So, I’ve made it! All the way to Mexico from Japan by sea on a container ship.
Was it what I was expecting? Yes and no.
Was it good? Yes
Would I do it again? Yes (which is a reassuring answer as I will be crossing the Atlantic in little over 3 months time…)
First things first, my room was excellent. Spacious, massive desk, far more storage than I needed and I think even more than any one would need unless they were trying to do some epic round the world cruise. Comfy sofa, a coffee table, a nice chair I could position to stare out of the window at a sea view, and a nice, (if slightly hard) bed. In fact entering this pristine room I was even greeted by a towel animal. Lovely.
The room and my shower, (shower was hot, decent pressure) was cleaned everyday by the Steward, a friendly Romanian man named Costache. He was also the guy who showed me to my room in the first place and told me when to come down to meal times.
Meal times were both great and not so great. The food was good. In fact I thought some of it was very good. Even the stuff that was ordinary tasted good, because for the first time in a year I was eating at regular intervals, regular balanced meals. And if nothing else, it was nice to go two whole weeks without having to eat some variation of noodles, something I don’t think I’ve done since July.. I was eating in the Officers Mess. Here the deck and engineering officers would sit at one table, those less up the hierarchy would sit at another table, the rest of the crew ate in an entirely different mess. As for passengers they ate on their own table. Although of course there were no other passengers, so I ate on my own. There were highlights to this, what with every lunch and dinner coming with table service, with three courses and a bottle of wine it felt quite posh. And being on my own table meant I always had my own bottle of wine. I drank quite a bit of wine. Still, I c ouldn’t quite help but shake of the feeling that I had a fortnight of romantic meals for one though…
Talking to myself…
The crew were a mix of Romanian and French. They were all friendly and spoke basic English, but there was a lack of conversational English that did make any attempts at small talk awkward. On several occasions I ate with the Captain and the other officers, and hung out in their own little private bar area before hand. However from my observations at least, mealtimes round the officers table looked fairly subdued and awkward without me, and that the addition of me, who spoke neither French or Romanian, did nothing to ease this awkwardness I actually kinda preferred eating on my own.
And I was able to eat with abandon because of a wonderful revalation – I wasn’t sea sick. To be fair the journey wasn’t really interrupted by any bad weather, but for several days there was a fairly considerable swell that caused the boat to roll from side to side quite alarmingly and resulted in a glass falling of my desk and shattering. However whilst this did dissuade me from going out on deck until it calmed down, my stomach took it all in its stride, which is more that I could have hoped.
I spent most of my time in my room reading, writing and watching films. There was a small ships library on board, which contained mostly French works, but enough English books to keep me going if I was willing to “broaden” my normal reading preferences. So amongst the murder mysteries and spy thrillers I did find myself reading an alarming number of stories about marriage/love/mid-life crisis with almost identical covers in which the title was written in a jaunty script just above a glowing endorsement from Closer Magazine…
Worse than that was the fact I actually found some of them quite funny….
There was also a gym on board, although it wasn’t exactly state of the art, and an empty swimming pool. They did offer to fill it for me, but as its filled direct from the ocean and it’s not exactly warm off the coast of Japan, I declined.
The novelty of being on a cargo ship though was always there. I was given a tour of the engine room which was impressively huge and enormously loud. I was allowed up onto the bridge whenever I like, and could wander the deck as well during daylight hours. I particularly loved the view from the wings of the bridge as the sun began to set, lighting up the clouds in a fantastic light show above the myriad stacks of containers forward and aft of me.
Let’s do the Time Warp
By the end of the trip, I felt rather sad to be leaving what had become quite an enjoyable daily routine of eating reading and watching the sea. However I am also looking forward to a nice normal 24hour day. Because if you travel the seas (or indeed the world in general) from West to East then seemingly every day you need to advance one hour. Except of course for the one day where we went back in time 23 hours. I have seen the sun set twice on Friday the 20th of March 2015. (Incidentaly the Chief Mate told me on one voyage he was lucky enough to have his Birthday twice, but apparently this doesn’t make him a year older). I started out in Japan 9 hours ahead of GMT. I have arrived in Mexico 6 hours behind it. Over half of my nights on board were shortened by the need to adjust clocks. And it wasn’t as if I could just have a long lie in to make up for it. Breakfast was between 7 and 8am each day, and as much as I like sleep, I like food more so missing it was not an option.
In addition to the pictures in this blog, I also put together a short (ish…) video of my time on board which you can see below (ignore the fact it refuses to show a thumbnail – the link does work).