Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2009 Sea Voyage Part 4c: 2010 Stops in Pusan and Yokohama

DAY 73: Zooooom! Back in Pusan.

I’m sure it didn’t take long to get from Qingdao to Pusan the last time we made this lap, but for some reason it really seemed to be quick this time around. The best part though, was that we arrived at the end of a nice, clear afternoon, just as the sun was setting. It was bitterly cold, but I got some pretty pictures:
Pusan Lighthouse
I would like to live in a house like that one someday. If nothing else, it would mean almost never having religious zealots knocking on your door early mornings on the weekend. Or at least the few that do make it out to proselytize are probably worth listening to. If they can find a way to stop by a place like that without an invitation, they might actually be onto something.

But I digest...

I also managed to snap a couple of self portraits. One on the bridge:
Pilothouse Portrait
And another one a few minutes later on the bow:
Portrait in Pusan
Later in the evening I got a chance to run ashore and check my regular email account. On the way I snapped this shot of the ship at the pier:
Moored in Busan

DAY 74: Dropping the Boat

The later part of this morning started with a lifeboat drill. Since we haven’t had occasion to lower either of the lifeboats since the ship came out of the yard, this was the first chance to make sure they would actually work in the event of an emergency.

When we’re lowering boats for drills, it ends up being up to me to take charge of the sailors in the boat and serve as coxswain while it’s being lowered, released, and the hoisted back into the davits.

From the boats’ normal at-sea position in the davits, it’s about a 90-foot drop to the water.

Everything went smoothly on the way down. Here’s the view from the coxwain’s seat:
Lifeboat View

Once the boat was waterborne, I flipped the lever to release the hooks and bumped the engine ahead. We were underway under our own power for about 45 seconds before it was time to reattach the hooks and get hoisted back up to the davits.

On the way up, I got to asking the ordinary seaman a few questions about the boat just to make sure he knew his business. One of the things he didn’t seem to know about was the Rottmer releasing gear. This is the linkage that makes it possible to unhook both ends of the boat at the same time once the boat is in the water. The whole system is built around a big lever with a safety catch next to the coxswain’s seat plainly marked with a label which reads “DANGER! LEVER DROPS BOAT!”

As I was explaining this to the ordinary, I pointed out how to pull the pin (you have to twist it before you pull it out) and then explained that you have to pull the lever all the way down in order to unhook the falls. I told him that you had to wait until the boat was in the water before you did it or else risk a potentially deadly, catastrophic fall from the deck to the water some 90 feet below.

“The good part,” said I, “is that there’s enough steps involved in pulling the lever that you really can’t do it on accident.”

To illustrate, I grabbed the handle and yanked and then


That happened to be the exact same moment that the guys hoisting the boat up on deck reset the brake tension cable and dropped the boat a good two feet in the process. Nobody wet themselves, but we did all get strapped back into our seat harnesses in a hurry.

Aside from that touch of excitement, the day went pretty smoothly. We made our departure in the late afternoon. Despite the cold, the weather was nice. Here's a picture:
Leaving Pusan

Funny side note: Once we were done letting go all of the mooring lines, I cut the sailors loose and stayed on the bow with the OS (Ordinary Seaman) to act as lookout and to stand by in case we needed to drop the anchor for some reason. As we were nearing the breakwater on the way out of the harbor, a little black boat rounded the corner inbound.

At first glance, it looked like a submarine. Now you have to hesitate before calling the bridge to let them know there’s a submarine because if, God forbid, you’re wrong about it, you’ll get no end of harassment about it.* So once the OS agreed with me, I called it in.

“Bridge, Second Mate,” I radioed, “there’s a submarine coming in through the breakwater just about one point on the port bow.”

“Nope,” replies the Chief Mate on the bridge, “that’s the pilot boat.”

The OS and I looked at each other, then back at the vessel in question. Now that it was closer, it looked like so:
ROKN Submarine

“Maybe we’re not looking at the same thing, Mate,” I replied, “I’m talking about the small, low-profile, black vessel on the port bow.”

“Yeah, that’s the pilot boat,” replied the mate, “they’ve increased their security level here to MARSEC 37.**”

Suddenly I kinda like the Chief Mate.

*When I was in school, one of my classmates mistakenly sighted an aircraft carrier that turned out to be a containership. For this error he was haunted with mockery for the rest of our time at school. It’s also probably the reason nobody heard from him at all for six years after graduation.
**In the post 9-11 world, there is an international system of security levels for ships and port facilities. These are referred to as MARSEC (short for MARitime SECurity) levels. The lowest is MARSEC 1, meaning there is no specific threat of terrorist activity, and the highest is MARSEC 3, meaning a terrorist attack is currently taking place.

DAY 75: Transit to Yokohama

This was a nice little jaunt from one port to the next. With all of the excitement of the past few days, I actually slept through most of it. When I wasn't sleeping, I was doing my chores on the bridge:
Tinkering in the Chartroom

DAY 76: Yokohama

Today I managed to squeeze in eight full hours of work before breakfast. After lunch I put in seven more. In all it was a pretty good time.

The day started before midnight, like all my days on board. When I took the watch on the bridge there were surprisingly few contacts on the radar. The wind was coming from astern and there was a handful of small islands ahead.

Once we passed between the islands and turned into the wind, the ship started drifting all over the place. With the wind on the bow we were getting pushed around more than the autopilot could deal with, so I had one of the sailors steer by hand.
It took him some work, but he finally managed to steady up on our course and at last we were headed toward Tokyo Bay. I went back to the chart room to plot the ship’s position and when I came back I was surprised to see nobody at the wheel. Instead, my helmsman was sitting in a chair and staring out the window while the ship was drifting a good twenty degrees off course.

“Hey,” says I, “what’s going on?”
“I’m good, mate,” he replied.
“Sure,” says I, “but I still need you steering.”
“Oh. Shit!”

I guess he thought I said I’d turned the autopilot back on. Odd things pop into peoples’ heads at two in the morning I suppose.

After watch I had to stay on the bridge to help keep up the navigation and admin chores while things started to get busy on the approach to Tokyo Bay. Then at 0530 I went down to the pilot ladder.

In case I haven’t explained it before, a harbor pilot is a mariner with in-depth knowledge of a particular waterway. Most harbors require inbound ships to take a pilot aboard to guide them through to the pier. The pilot usually comes out to meet the ship on a small boat. The ship’s crew rigs a ladder over the side for the pilot to climb up from the boat onto the ship.

On a ship like this one it’s a long climb from the water up to the main deck. Rather than having a pilot heft himself up twenty to forty feet worth of ladder, the ship is fitted with a sideport on either side. This is a door that can be opened down by the waterline, making it easier for a pilot to get aboard.

Once the pilot was on board I had a few minutes of down time before it was time to go up to the bow and tie the ship up. This is when everything started going wrong. I’m not sure why, but once the ship was alongside the pier and we’d started passing lines across, the tugs and bow thruster stopped pushing us toward the pier.

We spent the better part of 45 minutes seesawing back and forth while the pilot couldn’t make up his mind about what to tell the tugs to do. While all of this was going on, we had all sorts of little problems with the winches as we had to take up and then pay out more and more line. I’m not sure what was going on up in the pilothouse, but it was frustrating as hell for us on deck.

When we were finally all fast I looked at my watch and found out that there was no way I’d have enough time to go ashore and get anything done. Bummer.

Instead I rushed back up to the pilothouse and got started in the chartroom. By the time I had to take the watch again at noon, I’d just barely managed to line up all the charts and pubs and lay out all of the tracks for our trip from Yokohama to southern California.

During my watch our departure was delayed due to a broken down container crane. Then, once we were all set to let go all lines, we found out that the harbor pilot was going to be delayed.* We ended up waiting for almost two hours past our scheduled departure time. While waiting, I had the deck cadet take this picture of me:
Portrait in Yokohama Container Terminal
You can just make out Mount Fuji in the distance behind my right shoulder.

When the pilot finally did show, I went up to the bow to find that two of the mooring winches weren’t working. Going below, I found that I couldn’t get the hydraulic pump that powered them to start. When the ship’s electrician and the First Assistant Engineer showed up, they did a bit of troubleshooting and found a burnt-out fuse.

So at the end of the day it was an uncharacteristically screwed up port call for Japan. To top it all off, while I was standing on the bow acting as lookout on the way out of Tokyo Bay, the Captain and Chief Mate forgot I was there. I ended up spending an extra two hours just standing around waiting to be told to turn in before I finally had to ask if they still needed me there.


Next stop: California

*I maintain that the delay was caused when the pilot we’d had in the morning, ashamed and dishonored by his dismal performance, committed seppuku** and the rest of the pilots had to rework their schedule to carry on without him.
**Seppuku is ritualistic suicide that called for in the Bushido code. Having brought himself shame, a man may regain some semblance of honor by disemboweling himself with his sword.

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