Posted by: Craig | May 10, 2008

Whales off the US east coast

New York came and went. It was mostly smooth but included a shifting where we had to stand by for about two hours in the mooring stations. Quite boring but the weather was fair so not much to complain about and we got a nice view of Manhattan and Liberty Island. The pilot we had on the way in was nice and probably one of the most liberal Americans I’ve ever met, even in the view of a European.  He was concerened about the increased security alert that affects not least the shipping industry. He told us this funny story about a guy who convinced the city of New York to paint the Verezano Narrow Bridge with Kevlar paint to make it bomb-proof. The City closed the deal and the guy earned $20 000 000. Like any paint could make a bridge bomb-proof!


My plan to go ashore to go shopping went without a hitch. I made it up to the mall well before lunch and came back to the ship in time for my watch. The guys who came along only endured half the time, but then men are kind of weak when it comes to shopping. Well, I got some nice new clothes to really good prices. It’s obvious that the dollar is standing low compared to the European currencies.


Now we are heading towards Baltimore, MD. Pilot boarded at 1600 this afternoon and we will go alongside around 0130 tonight, pilotage is compulsory all the way through Chesapeake Bay. The pilot tonight is also really nice which is good when he is onboard for such a long time, otherwise it easily get boring.


Otherwise life is going just as usual here onboard the Fidelio. We got in to the rhythm again of having a port every, or every second day. We just found out that they have added Charleston, SC, to our schedule. That will be our last port before we head back to Europe.


Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. When we were approaching New York we saw numerous whales, we believe it was black pilot whales. We had three of them coming as close as ten meters from the side of the ship. They can get as big as eight meters and weigh about 4 tons, but of course, compared to the ship and 30 meters up they still look quite small. But it’s really nice to see them playing in the water and see how graceful they are despite their size.


Posted by: Craig | May 7, 2008

Ashore in Halifax

The North Atlantic passage came to an end, and today we arrived in Halifax. Despite the detour we had to do caused by the icebergs we managed to make it in time, even having to slow down the last 12 hours. The pilot was delayed and didn’t come until 0630. Before that I got a chance to say hello over the radio to my old ship the Atlantic Companion who was outbound.

Preparation for an arrival on the bridge is quite fun after a sea voyage. The navigation can be quite intense at the same time as you have to talk to the Pilots, VTS (Vessel Traffic Service), wake up people, start an extra steering gear pump and bow thruster, advise the AB in his task etc. This morning we also had dense fog to consider but it cleared up when we came closer to land.

The mooring operation was very calm this morning. Captain advised us to not send any heaving lines before 8 o’clock. This because the linesmen didn’t start work until 0800 and if we had sent the heaving lines too early they would charge us extra. So we came alongside calm and smooth and then waited for 10-15 minutes with two tugs pushing on the side before we sent the lines. Sometimes you wonder were this world is heading with all it’s bureaucracy.


I actually had a chance to go ashore today, totally unexpected but therefore more appreciated. We headed in to the town, about 15-20 minutes away with car. Strolled around, had lunch in a restaurant, looked in some shops, nothing special but very relaxing. Sometimes it’s really good to get away from the ship and the work. When you live at your working place it can sometimes be very tiring, all you think of is work.

I also made some reflections, as I’ve done so many times before when I’ve went ashore. First of all it’s quite scary, you are used to have the same twenty or so people around you and you are in the same well defined area for weeks. Suddenly when you go ashore there are so many people everywhere, cars, dogs and all sort of things going on. It’s far from the predictable life onboard. The second thing is that we again are “locked in” in our ship for weeks and when we finally get out we can once be in Canada, next time in Japan or South Africa or somewhere else in the world. It’s quite confusing if you think of it, in just a few hours you have to quickly adapt to a new country and culture and before you know it you are back on the ship again.


When I came back to Fidelio I did some work on the bridge. The watch started at 1600 as usual so I completed the discharging and loading in the cargo hold closed all the watertight doors including the stern ramp, and made it down to aft station just in time for departure. Now we are out at sea again, the fog is dense like this morning but there was no traffic when I came down from the bridge at 2000. Next port is New York where we will be on Thursday. Hopefully will I have some time to go ashore there as well to do some shopping…..

2nd Entry from Ellinor, 2nd officer, MV Fidelio (Mon 5th May, North Atlantic, West bound)

Almost a week at sea now and life continues at an even pace onboard the Fidelio. Compared to the coastal voyage with constant port calls, lock transits, service people and cargo operations the sea voyages are peaceful and well needed. This does not, however, mean that there is nothing to do. This is the time when we can catch up with things that has been neglected during the coast, like preparing orders, chart corrections, drills, cleaning and maintenance and much more. The preparation for the next coastal voyage did also start right away after leaving Southampton. There are a numerous pre-arrival reports to send to agents and different authorities, ballast water to be changed, passage planning to be made etc. It keeps all of us onboard as busy as usual.  

At this voyage there is also a new chore for us deck officers on watch. Four times a day we send weather reports to SMHI (Swedish Metrological and Hydrological Institute). The information we send them, as well as information from other ships, are a part of what they base their weather forecasts on. It’s therefore important to send as accurate information as possible. Most important is the sea surface pressure and wind force and direction but we also provide them with information about air temperature, water temperature, waves and swell etc.


We have now altered course to NW, sneaking around the ice limit, and will arrive to Halifax tomorrow morning. Pilot is set for 0630. The weather has been fair although we’ve experienced some swell. The traffic has been to a minimum and we have seen very few ships the past few days. It’s funny though how a meeting can raise such excitement onboard. After all, we are on a world wide trade and used to all kinds of traffic situations. Since we just departed from Europe one should think that another ship is no reason for anyone to raise their eyebrows. But that is what happened the other day when we out at the middle of the Atlantic had a meeting with a CPA (Closest Point of Approach) of 2 nautical miles. Four nautical officers including the Captain plus Chief Engineer assembled on the bridge to have a look. Well, this was not just any ordinary cargo ship but the cruise ship Queen Mary II bound for Southampton. It’s quite fascinating to meet a ship that close out in the middle of nowhere. Well, we had a look, took some pictures and had a little chat about cruise ships in general, that was the excitement that day.

Posted by: Craig | May 6, 2008

Leaving Southampton to cross the Atlantic

Entry from Ellinor, 2nd officer, MV Fidelio (Wed 30th April 1800 UTC)

Yesterday after Craig left and before departure Southampton, we had a stowaway search. It is mandatory to search the entire ship for stowaways before departing when the next port of call is in Canada or the US. So the entire crew assembled to search every corner of the ship.

I was the team leader for the group of two men searching deck 1-7. When you think of it, it’s hard to understand how such search could prevent people from taking a free ride on such a big ship like this. Each deck is up to 6000 m2 and all together we have 13 decks, all full of cars and lorries to hide in. It means that my team had to search up to 42000 m2 cramped with cargo plus an additional number of void spaces, ventilation ducts, staircases and about a million other places where someone could hide. Considering, this should be done in a short time when the crew is busy with so many other things preparing for the sea voyage, it’s difficult to understand how effective we could be. But yes, I know it has to be done anyway, the fines for the company will be enormous if we find a stowaway while out at sea and have to take him ashore in either Canada or the US.


Well anyway, we finally left Southampton yesterday at 1830 after some delay caused by slow cargo operation. At 2030 we dropped the pilot at Nab Tower and now we are heading out in the North Atlantic. We are sailing at a westerly course on a Great Circle (following the curve of the earth) that will take us down to 40N 050W before we alter to NW up to Halifax, Canada. The shortest way would actually have been to head more NW right away following the Great Circle to Cape Race on the southern tip of Newfoundland. We did, however, decide to take this southern route yesterday when we received information about the status of the icebergs in the area. Apparently there are an unusual number of  icebergs that have drifted south for this time of year, it’s a little early yet.

One might think that the greatest chance of hitting an iceberg will be in the winter time but that is actually wrong, the most dangerous time is in the summer. That is when water temperature raises and heat up the glaciers, this will cause big pieces of ice to break loose and float out at sea where they will follow the current until the water and air gets too warm and it will melt away. But it’s a little early for that yet as I said. What we see is maybe another effect of the global heating?


We had a bit of a rough start of the sea voyage with force 6 this morning but the wind has slacked now even though there is still some pitching of the ship. But we expect this to calm down too soon and the rest of the voyage should be calm with nice weather. But we will see………… Outside there are still some sea birds and fishing boats but within a day or so they should all be gone and we will be alone. I must admit that it feels great to be back at sea!

Posted by: Craig | May 1, 2008

New views…. continuing the journey

I have left the Fidelio, but asked Ellinor if she would like to continue the blog as the vessel (a combined home and workplace for all onboard) continues across the Atlantic to the East coast of North America, and back to Europe. Her entries appear under the tab “The journey continues: The second mate’s blog”.

Her experiences as the journey progresses will appear as and when she manages to find a few moments to write them down.


Posted by: Craig | April 29, 2008

Bon Voyage Fidelio and thank you

The Fidelio is expecting to leave Southampton at 1800 to head for Halifax in Canada and then three ports on the US East coast. Some of the crew have plans to get ashore for a few hours to buy things. A common theme seems to be radio controlled cars which will be raced across the deck during the week long passage to Halifax.

Once the ship leaves Southampton, life will become a steady progression of twelve hour periods for those on watch, lengthened slightly on the evenings when the ships time is adjusted and routine days for the day workers who will focus on maintenance and cleaning, unpacking stores and making sure everything is shipshape. Me, I’m off to digest my thoughts about taking a short trip at sea for the first time in over a decade. Would I do it again, yes I would (but I think you’d have to pay me!)


Bon Voyage







Posted by: Craig | April 29, 2008

Loading cars at a cruise terminal

Passengers for new cruise ships and old diggers for Africa.

As the vessel swings round W Bramble light the pilot talks to the Red Funnel ferry leaving Cowes for Southampton to ensure we pose no risk to each other,  and pass RFA Lyme Bay in the gloom, listening to Southampton VTS try and hail it. The CMA CGM Baudelaire passes us with metres to spare beside the Esso Refinery at Fawley and we begin our slow approach to the QEII berth.

As we move onto the berth, the pilot finds the responsiveness of the ship remarkable and before long we are alongside in the Southampton rain.

So here we are now in Southampton, at the QEII cruise terminal where passengers will embark on their cruises soon. Ahead of us a Hoegh car carrier is berthed, and on the quayside, the now familiar sight of new cars and diggers to be loaded, but also close to the Hoegh vessel a collection of old, second hand heavy machinery waiting to be loaded.

Amazing that here in Southampton we have vessels loading new cars, JCBs and second hand machinery for West Africa at the same berth as passengers will embark on some of the most prestigious cruise ships to visit the port. Sadly from the bridge of Fidelio we look down on the dirty roof of the cruise terminal, from this height in the rain it looks like a giant shed.

Posted by: Craig | April 29, 2008

A war on No Man’s Land


We pass Fort No Man’s Land. Currently an apt name. It sits there in the middle of the navigation channel, in darkness, not a light lit, a threat to navigation.”Some one will sail into it one night,” adds the pilot, when he answers Ellinor’s query about no lighting. “Either a yacht or a small motor boat, luckily big ships have radars and pilots know about it.”

It seems a dispute between the owner, who has gone bankrupt, has caused the electricity to be switched off. Stacks of furniture on the helipad prevent anyone from landing and with the boarding point closed, it’s an impregnable fortress.

Posted by: Craig | April 29, 2008

Arriving in the Solent

4am the Nab Tower, one of the old forts in the approaches to the Solent, awaiting the pilot, Southampton VTS calls to tell Fidelio not to pass further north of there until the pilot is onboard, VTS also co-ordinating with other vessels when their pilots will board. AIS picks up the pilot launch without any trouble.

Once on board, the pilot has a quick familiarisation and happy with everything, settles into one of the cockpit chairs for the journey around the Isle of Wight. He asks for three red lights to be shown and says the channel is ours for the journey up, only one container ship coming out of Southampton and we will pass it at Fawley.

The continual buzz of alarms, from the integrated bridge system, add distractions. “Wonders of modern science,” said the pilot. “All this automation and you have to stand there with your finger on the button the whole time.”

“It would be good to have the option to choose the level of alarm conditions so that I could concentrate on the navigation,” is Captain Falkenberg’s point of view.

Unlike other ports, the pilot had no AIS plug and play, but said he likes the bridge layout, and the integrated systems despite the continual alarms, better than twenty years ago. “Had a Japanese built vessel recently, new build, but the bridge layout was twenty years old. Terrible, had to march across the bridge from bit of gear to bit of gear”.

Captin Falkenberg observes the benefits of new synchronised lighting on the approach buoyage in Göteborg, compared to the standard IALA buoyage system here in the Solent

“It’s easy to follow the track of the flashing lights up a channel and see where it is, rather than have to identify individual lights like this.”

Posted by: Craig | April 29, 2008

Big Brother

Life onboard is like a floating Big Brother programme, there should be a social scientist on board to look at the working and social relationships, it would be fascinating. “The organisation on board is organic. If one person is weak and another strong, the roles may adapt to ensure the job gets done, this team work relationship in a demanding environment is what makes the people in the industry different,” said Captain Falkenberg

I see the officers here have a better grasp of the whole logistics chain than I ever had when I was a young officer. All the deck officers have had different experiences of coming to the industry. The fourth mate is new to the industry, but is a 42 year old ex magazine editor, the third mate, 29, became an AB before taking three years to get his ticket at Chalmers. Ellinor took a year out before doing her degree and becoming an officer. The mate came from Finland where he was trained, and subsequently got his certificates in Sweden, while the master came into the industry in his thirties.

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