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Monday, February 05, 2007 

MV Doulos - Part 1

Back in 1978 when I was a kid attending Sunday school, my favorite teacher left to start her new life as a missionary on board the MV Logos. The ship sailed around the world serving as a floating bookstore which brought literature and the Good News to the global community. I remember being excited at hearing the news that she would be spending up to 2 years on board the Logos. The notion of leading a seafaring life visiting ports around the world really appealed to this 8 year old, and I secretly made a decision to do the same one day.

Well, it's 29 years later and I've yet to give up my secular life to become a sailing missionary, but I did get to live out part of that dream 2 weeks ago when I hooked up with the sister ship of the Logos, the MV Doulos (Servant in Greek). It would have been great to visit the Logos but unfortunately, she ran aground off the coast of Argentina during a storm in January 1988.

The Doulos is currently the oldest ocean-going passenger liner in the world. She was built 2 years after the Titanic, which makes this grand dame 93 years old. She started life as the SS Medina in 1914 and has gone through a number of refits and name changes (you can read more about its interesting history here). In 1977, the ship was purchased by a German organisation Gute Bücher für alIe or Good books for All and renamed the Doulos; then, it joined its sister ship Logos bringing books to all corners of the world.

The ship is unique, not only for its mission, but it is crewed entirely by volunteers who come from all over and from all walks of life. During my time on board, there were about 320 crew members hailing from over 50 different countries. They spend up to 2 years on board though there were a number who have stretched their time to almost 4 years. The volunteers often come on board with little in common apart from their wish to do good works and their Christian backgrounds. When I say everyone is a volunteer, I mean everyone from the Chief Engineer to the Captain. Coordination and training of the volunteers is through OM International, with local coordination provided through OM Singapore.

I joined the Doulos while she was in the Philippines the afternoon before she was due to leave the port of Manila for Cebu. It had been a successful month-long stay in Manila with over 20,000 visitors to the book exhibition during the last weekend she was in port. There was a buzz of activity as the deckhands went about loading the ship, these vans travel with the ship and are used for transportation in and out of the port area.

There are departments handling various tasks to keep the ship going, and one may be assigned to the galley, engine room, welding shop, ministry offices etc... the list goes on. Every single person among the 300-odd crew members contributes to the smooth running of the ship. Here the deckhands have a timeout from loading the ship.

Pushing off from the berth in Manila during a sunset departure for Cebu.

Getting a helping hand from a tugboat. The Doulos is devoid of any thrusters which help modern ships manoeuver in the confines of a port and needs a push or pull in the right direction to get it going.

A member of the bridge crew keeping a lookout during our 2-day voyage to Cebu. Many of the volunteers who come on board have no prior experience of sailing on a ship, let alone operating one of this size. Most learn quickly on the job and pick up new skills along the way.

Preparing hot dogs for our first lunch at sea, this former lawyer from the Netherlands is 5 months into his 2-year stint on the Doulos.

Kim Chye was one of the Singaporeans I met on my week-long stay on the Doulos. The former caretaker had come on board with his wife and is almost coming to the end of his time on the ship. He has been engaged in full time ministry work for almost 10 years and finally convinced his wife to join him in the missions field when they came on board the Doulos in 2005.

With his past experience working as a welder in a shipyard, he was a natural choice to run the welding shop on the Doulos.

The welding shop produces metal parts and provides repairs that are required throughout the ship.

I spent quite a bit of time with Kim Chye during my short stay, not only because of his general hospitality, but also because of the continuous stream of great food which he and his wife often turned out from their tiny galley. Here everyone is cramped into their cabin for a popiah party. Everything was home made, down to the skin used to wrap the springrolls in. David, a retired dentist from the US, and his wife Nancy join other Asian volunteers to get their first taste of this local delicacy.

Stay tuned for the rest of the images from my Doulos trip. There are plenty more pictures of the vessel and her activities, enough for 2 or 3 more posts, I'd like to share.

Part 2 of my visit to the Doulos may be found here.


Interesting to see life aboard the ship. I visited the Doulos long aga in port Klang, before it ran aground.

It was the Logos which ran aground, not the Doulos. Thanks for visiting.

Wow, I never knew such an arrangement existed. I suppose the crew get free food and lodging? Must you be Christian to volunteer?

LMD - The volunteers require financial sponsorship. The daily rate is dependent on nationality and financial background but typically does not exceed US$10 per day. This is a subsidised amount, it costs about US$30 per day to host a volunteer. The rate covers all food and lodging. You should really write to OM if you need more detailed information.

As far as I know, everyone on board is Christian, though at many different stages of their walk with God.

great work buddy. So thats why u haven't been posting eh? I do love your shots but i sometimes wonder if you could perhaps try to take them with less distortion. It gets somewhat irritating after a while. I know it adds to the impact of a picture, but as a personal preference i've always thought that one should not let these "special effects" take away from your real skill and rather to capture stuff as they really are. Just my 2c worth and good job once again. Perhaps one day i'll follow your lead.

SK - Thanks for dropping by. I suppose that's one of the drawbacks with using an ultra wide prime like the EF 14mm. Whether it's a closeup or a wide scenery shot, there's always some level of distortion. I tend to use that lens as I quite often shoot from the hip and appreciate what an ultra wide will let me capture without looking through the viewfinder. Maybe I should look into some software to help correct such distortions.

Really interesting to read your blog! I remembered in 1985 when I was a P3 kid and I visited Doulos when it docked at World Trade Center. Bought my first picture bible there! J.

The trick to reducing distortion is really to just not tilt the camera. If u keep it more or less level, distortion on the 16-35 (one of the most easy lenses to distort) and the 14 (very well corrected actually) is really minimal! Its amazing. The wides will look truly amazing then!

SK - The method you described may work in certain situations but when shooting closeups with an ultra wide angle, a bit of distortion round the frame edge is inevitable. I'm personally not too bothered by it but I can well understand how some others may find it distracting.

I'm actually trying to move away from the 14mm and rely more on my trusty 35mm. The 14mm is really my lazy lens when I don't feel like shooting through the viewfinder (which is happening quite often of late!).

haha.... in deed we all move in that direction.... laziness! I completely commiserate with you on how its inevitable when we're using a ultra wide. I use a 16-35 myself and its just as bad if not worse. Still as you say, go back to that 35 1.4 of yours! nice stuff man, so when is part 3 and 4 coming out?

I'm looking forward to touring the MV Doulos when she visits Hong Kong in September... I have already hooked up with Emily from the advance team. And you never know, maybe someday I'll be aboard...

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