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!!

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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