Trial journey around the world
On 07th of March 2018, the new catamaran of the FRS Heligoline left the shipyard AUSTAL on the Philippine island of Cebu. On board was a crew of 9 Lithuanian and Latvian, 2 Philippine and 2 German sailors. The ship, which was designed for daily operations between Hamburg and Heligoland, had a journey of over 10,000 nautical miles ahead of it.
The last sea trials had been completed, a farewell bird's eye view group photo of all the shipyard workers who were involved in the construction of the new ship taken and suddenly everything went very quickly and “cast off" was declared. In the first part of the journey we travelled from Cebu in the Philippines to Port Klang in Malaysia. The catamaran we were on was to be our "home" for the next 20 days. Nothing peculiar for a sailor, but travelling halfway around the world with a 56-meter catamaran designed for day trips was a rather special trip. The Lithuanian and Latvian transfer crew had been dubbed the "Con Air" team by the local FRS staff, because their orange overalls reminded of the actors of the Nicolas Cage movie. We spent the first day at sea setting up. Everyone was looking for a place to sleep between the pullmann seats, in the bar or the pantry. I set up camp in the Premium Class on the upper deck. The windows were hung with tarps to reduce the light and the deck lighting was reduced to a minimum. Only the indirect LED lighting threw a faint green light over the upper deck.
After all, the ship was going to be travelling around the clock 24 hours a day. The crew that had the night watch had to sleep during the day and the day crew rested at night. So it was always quiet and dark in the upper saloon. The main deck was used for cooking, eating, showering, reading and watching movies during breaks. The sea reached a maximum wave height of 1.5 m and we made good progress. On the 10th of March we reached Port Klang in Malaysia on time and anchored at 7:20 pm local time (UTC + 8) at ?02°47,65'N ?101°20,2`E. As the saying goes: "A sailor spends half of his life waiting." It wasn’t different at this stop, where we were to bunker fuel. Since one does not simply drive to a gas station with the ship, the gas station comes to the ship in the form of a bunker barge and the ship has to rely on the equipment on the bunker barge. On board the first bunker barge assigned to us there was no suitable hose connection to fill our catamaran. Neither the Malaysian crew of the barge nor team "Con Air" showed great enthusiasm to solve the problem, so it was decided to go the path of least resistance and lay the oily bunker hoses through our new salons directly into the tanks pump. This plan was discarded, however, after the necessary effort became clear and our very sceptical looks were noticed. So a new barge was ordered which should have the correct connection on board, but it was due to reach us at the earliest the next morning, or maybe in 2 days, so we waited...
As the barge came into view the next day, we became hopeful to be able to continue our journey soon. In spite of best weather conditions, the barge didn’t seem to be able to come alongside smoothly and there was an unwanted contact between the bulwark of the bunker barge and the superstructure of the new catamaran. The captain of the bunker barge was clearly uncomfortable when he came aboard to sign the damage reports. He seemed very aware of team "Con Air" in their orange coveralls. However, the barge fortunately did have the proper connection to the fuel supply, so that we were able to continue our journey towards Port Galle in Sri Lanka with 52.5m³ of additional fuel and the first two dents in the ship.
The stop in Sri Lanka was made to pick up the security team that was to accompany us through the high risk zone around the Horn of Africa. In addition to the two security officers joining us, weapons and over 500 rounds of ammunition were loaded. From Sri Lanka we continued to the Maldives, where I was surprised to encounter lively boat traffic. All anchorages were well filled, so we dropped anchor near a resort. This not only gave us a nice view, but also free Wi-Fi, which gave us one chance to get in touch with those that had stayed at home.
In the Maldives, the fuel and fresh water tanks were filled and on 16th of March 2018 at midnight (UTC + 5) with a total of 103 m³ of fuel and 10.5 m³ of fresh water, we headed towards Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. A distance of 2000 nautical miles laid before us, which among other things led us through one of the most dangerous stretches of sea in the world, the Gulf of Aden. After leaving the waters around the Maldives, preparations for the passage through the high risk zone were made. Fire hoses were attached to the railing to deter piracy. A refuge was set up and stocked with provisions and drinking water. This panic room, also known as the "Citadel", serves as a hiding place as soon as a pirate attack can no longer be averted. But an orderly escape must be well planned and all scenarios where discussed. A little tension on board was unavoidable of course, a high-speed catamaran has the advantage that it is much faster than other ships, but everyone on board was aware that a small-caliber rifle would be enough to shoot holes in the outer aluminum hull.
Shortly before reaching the high risk zone, another safety drill was scheduled. Scenario: “MAN OVER BOARD”. To make the training as realistic as possible, the rescue boat was deployed and everyone was allowed to play the role of going overboard. The water temperature of the Indian Ocean was 27 ° C and the safety drill accepted gladly. Another plus was that such a drill strengthens the camaraderie, because in the next few hours we had to function well as a crew. Around 16:00 (UTC +4) the rescue boat was back on board. After dinner, all the lights on the main deck were extinguished to stay as unnoticed as possible.
The bridge crew was doubled and the two armed security officers took turns with the watch around the clock. The weather was kind to us, north-easterly winds at 3 Bft. and waves with a height of 0.5 m. Shortly after dark, after reaching the high risk zone, we passed an unlit vessel close by, possibly a fisherman or Somali pirates. We didn’t want to turn around to check. We continued our journey and reached Djibouti on the morning of the 20th of March 2018. The MARSEC was raised to level 2 "Increased risk". The gangway was guarded so no one could sneak on board. 67.7m³ fuel was bunkered, this time not with the help of a bunker barge but by truck on land.
The Somali pump man spent the fill up chewing an entire shrub of Kat, a drug widely used by pirates too. We were glad to be able to leave the harbour at 17:30 local time (UTC + 3) because we were alongside a livestock terminal with a pungent odor. The voyage continued through the Red Sea towards the Suez Canal. On the evening of the 22nd of March 2018 we left the high risk zone and met at sea with the "Captain James Cook" the stations ship of the security forces, who were transferred with the help of an inflatable. From now on, we were on our own again and were glad that the trip through the Gulf of Aden had been eventless. On the morning of the 23rd of March 2018 we dropped anchor in Suez at 09:00 local time (UTC + 2) in front of the entrance to the Suez Canal. The authorities came aboard, inspected the ship's papers, and electricians and technicians checked that the ship's equipment was suitable for the passage of the canal. Mobile vendors came alongside with their barges and offered us phone cards, souvenirs and Rolex watches for $ 10, even claiming they were waterproof. I thought to myself that they must have meant that they would let water in, but not back out. After the clearance was completed, the anchor was aweigh and we continued to the next anchorage, where we waited for the convoy for the passage of the canal to be
assembled. A crew change was scheduled for the FRS crew, because all crew members of the ships command where to get familiarized with the new ship. We had agreed to swap at the Suez Canal so that both shifts could get to know the ship and particularly its characteristics in wind, swell and current before the ship reached its destination in Hamburg. For me this meant travelling back to Hamburg from Suez via Cairo and Zurich by plane. A journey with many impressions and new experiences came to an end and I prepared myself for the arrival of the ship in Hamburg and the beginning of the seasonal trips to Heligoland.
Chief Officer HSC "HALUNDER JET"