Tuesday, May 21, 2013

adventures on a cargo ship

My delinquent blogging lately has been due to the fact that I have been keeping a secret—actually, several secrets—and it has been easier to not say anything at all instead of taking a chance that something could slip.

But today I can finally reveal big news! About four weeks ago, I threw my hat into the ring (cannot... resist... bad puns) for the 1898 Hat contest sponsored by the Seaman's Church Institute. I really, really need an iPad for the farm business. That was the prize, so I figured it was worth a try.

Imagine my surprise when I found out last week that I had won!!!

Paige Sato is the director of Christmas at Sea, an outreach ministry of the Seaman's Church Institute that organizes the annual charitable donation of hundreds of handknit articles to mariners who work on river and sea to bring us—well, pretty much everything. I have knit for them for years; I made the TEAny hats for this group last year. Paige asked if I could come up to Port Newark, where SCI is based, to meet some mariners in person and get a picture for the announcement.

I went last Thursday. It is just a hop, skip and a jump up the turnpike for me, but it was quite the adventure.

Port Newark, visible from the NJ Turnpike, is off to the side of Newark airport. The mountains of cargo containers and fleets of tractor-trailers dispatched to pick them up were quite intimidating from my
car's vantage point.

I finally managed to locate the Seaman's Church Institute in the sea of containers. It is one of the few permanent structures in the landscape. When I saw the image of the cross in the waves, I knew I was in the right place.

Inside, it is a lovely, open, airy building with a beautiful chapel in the middle. There are computers, showers, a workout room, phones—items a mariner far away from home may need.

It is also full of neat sea artifacts, like this antique figurehead.

Paige's office is a knitter's dream. Didn't believe me about hundreds of handknits? All those cubbies are full of them, organized for distribution later this year. She starts giving them away in November. In case you are inclined to knit an item or two, you still have plenty of time! Patterns can be found here.

After a quick tour, we donned safety vests and hardhats and headed out to one of the ships in port that day, which happened to be a car carrier. One of SCI's missions is to visit every ship, every time it comes into port. Their commitment and organization boggles the mind.

Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take pictures of the ship, but it was HUGE, unbelievably huge, eight stories tall (maybe more??) huge, and chock-full of brand-new cars that were being driven off by longshoremen at a dizzying pace. We were led up to the galley: Chaplain Marge Lindstrom, Paige, and Justin, a law student from Charleston doing a month-long internship with SCI (plus me, of course, but I was taking the picture).

While we waited for the crew, who were occupied with an on-board inspection, the cook generously served us juice and fresh fruit. It was lovely hospitality; he was clearly pleased to have us there. Once they arrived, the mariners agreed to participate in a photo op using the extra knit hats I had brought along: two by me, and one by my ever-patient mother, who had test-knit the pattern and offered a wealth of tweaks.

They seemed to like them! But they soon got down to business. The chaplain said sometimes they need legal help, sometimes they just want to talk, but almost always, they need what she brought aboard that day: SIM and phone cards for their laptops and phones, so they can access the internet from their current location. Many of them wanted to know if the cards would allow them to use skype, presumably to contact their families at home. The mariners on that particular ship hailed from Russia, Ukraine and the Phillipines, plus one from Panama.

We sat and watched as the chaplain worked to connect them to the larger world. Though they travel the world more extensively in a month than most of us do in a lifetime, their experience of it is mostly limited to the vista from the ship's decks. Their jobs have the curious effect of cutting them off from the world while they criss-cross its oceans.

After a time, she ran out of cards and we had to return to SCI so she could restock and get back to the ship before it sailed at 4 pm, or perhaps I should say 1600. I enjoyed a nice lunch with Paige and her co-worker and then it was time to head back home to the farm—a stark contrast to the industrial port.

What a great adventure! Well worth the time it took to design the hat, though of course that was a pleasure as well. The thought that it will keep mariners warm for years to come, however, is probably the best return of all.


  1. What a great experience, Kris! Congrats on winning an iPad! Your kindness, compassion, and generosity touch many hearts!

  2. Congrats!! So proud of you. :) Can't wait to try out your pattern for such a worthy cause.

  3. Wow! Mazel tov! I would also love the pattern. You are something else. What a great secret :*)

  4. Enjoyed reading. You are quite the volunteer. Wow! What a great experience you had. Bravo!

  5. Congratulations! Can't wait to knit it!