When waiting for wheels is hard to do

When waiting for wheels is hard to do


THE late, great and wholly wonderful Tom Petty wrote that the waiting is the hardest part. He knew what he was talking about. Late last year, a factory in Germany produced the latest addition to my stable. It was transported to the docks where it sat before being loaded on to a roll-on roll-off vessel, and setting sail for our shores. 

And so the waiting began. It was due to be on-water for just over a month before arriving at Port Kembla. After just a day or two the wait became excruciating. In fact, it was the most excruciating wait since that time I had travelled interstate on the pretext of work, but really so I could arrange a rendezvous with a good friend for later in the evening. 

That soiree held such exquisite promise that during the days leading up to it nothing could hold my attention for more than a few minutes at a time. I still have no clear recollection of meetings that took place on the day, as I contemplated the events to come. My imagination ran wild with the possibilities (when the moment arrived it was even better than I’d anticipated). Waiting for my ship to come in was proving just as difficult.

At the heady speed of about 16 knots – just shy of 30km/h – the precious cargo inched its way down the Spanish coast, past the Strait of Gibraltar and the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, along the coast of Morocco, past Senegal, heading to Guinea-Bissau and … and then, nothing.

In desperation I tried different phone apps, with the same result. I tried a different web browser, to no avail. I scoured the website of the shipping line, and read the shipping news of the destination port. Nothing – no news, no updates. In fact, there was no mention of the ship among the expected arrivals. This was starting to feel very ominous.

The sudden severing of communication was like being dumped by a lover with no explanation, and no further contact, effective immediately. My missing ship was driving me crazy. I could think of nothing else. What could possibly have happened? It seemed becalmed in the Sahelian Upswelling, drifting as aimlessly as I was myself. It appeared on the map as a yellow triangle. What were those orange triangles nearby? Do they have pirates off the west coast of Africa? 

For six long days, nothing. The ship’s estimated time of arrival at Port Elizabeth in South Africa stretched from two days to three days, and then four, five and six. 

As the wait became unbearable, suddenly news. A lucky search discovered the fact that the ship wasn’t heading to Port Elizabeth, but instead was scheduled to arrive at East London. 

And a website that provides limited information on ships sourced by satellite located it on the map – a tiny spec in a vast ocean, about 900km more or less exactly due west of the border between Angola and Namibia, just three days out from port. 

The relief was overwhelming – like the first text message from the presumed lost lover, saying all is forgiven, come back to my bed.

Now the waiting has started again, but without the sense of dread that something has gone horribly wrong. I’ll check less frequently now, and I know that when the ship leaves South Africa bound for Australia it is likely to traverse a stretch of ocean with poor tracking. Even if it goes AWOL for a few days again, it will be a far less stressful period. And I can resume dealing with other important things in my life, like listening to Tom Petty’s full back catalogue.

For the record, the best app for tracking ships turned out to be MarineTraffic - $A7.99 well spent in the App Store.