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Freighter Trip to the Mediterranean -- Part II

Author: DocJohnB (More Trip Reviews by DocJohnB)
Date of Trip: May 2006

After dinner, I went up to the bridge and had a long conversation with the 2nd Mate Anton (Tony). We talked about his life at sea, my life at sea, life at sea in general and also about our families. He explained a lot about container ships in general and the Arno in particular. He will take the test for 1st Mate this summer and is quite confident that he will have a successful run at it. He is a graduate of a Maritime academy. He does have a special lady back in Romania. Tony is 28, but looks to be 18. I guess this is a bit because he tends to chubbiness and has a bit of a cherubic face and a buzz cut. I was never fooled by his appearance though. He was always "the professional" I mentioned the "dolphin" experience of 2 days prior. He informed me that the gathering was much bigger than I thought it was. The ship picked it up on radar or some other instrument and it measured approximately 650 X 150 meters (2100 X 500 feet). It was huge. He said none of the bridge officers had ever encountered one near as large as that before. Interesting. I watched out over the pier as the crew meandered back to the ship and saw the Captain head off into town about 8 p.m. We must have been quite engrossed in our conversation as all of a sudden it was almost 11 p.m. During our conversation, the Mate carried on his duties answering bells and alarms, etc.

I went to bed (again with the warm room), but awoke a little after midnight as we were getting underway. I just opened the porthole and watched as we went under the bridge and I said a quick prayer to the Christ for a safe voyage back across the Atlantic. It had been a nice 9 day visit to the Mediterranean and western Europe. I enjoyed it all and only regret not having had quality time in all the ports.

Back Across the Atlantic and the Voyage Comes to a Close

The voyage back across the Atlantic was much like the one over with the exception of the weather. After once again passing thru the Azores, our route took us north of the route used coming over. The temperatures were decidedly cooler. Consequently, the pool was never filled. My days were spent pretty much the same as before, but I had much more interaction with the other passengers throughout the day. I will talk about them a little later in this journal, but for now I just want to mention that with only one exception we all got on together quite well. We had some serious and some not so serious discussions. Most of our days were spent lounging on the bridge (but in long trousers and a light jacket, instead of shorts and a shirt) just watching the sea go by, or reading, or napping. Terribly enjoyable (although some would find it boring).

As on our way over, we passed through the Azores and again, as on our way over the crew could be seen around the deck with their cell phones popped in the ears talking to loved ones back in their homeland.

After the Azores, it was 5 days or so until we would reach our first port of call in the United States, New York. I was looking forward to visiting the "Big Apple" and had made tentative plans with a cruising buddy to possibly get together. However, the vagaries of blah, blah, blah. It was also during this part of the voyage that I decided that I would change my plans a bit and disembark the ship in Norfolk, VA, rent a car and drive home. There were a few reasons for this. One was that we were bypassing Savannah, so I would miss visiting that lovely city anyhow. Another reason was just the logistics of getting off the ship and making my way to an area where I could be picked up in Miami. But the deciding factor for me was the ever increasing obnoxious behavior of one of the passengers.

A couple days out, Claudio told us that there would be a party that night for the crew and passengers in our lounge at 6 p.m. It was the feast day of the cook's name. Sounded like a good reason for a party to me. At 6 that evening, we made our way to the dining room. The lounge and dining room were decorated and a spread of hors d'oeuvres and drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) were laid out. Most of the crew were there along with all the officers not on watch. The captain and Chief Engineer came in and the party got in gear. The Chief Engineer was new on board, having just arrived in Portugal. He was much more outgoing than the previous one. He was also the proud father of a PhD. His son was a professor of computer technology at a university in Romania. It was a nice party and broke up about 8 p.m. It was a break for the crew and a chance for the passengers to meet and mingle with them. I believe all of us enjoyed the experience (crew and passenger alike).

New York (25 May 2006)

Early on this morning I headed up to the bridge to catch my first glimpse of America since leaving. Soon we approached land on our starboard side. This, if my geography is correct, would be Long Island. A slow transit took us towards the Ambrose light. Soon thereafter, the pilot boat approached us. Once in cell phone range, I FINALLY CALLED MY WIFE. She was a little upset that I had not called before, but did understand. After calling her I started looking for my cruise buddy's contact numbers. I looked for over a half hour before giving up. I could not find the piece of paper.

The transit would take most of the day as we journeyed up the Hudson River under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, then thru the Kill Van Kull tidal strait under the Bayonne Bridge to Newark Bay to Port Elizabeth where the container facilities were located. We would tie up about 4 p.m. But, once again Customs and Immigration held us up and a lackadaisical Port Agent combined to make this a poor port call. One of the crew had to see a doctor and the port agent was asked to arrange transportation for the crewmember to the doctor and us passengers to the Seaman's Club, where we could make plans to possibly get into NYC. The port agent said no problem as a bus was bringing two new passengers to the ship and he would drop us off at the Seaman's club before taking the crewmember to the doctor. Unfortunately, he neglected to tell the bus driver this as he dropped the two new passengers off and promptly left all of us and the ill crew member stuck. Now the Seaman's club had a shuttle that ran every half hour between the port and the club, unfortunately, between 5 and 6 the driver was on break. Of course it was just after 5 when the bus deserted us, so we had to wait until 6 p.m. The van arrived and at our request delivered us to a huge outlet mall where young Pierre finally caught a cab to meet up with his wife. Because of the hour and our lack of any real knowledge of transportation, we decided to forgo a trip into Manhattan. Peer, Chantal and I stopped at a Chili's and had a tall, cool beer. Then, as I had a couple of things to pick up, we separated and agreed to meet in an hour back at Chili's for supper. I found what I needed then just walked around this huge mall. We met up for dinner. I wanted to pick up the bill because we were now in America, but Peer would not allow it. We caught the Seaman's Club van back to the ship and were back onboard about 11 p.m. A rather disappointing visit to New York as we had to be back onboard by noon the next day. To make it even more disappointing, the next day at sea, when I opened up my journal, there in a slot on the inside of the journal was the sheet of paper with my cruise buddy's phone contacts. Now I don't know if we could have hooked up while I was there, but I know she was expecting my call.

The next day broke overcast and rainy. At breakfast the next morning we met the two new passengers. Both were French and were on their way back to France after a couple of months in the States. They were not traveling together, yet they were. Let me explain. First off, I did not write down their names but both were in their 60's...one man, one woman. They had came to America on one of the other CMA CGM ships on our route. The man would take a few weeks and travel around the country by train. He never said so, but I got the impression he did not like to fly. The lady had recently been widowed and was visiting with her daughter in New York. They would now head back to France once again, on the same ship.

The ship was docked within a couple of miles (probably less) of the Newark International Airport. I spent most of the morning watching planes take off and land or watching other container ships arrive and depart. Then it started to rain. I had been able to make arrangements for a one way car rental thru Budget. They did not charge me and arm and a leg and there was not a drop off fee. The only problem was I understood them to say I had to pick it up by 2 p.m. That would be fine as we were due in Norfolk by 10 a.m. That evening I spoke privately with Claudio. I had a picture taken of the Arno while she was departing Lisbon on a previous voyage. As a gift, I had this frame and gave it to him. He was quite pleased and even a little overcome with this little gift. I also gave him a generous gratuity. He deserved it.

The pilot came onboard about 1 or so and we were underway for Norfolk around 2 p.m. We reversed our course and headed back out to sea. I started gathering my gear together and after dinner that evening I sadly started packing up my suitcases. Some of us passengers gathered in the lounge and enjoyed a pleasant evening of banter.

The next morning after breakfast, I took my bags via elevator to the 1st deck as I did not want to have to wait for the elevator, because once we got to Norfolk (actually Portsmouth), my time to catch a cab and get to Norfolk and pick up the car appeared to be getting shorter. As we approached the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, the pilot came onboard. I called my wife and told her where we were and that I would call later in the day and let her know that I was on the way home. I was getting just a little worried as it looked like we would not dock until noon at the earliest and I wasn't sure if I could make it to the rental agency on time or not. So, I called Budget back and they informed me the agency was open not until 2 p.m. that morning, but until 2 a.m. the next morning. I felt relieved after that and just enjoyed the rest of my voyage.

These were familiar waters as I had been stationed on an aircraft carrier back in the 70's and had made this transit more times than I could remember. As this was the 1st day of the Memorial Day weekend, the bay boating traffic was horrible. I think that everybody who owned a pleasure craft in the Hampton Roads area had it on the water that morning. As we approached the Hampton Tunnel, I looked over and saw 3 of our nuclear carriers tied up at the Pier 12 area of the base at Norfolk. Now I had seen 3 of our conventional carriers tied up at one time back in 1972, but never 3 of these behemoths. They were the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) and the USS George Washington (CVN-73). Quite an impressive to this old sailor.

After passing the Naval Base, we headed up the river towards our berth at the Portsmouth terminal. Lunch was quick and warm good-byes were said. I will indeed remember all of my fellow passengers and all but one with fondness. I headed up to the bridge for a final time to pick up my passport and for a hearty farewell to the Captain and crew on the bridge. I would be privileged to sail with this group of sailors anytime.

I spoke with the customs agent and port police officer. They gave me directions to which way to go to pick up a cab that had been called for me. I went back to my room and after ascertaining that I had not forgot anything, I headed down to the gangway for the last time. I picked up my luggage and signed out in the log book. Usually one of the stewards would help us off with our luggage, but I suspect that they were busy with the other people departing (Karen, Patty, Peer and Chantal). The Bos'n Victor, noticed they were not there to help and grabbed my bags and off we headed down the gangway. With one final glance, I headed down the pier to await the arrival of my taxi.

It was a while before the taxi arrived, but one soon did and we headed off to Norfolk. Half an hour later and $45 lighter I was at the Budget Rental. I was on the road by 2:30 and would drive straight home to Florida arriving around 3:00 a.m.

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