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.
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.