Week 1 8th to 16th December 2010

Onboard the OPDR Las Palmas

8th to 10th December 2010 - Felixstowe

The stoker booked the trains to Felixstowe in the balmy days of early November. Only four weeks later we were in arctic conditions, experiencing the worst early winter for fifty years.

We had a dilemma. The ship was running late but the trains were also disrupted. Should we wait at home until the last minute? If we did, and the trains were delayed, would we miss the ship altogether?

Spurred on by the super cheapness of the stoker’s early purchase rail tickets we left as planned. A few days winter holiday in Felixstowe would be an interesting experience and we did have some correspondence to catch up on.

The journey was about as uneventful as a journey can be with a laden tandem on a rail system that claims not to carry them. Helped by Janet who came to see us off we unobtrusively put the tandem in the bike space where it jams in nicely. The guard ignored it and we had pleasant trip to London.

Thanks to Red Ken having tamed London streets with the congestion zones and the management’s route the chilly ride to Liverpool Street was uneventful. Finding an easy way onto the platform was not easy. It involved two police people and the semi permanent separation of the stoker from the management.

The stoker reported the management and tandem missing. The policewoman was not very concerned at knowing the management’s name. She considered it unlikely that there would be more than one lost tandem on Liverpool Street station.

 The ODPR Las Palmas and us

Reunited in the nick of time and armed with directions to the platform level we made our way to the front of the very long train. The guards van, behind the engine, was huge and the friendly guard chose to ignore the fact that our bike is rather larger than the norm.

At Ipswich we changed for the shuttle service to Felixstowe. We were escorted across the track, thus avoiding a hard carry across the bridge. The train crew were waiting at the platform for the train to arrive. “Sorry” they said “your bike won’t fit on the train”. They were absolutely correct and as soon as the management had taken the front off the tandem they cheerfully helped him load the two parts and all our luggage.

We arrived at the beach front hotel in the dark on time. The journey had been great. The rail staff had all been so helpful. Even our faith in the English police had been confirmed.

We now had two days in Felixstowe and wonderful crisp winter weather for our short and enjoyable break. The rambling sea front hotel was comfortable and homely with good food and friendly staff. Just as important it had free wifi everywhere. We tracked the ship on the computer, safe in the knowledge that we would know when to board.

The first officer being very responsible for our valuable cargo

11th to 16th December 2010 - The Voyage to Gran Canaria

Felixstowe claims to be one of the largest container ports in the UK. This does not make boarding a cargo ship with a tandem easy. Last night at 6pm, as instructed by the agent, we pedalled to the port police station to have our documents checked. It seems that moving a tandem and two passengers onto a cargo ship provides a welcome break in the normal routine and everyone was very helpful. Health and safety and port security prevented us from cycling to the ship and we were delivered by minibus, the tandem resting above the seats.

We were welcomed onboard by the first officer and our bags and the tandem were whisked away. The captain introduced himself, welcomed us on board and showed us to our comfortable cabin high up under the bridge.

The ship left around midnight by which time we were sound asleep. By the time we awoke we had just passed through the Straits of Dover. The sea was smooth and by mid afternoon we were off Weymouth only three and a half days since we left. We were doing 17 knots.

We are now experienced passengers which enables us to become immersed quickly in the shipboard routine. Breakfast is at eight, lunch at noon and dinner at six. Lunch is the main meal of the day and we eat with four of the five officers, the fifth being on watch.

Like all the other ships we have been on everyone has the same job depending on their designation. We were soon informed that this ship is run on “minimum crew”, having only three deck officers and fourteen crew in all. The captain is in charge and because there is no third officer also stands watches on the bridge. The first officer, a very young man on this ship, is responsible for the all important cargo and has taken over the non existent third officer’s responsibility for us, the only passengers. The second officer is responsible for navigation and also the third officer’s safety role. On the engineering side there is no officer level electrician, just first and second engineers.

Of the nine others on board the most important is the cook who provides all the meals seven days a week. He has a steward to help him who also cleans the onboard public spaces and our cabin. There are three people working on deck, mainly to ensure the safety of the cargo, two “greasers” in the engine room, the electrician and a fitter.

 First landfall after 1700nm at Tenerife

The shipboard experiences on a six day voyage are like no other. We are separate from the routine though still part of it. We have no communication with the outside world and most on board only speak Spanish. It is a magical experience and a retreat from the world with its cares.

A wise person once said that travel is best at bicycle speed. At Felixstowe the ship’s engine started. Our cocoon is a world moving along at 18 mph. Five days on and we made landfall at Tenerife. The ocean is ever changing but the ship and its routine and the heart beat of its engine go on unchanging. Crossing oceans this way we feel the vastness of the earth and a link to all who have travelled.

A short stop at Tenerife to off load cargo and on the sixth day we reached our final destination at Las Palmas, Gran Canaria and it was very warm and sunny.