Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bless the Ships at Sea

I have two younger brothers. The oldest of the two is a Captain of very large container ships that travel all over the world. He is assigned to this autoliner now, picking up and delivering cars from and to ports in very interesting places.

Captain Brother, always interested in the details of life, writes the most interesting emails to my parents from his ship. Here's one he wrote back in April on one of his "3 months at sea" duty rotations. He then returned and did a "3 months at home".

He's due to ship back out in August. Say a prayer for smooth sailing.

From: xxxxxx- Captain [mailto:xxxxxxxxx] Sent: Friday, April 04, 2008 1:56 AMTo: "xxxxxxx" Subject: Pacific Cruisin

Hi Dad,

Hope all is well there with you and Mom. Things are going ok here. It was pretty busy in Japan as we hit 5 ports in 6 days. As you would expect, the Japanese are pretty efficient, and things went like clockwork. A bit of a change from the Med routine where everybody had the Manana attitude. We departed the last port on Sunday, and headed out into a large building late season winter storm. We had 8-9 meter head seas for the first 24 hrs as we headed southeast as fast we cou ld to get out of its path. Finally the wind shifted to the west so the head seas died down, but a huge following swell started to build. We're still in the effects of it now, five days later, but the swell is finally starting to lie down. People were starting to get edgy after the second day or so without sleeping very well, but everyone is sort of used to it by now. We had a month of relatively calm seas between Gibraltar and Japan.

Japan was pretty cool. I was looking forward to getting there, and I wasn't disappointed. Our first port was Kanda on the southern most island. It was at a private Nissan terminal which was kind of sterile. Had to go through the inland sea of Japan to get there. We picked up a pilot at the entrance to the inland sea which was a big help. It was a five hour transit in to Kanda in really heavy tr affic, mainly small coastwise ships of which Japan has thousands. All the pilots were very professional, the younger ones in their sixties, and the senior guys in their late seventies. They have a real problem getting younger applicants as their Merchant Marine is in the same shape as ours. All were quite familiar with this type of ship as we saw many every where we went. It was as if we were schooling fish on the spawning grounds (which we were I guess). After Kanda we sailed overnight to Kobe which was much bigger than Kanda. It was kind of neat as we docked at a terminal on Rokko Island which was all ship berths on the perimeter, and a small city unto itself in the center. There were a couple different schools, Universities, shopping centers, a Sheraton hotel, apartment buildings, and professional buildings, all within walking distance from the ship. As we were there for a rare overnight I took the train in to downtown Kobe. That alone was pretty exciting as hardly anything was in English. The city center was like Times Square with lots of neon and flashing lights, and mobs of people going every which way. The weather was nice and crisp - perfect for walking around with my mouth open. The few westerners spotted all made eye contact with me- that sort of "what are you doing here" kind of look. The older Japanese kind of look at westerners as a novelty. They were all very polite to me, but you can tell they are sizing you up at the same time. I had a nice, rather expensive, dinner which was a bit of a challenge figuring out what to order. I remembered I liked Tempura and managed to get that across to the waiter. It was very good. Made it back to the ship okay. Was a little concerned I'd end up in Osaka or Tokyo, but I got my bearings and laid the right course.

After Kobe it was another overnight steam to Nagoya which was about halfway between Kobe and our last stop, Tokyo bay. The fishing boats were pretty thick along the coast so we tried to stay offshore of them. The fish stocks can't hold out much longer in the world. Between the European fleets with their technology, and the Far East fleets with their volume, I don't see the fish having much chance. Nagoya was another sterile berth where we loaded used cars for the Caribbean. Evidently there is a big trade in used vehicles out of Japan to the Third world countries. Japan has some very strict inspection laws on vehicles over 4 years old which forces most people to trade in for new. The cars seemed to be in good condition for the most part. I guess there is a cottage industry in some Caribbean countries converting the right hand drive models to left hand. Again it was another overnight steam to Yokosuka, just inside Tokyo bay. This was another Nissan private dock, at their largest plant. It was almost a city by itself. It was a beautiful spring day so I went for a walk into town. It was pretty busy, with a lot of little shops selling odds and ends. Like most cities in Japan, the train station is the center of activity. The trains are clean and fast, and evidently very popular. I found an old hardware store and bought a wood chisel for a friend at home that loves Japanese hand tools. It was a nice walk as the abundant cherry trees were just in bloom - a favorite time of the year for the Japanese. We finished cargo operations at 1600 and shifted out to the anchorage for the night as our berth in Kawasaki wasn't available until the next morning. At 0500 the pilot came aboard and we headed up the bay for Kawasaki which lies just to the north of Yokohama. There were ships coming and going all over the place. I'd never seen so much ship traffic in one place. At Kawasaki we berthed at a big industrial complex and as it was Sunday nothing was open. The weather had changed overnight with the approaching storm so I stayed on the ship and plotted our route to minimize the effects. All in all it was pretty interesting being there, especially after reading so many WWII stories about how brutal a people they were. Then again we've certainly done our share of the same over the years.

Right now we're coming up on the International dateline. We'll have two Friday, April 4ths this week. At midnight tonight we go from being 16 hours ahead of east coast time to 8 hours behind in one swoop. This is another first for me. Last time I was here I went the other way and lost a day. We're now on a Great Circle track to just off Cabo San Lucas were we'll Rhumb line it just off the coast of Mexico and Costa Rico to Panama to catch the favorable current. We'll pass about 600 nm north of Oahu, Hawaii in a couple days. The surfers on the North shore will be happy when these rollers get there. Other than that the closest land we approached on this leg was Wake Island the day before yesterday at about 200 nm. Another good WWII story. Hoegh has us slowed down for arrival at Balboa on the 19th. Actually they want us there early on the 20th, when we're scheduled to transit the canal, but we have to launch our free fall lifeboat so I'm getting in the day before. Looking forward to going through this canal as it means the end is near. 3 months to the day that I joined her. After the canal we go to Kingston, Jamaica, then San Juan, Jacksonville, Newport News, New York, and finally Baltimore where I hope to be relieved around May 3rd or so.

I won't long after when we'll be packing up and heading for Alaska. I finished the books you gave me about the North Country. I loved the bush pilot one, and the other one was great too. I wonder whatever became of that couple. Maybe they are still living in that cabin. Just started The Last of The Tin Can Sailors about the Battle for Leyte Gulf. I read a great book by a Marine infantry guy who was in the south pacific and on Okinawa which I think you might enjoy. Well that's about it for now. Starting to work on the end of voyage paperwork so I'm keeping busy. Hope work is going well for you, and the weather has been nice. Really looking forward to getting back to work on my project at home. Like to have it framed in this summer so I'll have inside work in the winter. Take good care and drop me a line when you get a chance. Hi to Mom.

Love, xxx

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