Aboard the White Sea

ABOARD THE WHITE SEA—This will be a quickie, as I’m still in port and using my phone for Internet access, but I’m aboard the White Sea and will be setting sail in some hours.

The ride into Pasir Panjang Terminal was uneventful, and the shipping company made me use their own driver, as private vehicles aren’t allowed in port for safety reasons. But as we approached, the necks of the idle cranes loomed over the trees surrounding the area. With their green and yellow paint jobs, they evoked strange, mechanical dinosaurs towering over a primeval forest.

Once inside the port, it began to resemble a city. Shipping containers bearing the names of Maersk, COSCO, Hyundai and others were precisely stacked like ziggurats on either side of the street we traveled. Letters and numbers stenciled on their side, detailing the contents, origin, destination, were the “addresses” for the container in port. For an instant I felt I was back on Broadway in New York, mapping the skyscrapers canyons of midtown

And then the ship herself. Not as big as I imagined her, but big enough to stretch beyond my field of vision when I realized we were there. Several cranes were busily loading and unloading shipping containers in a sprightly ballet of steel, cables,  and electromagnetism that dangled metal boxes in mid-air before the crane operators nestled them into place in the hold of the ship with a soft thump, like a heavy door closing several rooms away.

It worked liked this: The crane loomed over the ship, at least 50 meters or more above me. The cab containing the operator moved back and forth on oiled rails, and had expansive glass windows angled down so he could place his cargo. Below him hung a platform from steel cables that attached to the top of the shipping container. He moved back, forth, a little to the left, a bit to the right, and … right there. The container was snared and quickly lifted and, then, just as precisely, lowered into the hull. A single loading took less than a minute. I don’t know how many shipping containers the White Sea will ultimately load and unload, but I’m sure it’s more than I expect.

I’ve not met any of the crew yet. They’re quite busy with the cargo. But I had lunch in the officers mess, and a couple of the Philippine deck hands came up to say hello and welcome me on board. One crusty old crab walker looked me up and down as I walked into the mess with a look of intense disapproval. I deserved it: untucked shirt, flip-flops, jeans and unshaven. But he warmed up considerably when he realized I was a passenger and not crew.

Speaking of the crew. Most of them are, I believe, from the Philippines, with a German officer corps. The guy who met me and showed me to my cabin—which is quite nice and has an unobstructed starboard view—seemed vaguely Eastern European, but didn’t much feel like talking. A quick dash to drop my bags, a lead to the mess hall, and then he was gone. Who was he? No idea. I guess I’ll find out at some point.

And now, I sit in my cabin, which is two rooms and consists of a sitting and TV area with a separate bedroom and bathroom, waiting for the captain to summon me and immigration paperwork to be filed. When the ship’s business is done tonight, I suspect I’ll get a safety briefing and meet some of the officers. In the meantime, the White Sea sometimes shifts and shudders in her berth, as containers are loaded and unloaded. While I was eating, the soft thrum of the engine started. Even now, I can sense it rather than hear it, a slight vibration that has taken up residence behind my sternum.

I’m now going over the extensive safety briefing the shipping company sent me. It makes airline safety briefings seem so cavalier that they might have been drafted by Evel Knievel. My favorite safety warning is this one, however:

Please never enter the bridge from the wing of the navigating bridge at night, as this can cause potentially dangerous misunderstandings with the bridge crew members, who may also fear a pirate attack in some areas.

You don’t often get safety warnings… about the crew. I wonder if that old guy who didn’t like me at first would shoot me. Thinking on that, yeah. Definitely.

So this is it: the real last posting for 10 days. Oh, Internet, I’m going to miss you. But if you love something set it free, blah blah and all that. Don’t let the world end while I’m gone.

Image courtesy of Chris Allbritton

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