would be limited in quality and quantity. I also knew that I would be given my own cabin (nobody onboard shares a cabin) and I knew that the voyage would last at least twenty-three days. I also knew that there would be a gym onboard. Furthermore, I was aware that food would be served in the mess, on schedule, three times daily. With all of that knowledge I could lay a plan – and thus I did. Given my past experience I could already tell Captain Weerasinghe on my very first day that there would be four places onboard where he would be likely to find me: in my cabin, on the bridge, in the gym, or in the officer’s mess. And that has held true. I came onboard with intentions on getting some reading done, listening to podcasts, watching some movies, and getting my body ready for the Goggins challenge for the third year in a row. The Goggins challenge is a personal challenge which was created by David Goggins (nicknamed “the toughest man alive”) with the aim of running 4mi (6.4km) every 4 hours for 48 hours aka 4x4x48. It is a very interesting challenge both physically and mentally. At the end of the 48 hours, you will have run 48mi (76.8km). Your body will not have enough time to recover between the runs and your sleep pattern is intensely disrupted during the challenge. Fun :)
At sea there is a very high focus on sorting waste. After a meal we sort: paper, cans/bottles, plastic, and food waste. Beyond the galley the ship goes far beyond that.
In relation to getting some reading done I find that these ships are ideal for it. I’m the kind of person who enjoys reading but the conditions have to just right and I will get distracted by virtually anything. My lovely sister-in-law gifted me the 910-page-long ‘great Dune trilogy’ back in 2021. I had read the first two books before joining Rabaul Chief and worked out that if I just read 15 pages every day then I would make it through it before reaching Singapore (so far so good). In addition, I downloaded two podcast series to keep myself entertained and informed: ‘The Lazarus Heist’ about the extraordinary hacking capabilities of the North Korean government, and ‘Shock and War’ exploring why the USA and UK went to war with Iraq in 2003, and the aftermath of it. I’m allotted 1Gb of data once weekly which is renewed every Monday. As such I also planned to download the Global News Podcast daily which often amounts to two episodes of 25-30 minutes each (15-20Mb each). Downloading 15Mb can take as little as 10-20 minutes when the connection is reasonable and several hours when it isn’t. You need to work out when crew isn’t online.
We passed between Vanuatu’s islands. That was country no. 200 - remember? They’ve had a very rough year so far.
As far as movies go, I’ll list three which I found worth mentioning. I finally got around to watch ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ from 1968 directed by Stanley Kubrick. I thought I had been missing out on an amazing movie but I found it rather long-winded. It is a 2hr 28min movie and the interesting part only lasted around 20 minutes. Sure, there was some clever cinematography but I really can’t recommend it. I can however recommend ‘The Whale’ from 2022 featuring Brandan Fraser in a masterful and eye-opening performance. And I will also recommend ‘Knock at the Cabin’ from 2023 directed by M. Night Shyamalan. It features Dave Bautista and is mind provoking and somewhat disturbing. Dave Bautista has got to be one of the best wrestlers turned actors out there.
The ocean rarely looks like this. But sometimes it does.
Yup – that’s my life onboard. Sleep, eat, read, run, laundry, listen to podcasts, watch a movie, and talk with the crew. In addition, there are the occasional emails, messages, and the forward planning too. If my count is right then I have been requested to do seven speaking engagements in Singapore (which is a lot). First priority however goes to ultra-wifey whom I am looking forward to spending ten days with. Ultra and I also communicate daily. A few journalists are chasing me and there’s the coordination related to the last four ships. If you’re following the social media on FB, IG and LinkedIn then you might be surprised to learn just how much of it was scheduled before leaving Fiji (while I still had strong internet). I’d venture to say more than 80% of it. I snapped a bunch of pictures within the first hours of being onboard Rabaul Chief and have sprinkled them across the dates all the way up to April 20th. These Friday Blogs are the “heaviest” stuff I do online. I hope you enjoy them because they require a great deal of effort. In relation to social media then I can let you in on what’s on the menu between now and reaching home: Rabaul Chief, Singapore, Maersk’s ship to Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka, MSS ship to Maldives, Maldives, MSS ship back to Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka, Maersk’s ship to Europe, road trip to Denmark with Ross Energy CEO Lars Andersen, and homecoming. I generally share about where I am while I’m there. It is not everything, everywhere all at once ;)
A highlight for most seafarers is usually when it’s time for a BBQ. And that is typically once a month. The grill is fired up, the speakers come out, and it is party time! Everyone is permitted to have two beers. Meat and seafood hit the flames and once most had finished eating the volume was turned up and the group dancing began. We have Sri Lankans, Chinese, Ukrainians and Filipinos onboard. The Sri Lankans and Filipinos were the first to hit the dancefloor and quickly began pulling the rest out of their chairs to come and join. Remixed versions of “What is love?”, “It’s my life!” and “This is Africa” were hamming out across the sea as the powerful engine kept our 186m (610ft) long ship moving forward into the night. I got too old for that stuff many years ago and left early while others powered through until the music stopped many hours later. Seafarers are such amazing people.
By the looks of things we must be close to Australia again ;) (passing through the Torres Strait)
While I do enjoy listening to a podcast and looking out to sea there is rarely anything exciting to look at. It is for the most part just the ocean against the sky. It is always beautiful and it is always fascinating in its enormity as it stretches out beyond the horizon in every direction. The occasional fly fish break the surface and make their escape above the water for a few seconds. Sometimes cloud formations decorate the blank sky. There are certain novelties which have had particular interest to me over the years: passing through the Suez Canal, passing nearby where the Titanic sank, passing near Challenger Deep (deepest known point of our planet), observing whales, steering towards a rainbow, rolling in a storm, observing a beautiful night sky – things like that. It is rare that the experience at sea goes beyond ocean and sky. There is plenty of ocean and sky. However, this week we passed through the Torres Strait, which is a narrow 150km (93mi) strait between Aussieland and Papua New Guinea (PNG). I have passed through it once before but do not remember it so it might have been at night? This week we passed through the narrowest part around 1pm. There were many islands and we passed closed enough to see houses and people. All the Torres Strait islands fall under Aussieland (country no. 196) and the nearest to PNG (country no. 188) is within swimming distance. It’s funny, because I kind of always thought of Australia as isolated, while reality is that the northern part is quite close to PNG, Indonesia, and Timor-Leste. A friendly Aussie pilot from Melbourne came onboard to guide us safely through the strait and left again after eight hours.
Whenever we move forward here in life we leave something behind.
And that is as far as this entry will take us this week. I’m being treated really well onboard and the crew is just amazingly kind. I’ll leave you with something I have been thinking about this week. On and off I get the question: “what have you discovered from visiting nearly every country in the world?” I have many answers to that question but the one I will share now is the one I have been thinking much about lately: the world is full of opportunities which are missed because most people are blind, too comfortable, or scared to reach for them.
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) - Happy 75th birthday mom.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga