S.A.Gladiator  -  A Panamax Bulk Carrier

Once again I have another ship in my Seaman's Record Book and once again I have the problem of publishing interesting web pages on my site that are not the same format as earlier pages and are informative (without being fired!). To achieve this I will confine the "S.A.Gladiator" pages to just one, plus the Cargo Care Card on a seperate page. To maintain interest (I hope!) I will add other pages on diverse and unrelated topics in the Interesting Links and other Non-Nautical pages. There will be no limits! This will mean that the style of my site will drift over time. For some time the site has just drifted, I hope that it now has a re-juvinated feel.

The voyage started on a beautiful beach on the Southern Cape Garden Route, the cell phone rang and the Crew Manager, sounding desperate, asked me to cut my leave short and join the S.A Gladiator in Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. It was one of those times when it is a good idea to say yes, not that I was happy about it. So off I went to Brazil via London and two nights in one-star hotels. The ship was out at anchor off the mouth of the Rio Grande do Sul when I arrived so I went out to the ship with the Agent on the local pilot boat. When approaching the ship I noticed that it had two flags up, the Bahamas flag and the Greek flag. The departing Captain was an over-the-top Greek patriot! I spent a couple of days on board taking over from the departing Master who flew home to Greece once we got alongside the load berth.

Once again the Crew were Ukrainians and the Russian that I had learned on the LionMax came in handy, although it is still rudimentary it is not likely to get much beyond that. The ship had come from Argentina with a part load of soya beans and we were to top-up in Rio Grande do Sul. This took a couple of days as the loading was slow. The Chief Officer was careful not to load over 40' draft as that was the limit for the port. Soya beans are a major export for Brazil, our load was to go to a Chinese port near Hong Kong called Chiwan.

The S.A.Gladiator is a new Panamax bulk carrier, only two months old when I joined. A Panamax is the biggest ship that can go through the Panama Canal, until it is enlarged. The breadth is 32.26m, the length 255.00m and it draws 14.12m fully loaded. There are no cranes and it has seven holds. Top speed is around 14.5 to 15.5 knots depending on the load. Fuel consumption was about 40.00 mt/day, which is very economical for a ship that size. The design is simple and efficient and it only cost around about $20 million.

The route from Brazil is usually a great circle to The Cape and then coastal as far as Durban where it leaves the African coast, up the eastern side of the Mozambique Channel to escape the strong south-flowing current, north of Madagascar and then across to the Straits of Malacca, past Singapore and on to China. This route is not the shortest but the currents are favourable, which is a major consideration for slow bulkers. Weather was good and there were no storms, waterspouts, hurricanes or the freak waves that can be encountered off the South African coast. Getting into Chiwan was interesting as we had to pass through Hong Kong waters and change pilots at the border. There is a huge contrast between Hong Kong and Mainland China. HK is modern, efficient and very western while China is still way behind but one can see that it is growing at a fast pace.

The port of Chiwan is not the most modern around but the sea-food was great! The city centre was only a few minutes walk from the ship, for a change. 

From Chiwan we went to Hay Point, Queensland, Australia to load coking coal for two ports in Sweden. Coking coal is used to make coke for the blast furnaces that produce raw steel or pig iron. Australian coking coal has low ash content but is high in sulphur, South African coal is the other way around. This leg of the voyage took us around the top of the Philippines and down to Australia. The loading was the usual fast 4000mt/hour so no shopping there; we were stuck at the wrong end of a kilometre-long jetty! Then off we trundled to Sweden, north of Papua New Guinea (PNG), through the Lombok Straits and across the Indian Ocean to The Cape of Storms and on to Sweden. Bunkers were taken at The Skaw at the northern tip of Denmark. We took a pilot through the Great Belt as it was the first time that I had been through, next time I will not take a pilot. The discharge went well at the ports of Oxelosund and Lulea. Lulea is as far up the Baltic as a big ship can go, from there it is snowshoes if you want to go north as it is about 100km south of the Arctic Circle. August was a good month to visit. They worked fast there but I got ashore once to buy some books and videos; nice town.

Internet surfing for the  crew on ships is not impossible, just expensive. A satellite phone call can cost between $2.50  and $4.00 per minute, so no Yahoo! E-mail is becoming the norm for ship's business and maybe the Captain and Chief Engineer can use it but it is not usual now for the other crew members to use it, although it will be in the future. (Update - November 2012 - Sat phone now costs less than one $US/minute).

On departure from Lulea we were chartered to take rape seed from Gdynia, Poland to Shanghai, China. There was a rush to clean the holds after the coal and get them ready for the rape seed, the deck crew worked like slaves. Poland had a mountain of rape seed so everybody was happy that we arrived on time and took a good load. The farmers had nowhere to store harvested crops so were very happy when we arrived to empty the grain silo. 52497mt of rape seed is a good load! I found the Poles very friendly, great guys. The Agents took me ashore a couple of times: thanks PolSteam! Once again we set off on a long voyage, this time it was through the Suez Canal, past Singapore and on to Shanghai. The Canal transit was on the day after the crazies did their thing in New York, now called 9/11, but there was no reaction to that at all from the Egyptians, all they wanted was their traditional carton of Marlboro, or maybe five cartons. The Suez Canal is known internationally as the "Marlboro Canal"! Have you seen those hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians walking with both hands out, one in front and one out the back? They were begging with both hands! For Marlboros!

My relief flew out from Greece to join the ship in Shanghai, a very pleasant and experienced guy. The discharge of the rape seed went well and I left to fly home via Hong Kong after a night in a hotel, the ship sailed the next day.  Security was tight but the planes were all full and there were no delays. I had  a good trip back, the airlines were up to standard, Dragon Air to HK and from there Cathay Pacific to Jo'burg and on to Cape Town by South African Airways.

I have booked for a canoe trip down the Orange River and the lawn has been mown so now I can relax, crack a Castle beer! This time my leave will be for four months, not negotiable. The S.A.Gladiator is going to take stores OPL ( off port limits) when it passes Cape Town but I will not go out as I will be doing an updating course to ensure that my Class 1 Certificate (Masters) remains valid for the next five years.

Stop Press:    My wife and I have spent a couple of very nice days at a B & B at a small sea-side village in the Southern Cape called Jongersfontein.

Stop Press:    We also did an easy canoe trip down the Breede River instead of the Orange for a change. For details see the Felix Unite site in the Links page. We may do the Cunene River next, that would be one for the books! Felix also does trips to Antarctica but that is out of reach!

Have a Good Day!