Given the environmental theme of the current edition of Overseas, we look back on an article from a 2005 edition, in which ROSL member John Luckie discusses his preferred mode of transport; container ship!
My wife, Mary, and I have always been keen travellers and, like most, we regularly chose air travel as the quickest and easiest option. But, after one airport delay too many, we were prompted to look for an alternative, one which was both affordable and enjoyable. The solution, we found, was freight ships.
Instead of being pampered, overfed and offloaded with organised entertainment alongside hundreds of passengers on a cruise liner, we chose to travel in the company of no more than ten people on a freighter or container ship. We've consistently found that the quality of the accommodation has been superior to that offered by some cruise ships, and it's a fraction of the cost.
The experience in unique. Not only do we get the opportunity to visit faraway places and learn about new cultures, we also get to engage with the officers and crew of a working vessel. The ship's bridge is almost always accessible and we learn all about the vessel, its ports of call and weather lore. We are also entertained by the officers' seafaring stories and, when they have to get down to work, our time is spent reading, painting, and doing needlework. We never tire of watching the ever changing sea, the flying fish, the dolphins, the birds, and the magnificent sunsets.
On board the ship, we regularly have our meals with the captain and his officers. The food tends to be excellent and varied. Just don't expect midnight barbecues or ice sculptures. On one voyage, the captain even cooked a Christmas turkey!
There is always a steward to look after our cabins, make our beds, and provide for our general needs. We try to book the Owner's Suite, which consists of a day cabin, night cabin, small lobby, shower, and toilet. Passenger cabins always have windows - although if they are to the front, containers may obstruct the view.
At the ports, you are free to do as you wish and, time permitting, you can hire a taxi for a tour of the city, which can be cheaper than some of the usual tourist excursions. We once travelled by ship to Cape Town and, on arrival, took a three-day taxi ride through the Garden Route, rejoining the ship at Port Elizabeth and continuing onto Durban.
If time is too short to go ashore, then entertainment is provided by watching the serious business of moving containers, cars, and other cargo. Fortunately for us, we look on from the comfort of our deckchairs with a drink at our elbows.
We have been on ships carrying 2,000 cars from Europe to a dozen Mediterranean and Scandinavian ports. We have travelled, as the only passengers, to South America. We've seen the mast of the Graf Spee projecting out of the River Plate, and enjoyed days in Rio de Janiero, Buenos Aires, Santos, Dakar, and other exciting places. We have been fortunate never to encounter really bad weather and our 11 crossing of the Bay of Biscay have always been smooth. Containers ships do not have stabilisers, but they are huge, up to 30,000 tons or more, and very stable.
As we do not fly, we always book for the round voyage, but it is possible to book a single leg of a voyage and return by air. This is an ideal way for many to visit their relatives in Australia and New Zealand.
Freighter ships take a maximum of 12 passengers, so they are not required to carry a doctor. In any emergency, the ship will divert to the nearest port or call up a nearby naval vessel, which will have a doctor on board who can advise by radio or even come aboard by helicopter. It is vital to have good medical insurance and most carriers will require a GP's certification to show you are fit to travel. There is usually an age limit of 80 years old and those with limited mobility are not accepted because there is seldom a lift between decks and the gangways to the dock can be steep and long. Luggage is usually carried aboard by a seaman or taken off the dock by a crane.
Flexibility is a must when planning a freighter voyage. Although they do tend to run to schedule, port delays or rough weather can also cause changes to the journey. On two occasions, we had to join a ship a week later than expected and one time the ship sailed a day earlier than planned. Frequent contact with the ship's shore agent is essential for a few days before sailing to confirm the date and time of joining. A travel agent who specialises in cargo ship voyages can also arrange for a visit and tour of the vessel before you book your holiday.
There is no romance left in flying, but still plenty to be enjoyed at sea. Right now, I'm off to pack a bag for our next voyage: an 84-day day trip around the world!