A week at sea


On Monday afternoon the third engineer gave Scott, Becky and David a tour of the Engine room. Becky was immediately surprised at how spacious it was and also how cool it was. She was afraid it was going to be oppressively hot; however, they appear to have good ventilation, such that it was quite pleasant – although very loud. Ear protection is mandatory, and it would probably be useful if the engine room crew knew sign-language.

The main engine uses “Bunker Oil” which is very viscous and dirty, but much cheaper than diesel. This means the fuel tanks must be heated constantly to keep the fuel from congealing, and the fuel must be purified before it is used in the engine. The engine still doesn’t burn very cleanly and particles of soot land everywhere on the ship.

Engineering involves quite a sophisticated series of systems, and the ship itself is quite new – built in 2001 by Daewoo in Korea. Scott drew a simplified system diagram to amuse himself, but hasn’t checked it with the engineers yet. The systems we were shown include:

  • 12 cylinder Main Engine with three turbochargers
  • Steam plant for heating bunker oil, internal heating, heating water – run from an auxiliary boiler until the main engine gets up to speed, then steam is generated using the hot exhaust gasses from the engine
  • Cooling system with a closed-loop fresh-water stage and open-loop sea-water stage
  • Fresh Water evaporator (so the ship can produce enough fresh water for crew use as well as cleaning). The ship uses about 16 tonnes of water fresh water a day, and can generate up to 26 tonnes when the evaporators are working correctly.
  • Fuel Oil Purifiers
  • Lubricating Oil purifiers
  • Air compressors and compressed air tank – the engine uses an air start mechanism
  • Auxiliary engines
  • Blowers to bring air into the engine

Everything is outsized, with the pistons twice as tall as Becky, and the engine itself three decks high.

The engine is directly coupled to the prop via the stern tube, with no transmission. The screw only turns at 88 RPM to make the ship go 22 knots. That is one impressively huge propeller!


We have found that over the last few days we have been more and more lethargic and spending too much time in our cabin. We were sleeping too much during the day and not getting proper sleep at night. It only occurred to Becky today that she was exhibiting the same symptoms as she gets in the shorter days of winter – at home she uses a light for 30 minutes a day on the shortest days of the year to help keep her sleep patterns. So, for the rest of the trip, we will each try and spend at least an hour each morning outside, exposing our bodies to the sun and getting some exercise – walking back and forth across the deck and climbing the many stairs.


Today we awoke early to see the Island of Santa Maria in the Portuguese Azores. The ship did a little detour to the south (to kill time since it was too early in the morning) and a detour to the north to get close enough to the Azores for the European crew members to use their cell phones. Since the Azores are in Portugal, they are within the European cell phone network. It is much cheaper for the crew to use cell phones than to use the satellite phone on the ship. We were happy to see land for the first time in six days. We will not see land again until we reach the Straits of Gibraltar on Friday morning.

Our plan of getting some sun and exercise is working well, and we’re feeling much more energetic.

Once we reach the Straits of Gibraltar, all the crew will be very busy until they leave the Mediterranean. The ship will have seven stops in two weeks, before they head back out across the Atlantic returning to North America. The cook and the steward are scheduled to leave in La Spezia, so a party was needed to say farewell (I think it was just an excuse to have a party!). We were invited to join in the festivities, which took place in the “Filipino Lounge”, otherwise known as the crew recreation room.

We arrived shortly after dinner. The room was a little smoky, there were Christmas lights twinkling and karaoke was playing. Immediately, chairs were set for us and we were offered beer or wine. It was essential that we each had a drink in hand. Anytime our drinks looked close to empty, someone came by to refill. There was also lots of food, including some fried fish with sauce and a delightful seafood salad (like ceveche with a Filipino twist and lots of ginger ).

We spent the night joining in with the karaoke. Several of the crew were very good singers, others not so good, but everyone was enthusiastic. As it got later the music changed from 60-70s English pop and Filipino love songs to 80s rock and the crowd got rowdier. Everyone was shouting out the lyrics and several folks were dancing. It was a lot of fun, and involved a lot of laughing.

We were surprised that the other passengers did not join in the parties. We really enjoyed the opportunity to laugh with the crew and share some of their culture. It certainly helped keep us entertained! They do have a pretty good life on board, although the four to seven month shifts do keep them away from their families and loved ones for long periods.


Most of Thursday was spent relaxing and recovering from the party. We left while the party was still going strong, but still did not get to sleep until after midnight.

We were sad to learn that the cook and the steward who were so looking forward to going home will need to wait another month until the ship gets to Houston. Their replacements were not able to get visas for Italy, so they must stay on board until their replacements can reach the ship. If they were to protest loudly enough, they would be able to leave, but generally you do not leave the ship until your replacement arrives. The captain also found out that his replacement will arrive 10 days later than originally scheduled. It seems that everyone on the ship suffers from the uncertainty of when their replacements will arrive.

We notice that there is a lot more shipping traffic. At one point Becky went up to the bridge to see four ships all heading for the same invisible spot (us included). It was amusing that in the open ocean with so many miles of open sea, our paths all intersected (within about 1-2 miles). Fortunately we didn’t all reach the magic spot at the same time. After this, there were no other ships for 50 miles.


We awoke at 5:30 am to see the lights of Africa (Morocco) and the rock of Gibraltar as we passed. Unfortunately, it was a dark night with the moon not as luminous as it had been while we were at sea. You could just barely make out the hills behind the lights in Tunis (a city in Morocco across from Spain). The rock of Gibraltar appeared only as a shaded mound against the dark background. The excitement of being in the Straits of Gibraltar lasted for about 45 minutes before we decided to crawl back into bed.

We are entertained by the change in the number of ships in the area. Every time we go up to the bridge, we see 10 or more ships on the radar. The officer of the watch needs to be diligent about checking our course and ensuring that we will not come too close to any of the other vessels.

We are still moving at 22 knots. We did not slow down for any of the narrow passageways (narrow was 7 miles wide). Apparently, the ship requires crew to be in the engine room in order to change to “maneuvering speed”. We are currently moving at “cruising speed”, which is not quite the maximum, but rather the most economical speed. Any significant changes to engine speed requires the Chief Engineer and a full team to be on standby in the engine room.

Since entering the Mediterranean, the ship has pretty much stopped rocking. We still feel the vibration of then engine, but the rolling caused by the sea swell is gone. The ship feels like it is moving slower, when in fact it is moving faster! Our first impression of the Mediterranean is that it is full of garbage. Watching the waves from the bow, we can see garbage floating in the water. You can’t go more than a few seconds without seeing some bit of paper, plastic, or can floating in the water. It is rather sad to see so much junk.

Tomorrow morning we shall be in Barcelona. We hope that the ship will be in port long enough for us to enjoy a couple of good meals ashore and run a few errands. Once we leave Barcelona, we will only have about 36 hours to prepare for our departure in Gioia Taura.

2 thoughts on “A week at sea”

  1. Sounds much more intriguing than a regular cruise!! Hope you’re both doing well, love reading what you’re up to.

  2. I kept hearing the music from Titantic in my head as I read through your ocean voyage. It was great!

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