ROTTERDAM TO SUEZ

The trip from Rotterdam down the English Channel was quite nostalgic – we passed the old familiar headlands of North and South Foreland, Dungeness and Beachy Head.  Pre GPS, these were significant navigational marks, committed to memory – now they are just names on the chart for the majority of large commercial ships.

The weather was typical winter channel weather, grey overcast, cold and a decent sea running.  There is no heating on the ship as its destined to operate in a warm climate, watches on the bridge are chilly affairs with only a small portable heater to supply warmth.

Delivery RouteAfter three days we are clear of the channel and heading across the Bay of Biscay.  Its still cold and the Bay is giving us a bit of rock and roll – but not too bad and I have certainly had worse crossing the Bay of Biscay.  The ship has now switched from Diesel to heavy fuel for the main engines as we are out of the European Emission control area.  With each mile I imagine the temperature will rise as we get further south, but it remains cold.

Passing down the coasts of Spain and Portugal are now longer scenic affairs.  The modern traffic routing splits the north bound and south bound ships into lanes and separation schemes.  The southbound lane is now so far offshore that land, when you can see it, is just a distant smudge on the horizon.

After a week we reach the Straits of Gibraltar early in the morning for a spectacular sunrise.  The weather is a bit warmer now and the sea has calmed down for the first time.  At Gibraltar we are sending a service technician, who has been on board for the trip down from Rotterdam, ashore.  We slow down to rendezvous with a service boat coming out from Gibraltar.  The transfer only takes a few minutes and we are back up to speed an on our way again.  I look back at Gibraltar slipping astern and wish I could go ashore for a few hours.

The Mediterranean Sea turned on a strong northerly wind.  We had a nasty bumpy ride and rolled all the way along the North African coast.  People think of the Mediterranean as being sunny and calm – in winter it can be an unpleasant place.

The evening arrival at Port Said to transit the Suez Canal was the usual chaotic event.  Lots of ships calling on the VHF radio and everyone fighting to be first.  Luckily, we didn’t have to anchor and joined the early morning convoy.  As this is the ships first Suez transit there is a mountain of paperwork to complete.  As we enter the canal the pilot boards.  Followed by the agents, boatmen and their boat, canal electrician with his light and security personnel.  We also receive additional security equipment for the piracy areas ahead, which must be loaded with the ships crane.  A period of very intense activity before we can settle down to the canal transit.

Entering Bitter Lake Photo Ray Penson Yacht Truce
Entering Bitter Lake Photo Ray Penson

At the Bitter Lakes we anchored for a few hours to allow a northbound convoy to pass.  The weather is warm at last and its flat calm.  A very welcome rest and time to catch up on sleep before we head off again.

A few hours later, in the small hours we reach the pilot station at Suez.  Here we disembark our Egyptian visitors and their equipment and pick up a security guy who will be with us as we pass the piracy area.  Finally, with a sense of relief the canal is behind us, we can head down the Red Sea with the first 3,400 miles behind us.

Our next stop will be at the bottom of the Red Sea to pick up two more security personnel and their arms.  Until then it looks like we will have good weather for a few days with following winds for a change.  So nice to be warm again and switch the portable heaters off.

CHRISTMAS DELIVERY

My arrival back in Auckland was a quiet affair, the wind disappeared and I motored into the harbour in sunny calm conditions.  Truce is now berthed in Bayswater Marina where she will spend a couple of months until I find a more permanent berth in the New Year.

Heading into Auckland with no wind
Heading into Auckland with no wind

It was good to settle back into New Zealand life, especially as the summer weather is on the way and days are long and warm.  As usual there are a heap of odd jobs to do around the house and garden, but no hurry, I am just taking it easy after my Pacific crossing.

However, it wasn’t too long before I was packing my bag for another trip overseas.  This time for a ship delivery from the Netherlands to India.  In mid-November I left Auckland in sunshine and arrived in a wet, cold and dark Amsterdam – quite a shock to the system.  A taxi ride took me to a hotel in Rotterdam where I joined the rest of the crew, a mixture of Dutch, Belgium and Indonesian.

The next day I headed out with the other crew to join the ship and prepare for the voyage ahead, 7,000 miles to India which will see us spend Christmas at sea and arrive at our destination before the New Year.  The ship is fresh out of the shipyard and as usual everywhere was buzzing with technicians doing final installations and testing of systems.

The ships crew started the task of preparing for the upcoming voyage, receiving provisions, preparing the voyage plan, getting familiar with the ship and its systems, safety training and drills and of course the volumes of paperwork and certification that are part of modern seafaring.  After two days on board we were ready to sail – but not before a good night’s rest.

The next morning the Pilot boarded, the gangway was sent ashore and we let go the mooring lines.  I carefully manoeuvred the ship away from the berth into the Nieuwe Mass River, very aware that a lot of people were watching from the shipyard.  Taking a new ship for the first time is always interesting and a steep learning curve to establish quickly how she responds to engines, rudders and thrusters.

Before reaching the sea we had to pass three bridges in Rotterdam.  This involved lengthy waits in the river for bridge opening times – which are coordinated with traffic conditions to avoid more congestion than usual in the city.  After an hour wait we passed the Van Brienenoordbrug and then had a lengthy wait in the river for the second bridge, the Koninginnebrug, to open.  During this wait we were passed by the old tug the ‘Spanje’ with Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) on board.  Zwarte Piet is a traditional Dutch Christmas character – who in recent years is becoming controversial with his blacked up face and curly wig.

Tug Spanje with Zwarte Piet on board
Tug Spanje with Zwarte Piet on board

 The next bridge we passed was the Koninginnebrug before entering the Koningshaven.  We waited in the confined area of the Koningshaven for half an hour before passing the Erasmusbrug (nicknamed the Swan bridge) and finally being free to head towards the Hoek van Holland and the North Sea.

By late afternoon we dropped the pilot at Maascenter.  The weather forecast was not too good for the southern North Sea.  After the pilot departed we spent some time securing the anchors and double checking all was secure on deck before picking up speed and heading off to start the voyage to India.