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

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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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Thanks for taking the time to post this; the concept of freighter travel has always been interesting to me, and I found this thread fascinating!  (stayed up way too late last night reading it all...)

 

I was really surprised about your notes early on about a pool.  The concept of a freighter having a pool just seems bazaar to me!  Did they ever fill it?  Got any pictures, by chance?

 

Thanks again.

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Perfect timing!   I have been considering a freighter cruise.   I would be traveling as a single 60 yr old female.  Any thoughts?  Safe?

too lonely?

Probably Transatlantic, but maybe to Asia

I am thinking of only being out about 12 days maybe 15.

Did you have elevators?  or stairs only?

 

Edited by Go2See

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On 1/15/2019 at 11:06 AM, DandDM said:

I was really surprised about your notes early on about a pool.  The concept of a freighter having a pool just seems bazaar to me!  Did they ever fill it?  Got any pictures, by chance?

This 'pool' was essentially a cube-shaped vessel on the B Deck about the size of our day-room in width and depth. There was a very small painted-steel deck next to it with a rickety wooden picnic table. The pool was empty. We understood that, when filled, it was with sea-water. Because the crew was so busy hustling aircraft parts to France, they never filled it up. It was essentially a plunge pool for cooling off in hot weather. We took no pictures.

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On 1/16/2019 at 1:04 AM, Go2See said:

Perfect timing!   I have been considering a freighter cruise.   I would be traveling as a single 60 yr old female.  Any thoughts?  Safe?

too lonely?

Probably Transatlantic, but maybe to Asia

I am thinking of only being out about 12 days maybe 15.

Did you have elevators?  or stairs only?

We make no claims or representations as to how safe it would be for a single female. But we have never heard of any instances of passengers being bothered by the crew. The officers & crew are quite professional. As for loneliness, you could make efforts to join the crew for afternoon coffee & tea. Also, you could chat up the crew during mealtimes. They would probably, during sea days, let you visit the bridge and chat up the officer(s). Based on blogs that we have read from other ships, if there are a number of passengers onboard, it's easy to get together to watch movies, play cards, and the like. Except for five days with an extra passenger, we two were the only ones aboard for the remainder of our 25 days.

 

Can't speak for the more modern and larger ships, but ships of our size don't have elevators. Stairs only. You'll have to get medical clearance from your doctor. You have to be 'able bodied' to participate in the crew safety drills which include actually getting into and out of a lifeboat perched at a 45-degree angle. The outside decks could be slick with oil/grease so some good mobility is a must.

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On 1/15/2019 at 9:06 AM, DandDM said:

I was really surprised about your notes early on about a pool.  The concept of a freighter having a pool just seems bazaar to me!  Did they ever fill it?  Got any pictures, by chance?

 

Thanks again.

Only worked a couple of cargo ships, but if no pool was provided, the Cadets & Chippie supplied, built one. Starting building a frame with dunnage (scrap lumber) and then used an old canvas hatch cover. Filled it up with salt water from the fire main.

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I'm reading this almost a year later!  Thank you for a very detailed journal of your trip.  Frankly, before I found this forum and your post, I didn't know that you could "cruise" on a freighter.  

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Man, if they only had shorter cruises available!

Even my wife thinks that this would be a great adventure.

She has always wondered what life at sea would be like.  I never tend to share the stories of my six years in the Navy.

I wish that the picture links were still active.

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Err, looks like TinyPic shut down operations on September 16th.  Because we were on travel, we missed the opportunity to move our photos to Photobucket, so those images are lost.

 

But we will try to upload them here one more time when we get the chance.

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36 minutes ago, Oak Hill Cruisers said:

Err, looks like TinyPic shut down operations on September 16th.  Because we were on travel, we missed the opportunity to move our photos to Photobucket, so those images are lost.

 

But we will try to upload them here one more time when we get the chance.

That would be awesome.

My wife likes the idea of a commercial vessel cruise, but she's having trouble with the cost.

We both understand that it is a very unique opportunity, but dang.  The cost......

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