On 20 November 2017, my father, my uncle Philippe Comeliau and I, load the bicycle, the trailer and my luggage in the back of a rented van. My father and Philippe came over to Marseille to greet me a last goodbye before I am to leave the European continent. We are expected at 9 am at the entrance of the Eurofos container ship terminal of Fos-sur-Mer, about 70 km away from Marseille, where I am to board Gisele A.
The restaurant of the hotel we are staying at is empty when we leave. Breakfast trays have been prepared by the morning team and have been placed on the bar of the restaurant, waiting to be served to the still sleeping guests. The sky is blue and the power of the wind that had been blowing for nearly a week now, has sensibly decreased overnight.
We arrive a bit early at the gate and wonder how things will go from now on. Boarding the ship, sailing on the Mediterranean, cycling in the desert and across Africa…
A few minutes later, Gilbert Braun, Benjamin Picanias and Andre Zakari, escort me from the gate to the pier where Gisele A is berthing. I am welcomed at the foot of the passerelle by Mete Koçar, Master Captain, and Emre Sahinturk, Chief Officer of the vessel. I receive a bunch of flowers and a picture is taken before my bicycle, the trailer and all my luggages are brought up the gangway by oilers.
Once on board, after being presented to the crew and enjoying a Turkish welcome tea, I am brought to my cabin. An en suite on the 8th floor, situated 5 levels above deck and 3 levels below the bridge. I am invited by Captain Koçar on the bridge to attend the departure manoeuvres with the pilot of the port.
Everyone plays a very specific role during this process. The pilot, who is detached from the port, comes on board to indicate the best route to take, depending on the underwater currents, the wind, the changing sea bottom, the tonnage, the power of the engine and the measurements of the sailing ship. He provides indications to the Captain and the Chief Officer, but doesn’t give orders. During the first part of the manoeuvre, the pilot takes position on the berth side bridge wing, next to the Chief Officer.
The Chief Officer controls the engine and the thrusters from the bridge wing and gives instructions based on the information he receives from the Pilot, the Captain, and the other officers and Able Seamen, who have taken position astern, on the prow and on other strategic positions on the ship and communicate with him through walkie talkies.
The Captain keeps an eye on all the navigational equipment providing the orientation of the ship, its speed, the speed and direction of the underwater currents, the wind, etc, notifies the Chief Officer about all those parameters that have to be taken into account. At any moment during the manoeuvre, the Captain may overrule orders given by the Chief Officer and take control of the ship as he is solely responsible for the ship.
At the wheel, an Able Seaman follows the orders given by the Chief Officer and relayed by the Captain. The Able Seaman usually only gets on the bridge during manoeuvres or at critical moments, to liberate the Captain and the officers of one of their usual tasks.
Then comes the communication from the engine control room as well as from the officers on deck through radio.
All this provides an interesting choreography. For instance, the pilot would suggest a starboard 10, meaning that the ship should change course of 10° starboard. If the Chief Officer agrees, he will shout « Starboard 10! » to the Captain who will repeat « Starboard 10! » to confirm he received the information, as well as to transmit it to the Able Seaman. The Able Seaman will then shout « Starboard 10! » a first time to confirm he received the order and then, once the ship has acquired the requested course, a second time. The information will then go back to the Pilot, the same way it came.
Being 230 metres long, 67 metres high, 32 metres wide, and 65.000 tons heavy, it is, at first, very slowly that Gisele A moves away from the pier, centimeter by centimeter. All in all, it takes more than 30 minutes for the vessel to exit the port. Once it has, the course is set towards Sicily.
Lunch is then served in the dining room. I am seated between Captain Koçar and Chief Officer Sahinturk along with the Chief Engineer and the Chief Electrician. The atmosphere is very relaxed and professional at the same time, and will remain so during the 8 days I am to stay on board until the vessel reaches Alexandria after a stopover in Greece.