A Travellerspoint blog

Europe begins to loom. Slowly, admittedly

And with that, we are out of the tropics. The Canary Isles – Europe - will be coming up in the next day, and I have less than 100hours before I will be on land again. Though that probably sounds allot, it really isn't. In less than a week I will be sat in an office in the gloom of Northern European winter, probably listening to Slade every 15minutes whilst working hard and, doubtlessly, banging my head against a brick wall at all the f*ck ups I encounter. And thats without my even worrying about the fact that I will be homeless and in London, were I don't want to be, and back in what for most people is everyday life but for me is pure terror: A desk job.

The last year is already feeling more like a dream than reality, even though it is barely 2weeks since i left Cape Town. Was I really on St. Helena this year?? One of the great things about surface travel is that your trip doesn't just end *NOW*. You don't get on a plane and 12-24hours later you are back at home and work and wondering what the heck just happened. Depending where I am coming from, I have anywhere from a few days to several weeks for the realisation to occur; for my body and brain to adapt. To remember the good times, look back wistfully and savour the moment. I have always enjoyed this experience, but this time, on occasions I have wondered whether it might after all just be easier to do it instantly: To fly back quickly: To go cold turkey on travel. In a way it just feels like I am postponing the inevitable for no real reason.

Even though I have no reference materials or way of checking, and it doesn't really matter anyway, I am dredging my memory (yes, it is very sad that i can do it) for routes and ways to get from Vigo - where baring a very unlikely change of circumstance, I will be disembarking - to London. I know what they will offer me (though obviously all plans and ideas will be dictated by our docking time, and whether there is space on the trains) and already I am pondering clever ways and different ideas to save time: Am i better off trying to go via Valladolid or make a beeline for Hendaye at the French border? Is it going to be quicker (or cleverer) to avoid Paris and go direct Bordeaux-Lille? And will I be forced (as i suspect) to spend several hours twiddling my thumbs in the early morning on a station of a small Spanish town such as Ourense or Medina del Campo. Which will be cold, something I am patently not prepared for.

None of this makes any difference. I know that. What will happen will happen. But my mind is gearing up to Europe again: It is not Africa, and different rules apply. There are things i need to know again, or learn new to try and beat the system there. And this is just the start.

Posted by Gelli 14:51 Tagged boating Comments (0)

More pretty much nothingness

One thing that surprised me was daylight: Whilst admittedly we are the further West now than we will ever be, but in terms of longitude we are not all that far away West, and are further East than some places in the same timezone. But I am surprised at just how late the sun is now coming up, considering we are still well within the tropics. In the last year+, I have been used to the sun coming up at 6-7am at the latest, and being perfectly bright and sunny by that time. In some places, such as Mozambique, the sun was up and bright by 5am at the latest. But here, passing West Africa, at 8am it was still pitch black. By 9 it was light, but it would be 9.30am or so before it could be called daylight.

And that was a definite shock to the system.

Passing Dakar, over 150 ships were in range on the scanner, and that did not include small local/fishing boats, though over half were in Dakar harbour or at anchorage. But we are now into busy sea lanes and traffic is fairly frequent. We pass at least 3 or 4 ships a day and have also seen a couple of private yachts. The weather remains warm not hot, and horribly humid though hazy, and even though my eyesight is generally pretty good, it is amazing how hard it can be to spot other ships, even when they are quite close: The wrong shape or colour, and they can bled into the background with astonishing ease.

As we head inexorably North, it starts to change: The good (and even occasionally full) mobile phone signal we received passing the more developed and populated parts of the west African coast – though no network was reachable except for emergency calls – slowly dies out to nothing as we start passing the empty desert of Mauritania. The water, whilst still very calm on the grand scheme of things becomes noticeable more choppy, both to look at and feel. We are traveling over a knot slower. The waves pick up, whipped into white topped pounding water: The wind is increasingly strong, and walking down the deck becomes a bit of a struggle. It is noticeably cooler. We are rolling forward and backwards (as opposed to side to side) which i have always found awkward to sleep in.

Unlike some ships I have traveled on where the crew pretty much spent their time at sea drinking and playing cards, this crew take their jobs seriously: As a general rule Polish crews really look after their boats [unlike certain other nationalities who tend to wear them out much quicker], partly out of duty an respect for the sea, and partly I suspect out of boredom. And so despite the fact the ship is soon to be retired, pretty much the whole of the deck and fittings have been repainted since I boarded; machinery has been stripped and oiled. Slowly reaching Europe and the end of this voyage, it is good to know that the crew are diligent and I am in good hands.

Posted by Gelli 04:47 Tagged boating Comments (0)

Something almost happened!

It was a momentous moment. At 4.41pm on December 1st, on day 12 of our voyage, we changed course. Nothing desperately exciting, but the first course change we had undertaken since leaving the approach to Walvisbaai. Since then – over a week – we had been happily following a course of 316degrees. But now, we were changing to 0: Yup, making a dash due North, and ignoring the increasing masses of ships (15 on radar at one point) and fishing vessels closer to shore. On several occasions, there has even been very brief glimpses of mobile phone signal, though not strong enough to be usable or get a network.

We are getting closer.

Posted by Gelli 15:45 Tagged boating Comments (0)

125hours or emptiness

I was hallucinating. It was the only explanation.

It was, I believe, day 11 of the voyage, and almost 6days since we had left Walvisbaai. The Equator was a full days sailing behind us, and we were still less than halfway through the Walvisbaai – Vigo leg of our voyage.

Looking out of my window in the early morning, I caught a glimpse of something. I looked twice. Three times. I rubbed my eyes and peered again. But there, unmistakably, was a light on the horizon. I was not hallucinating. It really was there. I think. By daylight, I headed up to the bridge and confirmed that it really had happened:

At my best guess, something over 124hours after I had last seen anything resembling life, land or humanity (that was not on the Green Cape, of course), I could see another ship. The discovery of the fact that the world still existed out there was a momentous one in it's way, but irrelevant really. She was just another cargo ship in the distance, and although we followed a parallel course at an only marginally faster rate or knots mean't that we could see her for a full 24hours, she might as well have been a hallucination for all the difference it actually made to us.

Since the last bit of Namibian land, and the last ship around the anchorage had disappeared from, firstly, view, and secondly, radar contact, I had seen nothing except open water, occasional fish or dark shapes of dolphins passing the hull, and the even rarer bird. But now, as we come up towards West Africa, we are almost back in civilisation: The ports at Monrovia, Freetown and Conakry though too far to be seen – as, indeed, is all land - are not all that far away, and traffic to and from Ghana, the Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon and the Nigerian oilfields is also coming into track: At one point later that day we had 6 (yes, SIX!) vessels on radar heading to/from Monrovia, or arriving from the Gulf of Guinea.

Still in the middle of nowhere on the grand scheme of things, we are at least now reaching some reasonably well traveled shipping lanes, and from here to Vigo (still a good week away, and with really miserable looking weather forecast for the last couple of days) we should at least have the vague excitement of being able to see a couple of vessels a day.

Not another ship, no: They were all too far away to be anything but tiny dots in photos, so here is a bit of our ship instead!

Posted by Gelli 14:44 Tagged boating Comments (0)

It's just routine

With the last – and only – port stop now behind us, the days at sea slowly drift past. I am generally a fairly free spirit who's only regular routine revolves around not doing the same things/using the same routes and trying hard not to have a routine. But at sea, you tend to fall into it fairly quickly and without much thought and for reasons that I can't explain, I almost enjoy having a routine here.

So, for me, life currently means that I wake around 7, have a shower, look outside and then head down to breakfast. I will then wander around the cargo deck and have a look out to sea before dropping by the bridge (the Captain is on watch from 8, so I wait for his duty to start) to see what is going on, and inquire what – normally, nothing at all - is likely to happen today: A far off coast bringing potential mobile signal; an area known for marine life with potential whale sightings, other ships or bad weather for example.

By 8.30, i am back in my cabin, make a pot of coffee and then work until lunchtime: This means either real work from my employer, reading through documents, going through my vast backlog of unread mailing list emails, catching up with my blog or sorting photos. I will have another wander outside just before lunch. I will then take it easy/do a bit more work after lunch, often hanging over the side or stern watching the water glide past before generally spending half an hour or so on the bridge talking to the watch officer. I'll then watch a couple of episodes of Family Guy or a DVD.

I am at dinner by about 17:40, and then take another walk all around &/or talk to some of the crew before heading back. I will then try and write (catch up with) my journal for a bit, and take it easy. Once dark, I will often have a drink before spending another half hour or so talking to the two guys on the 20:00-24:00 bridge watch. Then its either back down, and I'll watch a VCR or read for a while before turning in, sometimes after another wander on deck or siting there a while gazing at the stars. Or if the mood takes me, i'll head to the Stewards cabin which tends to be the place to go and drink/hangout in evenings, though if i went every night, by liver would expire long before we crossed the equator....

And that is pretty much that. Sometimes small chores (Laundry, lifeboat drill, crashing into icebergs etc) interfere slightly, and everyday I will periodically nip out for a few minutes for a quick look around deck and out to sea. I also try and drop by the bridge during at least 5 of the 6daily watch periods, generally missing only either of the midnight-4am or 4-8am shifts.

None of that is really exciting in the slightest, and i'm sure that to most people that sounds like horrifically boring an utter hell, especially after Day 1. But for me, it's life, hugely relaxing, and for reasonably short periods – eg: a single voyage of up to a few weeks – I love it.

Yet another sunset over the empty sea

Posted by Gelli 04:41 Tagged boating Comments (0)

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