Day nine in the Coral Sea, about 400 miles north of Australia near Carola Cay at 08:00. Sunny, placid blue, some waves but not choppy waters and scattered clouds. Nothing ominous.
After breakfast I enjoyed lazing about on the Bridge staring out into the horizon but discipline insisted I stick to my routine and get on my morning walk. Felt like I was girding my loins, preparing for battle with the elements as I marched downstairs in my boots, tightening up the chin strap of my hardhat and pulling on my flimsy little gloves. I was only going for a walk (in the not so fresh air) 10 metres above sea level among slippery rusty walkways where one … Okay, okay, I’d stay on the sheltered side.
Today’s glorious sight I took at first to be a flock of white birds rising like pin heads from the waves. And then they all sank again. Birds didn’t do that. They took turns to rise and fall. Several times I saw them, closer and closer, until I realised they were a flock of flying fish. They rose like a mini-choir of nautical angels from the deep. I sat, transfixed, until they came no more and I continued to my happy-place in the bow.
One of the crew came to test the engines that roll out the ropes and chains required for mooring in Brisbane. He climbed up into the big red cage and turned the engines over, while disengaged from the actual ropes, just to make sure they started. He told me he’d been on ships for over twenty years – and he’d been on over twenty different ships! Both bigger and smaller, he preferred them newer. Now Coral was eleven years old things were starting go wrong and he shook his head. Not good. He signed on for nine months at a time. He would finish in March and take a break before signing the next option. He didn’t have any particular hobbies, certainly not fishing, he didn’t like fishing at all. I had yet to find someone who was into whittling furniture for doll’s houses or putting model ships in glass bottles but I was sure there must be craft on board.
One of the brown missile birds, probably some kind of booby, from yesterday, or a relative, scooted up around the bow and made me look directly into the sun. I thought her lightly patterned back made her a juvenile? She was too late for the flying fish! Although I did see a loner, a larger fish with blue wings, fly for metres ahead of the ship. I wondered how many species of flying fish there were in the tropics?
When I returned to the Bridge, Third Officer was relaxed. There was little to do in these easy tropical waters. It was around China there was never a moment to blink. There they found crowded waters; fishing vessels of all sizes to contend with together with their fishing nets. He thought there were rich fishing waters in that area and now I come to think of it, if there were fish to be had, there’d be fishing boats, wouldn’t there? Myo Han didn’t think China had any marine reserves to help conserve fishing for the future. There were always enough, sometimes more than enough. I hoped he was right.
I asked him about the strange metal contraptions I’d seen lying around on deck. I wondered if they were the little feet I’d seen the shoremen setting in place on the containers about to be loaded on?
There were three different types of twist lock; base, mid and top. There was another type specifically for the twenty footers in the hold as they were most likely to shift position. The twist locks could be set to lock automatically when the container clunked into their slots. A team of shoremen came on board specifically to unlock the ones along the bases.
I found a poster warning about the Asian Gypsy Moth and I wondered if the dark butterfly I’d seen on my first outing might be such a vagabond, like Jack in ‘Quicksilver’. Roaming the corridors and holds of ships, spreading their dark feathery wings over the world. Gulp. I had only seen one and presumably the crew would be alert, given the presence of this:
The AB on the forward deck asked me where I lived. It’s a simple enough question, isn’t it? And Louiselle had asked me if my visit to Brisbane seemed real yet. In this moment, where I was, writing these words on this line with one of the pens bought via motorcycle in Tainan, my life seemed real. But visiting Louiselle the next afternoon? I assumed it would come to pass. I really hoped so. It should. But, I couldn’t guarantee it. We had to wait and see. Reality would be what happened then.
The Chief Officer was kind enough to introduce me to the main program that helped him keep track of the cargo. There were currently 2,305 containers on board. Half were destined for Auckland. Shanghai and Auckland were the two biggest ports on this route. The company charges by weight so it’s imperative that’s double checked, not just because of cheating by putting more in the container than declared, but also for safety. Each truck went over a weighbridge as it approached the ship and the crane could also ascertain weight as they lifted the container. But all the information had to be in the plan that the Terminal and the Chief Officer agreed upon the day before. If he had any doubt he would notify the Captain, who had the final say. If the Chief thought there was a risk of torsion (a twist in the body of the ship) or even capsize from incorrect loading, he would not allow a container to be loaded. It had to be kept within safe parameters and the program could calculate that in detail.
The program showed different coloured containers by port and different colours and patches indicated contents. The Chief was able to track hazmats or those darn reevers (have you guessed what they are yet?)
The ship could stack eight containers in the hold and six up on deck. The heavy stuff went into the hold while empty or light went on top.
The Chief was responsible for placements not only of containers but also ballast, fresh water and fuel. He was also in charge of crew and provisioning.
In the midst of unpicking some tapestry, I glanced up at the sparkling waters and saw a dolphin lazily turn into the waves. I stared and hoped, and there it was again, the dolphin’s fin obvious against the sunny water. Like a young lover filled with gaiety, I leapt up to the Bridge to ask permission to use their bins (binoculars!). I went out onto the upper deck to scan the waters but in vain. I wondered why any self-respecting marine life would chose to be near a major shipping channel with the disruption inherent in sound, water and air quality? They must taste or smell the fuel and oil residues and emissions and certainly feel the vibrations from the engines. What would a fish get from hanging out near a factory like this?
That evening I watched ‘Backstabbing for Beginners’ a fascinating revelation about corruption in the UN Oil for Food program in Iraq. Based on a true story, the idealistic American man who revealed corruption endemic in that UN bear trap was only twenty-four years old.
Tomorrow I would wake up beside Australia. Tao 45 said ‘Great accomplishment seems unfinished’. Some famous writer once said that no book is ever finished, just abandoned. Brainy Quote says Leonardo, while Goodreads gives it to EM Forster.