Tuesday, 2 June 2015

0250 Sea Voyage across the Atlantic

2nd May - 2nd June 2015  Sea Voyage across the Atlantic

3.5.15    S35.04.13.5   W55.04.58.21
2.30 pm    Off Punta del Este, Uruguay

Hardly any sleep.  Breakfast of bread, cheese and coffee, then up on deck to watch for departure.  Car loading ramp pulled up slowly at about 9 am.  Depart Montevideo at 10 am.  2 tugs to pull us off the jetty in high, cold winds.  Chinese fishing vessel unloading frozen tuna beside us straight into a refrigerated 40ft container.  Bulk tanker loading with wheat.  Head out of harbour. Lunch at 11 am, then siesta in cabin as we sail up the coast, past the campsite of the past 3 weeks, and past the mountain we climbed outside Piriapolis 2 weeks ago.  Heading up the coast to Paranagua, south of Sao Paulo.  Quite a lot of movement due to high winds whipping seas up.  No stabilisers on commercial vessels !!

4.5.15   S30.53.38.00   W
Noon – Off Porto Alegre, Brazil.

About ½ way to Paranagua.  Slept a bit better last night but still a lot of rocking and rolling.  Better by the morning.  Breakfast at 7.30, and then lunch at 11 m makes it too much – Think just a cup of coffee for breakfast would be sufficient.  Sit up on deck in the sunshine – Very pleasant.

5.5.15   S25.30.00.15  W48.29.45.78
Noon.  In Paranagua Port, Brasil.

Warmer today as we head north.  Turned in toward Paranagua port mid morning, picked up a Pilot, and docked at 11 am. 

Unloading cars, trucks, farming equipment,  and lots of containers.  Intriguing to watch how manual many of the processes are, despite state of the art cranes.  The locking pins that hold containers in place are unlocked manually by crew using a long pole with
a hook on the end.   When they do not unlock properly, which seems to be a not uncommon occurrence, the crew have to scrabble round on ladders, climbing across the containers and then “fishing” down between the containers with these long poles until they can unlock them.  Surely there must be  better / safer way of doing this !

And as for the bumping and banging of the containers when the pins don’t unlock – well, I am glad that is not my Ferrari inside that container !!

Similarly with the cars – Lots of little VW Gol’s.  One crew of drivers unload them off the ship.  Then another crew of drivers come along and drive them 500 metres or so to a car park.  Just not a very efficient way of doing things.

9 pm at night now, and they are still loading containers, so I guess we will leave some time during the night, and head for our next port, Santos, about 200 kms up the coast.

6.5.15   S23.55.27.85  W46.20.31.18
Noon.  In Santos Port, Brasil.

As we approach the city, trying to work out where the port is !  As we head into the  natural harbour, a river opens up round the east side of the city, and we then head up this river for several kilometres, over an hour before we finally tie up. First we steam up beside the city, with apartments and office buildings on our left, and car ferries crossing the river round us.  Then gradually it becomes more of a port and for the last half hour we are passing berth after berth – many bulk grain ships loading (all the grain I have been seeing harvested out there as I drove across the pampas !), car carriers disgorging cars, and massive container cranes loading and unloading big container ships.  Santos is a big port that stretches right round the city.  Having entered the harbour on the south side, we eventually berth right round on the north side of the city.

After running over a marker buoy and just about destroying it, we finally lower our ramp at the rear and start unloading hundreds of cars (Fiats this time), while simultaneously trucks carry 20 ft containers aboard – It is a busy little ramp for several hours.  Down at the front end of the ship, a big crane is loading and unloading 40 ft containers and  ISO tanks.  New CAT bulldozers trundle up the ramp into the ship, while a fuel tanker pulls alongside and pumps fuel aboard. 

We depart in the darkness and once more head NE towards Rio de Janeiro.

7.5.15   S22.52.39.57  W43.12.25.7
Noon.  In Rio de Janeiro port, Brasil.

When I wake up at 5 am, my GPS show me we have just passed Ubatuba on the coast where I recently spent a great 10 days with Mauro, Giovanna, Leticia and Pedro.  I try to text them to ask if they can see me on the horizon but can’t get through.     By lunch time we are approaching Rio, and there is a lot of pollution haze – The coast line is unexpectedly mountainous as we start to be able to pick landmarks, searching for the distinctive Corcovado and Sugarloaf.  We spot the sands of Ipanema and then Copacabana beaches, and then swing north into the harbour, with distinctive Sugar Loaf on our left.    Once again we are trying to work out where the port is, using the GPS on our tablets, while we pass between the old defences of the Santa Barbara Fort guarding the narrow harbour entrance and steam on past the new airport that juts out into the
harbour. The Corcovado towers over the city on our left and is almost lost in the low cloud, as we pass several islands – Ilha Fiscal with its distinctive green Castelo, Ilha das Enxadas and the white buildings of the Naval Training Centre, and the Ilha de Santa Barbara with the ruins of its old fort visible amongst the trees. 

We finally berth right up on the north side of the city, right under the massive Ponte Presidente Costa e Silva bridge that crosses the harbour, with the ever present flocks of Frigate birds wheeling overhead.  We don’t unload any cars here – Just more containers being loaded by crane onto the forward deck, and loads of steel pipe (oilfield casing ?) being driven into the vehicle decks and
unloaded.  By 6 pm we are all finished, and in the darkness of evening head back out of the harbour, while we have supper and then continue our journey NE to our last port of call in South America, Vitoria.  As we leave Rio it starts raining heavily.  We have been joined today by a new passenger – Italian Gianluca who is headed home to Milan after 3 months travelling overland through Asia.

8.5.15  S21.48.46  W40.13.08.89
Heading towards Vitoria Port, Brasil

Wake up to heavy rain !  No morning walk round the deck today.  We are well over half way to Vitoria, so should arrive some time this afternoon.  Our schedule says we spend almost 2 days in Vitoria, so we are not sure what and how much cargo we load here, but it must be a lot.  There isn’t a lot else to do on board, so long discussions and speculations about when we might arrive, and what cargo we might load helps to pass the time of day !!

Arrive off Vitoria at 6 pm in thick fog and heavy rain. Big bridge across harbor entrance only  just visible.  Wait outside port till the morning.

9.5.15  S20.19.30.46  W40.20.20.14

In Vitoria Port, Brasil

Enter the port in clear sunshine at 7 am.  Very narrow river with city on right and docks on the left.  Dock with starboard side to wharf, so unable to open car ramp or use ships cranes to load 60 containers (Wharf cranes on this jetty suitable for bulk powder only)  Unable to turn around until high tide at 6 pm, so just sit alongside wharf all day, doing nothing !  Fortunately workers onshore were cutting and removing a solid rock hill beside the boat which gave us something interesting to look at !  How the workers did not kill themselves is a miracle in itself – Their operations were one unsafe act after another !

On the north side of the river are some impressive old colonial buildings, unfortunately almost completely swallowed up by modern high rises.  Particularly the Palacio Ancheta and even more so the Catedral de Vitoria which is almost totally hidden from view.  It would have been nice if some of these had remained more prominent. 

At 6 pm finally turn around and tie up again so we could unload 60 cars (Honda’s this time !) and load about 60 containers.  Apparently they have to complete loading before 6 am tomorrow so we can leave on the high tide – Or else we have to stay till 8 pm !!

Half an hour’s walk on decks, and some time on bicycle in gym.

Remainder of the pics up as far as Vitoria are here :-  https://picasaweb.google.com/117739775480775657932/0251MontevideoToVitoria?authkey=Gv1sRgCKWp55mh3dPeoQE

10.5.15  S20.16.41.83  W39.52.28.06
Heading across the Atlantic Ocean !

Complete loading OK and leave Vitoria port at 6.30 am, headed for Dakar, Senegal.  Woke up at 5 am and was up on deck for final departure from South America. Vitoria is a narrow little river port with steep rocks on one side and the city on the other, and we sail out to sea, passing under the big Terceira Ponte that takes the traffic from the north side of town to the south.  On the way out, the old jail (penitenciaria) is very visible on the south, and then the Army’s 380
Infantry Battalion headquarters, while to the south the colourful buildings of the old city and now suburb of Jesus de Nazareth, with little fishing boats tied up in front, reminds one of what Vitoria perhaps once looked like. 

The two tugs escorting us out of the river turned back as we passed under the Ponte, and then the pilot left us shortly after, and we headed out into the Atlantic Ocean on our way to Dakar, Senegal, about 10 days sailing away.  We pass a couple of offshore oil rigs not far out to sea. 

We had arrived in South America on 10th October, and left on the 10th May – Almost exactly 7 months later.  What a great adventure it has been, what amazing sights we have seen and wonderful people we have met since we landed in Cartagena all that time ago.     Goodbye South America……….

11.5.15 W34.09.31.86

Off Salvador Bahia at 5 pm

12.5.15  S06.40.50.37  W30.15.42.14

Off Natal at 8 pm

13.5.15 N00.00.02.47  W26.15.04.41

Cross Equator at 12.32 am 

Neptune ceremony in morning for 2 Equatorial virgins ! Poor Gianluca - He took it all very well !!

14.5.15   N02.38.35.6  W24.40.30.99

In the middle of the Atlantic !


15.5.15  N08.24.24.79  W21.12.01.79

Still at sea !

16.5.15  N14.40.30.78  W17.25.46.98

In port in Dakar, Senegal

Cannot get off ship due to Safety concerns and also possible problems returning to ship through port area.

Senegal typical W Africa !  Grimaldi sister ship Grande Nigeria came into port, headed south.

Some more pics of this section of the trip are here :- https://picasaweb.google.com/117739775480775657932/0252VitoriaBrasilToDakarSenegal?authkey=Gv1sRgCK3KoeGvz_T76QE

17.5.15   N15.18.44.97  W17.37.54.87

200 kms north of Dakar.  Walk and cycle.

18.5.15  N22.12.37.61  W17.29.43.14

100 kms off the coast of Mauritania

Cold on ship today, and windy and cold outside.

19.5.15  N28.18.51.75  W13.43.29.9

Travelling E of Canary Islands

As soon as we passed the Canaries, the wind and the seas picked up dramatically. Long swells, ship rolling and pitching, cupboard doors in cabin swinging around unless secured.  Speed dropped to 20 kmh  (11 knots for you nautical types !).  Not really rough – Just a bit more interesting !

20.5.15 N33.24.58.81  W12.11.53.13

300 Kms west of Casablanca.  

Still rough and windy like yesterday, and still only managing 20 kmh

21.5.15  N38.40.03.08  W10.49.52.29

150 kms west of Lisbon

Clear skies, but still wind and long swells. Warm if you could get out of the wind.  Able to walk on deck, albeit carefully to make sure not blown overboard !

22.5.15  N44.38.43.85  W08.44.06.8

150 kms north of Coruna, In Bay of Biscay.  10067 kms from Montevideo, and 1016 kms from Tilbury! 

Much calmer and less windy today, and back up to 30 kmh (16 knots).  No white tops.   
Ready to get off ship now, although 4 more days to Hamburg, and 6 or so to Tilbury.  Very tempted to get off in Emden or Hamburg and catch ferry to UK, but will exercise patience and save the money!

23.5.15  At sea !

Coming past Brest and into the English Channel – Thick early morning fog, which clears later into clear blue skies.  Franz threatens to jump overboard !!  Pigeons land on the ship for a rest – We must be getting close to land ! 

25.5.15  Finally we reach Emden !

Emden is an amazing port – Basically it is a VW car factory surrounded by an enormous parking ot filled with cars, and surrounded by wind turbines to provide the power !  One starts to realise a) Just how many cars there are, and b) what a massive business it is moving all these cars around the world.  We unload VW Amaroks that are all made in S America, and load other VW’s for on-shipment.

26.5.15  And on to Hamburg

We sailed overnight to Hamburg, arriving early in the morning.  While Emden port is in the middle of nowhere an just an enormous parking lot, the Port of Hamburg is right in the middle of the city, and you sail right past offices and streets t reach the port – What a contrast.   By the time we had breakfasted, they had lowered the ramp and unloaded some big front end loaders brought from S America, and it was time to get Franz & Ingrid, and Unimog 22 off the ship.  So we helped them cary their luggage down, the crew untied all the cars for us, and then we had to wait while they moved a Swiss and Rover that wouldn’t start !  I had to move Troopie to a different deck, and then Unimog 22 disappeared off down the ramp onto the wharf – Home in Germany after 2 years on the road. 

Down on the wharf, I watched from the ship as German Customs (Zoll) went through Unimog 22 with a fine tooth comb !  Sniffer dogs were underneath, in the spare wheels, everywhere – Obviously Franz and Ingrid looked like highly suspicious characters Ha ha !!  Finally the got to drive away, and disappeared down the wharf, and off home.

Meanwhile they were loading cars non-stop onto the Grande Amburgo.  But not new cars – Old clunkers !  Many of them weren’t even running and had to be pushed on board using  special 4 WD’s with a big steel plate on the front with some rubber tyres tied on – Pretty primitive.  On tooking to the captain later he said he hated carrying these because many were leaking oil and his crew always had a big clean up after they were unloaded.  They are old European cars being taken (or should I say dumped ??) down in West Africa !!  Apart from cars, there were trucks with other trucks on their trays, with any spare space filled with old doors and wheels etc.  There were old trucks with cars strapped on the back.  And they were loaded in their hundreds for the entire day.

Finally sailed out of Hamburg in darkness in the evening, with all the town lit up as we passed through it, and back out into the North Sea for the journey to Antwerp.

28.5.15  An so to Antwerp.

We sailed all day the 27th, heading back down the channel to Antwerp, and during the day saw smoke in the distance.  It turned out to be a ship on fire, and when we passed through the smoke plume, it had a very odd smell – Plastic ?  We didn’t even slow down, and I couldn’t see any one stopping to help them, although when I asked the crew at lunch time they said some fire ship was on its way to help them.   I found out from Janet later that there was another accident today in the channel with one ship sinking of the coast of the UK, and the other limping to Antwerp.  Busy day on the high seas !
We finally arrive in Antwerp  early in the morning of the 28th,  and for an hour steamed up through all the dock area.  This is a massive port.  We passed another Grimaldi ship, the Grande Gabon, heading out, and then had to go through a narrow lock system into an inner harbour.  I thought the lock was pretty tight for us, but once we were in, they then squeezed two narrow fuel barges down beside us, and then another two behind us.  Then the hydraulic gates were closed behind us, and the road bridge lowered, and then they opened the lock and road bridge in front of us and we sailed out into an inner harbour, which was almost as big as the outer one we had already passed though.  You only get to appreciate the size of some of these big ports when you sail into them on a ship.

Antwerp is the “operations  base” for Grimaldi, and they have their own wharf there, and when we arrived there were 4 other Grimaldi vessels already tied up there.  Once again, massive flat areas just filled with cars, and apart from Grimaldi ships, there were other car carrying ships all around us, busy unloading and loading their own cargoes of hundreds of cars.  There are even car carrying barges moving around, carrying cars from one wharf to another – Just a
jaw-droppingly massive operation.  We then spent 2 ½ frustrating  days in Antwerp port, only 100 kms or so from my destination in Tilbury ! So near but so far. Once again, they loaded hundreds of old cars, many of which again had to be pushed on board by other vehicles.  I even noticed in the back of one of the old trucks they loaded, it was filled with old fridges !!  And the number plates on many of the vehicles were from Poland and similar.  Hmmmm.

2nd June 2015 – Tilbury at last !

We finally sailed out of Antwerp on the night of the night of the 30th May, and I thought we might get to Tilbury today……….But no – we sailed NORTH up the coast of England, past a whole lot of wind turbines in the middle of the ocean, and then anchored off Felixstowe !!!  Congestion in Tilbury Port !!   Aaaaaaggggghhhhh – I’m never going to get there !!

Then late that night we finally weighed anchor and sail back down the coast and in to Tilbury – Unfortunately it really was the middle of the night as I would really like to have seen the journey up the Thames Estuary. I didn’t sleep a lot – I didn’t want to miss my stop and end up in West Africa !!
Had my breakfast and then met the Grimaldi ships agent who took my passport off to immigration, and then I sat around and waited !  To my surprise I saw the American camper van of Justin and Melanie that we had been with in the camp site in Montevideo, and which we thought had missed the  boat from Montevideo – But it had evidently just been parked on a different deck from us.  Finally the ships agent came back and we went off to the Grimaldi office on the wharf (terra firma at last – exactly 31 days after boarding !) where I filled out a Temporary Vehicle Import form on line, then I went off to get Troopie off the Grande Amburgo. Unfortunately the excitement of arriving in the UK was just too much for her, and despite the fact that she had started when I had to move her in Hamburg, she finally spat the dummy and refused to start !  So we had to call the battery man over for some extra boost (not a rare occurrence on these car ferries, so they have all the gear ready), and after a quick jump start, we were off.  Had a good chat with a guy working on the wharf about my trip, Sean I think his name was, and then it was back over to the Grimaldi office, waiting on Customs to inspect me.  20 minutes later, I was told I could leave, and after getting my gate pass, I drove out of the Tilbury Docks, and out onto the LH side (!!) of the English roads, and headed off.  I never even saw a Customs man !  So a very easy entry into the UK !

So concludes the South American portion of my trip – And what an Adventure it has been !!

Overall, really enjoyed the experience on the ship, mainly because of memories of my Mum telling me stories about how she used to travel out to Jamaica in the 1930’s and 1940’s on board freight ships - “Banana boats”, as she called them.  It is perhaps easier on a shorter voyage – a week or 10days would be fine.  Nearly 30 days is starting to get a bit wearing, although it is actually quite an economical way to travel.  While the passenger cost is roughly equivalent to an air ticket, one has to consider that for 30 days I am not spending any money on food or accommodation, so overall is cost effective.  Once again, doing it on your own sucks……….!!

Rest of the pics are here :-  https://picasaweb.google.com/117739775480775657932/0253DakarSenegalToTilburyUK?authkey=Gv1sRgCJDvlvTgks-LogE


  1. Sea Voyage across the Atlantic is the only wish i am having since years. but unfortunately i am not able to fulfill it.. i loved reading your blog post, you are lucky you visited.

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