03 Sept – 15 Sept. (Tilbury – Dakar)
We boarded our ship, the Grande Amburgo, on the 3rd September. After a healthy breakfast at McDonalds to help with the hangover, we were shown to our cabin on the 12th deck, the ‘living level’. We were unaware we had to specify when we booked that we wanted a window!
Hauling our panniers and bags up the ramp into the lift, we were thankful that this small but essential piece of kit was presently functioning. Our first introduction to life on board: lunch at 11am. Unusual time but, we were told, that is the way it is. After a large Mc Breakfast meal-deal at 10am, we weren’t quite ready for the four-course lunch, but politely – as it was our first day – forced it down.
Sample Lunchtime menu, served at 11am in the dining room
Second course – Octopus and squid salad with potatoes
Third course – Meat, thinly sliced pork steak, breaded, with salad
Dessert – Fruit
Finale – Tea / Coffee
Each course served as portion that would be sufficient on its own.
Feeling mildly ill and gluttonous, we ventured back to our windowless cabin. This was it. For four weeks this would be it… It was not long after our eventful morning had turned into a dauntingly tedious afternoon that we learnt we were not sailing until the following day. We also found out that a consignment had been sent to Tilbury train station turning out to be a small branch of the Granger Clan plus friend. This you should all know, having diligently read our [Manchester to Tilbury] blog.
We finally set sail on Sunday 4th September and arrived in port in Antwerp, (the first surprise stop), the next day. The turnaround was very efficient and we were sailing away the following evening having picked up a large number of broken cars and another passenger – 83 year old Mr Hendrikson, first name Johannes, Joop for short, (pronounced Yopb). Or simply Mr Hendrikson to the crew.
This Dutch seasoned sailor had been packaged off, or had taken himself off – we don’t know which – on a round-the-sea trip while his younger wife continued earning the bread.
It seems this is a regular pastime for old Joop, and we quickly learnt within one hour of him boarding that of the four ships he had similarly absconded to, already the Grande Amburgo was substandard.
For us, the ship is only a passage, a way to convey ourselves and our bikes from point A to point B. For Mr Hendrikson, this was his summer holiday away from the monotony of retirement. Antwerp to Buenos Aires and back!
Boarding in Antwerp and disembarking in Antwerp, Joop had little intention of getting off the ship anywhere, but every intention of enjoying the tranquillity of the passing waves, propped against the faintly rusting railings with a cigarette in hand. A nice old man with a long history, high expectations and an intolerance when waiting in queues. This includes the queue for the washing machine and dryer which we duly found out in our first week.
One washing machine and one dryer dedicated solely to the passengers. With an eventual total of only 11 passengers, divided into only five couples and Joop, the probability of wanting to wash at exactly the same time as another passenger, when one has all day and all night doing nothing, cannot be that high. And even if there is a clash, one has all day and all night so surely there is no rush. Not the case for Joop who seems to delight in finding us the second the washing cycle has finished, demanding we remove our clothes because he is waiting. An impatient man who is adrift on a ship for two months without getting off…. Odd combination. But he’s elderly so we can understand – bless him!
We got to know Joop pretty well, pretty quickly as he was our only fellow passenger until we reached Le Havre on the 8th Sept. At Le Havre we managed to persuade the Chief Mate to let us take one of the motorbikes out of the hold and into the town. This persuasion achieved, we had to then grovel back to him to ask very nicely if the several cars that had had blocked us in could be moved. Thankfully he found this amusing rather than tiresome and got his men onto the task right away. Once in Le Havre we spent a precious couple of hours in a café with complimentary wifi, finalising the last few bits of paperwork, emails, calls to our banks, etc before returning to the ship, late for our dinner that had started strictly at 6pm.
Sample Dinner menu, served at 6pm in the dining room:
Starter / antipasti – Meats, pickles, potato & cheese bake
Second course – Antipasti, pasta, tomato bolognase bake
Third course – Beef steak with cooked spinach
Dessert – Fruit
Finale – Tea / Coffee
Our waists are growing by the day!
Our small little collective of three was now grown to 11 passengers, eight having been swept up in Le Havre. We were neatly split between a French speaking table and an English speaking table. The English speaking table having our original three, plus two French. The French speakers on our table were bound by the necessity to speak English given our complete lack of being able to utter anything in French, shamefully. Definitely the next project – learn French! It was subsequently agreed that the French would ‘take it in turns’ to sit on the English table, sharing the load. Joop, being Dutch, speaks a small amount of English, a very little French and a very little German, so consequently only really converses in English.
The first evening with all 11 passengers was a little awkward with the language barrier. After dinner, we all retire to The Salon for teas & coffees and chat for the evening.
That first evening was spent with Chris and I playing chess with a few beers while the French talked & we tried to understand . . . . not very successfully. It has now dramatically improved. We still sit, bemused, trying to understand small talk, but they are very gracious and translate each joke, albeit in part. They retire to their cabins at about 8pm. At this point we usually take our wine and/or beer out onto the deck and stand looking at the stars, discussing the meaning of life on this and on other planets, until bed time. Bedtime on the ship is about 9.30-10pm.
The morning after leaving Le Havre we were heading towards Dakar, Senegal. With approximately six days at sea, this was our first stretch of real ‘at sea’ life where we quickly got into a routine.
7.15am – Alarm to wake us up in our darkroom
7.30 till 8am – Breakfast (cereal, bread & jam, meats, tea, coffee, orange juice)
8 till 8.30am – Walk out on deck with a cup of coffee – 1st watch (for whales & dolphins)
8.30am – Spanish, home learning lessons on CD – 2 ½ hours till lunch
11am – Lunch
12noon till 6pm – sunbathing on deck if the weather permits, 2nd whale & dolphin watch, reading, perhaps an afternoon nap, writing blogs, route planning.
Generally working hard!
6pm – Dinner
7pm onwards – drink wine/beer, socialise, looking at the stars
9.30pm-ish – Bed
At the first sign of land, this routine is broken and we become Able Seamen, scanning the horizon and discussing times and cargo loads with the crew. First stop, Dakar.
Our first experience of an African Port: Dakar, 16th September. First impression – organised chaos. Obviously this is compared to the speed and efficiency of our European turn-arounds in Antwerp and Le Harve.
We sat on anchor a little way-away from the coast for a day and night, waiting for the berth to become free.
Once our designated berth was vacated, the morning of the second day, the pilot from the dock thought he would have his lunch, chillout for a while, then saunter over when he was good and ready. Eventually we were led into dock in the early afternoon having been told to be ready at 8am. All passengers, except Joop, were anxious to get off the ship to have a look around and most importantly, find an internet café so we could all contact home. Some five hours after we had docked we were finally given the approval by the Senegalese customs official to leave the ship. We had spent our precious sightseeing time sat on deck, waiting, watching the workmen on the dock play games with cargo boxes, sit around, pray, and generally not do much work.
Africa seemed lazy compared with Europe, with far too many people hanging around doing nothing. Work that was getting done was being done excruciatingly slowly. All our intentions of sightseeing, visiting the markets etc had gone out of the window. We rushed off the ship at 6pm. One of the French couples, Solonge and Michel, had been to Dakar before, and were aiming directly for the internet cafe. Somehow we got side tracked and found ourselves in a four where non of us had been to Dakar before.
Pierre and Marie-Jo are wonderful. In their mid sixties, they don’t seem a day older than 50.
Their Parisian lifestyle during the week and farmhouse-style life at the weekend has served them well, although they are now retired. Our evening jaunt into Dakar started with us wandering aimlessly around looking for an internet café. Pierre asked a pleasant looking policeman for directions which, fortunately, he happily gave without us having to cross his hand with gold. In the internet café we were greeted by the rest of the French contingent who had known exactly where they were going.
An hour and a half later, we were the only four left in the café, and were all ready for food. While we had been finishing off on the computers, Pierre and Marie-Jo had begun chatting to a large, jolly Senegalese man who turned out to be a local ‘tour guide’. We finished on the computers and allowed ourselves to be led to a typical Senegalese restaurant by Malik, our new personal guide for the evening.
We ate the traditional dish of charred treacle fish with blackened couscous and vegetables. Not being a fish lover, and without knowing what I was ordering, I courageously managed to eat most of it without too much trouble. All the others seemed to enjoy it. We were also serenaded while we ate – I forget the name of the instrument, but it’s basically a Senegalese guitar. He liked Chris the best because he had the money!
Malik ate with us, helped us sort out the bill (which we assume included his meal), and then escorted us back to the ship. His fee for the evening was 40euros. Not a small fee, especially in Africa, but we were too tired to argue and besides, he was bigger than Chris and Pierre put together.
Back at the ship the crew were working hard into the night moving cargo, the forklift trucks tearing around the docks in the dark like monsters. Having escaped with our lives from the trucks, we then had to climb the stairs to the 12th floor as the lift was broken. Nightmare!
We set sail mid-morning the next day. Next stop, Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Dolphins spotted: 12
Turtles seen: 2
Whales watched: 2
Flying fish in flight: 100s
Steps climbed to the 12th floor: 144
Loads of washing washed: 3
Over & out.