Arabian Sea:

We drifted off Salalah, or Sal Alah as it is identified on local charts, all day yesterday. It was hot (30+0 C) and arid. What breeze there was felt gritty. Anyone with any sense stayed indoors where it’s air conditioned. We were queued for docking space at the container port.

At sundown I was on deck drinking chamomile tea when I felt a slight shudder. There’s a compass repeater on each wing of the Nav Deck. They display in traditional analog and in digital readout. The digital compass reads degrees to the second decimal point, i.e. hundredths of a degree. According to it, we were turntable turning to the left ever so slowly, using bow thrusters. This began our stately procession into Port Sal Alah.

There was coastal fog and it was fully dark before we reached the breakwater. I am at a loss to describe adequately our gigantic, yet gentle maneuvering inside those close quarters. Imaging turning around an 18 wheel truck and trailer in a residential cul de sack, then parallel parking it between cars with about a half a car length leeway on each end. It was a thing of beauty. When we’d finished, I wanted to applaud the Captain, but feared being misunderstood. He’s a man of a certain gravitas upon which one doesn’t wish to infringe.

As soon as we were tied off, the great cranes descended on us like condors on a fallen bison. They worked through the night.

This morning, I awoke to find us gliding, just pulling away from the quay at Sal Alah. We were in port fewer than 12 hours. So long, Sal Alah. Howdy, Sea of Araby.

* * *

The Container Ship Ural was launched just seven weeks ago. She’s showroom new, but she has stowaways who’ve already claimed temporary residence – a flock of swallows.

I stood on Nav Deck and watched as they did their work above the refrigerated containers. They swoop and flutter in figure-eights, loops, and circles above the steel boxes, feeding on fruit flies from the cargo. I can’t see the flies, but the swallows can. The marvel is that this little cloud of migrant workers manages its job without mid-air collisions. They are wonderful acrobats, but who directs air traffic?

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Copyright Jack Kelleher © 2014.