Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," and more recently, our Bigfoot29 powerboat, "Raven," from Port Townsend, Washington, USA. In 2009 we sailed north from Puget Sound up the west coast of Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii.) In 2010 we went back to the west coast of Vancouver Island. In July 2011 we left the Northwest, sailed to Mexico, and in March 2012 we crossed the Pacific to French Polynesia, then on to the Cooks, Niue and Tonga. We spent several months in New Zealand, and in May 2013 loaded the boat (and ourselves) on a container ship for San Francisco. In June and July 2013 we sailed north along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts, and in August we arrived home. In October 2016 Sockdolager found new owners, and we are now enjoying Raven, a unique wooden 29' powerboat. In 2018 we cruised up to Glacier Bay, Alaska, and back. We hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Shipping News, Part 3

The view from our cabin's porthole was always good.
For anyone new to this blog, we put our boat on a Hamburg-Sud container ship in New Zealand on May 19, and then boarded the same ship as passengers, and sailed for 19 days to San Francisco, California. In the last post we described the loading of Sockdolager (and one America's Cup boat) onto the M/V Hugo Schulte.  In this post we describe life at sea, and in the next post, the arrival and adventures we had as Sockdolager was lowered to the water by ship's crane.

Top of the wheelhouse. 
Life at sea aboard a container ship:  There’s a lot to look at on a 19-day voyage, even when the horizon’s all blue water and you’re so far out to sea that birds are a rarity.  In good weather you can stick your head through the forward hawse hole and watch the bow’s bulb keel plow through the water like a steel whale. 

Or you can enjoy the artiness of “industrial chic.”

You can look at the foaming fizzy wake and imagine little infinite galaxies in it.

Or, perhaps, sea monsters…

You can spend all the time you want in the wheelhouse, scanning the horizon for ships.  But few will be seen; it’s a big ocean.

A well-maintained ship is a joy to be on.  The crew is always busy, and on good weather days they can be seen high aloft in a bosun’s chair or on deck doing what crew on metal ships do:  painting.  This is the brake for the giant gear that runs the port bow anchor.

And this is part of the gear mechanism for that anchor.

Food, glorious food:  As it is with most vessels at sea, meals are the main event, which puts the pressure on Cookie.  Lunch is the main meal, with salad, soup, and a meat-and-potatoes, European style meal.  Dinner is another full meal.  Although a full breakfast is offered, Jim and I tended to skip it and have coffee and a snack in our cabin.  Just for fun, we asked RJ, our steward, to give us a tour of the ship’s freezers and food refrigerators, which are kept locked in order to prevent “unauthorized snacking” beyond what’s already available in the galley. 

Here we are communing with cauliflowers in one of the refrigerators.  You can see by the empty shelves that it’ll be re-provisioning time very soon. Hungry crew can consume a LOT of food.  Among the few fresh things left near the end of the voyage, Jim found a giant bag of beets, his favorite vegetable…Not. 

Communing with cauliflowers in the giant fridge
Jim found a fish in one of the freezers kept at minus 20 Celsius.  Brr!

Thank goodness for stairs.  For each mealtime we descended 5 stories to the Officer’s Mess.  Here’s Jim going down what the crew calls the “German Elevator.”  It’s the only way to go up and down decks aboard all the Hamburg-based Thomas Schulte line ships.  Ascending the 101 steps from A deck to the bridge is a good way to tone the legs and work off those hearty meals.  Because this is a cargo ship, and passengers, though well looked after, are more of an afterthought, there are no accommodations for wheelchairs or for the expectations that come with cruise ships. 

There is a noticeable vibration 24/7, and Hamburg-Sud, the company that charters these Thomas Schulte ships, says that people with artificial joints that could become painful after many days of vibration should not book travel aboard.  In order to travel on a container ship you need a medical certificate saying you are well enough to do it, signed by a doctor who has known you for two years.  Since finding such a doctor in New Zealand was impossible, we had to convince the doctor who finally consented to see us that well, hey, since we’d sailed to New Zealand on our own boat, there was a pretty good chance we were fit enough to travel home on a big ship.  He agreed.

Huge treat!  Captain Zoran Mufa told us that it was okay to go see Sockdolager down in the hold, and on a nice calm day, First Officer Alex led the way.

We donned gloves and hard hats and climbed up a ladder.   Then we climbed down another ladder, went along a catwalk and down another. 

Jim, Alex and I checked her over.  We were not allowed to climb aboard, but it was great to see her, and it made us all happy, including Alex, who was amazed that we had sailed that far in her.

Safety drill:  The Captain announced that we would be having a combined abandon ship and fire drill, so once the alarm sounded we donned life jackets and headed for our muster station, on the starboard lifeboat deck. 

Here’s the starboard lifeboat as seen from the level of our cabin.  It’s completely decked over to keep the water out (and, unfortunately, the vomit in.) 

Here’s the inside of the lifeboat looking forward.  That’s Barbara, the other passenger.  The seating area is lined with shoulder and waist straps, to keep people in place if it’s rough. 

Third Officer Igor asked if I wanted to try the controls, so I pulled myself into the helmsman’s seat, started the engine and put it into gear.  We were still hanging in the slings, of course, so we didn’t go anywhere. 

When the abandon ship drill finished, we passengers were led into the galley to yell “Fire!  Fire in the galley!  Hellllp!”  First Officer Alex also shrieked and beat on the door for nice effect.  It took awhile for the crew to don their special fire suits with self-contained air, but soon enough the door opened and they came in.  That’s Igor grinning in the background.

Here’s the underside of the lifeboat, which is a bit longer than Sockdolager. 

Engine Room!  One of the highlights of this voyage was a tour of the engine room.  The engine itself is several stories tall, and dwarfs any concept of mechanical propulsion held previously.  Here we are descending into one of its several decks.

Chief Engineer Lawrence guided us through.  It was necessary to wear ear protection, because the racket is well above the decibel level that would damage ears.  This is a row of injector pumps and fuel tubing.  This engine room is kept clean to yacht standards; no oil drips, spills or spatter were visible anywhere.

These are spare injectors! 

And these tree-trunk sized things are spare pistons.

We saw the generator room and Lawrence also explained the ship’s filtering systems, for fuel oil, fresh water, and bilge water.  Then we went aft to see the enormous prop shaft revolving—it must be two feet thick! Here’s a view from the catwalk.

And here’s a blurry photo of me standing next to it.  We actually ducked underneath the spinning shaft, and could see aft to the huge coupling just inside the hull.  It was five or six feet across.  The prop itself is probably 25-30 feet in diameter, and it moves the ship 7.5 meters with every revolution. 

With a little figuring back in the control room, Lawrence converted liters to gallons, and came up with 35 gallons per hour at low to moderate speed of 14 knots, double that for top speed of 24 knots.  That’s why we’ve been going fairly slowly the whole trip. 

World-Famous Equator Crossing Ceremony:  King Neptune made an appearance as we crossed the Equator.  Notice the spiffy nautical epaulets, and the fancywork around his trident. 

Isn’t this a spiffy crown?  The Hawaiian Punch Guy would approve, no?

Everyone wanted their photos taken with Neptune and Aphrodite!  Here’s RJ, the steward extraordinaire.

Here’s the Captain.

And here we are toasting the occasion with Third Officer Igor and Junior Officer Dimitri.

For a moment things got dicey with Neptune and the Chief Engineer.  Lawrence must have said something about the beard. 

But the Captain got things under control again, and presented passenger Barbara, the only Polliwog aboard, with her official diploma declaring her to be a Shellback.

After a nice dinner, which included a cake baked by RJ especially for the occasion, we all rushed up to the wheelhouse for the official crossing, and First Officer Alex sounded a sonorously satisfying long blast on the ship’s horn as we crossed.   Look close and you can actually see the Equator!  This is a very rare photograph, as it’s not always visible.

Neptune and Aphrodite donated their costumes to the ship, for future ceremonies.  The Captain was pleased, and we think he’ll make a good next Neptune.

The next Neptune!

To be continued…


  1. Ah what a nice adventure. Now that I have a little practice sailing 'Pelagic' I'm re-reading your blog from the beginning in order to get any tidbits I can. Thanks for blazing the trails of my dreams.

    1. You're welcome, Richard. When we get back we will create an index page that will make it easy to find posts or specific information by topic and location. Keep sailing your dreams!