Ship’s Log: Day Fourteen (Melbourne to Tilbury)

Fourteenth day of the voyage; seventh day of the Pacific crossing.

Once you get into the Pacific, they said, it will be smooth, especially in the tropics. Before the tropics, just out of New Zealand, we had a heavy roll, with the south-westerly swell (from the Southern Ocean), lifting us from the starboard rear and rolling through to port. And then the swell turned to ENE, precisely our direction, gradually gaining strength. Last night a tropical storm hit: rain belted down, leaked through the portholes; the ship’s gentle up-and-down motion, running directly into the swell, gained a sideways judder and roll. Some slept less well than they might, although I slept in rocking comfort.

Today the wind and swell strengthened, so that I am not permitted my daily walk to the bow. For now we hit the waves hard, creating massive bow waves and the occasional wall of spray that is whipped away by the wind.

The ship is constantly alive, full of myriad inter-lapping movements. The quiver and surge of the engines at full steam ahead is the constant backdrop, but as I write (after last night’s storm), we ride the oncoming waves like a slow and sensuous fuck: a gentle push, withdraw, push, with the occasional rush of blood. At other times, with a cross wind and diagonal swell from the stern, it begins rocking, heavily and deeply. At one moment you run down the hall, small steps acting as brakes; at the other moment you are climbing a steep mountain. But the roll is never consistent: a quiet half dozen may suddenly be followed by a massive lurch, the horizon now at what appears to be almost 45% to where it should be, chairs sliding, cups falling off tables, a roll onto your other side in sleep even if you didn’t want to. Turn the swell to the front of the ship, but at a good angle and the ship adds a juddering crunch to the roll, for the nose dives into the wave, the tail goes in the air, and then the ship shakes itself like a drenched dog, all the while rolling heavily either to port or starboard. But even on the quietest sea, the proverbial pond, the tiny quivers, shudders, the gentle lift and drop, the tilt on the floor, reminds you it is not at rest. One word struggles to capture the feel: fluidity.

Watching the ship flex: in these heavy, front-on seas I was watching for the massive bow wave. Slightly out of focus, peering into another world, I noticed the ship shake itself. No, it was more like a slow, rubberised wave that ran through the ship’s hull. You could see the containers and crane at the bow move to a different rhythm than those closest. I had of course heard of flexible steel hulls, but to experience it: a massively reinforced steel hull, carrying engines, equipment and over 20,000 tonnes of freight, rippling …


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