With Nabucco from Shanghai to the Mediterranean

      “On the Road! to Shanghai! I have no idea of what will happen, and this expectation is giving me butterflies in my stomach. In a day or two, I will join the containership CMA CGM Nabucco with destination: Malta.
      ... Overwhelmed about the little I managed to see of Shanghai, I go to bed early after a rich Chinese dinner. The trip starts tomorrow!
      Once on board this enormous ship (almost 350m long, 45m wide, and about 60m high), a friendly gentleman welcomes us and takes care of our passports and tickets. Soon after the captain arrives, wearing a smart uniform, and welcome us.

      I get a nice big, modern cabin, with lots of storage space, two comfortable beds, a sofa, desk and spacious bathroom and toilet. This is just like a really good hotel room.
      After unpacking my belongings, I proceed downstairs to the combined officers’ and passengers’ mess for a late breakfast. The ‘mess’ is bright and airy, beautifully furnished and cosy, with a view over the stern overlooking the islands and the ocean.

      Costel, Nabucco’s steward, serves coffee and asks about our breakfast habits for the voyage. If we prefer coffee or tea, where we would like to have it, etc. We choose the passengers’ recreation lounge where there is a TV, stereo equipment and a DVD player, chessboard etc. This room is also nice and airy. I go for a tour of the ship after breakfast and find the swimming pool – lovely! You can sunbathe on a deck chair outside and the ship also has a gym, table-tennis, and small library. This will be just great.
      Back in my room I suddenly see a container sailing by outside my window! I look out totally fascinated. I can see a number of huge cranes lifting the giant containers, one after the other, with incredible precision. Insect-size men are moving around looking after the cargo high up in the air. They seem to be totally unconcerned about the height and the feverish activity. It all happens quickly and efficiently. The precision of the crane managers releasing the containers do not stop to impress me. I stay at the window for a long time watching this amazing scene and become more and more interested in the logistics behind it all. Different harbors, loads of containers with different contents, weights and destinations – this is really exciting!

      Time, as well as appetite, for a remarkable lunch. Grilled gambas, pork cutlets, French cheeses and a peach melba for dessert. Of course red and white wine too. I have to watch out or I will put on some weight! Every day the dinner menu is as extensive as the lunch. It is a French ship and, naturally, has a French chef. Then out on deck for a long walk, up and down the many stairs, and on to try out the gym. ‘The good life’ requires self-discipline.
      Evening now. An excellent dinner - just as good as the lunch. Coffee is served in the passengers’ lounge, and for my part, a piano concerto by Beethoven on CD that I have brought with me. It is almost half past ten and time to go to bed. We will be docking more cargo in Ningbo tomorrow.

      I wake up late, rushing to make it to the breakfast table. It is actually no problem. The steward is so sweet and thoughtful, just like the chef. We have calmly and quietly anchored at Ningbo during the night and now the intense loading and unloading of giant containers, is in action again. The harbour is situated a bit outside the city and we are only here for a few hours, so it is not worth the hassle of going through the immigration bureaucracy for such a brief visit. I am saving that for Hong Kong.
      I can sense a seductive smell of freshly baked goods. The chef is making dessert for lunch. We are travelling along China’s coast now. It is beautiful with the mountainous horizon through the light clouds. My fellow passenger, a pleasant interesting person who, like me, also enjoys some time alone in a pleasant atmosphere.
      I’ve met the Captain and the pilots; everyone is on board now. Two tugboats, ridiculously small in comparison with Nabucco, guides this great ship away from the harbor, at a seemingly snail’s pace. The traffic is very lively in the harbor. Boats of different sizes are moving in all directions. Soon the tugboats will release the ship and we will be on our own.

      Climbing upwards ladder by ladder to the captain’s bridge, I am invited into the most holy place on the ship. Spaciously set out, with all the navigational equipment displayed, although I don’t understand anything … A young cadet takes care of me, explaining some details. The radar is full of unknown signs. I can see our route on screen and watch how the mate corrects it gradually using the joystick. We sail through narrow passages and lively traffic. It is a pity that it is so cloudy, because the archipelago we are passing through, is undoubtedly very beautiful. I talk with a young officer who emphasizes that no matter how advanced the technique and equipment may be, one’s own eyes and judgment is still the most important element that can be relied on. I stay on for quite a long time to observe their calm activity.

      During the afternoon we take a walk around the ship, about 700 metres. We do this 4 times. It is necessary to get some exercise especially with all the delicious food we get here! The mist has disappeared and, hopefully we will get some sunshine. When I come back to my cabin, I find a message on my door; the Captain is serving champagne in the offers’ mess before lunch! A dozen young officers enter, one after the other, into the long beautifully decorated room. We are also served small appetizers whilst we mingle together.
      During the afternoon, my disciplined side takes over and I go out for some more walks to compensate for the massive meals. Fortunately dinner is a bit lighter and my hunger has had little time to develop! We sit at the dining table for a long time become rather philosophical while taking another glass of rosè wine. Tonight is the night when we berth in Hong Kong and most likely will have time to go and see the city. I wake up early because I want to see Hong Kong’s famous skyline. The temperature is a bit warmer and the sun has risen in the sky, but it is still misty due to the air pollution from the industries in south China. The ship is sailing slowly into the harbor and as we get closer, the boat traffic increases. There are boats and ships of all kinds, everywhere. Even a small sailing boat is daring to join in. Brave one! We eat a light lunch and take a tour around the harbour for 2 1/2 hours. What an amazing city. The architecture and the atmosphere! I am totally fascinated and hope to return one day.
      We are going full speed ahead over the South China Sea towards Port Kelang, Malaysia. It is clear that we are approaching the tropics as it becomes hot. Lovely I think as I am a person who easily feels cold. The sea is still calm, and most of the wind is created by our 26-knot speed. It is stunning to see an unbroken horizon all around you. Yesterday the lively hectic boat traffic in Hong Kong; today not a ship in sight – only a few birds sailing on the wind.
      I look forward to a couple of seemingly uneventful days on the ocean. The sky and ocean are constantly changing. Time loses its importance here and the mind can roam freely. The night is warm and very dark. I go out on deck to see the stars. The more I look, the more I see.
      Since the ship has been delayed we will not berth at Malta as planned. I was supposed to have flown home from there but have instead been helped to find another solution; I’ll disembark on passing Port Said in Egypt and take a flight from Cairo. Everything is managed by e-mail through satellite.

      I wrote some e-mails home to Sweden on a laptop from one of my co-passengers, and I left them copied on a disk in the Captain’s office to be sent out. It is so good to communicate with people at home when you are this far away out on the ocean. Time for lunch. The Sunday lunch is unbelievable, even bigger than usual. Apart from that, I have my laundry day today. There is a washing machine as well as a tumble drier and iron here. The rest of the day goes at a lazy pace, I read a bit, watch a film, and listen to Beethoven’s 7th symphony.
      We are moving back the clock 1 hour today: 1 hour for every day for some days ahead of us now. It is a much more tangible variant than when you are going by airplane.

      An intense cleaning and polishing is done on the boat now. Some deck hands washing painted surfaces, others use high pressure to wash decks and roofs. The swimming pool is emptied and refilled with fresh seawater. I have done my exercises, taken a shower, and changed my clothes. It is time for my private evening concert before dinner. I have one concern: how will I be able to adjust to the everyday life again, after getting used to this lovely 3 weeks on board?!
      I wake up before 7am and draw back the curtains. The morning colors spread outside: shimmery light blue, turquoise, pink and pearl-grey – so softly beautiful. The ocean is totally still, not even a slight wave! We are going straight to Singapore where the traffic increases. We will be entering the notorious Malacca Strait in a few hours. The crew will be very careful but otherwise this doesn’t mean anything particular for us passengers.
      The hot tropical darkness is coming and Nabucco drives slowly out to sea again. We go up to the bridge and the pilot is there. Total concentration is performed in the dark. There are loads of boats in the narrow sound. He gives positions, the mate confirms, many men in silent attention. No unnecessary words, no joking, no chatting. Here it is important that everyone knows what he is doing. It is pitch black outside and on the bridge. Only the navigational instruments give off some light. Other boats’ lights and lanterns are lit. Green and red lights are seen from the lighthouses. You can feel a tense calm. After the pilot leaves the ship, Nabucco picks up speed. The tension releases a bit while we remain on the bridge and see the stars in the darkness. We head into the Indian ocean on our way to the Red Sea.
      Today is Sunday, and freshly baked croissants are served for breakfast - irresistible!
      ... We are moving back the clock 1 hour: 1 hour for every day for some days ahead of us now. It is a much more tangible variant than when you are going by airplane. Our fourth day on the ocean without seeing the land. The sea has been calm during the whole time, except for a single day, and still is like that. But actually it does not matter that much; the waves have to be very big to make this huge ship roll. It just goes steadily forward through the water.

      I have been in the engine room today with the chief engineer. It occupies many floors under the deck, and is unbelievably big. He tells me that this is the largest diesel motor in use in the whole world, with its 93,360 hp and 12 cylinders. It has a propeller that measures 9.1 metres in diameter and the electrical system is 12,000 volts, which is something unique for this ship at this time. Just like the ship, it was built in 2006. Much of Nabucco’s machinery was newly invented, a source of pride for the young engineer. While there is a display panel showing the condition of the engine up on the bridge, nothing is controlled from there, only here down below the deck in the engine room. The heart, or brain, of this is computerized and all systems are doubled for security reasons.

      The engine requires 300 – 450 tons of diesel fuel every day, depending on how rough the sea is. Everything comes in giant proportions and is sparkling clean. Down below there is also a big workshop with all the equipment you can think of.
      The end of the voyage is close now. We are heading into the Suez Canal and estimate to be there by 9:30 this evening. I can tell that we are getting close by the boat traffic that is more lively again. We have passed Hurgada and here is an archipelago I didn’t know about. The water is so calm that you can use it as a mirror. A yellow film covers the air and it is anything but clear as there are oil fields all around us. The issue of air pollution has grown to new proportions for me during this trip. I start seeing environmental problems in a more serious way than I did before.
      We anchor at the entrance to the Suez Canal during the night along with other ships. There is little space and a lot of careful driving needs to be done in order to get all 17 in the right order. The channel is very narrow and the ships pass in convoys. First the ones that are going north to the Mediterranean, and then the ones going south. Today at 6 am we started the journey once the pilot came on board. I have spent hours on the bridge. It is the first time I see Egypt. Birds sing and the sun is slowly warming the air, which felt so cold yesterday. A big contrast to the humid tropical heat, that I had gotten used to. On the right hand side the Sinai peninsula. The landscape is deserted, infertile and looks like it is abused. But on the left, there are houses, palms and mosques. The pictures in the tourists’ leaflets become very much alive.
      Nabucco slows down enough for us to see details on board the other ships. We see people sitting and having a drink at the bar. The landscape is still deserted on the right but on the left, there are lovely trees and some very nice houses. Further on, after the lake, the ship picks up speed again and we are going through a narrow passage now. We have passed many sailboats on our way north. I look to the right again and see 7 – 8 tents in the middle of the desert and close to these, a mosque. After that, desert again. We will soon pass Ismailia.

      We are leaving the Nabucco at Port Said. We will be transferred to a small motor boat while the ship is still moving at about 9 knots, quite a high speed. I am nervous, I have to admit, when I step out from the safe hold and, on shaky legs, climb down the narrow ladder for 10 meters onto a ridiculously small boat. But it’s not really a problem because the Nabucco and boat travel at same speed and stay absolutely side by side. So we wave good-bye to our ‘home’ that we have had for almost three weeks.”

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