22 September, 2005

The United States is now in sight on our charting map.

These little devices are in every room and they keep you informed with all sorts of status updates if that sort of thing interests you.

The calendars also have this standard look to them. Either three or four months are displayed (and each calendar has all 12 months so it's quite configurable) and the little date indicator is moved by someone each day. You really would lose track of what day it was otherwise.

The inside of the lifeboat is inspected.

Of course they do *sell* alcohol on board so that part of it is a little unclear.

This is the crew's mess hall, similar in style to the officers' mess hall.

The rules on garbage disposal.

A look at the long passageway underneath the cargo containers.

There is a little alleyway between each stack.

This is what you see once you finally get past them all.

The very front of the ship.

A look back at what we're hauling.

Not sure what it does but it looks like it's not to be trifled with.

I imagine acceptance is something you don't want to lose around here.

No idea at all what this sign means but it sure looks like it belongs.

A look towards the front of the boat from the middle.

A similar view a little further back with a glance at the endless ocean.

And this is what it looks like in the back of the boat.

The status board found downstairs.

One of the many reminder posters for things most of us never think about.

22 September, 2005

Day 69. The ship has been especially rocky today. In fact, last night was the first time I had significant trouble falling asleep and I'm sure the constant swaying had a good deal to do with it. I don't know if this is because of some sort of a storm (the sky looks fairly clear) or due to the fact that we're getting ever closer to land. I'm quite proud of the fact that not only have I not been seasick on any of the three boats I've spent so much time on during this voyage but that I haven't even felt seasick. Of course if this motion keeps up, that may come to a screeching halt.

I woke up thinking that land might be in sight but there was still nothing but ocean in all directions. No boats, no islands, no signs of life other than us. But looking at the charts on the bridge told a very different story. We're edging closer to San Francisco and will presumably spend the overnight hours heading down the coast. Tomorrow afternoon we actually dock at Long Beach! Wow, that's a city I never thought I'd be showing enthusiasm towards.

I actually got to speak to a Kiribati crew member for the film. That was really cool. It turns out they've only had television there for about a year and so they're very wary of being on camera. But the steward (also Kiribati) had asked this guy to come up and be a part of it. So I guess he was kind of coerced into it.

We found out today that the steward (the quiet guy who serves the officers and us our meals and cleans up all around the ship) won't be able to go on land when we dock. Apparently someone has to always be on board and that's his job. It sucks that one of the hardest working people here won't have the chance to get off the boat for even a little while but I guess he's used to this kind of thing.

Ben has been really helpful in approaching people to get them to say some words for us. So far most everyone has been rather shy and reluctant. I suppose that fits in with the lifestyle here. If we can get more participants, great. If not, I'm happy to just have all of this to experience.

Today was a safety day which meant we had to participate in an evacuation drill. In fact there are a number of items that need to be taken care of before the Coast Guard boards us tomorrow. I'm not really sure what to expect from that. Customs ought to be interesting too. Ben expects to be interrogated for a couple of hours because of the Middle Eastern countries he's visited. I'm sure they'll have a few questions for me as well. The captain tells us to be ready by early afternoon tomorrow to have our quarters searched or to be questioned. I wouldn't miss it.

So the evacuation drill began promptly at 1:00 p.m. It's not really much of a drill when you know exactly what time it starts. Nevertheless, Ben and I were already watching videos in our muster station, which also was the officers' recreation room. Even with the advance notice I still managed to detach my beacon light from my life preserver, we both forgot our helmets, and Ben wore sandals which is apparently a no-no when evacuating a boat. The entire crew with the exception of the captain gathered outside next to the 34-person lifeboat. A bunch of routine exercises were gone over and a few people went inside the boat. I was really hoping I wouldn't have to be one of them and I was practically praying that they wouldn't actually try and lower the thing down into the water. These safety drills can be quite dangerous, after all.

As it turns out, us passengers pretty much only had to show up and we didn't have to do any of the other stuff that actually involved manual labor. Having not gotten much sleep last night, I didn't argue. So the two of us went back inside while the rest of the crew continued with the drill. With everybody outside and only the captain upstairs, I think we both knew that we'd never have a better chance to take the ship. But continuing with the videos was more important so we went back to that.

Laundry was also important today, it being the last full day on board. For me, having all clean clothes when I left would mean not having to worry about laundry again before I got home. That would be ultra cool. I commandeered one of the laundry stations and got the job done.

One other thing that Ben and I both wanted to do before this journey ended was take a walk completely around the ship, not just within the area of our building. We made sure it was okay with the captain and then we went down to one of the lower decks and just started walking away. You really get a sense of the size of these cargo containers when you're walking right next to them and they're stacked four high in columns for the entire length of the freighter, creaking menacingly. It's like you're walking through a little apartment complex. These containers, after all, are the real reason for the trip. We're basically just hitching a ride with these giant boxes. And we'll never know just what it was we were riding with. I wondered how hard it would be for someone to actually stay alive in one of those things and make it all the way across the ocean. It's something you can't help thinking about when you see how big the space is. Maybe an entire army could be transported in this manner. But more likely we're probably seeing a mall's inventory for a short period of time. Nothing all that exciting.

I think going all the way around the freighter is about a kilometer of walking. Plus you get a really terrific and close up view of where we're going and where we're coming from. You definitely have to be careful doing this - it's not like the QM2. You can easily slip on the deck and the railings have a lot of big gaps in them. When riding a freighter you always have to remember that it's a working vessel designed for people who have half a clue as to what they're doing on a boat. It's really an honor to be allowed on board to witness the whole process. It's certainly not for everyone but I know I never could have experienced the thrill of crossing the sea or hearing the sounds of the United States in the distance on the radio or seeing land for the first time (whenever that finally happens) if I had just taken a plane over. Sometimes you just have to do it differently and I know now this was the right way.