Round the World: Crossing The Atlantic On A Cargo Ship

  /

I have just discovered my favorite way to travel. The 12 day voyage was wonderful and I didn’t want it to end, no matter how much I was looking forward to further adventures in the US.

Much of the success of the ship is due to the lovely fellow passengers and crew on board the CMA CGM JAMAICA. We were five passengers: a French couple, and three other women, an American, a German and myself. Everyone was friendly, sociable and willing to party. And party we did. We were invited to a party in the crew recreation room the first day at sea, and the party lasted until 2 am when I had to beg off. The party didn’t really stop until we arrived in Charleston. Sure, the crew had work from 8 am to 5 pm, plus the on call shifts on the bridge and engine room, but that just gave us passengers time to rest until the next party.

The crew onboard was part Ukranian, mostly the officers, and part Filipino, hence most of the crew. The messrooms and recreation rooms were split according to nationality, not officer/crew distinction. I guess it works for them, but as I have been used to very mixed international groups, both at work and with my friends, I find such divisions odd. The Filipino crew especially were absolute darlings and we spent most of our time with them. Imagine our very great surprise when they told us that in their collective many years at sea, we were the first passengers ever to party with them. It may have had something to do with us being mostly women and thus a welcome change from the all-male crew. Whatever the cause, it was magical.

We did take a few nights off, watching movies or BBC’s Jane Austen TV series in my room, and I had a few solitary evenings when I felt the need to re-charge. We also gathered for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the officers’ messroom, took turns around the open deck, and spent time at the forward deck, watching the sea go by. Of course we also got stellar tours of the ship, first inside the super structure including the bridge, then twice around the ship including the outside, and finally the engine room, which was very exciting.

Meal times for passengers were 8 am for breakfast, 12:30 for lunch and 18:30 for dinner. The food was good, plentiful, and mostly potatoes/pasta, meat/fish and vegetables. There was usually also a soup (mostly with meat), and always a few different salads, bread and cheese. Dessert was usually fresh fruit, which was lovely, with an occasional cake or ice cream. I had brought some hummus with me, and I had that usually at breakfast with toast, cucumber and tomatoes. I explained that I was vegetarian at first dinner, so for all other meals I was brought the food without the dead animals automatically. Great service!

The sea was mostly calm, with a few rocky nights, but I held up well. The weather prohibited us from going outside on some days, whether it was due to waves, wind or rain, but on most days we spent at least a few hours outside. I was walking laps around the long forward deck of the ship whenever I could. The last few days were hot and sunny, and despite a high SPF sun screen, I managed to get a sunburn.

The way the ship was organized is that the super structure, i.e. the tall part with all the crew and passenger quarters (in photo) shared spaces and engine control room, stands between the two decks. The back part is shorter, about 50 meters, and the long front part extends about 200 meters. The walkway along the edge in the front is mostly underneath the containers, which dominate both decks. There were nine decks accessible to us: the upper deck where the ship’s office was, decks A-G with cabins and shared spaces, and the bridge. We were allowed on the bridge most of the time, with permission from the officer on charge. Only when they were busy with either departure or arrival, and usually at night time, the bridge was off limits.

Boarding and disembarking went with little fuss and ceremony. I took a taxi to the harbor in Bremerhaven and was dropped off at the reception. They waved me through to a little shed next to the fence, and a shuttle bus picked me up from there. I walked up the gangway to what turned out to be the upperdeck level, submitted my passport, and signed a few papers, and that was it. I was in my cabin at around noon. The ship departed at 11 pm, and I spent it mostly in my cabin, reading. It had been a hectic few days and I was glad of the chance to take it easy. The outside areas were off limits during cargo loading and offloading anyway.

Leaving the ship was also quite straightforward. A US immigration officer came onboard to do a “face check”, i.e. comparing faces to passports, and asking a few questions about me, where I was coming from and what my plans in the US were. I got my stamps, and it all took about 5 minutes. We organized a taxi pickup from the ship with an agent who came to the ship at the same time as immigration. When we were ready, we just walked down the ramp and got on the taxi. There was no customs or further passport checks. Simple!

Two of my worries from an earlier post were thus dispelled. I was not sea sick at all, and there was no trouble with immigration. What I hadn’t expected was the emotional whiplash of leaving the ship after 12 days at sea. We were such a close group of people, amplified with the lack of contact with outside world, that leaving the ship was hard. I would have gladly continued on. After being fully pampered by the lovely crew, in my own suite of rooms, with everything prepared for us, the prospect of other people, traffic, noise, and dealing with my own accommodation, travel and food was daunting.

But, I had to get off, they wouldn’t let me stay. Besides, I had the whole of US waiting for me. And two more cargo ship passages to come.

This voyage set a really high bar for any other cargo ship trip, however, and I will never forget it, or the people I shared it with.

For further details of booking a cargo ship voyage please call Miri Lopusna at The Cruise People Ltd in London on +44 (0)20 7723 2450 or e-mail PassageEnquiry@aol.com.

Advertisements

Seasons Greetings From Passengers On The 84-day Maiden Voyage Of The 18,000 TEU French-Flag Container Ship CMA CGM Bougainville

CMA CGM BougauinvilleChristmas and New Year greetings from British passengers Pat and John Pridmore, who joined CMA CGM Bougainville (above) in Southampton, the day after her christening in Le Havre as the largest container ship under French flag, for her first round voyage from Europe to the Far East.

anchor

The view from our window is restricted. It is of a steel container,almost near enough for us to reach out and touch. It tells us that it is “super-heavy” and capable of holding “32,500 kilos gross.” You would not want this thing falling on your foot. There are some eighteen thousand such containers on our vessel, stacked in tiers twenty high, eleven below decks and nine above, ranged in ranks from bow to stern.

We are passengers – the only passengers – on the three-month maiden voyage of the CMA CGM Bougainville, one of the world’s largest container vessels. We live in “the castle”, a tall thin tower amidships, surmounted by the bridge, where everyone from captain to galley-hand is housed. (We must hide somewhere else if we are attacked by pirates, but we mustn’t tell you where that is). Our Leviathan is a colossus. One perambulation of the deck is a half-a-mile walk. Most days we complete several circuits. Most days too we  spend time on the bridge. It is a huge privilege to be allowed to visit the bridge whenever we like and to see for ourselves how this enormous ship is guided on its way – even if there is much we do not understand about what we’re seeing.

CMA CGM Bougainville Hollande et Saadé

CMA CGM chairman Jacques Saadé, 3rd from left, with French president Francois Hollande, who christened the CMA CGM Bougainville at Le Havre on October 6, 2015

Our voyage from Southampton has taken us to European ports, through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, to ports in China, South Korea, and Malaya. Now we are on the long haul home. This is no cruise. We are spared round-the-clock forced-feeding, tacky stage-shows, and – we hope this doesn’t sound too unsociable – two or three thousand other passengers. To be sure, we are travelling in comfort. We are well-fed – after all, our vessel is French. Our simple cabin is sufficiently furnished. We have the use of facilities provided for the officers and crew. There is a slightly larger version of the tank you find at your fishmonger for the accommodation of live lobsters. In this we can splash around when the surrounding sea which feeds it is warm enough. There is a running machine and a ping-pong table. We are both pretty useless at ping-pong but that at least means we are evenly matched.

We have no Christmas lights to enjoy in our cabin. But we have the highlights of our voyage to savour. Among them have been the warm golden stones of Malta, the unfolding theatre along the banks of the Suez Canal, a day in the Arab Emirate of Khor al Fakkan (for us a window into an unknown world) – and, more disturbing, the menacing shape of submarines off the South Korean coast.

We have taken every opportunity to go ashore in China. Here memories compete to be mentioned. We will return in our mind to the four-storey pharmacy that gave us a glimpse of the range and riches of Chinese medicine. We will remember local restaurants, rich local food and local – and invariably friendly – people. We will remember what we learned from simply watching. For example, we sat by a children’s playground in a public park and noticed how the children, mostly pre-schoolers, played together – or rather how they didn’t play together, for of course each of these children was an only child, an offspring of the state’s “one child” policy.

Our slow boat to China (and back) has given us plenty of time – so hard to find in everyday life – for reflection. We are learning things we hope we’ll remember when we’re home. We’re learning the folly of being in such a hurry. We’re beginning to see that flying across the globe in half a day doesn’t help you understand the people you meet when you land.

And all those containers we carry raise another question – where to draw the line between what we need and what we want. No one knows what is inside these containers, but it is safe to assume that everything “made in China” – that’s to say about everything that furnishes our lives these days – is sealed within them. The question is what proportion of this vast cargo actually contributes to our well-being.

Above all there is the immense presence of the sea itself – the sea which we experienced in some at least of its many moods. Even as passengers with no responsibility for bringing us all safely to harbour, we are learning a fresh respect for the sea. What is the little parcel of dry land to which we cling other than a tiny and precarious bridgehead thrust into the waters  that always threaten to return and engulf us? Tsunamis and rising sea levels should at least suggest that thoughts are not altogether far-fetched.

We trust that when we step ashore at Southampton we will not forget what this voyage has taught us. Above all, we hope that we will not forget the Filipinos. The Bougainville is commanded by a French captain and most of his officers are French, but the rest of his crew are all from the Philippines. So it is on most of the world’s container vessels. The round-the-clock maintenance work is done by Filipinos. On back-to-back tours of duty, they  are away from home for nine months at a stretch. But they always seem to be smiling. In this troubled world, they would certainly want to join us in wishing you and yours a joyful Christmas and health and happiness in the New Year.

anchorThe CMA CGM Bouganville sails in the weekly French Asia Line 1 service, 84 days round trip from Southampton via Dunkirk, Hamburg, Rotterdam, Zeebrugge and Le Havre, through Malta and Suez to Khor Fakkan, Yantian, Tianjin, Dalian, Pusan, Qingdao, Shanghai, Ningbo, Yantian, Port Kelang and back via Suez and Algeciras to Southampton. Each ship in this line carries up to ten passengers in five cabins.

For further details on booking passage on this route or any other cargo voyage please call Miri Lopusna at The Cruise People Ltd in London on +44 (0)20 7723 2450 or e-mail PassageEnquiry@aol.com