Sunday, March 30, 2008


It is 11:00 AM and I am standing on the pilot deck in Huangpu, a coal port,surveying the world around me. To get here we spent almost five hours traveling up the Pearl River, a shallow and congested waterway. Beneath my vantage point is a coal black dock. In the distance I can see the city of Huangpu, barely. It is shrouded in smog. The air is damp and the port is bleak. In the near distance are three football-field sized coal bunkers.The two outer bunkers are busy. Front loaders in each bin are shoveling coal into dump trucks. There is a miasma of coal dust added to the smog that shrouds the port. With each scoop of coal into the dump truck, a third layer of billowing coal dust temporarily rises up in great black clouds.The coal dust hardly settles before the next load is added.
Welcome to working China.
Next to us is the stern of an Iranian bulk carrier. She is empty and they are preparing to leave. Two tugs, fore and aft, sit in readiness to pull her away from the dock. There are two mechanical windlasses, three crewmen,and one officer. Three stern lines and one spring line are released from the dock. At one windlass the extra crewman is tailing and coiling the line. At the other windlass the lone crewman is trying to wind and coil at the same time. An order is given. The crewmen are taking too long. They speed up the process letting the lines fall where they may. Another order is given. The men remove lines one and two from the windlasses and wind on lines three and four. But wait! Lines one and two are not completely wound in. Another order is given. Lines three and four are now removed and lines one and two returned to the windlasses. The Captain and the Chinese pilot are leaning over a rail on the bridge deck. The pilot is shaking his head in disbelief. The stern deck is in complete disarray. It is a combination of Laurel and Hardy meet the three stooges. Finally the ship is completely cast off and an order is given to the tugboats. The ship slowly moves away from the dock.
We are next to leave. I am glad to be underway again. The hypochondriac in me is making me cough. Our next stop is Qingdao, home of the famous Tsingtsao beer and site of the 2008 Olympic aquatic events.

Huangpu pics

Our next door neighbor 3-15-2008 4-22-10 AM
Rice paddies on the Pearl River 3-14-2008 9-55-27 AM

A ferry on the Pearl River 3-14-2008 9-13-24 AM 3
Bulk Storage in Huangpu 3-15-2008 5-45-18 AM 3-15-2008 5-45-18 AM

Coal dust rising 3-15-2008 4-25-34 AM

Line handlers arriving at the dock in Huangpu 3-15-2008 5-06-58 AM

Next trip I'm packing dustmasks! 3-15-2008 5-33-33 AM


I'm learning a lot about commercial freighters. We went aground at Ho Chi Minh City. It all started off with what is known as, "berth congestion".We were anchored off the Mecong delta waiting for a combination of high tide and an appropriate berth, knowing that there was congestion in the port.Time is money in this business so knowing this, port authorities make every effort to accommodate their customers. I surmise that it was because of these factors that we ended up in a less than perfect slip. As I mentioned before our stern extended out beyond the dock, and our stern lines were tied to a floating buoy.Heiner, Mal and I arrived back from Ho Chi Minh City at noon on Sunday. The Captain likes to have every one on board two hours prior to departure as a precaution against, "lost taxis" or "wayward crew members", so I knew that he must be planning to leave at 2:00 P.M. Imagine my surprise to find that,at noon, the ship was sitting up out of the water - Always safe aground - as they say. I watched the tide come in with some cynicism. Two hours didn't seem like a lot of time to refloat the ship. By 2:20 P.M. the pilot was aboard and the tugs in place to move us off the dock. Every departure requires a different technique so it is always fun to watch the preparations from the pilot deck. We were facing up river so we needed to get turned around. One tug had his nose to our starboard bow to hold us to the dock,while the second tug planned to pull our stern out into the channel; enough to allow the first tug to push the bow counter clockwise, and therefore point us in the right direction. No problem here except that no matter how hard the little tug tried to pull (she was just a little tug after all)nothing happened. This fruitless effort lasted almost twenty minutes.Finally the forward tug tootled down along the starboard side, passed behind the stern, and lined up with her nose to our port. Once again, but this time with a push as well as a pull, the tow boats tried, with all their might and main, to move the stern away from the dock. Nothing doing, we were really stuck in the mud. Finally the tug boats retired and, using our own bow thrusters, we moved the ship forward and out into the channel, being careful not to clip the stern of the boat in front of us. The tugs eventually helped us to turn around further up the channel. The elapsed time - one hour.

Call Sea Tow pics

Bargaining for fruit at the edge of the dock just before casting off 3-9-2008 7-46-46 AM

Call Sea Tow 3-8-2008 5-36-40 AM

One of our little tugs 3-9-2008 10-02-29 AM

Pulling with all her might and main. 3-9-2008 9-51-42 AM

Up the Mekong for a Bike Ride

On Saturday our ship meandered through the Mecong delta along a very narrow channel. We had a pilot on board. In spite of the many buoys and ranges there were moments when I held my breath as we circumnavigated some of the hairpin bends, especially if a ship was approaching the other way. Our slip, when we eventually docked, was unusual in that our stern stuck out beyond the dock. This wasn't a problem because loading and unloading cargo takes place in the forward two thirds of the ship. It was already dark by the time we got settled in so Mal and I decided to go into town the following morning.
Heiner, a fellow passenger, joined us as we left the ship early the next morning. The plan was to exit the port before calling a taxi. The guard at the gate looked at us a little quizzically, checked our passports, and wished us a happy day. As we walked down the narrow street we became aware that we were being stared at, not rudely, but with curiosity. Lotus Port isa working port and I imagine that there are not a lot of passengers passing through. We hadn't gone far before we were accosted by some young motorcyclists who wanted to take us to the city. This is a common mode of transportation in South East Asia. They are not regulated or metered and we had no intention of using them in spite of their telling us, "TAXI NO COME HERE!" To cut a long story short we each ended up riding pillion passenger to the nearest taxi stand. Heiner managed to capture a rear view of Mal and me on video. It's titled, "Hell's Angels Visit Viet Nam!" Our cyclists were very charming and promised that they wouldn't go too fast. They kept their word, but I think we were all a little relieved to climb into a taxi for the rest of the trip.

Mekong Pics

A river boat 3-8-2008 11-10-59 AM
Coming at you...around a bend in the Mekong 3-8-2008 11-05-19 AM

Harbor Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City 3-9-2008 10-19-42 AM

Harvesting Rice in the Mekong Delta 3-8-2008 10-47-56 AM

How the other half cruises around the world. Top price staterooms $600K and all fully booked 3-8-2008 11-48-33 AM

Ho Chi Min

Family Transportation- Face masks for polution protection. 3-8-2008 2-26-48 AM

Greeted by a brass band playing La Paloma at 8 AM in downtown HCM City 3-8-2008 2-25-46 AM
It will cost you two bucks 3-8-2008 3-33-21 AM
A swarm of motorcycles 3-8-2008 2-52-38 AM

Thursday, March 27, 2008


My daughter Alex has a very good friend in Bangkok, Eric. When they heard that we would be close by, they organized an overnight trip to the city.Eric arranged for a tour guide, Mr. Rabbit, to pick us up at the ship and take us to Bangkok. Alex very kindly treated us to our hotel. As fate would have it Eric's parents, Adrienne and Howard, were visiting from New York. We had met Adrienne and Howard previously and were looking forward to seeing them again. Mal and I requested typical Thai food for dinner so we arranged to meet at a local restaurant in the neighborhood where Eric lives.But we had a lot of sight seeing to do before dinner.
Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand, was built in 1782, the same year that Los Angeles was built. The two cities had no knowledge of each other and yet they both named their respective cities, "City of Angels". In Bangkok modern sky scrapers sit comfortably side by side with century old Buddhist Temples and royal Palaces. The temples are still loved and revered by the Thais. In historical times they served as centers of education and places where the sick were treated.
As with the rest of the country side, Bangkok is a blaze of color. Taxis come in every color imaginable. My favorite was pale purple with a pink stripe. There are not as many motor cycles in Bangkok. This is because all the people who would own motorcycles elsewhere in Asia drive cars in Bangkok. And yes, as you might imagine, rush hour starts early in the morning and finally ends at midnight.
Mr.Rabbit has taken care of Eric's guests before. He was an excellent choice; young, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and he spoke excellent English. Our first stop was the flower market. The flowers were surprisingly similar to flowers at home, except for the orchids. These were magnificent. They came in every size and color imaginable. The market is open 24/7 so there are lots of food vendors who supply food to shoppers and flower sellers alike. Mal was in his element. He and Rabbit started outwith Thai iced coffee:
Take one small tumbler and add:
2 heaping teaspoons of sugar
Black coffee
1 tablespoon of sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons of coconut milk
Stir well and pour over a large glass of crushed ice.
It is actually cool and refreshing.
My favorite nibble was sliced papaya with sticky rice. After more nibbles of different foods we were whisked off to the royal palace. Given my limited writing skills it is impossible for me to describe the splendor of this compound. I hope the photographs tell the story.
The next part of our tour took us on a canal ride. My first impression, on seeing our gondola, Super Locky, was that I had stepped into Kevin Costner's movie, Water World. The boats are propelled by truck engines which have a very long (at least 15 feet) propeller shaft with a small propeller at the end. This propels the boat and also acts as a rudder. A lever extending from the engine block moves the entire assembly up and down, and back and forth, to control boat speed and direction. Our boat moved very fast and gave us a fun ride.
After a side trip to see the reclining Buddha we checked into our hotel.
Dinner with Eric and his parents was a fun filled affair. Eric, the expert on Thai food, ordered for all of us. Each dish that appeared from the kitchen was better than the one before. Even the Pad Thai was deliciously different. But the "piece de resistance" was the fish dish. Our waitress brought a small open brazier full of glowing coals to the table. She put a metal serving dish, filled with a raw fish covered with herbs and spices.Then she ladled hot stock over the fish until it was covered. We watched while the stock came back to a boil, gently poaching our fish. It was a case of good food, good company and good wine.
Mal and I have fallen in love with Bangkok. We realize that one day is only enough to give us a glimpse of what the city has to offer. We are already making plans to return.
Want to drag for beers 3-4-2008 8-28-18 AM

Our helmsman 3-4-2008 8-15-01 AM

Mr. Rabbit and Me 3-4-2008 9-00-11 AM

Cabs come in every color of the rainbow, and then some 3-4-2008 10-11-09 AM

Who ARE these guys 3-4-2008 6-32-32 AM

The Start of our Tour at the Royal Palace 3-4-2008 7-03-28 AM

One of the many Palace Statues (on left) 3-4-2008 7-06-06 AM

The levelof perfection with all the inlay is awesome 3-4-2008 7-11-26 AM

The Colors are wonderful 3-4-2008 7-12-07 AM

Our Canal Boat - The Super Locky 3-4-2008 7-50-09 AM

One of the many murals in the Royal Palace 3-4-2008 7-13-58 AM


It was a bless my soul, rock and roll pink and purple lifting crane 3-5-2008

Even the buildings are colorful 3-6-2008 9-36-52 AM.JPG

Not your typical Little Black Crane 3-6-2008 9-13-34 AM

Even the Concrete Blocks are painted 3-6-2008 9-18-05 AM

The pink truck 3-6-2008 9-45-29 AM

On the road to Laem Chabang 3-6-2008 9-13-26 AM

Port of Laem Chebang in living color 3-6-2008 9-10-31 AM

The Colors of Thailand are wonderful

Thailand is a land of color. We docked at Laem Chebang, a commercial port about two hours driving distance from Bangkok. Everywhere I looked there was color. Cranes, trucks and even the buildings are painted every color of the rainbow. In some ways the colors are a reflection of the people. Thaisare charming. They adore their present King, Rama 1X who, during his 60year reign, has shepherded them successfully into the 21st. century. The country is a democracy in spite of the recent coup by the army. The irony is that, when the army organized new elections, the people voted for the same party that the army tried to get rid of. Just the Prime Minister had changed.
There is a cute story about the King. He gives a "state of the Union"address every year on the eve of his birthday. A few years ago he was concerned that his subjects were not putting enough money aside for their retirement and so he advised them all to start saving. He obviously did not discuss this in depth with his economic advisers. The King is greatly loved by all, so his subjects did as they were bidden and saved. Goods started to pile up on store shelves, inventory started to back up, and factory orders dropped. Soon workers had to be laid off. The next year he was heard exhorting his subjects to "Spend! Spend!"
Thailand, which means freedom, was called Siam until the end of the First World War. It has been ruled by the same family for centuries. Rama 1V was the first king to be educated at Oxford University, a tradition that has been followed since. His son, Rama V abolished slavery, no doubt an unpopular decision at the time. He was also responsible for building many of the palaces scattered throughout the country. Afraid that his concubines might not get along harmoniously he built a palace for each of hem. Then he spent most of his time visiting these palaces. Reputedly he was heard to mutter, "Does it get much better than this?'

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Food Blog

I try to keep details about food out of my main blogs because, for many,it’s boring. Mal and I are in food heaven. Everything we eat, unless otherwise stated, is incredibly delicious. Having said this I will try to keep superlatives out of my copy.
The food in Singapore is diverse, a fusion of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Tamil.
Last Wednesday we ate lunch in the Empire Café, a restaurant in the famous Raffles Hotel. First course was Hainanese chicken satay accompanied by sweet red onion and cucumber, with a side of sticky rice prepared in a banana leaf. The chicken was so well flavored that it hardly needed therich chunky peanut sauce. This was followed by an eggplant dish which, I guarantee, would convert the most ardent anti eggplant person into a lover for life. It was served in a sweet, sour and spicy sauce, unlike any I have tasted before, liberally infused with sesame seeds. We also had a prawn dish served in a home made chili sauce, accompanied by potato chip papadums and a chutney of ginger and mango. The base for the chili sauce was a strong fish stock. Not my favorite but Mal loved it. All of this was served on steaming fragrant rice and washed down with a local draught beer. We finished the meal with perfect coffee.
At night we ate dinner in Little India in a restaurant famous for Singapores signature dish, Fish Head Curry. I had misgivings about how I would respond to a fish head floating in a sauce but I overcame them, fortunately, because the reputation for this dish is well deserved. The waiter delicately removed and served the fish which, by the way, was red snapper. The sauce was a classic curry sauce with a hint of star anise, the best I have ever tasted. We ordered an equally delicious vegetable dish prepared with yogurt and coconut milk. Again we enjoyed a large platter of steaming fragrant rice. The beverage this time was an Indian beer called Kingfisher.
You may wonder, “why so much beer for wine lovers.” Singapore is predominantly Muslim and so by levying a hefty import tax on wine the government can pass the expense onto the tourists. The selection of wine is modest and the prices unattractively high. The selection of beer, on the other hand, is excellent.
That night our taxi driver told us that if we wanted to experience authentic Indonesian food that we should go to Clarke Quay on the Singapore River.There we would find a restaurant frequented by the locals called The Indonesian. We went the next day and were not disappointed. Again we started with perfect chicken satay. This was followed by a noodle dish with squid, prawns and vegetables, served in a spicy brown sauce. We also had crab balls, the Indonesian equivalent of crab cakes, served in a crab shell.Once again the draught beer was cold and delicious.
We keep forgetting to photograph our food before we eat it and so mostly we have only empty platters to show you. We will try to do better in future!

Food Pics

What part of 'No Chopsticks' don't you understand
Oops - Forgot to take the 'before' picture of Fish Head Curry

Hawker Stall in Singapore

Chicken Satay in the Emprire Cafe at Raffles


Up, up and away....

This is the size of a small house

The Project Engineer

The Project Engineer absolved himself of any responsibility at this point

The Chief Officer (First Mate) Organizing Lifting Cables

Some of the spectators

Some of the other spectators

Making the deck ready for cargo

It makes the boat look smaller

inch worm, inch worm, measuring a mountain block...

Easy does it....

Do you think we're going to make it?

A port employee

We made a small detour to Port Klang, the port for Kuala Lumpur, to pick up a piece of equipment measuring somewhere between 55 feet and 60 feet tall,the size depending on who the Captain spoke to. This is large even for us.Rickmers sent a representative from Germany for the occasion.
During the overnight passage I was awakened by a spectacular display of pyrotechnics in the distance. I was witnessing a typical (I'm told)tropical storm. Sheets of lightening turned the night sky into day every 5to 10 seconds. Occasionally a prolonged flash would backlight the clouds and the result was startlingly beautiful. This was followed by torrential rain and I now understand why parts of Asia experience such devastating floods. We handled a lot of water in a very short time. The storm brought cool, dry weather. The following evening Mal and I found ourselves on deck marveling that, as close as we were to the equator, we were enjoying springlike weather.
The cargo didn't arrive until this morning, and it was indeed huge, the size of a small house. Mal and I disembarked to get a better view of the operation and found ourselves standing next to the Project Engineer. As the cranes inched the equipment off the truck he turned to us, with obvious relief, and said, "Well that's the end of my responsibility." This opened a conversation. The equipment is destined for an off shore oil well in china.It will be used to remove sulfur compounds from the seawater pumped into the wells to maintain the well pressure. These sulfur compounds, if not removed,would emulsify the oil and clog the wells. We also learned that some of the components were manufactured by Victaulic in little old Pennsylvania!
The total cost of the equipment, $250 million.
A logistics company was hired to transport the equipment from the plant to our deck. It took two of our cranes, working in tandem, to lift the 360 ton structure and there was a little breath holding as it swung from truck to ship. The local media and yours truly, were present to cover this rather tricky transfer.