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!


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.



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…



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.



The alarm on my iPhone woke me up at 7:45, after a very restful night.

A quick shower later, I went down to the mess for breakfast. Again, two eggs sunny side up with a nice slab of bacon followed by a toast with Nutella. The first mate joined me for breakfast and had a special dish made with lots of veggies.

It looked that appetizing that I asked Sergio to make me one for tomorrow morning.

After my second cup of coffee (instant Nescafe but OK), I went up to the bridge to send my position on the Spot.  The captain was on the bridge and showed me the weather forecast for the next few days.  Maybe some more wind and bigger seas in three days from now but really nothing to worry about.  The computer model showed the tropical storm in the mid-Atlantic that was moving NE from the Cape Verde islands, but it would probably fizzle once it gets further north into colder waters.  No effect whatsoever on us.

I checked the emails this morning but no response from the “Admiral”. It was 10:00 Chicago time and knowing her, she might still be asleep late on a Sunday.

My Cabin

I will check again later but, while I have a connection, I sent her another update and wrote an email to the children and to my friend and business partner, Maria, in Antwerp to tell her that I am still expected around 06:00 on September 11.  She will pick me up at the ship, bring me to the Marine Police in Antwerp to clear immigration and, the following day her boyfriend, Bob, and I will be driving to Italy to join the flotilla.

The emails have been sent and it is time for my routine to go up and down the stairs a few times for my daily on-board exercise and then back to the cabin to read a bit before lunch.

Emilio had a nice pea soup waiting followed by sautéed potatoes and chicken wings in a creamy tarragon sauce.  As a side dish there were asparagus spears rolled into a slice of ham followed by a slice of cheese and oven roasted to melt the cheese. Delicious! I will try to duplicate this at home.

The Captain was there for lunch together with the First Mate and one of the engineers. We had a bit of small talk about the ship and other light subjects.

My Cabin – My Bed

The server, an always smiling Filipino, brought dessert….  Ice cream on which he poured real liquid Belgian chocolate. Dear “Admiral” would have a fit seeing me indulge.  I don’t think that diet thing will work on this trip.  The Captain said that this was Emilio’s first stint on this ship. 

Apparently, the previous cook’s food was not very popular and, because of his reputation as the best cook in the company, the announcement that Sergio would replace him was very well received by the officers.

Time to go back to the cabin and see if I can connect to the Internet and then the afternoon nap.

I finally figured out how to download the pictures from my iPhone to my new Windows laptop.   I kind of regret my MacBook Pro.  So much easier to work with.

I spent most of the rest of the afternoon putting together video presentations of my trip.

Six o’clock and it is time for dinner.  Emilio has prepared a light meal of broiled seabass accompanied by a Mediterranean (of course) salad.  No rice, no potatoes.

After dinner I head back up to the bridge where I spend an hour chatting with the Luka, the First Mate, who’s watch ends at 20:00.  He will be back on at 04:00 tomorrow morning.  He explains to me the display showing all the ships functions and all looks clear. Nothing at all on the radar and we have over 14,000 feet of water underneath us. Spot position sent. I still have not received any confirmation from the heartland that they are actually receiving them.

Time to go back to the cabin, check some emails, play with the computer and read my books, then crash for the night.



Breakfast is served in the officers’ mess from 07:30 to 08:30 and I went down the four decks to get whatever I still could get.  Emilio, the Croatian cook, told me that I could come and eat whenever I wanted and prepared me a nice omelet with bacon.  I toasted some bread and found my preferred contraband on board, Nutella!  Thank Goodness, I can burn all these calories off by running up and down the stairs. Well, maybe “running” is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is still a good exercise.

The sea is totally calm and there are puffy clouds.  We are on a 055.8◦ course going about 15 knots SOG and paralleling the coast but without sight of land.   Tomorrow morning, around 09:00, we will turn further east and head 068.7◦ towards Europe.

The Third Mate, Edwin Borbon, a very nice Filipino guy, is standing watch by himself and happy to shoot the breeze with the only passenger on board.  He will be showing me the ship and guide me through the safety briefing after lunch when his watch is over.

I stand on the outside bridge and activate my Spot to send the second position to my wife and friends.  Last night, before our departure, I did send the first one as a test.

Until now, I have seen only one cargo ship in the far distance and a smaller powerboat, probably fishing, about six miles away.

Time for lunch and I descend the eight flights of stairs to the officers’ mess where I meet yet another Croat officer, Engineer Vedran Francickovic.  The menu consisted of hearty soup followed by chicken breast with boiled potatoes and a “medley” of Mediterranean vegetables drowning in a pool of olive oil.

Time to go back to the bridge to admire a bit more the view from up there before I have to meet the Third Mate for my security briefing. The officer standing watch is only too willing to chat.  During the day the watches are four hours long and only need one person (talking about single handed sailing a huge cargo ship) and it gets a bit boring.  At night, two people are on the bridge to keep things safe.

Two small speed boats are about two miles away, probably fishing, but they remind me of the picture of the Somali pirate boats in the Captain Phillips movie.

Thank God we are far, far away from any pirate infested waters. A bit later a large pod of dolphins appeared on our starboard side, about half a mile away, swimming in the opposite direction. From high up here, we get a great view of them.

One o’clock and time to go down to the first deck for my security briefing.

We go over the sound signals (general alarm: seven short blasts, abandon ship: repeated one short blast followed by a long blast), my position at the muster station (number 22) in case of an alarm or evacuation, the location of the firefighting equipment, of the life rafts and of the life boat. He then shows me the rest of the amenities on board. We even have a (very) small swimming pool aboard in the hobby room.  They fill it up with sea water but. when empty, it doubles as a small basket ball court with only one hoop.

Swimming pool when full. Basket ball court when empty

The rest of the hobby room is filled with a ping pong table, a stationary bike, some weights and one single pair of boxing gloves (go figure).

Time for a nap. The previous long night has me still exhausted and a two-hour sleep gets me ready for the five-thirty barbecue event on the aft deck.

The smell of the grill five decks below seeps into my cabin and wakes me up.

When I get there, the Filipino crewmembers are already putting their food on the grill while the Croatian officers and the only Ukrainian on board, the Third Engineer, are having beers and smoking cigarettes. I join them for some small talk and wait for the Filipino crowd to thin a bit around the grill, then pick-up a T-bone steak, a hot sausage and two skewers of veggies and start cooking.

The meat is of really high quality and absolutely delicious. The Captain finally also shows up for dinner but sticks to himself.

Emilio, our ship’s cook. You can almost smell the food from this picture

After a few beers and a small piece of pie, I climb back up to the fifth deck and my cabin to digest and to write down some more of my impressions.  I already sent my Spot message out to the satellite while the food was grilling.

I am finally able to connect to the Internet and received an email from my “Admiral”, Mila. The Internet connection is extremely slow and it takes several minutes for the typed answer to be transmitted.  We will see tomorrow if she gets the message.  I am also not sure yet that the Spot transmissions have reached their destination.

Unfortunately, not much of a sunset tonight.

Hasta mañana…

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