07th OCT 2011 – WE ARE A SAILING

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!

Plan of Deck 12Hauling 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

Starter / antipasti – Dish of Pasta in pesto sauce

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


Second course - antipasti

Third course - steak !

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.

stars at night

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

sun burnt !

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.

Pierre & Marie-Jo

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.

Goree Island, off the coast of Dakar

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.

R&S x

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11 Responses to 07th OCT 2011 – WE ARE A SAILING

  1. Mark says:

    I am wondering what your overall impression was for shipping your bike with the company you used and would you recommend them? I am looking at shipping to Argentina around October of this year from the UK. I have 2 bikes and I would like to go by ship also. Are all of your meals included in the price? I hope to read more of your adventures when I have more time up my sleeve.

    • Marc, Thank for getting in touch, in a word, YES. We would recommend this method of travel to anyone! We had no problems and yes all your meals are included. We were even lucky enough to be delayed by 2 weeks so were fed for an extra 2 weeks without any cost! The chef was Itallian so we ate a lot of pasta and pizza! The only complaint was the quantity of food! 3 courses for lunch and dinner! Free wine on the table for lunch and dinner and this was usually polished off in the Officers mess afterwards! Beer can be bought in the kitchen, word of advice, make friends with the chef & mess boys, they are the key to a happy trip! Granted the trip is very dependant on your other passengers, this can make or break the trip but by all accounts they are generally overlanders with either bikes or motor homes / camper vans therefore you all have quite a bit in common, they may not speak a word of English (Christ they may even be french! 😉 ) but hey, your going round the world, you must be used to it. As long as you are open minded, its not a cruise ship, the whole engineering side to the cargo & the engine room fascinated me (Chloe read books while I visited the engine room and drank tea with the Indian engineers). Remember, the companies primary object in life is cargo, the passenger side is secondary, the passengers are generally last to know (that’s one reason you need to get to know the chef and mess boys) so sit back chill out, sun bathe and enjoy the view! One thing to consider, we left from Tilbury and went to Antwerp, Rotterdamm then Le Harve before Senegal. It took us 5 days to get to Le Harve, as the crow flies its only about 30miles away. Look into & consider embarking in Le Harve and take a ferry across the channel, we just felt we missed out on a little French adventure having been on the ship for 5 days and only making it to Le Harve was a bit frustrating. Getting off at the other end is straight forward although there is an inevitable wait of 2-3 hours while your passport and paperwork is checked, lots of pacing around excited people!!!! PS – A cabin with a window may be a bit more expensive but its worth it! 😉 Hope this helps.

      > Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2012 15:04:47 +0000 > To: chris.granger@hotmail.com >

  2. Anna Yeung says:

    Nice post! Fun to read and OUCH!
    That fish dinner looks good! 🙂 looking forward to your next post! Xxx

  3. katie maher says:

    Fabulous, descriptions of your lazy life so far. Just felt as if I was there with you. agree with your other Mum that stairs are the only way forward under the circumstances!! Very entertaining narrative — you’ll be able to compile a book one day. Love to you Both xx

  4. Ruth Granger says:

    Hi Chloe,Christopher,

    Sounds an interesting group,joop being the exception to the rule. Have you thought about useing the stairs to defeat the chefs plan for turning you into mitchillen men.
    Enjoyed all the info, photo’s and descriptions ,keep up the good work and most important keep having fun.
    yer mum xx

  5. Kate T says:

    What excellent characters – I wonder what they are saying about you??!?! Great to hear what you are up to! x

  6. Just about to jump back on the ship, its rained all day in montevideo so we sought sanctuary in the (meat) Market and enjoyed the two best steaks ever, second only to Argentinian Steaks (allegedly!).

    Thanks for your comments yooz guys, my, you are a good bunch of subscribers! Love hearing from you – Keep it up!!

    Adios Amigos!
    (Rangers 10 points clear!)

  7. Rosie says:

    You guys look so well, love the pictures xx

  8. Fantastic! looks like your settled in, looking forward to the next instalments.
    That 130 Landrover was right up our street! Jono’s new dream car.

  9. Paul Crosby says:

    Ahoy there mateys!
    clearly you two have a lot of time on your hands at the moment, but I loved the sun tan mark. top marks for letting them know you are British. It made my day, sat here looking at the rain running down my window in Kendal. Just hope the bikes can take your weight at the other end.

  10. chris mcconnachie says:

    First class round up, very informative, good work guys.
    Sunburn… he never learns…I just double checked your kit list and it says quite clearly ‘sun block’ under the first aid kit section.
    I see your cabin is opposite the gym room, you could have taken up body building to help pass the time and offset the high carb/protein loading.
    Have you tried tying an anchor round joop’s neck and dropping him off the side…?
    Ps, love Pierre & Marie-Jo’s Landy/caravan combo, they rock!

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