Days M175-180 Ships That Pass In The Night

Tue 20.03.12-Sun 25.03.12:

We’ve got a new captain, Captain Bob, originally from North Liverpool. Old guy, smokes like a chimney. I’m three floors down and I can smell it through the air conditioning. For some reason, Captain Bob supports Man United. Well, to be fair he did leave Liverpool when he was five and back in his day Manchester United were about as successful as a rapper with a lisp, so at least you can’t accuse him of being a glory-hunter.

With a flurry of activity that seemed almost impolite for somewhere as laid back as the South Pacific, the loading operation finished a day early, on the evening of the 20th. This means that there is a very good chance that I’ll be getting into Brisbane – you guessed it – just BEFORE the Cap Serrat is due to depart. I’ll probably see it in the port as we come in. *Face Palm*

But do not fear! I thought that missing the Cap Serrat would mean missing the April 8th ship to Micronesia and Palau. Not so! That ship, the Mell Singapore, isn’t calling into Micronesia and so is no good for me.

Another ship, the delightfully named Mell Sembawang, does stop in Micronesia (and Palau!) and it leaves – get this – on April 15th. This means I have a bit of breathing space to get to Taiwan to make that connection… and IF I can make it up to Townsville in North East Australia, and IF the ship owners let me on board (the charterers have already given me the thumbs up) there is a ship leaving next Saturday for Taiwan’s second city of Kaohsiung.

This ship hasn’t quite got my name on it yet, but we’re working on it. The only sad thing is that there won’t be enough time (and it would be too expensive) to see Mandy before I leave Australia for what will probably be the last time this year. The next time I’ll see her will be in the UK next August for Dino’s wedding – IF I make it. The clock is ticking…

The voyage back to Brisbane passed rather pleasantly. The sea wasn’t too rough and I’ve been on the ship so long (over a month!) that I might as well be a part of the crew. Captain Bob and I got on like a house on fire – I got to bang on about my favourite topics of conversation: politics, history and the city of Liverpool. On Thursday morning I was woken up by Cookie (who is also taking on the role of Ship’s Steward), who had a bag of goodies for me – toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner – everything a good backpacker needs. It was like he had just popped out to Boots for me. Incredible!

The good cheer continued over the weekend, in the evenings drinking kava with a few of the lads and spending the days writing, editing or watching some of the vast array of VHS tapes on offer in the crew’s mess. The only slight irk was one of my external harddrives decided to go the way of Monty Python’s parrot, taking with it some excellent photos and a rather hilarious travel video that I had been working like crazy on. Bah!

Oh well, some things you have to lose along the way…

On Sunday morning at 7am we reached what’s called the ‘pilot station’ of Brisbane. This is where a local guide comes on board your ship to help steer the ship into port. Usually pilots come on board around half an hour before we come alongside, but because the entrance passage is so long and narrow coming into Brisbane, the pilot is usually on board four hours before we reach the quay. As we’ll see in a moment, our pilot was onboard for a lot longer than that.

Our pilot was booked for 4pm, and so we dropped anchor and waited. Nearby, another five cargo ships sat waiting for their respective pilots to come on board. The sea was fairly settled today, but if the weather was unsettled, we’d be rolling like crazy. Captain Bob told me that back in the day, they used to wait in a nearby bay in order to shelter from the worst of Neptune’s ire. But (and this is PRICELESS) the millionaires who live along the coast complained to the Brisbane authorities that the cargo ships on the horizon were ‘spoiling their view’.

Oh my giddy aunt.

I’m minded of the same godawful people who purchase a flat above a nightclub, then complain about the noise.

Hey! Millionaires!! If you don’t want to see ships, DON’T BUY A F—ING HOUSE ON THE COAST BY A BUSY SHIPPING LANE!! Bloody Nimbys.

For some reason (that I never quite got to the bottom of) the pilot came aboard early, at 2.30pm. We pulled up the anchor and started making our way towards the main channel. There was a fantastic view looking back to the shore – the magnificent Glass Mountains rising like ancient pyramids against the setting sun. And no nasty boats in the way mucking it up.

But with the tide going out as we were going in, the poor old Lucy could only muster 9 knots. You can probably walk faster. Doing a handstand. By 7pm we had finally got fairly close to Moreton Island – the second largest sand island in the world – but before we could enter the main channel into the Port of Brisbane we had to wait for two ships, a container ship and an oil tanker, to depart before we could enter it. It was 9pm before we were cleared to go in. It was around 10pm before we come alongside. And guess who was waiting for us in the neighbouring berth? The Cap Serrat. It wasn’t departing until 3am.

I could have made it…!

Bugger. Now I’m left with a dilemma. As I was at sea, I didn’t get a chance to email the owners of the Mell Seringat, the ship leaving for Taiwan from Townsville, any earlier. The charters, Mariana Express Shipping, are happy for me to hitch a ride, but without permission from the owners in Germany, I may very well go all the way up to Townsville (it’s $200 on the coach), get there and basically paint myself into a corner. Also, it’s actually leaving next Thursday… eek!

If I don’t get to Taiwan by April 15, I’m going to lose a month waiting for the next ship that’s going to Micronesia and Palau – and that means I’ll definitely be missing Dino’s wedding in August.

It’s cross-your-fingers-and-bite-your-nails time people!!

Day M181: How The South Pacific Was Won

26.03.12:

The Pacific, south of the equator line, is now complete. Yes, there were a handful of territories – Niue, Tokelau, French Polynesia, Pitcairn & Easter Island – that I skipped, but if the purpose of this adventure is to have great stories to tell the grandkids, I need to finish this quest so I can work on spawning future generations of argumentative scouse dingbats to tell the aforementioned great stories to in the first place. Happily, I did get to visit the French territories of New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna (both of them!) and the US territory of American Samoa, bringing my ‘territory tally’ up to 9.

Here’s a rough map I knocked together of the route I took, including ships and dates. Clicky for biggie.

How I Visited Every Country In The Pacific Without Flying

MASSIVE THANKS must go to the cargo kings of the Pacific Ocean – Swire, Neptune, PDL, PIL, Reef and the cruise queens – Carnival, Princess and P&O. Alex Pattison (Swire), Rowan Moss (PDL), Captain Hebden (Neptune) and David Jones (Carnival) in particular went that extra mile to help this raggedy stranger take a giant leap forwards in achieving his dream.

Finally, hats off to Captain Bernie Santos of the Papuan Chief, Captain Don McGill of the Southern Pearl, Captain Andrey Verkhovsky of the Southern Lily 2 and Captains Sireli Raloka and Bob Williams of the Scarlett Lucy. It was a real honour to sail with these guys.

All in all, a pretty successful five months! I only wish I had known (at the time) that the Scarlett Lucy came into Honiara on the way to Nauru. Had I know that, and had Neptune been happy to let me on board last October, I could have jumped off the Papuan Chief and jumped on the Lucy, cutting out the massive backtrack to Australia from New Zealand – saving myself at least a month’s worth of travel.

But then I wouldn’t have scored a free ride as a VIP on a cruise ship, so I’m really not complaining!!

As I keep saying, there’s no manual for this type of thing – it just goes to show that good information is priceless. Now, with Nauru out of the way, I must turn my attention north to Palau and Micronesia.


The Cap Serrat left in the wee small hours of the morning, and the only other ship that will get me to Taiwan (in time to make April’s one and only ship to Palau and Micronesia) leaves from Townsville, 1,300km north of here in just three days time, and I still haven’t got permission off the owner to board the vessel. This is cutting it tight and making a huge gamble – if I don’t get on the Mell Seringat on Thursday I’ll have lost another month.

After saying my goodbyes to Captain Bob, Rusi, Peni, Cookie, Douglas, Bese, Labe, Ricky, Meli, Patrick, Peter, Hendra, Daniel, Asi, Manasa, Martin and Chief Tarawa – I reluctantly disembarked the Scarlett Lucy, my home for the past 34 days. I set course for the Mission to Seafarers in order to take advantage of the courtesy bus that takes salty seadogs like meselfs to the nearest town, Wynnum. A train ride to Brisbane city’s south bank, a rather unfortunate looking set of nuclear bunkers that substitute for a cultural quarter. A good place to run to when the North Koreans attack, and also there’s free internet.

After trudging through my back-log of emails and correspondence, it became clear that I was no closer to being allowed on this ship than I was 24 hours ago when I was in the middle of the sea. Tomorrow I’d have to make the decision whether to head up to Townsville anyway, but today I could (kinda) relax. I met up with Crystal, a mate off the Pacific Pearl, and we settled in for an evening of pizza and beer before I crashed on the coach. The Pacific Ocean is magnificent, but dry land does have its bonuses.

Day M182: North, Miss Tessmacher!

Tue 27.03.12:

Crystal had to be up for work at 8am, so that meant I had to be up as well. After dropping me in Fortitude Valley (sounds like an area of Alton Towers) we arranged to meet up at 3pm before the bus left for Townsville. By now I was 95% sure that I’d be hopping on that bus whatever happens today.

I slinked my way into a nearby McDonalds to abuse their internet. I had forgotten how painfully slow Aussie internet is. Seriously – it’s faster in Tuvalu. Hell, it’s faster in Nauru. Nevermind, I got to check my emails (I had been so panicky I had got Anna in the UK to check them overnight), but nothing from the ship owners in Germany. I decided to waste some time, so I began to walk from The Valley to the State Library.

Had I bothered to look at the map, I would have cut across the city’s CBD and got there in half the time, but instead I decided to amble across the Story Bridge to the opposite bank and follow the undulating curves of the Brisbane River for a good 8km. Carrying all my bags. In the blazing Queenland heat. But still, this was a side of Brisbane I had never seen before – a most magnificent promenade alongside the river, something that Liverpool could desperately do with north of our city. There was rock-climbing going on, a big free outdoor beach pool, cyclists, picnics, joggers and fellow promenaders. Impressive stuff, and something that has massively raised my opinion of Brisbane. I’ve even come up with a catchy slogan for the marketing board… “BRISBANE: It’s not all bright yellow sex shops!”

After a couple of hours I reached the library. Still no new emails. I checked on the coach situation. Greyhound was either sold out or just being weird, saying it would take 50 hours and cost $400 to get to Townsville. My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. The words ‘f—’ and ‘that’ have never been so apt. The only other option, Premier Coaches, did have a bus going direct, taking 23 hours and costing only(!) $184 one way. It’s $120 to fly there. Urk.

Given Hobson’s choice, I booked the ticket. Annoyingly, the coach left at 2pm – meant I couldn’t meet up with Crystal again before I left. I was looking forward to that pint.

The coach headed north along the Bruce Highway up into the night. Rest stops and bad pies await, and maybe – if I’m really lucky – a ship to Taiwan.