by Andrew Foote
Two days later and we received an invitation to meet the Captain of the good ship Mistria Coral, our ride, and immediately we seemed to hit it off.
He had this way about him that made you feel welcome rather than merely passengers accompanying their cargo.
"Please feel free to wander around the ship. Nowhere is off-limits although I would appreciate it if you asked for permission before coming on to the bridge or accessing the engineering decks. Meals are on offer twenty-four hours a day likewise the bar is open at all times. We have a small gymnasium and swimming pool, a cinema, a library and a games room. All these facilities are on board because, as a bulk carrier, once we're out at sea, life can be tedious with only maintenance to keep everyone occupied.
Scattered around each deck are telephones, and I will give you directories so if you wish to pre-order a meal, check on availability of the gym or even if you get lost, just lift the receiver, dial in the appropriate number and speak to whoever you require.
Tomorrow we'll lift your boats aboard, then once there secured, I'll have a member of crew show you to your quarters followed by a tour of the ship.
Do you have any questions?"
"Thank you Captain, I do have one thing to ask?"
"Fire away Mr Woolacott."
"It's only that all the paperwork we received indicated that our passage to Brownsville was non-accommodation, but now you say that a member of crew will show us our quarters."
"Standard documentation issued despite the size of the vessel and duration of the voyage.
Sleeping on your boats might not be wise, especially if we hit bad weather or high winds.
Also we sometimes carry live animals such as lions, tigers, elephants and suchlike. They need vets and specialist care during the journey so we have plenty of accommodation in order to house them, but with us having only machinery and your good selves to transport, we're awash with cabin space."
We made our way back down to our boats via a very steep companionway and once on board, we cooked supper and settled down for the evening.
Everything seemed like it was accelerating forward at an alarming speed. My idea of taking off to Brazil was one thing, taking the boats now appeared to be fraught with difficulties and problems; not least of which were Rob's observations regarding visas or permits for the Countries we'd be passing – all twelve of them.
My homework had only got me to the point where we could enter Brazil legally, but unless we stayed outside of these other Countries and their territorial waters, we might well be in breach of their immigration restrictions so we would have to think of ways to refuel and make overnight stops.
Ships do what they do twenty-four hours a day – they have a crew to manage that, but we could only work for a maximum of twelve hours before it became dangerous. And that, together with the fact that our cruising range was at best, seven hundred and fifty miles, scared me to death.
I kept my thoughts to myself – too late to voice them now.
Our lift went like clockwork. The Stevedores were true masters of their craft, so by midday we were on the decks of the Mistria Coral, all chocked and strapped down.
The tour was fascinating. This ship was huge, even if most of it was given over to cargo decks and storage.
The bridge was something out of Star Wars.
Talk of Fly by Wire? There wasn't even a helm – the entire ship was either controlled by computers of if manual steerage was needed, like going in or out of harbour, there was a joystick rather than a wheel!
The ship's communications were housed in a cabin one deck down from the bridge. This included Marine VHF similar to the radio's Conqueror and Marion carried, but then they had very hefty general coverage HF transceivers with an output of one kilowatt, digital RTTY, satellite phones and television.
The engineering deck was interesting even if I didn't understand most of what we were told.
What I did manage to get to grips with was that there were four main engines, one for each of the screws, a series of huge generators, four air compressors, hydraulic plants and ancillary bits and pieces.
There were workshops and storage halls for the many spares that were carried making it possible to effect repairs while out at sea.
What did surprise me was that all this was the responsibility of just six out of a total compliment of twenty-nine crew. I also asked a rather naïve question of our guide in regard to fuel consumption, like how many litres an hour they used.
I was politely told that he didn't know as they measured this in tonnes per hour, not litres.
Little wonder they were happy enough to refuel us as our six and a half thousand litre capacity would hardly impact on their supply!
The galley, staffed by two chefs working twelve hours turn and turn-about, one shared mess room with bar, a games room – although how you play snooker when the ship is underway in a heavy sea could be interesting. The gym, library and finally our accommodation where we'd been given the option of either four single cabins, two twins or two doubles.
We naturally opted for two doubles!
Four days on, and with the cargo of machine tools loaded and secured, saw a flurry of activity. The Mistria Coral had powered up her main engines and tugs busied themselves attaching lines to her in readiness for our departure, but suddenly there was a pause as a truck carrying a Seawheel container pulled up alongside.
We'd been watching all the action from a vantage point – a walkway adjacent to the bridge where we had been joined by the First Officer.
Rob begged the question. "Forget something important?"
"No, we didn't, but I think Mr Woolacott did! This container is late getting here – something to do with the ship bringing it from Harwich suffering technical problems prior to sailing but it's on the manifest as part of your consignment."
He handed me a letter. "This came with it."
I opened it and read it out loud.
'Dear Simeon. So pleased to catch up on your news and your safe arrival in Holland, but I think you might appreciate the contents of this container – something that had obviously slipped your mind.
Rather than having it towed away for scrap, please find your Landrover a new home in South America and remember to settle up with Jack Penfold next time you see him!
Please keep in touch and let me know how things are going.
Maybe once you've become accustomed to your new life, you'll invite me over for a holiday, especially if it's as beautiful as Aruno says.
"How could I have been so stupid! She's right, I clean forgot about it!"
Mr Gustafsen handed me the shipping list. "Just check to make sure this is for you and we'll get it lifted aboard."
"One 1962 Long wheelbase Series Two Landrover, Registration Mark 3458 DP. Five Goodrich All-Terrain Tyres (New). Five Goodrich Off-Road Tyres (New).
I wasn't expecting the tyres, but I'm not going to complain!"
"Just remember that it's been Customs sealed, not to be opened until landed in Fernando de Noronha and Custom cleared for importation."
Cathy giggled. "All your worldly goods!"
"Yep. Everything I own is on this ship." Then looking at Mr Gustafsen, "So mind how you go out there!"
Some two hours later and with the tugs fussing around like mother hens, we were on our way being towed down the river towards the open sea.
It seemed strange that it would be necessary to take much the same route to reach the Atlantic as the one we'd taken to get to Rotterdam, and possibly our last sight of Europe would be the coast of Cornwall as we steamed south. I decided not to follow that thought as I could get rather emotional.
In the event, we never saw the Cornish coast as we were too far south, but I was on the bridge just as the plotter chart showed our position as we passed Land's End, at which point, I made for the elevator and down to the crew accommodation where I could cry my eyes out in private.
I have no idea what time Aruno came to bed although I was aware of him spooning into me as he planted kisses on my back.
This, I decided, was true happiness. My dearest friends were with me and I was totally consumed with complete and utter love for the boy who was now sharing my life, and I his.
The five weeks that followed were a contrast between boredom and the insanely exciting.
The boredom was because there was little to occupy your time other than working out in the gym, swimming or reading. The insanely exciting was down to the weather and sea conditions. When it was rough – oh man was it ever rough! The thirty-foot swells breaking over the bow causing spectacular rainbows in the sunlight, but then, almost overnight, the conditions would give way to a gentle swell with unbelievably clear visibility, starry nights had me out with my telescope and as we ventured further south, the warm weather made for deck games and ice cold beer.
I did take the opportunity to brush up on my navigational skills.
I had loaded new software into my Lowrance but not had the chance to get to grips with all the new functions.
Mistria Coral had a similar if not identical system, so I persuaded the Navigation Officer to help me get a better understanding.
He was a very pleasant black African guy who hailed from Johannesburg. He looked upon navigation, not as a means to an end and a pay cheque at the end of the voyage, it was more like an obsession with him and to have an eager pupil to chat with, he was more than happy to fill the gaps in my knowledge. He even came onto Conqueror and demonstrated to all of us how it ticked.
Marion S has a different system but whether it's a Lowrance, Sea-scape, Raymarine or whatever, they all function in similar ways.
"Nice compact system you have there. Beats the fuck out of what I have on my own boat back home!"
He took a look at my marine VHF.
"Good reliable unit but nowhere near powerful enough. I'll look out a couple of linear amplifiers to boost them to around five hundred Watts on channel sixteen, around one hundred on other frequencies.
You got HF coverage?"
"No. Not considered necessary with the distances we were used to."
"You gotta have them mate. We've got a number of perfectly good Yaesu FT 960's kicking about somewhere. I'll have someone look 'em out, get 'em tested and you can fit 'em. We can run antenna leads for you but the antennae proper, you'll either have to buy or knock 'em up yourselves. Not difficult so long as you got an SWR meter"
"Thanks. You're being very kind but just how much will this lot cost us?"
"On the house, as they say all too infrequently in bars!
We carry so much stuff, most of which doesn't appear on the ship's manifest, so for us, it's more junk to sort through when we're looking for something we really need.
Talk to the Captain if you like, but I know he'll give you much the same answer. In fact, I'll tell him myself that I've given them to you."
These Yaesus looked as if they'd never been used but then we hit problems installing them. Our instrument consuls were made from one-inch thick MDF, and short of using a hacksaw to made an access large enough, we decided to seek help from the ships plumber/carpenter/handyman.
"I don't lend my tools. No offence, but either people forget to give them back, or if they do remember, they come back damaged."
He looked at his schedule. "I've nothing on after lunch so if you like, I'll come and do the job for you. Buy me a couple of drinks next time you see me in the bar, okay?"
Well of course he made what appeared to be an impossible task, look easy!
The radios slotted into place but then he chocked them so they fitted snuggly against the surface, fitted a cooling fan to vent the rear of the console of hot air, leaving us to do the wiring.
Later that evening, and with all the cabling finished, we did buy him beers!
Two days out of Brownsville we got a fuel fill. All our attempts of payment were rebuffed but we were also advised to take on water before departure to Brazil, whenever that might be. The water quality in some Countries couldn't be guaranteed and it might be as well to carry an amount of purification tablets.
Anchors were dropped once we were about one mile out of Brownsville Port. Apparently there wasn't room enough for Mistria Coral and ourselves to dock in the same area, so we were lifted off the deck and back into the water – the remainder of that day we spent checking everything was in order and saying our good-byes to our hosts, thanking them for their help and friendship, then the following morning we radioed Brownsville Port Authority seeking permission to enter harbour.
The reply was short and to the point. We were to wait until we were met by a launch from the Department of Homeland Security.
This duly arrived and we were told to follow it in.
Leaving our ride was a strange feeling. A mixture of relief for getting this far, nerves about what might be to come and, at least for Aruno, elation at being back on the Continent he saw as his home.
I think the photo I took as we motored away from the Mistria Coral has to rank amongst my all-time favourites. We were now really sailing new waters and into a new life.
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