The Penultimate Ship! – MV Gerda Maersk – passenger no. 1
Day 3,544 since October 10th 2013: 203 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).
A very special ship
Could you imagine creating a project which involves the passage onboard 39 container ships? No? Neither can I…but nonetheless here we are
Last week’s entry: Stage II in returning home - back in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has definitely been a welcome change here towards the end. The Pacific is a remarkable and underappreciated part of our world. And while I do find the Pacific Ocean interesting, the island nations did often offer lots of sand beaches, palm trees and coconuts. You’ll find that in Sri Lanka (Indian Ocean) too, but you’ll also find mountains, elephants, spicy food, ancient architecture, a sense of adventure and a very open and friendly culture. Before leaving Sri Lanka, I had the pleasure of reuniting with three Sri Lankan captains and their families. Capt. Vimar from Swire Shipping’s “Vanuatu Chief”, which got us from Fiji to Samoa. Capt. Sahan, also from Swire Shipping, who brought us from Fiji and back to Singapore onboard “Rabaul Chief”. And finally, Capt. Rushan who most recently got the Saga from Malaysia to Sri Lanka onboard “Maersk Gironde”. Three good men with wonderful families and no lack of hospitality. I will certainly remember Sri Lanka as a kind country and I hope to return to explore more with ultra-wifey someday.
Joining the good ship Gerda Maersk aka: The Penultimate Ship.
The penultimate ship within the Saga became the good ship, Gerda Maersk. A beautiful and very unique vessel in more than one way. She was delivered on March 17th 2009 as the last Danish built ship within the Maersk fleet. There is something both sad and beautiful about that. The end of a proud Danish tradition. I grew up 10km (6mi) from Lindoe (Odense Steel Shipyard) and our neighbor back then, John Jensen, was employed at the shipyard. He was the strongest man I had ever come across. I remember he would stretch his arms horizontally to let us hang from them (we were about 7 years of age). Now I am 44 and John, I’ve heard, has passed away from cancer. A lot of water under the bridge… Mads and Mukesh with Maersk in Dubai (how good it they were in Morocco; MMMM), have been highly supportive of Once Upon A Saga. It is great to have that kind of backing. The Saga has a unique connection to Maersk which goes beyond most people’s imagination. It has been nearly ten years of sighting Maersk containers, visiting Maersk offices, joining Maersk vessels, getting assistance for invitation letters, interviews, network etc. Most people are positioned to underestimate the volume and wealth of this project. And as such I myself am still only beginning to process it all. On June 17th I joined the good ship Gerda Maersk and climbed up her more than fifty step gangway.
Cabin A SPARE
I was shown to “A SPARE” cabin on H deck, just below the bridge. This would become my temporary home for five nights. As I was taking a few photos and making some video in front of my cabin I saw a kind and familiar face come towards me. It was Captain Peter Bengt-Rune Inberg from Sweden!! I’m not always good at remembering faces but I instantly had a flashback to the wharf in Praia, Cape Verde, on May 13th 2015. I had spotted Maersk’s unique powder blue color on the hull of a ship and went to investigate. It turned out to be the good ship Clara Maersk and by a stroke of luck I met the captain, the very same Swedish Captain, on the wharf and asked if I could come onboard. That is normally not how things work and it also wasn’t on that day as Captain Inberg told me that he would gladly welcome me onboard, but that I needed clearance from the office. Fortunately, we managed to cut any and all red tape in a matter of hours and I joined Clara Maersk, first to the port of Freetown in Sierra Leone, and then later on I signed off in Guinea-Bissau making it country no. 81. Back onboard Gerda Maersk I stood there astounded to see Captain Inberg once again!! What a pleasant surprise to run into a kind face and an old memory. As it would later turn out, the captain wasn’t my only surprise.
Gerda Maersk's home port it Skagen in Denmark. The image in the dinning saloon displays Skagen.
Dinner was served at 5:30pm and I was given a seat at the end of a table within the dinning saloon. Swedish Captain Inberg sat to my right and I had Danish Chief Engineer Nielsen on my left. To the left of the Chief Engineer a kind face was smiling at me and I heard the man say: “do you remember me?” The face looked somewhat familiar but with an estimated 800 seafarers across 39 ships I couldn’t place it. The face belonged to 2nd Engineer Oleksiy Myronyuk from Ukraine. We had sailed onboard Gunhilde Maersk together back in early 2017 when Malta became country no. 128. What was going on? Was Gerda Maersk some version of Hotel California? Kidding aside it was just good to see familiar faces at sea. And what on earth were the odds of this reunification?
To the left: 2nd Engineer Myronyuk. To the right: Captain Inberg. What are the odds??
The good ship Gerda Maersk and her Danish craftmanship was a welcome home. Getting this far into the Saga has been very demanding and now that I mentally feel like I’m heading home I feel an avalanche of memories heading towards me. I feel tired and sleepy. I have intense dreams at night and interpret it as my mind sorting through truckloads of suppressed emotions. Good and bad. There have been far more disappointments, frustrations, and challenges hidden within the accomplishment than most would know about. You don’t bite the hand which is feeding you and a somewhat neutral and positive tone throughout the project has had its advantages. Hiding a face of the project has often left me feeling like I was living a double life. Smiling on a photo or in a video while something in the background called for other emotions. In part I believe much of it might have been forgotten as it was never written down or shared with anyone. But it seems that, at least some of it, has been stored within me and is now looking to come out and be reflected upon. I am not alone in believing that this might be the first and only time that someone reaches every country in an unbroken journey without flying. It is a highly costly affair – while rewarding too.
The sun sets on us all.
We did 2.5 hours of time travel.
Breakfast: Maersk style :)
I’ve surely done more than fifty interviews since reaching the Maldives. Many of them have been added to the press collection on the website. Most interviews have been with journalist from a few countries. Looking back at the interviews I find that they fall in two categories: 1) “an influencer style” with questions such as “favorite food?”, “5 favorite experiences?”, “worst country?”, “funniest experience?”, “most dangerous experience?” etc. Those interviews serve a purpose but they rarely make for the best articles. Category 2 is when a journalist or reporter has grasped that the undertaking goes far beyond tourism and pleasure. Those questions become more interesting to me and might sound like: “how has the journey changed you?”, “what do you think the world might be able to gain from it?”, “has it been worth it?”, “how did you manage to push through the hard times?”, “what made you do it?” That kind of existential questions make for much better journalism in my opinion. The documentary which Mike Douglas is working on falls into category 2. It will be out in 2024 and you should look forward to it…I know I do.
Chief Engineer Benny Brinch Nielsen before his 12 cylinders. Good guy! He's from the west of Denmark and has a great taste in music.
Gerda Maersk is impressive! She measures 366.89m (1,204ft) overall or about 3.5 football fields in length!! Her 12-cylinder main engine has the power to produce 46,000kW which is the equivalent of 370 Toyota Corollas, except Gerda Maersk can carry around 11,000 twenty-foot containers (TEU) and a Corolla can carry none. A truck can however carry 2 TEU, so it would be equivalent to 125 trucks having to carry 88 TEU each. The brave crew consisted of 24 men from 7 countries: Sweden, India, Philippines, Denmark, Ukraine, Romania, and South Africa. Uniquely we were three Danes (myself included) and a Swede. I rarely come across that much Viking power at sea. There was a good atmosphere onboard which I find comes down to a number of things: ship design, leadership, meals, time between port calls, nationalities onboard etc.
Propper laundry facilities.
Propper gym. One in which I can stand on the treadmill and not bump my head towards the ceiling.
The slopchest is essentially a kiosk. It doubled as a movie library (DVD's).
Gerda Maersk is beautifully constructed and well maintained. She is full of amenities such as a library, it-café, pool, gym, slopchest (kiosk), and saloons with movies and games. There is free Wi-Fi onboard too, although the internet speed often left something to desire. Captain Inberg along with another Captain alter between being onboard and both captains ensure that there are BBQ’s, tournaments, and movie nights when possible. A nice touch is that gentle music plays from speakers in the dinning saloon, the duty mess, and on the bridge. In my opinion the music sets a pleasant mood. Chief Cook Apilado and Steward Esparas made sure that every meal was a feast. The tone between the seafarers appeared kind and respectful. Gerda Maersk circumnavigates the planet once every three months which sometimes offers passages with many port calls as well as some long quiet passages at sea. So, I would say it’s a favorable route. All in all, the makings for a good atmosphere onboard.
Gerda Maersk has void space. Sometimes, when possible, an extra deck or two is added to the accommodation in order to raise the bridge, in order to carry more cargo. You must be able to see over the cargo/containers. The void space is often used for sports and games: basketball, badminton, table tennis, hockey etc.
As you read this there are an estimated 33 days left until I expect to set foot on Danish soil again. As someone recently pointed out, once I join Milan Maersk, I will have set foot on foreign soil for the last time within the Saga (Malaysia). A lot of planning is going into my arrival back home. I think it will be a day to remember one way or the other. Much planning is also going into the unofficial arrival back home: seeing friends, family, and getting accustomed to being back. This has been coming for a long time, and months ago I began to prepare myself mentally by listening to Danish podcasts and reading Danish books. I would be a lot more worried about my return if it wasn’t for my wonderful ultra-wifey. What a blessing it is to have her in my life. Her, and many others. I believe that the last voyage home, which will be more than a month long, will be helpful in my mental transition before returning back to the Great Kingdom of Denmark in the High North of Europe. And I expect it will take many months if not years to fully adapt. This has been no small ordeal for my mind. I have more than once had doubts if my mind could handle it – but it turns out it could (I think). It makes me wonder about our limitations. Once again, to those of you who get this far; thank you for the kindness and support in achieving what so many said was impossible. Impossible is nothing.
The penultimate crew!! Such a good team! I wish I could have had more time with them. Fair winds and following seas.
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
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Ready for stage III to begin.
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Once Upon A Saga