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Friday, 03 February 2012

Containers in the Atlantic: Being a Passenger on a Container Ship

Written by Rebecca Ann Hall
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    “You’re going WHERE?” inquired friends.  It wasn’t so much my destination(s) that fascinated them: Guadeloupe, Martinique, Colombia and Costa Rica – rather the fact I had chosen to get there by ship, and not a cruise ship.  I was going to be a passenger on board a Del Monte ‘banana boat.’  In short, I was going to experience life on the high seas on a container carrier.

    “But why?” asked my father.

    “The journey’s all part of the fun…besides, you should understand, being an ex man of the sea” I replied.  Having been nurtured since birth on stories of the great high seas and countries afar, my wanderlust for all things original had certainly been, in part, from his gene pool.

Ship%20 %20le%20havre    I boarded the Hornlinie German ship in Le Havre, France.  Registered in Liberia, she was an impressive sight – the bridge (where we all slept, ate and wiled away the time) aft with the containers forward of that and as I was lead up the gangplank by Stewerd Slava, I felt a growing excitement tinged with slight fear bubble up inside:  5 weeks round trip – 11 days at sea until our first port of call, Guadeloupe.  What would be in store for me, amongst all these sailors?  Would I be the only female?  Is it SAFE??  I have an overactive imagination and all sorts of scenarios had popped into my head – mostly involving hot sailors.

My%20cabin%20passenger%20no.%205    My private cabin rivaled that of any cruise ship – champagne and flowers greeted me.  Unpacking, I opened my cabin door at a sharp ‘rat a tat tat’ and found a German couple standing there: Bernd and Christina.  They helpfully advised that there were 5 other passengers, the rest would be crew.  Bliss - only 8 of us!

    My days were spent writing, reading, being shown around and educated about the hold: cargo included electronics’ and cars to the Caribbean (I suspected Kalashnikovs made up part of the cargo too, but decided ignorance was bliss in this case), swimming in the small outdoor exercise pool and chatting to the Latvian Captain on the Bridge.  I also inadvertently found myself thrown into the unofficial role of EFL teacher to the crew – a new career opening, perhaps?

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    The crew?  Well, my imagination proved to be overactive.  They behaved impeccably and treated me like a lady.  We ate with the senior crew three times a day – salads for lunch, delicious meat and fish dishes for dinner. 

Sunset%204      Experiencing sunrise and sunset at sea is an experience beyond explanation.  The captain explained in his 25 years of sailing, he had never missed a sunset – always hoping to catch a glimpse of refraction…that green light that bounces off the horizon when the sun hits, easier to spot at sea due to no light pollution or buildings in the way – just endless horizon.  He’s only ever witnessed it twice, and no such luck for me either that trip – proving just how rare this phenomenon was.

  Street%20in%20old%20cartahegna  24 hr stops at our destinations allowed just enough time to tour the main sights: bustling local markets of the French Antilles, colonial architecture and the Walled city of Cartagena, as well as armed guards with Alsatians tending our ship at Turbo, Colombia (pretty scary stuff!).  I did try to take a furtive photo of this, but nothing escaped their roving eye and I was instructed to leave my camera locked in my cabin.  Well, you don’t argue with a Kalashnikov wielding policeman, do you?

      For me, the biggest impact of this trip was the sense of peace being at sea bestows upon you: how life is put into perspective out there.  Seamen are quite spiritual people deep down, despite this crew’s Eastern European dour demeanor.  These 5 weeks spent at sea with them – I am starting to see the appeal.
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(c)Rebecca Ann Hall

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012