January 20 – The Gulf of Alaska is quite rough, and I’m a bit ill. I have to pass on the mushroom casserole and stick to salad instead. I hadn’t realized that the route to Pusan passes through the Aleutian Islands at Unimak Pass. Although we will skim the Aleutians we will not go through the Pass because of bad weather to the north.
The ship is a freight hauler and, I think, this passenger is a more troublesome form of freight that can’t be lashed down. The time zone changes and insomnia keep me up at all hours, and I am allowed to wander about in the small hours of the morning. Still the Captain has been good to me, personally taking me on an extensive tour of the ship, assigning me very comfortable rooms and bringing a portable heater to my cabin. The officer’s recreation room, as far as I can tell, is unused, but offers a selection of books and DVDs, which I can watch in my cabin.
The officers above the rank of third mate eat in the officers’ mess; the remainder of the crew in the crew’s mess. I’m the only passenger.
The Baltimore is on an eastern course, just south of the Aleutian Islands. There is a strong northeast wind that has stirred the ocean up, and added about 2 knots to the ship’s speed. It is also causing the ship to roll dramatically port to starboard.
Meals are my only scheduled activity. Lunch today was a traditional German soup of lentils and vegetables, with sausage. I am told it is served every Saturday. Last night it was “Stuffed Auberginer” which turned out to be a mini meatloaf covered with cheddar cheese and placed lengthwise into half an eggplant. Breakfast was sliced sausage in curry ketchup.
The officers and crew are good people, friendly, hardworking and generous with their time. The officers are German, from Bremen and Hamburg, with one young father from the Ukraine. The crew is entirely Filipino. Liquor is allowed on board and can be purchased very reasonably from the “slop chest.” However drinking is not a big part of life on the ship. With the Captain’s permission I brought a bottle of wine to dinner several days ago and only he joined me in a single glass.
January 18 – The Baltimore was scheduled to leave last Sunday at 8 pm. Over the course of the weekend the departure time was adjusted forward and back at least twice. I finally boarded Sunday at 3:30 pm but the ship did not depart Pier 46 until the the following day at 5 am. All of this served as a reminder that the Baltimore is first and foremost a working container ship, not a passenger hauler. Freight calls the shots.
Also, international passenger travel by ship is never coming back into vogue. However clean and well-ordered the vessel might be (and the Baltimore is first-rate), few people have the time for such a long voyage.
Because I am the only passenger on board, I was allowed by the Captain to bunk in the Owner Representative suite, with a living area, separate head and bedroom. There is a television and DVD player and a selection of films, mainly in German, in the officer’s recreation room. My room has 6 large portholes, 3 looking forward and the rest to port. Even on days of relative calm like today (January 18), I can watch through the forward portholes as the horizon appears and disappears at rhythmic intervals as the bow of the ship heaves up and down.
Speaking of heaving, yesterday the North Pacific was rough and I felt every pitch and roll of the ship, particularly in bed. Heavy seas also caused the containers, stacked 9 high, to groan and creak. Fortunately the scopolamine patch behind my ear is working well although I supplemented it last night with over-the-counter Bonine when the issue whether my dinner would reappear was up for grabs. The crewmembers assure me that what we have experienced so far is nothing compared to their other voyages in the area. There is general perplexity as to why someone would choose to cross the North Pacific in January.
This is the kind of day that makes Seattle look good in a rearview mirror. (Thanks Elizabeth for the photo of the Baltimore taking on fuel).
I’ll be incommunicado for the next few weeks as the ship doesn’t offer Internet connectivity.
According to vessel tracking site sailwx.info, the Hanjin Baltimore is offshore near the mouth of the Columbia River, heading north. It will reach Port Angeles in the Strait of Juan de Fuca at about 9 pm, where it will take on a pilot to navigate Puget Sound to Seattle. The ship is scheduled to arrive at Pier 46 tomorrow at 1 am, and to begin cargo operations two hours later. At 4 am it will begin taking on fuel oil from a barge. I’m getting on at around 3 pm and the ship is scheduled to leave at 5 pm for Pusan, South Korea. 22 days later I should be in Shanghai.
Entertainment corporations have done for passenger travel by ship what they also did for Las Vegas: made it safe and comfortable, while stripping it of risk and romance. Few shipping lines now offer passenger berths although it was once a common way to see the world. Instead people book trips on vessels that look like floating shoe boxes which deposit passengers at the same place they started. The odds of being buried in the Nevada desert, or keelhauled, are dramatically reduced, but what good is a travel story without risk? (Legionnaires’ disease doesn’t count). Nobody wants to hear another story about a convention hangover in Vegas or cruise ship gluttony.
So I was perversely glad to see this warning on the NSB passenger website:
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.