13.10. – 15.11.18
With a freighter across the Atlantic
After we had found the right pier in Antwerp in the huge cargo port and dutifully logged off to the police on our ship, we could easily drive to the Grande Brasile. One of the third officers welcomed us and showed us our cabin. We had to hand over the passports and confirmation of the yellow fever vaccine to the captain. Later with the direction of the second officer, we were could park our Globi on the main deck ourselves and check that it was properly lashed.
For three reasons, we decided to travel across the Atlantic on the vessel with Globi. First, because we wanted to experience the life on a freighter. Second, because we wanted to secure and guard Globi. We have heard so many unpleasant stories in this regard. Third, because the customs clearance on arrival is much easier and faster because the vehicle is declared as our cabin baggage for customs.
Until Hamburg we were the only passengers. In Hamburg, seven more passengers were added. All but one of them have boarded their various vehicles. We were lucky with the passengers. We were a random team with different origins and interests, but we always had a good deal of each other even in difficult situations and there was never a fight.
Activities on board
A freighter is definitely not a passenger ship and of course nothing is offered to entertain the passengers, as we were told in advance. Nevertheless, we have weathered the 33 days at sea well and always entertained ourselves somehow. Especially after the departure in Hamburg we were at sea for a very long time; only in Vitoria, Brazil, we did drop anchor at a port again. The part of the journey between the islands of Cap Verde was nice and we had very good land view. Along the coast we crossed many ships, but not one on the Atlantic, although the sea routes are relatively clear, nearly like streets for cars.A very impressive experience was the driveway at night in Hamburg, very close to the Elbharmonie and in the middle of the sea of lights. At the same time, the famous passenger ship MS Queen Mary was in Hamburg and just passed us by. We were able to inspect the beautiful ship at eye level.At the very beginning of the journey we had to do a rescue boat exercise, where the function and the handling of the lifeboat was explained in detail. It was interesting to learn that the small boat is always equipped with food and water so that the occupants can survive in it for quite a long time.The inspection of the engine room was of course very impressive. When will you ever see such a big engine and even running? We were, of course, proud that it was a Swiss engine. The Chief Engineer explained all our layperson questions professionally. He was quite proud of his desalination plant, which works in a vacuum. Now we know why the water is always warm and never cold.Since all passengers wanted to stay in South America for a longer time, we all learned Spanish like hell. At least that has been a busy part of our day for us. Every day we have indulged ourselves as well with a small table tennis tournament. From this point of view, a freighter trip is good for Spanish language skills and turns simple Ping-Pong players into real table tennis pros.
Luckily, we were not the only ones who had taken their videos with them, so we were able to show each other videos almost every night.The visit on the bridge was almost always allowed and very revealing. During difficult maneuvers, of course, we had to leave the bridge. The Chief, first officer, always allowed us to guard our vehicles in the ports. Unfortunately, it was very often at night and sometimes took up to twenty hours. Based on our experiences, we believe we could keep some bad guys away.In Rio de Janeiro, the captain organized a friend who drove some of us through the city. Gabi participated in this tour. Unfortunately, the weather was a bit rainy and the driver was not so experienced with guided tours.The captain once organized a basketball game in which the passengers could participate as well. The Messman was of course the star, having received a sports scholarship for basketball in his homeland. On two Saturdays, the captain organized a dinner with suckling pig and then karaoke for the crew. We also participated in the karaoke the first time, of course only passively. The second time we skipped this, because the hit rate of the right notes got worse and worse, the longer the evening lasted and the volume did not really do any good for my already damaged ears.
What we missed a lot is the crossing-the-line ceremony. All passengers and some of the crew members should have been done this. Unfortunately, this tradition seems to have been lost in this day and age.
The Grande Brasile
Compared with Globi, the Grande Brasile has huge dimensions. Gross registered tonnage: 56’660, payload: 26’169 t, total length x largest width: 213.88m × 32.25m, engine: 15’540 KW (21’128 HP). At speed, it burns up to 50 tons of heavy oil per day. The heavy oil is so viscous that it must first be heated before it can be injected into the seven cylinders.In addition to containers, which are stored at the front of deck eight and on the lower decks, the ship is mainly built for RoRo vehicles. In some ports, up to 1,500 vehicles are loaded and unloaded. The unloading and loading are always done by an organization of the local port, the ship crew only monitors the work. Everything is controlled and determined by Naples, the headquarters of Grimaldi. The “Chief” – first officer – receives the latest information just before entering the port. Naples also determines whether the captain has to anchor or directly drives to the port.The many employees of the loading organization in the ports are also the people who can become potentially most dangerous to our vehicles. We always felt very safe with the crew and would not expect them to damage anything. Already in Antwerp we could observe the first disaster created by the port crew. A brandnew Scania was driven backwards onto the ship. Since the reverse gear was obviously too slow, a large jeep was used as a shock vehicle in addition. The driver drove up the ramp at approximately speed of light backwards. He only roughly hit the giant throat. The front passenger side of the Scania not only needs a new mirror, but also a new door and a new roof and probably a few other trifles. Anyway, we were extremely happy, we could drive Globi on board ourselves and without a shock vehicle. Another brandnew Mercedes towing vehicle arrived safely at the port of destination. Of course, there was no more pressure left after all the time on the ship. The driver has climbed in, has started and let the cold engine run for a few minutes at the highest speeds. Now the vehicle got pressure and maybe something else that its new owner will notice only later. Of course, working as a driver is not easy, they have to be able to move new, huge and for them unknown construction and agricultural machines. There was a machine parked next to Globi, which just did not want to start. The first mechanic called found no hidden switch and the second disassembled the whole engine and injected diesel directly into the cylinders. The machine was running. When the driver was back on the cockpit seat, the engine stopped again – the tank was empty. The whole procedure started again. After just over two hours, the machine was finally unloaded.In the middle of the Atlantic we have observed insects on board. Presumably we took those from Africa. We asked ourselves how these animals can nourish themselves? They were still alive when we arrived in Brazil. Most likely they mix up with South Americans and might found a new species. Birds visited us from Brazil as soon as we were about 100km close to the coast, prior to that there we haven’t seen any.
What was rather disappointing was the ubiquitous filthiness. For example, our refrigerator was still full of spilled milk from the pre- or pre-pre-guest and smelled accordingly of course. Our cabin should be cleaned daily along with the cabins of the first officers. We managed at least to get a cleaning once a week. Wherein cleaning just meant to roughly take up soil. Really horrible though were the upholstered furniture. They were probably bought in 1999 at the time of the construction of the ship and since then used and never cleaned or replaced. The fabric was so greasy that we had to put covers over it and just sat on our cloths. Only through tough fight we got once a week new bedding. That it did not have enough coffee cups for every passenger was another unpleasant and ridiculous detail. The wardroom and the lounges are also in a terrible state, everything is fucked up and used up. We paid as much for the Owners Cabin as for a decent mid-range hotel. What we got for it in return is such a joke. The captain told us that the ship will probably be phased out in 2020 because it will no longer comply with European regulations.
Eating in the wardroom
We came on board with the romantic idea of an Italian chef cooking on an Italian ship and serving Italian food. Colleagues have also raved about it, but their experience is already a few years back. In reality, we have lost a lot of weight because the meals served to us was certainly the worst food we have ever received, and we have eaten in many different places throughout our lives. The Filipino chef has spoiled the food with so much boredom and frustration that eating often was out of the question. When the meal was set to 1800, he finished cooking at around 1600 and let everything getting cold, not that anyone could have burned his tongue. As a result, all those who absolutely needed food were standing in line at the microwave oven. Twice a day we got meat and always potatoes, always prepared the same way. After two weeks we rebelled because always eating overcooked potatoes is just unbearable. The captain told us that he has a budget of € 5.70 per passenger per day. We wondered what else had to be bought with all the money we had paid. As far as the eating manners of the officers were concerned, there would be a lot of education. Romantics do not have it easy when they meet reality. On Corpus Christi there was cake for desert, which was really delicious. The only delicious food we can think of during 32 days.
The entire crew is not employed by Grimaldi. They are all under contract to a specialized recruitment agency. Grimaldi just hires the entire crew from that agency. Since they all come from the same agency and come back again and again, they are like solid freelancers and know each other and the ship very well. Previously, the Grande Brasile was running under the Swedish flag and everybody received about twice as much salary as today.The crew up to and including the third officers consisted exclusively of Philippines. They drive the whole round Hamburg to Hamburg three or four times depending on the rank, so they are on the ship for up to eight months without a break! All Philippines made a courteous, sympathetic and helpful job.The second officers were Croats and Bulgarians. They have to do two laps. They always explained us their area of expertise and whenever we had questions, they answered them with joy and dedication.The first officers were Poles and Bulgarians. Both helped us passengers with all sorts of problems when they had time.The captain was rather special. Even if he was a good professional, he was humanely quite the opposite. His demonstration of power in Paranagua was especially infantile. He had all passengers awakened at 0030 and picked up by the local customs office. Firstly, we were taken by bus to the harbor entrance and then by minibus to the customs office. Here an official entered all the data of our passports, the passengers and the crew, into his computer. Nobody knew exactly what to do with us. We were then driven back to the ship with the passports. The captain was then unavailable because he visited some dubious pubs in town. We passed the one-and-a-half-hour exercise with serenity.The captain seems to be an excellent table tennis player, because even in inebriation no one can beat him. Unfortunately, he lost the ground under his feet in the match against a passenger and smashed not only his racket, but also the whole table.
Arrival in Montevideo
We all longed for the moment we finally could leave the ship. Naples let us anchor one more night outside the harbor of Montevideo. When we docked, however, everything went fast. The Chief made it happen for us to stay overnight in the ship and unload our vehicles in the morning. Thanks to him we could avoid an uncomfortable night in the harbor area. The local agency of Grimaldi then did everything very efficiently and sympathetically and we were finally free again and drove our way.