Slow Boat to China #6

September 5, Hanjin Geneva’s second call in Seattle. At 4:43 a.m. U.S. Immigration is on board and all crew and passengers must report for clearance. We’re asked the same question, “Why didn’t you board in Vancouver?” (Same answer: We wanted to go up the Columbia River.)

The loading of tons of Asia-bound containers (including reefers of apples and fish) will take hours, so we leave the terminal after breakfast with no need to be back till midnight. A 10-minute walk along Alaska Highway takes us to the Washington State Ferry terminal. From there it’s a short walk uphill to the magnificent Seattle Central Library and this time, the doors are open. A guest pass gives us 30 minutes of free wi-fi on Level 5, a mini-mall of computer terminals (almost every one occupied) and tables for laptop use. Impressive! And, given the number of users, amazingly quiet. When our time’s up we go to Level 10 for a spectacular view from the Atrium.

Spend the afternoon and evening on Bainbridge Island, a 30-minute trip by ferry. We sit in the sun and enjoy the ride, about as scenic as you can get with views of Mt. Rainier, the Seattle skyline and, of course, ships and cranes in the container port (including ours). Bainbridge Island is a big island but you can walk the town of Winslow (where the ferry docks) in 10 minutes — provided you don’t stop at any of the unique shops and cafes, like Roosters, or the well-named outdoors shop, Wilder Nest (where I overdo my shopping time).

 Next stop, the waterfront, to pick up the “Waterfront Loop Trail.”

One of stone sculptor’s Ethan Currier’s rock figures at work on the waterfront.

What we imagine will be a delightfully long walk turns out to be about 500 metres on a boardwalk that abruptly ends with a No Trespassing sign. We settle for Plan B: a visit to the heritage Harbour Public House (conveniently located on said boardwalk) where we sit on the terrace and drink WA beers Chukanut Pilsner and Pike Witt (with slice of lemon) on tap.

We have dinner at the Streamliner Diner, a great little restaurant close to the ferry. Arbor Crest Sauvignon Blanc (Columbia Valley WA), lasagna (chicken, parmesan and ricotta in a Pomodoro sauce) and Alaska scallops with heirloom tomatoes and arugula pesto over couscous. Yum! Our last meal ashore until Pusan, South Korea.

The sun’s going down as we head back on the ferry. We look over at the humongous Hanjin Geneva in the container port, spot the windows of our cabin and think, “Home sweet home.” How cool is that!

Hanjin Geneva in Seattle container ship port. © Patrick Lawson

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Slow Boat to China #5

Slow boat, slow blog. So much for good intentions. The plan was to merrily post a blog whenever we were in a port and could find free wi-fi. But for various reasons (one of which is the fact that I’m blog-challenged), this did not happen. Consequently the posts that follow are behind schedule. Oh well. Does it matter? It is what it is.

We sail into Vancouver the night of September 3. Past all the ships at anchor in English Bay, under Lion’s Gate Bridge, and into the container port VanTerm. As if the city/ship/port lights aren’t enough, fireworks explode over Burnaby.

Next morning we hang around the ship waiting for immigration. By the time they arrive, check our passports and ask questions (“Why didn’t you board in Vancouver?”) there’s not much time to spend on shore. So much for our plan to have lunch at the Vancouver Art Gallery Café and walk around the seawall. We muddle through the port (not as straightforward a process as in Seattle or Portland) and take a taxi to the Vancouver Public Library for wi-fi and coffee. Back on board, we discover that the time of departure has changed. If we’d given the captain our cell phone number, we could have gone ahead with Plan A. But Plan B isn’t so bad—a relaxing afternoon on the wing deck reading, chatting with the captain, watching the loading of containers. We sail out of Vancouver at sunset. Once again, nice timing.

A full moon lights our way as we approach Lion’s Gate Bridge. Moments later, fireworks explode over Burnaby. Last day of the PNE? Nice timing! © Patrick Lawson Photo

Slow Boat to China #4

September 3. Sunset over Southern Vancouver Island on a sea as still as the water in my glass.

Picking up the pilot of Ogden Point, Victoria, BC. A scene we normally see from our window or along the Dallas Road Waterfront. (Patrick Lawson photo)

A perfect evening after a day of fog, with the Victoria coastline so clear we can make out not only our apartment building but the flowers on our balcony. Well, almost.

Slow Boat to China #3

Mist over the river (Patrick Lawson photo)

Night passage up the Columbia River under a full moon. A blue moon, since it’s the second one in August. Daybreak is stunning.

Spend the day in Portland. Markets, markets.

Back again the next day, this time taking a cab from the terminal only as far as the Expo Centre (a quarter of the cost of going downtown) and hopping on the wonderful light rail MAX. For $5.00 an all day pass, anywhere you want to go. (Only $2 for Patrick) Finally found some binoculars and tried them out on a walk along the Willemette River before returning to the ship. Almost 2 full days shore leave.

Mist over farmlands, along the Columbia River (Patrick Lawson photo) 

Slow Boat to China #2

We board the Hanjin Geneva in Seattle the evening of August 30 after a day exploring Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square but mostly hanging out on the waterfront watching for our ship to come in. Wanted to check out the Seattle Public Library for my book titles but was dismayed to find it closed. Impressive night view from the wing deck. Full moon, city lights, Ferris wheel in patterns of greens and blues. Nice touch. Thanks, Seattle. Containers still being unloaded by the time we go to sleep. It’s a quiet procedure, a low hum of whirring cables. 

At breakfast we discover we’re not the only passengers. Hans, from Switzerland, boarded in Pusan, South Korea, and is getting off in Vancouver. He’s been on 36 freighter trips, beginning in 1976. Name a shipping route and he’s been on it. Many of the best ones, unfortunately, are no longer available because the particular shipping lines are no longer in service. We looked into them some 10 years ago, thinking, must do that trip. But didn’t. Kick, kick. And speaking of kicks to self, I forgot to pack two essentials on sea trips: binoculars and ginger tea. Portland shopping list.

Dolphins leaping in the bow wave (Patrick Lawson photo)

Leave Seattle August 31 at 8:30 a.m. and head west along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Familiar coastline. Smooth sailing.

In the afternoon the 3rd Mate gives us a bow to stern tour of the ship’s safety equipment and procedures. What to do and where to go in case of …  Afternoon’s entertainment is trying on our immersion suits.  Hope we never have to do it in a hurry.

Hope we never face an incident like the disastrous one on board the MSC FLAMINIA in July. Fire at sea, crew and two passengers rescued by an oil tanker, two fatalities.

Slow Boat to China

“You’re going on a container ship? There’s cruise ships, you know!” The person who said this clearly thought we were crazy. Maybe we were. But the trip in question did more than take us from Vancouver, BC to San Antonio, Chile. It got us hooked. Now, 12 years and 5 container ship trips later, we’re about to embark on #6 — a twenty-six day voyage from Seattle to Shanghai on board the MV Hanjin Geneva.

The Hanjin Geneva is a sister ship of the Hanjin Madrid, the ship seen in the header. Patrick took the photo from our window — that and over 7000 others, all posted on the Marine Traffic website. Okay, not all were taken from our window, not all are of container ships, and not all were taken in Victoria. (That’s the thing about living on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. You can become obsessed by what’s on the water both home and away.)

Back to container ships. The Marine Traffic website shows the location of any vessel, anywhere, in real time.

See the little blips? They’re all ships. See the green arrow at the end of a long string of arrows? That’s the Hanjin Geneva a few weeks ago in the China Sea.

Right now the Hanjin Geneva is berthed in Prince Rupert, BC. She’s scheduled to leave for Seattle early tomorrow morning. So are we, via the Clipper. The evening of August 30, if all goes according to plan, we get on the Hanjin and sail off to Portland. Then Vancouver.

Windy day on the waterfront.
(Patrick Lawson photo)

If you happen to be on the Dallas Road waterfront on September 3rd  don’t be distracted by paragliders or whatever. Watch for a hulking big container ship picking up a pilot en route to Vancouver. If you have binoculars handy, and it’s not the middle of the night, watch for us. We’ll wave. Same thing on the 4th when the pilot gets off. After that, it’s Seattle (2nd call) and then — nothing! For two weeks, nothing except for whatever’s on, in or above the sea. Until we get to Pusan, South Korea. First stop after getting our shore leave will be an internet café. Wi-fi au lait!

Off to Quadra Island

Heading up to Quadra Island this morning with friends for a weeks stay. Grey day, but it’s supposed to clear. We’ll see. We might see cougars and wolves on the island, also orcas and dolphins. We’ll definitely see deer. We probably won’t see dolphins being chased by killer whales (orcas) like these lucky folks saw awhile ago, but one lives in hope.