Auckland - Noumea - Sydney - Melbourne


Container carrying freighters with their efficient cargo handling systems have a fast turnaround at each port as is illustrated by our Australian schedule. We would be in Sydney for 24 hours from 0600hrs on Monday morning 11 April; Melbourne arrive 13 April 1400hrs, depart 14th at 1500 hrs; Adelaide arrive 15 April 2100hrs, depart 16th at 1800 hrs; Fremantle arrive 19 April 2100hrs, depart 20th at 1600 hrs. The posted schedule is always just an estimate and how much time you get ashore at any one place is always uncertain. It never bothered me - I was primarily doing this trip for the sea voyage.

Due to depart from Auckland at midnight, we didn't actually leave until just before first light. The ship slipped away from dock so quietly I would have missed the moment if not actually watching. I went out on my side deck with the camera but it was really too dark and the only shot worth keeping was of the receding container wharf taken at, I think, a 15th of a second, which is pretty good for hand-held. All the rest produced only interesting light effects. All of a sudden an imposing, rugged-looking German bloke appeared up the external steps, his coffee mug in hand, announcing that he was "Klaus", my neighbour. He stood beside me and waved his free arm to encompass the view and said, "I love all this! I love all this!" and then asked if I was photographing sunrises. "I've got thousands of them," he said and with an expansive and good-natured shrug disappeared inside. I vowed to heed the warning but just had to include one of first light behind Rangitoto Island.

Later one of the Philippine crew asked me to name a feature we were passing on the mainland and it took me a while to realise it was the back of Kawau Island, although I suppose I could have called it Taneatua for all it meant to him. There was mist or cloud along the land that saved me from more photography. We passed inside Little Barrier and between the Mokuhinau and Hen and Chicken Islands and I am not sure whether the last bit of New Zealand I saw was North Cape or not but by early afternoon there was nothing but ocean.

Klaus had developed a drinking mate-ship with the Philippine crew and there was a great deal of banter between them and I felt very privileged to be readily accepted by these characters. The other three passengers were also German. One was an engineer and it was his cabin I would be taking over in Sydney. I couldn't keep mine as it had to be available later for pilots, which was a pity because it was considerably cheaper than and just as comfortable as the other. The other two passengers were a very nice couple and are full of fun. They were exactly half-way through their circumnavigation and declared that it was the best trip of their lives. Hermann was always making puns. For example at the meal table they were debating as to what day it was so I offered proof by showing the date on my watch. He leaned back in his chair and making sure he had everyone's attention said in a slow drawl, "So - there you are - your left hand is right!" then burst out laughing - very infectious. When Klaus leaves in Fremantle we will have an Aussie in his place.

The food turned out to be pretty good with a selection of cheese and heavy bread with most meals as well as freshly baked bread. Varieties of German sausage were served mostly in soup. We had oxtail one night which was very nice, despite the complement of over-cooked veges. There is good brewed coffee on tap day and night which I preferred black rather than with long-life milk.

I took precautionary travel-sickness pills for about the first day-and-a-half though probably didn't need them. No doubt they did help me to sleep and that I certainly needed. This ship rolls as you can see by noting the angle of the horizon in the photos. She rolls about five degrees in the slightest swell and even in apparently calm water there is a slow sideways oscillation. At the same time the huge thrust of the single propeller produces just a small fore and aft movement like an old man nodding off in front of TV. You can feel and hear a constant and distant thrum, thrum, thrum of the engine while the vibration is just enough to annoy the eyesight if you read a book with your elbows resting on a firm surface. It was however very easy to become accustomed to. The sound-reduction headphones worked a treat for the music and sometimes as earmuffs for a daytime siesta.

It's quite a trek right around the ship at deck level. The containers are stacked right out to the sides and as you walk beneath them you can hear them creaking and groaning with the movement and letting out a rippling tearing sound like a giant running a stick along a huge corrugated iron fence - very alarming at first but soon ignored. Standing on the bow is stunning. Looking straight down at the bulbous wave-breaker and seeing flying fish whisking out of the water and gliding on silver wings to safety never palls.

The ship pushes along hard and standing at the stern the wake looks like the flow of the Hooker Falls - quite tremendous.
After sitting in dock for a day, soot builds up in the flues and then once underway it blows out all over the place so next day the crew are out hosing down the decks. When going out on deck you really have to watch out you don't get an unwanted sooty shower from a higher level. The decks are greasy so the good footwear is essential. My slip-ons proved perfect for indoors. Also the spot-remover was invaluable in cleaning marks off clothes; I don't recommend whites. Surprisingly I was not short of anything on the first leg so my packing was OK. The main thing I resolved to try and get in Sydney was some fresh fruit for my cabin. All we had the first week was a couple of bananas.

I enjoyed the sail into Noumea as the approach to a tropical island is always absolutely romantic. The dock was very small and loading facilities fairly simple. After going ashore and dispensing with the post I wandered about the town for a bit then bumped into Klaus at the marina where he pointed out a catamaran identical to the one he owns and keeps in Turkey. He had sailed with friends across the Atlantic and I had done a couple of voyages up to Pacific islands so as yachties, we had plenty in common. I then headed off to scramble around the rocky shore. It was so hot I couldn't resist a swim but being suspicious of the state of the water, kept my face out. It was just as well because further around near a military base there was a small stream discharging what looked like the grey water from a hundred washing machines and it stank. I ended up at a quite nice beach and had Vietnamese fried fish and noodles which were excellent. I didn't take the camera ashore but there were some old colonial buildings tucked away here and there and an impressive old Catholic church on a hill that I had a quick look in. I was so tired that I returned to the boat by taxi with a young white New Caledonian driver who took no prisoners. We were doing almost 80km in a built-up area and I could see why it was earlier that I had experienced difficulty crossing roads on pedestrian crossings. Cars come first.

Tuesday, 12 April 2005

At Sydney I was promoted from Pilot (Lotse in German). Now the sign above my door reads Assistant Officer (Offz. Anw. as abbreviated in German) so I start this account from my new cabin on E deck which is a bit bigger than the other one was - six strides each way - and being square it feels a lot more spacious. It's on the port with the porthole looking out to the side and a bit aft. Unlike the lower decks, when I go outside I can now cross from one side of the ship to the other by walking around the back past the chimney and the base of a crane, in the process of which I get a good blast of hot air coming up from the engine room far below. It's noisy there too from the large ventilator fans and the exhaust roaring up the enormous flue. I am on a back corner of the superstructure which gives my side deck a nice bit of shelter. I have yet to try the deckchair. The first impression was that the new room was altogether much noisier than the old one but in just a few hours I had become accustomed to it and now I can't tell much difference. The noise-reduction head phones are good for a bit of respite. There is more vibration too and you can feel the upward punch of the gigantic cylinders.

I have spent quite some time eliminating vibration rattles in fittings around the room, mainly by wedging things with wads of toilet paper. Also movable items have to be secure in case of violent ship movement and there are chains with turnbuckles to secure chairs and tabled to the floor if needed. The carpet is a thin, very grubby looking felt. Passengers are supposed to remove shoes before entering cabins but obviously the rule has been ignored. (I later purchased some odour eliminating spray which helped a bit, or perhaps I just became accustomed to the smell.) The first job after stowing my gear was to get down and scrub the bathroom. How nice to be able to un-pack completely and not be scrambling about from a suitcase. I feel now that I really have my own living place. There is a TV, stereo and fancy video machine - "Long Play for 8 hours recording Multi Karaoke with Super Head Cleaner," says the label - but I can't see where my head would fit. Of course I tinkered around for about an hour trying to connect the laptop to the TV so that I can play my music through it for the times I didn't want to use the head set. I had to get Klaus to help me jack it up and now it works a treat.

Klaus and I went ashore for a day in Sydney and had to wait an interminable time for a wharf bus as we were not allowed to wander across the dock area. I asked an Aussie docker, who had turned up for the same bus, where "Maro-oo-bara" was and he said, "Never heard of it mate!" then he looked at my notebook and said, "Ya mean M'-roooo-bra! It's just down the road," and he advised me to get off at the Maroubra Pub and take a taxi to my friends" place which was not far from there. Klaus carried on to the city. I phoned Faye and Bill from the pub but there was no reply. Had a beer. Phoned again, still no answer. Got the taxi. Found the flat (no worries mate). Banged on the door. No answer. I was carrying the day pack with my camera in it as well as the laptop and was feeling a bit weary by then and in need of coffee so tromped off up to the local shops where I also found a post office and sent a CD of photos back to family in New Zealand.
When I got back to the flat I almost collided with Faye coming out through her door. She was more than startled. She hadn't expected me for a day or two.

Faye was immediately on the phone to another old friend Bridget while Bill was locking up the house and they were away with me to cram a weeks worth of sight-seeing into one afternoon. We met Bridget at a Greek place for lunch and then we were "off like a Bondi tram". Bus, bay-hopping harbour ferry, walking up to The Gap, bus again, shops, more bus, the harbour bridge, train and home by bus. Bridget lives across the bridge and we went to her place for several very entertaining hours with she and her husband and a take-away Chinese for dinner. She and Faye went out and bought me fresh fruit.

A middle-of-the-night taxi ride to the terminal with me giving the Greek driver doubtful directions was followed by the usual wait at security for the wharf bus. I was just starting to stagger up the gangplank when three Aussie workmen barged down on me and I had to beat a retreat, getting my cloths covered in grease in the process, I was too tired to swear. I took a quick shower and collapsed into bed. I was supposed to have moved cabins but to hell with it, the morning would do. When I got out of bed at daybreak the bed sheet was black. I had missed washing grease off the backs of my arms. Oh dear.

I will finish this section with a useless statistic: there are about 100 steep external steps from the Marfret's main deck to the bridge - helps you keep fit.

Our departure next morning was delayed till nearly noon meaning that we would not be in Melbourne before nightfall. Heading down the coast the land was only just visible on the starboard side and we were all afternoon overtaking another freighter that was out about ten kilometres to our port, also heading to Melbourne. I had been glancing out the porthole now and again to check on it's position and you wouldn't believe it but as I wrote this a smaller ship went right past quite close - I grabbed the camera and snappidy, snap - got both in the one shot, though don't get excited, they don't look very big in a photo. The Third Mate collects pictures of ships so if he missed it I will be able to give him one. Might get promoted to Assistant Assistant Officer .

At sunset I got a lovely photograph of the light rays silhouetting another freighter on the horizon. Did my resolution include not photographing hundreds of sunsets?

Wednesday, 13 April 2005

Bass Straight, despite its fearsome reputation, was almost dead calm and absolutely pleasantly warm. We were not too far off the tip of Wilson's Promontory as we entered the straight so I took a rather hazy photo, especially for Noeline who had once visited there. The island photographed from my porthole was the largest of the Hogan Group. Most of the mainland was low and misty and it was hard to believe that a vast island continent lay beyond.

As we approached the Southern entrance of Port Phillip the ship was slowed right down to a crawl because of a delay, perhaps waiting for a berth to clear and anyway the pilot was not due till about 5.30 and then it's a long haul up the harbour passage to Melbourne. There was the slightest swell and we gently rolled through more degrees than at any time so far. It would have made tea more interesting if they had serve soup. Afterwards the lowering sun was shining through my window creating a warm glow and later provided yet another desirable sunset. Michael Gordon had described passing through this incredibly narrow passage and I was running backwards and forwards to each side of the ship trying not to miss a thing and almost missed tea in the process.


I had signed off and was about to have a shower when I heard the engine putting into reverse so I popped out onto the deck in time to see that we had actually stopped and there were great swirls of muddy water overtaking us. I had seen the pattern on a smaller scale many a time in the shallows of the Mahurangi oyster mud on going aground in my barge. I reckoned the tide to be still falling. I must say the city was a pretty sight from there - near, yet so far. The very next moment all the ship's external lights were turned on and we were visited by a flock of seagulls and about fifty-thousand moths. Mind you, on studying the apparent movement of the ship against the lights on shore we did seem to be swinging slightly so maybe we were only at anchor? (Grandpooh, are you drifting!) So it was a hot shower and into a peaceful bed.

Something woke me later and I looked out to see some fine old Melbourne riverside stone buildings gliding past the porthole like a movie reel. Out on deck I joined Klaus watching while a tug spun the ship around and controlled the stern as we were backed into a narrow dock with ships either side then nudged sideways into a gap that at first seemed much too small. The other end was controlled by the ship's large bow thruster. Real city parking and as gentle as a baby. Half-past the midnight hour and all snugged up. They start working the ship as soon as possible so there was only a little time for a quiet read and an attempt at another ziz (two zees or three?) before the crashing and banging began.

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