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Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Sea Voyage Part IV: East Asia (Again)

Day 49: Back in Yokohama

So once again Rich met me down at the pier so we could hang out for a bit. We started by stopping at the Seaman's Center where I exchanged some dollars for yen and then picked up the cadets to give them a ride into town. Here's the lot of us just before we left:
Shawn, Rich, and cadets
We ended up downtown in Yokohama where we had a quick sushi dinner and then wandered around town telling sea stories and whatnot over a couple of large cups of coffee.
Along the way, we stumbled across an amazingly overdone singing Christmas tree at the Queen’s Square Shopping Center:

Then it was time to amble back to the pier in time for me to take the watch on deck again.

SIDE NOTE: For those of you wondering about the fate of the ten pound bag of pennies, you can rest assured knowing that they’re safely stowed under the passenger seat of Rich’s car in Japan. I can post it here because he doesn’t read my blog and it’ll still be weeks or possibly months before the bag is discovered. My only hope is that he finds them before he sells the car.

Days 50: Transit to Busan

Rather than take the Inland Sea to the Kanmon Kaikyo Passage, this time we made the full transit all the way around Kyushu (one of the Japanese home islands) to the South and then made our way up the East side of Japan to South Korea. All the while, the temperature was dropping steadily.

On the plus side, there haven’t been quite as many other ships and small boats as I was worried we’d see in this part of the world. In fact, the only thing that could be called interesting was a bunch of advection fog as we rounded Kyushu.

Advection fog is caused when moist air moves over a cool body of water, dropping its temperature below its dew point and making the water appear to steam. So that’s nice.

DAY 51: Arrival Busan

Today was a nice, calm, quiet day. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and it was bitterly, butt-numbingly cold. Then I had to go out and stand in it.

Aside from the cold, the tie-up went smoothly. Of course, by the time we were all fast it was too late to do anything but get inside, get warm, and get to bed. Just before I turned in, the Chief Mate told me that we were going to have a couple of contractors come aboard for the next two legs of the voyage. Since he was going to be busy, he asked me to go ahead and take them around on a familiarization tour and brief them on shipboard safety. Fun.

DAY 52: Shivering, Sunshine, Supper, and Salvation. All in One Day

After waiting all morning for the contractors to show up, it was time to take the watch on deck. When I got to the cargo office, the Chief Mate told me that I wasn’t going to be showing them around after all and that I’d been sitting waiting for the phone to ring for no reason. Bummer.

The cargo watch went smoothly enough. The only thing that could be called a challenge was the fact that the cranes refused to load the ship evenly and since they were all stacking containers up on the same side of the ship, I had to spend a lot of time screwing around with the ballast in order to keep the ship sitting level.
The ship was scheduled to depart at 1900, so after I got off watch at 1600 I ran out to the local Seamen’s Club to check my email and whatnot. I ended up not quite finishing half of the things I set out to do online because I was in a rush to get back to the ship by 1800 to run through my gear tests on the bridge in preparation for departure.

When I did get back to the ship it turned out that our departure had been delayed by two hours. With not quite enough time to do anything at all, I went to my stateroom to watch a movie. An hour later our departure was delayed again.

Since I was up and about anyway, I decided this should be one of the rare days where I actually showed up for dinner. When I got down to B-deck, where the mess is, I opened the door and was assaulted by a cacophonous blast of something barely resembling Christmas music. Peeking around the corner into the crew mess, I found half of the unlicensed folks and both of the cadets seated with a handful of Korean folks standing on the other side of the room wearing Santa hats and playing guitars and tambourines.

It turns out they were an Evangelical Christian charity group that was going from ship to ship along the waterfront handing out good cheer, warm socks, and a chance to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. I managed to avoid it (narrowly) by sneaking past the door and having dinner in the officers’ mess. I could still hear it though, so I still got to chuckle when they offered up a prayer and ended up speaking in tongues. Or maybe they were just speaking in Korean. Who knows.

While they were unable to win any of us over to their faith, what they did do for the crew was leave behind some gift bags under our Christmas tree. They contained warm socks, plenty of brochures with instructions for life ever after, and one box each of what can only be described as Korean Moon Pies. It such a nice gesture that I almost felt bad for laughing at their goofy superstitions.

When the God nuts had left, it was time for me to head up to the bridge and run through all of the gear tests, then move up to the bow so we could cast off and head out. It was miserably cold, but this time I was wearing my super cool Korean ninja facemask.*
*Bought for a mere $3.00US from a nice lady who comes aboard in Korea to peddle her wares outside the mess.

DAY 53: Cruising to Tsingtao Through the “Line of Death”

That’s what the Captain called it anyway. What it really was was a chokepoint where traffic along the Chinese coast is all funnelled into a couple of narrow lanes that we had to cross as we headed West.

DAY 54: What Happens in China…

When I took the watch at midnight, I was surprised to find the Chief Mate still up and active there. He then told me that he was going to need me to stand the first two hours of his watch (from 0400 to 0600) so that he could catch up on some much-needed rest. Then he went on to spend the next hour telling me all about how to stand my watch. Oh dear.

When I finally got off of watch at 0600, I headed up to the pilothouse to put the finishing touches on the voyage plan from Qingdao to Taiwan. It took a couple of hours to get everything lined up, and then I went down to the main deck where a handful of vendors were on board trying to sell us chintzy Chinese junk.

I’m occasionally amazed at some of the things that these folks decide we need while we’re at sea. There were knives and flashlights, Viagra and bootleg DVDs, and oodles and gobs of random other crap. While I was thumbing through the movie selection, one of the vendors asked in a conspiriatorial whisper if I wanted to buy “sexy movie.” Then thrust a handful of unpackaged discs into my hand. At a glance the artwork printed on the discs all had a common theme: modestly dressed young women seated next to medium or large dogs. Fortunately, my curiosity did not get the better of me.

While I was looking through some electronics of questionable quality, I bumped into the Captain. He told me that he’d changed his mind and we were going to go through the Taiwan Straits. So it was time to go back up to the pilothouse, undo a whole bunch of my tracklines, and start over. Oh well.

At noon I was headed down to A-Deck to meet the Third Mate and take over the watch. On the way down, I smelled smoke. Opening the door, I saw the deck cadet and asked him if he smelled something burning.

“Yeah,” says he, “but we took care of it.”

Right behind him came the Chief Mate in a flurry of worry. It turns out that one of the tallymen* had thrown a still-lit cigarette butt into one of the wastebaskets and it had started to smolder. The Mate smelled the smoke, ran in, grabbed the wastebasket, and then proceeded to run all over the place looking for a way to douse the fire. I kinda wish I’d seen it.

Aside from that, the day went well. It went so well in fact that we ended up leaving port roughly two hours early.

The best part about this visit to China was that while I was making my rounds, not once did I catch one of the longshoremen taking a shit on the deck. I’m not saying it didn’t happen. I’m just saying it didn’t happen on my watch.

On the way out I snapped this picture of the flame thing leftover from the last Olympics:
Qingdao Olympic Flame

Next stop: Singapore via the Taiwan Strait. I’m really glad to have China behind me for a while.
*Tallymen are the longshoremen who sit in the conference room on board the ship and supposedly keep track of how many boxes have come and gone during the loading and discharging of cargo. I really don’t know how they do that.

DAY 55: The Taiwan Strait

There were tons of little boats in the way, the visibility was crap, and none of the ships I needed to call on the radio to make passing arrangements (to avoid collisions) refused to answer my hails.

In short, it was not quite as bad as I’d expected.

DAY 56: Unremarkable

That's all I have to say about that.

DAY 57: Lesbian Vampire Killers

Today I was rifling through the ship’s movie library when I stumbled across the most intriguing film title I’ve heard in years; “Lesbian Vampire Killers.” I was drawn to it like nothing else. A title like this only comes with more questions. Is this the story of murderous lesbian vampires? Or could it be about lesbians who kill vampires? Or could it possibly be a tale of a rare sort of highly specialized vampire hunter who only kills lesbian vampires? I simply had to know.

These questions were to go unanswered though. When I tried to play the disc in my DVD player it ended up having incompatible regional coding. Blast! Now I’ll have to buy a copy of it online, just to know exactly who’s getting killed and who the lesbians are?

In other news, it’s Christmas Eve today.

DAY 58: Christmas

It’s really warm here.
Warm and sticky.
I don’t like it.

We’ll be in Singapore by tomorrow afternoon.

It’ll be really warm there too.

DAY 59: Arrival in Singapore

Singapore is one of the busiest ports in the entire world. The city-state itself is comprised of one main island with a huge number of smaller islands and land reclamation projects. With the current economic slowdown, more and more ships are sitting at anchor there while waiting for something to do. This adds up to a tremendous amount of ship traffic and navigational hazards.

By the time I finished my watch at 0400, things were just starting to get interesting. Fortunately there were no fishing boats to slalom through, but there were all sorts of big ships coming and going at the eastern extent of the Singapore Strait. Everything was going smoothly, but it was starting to get busy when I turned the watch over to the Chief Mate.

I spent the next few hours doing laundry, digging out my bags, and packing up in preparation for flying home.* Then I got the call that I was needed back on the bridge.

When I got up there, pandemonium was in full swing. The shipping traffic had picked up quite a bit, making a “big picture” appraisal of the situation impossible. There was a ship just a few hundred yards off the starboard beam, another even closer on the port bow, a tug towing a barge crossing the channel, and a chorus of local idiots arguing, singing, screaming, or just making farting noises on their ship’s VHF radios.


Over the next couple of hours, the Captain had the conn** and I was left to stand by at the radar to keep track of the other ships as best I could. Then it was time for the Chief Mate to watch the traffic while I went down to the sideport and greeted the harbor pilot as he came aboard. Once he was safely aboard, the deck cadet escorted the pilot up to the bridge while I went forward to make preparations to tie up at the pier.

It was a quick trip from the pilot boarding area to the container terminal, followed by a slow and painful mooring evolution. I'm not sure where they got the linehandlers that were down on the pier, but this must have been their first time tying up a ship.

Once that was over and done with, it was time to take the watch on deck and then go pass out.
*With the ship sitting on blocks in the shipyard, there will be no use for a navigator. Consequently, I’m going to spend a few weeks camped out in California while the ship gets overhauled.

** “Conn” is the term that describes the functional control of the ship’s engine and rudder. The announcement “I have the conn” eliminates any confusion the helmsman might have in the event that ship’s officers might give contrary orders in an emergency.

DAY 60: The Berth Shift to End All Berth Shifts

Today started with my usual 0000-0400 watch. The cranes finished offloading the last of the cargo around 0300, so it was a pretty easy watch.

Once the Chief Mate took the watch I headed up to the pilothouse to run through all of the checklist to make sure everything was running properly so we could leave the container terminal and scoot down the main shipping channel to the drydock.

We were underway at 0500. That's when I caught this rare photo of the deck with absolutely no cargo on board:
Empty Containership
About ninety minutes later it was time to drop the anchor. The problem with dropping the anchor is that none of the chain markings are readable anymore. While we needed five shots of chain at the water's edge, we ended up with ten. With the cloud of dust and chunks of rust that came up out of the spillpipe when we let it fall, I don't feel too bad about not being able to see the barely-painted marks as they flew by. Here's a shot of the mess that ended up on deck to give you an idea of the crap that was coming out. Bear in mind, this was only the stuff that was too heavy to blow away in the wind and the decks were nice and clean before we started:
Anchor mess

We payed out so much chain that I was a bit lucky I stopped it before we ran out of chain in the locker...

The only real problem borne out of putting out too much chain is the fact that it takes a long damned time to heave it all back in. That, and you look like an asshole when you tell the Captain there's not enough chain still out to reach the bottom anymore and he starts trying to maneuver the ship while the anchor's still holding strong. Oops.

Once we'd actually hauled in the chain, it was time to cruise over to the shipyard. Here's what it looked like as we made our approach:

Singapore Shipyard 2
The process of tying the ship up once we were inside the drydock was ridiculous. It started simply enough with us passing a couple of bow lines to a pair of sliding bitts on the sides of the dock. Once we'd tied them off it was up to the shipyard to pull the ship in. Once the stern lines were out, the shipyard used one of their cranes to lower a guy in a basket down onto the deck to explain where they wanted the rest of the lines to go. He started aft and spent over an hour with the guys on the stern before he came forward to tell me where he wanted us to pass more mooring lines.
Once again everything about dealing with linehandlers here made me think it was their first time tying up a ship. Wierd.

At the end of the whole evolution I was glad to finally get back to my air-conditioned room, take a cool shower, and pass the hell out. It was a long day:
Crazy Day
Stay tuned for the tale of an arduous voyage by land and air…

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Sea Voyage Part III: High Speed West Coast Visits

DAY 33: Arrival San Pedro

The ship pulled into the Port of Los Angeles at some ridiculous time in the morning, well before sunrise. Then I had a full day of work to do before Ana could drive over and pick me up. Here’s a picture of her down at the dock, looking to pick up a sailor:

We ended up rushing back to the apartment for a few minutes before we headed out to the movie theater and saw 2012, starring John Cusack. It was good fun in the way that only an end-of-the-world drama can be.

When it was over, we went to the bookstore so I could stock up and make sure I wasn’t going to run out of reading material for the next month on board. It’s amazing how small a couple hundred dollars worth of books can be.
When we’d finished shopping, we drove back to the apartment, Ana cooked me up a nice steak dinner (complete with asparagus* and a nice bottle of wine), and then got hardly any sleep at all.

*to guarantee funny-smelling pee.

DAY 34: Pierside in San Pedro

Today we had a Coast Guard inspection team on board to renew the ship's certificate of inspection. The whole thing went smoothly enough, but the funny part was that half of the inspection team knew my wife. I guess the Coast Guard really is a small world.

The minor hiccup for me came when one of the inspectors started going through my charts and publications and started asking for a particular publication I couldn't find. Everything else was perfect except for this particular book which he insisted everyone had and I was certain I’d never heard of. It all worked out well in the end when I finally realized what he was after despite the fact that he didn’t know what it was called.*

Today we also got a couple of cadets on board. These are students from the US Merchant Marine Academy at King’s Point who are spending a year out at sea learning about the industry first-hand. There’s one assigned to the deck department and another assigned to engineering (in accordance with the license they’re studying for) where they’ll do intern-level work.

Once we were finished with the COI, Ana came down to the ship and picked me up again. We headed over to a shop called Safe Navigation so I could pick up a few charts to update the outfit I have on board the ship. We made a few other stops that day, then we caught up with Kitty Maer (our wedding photographer) for dinner.
*The inspector was asking for “the list of distress signals,” when in reality the book is called “International Code of Signals.” It got worse. “I know there’s not much sense in having a book like that,” says he, “since you guys have to memorize most of that stuff to get your license.” For a solid thirty minutes I thought I was completely retarded. Then I figured out it was him, not me.

DAY 35: Departure San Pedro

After the past couple of days, it was a bit tough to drag myself back to the ship at some ridiculous hour in the morning so we could shove off and head to Oakland. I reported on board at ten minutes to three in the morning in preparation for a 0400 departure. By the time I walked into my room, my phone was already ringing. The Chief Mate was calling to tell me that I was late and that we were going to be leaving as soon as we could.

In the scramble that followed, we managed to get everyone up and on station, let go all lines, and we let go our last line by 0353. Not bad for a planned 0400 departure.

It also happened to be my sister Sheryl's Birthday, so while we were still within cellular range of the beach, I got a chance to drop her a text message to say happy day.

DAY 36: Slow, Foggy Arrival in Oakland

Today started, like all of my days on board, in the middle of the night. The night was nice and calm and the weather was clear and bright. Everything went pretty smoothly and it was a pretty decent ride.

Then everything went wrong. As we approached the San Francisco Entrance sea buoy, visibility dropped down quite a bit. Then the sailors trying to open the sideport so the pilot could come aboard called to tell us that the doors wouldn’t open. As a result we had to turn the ship around, put the wind and waves on the other side, and open the other sideport.

Once the pilot was on the bridge I went back up to the bow and watched the fog get thicker and thicker as we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge. A few minutes later we were approaching the Bay Bridge and visibility had dropped down to almost nothing.

Ever since the Cosco Busan collided with the Bay Bridge, it’s been the policy of San Francisco’s Vessel Traffic Service to put a stop to all ships moving in the Bay whenever visibility drops below a mile. As a result, we got to drop the anchor just under a mile west of Treasure Island.

I called my cousin Desmond, who lives on the island and he went out and snapped a picture of me a few hours later. Here I am on the bridge wing (wearing a bright orange knit cap):

We spent the next few hours waiting for visibility to improve. The fun part about the waiting was listening to all of the bitching and moaning from all of the idiots who made plans, appointments, or air travel plans as early as noon on the same day the ship was due to pull into port. I’m not sure what they could’ve been thinking.

Shortly after noon the fog cleared up a bit and I went up forward to heave in the anchor. The view was pure San Francisco:
Coit Tower in Fog

Fun nautical tidbit: to give you an indication of how much chain there is between the anchor and the windlass, the end of each shot* of chain is marked. In theory, the detachable link which connects one shot to the next is painted red and a number of links on either side of it is painted white corresponding to the number of shots* that are out. In theory it should look like so:
Chain Markings
To keep you from letting all of the chain spill out into the ocean, the second to last shot is painted yellow and the last shot is painted red.

In practice, it actually looks like so:
Heaving Anchor2
Those flecks of white paint are on the third shot, which was just coming up out of the water as we were heaving in.

Meanwhile, a couple of the guys use a fire hose to wash the mud and gunk off of the chain as it comes in:
Heaving Anchor
Once we were moored, I still had a couple hours left to put together the voyage plan to take us to Dutch Harbor.

As luck would have it, as I was leaving Southern California bound for the San Francisco Bay Area by sea, Ana was going the same way by air. She had a presentation to give in Petaluma for work and managed to stretch the trip out for an extra day so we could spend some time together. So once I was done with my day’s work, she was waiting to pick me up on the pier.


We ended up stopping at a bookstore in Marin County to kill a bit of time with a nice cup of coffee and a chance for me to take care of a few chores online. In that time, Ana stole my festive gingerbread cookie and denied me the only taste of Christmas I would have this year.

Here is what a nefarious gingerbread cookie thief looks like mid-thievery:
Ana Steals a Cookie

Later that evening, we caught up with the Herman Clan to celebrate Matt and Chris’ birthdays. A good time was had by all, but for some reason much of my dinner ended up migrating to someone else’s plate. Weird.

Here's a mildly embarassing shot of (from right to left) Matt, Chris, and Rose's shoulder:
Herman Twins

Once we’d left the party, we headed over to my folks’ house to collect my dogs and visit for a few minutes. Then it was time to go back down to the Heart of Gold and pass out for a while.

*A “shot” of chain is a length equal to fifteen fathoms, or ninety feet if you can't handle a more navular conversion.

DAY 37: A Saturday That I Noticed

As I was leaving the ship yesterday, the 3/M pointed out to me that it was a Friday. Since we were stateside, that meant that there were Port Relief Officers* who would be taking the cargo watch on deck and we could take the time off if we wanted to, just so long as we were there before the ship was due to depart. Since the sailing board was posted for a 1700 departure, this gave me all sorts of time to waste before trekking back to Oakland.

After sleeping in for quite a while, it was time to harness up the dogs. They looked all too eager to get up and go somewhere:
Marina Dogs

Then we headed over to the folks’ house to drop off the puptards. As we were getting ready to leave, Mom and Rose showed up, and we ended up dragging Rose along for breakfast.

After all of that, it was time to drive back down to Oakland and drop me off at the ship. I got there with plenty of time to run through all of my pre-departure checklists, only to find that our departure had been delayed by a couple of hours.
When we did finally shove off, it was in the midst of a spectacularly clear night with a great view:
Leaving Oakland_7865

This time I was actually able to see the bridge as we were leaving the Bay:
Golden Gate

Next stop: Dutch Harbor.

*Port Relief Officers, also called “night mates” are one of the other benefits of being in the union. These are licensed deck officers who take night and weekend watches on union ships in US ports. It gives the ship’s officers a chance to go out and relax a bit. It also gives guys who are waiting for work a chance to pick up a few hours’ work and a few dollars’ pay while they’re waiting for ships. I like this deal.

Day 38-41: Northbound

The transit from the Golden Gate to Dutch Harbor, Alaska was pretty uneventful. I’m still standing the 12-4 watches as usual, but now I have the deck cadet coming up to learn how to stand the watch in the afternoons. If nothing else, trying to remember all of the finer points of celestial navigation so I can teach them to him has been helping the time go by faster.

In addition to the deck cadet, I’ve also got a new helmsman. This is his first trip as an AB, so he doesn’t have a heck of a lot of experience. Still, he seems to have everything pretty well figured out. If nothing else, he’s not as foul-smelling, ignorant, or obnoxious as the last guy I had to stand watches with.

While off watch, I have been doing my best to catch up on my reading. I’ve also started tinkering with a few paper models to help pass the time and pave the way for my next costume project when I get back to the workshop. This one is the title character from a Star Wars based video game called Republic Commando. I may have made the helmet a bit too big, but it’s a good start:
Commando WIP

Other than that, I spent most of the trip North catching up on some of my chart and publication corrections and trying to get a bit more sleep than I’d been getting along the California coast. I figured I’d need the rest. Among other things, we received word the night after leaving Oakland that winds at the Coast Guard station down the road from our pier in Dutch Harbor had gotten up to 180 knots. Then the next day, the captain got an email with this picture of the crane at our terminal:
APL Container Crane

So we weren’t going to be able to use our own terminal. Instead, the plan was to go to another container pier around the corner and offload there. Fun.

The only other thing worth mentioning was me getting used to the new Chief Mate. It’s always interesting when there’s a new boss and this one has been no exception. I didn’t really get a chance to interact with him until the first time I was turning over the watch on the bridge.

When he walked in I said “hi,” just like anyone might.

“Don’t talk to me.” He replied.

Oh dear.

After taking his time looking over everything on the bridge to make sure it was all just so, he came over to explain what I need to do in order to be ready for him to take over the watch. He went on to explain that he was probably going to be telling me a lot of things that I already know over the next few weeks.

“I don’t know you,” says he, “and I’d like it to stay that way.”

Wow. It’s going to be a long month.

Day 42: Return to Dutch Harbor

We arrived in Dutch Harbor dark and early and we were all fast alongside the pier by about six in the morning. The last time the ship pulled into Alaska I was under-dressed and ended up freezing cold and soaking wet. This time I overcompensated and ended up sweating while I was out in the weather. I’m sure I’ll get it right sooner or later.

Since I had half a notion that I should go out and see what the town had to offer, I decided not to take a nap. Instead I went ahead and ambled back into my room to kill a couple of hours before heading out. On the way I told the deck cadet to stop by and get me when he goes ashore. Then I went back to my room and started reading and tinkering with a few projects.

I lost track of time and when the cadet finally showed up it was just after 1030 in the morning. I was going to have to take the watch on deck in just over an hour, so I didn’t really have time to head out. Oh well. I’m sure there will be a next time sooner or later.

While I didn’t get a chance to go out into town, I did manage to snap a picture of one of the funny-looking local seagulls:
Dutch Harbor Seagull

At the end of the day we ended up leaving the pier just after dark. It was raining and chilly, but I overdressed again and I ended up nearly overheating while standing out in the weather.
Alaska Raining

Maybe I won’t get it right sooner or later…

Day 43-48: Another Roundabout Trip to Japan

From what I understand, between the high latitudes and the foul weather, the Bering Sea only gets visible sunshine fifty days per year. Even though it was December, we had sunshine almost every day as we were making our way across the top of the Aleutian Island chain to the Kamchatka Peninsula. Then we headed South and the weather continued to be unseasonably pleasant. I really can’t explain any of that, but here’s some nice pictures:
Enroute Yokohama
Bering Sea Sunshine

Of course, “unseasonably pleasant” still allows for snow, driving winds, and so on. The waves stayed small for the duration of our passage though, so it was at least easy to get some rest when the time was available.

While all of this is going on, I’ve been trying my damnedest to figure out a nice way to deal with the new Chief Mate. This is his first trip as a Chief Mate and he seems pretty thoroughly overwhelmed by all of the things he’s responsible for on board. Whenever I ask what’s wrong or offer to help, his worries manifest themselves in odd ways.

When he takes the watch on the bridge, he seems to be in “gotcha” mode all the time. It’s as though I’m going through an inspection twice a day every day. That would be fine, but the things he chooses to harp on me about are some of the most pointless, trivial details imaginable.

I think it would almost be funny watching him scramble and freak out about things. Then I think there’s always the chance we’ll have an actual emergency to deal with sooner or later. Then it stops being funny.

It’s still gonna be a long trip.

Somewhere along the way, the Chief Steward assembled the ship’s Christmas tree:
Shipboard XMAS Tree

Otherwise, the transit from Dutch Harbor to Yokohama was pretty uneventful.
Midwatch Self Portrait
Stay tuned for another whirlwind tour of East Asia...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

2009 Sea Voyage Part 2: Korea to California via Japan

DAY 20: Back in Pusan

The circle is now complete. This actually ended up being a pretty decent day all the way around.

We pulled in around 1000 in the morning. The wind was blowing gently, the sky was clear, and the sea was calm. I stood a fairly uneventful watch on deck, splitting my time between observing cargo operations and smoothing out the voyage plan for the next leg on our route.

While all that was going on, I snapped this winning self-portrait in the Cargo Control Room:
Cargo Control Room
I also spent some time watching this crane barge lift and drop this giant wedge into the water:
Odd Barge
I still don't know what that was about.

Then in the afternoon I went ashore to the Seaman’s Club to use the internet for a few minutes and post here in the blog.

I was in bed by about 2100, this gave me almost three hours of sleep before I had to be back on watch.

DAY 21: Kanmon Kaikyo Again

Today I took the watch just as we were waiting for the pilot to take us through the Kanmon Kaikyo again. The entire thing is a six-hour transit, so I spent my whole watch in a narrow passage with lots of traffic and the captain stressed out to no end. I’d really like this to stop happening on my watch.

Either way, it’s still a neat looking place:
Kanmon Ko
Despite all of the stress, the passage did go relatively smoothly, and when my watch was over at 1600 I was definitely due for some well-earned rest.

DAY 22: Back in Yokohama

This was a five-hour port call. We arrived at the pier at 1900, I rushed through setting up the charts for the next leg of our voyage (from Yokohama to San Pedro, CA) and then went out with Rich, BaBarbara, and one of Rich’s old shipmates for dinner and whatnot in downtown Yokohama.

When we ditched the car in Yokohama, we wandered our way into Chinatown. It looked like so:
Yokohama Chinatown
Then we found ourselves one of those Brazilian steak restaurants where the waitstaff makes regular rounds of the tables, slicing off bits of meat from huge hunks of flesh they carry around on skewers. There was also a salad bar with “mysterious vagetables:”
mysterious vagetable
We sat around gorging ourselves on every manner of meat that was offered to us and told old stories for a couple of hours. It was a good time and we even snapped a few pictures:
Dinner Out
Then it was time to rush me back to the ship so I could make a few more last-minute preparations before it was time to get underway.

DAY 23: The Long Road to Long Beach

After all of the constant strain of the past couple of weeks, I’ve been looking forward to a long, monotonous ocean crossing. After a few moments of poking around in the computer, I put together the fastest route to Southern California. It will look about like so:
Great Circle Route
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Why are you curving almost all the way up to the Bering Sea on the way from Japan to Southern California? Isn’t the shortest distance between two points supposed to be a straight line?” Well it is, yes, but you also have to remember that the Earth is not flat. So, since we can’t just sail down a tunnel from Yokohama to San Pedro, the shortest distance available to us is no longer a straight line. Instead, the shortest distance is actually a path along a circle that splits the Earth into two even halves.

When you draw that circle on a globe and then stretch the surface of the globe out flat*, you end up with what looks like a curved line from one place to another. This is partly why the map in the back of the in-flight magazine on airliners has those flight paths that seem to loop all over the place.** This type of route is called a Great Circle.

There are, of course, other ways to sail across the ocean. The simplest one to draw out and calculate distances for is called a “Parallel Sailing.” This basically involves picking a line of Latitude and sailing East or West along it. This is how Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. While it makes the math easy, the problem with this route is that it will take you a little bit out of your way, costing time and (more expensively) fuel.

There is also a “Plane Sailing,” which assumes that the Earth is flat and works fairly well over short distances. But as long as you’re making the flat Earth assumption, you may as well not bother with any of that crap and stick to what’s called a “Rhumb Line.” This is the route that appears as a straight line on a Mercator projection. It gives accurate enough measurements of distance travelled over short runs and has the advantage of a constant direction of travel according to the ship’s compass.

Thus endeth the lesson.

*There’s more than one way to skin a cat and there is more than one way to flatten a globe. To find out more about how they do the one you’re used to seeing, google “Mercator projection.” It’s fascinating stuff if you’re the kind of person who’s ever had a cartography fetish or a soft spot for Amerigo Vespucci.

**That, and some hard-drinking pilots in the pioneering days of aviation.

DAYS 24-31: Tedium

The week spent bound from Yokohama to San Pedro was pretty uneventful. The only thing that was even remotely interesting was the occasional minor change in our voyage plan to keep clear of rough weather that showed up on the satellite picture. Other than that, I had a lot of watches on the bridge where the hardest thing to do was stay awake. Somewhere in there we crossed the International Date Line again.

The only other thing that was entertaining was the birds that hitched a ride with us when we left Japan. At first there were many of them, but by the time we were nearing California, there was only one left:
Hitchhiking Seahawk
In fact, in that picture she can be seen eating one of the lesser birds.

DAY 32: Last Slow Day for a Bit

Today was the last day of open ocean transit time before we start the constant scramble that will be our time on the west coast. All I ended up doing was going over the last few little admin details and trying to catch up on sleep. I needed the sleep:
Crazy Shawn

Stay tuned for the story of a few busy days in and around California...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Overdue for an Update

Howdy all,

I apologize for not updating the blog while I was on the West Coast. I'll just say I was overtaken by events and leave it at that. I'm in Korea now and having a hard time formatting my latest entry using a computer that only speaks Korean. Since I can't read the little snowman drawings they call an alphabet here, you'll just have to go on waiting.

In the meantime, you can check out my flickr account to at least get a glance at all of the pictures I've been uploading. It can be found by clicking HERE. Some of the pics are interesting, some are pretty, and some of them are downright odd:

Teenage Mutant Jedi Turtles
Thank you for reading. I'll be catching it all up in a couple of weeks.