New Zealand to San Francisco, Day 1-3: Karen and Jim and Sockdolager are all aboard the container ship Hugo Schulte, enroute from New Zealand to Oakland, California in San Francisco Bay. Hooray! We do have email capability, and plan to post occasionally as we cross, but it's text only. Photos will be added to these entries after we arrive in Oakland, California on June 6. (And wait'll you see the photos!)
There was quite the thrilling adventure in trucking the boat from the Bridge Marina Hardstand to the Port of Tauranga, but with two expert, friendly truckers using TWO big trucks, Sockdolager made it safely. More on this with photos later.
Day 1 Sunday May 19, 2013 (May 18 in the Western Hemisphere)
Location: Port of Tauranga, New Zealand
We were picked up at our hotel by our sailing friends Robbie and Bev of S/V Mersoleil, who are hauled out at the same yard we were in. At the Port of Tauranga gate by 1:30, we bid them farewell, went through security, transferred our luggage to a guide vehicle, and drove through the Port to the wharf, amazed at the size of our ship and home for the next 18 days, the Hugo Schulte. We boarded at 2:00 via a narrow metal gangway amidships. Second Officer Alexander greeted us and showed us to our 2-room cabin, which is far more spacious and comfortable than we'd expected, though not sumptuous by cruise ship standards. But that's not what we came for; we prefer work boats to luxury ships.
Two hulls from the America's Cup AC74 (Emirates New Zealand) were on the wharf as we passed, all shrink-wrapped in white plastic. Later we watched them being loaded aboard and stowed in a hold beneath our cabin. These two sleek hulls were the only occupants of a hold that can take 33 containers! Then, a cry of "There she is!" and we watched our beloved Sockdolager being lifted aboard, secure inside her yellow and orange "cage" like a little matchbox toy, and in the space of a few seconds she disappeared smoothly into a midships hold on the port side.
We spent the entire afternoon watching the buzz of loading activity from the excellent view of two huge opening ports in our cabin. They look out over the forward part of the ship, and we were mesmerized, feeling the tremble as containers and especially, gigantic cargo hold lids were loaded on by enormous cranes. Big booms reverberated throughout the ship as metal met metal. Final calls and goodbyes were made to friends in New Zealand with the last of our cellphone minutes. Goodbye! We'll miss you!
Briefly we went up to the bridge, which was empty, and spent a few amazed minutes looking around. Like everything else aboard this ship, the bridge is enormous and extremely well organized. Captain Zoran Mufa joined us and was very welcoming. Our departure has been rescheduled for after midnight. We told the Captain we wouldn't miss it for the world, and he said we are welcome to be on the bridge as long as we are quiet and stay to the side. There is one other passenger, a woman named Barbara from NZ, originally from Scotland.
Day 2 Monday May 20, 2013
1150 (AM) Position: Latitude 35 42.36 S, Longitude 178 19.2 E
Speed 15 knots, Course 047,
Barometer 1006.0, Wind N, Weather sunny, mild, partly cloudy
Miles since 0200: 159.45
The Harbor Pilot boarded at 0115; in darkness two tugs pulled the bow away from the wharf and suddenly we were moving slowly on our own power, tugs escorting, picking up speed, gliding out of the harbor's silent lower reaches. We slipped past the small boat anchorage at Pilot Bay under the shadow of Mount Manganui around 0200, and waved from the bridge wing with a flashlight to our friend Nick aboard S/V Saltbreaker, and to Mrs. Miles ashore in her home, neither of whom we bet were awake to wave back. Mrs. Miles had kindly notarized some paperwork for us a few days ago, and Jim, seeing she was such a good sport, meant but forgot to ask her why, when New Zealand went metric, she hadn't changed her name from Mrs. Miles to Mrs. Kilometer. She was very excited for us and promised to be out on her balcony waving a red cushion, but that was before the departure got moved to after midnight and we slipped past in darkness.
The twisty outer channel with its rows of red and green flashing markers looked challenging for a ship this size in the pitch dark, and the lights on the bridge were extinguished, all but the glow from radar and other instruments. The Captain stood by as the Pilot issued quiet commands to helmsman Benny on an otherwise silent bridge: "Starboard five." "Starboard five, sir." Ten seconds later, the confirmation: "Starboard five?" "Yes, thank you." Then a series: Port ten. Port twenty, then midships, then Starboard ten, then Starboard twenty, then midships, with call and response calmly done in the sepulchral quiet dark. There is no margin for mistakes in such a narrow channel.
Out to sea, speed ten knots. We watched the Pilot boat come along our lee side and the Pilot climbed down the companionway to a rope jacob's ladder, ready to make the jump to his boat. He stepped out as the Pilot boat expertly timed it. This would be far more risky in big seas, which occur often. Asleep by 0330, we were very tired from the week of preparation and stress over all the details. We skipped breakfast and slept in. It was a lovely day, seas of 2-3 meters causing the ship to sway. It takes some getting used to. We are on G deck way up, just under the wheelhouse, in the center (owner's) cabin between the Captain and the Chief Engineer. Being this high is like being at the top of a giant upside-down slow pendulum. After awhile the motion becomes normal and pleasant. Captain Zoran Mufa is from Croatia, Chief Engineer Lawrence is from Romania, the other officers are Russians and Ukranians, and the crew is all Filipino. The cook does a fabulous job of meat-and-potatoes European style food for the officers and Filipino style for the crew. Everyone is exceptionally pleasant and polite, and we dine in the Officer's mess. The galley and mess halls are on B deck, 5 stories down from our cabin, and we're working off the good food by climbing stairs.
We're also plotting the course on our own charts and on the Open CPN software on Jim's computer. Hugo is making 15+ knots, and we did 160 miles before lunch. Now this we could get used to! We're headed northeast and will probably cross Sockdolager's Pacific crossing track between Aitutaki and Palmerston. It looks like we'll be going east of Beveridge Reef and Niue.
At lunch we joked with Captain Zoran and Lawrence about radioing Keith, the Niue Yacht Club commodore as we steam past that lovely island, to ask if he has a mooring for a 787-foot ship. This got a good laugh. We enjoyed reminiscing about the "old days," when everyone who heard us on the radio giving the length of Sockdolager would say, "What? Your boat is HOW long? Twenty-four feet?"
Yeah, 787 feet, behbeh. Deal with it.
Hugo holds 3600 containers, but the newest ships can hold 18,000. The ship got an email from the head office in Hamburg, Germany, saying Slow down! You're going too fast and will arrive at Ensenada too soon! We are scheduled to arrive there on June 4. We slowed down to 14+ knots, and it's a nice, fuel-saving speed, no vibrations, on our slow boat to Mexico.
Day 3 Tuesday, May 21, 2013
1340 Position: Latitude 31 12.8 S, Longitude 176 35.2 W
Speed 14.5, Course 044,
Barometer 1009.0, Wind N, Weather sunny, mild, partly to mostly cloudy
Total miles run: 449.5
Slept a little better last night. Bigger rolling swells sway us ponderously side to side, kind of like a merry minstrel who happens to be a huge tuba player. Captain Zoran gave us an electric teakettle for our room so now we can make our own coffee and tea. Jim went up on the bridge in the morning, and found the Captain there. They had a nice chat. The ship's watches are 4 hours on with eight off. Later, at lunch, Captain Zoran greeted me: "Good morning, Captain." I did a double take, then looked at Jim, who laughed. "Yes, I told him you're also a Captain," smiled Jim. Zoran wanted to know more about my license, and, hearing that we were plotting the ship's course each day, said, "You are providing us with backup!" (Just so you know, I kept a 100-ton US Coast Guard license for 20 years, from 1980-2000, but let it lapse because I was no longer using it, and because I didn't want all the responsibility that goes with it anymore.)
After lunch, Chief Engineer Lawrence took us 3 passengers on a tour of the engine room. Oh. My. God. Putting on ear protection because of the din, we were slack-jawed at the sheer size of everything—the engine itself, which is direct-drive, meaning the propeller is always turning when the engine is on. There's no gearbox. The propeller moves at around 70 RPM at 15 knots, and 100 RPM at full speed. It moves the ship forward 7.5 meters with every turn. To slow the ship down it takes 10 minutes for every RPM lost. To back up they must shut down and then restart the engine. Nothing with regard to maneuverability can be done quickly on these big ships, which should give pause to small-boat sailors who cross shipping lanes.
There are two enormous tanks of compressed air and several compressors to help start this six-story behemoth. We saw a rack of spare injectors, which are the size of small outboard engines without the cowling, and spare pistons the size of old-growth logs. There are giant boilers, systems for making fresh water from salt (20 tons per day capacity,) for filtering the fuel, which is a form of heavy Bunker C, and for filtering bilge water to a maximum of 15 ppm of oil. The US prohibits all discharge of oil in its territorial waters, but in international waters no such rules exist.
The ship's several big generators can supply 2,000 Kilowatts of power each; right now the entire component of refrigerated container units on deck is using only 210 KW. So there is a large reserve capacity for running things like bow thrusters, winches and other systems. The engine and its generators use 2,000 liters of fuel (528 gallons) per hour at 15 knots. That would work out to about 35 gallons per mile, which, considering the size of the ship and its cargo, sounds lower than we expected. Lawrence showed us a chart of fuel consumption, and at the top speed of 24 knots it more than doubles. Thus, the economical lower speed makes sense. The entire engine room sparkles and shines, so clean we saw not one smear or drip of oil anywhere.
But the most astonishing part of the tour was seeing the prop shaft, about 40 feet long and 2 ½ feet thick, spinning, back to the enormous coupling (same as a sailboat only 6 feet across) and then through the hull, where, just behind us, the great propeller turned. I'm guessing this propeller is 25 to 30 feet in diameter.
Jim and I walked up to the bow, peeked through the hawsehole and filmed the enormous bulb keel rising and plunging into the sea like a whale. It's hard to see birds from up high in our cabin despite the big opening ports. They look like tiny specks on the sea. Captain Zoran remarked that he feels separated from the sea, and was envious when Jim told him that on Sockdolager we just reach over the side to wash our dishes in salt water. He had a wooden boat in Croatia, but eventually sold it because with these 4-9 month stints at sea, it was impossible to maintain it.
The ship's clocks advanced one hour at suppertime. We've crossed the 180th meridian but not the International Date Line, so we haven't gained a day yet.