Wednesday, August 13, 2008


My eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year was spent in the
riverside port of Southampton, England. The port is at the head of
Southampton Waters, a river stretching north of the Isle of Wight, where
the town of Cowes is. There must have been a thousand sail boats tied up
in the harbor or moored in the Solent as Cowe's race week was just

Despite the absence of a lock in Southampton, docking usually takes an
excessively long amount of time. This is due to the innate ability of
the Southampton pilots to stop a ship's lateral motion and hold position
fifty feet short of quay side. What should take fifteen minutes takes
thirty here. That is because rather than gaining lateral momentum to
close on the dock while coming alongside they instead slow the ship to
dead in the water, exerting her to all the environmental forces at hand,
most notably the wind, and creep up to the dock using the tug boat to
PULL rather than push with it's wire.

Normally a tug boat makes up on the offshore quarter, and pushes to get
the ship along side, only pulling on the line if it's needed to slow the
ship. In the UK it appears to be forbidden for a tug boat to push with a
line up. Instead they try to encourage the stern alongside by indirectly
pulling on the wire and angling themselves towards the dock. Then, when
there is sufficient momentum to come alongside they decide to slingshot
the stern off to slow it down, twenty feet short of being alongside.

This process is aggravating, time consuming, and hazardous, especially
if the wind is of considerable strength. It necessitates excessive use
of the bow thruster, back and forth, trying to balance out what the
after tug is doing. The pilot in this instance almost got himself
throttled by the captain because he was actually lecturing the old man
on what the "Unseen forces" were doing to his ship. The Captain,
outwardly cool and composed, refrained but afterwards filled me in on
the episode. I wanted to know if the pilots knew that it shouldn't take
half an hour to edge a ship along side by pulling the stern towards the
dock, than away, then towards over and over again. Apparently they feel
that they do a bloody good job each and every time in accordance with
time tested methods pre-dating the Titanic.

I'm no expert on this topic but I have seen several hundred dockings
from the bow, bridge, and stern of ships and only the Japanese compare
in ineptitude once coming alongside. (It should be known that tugs here
use Voith-Schneider or Z-Drive propulsion and that surely has to do with
their methods of maneuvering them, whether it works or not is

To add to the headache, once the head lines were on and the stern
alongside the Captain pleaded with the pilot to have the tug let go and
simply push on the stern to keep it alongside while the third mate could
run his after lines. The tug, unaware of where mid ships actually is
(the middle of the ship) started pushing on the forward half of the ship
once again levering the stern off the dock with lines already fast. Not

Once that fiasco was completed we soon had our ramp down and the slowest
4 stevedores in the UK were running forklifts discharging in two hours
what it took 2 Germans half an hour to load. I finished up my watch
busting a couple of sixteen year old car lashers smoking out the bow.
They started giving me lip, professing they weren't smoking anything but
a fag despite the lingering odor so I said I'd have them all shackled
and taken by the local constabulary for being in a restricted area and
they scrambled back into the holds convinced I was going to have them
sacked from their summer jobs. It was then that I suddenly realized I
had become 'that guy'.

I went ashore for my first time in the UK and was pleased to find a sim
card that would let me call the states for 2 pence a minute. I was
really surprised that cell phone rates were so low when everything else
here costs so much. A gallon of gas retails for 12 US dollars! The
captain likes to burn Yankee Candles in his office so he asked me to
fetch him a pair. I was blown away when the cashier charged me almost US
$55 for a Candied Apple and a Sun and Sand scented candle.  I realize
that they are imported from Massachusettes but still. Indlcuded in the
reciept was a 17% VAT tax. I guess it is a good thing we became
independent when we did.

After I had hidden my Yankee Candle shopping bag in my rucksack I
perused the open air market set just behind the medieval city gates. The
stands of farm produce, woolens, and art were a stark contrast with the
two huge American style malls just outside the old city walls a block up
High Street. I then joined some locals for a pint of Courage, the local
cheap ass brew, and some unintelligible conversation. I think German is
easier to understand than the flavor of English spoken in these parts
after a couple of pints.

There was free wi-fi at the pub which made up for the rubbery chicken
curry. On my way back to the docks I stopped in the Maritime Museum but
found the display on the Titanic, which sailed from the abandoned berth
across from ours, very small. I did catch the opening ceremony of the
Olympics at the Southampton Seafarer's Mission but wasn't too impressed
by China's grandstanding.

I'm definitely opposed to China's hosting the games this year. Maybe it
has something to do with restricting 90% of all automobile traffic in
Beijing so we can't see the normal pallor of industrialization that
hangs over the city. Or perhaps it's just their complete disregard for
religious and political freedoms. It's the same message Russia in
sending to Georgia over South Ossetia right now; we're world powers and
we will get what we want. Welcome to the team boys.

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