Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Around the World in 106 Days

In 2008, Penny and I went around the world.  One goal was to avoid aircraft.  The most important goals were to meet interesting people, see interesting places, and to have a good time.  We did those.

I kept a handwritten journal throughout the trip, and this is that journal entered as though it were an ongoing blog.  I have added illustrations, and some comments that came to mind later.

The pictures here are like a book cover, and are some of my favorites from the trip.  We hope you enjoy this blog and perhaps find some of the contents to be useful in your own travel plans!  Because blogs work in reverse chronological order, you  might want to start at the end to do the trip the way we did.

September 29 Long Beach

Here we are, off Ventura, 106 days after leaving San Francisco.
Penny deserves an unbounded amount of credit for putting this trip together.
She worked on the preparations seemingly without end, for months and
months. It is hard to do her justice, so all I will say is:


September 25-29 Pacific Ocean Transit

More days at sea. I did not have a birthday card for Penny. She said
that was, of course, understandable given the circumstances. Because we
had turned over our passports upon boarding the ship, the crew all knew that
it was her birthday and went out of their way to wish her well.

They had a fire drill on one of the afternoons. As passengers, our sole
function was to show up at the muster station by the starboard lifeboat
carrying immersions suits and wearing warm clothes, kapok life jackets, and
orange hard hats. This we did. The “fire” was in one of the A.B. seamen’s
rooms. The hose did not reach all the way, so they had to get a second
length and recouple everything. Oh well!! With the obvious exceptions of
the galley and the engineroom, there is practically nothing flammable aboard
the ship anyway. Of course, this is as it should be, and just as well when one
considers all things. Shipboard firefighting is not their specialty.

On September 27, the ship had a barbecue and luau in honor of Penny
and me. They don’t get many passengers on the long trans-Pacific crossings.
The captain had bought two suckling pigs for the occasion. There was
something of a cooking contest. The chief mate comes from a family in the
restaurant business, and his wife is Filipina. He prepared one of the pigs
himself, including a marinade with which he basted the skin during the three
hours on the open pit rotisserie. The other pig was prepared by Filipino
crewmen in a traditional style. Both were very good, but I must say that the
chief mate’s pig tasted a little better. There were also steaks, chicken,
sausage, and pork chops. No place for a vegetarian! I took the camera with
me to the luau, but forgot to actually use it! Bummer!! I did get a few
photos earlier of the pigs being roasted.

We have decided to declare our round-the-world journey over when
we arrive in Long Beach. The longitude there is east of the meridian in San
Francisco. It will ease logistics matters a great deal if I fly to San Francisco
as early as possible, get our car, and drive back to Gary and Ann Moore’s
home in Redondo Beach. It will be much cheaper than any of the car rental
options. We hope to get in touch with Charlie and go visit him in Las Vegas.
Then we must to go San Diego to take care of some legal matters before
arriving home on October 10.

September 19-24 Pacific Ocean Transit

One day has been pretty much the same as another. Once the officers
got their paperwork done after leaving port, they too have little to do besides
standing watch. Engineering officers perform routine maintenance, and
corrective maintenance if need be. The engineroom is automatically
operated, and there are no designated watchstanders in the propulsion plant.
Captain Pschonder chose to go east from Okinawa and pass halfway
between Alaska and Hawaii. He meant to avoid heavy weather that was
farther north, along the actual great circle route. The normal track is to the
north, passing through either La Perouse or the Tsugaru Straits, through the
Sea of Japan, and down to Xiamen, China. Or the reverse track from

The chief engineer gave me a tour of the engineroom. As I never
served in a Diesel ship, this was a somewhat different experience for me.
The one engine, twelve cylinder, in-line, 90000 horsepower Diesel with a
single rudder and two steering engines. There are five Diesel generators,
output voltage is 6000V, and the largest one is rated at 2800KW. Only one
generator is in operation now. The large electric plant capacity is to power
refrigerated containers if there are any onboard, but there are none on this
trip. There is a waste-heat boiler, and an auxiliary boiler which is used in
port. Fresh water is manufactured by a single-stage flash distilling plant.
The ship holds 7800 containers. She was built in Ulsan, Korea, in 2004. Six
months were required to build her.

On September 24, we crossed the International Date Line. So we
have come halfway around the world since July 17, when we left London
and crossed the Prime Meridian.

Life aboard this container ship is very routine. The track is
programmed, monitored by GPS (Global Positioning Satellite), and the helm
is on automatic pilot. Meals go on time. 0730 breakfast, 1130 lunch, and
1730 dinner. Coffee at 0900 and 1500. Ship’s work begins at 0800 and
ends at 1600. The German officers eat in the officers’ messroom, where a
separate passenger table also exists. Penny and I eat at that table. One table
for four has appointed places for the master, chief engineer, and chief mate.
The fourth place at that table is never set, although I gather that if there were
only one passenger on board, that place would be used.

I have never seen the Finnish second mate or the two Filipino officers
in the officers’ messroom at all. Kim Axberg does not even speak German.
There are separate menus for the two messrooms, but only one galley and
only one cook. The messrooms are located to port and starboard,
respectively, of the galley. Penny and I often choose the Filipino entrees
from “the other side.”

There is a gymnasium, a sauna, and a seawater swimming pool. I use
the exercise bike twice a day for thirty minute periods, and do a little bit
with the weight machine. This has been very good for the diet…especially
after all the beer beginning in Poland. They have ice cream after dinner on

The chief mate tells me that we arrive off Point ConcepciĆ³n at 0900
on Monday, September 29, and the Long Beach pilot is scheduled to board
at 1500 that day.

Here is an interesting bit about the cargo ship business. CMA CGM
does not own the Hugo. A German bank does, and the French company
CMA CGM charters the ship from the owners. CMA CGM hires a German
company, NSB, to operate this and other ships. NSB provides crews and
operates more than one hundred ships for six or seven charterers, of which
CMA CGM is one. Evergreen is another, as is Hanjin.

September 18 Underway for California

They finished handling the containers in the afternoon and
immediately got underway. Yantian is an easy harbor. The pilot’s English
was not as good as had been the Hong Kong pilot’s. The mates assured me
that such was usually the case, and that the pilots in the People’s Republic of
China could be difficult to work with because of the language barrier.
We received a safety brief from Second Mate Kim Axberg, and off
went the ship. The track went through the Taiwan Strait and meant to pass
north of Okinawa.

September 17 Hong Kong to Yantian

Captain Pschonder and the Yantian pilot on the starboard wing.

Leonard is the steward who looks after us, and after everyone else as
well. We also met Joe, who is the cook, and is the former chef in a Manila
hotel. “Everyone else” adds up to very few people. Counting ourselves,
there are twenty-six persons on board. The regular complement on this fiveyear
old, highly automated ship is twenty-two. There is an extra electrician
along for the ride to the U.S., and there is a fourth mate who is a trainee
watch officer under the normal complement of three watchstanding deck
officers. All of the unlicensed crew are Filipinos, and so are the third mate
and the third engineer. The second mate is Finnish, and the rest of the
officers are German. In the afternoon, the container handling finished and
the ship got underway.

Captain Pschonder kindly invited me to the bridge. Quite a different
deal than a Navy bridge. Well, not really that different, but there were far
fewer people in the pilot house. Or “wheel house” as they called it. Piloting
was done by electronic chart and GPS. The Hong Kong pilot had the conn
and gave orders directly to the helmsman. The ship went out between
Lamma and Hong Kong islands, and then passed Aberdeen and Stanley.
Passing by Aberdeen, I noticed a ship on the starboard bow whose bearing
appeared not to be changing. Trying to be surreptitious, I looked over at the
GPS harbor chart plot to see how much maneuvering room there was. Not
much, but I thought to myself that I would alter course to starboard ten
degrees. At exactly the same time as I thought that, the pilot ordered the
helmsman to come right ten degrees! It was nice to know that I still have
some seaman’s eye left!

The ship then headed up to Yantian which is just north of Sha Tau
Kok, on the eastern end of the border between the Hong Kong
Special Administrative Region and the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone.
Yantian is another large container facility, and it seemed larger than the one
at Stonecutter’s Island. Many of the containers brought on at Hong Kong
were empty ones destined for Yantian. Container handling commenced as
soon as the mooring was complete, and continued throughout the night.

September 16 Leaving Hong Kong

This morning we checked out of the Ramada Hong Kong Hotel, and
did our best to end up with as little Hong Kong currency as possible. We
made our last internet and e-mail check, and then went to buy a few things
for the ship voyage. In the early afternoon, a shipping agent representative
came with a driver to collect us and our luggage. We went to the big
containers facility located just north of Stonecutter’s Island. Which, by the
way, is no longer an island. Driving among the containers was like a jungle
in itself, and we finally pulled up to the berth where MV CMA CGM Hugo
was moored.

The crew kindly carried aboard our luggage, and we were escorted
aboard by Chief Mate Bruno Brockmann. The owner’s cabin is located high
in the deckhouse superstructure. We had dinner, which was a mashed potato
and corned beef mixture. This is, after all, a German-flagged ship! After
meeting Captain Pschonder and turning over to him the requisite documents,
we settled into the commodious cabin. They continued to handle containers
throughout the night.