Day six found us in the Bismark Sea and another blissful, calm day. Limpid sky and an island directly outside my window. I think it was Hermit Island. The Battle of the Bismark sea involved the RAAF. I do not know if my father was involved.
More birds evident, perhaps a pair of cormorants? Then I saw brown birds with black heads, boobies? Big long beaks with a brilliant white belly. They flew around the bow when I was sunning myself on my morning outing. They were after the skittering flying fish, that acted like skipping stones, unzipping the waters as they rushed to escape whatever was chasing them – big fish or ship? They were small, with blue wings and, I may have been imagining things, they sounded like golden snitches as they zoomed away. Perhaps they were screaming as they rushed from CC Coral bearing down on them? They tended to flit straight forward which would have been an error for they would certainly have been mown down. They would have been wiser to go deep or turn to one side.
They certainly attracted the attention of the sleek brown birds who, when they could be bothered, pursued them. The birds languidly wheeled around each other and half-heartedly went after the nearest speedy fishy snack. Perhaps they were full already? I saw one, like a kid on a skateboard at full speed, tilt his wing-tip into the drink, showing off to mum and dad, done with exuberance and glee.
As well as birds, odd pieces of rubbish floated by. During a conversation about Chinese plastic manufacturing, I mentioned I’d seen a plastic shoe. The Captain replied, ‘So long as the person who wore it wasn’t attached.’
During our convo, the Captain told me I wouldn’t want to know how much pollution was coming out of these container ships. He said he had heard of ships using the emission scrubbers but more recently had caught sight of the new generation of liquified natural gas (LNG) ships, huge ships built by CMA-CGM. They would still be using fossil fuels but in a way less polluting form.
He thought the weight of one person on a flight was negligible and the flight was going anyway, so why not just fly? I told him I was worried about the numbers of people flying. Millions of people this year, billions expected next. Flying certainly causes atmospheric damage and only shows signs of increasing. I felt there needed to be alternatives. I believed there was room for more cargo ships to take passengers and not necessarily in luxury. If there was any way to lower the price of sea travel I thought that more people may avail themselves of the option. I can attest, it is a fine option. If you have time!
Win told me the last passenger he looked after was French, Philippe Garnier, a writer famous for a bio of noir film writer Goodis. Garnier was on board between New Zealand and Taiwan. He used to walk around the ship and then go to write. Win looked after four other passengers besides me. And he’s only been on board four months. But I find that’s a long term in ship contracts. The Romanians only sign on for four months (plus or minus one depending on where the nearest port to disembark might be) while the Asian workers sign on for nine months. This explained why everyone on board was new.
After dinner, some of Tin Htun’s excellent potatoes with onions and parsley, rice, salad and bonus beans followed by a crisp apple, Win presented me with a plate covered in foil. He and the Chief Cook had made me a cake. They’d been worried I was hungry at night because I didn’t eat meat. I was not sure what kindness and goodness they stirred into the batter but I did know it was a magic and generous offering.
The astounding hair and skin and wonderful waters must have taken hundreds of people in sweaty computer mines slaving away at their pixel tapestries. Astonishing feat, and since seeing the Pingtan museum of Austroasian history, an ongoing voyage!
After dark and before I finally went to bed I thought I’d check the stars. I flicked open the curtains to find an extraordinary scene. There was land right in front of me. Above the land was cloud which, as I watched, began to billow and stretch enormously. Lightning splashed everything into view and then it was darkness once more.
The water was as flat as a mirror. It looked expectant, as if a figure skater or ballerina were about to enter. The erratic lighting effects were far more dramatic than any opera house could conjure. Around the edges of the cloud was clear sky but because of light spilling from the Bridge, I supposed, I could not see many stars at all.
Still the clouds billowed and spread, as if from a bomb, and built towers and pregnant sails filled with wind while the lower lash line of clouds became dark and furrowed like brows.
A sight both magnificent and grim, the lightning continued sporadically, flashing red or green and yellow at source and then brightening to white. The ominous clouds periodically lit up as though by magnesium in early photographers’ flash-lights and transformed without pause as they spread across the sky.
I assumed I was looking at the tip of Papua New Guinea (thank you Sammy J. and Randy for earworming that name in my brain) as I could not recall seeing any other land mass that we would pass that night. I longed for a camera that could capture such low light, but instead contented myself with watching the wonder until I could no longer keep my eyes open.