Life on board ship

Early on Thursday morning, we finally embarked from Antwerp docks. It was snowing, and no horizon was visible as we stood on the bridge listening to the captain shouting readings – “20 starboard… 10 port”

We have been aboard for three days and are already getting accustomed to the different rhythms of life on board ship. Everything runs to a strict schedule: mealtimes are the same each day and the crew work in shifts. We have also been shifting through time zones, latitudes and longitudes, slowly making our way through the English Channel, across the Bay of Biscay, and along the Spanish and Portugese coasts. We are trying to get used to the rhythm of constant movement: the motion of the Sea has been rough most of the way, and our bodies are always attempting to balance.

The entire crew are Polish, apart from one South African who is training to be a sailor. The food is Polish too, which involves a lot of meat and potatoes, but we have managed to negotiate vegetarian options. Katy is braving the sailor’s menu!

We go up onto the bridge everyday to look at the charts and navigational equipment. The crew are not hugely communicative, partly due to language, but they are happy to show us the readings and our position. We travel at 16 miles per hour, a great big vessel ploughing slowly through the waves – we’ve still got a long way to travel.

Last night, the Captain invited us to join him and the first mate and his wife (the only other female aboard) for a drink in his lounge. We had Polish vodka and the cabin was filled with cigarette smoke whilst we discussed the benefits of smoking, eating, drinking, early death and life at sea.


Exercise – quite difficult. Due to rolling.

Daily horizon painting, photos.

Methodology seminar.

Sleeping a lot.

Reading Ricouer (also quite difficult)


Journey to boat and arrival on board

We travelled by train to Antwerp, via Brussels. Katy read Maus on the train and was transported between times, other trains and travels across Europe, people fleeing for their lives or already captured and in transit to camps.

We arrived at Antwerp station with all our motley cases and bags, feeling a little worse for wear, and were totally bowled over by the station building. Later we read the description in Austerlitz (WG Sebald)..

“Delacenserie (the architect) borrowed the main elements of his monumental structure from the palaces of the Italian renaissance. But he also struck Byzantine and Moorish notes. And perhaps when I arrived, I myself had noticed the round grey and white granite turrets, the sole purpose of which was to arouse medieval associations in the minds of railway passengers..”

At the station we were met by a disgruntled taxi driver who proceeded to issue warnings about the crews desperation for female company, so that our arrival at port was tempered by a certain wariness.

We weren’t on any lists and we weren’t expected. A man casually looked at our passporits and waved us on to the Green Cape, which was loading cargo. We had to climb a rickety staircase leaving our luggage on the dock where it was unceremoniously hoisted up by crane and dumped on to deck.

The Steward, Niko, then welcomed us with a little too much enthusiasm and showed us our cabin, and we breathed a sigh of relief (collectively). It had a lockable door. We ate in the Officers Mess and were informed the boat would not depart for another 24 hours at least.

So, the next day we wandered off into Antwerp through the snow, to explore. We found the contemporary art museum, the MHKA, which had a show on textiles and social fabric. We tried on parangoles (capes), by Helio Oiticica, and were inspired by his instructions.

We talked about where you first go in city, what you first look for, and what our ancestors would have looked for.

Later we found ourselves in a mixed ethnic district and stumbled across a Russian shop where we purchased Lithuanian black bread!!!

We headed back to the ship for our second night, and watched The Fugitive as cargo was loaded outside our window.


We depart…

Have spent days packing, trying to work out how to preserve and transport everything from starter culture to detail paper and ancient dresses. Resulting in a bizarre assortment of suitcases and luggage.

Tomorrow we set off for Antwerp to find the Green Cape (maybe its something we should wear?) and set sail for Southern Climes.

We have been given many tasks to do on board, as well as a jigsaw puzzle. We are ensuring a taste of home with earl grey tea and marmite.

We will be busy:

Learning to crochet

Fixing the world

Working out our Carbon Footprint (done it already, cheated)

Carrying out an action

Checking the charts

reading The Prophet

Writing a log book

Trying to discover what is in a container

Drawing the horizon


Recreating family photos in costume

Being Victorian lady watercolourists

Sending messages in bottles

Playing chess

Inventing new constellations

Finding out the crews favourite recipes

and other things too…