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Notes From A 25-Day Voyage On The Rickmers Jakarta; Houston To Antwerp

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Oak Hill;


Regarding the free fall lifeboat. Yes, generally, new crew or those who have never been in one (yourselves) are required to get into the boat during their first drill. The crew board the boat completely every quarter. As far as thinking they would drop the boat while underway, there is no way that would happen. While it can fall from the ship while underway, getting these boats back onboard, even tied to a pier in a sheltered harbor is difficult and dangerous. Regulations required that the boats be put into the water (lowered there by the wires) twice a year, and actually dropped twice a year. That was found to place too much strain on the boats structure (they are after all, only meant to be used once), so the boat/davit manufacturers have come up with devices that allow the dropping mechanism (a hydraulic cylinder that lifts a hook holding the boat to the ship), while holding the boat to the ship with another hydraulic cylinder and only moving down the slides a couple of inches. This simulates an actual launch, and does not stress the fiberglass of the boat caused by impact with the water.


It used to be that fire and boat drills were weekly, now there will be a weekly drill, but fire drills and boat drills only need to be done twice monthly. Other drills include man overboard, damage control (flooding), oil spill, enclosed space rescues, line throwing devices and pyrotechnics.

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Day 9 (August 28, 2017) At Sea:


Upon arising and during our morning coffee, my Nikon Coolpix A100’s compass is showing us heading ESE, so it’s looking like we’re starting to approach south Florida. Saw some birds too.


Went down for breakfast. A new officer was there. We nodded to each other. We need to chat him up and draw him out. He left as soon as we seated ourselves. Since we now had brown bread again after several days with only white bread, I ordered two fried eggs while Kay had muesli with a sprinkling of the raisin bran that I had discovered in the ‘corn flakes’ bin yesterday.


I told Kay that I would love to get some Windex and clean the four ports of the Officer’s Mess, inside and out. I also joked that, if I had a white board marker pen, I would write in some fake menu items like vichyssoise soup and filet mignon for lunch and lobster thermidor for dinner.


We requested that Jefferson bring us another jar of Coffeemate and some more toilet paper.


Back to the room for more coffee and journal writing. Now heading due east.


Surely, we’re due for a change to Eastern Standard Time.


Worked on my crossword puzzle and took an in-seat snooze.


For lunch, it was slaw in an oil dressing, veggie and chicken soup, and pork ala king with mashed potatoes, carrots and broccoli. Also, some honeydew melon. The unidentified officer was chatting with Gabriel at the captain’s table. They were conversing in English. Well, as it turned out, this guy is the 2nd Engineer from Russia. We have not yet met or recognized the 2nd Officer.


Victor said that we should be getting an announcement this afternoon to set our clocks to EST this evening. Bogdan was not very talkative and he said that he’d been busy all morning – he was probably tired.


After lunch, while Kay did some yoga with her DVD, I got my camera GPS to work by going up on the Pilot Deck. Looks like we’re straight south of Miami and the course is NNE. So, we’re ‘Rounding the Horn’ and will soon be heading up the east coast of the USA.


After leaving New Orleans, we noticed a large piece of what looked like drywall or fiberboard lashed to a railing on the Pilot Deck. Hadn’t been giving it much thought until today when I saw it laid out flat on the wooden table. On closer inspection, this drywall or fiberboard was a 3/4”-thick piece of what appeared to be tempered laminated glass or maybe plexiglass covered with protective paper. I then looked up at where the cracked Navigation Deck window was and saw that the window had been removed. Looks like the ship’s engineers and/or carpenter are measuring a template and that they will soon be cutting a new window for the bridge. I wondered if plexiglass was a suitable replacement for what should be tempered laminated glass. Perhaps the crew could not field-cut tempered glass and plexiglass was an expedient fix. So today will not be a good day to dial 100 and ask to come up to visit the Navigation Bridge.


Looking out our ports to the prow of the ship, it appears that the last loading of the ship has created a load distribution that gives the ship a 5-degree list to port. That is, the port-side beam appears to be about a foot lower than the starboard beam. I told Kay that it must be very hard to distribute loads perfectly without moving a lot of stuff twice and that his degree of listing is probably well within standards of practice. Of course, a strong wind or current from starboard could also list the ship.


This afternoon, we made more coffee and I read from Kay’s Kindle, Y is for Yesterday; A Kinsey Millhone Novel by Sue Grafton. Kay has started another crocheted polar bear. Later, Kay took a nap and I worked my crossword, looked out the ports, and snoozed in my chair.


For dinner, we started our chicken ala king all alone in the officer’s mess. Several seats had meals already served covered in clingy plastic wrap. Officers serving on watch, four hours on and eight hours off, have differing eating times than the standard dining hours. But Igor came in and we chatted with him about watch hours, loading cargo, employment practices for the ship line, and other subjects. We’re getting only about half of what he says because his English is pretty good but we haven’t yet gotten used to his diction.


Afterwards, we went out on the Pilot Deck. Looks like the replacement window on the Navigation Bridge has been installed. We took a few laps around and I took some photos. Our camera GPS had us about 30-35 miles NE of Miami. We looked for lights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale with our binoculars but could not make out any.


Looks like the animated movie Antz tonight.


Turn clocks ahead one hour tonight.

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Finding your review entertaining. Hope you don't mind my commenting.


Angle of list is deceptive for those not used to it. A one foot difference across the beam of the Djakarta would be about 1.5*, not 5*. Most likely the list developed and changed during the passage, due to consumption of fuel. The ship tries to use one fuel tank at a time, from full to empty, to reduce the "free surface" effect that a "slack" tank (partially full) has on the ship's stability. So, the ship will heel to one side as the engineers burn fuel, until the Captain complains and the Chief Mate moves some ballast to straighten the ship up again. Since there are no passengers (well, just a couple) to complain about a list, cargo ships operate frequently with a few degrees of list one way or the other.


As for the bridge window, yes, you cannot cut tempered glass in the field, and it may also have had imbedded heating wire to keep the condensation from forming, so they will make a temporary window until a glass company can come and install a permanent one.


Given your relatively low height of eye, and the relatively low height of buildings in Miami, at 35 miles, you would probably only see a light "wash", not individual building lights.


The 2nd Mate and 2nd Engineer, standing the 12-4 watch are typically the "ghosts" of the ship, as their routines do not follow any normal diurnal patterns.

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We welcome your comments! They help us, and our readers, make more sense of what we experienced.


We were just guessing the five degree list. The estimate of one beam one foot lower is probably a better indication of the actual list.


We were comparing the appearance of the tops of container guide flanges (which were about 18 inches long and just in front of our cabin) and comparing the appearance of the horizon on the most port-side and most starboard-side flanges.

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On the ship I was on, it was difficult to tell if the ship was level or not after we left Japan waters due to a storm (15 degree+ roll to each side). The crew left a huge bottle of seasickness pills by on our table and were probably disappointed that we showed up for ll meals and never even opened it. Your crew was also much friendlier. The crew on our sailing each had assigned seat at two different tables and would sit at their seats even if they were the only two dining and seated back-to-back.

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Day 10 (August 29, 2017) At Sea:


Goal for today: Get toilet paper. Down to less than two rolls.


At breakfast (me – two fried eggs, white bread and Nutella, Kay – PB &muesli), we chatted briefly with Bogdan. I mentioned to him that I would like to put on my hard hat and go outside to wash the ports of the officer’s mess. “Why?” he responded. It made me wonder if this ship, now about 15 years old,would ever go to a drydock for refurbishment and repainting. Maybe it’s more cost effective to just scrap them once they reach their life expectancy. Are we now cruising on a ship that’s past its life expectancy?


To be sure that there was no loss of clarity in my request for toilet paper for our cabin, I left a ‘slop chest’ requisition form on my place mat after breakfast. I asked for 6 rolls of toilet paper. About an hour later, Jefferson brought us 10 rolls of toilet paper – a record number for any accommodation we have ever been in, except for home.


This morning, I finished up a cover story on middle class poverty in The Atlantic, finishing up that issue,and started reading further from another issue. The cover story on this new issue is ‘The Mind of Donald Trump’. This article was from June of 2016 – before anyone could have predicted that he would be elected our next president just five months later. Should be some interesting reading.


While I was reading to Kay, she was painting. But it’s time for lunch. I can eat with renewed confidence now that we have almost 12 rolls of toilet paper.


Lunch today was a tasty borscht soup, pork stew & pears. Gabriel, Bogdan, Victor& Ion were engaged in a lively conversation in Romanian. There was lots of laughing and several references to ‘America’. As they got ready to leave, we asked Bogdan what was the subject of their conversation, he said that it covered about 20 subjects. I remarked, to Gabriel, that maybe they were talking about Igor behind his back. He laughed and said that soon, they would be talking about himself behind his back.


Victor gave us each a lanyard with our ship’s I.D. badge. Each badge had a photo made from our passport, our name, birth date and our rank: passenger. Below our photo, there’s a fingerprint – not ours. We also each signed (again) an affidavit attesting to our possession of laptop, an e-reader (Kindle) and a cell phone.


This afternoon, we had early afternoon coffee and I read today from Y is for Yesterday; A Kinsey Millhone Novel. While we were reading, I saw a rainbow to our starboard side. I layed topside to the PilotDeck to get better photos. When I came back down, Kay told me that Gabriel had called and asked us to come to the bridge to see the rainbow.


It was great to be on the bridge. We joked about how, as children, we would run all over creation looking for the pots of gold at the ends of rainbows. We had a great discussion with Gabriel on various subjects like the pay and benefits of various ranks on cargo ships, how he would like to, one day, work on cruise ships, and the upcoming rough seas. It was interesting for us three to be chatting along while the ship just drove itself, Gabriel just sitting back,dressed in flip flops, shorts and a t-shirt. Gabriel said that would be picking up our pilot for Philadelphia around 10:00pm tomorrow and be docked in the morning of day after tomorrow. Then Victor came up to relieve Gabriel and it was time for us to go to dinner.


Dinner was broiled chicken breast with French fries. Chicken was a little tough but, with the fries lubricated with catsup and chili sauce, it was a tasty meal.


We went back to the cabin and I read some more from Y is for Yesterday. Then it was movie time! Tonight’s choice: Thunderbolt & Lightfoot with Clint Eastwood, Jeff Bridges & George Kennedy. It was a caper film but it dragged on in places.


Gabriel’s forecast or rough seas tonight was spot on. Had trouble sleeping but we are not yet needing our Dramamine.

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Just like cruise ships, cargo ships are required by law to drydock twice in 5 years. Up until 15 years old, the mid-period drydocking can be replaced by an underwater survey by divers. Drydock surveys must be kept current, even if the ship is to be sold, so there's no skimping there. And a ship that's 15 years old is nowhere near its life expectancy, most will operate up to 30 years with the original owner, and then be sold to other operators. Unlike cruise ships, however, most cargo ship operators don't waste time and material painting their ships while in operation. Ensuring a clean, rust free surface, with no salt residue for paint to adhere to is difficult, and shipboard applied coatings are never as long lasting as painting done in a shipyard, so when the ship goes to drydock, they will sandblast and paint the ship from masthead to keel, and that will be it for the next 5 years.

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Day 11 (August 30, 2017) At Sea:


Having slept badly due to ship movement, we got up around 6:00am and had early coffee. Kay worked a sudoku puzzle while I struggled with a crossword.


At breakfast, I had two fried eggs and Kay had a single fried egg. Bogdan was there eating a sandwich made with eggs and cheese. Kay looked for cheese on the lazy susan but found none. Seeing this, Bogdan jumped up and went into the kitchen returning with a plate of cheese and a plate of tomatoes. Kay was set.


Back to the cabin for some more coffee and writing our journals.


For lunch we had broiled fish, mashed potatoes and tripe soup. As we left, we noticed that dinner was going to be pork bellies and potato salad – more tripe! Can’t wait.


This afternoon, more coffee and reading from Y is for Yesterday. The ship has quite a roll and stuff is sliding around the cabin unless we place it on non-slip lining. Got started on the cover story The Mind of Donald Trump from The Atlantic.


Got sleepy half way through the article and we both took a nap. Finished up the article and we went down for dinner.


We were a little later than usual and Gabriel and Bogdan were leaving as came in. Gabriel asked us how we were enjoying the ride. Kay replied, “It’s like being on an amusement park ride!”.


Kay did not like the pork bellies. I liked them a lot, knowing that this is food you should not eat very often. Loaded with fat, it reminded me of the fresh pork rinds that my uncle made when slaughtering pigs.


Looking forward to meeting our new passenger, Richard Gayle, tomorrow or the day after depending on how long we are ported. We’re wondering if Jefferson will take our coffee service away from us and put it in the lounge. We’re hoping that we can keep our coffee and creamer because the room already has a hot water kettle. But it’ll be nice to share with our new passenger.


Looking forward to 10:00pm or so when we pick up our pilot for Philadelphia. Should be smooth sailing up the estuary and river and a better night’s sleep. Also, we’re hoping to be able to pick up cell phone service as we get close to land.


Because the ship was rolling so badly, I suggested that we not watch a movie and look to stop stuff from sliding off our coffee table, desks & night tables. So,we read from Y is for Yesterday and worked our crossword and sudoku puzzles.


Around 10:00pm, we picked up our pilot near Cape May and the seas improved dramatically. Should be a good night’s sleep.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Day 12 (August 31, 2017) Philadelphia:


After breakfast, we checked out and went into town. We were able to walk through the port to the security gate. There, one of the guards called a taxi for us. One of the guards told us that the hop on hop off bus stopped at Independence Mall. Great, we thought, we could do our shopping there instead of having to make a stop at the Target store.


The taxi took us to Independence Mall – the mall where the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall is, not a shopping mall. As we were buying tickets for the hop on hop off bus at the Information Center, we joked with the information receptionist as how we were fooled by the mall designation. We were expecting diet sodas and Tostitos, not American history!


We watched a 20-minute film about four young people during the start of the war for independence on their choices – remain a loyalist or become a patriot.


We started the tour and enjoyed the views from the top of the double-decker bus.We got off near a food court and shared a philly cheese steak. Then we went to a Walgreens to get some sundries and snacks. Kay bought some cookies for the crew.


We then had some Starbucks coffee and finished our bus tour. We got off early at the Hilton at Penn’s Landing to catch a taxi.


We got back on-board, took showers and went down for dinner (pork BBQ with rice and veggies) in anticipation of meeting our new passenger, Richard Gayle, and putting out our cookies for the officers & crew. No one was there. All our meals were already plated and covered with plastic wrap in labeled with a marker pen with our names or rank. Usually, our meals are brought out hot off the stove. We ate, and still no one. So, we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see our new passenger.


Tonight,we did not watch a movie. We read some more and Kay was busy with her journal and I bungled through some more crosswords.

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Day 13 (September 1, 2017) Philadelphia:


Well, today at breakfast we did not see Richard. After breakfast, we layed down to the poop deck to tell Igor and Gabriel that we would like to go ashore for a short time to go to a Target store. Igor said that we would be sailing around 3:00pm and that he would like us back by noon. Gabriel gave us a blue marker pen and asked us to write, on a white board, our cell phone number. As I did, we saw that Richard had also written his cell number – so he was a real, not phantom, passenger.


We walked about a mile through some pretty run-down neighborhoods to reach our Target store. At the store, we found a plastic storage container that might work to hold a supply of partially unwrapped diabetic syringes and infusion sets. We searched the shore for a short darning needle but did not find any. We got a sample-sized shampoo. Before leaving, we had some coffee at the in-store Starbucks.


When we got back to the port, I wanted to get some photos of the whole ship, especially from the prow end. As we approached the ship, we met a longshoreman who gently told us that we could not take pictures of the ship but he wasn’t going to stop us if we weren’t too obvious. When we told him that we were passengers, he relaxed and we got our pictures and we chatted with him for a bit. He knew all the Rickmers ships.


Back onboard, we got ready for lunch which was celery and chicken soup with breaded fish with potatoes and veggies. Still no sight of Richard.


As the ship prepared to depart at 4:00pm, I read some more from Y is for Yesterday and from The Week.


Dinner was onion beef with what looked like quinoa. Still no Richard. Bogdan came in and joined us but he was on a call to his girlfriend. On the way out of the mess, we bumped into Richard – at last. We exchanged a few pleasantries. He told us that after getting off in Montoir, France. he would be cycling from there to Budapest!


In the evening, more reading and Kay got busy again with her journal and more crosswords for me.


Before bed, I arranged everything so that it would not get tossed off the tables,desks and nightstands. As we went to bed at about midnight, the seas got choppy and the ship rolled heavily but not as badly as before.

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Here's a another view of our ship. Note the vertical container guide channels. They can stack containers all the way up to the pilot deck. Hopefully, they won't be so as to block our view out of our cabin.

Note that they are moving some flat-rack containers around. Early in the trip, they had a fiberglass yacht on one of these.


You can see Kay (in blue shirt) about to mount the gangway.


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