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Thursday, 22 December 2011

Nomadic DHL and the last days of Rome

Written a couple of weeks ago...

While in Shanghai we went to an evening street market and there was this guy doing a bbq with all kinds of food on skewers - it was such good value and amazing tasting.  There was all kinds of meat (maybe some toad?!) and also skewers with shitake mushrooms and oyster mushrooms, plus everything had these really tasty spices added.  

Plenty of selection!

We are now DHL chartered!  We are delivering what seems to be a whole power station from Shanghai to Haldia, India.  You never really imagine deliveries like this being handled by DHL, but here we are.  

Loading is slow due to heavy lift cargo operations.  We have loaded two steam drums (for large steam boilers) each weighing 153 tonnes.  It takes both cranes and much skill to place them safely in the cargo holds - especially as the maximum allowed between both cranes is 160 tonnes!  Five large transformers are also to go in, and these weigh around 140 tonnes each I'm told.  I'm also told that these are extremely expensive (each one is millions apparently).  So, hopefully no mistakes...

Once finished we were stacked with cargo even on the top of the cargo holds.

Power station loaded

We are now in Haldia, India after stopping off en route in Singapore to bunker some fuel.  The total voyage was around 11 days from Shanghai.  Getting into Haldia involved a long manoeuvring as we had to pass through lots of locks en route.  Haldia is very dusty and there's a little fire truck that drives around the port spraying the ground with water to try and avoid as much dust blowing around.  Cargo operations are slow and we've been told it will take around ten days to discharge all cargo.  I've also been told that here the Chief Officer, one of the other crew, and myself will be disembarking - there are some new crew en route from the Philippines to replace us.  So, it's now a rush to suddenly get all the reports I am part way through finished and get all the paperwork done for the academy and my training record book.

Oh, and the on ship market came on board here.  This time we also had hairdresser and masseuse too.  When the Captain was getting his hair cut it reminded me of Prison Break Season 3 in the Panamanian Prison when 'El Patron' is getting his hair cut...

We're getting off at some point on 16th December and we will take a car journey to Calcutta, then fly to Dubai (only myself and Chief officer, as Chris will fly to somewhere else before the Phillipinnes), and then I will fly to Gatwick and Chief Officer to Moscow...


Back home now. Below are some photos of India, en route to Calcutta airport.  Really interesting driving style from the taxi!  You might notice the sensible following distance from a photo or too.  What was really interesting was that there were just people walking and cycling by what was the 'motorway'.    Excuse the photo composition and quality - for most of these we were flying past at about 60mph so it wasn't easy. 

These first photos were from when we had to wait at the agent's office for a few hours before taking the taxi to the airport.  Cyclists and cows were passing regularly (the latter just wander about), and there was a small lake/pond where the locals would come and bathe.

 Chief and Chris


 Bikes parked for bathing

Average traffic

Mika Hakkinen (Chief)

 Car loaded including very important luggage - the Chief's R/C helicopter

Chief at airport with crucial luggage.  Amusingly it was carried on the plane as hand luggage like this.  The air hostess even stored it separately from the other luggage especially for him!

These photos from here down were taken en route to Calcutta airport

A lot of the structures around Haldia were like this, but then closer to Calcutta there were more concrete buildings.

Lots of the trucks were painted with bright colours like this

 Bridge repairs...

 There were lots of homes right by the road, with washing hanging out - it must have got pretty dusty.

 Cycling, walking, all by the side of the road, in both directions

 On the way, we passed quite a few small provinces like this

Motorway services...

I was impressed by this.

One of the more impressive buildings en route

Wash time

Of the more permanent structures we saw, this was probably the most typical type of home around the Haldia area.  

That's it.  I'm now back home and loving being back with Emily, but also the climate, the beautiful look of England at this time of year, parking fines, queues, and all the other English staples.  Suffice to say, rice is not on the menu three times a day now - I've reduced it a little!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Roads to nowhere

I has been long overdue (like having any internet access!), but I must write something on here.  It’s been so long that I can’t remember where I got to – also I can’t check as don’t have internet access when writing this.  I think the last post was from Korea. 

Incidentally, for anybody who couldn’t see what it was – the necklace I was wearing during the baptism was all that remained of the Stingray we ate.  The top bit of skin with the eyes etc.

A few photos from Onsan Port, Korea




We left Korea on 11th or 12th October, and on 15th October we had our first bbq on Saturday afternoon.  Lando (our second engineer) had done a good job and made a bbq from steel – not like Tony’s wooden bbq in Men Behaving Badly.  The weather was great, and cooky had been preparing lots of great food – including a whole pig’s head (you may want to look away Jane).  Not afraid of trying new food (although I did think it was a practical joke on me at first) I ate one of the pig’s eyes and then about half its brain.  Not bad at all is my verdict, if you can get past the idea of eating an eye and mushy brain. 



Earlier on the same day, one of the deck guys had found a bat when they were cleaning off the decks with the fire hose.  He had been drenched in sea water and looked pretty worse for wear (see photo).  I put it on some paper towel to soak the water up and then realised I would have to give him a bath to get the salt water off – which would probably upset him more, but get the salt water off.  So, I ran some warm water and then held his shoulders and dipped him in the water to rinse off all the salt.  I then kept him in my bathroom in a box with the heater on (as I’d read they’re supposed to have a warm temp) and with water soaked shreds of kitchen roll in a bottle cap so it could drink if possible without drowning.  At intervals over the course of that day and the next morning I tried to feed him with milk which a couple of times he accepted.  The only way to feed him though was to pick him up, and every time I did that his heart was beating so fast and he was probably terrified. 

Once it was dark I thought maybe he’d have the strength to fly, now being dry and having rested and eaten.  I took him outside in the box and then got him out – all that happened was he pissed on me.  No success.  So, back in the bathroom in the box and then when I checked on him on Sunday morning I attempted to feed again – he took some milk and then suddenly became very active trying to crawl up my arms.  So, I took him outside and put him on the rescue boat – which obviously scared him again.  However, after seeming confused to be in broad daylight and wind, he suddenly flapped his wings and flew off – hopefully not somewhere else on the ship.  Anyway, I was glad he flew and seemed ok, plus he wasn’t very easy to look after.



Next, we arrived in Quingdao, China.  I think it was only about four days of voyage from Korea and it was all plain sailing – nothing of note I can recall.  Look at our ship though – it seemed to have aged quite a bit during the crossing.

We had arrived on 26th October.  All I can think of when I think of China now is ‘An Idiot Abroad’ – the first episode.  I watched it this week and found it pretty funny (Sam Parker, please forgive me). 

Well, Quingdao was a bit like when the idiot arrives in China as nobody, and I do mean nobody we came across in Quindao itself could speak any English.  On the ship it was ok, as the agent etc had to be able to speak English.

We walked into town to see if we could find internet anywhere.  Firstly, finding our way out of the port was ‘interesting’ as with nobody speaking our language and not understanding our general arm movements for ‘exit’, we had nothing.  So, we looked around for signs, praying for a familiar arrow or exit type sign seen (apparently) all over the world.  This was when we realised there was only one thing we were going to understand in China – numbers.  Everything else is unintelligible to us.  I’m so used to managing to get around most places by guessing words or knowing enough language to survive.  But, when it comes down to symbols - well it might as well have been wingdings written on the signs as neither of us had a clue.  Unfortunately nobody seemed to understand binary code either – I thought maybe we were onto a winner for communication with that idea.

Anyway, by we, I mean Allan and I.  We found our way out the port despite almost being run down by a fairly slow moving train.  At each gate of the port we expected some kind of strict security check, but nothing.  At every gate we tried to ask which way to the town using a number of different word and arm signal combinations – still nothing.  Incidentally, there were loads of workers cycling into and out of the port with awesome old rickety bikes.  Even at the main gate (where our papers were checked) the guys only spoke one word which was ‘taxi’.  They also seemed to understand ‘seaman’s club’.  However what happened next confused us.  We were trying to ask him which way to the town/seaman’s club and he kept saying taxi, but we were trying to show him we wanted to walk (you can imagine us demonstrating our walk).  He went into his little booth, then came back out with a piece of paper with Chinese writing on it.  He indicated we should give this to the taxi driver – we think.  The trouble was that we had no idea what was written on the paper and we weren’t sure if it was the location of where we were then (so a taxi driver in town would be able to bring us back later), or the seaman’s club.  So, I nodded in agreement and smiled and nodded, put the piece of paper in my pocket, and we walked onwards without daring to look back. 

It took about forty minutes to walk into town and it was a very strange – we came across five flyover type carriageways which were roads to nowhere; they ended abruptly.  There didn’t seem to be any sign that they would be finished.  However close by they had closed of a major (for this place) highway into town so people were diverted, it seemed, to where people should only have been walking.  We were walking through this undercover bit similar to a subway with cars driving past and when two abreast almost knocking us into the water on our left.  There were also a number of part completed high rise slash mini skyscraper type buildings which had scaffolding on them, but didn’t look like anything had or would be going on.  Next to these were a couple of finished ones but they didn’t even look newly finished so they could well have been previous development.  To our left was a river type body of water and above it a road on stilts.  It all felt a bit like the Barbican development in London, but brought to China and incomplete.  Oh, and add some random large pipelines to that mix, as these were snaking around the river side. 











Three of the roads to nowhere


Further on, underneath the road which they had closed, there were small industrial units and it reminded me then of some of the bit of East London with businesses under railway arches, albeit dusty and very old.  The best way of explaining the whole mix of things I was seeing was post apocalyptic; any film directors should consider this location for the next film of that ilk.

Town wasn’t much further than this part, and when we got there it was a bit of a shock after being on a ship with only fourteen people.  It was seriously busy with traffic, noisy, and seemingly dangerous for anybody on foot.  There didn’t seem to be any way of crossing the road without doing it in parts, whilst cars zoomed past seemingly unaware of you being there.  At many points (a wide road) you thought your time was up as another car horn sounded abruptly, but you realised you had managed to get away with your life, albeit you’d need a change of underpants. 

We wandered around town for an hour and didn’t find internet or anything else apart from traffic.  The main streets seemed to be a mass of closed down stores or industrial type electrical shops selling things like safes and power distribution boxes.  There were a couple of shops like Lenovo (selling computers) and also quite a few shops selling large amounts of LEDS and other electronics; the road looked like something out of films in Vegas in terms of led flashing lighting and neon signs – probably responsible for inducing severe headaches and or neighbourhood wide seizures.  It was fascinating, but tiring; a sensory overload.  I was glad to get back to the ship a couple of hours later. 

What was new when we were in China, was that the first day these market type traders turned up on the ship and set up all their electronic goods on the deck to sell.  The second day was more electronics and clothes too, such as super cheap north face gear. However, after inspecting it very closely I didn’t believe it was real; there’s not much point buying a windproof wicking layer jacket if it’s fake!  What was really amusing was that dotted amongst all their goods were some random things – most notably Viagra and Cialis pills!  It was like a generic male spam email had arrived in physical form on the ship.


In China we had been loading Ammonium Nitrate (not nice – I think they use this to blow up land when they want a road where a hill is).  We left headed for Indonesia, where we would distribute amongst a few ports there.  I think the journey was eleven days.  It also involved passing through a known pirate area so we had to post pirate watches and have increased security – basically locking everything down including having to use a key just to get in and out of engine room from inside accommodation.

It got hotter and more humid (the humidity around here is mega), and one day when I had been working near the main engine for a while I realised I had heat rash all over my neck and shoulders – I’ve never had that from being indoors! 

We arrived in Indonesia on 3rd November and waited at anchor to go into Tanjung Bara.  At anchor we had to have extra watches on deck to prevent any bandits making off with anything they consider valuable.  We had to remove everything like brass covers for fire fighting system water valves etc so they couldn’t be stolen.  We also had to put razor wire down the hawse pipes (pipe where anchor chain goes through deck and out of ship’s hull) and then cover them with plates to prevent any entry onto the ship that way.  Oh, and just as we were anchoring I had to climb the mast and replace one of the top spotlight lamps as it had blown – full harness donned and it was pretty fun in the dark.

Once we manoeuvred into port we weren’t allowed ashore at all as we’d been told it was too dangerous due to bandits – even to be roaming in the port was not allowed. 

We then left and went to anchor, as apparently we had been unloading on what’s normally the refuelling pontoon.  Then we had to come back into port to unload more cargo, and then we headed to our next port: Samarinda.  This was only about five hours away. 

We were only at Samarinda for a day or two and didn’t even go into port – all the ships I saw (including us) were unloaded at anchor into barges that came alongside us.



The weather was so humid this whole time in Indonesia, and I didn’t much appreciate this when I had to spend significant amount of time up the mast again – this time just below the top, but on the other side, repairing a lamp that had broken; this involved most of it being rewired and making new connectors for it (as no spares of course).  Once I had finally fixed it, tested it, and come down (all this time Allan had to just wait at the bottom keeping watch with the radio) we went back to the engine room, only to be told that they had now realised one of the navigation lights at the very top of the mast (outside and above the ladder cage) was not functioning.  So, up the mast again and this time out of the safety of the ladder cage which was less reassuring.  It was a bit like sitting on top of a large telegraph pole changing a light bulb.  The ship wasn’t moving around too much though so apart from some mild sun burn that day I was good.

While we were in Samarinda we offloaded all our scrap steel (useless to us) in exchange for a large catch of prawns, other fish and coconuts, which we’ve been enjoying ever since. 

We left Samarinda after two days and headed for Balik Papan, which again, wasn’t a long journey.  Once we were here we unloaded the last of our Ammonium Nitrate, again to a barge.  We got to go ashore in Balik Papan and it was a great experience.  It was about five minutes via speed boat (sketchy ride, but fun!) to the pier/terminal where we got into Balik Papan, and then we had a driver who took us to the main part and stayed with us the whole time.  He paid for anything anyone wanted or needed and then we paid him in American Dollars at the end to save changing cash up.   It was $10 each for the boat from our ship, and $10 each for the car which seemed expensive at first considering there were five of us, but this all seemed worth it at the end of our exploring.  What we noticed as we drove around was that there were so many people on motorbikes; I mean that in both ways that can be read.  I saw one motorbike with mother and father and two kids on – all with the natural skin type crash helmets!  Many of them had more than two people on, and these were only small bikes – probably only 125cc.

We went to the main mall first (which was actually quite small, but nice) as people needed a few things, then left the main part of town and ate at a more traditional place where the locals eat (useful that Jhun the bosun can speak Indonesian).  We had a meal of queen prawns, calamari, and this really amazing fried rice (also with prawns and calamari in) and it tasted so good.  It was great to watch them do the fried rice too, but the guy was a bit camera shy when it came to getting him in the frame!  During the time ashore it rained quite heavily a few times and was very very humid.  But, we always seemed to be indoors when the big downpours came, so the camera survived.  After the meal we explored a market out of the centre of town, before returning back to the pier and getting the speed boat back to the ship.  All in all a great experience - amazing to get to see a small bit of a country we passed through so quickly. 


We left Balik Papan on 10th November headed for Shanghai, and last Saturday (12th November) we had another bbq party as it had been Gerald’s birthday birthday earlier in the week, and Soy’s birthday that day.  This was our third bbq and despite the pigs’ eyes and brains on both other occasions, no pig’s head surfaced this time.  We did eat a LOT of prawns though, and somebody had made Creme Caramel too, which took me back a few years!

We arrived in Shanghai last night about 1030pm and it’s now Saturday 19th November.  The whole place looks grey and rather depressing here.  I’m not sure if it’s the weather, or pollution.  Anyway it reminds me of how English ports are probably looking right now.  However, we are loading some interesting cargo: steam drums for industrial boilers.  Each one has mass of 152 tonnes and they require both cranes simultaneously to manage due to their size and weight.  I just felt the whole ship judder a minute ago, suggesting we have just landed another in the hold.  We should be leaving tomorrow or Monday, bound for Haldia, India.  However, we are stopping en route in Singapore for bunkering – we’re only taking on 250 tonnes this time, just to top us up.  We will be anchoring in India for nine days apparently (the plans have already changed about ten times so this may not happen – we were going to be heading for Australia until India was suddenly the plan) then unloading for two days.  After that we should be heading back to Singapore where we will take on maximum bunkers and then who knows where.  Hopefully that will take me up to just before Christmas and I will be able to fly home from there!   We’ll see.  Next stop: Indian summer?