This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)
I’m up at four in the morning and look out the window. In the last few nights, such a glance hadn’t brought much. It had always been cloudy, and since all the lights on the fore ship are turned off, there was nothing but deep black to see.
But today stars sparkle. I identified Alpha and Beta Centauri first and followed them to the Southern Cross.
I’m getting closer and closer to home.
I look to the left and see the Scorpion in full length. Yes, we have arrived in the southern hemisphere, where you can look into the centre of the Milky Way.
The sunrise is beautiful, but not spectacular. If it were spectacular every day, it would no longer be spectacular, but normal.
At 14:12, we are at S8° 02.697′ W0° 28.157′.
Today we are furthest from any mainland. But Africa is still the continent closest to us. The next place on African soil is a lagoon in Gabon, 1280 km away.
Soon we cross the Greenwich Meridian. Then we are not only in the southern hemisphere but also in the east. We don’t make as much fuss about it as with the equator. After all, the equator is something definite: the line furthest from both poles. The longitudes have been determined arbitrarily.
I have to change my whole day planning because sunrise is now always before breakfast. That’s why I set up my alarm clocks from scratch. For the sunrise photos, it is worth getting up a few minutes earlier.
In the morning I work on my photos, in the afternoon I go to the bow.
Camera 1? Check!
Camera 2? Check!
Enough battery in both cameras? Check!
Suntan lotion? Check!
Cell Phone? Check!
Palestinian pirate scarf? Check!
I’ m ready to go. First I go up the stairs for two floors, to the bridge. The Second Officer is on duty. That’s why I leave before 16:00. Then there is a shift change, and the Chief Officer is a bit complicated. The Second and Third Officer are friendly. I say to the second officer that I would like to go to the bow if there is nothing against it. He gives me “Have fun! on the way.
I go down the stairs of six levels, then through the entrance door on the starboard side. The outer doors are not as easy to open like regular doors. I have to move a lever from “C” to “O” and press the door handle at the same time. I am outside. I close the door and move the lever from “O” back to “C”.
I walk the few steps to the stairs to the upper deck. The sailors for days removed the rust from the floor in front of the building with a grinder. A layer of red background paint was applied next. After drying another layer was painted. Today is the day: They roll the top layer in grey onto it. It is a paint made of two components, which at the end is lying on the floor like a plastic layer. This paint can take a few knocks.
The Bosun is at the edge of the action. I stop for a moment and say that I think the work is excellent. It looks great now that the rust is gone and the dirt disappears under a bright grey. He is happy.
Then l go down the stairs again. Now I’m on the upper deck. I walk along the guardrail, past cargo hold 5, then 4, then 3, then 2, then 1. The walk is probably 150 meters long. Between the cargo holds there are corridors. Machines are running somewhere. From time to time, a chain that lashes the trucks in place rattles.
Now that I think of it: the knocking from one container has stopped. In my wildest fantasies, I have imagined that there are people in there who want to be let out. If that was the case, they have now died of thirst, starved to death or suffocated. There is no more knocking. The realist in me instead says that whatever was not fixed correctly in the container has now moved into position by the swaying.
The further I go forward, the less I hear the ship’s engine. But then the bow wave gets louder and louder. I look forward over the guard rail. The bow wave is about two meters high. It swirls the water at the edge of the ship into a turquoise blue interspersed with white foam.
Again stairs go up to the front deck. Here are the front anchor and rope winches to moor the ship at a dock. Here, too, a sailor sits and brushes underground paint on struts. I greet him friendly; he greets back.
I believe this fight of sailors against rust is a neverending story. Once they start at the front and have worked their way through to the back, they can start all over again.
I have to climb the nasty ladder through the hatch to the balcony. Then I stand on the sloping roof of the front deck, on the bow balcony.
I can hear neither the ship’s engine nor the working sailors anymore. Here there is only the splash when the bow cuts through the water. Otherwise, it is tranquil.
I hang the one handle of the bag, in which I carried everything for my excursion, over the bracket, which you can hold on to when you come through the hatch. In this way, I am sure that nothing can fly away. I think nothing would fly away, but now I don’t need to worry.
I quickly apply suntan lotion and put the Palestinian pirate scarf on my head. At first, I was annoyed that I didn’t have a hat with me, but the scarf is an excellent substitute. I rip open my Coke, go to the railing at the front and fly over the waves.
It’s really like flying when the ship is ploughing through the sea with a steady 14 knots. The wind and the waves come from the front and reinforce the impression.
The waves aren’t very high. There is only a slight swell. The wind is just strong enough to cool me down in the heat.
Flying fish glide away from the ship.
An excited kindergarten of fish tries its luck in the first flight attempts. They come perhaps two or three meters far before they stumble over a wave and tumble back into the sea. The bow wave grabs them and gently pushes them to the side.
Their larger cousins can do so much better. They sometimes make several hundred metres. In between, they push themselves away from the water with their tail fins to get a little further. They also stumble from time to time and then fall back into the sea very inelegantly. The sun shines into the water, and I can observe how the bird-like animals turn into fish again and quickly swim away.
As if electrified, I look at a flying fish flying by just below. It has blue wing fins! Until now I only knew some with dark brown or rusty brown wings. The kindergarten fish had white ones. But this fish had blue wings. Soon I see another one. Is it another species? Or do they change colour during the mating season?
Suddenly the Bosun stands next to me. I didn’t expect him at all. He is a bull of a guy with short hair and a broken nose. But he is a friendly man. He asks how long I will stay here on the bow. I say I want to remain until dinner. Yes, the thing is this: He has to close the hatch. But it’s okay; I can stay. Will the captain also come here? I say that the captain and his wife spend every evening here. He looks a little insecure. I don’t know if he understood me. There are often moments of lost in translation with the crew. Then he checks the steel cables that secure the front mast. They have to be treated, he says. One of them, as I can see now, is quite loose. They are also rusted. I wonder whether the hatch will be closed because the ropes do need to be secured or replaced.
For us guests, a locked hatch would be a disaster. It is the highlight of the day to go up to the bow balcony. I sincerely hope that the renewal of the steel cables can wait until after Walvis Bay.
We try to chat for a while. He heard that I come from Namibia. I tell him that I had lived in Germany for twenty years and that I am now returning to Namibia. He shakes his head. “Africa …”, he says. I gather from his facial expressions that he cannot imagine living in Africa. I say that Namibia is a beautiful and peaceful country. Yes, but what you hear from Congo… I explain that Congo is far away, further away than Madrid is from Warsaw. That seems to reassure him. He says he has to leave again and disappears through the hatch.
I finish my Coke, flatten the can and put it in the bag. Then I take the camera with the telephoto lens and adjust it. I want to photograph a flying fish with blue wings.
But none of them is passing by right now. The ones with the brown wings I see in abundance. We drive through another kindergarten, which is practising awkward gliding attempts.
Then the captain and his wife come through the hatch. There is a seat for his wife: a cushion wrapped in plastic. There is something else in the package that makes it heavy. If nobody is there, it is stowed away in the sheltered room behind the open hatch. Now he pulls it out and carries it to the front of the railing. She sits down and looks over the sea; he makes his camera ready, this time with the big telephoto lens.
Shortly afterwards Pierre comes through the hatch.
“There’s real action here today,” I think.
We stand at the railing and talk. Pierre has already seen the blue-winged flying fish. One of them flies by, but I’m not fast enough to take his picture.
Of course, we always look out for whales, dolphins or sharks. Pierre thinks that no dolphins can be so far outside. There is not enough food here. I disagree. There is no lack of food. There are thousands of flying fish.
But we do not observe marine mammals. From time to time, a wave from far away looks different than usual, but in the end, it is just a wave. Here we are not in an aquarium but on the Atlantic Ocean.
Pierre says goodbye. It’s almost 17:00 – time for his aperitif.
Shortly after, the captain and his wife leave. It is a little too windy to be able to photograph flying fish, he says. Probably he will tell us tomorrow at breakfast that he took the best FF photo ever today.
I’m alone again, looking out at the ocean.
Suddenly I am enlightened why the sea sometimes has a muddy colour from afar. Pierre and I already discussed it. He thinks it is the shadow of clouds. I disagree. It is also brown when there is no shadow of a cloud, and besides, the shadow makes the sea grey, not brown. I was wondering if it might be some plankton or algae or something. But when we reached the spot, there was nothing unusual in the water.
Now that I look across the sea, I suddenly know where the brown colour comes from. It is not the shadow of the clouds, but their reflection. Now, in the afternoon, the light gets warmer, the clouds get a light yellow-orange tone. When they are reflected in the blue water, the water turns into a brown colour from afar.
Now that I solved the mystery, and as there is no fin of a whale or shark to be seen, I can again turn to the photography of flying fish, but I see only those with rusty-brown wings.
My smartphone rings. No, there is no reception out here. It’s the alarm clock I set for 17:25. From 17:30 it is dinner.
I quickly look again whether a blue-winged flying fish comes by. I see nothing. I put everything in my bag, climb down the ladder again, walk over the foredeck, go down the stairs to the upper deck and then back along the railing. No sailor is on the way anymore. They leave at 17:00. The deck in front of the ship’s building is finished. It looks excellent.
For dinner, there is a Polish cabbage stew, which is very tasty. The captain is happy because he can eat it during his diet. The Chief Engineer says that there is not enough meat in the stew. The captain replies that it’s not a meat stew but a cabbage stew and takes another portion.
I speak to him about the Bosun and the hatch on the bow. He says that the hatch is only closed in heavy weather and in the harbour. He will talk to the Bosun that it will not be closed until Saturday. I am relieved. Pierre is also happy.
Would you like to see an overview of all articles about my journey on the cargo ship Bright Sky? Click here for a table of contents.