Tuesday, May 27, 2008


This is a life of sticks. Sticks go up and sticks go down. Sticks disappear and reappear through cabin doors. They are suspended from magnetic hooks or door handles. They are the medium of communication between crew and passengers, passengers and officers, officers and crew. They carry homemade movies, music, photos, or just plain text and are the means of e-mail from and to the ship.
Oh, yes. They look like sticks of chewing gum. Maybe that’s why they are called sticks.

Panama Canal

Living la vida loca on the canal
Locomotive and Happy operator
Locomotive with some line handlers hitching a ride
Rowing out for the lines for the ship. Second series of locks
The locomotives use a cog system to trave forward and back
Dawn on the Panama Canal
Filled to the brim (notice the walkway across the top of the lock) Going through a lock as seen from the Pilot Deck. Our cargo in the foreground. Silver Lining being lifted in the chamber ahead of us.
Life is tough here on the Canal

A lock chamber
A locomotive at work with two positioning cables
An example of how high the lift is Canal at night
The Panama Canal was a little anticlimactic after traveling around the world. A delay in San Diego caused us to lose our time slot, so we had to remain at anchor, outside the canal, from noon on Monday May 5, until 4:30 A.M. on Wednesday May 7. Our pilot, due to arrive at 3:00 A.M. on the Wednesday, was characteristically late. We were further delayed by the late arrival of twenty one (this is not a typographical error, I counted them) line men who came on board to handle the steel cables that attach us to locomotives which help us transit the canal. Mal and I had set our alarm for 3:30 A.M. We had lots of time to read about the history of the canal.
The Spanish considered a passageway through the isthmus as early as 1534.
However it was not until 1879 that the passage was considered an engineering possibility. A private French company spent10 long years, suffering the loss of many lives caused by disease and labor difficulties, before declaring bankruptcy. In 1894 another attempt was made, again by a French company, only to suffer the same fate.
In 1904 a third attempt was made, this time by the U.S. The canal was successfully completed, but the cost was high: 10 years, 75,000 laborers and 400 million dollars. The canal opened to traffic on august 15, 1914.
In 1997 the U.S. started to increase the Panamanian participation in the operation of the canal and on December 31, 1999 the Republic of Panama acquired the full responsibility and ownership of the canal.
There are three sets of locks in the canal, two on the Pacific side, and one on the Atlantic. Each set of locks has six chambers, arranged in pairs and operating independently. Ships can pass either way in parallel chambers. Each chamber accommodates ships up to 106 feet wide, with drafts no deeper than 39.5 feet. This is small relative to the size of many of today’s super sized freighters and cruise ships. Consequently construction is ongoing to build a bigger and more economical system.
Finally, at approximately 5:00 A.M., and still in darkness, we started to inch our way toward the first set of chambers. It is a myth that ships are pulled through the system by locomotives. Not only did I check our wake several times, but I also asked the chief engineer. A humorous fellow at the best of times, he looked at me, cocked one eyebrow and asked, “Do you know how much we weigh?” Ships are actually moved forward by an initial thrust of their own power. The pilots know exactly how much power and when to apply it. The locomotives task is to keep the ships precisely in the middle of the channel. The expertise of the pilots is such that most ships will have coasted to a stop by the time they reach the end of the chamber. However, just in case, the locomotives are also prepared to act as a precautionary brake.
Our bow was well into the first chamber when I spied a small rowing boat, with two oarsmen, bobbing precariously between our ship and the starboard dock. This was a line boat. A line was tossed from our stern to the boat. The line was tied to the bights of two steel cables, attached at their other ends to a locomotive. The cables were then pulled on board. A similar operation was taking place to port. Eventually we ended up with four locomotives, each attached to us by two cables, making eight cables in all. Thus we proceeded through the first three chambers, waiting patiently for the water to fill and raise us to each new level. The same procedure was used at each lock. We passed through 6 chambers on the Pacific side of the canal, but only three on the Atlantic side. The elevations and descents were correspondingly greater here. I have no idea why this is. I suspect that the incline up the mountain is gentler on the Pacific side.
The transit through the canal system usually takes 8 to 10 hours. Ours took approximately 15 hours. I suspect that we, along with six other ships, were fitted into a small window of opportunity that occurred in the system. We spent an unusually long time anchored in Lake Gatun, a large body of water just west of the Atlantic cut.
We started our transit in complete darkness, passed through the day, only to end in complete darkness again. Perhaps it was the length of the passage, along with the prolonged waiting periods, that eroded some of our initial excitement.
Not to worry. Soon we were on our way to Galveston.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The “S.S. Cork”

Entering San Diego 4-27-2008 3-47-35 PM Preparing to launch with the crew looking on 5-4-2008 1-22-31 AM

So we transited the Pacific Ocean, all 5,618 miles of it, finally arriving at San Diego at midnight. What a sight. The ship, surrounded by the lights of the city, gently coasted through the bay, past the center of the city, to dock at the 10th. Avenue Marine Terminal, a mere 20 minutes walking distance from the down town convention center. We left Nagasaki on the 15th. April at 1:00 A.M. and traveled North East along the coast of Japan until we reached 40 degrees of latitude, 5 degrees lower than is customary. A severe low pressure area in the North Pacific caused us to take this slightly lower and longer course. The weather turned chilly and brisk in spite of our more Southerly route. Eventually we turned South East arriving in sunny California on the April 26. We crossed the International Date Line which provided us with two April 19th’s. This threw Heiner’s well organized diary into some disarray. His PC made an automatic adjustment, but his diary was not prepared to repeat a day! So how did we spend our time for 13 days? For the first three days Mal read and I became obsessed with a 1,000 piece jigsaw. Then the fun began. Among the many gifts that we received during the bon voyage party at Lillian and Ed O’Connors’, was a copy of an abcNEWS article, “River of Dreams: the First Cork Boat”, a tale of a 22 foot boat built out of 166,000 corks. (http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=4103111) We also received a wooden statuette of a peg legged Captain, complete with pipe, and, to everybody’s amusement, a bird in a bird cage, who responded to loud noises. If you read the blog entry on Genoa you will recall that Paul and Mal brought many bottles of wine on board. As we opened the first bottle, it occurred to me that it would be fun to build the “Second” Cork Boat in the World. We started to collect corks. With one chopstick, easily obtained in Asia, a box of toothpicks, courtesy of the ship, and a bottle of glue, purchased in Nagasaki, we were ready to proceed. Every morning Mal and I were to be found, hard at work, at the Boat Works, aka the passenger lounge. Our industry was interrupted periodically by the cacophonous serenading from the bird cage. Fortunately, for the sanity of all in her presence, the bird came with an on/off switch. Various bits and pieces were donated by the other passengers, including cordage for the rigging, and a set of flags representing the nationalities of the other passengers. A special thanks to Paul who diligently worked at increasing our cork supply. Our progress was monitored, with some smiles and head shaking, by the crew and officers. When we were finished we were very proud of our little Viking cat boat. We continued in the Rickmers tradition of naming their Pearl String line after ports, and named our boat the S.S. Cork. Our captain, Sir Beaufort O. O’Scale, in spite of his somewhat overly abundant proportions, courageously took the helm on launching day. In the presence of the Officers, passengers and crew, all well supplied with beer, wine and soft drinks, (any excuse for a party), we gently, and with great ceremony, eased the S.S.Cork into the swimming pool, by means of a sling and a fishing rod. Heiner supplied an iPod and speakers, along with the appropriate music. In the absence of champagne we formalized the launch with liberal sprinklings of beer. The “VIP’s and spectators” cheered. No sooner was our little craft launched than she caught a puff of wind and sailed magnificently to the other end of the swimming pool. Thank you to Dick and Pat Cooper for supplying this article, and to John Pollock who built the “First” cork boat that inspired this project. We and our fellow passengers had a wonderful time sailing across the Pacific.

Sunlight on the Deck Cargo - Crossing the Pacific 4-26-2008 4-52-28 AM
The Shipyard with assembly of the The SS Cork in an early stage 4-18-2008 9-02-55 PM
Photo of Sir Beaufort O. O'Scale (the O stands for Out)
The SS Cork under full sail flags flying 4-26-2008 8-36-24 PM 3872x2592


OAt the Spring Festival in Nagasaki with some of the locals

Puccini was inspired to write Madama Butterfly by events in what is now Glover Garden

Schoolgirls on Holiday in Nagasaki

Artificial Food Display Outside A Restaurant

Do I HAVE to do this

Getting ready to perform at the Spring Festival

Industrial Art

Life imitating Art in Glover Garden

We visited two cities in Japan, Kobe and Nagasaki, each with distinctly different personalities.
If Kobe seems to have a familiar ring to it, yes, it is the home of Kobe beef. A very modern and dynamic city, it has had to reinvent itself twice in recent history. It was badly bombed toward the end of world War 11, sustaining extensive physical damage and loss of life. Fully recovered and thriving it was again devastated in 1995 by a severe earthquake; 7 + on the Richter scale. Some of you may remember the earthquake. It made world news because many bridges buckled and collapsed, making recovery efforts difficult.
Fully rebuilt, it is a beautiful world class metropolis. The many teenagers bubble with energy and happiness. Children of an affluent society, they have a funky, fashionable, attractive dress code of their own. Lots of short shorts, knee high boots, mini skirts and outrageously wonderful tops, all coordinated with a balance of color and style uniquely Japanese. The center of the city is one large shopping center with every well known retailer present, side by side with local shops and boutiques. It was a joy to get lost there, window shopping and people watching. No purchasing allowed, mind you. The rate of exchange made everything in Japan very expensive!
Nagasaki is different. The pace of life is slower, the atmosphere more traditional. There is a quiet elegance. For many years it was the only port of entrance for visitors to Japan. Sadly Nagasaki has also had to reinvent itself because of the atomic bomb. Unlike Kobe, it elected to restore and preserve its inheritance. Some of the temples, originally built by the Chinese merchants and mariners, have been restored to their former splendor. Havens of quiet beauty, they encourage peaceful reflection.
Mal and I visited Glover Garden while in Nagasaki. Glover was one of Japans first foreign entrepreneurs. The estate is on a hill overlooking the bay. Supposedly it was the inspiration for Puccini’s opera, Madama Butterfly. I had difficulty clarifying if Puccini actually visited the garden, but there is a statue of him, and also one of a famous Japanese opera star who is identified with the role of Butterfly.
I took the opportunity to persuade Mal to find a Japanese steak house so that I could taste some Kobe beef. It is, indeed, deliciously tender, but not worth the premium price exacted by New York restaurants.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Cross Cultural Encounter

After a day of wandering around the city of Chang Wan, we decided to head for the Restaurant district for a light informal supper. We spotted a brightly lit place with all the earmarks of a restaurant in the throes of a grand opening (Balloons, large flower displays with broad ribbons inscribed in Korean, etc). As we studied the picture menu, we were invited inside by smiles and gestures.
After we were seated, we asked “Does anyone here speak English?”. An 11 year old girl who was hovering nearby volunteered, “Yes.” She immediately became our interpreter and guide. Her vocabulary was extensive and stretched well beyond the usual, “How are you?” and, “How old are you?” Another sister, possibly two years younger, joined us periodically, undoubtedly to practice her English too. However, every time she opened her mouth to speak she would collapse in giggles. They, in turn, were joined by their baby sister who was dressed in a pretty pink party dress, complete with a pink crown.
She wasn’t the least bit shy and babbled happily in Korean, not at all perturbed that no one was responding to her.
Eventually their Father joined us, concerned that his children were annoying us. Quite to the contrary, we were thoroughly enjoying his family. Very soon he joined us too, lifting the toddler onto his lap.
Suddenly the toddler became unusually quiet and developed a look of deep concentration. She reached out her index finger and tentatively stroked Mal’s forearm. She collapsed into shrieks of toddler delight, looking toward her father for approval. Her Father, embarrassed by this seemingly presumptuous act, started to apologize. He then realized that Mal was charmed by this spontaneous act of exploration and was encouraging her to continue. Soon father and daughter were both lost in their own small universe where the child was learning that there are some men, mostly non-Korean, who have hair on their arms and that it is sometimes considered a sign of great strength and courage.
Given that the arm in question belonged to Mal, out of two isn’t bad!

The Masan fish market

Old Port in Masan 4-6-2008 4-17-00 AM

A lesson in Korean 4-6-2008 2-58-14 AM

I'm watching you 4-6-2008 2-59-37 AM

Korean Fish Mongersette 4-6-2008 3-01-33 AM

Live Prawns 4-6-2008 3-03-48 AM

One of the many advantages of visiting countries by sea is that we always have fresh fish available to us in the most of the restaurants. In Asia, at least in the costal areas, fish are kept alive in aerated fish tanks until they are prepared for consumption. We decided to visit the Masan fish market, in Korea, to learn more about how this is accomplished. Like most markets in the world we found rows of vendors displaying their wares, except that in this case, the wares were very much alive and swimming. Most of the vendors were female and we were greeted with smiles, broken English and much laughter. This is a place where everybody appears to be happy and there is a shared sense of camaraderie. Everywhere was spotlessly clean and the market had a wonderfully sweet smell of fresh fish. Live fish don’t have much of a fishy smell. I say fish, but actually there was an abundance of seafood too; crabs, oysters, shrimp, prawns, mussels, whelks, octopi and squid to name a few. There even was a lonesome frog for sale.
Water is piped in from the nearby harbor so that the water tanks can constantly be replenished. Open gutters, covered with grills, return the excess overflow. Open gutters paint a bad image, perhaps, but like the whole market, the water that flowed through these gutters was clean and sweet smelling. I suspect that the vendors have another method of disposal for their fish waste. A hint of one bad fish here could spell doom to the whole market.
So how do the fish get from here to their destination alive? I noticed that every vendor had stacks of Styrofoam boxes in every size. The large restaurant cooler sizes are filled with seawater and fish, and are delivered by truck. Smaller individual purchases are put in sealed plastic bags, similar to how a goldfish is transported in the U.S. Other fish are killed and wrapped and taken home for prompt consumption. Octopi and shell fish etc., which don’t need moving sea water to stay alive, are packed in crushed ice, of which there was plenty.
The fish market covers approximately five or six city blocks and there are stalls of spices and herbs, fruits and vegetables around the periphery to allow for the convenience of one-stop shopping. We arrived slightly before nine o’clock on a Sunday morning when the market was still quiet. We had no difficulty losing ourselves here for two and a half hours. This early in the morning the vendors had time to spare and enjoyed interacting with us. We were taught the correct Korean pronunciation for many of the fish. These lessons usually involved three or four vendors who insisted on being party to this activity, much to everybody’s enjoyment.
By the time we left the market was busy and we realized that we had been there at the best time of the day to allow for these fun filled interactions.

Food in Masan

At the fish market 4-6-2008 2-57-35 AM

At the fish restaurant 4-5-2008 5-55-09 AM
At the Masan Fish Market. All thise fish are confusing 4-6-2008 2-55-42 AM
Our Korean Meal 4-5-2008 5-55-02 AM

Our first adventure with food in Korea was interesting. Mal’s olfactory senses found us a restaurant where we had to remove our shoes and sit cross legged on the floor. Nobody spoke a word of English. We used our picture card, pointed to a fish and indicated that they should choose our meal.
We were each given our own dish of chili sauce with a teaspoon of wasabi tucked under the lip and another of sesame sauce. Shared accompaniments were chopped sweet green pepper, chopped garlic, sliced green chili pepper and peeled chestnuts. We had a small serving platter of chicory with a vinaigrette style hot and sweet dressing and a slaw of cabbage and sliced cucumber dressed with a white hot and sweet sauce.
The first course consisted of two large prawns, two raw oysters on the half shell, dried cooked baby octopi and a pancake whose main ingredients were eggplant and zucchini.
The main course was an elegant platter of thinly slice raw fish that had been happily swimming in a fish tank when we first sat down, steamed mussels in a broth, and the grilled head of the aforementioned fish. These were accompanied by a plate of red leaf lettuce and sesame leaves, which were palm sized , looked like a stinging nettle and has a mild mint flavor. Our waitress showed us how to tear up a leaf, dip the raw fish in the chili sauce and place on the leaf and add any, or all, of the accompaniments folding it into a small edible packet.
Our last course was a freshly made egg custard which the waitress spooned into the remaining sesame seed sauce.
The entire meal was splendidly delicious. Had I realized that it was going to be a surimi style lunch I might have rejected it. Confronted with a choice of raw fish or hunger, I chose to eat the fish and I’m glad I did. I was even enjoying the fish head until the eye fell out. I generously offered the rest of the head to Mal!
All of the restaurants that we saw had fish tanks filled with all manner of live fish and shell fish, guaranteeing that all fish is 100% fresh. Would I go out of my way to eat this in New York? Probably not.
We chose beer again as our beverage. Asian restaurants don’t seem to carry a large selection of wines and I would assume from this that it is not well liked, except that Carrefours, a well know French department store that we found in China, carries an international line of fine wines. Even Wal-Mart there has a wine aisle, but I noticed that many of these were labeled “The Great Wall of China” vintage. We had already tasted a bottle of this brand with dire results.
Our appetites had not yet recovered by six thirty in the evening and so we chose to eat a simple meal in a modern Korean restaurant with high tables and chairs. We ordered a chicken dish containing sliced carrots, mushrooms, scallions, onions, potatoes and hot red peppers. It was served on a bed of with transparent rice noodles. I thought that the Irish were the only people crazy enough to eat potatoes and noodles together! The dish came with a large, heavy duty pair of kitchen scissors. Was it to further cut up the already pieced chicken? The answer was provided by the waitress. I was trying to serve myself some noodles, hot pot style, when she approached our table, borrowed my chopsticks lifted some noodles and elegantly chopped them off. Mystery solved.
This meal, like all our meals in Asia, was interesting, tasty and a complete gastronomic success.

A Farewell to China

Yesterday we left Qingdao. It was a sad farewell. Contrary to my expectations, I fell in love with China. In all of the ports we visited I found happy, gregarious and caring people. The young children, with their good looks and spontaneity, are especially charming. Heiner, a fellow passenger, who has a salt and pepper beard, and a head of dark brown curls, appears so extraordinary to them that, in Heiner’s words, “their eyes widen with surprise and they cover their mouths and start to giggle. When I smile and wave they giggle even harder. If I imitate them and cover my mouth and giggle too, they burst into peals of laughter that is so infectious that even the accompanying adults laugh.”
Mal and I frequently seek the non-tourist areas of the cities we visit. Here the shop assistants speak very little English, and our Chinese is limited to please and thank you. The Chinese naturally use hand gestures, so, with much giggling and laughter we communicate well and shopping is a pleasure.
Even the restaurants are fun. In Northern china there is a cuisine called Hot Pot. Raw, thinly sliced food is brought to the table and the diners immerse it in a simmering highly seasoned broth until cooked. The first time we stumbled into a Hot Pot restaurant we had no idea how to order or cook the food. The restaurant was large and filled with many six to eight person tables of dark suited business men, as well as other couples like us. Realizing that we would need assistance, the Hostess allocated two young waitresses to our table. I am not sure who had more fun, our waitresses or Mal and I.
We’ve had lots of similar, and equally enjoyable, experiences. In our wildest dreams Mal and I never imagined that this trip would be so much fun. To add to our enjoyment Heiner has a video camera and movie making software. His wit and humor, combined with his highly skilled ability to manipulate his images, and his uncanny ability to find the right music for each occasion, frequently leave us rolling with laughter.
As Qingdao started to recede, a handsome sloop came scudding out of the Olympic harbor. It was a perfect day for sailing.

China Pictures

The Chinese loved to get into our photographs 3-31-2008 3-55-35 AM
You have been warned 3-17-2008 7-05-46 AM
Kindergarten Outing 3-30-2008 3-33-52 AM
Mal and Friends in Qingdao 3-31-2008 3-55-01 AM

Mei....The Wind 3-17-2008 6-55-53 AM

Our next dinghy. Now taking orders for 2009 3-30-2008 4-14-48 AM

Sailboat with Qingdao and the Statue Mei in the background 4-2-2008 8-51-07 AM

Even the Statues are smiling. 3-31-2008 7-46-51 AM
Getting Ready for the 2008 Olympics 3-18-2008 2-25-21 AM

Impromtu Chinese concert at the new Olympic Center 3-30-2008 4-05-03 AM
Its all in the technique 3-30-2008 5-52-35 AM

Jonathan Lito and Mark having some fun with Lifeboat Drill 3-13-2008 5-06-44 AM

Are you sure Issac Walton started this way 3-30-2008 4-18-30 AM
Bethoven in Qingdao 3-30-2008 4-00-21 AM
Breakfast at Tiffany's 3-30-2008 8-40-24 AM
But i know my new car would look terrific with these decals 3-30-2008 5-06-22 AM
Even the Manhole Covers are ready for the game 3-17-2008 6-54-15 AM