Mon 02.04.12 – Wed 11.04.12:
It was an early start on Monday morning. Sam had to go into work, so I grabbed all my gear and tagged along with her towards the city centre from St. Lucia. After saying thanks and goodbye, I reached the city centre with half an hour to spare. Although only 8am, it was already shaping up to be another SCORCHING HOT Brisbane day. I really don’t know how people do it. It is nice once in every blue moon to go a whole 24 hours without sweating your teeth out.
I reached the PAE shipping office just after half eight and was taken around the office to meet the staff. I had already spoken to James Kurz, the operations officer, on Saturday morning and I spoke Trish to on Friday afternoon while feverishly attempting to gain passage on the MV Kota Juta, scheduled to leave Brisbane later today and arrive in Keelung, northern Taiwan on April 13… thus giving me ample time to amble down to Kaohsiung in the south to make the Mell Sembawang (if they let me on board!) by April 15.
James drove me down to the port and there I got to stand on the roof of the control tower for the Kota Juta’s terminal: one of only two (I think) container yards in the world to be completely remote controlled. That’s right peeps: the forklifts running the containers around are all automated… and soon WILL BE TAKING OVER THE WORLD a la Metropolis, The Matrix, Terminator, I Robot, Westworld, Battlestar Galactica, AI, Silent Running, Alien, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, THX-1138, Hardware, Transformers, Doctor Who and Wall-E.
Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.
After that I clambered onboard the good ship Kota Juta and met with Captain De Silva, an affable chap from Sri Lanka for whom this will be his first voyage as master of the vessel. It’s a hell of a job. The pay is good, but the responsibly is immense. There are at least 1000 things that could conceivably go wrong on a ship like this, and, like a doctor, if you have just one tiny massive cock-up you’ve not only lost your job, you may also face criminal proceedings. It’s like the diametric opposite of being a politician, in which you can make as many idiot decisions as you like, kill as many innocent bystanders as happen to get in the way and still walk off with your legacy (and best selling memoir) intact.
But think of it this way: have a look around your room. The computer you’re reading this on was almost definitely brought to you by a container ship. The chair you’re sitting in was probably brought in by container ship. Your TV, your Blu-Ray Player, your couch, your coffee table, the carpet, the ring on your finger, the glasses on your face, the clothes on your back, the food in your gut, the light bulb currently lighting the room… and if you happen to be enclosed in concrete at the moment, the very material that surrounds you was brought to you by container ship. If the entire merchant navy went on strike your world would grind to a halt in a way that it wouldn’t if all lawyers went on strike (in face, without lawyers, humans would be more productive than ever).
Needless to say, my appreciation of the merchant navy has grown massively in the last few years. The MV Kota Juta will, in fact, be my 12th major container ship of The Odyssey Expedition – if all goes it plan (don’t worry, it won’t) they’ll be 4 more jaunts like this before I’m finished – the ship to Palau & Micronesia, the ship to Sri Lanka, the ship to Maldives and back and then the ship to Madagascar (in order to hit the Seychelles… on a yacht!).
The crew on board the Kota Juta are mostly Filipino, and the officers are mostly from India. But the two officer cadets, Ed and Joel, are both British – to be able to bang on about British stuff that nobody else in the world knows or cares about is a rare treat for me, and of course it wasn’t long before Ed was cooking up horrible things to do to me in the spirit of the law of the playground.
It had come to Ed’s attention that despite me crossing the equator on a ship on at least a dozen occasions (the yacht to Sao Tome (8 times), Indonesia (3 times), the ship to Marshall Islands (twice) and the ship to Nauru (twice)) I had never taken the time out to placate Neptune. This is something that should have been done the first time I crossed the equator – and, for a couple of new recruits on board the Kota Juta, it was something that would happen on Easter Sunday, just a few hours after going from 0°00’001”S to 0°00’001”N.
The ceremony involved me being “shaved, shampooed, immersed, profaned and purified” as well as being forced to drink the “equatorial holy water” which, I can assure you was anything but holy.
I had to stand in a barrel filled with sea-water, have egg cracked on my head, get covered in paint, have my hair shaved, drink some noxious concoction involving vodka and chilli powder and then get drenched with a fire hose. All this was to take place in the presence of Neptune, who is traditionally played by the eldest man on the ship, in this case it was the Boson. He gamely turned up dressed in some bedsheets, welding a tin-foil trident and with a mop on his noggin.
And so it was into the barrel for your hapless narrator… let the ceremony commence!
Happy Birthday Mand, and Happy Easter everybody else!