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“My flight from New York City” – A Captain’s story

A hurricane was barreling toward the US East Coast. For Captain Lukasz Hajduk, that meant: Cast off and get out on the Atlantic as fast as possible! Below, the Polish seafarer speaks about a planned flight from New York City, curiosity and his love of the sea.

I took my first voyage at sea with my father. He was a captain, and he wanted to show me what life at sea was like – the nice parts, but the rough parts, too. For example, there’s the feeling that comes with being separated from your family for a long time. My father worked on a banana boat that transported fruit from the Caribbean to Hamburg. I was 17 years old and had just left school. I signed on as a temporary seaman.

To be honest, I didn’t like the first weeks on board at all. As a novice seaman, you’re at the very bottom of the pecking order on board, and it doesn’t really matter if you’re the old man’s son or not. I removed rust, I painted, I scrubbed the toilets. Another one of my tasks was to monitor the temperature levels in the cold rooms. I remember some scorpions – some rather large scorpions – that crawled over the narrow gangways.

The voyage lasted 35 days. Up to that point, I had only known affection for my mother and my football club. I was a pretty good player, a forward with Pogoń Szczecin (editor’s note: Szczecin is a large port city in northeastern Poland near the Baltic Sea). The coach even thought I could reach the professional level with a bit of luck. Today, I like to play with my son. But I learned something else out at sea: discipline and keeping work schedules. I learned what hard work is. That’s probably why my father wanted to take me along.

The longer the voyage lasted, the more I liked life on board. I got used to the tasks, got along well with the crew – and, above all, I enjoyed when we moored in a port. I love to travel throughout an unfamiliar country. I’m driven by curiosity. If the duty roster allows me to, I rent a car or a bike and set off. Or I organize excursions for the crew. I also understand this as a gesture to give them something back for the work they’ve done.

Lukasz Hajduk, b. 1974, comes from a family of captains. He is married and lives with his family near the northwestern Polish city of Szczecin. His favorite ports are New York, San Francisco and Hamburg.

Football or seafaring? After the voyage with my father, I had made my decision. In 1997, I graduated from the Maritime University of Szczecin. One of my first positions was with a Scandinavian shipping company.

Like a lot of seafarers, I’m a bit superstitious. I knock on wood before every voyage. It simply gives me a good feeling that nothing will happen. But, of course, that by itself isn’t going to do it. Neptune keeps a very close eye on whether we do our job diligently. I urge my crew to keep things orderly and to pay attention to details. A concatenation of small mistakes is what can cause bigger problems. Our Ship Management in Hamburg is a reliable and competent counterpart for us captains. I also like the nice tradition that we get a signed, handwritten letter before each big tour wishing us a good voyage. There’s something stylish about that.

However, there is also the saying: “If there were only good weather, everyone could be a captain.” In October 2012, we were berthed in New York on the “Seoul Express” when we received an email warning us about a super-storm. The recommendation was: “Run away and stay clear.” Hurricane Sandy, a storm of the most dangerous category five, was approaching the city. The authorities ordered all vessels to put to sea as fast as possible, as it would be too dangerous in the port. All ports along the East Coast were closed.

Our next stop on the route was supposed to be Norfolk, south of New York. I urged my crew to finish with the discharging and loading as quickly as possible. We were one of the last ships to clear the port. The “Seoul Express” is a Panamax-class container ship, with a length of 294 meters and space for 4,800 TEU. I sensed that the men were uneasy. No one knew what was in store for us. We sailed east at full power to get as far out into the Atlantic as we could. If everything went as planned, Hurricane Sandy would pass by our stern after our flight from New York.

The wind kept getting stronger. After midnight, the measuring instrument conked out at Beaufort 12 and, from then on, only displayed the “999” error code. Despite all our haste, we had still run into the remnants of this huge storm. With a diameter of almost a thousand nautical miles (1,852 kilometers), it was the biggest hurricane ever recorded on the Atlantic. The waves now measured 12 meters high, and they came from different directions – which was unpleasant. One slammed into our port side and severely damaged the bulwark. The steel was dented by the ocean’s might like parchment paper.

After a few hours, the sea crew calm. We changed course and sailed westward again, toward the coast. Sandy claimed the lives of 285 people and caused some $70 billion in damages.

The situation slowly normalized, and the ports opened back up. On the nautical chart, the route of our flight – which was almost a thousand nautical miles – looked like a long, flat rectangle. We moored in Norfolk.

Story via: Hapag-Llyod

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