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Notes From A 25-Day Voyage On The Rickmers Jakarta; Houston To Antwerp

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I hope you find your 15-foot waves! [emoji3] I’m still enjoying every day of your journey across the Atlantic. Thank you for posting each segment.

 

 

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22 (September 10, 2017) At Sea:

 

Slept well last night. This will be the last sea day before Montoir. Clocks advanced last night for the last time on this voyage, so we are on Belgian time for the next six weeks!

 

I had eggs and rolls and Kay had oatmeal. Had a nice chat with Richard focusing on bicycling.

 

My mashed right thumb is doing OK. It’ll be black for months but the thumbnail probably won’t come off, I hope. A good reminder on our first sea day out of Philadelphia.

 

Kay spent the morning working on her journal and I read to myself from Rick Steve’s Europe Through the Back Door and worked some crosswords.

 

For lunch, we had beef spareribs, soup, a steak, French fries and veggies. Most of the officers were there and I lamented that this would have been a great opportunity to get pictures of the major officers. I must bring my camera to all meals from now on. Igor had gotten a haircut and Kay wished that we had got a picture of him before today.

 

We had coffee and I read from the next issue of The Atlantic. I went down to do a wash. Then we layed topside to the pilot deck to watch some waves. The wind is about 25 miles per hour and the ship is doing about 15, so the wind is coming from the back of the ship – as are the waves at about 3 to 6 feet.

 

For dinner, we had BBQ chicken and spaghetti with meat sauce. We chatted with Richard – this is his last dinner with us since he is disembarking in Montoir tomorrow. We gave him a zip-lock bag of excess energy bars, raisins and other goodies for his bike ride to Budapest. We envy him his adventure.

 

For the evening, we read from Wooly.

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From the left; Chief Electrical Engineer (or Electric Technical Officer - ETO) Bogdan-Ionut Vasilescu and the 3rd Officer (3rd Mate) Victor Mustata. Both from Romania. Bogdan was the most approachable crew member while Victor was all business.

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From the left; Chief Engineer Ion Morariu from Romania and our Master Igor Katashynsky from Ukraine. We only exchanged daily pleasantries with Ion and never had the chance to get into detailed conversations. Igor was more friendly and welcomed us to our cabin when we boarded - doesn't happen much on regular cruise ships. ;-)

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Here's our 2nd Engineer Andrei Bukhoev from Russia. Richard probably asked him about touring the engine room. But since we have toured many engine rooms on cruise ships, several warships, and the light cruiser HMS Belfast, we elected to skip the engine room tour.

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23 (September 11, 2017) At Sea and Montoir:

 

We did not see Richard at breakfast. We noticed the lazy susan is getting more and more depleted of condiments.

 

I spent most of my time up on the pilot deck watching the sail-in to Montoir. Richard joined me. We saw a little of a sea-side town but then it got to be a very built-up seaport. Just before crossing under the highway D213 bridge over the Loire River, We saw the new Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas under construction. That ship dwarfed our poor little cargo ship. Richard and I tried to fathom the difference between 6,680 passengers on that ship compared to us three.

 

We were supposed to be only dropping off those aircraft parts and expected to be departing at 4:00pm. There was an MSC container ship behind us taking on hundreds of containers. I could watch the container loading operation all day –and I pretty much did. We watched a couple of guys suiting up in what looked like climbing gear with harnesses, helmets, carabiners and the like. We presumed they were some sort of safety inspectors and they proved our supposition correct by slowly climbing a giant container loading/unloading crane and checking the handrails and other things as they ascended. Kay came out and joined us, taking a break from her writing. It was cold and windy outside and we had several rain showers.

 

At about 10:45, we saw Richard preparing to leave the ship. First, he came down the gangway caring his front and rear bike panniers – Ortlieb, the top of the line. Then, a crew member carried his bike down for him. With lots of effort, he attached his panniers to his bike and was ready to take off. We shouted down to him and we took pictures of each other. Richard had to wait for a port security car to arrive so he could follow him out of the port. We watched him cycle west, following the car and then a few minutes later, back towards the east almost back to us but then turning north and then again west behind a copse of trees.

 

Richard has left the building (ship). Just the two of us now.

 

A little jealous of Richard, we trudged down to lunch for a tasty chicken & vermicelli soup with fish, mashed potatoes and veggies. Victor came in and we chatted briefly. We asked about our arrival in Antwerp and he said Wednesday evening. So, it’s looking like we’ll be able to reserve a room at the Ibis hotel in Antwerp for Thursday night on.

 

Back in the cabin, Kay had a notion of using up some our six weeks in Europe by booking a cruise. At first, I demurred, fearing that with this cruise and the 15-day transatlantic cruise on October 29th, we stood a chance of being ‘cruised-out’ if we booked a third cruise.

 

After battling a slow internet to check out the MSC & Royal Caribbean websites, I went to a cruise booking website and found one that interests us – a 14-night cruise on the Celebrity Silhouette from Southhampton to the Azores and return, departing on October 7th. Works well with our schedule. We would have about three weeks to knock around Belgium, France and England, take this cruise, and have about 8 days before our return cruise. When we get to Antwerp,we’ll go to a travel agent and see if we can book it.

 

I started reading some articles from The Atlantic and that put Kay to sleep. While she napped, I went back up the pilot deck to see the unloading of the aircraft parts we picked up in Morehead City. I also watched other port activities. It had gotten a bit colder than it was earlier this morning.

 

Back to the cabin for coffee and some more articles from The Atlantic. We went down for a supper of tough pork with a tomato and bean sauce with rice and veggies. We saw a printed shore schedule for the ship indicating arrival in Antwerp at 3:00pm on Wednesday, September 13th. If that’s true, and we stay on-board Wednesday night, that’s only three more nights onboard. But since we left more like at 6:00pm instead of the estimated 4:00pm, and with other delays we’ll probably get, it’ll be late on Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

 

Bodgan came in for dinner and he said that this printed schedule was probably correct but there would be some delay.

 

After dinner, Kay and I went back up on the pilot deck to see the port and town as we sailed out. We again marveled at the Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas – 6,680 passengers to our now two passengers!

 

As we prepared for our evening boredom, the ship slowed a bit to let off our pilot and the ship began to roll a lot. We hope that when regular speed is resumed, the rolling will ease up. Richard is enjoying a hotel room in Nantes tonight. No rolling for him tonight.

 

As we tried to go to bed tonight, the ship began to ride rough with the prow crashing into the waves, the stern of the ship, where we are, lifted high and gave a vicious shake which caused all sorts of noises. The superstructure of the ship, our apartment building, was groaning in protest.

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After the pond-like quiet of the Loire River, we drop off our pilot in really rough seas. My 15-foot waves arrive and we were to have the roughest ride ever tonight -- remember, no stabilizers! Photo taken from our cabin.

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24 (September 12, 2017) At Sea:

 

In all the nois e and motion of the night, we both managed some REM sleep. But aswe arose, the forward and backward pitching had been replaced with some heavy rolling. Walking was hazardous and stuff started to come off our desks and tables. Kay’s empty suitcase careened across the bedroom scattering clothes she had piled atop it.

 

But we managed to do our toilet, get dressed and enjoy some coffee. For breakfast, I had two eggs while Kay had some bread with peanut butter.

 

Back in the cabin, I made Kay a second cup of coffee and read to her from our last The Week. I read myself to sleep in the chair. Kay got her computer out while I awoke to go up to the pilot deck to check our position with the camera GPS. As of 11:00am, we are passing the tip of France and entering the English Channel. France is about 45 miles to the south. I saw several other cargo ships. The seas are getting better and the rolling, while still unacceptable to cruise ship passengers, is not too bad.

 

The rough and noisy night we had would give me pause if consideration were to be given to another freighter cruise.

 

For lunch, we had chicken, baked potato and veggies. Igor, Ion, Andrei, Bogdan and Victor were there. I took their photos and we chatted. Looks like we’ll be arriving in Antwerp tomorrow afternoon and will have to go through the immigration and customs formalities and then we’ll probably stay onboard that night and disembark for good Thursday morning.

 

Igor was pacing in and out of the kitchen arguing with the cook, Vincent, and Jefferson about the food. Kay thinks it had something to do with apples being served to Igor’s table in a bowl – Igor wanted them ‘prepared’ or sliced.

 

This afternoon, I read to Kay from The Atlantic and she worked on her scarf or did solitaire on her phone. Kay took a nap and I went up on the pilot deck to look at ships and at Guernsey,one of the two Channel Islands that we just might visit in the next three weeks.

 

I also did a laundry for Kay – our last ship’s laundry. As I went up and down to the laundry room, I could see several pairs of shoes outside Bogdan’s cabin. Looked like he was having a farewell party or something. If his relief gets in tomorrow, this could be his last day on the Jakarta.

 

After putting Kay's wash into the dryer, we both went up on the Pilot Deck and walked.

 

For dinner, I had beef with rice and veggies and half of Kay’s pork schnitzel.

 

In the evening, I retrieved Kay’s wash from the dryer. Afterwards, I read to her from The Atlantic. Then we got in bed at 10:00pm hoping for a good night’s rest.

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Below is a link to a journal for great B2B freighter cruise from Melbourne, Australia to Philadelphia on the freighter Bahia and then from Philadelphia to Antwerp on the Rickmers Seoul (a sister-ship to our own Jakarta).

 

After the end of this cruise, we were able to meet the author of this journal, the Reverend Canon Andrew Neaum and his wife Diane in Boldre, UK and share some freighter travel memories.

 

If the link does not work, google Andrew Neaum and "Down to the sea in ships to the haven where they should be."

http://www.andrewneaum.com/articles/78-Down%20to%20the%20Sea%20in%20Ships%20to%20the%20Haven%20Where%20they%20Would%20Be%201.pdf

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Just before entering the Scheldt Estuary into Antwerp, we took one last fuzzy photo of what we believe is the Vuurtoren (Lighthouse) van Breskens in the Netherlands. Then back to the cabin for packing and possible disembarkation.

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25 (September 13, 2017) Last Day At Sea and Arrival in Antwerp:

 

It was a very restful night’s sleep. Kay got up first and exclaimed “Ron, get up! There’s lights out there! We’re here!” I got up and made coffee. I suggested to Kay that we were probably seeing the lights of Brugges and that we were a bit away from Antwerp. After coffee, I went up on the pilot deck and confirmed,with the camera GPS, that we had indeed just passed the Brugges area and were approaching the estuary leading into Antwerp. We’re not scheduled to reach our berth until 3:00pm or so.

 

We went down for breakfast and, as usual, we were again the only ones there.

 

As we draw closer to Antwerp, I’m wondering if Kay will tell me that it’s time to get off the ship today rather than tomorrow. If it’s sunny outside at 3:00pm, why not get off then? As of now, our reasoning is that, by staying on the ship one more night and getting off early Thursday, we’ll be fresher to tackle getting off the ship, saying our farewells, and getting to our hotel. Also, it’ll be a free night’s hotel room aboard ship, saving us $80 to $100.

 

At lunch, we’ll confirm that we will indeed be porting today and, if so, reconfirm that we can stay onboard another night and leave tomorrow. So, if we decide on our own, or if directed, to disembark at 3:00pm, we’ll have time after lunch to pack and leave. Got to remember to stuff Jefferson’s card & envelope. Also,we’ll book our hotel in Antwerp accordingly.

 

We went down for lunch and Bogdan was there. We asked him if he was happy to be in Antwerp and be going home soon. He gave his typical deadpan response “I’ll be happy when I see my taxi on the dock.” He said that the ship would be docked in about an hour. Well, that would be about 1:30pm versus the estimated 3:00pm. So,we decided to get off today. We went down to the ship’s office and told Igor and the port-side Rickmer’s representative that we would like to depart right away, like at 3:00pm. We had started packing this morning before lunch, so it wouldn’t take long to finish up. We went back down to the ship’s office, paid Igor 11 dollars for the water that we got from the slop chest. Jefferson was sent up to get our two suitcases and our two backpacks. After saying good-by to Igor, Gabriel, Lennie & Jefferson, we were on the dock and into a Mercedes taxi. Humm…Mercedes. $$$$.

 

Our taxi drove us to passport control where we got our 90-day EU cachet stamps.Then, as arranged by the port representative, the taxi took us to near our hotel. We got surprised by a 73-euro fare. When Kay asked why Rickmers did not pay for the fare, the driver said that Rickmers paid only for transportation to the passport office only. Oh well, at least it was a nice Mercedes. But the taxi driver was very friendly and pointed this and that out and answered our questions.

 

The hotel had rooms, which was a relief since we were unable to get online reservations due to a balky ship internet connection. Our room at the Ibis Hotel is a little tiny, compared to our spacious ‘suite’ on board the Jakarta.The hotel is very near the main train station, so we have a very central location for sight-seeing and transportation.

 

During the evening, walking up and down the broad De Keyserlei looking for dinner, I was just blown away at the number of restaurants and choices of food. I turned to Kay and said “There’s just too many choices to make about what and where to eat! I miss the ship with its set menu.” “I was sort of kidding”, I said.

 

Now we had about seven weeks to kill in the UK before our return cruise from Southampton to Galveston on the RCI Independence of the Seas. We had a lot of planning and effort in front of us and again, I was missing the regimen of the ship.

 

This ends our notes on our 25-day journey on the Rickmers Jakarta. I will check this thread from time to time to read your comments and answer any questions you may have.

 

We trust that we have not bored you, overly. To be sure, one has to be very independent and flexible to do a voyage such as this.

 

We do not think we will book a freighter cruise in the near future. But I'm turning 72 and Kay is turning 70 this fall, so we have only three more years before our clock runs out - freighter cruising -wise. If it suited our overall holiday plans, we would consider another such cruise to get to/from Europe or Asia.

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Thank you for the detailed notes. It was very interesting, so different from cruising in ways I had not even thought of. Have to admit though, I think I could handle everything but the food. ;p:D

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What a cool trip. Thank you for the fabulous journal entries— I have loved reading along with you on your freighter cruise. Thank you for sharing!!!

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Very cool trip. We’re definitely going to look into this to get us over to Europe or back one of these years.

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Thank you so much for this great report. I learned a lot. I could handle a trip like this but my years are just about gone.

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Thanks for the interesting report, enjoyed reading it very much. Hope the rest of your journey was enjoyable for you and Kay.

 

 

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I perked up each time my email inbox alerted me to another possible installment of your freighter trip. What fun it has been to read. Thank you for both the excellent descriptions & photos. I wish you many more adventures in the future!

 

 

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Just re-read your entire thread about your cargo ship voyage. Was most interested in seeing how the industry has changed since the couple of cargo ships I worked aboard back in the 70's.

 

Life aboard is much more casual and relaxed than I recall and the lack of choice at meal times was highly surprising. Sounds like your only choice was eat what was on offer, or leave it. Did they ask about allergies or food dislikes before you boarded. Your comment about some crew complaining about the food brought back many memories, as the old seamen, when referring to a previous vessel, always mentioned whether or not she was a good feeder.

 

Seating arrangements at meals also seemed very casual - looks like they had no head table for the Captain and Senior Officers. Also noted in your photos, the officers were not in uniform for meals. Was this normal? How about the Captain and Deck Officers, did they wear a uniform on the Bridge.

 

You mentioned a passenger lounge, but did the officers have a Wardroom, where they met for drinks before dinner. Were the passengers given a standing invitation to join them for pre-dinner drinks and film nights, or other activities post dinner.

 

Also recall from my cargo ship days that our cabin steward always brought us morning coffee with biscuits and afternoon tea with "tabnabs". Is this another tradition that has gone by the wayside, as I don't recall reading about it in your reports.

 

Again, thanks for taking the time to write these posts, it was most informative.

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For Heidi13, some answers & comments:

Life aboard is much more casual and relaxed than I recall and the lack of choice at meal times was highly surprising. Sounds like your only choice was eat what was on offer, or leave it. Did they ask about allergies or food dislikes before you boarded. Your comment about some crew complaining about the food brought back many memories, as the old seamen, when referring to a previous vessel, always mentioned whether or not she was a good feeder.

 

This ship was was very basic, not too far from Captain Katanga's smuggler ship Bantu Wind in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. The doctor's release form we submitted asked about allergies but none food-specific. We have no food allergies and we had to watch for extra sugar in the desserts, which was usually only sliced fruit (ice cream on twice in 25 days). As previously mentioned, the Master told us "You've got to be kidding" when we asked if the slop chest (ship's store) had any diet colas for sale. The single-choice menu did not bother me much since I was looking for a simple, bare-bones, 'authentic' working ship experience.

 

Seating arrangements at meals also seemed very casual - looks like they had no head table for the Captain and Senior Officers. Also noted in your photos, the officers were not in uniform for meals. Was this normal? How about the Captain and Deck Officers, did they wear a uniform on the Bridge?

 

The two tables in the officer's mess were identical but the one on the left was most definitely the 'head table' since only the Master, First Officer, Chief Engineer sat there (2nd Officer & 2nd Engineer were Filipino and they always ate in the crew mess with the Filipino crew). The only time the officers wore their uniforms was when we were in port. It was always 'Casual Fridays' at sea. The Electrical Engineer almost always wore a T-shirt that said "Obey Gravity -- it's the law". The 3rd Officer liked to wear a T-shirt emblazoned with "SWAGGER". No uniforms on the navigation deck whilst at sea -- First Officer with shorts, T-shirt & flip-flops all by himself.

 

You mentioned a passenger lounge, but did the officers have a Wardroom, where they met for drinks before dinner. Were the passengers given a standing invitation to join them for pre-dinner drinks and film nights, or other activities post dinner.

 

There was a ships office, rather like a wardroom with a large table that could seat maybe 10 to 12 people. We were never invited to join the officers for pre/post-dinner drinks/activities. We were invited to join the crew for 3:00pm coffee but we preferred our en-suite coffee service. The passenger lounge was a spare room with lots of paperback books but no TV or VCR for the non-existent movie nights. Like the Master told us upon embarkation, we were the first passengers in two years! On the pilot deck, there was the 'Blue Bar' with a wet bar, a drum set & guitars, and wrap-around windows. We were sort of promised a BBQ feast there but, due to time-constraints and heavy weather, it was never opened to passengers or crew during our voyage.

 

Also recall from my cargo ship days that our cabin steward always brought us morning coffee with biscuits and afternoon tea with "tabnabs". Is this another tradition that has gone by the wayside, as I don't recall reading about it in your reports.

 

None of that on this passage. We were happy to have a hot water kettle, Nescafe instant coffee, sugar & Coffeemate. There was a crew gym of sorts but the equipment, an exercise bike & treadmill, looked more like it was requisitioned from a Goodwill store than of fitness center quality & build.

 

We've heard about larger container ships offering more services like multiple-choice meals, functional rec rooms and fitness centers. Not this ship -- think Bantu Wind. ;-)

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Thanks for the responses.

 

Very interesting how the standards for the Captain and officers have dropped to such a low level. I can only hope they are paying substantial salaries, as I don't know any Captains that would sign-on, unless they paid well.

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Non-officer crew (ordinary & able bodied seamen, carpenters, etc.) we observed on the main deck were always wearing orange uniforms (per our photos above) with hard hats. All personnel and passengers on the main deck and during safety drills wore hard hats.

 

We didn't mind the 'Casual Friday' attire of the officers during sea days. The casual dress helped us 'blend' in.

 

During an extended stay on the navigation deck, the first officer told us that his hope was to eventually work on passenger ships.

 

Based on our reading of passenger ship crew profiles of the 30+ cruises we have taken, it appears that more than half had cut their teeth on merchant vessels. We wonder how many passenger ship officers go back to merchant shipping. The pay for officers of those super tankers or big CMA CGM container ships must rival or exceed passenger ship officer salaries.

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Thanks for the responses.

 

Very interesting how the standards for the Captain and officers have dropped to such a low level. I can only hope they are paying substantial salaries, as I don't know any Captains that would sign-on, unless they paid well.

 

Just got home, where the bandwidth now allows me to see the photos, so I will be catching up on the comments.

 

British and Commonwealth ships have always been more formal than others. The wearing of officer's uniforms only in port has been almost universal on non-passenger ships (and even those cargo ships that carry passengers) for as long as I've been sailing. US shipping companies don't have uniforms at all, for the most part. Dressing for dinner, or having the ritual pre-dinner drink has not existed outside the Commonwealth for many years. Most ships even provide a third mess hall, the duty mess, where officers and crew who are working and don't want to get out of their dirty work clothes can eat in segregation.

 

As for salaries, when I worked with Norwegian officers, the passenger vessel jobs paid less than the cargo ship jobs, but the people working cruise ships did so because of the atmosphere on the ship, which they felt made up for the lower pay.

 

A couple of my first ships, back in the '70's, carried 12 pax, US flag, and the only choice on the menu was one of the two choices the crew got. Passengers had a lounge, and this was back in the days when you had a movie projector to watch "TV", the movies got rotated between the officer's lounge, the crew lounge, and the passenger lounge. We had one passenger who was bored on the Atlantic crossing, and asked the Chief Mate if he could work on deck with the crew chipping and painting. That was fine, until one day the Captain saw him perched on a vang post (similar situation to the guy on the container guides you posted), but right on the side of the ship. He was 65+, and the Captain just about blew an artery. That was the end of his working sea going career.

 

And for the picture of Kay in the lifeboat, they were cruel to make her sit there, it is the worst seat in the boat, the other seats forward have more legroom, though none of the seats in a freefall boat are exactly spacious.

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Chengkp75 thanks for the info.

 

As you probably guessed, I worked on British ships and probably the UK flag's most formal company - P&O. Although mostly passenger, I did complete a couple of cargo ships, including a cadet training ship for my first voyage.

 

In port, our uniform was a boiler suit, so for meals we could eat a quick meal in the duty mess, but otherwise we were in uniform for all meals. Dinner was normally 4 courses and had a choice of a couple of entrees. Pre-dinner, we always met in the wardroom for refreshments and post dinner for a film, darts, etc. Being in port or at anchor it was always the cadets job to visit other ships to exchange the films.

 

Our salary with P&O was similar to your experience, on passenger ships we made the minimum UK standard, with General Cargo/Box Boats making about 10% premium. Bulk shipping had another 10% premium over GC and Chemical Carriers received 10% premium over Bulk. When they didn't have a pax vessel for a short contract before our wedding I did 3-months on a Chemical Tanker and received almost a 50% increase. Didn't even have to conduct Bridge visits or make PA announcements.

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Thanks to all for your comments & discussion.

FYI, for further comment & discussion, we paid a total of $6,396 for the both of us in the 'Owner's Cabin', the poshest accommodation available on the Rickmer's fleet.

We did not comparison shop other ships. We wanted to go on this ship because they had nine pretty much identical ships moving around the world and this frequency allowed us some flexibility in our planning.

Also, the Jakarta's sister ship, the Seoul was the ship featured in a travel journal by the Reverend Canon Andrew Neaum and a New Yorker Magazine article which ensured that this was the shipping line we were going to book, one way or the other.

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