Saturday, 25 June 2011

Day 1 aboard the Hanjin Yantian (30th September)

With breakfast to be taken every day between 7.00 and 8.30 a.m. we were woken by our alarm before pulling back the curtains to reveal that we still had a view out of our window, which was not going to be blocked up. We’re thankful to the Americans who have run out of money and can no longer afford to stack the containers as high up as our window (although of course it gives the shipment of each container a higher carbon footprint). With a few false starts of going into the Filipino/crew’s dining room and then the kitchen itself, we made it into the ‘Officer’s Mess Room’. It looked like everyone else had already had breakfast or was too busy. On the table we found a basket of European condiments (so we needn’t have bothered bringing our tomato ketchup), orange juice and on the help-yourself table a wide range of cheeses, some pumpernickel, brown bread, bread rolls, nutella and a variety of jams. We were offered omelette with bacon, but managed to get very tasty pepper, tomato and onion ones instead. Even if we’d just have to eat potatoes for the other meals, breakfast wasn’t going to be a problem.

By 9.30a.m. the container ship was all loaded up and ready to depart. The departure was very speedy and there seemed to be none of the faffing around you get with passenger ferries. By the time we’d organised ourselves to go and watch from the bridge we were told we’d missed it. We might have missed seeing the last of the port, but we could still see all the islands and coastline around it.

The two Korean men who had been giving commands to the captain and officers got up, said ‘keep going straight’, shook their hands, gave us a quick nod and made a swift exit down the stairs. Down below we could then see the ‘Pilot’ boat pulling up alongside the ship and the two men clad in black climbing down the ladder and making a filmesque getaway onto the small boat.

At midday we received a phonecall to tell us lunch was ready. Since the NSB Reisebuero says that special dietary requirements are not catered for we hadn’t really informed anyone that we were vegetarian, apart from mentioning it to the steward in the morning. We told them we were quite happy to just eat the rice or the potatoes without the meat, but they were willing to cook special things for us. For lunch we got a salad of lettuce, cucumber, tomato and cooked carrots. After the food we’ve been eating in China this was delicious, despite what the seamen thought about it! We are not obsessed about what we’re eating onboard, but we saw a hilarious blog where the man took photos of all the freighter meals he ate. Being a vegetarian he just had pictures of plates of rice, potatoes and peas, rice, rice and carrots, potatoes etc.

After lunch we were given a tour of the facilities on the decks including the laundry room, gym room and the officer’s recreation room. The gym has a table tennis table, exercise machines, sauna and saltwater swimming pool, none of which seem to be very popular. The officer’s recreation room does not seem very well used either, but there are a few shelves of books in English and German, along with some Chinese DVDs, mostly gory ones, but Shrek and Harry Potter are there too. On some Sundays the crew gather for ‘Church Service’ in the room, which involves having a drink and a general knees-up. We were then given a tour of the deck by Max, the mechanic, who has a twin brother in Vancouver, and always has something on deck that needs fixing. His favourite part of the ship is the bow and we have to agree, it’s really peaceful out there and there’s a chance of seeing some marine life. The back of the ship has a basketball court on it and big nets that can be lowered to stop the ball falling into the ocean, but it’s full of engine noise. Obviously in between the two are the rows and rows of containers, which you can get past along corridors at the sides. Some are refrigerated at temperatures between 10 and –40 °C, but most will just sit there without needing attention until we get to Long Beach.

Our busy schedule continuing we had to go and see Martin on the bridge to prove that we can put on a life jacket, albeit with some difficulty (mine didn’t seem to fasten very well). We also had to sign some paperwork to say among other things that we weren’t going to take photos in the ports. This he deemed ridiculous and only applicable in communist countries. He showed us the autopilot system, which could technically take the ship all the way to America. But the freighter would plough into a few ships on the way if the officers weren’t on watch and able to change its course. They each spend 4 hours every 12 hours on watch looking out for boats or other obstacles ahead. There are lots of big computer screens and complicated electronic things including one that empties or refills the ballast tanks.

In the evening (5.30p.m. if that is classified as evening) it was time to eat yet again. We had sweet potato pieces, peppers, onion bits and some Asian green vegetable leaves. For dessert there were two slices of cake each, which tasted very fresh and much better than anything made in Asia. Ice cream was also offered, but we had to decline.

A paper was issued to everyone outlining the time changes that will be happening on board. As we cross the ocean we will transition through eight different time zones, with our clocks advancing an hour every day but for three . So we'll have to get up progressively earlier and earlier each day. Tuesday we get to relive again, so if it doesn’t turn out great the first time we’ll have a second chance. We should be due in at Long Beach on Sunday 10th of October in the afternoon. They’re not predicting any really bad weather, although it will get rougher and colder as we get away from Japan and into the Pacific proper.

After eating we did a spot of cycling and attempting to keep the ball on the table tennis rather than on the floor, watched some pre-recorded TV episodes and I was probably asleep by 9.00p.m, which was actually still 8.00p.m.

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