Day 1

3 September, 2003

I was first. A strange German dish, creamed mushrooms on toast, for breakfast. Sort of like something I might have eaten after perusing an almost empty larder when a student (the first time). I had noticed a quick bark over the intercom a few minutes before I had gone down to breakfast and had guessed it might be announcing breakfast. When I asked the steward if he knew when we might be sailing, he said now and that the announcement I had heard was for all hands ready the lines. I was surprised as the agent had told me the sailing would be delayed from its original 5 am to noon because of the late arrival, but they must have rushed the loading, and caught up all but two hours.

Gulping the rest of my breakfast, I was on deck, with binocs ready, just before the Captain gave the order (although a professed paper jockey, he was very much in evidence and command the first hour of sailing). A small tug at the rear pulled out and a bow thruster in the bow pushed out. In seconds we had smoothly accelerated this whole city block like device to a good sideways clip! We dropped the tug and pushed forward. After forty minutes threading our way down the dredged, buoy marked channel packed with shipping in both directions, we came to the channel entrance where about ten vessels hovered awaiting pilots. We dropped our pilot at full gallop, the small boat rushing up alongside and the pilot perilously jumping off. The captain gave the signal, three long toots of the giant horn to announce we were coming into the road and off we were.

What a day... sunshine... a gentle sea. This ship moves at what seems a slow speed in our fast world, but it is relentless. Down the channel, past Dover’s cliffs and Calais’s chemical plants. So many vessels of differing shapes and sizes. There was not one, all day that overtook us, and we overtook every one going our way. Sometimes it took an hour, but this ship, designed to go for weeks, just pounds on. Pork chop for lunch, my tablemates started warming up. The steward brought all these goodies including the coffee to my cabin (as he said I would be the only one in the mess at coffee time, he might as well bring it up, he does not bat an eyelash at climbing from A deck (the mess and E deck, my cabin), after cleaning it at 9 am. It really is quite luxurious.

The third mate (Mr. Ernesto Ribon) took me on my safety drill. The life boat was so cool I hope we do a full test! I asked if I had permission to go up the forecastle and he told me I had the run of the ship except the bridge and engine room which are by invitation only. As third mate, he has every 8-12 shift (both am and pm) on the bridge, he invited me to come whenever I wanted, but (he stopped as if thinking about my probable reputation)...... “you have to promise not to touch anything!”, or that was the safety officer coming out. There are explicit instructions as to pirates. The third said “when I was younger, they came with knives and took the television from the crew’s rec. room. Now they have automatic weapons, and take everything”. Erq!

In the middle of the day, my stomach started a low and distant threat of nausea. I slapped on a couple of pressure point bands, and in seconds it was gone. A couple of hours later I took the bands off, and it seems as if the sea legs have developed.

The forecastle or foc’sole, is a glorious spot. That front point, the nose leading the way maybe thirty to forty feet above the water. For some aerodynamic reason, there is no wind, perhaps something to do with the wall of containers stacked 13x5 behind you and the deviation caused by the bow itself, the engine noise and fumes are way behind you as well. The ship glides majestically. If you lean over the rail you can see the strange bulbous projection about ten feet under the water, pushing and parting the water so that at the surface there is only a gentle swish. I spent a couple of hours there, in peaceful bliss, completely alone. I will spend a lot of time there if the weather permits. It makes Lenny Decaprio’s flying scene in Titaniccompletely believable.

Moussaka for dinner. Many of the Germans seem curious, “vass is dis, moos-aka?”. The Filipino cook strives to vary the menu. Strangely, the official language of the ship is English, as there are three different nationalities, but only the Captain and third officer are at all good (the easterners learned Russian as a second language), and I haven't seen the Captain since the first, frosty dinner. After dinner, the extraordinary visibility that has marked the day starts disappearing, it is only subtle as a mist limits one to a couple of miles. By darkness, it is a little too overcast to see many stars or Mars. I go to bed around 10:30 after watching The Accidental Tourist. Lying down, one feels the ship throb and jerk. It is a bit annoying, but soon forgotten.

We are coming out of the English Channel. The weather and sea could not have been more idyllic for a first day.