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On a Freighter Even the Routine is Extraordinary
And the Destinations are Some of the Most Exotic in the World
Passenger Stories


Faster voyages and more reliable schedules are the result of all the new technologies that have been brought to bear on freighter travel in modern times.

Amenities now include TV & music centers, book and video libraries, exercise rooms, indoor or outdoor swimming pools, e-mail (but not Internet) and, on larger ships, elevators.

Freighter traveling is still however, best enjoyed by independent travelers who know how to spend time on their own, who like to organize their own shore visits, and who are flexible enough to accept possible last minute changes to their schedule as well as oscilations in service and food on board.

The appeal and adventure that freighter travel, or cruise, holds are apparent in the passenger firsthand stories, featured in our newesletter online:

May not be home for Christmas (by Harvard historian Maya Jasanoff) - [Seaworthy News Nr 682, January 2017]

And a few good stories we published in print, before we went online:

Transatlantic


“My quarters, which were located between the bridge and the dining room and lounge, would be the envy of many a passenger on a five-star cruise ship. The sitting room, bedroom and bathroom were all tastefully furnished, and I had two windows on the starboard side of the ship which provided lots of sun on the eastbound voyage.

Furnishings included two easy chairs, a sofa, coffee table, a desk with an upholstered swivel chair, and a console containing drawers, shelves and a liquor compartment. The quarters had wall-to-wall carpeting throughout. And, with all that, there was still ample room to swing a cat as my grandfather used to say. The twin-bedded sleeping room provided ample space for storing garments, and each bed had its individually-controlled reading light.

The pleasant accommodations were more than matched by the warmth and friendliness of the Captain and his officers who greeted me in the handsome lounge for a welcome aboard drink. The curved bar, television set and VCR promised many happy hours at sea.

Dinner was served by Antoni, the steward, who always ensured that we were served with professionalism that would put to shame many a waiter on a cruise ship. The first meal, consisting of an assiette froide, salad, wiener schnitzel and frites, let us know that there was a pro at work in the galley as well. The homemade bread and carafes of red and white wine reassured us that every meal on this crossing would be satisfying. This did indeed prove to be the case.

The huge vessel left Montreal on a sparkling day, assisted by a single tug to start us downstream towards our first, and only, stop at Point Noire. The late summer sun added an air of relaxation as we enjoyed the passing scene of an ever-widening, curving stream that turned into a mighty river.

The next morning’s light revealed a sparkling bay outside my starboard side window while the port side revealed the impressive gigantic plant of the Wabush Mines facility where we were to pick up the last of our cargo: 68,000 tons of processed, pea-sized, iron pellets. The amazing sight of two black streams of what appeared to be ore pouring from mile-long conveyor belts almost made me decide to skip breakfast and continue to watch the remarkable feat of engineering Worthy of a detour as Michelin would say. The time in port also offered an opportunity to visualize our shipboard vocabulary: holds, hatches, windlasses, winches, bollards, hawsers, etc. all became more real. Floors became decks and walls, bulkheads.

At sunrise the following morning and during the high tide, our trusty tug and pilot assisted our massive vessel into the channel, and we were on our way to Antwerp. During this process, we passed the various-sized islands known as Sept-Iles (QC, Canada). In the light of the rising sun they were silently beautiful, a refuge for varied animals and birds.

Finally, we were truly on our way. And how was I to fill all those days? The eternal question from friends whenever I tell them how much I enjoy freighter cruising. No floor shows, no dancing girls! But plenty of time for reading, walking on deck, watching the endless motion of the sea, good eating and lots of relaxation.

Entertainment is replaced by an opportunity to learn the ways of the sea and the business of worldwide trade and shipping. We started with the bridge - the wheelhouse and the chartroom - where the chart showed our penciled-in position every four hours. Not that that this was really necessary in these days of electronics and satellites. For example, the automatic pilot which meant no one was actually at the wheel steering the ship.

There was, of course, an officer on watch but only to observe rather than control. The radar was probably the most important electronic device as it revealed any potential dangers to the ship such as other vessels, icebergs, etc. In the chart-room itself, which is a curtained-off section of the bridge, there is a mind-boggling array of electronic devices including the GPS (Global Position System) Navigator. All its functions are too numerous for me to remember, but one push of a button provided a digital reading of our exact position, speed (13.5 knots), course, and estimated arrival time at the next chosen point. By pushing another button, our entire route, containing every change of course from Montreal to Antwerp could be brought up. And should there ever be a man overboard, the push of another button would permanently show the location of the person, until the vessel had been turned around and returned to the exact spot.

In addition to the GPS Navigator, there was equipment which provided advisories on the current location of icebergs and growlers (little icebergs). These were printed out every six hours and came from sources such as the International Ice Patrol. If we spotted any ourselves, it was our duty to report their positions to Ice St Johns, NF. On yet another machine came printouts of weather conditions, wave heights, wind speed, etc. This data was received four times a day from the National Weather Service in Washington, DC. On the opposite side of the wheelhouse they are in the process of installing a computerized information area designed to replace the radio and radio operator.

On another day we decided to visit the galley where the chef and his able assistants still prepare meals the traditional way, using only the freshest ingredients. We were welcomed there, as we were everywhere else, with smiles and greetings as warm as the pots aboiling in front of the competent chef. The scent of the sauce he was preparing and the smell of the freshly-baked bread were tempting enough for me to want my lunch then and there.

And so the days passed by, some cloudy and some bright - some calm and some not so calm, some warm and some cool; and a few with dolphins racing us at the bow of the ship. But every day was special. As we approached and then passed through the straits of Dover the radar screen was positively alive with images moving in all directions.

If you have ever witnessed the confusion of traffic moving around the Arc De Triomphe in Paris and were amazed, it is nothing compared with the movement here. But we made our passage through with no problem and soon were in the North Sea heading for a rendez-vous with our Belgian pilot ship off Ostend. Here the pilots are dispatched in handsome clapboard boats.

A spectacular electrical storm was our entertainment that night and the entrance to the river, enshrouded in fog, was our entertainment for the following morning. I was tense watching both phenomena but it was nothing, apparently, for the pilot and captain. They treated both as calmly as any other experience. Once on the river the clouds lifted, the sun shone and we had a summery cruise upstream all the while enjoying the varied scenery. Soon enough we were in port. One turn to the starboard and another to port and there, waiting on the dock, was my daughter, my reason for taking the far-from-boring (as my friends had feared) trip with a wonderful group of people who treated me as one of their own.” -- Frank Nicholson, August ‘96.

Australia and New Zealand

“... After months of planning we finally left Calgary on February 5th 2001 for Savannah, GA. We learned that the Queensland Star would be leaving on February 9th which gave us the opportunity to witness a shuttle launch from Cape Kennedy Space Center. The shuttle Atlantis blasted into space on Feb. 7th. The day after, we drove back to Savannah, walked through the historic city and set sail the next day ...

In the afternoon of March 2nd we saw Pitcairn Island coming up. Pitcairn is a British territory and is also the island where the mutineers of the Bounty settled in 1789. We had a number of people come aboard on the rope ladder to sell wares, like T-shirts, small carvings, booklets, stamps, etc. They also traded fruit for soft drinks and meat. It was very enjoyable to see some new faces.

After we left Pitcairn, the weather changed abruptly. We passed the centre of cyclone Paula at a distance of 100 km and were suddenly in the 8-meter high waves. The ship was rolling 20-25 degrees. During mealtime we had to hold on to the table, and sometimes hold on to our food as well. All the chairs and tables were tied up. The next day was quieter.

But by the evening of March 5th we were heading towards another cyclone, Rita, which was even more severe than the first, with 9-10 force winds and waves about 10 meters high. The ship was rolling and pitching. Our speed was reduced from17-18 knots down to 8. It was not until the afternoon of March 7th that we reached calmer seas.

Thursday, March 8th was non-existant as we crossed the dateline and, since the beautiful weather returned, we could spend time out on deck again. On the March 10th we arrived in Auckland, then sailed again early afternoon of March 11th towards Melbourne ...
      I did quite a lot of needlework (made a quilt top) and Bill walked 210 km around the deck as part of his daily exercise during the voyage. We enjoyed numerous visits to the bridge and learned how to read the radar screen. We didn’t have to do any work, not even make our own beds! We did our own washing, though.” -- Allie and Bill Janson, April ‘01.

Around-the-World

“... We took a cabin close to the dining room, two decks apart, which meant that we had to climb four flights of stairs for every meal. At first it was daunting, but after a few days it became routine, and the improvement in the shape of my thighs by the end of the trip was worth it all! On an average day I climbed up or down thirty flights of stairs.

Most freighters take twelve or fewer passengers, and for a very good reason. When they carry more, they come under a different set of health regulations and must have a doctor on board. That is why there is an age limit, and all passengers are required to provide a medical certificate of good health. Because we were going through the Suez Canal, we had to be immunized against cholera and yellow fever. Our doctor took care of the cholera shot, but we had to visit a local health department for the yellow fever shot, which cost us $60 each. So part of your preplanning should always include the medical aspect. You need a passport of course, as well as visas for Australia and Egypt.

Our cabin had two rooms. The main room contained a pullout sofa, coffee table, desk, two armchairs, refrigerator, glass cupboard, bookshelf, and some storage space. The bedroom had a bed we thought too small for two, so I slept on the sofa. There was a hanging closet and plenty of shelf space in the bedroom. Two windows in the main cabin looked aft, and the one in the bedroom opened on the port side. he beds were made up European-style with a sheet and duvet. The bathroom was tiled, with a shower that had a pull-down seat. There was an adequate medicine cabinet. The steward cleaned the cabin once a week, when fresh bed linen and towels were provided.

Meal times were at 7:30 A.M., 11:30 A.M. and 5:30 P.M., and coffee was served at 10:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M. The meals are more then ample and nourishing as they are prepared for hard-working sailors. For breakfast eggs are always available, as well as some kind of breakfast meat, several kinds of bread, fruit, juice, cheese and cereal. The noon meal is the main meal of the day, usually including soup, meat, a starch dish, vegetables, salad and fruit. Wine is included. The evening meal is usually a ragout of some sort, often over rice, with platters of cold cuts, crudités and cheese. Serendipity played an important part in making our dining experience more enjoyable. When we first boarded, meals were adequate but completely uninspired and boring. In Hong Kong we picked up a new chef and what he could do with the same ingredients was a revelation! His garlic and broccoli soup was scrumptious, and the German officers said his konigsberger klops reminded them of home. Passengers and officers shared the dining room, but sat at separate tables.

As for wardrobe, take one 'very nice outfit' to wear ashore and put it in your closet immediately. Then wear all your oldest clothes. We quickly found out that we were on a working ship where the men are constantly washing, scraping, painting, and greasing cables. Unless we were willing to remain in our air-conditioned cabin, we had to cope with all this activity including smudges of whatever was being used on the ship, as well as occasional soot deposits from the smoke stack. The crew always washed the ship the day after leaving any port, but while it was being loaded and unloaded there was no way to avoid some dirt. We wore T-shirts and cotton pants for most of the trip, and were able to donate a bundle of cleaning rags to the oilers in the engine room when we departed. That left us plenty of luggage room for the great souvenirs we picked up all over the world. The 'very nice outfit' for going ashore included pants and shirt in a lightweight silk. After a day in the hot sun you can walk into the shower carrying your silks with you, wash everything, hang them on a plastic hanger, and they're ready to wear the next day. We also brought several soft hats that either sat down well on the head or were tied on in some way as a ship running at 18 knots an hour creates its own wind. A few heavy sweaters and two pair of lightweight wool pants took care of the cooler weather in Australia and on the Atlantic in September. We wore boat shoes constantly since the decks are frequently wet and slippery.

There was a comfortable lounge and bar, usually empty during the day, with games and a small library of paperbacks. The floor below had an indoor swimming pool which was filled with sea water every day. It also had a sauna, ping-pong table, dart board and self-service laundry. And then there was the bow! By walking all along the main deck we would reach it, and there, peace and isolation reigned. There was no sound from the engines, only the occasional creaking of the container lashings, which made one think of the rigging on a sailboat, and the empty, endless sea.

As no hairdresser was available for over three months, I took headbands and combs and let my hair grow, which took away the temptation to hack at it myself. The ship has a limited amount of items for sale including toilet soap and washing powder for the laundry and, best of all, liquid refreshments! Twenty-four bottles of Beck's beer cost $8.95. Australian. Wine, red or white, was only $6.44 for four liters. Jim Beam was $6.15, Gordon's Gin $8.56 and Chivas Regal $20.68.

The final question to consider before you go is your own attitude and temperment. Lewis and I owned a sailboat for years and we have crewed on sailboats in the Caribbean, the North Sea, and in Alaska. We get great pleasure out of sitting and watching the water go by. When once we decided we were too old to climb the rigging, we tried a conventional cruise. While it was very nice, dressing for dinner every night, eating sumptuous meals, watching a lavish show before the plentiful midnight buffet, it did not really excite us.
 
On the freighter, we would mix our own scotch and soda, take it out on the deck right outside our cabin, sit on a deck chair, and watch the sun go down. Preference is a very personal thing!

Unless you enlist some friends to go with you, the passenger list is in the lap of the gods. Upon leaving the United States we were six: a delightful couple from Paris, who left in Tahiti, a lovely lady who had worked in London for many years and was returning to her native New Zealand, and a retired German sea captain. For the New Zealand to Hamburg leg, our only companion was Captain Gerhard Reichelt. He had spent his life at sea as a captain on cargo vessels. But in all those years traveling all over the world, he had never made an Around-the-World voyage, and had never transited the Panama Canal. So this was his retirement gift to himself. After the trip he returned to his beloved Anne-Marie, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. To us, he was a pearl beyond price. He answered every question we asked about the ship's cargo and navigation. He had sailed on most of the waters we were passing through and knew them in detail. Besides, he was excellent company, with many stories of life at sea. We were lucky beyond description to travel with him. We took on more passengers in Hamburg, so for the last 10 days our companions included three Germans, two Austrians and two French. A polyglot group, but all pleasant company.

English is the lingua franca of all these ships. The senior officers are German and use their mother tongue among themselves. The crew is Filipino, and they speak Tagalog. But when speaking to each other, or to the passengers, they all speak English. Some are fluent, others are not, but they all can answer any questions you may have.

An important thing to keep in mind is that this is a working ship. The officers and crew were always very friendly and polite to us, but they were hired to run the boat, not to entertain passengers or act as tour guides. When we arrived at a port there was no tour bus carrying thirty passengers, or a lady holding her umbrella in the air to show you the sights or guide you to souvenir shops. From the moment we walked down the gangplank, we were on our own. So again, it's a question of whether you like to be led or you like to explore on your own. Undoubtedly, we probably missed some great things we should have seen. On the other hand, we'll never forget the shop we walked into in Keelung hoping to buy postcards only to find it was a dental extraction office. We walked out empty-handed, but with all our teeth intact.

In Tahiti we had three days' shore leave, so we walked through Papeete the first day, took a bus around the island the next, and the ferry to Moorea the third. We also had two days in Noumea. When we reached Melbourne we jumped ship, took the train to Sydney, and spent two delightful days there before the ship caught up with us. So you can make adjustments to your itinerary! In most ports, we had one day for sightseeing.

The overriding and exciting part of the trip is loading at each port. And every port is different! From the few cranes in Tahiti, where the men manhandle the monster containers from the end of the hoist into position on the ship, sometimes riding the line down to the spot, to the miles of docks and gantries in Singapore with immense equipment reminiscent of Star Wars, and where several bus lines run inside the port area to get workers and passengers back and forth. Each port has its own character; fast and efficient or slow and disorganized.

We provided the rest of the entertainment ourselves. Lew brought his new PC and unraveled most of its secrets. I brought plenty of crosswords, my knitting and a large stash of paperbacks, mostly murder mysteries and intrigue. I also brought the collected works of Henry James, a burst of inspiration. While the 'popcorn' books quickly palled, there was plenty of time each day for a long satisfying read. Another time I might bring stacks of Dickens or Trollope.

In the evening we often went down to the lounge for a Campari and soda for 59 cents, and watched a video, which had been chosen by the crew. If the Filipinos chose, it was English. If the German chose, it was dubbed in German. Hearing Bruce Willis moan 'Ach, mein Gott!' as he crawled the ventilator pipes made quite an evening. We've discovered a wonderful way to travel and we hope it catches on. But please leave room for us to go again on your freighter!” -- Vivienne Knapp, Sept. '97


World Class Cruises- World wide, Sir!


Cruising by Cargo Ship: Like a Hope & Crosby Picture Minus Dorothy Lamour

By Matt Hannafin of frommers.com

Some people are hard to please. Opulent meals won't cut it. Movies out on deck with popcorn and a cocktail won't either. Nor will ships with ice-skating rinks, fourteen restaurants, eight different kinds of steam rooms, or thirty-one flavors of low-carb ice cream.

Maybe it's bragging rights they're after -- the trip nobody they know has taken. Or maybe cities at sea just remind them of cities at home, which is what they're looking to escape from. Or maybe they're just romantics. They've seen a lot of old movies. They're different. It's for people like this that cruises on freighter ships are made. The independent type of travelers who know how to spend time on their own, who like to organize their own shore visits and, although the new technologies that have been brought to bear on freighter travel resulted in more reliable schedules, who are flexible enough to accept possible last minute changes.

Freighters are one of the lifelines of the world economy, but of the approx. 30,000 large oceangoing ships in the world, just a fraction of one percent carry both passengers and cargo. It's a special niche serving those travelers with the time and temperament to sail long itineraries -- anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

Freighter passengers tend to be retired and well-traveled, but owing to the trips' length and usual lack of an onboard physician, many vessels set an upper limit on passengers’ ages -- typically 79 though sometimes as young as 75 -- and passengers are required to present a doctor's statement saying they're fit for this kind of travel. Shorter cruises and coastal routes dispense with an age limit. Ditto for ships that carry more than 12 passengers.

Working ships that set aside cabins for passengers fall into these four basic groups:

  • Container ships, which carry shipping containers stacked like so many building blocs, and which account for the bulk of oceangoing trade today;
  • General cargo ships, which often transport large or unwieldy goods;
  • Supply and mail ships, which run supply routes to isolated coastal communities and distant islands; and
  • Tramp steamers, which are like the bicycle messengers of the world freight service, operating on short notice and going wherever their manifests take them.

  • Container ships and cargo ships generally carry 12 passengers or fewer and, the World class - World wide humor aside, offer accommodations that are often larger if not quite as fancy as those on cruise ships. Passengers have the run of the vessel, dine with the ship's officers, and enjoy an experience that's somewhere between home and cruise, with TV lounges, libraries, exercise rooms, and even swimming pools. Bars and laundry are both self-serve, and cabin linens are usually changed once a week.

    In port, ships may stay for as little as a half-day or as much as several days, depending on loading times. Since many vessels offer shipping services on the same kind of a rigid, week-in and week-out schedule as commuter trains and cruise ships, schedules are tight. Their cargo -- whatever it is -- absolutely, positively has to be there on time.

    At the shorter end of the itinerary spectrum are containerships which offer 10-20-day one way transatlantic and transpacific passages and four- to five-week roundtrip voyages. At the other end, are longer intercontinental and round-the-world voyages, at dailly rates from EUR 85/$90 to EUR 150/$160 per day.

    Tramp steamers are a different matter, working from contract to contract for as long as the job takes, and thus not bookable far in advance. Some appreciate the romance of that all in itself, but there's another upside: If you're able to travel on short notice, you can sail for less than the regularly scheduled containership's rate.

    In the South Seas, the cargo liner Aranui 3 sails a regular 13-night roundtrip from Tahiti to the Marquesas Islands, with an operation heavily oriented toward its 200-some passengers. Sailings depart once or twice a month year-round, with fares starting at $4,413 per person for private (two person) accommodations. Bunks in a 30-person dormitory with shared facilities start at $2,624.


    In northern climes, the Patricia, flagship of a fleet that was constituted by Royal Charter in 1514, sails regular one- to three-week voyages around the coasts of England, Wales, and the Channel Islands, servicing lightships, lighthouses, and navigational buoys. Though there are few opportunities to go ashore, it's an amazing experience for real maritime enthusiasts, with pleasant accommodations for up to 12 guests. Prices start around GBP 2,140 or $3,500 per person, per week.

    The ships and sailings above constitute only a small number of those bookable through MARIS (tel. +1 203 936-7447, www.freightercruises.com), an independent freighter-cruise specialist that also operates the Freighter Travel Club. Club membership ($59 lifetime) gets you a newsletter and discounts on voyages.

    “From frommers.com. Reproduced here, with updated voyage and price details, by permission of Wiley Publishing Inc. -- Frommer’s is a registered trademark of Arthur Frommer”.



    Thanks to the support received from our customers, as well as from the steamship lines and media, including the following comments, today's Maris is one of the leading independent freighter cruise specialists:
    "Maris is sailing with fair winds and following seas under your command." John Carrick
    Editorial writer
    Sydney, Australia
    Sep/99
    "Q: It has always been my dream to take a long voyage on a cargo ship. Can you tell me if this is possible any more? - A: Maris in New York offers such voyages on a daily basis." Sunday Times
    London
    July 1/01
    "Maris Freighter Cruises website, as well as the newsletter which illustrates itineraries, ships, prices etc., is a good place to learn about this type of cruise and travel." New York Times
    May 18/03
    "We are very appreciative of the work you have undertaken on our behalf for many years and the effort you have put into making our passenger service a success ... Our sincere and grateful thanks." Richard Mellor
    P&O Nedlloyd
    London
    Jan/05
    "As a faithful reader of your Seaworthy News publication, I wish to compliment you and your staff on the informativeness and thoroughness, setting forth in honest and detailed manner descriptions of this means of travel." Martin Ems
    Retired Manager Passenger Services,
    American President Lines - Feb/07
    "I just wanted to send you my thanks for the beautiful news publication you produce all these years. I hope you'll keep freighter travel as your primary focus always, as it sets you apart." Alison Senter
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    New Lisbon, NJ
    Jan/10
    "Truly appreciate your resourcefulness. Thank you for your assiduousness in working through this with me." Thomas T. McMahon
    Gig Harbor, WA
    Jun/12
    "Since 1971, when my three young children and I travelled up the West Coast of Africa, I have had the pleasure of occasional freighter voyage. A wonderful way to see, and enjoy the peace of the watery parts of, our world. Thank you so much and your family for choosing to run your freighter cruise agency." Jean Washington
    San Diego, CA
    Apr/16


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