Date of Trip: May 2006
The only similarities between a freighter cruise and mass market cruising is the sea…well, maybe not.
I started thinking about taking a freighter cruise many years ago, but it was always in the back of my mind. Last year while on a Mexican Riviera cruise we were in the port of Manzanillo where I noticed a number of containerships in port with us. Late in the afternoon one of these ships got underway. I was watching it depart using binoculars when I noticed a lady walking on the bridge wing. She was taking pictures and I had the thought that she was a passenger. Well, that got me to thinking again about freighter cruising.
Around the first of the year I started doing some internet research. There are only 3 or 4 companies in the U.S. that deal with bookings (although individual travel agents do so). I eventually picked a company out of Connecticut called Maris Freighter Cruises (http://freightercruises.com/). The company is owned by a former freighter captain. All my dealings with this company were pleasant. Although not all of my concerns were addressed, none were of such importance as to be a real worry.
The key to freighter travel is and has to be FLEXIBILITY. I will address this a bit more later in the review, but suffice it to say, if you ain’t flexible, don’t even began to consider this type of vacation.
After much research and some discussion with Maris, I decided on a 5-week Mediterranean voyage onboard CMA CGM’s Arno. CMA CGM is a French company with offices around the world, including their North America headquarters in Norfolk, VA. I later learned that it was the 3rd largest shipping company behind Maersk and Mediterranean Shipping Line (MSC). The Arno is a 28-year old containership that was refurbished about 2000. I chose this particular voyage as it fit in well with other travel plans my wife and I had made for the early summer and because it was a Mediterranean voyage. Port stops would include Malta, Leghorn and Genoa in Italy, Marseille, France, Valencia, Spain, Lisbon, Portugal, then back to the United States for stops in New York City, Norfolk, VA, Savannah, GA and back to the starting port of Miami, FL. My wife would not accompany me as she thought she would get too “bored” with no activities. I believe she would have been right, at least as far as she is concerned as she always has to be doing something.
The Voyage Begins
When I first contracted this voyage, the sail date from the Port of Miami was April 21st. Due to the vagaries inherent in commercial shipping this date became April 25th. I would learn more of these vagaries during our voyage. This was also my first lesson in the flexibility that is required for this type of travel.
Each port the ship stops in has a port agent, however, the port agent only has a good guestimate as to the ship’s arrival time (and date) about 24 hours prior to arrival. This can be a bit tricky, especially if you have to travel a long distance to the port of embarkation. Some people have spent up to a week in a hotel waiting to board. Luckily, my brother lives about 90 minutes from the Port of Miami and I was able to stay with him. I also was able to track the voyage of the ship on the company’s website, so I knew that there was a delay. I made contact with the ship’s port agent on the original arrival date and he confirmed for me that, “It looks like she will arrive on the 25th.” He told me to call him back on the 24th for specifics. I did and was informed to be at his office no later than 2 p.m. on the 25th. The ship was not scheduled to arrive until 8 p.m., but I was required to get a letter from the agent and take it to port security to obtain a day pass in order to get into the secure area of the port. The port security office stopped issuing passes at 3 p.m., so I was looking at killing 5 hours. (Flexibility).
Around 7.p.m. the agent dropped me off at the dock area (berth) that the ship would be tying up at. The ship finally came into view as it made its way up the shipping channel about 8:15. I had situated myself about 50 yards away from the pier up against a fence that enclosed the shipping containers. Between me and the water were these mammoth gantries (used to load/unload the containers) and a bit of dock traffic. I felt safe and upon the advice of the agent would not move about until a crewmember came to fetch me (the ship was informed that I was waiting on the pier). About 9 p.m. or so, the ship was tied up, the gangway was in place and a crewmember approached me. He introduced himself as Gigi, the assistant steward. He took my luggage and told me to follow him onboard. Once onboard, I had to sign in the ships log and Gigi took me and my luggage to an elevator and up to the sixth deck which was the passenger deck. He then took me to my room and informed me that the Chief Steward would be there shortly. I started unpacking and within 5 minutes the Chief Steward came to the room and introduced himself. His name was Claudio and he would become a friend over the next 5 weeks. Claudio showed me the workings of the room and then to the passengers lounge. He then took me up to the bridge for an extremely brief handshake with the Captain. There my picture was taken for the ID I would be required to wear while in all ports while on the ship. Claudio gave me a quick tour of the facilities, then took me back to the room and departed saying that he was in a hurry as he had to get to Miami Beach to visit with a cousin, but that he would see me the next day. Breakfast was at 7 a.m. I finished unpacking and decided to wander around my new home. I quickly became lost, but was found by the ship’s cook who showed me the right door and how to get back to the stairs to get back to the passenger deck. By now it was 10:30 and as the day had been rather long, I took a cool shower and went to bed.
I got up at 6:15 the next morning after a restless night of sleep. The room was really warm and I could not adjust the a/c. I would speak to Claudio when I saw him later. After cleaning up, I headed down to the passenger dining room on the 4th deck. The night before Claudio informed me that there were 3 other passengers onboard. On arrival I met the first of them. Patty was a retired school teacher (special education) from Columbus, Ohio. This was Patty’s 10th freighter voyage over the past few years (over those voyages she has accumulated almost a full year at sea). She was traveling with a friend. The friend showed up 20 minutes later. Karen was a semi-retired teacher (theatre and drama) from Columbus. Both ladies are extremely delightful. Patty is a bit quiet and reserved, whereas Karen is just the opposite, quite gregarious and chatty. I would meet the last passenger later that day at lunch. The ship was loading/unloading containers throughout the evening (quitting between 3-6 a.m.) and continued to do so until about an hour prior to departure. The ship was scheduled to depart at 12:30 that afternoon, but did not leave until 7:30. Unfortunately, the passengers never got off the ship in Miami for a couple of reasons. First, because of the logistics. Cabs are not allowed in the container area of the Port of Miami, so a loooooong walk was the only way off that area. Although the port agent probably would have taken them/us to their office and back, the ships ever-changing schedule precluded even that. In all ports, the passengers were required to be back onboard one hour prior to departure (the captain even suggested two hours). In Miami, the schedule kept getting shifted back, by an hour at a time. I didn’t need to go ashore for anything and the other passengers later told me it wasn’t worth the hassle. I spent most of the day just watching the operations from the walkway outside the passenger deck. I later learned that this was not allowed for safety reasons. When we got to sea that evening, I was able to sit and talk with the Captain. He informed me that I pretty much had the run of the ship except for the engine spaces (unless accompanied by an engineering officer), the main deck after darkness AND any outside deck while in port except for getting on and off the ship. Whoops!!! At lunch, I met the third passenger. Louis was a retired defense contractor. He seemed brusque in his dealings with the ladies and with the steward (more on this later).
We were finally informed that we would depart at 7:20 p.m. with certainty. So after a quick supper, I headed up to the bridge to watch the ship depart the Port of Miami. The Captain had given permission for us to be on the bridge, but that we were not to interfere with the crew during this time and were to refrain from speaking loudly. No problem. Watching and listening from the bridge as a ship gets underway is a totally different experience that watching from the deck of a cruise ship. After departure and my talk with the Captain, I stayed on the bridge for awhile then headed back to the passenger lounge for a visit with the other passengers. About 10:30, I headed back to my room. I had forgotten to talk to Claudio about the excessive warmth of my room. I took a cold shower to cool off, then got in bed on top of the sheets. I would definitely talk with Claudio at breakfast as it was too uncomfortable to put up with for 5 weeks. If it got too hot that night, I decided I would find a place in the lounge. Wasn’t necessary. About 2 a.m. I woke up to a chilly room. The a/c had kicked in. I covered up with the blankets and promptly fell back asleep. I did talk to Claudio in the morning and he explained that in port the ship ran on its auxiliary engines and they did not supply power to the a/c units. When back on the main engines, the a/c’s eventually kicked on. The thermostat in the room was completely non-functional. That first night at sea I tried to open the porthole, but it was painted over and I was unable to even move the screws. I asked Claudio if this could be taken care of as I would enjoy fresh sea air during the voyage. He said he would have the Bos’n take a look. A couple of days later, it was fixed and I enjoyed fresh sea breezes from then on. My room had a side facing window/porthole (other staterooms had forward or rear facing portholes) and even when in rainstorms I did not get water in the room. Nice.
Long Languorous Days at Sea: Miami to the Mediterranean
There would be 12 days at sea before we arrived at our first port of Marsaxlokk, Malta. The days at sea were long, refreshing, entertaining, sometimes boring but always interesting. Once at sea I settled into a daily routine. It, of course varied from day to day, but pretty much held fast throughout the cruise.
I normally arose about 6:15 each morning. After performing my morning ablutions, I would wander up to the bridge and after checking out our position via the GPS, I would exchange pleasantries with the crew on the bridge. Throughout the cruise it was always the same two. The Chief Mate Gheorgi and the helmsman Leonid (?). They had the 4-8 watch, always. I would then head to the dining room for breakfast. During this part of the voyage, the only person who was routinely there at 7 a.m. was Patty. Breakfast was pretty much a do it yourself affair (i.e. Claudio was available, but did not serve routinely). There were breakfast foods available (cereal, juice, good coffee, breads, fruits, jams, yogurt etc.). A couple times each week, fresh croissants were available and most days a bowl of fresh boiled eggs. Once or twice a week, I would ask Claudio for an egg white omelet and he would have the cook prepare. Normally, my breakfast consisted of coffee, juice, a slice of toast with jam and yogurt or a boiled egg. The bread was baked daily and the breakfast bread was from the day before…great for toasting. We would normally sit around gabbing and would be joined by Karen on most days and Louis a couple of times a week.
After breakfast, I would head down to the first deck. From stem to stern the ship was 688 feet and at the stern was probably 50 feet wide. So one lap around the deck would equal a little over a quarter mile. I normally did 15-18 laps. Unfortunately, some mornings the crew was working on this deck and rather than walk around them or interfere with their duties, I would head up to their lounge where there was a stationary bike. I would do 50-60 minutes and some resistance training, so I did get in some exercise. I was real faithful to this routine at sea and only missed one day a week (on purpose). In addition to this exercise routine, I had made a pledge to never use the elevator except when absolutely necessary. Except for moving my luggage onboard and off and one other time, I stuck to that pledge. That time I had just got back from my 15 laps and had trooped up 5 decks when I was asked by one of the other passengers to show them how to get out on the main deck.
After exercise, I showered and got dressed for the day, then straightened out my room and bed. Then it was normally up on deck to enjoy the sun and watch the world go by. I would take a book with me, grab a lounge chair and find a nice sunny spot. I usually read two or three pages and promptly fell asleep. On the trip over there was very little to see in the form of shipping traffic. Occasionally we would spot some dolphin and on even rarer occasions a whale or two.
The first couple of days, I thought lunch was served at noon as that is what I was told by the other passengers who were on board before me. Around the 3rd day we were reading through the ship’s information package and discovered it was actually 12:15. Claudio seemed quite happy when we discovered this bit of info…made things a bit easier for his routine. Lunch was the main meal of the day and normally consisted of 4 courses…soup, appetizers, entrée and dessert. Some of the appetizers could serve as a main course. As the crew were all Romanian, so was the food. As they were all hard working sailors the food was quite hearty and heavy. Lots of meat and potato type meals. All the food with the exception of one entrée and one soup throughout the trip were extremely tasty and seemed to be enjoyed by all the passengers. I found one fish steak meal terribly oversalted. Now the one dish that each and every passenger passed on each time it was offered was Tripe soup. Even though I am an adventurous eater, I just could not make myself try it.
I discovered about a week into the trip that the crew took a siesta from 1 – 2 p.m. I decided that I would change my walkabout to this time. Worked out well.
After lunch and the walk, I would normally either work on my Bunka project for a couple of hours or I would take a book up on deck and read. If the pool was filled, I would jump in for 15 minutes or so. (Once we got to the Med, the pool was never filled again as we were in port most days, then when we transited back from the Med, it was just too cool. I also took a nap each afternoon (sometimes on deck with a book in my hand).
The evening meal was served at 7 p.m. This meal consisted of a salad, appetizer and entrée. After dinner fruits and cheeses were available. Wine was also served with lunch and dinner, along with water. Soft drinks and beer were even available at no charge. About a week into the trip, Karen brought a large book of trivia and the 4 of us would enjoy a few rounds of trivia each evening and occasionally at lunch as well. After dinner one of us would grab a DVD movie from the extensive library the crew had (and made available to the passengers) and we would enjoy a movie or two. I usually ended my night up on the bridge where I would enjoy conversing with the 2nd Mate Stephan for an hour or so. I was normally in bed by 11 p.m.
With only small variations, this would be the routine I would follow all of my days at sea throughout the voyage. The ship had a fairly nice swimming pool that would be filled when we were at sea. I guess the pool measured 30′ x 15′. Just large enough to get some strokes in, but, more importantly a refreshing place to spend some time. Getting in was an adventure. The water was drawn from the sea and being the Atlantic in early spring it was quite cool. Once in though, the warmth of the sun combined with the chill of the water to make it most pleasant. I probably swam 8 or 9 of the days on the way to the Mediterranean.
The cabin was quiet roomy. I would estimate it to be pretty close to twice the size of a standard cabin on a typical cruise ship. There were two single beds separated at the head by a shelf for radio, clock, etc. A good 5 feet separated the beds (which by the way were permanent and could never be made into one large bed as on cruise ships). There was also a combination desk/dresser. Approximately 5 feet long, it had 3 dresser drawers, a smaller junk drawer and a flip top make-up affair with a lighted mirror. There was a chair for this desk. There were three closets with plenty of space to hang clothes (unfortunately there was only one hanger). One of the closets contained another 3 drawers (similar to those on cruise ships). The cabin also contained 2 easy chairs with a table and stationary lamp in between. There was plenty of overhead canned lighting. Unfortunately, this lighting was all or nothing…either all the lights were on or none were. The deck was carpeted (old and worn but comfortable). As on a cruise ship, the restroom was en suite. The restroom was larger than most I have experienced on cruise ships and contained the toilet, shower and sink with a rather large medicine cabin above. All in all, a quite spacious and comfortable room. Speaking with Patty, most new freighters have much more luxurious accommodations and the rooms are two room + bath suites. Some are furnished with TV, DVD, etc. and fridges.
The passenger deck was on the 6th deck…one deck below the bridge and two decks above the dining facilities. Also located on this deck was the passenger lounge and pantry. The pantry contained a fridge and microwave, along with a sink and cabinets. The fridge was always stocked with 1.5 litre water bottles and juices, and occasionally fresh fruits. The lounge was spacious and contained two large (although very low) couches and 2 or 3 other chairs. There was also a table (for cards or games) with 3 chairs. The lounge was equipped with a TV and DVD recorder as well as a well stocked (by prior passengers) library. A movie library was maintained on the bridge. There had to be 300-400 movies and all that was required was a signature in the check-out log to view any of the movies. The movies were mostly in English (or subtitled) and pretty much ran in times from the 70’s right up to recent releases (Memoirs of a Geisha for one). The TV was used for watching the movies and while in port, local stations. The passenger lounge was a comfortable place to spend the evening with other passengers, or simply to sit and read.
As mentioned the passenger dining room was on the 4th deck. This room contained two large tables with chairs and cabinetry/shelving for the dishes and dry foodstuffs. There was also a mini-fridge. In addition on the port side of “our” dining room was a second lounge with couches and chairs. A sliding door from this room led to the officers dining room and lounge. Across the entrance from our room was the pantry and this led to the galley where the meals were prepared. On the other side of that was the crews dining room. While no where as luxurious as the facilities on a cruise ship, this space was comfortable and quite large…in fact one evening this room was devoted to a crew and passenger party. All fitted into the area comfortably.
These rooms constituted the passenger facilities, but as I mentioned before we passengers were allowed pretty much total access to the rest of the ship. A great gathering place for the passengers was the bridge wings. Here we would stretch out on the provided canvas lounge chairs and sun, read, chat or just nap. Here we observed life at sea of not only the sailors, but also of the vast ocean. Over the course of the cruise we saw dolphin, whales, flying fish and more bird life than I knew existed at sea.
On the second deck, there was a fully stocked “hospital” room. It was a nice size room with 2 medical beds and a lot of medical equipment and supplies. This room would be used for taking care of any injured or ill crewmember. There was direct satellite communication with shore. The Chief mate was charged with medical care of the crew and the Chief steward and his assistant were designated as 1st aid men. Extra training was given to all three. Luckily, this room was not used during our stay. I would have loved to have had this well stocked and sized medical facility on my destroyer while I was in the Navy.
The 5th deck contained the officers staterooms, but more importantly for the passengers it also contained the laundry. 3 washing machines and 1 dryer. I would get up at 5:30 and do my laundry once a week. Didn’t interfere with the crew or the other passengers and it worked well for me.
Normally, a containership has twenty-some officers and crewmembers. The Arno (I believe because of its age) had 33. The officers consisted of the Captain, Chief Officer, 1st Mate, 2nd Mate, Chief Engineer, 1st Engineer, 2nd Engineer, 3rd Engineer and a Cadet (the cadet was a qualified 2nd/3rd Mate who was on a check ride to learn the policies and procedures of CMA CGM. The crewmembers were led by the Bos’n and held positions of Wiper, Painter, Welder, Reeferman. The entire crew was Romanian. The voyage/route was an approximate 5 week circuit. Their contracts were for 3 such circuits or approximately 3.5 months. They started and ended their contracts in Lisbon, Portugal. At the end of their contracts, they were put up at a Lisbon hotel overnight, then flown back to Constanza (Constanta), Romania. There, they could take as little or as much time (within reason) before signing on to a new contract. Their contract was with CMA CGM, but they could specify the Arno. As an example, Claudio our steward was on the 2nd circuit of his contract. He told me that he would spend two months at home with his girlfriend and his beloved pitbull, then arrange for another 3 month contract on one of the ships of this circuit, then spend 2 months around the Christmas holidays at home again. When we were in Lisbon 8 or 9 of the crew departed and were replaced. Three of the 4 engineering officers were amongst them. I found this interesting and after talking with the Captain, found it was not at all unusual. In fact, when they arrived back in Portugal after my voyage, 16 would depart, including the Captain, Chief and 1st Mates. I guess I would go for continuity if it were my choice and never debark that many at one time, but then again, I don’t run the company!
The crew are hardworking, proud and a fun-loving group. At sea, they start work about 8 a.m., work until noon. After lunch and a 1 hour siesta, they were back at work until 6:30 p.m. They had a 15 minute break in the morning and the same in the afternoon. There are NO days off at sea. The engineers had a slightly different work schedule, and the engineering spaces were not manned throughout the evening hours (alarms to the bridge would sound any emergency). The deck officers (except for the Captain) worked 4 hours on, 8 hours off throughout the voyage, including in port. The Captain was on the bridge off and on throughout the day, but when approaching or departing a port, constantly. He was mainly bogged down in paperwork. The service crewmembers (Chief steward, Chief Cook and their assistants) worked the hours they were needed to provide to the needs of the crew. I think the Chief and assistant Steward had the worst hours on ship as they started before the crew (breakfast) and finished up after them (supper). In between they were cleaning cabins. I rarely saw them at work between lunch and supper though and on occasion would drop down to the dining room and enjoy a cold beer with them. Additionally, on the way over we set the clocks ahead one hour, five times. So, five of their days were 23 hour days. They truly enjoyed the days on the way back when we added an hour to the day.
Talking with various members of the crew about their jobs, one fact became readily apparent. It was just a job. I don’t think one of them I talked with (including the Captain) admitted to a love of the sea. I do not know, and would not ask, what type of money they made, but they did mention that life at sea was much better paying than any job they could obtain in Romania. Claudio said he was saving as much money as he could and hope to be able to quit the sea within 5-10 years and open a restaurant in his home town. His assistant, Gigi, needed the job, as, in addition to a wife and son, he was supporting his wife’s parents.
The crew were genuinely friendly. On my daily walks each and every one would greet me. Initially it was just a g’morning and a nod of the head. It soon became, good morning John, how is your day. Because of the numbers, it was hard to remember them all by name, but I tried and was mostly successful. I came away with the distinct impression that, to a man, the crew enjoyed having friendly passengers on board.
After one week of constant steaming, we passed through the Azores on 3 May. I knew we were getting close, but did not pay much attention until I started seeing crewmembers cranking up their cell phones. Once in range, they would make calls to their families, girl friends, etc. The evening before and the day and a half after the Azores we picked up quartering seas. This provided us with a side to side rocking motion. At times it was difficult to stand (had to brace constantly) and at night it was hard staying in the bed. I enjoyed it though.
Three days later on May 6th, we made our approach to the Straits of Gibraltar. It was readily apparent when I arrived on the bridge early that morning that we were no longer alone at sea. Whereas over the previous 10 days, we would only see an occasional ship, as I looked out I counted a dozen within eyesight and the radar showed many, many more. As we approached the straits this sea traffic picked up to include cross-straits ferries, fishing and pleasure boats and various and sundry other shipping. The crew are extremely alert during this part of the voyage. After breakfast I was up on deck again in hopes of getting a good view of the Rock of Gibraltar. Eventually, we did get close enough that I was even able to get a couple of decent digital photos. One interesting one shows a flowing cloud that seems to be sprouting from the highest peak. It gives the appearance of an active volcano.
As we made our way eastward through the straits and over the tip of Africa, the shipping traffic lessened. But we would normally be within either radar or eyesight range of other ships throughout our stay in the Med. Two more days of steaming and the ship altered her course to the southeast and we headed to our first port of Marsaxlokk, Malta.
Ports of Call (Europe)
As I have written before, flexibility is the key to enjoying a freighter and the port visits would test my flexibility, but I did roll with the curves thrown and enjoyed them when I could.
Marsaxlokk, Malta (8 May 2006)
In the early afternoon of 8 May, the island of Malta appeared off the port bow. A very slow approach brought us to the mouth of Marsaxlokk harbor. Marsaxlokk is a port city that is located (if my sense of direction is correct) almost directly south of Valletta at about 10 miles. Malta Freeport Terminal is the name of the port itself and my understanding from the Captain is that CMA CGM was a major player in its development. I stayed up on the bridge from the time Malta came into view until just prior to the actual docking as it was time for the evening meal. After the ship was held outside the port for about an hour, the pilot boat came out a couple of miles and dropped off the pilot, who would guide us safely to the dock. Just prior to leaving the bridge for supper, the Captain invited me to join him and a few of the officers in town for a beer. After dinner, the Captain, Chief Mate, Chief Engineer (both named Gheorgi) and I headed off for the approximately 3 mile walk into town. In town I cashed some US dollars into Maltese Lira (all other ports would use Euro). The four of us sat outside at a harbor side bar and had a couple of cool beers. The Captain told me that we could depart the ship anytime we wanted, but prior to leaving the ship in the morning to check and ascertain the time of departure. Both the Ch. Mate and Ch. Engineer are quiet fellows, but I did find out that the Engineer was married with adult children and would leave in Lisbon. The Mate was in his early 30’s was married and had a 3 month old daughter back in Romania with his wife. He was a bit wistful…missed them I believe. On our way back to the ship we passed a group of about 15 of the crew hanging out having a beer. Claudio jokingly offered me one. Found out the next day that they stayed out in town drinking until about 4 a.m. Geeez to be that young again.
The next morning it was a quick breakfast as Claudio had arranged for a taxi to take us into town at 8 am. We took a port bus from the ship to the exit of the port. The Captain told us we were leaving at 1:00 p.m., so we had to be back onboard at noon. We met the taxi and the driver took us to Valletta where we would do some sightseeing and shopping. I would look for a internet café and drop my wife a quick note. By the time we got to town we only had about 3 hours to look around as we had to meet the cab for the ride back at 11:30. With that short time, there was little to see, so we stayed as a group. We stopped at a travel office and obtained some maps and walked about, bought some souvenirs and headed back to the ship via our friendly cabby. In the short time available, I was unable to locate an internet café. Cost of the cab round trip was about $12 each. We sailed for Italy at 1:15…almost on time. I was on the bridge for sail-a-way and the Captain informed us that the ship would be skipping its port visit in Savannah, Ga.
Livorno (Leghorn), Italy (10-11 May 2006)
A day and a half steaming brought us to the port of Livorno. We arrived about 8 p.m. and as we were not allowed to leave until after customs and immigration had cleared us and the port agent arrived, we decided to leave the ship in the morning. Patty had found a card with the name and number of a taxi driver in Livorno and after an early breakfast, Claudio gave him a ring. The driver, Valerio, agreed to to pick us up dockside, drop Louis off at the train station in Livorno, then take Patty, Karen and I on a 3 hour tour that would include Pisa, Livorno and the hills overlooking Livorno. He would then drop us off in town for shopping, pick us up at an agreed upon time and deposit us back to the ship. This pretty much is how the day worked out. Valerio was college educated, spoke good but accented English and was a charming host. His vehicle was a late model VW 7 passenger Van and was quite comfortable. The cost for the day, including tip was about $50 per person. He dropped us off in town a little after noon and we agreed to meet him there at 4 p.m. Prior to dropping us off, we stopped at a ATM for me to get some cash, while the ladies went across the street to a money change shop to exchange dollars for Euros. Unfortunately, my ATM would not work as I did not have a European PIN (I think 6 digit). Fortunately, I had the foresight to bring plenty of cash to last me the trip, just in case. We ran into the bane of travelers…siesta. Actually, we first visited an open air market and made some purchases for the lounge and ourselves. Then it was on to a delightful restaurant for lunch. The ladies had shrimp scampi and French fries, while I had a seafood pasta in a spicy red sauce and a beer. The total bill came to 51 Euros which I put on my credit card and the ladies gave me Euros for their share. After, we walked around downtown Livorno looking at some of the shops, did a bit of sightseeing and stopped for a delicious gelato. We arrived to our pickup point a little early and at exactly 4pm Valerio pulls up to take us back to the ship. On the way back he told us we were lucky to have made the hire of him that day as there was only one, small cruise ship in port. He told us in all of Livorno there are only 75 or so regulated taxi’s and when the cruise ships are in port he is always, always busy. He also told us that the next day, 4 cruise ships were expected in port and we probably would not have contracted a driver.
While in Pisa, Valerio showed us the University of Pisa, or at least that part that incorporates the Piazza dei Cavalieri with its student housing, chapel and classroom building. The University of Pisa is, of course, quite famous throughout the world and has produced such notable alumni and faculty as Galileo Galilei, Pope Clement XII and the singer Andrea Bocelli, along with three Nobel prize winners, Giosue Carducci (Poet), and Enrico Fermi and Carlo Rubbia (Physicists). The town of Pisa has a population of 90,000 which is supplemented by a student population of 70,000. After the University, Valerio took us to the Leaning Tower. Although interesting, I wasn’t as overawed by this structure as I thought I would be, but was more fascinated by the Duomo and Baptistry located in the same square. May is apparently a good time to visit the area as there were only moderate crowds…Valerio told us at times the square is packed with visitors. Amongst the visitors this day were several groups of school children whom I would guess were in primary school. Little tykes who, for the most part, seemed generally interested in what they were seeing and learning. We took some photographs and walked around for about one-half hour. After leaving Pisa we headed back to Livorno and a drive thru of that city. It is a quite congested city at least in the town center. We drove thru the town, then along the Oceanside then headed up into the hills overlooking Livorno and the area surrounding it. From the heights of the hillside, Livorno painted a very pretty picture.
All in all, I considered it a well presented tour and well worth the price we paid for it. The Captain told us that we had to be back on board by 6 p.m. as the ship would sail at 7 p.m. We actually got back to the ship at 4:30 and had time for a nap before dinner. We actually set sail closer to 7:30, so after dinner I made my way up to the bridge to enjoy the transit out to sea. I believe this was the last time that the ship remained on schedule. We would be arrive in Genoa in the early morning.
Genoa (Genova), Italy (12 May 2006)
Originally we were scheduled to be in Genoa until about 4 p.m., which meant we would have a good 7-8 hours to explore the town. Prior to leaving the ship at 8:30, we were informed that we had to be back by noon as we were due to depart now at 1 p.m. So, my only desire was to find an internet café near the port or better yet a telephone exchange in the port. Well the phone exchange was closed for repairs and I never located anything that resembled an internet café. First off, I had a little problem navigating the port area and got lost trying to walk into town. Once I turned myself around I headed out of the port and crossed a major thoroughfare into the heart of the port area. Lots of walking, all kinds of shops and stores, but nary an internet café. After this fruitless search, I found a bar and had a nice cold beer at 10:30 in the morning — frustration was working its way in. After the beer I headed back to the port and found a restaurant at the entrance of the port. I was trying to ask the guy at the counter about a telephone, he understood telephone, but said no. We were having a serious language problem (my fault as I left a phrase book in the cabin). A customer interrupted and in almost perfect English, told me that there was indeed a phone exchange, but that it was undergoing renovations and was closed for 2-3 days. Back to the ship.
At lunch, the ladies said that they had caught a bus right outside the gate and spent a couple of enjoyable hours in old Genoa. After lunch, I mentioned to Claudio my frustration about the internet café and/or phone exchange. He told me not to worry, because at our next port (Fos sur Mer) there was a seaman’s club with both facilities — great. I headed up to the bridge for the departure and learned that we would not be departing at 1 p.m., but perhaps at 2 or 3 p.m. We actually did not get underway until 6 p.m. They loaded containers until 5 p.m. Here is where flexibility came into play. Had I had a cell phone, I could have contacted the ship and stayed out 4 more hours except for the fact that the sail-a-way time was changed hour to hour that day.
Fos sur Mer, France (13 May 06)
Fos sur Mer as a port call for passengers is a big zero. But Claudio and the Captain had both informed me of that fact well before our arrival, so there was little disappointment. We were to pick up 6 new passengers here and the interpersonal dynamics proved to be quite interesting (more on that later).
I awoke that morning at 3:30 a.m. and was unable to get back to sleep, so I dressed and headed up to the bridge to watch our approach to Fos sur Mer (Fos). The Captain was already on the bridge and he welcomed me and offered me a cup of coffee. I spent the next 3 hours enjoying the approach and talking with this very interesting man. The approach was interesting. We were not headed in a southerly direction, so the coast was off the starboard side. Originally, some lights could be seen in the hillside. As the morning fast approached, more lights became apparent as the citizenry awakened to a new dawn. Fos is located 40 kilometers south of Marseilles. As the morning light increased the town of Marseilles could be seen in the distance under a cloud of smog. This was not an unusual phenomena as I noticed it on our approach to all the port cities in the Med and in the U.S. A filthy haze of smog could be seen over them all. Hopefully, someday in the future, we inhabitants of earth will learn how to burn cleaner fuels. I have little to no problems with allergies, but by 6 a.m. or so my eyes were burning.
The approach to Fos was slow but steady. The pilot came aboard for the last hour of the transit and we arrived dockside at approximately 7 a.m. Once the pilot was on the bridge, I made myself scarce and stayed out of the way. After breakfast, we passengers just lazed around deciding that we would not go off ship until after lunch. The distance into Marseille and the cost to get there had made us decide to just use the facilities of the Seaman’s club and stretch our legs on land. The new passengers arrived throughout the morning. Pierre, a French born American citizen was first to board, followed by Peer and Chantal, Belgian born Frenchmen, then Pierre (2) a young French executive traveling on his own to the U.S. where he would meet up with his wife for a long 4/5 day weekend in New York City. Last to board was a delightful French couple Alain and Nicole. He was a retired French Army General. (Please note that 3 of the 4 men had derivations of the name Pierre which made it really easy to remember their names). After lunch, 4 of us passengers headed off to the Seaman’s club for a beer and in my case to try to make some contact (email or phone) with my wife. After a couple of wrong turns and buildings we made our way to the club only to see a sign stating that the hours were 16:30 to 23:00. This would not do as we were to be back on board by 16:00 (4 p.m.) for a 5 p.m. departure. So once again, my plans to contact my wife were thwarted by bad timing. With nothing else to do, we headed back to the ship. I spoke of my frustration with the Captain (not complaining, but just in conversation). He told me I could send an email from the ship and to see him the next morning when we were at sea. The next morning after breakfast, he took me to his office and let me use his computer and account to send a message to the wife telling her all was well. The only problem was the European keyboard, but I figured that out.
The day in Fos was spent loading, unloading and re-arranging containers and other cargo. In Miami, the ship had taken on as cargo a rather large pleasure/fishing boat. It was carried on the fantail (rear) of the ship and pretty much stretched from side to side. This boat was off-loaded in Fos and was an interesting evolution in itself. The gantry operator positioned it over the boat and two heavy-duty canvas straps were placed fore and after under the keel of the boat and with a series of maneuvers, it was gently placed in the water directly behind the Arno. This whole evolution took close to an hour and through binoculars we watched the owners as their “baby” was transferred off the ship. Nervous does not describe it.
Our 5 p.m. departure was once again delayed and we would leave after supper around 8:30, but again it was an hour by hour delay so no chance to get off and run to the Seaman’s club. It would really not have made a difference as we continuously checked the building with binoculars and it appears if they never opened the facility that day. We would spend the next day and a half at sea on our way to Valencia.
That evening at supper was the first opportunity for all the old and new passengers to get together and get to know each other. This evening would find them all to be delightful individuals. The two couples were closest to me and we were able to talk quite a bit. Luckily Peer spoke fair English and he acted as translator. Alain was not as conversant, but with the help of a translation book and Peer’s help, we also were able to keep up a conversation. Neither of the ladies spoke English, but once again Peer’s translation efforts paid off. Both Pierre’s were bi-lingual and conversation with them was easy. All in all it was an eclectic group that met daily in the dining room.
The next day Peer asked to join me on my walk. We walked together for awhile but it soon became apparent that he could not keep up with me. He told me to go on ahead. I would pass him a couple of times during the walk. Young Pierre was a jogger and he zipped by me twice during my walk. This would be our routine for the remainder of the voyage (except for rough seas days). Peer and I quickly became friends and we correspond to this date. I have also had correspondence with young Pierre.
Valencia, Spain (14-15 May 2006)
We were due to arrive in Valencia around 3 p.m. on Sunday the 14th of May and indeed we did. Unfortunately we were made to drop anchor and lay to off the port for 3 or 4 hours. Although we were never given the official reason for this, we passengers suspected it had to do with the America’s Cup challenges that were being held that day. The Luis Vitton Cup and the America’s Cup will be contested off Valencia next spring but there apparently a number of challenges contested prior to that in the waters off Valencia. After watching some of the action thru binoculars throughout the afternoon, we upped anchor about 7 p.m. and were dockside about 9 p.m. We knew this day was shot as it would take another hour for customs and immigrations to clear the ship. So we made plans to visit the city the next day.
Our original plan had been to get a cab to the central city where we could get a tourist bus (12 Euro) and enjoy a 2 hour tour of the city. But once again, the vagaries of this type of travel jumped up and bit us. We were informed we had to be back on board at noon for a 1 p.m. departure. After breakfast in the morning 6 of us headed off to the port entrance where taxis had been arranged to take us into town for a visit. On arrival at the entrance, we discovered only one taxi. That driver made a call for another taxi and we decided to split up. Young Pierre would accompany Karen and Patty, while I would join with Peer and Chantal for the day. The other group got the first cab and we awaited the 2nd one. Fifteen minutes later a cab pulled into some office spaces across the entrance from us and dropped off a passenger. As he was leaving, I waved to get his attention and he came up to us. He was not the cab who was called for us (but he was supposed to be there in 5 minutes). Again the language barrier was raised, but fortunately, Peer could speak a little Spanish, so we got by once again. We hopped in the cab with Peer in front (so he could converse safely with the driver) and Chantal and I in back. Then enjoy the day and catch a cab back. The ride was about 20 minutes. Ten minutes into the ride, Peer turns and asks me if we should try to hire him for a couple of hours. Why not? A price of 20 Euro per person was agreed upon and the driver Luis led us on a nice but quick tour of the city. We stopped for half an hour at a beautiful square (?? Del la Ria). The square was surrounded by apartments, restaurants, a beautiful Catholic church and various buildings. It was the feast day for the church and the square was gaily decorated in anticipation of the celebration to be held later that day. We enjoyed a coffee (beer for Chantal), then walked around and enjoyed the time, the place and each other’s company for two hours then headed back to the ship. On arrival back at the port we tip Luis 5 Euro each for his wonderful service. Unlike the morning when we had to walk from the ship to the port entrance, as soon as we got inside the port a bus picked us up and we were whisked back to the ship.
After lunch, I headed to my cabin for an afternoon siesta. When I awoke about 3 p.m. (expecting to be at sea), we were still tied up. Nothing new! I was just a little miffed and headed up to the bridge. The captain quickly noticed that I was upset and drew me out on the bridge, where he explained that the port agent had screwed up as to departure time and soon after we left the ship that morning, it had been determined that we would not depart until 6 p.m. We could have had 3 or 4 more hours to explore this beautiful city. Flexibility. We did depart Valencia at 6 p.m. and watched some of the racing yachts on our way out. We would be in Lisbon in a day and a half. Hopefully we would have some quality time in that port, but I was not going to hold my breath.
The next day while still in the Mediterranean, the seas were calm. About 10:30 I was in my stateroom working on my Bunka project. I got up to stretch and looking out my porthole, I noticed a disturbance in the calm waters. It was a large school of dolphin cavorting off our port beam. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say there had to be hundreds. (I later looked this up on the internet and confirmed that they would travel in groups this size where they are called herds or aggregations) I headed up to the bridge and grabbed a set of the always present binoculars and watched in amazement as it became apparent that this school was even bigger than I thought. It appeared to stretch the entire length of the ship and out a hundred yards or so. It was huge. They hung with the ship awhile then disappeared. Some of the other passengers had seen them as I knocked on some doors on my way up to the bridge.
Later that day we headed back thru the Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic, but because of the heavy haze there is really nothing to write about, so I won’t.
Immediately on departing the Mediterranean, the seas picked up and white caps appeared. We ran in these seas until suppertime when once again the seas calmed down to a gentle flow.
That evening Peer, Chantal, young Pierre and I sat around for over an hour after dinner just getting to know each other. We had a few glasses of wine (too many) and Claudio fixed us a couple of drinks (citrus mix and chilled vodka (almost a slush). Afterward Chantal, Peer and I adjourned to the lounge where she brought a bottle of vodka and we commiserated for a while longer over screwdrivers. Needless to say, I did not exercise the next morning. It was a most pleasant evening spent with a most pleasant couple.
The next morning as we steamed towards Lisbon, Alain, Peer, young Pierre and I were given a approximately two hour tour of the engine spaces conducted by the 2nd Engineer. I am an absolute zero when it comes to things mechanical and his English was not to good, so I did not know all that I was looking at. Nevertheless, I was impressed by what I saw. Remember that the ship is almost 30 years old yet the spaces were clean and extremely well maintained. The spaces are huge. They run the entire length and breadth of the “castle” and extend 5 decks below the main deck. Like most engine spaces on ships, they were quite warm (but not as uncomfortable as on some Navy ships). There was an air conditioned space for doing paperwork, etc. After the tour I was talking with the Captain and he told me that when we were in port in New York a prospective buyer was coming onboard to take a look-see to buy the ship for scrap.
Lisbon, Portugal (18 May 2006)
Finally, a port with quality time to enjoy. When I awoke in the morning and made my way to the bridge, I could see land dead ahead maybe 10-12 miles away. Even though we were moving slowly, I was told that we would be tied up shortly. Ahhhhh, but once again, the gods of freighter travel intervened. After breakfast I noticed that we were stopped dead in the water. Up to the bridge and no explanation. But, it soon became apparent just why we were stopped. A formation of Portuguese warships was slowly making it way out of the port of Lisbon. There were 2 frigates followed by an oiler/supply vessel which in turn was followed by one last frigate. Almost immediately after they past us, we started up again and were approached by the pilot boat. The transit into Lisbon is stunning. Running directly at land, the ship turned to starboard and headed for the famous bridge of Lisbon. A slow transit takes the ship by the lighthouse to starboard, then the beautiful Monument of Discoveries to port, then under the magnificent bridge and directly across the bridge over the Tejo river from the port is the famous Christ the King statue. Awesome!
We tied up at about 11:00 a.m. and were ashore by 11:30. The ship was not scheduled to depart until 11 p.m., so we had plenty of time to spend ashore. The walk to the port entrance was short and the same 6 people as in Valencia once again headed of to explore. Alain and Nicole were to depart in this port and head back to France for a grandchilds First Communion on the weekend ahead. We would miss their company. Pierre the senior never did leave the ship.
Once out of the port and across a small bridge we could not make up our mind which way to head. Peer and I thought to the left. Karen and Patty thought straight ahead. So once again we split up the same as in Valencia. 15 minutes later, Peer, Chantal and I thought we had chosen wrong. We decided to hail a cab. But, not in Lisbon. Apparently you have to call and hire one. So we kept walking. Soon we came to an area almost directly under the bridge we had passed under on the ship. Peer, having been in Lisbon before, thought it looked familiar and said, “Yes, yes, this is the place”. Sure enough, just to our left near the river we saw the backside of what appeared to be a restaurant. Indeed it was. In fact, it was the first in a row of 6 or more riverside restaurants. We decided to eat at the first one we had seen, a place called “The Irish Pub”. We sat down and enjoyed a cold beer while perusing the menu. The waitress, a cute Polish lass with stunning blue eyes, took our order. Chantal and Peer enjoyed a steak and I enjoyed a Portuguese hamburger (minus the bun). We shared a bottle of Mateus and I believe Peer and Chantal may have had a dessert. I know the meals were not expensive, but as I went to pay for the lunch, Peer said, ” John, because we are in Europe, your lunch is on us”. I could not refuse this gesture, and hoped to be able to repay them when we arrive in New York. After lunch we asked the waitress if she would call us a cab. She did and gave us the contract number for when the cab arrived (good thing as another tourist tried to grab the cab from us but we gave the cabby the right number). We asked the cabbie to take us to “El Englis Court”, which is something akin to an upscale super Wal-Mart. This cabbie, also named Louis as the cabbie in Valencia, spoke no English, but was fluent in French (how lucky can we get). Once again, we decided to hire him. We were to be dropped off at “El Englis Court”, given 45 minutes to shop, then we would get a 3 hour tour of Lisbon. The price was once again 20 Euro per person (we also tipped him 5 Euro each).
Louis dropped us off at the “Court” and Chantal accompanied me to look for some gifts for my wife. I sort of needed a woman’s opinion. I settled on a couple pair of Majorcan pearls, some table linen and linen rings. The store itself was quite interesting. As I mentioned it was an upscale version of our Super Wal-Mart, but instead of being a horizontal building (one floor), it was vertical with, I believe, 7 floors. The basement was devoted to groceries, etc. Unlike Wal-Mart, there was a liquor section where I picked up a nice moderately priced bottle of Port for after dinner in the dining room. After our shopping trip, we found Peer and Louis waiting at the cab and our 3 hour sojourn of Lisbon commenced. He drove us all over Lisbon and we stopped at a small square and had coffee and did some souvenir shopping. Past impressive churches and cathedrals, stopping at a couple of Plaza’s for photo ops. Unfortunately, I forgot my small journal and tried to commit the names of these places to memory. I failed miserably. Another unfortunate thing was that I forgot to recharge the battery on my digital camera and it ran out of juice as we were docking. As the battery was still charging, I left the camera on ship. Chantal and Peer later burned me a disk of their photo’s from that day. I wish I had been better prepared for Lisbon as it is a lovely city and has so many beautiful sights.
At the end of the tour, we stopped at a seaside bar and the three of us invited the driver to join us for a beer. He had a short one, while the 3 of us enjoyed on tall, cold beer. As the afternoon was proving to be quite warm, it was a refreshing stop. Louis took us back to the port and with some convincing at the port authority was able to drive us right to the ship. Nice touch.
We could have stayed ashore until 10 p.m., but we had done a lot of walking and were a bit tired. We got back to the ship in time to clean up and head for dinner. After dinner Peer quickly hurried to the passenger lounge to watch the finals of the European Soccer. A match between and English team and Barcelona. He is quite a “football” fan.
After dinner, I went up to the bridge and had a long conversation with the 2nd Mate Anton (Tony). We talked about his life at sea, my life at sea, life at sea in general and also about our families. He explained a lot about container ships in general and the Arno in particular. He will take the test for 1st Mate this summer and is quite confident that he will have a successful run at it. He is a graduate of a Maritime academy. He does have a special lady back in Romania. Tony is 28, but looks to be 18. I guess this is a bit because he tends to chubbiness and has a bit of a cherubic face and a buzz cut. I was never fooled by his appearance though. He was always “the professional” I mentioned the “dolphin” experience of 2 days prior. He informed me that the gathering was much bigger than I thought it was. The ship picked it up on radar or some other instrument and it measured approximately 650 X 150 meters (2100 X 500 feet). It was huge. He said none of the bridge officers had ever encountered one near as large as that before. Interesting. I watched out over the pier as the crew meandered back to the ship and saw the Captain head off into town about 8 p.m. We must have been quite engrossed in our conversation as all of a sudden it was almost 11 p.m. During our conversation, the Mate carried on his duties answering bells and alarms, etc.
I went to bed (again with the warm room), but awoke a little after midnight as we were getting underway. I just opened the porthole and watched as we went under the bridge and I said a quick prayer to the Christ for a safe voyage back across the Atlantic. It had been a nice 9 day visit to the Mediterranean and western Europe. I enjoyed it all and only regret not having had quality time in all the ports.
Back Across the Atlantic and the Voyage Comes to a Close
The voyage back across the Atlantic was much like the one over with the exception of the weather. After once again passing thru the Azores, our route took us north of the route used coming over. The temperatures were decidedly cooler. Consequently, the pool was never filled. My days were spent pretty much the same as before, but I had much more interaction with the other passengers throughout the day. I will talk about them a little later in this journal, but for now I just want to mention that with only one exception we all got on together quite well. We had some serious and some not so serious discussions. Most of our days were spent lounging on the bridge (but in long trousers and a light jacket, instead of shorts and a shirt) just watching the sea go by, or reading, or napping. Terribly enjoyable (although some would find it boring).
As on our way over, we passed through the Azores and again, as on our way over the crew could be seen around the deck with their cell phones popped in the ears talking to loved ones back in their homeland.
After the Azores, it was 5 days or so until we would reach our first port of call in the United States, New York. I was looking forward to visiting the “Big Apple” and had made tentative plans with a cruising buddy to possibly get together. However, the vagaries of blah, blah, blah. It was also during this part of the voyage that I decided that I would change my plans a bit and disembark the ship in Norfolk, VA, rent a car and drive home. There were a few reasons for this. One was that we were bypassing Savannah, so I would miss visiting that lovely city anyhow. Another reason was just the logistics of getting off the ship and making my way to an area where I could be picked up in Miami. But the deciding factor for me was the ever increasing obnoxious behavior of one of the passengers.
A couple days out, Claudio told us that there would be a party that night for the crew and passengers in our lounge at 6 p.m. It was the feast day of the cook’s name. Sounded like a good reason for a party to me. At 6 that evening, we made our way to the dining room. The lounge and dining room were decorated and a spread of hors d’oeuvres and drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) were laid out. Most of the crew were there along with all the officers not on watch. The captain and Chief Engineer came in and the party got in gear. The Chief Engineer was new on board, having just arrived in Portugal. He was much more outgoing than the previous one. He was also the proud father of a PhD. His son was a professor of computer technology at a university in Romania. It was a nice party and broke up about 8 p.m. It was a break for the crew and a chance for the passengers to meet and mingle with them. I believe all of us enjoyed the experience (crew and passenger alike).
New York (25 May 2006)
Early on this morning I headed up to the bridge to catch my first glimpse of America since leaving. Soon we approached land on our starboard side. This, if my geography is correct, would be Long Island. A slow transit took us towards the Ambrose light. Soon thereafter, the pilot boat approached us. Once in cell phone range, I FINALLY CALLED MY WIFE. She was a little upset that I had not called before, but did understand. After calling her I started looking for my cruise buddy’s contact numbers. I looked for over a half hour before giving up. I could not find the piece of paper.
The transit would take most of the day as we journeyed up the Hudson River under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, then thru the Kill Van Kull tidal strait under the Bayonne Bridge to Newark Bay to Port Elizabeth where the container facilities were located. We would tie up about 4 p.m. But, once again Customs and Immigration held us up and a lackadaisical Port Agent combined to make this a poor port call. One of the crew had to see a doctor and the port agent was asked to arrange transportation for the crewmember to the doctor and us passengers to the Seaman’s Club, where we could make plans to possibly get into NYC. The port agent said no problem as a bus was bringing two new passengers to the ship and he would drop us off at the Seaman’s club before taking the crewmember to the doctor. Unfortunately, he neglected to tell the bus driver this as he dropped the two new passengers off and promptly left all of us and the ill crew member stuck. Now the Seaman’s club had a shuttle that ran every half hour between the port and the club, unfortunately, between 5 and 6 the driver was on break. Of course it was just after 5 when the bus deserted us, so we had to wait until 6 p.m. The van arrived and at our request delivered us to a huge outlet mall where young Pierre finally caught a cab to meet up with his wife. Because of the hour and our lack of any real knowledge of transportation, we decided to forgo a trip into Manhattan. Peer, Chantal and I stopped at a Chili’s and had a tall, cool beer. Then, as I had a couple of things to pick up, we separated and agreed to meet in an hour back at Chili’s for supper. I found what I needed then just walked around this huge mall. We met up for dinner. I wanted to pick up the bill because we were now in America, but Peer would not allow it. We caught the Seaman’s Club van back to the ship and were back onboard about 11 p.m. A rather disappointing visit to New York as we had to be back onboard by noon the next day. To make it even more disappointing, the next day at sea, when I opened up my journal, there in a slot on the inside of the journal was the sheet of paper with my cruise buddy’s phone contacts. Now I don’t know if we could have hooked up while I was there, but I know she was expecting my call.
The next day broke overcast and rainy. At breakfast the next morning we met the two new passengers. Both were French and were on their way back to France after a couple of months in the States. They were not traveling together, yet they were. Let me explain. First off, I did not write down their names but both were in their 60’s…one man, one woman. They had came to America on one of the other CMA CGM ships on our route. The man would take a few weeks and travel around the country by train. He never said so, but I got the impression he did not like to fly. The lady had recently been widowed and was visiting with her daughter in New York. They would now head back to France once again, on the same ship.
The ship was docked within a couple of miles (probably less) of the Newark International Airport. I spent most of the morning watching planes take off and land or watching other container ships arrive and depart. Then it started to rain. I had been able to make arrangements for a one way car rental thru Budget. They did not charge me and arm and a leg and there was not a drop off fee. The only problem was I understood them to say I had to pick it up by 2 p.m. That would be fine as we were due in Norfolk by 10 a.m. That evening I spoke privately with Claudio. I had a picture taken of the Arno while she was departing Lisbon on a previous voyage. As a gift, I had this frame and gave it to him. He was quite pleased and even a little overcome with this little gift. I also gave him a generous gratuity. He deserved it.
The pilot came onboard about 1 or so and we were underway for Norfolk around 2 p.m. We reversed our course and headed back out to sea. I started gathering my gear together and after dinner that evening I sadly started packing up my suitcases. Some of us passengers gathered in the lounge and enjoyed a pleasant evening of banter.
The next morning after breakfast, I took my bags via elevator to the 1st deck as I did not want to have to wait for the elevator, because once we got to Norfolk (actually Portsmouth), my time to catch a cab and get to Norfolk and pick up the car appeared to be getting shorter. As we approached the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, the pilot came onboard. I called my wife and told her where we were and that I would call later in the day and let her know that I was on the way home. I was getting just a little worried as it looked like we would not dock until noon at the earliest and I wasn’t sure if I could make it to the rental agency on time or not. So, I called Budget back and they informed me the agency was open not until 2 p.m. that morning, but until 2 a.m. the next morning. I felt relieved after that and just enjoyed the rest of my voyage.
These were familiar waters as I had been stationed on an aircraft carrier back in the 70’s and had made this transit more times than I could remember. As this was the 1st day of the Memorial Day weekend, the bay boating traffic was horrible. I think that everybody who owned a pleasure craft in the Hampton Roads area had it on the water that morning. As we approached the Hampton Tunnel, I looked over and saw 3 of our nuclear carriers tied up at the Pier 12 area of the base at Norfolk. Now I had seen 3 of our conventional carriers tied up at one time back in 1972, but never 3 of these behemoths. They were the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) and the USS George Washington (CVN-73). Quite an impressive to this old sailor.
After passing the Naval Base, we headed up the river towards our berth at the Portsmouth terminal. Lunch was quick and warm good-byes were said. I will indeed remember all of my fellow passengers and all but one with fondness. I headed up to the bridge for a final time to pick up my passport and for a hearty farewell to the Captain and crew on the bridge. I would be privileged to sail with this group of sailors anytime.
I spoke with the customs agent and port police officer. They gave me directions to which way to go to pick up a cab that had been called for me. I went back to my room and after ascertaining that I had not forgot anything, I headed down to the gangway for the last time. I picked up my luggage and signed out in the log book. Usually one of the stewards would help us off with our luggage, but I suspect that they were busy with the other people departing (Karen, Patty, Peer and Chantal). The Bos’n Victor, noticed they were not there to help and grabbed my bags and off we headed down the gangway. With one final glance, I headed down the pier to await the arrival of my taxi.
It was a while before the taxi arrived, but one soon did and we headed off to Norfolk. Half an hour later and $45 lighter I was at the Budget Rental. I was on the road by 2:30 and would drive straight home to Florida arriving around 3:00 a.m.
My journey had ended.
Some Final and Random Thoughts
About the only thing similar between a mass market cruise and this type of cruise is that they both are seagoing ventures. This type of travel is not for everybody. One must be adventurous, self-reliant, and as I have mentioned over and over — FLEXIBLE.
On a freighter you are stuck with the passengers you travel with. On a cruise ship, you can normally manage to avoid them if you want. One distinct draw-back, especially for me though, would have been to have no other passengers. I suppose I would have been able to enjoy myself, but certainly not as much as I did interacting with the other passengers.
The crews on both cruise ships and freighters are hard, hard working individuals.
Make sure you have a planning list made out well in advance of your trip. You can add or delete items as necessary.
On a freighter, no matter the length of the trip, you only need enough clothes to for 7-10 days as there are laundry facilities available. You do not need to bring anything fancy as the atmosphere is strictly casual.
Money — Make sure you have enough cash. Or you have a viable option, i.e. credit card with cash withdrawal or an ATM with an accessible PIN. I learned that traveler’s checks are as popular nor as easy to cash as they were previously. Had I had a proper PIN, I could have gotten by with a couple hundred dollars cash to start this trip (and possibly even less).
If I were to do another freighter trip, it probably would not be on a containership. Their time in port is short and so much depends on time of arrival as to how much time you have to spend in any given port. Patty mentioned that on a bulk freighter the time in port can range from 1-3 days and even more. If you are interested in ports rather than just the sea travel, this is something to think about.
IMPORTANT: Find out as much information about your port of embarkation/debarkation as possible. I was somewhat familiar with the Port of Miami, but I was still surprised at the difficulty I experienced in getting to the ship. Getting off in Miami would have been even more difficult. Pierre the elder was transporting a wood burning stove that he had brought in France back on the ship with him. This thing weighed at least 300 pounds and he had no idea how he would get it off the docks to his home in Palm Beach. I am sure he found some way, but…
Take plenty of reading material or other things to do. You are charged with your own entertainment. When you leave the ship, contribute to the ship’s library for travelers who will follow.