Maersk Carolina - voyage #419 - passenger #1

DAY 1: March 18th 2015

My friend Art came to meet me in Norfolk, Virginia. He had been in a car for nearly 4 hours just to come and see me off. It had almost been 1 year since I reached the Canadian shores of the Western Hemisphere. And now I was ready to leave from the United States of America.

I'm still traveling to every single country in a single unbroken journey without flight. However lately I have felt that I do not have a straight answer to why? That basically brings me back to the very beginning when I left home more than 500 days ago. Because when I left home I also didn't really know why? Throughout the journey it became more clear to me that I was doing this because no one else had. But recently I have been wondering what kind of motive that is? I know I am acting as goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross - and as such I am writing short stories about the Red Cross, and soon Red Crescent, wherever I go. Being able to promote the Red Cross and it's worldwide actions has increasingly become more important to me. But if I only had the opportunity to give one answer to the question "why?" then I might say that I want to show people the world for what it is. It's not a perfect world although some would argue that perfection does not exists without imperfections. But it is a world full of people and life. And in terms of people I have witnessed that the weather is far more important than religion. And I have seen that family, sports, food and music is far more important to people than what politics are.

I'm however still very fond of George Mallory's reply to why he desired to summit Mt Everest. This was in the 20s long before Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing Norgay succeeded in 1953. The mountain claimed George Mallory's life within his attempt. His answer to the question was: "Because it is there!!"


Art brought me to Virginia International Gateway in Portsmouth. I said goodbye to Art at the parking lot and was picked up by port security who checked my bags. Then security drove me through the gates and alongside of Maersk Carolina and I made my way up the walkway. It was evening and I had been told that I could board anytime before 03:00am the following day.

That was by far the longest walkway I have ever climbed! I'm no stranger to traveling onboard container ships but in comparison this was a giant!


Once on deck I signed my name in a book before I was showed inside the 8 story building which makes up the ships "house". Spencer Kreger, a man with broad shoulders, a strong handshake and a friendly smile, greeted me welcome and showed me around. He presented himself as the ships 3. officer and opened the door to the pilots cabin on "E deck" which was to be my home throughout the voyage.

DAY 2: March 19th 2015

I woke up, washed my face and headed down for breakfast. The ship was still at port. In the officers mess I found the captain sitting in his seat at the end of the table. He introduced himself as Captain John Coleman and invited me to sit next to him. I don't think he needed to tell me his title. He has the ambiance of a person who couldn't be anyone else. I liked him straight away. 

My voice was deep and almost gone. The climate shift of having spent the past 9 months under tropical conditions made it near impossible for me to be warm. I was wearing an extra sweater and soon after breakfast I went back to bed. 


The ship started moving in the afternoon. We had soon left port and were on our way across the Atlantic Ocean. A 12 day voyage had begun.

I missed lunch which was a concern for the cook. I heard this through the captain at dinner. But I was still feeling under the weather and soon went back to bed.

DAY 3: March 20th 2015

I woke up to my first day at sea. Around us there was nothing but water. The dominant sound was a low thumping which could be heard every half second as the massive engine sent its power up throughout the ship. If your imagination would allow it then you could close your eyes and picture that you are sitting outside in an open area while a giant runs in circles around you. You can see the movement in a glass of water.


Everyone onboard is American. This surprised me as I understood that Filipino sailors where to be found on all larger ships all around the world. But Maersk Carolina is registered with the American office and as such it follows Union regulations. Therefore everyone onboard is an American. The ship however has a lot of Danish signs onboard being that Maersk is a Danish company. I guess I'm the only one that can read them? Naturally, though, the same message is always available in English right below...

I ventured up to the bridge and asked for permission to enter? Permission granted! Here I learned that the minimum requirement for personnel on the bridge was 2. This was also new to me as the case for all other ships had been 1 person on the bridge. The 2nd officer, Dimitre Dimitrov, was present and I had a good talk with him. He is originally from Bulgaria but moved to the USA. Another great man.


Then the captain showed up with printouts about how the water level was rising as a result of global warming and climate change. We had been talking about this at breakfast.

I would have missed dinner if it had not been for the kitchen saving some food for me. As a part of adjusting to the move across time zones the ship had started moving the clock forward. 20 minutes 3 times a day.

DAY 4: March 21st 2015

There was a conference room next to my cabin with 2 computers. They were connected to a satellite connection and worked well for emails and other basic stuff. While power saving the screen on one the computers showed pictures from Jaws :)


I still wasn't feeling great but I managed to find the crews day room where I met Jacob Flores. He had started a House M.D. marathon with the series season 1. So I joined in not knowing that it would become our "thing" over the remaining days. Jacob works in the kitchen which is called the galley. He is rotating and has already been in both the engine room and on deck. 

DAY 5: March 22nd 2015

Up in the morning, splash my face with water, head down for breakfast, head back up for a shower, read in my book, perhaps sleep some more, head down for lunch, head up on the bridge, read some more in my cabin, try to solve a rubriks cube, read some more, head down for dinner, watch a movie, watch House with Jacob, go to bed...


The routine has set in.

The ocean is completely calm and has been for several days. 

DAY 6: March 23rd 2015

I met a huge fellow in the conference room. He is the ships Bosun which translates to "group leader" on deck. He deals with safety and makes the puzzle come together. The Bosun takes his orders from the chief mate (1st officer). The giants name is Laurentis Colbert and he looked at me and said: "You've got to love it out here. I love it".


We got into a conversation about what kind of people chose a life at sea? Laurentis told me about what he called the "loner side" and said with a smile: "Most sailors have an urge to be alone..."

DAY 7: March 24th 2015

The Maersk Carolina was among the biggest ships on the sea when she had her maiden voyage back in 1998. She's still pretty big with an overall length of 292 meters, a breadth of 32 meters and a "hight" of 50 meters.

She is absolutely well kept and a lot more ecological than I thought. Since January 1st 2015 new IMO regulations demanded that the sulphur content in the bunker (heavy fuel) couldn't exceed 0.1%. It used to be 1%. As a result Maersk decided to run their ships on diesel which is much cleaner...and much more expensive. So the ships now run slower whenever possible for optimal fuel consumption.


The Carolina is a "D class" vessel and is built to carry 4,300 containers (20'). She is big!! But then the "E class" showed up...and it was followed by the "triple E class". Big is a relative term...we saw the triple E and it dwarfed us!!

DAY 8: March 25th 2015

The routines continue. Everyone I met onboard was kind and forthcoming. But everyone is also busy working, eating and sleeping. There has been nothing but ocean around us for a while and the occasional ship in the distant background.


I like being onboard.

The 3. mate who greeted me on my first day, Spencer, had marked on the ships chart where the Titanic sank. So when we approached the area we looked at the ocean and concluded that it was long ago...

DAY 9: March 26th 2015

The loudspeaker sounded that everyone should collect their "draw". Apparently that translates into money. 

The captain has no real need to go to the bridge on a ship like this. He has 3 officers to stand duty along with the seamen that accompany them. But Captain Coleman heads up to the bridge daily anyway. He's onboard as master and commander. All responsibility eventually ends at him and he takes care of a lot of administrative work. As today when he handed out "draw".


Coleman is quite the character. He loves adventure travel and somewhat reminds me of someone from a western movie in the way he talks. He has been all over the world and has a ton of great stories. It's very clear that the men onboard like him and that he makes the work environment as pleasant as possible for everyone.

DAY 10: March 27th 2015

Antwerpen, we had arrived to Belgium and saw land for the first time in 10 days. I stayed onboard while the containers were offloaded and others were loaded. A total of more than 1,400 moves in just a few hours.


If you would like to know how cargo gets delayed its simple! It's rarely the ship itself but everything around it. Fog and bad weather can close a port, another ship can block your entrance, a crane can be out of order, too much wind will stop the cranes, receiving fuel can be delayed and much much more. In Antwerp we needed to go through a lock to reach the port. This delayed us with a few hours as the lock wasn't ready for us for our scheduled time. Anything can delay a ship.

DAY 11: March 28th 2015

I cannot understate how great the food is onboard. The chef used to run a restaurant but has been at sea for many years now. There is plenty of variety and it all tastes good. I have been seated with the officers but at the table with the cadets. Sometimes I sit with the other officers if there is room. It's not's about practicality. Dividing the crew from the officers is an old custom which doesn't serve in the same way as it did in the old days. Today I figure it allows the crew to speak freely without thinking about who is listening in.


There was a time when whistling was a way of signaling onboard ships. So whistling among sailors was naturally forbidden in order not to confuse signals. That then translated into superstition: "Whistling on a ship is bad luck!!" So is bringing bananas onboard and much more... Ships have been around for ages and there is plenty of customs, superstitions, craziness and rules. Today most of it is history. Practicality matters more.


I've had countless meals sitting across from the two cadets which are both assigned to the engine room: Skyler Stone and Dave Domine. Both great guys!

DAY 12: March 29th 2015

Dead slow ahead. We were moving as slow as possible. If not then we would arrive too early to Rotterdam. The ship was originally built to move ahead with 25 knots/hour. You could easily drag someone waterskiing behind the ship at 20 knots/hour. But today we were going dead slow. 


This was also some of the first "bad weather" we had encountered. The entire voyage across the Atlantic had been smooth. It wasn't until we arrived to the North Sea that it got rough.

DAY 13: March 30th 2015

The ship arrived to Rotterdam, The Netherlands. And the port got busy once again with more than 1,200 lifts...on and off.


Mark Rhodes is the 1st mate onboard. He has been 15 years with Maersk but started sailing back in 1982. He has a very pleasant voice and combined with his accent he should narrate documentaries if it was up to me. But he loves the sea so I'll let him sail.


He was on the bridge with Frank Campobasso who is an AB (able bodied seaman). Frank is another man who loves to stare across the ocean and think deep thought to himself. When I asked what made him seek this line of work he replied with his Jersey accent: "I used to see the ships go down the river in Jersey. I thought it would be interesting..."

People onboard are so different from each other. It's like being on a planet...or a ship? But everyone has a fascinating story. I could go on for months.

DAY 14: March 31st 2015

The relentless North Sea with its rain and wind kept going at us all day. But everyone's routines continued anyway. Because that's what it's like. I rather enjoy the harsh weather which makes the Maersk Carolina go from side to side. It reminds me that we are at sea.

My routines continue too. Reading, eating, talking to people onboard. And eventually watching a few episodes of House in the evening together with Jacob. 

Evening: Bremerhaven, Germany. The end of my "cruise". So close that I could almost swim it. But after the pilot arrived, like some James Bond with a helicopter drop off, we learned that the port wasn't ready for us and that we had to wait at sea until the next morning.

DAY 15: April 1st 2015

I really did not feel like disembarking. I had been treated so well onboard and I enjoyed the company and the solitude. There was no way I would get to say farewell to everyone. Some where sleeping and others were naturally on duty. There is always lots to do on a ship. If you have any idea how much work it takes to maintain a house then imagine maintaining a 62,242 ton ship - in salt water!

Byron Gibson, the chief engineer, treated me to a tour of the engine room before I left. He knows the ship very well. Perhaps better than most. Byron has been working for Maersk for 25 years and several of them onboard the Carolina.


The ship is extraordinary. The engine is massive with its 2,930 bhp at 720 rev/min. Byron is on top of his job and keeps it all running smoothly. And I figure everyone is thankful for that. After all, who would like to get stuck out in the middle at the ocean due to a faulty engine?

That concluded my second Atlantic crossover and the last on this journey. The Western Hemisphere is behind me and Africa awaits.


I walked down the long metallic landing bridge and left my home for the past 14 days behind me. Ironically the Maersk Carolina had brought me back to the very first country I entered on October 10th 2013 when it all began.


Thank you Maersk! And thank you Danish Red Cross for making it happen!  

Best regards
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - a modern explorer heading into a modern Africa.

Once Upon a Saga
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