Yesterday, on time, we arrived into Long Beach south of downtown Los Angeles. It was the most exhilarating way we have entered a new country so far, with the large containers stretched out in front of us slowly passing smaller sailing boats. The US pilot came on board about 14:00 and, with three tug boats, took us into port finally mooring around 15:15 behind another CMA CGM ship. We were allowed on the bridge and we ate lunch early to watch our arrival into LA uninterrupted.
One of the unexpected insights into life at sea was listening to the chatter on the radio. A couple of days before we had heard our first american voice, the coastguard. When sailing to the pilot pickup point, a lone sailing boat to starboard in the distance radioed us just to see if he came up on the radar, I think he fancied a chat. The pilot himself over the radio asked “is the Washington the largest vessel in the harbour?” and the pride of the officers on bridge was infectious.
What was not enjoyable was the immigration and customs which happened onboard. Gruelling, is a fitting description. They interviewed us both separately to compare our “story” of how and why and what brought us to arrive in LA by container ship. It was a horrible experience, I almost felt more nervous than before my PhD viva. The crew told us this officer was known for refusing shore leave for no clear reason. After what seemed like an age, sending us out and in again, we were eventually stamped for 6 months. Phew, we gasped, and then they told us they wanted to see our cabin for customs. With us waiting outside, with all our paper cash on us for legal reasons they said (out came the leftover vietnamese dong and chinese yuan), they turned the cabin including the mattresses upside down and went through our neatly packed bags. We finally left for dry land about 6pm after saying our goodbyes.
Now, thanks to a generous friend we made back in Beijing, we have been given a home in LA while they return home to family for christmas. Our only rule is to water the basil plant. From our base in Culver City, exploration of LA and then America will begin soon, after finding our land-legs again! We’ll also try to get back up to date with our blog posts including one about the cargo ship journey in more detail.