The heart of MV Rabaul Chief – passenger no. 1

Day 3,473 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).

Returning to the Northern Hemisphere


Since last week’s entry we have crossed through the Arafura Sea, the Banda Sea, the Java Sea, and we are now back in the South China Sea. You see?

Last week’s entry: Life onboard MV Rabaul Chief as passenger no. 1

They say a lot of things. We all know that. One of the things they say is that we should aim for having eight hours of sleep every night. That leaves sixteen hours of being awake every day. While everything is relative, sixteen hours per day as a passenger onboard a container ship is a lot. Over the duration of twenty-four days, it amounts to 384 hours! You would have to be mad to come onboard and not have a plan. And as I mentioned last week I did come onboard with a plan – and I’m happy to report that things are going well. Maybe a bit too well. I finished reading The Dune Trilogy too early, I finished listening to the two podcast series I’d downloaded too early, and I used up all the hot sauce I brought too early. That is why you should always have a backup plan. I have more books, I have other podcast episodes, I have music, movies and series. And I have been on the treadmill twenty times (128km/80mi) already turning this ship into my personal training camp. Coming onboard these container ships have for a long time been a welcome break from the turbulent and stressful long haul reality of the Saga. I must however admit that lately things have been a lot easier. It no longer feels like an uphill battle to reach the end. It feels more like having to hold your breath while placing the final cards on a very large card house. The slightest mistake can have dire consequences.


My desk. I also have a bed, a small bed table, a couch, a coffee table, a closet, a tiny refrigerator, and my shower/toilet.

One day takes the next here onboard. Ship life is built up around routine. The seafarers keep everything operating smoothly by each playing their part. Navigation, management, maintenance, communication, safety, routine, routine, routine. It would be hard to tell Wednesday from Sunday if it wasn’t because the Sunday dinner often comes with a Magnum Classic ice-cream dessert. Certain things however break the routine such as a change in weather, a safety drill, a birthday…but that too becomes routine if you stay onboard long enough. Safety is paramount onboard and so is the wellbeing of the seafarers. There are certain standards which companies must live up to and through my limited observations as a passenger I find that Swire Shipping performs really well. If I was to chose a path as a seafarer then I would be proud to join Swire. Am I writing that just to promote Swire Shipping? Have I been told to do so? No, I have sailed with Swire eight times and without being able to put a finger on exactly what it is, I do feel that Swire Shipping has a better culture than most. And I am a little sad that this will be the last time I’ll be joining a Swire vessel.


Swire Shipping’s Safety Vision.

There are several things that are pointing towards the end of what has been a very, very long undertaking. One which is very much still ongoing. Lately we have crossed four time zones bringing me four hours closer to home. We have crossed the equator for the 18th a final time. Once we return to Singapore there will “only” be four container ships left and then I might never fair onboard a container ship ever again. Most people assume it’s almost done based on a number: two. While there is truth to that the number represents so much more than what people seem to assume. I wonder if I will ever find a way to explain it to people. Perhaps it has to be lived. But it no longer feels like mission impossible. And until very recently it still did. The difference between knowing and not knowing makes a world of difference to the human state of mind.


Somewhere at sea.

Somewhere between my ears I have the memories of virtually every country on earth. Memories of people, handshakes, meals, conversations, observations, learnings, sounds, smells, fear, joy…it is all in there. Sometimes it feels like thousands of voices screaming to be heard. Sometimes forgotten pieces of my history rushes through my mind in flashes. Sometimes as real as if I was sent back for a fraction of a second. Mostly trying to remember what has happened in the past decade is like trying to remember a dream. I set up systems to manage data, photos, video, and more over a period of four years – not a decade. I feel like my memory of past events was much clearer up to the point when I got stuck in Hong Kong (January 2020). I used to be able to spit out every country in Africa in the order we visited them. Now it takes much longer. I used to have trouble remembering the exact order of which we reached the Caribbean islands. Now I have trouble remembering all the countries names. I used to know exactly how many capitals we didn’t reach. And while they are few I am no longer certain which ones. It will be good to bring the Saga to a successful completion, sit down over months or years, and unpack and digest.


The ships internet can at times be good while at other times frustratingly bad. Downloading a 15.5Mb podcast episode should not take three hours. I think I’d prefer no internet over bad internet. Fortunately it has been really good lately.


We have retarded the ships clock four times since leaving Fiji.


Ups! I guess my chair has been too noisy for the seafarer on C deck. Haven’t heard a broomstick yet.

After leaving the Torres Strait we felt a bit of weather around the ship. For the most part of this voyage it has been remarkably smooth sailing. No rolling and no pitching. Whatever rolling we have had has been less than five degrees. As long as it is less than five degrees I can still manage to run on the treadmill. Beyond that it becomes risky. But after leaving the Torres Strait we came within the vicinity of a proper storm which eventually formed into a tropical cyclone. We were at a safe distance and the storm was moving away from us. Weather reports come in throughout the day and as you might imagine it is something which is paid attention to. The ship can slow down, speed up, or alter its course to avoid bad weather. We were just moving within the fringes of it but the rain was coming down strong and lightning was constant. The good ship Rabaul Chief did not so much roll or pitch…she was shaking. There is always a rumble present in the ship from the powerful engine. This was more than that. It was as if someone strong held on to you and shook you. It was ongoing for at least half a day. Then everything turned calm again as blue skies reappeared.


This is a flash of lightening lighting up the ship during an otherwise pitch black night.

I named this entry “the heart of” the ship. One could argue that the heart is in fact the crew. The engine room is commonly known as the heart of the ship. Much like your own heart the engine keeps everything moving. I’m by no means a “motorhead” and my knowledge of how most mechanics works is nonexistent. So when I asked Chief Engineer You (Chinese) if I could see the engine room I mostly did it to pay tribute to the engineers and the engine crew. They are an essential part of the ship and I mostly focus on the galley/mess, my cabin, the bridge, the gym or the sea. Chief Engineer You began sailing about twenty-five years ago and has that experienced feel about him. He immediately said I was welcome in the engine room and put 2nd Engineer Gnizdovskyi (Ukraine) on the job. Igor (2nd Engineer Gnizdovskyi) and I sit next to each other in the officers mess and usually have our meals at the same time. He’s a good guy who has temporarily left Ukraine to live in France where he enjoys doing long road trips when he’s not at sea. The other two Ukrainians onboard have moved their families to Romania and to Greece. Damn war!!! Anyway, Igor gained a passion for engines through his older seafaring brother and was happy to guide me around the engine room.


In the engine control room together with 2nd Engineer Gnizdovskyi.

The engine room on Rabaul Chief is four floors and the main engine itself stands three floors tall! The power output of the engine is mindboggling. It generates 12,500kW. In comparison a Toyota Corolla generates about 126kW making Rabaul Chief roughly a hundred times more powerful. The six cylinder engine needs to push Rabaul Chiefs maximum weight of 41,318.5 metric tons (6,886 African elephants) forward to speeds ranging up to 17.5 knots (32kph/20mph). The cylinder casing is by the way taller than me so we are not talking about your average cylinders. 2nd Engineer Gnizdovskyi showed me the control room, the boiler, the generators, the compressors, the purifiers, the ballast treatment system, the freshwater generator, the cooler, and the workshop. While my memory is still fresh, I might be able to tell you what is what but give it a few weeks and wouldn’t know the purifiers from the ballast treatment system by looking at them. I do however feel like the engine room has the potential to suck me into a rabbit hole of wanting to know it all. But not today.


The main engine as seen from above. You can see a spare cylinder casing (golden) in the far back.

The engine room is hot, it is noisy and it is rich with opportunities to get oil on you. There is no view of the ocean and you have very little idea about if it might be day or night outside. I guess it’s like a casino in that regard. 2nd Engineer Gnizdovskyi told me that he didn’t initially like the engine room and wanted the bridge. It however wasn’t long before the mysteries of the mechanics began calling and he quickly became involved. Today he would never trade the engine room for the bridge. While we’re somewhat data oriented within this entry I might as well add that the good ship Rabaul Chief is owned, managed and operated by Swire Shipping. Her home port is the Fragrant Harbor (Hong Kong) and she was delivered out of CSSC Huangpu Wenchong Shipbuilding Co Ltd in China on December 14th 2020 just in time for Christmas. She measures 185.94m (610ft) from aft to bow which is a length Usain Bolt could theoretically have covered in about 20 seconds during his prime. You should be able to walk it in less than 3 minutes. Okay – enough about that and thanks for the tour.


The engine room is manned by the Chief Engineer, 2nd Eng., 3rd Eng., 4th Eng., an Engine Cadet, a Fitter, and a Motorman. This is the workshop.

This voyage has been a stroll down memory lane as we have passed through the islands of Vanuatu (where I last saw ultra-wifey), we passed through the Aussie islands at the Torres Strait (where I last saw ultra-wifey before Vanuatu) and this week we passed by Timor-Leste which was the last place I saw ultra-wifey before heading into the Pacific Ocean back in 2019. Lots of good memories with that woman and many more to come, I am sure. Returning to Singapore also brings back memories. I have several friends in Singapore, I have friends from Hong Kong who have since moved to Singapore, and the Saga has had important collaborations over the past years with companies which are headquartered in Singapore. Fruitful collaborations which are now coming to an end. Another sign that the Saga is coming to its end. As we left Fiji the ocean was open and there was very little to see apart from ocean and sky. Ocean and sky. This week it has been rare to look out across the ocean and not see another ship or even some islands. I have spotted plastic markers in the ocean (fishermen?) and we passed by a drilling rig in the exact shape of Ross Energy's former logo until its rebranding this year. You should take a look at the website which looks really cool. Ross Energy has transitioned into a wealth of interesting climate friendly initiatives utilizing the companies many decades of drilling experience. Unfortunately the drilling rig I saw was too far out for me to get a good photo for you.


Strolling down memory lane. Pointing at Timor-Leste (country no. 187) on a windy day.

I will leave you with that. I am scheduled to disembark in Singapore on April 19th which leaves me with five more days onboard. We will first go at anchorage in Singapore, then continue to Port Klang in Malaysia, and afterwards return to come alongside in Singapore for cargo operations. The crew onboard is great! Officers and ratings alike. We are 21 men and 1 woman onboard. 22 souls or 22 beating hearts in total. A handful of nationalities. And we have all returned to our side of the planet together. Myself for the first time in over a year. It feels good to be “home” on the side of our planet where I recognize the stars.


The brave crew onboard Swire Shipping’s good ship Rabaul Chief! :)


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

New Partner Logos with DB 2023


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 :)


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 Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - back on my side of the planet.

"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

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