Well the last time I wrote in to Fecalface I was approaching Dubai on the last of my three fifty-seven day trips from New York to Singapore and back. In typical shipping industry fashion, there was a drastic change of plans at the last minute. The head honcho’s at APL decided to start sending this fleet of ships through the dry-docks in Singapore and we were to be the first. So unfortunately I was not going to be home for the holidays as planned and my stay on board would now exceed six months. However, I was going to get to spend two full weeks in Singapore, after which our ship would start a Pacific run, hitting several new Asian ports and eventually sailing back under that beautiful Golden Gate into my home port of San Francisco.
The Dry-Docks in Singapore
So after leaving our pals in Dubai, we sailed straight to Singapore and unloaded all of our containers at our normal dock. We then sailed completely empty, and very high in the water, to the shipyard in an industrial area on the west side called Tuas.
It was quite an operation getting everything in place. Huge overhead cranes assisted us with many mooring lines, making sure the we were in perfect position so that the keel would rest upon pre-positioned blocks and the ship would not tip over when the water was pumped out. Almost instantly we are flooded with hundreds of workers from the shipyard. Welders, pipe fitters, electricians, and specialists of all kinds, climb aboard as the ever-looming cranes drop their massive amounts of tools onto the hatch covers. Most of the laborers are on two-year contracts from their homes in India. While friendly and good workers, they immediately steal anything that we have not locked away: spare line, flashlights, shackles, life-rings, etc. They make so little that we don’t blame them and nobody puts up much of a fuss, but we are careful to lock our cabin doors. The heat is sweltering, it rains insanely hard every afternoon, and the noise is constant and unbearable without earplugs. There are hundreds of projects being worked on, but the main objective is stripping/painting the hull and inspecting/cleaning the prop.
In the deck gang, for the first few days we work very hard, stripping the hatches of thousands of heavy steel lashing rods, turnbuckles, and container cones. We become day workers, meaning we get to work regular 8-5 hours and even have the option of taking weekends! I take advantage of the opportunity to see more of Singapore as much as possible. There is a great subway system around the island and finding new areas to wander becomes my favorite pastime: Little India, Club Street, Boat Quay, Arab Street, the standing wave on Santosa Island, the Night Safari, Chinatown. It feels great to call a place home for a while but in the dusty shipyard it doesn’t take long for everyone to get a bit antsy. A couple of crewmates have spent nearly their entire paychecks ashore on tattoos, booze, and women. There seems to be a unanimous desire to get back to sea, sailors weren’t meant to be onshore this long.
Finally the necessary work is done. We have a bright new paint job, a shiny prop, and although the decks are a complete mess, they fill the dry dock with water, open the gate, and we get underway. After several engine failures and a quick stop to pick up a full load of empty containers, we are happily back at sea, en route to China.
As we wind between oil rigs of the South China sea we begin getting the ship back in shape. Scrap metal on deck and other garbage is thrown overboard. It still seems a little weird doing it, but at a certain distance offshore it is legal, and pretty necessary at times, to throw basically anything but plastics overboard. Inside the house the ship is a total mess from all the shipyard traffic. Decks are mopped, bulkheads are sooged, and I go back to my crazy hours as a 12-4 watch stander. In a matter of days the temperature drops dramatically as we get closer to China. Huge fleets of fishing vessels become more prominent and we must keep a sharp eye out for the incandescent flashing of their buoys at night. At times they are so thick that we must cut between small fishing boats and we usually get a sort of “F.U.” from the fishermen in the form of a bright spotlight in our eyes on the bridge.
Unfortunately our Chinese visas did not arrive in time in Singapore so we were not allowed ashore in Qingdao. I wish I could say more, but I really didn’t see much, a thick layer of smog/mist filled the air so that I could barely see the landscape. The local longshoremen were rosy cheeked and smiling, wearing black Russian looking hats with ear-flaps. We left China quickly and in a day we were in Pusan Korea, where I spent Christmas Eve wandering the winding European looking streets of downtown. I was really impressed with Pusan, super nice people, delicious street food, and cheap shopping. Christmas was spent en route to Japan. The cooks made us a big feast and even broke out some boxed wine for the crew. I made a Christmas tree out of an old green tarp and my pal Charlie helped me decorate it with paper ornaments. We pulled into Yokohama the next night and were in and out of port way too fast. I ran ashore with my crewmate who was appropriately named by his parents “Rowdy”. As usual the cab driver automatically brought us to a sort of red light district. Brothels advertised their services with Anime women in various poses with prices next to them. We met some friendly locals who helped us order dinner in a pint sized restaurant. We shared some Sake, said goodbye and headed back to the ship, unsatisfied with our short exploration of Japan but so happy to finally be heading home.
The Pacific and Finally Home
The Pacific was surprisingly mellow. I really wanted to get some kick ass storms so I could brag about how the Pacific should be re-named El Diablo compared to all the other wuss oceans, but aside from the cold drizzly weather, we managed to avoid any really bad systems. We took another “Great Circle” north up under the Aleutian Chain. Working on deck was very cold, but we had some nice clear nights with bright stars out. On New Years Eve we crossed the international dateline, so as we counted down, the calendar switched back and it was New Years Eve all over again, a little anti-climactic. With the swell behind us we cruised steadily toward Los Angeles. On the day of our arrival I woke up to Santa Rosa Island, my old crab/lobster fishing grounds, on one of those crisp and clear Southern California winter mornings with Santa Barbara looming bright in the background. It was pretty ridiculous: the sun shining, dolphins all over, some literally leaping high out of the water, like Walt Disney himself had set up a slightly creepy welcome into LA. The port stay in LA seemed like it would never end. Luckily some old friends came down to see the ship and bring me some beers and In-N-Out burger. After three days and several engine issues later, we were finally heading north along the coast towards home. I happily volunteered for bow lookout at dawn, I didn’t care how cold it was, I was too excited to be home. The fog seemed to split as the wind sucked us under the Golden Gate. The green starboard light of a small fishing boat eased past us, and an awakening San Francisco was a sight for sore eyes. The sun came up over Oakland as we pulled in near Jack London Square. We had gone the long way from New York Harbor to the San Francisco Bay. Not a full circum-navigation, but pretty dang close. I’m very happy to be home now. Time to catch up with family and friends and start painting full time again. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed my stories. I’ll leave you with a few inspirational posters from the ship and some recent paintings. thanks- martin