Boarding the freighter

October 3rd, 2008 by scott and becky

Our day began with some typical chaos. Yesterday, we had been told to call Felix in the morning to check about boarding the ship. Carlos could not tell us when we could or should board. We did know that the ship was due to arrive at 7 am, expected to clear customs at around 8 am, and start loading procedures. The estimated time of departure was 1500 (3 pm). So, at 8 am we called Felix only to learn that Felix was leaving at 9 am. So, we rushed to load up our bikes and get to the ship.

It was good that we had scoped out the location of the Port Everglades port entrances. We did not have to fight with navigating our way and could simply ride the 12 km to the port entrance. When we arrived, we discovered we were at the wrong entrance. The guard directed us to the other gate, which fortunately was only 500 meters to the right. Once we arrived at that gate and provided our ID, the guard made a phone call and issued us a temporary port pass and lead us on our way.

It did not take long for us to miss our turn and need to be redirected to the next level of gates. The final gate was only about 30 meters from the ship at the entrance to the loading area. We arrived at the gate, and called Felix. Felix called a stevedore to escort us to the ship. It was highly amusing when the stevedore arrived in his pickup truck. We followed him on our bikes, across the port (about 30 meters) to the gangway of the ship. He then left us there. We had no idea what to do next, so Scott went up the gangway to report our arrival to the officer on watch.

The captain had given any non-duty crew shore leave until 1600 (4 pm). Since we rushed to meet Felix (who we never did meet), we did not get a chance to mail a couple of packages. Scott unloaded his gear and went out to mail packages while Becky stayed with the gear and her bike and got oriented to our home for the next 19 or so days.

The first mate took a look at our gear and our bikes, and asked the shore foreman if we could use the elevator to load the bikes and gear. As is apparently typical when anything is asked of the foreman in American docks, the answer was no. The first mate had a crewman send down a line to retrieve our bags. One at a time our bags were tied to the line and hoisted aboard the ship. The ships main deck is about 10 meters above the dock (about 12 meters from the water line). I was wondering how the bike would be loaded. A couple of crewman came down and two of them carried my bike up the gangway. Rather than stowing our bikes in our cabin, they found a home for them in the aft part of the ship (in the steering gear room).

Becky then settled into our cabin. The Owner’s Cabin is quite spacious, with a separate bedroom and day room. The day room has a couch and love seat as well as three chairs, a desk, a TV, and a fridge. It is larger than most of the hotel rooms we have stayed in over the last 4 months! Once Becky finished stowing her gear (it didn’t take long as we don’t own that much stuff), she went for a walk around the ships superstructure. The tower’s first level is called the upper deck (where the laundry and access to the outer deck is located). There are eight indoor levels above the upper deck, A through G and the bridge. Most decks have some storage rooms, a public toilet, and a few cabins. In addition, the galley and dining halls (crew mess and officers mess) are located on B deck, the gymnasium is located on C deck, the officers recreation room is located on E deck, and our room is located on F deck. It is nice being so close to the bridge (just two flights of stairs up), as that is where one goes to find out what is happening with the ship. Being a little further away from the galley and mess means that we get a little bit of exercise after every meal!

Scott had a bit of trouble getting back to the ship after running his errands. We had both been issued a T-class day pass for the container port, which requires ID to be presented. Scott pulled out his driver’s license and handed it to the guard – her response was an incredulous “is this you?” Scott took off his sunglasses, but she stared at him even more strangely, then handed over the license. It was Becky’s license! And the picture of Becky was from many years ago – big dark-framed glasses, long hair – the guard’s confusion was totally understandable. After a shared laugh with the guard, he dug out his passport, and was passed through. This delay meant that he arrived at the second gate just after noon, just as a hoard of dock workers were leaving the wharf for their lunch break. The same guard was on duty, but regulations require that people with T-class passes be escorted in restricted areas. The guard called Felix again, but with almost everyone on lunch, no-one appeared to provide the 30m escort across the wharf. This left Scott lounging patiently in the shade of the guardhouse, watching the dock operations, until 20 minutes later when the guard finally relented and permitted him to ride the 30 m to the ship.

We have a full complement of passengers on board – us and three others. A gentleman from Gainesville Florida (David), and a couple from England (Roger and Janet). The couple from England has been on several freighter cruises, so we plan to get some advice from them. One thing they mentioned is that we are lucky to have such a friendly captain. They told us that the attitude of the crew is very dependent on the captain. They have experienced ships where the passengers were seen as a nuisance rather than customers. Personally, we don’t think of ourselves as customers, but rather as entertainment for the crew (visiting the bridge when the mates are bored stiff and are happy to have someone to talk to)! Captain Schmeling allows us to be on the bridge, even when maneuvering as long as we stay out of the way. He seems to really enjoy telling us about the ship, and wants us to enjoy our time on board.

Our first two meals onboard (lunch and supper) were very good. Lunch was potato salad and fried fish: supper was hamburger, French fries, and coleslaw. In addition, there is freshly warmed baguette and a variety of cheeses. Looking at the menu for the week, we are expecting to be well fed throughout the journey. We will need to ensure we get our exercise; otherwise, we’ll end up gaining weight on this trip. The stairs, however, will help ensure we get at least a minimal amount of exercise!

Our departure was delayed until 1930 (7:30 pm), which unfortunately meant that we left after dark. It would have been nice to get more pictures of the departure. Because of the size of the ship (300 meters long, and 40 meters wide), we could not turn around in the Port Everglades port. The ship was backed out of the port, then turned around in the main channel. It was amusing watching the maneuver. Then the Port Everglades pilot had to disembark. A pilot is someone who specializes in navigating ships into a particular port or narrow passageway. Each port has its own pilots and they are required to be on board advising the captain and officer of the watch in the best method to get into and out of port. The pilot boat was quite an impressive power boat (about 40 feet long) that was able to keep up to the ship steaming at 20 knots. The pilot boat came along side, and a ladder was lowered. The pilot climbed down the ladder and jumped onto the pilot boat. We did slow down, but we didn’t stop, so the entire procedure occurred while moving. Very impressive, but obviously something the pilot does many times each day.

After all this excitement, we were beat. We were in bed asleep by 2130 (9:30 pm)!

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