GOING DOWN A LAZY RIVER

We all need a change of pace sometime. Work and family obligations cause a lot of stress and this hectic world, with its nasty politics, can literally drive one into a depression.

Yes, you can try Yoga, see a therapist, take up transcendental meditation but I have, in my humble opinion, a better solution… boating.

It does not have to be always sailing and, although I do not like most powerboats (especially the souped up ones), I have found that river house boating in a scenic environment is a most relaxing option to our stressful lives.

A few months ago, we had the opportunity to take a short trip on the Sile river near Treviso in Northern Italy. We were surrounded by green nature in a paradise for bird watchers. We boated by the charming little town of Casale sul Sile with its beautiful church tower and saw wrecks of antique barges that used to bring the stones used for building the city of Venice from the inland quarries.

Casale Sul Sile

Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to make it all the way to Venice but, in a week’s time, you can go from the base in Casale to Venice and back. There are also other itineraries that will take you to Padova and to Precenico. You can visit ancient towns like Murano and Burano and Aquileia which dates back to the Romans. Ride a bicycle along the river pathway and follow your boat.

Colorful Burano

The charter boats are very comfortable Minuetto houseboats that can accommodate six to eight crew members and the nice thing is that you do not have to have any license to skipper these comfortable river yachts.

If you are looking for a different boating experience combined with lots of nature, culture and above all phenomenal Italian gastronomy, you owe it to yourself to consider house river boating in the Venice area.

Contact us at Med Sailing Adventures for available dates and pricing.

WHY THE “ADVENTURES” IN MED SAILING ADVENTURES?

OK, so we are organizing flotillas in the Mediterranean and in the Seychelles. Flotillas are fun but are they “adventure”? Are there any adventures to be had during these flotillas? If so, are they really dangerous adventures, like Raiders of the Lost Ark adventures?

Well no, not that kind of adventures but, still, we can experience situations that are out of the ordinary and which will stay with us as memories of great times we had sailing with our friends.

The magically beautiful waterfalls of Krka

Case in point: A few years ago, we were sailing in Croatia from Kastela, near Split, to the city of Sibenik and the Krka Waterfalls National Park. Krka is a wonderful place with stunning waterfalls. This was the location where the second hydroelectric energy plant in the world was opened. One day after the first one in Niagara Falls on November 16th, 1896. Nikola Tesla’s spirit still roams around there…

The view from the Primosten cemetery. Talk about “Rest in Peace”…

Anyway, on our way to the falls, we spent the night at anchor in the large bay in front of the small peninsula of Primosten with its picturesque village. The view from the church and from its cemetery overlooking the Adriatic is precious. The night promised to be quiet and we were three yachts gently rocking on the hook.

Sunset over the anchorage of Primosten with the village in the background

Our yacht was the rowdy one and, because we had no other neighbors than our other two boats, our boombox on board was blaring all kinds of music from Rock to Latin and Zydeco. It was amazing how eight people were able to dance and shake on a 49′ Jeanneau.

In the morning, we had thunderstorms roll in but there was no rain. Only lightning and thunder. I don’t like lightning when on a boat, having experienced some scary moments in recent years but, still, the show was spectacular until, suddenly, two lightning strikes hit the pine forest on shore in two different places. It was like the forest exploded and flames shot up into the sky. With the wind blowing from the land, before long ashes started to fall on our boat. We were not at risk at all and we were just staring in awe at nature’s fury.

Flames shot up in the sky

Then, out of nowhere, a small Cessna dust cropper plane appeared and dumped a load of water on one of the burning spots. It did not do much to alleviate the problem but, soon, two Canadair firefighting tanker planes showed up and dove down into our anchorage, skimmed the water and filled up their tanks followed by a slow and laborious ascent to go spread the water over the fires.

That is when we realized we were in a hazardous situation. These heavily loaded planes literally screamed over the top of our masts and it would not take much for them to hit us, low and slow. A small skiff raced over from the village and urged us to get out of the bay immediately as the planes would be coming back for more water.

We raised anchor and left the bay, hugging the coast line to make sure that the planes would have enough maneuvering space in the middle. We headed straight for Sibenik where we spent the night at the seawall of this beautiful city and kept informed of the situation near Primosten. It took the Canadairs along with the firefighters on the ground two days to extinguish the fires.

Sibenik, worth a visit!

Although we cannot guarantee that you will experience such exciting moments when sailing with us, we promise that you will be going home with unforgettable memories of a truly unique vacation.

Check our website for our 2020 Flotilla programs.

So long and be safe!

Capt. Jean De Keyser

 

ALL I WANTED FOR CHRISTMAS WAS FOR MY ANKLE TO BE FREE

Me and my “Harley”

Those of you who have sailed with us during 2019 know how difficult it has been for me to walk because of arthritis in my left ankle.

During our on-land excursions, I had to use a cane and often I had to pause, notwithstanding the daily ingestion of Naproxen or other pain-dulling medicine.

Finally, on October 15, I bit the bullet and had ankle fusion surgery done at Tampa General Hospital. I had no desire to have it done in Chicago and go through recovery in the cold weather. At least, in Florida, we have our big house with no stairs and I would be able to move around on a knee scooter.

Two weeks after the surgery, my left leg was put in a cast. This was the beginning of an additional eight weeks of misery with limited sleep during the nights. The ankle yearned to be free from its fiberglass prison. Fortunately, I was able to have four cast changes until, finally on December 23, the last cast was taken off.

When I look at the X-rays of my foot, I am wondering why I have not received the “Customer of the Week Award” at Ace Hardware, Section Screws, Nuts and Bolts. I have enough metal in my foot to keep the TSA busy for a while whenever I need to fly somewhere.

Bionic Ankle

I am now in a boot for the next two months or so and, after some physical therapy, I should be as good as new and be able to get back on my sailboat but, first, we have to go back to Chicago where we have our stand at the Chicago Boat, RV and Sail Show from January 8 to 12 and, hobbling around in my boot with my crutches, I will also conduct some seminars on chartering in Croatia, the Seychelles and on river house-boating in Italy. If you happen to be around, come and say “HI”.

Although our house in Florida is rented from January through March, I am hoping to splash good old Promise in February and be a live-aboard for a few weeks in warm Florida before heading to Mila’s Peru.

The “Admiral”. Mila and I wish you all the best for 2020, a new decade. May you all be healthy and prosperous!

Fair winds!

Make New Friends! Go Sailing!

Sailing has this wonderful benefit of making new friends all over the world. You talk to someone at a boat show or on the dock of a marina and, immediately you have a connection; the passion of sailing.

I have met so many people all over the world who share that passion and with whom I have kept in touch for years. Some of them have become close friends. Others? Well we have not met them yet but, as soon as we do, our network of friends will just expand.

Get two or more sailors together (preferably at a bar or over some drinks) and you will – I guarantee it – end up with hours of entertainment. Stories and experiences will be shared and friendships will be built.

Flotilla Friends and Wine Connoisseurs

On one of our flotillas it so happened that we had a French lady who owns a vineyard in the south of France and we assigned her on the same yacht as a couple from Oregon who happened to own a winery in the Willamette River area. They became fast friends and, needless to say, we were always sure to get the best wines for dinner with these three experts judging the local wines in the restaurants of the ports that we visited.

A few years ago, we drove through Europe, on our way to Spain, and stopped by the vineyard owned by this charming French lady, Floriane, and she filled our trunk with bottles of her delicious wine and she did not even want a Euro for it. Mila and I can’t wait to see her again soon and repay her for her kindness.

Many of our flotilla crew members have become friends and we even convinced non-sailing friends to become crew members; the latter with sometimes mixed results but these are stories for another time, at a bar and with a drink…

Earlier this year, when sailing back from Dubrovnik to Split, we had two couples from Houston on one boat and a couple from Canada on another boat. They were truly fun people and they recently spent a week-end together sailing in Houston. While it was chilly for the Texans and they had to bundle up, our Canadian friend, Joe, thought that the temperature, compared to Canada, was just fine, as evidenced in these pictures.

Great Sailing in Houston
Still warm enough for a Canadian (but OK, he still had to wear socks)

Yes, friendships made thanks to sailing are special and they endure. My “Admiral” Mila had to go back to Peru for her parents wedding anniversary and I could not go because of my recent ankle surgery (still in a bleeping cast for the next four weeks). My kids are in Illinois and I am in Florida so it was going to be a lonely Thanksgiving? Not to worry… Captain Joe, an almost real-life pirate character and sailing instructor extraordinaire, invited me to come over for dinner with his wife and some friends. We had a great time, good food and, of course, swapped a lot of sailing stories while making a serious dent in his Mount Gay stash.

In the lair of Pirate Joe

Yes, sailing friendships are the best!

THE ANCHOR AND DOLPHIN

The Anchor and Dolphin. It could be the name of a pub in a British seaside town but it is rather part of a bit of an adventure I had a few years ago.

I was sailing my Beneteau 343 from Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas to Key West. It was not exactly sailing… I was motoring bare poles in a rather nasty sea with my boat bucking like a bronco in the waves. Thunderstorms and lightning, gusts of up to 35 knots. Miserable was an understatement.

All of a sudden, the boat was surrounded by dolphins giving me a great show of them jumping out of the water and diving under the boat. It was quite spectacular. I summoned my crew member, Maria, to the cockpit. The poor soul had been down in her berth seasick like a dog. I thought I would be able to alleviate her discomfort by having her distracted by the dolphin show. It did help a bit…

Why were these dolphins all around us? I looked behind me and saw that I was dragging a long rope and immediately thought that I had snagged a crab pot but, from the bow, Maria yelled that the anchor was gone. My plow anchor had been secured on the anchor roller with a rope but, because of the constant bucking movement of the boat, that piece of rope had chaffed through and the anchor went overboard, under the boat and it was dragging on the bottom of the sea. This is what must have attracted the curious dolphins.

With the sea and wind conditions there was no way that I could turn around and attempt to retrieve it, I decided to cut the rope and sacrifice the anchor. I still had a spare Danforth and, soon as the line had been cut, the dolphins disappeared.

We arrived very late that night in Key West and decided to stay an extra day and night to rest from our adventure but, the following evening when joining the crowds for the sunset spectacle on Mallory Square, I walked by this stand of a guy called the Key West Glassman. He makes all these funky little sculptures in glass and had this one made from fake coral showing a glass dolphin jumping over a glass anchor. $75.00 later it was mine as permanent reminder of my memorable trip from Ft. Jefferson to Key West. Maybe I will exhibit it in the Anchor and the Dolphin Pub, if I ever decide to become a “publican”…

INDEPENDENT PURSUIT ATLANTIC CROSSING 2018 (Part 9 – End)

Crossing from the western longitudes to the eastern at the Greenwich Meridian

SEPTEMBER 10:

Last day on the open seas.

After a very good night sleep, I woke up to the alarm on my iPhone. I had taken a sleeping air pill and, by nine o’clock, was out, woke up around 03:50 to go to the bathroom and slept through the rest of the night.

Shower and breakfast, then up to the bridge to send my position.  There were many ships around us now that we were getting closer to the Straights of Dover.

We had three cargo ships behind us, one smaller coaster to Starboard and I could barely see four on our portside on the westside of the traffic separation line. Behind them I could vaguely perceive the British coast.  France, on our starboard side, was still too far away.

We went through the Greenwich meridian when we passed the Greenwich light vessel indicating that we had transitioned from the western longitudes to the eastern longitudes. By the time I took a picture of the radar screen, it showed that we were at 50◦19.958N and 000◦04;397E.  Our ship’s clock was already set to the time zone of Western Europe, UTC plus two hours.

The Third Mate explained some of the functions on the display connected to the engine room, like temperature of the raw water intake (16.5◦C), the temperatures inside each of the six cylinders, the location of the generator that we will have to use to work the bowtruster once we get to maneuver in closer quarters, etc.  He also told me stories of evacuations of sick crew members, like the time that they had to divert all the way to the Acores to bring a crew member on shore who had chicken pox. The Coast Guard in the Acores picked him up on the high seas, brought him to shore for treatment and, by the time the vessel docked in the UK, the patient was already smiling on the quay waiting to come back on board.  After his treatment he had been flown from the islands to the UK to rejoin his ship.

As the current through the Straits of Dover is pushing us harder, the ship had to reduce speed in order to arrive on schedule.  No news yet of the pilot strike in Antwerp. The Captain had clarified that it was actually the Belgian sea pilot union that was calling for a strike.  Once you get closer to the river Schelde, which would lead us to Antwerp, we would have to bring a sea pilot on board for the last 20NM or so in open seas.  After that, a river pilot would board the ship and guide us up the river to the entrance of the locks, where a docking pilot would take over from him.  If the sea pilots indeed went on strike, we would have to make a 40NM or so detour and pick up a Dutch sea pilot to guide us to the river.

As we were getting closer to 10:15, I went up to the bridge again to get ready for the alarm drill.  The Captain was sitting at his command post and activated the alarm button.  Seven short blasts followed by a long one.  If this had been an evacuation situation, he would have signaled one short followed by a long, followed by a short and so on while announcing the abandon the ship orders over the ship’s intercom.

I put on my life jacket and helmet and ran down the outside stairs to the muster station.  All the other crew members were already there. They had gathered before the signal went off and the watched me run down.  I told them they were cheaters for assembling even before the signal was given.  Anyway, I stood at my position number 22 and waited for further orders.  The First Mate checked the presence of all crew mates and of the lone passenger and passed each one in review asking them what their duties were.

As the last one in the line, he asked me if I knew where the immersion suits were stored – which I remembered from my initial safety briefing – and he told me that there was not going to be an evacuation drill overview, but the rest of the crew would proceed with a fire drill.

Fire and abandon ship drill

While all this was happening, we were being passed on the portside by the Maersk Hamburg container ship.  She was high on the water and there were no containers on deck.

I went back to the bridge and from there back to my cabin to catch up on my emails and write my report.

12:15 and time for lunch.  This must have been the first time on this trip that I really felt hungry. Menu of the day was a vegetable soup, a rather tough piece of beef with oily roasted potatoes and fired portobello mushrooms.  You can’t expect haute cuisine on a cargo ship. This definitely ain’t the Princess of the Seas or some other cruise ship but I wouldn’t trade the experience.  This was the real seafaring experience.

I saw the first sailboat of this voyage.  AIS identified her as SV Maya but no other details.  She seemed to be crossing from the UK to France.  There were lots of ships all around us as we were entering the Straits of Dover and both coasts were very visible.  On the starboard side, France with Cap Gris Nez and the entrance to the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer and, farther away, on the portside the spectacular White Cliffs of Dover.  There was just enough sun to make them shine from afar.

The Captain informed me that the strike of the Belgian sea pilots had been called off and, in order to make it to the pilot rendez-vous point, he had to reduce power to 12 Knots.  Faster cargo ships were now passing us on both sides.

P&O Ferry heading to Calais, France from Dover, UK

P&O Ferries are crossing our path in rapid succession.  Some are going from Oostende in Belgium to Dover, others service the Calais – Dover or the Boulogne-sur-Mer to Dover routes.  This is a busy place.  It reminds me of my young years when, still living in Antwerp, I would drive my small Citroen 2CV car to Oostende and then take the ferry to Dover to go visit friends in Surrey.

The Second Mate has been able to call his mother on the phone and my SMS texts are finally getting out as well.  I had texted my kids to tell them about my progress and was able to send them some pictures. I already called my business partner, Maria, in Antwerp and she will pick me up tomorrow morning at 10:00 at the cargo terminal and then go to the harbor police to get complete the Belgian Customs and Immigration process.

Lots of activity on the bridge at 18:00 and quite some traffic. Between Dunkirk and Oostende and going at slightly over 7 Knots.  Contact is made with Wandelaar Approach, which is like air traffic control but for ships.  They asked us for the freeboard of the vessel in order to figure out the boarding of the pilot, asked about the type of cargo; do they have any hazardous material on board?  What is your draft.  Is the boarding system in place in compliance with SOLAS?, etc.

We have been advised that the pilot will come aboard on our portside at 20:00. Always an interesting maneuver.

17:15 and the radio crackles with instructions to the various ships telling them what heading to go on and what speed.

Car carrier in the Channel

We are passing a huge car carrier, MV Lake Superior, on our portside was instructed to slow down and we slowly pass her. Ahead of us the MSC Regina at our eleven o’clock turning towards the entrance of the river and on our starboardside, abeam of us, a small container carrying coaster.  After nine days on the ocean this quite exciting. 18:30 and Oostende is at our two o’clock. Eben from this distance, I can recognize its highest buildings.

20:00 and the pilot is aboard.  I got a great video of the pilot boat approaching the ship and the pilot boarding. Once on the bridge, het took over control and started giving headings to follow towards the mouth of the river about 20NM away. 

We are well into the channel leading from the North Sea to the River Schelde.

It is dark now and the buoys show us the way.  Red to port and green to starboard, contrary to what we have in the USA where the red buoys are on the starboard side when you return to port.

We have one ship right ahead of us and several fishing vessels on either side of the channel.  We passed the port of Zeebrugge and the pilot gives ever changing new headings to the Third Mate who is at the wheel. “Zero-eight-zero” repeated by the Third Mate who then confirms “Zero-eight-zero” once he is on course, followed by a “Eight-zero-five” by the pilot and confirmed by the Third Mate.

A sailing yacht receives instruction from traffic control near the port of Vlissingen (Flushing), to proceed on course but to stay out of the commercial channel.

21:53 and the pilot announces that the pilot boat is five minutes away to pick him up and to have the river pilot board. We are a zero speed now.

I was outside on the bridge deck and saw the pilot catamaran approach and was able to film the whole process.  It is amazing the quality of videos that you can make with an iPhone.

I watched the into the river and decided to go head for my cabin and go to sleep. It was 22:00 and we were supposed to dock at 06:00.  Around 03:00, I felt some serious bumps as if we had hit something and looked outside.  We were in the lock between the river and the docks.

I “jumped” in my clothes and ran to the bridge to make sure that I would not miss anything of the maneuver.  Two smaller coasters entered the lock behind us and the lock gates between the lock and the river closed.

When the water level had increased to the level of the docks, the gates opened and we proceeded to our berth about half an hour away, under guidance of the dock pilot.

Once docked at the berth, it was about 04:00 by then, I went back to sleep and woke up around 07:30 for my last shower and breakfast aboard/

The Captain was still as sleep after last night’s hard work but I had already thanked him for his hospitality before going to bed.  I thanked the officers and the crew and disembarked.

Truly the experience of a lifetime

A van brought me to the gate of the secured port area where my Antwerp business partner picked me up.

One last visit to the Port Police to clear customs and immigration, which lasted a mere two minutes and the trip was now officially over.

Tomorrow, we hit the road to Italy to join the Tuscany Flotilla.

Capt. Jean De Keyser

sailing@medsailingadventures.com

INDEPENDENT PURSUIT ATLANTIC CROSSING 2018 (Part 8)

SEPTEMBER 8:

I went to sleep at 01:00.  The clock advanced another hour in increments of 20 minutes and this, of course, woke me up every time.

At 08:00, a quick shower and then downstairs for breakfast followed by a visit to the bridge where I sent my Spot position.

The weather was nice and crisp, very calm seas and scattered clouds with the sun hiding partially behind them at the horizon.  Even with such calm seas the rolling of the ship continues, albeit less than the previous days.

The radar showed the AIS of two vessels on our starboard.  One, the Ikan Kerapu could be faintly seen at the horizon and was 12NM at our four o’clock with destination Rotterdam.  The other one, the Stina Kosan, a tanker, was about 15NM at our three o’clock with destination Vlissingen on the river Schelde in the Netherlands.  We could no see her from our ship.

It is amazing what the AIS shows as details.  It is basically a transponder system that automatically identifies a vessel with all her characteristics.  Each commercial ship must have one and even smaller vessels, like sailboats and other motor yachts, have them installed.  On some of the sailboats that we have chartered in the Mediterranean, we had AIS and it helped us identify other yachts in our flotilla that were farther away.  My own sailboat does not have one yet, but it is on the list of upgrades, whenever I get to it.

The Navionics App on my iPhone shows that we are 558NM from Land’s End and the vessel’s chart plotter shows 560NM. We are doing about 17.5 Knots, which means another 32 hours to go before we see land.  Around 17:00 or 18:00 – based on current local time – tomorrow and depending on the conditions, we will be entering the Channel, one of the world’s busier waterways between Britain and France.

I found a whole stack of National Geographic magazines in a drawer of my cabin and started reading them until it was time for lunch.  The captain was by himself at the table and told me that the safety drill has been postponed until tomorrow.

He told me some stories of fires that have occurred under his watch on other vessels.  Some of the stories are quite interesting but, as they say, off the record.

The waves were more pronounced in the afternoon and the ships rolled and stomped harder. Weather is still good with broken skies and sun.  I wonder how I will feel when I get back on terra firma with my sea legs.  I remember that the first night in a hotel in St. Thomas, after a one-week crossing from Bermuda on a 45’ sailboat, I got up to go to the bathroom and, half asleep, just lost my balance completely and fell hitting the wall.

Nothing to do this afternoon but do my laundry and check the emails.

I realized that, during this whole trip I have mistakenly been calling our cook Sergio whereas his first name is Emilio.  He never corrected me when I called him Sergio and neither did the rest of the staff.  Well, I guess I must correct the records of the previous days and did apologize to him.  He thought it was funny.

Dinner was not seasonal at all; pork with sauerkraut.  OK, not everyday can be lamb on the grill.

Time to head for the cabin. The seas are calmer now and without whitecaps. I went up the bridge and sent out my Spot position.  400NM left now at the end of the day until we reach the U.K.

The clock was advanced another half hour while I was finishing up my daily report and just got the news that the safety drill is now postponed until Monday.

Bizarre as we should arrive Monday night at the pilot station on the river Schelde, near Antwerp.  Oh, and by the way, there is a chance the Belgian river pilots may go on strike.  Those darn Belgians…

The planned drill did not happen today.

Nighty night!

SEPTEMBER 9: JUST WHEN I WAS ABOUT STARTING TO BELIEVE THAT THE EARTH WAS REALLY FLAT AND WE WOULD FALL OFF THE EDGE ANYTIME, I SAW THE FIRST SEABIRDS FLYING AROUND THE SHIP

Sunset on the Atlantic

Just when I was about starting to believe that the earth was really flat and we would fall off the edge anytime, I saw the first seabirds flying around the ship; sure sign that we were getting close to land.
The GPS indeed showed that we were only 40NM away from the first small islands, just before Land’s End.

We started seeing more cargo ships at the horizon, some going to the New World others heading, like us, towards the Channel. The AIS identified them all with their names and destinations.
I had just come from lunch and sent out a very late Spot position. It was already 13:00 and I was exhausted after an awful night. At 04:00 I had almost given up on sleep and I must have gone through dozens and dozens of Solitaire and other card games on my iPhone when I finally surrendered, took a sleeping pill and, around 05:00 finally fell asleep. I woke up at 11:00, showered, got dressed and went down to the officers’ mess for lunch.

I chatted with the Second Mate, a short – a bit nerd looking – Croatian who, of course like all the others, was smoking a cigarette. I think that I must have had more than my fair share of second hand smoke during this trip. One wonders why European are still so addicted to cigarettes; way more than their American counterparts.
Reading the Runaway Jury by Grisham makes one think.

Getting closer to the UK, we saw more small fishing boats out there as well.
We should be in Antwerp tomorrow night barring a strike of the river pilots.

After writing a bit more in my cabin, I went back to the bridge and sat down with the First Mate who was now standing watch. We were entering the English Channel now and the fuel selector was switched over from regular fuel to the low sulphur variety. I noticed that I had phone connection on my mobile and fired off a SMS to my wife; “Message could not be delivered”. I tried again; same result. Well, in that case, let’s try to call. The phone rang on the other side and I got in her voicemail. Fortunately, she called me back right away. It was so good hearing her voice after these nine days on the ocean. She did send me a test SMS which I received but the reply, again, did not get out. However, I did receive, as soon as I was in phone range with the UK, a text message from some Republican PAC asking me to send money. Those darn politicians always have a way to find you.

When I told the Captain that I had been able to call the USA, he looked totally blasé and answered in his heavy Croatian accent “Yes, for you this is exciting, for us this is normal and that is why I prefer to be on sea; no phone contact”. What a happy soul.

Back to the command center at the bridge for some more small talk with the First Mate until he got relieved from his watch and then downstairs for an early dinner.
Spaghetti with putanesca sauce was on the menu with a piece of – already cold – pizza. Except for the times that we had the barbecue on the aft deck, all our meals were totally alcohol free. I will make up for it in Italy.

After dinner back up to the bridge to send my position. I stood outside for a while, basking in the sun and almost fell asleep standing up. Tomorrow morning, we should be able to see the White Cliffs of Dover or, if we are closer to the other side of the Dover Straits, the ones near Calais.

INDEPENDENT PURSUIT ATLANTIC CROSSING 2018 (Part 7)

SEPTEMBER 6:

We lost yet another hour.

At around 03:30, the distinct racket of the clock on the wall racing sixty minutes forward woke me up.  Suddenly, I was again an hour older.

Awake now, I played some Solitaire on my iPhone before falling asleep again and woke up at 08:00.  I got dressed and went down to Deck 1 for my breakfast.

We have quartering seas on the port side.  Waves are about three to four feet with white caps.  It makes for a bit more movement on board and, because the ship is rolling more than during the previous days, I need my sea legs.

My cabin is at the portside end of a hallway and the stairs are at the starboard end.  It makes for interesting walking.  One moment you are going up a ten degree incline and, when the sip rolls down to port, you speed up running downhill. Slow up and fast down…  Thank goodness I don’t get seasick.

I was by myself for breakfast and got my eggs and bacon then joined Emilio in his galley (or kitchen in the parlance of landlubbers). We chatted for about half an hour about food, recipes, the beauty of the Dalmatian coast in Croatia and of Istria, closer to the Slovenian border.  The “Admiral” has been bugging me for the longest time to go visit Pula and its Roman coliseum.  Emilio told me that, to keep her happy, I’d better do it sooner than later.  Let’s see if it fits in our 2019 flotilla program?

Up to the bridge for another Spot positioning transmission. Even though it is cooler, out of the wind and with some sun, it is agreeable outside on the bridge deck. The shorts however are stowed away until we are in Italy.

I had good internet connection this morning and was able to check my emails.

It was even possible to get the news although, most of the time, due to the slow connection, I could not read further than the headlines.  I almost regretted the decision of checking the news as it is very relaxing to be in a total ignorant spiritual bliss out here.  The headlines about politics are not mood enhancing to put it mildly.

After checking out some facts for today’s report, I went down for lunch.

Emilio had prepared a hearty vegetable soup followed by a chicken Milanese with oven roasted potatoes and, again, asparagus, but this time wrapped in bacon and melted cheese instead of ham and cheese.  Discard the bacon and the cheese and only keep the asparagus…

The Captain was also having his lunch and said that, although in theory, we should jump another hour forward tomorrow, he would keep the clocks as they are and have them jump forward in increments during the next two days.  I wonder how that is going to affect my sleep and appetite.

Talking about appetite, tomorrow evening the crew is going to roast a whole lamb on the spit on the aft deck.  I just love lamb and am sure this will be the most memorable meal of the trip.  It should also make for good pictures as I have never seen a lamb being roasted on a cargo ship before.

Back to my cabin for a short nap. With these crazy hours, my body needs some rest in the afternoon.  Moreover, what else is on the program?

When I wake up from my siesta, I climb the stairs to the bridge with the idea of reading my book there, but the watch officer is so eager to talk that I don’t get a chance to sit down.  Over a cup of tea, we changed the world for the better but, being so far from land, we don’t see how we can convey our ideas for improvement to the masses. Oh well, we tried.

While up there on our high perch, we see a sudden commotion on our port side, only a few yards from the ship.  Hundreds of flying fish jumping out of the water and literally flying in all directions.  The reason was soon evident; a large pod of dolphins was chasing them while swimming alongside the ship at 16.5 knots of speed.  Total panic and pandemonium among the flying fish.  It was quite a spectacle.  I had seen flying fish before on a sailboat passage from Bermuda to

St. Thomas, many years ago. They would land on the deck during the night and not be able to get back in the water.  Makes for good breakfast food.

A little bit later the Chief Mate arrived to take over the watch and I stayed on the bridge with him. He has been all over the world as a seaman and loves to share his stories.  We exchanged impressions of the countries we have visited and talked about the difference between life in Croatia and in the USA.

At 17:30 we headed for the mess where early dinner is being served.  Emilio asks me if I want an egg, sunny side up, with my steak.  Reminds me of the “Bistek a lo Pobre” from Admiral Mila but of course not as good.  Right when my plate is placed in front of me, the Chief Mate tells me that, actually, the menu of the day is beef tripe.  I love tripe when it is well prepared, and this here was definitely the case.  A few drops of Tabasco sauce and it was just perfect. Emilio promised to keep some for me for tomorrow.

Back to my cabin to read a bit, try to connect to the emails, send my Spot position and ready for another night.

Cloudy sky tonight and no glorious sunset like last night.

Three more days and we should see Land’s End in the UK.

SEPTEMBER 7: IT HAS BEEN A FITFUL SLEEP NIGHT AGAIN WITH THE SHIP CONSTANTLY ROLLING

We are still a good 1000NM from Land’s End according to the GPS on my iPhone.

Using the Navionics App on my iPhone

It has been a fitful sleep night again with the ship constantly rolling.  I was being pushed from one side of the double berth to the other and it woke me up several times.  Around 04:00, I played card games on my mobile until finally fell asleep again.  The alarm went of at 07:45 and, as breakfast is served between 07:30 and 08:30, I took a quick shower got dressed and went to the officer’s mess where Emilio was waiting with a steaming plate of tripe.  The leftovers of yesterday, breakfast of champions…

The forecast calls for grey skies and drizzle.  No drizzle yet but I am sure it will start right when we put that lamb on the spit.  Murphy’s Law of the high ocean.

It is very warm again in the cabin and, for the first time in three days, I switch on the A/C.

I decide to pass on lunch and only had some fruit.  The email was working slow as usual but, at least, I was able to communicate with the Admiral.  We are looking forward to getting together in Scarlino next Thursday for our next sailing adventure.

After checking the emails and answering those that needed attention it was time for the now daily siesta.  One hour was enough to get my energy back and I went back to my new Grisham novel, The Runaway Jury.

Around 16:30 time to go up to the bridge and have a chat with the Captain who was reading the news from his home country.  He only is interested in sports and cannot stand politics.  That is why he is happy to be on a ship.  I can sympathize.

The smell of the lamb on the spit wafts all the way up to the bridge. We go outside and look down on the aft deck where the rest of the Croatian team is having beers and check on the progress of the grilling.  Time to go down and join them.

Lamb on the spit Croatian-style

They already had a few Grolsch beers and were in a very talkative mood, while one of the Filipino crew members was turning the spit. The Chief Electrician was the grill master.  He is originally from the Rijeka area and is the specialist in preparing and grilling lamb and he takes his responsibilities very seriously.  The result is phenomenal.  I love lamb, but this is by far some of the tastiest lamb I have ever had.  I had some of what I call Andrew Zimmern moments.  For those who know the TV series “Bizarre Foods” you know what I mean.  I just start rolling my eyes upwards with an ecstatic look on my face indicating that I am having a so-called “gastrorgasm” (I need to have that term published in the next version of the Merriam Webster dictionary).

We had a fantastic meal, a few bottles of beer and great conversation.  I could not help but see the irony of having had my eye problem in Croatia in June that forced me to go on a cargo ship that was crewed by Croatians in order to eat a lamb grilled Croatian style.  How crazy is that?

I will have to do laundry tomorrow morning; my clothes smell of smoke and barbecued meat.

At the end of the meal, the rain started and, and after sending my Spot transmission, I decided to retreat to my cabin to prepare my daily report.

While writing this, the clock was advanced half an hour.  We are catching up.

Tomorrow will be interesting.  We will have a real emergency and evacuation preparation drill.  I will have to run downstairs to the muster station with my life jacket and helmet on and stand at my position nr. 22.

Sleep tight!

INDEPENDENT PURSUIT ATLANTIC CROSSING 2018 (Part 6)

SEPTEMBER 5:

Sunrise at sea

Last night, around 23:30, I was totally engrossed in my reading, when, all on a sudden, wailing sirens startled me.  It was like we were being chased by police.

Barefoot I hurried up the bridge where all the ship’s officers were checking instruments in the dark and I was told that there was a fire alarm coming from the bosun’s store which, from what I could hear, is located somewhere close to the bow.

No panic, probably a malfunctioning sensor.  Rather than to stay in the way of the pro’s, I retreated to my cabin.  It looks like all was under control.

I had a really miserable night and did not sleep well.  Note to self: take a sleeping aid tonight.  Around 05:00 I finally fell asleep and woke up around 10:00.  Let’s skip breakfast.  After a shower I went to the bridge to send my Spot position.  It looks like I have a whole audience on shore that receives and disseminates my positions.

The weather today is grey and overcast.  The sea is calm with low waves and visibility is about 10 miles. A bit dreary.  Temperature has dropped and I am no longer wearing shorts but jeans and a fleece over my polo.

When I spotted the fishing boats yesterday on the chart plotter, I could also see one ship named Santa Bettina on our quarter port.  This morning she had passed us and was on our starboard at a one o’clock position and about seven miles ahead of us.  The AIS showed that she is a cargo ship headed for GBLGP.  When I have good internet access, I will have to find out what steamship line she belongs to and what the port in the U.K. is with code LGP.  Professional curiosity, I guess?

I always thought that crossing the ocean on a ship would do away with the jet lag.

Instead of jumping six or seven time zones on a nine four flight from Chicago to, let’s say, Brussels, you take eleven days thus smoothening the shock.

When talking with the crew about this, they disagreed, and I must say that, after five days, I am also starting to have my doubts about it.

Remember how miserable you can feel for a few days when, twice a year, we change hours in spring and fall?  Well, imagine having that experience on an almost daily basis, when sailing from one time zone to next one with the clock jumping an hour forward going east.

It screws up your sleep pattern while your stomach tells you it is not really hungry at 12:00 today because yesterday it was 11:00 at this juncture.

Each cabin has a clock against the wall.  The clock is centrally controlled and, every so often, when we are gaining hours, the hands start to race forward to catch up with the new local time and you then must reset your watch accordingly.

Lunch today was OK, nothing spectacular.  Some beef with a non-descript gravy and potato croquettes with some kind of onion salad.  I cannot wait to cook my own meals again.

I finished my Grisham novel and ready for a nap to compensate for the lousy night.

16:28 UTC (or Zulu time as we called it when I was flying) translates to 17:28 local.

The sky has cleared, and the sun is out again.  A bit more wave action than earlier today. 

Was it the fact that I had mentioned to the Captain that I love Paella but, for dinner, we were served a risotto with calamares.  I only picked a little at it because it was very fishy tasting.  I limited myself to some salad and a kind of “Pan Con Tomate”-like tapa.  There is fruit in the cabin.

Going to the bridge to send my Spot position (19:30 local) then read some more.

We are halfway…

INDEPENDENT PURSUIT ATLANTIC CROSSING 2018 (Part 5)

SEPTEMBER 4:

I had forgotten to change the hours on my iPhone and the alarm went off too late.  Quick shower and headed for breakfast even though breakfast serving hours were over.

In a bind, a toast with Nutella and coffee will do.  After all, I have enough reserves.

I spent many hours on the bridge

It has become a morning ritual now; after breakfast, up to the bridge, chit-chat with the crew a bit and send my Spot position.  The “Admiral” had sent me an email saying that she had not received them yesterday and I sent a second one ten minutes later.  My iPhone, although in airplane mode (or ship’s mode?) and without any cellular connection whatsoever, keeps its GPS working and it shows that we are at 41◦7.600’N and 5524.723’W. 

Looking at the chart plotter, I noticed the AIS signal of the MV Maersk Batur, a large container ship.  The AIS on the screen shows all the useful information of the vessel, like length, origin (Algeciras) and destination (New York), speed, heading, and range (about 12NM abeam our starboard).  I could clearly see her at the horizon.

One of the ship’s chart plotter on the bridge

We are going at about 17.5 knots heading straight for the entrance of the Channel and the ETA in Antwerp, according to the ship’s computer is September 10 at 07:33.  The Captain says we are expected to dock on the 11th at 06:00.

The weather today is overcast but the seas are calm, and it has rained during the night.

Back in my cabin which I think must be the only smoke free zone on board. 

All these guys smoke like chimneys, in their cabins, in the mess, on the bridge.

Lunch today was delicious pumpkin soup followed by a rather tough piece of steak covered with garlic, mashed potatoes and eggplant.  A tiny piece of pie concluded the meal.

It looks like this ship may be part of a relief mission of sorts to poor devastated Belgium that has been severely affected by a too hot summer.  As a result, the typical Belgian fries (don’t you ever call them French fries in my presence) are getting in short supplies.  Thankfully, we have several reefer containers on board filled with frozen fries.  I don’t anticipate that we will be received as hunger liberating heroes when we dock but we can always fantasize…….

The afternoon was spent taking a nap first, then finishing my first book, going up to the bridge to check things out and then I started reading a John Grisham novel, The Last Juror. 

During dinner Captain Aleksandr informed me that he had received a message from the agent in Antwerp telling him to inform me that I would have to present myself at the immigration office there.  I told him that I had already made all the arrangements for my arrival.  He also said that on the next westbound trip to Chester, PA, there will be a young Dutch woman as passenger. She will take over my cabin, which is the only passenger accommodation on this ship

We talked a bit about shipping legends like women or soldiers on board bring bad luck, never allow someone to stand near the ship on the dock with an open umbrella.  He was not aware of the superstition that bananas on board also bring bad luck.

The Captain also told me about his life of four months on a ship followed by four months off, back in Croatia, and how he was so happy to work for Independent Container Lines.  He had skippered ships for large corporations like MSC, Maersk, Cosco, but felt that ICL was by far the best company to work for.

20:30 Hours and I have sent out my last position of the day.  The water is totally flat out there, but the air is getting colder as we make our way further out in the North Atlantic.  The AIS on the chart plotter shows a cluster of vessels about ten twelve miles away but we cannot see them.  The watch officer tells me these are fishing vessels on the New Foundland Bank.

Signing off for tonight.

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