Day 2

4 September, 2003

I was up in the darkness (05:20) after a busy and not very satisfying sleep. The ocean is a good bit busier. Roiling with white caps developing here and there. It is not a monochromatic ocean. There seems to be various different patches, with different textures. This is the Bay of Biscay, and we are about two thirds across on a diagonal (SW) heading for the northwest corner of Spain, off Cape Finnisterre. I have restrung my guitar, but all in all, three nights of questionable sleep is robbing me of much will. The only time my body picks up is outside in the delicious air. Inside is all “climate controlled”, but not consistently. Portholes are firmly closed, with signs that they should remain the same whilst the climate control was on!

The sailors do not go outside for recreation generally, except for the big smiling Kiribase bosun who first helped me on arrival and who seems to live admist the giant canyons of containers. I come across him in the local deckwatch shack, feet up having a smoke occasionally.

These giant containers carry all kinds of stuff. And dangerous stuff too. Many months ago, one of these ships blew up in the Indian ocean, killing two Kiribase. In the long walk to the forecastle, one passes in the dangerous cargo zone, an area that smells almost nitrousy, like manure. Probably some kind of fertilizer. Between the containerloads of that and the oil used for fuel, one could make this a pretty scary, floating bomb!

I was first to breakfast again, Mexican eggs and bacon. My table mates, Frank (ship’s mechanic) and Christiaan (ship’s mechanic apprentice), are not ever talkative and especially in the morning. Christiaan is a nineteen year old, 6 foot three blond punk. Rings in his lips and eyes, I notice they come out when he goes to work, boilersuited on the stairs.

Spent an hour on the bridge this morning. My serious friend Ernesto, the third officer is reading an instruction book for the main computer guidance systems. Apparently it is a Russian device. The Captain came up after an hour, in casual clothes. He apologized for being in bad shape, as he is suffering from a cold. I sympathize, and leave the bridge to it’s working.

Around 10:30 the ship came to a dead halt, somehow eerie, in the middle of nowhere, after the busy push push of the last twenty eight hours. After twenty minutes we started up again. Nobody tells me nuttin’! At lunch (greasy fried chicken, phlurp!) I kid Christiaan, “well, so did you drop a wrench in the engine, is that why we stopped?”. After he mulled over his inner translation, he smiled and said “no, no”, but he didn’t offer any more information. Maybe the bridge just rang stop for it’s own reasons. The Kiribase don’t care if we are going or not. It is all the same to them. One year on this floating workhouse, and then they can go home. Just doing their time in this world trade biz.

After lunch, having reached our point, we head south. The sea is more even, and more azure then before. The weather threatened for a moment and then claimed it was only joking. We will run south along Portugal for the next thirty six hours.

With any kind of sea action, the six cd changer in my room starts skipping. Right now Robert Parkeris having odd slices of time cut out of his performance. It reminds me of ol’ Monsignor (“just call me Larry”) Bodouis (the late). A Haitian jazz pianist I used to play with in the seventies, when he would have been in his sixties. Every night, for the first half hour after he took his nitroglycerine pill, he would have the same kind of aleatoric time sliced out of his performance, which always was challenging to those of us playing music with him!

Dinner, a poor beef goulash. No spice whatsoever. But as the Filipinos are fond of spice, there is plenty of Sambal sauce, a red hot ketchup on the table. Of coarse, ketchup was “discovered” as the Indonesian hit of the Chicago International fair of the late nineteenth century (so I seem to remember).

(But I was wrong when I wrote that, I have since read several very different explanations, this being just one)

Changed into workout clothes and went downstairs to the exercise machine. I don’t think it has been used in a long time. It sits by the side of the empty, postage-stamp size swimming pool. The room has a dilapidated “tropical” motif, like an aging motel. The weight machine and the excer-cycle are rusty and will need some fiddling. Oh well, a couple of more passes up and down the staircase, which on a ship is called a ladder for good reason, will provide some good exercise. I have not measured the height of each step but it is a few inches higher then a normal staircase would allow for, more like doing “stadiums” (I have measured and it is 9.5”). This is the main artery of life aboard ship. The crew live almost their whole lives in the major part of the ship in which I have not yet been invited. They do not go out on the deck for recreation! I am always alone in this world of catwalks and balconies and the outside staircases between decks. I have found my comfortable corners where I can sit in the sun, headphones on with the BBC reassuringly reiterating the same old news. My binocs around my neck to peer at the slower ships we pass, and to scan the sea for life.

Tried to watch Sling Blade, a tape someone has left on board, but kept finding it slipping into maudlin. Outside, the ocean slips by, but lights dot all the other ships. Everyone’s onboard computer shows this as the fastest and most economical route between western europe and points south and east, so all that shipping tries to squeeze into a lane a couple of miles across. As the fastest ship, we have to keep moving to the outside to pass.

A better nights sleep, but maybe a bit too cold due to how hard it is to regulate the AC. The whole cabin shakes in time to the engine. It is much like trying to sleep on a tour bus.