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.