A day in Freeport

October 8th, 2008 by scott and becky

50 km, 3hr

The day began with a call to weigh anchor. We were permitted to go forward and watch as the anchor was being brought in. Becky is constantly amazed at how the procedures used here are pretty much the same as the ones she learned as a sea cadet on the YAGs. The key difference being the scale of things. Where on a small sailboat (under 30 feet) you might manually haul in the anchor, on a larger boat you use an anchor windless: on a freighter you use a giant anchor windless. On a small sailboat you shake the anchor to clean off the mud from the bottom. On a larger boat you use hoses to wash the cable and anchor while you are raising it.  On this  freighter there is a built-in washing system as the anchor cable comes up through the hull.  We captured part of this process on video (add links).

Coming alongside in the Bahamas turned out to be a rather stressful experience, at least for us! They seem to do things in a manner that ensure the maneuvers will be exciting and filled with adrenaline. First we are directed into the port through a very narrow channel. Then we arrive at our birth and the previous ship is still in it! So, we are left drifting around the narrow port waiting for a ship to be moved out of our spot. To add to that confusion, there were problems with the tugboat on the bow. The tug kept backing up before the crew had enough time to secure the line to the cleat. This was particularly unsafe, as someone could have had a hand in the way when the tug started pulling. This happened twice before they successfully connected the tug to the ship. It turned out that there was a lack of communication between the tug and the bow crew. This was happening while we were drifting waiting for our birth to be freed!

The procedure that has one ship coming in before the previous ship appears to be a new standard procedure in Freeport (the crew were surprised so it clearly hasn’t happened that often). When we departed, the same procedure was performed, with the new ship waiting right beside us until we left. It is especially interesting because we are a very large container ship; often much bigger than the others in port, so you’d think they might use more caution when maneuvering such a large vessel.

Once we were along side, the gangway was rigged and we were allowed to go ashore. While we were in our room preparing the crew brought our bikes down to the dock. We were lucky to have our bikes, as the cost of a taxi to town is excessive ($30 US each way). Because the boat did not dock until after 3pm, we did not get off on our adventure until 4 pm.

Leaving the dock at Freeport was a bit of an adventure in itself. First we made our way along the safety zone (along the edge of the dock). The crane operators quickly came over. Becky was afraid we were doing something wrong, but it turned out they just wanted to ask about our bikes. After a brief discussion, we were guided to the path that lead to the security gate. Crossing the path of the transports was interesting. We felt like we were in the middle of a battle scene in Star Wars. The vehicles used to move containers are large three container high creatures with four leg and a head. The control booth (the head) is at the top and the drivers are seated sideways. The vehicles make alarming noises when they move. Also, the cranes sound alarms when they are lifting hatch panels and when they move along the dock.  Fortunately there are no alarms when lifting containers, or the cacophony would be constant.  The combination of sounds (unfamiliar and meaningless to us) combined with these large creatures moving about was quite surreal.

Freeport turned out to be further away than we anticipated. We rode for 15 km before arriving near the center of town. We found the International Bazaar: it appeared to be pretty dead with most of the shops empty or closed. Eventually, we ran into David, another passenger, who had made his way to the chamber of commerce and discovered that we actually wanted to be in Port Lucaya rather than Freeport. So, we hopped on our bikes and rode an addition 10 km into Port Lucaya (which would have only been 5 km, had we not taken a detour along the way).

We found the shopping district in Port Lucaya and an Internet café. This only involved one incidence of Becky turning into the wrong lane; good thing there was no oncoming traffic. They drive on the left side of the road in the Bahamas (although at least 50% of the cars are right-hand drive). While in Port Lucaya, Becky did a little bit of shopping while Scott sent email and updated the blog. Becky soon discovered that the cost of everything in Port Lucaya was excessive, so she only bought a few things that we could not get on the ship (gingerale, tortilla chips, and cookies).  The ship’s slop chest does have Tonic and Fanta, and Potato chips among other things.

Once the critical emails were sent and the blog updated, we headed out for a nice dinner at an Italian Restaurant. Becky was amused that we were eating Italian in the Bahamas when we would be in Italy in 8-10 days. It hasn’t really sunk in that we are going to Europe!

After dinner, we realized that it was a beautiful night and would be a shame to throw our bikes in a taxi when the ride back to the ship would involve a nice tailwind. So we hooked up our lights, and hopped on our bikes. The ride back to the ship was  rather pleasant. We rode the 20 km in less than an hour.

Upon arriving at the port, the security guard required that we be escorted back to the ship by an
MSC agent (he did not want us riding in the dark). We were more than happy to throw our bikes in the back of the pickup truck and not need to navigate our way through the Star Wars battle scene a second time!

On Friday morning, we were able to watch more of the dock operations while the ship was being loaded. The ship in front of us had departed, so we had 4 cranes loading the bow at one time –  quite the flurry of activity. Scott went on shore to take pictures, but was ushered back to the ship after 30 minutes because although he was wearing a safety vest, he was not wearing his hard-hat. 

Here are some videos of the “creatures” moving containers around and the cranes loading containers and deck plates onto the ship. (add link)

As we undocked at Freeport, we were permitted to go forward and observe the crew as they cast off the bow lines.  (It’s rare that this would be permitted, so we were very grateful).  Again, not quite the same as a sailboat, since each line is the diameter of an arm.  The crew needed to put enough slack in the line that it was entirely in the water before the dock workers were able to remove the bight (loop) of the line from the bollard (post on the dock).  We were careful to stay off the foredeck, and well out of the way of the crew.  With such large lines and powerful winches, they need to concentrate on their work, and not worry about us.  Fortunately there were places we could stand and take pictures while being well out of the way.

We waved goodbye to the Bahamas shortly before sunset – now we’re in the open ocean for six or seven days.

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