Have you ever fallen for a ship? No? Neither had I. Not until last Saturday that is.
I’ve always been firmly in the camp that the sea is something to be next to, and never in it, or on it. I cite seasickness, scurvy and seaweed snagging itself between your toes as irrefutable proof of this maxim. As a consequence, apart from vomiting on the Seacat, breaking my nose on an ill-advised wind-surfing holiday, and having my Mum beating sand off my legs during my formative beach holidays in Bexhill, I have rather left the sea to do its own thing without me.
So imagine my surprise when on a seaside walk in the unlikely coastal town of Port Talbot, South Wales, my attention was drawn momentarily away from my lovely wife and fellow-walker, Jo, for as we approached the industrial harbour, entering the adjoining River Afan from the sea chugged a cargo ship. Stood high in the water anticipating its next heavy load from the adjacent Tartar Steelworks, it was as pretty a cargo ship as you could wish to see.
I insisted on us waiting for it to glide past where we stood, effortlessly negotiating what seemed to me to be potentially shallow water, while bearing a sense of duty and a smile and a slow ease, traits I like to count among my own.
Neither ungainly big, or pointlessly small, it was a cheerful ship of just the right size, a band of bright blue in a sandwich of orangey red. The masts were yellow to complete a maritime vision of primary colours. I could not help but gawp and be drawn into the romance of a life as a merchant seaman, travelling between the container ports of Northern Europe.
I prepared my low-spec phone and snapped away at the passing vessel of joyous burden. Jo took the opportunity to check her shoe laces.
The name of the ship came into focus. What would it be? The ‘Jolly Japer’ maybe, or the ‘Cheeky Chugger’? Neither. More evocative than these, it bore the title ‘Eems Sea’.
Back home in land-locked Newbury some hours later, my first Google-search was inevitable. I found the ‘Eems Sea’ to bear the following data:
AIS Type: Other
Year Built: 2010
Gross tonnage: 1862
Summer deadweight (t): 2600
Aha, Dutch, eh? Home of piracy, tulips and the great seaports of Rotterdam and Eemshaven. That would explain the optimistic colour scheme. I had no idea what an IMO/MMSI was, but they seemed respectfully big enough numbers to me. I deemed its tonnage to make it sufficiently weighty to bolster any hand of Top Trumps. I speculated how to pronounce ‘PHPM’ in Dutch and wish I ‘d been able to yell its callsign from the harbourside earlier.
The real-time ship tracking networks reveal its most recent stop-offs to be nearby Portishead and Avonmouth, but also Dutch Shiedam and Liverpool Bay Terminal, all within the previous 10 days. It also confirmed Eems Sea to be in Port Talbot docks until 6am next morning. I imagined the leery bandy-legged Dutch crew heading to the fleshpots of Port Talbot for tuns of Oranjeboom and crates of leerdammer and slagroom broodjes. How I envied them.
My search next morning revealed the jaded tars to be aboard ships, indeed off the Devonshire coast headed for Newhaven some 2 days later. What a life.
So, the ‘Eems Sea’ has a new stalker. Me. As I write it has passed the Isle of Wight, headed 82.6° – a jaunty heading if ever I’ve heard one, at a robust 10 knots. I sit typing this in Newbury library daydreaming of the sea shanties, keel hauling and brass monkeys that surely form part of such a voyage. Roll on Newhaven, roll on the waves. Keep safe ‘Eems Sea’. Til we meet again – Goede reis.
***UPDATE 14th JULY 2018 ***
OK, OK, so I’m starting to get worried now. Having left Newhaven for Rotterdam (due to arrive at midday on 12th July, http://www.vesselfinder has shown the Eems Sea to have been anchored in the North Sea some 10 nautical miles from the ort for 3 days now. Its bearing (currently 245.7 degrees) has shown it pointing in all sorts of directions during this time. It’s still shown as being due in Rotterdam on 12th.
What has happened?
Clearly there has been a mutiny, or an attack by the kraken. There has been nothing on the news so I must sit and continue regular on-line stalking… watch this space.
***UPDATE 18TH JULY 2018***
What a relief, fellow Eems Sea fans.
I’ve been getting more and more concerned as each thrice-daily check of our heroic craft showed it motionless and poised off the Dutch coast for 7 days past its ETA. However, I am pleased to confirm that tonight it appears to be moored up, some 30 nautical miles inland at Rotterdam, sidled up against the Arlau, an Antigua and Barbudan general cargo ship. Thank the Lord, the maritime mishap has been overcome. Whether a mutiny has been overthrown, the pirates subjugated by sodomy and the lash, or the ships biscuits replenished, we may never know, but we can all sleep safer in our beds knowing the Eems Sea is safely at harbour – until the next voyage.
*** UPDATE 27TH JULY 2018***
At ease, sailors. I have stalked the Eems Sea from Rotterdam, to Antwerp, then Ayr, and at bed time last night saw it was berthed at Raynes Jetty (I’d never heard of it either, its near Colwyn Bay, North Wales). This morning it’s chugging south booked for Rye, due midday sunday. I think it safe to assume that usual cargo-shifting duties are in place and that if the vessel had indeed been ambushed by monkey pirates, then the Eems Sea’s intrepid crew have prevailed.