Sometimes Madeleine Wolczko dreams of her runs up the mountainsides of the Sierra Nevada, or the weekends diving for abalone off the Mendocino coast. Her only travels these days are in her mind.
Wolczko, a graduate of the California State University Maritime Academy in Vallejo, has been stranded on a cargo ship in Shanghai since early February.
She is the second officer and primary navigator of the President Wilson, a container ship that left Oakland in January and now has become a kind of prison. The Chinese authorities have not let her or any of the crew members, all American nationals, disembark, not even dockside, while the ship undergoes maintenance delayed by Covid lockdowns.
As the monthslong quarantine lifted in Shanghai last week and jubilant residents descended into the streets, Wolczko sat in her cabin dispirited and pining for the day when she and the rest of the crew aboard the President Wilson will be able to sail again.
“It gets to a point where you really have to numb yourself to it, otherwise you spiral in this downward despair,” Wolczko said by telephone on Friday as she jogged on the ship’s rickety treadmill. Of the nearly 30 crew members onboard, she is the only woman.
She vents her frustration by kickboxing a punching bag in the gym. But it’s the mental blows that hurt the most, the false rumors about being airlifted, the many departure dates that have come and gone.
“It definitely feels we are getting bludgeoned over and over again and at this point are just kind of taking the hits,” she said.
She was supposed to be done with this tour of duty on March 18.
The crew has survived the ordeal with dark humor and Chinese government rations of vegetables: cucumbers, winter squash, carrots, broccoli and daikon.
And Wolczko, figuratively, has made lemonade from lemons. She has filmed, edited and posted mini documentaries on YouTube, titled “Restricted to the Ship.”
She hopes to raise awareness of mariners across the world during the pandemic who have had the same straits — marooned off the coast of Long Beach, banned from disembarking at the world’s biggest ports, homesick and often disconnected to the world.
“The big takeaway is that this needs to be in the public eye so much more than it is,” Wolczko said. “Just because we are so far out of sight, people don’t care, because they don’t know.”
Wolczko got her sea legs at a young age. From age 6 to 13 she lived on a sailboat with her parents. They sailed from Seattle to New Zealand.
She says she has no problem being on a boat for long stretches of time. Just as long as it’s moving. Being docked in Shanghai has been a “mental battle.”
Maybe the ship will leave this week. Or maybe that’s just another wishful rumor.
All she can do is keep up her routine.
Running, running. Punching, punching. Dreaming, dreaming.
If you read one story, make it this
San Francisco’s liberal district attorney, Chesa Boudin, faces a divisive recall in the famously progressive city, fueled by concerns about burglaries and hate crimes.
What we’re eating
How to make ice cream.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Jackie Leventhal, who recommends the Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Berkeley:
“The garden is devoted to the collection, display and preservation of the native plants of California. There are picturesque manzanitas, oaks, lots of bunchgrasses, and flowers. There are so many stone pathways to explore set in delightful landscaped settings, and an award winning rock garden and plantings.
I can’t wait to go back for more days of exploring, and contemplation in this uniquely California conservatory.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Kenichi Horie had made the solo sea voyage from San Francisco to Japan before, a 94-day journey in which he lived on canned food and rice. But that was when he was a relative youngster in 1962.
Now 83, Horie arrived Saturday in Kii Strait as the oldest sailor to traverse the Pacific Ocean by himself, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. His first journey six decades ago made him a national hero in Japan and inspired people around the world.
“When I first came here 60 years ago, I never imagined I’d be back here 60 years later,” Horie told a Bay Area crowd through an interpreter before he left.
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: What bioluminescent creatures do (4 letters).
Soumya Karlamangla, Jack Kramer and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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