Day 4

6 September, 2003

Now this may be a work day. The Kiribase work 10 hours a day for 365 days straight minimum (it can be more), no days off at all for a year! The skies are starting off gray with low visibility. A gray ocean of larger but confused swells. The air feels heavy and warm, not refreshing. Breakfast was steak tartare! I took the option of having it grilled with some onions, but now I don’t know if it’s that or the swell that has brought back a low lying nausea.

The steward has cleaned and brought fresh coffee. Outside, growling storm clouds come at us from the east, which, as I walk about the deck with the BBC whispering in my ear about Iraq and Palestine, seems strangely foreboding. The sun does gamely try to break through here and there.

Went to the bridge for my daily position check. The wind being head on, adds to the ships own wind to be near on fifty mph, which does quite a job on any sleeve and pant leg. During the night, it is reported by the Captain, we have had a sand storm (he shows me the fine white stuff, everywhere) to wash it off he takes us through a rain storm.

I see they have started to feed the bird if not one of the birds (because this one is like a wood dove, but I have mostly seen a swallow). The Captain tells me of a stowaway Singaporean squirrel, that made a winter trip to Hamburg and back. The captain is most talkative, I think he is feeling me out about how much trouble I might be either during or after the trip. He has come to appear like Klaus Kinski in my mind. If anyone has seen Aguirre, The Wrath of God they could imagine how worrying that could be. He is a bit of a potentate, as is his position. He proudly tells me how he educated the young stewards to what is music (Joan Sutherland) and what is not (their “bang boom boom” music). The stewards are nice, but not really stewards as in the old sense as I and certainly the captain remembers. They would not do as waiters in an elegant restaurant. They do not have the experience, have never witnessed it, it is only a vague concept to them, as building a proper house is to a born and bred Californian builder. The captain pointed out to the steward, that the nice china with the F. Laiesz shipping logo should be placed with the logo at the top. Reebo is trying, he changes into quietly elegant and proper clothing during meal service. These guys have to work 365 days straight, they come up with a simple system and keep to it so as to make the time fly easily. What I am doing here, is trying to convince myself, that if I start working hard my time will fly. What they truly need, is either an old time apprenticeship, or a year at hotel school.

The captain tested me out on one of the ships greatest acts of environmental murder. Of the 150 tons of fuel burnt each day by the engine, 5 tons go out the stack as sulfur. Five friggin’ tons! That is why the Gibraltar straight’s air looks like the San Diego freeway at the worst of rush hour! There will be some big changes to shipping made in the next few years on account of that. Maybe some new kind of propulsion. As it is, Long Beach will say that we have to steam in at half speed so as to lessen output, and to use white smoke. What that is, the captain doesn’t know, but he always uses it, of coarse! He doesn’t care, he just as well burn the more expensive fuel and save the atmosphere, but it is not up to him, it is up to the owners. But it is always he that gets yelled at. And mostly by Americans which is somewhat irksome as not only are their (few) ships just as dirty, but then the US won’t even sign the Kyoto! In anycase the only place to buy the fuel (pricewise) is in Rotterdam. We will load on just enough more at Singapore, to get the ship to Long Beach and back, and then just enough to get back to Rotterdam.

Well, we might not be in Kansas anymore, but we could almost be in Oklahoma, with all the sand flying about the atmosphere. The sky is ponderously heavy, the air is almost grating, leaving a fine layer of grit on one’s skin, and in the mouth and nose. I saw what might have been sardines jumping along, and some happy gull like birds trying to catch them. We must be close to Algeria and the Sahara desert.

At night, when I look up from my bed, there is a faint green phosphorus sign advertising “lifeline” on the ceiling. Behind the panel is a long knotted rope for emergency. I assume it’s long because if I couldn’t get out my cabin door for whatever reason, I would have to get the porthole open and climb down the knotted rope.... about six stories! Strangely, my fear of hights is greatly diminished around the boat’s superstructure. Those who know me well would be surprised at my confidence on these small stairways and catwalks.

One has to watch what one throws out. Although the ship bellows forth a horrid pollutant, there are laws governing what can be thrown overboard, and anykind of plastic is a no-no. So poor Reebo goes through my garbage carefully. It is funny how one can become self conscious of the garbage can.

To bed somewhere off Algeria/Tunisian border. Tonight the clocks go ahead an hour.