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The freighter Buxstar arrived at Outer Harbour on time. At the container terminal gate the guard greeted me by my first name. He had been expecting me, the only passenger boarding here. My date with the immigration and customs officers who came to clear me went swimmingly despite the embarrassment my bag full of pills and lotions always causes me. I look like a travelling chemist shop.

I checked in with the security watchman at the top of the Buxstar’ s gangplank, signed on in the ship’s office and, hey presto, I was officially a seafarer. Hauling my bags up the stairway to the cabins, the officer of the deck asked if I wanted the owner’s cabin. Of course I did! It is big and would have cost me fifteen euros more a day if I’d had to pay for it.

The Buxstar is a huge German-built ship of 40,000 tons that was carrying 3700 containers (not fully loaded). Although she belongs to a German company, she is registered in Monrovia and sails under a Liberian flag. My accommodation consisted of a spacious day cabin, a small bedroom and a bathroom It had masses of storage, a fridge and a TV and DVD. One porthole had an excellent view of the lifeboat, reassuringly close in case of Abandon Ship calls. The other two were occluded by containers.

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I met the Filipino captain who introduced me to the cook, also Filipino. Hooray, this augured well for the food. The second officer was appointed my custodian. Another Filipino, as were all the crew, he was a fine, big, handsome fellow with a devastating smile that never seemed to leave his face as he gave me the ship’s safety tour despite the Disaster areas, lifeboats and distress signals that featured heavily in this adventure. There were the Man Overboard Rules Throw Life Ring. Call for help. Launch open life-raft. (Calling I could do okay, scream, in fact, but I wasn’t sure about the others). But he said that when the Abandon Ship call came, one of the crew would come to escort me to the lifeboat. Not if, when! Nice.

A trapdoor above the porthole in my cabin was pointed out to me. It was marked by a sign ‘Life Line’ and surrounded by a fluorescent strip so it could be found during light failures or dense smoke. It was a wonder I didn’t get off immediately after contemplating all the nasty things that could happen to me on this ship, but the Life Line was the worst. Its trapdoor opened to reveal a rope with which I was expected to attach myself, then jump out of the porthole and over the side of the ship. No thanks. I would look like bait on the end of a fishing line to a passing shark!

We left sometime during the night and I woke to a gentle swell and a grey, cold day. The young Filipino steward came wanting to clean my cabin but I fended him off. Give me time to mess it up first. It was his first ship and I was the first female passenger he had had to deal with. He was justifiably terrified of me.

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