Published: August 8th 2007May 31st 2007 Singapore - At Sea Introducing the Good Ship Theodor Storm
First Sighting of Australia, Torres Straits Islands
Ah-ha, me hearties! Trim the mainsail and lash me to the mast!... and other such nautical nonsense.
“On this ship you are special”.
That was what the 3rd Officer told me with a warm, broad Filipino smile. He meant it as a form of introduction to the manner in which we, as the only three passengers, should become accustomed to being treated on our 9 day stay aboard the cargo vessel “MV Theodor Strom”, but I’ve had problems with the word “special” ever since my first Science lesson at High School when I was “accidentally” assigned to the class for children with learning and/or behavioural difficulties. I was told I was “special” that day as well.
Much like school, life aboard the Theodor Storm revolves around a timetable of breaks and meals. But these aren’t ordinary meals. After nine months of having maybe one half substantial meal a day, these are delicious colossus feasts - three times a day - designed as far as I can tell to have us a) sleep like babies for most of the day and b) test the tensile strength of the walkway as we disembark at Brisbane.
In the nine months we’ve been away I’ve lost 17kg. That’s right folks -
Clean Lines, Singapore
This is one funky little city/country.
I was fat. But now, thanks to Travel Slim, my trousers won’t stay up and due to their baggy nature I look a bit like I’ve nicked trousers from a clowns washing line.
It’s quite possible that nine days aboard the Theodor Storm will be enough to undo nine months of healthy Asian grub, budget imposed dieting and reasonably regular exercise.
You can imagine therefore, that I was pleased to be told that there was a gymnasium onboard. Keeping the weight off will be easy, thought I. Then I saw the gym. I’m not sure in what dictionary the definition of “gymnasium” is “ping-pong”, but that’s what it was: an empty room with a ping-pong table.
Nine days on a boat with a ping-pong table: shades of Forrest Gump thought I. But then again, on this boat, I am “special”… My other boat’s a Matsui
The MV Theodor Storm’s engine is made by Hitachi. It can produce 25,270kW of power, propelling the ship at speeds of up to 24 knots whilst recording back-to-back episodes of He-Man on a single 60-minute tape.
The gearshift has three settings - Rewind, Play and Fast Forward.
The “eject” button has disappeared but if
The Durian, Singapore
"The Durian" building on the esplanade was given its nickname because of its similarity to the smelly fleshy fruit. By that I mean it looks like a Durian rather than ponging of dead fish.
you’re cunning you can still push it with something thin and pointy like a pen. I presume it’s a safety feature or something. Don’t want anyone pressing that button before we reach port or before He-Man and the gang get the chance to explain the moral of today’s episode. The Fast, The Flippered and the Furious
We’d just spent the best part of an hour out on deck scouring the sea for anything of interest. Of course, there wasn’t so much as an olive branch in sight and, much to my dismay, no large man-eating sharks leaping clear of bloody water to tear fresh meat off hooks. Actually, there wasn’t much in the way of hooks, blood or meat either. Really it was just sea. A lot of sea.
We returned to our cabin and I made the terrible mistake of glancing out the porthole (that’s a nautical term for “window”) to the front of the boat from whence we had come. “Dolphins!”, I shouted across the cabin (that’s a nautical term for “room”) to Vik.
“No!?”, replied she, leaping from her seat to the porthole beside mine.
Sure enough, there at the front of the boat where we
Thian Hock Keng Temple, Singapore
The oldest Chinese Temple in Singapore sits peacefully among the sky scraping buildings of the Central Business District. This is where Chinese sailors came to give thanks for keeping them safe. As full fledged sailors, we felt it our duty to do the same.
had stood not five minutes before were several dolphins engaged in what I can only describe as an acrobatic interpretation of “rubbing our faces in it”.
Its best if you imagine what followed in that most dramatic of dramatic soap opera effects - slow motion. (Note: reading slowly does not equal slow motion).
Our arms and legs were flapping around us like grounded fish as we scrambled to grab cameras, cardigans and sandals on our way to the door. A couple of things you need to know to really understand the ridiculous nature of our rush. Firstly, this is a moving, swaying ship - balance is always an issue. Secondly, we’re six storeys up on deck F - that’s twelve flights of steep steps we need to tackle before we’re even on the right deck. Then we have a two hundred metre run to the front of the boat. Finally, the doors on a ship are pretty heavy; it can be a bit of a fight to get them open when the sway of the boat is against you (that work in the “gymnasium” could pay off after all).
On our way down the stairs I stop off at deck
Bob Explains the Universe, Singapore Science Centre
Want to barge your way through school groups to press buttons and peer at stuff? Want to watch manic Hamsters dancing or an evil Einstein climbing a rope? Then this is the place for you!
D to alert fellow passenger Gregory with the exciting news.
I bang on his door (perhaps a little too frantically).
“Hello”, he says pulling the door open.
The words in my mouth flew out excitedly like they did when a fight broke out in the playground at school.
“DOLPHINS! Quick! DOLPHINS!”.
I’m not sure that he was actually that bothered, but I think the manic look in my eye and my lack of breath probably convinced him that humouring me would be the best policy.
“Right - I’ll just get my camera…”, he said.
I stood holding open the door to the Stairwell, but after three seconds he didn’t appear. Perhaps he needs to put shoes on. Stuff this, thought I and headed down the remaining stairs to deck A where Vik was waiting.
Running on the slippery deck of a moving ship with all manner of hazardous bits and pieces about is a definite no-no, but if you’ve ever been to a fashion show where it’s quite apparent from her movements that one of the models strutting her stuff on the catwalk is bursting for a bathroom visit, you can probably picture the kind of upright, yet stifled, quick
Bob Through the Looking Glass, Singapore Science Centre
This is what happens when you stay up until 5:30am drinking Tiger Beer (Singapore's brew) watching your team undeservedly lose the Champions League Final. I found an alternate universe in our Bathroom mirror where Liverpool won and Paris Hilton didn't exist. I don't need to tell you how much better a place it was.
step we produced to hasten our passage to the front of the boat.
Of course, by the time we got there, no dolphins were to be seen. All that remained was the usual rise and fall of the waves.
“The other side!” I cried into our shared disappointment; charging across the open deck.
I knew they were there though. Somewhere close. Mocking me with their chirpy, ultrasonic laughter. I watched every episode of “Flipper”, I only eat dolphin friendly tuna and I went to see the highly unimpressive freshwater Irawaddy Dolphins in the Mekong. I deserve better than this! You owe me, Dolphins!
When we got back to the cabin I didn’t look out the window. I knew what I’d see. A Mind for Murder “Assassinations shall be prevented or, at least, made more difficult by security measures.” - Declaration of Company Policy on Ship Security
In an area such as the Java Sea, well known for its pirate activity I was delighted to read this little tit-bit of information from the ships bulletin board. It is nice to know that, should I be mercilessly slain at the hands of some thieving rapscallion, his job will
Rowdy Locals, Night Safari, Singapore
If being a mosquito's eat all you can buffet and watching animals in the dark is your thing then you'll love Singpores Night Safari. How they got the animals to stand in the light bits rather than the darker undergrowth of their cells is a bit of a mystery (I suspect there were blokes behind bushes with cattle-prods), but the place was excellent. Don't take the tram, just walk - you'll see more in the long-run.
PS. Vik's favourite bit was the well-toned, oily bodied fire eating blokes. I, on the other hand, was wondering how flammable that grease on their six-packs was and picturing the headlines the next morning.
not have been an easy one, thanks to the Crystal Maze type assault course he will have had to traverse to reach me. And when you throw in the 20 Greatest Pub Quiz questions he’ll have answered correctly, really it would be thoughtless and highly unsporting of me not to relinquish my life. “Will you not have a drink now?”
There was a persistent Mrs Doyle approach to his sales pitch.
“You do want a beer don’t you? How about some whisky? Chocolate, 7-up, Coca-Cola?”
His “I’m the storekeeper” had been said with such enthusiasm that to have requested nothing would have disappointed him and he clearly relished his role aboard the ship. An order from a passenger was like a direct order from the captain. It was to be taken seriously; it carried with it responsibility and should be executed as swiftly as possible.
“Alright then”, I conceded. “I do quite fancy a beer tonight.”
“OK”, he said, pen at the ready, anticipation in his voice.
“I’d like two beers and two bars of chocolate please”.
“Right”, he said scribbling in his notepad.
Having established the brand of the beer they had on board and the type of
Part of the Empire, Sinapore
Our favourite part of Singapore was the area around Telok Ayer Street, Chinatown and the Central Business District. Amazing how colonial Britain, ancient China and modern banking combines in a kaleidascope of architecture. It is also the cleanest Chinatown we've ever seen... most un-Chinese.
chocolate I’d be getting, I let him march off to make arrangements. As he left he said, “it’ll be with you this afternoon” as if I’d just brokered some sort of arms deal. Fine thought I. “No hurry”, I replied, unsure whether I should be saluting or something. It certainly felt like the moment deserved it.
It was as we were heading down to dinner that our evenings little indulgences arrived at our door. As I was opening the door to our cabin, I just caught the storekeeper heading into the stairwell.
“Your beer and chocolate! Bye!”. He darted off before I had time to say a word.
“How much did you order?!”, was Vik’s first reaction on seeing the delivery outside our cabin, for there beneath our two modestly sized bars of chocolate were two cases of Tiger beer - 48 bottles in all - 633ml (more than a pint) in each bottle.
As much as I explained it to him, he just couldn’t get it.
“You wanted two beer. I give you two beer. Why you want to give it back?”
“Usually, if I go to a bar and order a beer, I don’t expect the
UFO View, Sinapore
This is the view across the Singapore River to Norman Foster's UFO building.
barman to place the entire keg in front of me.”
He looked at me blankly.
“But it’s cheap. Only fifteen US dollar.”
“Fifteen?! Wow. That is cheap.”
“But can’t I just have two bottles?”
“No. Is not possible.”
I considered buying one case, it is ridiculously cheap after all, but could we drink 24 bottles over three days aboard a moving ship. A wave of nausea told me “no chance”.
No beer was the outcome. On the MV Theodor Storm, it’s all or nothing. A Spell of Nausea
We met a great couple from San Francisco while we were in the Cameron Highlands. Having bored them at length about our fear of being ill for nine days on our voyage from Singapore to Brisbane, Natasha suggested that we try a few preventative measures she knew about. It’s at this point that I become a bit wary about what people are going to say: I seem to remember someone telling me that warts are cured by burying bacon in your back garden (I believe vegetarians can use a Tofu substitute). It just sounds like a waste of a good sandwich if you ask me.
Anyway, Natasha imparted this
Clarke Quay, Singapore
One of our least favourite areas was the overly tacky, hideously ex-pat drinking den that is Clarke Quay.
information with such enthusiasm and goodwill that my initial thoughts of witchcraft were quickly dampened and I put the stake and matches away.
And so, before we boarded the Theodor Storm we’d purchased the necessary ingredients: eye of frog (just kidding) - raw root ginger, some peppermint (in the form of a healthy supply of Fisherman’s Friends) and, that old faithful, a large bottle of 7-Up.
Natasha assured us that a healthy dose of each of these (a nibble on some ginger, a sniff of peppermint and a swig of 7-Up) would be enough to beat the green-gilled, hanging-over-the-side-of-a-ship look. I have to stress that although I had discounted her links with black magic and the occult, I was more than a little sceptical that any of these measures would do anymore than make us a) extremely ill and/or b) extremely unpopular among those crew members with a keen sense of smell.
Well, the journey hasn’t been as rough as we thought it might. However, there has been the odd occasion when that queasy, head spinney thing took over and a shot of 7-Up and a Fisherman’s Friend seemed to do just the trick. Sorry Natasha, I just haven’t
Cavenagh Bridge, Singapore
With the Durian in the background. Incidentally, it's a Scottish engineered and built bridge that still has signs erected in 1910 warning that "The use of this bridge is prohibited to any vehicle of which the laden weight exceeds 3cwt. and to all cattle and horses."
been brave enough to dig into the ginger - as tempting as it looks. I’ll save that little trick for our crossing to New Zealand and let you know how it goes… Great Expectations
Apparently, the 3rd Officer made the mistake one night, of not telling an elderly gentleman passenger that he was being called to the bridge so that he might take in the spectacular sight of a volcano in full eruption.
When the poor fellow did arrive on the bridge and saw the dramatic scene before him, he ran to the far end of the bridge and hid behind the chart table.
“Shouldn’t we warn the captain?” he roared.
“Warn the captain of what?” asked the perplexed officer.
“About the tsunami of course!”
The apologetic officer had to explain to the gentleman that there was no tsunami; that this particular volcano had been active for years and was passed by the ship nearly every month.
When I was called to the bridge, the officer was quite specific about what it was I was going to be seeing. Wow, though I. But when we got to the volcano in question the blinking thing was fairly much dormant. No
Singapore in a Nutshell
Note among the towers, the small colonial houses in the lower right hand corner on the waterfront. All pubs. How very British.
flowing lava, no balls of flame, no rocks being hurtled into the sea. Just a wee puff of smoke on a distant conical shaped island.
The officer is now looking to find a happy medium between high hopes and heart attack inducing surprises. Too Fast, Two Flippered and too Furious
I was leaning over the front of the ship trying to get clear photographs of the flying fish gliding away from the surging nose of the boat, but with very little in the way of luck. Every shot I took was either overexposed thanks to the dazzling sun reflected off the waves or else I just wasn’t fast enough. No National Geographic cover for me this time.
I decided to give up on fish and concentrate on something less likely to disappear quickly beneath the waves. Seabirds became my target of choice. Only, this far out to sea, there weren’t that many to choose from. But luck was on my side…
Aha, thought I smugly, my camera trained on some luminous billed duck thing (I’m not known for my bird spotting skills) flapping gently over the surface of the water parallel to the boat.
I decided to take a
wide shot, then zoom in for a close up. The wide shot was easy, but basically shows my ducky friend as no more than a smudge on a blue sea. It was the close-up that was to be my crowning glory. The breath-taking nobility and grace of avian flight. The cover of Bird Watching Monthly was in my grasp…
He’s in my sights… zooming in… manually focus (no wimpy auto-focus for me)… steady… breathe…
It’s at this point that something large in the water directly below me caught my eye.
I almost dropped the camera on the bloody dolphins head.
The little buggers had probably been on the other side of the ship doing back-flips while I was occupied trying to snap flamin’ quackers here.
As more and more of them appeared, young and old alike, gracefully arcing through the water, I was flapping around with the camera like it was coated in margarine.
“Arrrssseee!” I swore at the camera as I begged it to zoom out and focus a little bit quicker. “God-dammit!! Where’s auto-focus when you need it!!”
I looked up from the little LCD screen. The pod of dolphins had gone. I scanned the
Mad Shop, Little India, Singapore
Business must be slow for this mad shop owner. Little India was also lovely and contained most of the budget accommodation options, though none of the hostels we looked at there were up to much.
sea for 10 minutes, but to no avail. Even the bloody duck had disappeared.
The net result of my days photography: I could possibly make the cover of “Sea Water Photographer Monthly” if such a publication exists. From the forty photos I took, there are two which vaguely show what could be grey blobs below the surface of the water...
…oh, and one distant duck.
I’ll get you next time dolphins… Editor’s Note
- No dolphins or ducks were harmed in the making of this blog.
- If you suffer from travel sickness and know of a remedy we should try, let us know.
- No matter how much music your MP3 can hold, it’s never enough. Everything we have sounds a bit stale after 9 months. Help us out. What’s your travelling music?
There are more photos below