• Sarah Royal

The Cargo Vessel: Across the Pacific

When I was renting a truck from a neighbor of mine in the last week of Portland, we got to chatting, and I told her the truck was to haul my shit because I was moving away. She got a bit flustered and cried out, “No!”, but then we talked for a while, and I told her my dictum of reserving the right to move back if need be. “Damn straight,” she said, “because this –” gesturing to the plants and foliage in her insanely green and flowery front yard, glistening in the sunlight, “this does not suck.”

Many times on the boat I repeated, “This – this does not suck,” to myself (and then, of course, laughed very hard). This is going to necessarily be a short briefing on the near-two-week journey due to the fact that I’m currently in Tokyo and in an hour have to go show the Japanese, a Dutch gal, and two Canadians how karaoke is done, but here we go.

When I finally boarded in Canada, I was greeted briefly (as promised) by a few of the Filipino crew members and the German Chief Mate and led to my cabin, which was complete with a full bathroom, wardrobe, desk and chair, table, double bed, couch, cabinet with an inordinate amount of liquor glasses in it, mini fridge, and TV/DVD player. Oh, and two portholes, but they were blocked on the outside by containers, of course. I sat out on the deck above me (there was a lower deck, which only overlooked the ocean in the very back of the ship, an upper deck which went all the way around, decks A through G which had varying overlook points, and the bridge, where the officers were most of the time, steering the vessel) and watched the shipyard guys at Vancouver move the containers on the boat, and then just before midnight we set out to sea. 

I spent most of my time wandering the decks and watching the waves. Seriously. There really wasn’t too much life out there, besides a few other vessels here and there, but I did see dolphins every single day, whales most days, and jellyfish, kelp, and crazy diving seabirds float by often. I also read five books, wrote letters, drank Becks beer with the Captain and San Miguel with the Filipino crew, marveled at all of the grungy containers and ship features, and daydreamed about Portland and New York. When you put it into a list form like that, it doesn’t sound like much, but I swear it was the perfect amount of time to live a simple life like that. I could have even added on those days we lost.

Other highlights include: +  me standing at my favorite spot on the ship – the lower deck at the stern – and have a string of thoughts that culminated in “Gee, I really wish one of those dolphins would come up closer to the ship… or maybe even a wha–” as a fucking gigantic whale surfaces no less than four feet from me, with the blowhole burst scaring the hell out of me, and hovers there for a good six seconds before heading back down. Well, then. Yes, that is what I was looking for, nature. Nice work. +  a Saturday night BBQ we had with the full officer team and crew, which drunkenly degenerated into the Filipinos grabbing a guitar and playing – their choice, mind you – an endless string of 1990s American pop hits,(such as the Cranberries, Oasis, Eric Clapton) which ended with me taking lead vocals on “What’s Up” by Four Non Blondes, because… yes. +  learning the intricacies of what happens when piracy occurs (not in the Pacific, thankfully): “So, if you guys are not allowed to have weapons on board, do you do anything to try to fight back or prepare?” “Well – we throw the fire hoses over the side of the deck so that we can try to spray them off if they climb up, if that’s what you mean.” +  a conversation with the Captain and Chief Mate about what the hell I’m doing: “So you moved from Portland to go where?” “New York City.” “Ah, yes – usually I love New York, but in the port in New Jersey, I HATE this Bayonne Bridge. It is old and short and we are always having to scrape by with less than 15 centimeters between the top of the vessel and the bottom of the bridge. I hate this Bayonne.” +  Watching the pulling-in to the port of Pusan, South Korea at 4:00 a.m. from the bridge, with German officers, a Filipino steerer (actually inputting the turns as they are commanded), a Korean pilot (who awesomely comes on board via a ladder up the side of the boat a little outside the port, to actually be the one to command the turns to get the boat into his port safely), all speaking together in English (the official marine language, which I assume must be British-Empire influence – I’ll look into it), with me hovering over their shoulders. Ah, the world.

Look out for more photos from the ship when I can get them online (and I mean a LOT – I took a ton), as well as more ship writings and hopefully a video compilation when I actually get back to the U.S.

See you next time, kids, likely with a South Korea/Japan/China update.

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