|Friends Of Holy Trinity Church, Meldreth
Registered Charity No. 289736
Our talk in March was "A Circumnavigation of the World by Container Ship" by Peter Hesketh, a merchant seaman in earlier life, who had this ambition in retirement.
Peter's whole adventure took around four months and involved three ships. There were no passengers on the first two legs and just two on the final leg. The ships differed in size; 'CMA CMG Thalassa', the first, carried 11,040 containers, while the other two ships were much smaller, carrying 5,600 and 6,750 containers each. By comparison, ships docking at Felixstowe are now arriving carrying 22,000 containers. The crews were largely Filipino and spoke little English and the Officers were mainly Eastern European.
Peter was never bored and his way of passing the time was by reading, writing a blog, watching films, enjoying the views and spending as much time as possible on the bridge, observing how the ship was navigated - something that was particularly interesting when entering and leaving port. He also enjoyed speaking to the people on board. Obviously he was very conscious of the fact that they were working and he was not, but when the ship is in the middle of the ocean, it is very easy to get the officer on watch to speak about their home, their life at sea and many other topics besides.
Travelling by Merchant ship is not like being on a cruise. Each passenger is responsible for getting from one ship to another and Peter allowed two weeks for this each time, as ship's itineraries frequently change. It can be risky and Peter nearly missed his last ship. Also there are no organised means for the crew to go ashore, unless there are seafarers' centres, churches etc. As a result, Peter gives his talks in aid of the Felixstowe & Haven Ports Seafarers Service & Tilbury Seafarers, part of the Queen Victoria Seaman's Rest.
Of the many anecdotes: on one occasion the containers were stacked up higher than his cabin window, which made it claustrophobic and Peter managed to get transferred into the owner's suite. Most of his dining was on table for one, except when there were passengers, and on one leg alcohol was not allowed.
The last ship had a narrow beam of 32m, suitable for the old Panama Canal locks, while the new locks are 49m wide. To prevent the ships damaging sides of the locks, there are two motorised units either side of the ship, bow and stern, with hawsers onto the ship to keep it centralised; these keep pace with the ship as it slowly moves under own power through each lock. The only downside of a narrower beam is that the ship is more prone to roll in heavy weather, as was seen in a short video.
Peter's talk was very well received and gave an insight into life on a Merchant ship. The Friends and audience made donations to his charities, plus a bottle of wine to make up for the "dry" ship.