Monday, 27 June 2011

Day 11 and the last (10th of October)

I woke up at 7.00a.m., unaided by the alarm clock, something of which I am very proud. The sky was very pink and the sun just rising. Only a few of yesterday’s clouds remained and the Channel Islands were drifting past us. Jenny was in a hurry to get breakfast eaten and to get out to the foreship to see what California had to offer. Unfortunately I slowed her down and we didn’t get to the last breakfast much earlier that usual, although the chief mate was still there so we did reasonably well. Eggs to order with leek this time rather than the customary spring onions.

No time for ping pong but straight to the deck. It was incredibly sunny, the sea very flat and the air very warm. It wasn’t long before the sightings began, hundreds of dolphins splashing around but most of them too busy feeding for bow wave riding. Some did come in and put on a short show below us, but as usual my camera found itself on the wrong setting. A bird of prey flew above us clutching a small yellow bird and settled somewhere on the containers. Towards 12 o’clock some of the Filipinos started preparing the ropes for docking, but apparently we weren’t in the way. We saw another sunfish and Jenny spotted us a shark in the water, which may or may not have realised it was seconds away from being hit by the ship. We’d also seen a lot of seals/sealions on their own or in groups of two or three. These were often very close to us and would dive in when we got too near to them.

The last lunch was baked potato (mine with a cream cheese filling), spinach, sweetcorn and carrots. There was very American cake, the kind the chief engineer would look down on. It was presumably chocolate cake, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell with your eyes closed. On the top was that sickly sweet icing, this time with a coffee twang. I couldn’t eat all of mine and saved the rest for later. The captain told us that the pilot would come aboard at 16.00, we’d be docking at 17.00 and immigration would be coming on board at 18.00. We tried to ascertain as to how we’d be making our exit from the boat. There is a bus, which takes people from the ship to the seaman’s club. From there a taxi can be taken or the seaman’s bus. The chief engineer was full of praise for the $1.00 seaman’s bus, and for it to receive his approval it must be good! Another option the captain put before us was getting the agent to take us to Los Angeles. At $300 this didn’t particularly appeal to our money belts.

Having lunched we headed up to the bridge to assess where we were and how long we’d be able to stay on the deck for before we really were in the way. There were sailing boats everywhere, it being Sunday and the Californian’s out to play. Martin would have his hands full for the next few hours trying to avoid hitting them, while trying to find the best American radio station available. We handed over the Mongolian photos shortlist and he said he’d show some of them to his wife to persuade her that taking a holiday there is a good idea. Effectively in one fail swoop we’d cancelled our efforts of not taking a plane and reducing carbon emissions.

Back at the fore ship we realised just how much the boat had slowed and we could see the Port of Long Beach and its towering cranes to the left. To our right, or should we now say starboard side, was Catalina Island, haunt of the wealthy Californians. The number of helium balloons in the Californian waters was disgusting and we couldn’t help wondering how many had already been consumed, perhaps with fatal consequences, by the dolphins and other marine life.

Fortunately for the idiots in their speedboat who went charging right in front of us, we had slowed to a crawl. Martin probably couldn’t see the boat anymore when it came into the ship’s path and sounded the horn. We’d almost made it to America, so it would have been quite a shame to have jumped out of our skins so much as to have fell overboard. There were really only sailing boats to see and with the sun starting to fry us we left the bow for the final time.

Just before 4.00p.m. the pilot boat approached and we went up to the bridge to watch the action. The officers were all in their uniforms in order to impress the Americans (probably actually because they have to wear uniform in all ports). An American in a red raincoat arrived and we drifted with little action for a while. Half a mile from the port entrance they got going, the American calling out lots of numbers and the Filipino 3rd officer repeating them after him. Since we were standing around like spare parts the chief mate encouraged us to start taking pictures of the port, which the NSB shipboard A,B,C issued before our departure says is illegal. Since none of the officers seemed to think it was we didn’t need further encouragement and went outside. On its way out from its birth was the Hanjin Phoenix, bound for Asia. Aided by the tugboat we got pulled around and then pushed into the birth. The three sealions playing around right next to us were enjoying themselves.

Not sure what to do, with most people having cleared off the bridge we went down to our room and gathered our last bits and pieces together. Everyone was then requested via the speaker system to go down to the captain’s office on deck A where we picked up our passports and joined the queue along with the crew for immigration. We had to fill in two forms each before being questioned by the immigration man. He informed us that to use our visa again after 6 months we would have to leave North America and re-enter. Well no-one bothered telling us this when we got the visa, so we’ll have to tackle that bureaucratic hurdle when we come to it. Jenny might accidentally have told them that we have a flight out of Canada in six months time as well as saying we’re going round the world without flying. Fortunately they were a bit too slow to realise this. Both of course are true, but the flight will be cancelled once we’ve got to Canada.

We hauled our baggage from the purser cabin to the mess room where the captain and chief engineer were mid-Mahlzeit. Unsure whether we had an invite or not I spotted plates laid in our places and Stewie didn’t seem too perturbed to see us. The captain was eating a tin of sardines and the engineer salad, so we came to conclude that it was just salad this evening. After helping ourselves to rolls and salad there came Stewie with asparagus, kohlrabi, rice, sweetcorn and carrots. We bid goodbye to the captain, chief engineer, Martin on his way in, Stewie and Cookie. On previous nights we’d lost sleep about whether we should be tipping the latter two, because they had waited on us extremely well. The shipboard A,B,C was not the most helpful saying some people like to give a tip, you decide how much to tip and that the steward and cook appreciate a tip. In the end we concluded that they all realised that we’d spent a fortune on this trip already and if we get round to it we might leave some chocolates at the Hanjin terminal in Seattle. Fortunately Cookie and Stewie didn’t seem too perturbed and Cookie was still smiling through his braces.

Downstairs we bade goodbye to the chief mate with several handshakes and to Max who gave us the addresses of a hostel owner and his brother both in Vancouver. An overwhelmingly American lady came aboard saying ‘you booked passage?’ ‘that’s so cool’ and told us that the bus was waiting outside behind crane 7. Some of the Filipinos were hanging around the signing out paper which we duly added our names too. Three of them wanted to catch the bus to the seamen’s club too, but the driver wouldn’t wait for them to come down the gangway.

We sped off through the port, while onboard the ship they were probably all sighing with relief. Cookie wont have to do all this extra vegetarian cooking, Stewie wont be running around with all our food or cleaning our room, Max and Martin will be able to reclaim their seats at the high table and the chief engineer can sort out the air conditioning without worrying we’ll dislike the funny air and write a complaint letter to NSB (although perhaps he’s not so pleased that he can’t keep this off his long list of tasks any longer!). Only the first mate wont be able to ‘train’ his English any more as directed by his wife.

As we passed out of the Hanjin terminal exit gates an American man seemed pleased to see ‘European travellers’ and warned us to be careful because there are weird people out there. And right he was. The lady at the security booth where we had to order our taxi from had music playing and waltzed around on her own. On the metro from Long Beach a man sat down with a snake around his neck and I certainly was relieved when he and his friend snuck into the next carriage as soon as the ticket inspectors appeared. A couple sat down and sang, and an interesting man got on and waved to us and said hello, but much further conversation was impeded by my backpack blocking the view. Moving on to the next train- a man tried to sell cigars and a lady tried to solicit donations for the homeless. Outside it was dark and uninviting, looking, as most places in America do, very pedestrian unfriendly. Catching the metro through this great nation is probably the scariest it’s felt on our entire trip.

More than 2hrs after leaving the Hanjin Yantian we’d arrived at the Banana Bungalow Hostel, a very American, slightly shabby palm tree affair. Since the internet didn’t work we couldn’t inform the parents that we hadn’t been thrown overboard, so attempted sleep instead. Every time Jenny moved around on her bunk, the bed rocked like a gale force 10 and every time I moved on the bottom bunk she found herself in the middle of a heavy seaway (gale force 12). A state of sleep may have been reached on occasion during the night. It was incredibly cold and I had to shut all the windows and use my towel as a bed cover. In California they appear not to have discovered the duvet cover yet.

Day 11 (9th of October)

The waves had died down, but a bit of my seasickness still lingered on along with an earache. We were back into our routine of breakfast (very filling potato omelette) followed by ping pong and then searching for life in the sea. It was pleasantly warm outside and rather sunny. Almost as soon as we got to the front Jenny discovered a bunch of dolphins riding on the bow wave. A bit before lunch we headed back inside for some picture sorting, not having seen anything else. Mahlzeit was rice, bean sprouts, cabbage, tofu, carrots and kohlrabi, with kiwi slices to round it off.

Back upstairs we could see the sea being engulfed by heavy mist, so that we could only just see the front of the boat. After sorting some more pictures the mist began to lift and we pondered about going outside. We then spotted loads of dolphins making for the front of the boat, so we rushed out the side and then down to the front to see them. A few were still coming in when we got there, but it looked like we’d missed most of them. In the evening Martin told us that he’d phoned our room to tell us when he’d seen about 200 dolphins heading toward the boat.

On deck the grand pre USA clean-up of dirt, Chinese cigarette packets and takeaways continued. Water flowed down the passageways and one member of the crew was busy repainting the black lettering of ‘Hanjin Yantian’ on the life rings. Wouldn’t have been the best time to fall overboard when they were all piled up outside the workshop. The bow area, which was sparkling clean the day before yesterday, was already starting to gather black dirt again. As mother’s magnet on the fridge might be rephrased to say: cleaning up while the ship’s still running ‘is like shovelling snow while it’s still snowing’. We just can’t understand this mass cleaning operation. The chief engineer says that it’s a complete joke when it rains and all the dirt is washed off the top of the containers making everything really dirty again.

It was pleasant sitting in our spots in the sunshine and when Jenny went off to the loo I spotted two whales. We saw another one later, yet more dolphins whizzing in to ride the bow wave and a rather huge sunfish. Unfortunately the mist was approaching and our visibility decreasing, so we went in to sort more pictures and to eat again.

The first time any of my predictions has been correct was the one time I didn’t want it to be. We had spaghetti, the same spaghetti that seemed to be magnetically repelled by my fork. Along with it was a tomato sauce, potatoes, cauliflower and peas. In the evening Jenny was at a loss as to what to do with herself while I occupied the computer with this 30,000 word novel!

Day 10 (8th of October)

The ship was rocking in the night, when we woke up and throughout the day. We’d been imagining that it would be like this or even worse every day, so escaping with just the one day is pretty lucky. Might it have something to do with the Korean lady and her four-leaf clover?

As much as we’d like to think we could make it as hardy sea travellers we couldn’t help but feel queasy when we woke up. I managed a shower, but had to stop myself from falling over now and then.

Just when we thought there wasn’t really anything else you could do with an egg, a new item arrived on our breakfast plates- a pancake with Apfelmues. A nice surprise and very welcome, since I’ve been going on about making pancakes when we get to Canada all the way through Asia. Not having a death wish no ping pong was played and no cetacean watching was carried out (the waves would have made them almost impossible to spot anyway).

We went to our room, sorted pictures and Jenny tried on one of the emergency immersion suits while I took the pictures. She looked like a cross between a crab, a teletubbie, an oompa lumpa and a power-ranger. It was hilarious. Whenever we felt too sick to continue we drank lots of water and had a lie down. The main task of the day was putting our washing in the machine since we really had to use the facilities while we had them.

Lunch, which abated the sickness for a while, was mushrooms with onion, rice and carrot with what we think were soya beans. For pudding there was a bowl of tangerine slices in syrup. The waves were only a few metres high and the chief engineer was sure to tell us this was nothing, which it really was. Nevertheless we found walking upstairs and doing almost anything a hardship. Standing on the deck at the end of our corridor or sitting in the barbeque area below it helped a lot though. Jenny managed to make our room into a complete tip, while I tried to tidy it up. How with one rucksack’s full of items this is possible I am unsure, but if you’re in need of some advice on how to make a mess Jenny’s your girl.

The evening meal was potatoes, okra- the five sided green vegetable that seemed to ooze a saliva like substance (it’s tasty though), sweetcorn, carrot, pak choi leaves, and the second engineer’s unwanted tangerine slices. On the notice board the inmates were informed that room inspection is tomorrow at 15.20., we’re not sure if this includes us too. Stewie informed us that the Filipinos were having another party, but we decided not to attend because of our seasickness and the fact that we’d just cleaned our clothes that smelt of smoke from the last one. Hopefully they weren’t too offended by our absence.

Instead we took a trip to the bridge to see where we were and to be let into the secret of a few more buttons. We got a further explanation of the ship’s ballast system from the chief mate, so that it finally makes a lot more sense to us. Moving the ballast water is extremely important while the ship is being loaded or unloaded, because the weight can become unequally distributed and the ship would capsize without the water cancelling out the weight difference. Water can be relocated from one side to the other in a few minutes with very powerful pumps. In Asian ports the containers are unloaded from opposite sides of the ship to keep the balance, but in America they are just taken from one side which means the officers are kept busy keeping the boat upright. The chief mate also told us that now was the best time for the next 50 years to see Orion and its moons. Unfortunately we weren’t going to see it with such a cloudy sky and we only wish we’d known earlier.

Day 9 (7th of October)

After shipgazing, stargazing and chatter between 3.00a.m. and 4.00a.m. I must have got some sleep because the alarm clock went off again and I was in no mood for getting up. Today was ‘eggs to order’ again. Keeping on the mango theme from yesterday there was mango juice with added sugar in true American style. As is almost usual we played ping pong and then dithered about going outside. In the end we decided it was too sunny not to go outside. There was nothing to be seen. Jenny even chanted “Come on Whales” into the waves, sounding as though she’d suddenly become a verdant rugby fan, but the whales were unimpressed. It was very nice though to bathe in the sunshine on the recently hosed down and now spotlessly clean bow. Everyone is still busy in preparation for all the American inspectors coming aboard in Long Beach. Jenny sat on her ‘bench’ on the side of the boat doing sudokus, aiding the whale spotting with the occasional upward glance, while I sat on the round metal things that are probably used to twist the rope round when docked.

Lunch was chilli potatoes, cauliflower, tofu, onions, kohlrabi or somesuch and broccoli, pepper and carrot slices. We had thought it unjust that we should receive two slices of cake for dessert on Thursdays, but discovered that everyone else was going to eat theirs during their afternoon ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ break. Ice cream was an option too, but only the captain wanted some. It seemed we weren’t the only ones awake for most of the night as the second engineer (who complains a lot less than the chief engineer) moaned that he’d been unable to sleep.

Our presence was requested on the bridge to fill in our embarkation forms in preparation for our arrival in the United States. Martin also showed us the charts of our current position and where we’ll be going as we enter into Long Beach in less than three days time. We looked at the charts to see where we are and where we’ll be going. The depth of the sea was over 4000m and we were at 45.01’N and 144.36’W. When a buoy marked on the map is not there they have to add corrections and inform the mapmakers. On the other chart were lots of arrows showing what percentage of wind comes from what direction in the Pacific during October, along with the currents. Due to climate change and the variability of high and low pressures this chart, apart from having the main shipping routes on it, is now not much more than pretty wallpaper. The charts are all made in the ‘picturesque’ Somerset county town of Taunton, not so very far from home.

The crew seem to get really annoyed about all the legislation that the Californians have put in place. Within 24 miles of the coast ships have to start burning diesel rather than the dirty fuel they burn out here to reduce air pollution. It is also forbidden to change the ballast water around the coast, because of the risk of bringing in invasive species. Martin thinks this is a waste of time, because the ballast water all has to be renewed halfway across the ocean anyway (US legislation). Obviously transporting invasive species in ballast water has been a big problem, but I think there are probably a lot of shells attached to the hull too. The Americans also need the ship to be spotless, which is why the crew have been doing all this cleaning. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for all this cleaning and the captain and officers thinks it’s just to make money from fines and inspections. It is most likely to do with invasive species, but it’s unlikely that they remove all of them and then there is dirt and life on top and between all the containers, which they can't get to. Interestingly it seems they don't have to bother with any of this washing when they sail the other way across the Pacific. During the whale migration season vessels are asked to reduce their speed to avoid collision, which can only be a good thing for the whales. Max has told us that whales often get impaled on cruise ships coming from Alaska into Vancouver. In the past Americans have launched full-blown inquiries for cargo ships arriving with whales draped over their bows. There is not a lot that can be done to avoid collision, especially at night.

Mahlzeit was potatoes, mine with a very nice cheese sauce, red cabbage like they make it in the Greenhouse (cafĂ©, Norwich), kohlrabi and carrots. After dinner the engineers shared their woes with us about the world of shipping. No ping pong, but back to blog writing and picture sorting. Martin wants to see some pictures of Mongolia, so we’ve got a deadline! Tomorrow the waves will be catching us from behind, and a ship always ‘hurts’ more when it’s hit from behind. Cameras, laptop and hard drives on the floor in preparation, and we don’t yet know if we’ll end up there too!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Day 8 (6th of October)

Getting up at 2.00a.m. tomorrow morning (Korean time) didn’t make life easy, but breakfast was yet another masterpiece- toast with a layer of lettuce, cucumber, boiled egg and spring onions (of course). We’ve had eggs for breakfast every day, apart from one, but each day a different tasty concoction. I’m beginning to forget what it’s like to eat the same boring thing for breakfast every day. How come the chefs at River Cottage can’t make a better breakfast than off the shelf Granola or sausage in a bap?

Since Max seemed to be getting concerned that we hadn’t been outside lately, especially since the weather was good, we donned the gear and put some other warm clothes in a rucksack and headed for the bow. Max and the other mechanic were banging around at the front, because they’ve got to get everything in order before it’s looked over in Long Beach. Originally they were told that they didn’t have to worry about some of the things on deck, because the ship would be going to a dry dock in January where things could be sorted out. In another NSB money saving effort it’s not going to a dry dock after all, so the mechanics have a lot of work to do.

It started raining after 45 minutes of seeing nothing so deciding there’s no point just standing around in the rain when you’re on holiday we headed back. I had told Jenny that it wasn’t going to rain. My weather predictions are not the best.

Having taken our coats and fleeces off I saw a blow out of the window. Grabbing our gear again we raced down the corridor to look outside. One blow turned into three and we thought we might see them better if we went to the stern again. Stupidly thinking the lift would be faster we waited quite a while for it and realised how slow it was. There was no sign of the whales, but we did see about five dolphins along the port side of the ship. Remaining at the front we saw another four whales before lunch, although they were all quite far away and tended to get lost in the pool of sunshine.

The chief engineer asked if we’d had a good shopping trip as we entered Mahlzeit with the rucksack. My prediction of rice for lunch was also proved wrong, and Jenny’s complete ‘stab in the dark’ that there would be potatoes was proved correct. There were chilli potatoes, cauliflower pieces and French beans with a brown sauce. Mango was for dessert. Interestingly, or probably not to the reader, the chief engineer has nothing against mango and we didn’t get given his.

In the afternoon Jenny tried watching one of the many DVDs that we have been lent. The subtitles had absolutely nothing to do with the film and could well have been some secret code, and the words were completely out of synch with the action. Instead she found a Finnish film about Father Christmas, well it’s nearly Christmas... We then watched some of ‘Cloudy with a chance of meatballs’. I just can’t understand why they go to so much effort to make all these useless films. And people actually pay to go and watch this stuff.

The evening’s meal was spaghetti, tomato sauce, squash and french beans in a coconut sauce, broccoli and grated carrot. No rice, but I have never before encountered such slippery spaghetti. After eating I was coerced into watching one of Jenny’s ‘Smallville’ episodes. To catch up on time lost I attempted to go to sleep early, but couldn’t sleep.

Day 7 (5th of October)- Take 2

Sleepily we went to breakfast of a pepper, onion, mushroom and two fried eggs concoction, with the usual fruit juice and Nesquick. Post breakfast ping-pong then took place, and Jenny really is getting better. We watched the first part of ‘Up’ before lunch of brussel sprouts, mashed potato, asparagus and slices of some white root vegetable. Dessert was caramel pudding, plus the chief engineers slice. They obviously make it better in Deutschland.

Another half hour of table tennis after lunch, finished the DVD, Jenny started sorting files on the computer and then I got absorbed in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’.

For the first time all the Europeans were present for the evening meal, but the engineers and captain seemed a bit fraught. Apparently there’s not that much of a problem, it’s just that the engineers like to discuss work while eating. The ‘shits’ and ‘scheisses’ were perhaps held back a little due to the presence of the captain. We ate potatoes, carrots, sweet corn, salad and spinach.

After dinner we conversed with Max for a few hours. Martin told us to take a seat, which was sound advice. Topics included the Canadian North, Alaska, gold mining, racist Americans, military service, Vancouver, Germans cleaning their shoes on Sundays, the engineers buying expensive cars but shopping in LIDL and ALDI, the money in shipping, unions and gardening. We learnt that the engine is meant to go at 24knots, but to save thousands of euros NSB likes the freighter to go slower (fortunately this also reduces the carbon emissions!). Most of the problems with the engine occur because it is not designed to run at this reduced power.

Day 6 (5th of October)- Take 1

Losing yet another hour made getting up no easy feat and our arrival for a Spanish omlette breakfast a bit later than usual. The ship stopped at some point in the morning and the Hanjin Yantian floated all alone on the Great Pacific. Watching another ‘Moonlight’ episode, hand washing our clothes and attempting to write a Canadian resume sped us to midday without us even realising it. Today Mahlzeit was chilli coated potatoes, honeyed carrots, cabbage of some sort, carrots, bean sprouts, french beans, garlic, onions, red and green peppers and tofu. More ping-pong after lunch and Jenny’s started beating me so I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be willing to play her.

I finished reading ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, but starting already on ‘Five Weeks in a Balloon’ is a bit too much of the same. Midway through another episode the power cut out, the air conditioning went off and all was silent apart from the waves and a bit of wind howling as it does around the containers. It was a bit alarming but I’d guessed some more work had to be done on an engine from overhearing at lunch the few sentences shared between the chief engineer and captain. Now Jenny’s reading Les Miserable, which looks ever so boring while I’m writing and playing major catch-up for the blog.

The evening meal, which we also arrived late for, was extremely hot potato, rice and a really good mixture of aubergine, tomatoes, peppers and onion. Echt lecker war diese Mahlzeit. Having taken some rolls and a few carrot sticks we weren’t in the position to play ping pong so went to our room and played Bananagram.

Day 5 (4th of October)

After a very nice asparagus omelette we headed out to the stern wrapped up in most of our clothing. On the way along the side of the deck we came across a seabird (possibly a petrel) which had landed itself on the passage. It’s wings looked fine, but it’s walking was useless which is to be expected of a seabird. We weren’t sure if we should pick it up and throw it into the wind, so we just left it there and it had gone when we got back. At the front we saw about 25 dolphins, lots of seabirds and a few lost birds hanging round the ship. There were about four small land birds and a bird of prey, which took to chasing them at times.

These were evidently lost and since we’re middle of the Pacific with no water or food for them they didn’t stand much chance of survival. We could hang on to the small hope that they might make their way to the Aleutian islands. The chief officer told us that birds often get stuck on the ship and that there’s not a lot that can be done. Once hundreds of swallows adopted the ship, roosting behind the accommodation block, but the next day they were all dead. There’s the body of a small black bird on the ledge outside the bridge that flew into the glass. Very cold, despite all the clothing, we had to go inside for warm-up ping pong and to hang around in our cabin.

Real mashed potato with parsley, pak choi, cauliflower, carrots, peas and kohlrabli was on our lunch menu, with a fruit salad of orange juice, kiwi, water melon, orange, apple and grape to follow it up. There was a bit of moaning over lunch about paperwork and ‘shit’. Outside the mess room on the whiteboard was a message inviting all passengers, officers and crew to the evening’s Birthday celebrations with live music in the crew’s recreation room. Our afternoon was spent with another ping-pong session and then looking at the box. The trick to seeing a whale seems to be to watch a DVD and then open the curtains and voila you see one. We saw two (and about six dolphins) in this fashion and both times a mad dash for cameras, binoculars and clothing that might in some way keep us warm ensued followed by a sprint down the corridor so we could go outside to get some pictures. ‘Mahlzeit’ (this is what the captain, officers, engineers and Max mutter to each other when they enter or leave the mess room) consisted of potatoes, aubergines, tofu and odd but tasty star shaped green vegetable in vinegar with chives. Seeing as we had almost forgotten what the bridge looked like we joined the chief officer for about half an hour. There we saw where we were on the charts and screens, were shown a few more buttons and I steered the ship .1 of a degree with my finger.

Since we were expected at the party we ventured downstairs to see the highlight of ship life. There the live entertainment was one of the Filipino’s on his guitar, with the rest of the crew joining in for the bits they knew. He then progressed to the kareoke machine and singularly sang the night away. Jenny got roped into chess playing against Martin and then a Filipino who works in the engine room who probably let her win. There was a constant supply of fanta and coca cola and bowls of peanuts, crisps and pringles were placed in front of us. We then conversed for a while with the officers and second engineer, the chief engineer having already made his exit from the ‘shit’ kareoke. The chief officer wanted the engineer to test that we could speak German. The engineer however seemed to have forgotten his German and could only come up with things like ‘Guten Tag’, which according to the Polish officer is three year old language, and ‘Guten Abend’, which you can understand at three years and one month. The chief officer was very surprised to hear that the engineer has four children. The chief officer seems only to have a son and is currently working on his son’s entry for the school art competition. Desperately needing to go and pee we made our exit at around eleven. Despite being very tired the coca-cola combined with the time changes had reduced my falling asleep capability and I lay awake for ages.

Day 4 (3rd of October)

Despite not having to change our clocks it was still an ordeal to get up to make our way down for 8.00a.m., especially when we were feeling a bit nauseous and lacking in appetite. Breakfast was good though- ‘eggs to order’, which was egg with onions, spring onions, leeks, peppers and tomato. We also helped ourselves to some Nesquick (when at sea…), pumpernickel and bread rolls with Thuringer Art Pflaumenmus. Jenny was not having a lucky morning, not only did she manage to spill the orange juice all over the tablecloth, but the tomato ketchup down her front too! She had properly acquired my cold now too and with an increasingly rolling ship we decided against standing at the stern, but spent the day sorting pictures, reading, DVD watching and playing ping-pong twice. Table tennis when your body can’t really work out where it is even when you’re standing still is an interesting experience. We did briefly make it outside just long enough to feel it was still cold. With decreased visibility and the waves breaking in white crests spotting a whale would have been pretty tricky, so we didn’t really try. Lunch was baked potato with a cream cheese and spring onion filling, with the leafy green pak choi type vegetable, runner beans, onion and carrot. For dessert we shared one of our slices of very sweet American chocolate cake with an oreo on the top. The officers and engineers are not the greatest of fans of this type of cake and it gets left in their recreation for some days before it’s eaten, because according to the chief engineer ‘no one can eat this shit’. In the evening we had to walk upwards along the corridor to the mess room and had to be careful not to fill too much juice into our glasses. Once more we had green rice and alongside it tofu, cabbage, carrot, red/green pepper and cauliflower.

Day 3 (2nd of October)

Another day, another hour stolen from us (but we’ll receive it back on Tuesday take 2). After a very nice egg on toast breakfast we went on an hour-long tour of the engine rooms. The young Filipino engineer was meant to be showing us round, but couldn’t be found, apparently because he was too excited about the barbecue scheduled for the evening. Being very noisy we had to wear some nice ear protection, which meant that our engineer guides had to do a lot of shouting at us, some of which we heard. They are particularly proud of their 12 cylinders; the biggest ships have 14. There were a lot of machines and a lot of knobs and switches.

Amongst other things we saw the sewage treatment tank, the engine, the CO2 room (where there are rows and rows of canisters to be used if there is a fire), the coffin (to store a dead body in should there ever be one), the water purification system, the back-up generator (which is really rather small) and a hole in the floor that goes nowhere (because it’s a Korean ship and shoddily built). The number of crew is being continually cut and there isn’t time to stop all the bits going rusty.

We also saw the room where the air conditioning is controlled. Air conditioning is a matter of discontent on most of these cargo ships since there is only one control. The Europeans want normal temperatures but the Filipinos are happiest at 30°C. But we’ve been told by the chief engineer that we can decide how warm we want it. There is a corridor that runs beside the engine rooms from the bow to the aft of the ship, which saves them slipping and sliding along the deck in bad weather. In a storm it is apparently interesting to go down there and realise that you can’t see the end of the ship.

Following our tour we took our spots at the bow ready to spot some marine life in the Japanese waters. By 10.25a.m. we had seen two whales, about six dolphins and numerous birds, including laysan albatrosses. Unfortunately it slowed up after that and feeling cold we trudged back upstairs a bit before lunch to warm up. Lunch consisted of tofu pieces with potato pieces and some kind of vegetables. After lunch we retired again to the purser cabin for DVD watching and reading.

Jenny glanced out the window and saw a blow from a whale, so we grabbed binoculars and Jenny her camera and rushed out the door at the end of the corridor. The two whales were coming closer and closer, but I couldn’t stay to see them come even closer because it was just so cold outside.

At 5.30p.m we made our way to the small outdoor seating area on E deck where the party was attempting to get into full swing. There was an entire roasted suckling pig, which is a Filipino favourite. The vegetarian couldn’t of course resist taking a picture of it.

Flags were hung on the walls and Max had to go inside and find his British Colombia flag to make us feel more at home. We got a bowl of rice with fried egg, peas and onion in it as well as a bowl of pasta with mayonnaise and raisins. We also had some garlic bread and skewers of mushroom, pepper, aubergine and courgette. The sailors of course had plenty of wine, beer and a bottle of gin. The music was loud and the sea creatures were probably all wondering what hit them. No dolphins were jumping out to watch the Filipino dancing though. It was extremely cold, but oddly it was the Europeans who were all donning jumpers, raincoats and hats, while the Filipinos sat there in their jumpers or T-shirts. Having munched my way through a lot of carrot sticks we didn’t want to shiver any further into the night and went inside to warm up with a game of ping-pong.

Day 2 (1st October)

I didn’t feel like sleeping at 5.00a.m., but when the alarm clock went off we could both happily have skipped breakfast and had a lie-in. This time I had tomato, cheese and spring onions on toast (x2) and Jenny had some jam on toasted roll, accompanied by apple juice. By the time we made our second visit of the day to the Officer’s Mess room on deck B we’d achieved a lot-watched Shrek, done our washing and stood around on the bow and watched the fish.The ship’s engine had been turned off for some maintenance and we had observed the boat get slower and slower until it was just drifting on the sea. It was really sunny and we saw quite a few large fish with yellow tails and a few fatter ones with different yellow tails, which may have been blue-fin tuna.

Lunch consisted of green lentils, peppers, onions, broccoli and some potatoes with chilli pepper on them. We took our washing upstairs, went back to the stern for a few hours and then lazed, read and wrote until the next meal. Today’s evening meal consisted of a mixture of bean sprouts, celery, cabbage and carrots with green tinged rice. I also opted for a bit of salad.