Archive for the ‘Pacific Ocean’ Category

Welcome home! (almost)

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

110 km, 7 h 30 min

We made it to within spitting distance of Vancouver, although not quite to Canada yet. In the end, our freighter trip was rather uneventful. The sun did not make a direct appearance until 2 hours before we arrived in Seattle, although it did a good job of keeping the sky lit up until the wee hours of the morning. A few whales blew some air our way, but not at the right time or close enough to get a picture. Becky can attest that some whales are indeed bigger than containers!

We did get the opportunity to watch the pilot and captain coast the ship across Seattle harbor while we waited for our tug. It’s amazing how long it takes a huge ship like ours to slow down as she coasts through the water. Our weather throughout the Strait of Juan de Fuca was gorgeous – sunny and warm – a great welcome to North America. The pilot was on board for almost five hours as we sailed through the Strait; first accelerating, then slowing as our docking time and tug priority changed. Our pilot was definitely the most high-tech equipped we’ve seen, with his own laptop and charts, and a link into the ship’s AIS system for navigation data. Fancy! The amount of traffic, and the traffic separation scheme is quite sophisticated. Since there is a lot of ship, ferry, and small boat traffic; everyone needs to report into Traffic Control when they are changing course, changing speed, or crossing the designated traffic zone, so there’s lots of radio chatter. This happens outside almost every port, but with more traffic and more destinations here, it is much more complicated. Seeing the radar beacons, transit lanes and “roundabouts” up close was fascinating.

Entering the US on the ship turned out to be a non-issue. Apparently, the Captain had briefed the customs folks about us, since they only asked a few general questions about our trip, provided us with a local weather report, and stamped us into the country. They were not at all interested in taking our temperature (Swine flu test) or examining our gear. The whole process was over less than an hour after we docked.

Less than an hour after we cleared customs, all our gear was off the ship, and we were making our way to the Bainbridge ferry. The ship conveniently docked less than a kilometer from the ferry terminal – so close we almost felt we could touch it from the ship. Also, conveniently the ferry was delayed by 15 minutes, so we bought our tickets and rode right on. We could not have asked for a smoother re-introduction to North America. We were guided to the ferry (and to John’s street on Bainbridge) by a local commuting cyclist and student at the University of Washington. It was great to be able to have a meaningful conversation with someone about our trip. Scott also had a brief conversation with Marty, who had ridden across the US a few years ago.

We stayed Friday night on Bainbridge Island at John’s place. John and Scott went to university together so it was a great opportunity to catch up and nice to get off the ship and begin our re-acclimatization to North America. On Saturday we rode to Sequim and stayed with some wonderful Warm Showers hosts (Heidi and Dick). We envy their lifestyle, kayaking, year-round cycling, nearby cross-country and back country skiing – they have given us something to strive for! We definitely could not have asked for a better re-introduction to riding in North America – we can only hope the rest of our trip is as nice.

We had hoped to meet up with Kathy, Randy, Sharon and John, whom we met on the boat to Turkey, and who are now home in Seattle. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, they weren’t around this weekend, and we needed to get moving in order to reach Kitimat for Becky’s high school reunion. Sorry guys!

In the first 24-hour back in North America, we made the following observations:

  • We are not a minority anymore (there are lots of people that look like us – so much that we often think we recognize people).
  • When people want to talk to us about our bikes, we can communicate.
  • Random people on the street actually speak English.
  • Sunscreen – others need it too! Locals in SE Asia did not need or use sunscreen, so they found us covering exposed skin with cream in the mornings to be peculiar.
  • Cars are bigger, and often only have one person in them. We also noted that Bainbridge Island has a ton of Toyota Prius’.
  • Grocery stores that have everything, but tend to overwhelm us with choice (too many different types of cheese and breakfast cereal!).
  • Portion sizes in restaurants are huge! (Even as hungry cyclists, we will need to remember to share meals).
  • When Becky talks to herself out loud, those around her actually understand what she is saying – and sometimes comment!
  • The eggs we’ve tried here don’t taste like anything. We tried two hardboiled eggs for lunch, and they had egg-like consistency, but were practically tasteless. We were reminded of the Chinese phrase for factory-farmed chicken ‘chicken with no chicken taste’. Well we’ve had ‘egg with no egg taste’ and we aren’t holding up much hope for the chicken!

Things we loved about riding on the Olympic peninsula:

  • You could hear the birds singing in the woods – we had not realized just how absent birds were in Korea and China!
  • The familiar smell of cedars.
  • Drivers gave us a wide berth – so much so that even though we were riding on the wide paved shoulder they were going over the center line rumble strips.
  • Seeing lots of other cyclists; including meeting four people who had ridden across America within our first 24 hours off the ship!
  • Quiet roads with nice shoulders.
  • Great ocean views.

Pictures below


Monday again

Monday, June 8th, 2009

On Friday night (Saturday a.m.), we were abruptly awakened at 3:30 am by the sound of the fire alarm. Becky immediately jumped out of bed and began to contemplate what clothes she needed to put on and what she should be doing next. Scott lay in bed and eventually began to move, figuring it was likely a false alarm. As quickly as it started, it stopped. What felt like minutes, but was probably only 30 seconds later, an announcement was made indicating that it was a false alarm. That pulse of adrenaline and fear ensured that Becky did not get back to sleep for several hours. That was the start of several days of totally screwed up sleep patterns.

The fire alarm surely didn’t help, but our sleep has mainly been affected by the endless changes in time zones. Between Pusan and Seattle, there is an 8 hour time difference. Our journey is 9 days at sea, so we lose one hour ever night of the trip except the last one. We find that our bodies were not meant to live 23-hour days. As we are moving north, we are also experiencing extremely long days – so when we climb into bed at midnight, it is still light! This seems to be a problem only for us – since the officers and crew have a fixed schedule, they are forced to adapt each day, where we can sleep in and take naps.

We also cross the International Date Line, so we have the joy of experiencing Monday twice (queue “Just another Manic Monday”). The double day is not much of an issue for us non-working passengers, but the crew gets an extra long work week – fortunately, when they return to Asia it all balances out as they get to skip a day during the work week. The actual day change is somewhat arbitrary, but it is scheduled to never occur on a Sunday, as that is a short work day for the crew and the closest thing to a day off that they get – if it were to be skipped one week, the Captain might have to deal with a mutiny!

Compared to other journeys by freighter, this one has been pretty uneventful – no sunsets, no pirates, no fishing, and very little visible land. This journey has had the most time zones, but is also the shortest freighter trip of our journey. We have been on board for over week and it feels like we just got here. We are already making our preparations for departure. Because of the colder climate on this route at this time of year, there are no BBQs. Also, the parties seem to be lacking – possibly as a result of the shorter days in this direction. If this were are first voyage, we would have found it to be rather boring. As it was, we relished the opportunity to spend a week without packing, have a space of our own, and feel like we understood almost everything going on around us.

As we do on every ship, we took the opportunity for a tour of the engine room, although didn’t take nearly as many photos. Becky was surprised by how clean it was – cleaner than she remembers the engine room on MSC Alessia. We also continue to be amazed by the sheer scale of things: winches taller than us, lines with larger diameter than our arms, piston liners we could stand in and not reach the top. It is very easy to feel small on board.

The officers on this trip on average are much younger than on previous journeys. With younger officers, we notice that fewer of them smoke, which makes for a nicer time on the bridge. Also, we have noticed that the younger officers and crew typically speak more fluent English. Captain Schmeling, who was also our captain on our first voyage, was his usual affable, friendly self, and really helped to make this voyage more fun. As we’ve observed ourselves, and heard from other passengers, the captain sets the tone for the rest of the officers and crew. By the end of the trip we were comfortably joking with all the bridge officers, especially with the captain. As usual, Becky usurped the captain’s chair on the bridge, so much so that when she came on the bridge one time, as soon as he saw her, Captain Schmeling leapt up, and said ‘gotta go’! It’s too bad he’s retiring in a year or so, so we likely won’t have an opportunity to sail with him again.

Welcome aboard Hanjin Madrid

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

As soon as we arrived in our “Purser’s Cabin”, we felt right at home. In fact, this felt more like home than any place since we left Ottawa! Between knowing we wouldn’t have to pack up for over a week, having space to call our own, and being familiar with the ship’s routines after two voyages on nearly identical ships, this really did feel like home.

Oddly, we are both finding we need to remind ourselves that it is OK to brush our teeth using the tap water! After 4 months of using bottled water for teeth brushing and drinking, it has become a habit to avoid tap water. We are constantly reminding ourselves that the tap water onboard is safe. For those that missed our reports of previous journeys, the ship has a fresh water plant and makes it own fresh water, so there is no worry about taking on contaminated water in foreign ports.

To understand our track, here is a little spherical geometry lesson. Two points on a sphere can be connected by a circle that has the same circumference as the sphere, known as a great circle. The most famous great circles on earth are the equator and the meridians of longitude. In navigation, the arc between the two points on that great circle is called a Great Circle route and is the shortest distance between the two places. The great circle route between Busan and Seattle takes us between two Japanese Islands (Hokkaido and Honshu) and through the Aleutian Islands into the Bering Sea. Somehow, Becky had not anticipated this northern routing, which means we do not have clothing for the colder climates – fortunately, we are not required to spend much time outdoors. (Scott figured we would be heading up near Alaska, and even thinks he said something about it at one point, but decided that long pants, wool socks and a winter jacket would be fine – we shall see).

Our first night at sea we cruised between Korea and Japan in the Sea of Japan (known in Korea as the Korea East Sea). We saw many fishing boats lit up like birthday cakes – actually the lights were so strong that when we stood out on the wings, our shadows could been seen dancing on the superstructure. With close inspection, we could seen white objects floating around the boats, which at first we thought were waves of fish, but the binoculars showed us they were actually birds flying near the boats feasting on the fish that were attracted to the surface by the lights. There were many of these boats, and it seemed like every five minutes another was passing by our beam as we glided through the calm nighttime seas.

The areas between Korea and Japan was covered in a shroud of haze, making anything in the distance look fuzzy: this was very similar to our entire journey through the Indian Ocean. The haze was mostly white not grey, which makes us wonder how much of it is natural and how much of it is manmade. After passing between the Japanese Islands of Hokkaido and Honshu, making our way out of the Sea of Japan into the Pacific, the haze was quickly replaced by fog, which at times was so dense that we could not see the front of the ship. The fog was forecast to continue for 2 days – apparently it is normal for this time of year. On occasion the fog lifted, and the horizon seemed impossibly distant. We realized that all our time since the Atlantic Ocean, our view has been obstructed by haze. It will be interesting to see how far we can see once back in Canada.