Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ships of the Line

By: Mike

I’ve mentioned it before, but for over a decade now, I’ve had a secret, unrequited love for sailing.

I fully admit that it’s a naive obsession. I’ve never owned a boat, been trained in the art of sailing, or even had the opportunity to learn. People have cautioned me that it’s an overly costly and time-consuming hobby. Still, every time I see a new sailboat in the harbor, likely making a leisurely tour of the many islands and atolls of Micronesia, I can’t help but stop and think, “Now that’s the life!”

Perhaps it has to do with growing up in the arid deserts of New Mexico and then transplanting myself to the shores of the Puget Sound in Washington State. When I lived in Seattle, it was commonplace to see watercraft of every variety gliding along the inlets and narrow waterways that crisscross the city. Perhaps I grew up reading too many pirate stories, or the novels of Patrick O'Brian and C. S. Forester. Perhaps it’s just that boats are cool.

Whatever the reason, I’m always looking for an opportunity to learn more about boats. Last month, I got to visit two.

On January 9th, I was invited to attend an event welcoming back the M/V Hapilmohil 1, which had returned from China after a lengthy dry-docking for repairs and refitting.


The banners there proclaim that “The friendship between the People Republic of China ang Federated States of Micronesia will last forever!” (no, I didn’t type that incorrectly) and promise “Peace, Development, Friendship, and Progress” in that order.

The Hapilmohol is used by Yap State primarily for “field trip” runs to the Outer Islands of Yap, to provide medicines and medical treatment, and to deliver supplies like gasoline, fresh water and rice.


You can also book passage on the boat, in either a cabin or out on the deck. I’ve not made one of these trips to the outer islands, but its on my list of things to do. One of these days for sure…

DSC00149Since the boat is technically on loan to Yap from the FSM National Government, there was a brief turn-over ceremony in front of the vessel, where a few documents were signed and exchanged.

In this photo, the Yap State Lieutenant Governor (on the left) completes the turn-over process with a handshake.

After some mandatory speeches from the various government officials in attendance, everyone was treated to a tour of the renovated Hapilmohol.

Our group was shown around by a member of the crew, who all practically live aboard the boat full-time. He proudly pointed out a number of improvements that were made, such as removing a redundant flight of stairs to make room for more deck space.


I snapped a few random pictures as I wandered around the freshly swept decks and corridors.


I was shown around a spacious air-conditioned common room, some of the tiny passenger cabins, and even the captains’ stateroom. For passengers on the long voyage, I’m sure any improvements to the “Toilet & Shower Room” were much appreciated.


The best part of the tour was visiting the bridge, where our guide explained the basics of steering and moving the boat. Likely feeling confident I was ready to head out to sea, he invited me to try out the captains’ chair.

Of course, I couldn’t resist the opportunity.


My next encounter with nautical transportation occurred later in the month when the U.S.N.S Safeguard arrived in Yap to remove the wrecked hulk of the Cecilia (the spooky-looking boat pictured in a blog post last July) from its resting place near downtown Colonia.

Everyone was very grateful for all the effort put in by the U.S. in getting rid of this potentially dangerous eyesore. As you can see from that previous photo, it must have been no easy job to get it floating again. Underwater welders in diving suits spent days patching up all the holes, and then massive pumps sucked out all the water. For one last time the Cecilia rode the high seas, or at the least the calm waters inside the reef, for her brief journey to elsewhere on the island for eventual disposal.

One day, the captain of the vessel graciously invited members of the government onboard the Safeguard for lunch. It was very convenient since the ship was right at the dock behind the administration building.


DSC00188The captain personally gave our group, mainly consisting of State senators, a complete tour of the boat. Feeling like a tourist, I did sheepishly ask the captain whether I could take some photos, which he said was no problem.

He updated the group about the progress of the work on the Cecilia, and introduced several of the divers, engineers, and other specialists participating in the removal effort. We were shown different areas of the ship, including where the massive tow cables were coiled and a pressurized chamber used in diving.

Here’s a shot from the bow, showing a giant cargo ship delivering all sorts of necessary items to Yap, like cars, freezers of frozen pizza, and parcel post mailed packages.


At the end of the tour, we climbed up several decks to the bridge, with all its impressive buttons, valves, and control panels. I was relieved when the captain asked if I wanted to sit in his chair, and I readily agreed.


Next we went to the officers mess hall, which featured comfy booth seating, and two flat screen TV's playing live CNN!

For lunch we had spaghetti and baked chicken, with chocolate pudding for desert. It all was really quite good, but surprisingly, my favorites were the fresh cucumbers, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and celery on top of a bed of iceberg lettuce - with salad dressing other than Thousand Island!

USNS safeguard panorama

During lunch, as a token of appreciation, one of the senators presented the captain with a traditional men’s basket (called a “wai” or “yud”) containing a sarong-like lava lava, a few pieces of replica stone money, and some local fruits.


I chatted with the Safeguard personnel for a while about life on the island and recent news from the homeland. Of course, I was asked the standard questions about how I got my job (I gave my standard answer of: “Luck”) and whether I like living here.

It was also interesting to hear the stories of the officers and crew about their various salvage and construction missions around the globe. Apparently the Safeguard is very involved in the Pacific region, and has provided invaluable assistance in the wake of natural disasters like tsunamis and typhoons, as well as man-made disasters like the Fukushima nuclear incident in Japan last year.


After a group photo in front of the boat, the members of the State delegation gave our final thanks to the Safeguard personnel for their exceptional service in Yap. As I disembarked the vessel, I wondered what adventures awaited them at their next exotic port-of-call.  All in all, everyone had a good time, and perhaps even made a few new friends.

Even though ships like the Safeguard and the Hapilmohol are a little larger and more practically oriented than the mid-sized sailboat or catamaran I have my heart set on, visiting these two vessels quenched my thirst for adventures on the open sea… at least for now.