9 November 2018

Career breaker extraordinaire, Pete Martin, has shared his fascinating tales with us before and we're delighted that he gave us a chapter from his book to share with you all! Never one to follow the crowd, Pete chose to sail on board a container ship - which is one of the most unusual ways to travel! Here he tells us all about it.

The container ship that Pete Martin sailed on

Alone on the Ocean

Pusan New Port Terminal, a new and vast container terminal, is forty kilometres to the west of the South Korean city of Busan. I pass through the formalities of passport and security easily and I’m driven past endless stacks of multi-coloured containers and giant yellow cranes.

Seven huge freight ships sit at the quayside whilst enormous blue cranes grab and deposit containers from the backs of lorries on to their decks.

Halfway along, through the windscreen, I spot the big blue ship that will be my home for the next twelve days as I cross the Pacific Ocean from here to Seattle.

Next to the cranes and the stacks of containers, the vessel does not seem too big, until I get out of the car and look up at it from the bottom of the gangway

Alone, I apprehensively carry my bags up the steep and rickety stairs, holding tightly to the rope handrail with my free hand.

The container ship on which Pete Martin sailed

On board, I’m immediately a curiosity.

I meet the Chief Officer (also known as the Ship’s Mate). In English, but with a deep French accent, he welcomes me on board. I shake his hand and feel embarrassed that my hand is oily from the staircase, even though he is in overalls and clearly working.

The Steward, a Filipino, takes me to my cabin, as the busy loading and unloading carries on during the few short hours the ship is in dock. The Steward has been on the ship for three months with no break and has signed up for a nine month voyage. I follow him, quite lost, trying to understand where I’m going, as well as listen to what he’s saying.

The Steward shows me the important rooms – where to eat and where to sleep. There are four cabins on my deck, the Passenger Deck, but I will be the only passenger on this stretch.

My cabin surprises me. It’s spacious with a desk, sofa and side table, wardrobe, double bed and a bathroom. I have four windows; two to the starboard side, currently a view of the waterside of the harbour, and two to the rear with a view of the containers already loaded and the port beyond.

Pete's roomPete's room - another view

Wow, I’m impressed already. Next to my cabin is a door to the outer deck and the Steward shows me how to open it. He says I’m free to wander anywhere but to stay away from the loading areas and to be aware it’s a busy time in port.

I unlock the hefty door opening and wander out. Excited rather than afraid, I climb the steel staircases all the way to the top of the vessel; to the wings of the navigation bridge.

Starboard and behind, the bay shimmers in the sunshine. The mountains and the cityscape of Busan with its many bridges are off in the far distance.

The sea - photo taken by Pete Martin on board a container ship
Pete's view from the ship. Not bad, eh?

There are many small islands out in the bay that the ship will have to navigate around and there is an exhilarating glimpse of the wide blue ocean beyond the harbour gates.

On board Pete's ship

Port side, containers are being lifted on board with absurd speed and ease by three giant blue cranes that tower over the ship. Beyond is the quayside that I was driven along earlier and it looks tiny from up here on the Bridge. The lorries and containers are small dots below. One by one, the containers are picked up effortlessly and then loom large as they are deposited in stacks on deck.

To the front and back, either side of where I stand, the ship is laden with multi-coloured, rectangular containers.

I feel elated already and we haven’t even left port. My cabin is fantastic. I am alone. There are no other passengers. The sun is shining and I have the whole of the Pacific Ocean to cross.

Back in my cabin, I read the Familiarisation Manual. The vessel was built in July 2010 and is under French flag. It has a dead weight of 109,020 tonnes and is 334 metres long with an average speed of 24 knots.

With perfect timing, just as I have unpacked my things, the Chief Officer phones my room and tells me that the Cadet is available to give me a tour of the vessel and to meet him in the Ship’s Office on Upper Deck. Not having sea-legs, I do not realise that the Upper Deck is not actually the upper deck.

Up the staircase from the Passenger Deck, I find the Officer’s Deck and the Captain’s Office. He warmly introduces himself to me. The young Captain is short and slightly overweight but very jovial. He sends me down to the Upper Deck to meet the Cadet.

The upper deck on the container ship

The top deck is the Navigation Bridge with the outside wings I had walked on earlier. From here, the Cadet and I watch the final containers being loaded. The Cadet tells me that the Captain and crew do not get to know what is inside any of the containers unless they are classed as dangerous goods.

Inside, the Bridge has the various consoles, controls and other electronic equipment for the operation of the vessel. To the starboard side is the Navigation Office with the maps and charts for our journey. I am fascinated by the maps and the Cadet shows me the route we will take.

A map on board ship

Leaving Busan, we will head north and sail between the main islands of Japan, Honshu and Hokkaido, through the Tsugaru Straits, and into the North Pacific Ocean. The route has already been charted and he says that I can come to the Bridge whenever I want to investigate our route, where we have been and where we will go. The Cadet has only been a seaman for a short time. He joined this ship in Savannah, on the east coast of the US, and has travelled across the Atlantic, through the Suez Canal, to Hong Kong, Yokohama and now Busan.

When I speak about my travels I usually get an amazed reaction, but with these guys I’m a novice.

The route of Pete's ship

Thirty minutes later, the Cadet prepares the Bridge for our departure. I am allowed to watch from here too. To add to my delight, we will depart at six o’clock, right at the beginning of sunset.

The ship only arrived here in Busan at eleven o’clock this morning and so the stop in port has only been seven hours in duration, with little time for shore leave.

On the bridge

We are soon joined on the Bridge by the Captain and the Pilot. The Captain makes a general announcement, “Standby fore and aft". Very slowly, the ship moves. The Captain and Pilot control the departure from the port side wing controls. Two tugs help to pull the vessel out from the quay and to turn the vessel.

A few of the crew, including the Chief Engineer, arrive on the Bridge to watch the spectacular departure into the bright red sunset.

Departing into the sunset

As the sunlight begins to fade, the lights of the harbour illuminate the cranes and the vessels that remain. The sky has turned now to a deep red and it shimmers on the ocean in front of us and the harbour lights reflect in the sheen of the coloured containers. I watch from the Bridge still, as the Captain and Pilot are now bathed in the last rays of the day out on the wing.

It takes over thirty minutes to turn the vessel before we slowly manoeuvre out of the port. The Pilot, now that his work has been completed, departs back to port in one of the tugs. The ship ventures slowly toward the harbour gates. I notice the signs on the harbour walls. On one gate it says, ‘Pusan New Port’ and on the other it says, ‘See you again’. I can’t help but think they have lost an opportunity for a pun; maybe, ‘Sea you again!’

Leaving port

 Passing under one of the gigantic white bridges of Busan with the city lit in the darkness, we begin our fabulous adventure across the Pacific Ocean. I arrive at dinner in the Officer’s Mess a little late due to the incredible sunset departure but, with typical French time-keeping, only the Filipinos are at dinner before me. I have almost finished by the time the French officers arrive. There seems to be a collective joy that they are at sea again.

Pete at dinner

In my spacious cabin, I feel so emotional. I think about how worried I was about this part of the trip back in Seoul. I thought that leaving Vladivostok in the ice on the Eastern Dream was spectacular, but this has really been something special.

“I am the only passenger on a container ship travelling across the Pacific Ocean. Life does not get better than this.”

Dodging Icebergs

I sleep so well that I feel great when my alarm goes off at half past six. The cabin is pitch-black as the Steward had instructed me to close my blinds at night to prevent any light shining out on the containers. I open the blinds.

And I am in awe of the sunrise over the ocean.

Breakfast time is between seven and eight o’clock but the Steward advised me to be there at seven o’clock and so I am. Of course I am the only one there. None of the Filipinos are up yet, never mind the French. It is a simple breakfast of French bread, strawberry jam, orange juice and coffee.

At nine o’clock I meet the Safety Officer in the Ship’s Office to go through the safety procedures on-board, including a demonstration on how to put on the evacuation suit in an emergency.

Pete in his evacuation gear

At the end of the brief the Captain arrives to inform those in the office of the plans to work the time zone changes. On this voyage, I will be crossing the International Date Line.

I am fascinated by this. The plan is to have two Saturdays. To my amazement, and with beautiful symmetry, Saturday will be Day 40 of my trip; so I will have two days which are exactly half way through my circumnavigation of the world. On all the other days we will lose an hour; each day four o’clock in the afternoon will become five o’clock. The crew are laughing as they wanted the extra day to fall on Sunday as they work light shifts on a Sunday. The Safety Officer says he prefers crossing the Pacific Ocean in the other direction as they lose a complete working day.

I think back to reading about Phileas Fogg as I travelled on the Trans-Siberian Railway earlier on this trip, who without suspecting it gained one day on his journey merely because he had travelled constantly eastward and so, to his surprise, had won his bet to make it around the world in eighty days.

Like on the Trans-Siberian Railway, the day pleasantly disappears, including losing an hour for the time zone adjustment, and soon it is time for dinner. On my way to dinner I am surprised when I look out my window to find that the beautiful day has turned to pouring rain. It is another fabulous meal, this time of egg salad and then roasted pork with nutmeg mashed potatoes. I take some cheese to my cabin for later. No wonder the Captain has a little timber with this cook as one of his crew.
Before retiring to my room, I visit the Bridge for the final time today. I’m surprised that it is kept dark. I can hardly see anything until my eyes are accustomed to it. The Safety Officer is there and I make my way carefully to him. He tells me the lights would shine on the containers and cause problems for visibility, particularly now with the mist caused by the rain. He shows me where we are on the charts. We should be in the Tsugaru Straits on schedule, sometime between six o’clock and nine o’clock tomorrow morning.


Seeing Japan

I’m back on the Bridge just after half past six. The ship has already entered the Tsuguru Straits in the Sea of Japan. I can see Honshu starboard side and Hokkaido port side, both have their snowy mountains clearly visible. Above the Shimokita Peninsula, off in the distance, the early morning sun is trying to rise but is being blocked by a large cloud creating a stream of orange streaks in the light-blue sky.

A sliver of sun can be seen between mountain and cloud. The rain of yesterday evening has gone.

The Captain is on the Bridge and in a good mood. He tells me that we are passing over one of the longest tunnels in the world, deep beneath the sea. He says, in his French-accented English, “Even bigger than the Channel Tunnel!” In fact, Seiken Tunnel is both the longest and deepest rail tunnel in the world. Whilst it is the longest under water tunnel in its entirety, the Channel Tunnel actually has a larger under sea length. The Shinkansen is due to use the tunnel and two stations have been built that serve as emergency escape points and are the first railways stations in the world to be built under the sea.

The Captain tells me that after the Tsuguru Straits we will have nothing but ocean for five days and the weather will be calm but colder, but after this it is likely to get rougher with much higher waves particularly as we get near to Alaska. At half past eight we pass the snowy peak of Mount Esan on Hokkaido and we leave the Sea of Japan for the North Pacific Ocean. With the mountains of Japan now behind us, there maybe the odd glimpse of Hokkaido if the visibility remains this good.

The mountains of Japan

This will be the only sight of land for a while.

Before dinner I wander to the Administration Office to send an email back home via satellite. Just as I finish the Cadet comes in and as we chat the Captain bursts out of his office, calls to the Cadet in a flurry of French and runs up the stairs to the Bridge. I have no idea what’s going on and I don’t want to get in the way so I head back to my cabin. A few minutes later the Cadet calls my cabin to tell me to come to the Bridge.

Upstairs the Captain points out a couple of massive blocks of ice on the ocean surface.

On the port side horizon, between the sea and sky, there is a thick white line of ice. The crew on lookout have discovered it through their binoculars, despite there being no warning from the weather forecast or from the radar. The Safety Officer and the Cadet notice a ship about ten nautical miles ahead of us that is clearly changing its course, turning starboard away from the danger. That vessel, nor ours, is designed to break through thick ice and the depth of the ice is not known. It’s the beginning of dusk outside, just getting dark, and the Captain shows me the trajectory of our wake in the sunset behind us, indicating the curved change in our course that we have also taken away from the iceberg.

The Bridge is busy. The Captain is clearly in charge, but allows all the officers and I to take photographs of the iceberg. Most of the crew have never experienced this either. Even the Chief Engineer is on the Bridge taking photographs of the ice. As it gets darker most of the crew leave the Captain, Safety Officer and the lookouts and head for dinner. I do the same. The initial euphoria of the unusual situation has passed and the crew are comfortable in their trust for their Captain.

Back in my cabin, full of excellent food, I just feel great. Life is simple and, although I will strive for more, I do not need any more. I have never felt so calm in all my life. What did the Cook put in the soup? I think back to the Indian Ayurveda retreat and how awful I felt in that first week. Here I feel alive.

“WTF! I am in the North Pacific Ocean dodging icebergs.”

I have slept so well again that I find it difficult to wake up in time for breakfast. I open the blinds to another amazing sunrise and no sign of ice. After breakfast I go to my favourite place – the Bridge. Only the Safety Officer is there this morning. It’s beautiful outside again, the blue ocean oscillating in every direction. The Safety Officer shows me the map with our change in course from yesterday evening. From half past six until midnight, the Captain steered the ship southwards away from the ice. Now away from danger we’re heading back toward our original route. The Safety Officer was excited too by the events of yesterday evening. He tells me that the Bosun was stationed at the front of the vessel for most of the night, in the cold, checking for ice through his binoculars.

A busy room on board Pete's ship

The Safety Officer has been doing his job for four years and is another example of someone who loves what he does. As with the Captain and the other members of the crew, he is happy to answer all the daft questions I have about their maritime lives. Like most of the senior French crew, he works two months at sea and then two months at home. One thing he doesn’t like is flying between his home and the embarkation points. He started this trip in Singapore and will finish in New York. Nor does he like the effects of the time differences on his sleep and he would like to choose his routes rather than be given them by the shipping company. He tells me how much he likes this vessel because of the Captain and, more importantly, the Cook. He says both the Captain and the Cook are the best he’s worked with.

He points out to the cargo and he is also happy with the load. We have just less than five thousand containers on board. The capacity is eight and a half thousand; 8,469 to be precise. The containers are known as ‘TEUS’; twenty foot equivalent units. The double length container (the forty foot container), or two ‘TEUS’, are the widely used containers in front and behind me on the ship and that are commonly seen on trucks and lorries. The Safety Officer describes one voyage from Europe to China that was almost empty and then on the return it was completely full, so much so that it was hard to see the quayside when docking and visibility was difficult with the height of the cargo.

At today’s breakfast I let the Steward know that I will begin to skip lunches, otherwise I’ll arrive in Seattle much heavier. Having enjoyed the food so much, my body now craves sleep, so I get another couple of hours of sleep after breakfast. By midday the sun has won its battle with the clouds and shines brightly.

Looking through the windows on the ship

Through my cabin window I can see the rays glittering on the ocean.

It’s my fifth day on board and the sight of the sun on the ocean still lifts my spirits. The day just disappears again. Every now and again twenty minutes will drag out while I decide what to do but with a walk outside for some air, some stretching or a coffee I’m happy with my writing, reading, meditations, music and DVDs. I’m not sure how long I could do this for but at the moment I have settled well and I’m enjoying life without any stresses. My only fixed appointments are breakfast and dinner, neatly arranged at seven o’clock in the morning and seven o’clock in the evening.

Evening on board ship

Relaxing in the evening, I think how I’m now used to being offline and out of touch from the rest of the world. Of course, I miss contacting my wife and not having the Liverpool FC football scores (but the latter has an upside of taking away one of life’s stresses).

The lack of contact really adds to the solitude and sense of being completely away from it all; alone on the ocean.

Drinking Wine at the Captain’s Table

“Today is Day 40 and exactly half of my trip around the world is done.”

I slept well but kept being intermittently woken, as the rain battered the side of the ship in the night and noisily rattled on the metal containers. However I feel at peace with everything, including the sound of the rain. My mood is very similar to how I felt in the second week of the retreat in India. I must bottle it up and sell it.

Rain on the containers

After breakfast, I spend some time on the Bridge again. As it was yesterday, the sky is totally grey and misty. The rain has stopped but visibility is very poor. I can see only slightly further than the front of the vessel. It’s quite a shock to see a vessel of this size relentlessly moving forward into the unknown.

A grey day on board ship

The crew has to trust in the electronic equipment more than ever and, with the poor visibility, my appreciation for the seamen and seawomen increases. It’s fascinating to think how the great explorers, the captains and the pilots of the past discovered the new worlds by means of rutter and map (often created as they went), by memory, by word-of-mouth and by the sun and the stars.

By mid-afternoon, I’m back on the Bridge.

On the radar screen, I can see that we are currently passing Aguti Island, one of the Ratt Islands, which is about ten nautical miles to port side, but, in this weather, I cannot see it outside. In an hour or so, we will leave the North Pacific Ocean for the Bering Sea.

It’s the choppiest day so far, the vessel pitching in the strong winds.

I find the motion and atmosphere inside akin to flying (although it could be the constant noise of the heating and ventilation), but, unlike flying and more like train travel, the motion just makes me sleepy.

My treat for having the same day twice – as tomorrow will also be Saturday 15th March in honour of our crossing of the International Date Line – is to begin watching Michael Palin’s “Around the World in 80 Days” on DVD. Palin did his trip in 1988 when I was twenty years old and I had just moved to London, which was the extent of my horizons at that time. It’s quite emotional to think that in another forty days I too will be a circumnavigator of the world. (I’ve been called worse!)

Day 41 is Saturday 15th March all over again!

This is so funny. From being twelve hours ahead of the UK, I’m now twelve hours behind. I’ve lost twelve hours in my travels so far, with the time advancing each time I’ve crossed a time zone going eastwards. Today I get credited all these twelve hours back, plus I get another twelve, which I will lose as I continue my journey eastwards back to my starting point.

On the Bridge after breakfast, there is nothing to see outside, just a blurred line where the grey ocean meets the grey sky at the horizon.

The misty horizon

Mid-morning, the Captain calls me to check on my welfare. He is concerned that some passengers get very bored with nothing to do on a working vessel. I tell him it’s perfect and that I’m enjoying the solitude, my writing, my reading and especially the food, although I’ve had to cut back as it’s too good. He politely invites me for a beer and to eat with the officers at noon tomorrow for the traditional Sunday meal. He will also organise a trip to the engine room and one to the outside decks.

This evening I continue watching Palin. On his voyage across the Pacific Ocean, also on a container ship, the crew played bingo for entertainment. Now in the Officers’ Recreation Room they have PlayStations. Palin is bored on his container ship voyage, whereas I love every minute of this. I do think this had a lot to do with Palin being on Day 58 with only twenty two to go and he was frustrated with the slow life jarring against the need to meet his deadlines. I have done half of my trip, with half to go, and I’m not stressed at all. Of course, our journeys are very different, not only in our routes, but Palin was in a race against time whereas I’m not. As a reward for crossing the International Date Line, Palin was given an initiation ceremony by the crew which involved having dyes thrown at him and him having to drink some awful concoction.

At dinner, the Ship’s Mate gives me a new bottle of wine. I think I am getting the better deal. Life is wonderful.

Around three o’clock in the morning, I wake up. There’s a bright light outside the window. For some reason, I’d forgotten to close one of the blinds. When I open the curtains further and look out of the window, there’s a bright white light shining on the black ocean. I follow the beam to its source. There’s a huge full, white moon shining down on to the sea. With the movement of the water, it’s like someone is shining a giant torch with a shaky hand.

It looks beautiful out there on the ocean.

With the time zone adjustments, it’s harder to work out when to sleep. I’ve moved forward four hours already on the voyage, gone back twenty-four and have five more hours to adjust between now and Seattle.

I’m about to go for breakfast, however as I open the blinds and curtains, the night has given way to the day and directly out of my window is the snowy, white peaked island of Akutan. This is the first of the islands that mark our passage from the Bering Sea back to the Pacific Ocean, through the Unimak Pass.

The maountains of Akutan island

I look further out and the sun is breaking over the Alaskan islands further to the east. I forget breakfast and take the stairs up to the Bridge. The visors are down on the windows as the early morning sun is already glaring off the containers at the front of the ship. The poor visibility of the last few days has been replaced by a bright and clear blue sky. The sharp sun makes the various colours of the containers brighter, as though they’ve been jet washed in the night.

Containers in the sun

In the distance, the sun shines just above the snow covered volcanic mountains of the Aleutian Islands. Directly ahead, there is a small fishing vessel and, further out, as though it may sail off the edge of the world, a container ship sits as far on the horizon as it could possibly be.

At half past nine, we’re at the mid-point of Unimak Pass. The small island of Akun is starboard side and the bigger island of Unimak itself is port side. These Alaskan Islands look like icebergs rising out of the deep water.

Unimak pass

The swell of the sea is high today too and the movement of the vessel can be felt in all directions. By lunchtime, the weather has changed dramatically. The sky is darker and there are low clouds hovering over the sea. The sun tries to break through behind it, forcing rays of light on the sea behind it. The ship is now rolling, rather than pitching, as the swell and the wind catch the aft of the vessel causing us to rock from side to side.

Today is lunch with the Captain and the Officers.

I join them for a pre-meal beer in the Officers’ Recreation Room. It’s a traditional Sunday lunch complete with roast beef and red wine. It’s really pleasant and they all speak English to accommodate me. They are such a good bunch, but I notice, even at dinner, rank is observed. Everyone takes their lead from the Captain but the Chief Engineer is also given great respect. They’re all dressed casually, but still wear their white officer shirts with their wings that denote their seniority.

It amuses me that, even here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the majority of us have shaved for the first time on the voyage as a mark of respect for the traditional Sunday meal. The junior officers are quieter and sit at one end of the table, whereas the senior officers dominate conversation and sit at the other end.

The Captain and Chief Engineer warn me that the rolling of the ship will continue probably all the way to Seattle. They also explain that the constant growling outside, that I had assumed to be the wind on the containers, is actually the movement of the containers. The containers sit on adjusting bases which are allowed to move slightly with the movement of the ship.

There is coffee in the Recreation Room afterwards and the Chief Mate, Second Engineer and I chat for a while about football. The Chief Mate can be quite surly at work, as he is the one who has to implement the Captain’s Orders, but today he is very engaging. For all of us, it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The weather brightens up by evening. I have some cheese and wine and finish watching the Palin series, happily enjoying life. The Captain was right about the ship rolling.

What the Captain didn’t tell me was that it becomes very hard to drink my wine as the glass continually slides along the table. Such are the extent of my worries with life on board.

Containers in the sun

Sea Legs and Land Ahoy

The rolling of the ship is crazy. I have never experienced anything like it. Every time I drift to sleep, I wake up because I’m thrown from one side of the bed to the other. I can’t help but laugh. I feel no effects of sea sickness; it’s just annoying. When fully awake, just before breakfast, there’s another beautiful sunrise outside. After breakfast, up on the Bridge, the sun is still low but it is extremely bright.

It looks like we’re heading straight to the heart of the sun.

This morning the Chief Engineer has agreed to give me a tour of the engine room. It does interest me, but I haven’t pushed or actively scheduled the tour. There is a part of me that wants to trust that this big, heavy vessel will miraculously get to Seattle without me knowing how it does it.

The engine room

The engine room is incredible. I can’t even begin to explain how the ship runs. One floor beneath Upper Deck, we enter the huge control room. The control panel is bigger than the one on the Bridge and the ship can be manoeuvred and operated from here. Further into the bowels of the ship, the Chief Engineer takes me into the fuel room, past the four engines, the water systems and the sewage system. At one point he walks off quickly while I’m still looking around and I realise I will never find my way out if I don’t catch up with him. His crew are dotted about, making bespoke pipes and fittings in the workshop, maintaining and reviewing controls and painting. Incredibly, to me anyway, there is only one propeller (although it is eight metres in diameter) and also only one propeller shaft that moves the ship relentlessly forward. For the size of the vessel, I’m struck by the minimal crew and, of course, how they spend their days under the sea level.

After another night of rolling back and forth, at breakfast the Steward tells me he ties his hands to the rails of his bunk to be able to sleep when the rolling is this strong. I think he’s joking but he is serious. I have slept well again, just waking up when the movement rolls me across the bed and then falling back asleep in a new position. Now on the Bridge, the weather is calmer and, like yesterday, we are driving forward, eastward, straight into the rising sun.

Decks outside

After my visit to the engine room yesterday, today is my visit to the outside decks. The Cadet takes me along the starboard side first. He easily and confidently walks ahead of me. There is a small open metal fence at the side of the ship between me and the mighty ocean and I find it hard to walk at the same speed as the Cadet. Thankfully, we are not rolling the way we were in the night.

On board ship

I have noticed how all the crew, even when standing still, gently rock with the ship’s movement. The weather is pleasant, warm almost, but I can imagine how difficult it would be out here in the wind and the rain. I can see the containers moving ever so slightly and I hear them growling out their frustrations.

The forward deck, surprisingly to me, is so calm. It’s warm and quiet. It’s hard to believe I’m standing at the head of this giant vessel in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Then I take a look upwards at the size of the anchor chain and the winching gear, as well as the five stories of containers behind a huge, grey steel protective wall, which tell another story.

Pete on the ship

The Cadet then leads me along port side, which is in the shade and more foreboding. The aft deck is lower than the forward deck and has red plastic barricades across the rear that act as anti-piracy devices.

Port deck

I visit the steering room, underneath the deck, which moves the rudders of the vessel. Across on the starboard side, the waves are crashing into the vessel. The Cadet tells me the waves are eight metres high today. They look bigger to me.

My admiration for the crew, both in the engine room and out here on deck, has increased again.

The weather is so much calmer this afternoon as I look out, standing on the deck beside my cabin. Will I ever get sick of the sun on the ocean, of the sunrises and sunsets?

Sunrise from the ship

Having thought I was getting the hang of sea life by being able to sleep through the rolling, tonight is different. I just cannot sleep; the rolling is much too much. I end up sleeping diagonally across the bed. In the normal position, I just roll from side to side and there’s not enough bed to sleep on horizontally. I think about sleeping on the sofa – too small – or the floor – too hard.

It’s my last full day on board today and I had planned to lie in and skip breakfast. The plan has not worked. Even now at eight o’clock, I’m being rolled across the bed, from one side to the other.

I am under the complete control of the ocean.

Just before dinner, I get my first glimpse of land. Vancouver Island is off in the distance port side. Soon we will be in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, and then we will pass Port Angeles, heading for Puget Sound and Seattle. At dinner, I notice I have got into the routine of eating at seven o’clock and, whilst I enjoy dinner, I subconsciously always try to leave before the French officers arrive at half past seven, usually taking some cheese and some wine to my cabin. The crew are pleasant and polite, chatting together in French, but I’ve realised that the worst thing about travelling alone is eating alone. When I’m alone in a quiet restaurant or here now before the others arrive, it is fine, but when others are together eating, chatting and smiling, that is the time I miss company.

I guess it’s a small price to pay for a journey like this.

It’s my final evening and I think back to how excited I was as a kid to ride on the ferry from the Pier Head to Wallasey, across the River Mersey, being taken to the fair in New Brighton by my grandparents.

Come morning, I will have sailed the whole way across the Pacific Ocean.

The sky is still dark, not even nearing dawn yet. It is half past four in the morning. I join the activity on the Bridge. Seattle is lit up ahead of us in the darkness. The Space Needle is clearly identifiable.

Space needle

The Pilot has been aboard since one o’clock and, with the Captain, is overseeing the two tugs that will now help us into port. It’s painstakingly slow, as we pass the city while it sleeps. It takes another ninety minutes for the vessel to berth. The dockside cannot be more different than Pusan. The narrow waters are navigated slowly in the dark, until we reach the container dockyard, which is perhaps a tenth of the size of Pusan New Port. The Captain and Pilot congratulate each other on a perfect operation.

Now seven o’clock, an hour after docking, it’s daylight and the offloading of the containers has already begun. The port is just south of the city and I watch the huge containers being lifted off easily and quickly by the cranes with the skyline of the city of Seattle and the white Olympic Mountains behind. I have a final breakfast in the Officers’ Mess. My Pacific Ocean crossing is complete. It’s hard to take it in.

Docking in Seattle

The Captain calls me to give me my arrangements for disembarkation, before he catches up on sleep after working all night. I have been so impressed by the Captain and his crew that I feel quite emotional saying goodbye.

The shuttle bus takes me the short distance across the dockside to the entry and exit gate. The driver stops to allow me to take some photos of the ship on the way out. At the gate, I have to explain I am a passenger disembarking and, reluctantly, the port guard calls a taxi for me. Whilst waiting, I ask if he’ll take care of my bag while I take a better photograph of the ship. He refuses and tells me that photographs are not allowed.

 “Welcome to the USA and to dry land!”


This post is an edited extract from Pete's book “Revolutions”. You can buy his books from his website: www.petemartin.org