Crossing the Atlantic by Freighter
It’s the journey not the destination. Last summer (2010) I went back to the Old World for the first time in 26 years. Being as I am me and cannot escape that, I decided to boycott the TSA.
It was my nearest-and-dearest who brought freighter travel to my attention. A quick search of the web turfed up a dozen or so sites ‘dealing’ in freighter travel. A longer more laborious search turned up little more.
Things I found and things I learned:
1- Strand Voyages in London was truly the only helpful, reliable agency, earning this high praise due to the fact they are the only ones to reply to emails (and with useful information at that).
2- Freighters carry a maximum of 12 passengers. Any more and the freighter would need to carry a doctor. Eeeek, expense. Hence, you are required to get a minimal physical that proves you can walk and talk all by yourself. Some freighter lines have a maximum age limit (such as 72 or 75). My impression is that if you can prove good health you could still go.
3- You will read this everywhere you read about freighter travel but, just in case you view me as a the be all and end all of freighter trivia, I am including it here. Freighters are NOT cruise ships. There is no entertainment director hustling you off to different activities. You are on your own. This appeals to me, but other people want “more input”. Be prepared to entertain yourself and fill your own time. BTW, there are only so many times you can get a cup of coffee and visit the bridge before it becomes repetitious. Unless you are me then being on the bridge is life itself.
4- Regarding entertainment: Freighters carrying passengers are all foreign flag (if you live in the US, that is). So when the web site tells you there are books and movies on board be aware they will probably be all in German! Yep. I did not know that when I left.
5- Dunno about other ports in other countries, but the Port of Savannah spotted my bottles of wine. We had to turn around and hide them under a bush for my nearest-and-dearest to pick up after dropping me off. “No problem,” says the port TSA agent, “You can buy liquor aboard”. She was absolutely correct. However, liquor sales on board were not available for about three days, until we had left US waters. The moral of this story is put the booze bottles IN you bag and out of sight.
6- *EVERYone* will ask you if it’s cheaper than flying. Don’t get impatient. This is an opportunity to privately amuse yourself. Play magic numbers. If you like the person, explain that is a bargain to get 10 to 12 days at only $100/ day including all meals and amenities. If you prefer to put them off, point out that a one-way trip on a freighter is about the same as a return trip on an aeroplane. Numbers, numbers, numbers. It’s all a state of mind.
7- You will be expected to carry your baggage up the gangway. No description prepared me for a freighter-style gangway so I post a pic for you here.
8- Freighters are working vessels. A freighter does not stay in port one moment longer than necessary. With that in mind, there is not a lot of opportunity to go sightseeing ashore.
9- Typically on a ship there are officers and there are crew. Typically the officers (and passengers) eat in the officer’s mess and the crew eat in the crew’s mess. On my ship those officers and the one crew that were German ate in the officer’s mess and the Filippino officers and crew ate in the Filippino mess. This is not some sort of racism. The Germans liked German food and the Filippinos liked Filippino food. Simple.
The rest of my unorganized thoughts and observations cannot be listed numerically, so here you are:
I got lucky. This captain throws a party once a month for all. I happened to be aboard that week. As soon as we were out of US waters captain, officers, crew, and passengers all got together on deck and ate and ate and drank. It was great seeing the camaraderie, not to mention loads of food and drinks.
I got lucky. The passengers that joined us in Charleston, SC decided to throw a party for all aboard. So a few nights later we all gathered in the officer’s recreation room and turned up the tunes and shared the good spirit(s).
I got lucky. Before entering somebody’s territorial waters the Captain threw a party for all the crew and officers who would be leaving the ship at the end of this tour. We gathered in the crew’s rec room and had karaoke and drinks and much laughter.
Conclusions. I would definitely do it again; I’m not fond of German food, but the people are great; Filippinos are good natured and fun loving - I gotta go to the Philippines!