"Ich habe die Nase voll!", says Norbert Negativ (not his real name). He's almost at the end of his journey - we've just put the luggage in our cabin. The Grande Nigeria is a Co-Ro ship: a combination of Roll On - Roll Off (Ro-Ro) and container ship. This boat will take us to Uruguay in about one month. We are the rookies, for us everything is unknown and new, but for Norbert it has been more than enough.
Everything is being wheeled in here in Antwerp. A lot of new cars but also a lot of used vehicles, some of which don't even start anymore. Those bruisers are helped inside with rebuilt 4x4's with a very heavy, rubber covered bumper. Each rolling 'thing' has a sticker with the sender, the destination and a barcode that is read with a hand scanner (handled by one of the few women here) just before entering.
We also see metal platforms with the dimensions of the bottom of a container on which things are attached that do not fit in containers. A few pass by with tree trunks of an enormous diameter sawn into planks and some others with a tank for 'something chemical' with some electronics on it. There is an impressive collection of new Caterpillar equipment waiting next to the boat, along with a concrete pump on a truck and some 'loose' trucks with trailers. All available space is used: a used dump truck for sand contains ... a passenger car! Everything on board is either heavy or heavily loaded. Our Land Cruiser with rooftop tent is parked between them, feeling tiny. We' are only allowed on board when the loading master is ready and that is why we spend hours observing:
The new cars come from a parking lot that we can barely see. Three men get into an old Volkswagen Golf, which drives to the 'stock' parking lot (driven by a fourth man). The three men wear white 'crime scene' overalls (so the new cars stay clean). The three men change into three brand new cars and drive them at high speed to the scan lady and then into the boat. The Golf follows, also into the boat. Moments later they come out again for the next round. We think that such a round takes about 5 minutes. That is 36 cars per hour, by four people. There are several teams active, but it takes hours before the parking lot is getting emptier. I'm amazed at how much 'labor' there actually is in parking rows of new cars.
At the front of the boat containers are hoisted on board with a huge crane. The shape of this boat is clearly subordinate to its beauty. In sailing boats the shape of the bow is 'fast', 'storm-proof', 'elegant' and so on, but here it is a rectangular, floating box with a point (the bow). The height is impressive. The crew and passengers sleep on deck 12. The waterline is slightly above deck number 2 (8.9 meters draught). The box is left open at the front (just in front of the bridge): from deck 8 there are - in the open air - containers on stacks. And more containers are being stacked there now.
The stern of the more than 200 meter long box is - as a ship - also not so successful: just rectangular, with a skewed recess for the huge loading ramp on the starboard side. It doesn't at all match the image of a classic hull we know from Saint Nicholas' boat. The tailgate is longer than the boat is high above water and will therefore later be folded against the hull.
We walk around to see what our temporary home looks like. Deck 12, almost 28 meters above the water, contains all living spaces. We find a galley and the 'restaurant'. That's very flattering for a room with four screwed-down tables with neat white tablecloths with plates, glasses and enough cutlery for a three-course meal. This is where the officers and passengers eat. Next door is a recreation room with a TV, some sofas, a table football table and some board games. On the other side of the galley is a dining room, for the sailors. Long, beige corridors run along the starboard and port sides towards the bow. There are doors on both sides: those on the outside for the cabins for part of the crew, inside doors (where we are not allowed in) with access to the only elevator, the stairwell and the space above the engine room.
Via a little bend we arrive at a small hall that gives access to a sea door. It's a heavy door, with an ordinary handle, but also two huge latches that can close this door watertight. After the sizable threshold you are outside, where you can walk around the crew quarters, the dining rooms and the galley.
A staircase takes us to the deck above the twelfth deck, which is completely empty (on all fire alarm plans that hang everywhere in the boat, the number that comes after twelve is carefully avoided). It has just been painted green, a bit wet by the rain and full of black smudges and stains. Here and there it is very slippery. In the middle is a blue 'chimney', with huge grills on the sides behind which equally large fans suck in lots of air 24 hours a day with infernal noise. It's the air for the machines downstairs. On top are 4 small and one big pipe that look like smoke (and soot!) has come out. One or two small ones also smoke here, in the harbor. On the deck there are lashing eyes everywhere; apparently (passenger) cars can be parked here as well. All the way at the back we see a slope with a garage door that is closed.
More to the front we see the little hospital, some ventilation and other technical rooms, and before that the bridge. We're not allowed to walk up to the railing in front of the bridge - the room just next to the bridge, where the console for operating the bow thrusters is located, is closed to non-authorized passengers with a rope and a sign. We can see through the windows of the bridge: I distinguish the consoles for the machines, the marconist, the radar and the navigation screens with sea charts. This deck above twelve is called the command deck.
Back on deck 12 we continue the journey forward: here are three parallel corridors with only sleeping quarters. The cabins on the outside have a large porthole, complete with copper screws and ditto hinges. (The glass is from 'Het Anker' from Schelluinen, the Netherlands - I haven't seen many other brands on large ships yet). Those cabins have a single bed and a sofa (convertible into a bed) (on either side of the porthole), a closet, desk and a room with a toilet and a shower. The outside passenger cabins have two single beds.
The inside cabins are smaller and have bunk beds and no daylight. We would have managed, but we are happy to have a room on the outside. On the doors are the names of the residents and their rank: most sailors sleep in the inside cabins, the officers and the cadets all have an outside cabin. In the inside area we also find the fitness room, another recreation room (only for the crew) and the ship's office. There are stairs ('indoors') to the bridge on the command deck.
The three corridors are connected at the front by a transverse corridor with the accommodations of the first engineer, first mate and the captain: double rooms, with an 'office' and a second room with a single bed and the toilet/shower combination. The cabin next to the captain is ours: like the captain's cabin but with a double bed (and therefore a little bigger, so there is room for a bathtub). It is called the 'owner's cabin', but I don't think anyone from the (very rich) Grimaldi's would sleep here. But for us it is more than right.
We feast our eyes: a port with a huge crane towering over the already tall ship, a 'sea' of new cars, containers piled up in streets and walls. We are impressed.
For Norbert that 'news' is long gone. He came with Grimaldi, on another 'Grande', a year ago. That sea voyage would also take about thirty days, but it took him forty. All kinds of bad luck and waiting times haunted that voyage. But the atmosphere on board was good: nice crew, good captain. In the end they arrived in Montevideo and Norbert (with his wife) drove around South America for a year in a camper (and together with the other German couple on board, but he didn't mention that). The trip had disappointed him: it just wasn't what he expected. And to be back in time for the boat trip back to Europe they had to get 'close' to Uruguay, where (in the middle of the winter there) it was raining a lot and it was cold.
Norbert was picked up by the boat that takes us away; he has been here for thirty days. In Dakar there were so many problems with the machines that nothing worked for 24 hours, including the generators and therefore not the air conditioning. The next day, they had the machines running again and left the main engine running at full speed. Black smoke and soot polluted a part of the harbor, but also the whole Grande Nigeria. And the deck had just been repainted during the ocean crossing. The boat has been in Antwerp for about a week now; it arrived earlier because the stop in Le Havre was cancelled. So Norbert has been waiting for all kinds of repairs to be completed until the voyage can be continued. Unfortunately it is not clear when those repairs will be finished. He seems to suffer more from the uncertainty than from the waiting time.
"This captain sets far too many rules," he grumbled, "At sea we were no longer allowed on the command deck because of the painting work. So we had very little freedom of movement". He continues: "On the first boat we ate at the same time as the officers. Now we have to have lunch at 11:00 in the morning because the captain wants to eat at 12:00, without passengers in the dining room. We are not allowed to just go to our car on deck 6, but have to arrange guidance first". Apparently Norbert likes to dump everything that bothers him with me at once. He concludes with: "I'll be happy when I'm in Hamburg zurück in die Heimat!" We do our best not to let his negative energy get a hold on us, but there is always something in such stories that sticks.
In the meantime we accidentally made our trip one day longer than 'necessary'. We were allowed to arrive at the boat before 10:00 on the 31st of August, provided our passports were 'stamped out'. For this purpose we had to go to an office on the other bank of the river Scheldt. Because of the travel time, the risk of a traffic jam and possible time for searching, we would have to leave very early in the morning. We thought it would be more convenient to leave the 30th of August at our leisure, drive to Antwerp, stamp and then look for the boat.
Upon arrival, the car has to stay on the quay, but when we put our (sea)luggage in the cabin and got to know Norbert, it turns out that they even expected us for dinner at 18:00 hrs. However, Isabelle has agreed with some family members to have one last farewell dinner together. We easily get 'permission' to disembark, to leave the harbor area (with our own car). We didn't realize that we might need permission at all.
The next day The Beast is not allowed on board until 16:00. We are on deck 7 in the back. Please keep that in mind, we were told. We do, although it is not yet clear to us why. Some say that we could have embarked on the 31st, late afternoon. But anyway, the car on board, we in our 'owners' cabin - we're ready for it!
During dinner we meet 4 French people: Jean, Nicole, Yves and Philippe, who (together) have three cars on board: a Hymer camper, a Toyota 70 series and Iveco truck (set up as camper). We sit at one of the round tables, at the other sit Norbert and his wife and a second German couple. At that table there is little talk, but a quick meal. We get acquainted and it works. I have some trouble following the French, but with Isabelle at my side I succeed. Yves and Philippe have two cars together, because their wives didn't feel like this boat trip. They fly to Buenos Aires on the 4th of October. By then, Yves and Philippe have already driven 6 to 700 kilometers from Montevideo to Buenos Aires. That's the way they planned it, at least.
The departure for Hamburg starts a bit later than expected with a (narrow) lock passage in Antwerp in pitch dark. I keep watching as long as possible, but at 2:00 am I find our bed tired and cold, where I immediately fall asleep. Large boats have a positive influence on my sleep: the sound (and the vibrations!) of the big engine soothes me fast asleep.
When we wake up again, we are at sea (8:00 am breakfast - who still thinks that travelling is a kind of 'vacation'...). Actually, we're not that far yet: we've sailed around the Thornton Bank (the one with all those windmills). We did miss the passage through the Scheldt. (And with that also the passage of the place where this boat has been head-on on another boat).
Only at the end of the second day at sea I get in touch with the second German couple, which seems to be a bit out of everyone's way. They turn out to be very friendly people and seasoned travelers on top of that. They have already paddled the Yukon in their own canoe, they have seen a lot of Africa and have also made motorcycle trips in the past. An interesting couple that is now ( because of retirement) able to travel continuously. They are now, just like Norbert (and as it turns out, with Norbert), on their way back after a year in South America.
They do not want to talk about it much but they regret the fact that they travelled together. I tell them about the advice I give travelers together: "Everyone pack for themselves and travel together as long as it is nice". In other words: if two girlfriends go bike-camping, make sure that both of them can also travel individually. "We did that too, but Norbert and his wife did not dare to go on alone", is the answer. These people are so loyal that they escorted Norbert back to Hamburg, knowing that their friendship is over. That silence at their dinner table - I must not think of sitting 'stuck' with someone for a month. And certainly not if that's Norbert Negativ. Isabelle and I are even more delighted about the fact that we don't have to take anyone into account.
Once we have reached Hamburg (on Saturday) we are not allowed in. We have to wait until 'our' berth is free in the harbor. We do that waiting at an anchor, all Sunday long. Permission to enter is granted when it is dark - we 'experience' the passage over the Elbe while in our bed.
But on Monday we go out: with two cabs to the center of Hamburg, where the group soon splits into two: Isabelle and I follow Yves, who would like to visit some geocaches. I've been playing with GPSs for years, but I've never done a geocache search. (A geocache is a hiding place known to the participants by the GPS coordinates and a description. In the hiding place you will find objects left behind by predecessors and where you leave something for those who follow you). Yves leaves behind a 'travelbug' that has a wish: to travel as far east as possible. Since we are going west, this is a good place, at the easternmost point of his journey.
In the evening at dinner four Germans are gone and two have taken their place: Peter and Carola (their real names). Two round tables are now set for 4 people each - that's the way it should be, because 10 passengers is unusual. By the way: the rectangular table, which we could all sit at together, remains reserved for the officers, even though they never eat at the same time as us. Does the captain suffer from territorial instincts?
The departure from Hamburg is in the dark again and Isabelle and I don't see much of the passage over the Elbe, which according to the French, was very beautiful (and they show convincing pictures).
Peter and Carola seem to prefer one of the round tables (and two chairs in the recreation room); the French and us don't have 'assigned' seats anywhere. In solidarity we agree on a rotation system so that 'our' group can keep changing. Eating with the Germans at the table becomes a challenge - Peter (who is a neuro-linguistic programming teacher) has a supplement, an improvement or a (sometimes silly) counter-argument to everything a table-mate says. The confronting trait in my character appreciates the 'joke'; the others resent the meals at the non-French table. A 'us' and 'them' feeling soon arises and I am happy with the rotation system, because the 'French' table is much more enjoyable.
There was a planned stop in Bilbao, but that was cancelled. And thus we start the longest continuous sea voyage: that from Hamburg to Dakar (almost 7 days). We quickly get used to the way things are going on board: we learn that the entire crew, with the exception of the captain and the 'ship mate', always work in shifts - at sea (of course) but also in the harbours. The mostly Filipino sailors work at sea on the maintenance of the boat; in the harbors they are busy with the cargo (moving, lashing). At sea they paint, clean, overhaul. On such a huge boat there is a lot of extra space for tools: we see a rusted rain pipe being cut off, provided with a new support (in 5 mm thick steel plate) and extended with a new piece of steel pipe. Angle grinders, welding equipment, pneumatic hammers: it's all there.
The officers are also on duty - one of them (Fabio) from 4:00 to 8:00 and from 16:00 to 20:00 (like me at Domicil). When the boat is waiting at an anchor, the officers have very little on hand. But still, the schedule is maintained. A junior officer uses his time to process 'the messages to seafarers' on the nautical charts and in the colossal books ('pilots') describing access to all ports. (Notices to Seafarers tell where a wreck is located, where it is temporarily forbidden to sail because cables are being laid etc - shippers have to copy this information on their nautical charts - a monk's work).
We still send some mail (and so on) while we have sporadic GSM coverage off the coasts of Europe. In Dakar (arrival in the night, but this time I was awake) we can disembark again. Once on the tailgate we see many, many men entering the Grande Nigeria to get all the used cars, trucks and other rolling material off board.
Peter is (on deck 12) scared s***less - he has read on Facebook that passenger vehicles have been broken into in Dakar. He doesn't want to get off board, but he wants to guard his vehicle. He has also complained to the shipping company management by email about the soft drink quota for passengers and the availability of cigarettes. The 'ship-mate' then calls a meeting with all passengers to make it clear that Grimaldi is responsible for everyone's safety and that everything goes by the book. They have ordered additional on-board security in Dakar, which will ensure that the drivers do not open our vehicles. Without training, helmet, safety shoes and reflective covers, there will be no unwarranted access in the cargo hold! Peter is not allowed to sit in his car for a day. The atmosphere between the Germans and the officers is already there.
We (the group of six) entertain ourselves for a day in Dakar: non-Italian food at a time chosen by us and a tour on an island off the coast from where African slaves involuntarily made a journey like the one we are going to make. The export was once under French control and I recognize the methods I saw French Guyana, on the receiving side. Slave trade is a cruel trade, but the French saw an opportunity to standardize and industrialize atrocities.
We start Wednesday September 12th (ten hours later than planned) in the morning from Dakar on the big crossing (of only 6 days).
The engineer in me is pleasantly entertained: a ship like this is actually a (propelled) village with only forty inhabitants. The most eye-catching is of course the 8 cylinder, two-stroke ship's engine, which runs on heavy fuel oil. That oil is heated in the tanks to 130°C because otherwise it wouldn't be possible to pump it, that's how thick it is. The mash is injected into the cylinder heads, in which pistons move with a stroke of up to 3 metres! These pistons have pistons with an extra kink, which makes it possible to stop one or more cylinders (disconnect them from the crankshaft) while the rest continues to rotate. (By the way - the engine problems in Dakar on the outward journey were serious: in Antwerp, two cylinders were completely overhauled).
The Grande Nigeria has a new propeller with four propeller blades of about 1.5 meters each. Making this new propeller and the modifications took a whole year, but the Grande Nigeria now saves 10% on fuel oil. The engine doesn't reach its maximum speed anymore ( as high as 125 rpm) but the speed has barely suffered. For the cruising speed of 16 knots, the engine runs 110 rpm and then generates 11 MegaWatt (15,000 horsepower)! Grimaldi has a separate department that calculates optimizations for the more than 100 ships: how much fuel less if we sail one knot slower, how much extra labour costs due to longer travel times, and so on.
There is no 'gearbox'. The blades of the propeller can be rotated, so that the 'pitch' can be changed, even until the blades are reversed (and the boat can move in reverse). At cruising speed, the Grande Nigeria consumes about 2 tons of fuel oil per hour, just under 50 tons per day. The fuel oil is in tanks below the waterline (deck 1 and 2). A round trip Hamburg - Zarate - Hamburg costs 2,000 tons of oil that is bunkered in Hamburg (at € 400-500 per ton).
For 'all' other energy consumers on board there are 4 generators, also 8 cylinders, but four-stroke. Together they can generate 1.7 MegaWatt; 700 kW is sufficient for normal operation. They are the 'small' pipes from the ship's chimney, which always smoke, even at sea. For a small village a lot is needed: potable water (made by 'boiling' seawater at 40°C under vacuum and then distilling it), plumbing (a vacuum sewer system), air conditioning, heating and ventilation, lighting, communication, navigation and 230V sockets so that the cell phone can be charged and the espresso machine works (important on an Italian boat). These generators don't all run all the time - the crew keeps an eye on consumption and condition 24/7. Actually, there is a lot of 'manual' labor in the whole process.
There are two radar systems on board: one high resolution (for close range) and one lower resolution with a much wider range. Of course there are AIS, an autopilot, navigation computers, GPSs and so on. One of the officers gives me the 7 GPS waypoints for the ocean crossing: from the rendezvous point for the pilot in Dakar (Senegal) to the one in Vitoria (Brazil). On my laptop I install OpenCPN (an open source nautical navigation program), after the same officer gives me a copy of the CM93 nautical charts. This allows me to create a route and predict fairly accurately when we will arrive.
On Tuesday the 18th of September we arrive on another continent. We may disembark again. By the way, that's a real 'thing': the captain remains responsible for us at all times. Apparently there are arrangements by which authorities accept that we visit a country without a passport in our pocket, but with a statement signed by the captain that we are sailing on Grande Nigeria. Brazil sends people from immigration on board, who stamp our passports and the passports of crew members who are also allowed on board, without seeing the owners of those passports - apparently because the captain says that the identity has already been verified by him. We may disembark at 13:00 and must be back by 18:00 (already). Long enough to have us taken to a shopping mall, change money and buy our first SIM card. We have internet and can tell the people back home that we arrived safely in a new part of the world.
But we are far from reaching Montevideo. Based on my nautical navigation program, I know that we will soon arrive in Rio de Janeiro. But then it turns out that we are sailing at an exasperatingly slow speed: only 7 knots. That is why we arrive just before sunset, but in time to see something of the city. We are not allowed to disembark here, because 1. the travel time to the city is considerable and 2. we will continue tomorrow morning.
Once we arrive in Santos (the port city of Sao Paulo) we have to be back on board before 13:00. Isabelle has laryngitis and bronchitis and we are looking for antibiotics. We can't do that without a doctor's prescription - we choose an inhaler that will make her breathe a bit better. Yves quickly finds a geocache and the other French people get chocolate. We were supposed to leave at 16:00, but that doesn't happen, not even during the night and not during the following Saturday. The hinge of the (internal) loading ramp of deck 6 is broken and needs to be replaced. It is a 'no-go' item: this ramp also serves as a fire door and must be closed at sea. Rush repairs are always difficult, but in the weekend even more so. The repair team leaves Saturday evening without much explanation. The captain, who actually only speaks fluent Italian (and poor English), throws his hands up in the air.
We see our opportunity for a day at the beach in Santos. Sunday at 9:00 am (already) we are at the port gate when the captain calls us back. The vessel keeps a quay occupied: if the repair is not easily done, it will have to be at a different dock, where we might not have access (coming from Santos). The captain doesn't want that problem - we have to get back on board. Fortunately, the repair is progressing and we are sailing out in the last of daylight.
We also disembark in Paranagua. Even the Germans (who haven't been off board anywhere yet) have to come with us: first to immigration. This will be our last Brazilian port and our passports have to be stamped. But this time immigration does not come to the boat - we go to an office in the city (and from there into the city, except for the Germans). Peter and Carola are worried about their 90 day quota: they hoped their passports wouldn't be stamped because they didn't want to get off the boat anywhere. Now they think they have five days less to spend in Brazil. Grrr and annoyance.
Tuesday September 25th (and the day after) Isabelle lies sick in bed. The captain is not allowed to administer antibiotics on his own authority, but has to consult a doctor of the shipping company by satellite phone. If those antibiotics are 'dispensed', the patient has to stay in bed, blood pressure and temperature have to be measured every 6 hours. A lot of hassle - the captain alludes to the fact that most travelers carry their own medication. "Would you like to go to your vehicle?" he asks and he arranges an escort. Isabelle starts our Augmentin. Thursday I am also sick - we share our only pack, assuming we find a doctor and/or antibiotics at the next port.
Friday we sail through the huge delta of the Uruguay and Paraná rivers straight past Montevideo, on our way to Zarate in Argentina. In the middle of the Rio de la Plata a pilot comes on board and he manages to get permission for us to leave immediately for the Paraná river. After half a day of sailing, we turn around! There is no place in Zarate after all, and we have to return half a day, from the narrow canal, to an anchorage. There we have to wait - eventually until Monday afternoon. Late in the evening we arrive in Zarate. On Tuesday we can disembark again: Isabelle and I got their Augmentin from Jean and Nicole; we are now looking for two boxes. We easily find three, without the intervention of a doctor. Meanwhile the other passengers have also started coughing and talking hoarse. But that doesn't stop us from eating our first thick Argentinean steak!
Also the last departure on Wednesday is delayed, but eventually we leave Zarate and sail the Paraná again. The weather is nice and all passengers (except the Germans) spend the afternoon on deck, enjoying the view and (smuggled in) beer. The Grande Nigeria is a cargo ship, a workshop. Nobody drinks on board - possession of alcohol is strictly forbidden even for the crew. Exceptions are made for the passengers: one 20 cl bottle of wine (or one 33 cl can of soft drinks) per person is allowed with every hot meal. The crew, who are not allowed to drink themselves, can see this, but does not seem to have a problem with it. On this last afternoon on deck in the sun, the crew doesn't see us.
On Thursday October 4th at 16:00 we finally (we were anchored again until a quay became available) sailed into Montevideo. As for the 'ship-mate' (that is the second in rank after the captain) we are allowed to disembark after 17:00. The ship-mate is responsible for all cargo and he decides in what order the material can or will be disembarked. But unfortunately: the paperwork cannot be put in order today (which I was already expecting). We stay another night on board - as a consolation we can disembark tonight (without passport). We exchange money, buy SIM cards and spend one last pleasant evening together (without the Germans, who didn't want to disembark once again).
Friday morning the passengers are walking around restlessly. Some of them packed all of their luggage yesterday afternoon and were mentally ready to leave the boat. All luggage is already in the vehicles and the passengers are getting bored. By the way, all the vehicles were sealed with stickers that are also used for customs: white, writable plastic that tears just looking at it, but that sticks very well on smooth surfaces. You can't take it off, because the plastic tears immediately. Every door, tailgate and window (of the motorhomes) has such a seal - a gift from the ship-mate following the complaining of the Germans? It will be a challenge to get the stuff off the car.
Suddenly the message comes through that our vehicles have to be disembarked. When we are all standing outside, it appears that we have to go immediately to the inspection and customs and that for this purpose the graceful Socorro of KMA Uruguay has been hired to help us. There is no possibility to go back to deck 12 and say goodbye to the crew who brought us here in 36 days. We wave to Luigi and Marco who are watching us on deck.
The cars are scanned, our documents inspected and all found to be correct. At 12:30 am the driving part of our journey starts...
A month in a relatively small area with a travelling party and a crew: during a boat trip, the people on board live close together and cannot avoid each other (however much the two German couples on the return trip would have liked). Peter and Carola are most explicit: they will never do such a voyage again. Peter and Carola refrained from normal interaction with fellow passengers or crew members. I was therefore surprised to see that he thinks he was discriminated against (as a German) by the Italian crew and the French fellow passengers. (Aus Gründen, die wir hier nicht weiter erläutern möchten können wir deutschen Staatsangehörigen Grimaldi nicht empfehlen. Für Franzosen sieht die Sache anders aus. link) Peter and Carola had an inside cabin (thus without daylight).
Yves and Philippe shared a cabin, because their wives travelled by plane to Buenos Aires. Due to our delay, that plan fell apart - the ladies have now booked a ferry to Uruguay. Philippe and Yves (in that order) got tired of it in the end, but that is also possible because they can 'only' travel half a year, of which they now lost one week. Or because they were really looking forward to the reunion with their wives.
Jean, Nicole and us had a cabin with a porthole. We actually hung around in that cabin a lot - watching films, rebuilding this website, having conversations in private - and ultimately, it was a good place to be. I think daylight is an important factor for well-being. Initially I also booked an indoor cabin, but Isabelle didn't like that. Luckily.
If there ever is an opportunity to sail again, we will certainly do so!
For those who find this page because they are considering a trip like this, I have some practical tips:
The sockets on board are Italian ('type L'): three pins almost straight behind each other. An earthed plug (type E or F) fits in, but the earthed plug is not connected. Bringing a multi-way socket (type F) is handy if you want to connect your camera, laptop and GSM charger at the same time, because there are not many sockets in the cabins.
Bring an HDMI cable and make sure you have enough movies (or so) on a laptop. TV's are everywhere, but there is nothing to connect a laptop.
Peter and Carola had a kettle so they could have instant coffee whenever they wanted. (We drank the delicious espresso on board, but only after the meals).
For the sailors: OpenCPN, a GPS puck and sea maps make it very nice to follow the trip on a screen. I have always left our Montana GPS on, and it has recorded the whole trip:
Write down the dates on which the clocks are adjusted on board (this always happens at 20:00 at Grimaldi). These data are needed if you want to geotag your pictures later on.
On board, Italian meals are served: lunch is a warm, three (sometimes four) course meal, one of which is a pasta dish. Vegetables are served little. Dinner often starts with (beans/pasta) soup, again pasta and then meat (sometimes fish), but again little or no vegetables. Breakfast is on the paltry side: on board baked white buns and virgin focaccia (pizza bottom) or with a layer of tomato sauce, together with one kind of meat and jam. Bring vitamin and fiber supplements?
All cabins have a refrigerator in which we could have stored chocolate for a month. (Isabelle (and the French) like to eat chocolate after the copious meals). Snacks are not served there - you have to bring your own.
If you have no affinity with the sea, if you don't like pasta or if you are easily annoyed by things (delay, people, incertainty), sailing on a Grimaldi cargo boat could be disappointing.