May 25th, Friday morning

June 18, 2007

“At last we gained such an offing, that the two pilots were needed no longer.” (Moby Dick)

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Over night, too keyed up to sleep very soundly, what with the anticipation, the engine noise and its continuous vibrations, I was vaguely aware that we had a change of pilot at 0300 hrs (at Trois Rivières), the ship slowing right down. When we woke at 0545 we were chugging ahead at 18.6 knots past the eastern tip of the Île d’Orléans. We saw the red sun rising through the mist ahead of us and the outline of the Laurentian mountains to port, some snow still showing on the ski-slopes. Up onto the bridge as soon as dressed where I was immediately offered a cup of freshly ground coffee by the First Officer. The Captain was resting after his night-shift, but the two new pilots were chatting to one another in French. On the desk of the bridge lay the chart of the Isle aux Coudres, so we stayed up there until we’d passed its northern shore. We picked out the familiar landmarks, the road we’d cycled down, the harbour, the lighthouses, even the dining room windows and row of cabins belonging to La Coudrière from which we watched these ships two summers ago wishing we could ride on one, and here we were doing exactly that!
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Plenty of interesting diagrams to study on the bridge, and I learned that our ship is 46m tall, keel to mast, 169m long and 28m slim. There’s a definite rolling motion when we turn, like banking an aircraft. We could also observe this on the rudder angle indicator.

Breakfast was fried eggs and German sausages, juice and fruit. I asked for deckchairs but was refused, because the decks are being cleaned today.

At 0955 we crossed a line where the water changed from pale green to indigo blue, the outflow of water from the River Saguenay causing this phenomenon. In the recreation room and the cabin I read and wrote, and from time to time I wandered about on the stern deck. Reagan came up to bring us an extra pillow by request and to tighten the screws in our wardrobe door whose missing key I had found for him in our desk drawer.

“In heavy rolling,” he explained in his less than perfect English, “door swing!”

“Are we going to get heavy rolling on this crossing?” I wondered, anxiously.

“I’m praying, ma’am!”

At 1050 the ship slowed down to drop the pilots at Grandes Bergeronnes, pulling in closer to the shore.
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“We’re on our own!” said the Captain. “Lower the flags!” and the Canada flag on the foremast sank out of sight. They also rolled up the H-flag (= pilot on board) and put away in a cupboard.

There’s a crew of 19 in all, three of them German, the rest from the Philippines. Jan Block was born on Helgoland, so I observed from the name list. I had a long chat with Orlando, the First Officer, from Manila, who’s applying for Canadian residence so that after nineteen years as a sailor he can finally live settle down with his family whom he misses very much indeed.

Reagan called me down to the mess room by phone. We were served a lunch of chicken fricassé with rice and melon wedges for dessert, and were also each presented with a gift box of Belgian chocolates each from the Captain. Here’s a picture of the Officers’ and Passengers’ Mess taken by Chris of Mischa, Martin and me, with Captain Block and Chief Engineer Thilo Schmidt in the background at their own table. Behind them, the galley. mess.jpg

In the afternoon while members of the crew washed the decks and portholes, dangling from ropes on the bosun’s chair, Chris spent two more hours on the bridge and I had my first good sleep for ages. I woke up just beyond the stretch of water between Matane and Baie Commeau, Chris saying he’d just seen the ferry for Sept Îles.

Supper was steak and chips. On the deck afterwards it felt colder, though he sea is still remarkably calm. Just north of the Chic Choc Mountains I was the first to spot a whale and told the others, then Mischa saw one too. At around 8pm local time a red sun sank into layers of mist on the northwestern horizon. Sunrise will be at 0427, apparently. The Captain doesn’t trust modern electronic instruments, by the way, thinks they give delusions of accuracy but could break down or be sabotaged.

“What is the best screen we have here?”

“The radar?” suggested Orlando.

“No, that one!” said Captain Block, pointing to the window. As for the GPS, he said, “If the American Military push a single button you could have the sun rising in the west”.

Of course we also talked about the weather. The Captain showed us the isobars on the latest printout and made some favourable predictions, but is worried about the possibility of fog off Newfoundland, and the danger of running into growlers—too low down to be picked up by the radar, so we’ll only cut across the Grand Banks of Newfoundland if visibility permits.

Apparently the waves on the last crossing (Liverpool to Montreal) were 10m high, “…or a bit more!” You can’t sleep in weather like that– you roll off your bed. The Captain has a settee at 90 degrees to his usual bed, in any case that’s a better way to lie down. You do all you can, he says, then you put the ship on autopilot, and rest, having slowed down to 5 knots to avoid structural damage. All the same, the ship did suffer on the last crossing. All the crew is talking about it; it was a miserable experience.

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