Freighter Travel: Part Two 7

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• Perhaps the strangest thing to be about it is that it doesn’t feel that much different to plane travel at its core: both are monotonous. Neither provide much excitement or scenery, unlike trains and cars and buses.

• The title of my blog is One Lap, No Jetlag (I do need input on whether everyone thinks that is a catchy enough title for the book), but one of the interesting things is that on the east/west legs I have been on, we basically have gone forward one time zone per day. Each afternoon, the Captain comes on the ship intercom and announces that the ship’s clocks will be set forward at midnight. It is very slow motion jet lag.

• The loading and unloading of these massive ships is fascinating. It is amazingly automated as the eighteen-wheelers pull up next to the ship, the huge cranes remove the containers from the ship and place them on the truck, or vice versa. Rinse and repeat a few hundred times. From the bridge, the eighteen-wheelers look as if they are the size of a medium sized car.

• The superstructure of the ship is seven or eight stories high, with the bridge obviously at the top most level. This is over the level of the bulk of the ship, with is another three or so stories high, so that the bridge is about ten to twelve stories over the sea line.

• I’ve yet to go through even moderately bad weather, but officers in each of these ships have said they have gone through seas that have been rough enough that water hit the windows on the bridge. That isn’t to say they have ever seen actual waves that are that high (which would be absurd), but that the waves have been high enough to hit the superstructure or the stacked containers — they stack up 4-5 stories themselves — a good ways up and then sprayed upwards. I think I believe them.

• The ships have all been about 200 meters (600 or so feet) long. I think all three of them have been what is called ‘Panama Max,’ which means they are the exact size of the locks of the Panama Canal. I got a good tour of the first ship, which was 42,000 horsepower. The engine room was four stories tall. Aside from the main engines, it also had four auxiliary engines that produced enough power to support a town of 5,000. Those engines powered everything on the ship, including lights, air-conditioning, and most importantly, all of the cooling systems on each of the hundreds of containers. At top speed, the ship burned 130 tons of diesel fuel per hour. At normal speed, it burns 90-100 tons per hour. The ship held about 41,000 tons of diesel in its tanks.

• Although these ships are huge, that constantly rock back and forth (or front and back) in the waves of the ocean. This is true even when the sea is almost entirely calm. It doesn’t have any particular effect on me and all of the seas I have experienced have been quite calm, but a few passengers on the first ship I took had some difficulties sleeping with the gentle rocking back and forth. Interestingly, since the huge engines are running constantly, the feeling I get is that you are sitting on top of a huge and slightly shuttering washing machine.

• Quite interestingly to me, the Chief Engineer makes more money than the Captain. Keeping the engines up and running must be more difficult than following directions in this GPS-world.

• The Captains never look like Captain Stubing.

• There isn’t a whole heck of a lot to do on these ships, as you can gather, so aside from eating, I basically read, watch TV shows and movies on my computer, and get an hour or so of sun up on deck after lunch. I only mention that because I was working on my tan on the Hong Kong/Brisbane ship as the Jonathon, the other passenger, came on deck with his GPS and said we were passing over the Ecuador. Suntan on the equator – kinda cool.

• I was originally excited to see sunsets at sea every night. I was going to take pictures of every sunset and make a separate photo album of sunsets at sea. Well. . . sunsets on the ocean generally suck. I’ve seen thirty of them so far and none of them make my top 20 of all time. Here is the problem: there is no scope to anything at sea. The horizon is huge. Obviously, there is no land to frame any view – no hills, no mountains, nothing. So the sunsets end up looking so damn small. Sunsets that might end up filling up the sky when you are sitting in Nicaragua, with a hill on either side of the harbor, seem puny and insignificant when they are framed out against the entire vastness of the horizon. Plus, you need good, spotty cloud cover to reflect the light properly to get a colorful sunset, but again the problem is scope – you can see so far on the ocean that all the clouds appear very low on the horizon (since they are so far away) and they are usually massed up, which doesn’t give the proper canvas on which to paint the proper sunset. In short, huge disappointment.

Part one in the travel by cargo freighter series and Part three in the travel by cargo freighter series.

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About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

7 thoughts on “Freighter Travel: Part Two

  • Claire

    Can you tell me what are the normal customs & immigration practices aboard a freighter ship?
    We are Eu citizens in Canada & wish to travel transatlantic towards home to the uk, we are Irish.
    I see you need to be aware of all visas etc but there is no info on what happens with customs ie
    do they come onto boat, do they scan passport etc? any info would be appreciated thanks

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Customs are handled on board for everyone on the ship, crew and passengers. When you book your reservation, the travel agent you are working through is going to tell you if you need a visa to any of the countries in advance or not. If for some reason you need a visa and don’t have one, you can just stay aboard the ship at that port. Feel free to follow up with any other questions.

  • Ms Wheeler

    Thank you for the very informative blog. Meand my husband are due to set on our freighter trip soon.

  • Steve

    I see you did not like the sunsets at sea. Did you at least see some cool optical effects out there, like the green flash?

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