"If you truly want to unwind, a cargo ship trip is just the ticket."
October 29, 2013 4:31 PM   Subscribe

Pirates of the Indian Ocean, thieves in the Red Sea and Egyptian bazaars on the Suez Canal: Travelling from Malaysia to Germany with cargo ship MV Hatsu Courage.
posted by paleyellowwithorange (18 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I just finished reading Ninety Percent of Everything, in which Grauniad and NYT contributor Rose George describes her similar journey through the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Indian Ocean, on MV Maersk Kendal (slightly smaller than MV Hatsu Courage). Fascinating stuff. This link has better photos. It looks she had better food, too. Fascinating to think how little exposure this critically important part of life is, which makes everything possible yet is almost invisible to us.
posted by Fnarf at 5:23 PM on October 29, 2013

Related: Six Months at Sea in the Merchant Marine. The video linked from that post is from the perspective of a cargo ship employee, though - whereas this article describes a passenger's experience.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 5:29 PM on October 29, 2013

Holy CRAP do I want to do this. I have wanted to ever since reading this when it first came out.

If I recall correctly, Polish-crewed ships are known for having crazy-amazing food. When I first read about doing this, I had no idea what that might mean, but now, twenty-five years and ~1,250 pierogies later, I know in my bones.

Adding "Pester spouse relentlessly about going on a 6-month freighter cruise" to my list of recurring to-dos.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 5:38 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Something I've always wanted to do!
Seems it's a little more difficult and expensive to arrange a passage than it used to be but given the time and money I love to cross an ocean this way.
posted by islander at 6:01 PM on October 29, 2013

I once traveled by cargo ship from Saint Petersburg to Stockholm.

The crew was Scandinavian. The food was fantastic. The stars at night were unbelievably clear.

The movies they played in the dining area were mostly pirated Disney films with a deep-voiced Russian man speaking all the parts in a monotone, dubbed right over the original sound. If you sat really close, you could just barely hear the English dialog.

Absolutely want to do something like that again someday.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:40 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've always wanted to do this! I used to have a fear of flying, and in the middle of a particularly rough flight I would always think to myself, "OK - this is the last flight I'm EVER taking. If we land in one piece, I'm taking a ship home. Never stepping on a plane again."

A bit more comfortable with flying now, but I'd love taking a big cargo ship anyway. Get me a satellite wi-fi connection and some good books and I'd happily stow away for a few months.
posted by pravit at 6:57 PM on October 29, 2013

This is great. I hope the merchant shipping lines figure out how to make more and more space for passengers, and maybe bring prices down. This needs to be a mainstream alternative. I always hate going to Kayak to look at airfares and seeing the page filled with $1200-1800 prices.
posted by crapmatic at 7:28 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Finally, laden with around 100kg of luggage, much of it reams of Ayurvedic books including the epic four-volume Charaka Samhita, we made our way to Gold Coast Airport.

Why would anybody do this?
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:42 PM on October 29, 2013

Dear Eli, I'm in the middle of the ocean. I haven't left my room in four days. I've never been more lonely in my life, and I think I'm in love with Margot.
posted by bluecore at 9:09 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've always been interested in traveling this way, but whenever I've looked online, it seems that a berth on one of these ships is obscenely expensive--2-3 thousand dollars at least. Am I missing something?
posted by anewnadir at 9:22 PM on October 29, 2013

It's never less expensive than about $150/day.
posted by thewalrus at 12:30 AM on October 30, 2013

R. A. Heinlein wrote a travelogue about an around the world trip taken mostly on freighters oh, back in the 60's?

I always suspected the current reality to be -- like many things -- depressingly differently.

Good to know it's not all ruined by progress and shit.
posted by mikelieman at 2:43 AM on October 30, 2013

The Filipino crew was grateful and bartered happily for phone cards and internet sticks.

Everytime I read about a cargo ship, Filipino sailors seem to be mentioned. What is it that the merchant marine is so heavily populated by Filipinos?
posted by three blind mice at 4:51 AM on October 30, 2013

Get me a satellite wi-fi connection and some good books and I'd happily stow away for a few months.

That part could be a problem. Satellite Internet, especially from a portable terminal, is really expensive.

With Inmarsat, you can get a few hundred kbit/sec for $6.99 per megabyte. The rates get lower if you subscribe to a monthly package; there's 63 MB for $375, 255 MB for $1,299, 500 MB for $2,499, and 1200 MB for $5,639. You also need to buy or rent a briefcase-sized modem; I don't know how much those run.

Or you could go with Iridium, which provides 2.4 kbit/sec starting at $1.25/minute.

Naturally, these only work outdoors with a clear view of the sky. Better bring a big wallet and a long cord :P.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 2:01 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

A tad pricier than I expected! Maybe I'll just stick to the stack of good books then...
posted by pravit at 3:44 PM on October 30, 2013

"A tad pricier than I expected! Maybe I'll just stick to the stack of good books then..."
posted by pravit at 6:44 PM on October 30

If you get your amateur radio operator license prior to embarking on your trip, and take along the right laptop, portable amateur radios, antennas, etc., and get the captain's permission to work amateur band radio while underway, you could certainly work ARRL and sister organizations TCP/IP radio gateways, to send and recieve e-mail, transfer files, and even do a bit of low intensity Web browsing, for free. And you'd provide entertainment and thrills for other amateurs building and supporting such shore based relay facilities.

And for some classes of amateur radio license, you no longer even need to learn Morse code; just pass your tests for technical knowledge of radio theory, radio law, and operations.
posted by paulsc at 2:44 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Everytime I read about a cargo ship, Filipino sailors seem to be mentioned. What is it that the merchant marine is so heavily populated by Filipinos?
A few reasons come to mind (though IANAS and this mostly based on anecdotes from relatives)

1. English still tends to be the lingual Franca of the sea, and most Filipinos learn English as their second language. Urban Filipinos are almost guaranteed to be competent if not fluent in English

2. When the Philippines was an American colony, many Filipinos found employment in American merchant marine fleets because we were smaller and could more easily fit in the cramped spaces aboard ships. This extended even after independence while the US maintained a series of powerful naval bases within a stones throw of Manila.

Plus, we are a nation of islands. While there are many Filipinos in the main urban island of Luzon who may grow up without ever learning how to crew a boat or a ship, there are still plenty others who have grown up near the sea and had that as part of their family's livelihood.

3. Filipinos have a fairly low standard of living and therefore will work on the cheap. We also have a long standing tradition of going abroad to earn money to send back home. Remittances account for nearly 9% of our overall GDP and only China and India receive a larger amount of gross revenue from their expat countrymen sending money home. However China and India are countries with a billion people whereas the Philippines is just shy of 100 million. Per capita, we totally outclass them.

Whether it's being a nurse in Melbourne, an oil worker in Dubai or a domestic servant in San Francisco, there are all manner of blue collar service positions abroad that Filipinos will happily take because it's seen as being more stable and lucrative than working at home. And as a country, rather than combat this sort of working class brain drain, we've evolved to support and legitimize it to the point where we set up all kind of services to support the life of a longterm expatriate. Stay abroad, find your fortune and send some it back to us.

So, yeah: archipelago nation + English + cheap + a cultural bend towards legitimizing or glorifying an itinerant overseas professional lifestyle = perfect nation for creating working class sailors.
posted by bl1nk at 5:55 AM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not to pepsi blue the thread, but this site cargoshipcruises.nl has some good prices and details on how it all works if anyone's interested.
posted by digitalprimate at 2:41 AM on November 11, 2013

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