The start of Sea Day Five, still in the Philippine Sea, dawned with the water calm, dimpled and burnished. It was a different day entirely. I saw a fish leap from the water and then a huge red and white bollard, perhaps a street fixing blown away in a massive storm, sailed proudly by. I had not seen much rubbish, certainly nothing like the obvious rubbish floating in the Taiwan Strait. Now, gliding through this new smooth, gleaming water, I glimpsed that yellow fish curve in the sun, the yellow frill a thrill!
We exchanged our Ballast water in an allowed zone, which could take up to ten hours as we travelled along. The Coral could carry about 10,000 tons of water in 20 tanks. They could be discharged as necessary to keep the ship in trim or, if entering a shallow harbour, to lighten the load and lessen the draught. There were only certain zones where this water exchange was allowed. Both Australia and NZ had strict rules covering Bio-Fouls with ballast water. However, Third Officer Myo Han told me, if there was any danger of casualty to humans, those regulations would be overridden.
Given the flat surface of the water, CC Coral was zipping along at 19 knots, assisted by a following current. Speed was a careful balance between efficient fuel expenditure and time. We wouldn’t want to be in Australia too early and certainly not too late. They had missed the pilot by ten minutes in Shanghai, one of the busiest ports in the world, and had to wait for two days for a berth. That’s a very expensive ten minutes.
It was such a calm day I had no further excuses not to venture out on deck. I had to don hardhat, boots and gloves. The Chief Officer gave me a packet of thin cotton gloves which I understood were more for cleanliness than anything else.
Chief told me to avoid the hydroblasting work at the stern and I had to report to the Bridge to let Third Officer Myo Han know when I left and when I’d return.
I walked downstairs and out the same door I’d entered four nights previously, passed the gangway, now firmly tethered to the side railings. My first impression was that I was walking around a sturdy metal factory.
The mainly gray surroundings featured yellow and black striped safety zones and red warning signs, yellow highlighted staircases and pillars.
Another deck worker, smiling, warned me to stay away from the handrail in-case of unexpected rolling.
The sea was blue, vinyl-flat and calm. White clouds feathered around the mid-line of eye view.
The walkway was pitted with rust holes, as were the walls. Squares of indifferent-coloured paint patched over repairs, worked around original signage.
I made my way forward to the bow, up to the foredeck, where the engine noise dropped away. Great ropes and chains wound onto their bollards.
They stood in stillness, potential energy stalwart in the sunshine. I stood at the front of the ship, in relative quiet, and watched the smooth waters ahead. It was lovely.
On my return along the flank I saw a dark butterfly dashing ahead of me, up and down, perhaps like me, trying to understand the harsh environment. My chances of survival were greater. In fact, I was beginning to feel I was in the lap of luxury such as I had not encountered since childhood when my meals were cooked for me and I had no responsibilities.
On my return to report to the Third Officer I was still onboard, I remarked the rust spots. He explained it was not like a passenger ship where everything had to be spic and span. I could not help but think she seemed a bit run down for an eleven-year-old but what do I know of continual barrage of salt-water against metal surfaces?
The sun was beautiful but I was aware of fumes. If I managed to get away from the smoke from the chimney stacks I could still smell fuel, rust remover, paint or some other chemical.
I felt extremely privileged to have been granted a small window of insight into a workplace I would not normally have a chance to experience. As usual, the more you know, the less you know and the more I smelled.
Walking the Camino under my own propulsion I could chose my daily destination, how fast I would, and if I would walk at all. I could chose my food and drink. Certainly I followed the yellow arrows, as much as a bus or car followed directions along a route or pathway but as a walker, you could go any which way. A train ran on tracks, direction fixed. You could progress within the carriages, as you could wander around a ship. The ship had invisible tracks; the concerns of weather and strictures of commerce dictated how fast and where. The ship might have to veer off course to avoid an obstacle and it could, in certain waters, go in any direction at all. I think I may have invented Transport Chess!
To my untrained ear the engine stopped. Just for a few minutes. When I asked him later, Third Officer said he did not think it important. Perhaps it was to fix something. It did not take long to get back up to power, whatever happened. There was another thing about being carried along. No need to know nuffink.
I began my tapestry. Way back in the UK, I had found a splendid craft shop in Totnes and, after debate about vegan craft with the two inspired women attending, bought cottons and a remnant piece of stuff to work some nautical design upon. Five different colours with sea theme. All that remained was to decide what to mark on the canvas.
I played around with some drawings but it wasn’t until the calm day that the stylised design took shape. Very simple and satisfying. I sat in my comfortable cabin sewing and watched the water sparkling in the sun. Starboard Home.
After dinner I watched ‘Sully’, a Tom Hanks film about transport – enquiry after landing the plane into the Hudson River. The engine of this great barge chugging along gave a certain frisson to the action scenes. It was certainly all about Tom, I mean, Sully. He was definitely the agent for change, it was his story. Of course, it was all about the timing.
Because it was Day 41 of my ongoing trip the Tao said, ‘The road forward seems to retreat.’
Once again I contemplated the concept of the road forward being a retreat. A Maori troupe of singers surrounded me in a little tourist boat in Bruges and jolted me back to New Zealand to be with my parents. If I had any place to look for roots it must be there, by my ancestors. And, furthermore, Belgium, grim scene of war for New Zealand, was reminder of the past and a memorial service the reason for the performers to be there.
Onward, hummed the engine, onward forged CC Coral. Backwards into memories went my mind.
We would be over the equator and passing Manus tomorrow. Thinking of those poor stateless souls.
Also, ridiculously, retreating into the past to remember hijinks of King Neptune and his exotic friends from the deep. This would be the sixth time I had crossed the equator by sea. The others had resulted in beautiful certificates, signed by King Neptune, presented at mad ceremonies beside swimming pools. The crew, perhaps featuring the Captain dressed up as Neptune, with entourage of crew mermen and mermaids, delivered amusing pool side bits, involving shadow-show surgery and custard, while children and innocents were thrown into the pool to initiate them into the secrets of Davy Jones’s Locker. On our return from Hong Kong to Australia I had an ear infection and my mother would not allow me to be thrown into the deep. Nothing I could do or say would change her mind. Misery ensued. Eventually, one of the crew (was it the Purser?) thought of putting me into the toddler’s pool, thereby satisfying my mother’s ear fear and my earnest wish to join in the fun.
Not exactly sure what a juggernaut was but CC Coral must be one. There was trust, here, in the workings of this factory. Even as I doubted. Even as I tried not to imagine the very many things that might go wrong, I had to trust in the power invested in heavy fuel oil to run the heavy engine that turns the propeller. I could do nothing to assist my own propulsion. I was helpless. Continuously. Was that the same thing as trusting the universe (or whatever name you put upon the energy of the world) to carry me forward? I could do nothing, on my railroad track, my travel tube, my oneway ticket, but I should certainly be alert to possibilities. I had not seen stars from the CC Coral. I could not navigate by them either. My father could have.