I have crossed the ocean and arrived in Belgium – Wooo!
Once I have posted this I can go eat chocolate and waffles and drink beer! – Double Wooo!
I had thought that having already put up a blog about crossing the oceans writing a second one would be more difficult, that there wouldn’t be much different and that I’d be forced to write something talking about my “feelings” or some such other nonsense and post plenty of sunset photos in order to get something written. Luckily though, the crossing and the ship were different enough to make that unnecessary – (triple wooo!)
Although I ended up posting some sunset porn too…
The “Independent Pursuit” is a smaller ship than the “CMA CGM Nabucco” I travelled on for my Pacific crossing, but as my taxi drove up towards its berth at Wilmington’s container port it really didn’t seem that much smaller. Perhaps it’s because the layout is different. No containers are stored aft of the superstructure, and the massive cranes on board seem to give it a sense of scale that was perhaps missing from the Nabucco and which helped remind me just how big a ship like the “Independent Pursuit” is, something that can’t be got across just by reading tonnage statistics (and this despite it being a positive minnow in comparison to some of the monsters travelling the seas).
#You’re not alone…#
Getting on board at Wilmington, NC, was a straight forward affair, although I had to book a specific taxi service as there are no shuttle buses unlike Manzanillo port in Mexico, and I wasn’t enough of a novelty for the shipping agents to want to offer me a lift (as per Yokohama in Japan), Upon climbing up the gangway, handing over my passport and my ticket, I was shown to my room where I proceeded to relax whilst waiting for the ship to finish loading its cargo. I had hoped that there would be other people travelling passenger on this ship, but this seemed a futile hope as I noted that there were no other labelled cabins for passengers and that apparently only one berth is ever put on offer on this ship.
Until suddenly there was another passenger.,,
Melissa, an American from New York had managed to fall into one of the many traps English and American’s set each other, whereby the idea of us sharing a common language is shown to be a mean little lie. She thought she had booked a ship leaving the 8th of July, only whilst the Americans might write this as 7-8-15, in England, where the travel agent she had used was based, this of course means the 7th of August. So she was basically a month earlier than her booked ticket! And with accommodation and flights back from Belgium all sorted! Luckily the Captain took sympathy on her and made available a much smaller (but still perfectly reasonable) cabin for her, Now I don’t want to appear cynical, but I can’t help but think that this was one of these situations where being a woman was likely an advantage. I’m not convinced the same effort would have been gone to had the prize been the unexpected pleasure of my company at sea for the next 11 days, instead of the slightly more feminine presence of Melissa…
Still it was good to have another passenger to talk to – and she brought wine, so who am I to complain!
Immediate differences between this ship and my last were minor. There was no lift, which made the slightly taller superstructure, somewhat of a drag to get up. There was a pool, like in the “Nabucco”, except with the water temperature being much warmer it was actually in use. Although tempted, I ultimately put off the idea of trying it out. Given my track record of managing to almost drown within about 2 meters of dry land, giving fate the chance to draw me inside a perfectly sea-worthy ship seemed too much of a risk…The engine room, like the “Nabucco’s”, was impressively loud, and although it was slightly smaller, having the tour given by the Chief Engineer this time did help understand some of the technical aspects of it. Food was a slighty less formal affair. There was a lack of wine at meals, (for which my liver probably heaved a sigh of relief), and the lack of a French crew and chef did mean the food got a little less fancy and a bit less formal, although the Philippino kitchen staff tried their best to channel their inner gallic spirit by making sure every meal was in at least some small part, flavoured with (very) strong garlic…
Luckily I love garlic.
Wild-life watch and the “Secret Garden”
The most noticeable difference though was the improvement in the weather (by which I mean temperature) which meant it was warm enough to do lots of hanging around outside the boat looking for wildlife. Not that I could claim to be very successful at this. Whilst Melissa saw numerous dolphins, a whale, and even some sort of large unidentifiable marine animal, the most I seemed to be able to manage was a few seabirds and a couple of flying fish, which, after about a whole batteries worth of camera use I finally managed to just about get on film. I thought flying fish literally just jumped out of the water, a bit like dolphins, but they really do travel some distance. They are one of my new favourite animals.
But for a while, no dolphins. I must admit by about half way through the trip I was starting to think that Melissa must have had some sort of secret communication system set up with them, as they seemed almost always to come out just after I would leave! The closest it looked like I would get was a glance at a bunch of the swimming ahead of us at right angles to the ship, after they were pointed out by a crewman on deck rushing past to get a better look. Luckily though the front of the ship was arranged differently to the Nabucco”, so I was willing to spend lots of time there waiting for my luck to change…
This was because unlike the “Nabucco”, the front of the ship, where all the anchor chains etc were kept, was under a roof which you could access (after climbing over several obstacles) by a vertical ladder. This led to what for want of a better word, was the sun-deck.
This was the undeniable highlight of this boat. Here, under the warm sun, with enough of a breeze to keep you cool, and with the rear of the boat and its noisy engine far out of ear shot, all you could see was the open sea for miles ahead, whilst the only noises to be heard were that of the wind and the waves caused by the ship as the bow plowed through it on its voyage to bring me home. It was stunning, it felt a world away from the noise of the rest of the ship, and in its sun-drenched isolation felt like some sort of secret garden in which even the seemingly futile gesture of staring out to see in the hope of seeing dolphins felt like the best thing anyone could ever want to do with their time.
Even on the anchor deck below, the fact that the superstructure around the edges was a bit more built up allowed me to feel confident enough to try off some trick shot camera work, leaning out through openings to look below and behind to see the mighty bulbous shaped bow (its resemblance to a phallus didn’t strike me until later) slicing through the sea. And here, with its slightly better protection from the wind and mist that by day 6 made the sloping floor of the “sun deck” rather hazardous, that my patience finally paid off! A whole flight of dolphins, swimming, at what looked like a tremendous speed, just ahead of the huge and probably dolphin fatal, red-painted bow. It is apparently the young dolphins who do this, in what I imagine must be a rather dangerous youthful exuberance, but for whatever reasons it looks spectacular from above and something I will surely remember long after other parts of the last year and a half have slipped from my memory. I’m very happy to have got some video of it too, which I have included in the video at the end of this post.
Arrival in Antwerp took place on the evening of Monday the 20th, but we were not expected to leave until the following morning. The journey into Antwerp harbour was another fascinating experience. The port itself is huge and is reached after what was the best part of a 7 hour piloting exercise down river channels and canals. Its crazy to think that such is the level of shipping traffic coming into Europe that barely miles up the road is another huge port at Rotterdamn in the Netherlands.
Two weeks I think to explore Belgium and then I guess its finally time for home…
Want to do something similar?
For those interested in doing this sort of thing, be aware that summer Atlantic crossings book up fast. I booked mine in Christmas 2014 and already the choice of dates was starting to get limited. If you are doing something a bit more leftfield, like my trip from Japan to Mexico that perhaps less notice is required, but unless your plans are super flexible the advice has to be book ahead. I booked my Atlantic crossing with www.zylmann.de, and my Pacific crossing on the “CMA CGM Nabucco” through Slow Travel Experience. Both are German based but have excellent English and I was really happy with their support in the lead up to both trips. There are several other agents that can hook you up for this sort of thing, but do shop around, as I did find the same voyages offered at different prices.
In terms of a guide price, it depends on what room you go for and what route you go for. Atlantic crossings seem a bit pricier. 100-120 Euros a day is probably a rough guide of what you can expect. This does include all meals of course. You will save a bit of money travelling as a couple. If you fancy something different, have the time (or rather can invest the time) or just really want an opportunity to get away from the outside world and distractions for a bit, then it’s definitely something you should look into. If your budget won’t stretch to it, but you still want to travel by sea instead of air, then check out some of the websites that look to set up private yacht owners with crews. experience isn’t always necessary, but you will probably need to be very flexible on where you want to go and have a lot of time to spare. Something like www.findacrew.net is probably a good place to start.