High Seas Adventure II: Same Song, Second Verse

By Connie Barnard

High Seas Adventure II: Same Song, Second Verse

Once again, it’s me – writing to you from the Deep Blue Sea.

Sasee readers may recall a piece I wrote a few years ago recounting our travel adventures on a freighter ship and the grand time my husband, Howard, and I had exploring our way from Savannah to Australia and New Zealand by way of the Panama Canal, Tahiti, Fiji and New Caledonia. It was our Journey of a Lifetime – or so I thought. Well, guess what. We are now on our Journey of a Lifetime #2. I should have realized something was in the works when I overheard him at a dinner party saying something about travel destinations still on his Bucket List. (I love Morgan Freeman, but don’t you just wish he had never made that movie? Now every senior citizen in America feels obligated to go do something crazy.) Anyway, this time it seems my guy’s proverbial bucket would be full if he could just travel the rest of the way around the globe, starting once again at Savannah but going east this time by the Rock of Gibraltar, through the Suez Canal, then on to Seattle by way of Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and a few other spots I can’t spell or pronounce. Here is the catch: The first 33 days you can’t get off the boat. You just catch a quick glimpse of places and check them off your list. At a few locations passengers can debark and explore for as long as it takes the freighter to unload and reload its cargo. Thanks to the modern magic of mega-cranes, that is usually around 24 hours.

Without going into more than you’d ever choose to know about the dynamics of our 40+ year marriage, I can tell you that the proposed plan for this trip did not sit well on the home front – for some very valid reasons which include a list of family concerns and the inability to get home if needed. I must also confess that deep in my soul lay an equally significant concern: SEC football; I am a proud UGA grad whose evangelical faith in the Dawgs resurrects itself every fall. You can just imagine my reaction when I learned that he’d booked this two month trip to start on August 25. Let’s just say, it was a cold summer in Surfside Beach. “Not on your life,” had been my first response – perhaps with one or two expletives attached. Then I hedged and said I’d meet him when he arrived in Singapore. Then, ten days before the trip was to start, I caved once more and signed on for the whole deal. Call it what you will, I love this guy even more than I love to watch Todd Gurley run with the ball.

High Seas Adventure II: Same Song, Second Verse

On August 24 we boarded the CMA-CGM freighter Figaro in the Savannah Harbor. Built in 2010, the Figaro is newer than our previous ship and roughly ten time as large, holding over 1,000,000 tons of corrugated metal containers bound for ports throughout the Mideast and Orient. The Figaro is an elegant French ship with a dedicated, cordial staff of 31 officers and crew who constantly maintain it. It is certified as a Green vessel; restricting fuel usage and recycling everything from sea water to table linens. As best I can determine, the only paper product aboard is toilet tissue. Passengers are free to roam as they choose, and on this particular trip, we are the only ones.

Our cabin is a large suite with windows on two sides, a queen size bed, a private bath, a living area with two sofas and a wall of built-in wooden cabinets. There is also a “gym” with two stationary bikes, a rowing machine, free weights, a ping pong table and an indoor saltwater pool. The ship’s library has a nice assortment of books and a separate collection of hundreds of DVDs, most of which our poor proficiency in French prohibits us from enjoying. We did, however, discover an English language collection of all six seasons of House, M.D. to which we quickly became addicted, now limiting ourselves to just two episodes per day. We also have several dozen books loaded on our Kindles, including my book club’s selections for the entire year and the same Spanish grammar course I brought on our last trip but never opened. Almost every day in search of fresh air and exercise, we walk several laps around the upper deck. We also spend a lot of time up on the ship’s bridge taking in the 360 degree view, spotting other vessels, wondering where they are going and what they are carrying – and speculating about the contents of the several thousand crates aboard our own ship, some stamped with intriguing crests like Lloyds of London.

The ship’s captain, Yves, is a charming man, French in every sense of the word. Look at those eyes, and you know he enjoys a very good life. With an enviable work schedule of four months on followed by four months off, he spends his free time sailing and fishing in the blue waters of the Mediterranean where his family has lived for generations. The sea is in Yves’ blood. He grew up on a little island off the west coast of France, the son of a sea captain, the grandson of fishermen.

French, Romanian and Indian seamen make up the balance of the ship’s staff. It is a people’s watcher’s paradise. English is the official language on board, and most of the crew members speak it along with French and their native dialects. Dinner conversations often remind me of what it would be like to hear Peter Sellers in Pink Panther talking with Martin Short as “Fraunk” in Father of the Bride.

Dan, the ship’s first officer, is a personable young man from Romania. In the evenings after dinner he talks about his wife and young daughter back in Constanta, his pride in Romania’s rich history, and his deep concerns about his country’s current economic struggles which have scattered its citizens around the world in search of a living. The ship’s cook is Frank, an amazing French chef who serves up four course gourmet meals, with wine, at lunch and dinner each day. Then there is Cecile, a pretty young French woman who works in the engine room as a motorman.

Today, on a beautiful sun-wrapped Sunday; the ship’s entire staff gathered on its deck for a mid-day meal referred to by the Captain as a barbecue. Fellow Carolinians, let me tell you that this familiar term bears no resemblance to our local Food of the Gods except in the sense that every bit of it was cooked on a wood-burning grill: Delicious seafood, beef, chicken, sausages, vegetables, even small bits of fruit. While relishing every aspect of this unforgettable meal, we watched a large, impressive sail boat pass by. The Captain identified it as the famous Tata, owned by a well-known sports designer and leased for scientific research of Arctic waters where it is currently headed. Though nestled in the shade of the freighter’s crates, for just a moment I felt like one of the Beautiful People, cruising the blue Mediterranean on an unforgettable fall day.

Eight days into the trip we saw land for the first time, waking up early to watch the sun rise over the Azores Islands. It was truly a memorable sight reminiscent of the opening scene from Mama Mia!: Lush green mountains, little white buildings huddled at their base, and a majestic volcano rising above the mist. I am told its name is Pica.

A couple of days later we saw the Strait of Gibraltar, well sort of. We went through it, but because our passage was at night, we can claim only to have simultaneously seen the lights of Europe and the lights of Africa. (Enough for my travel partner to check it off his to-do list, however.) Moving from the North Atlantic into the Mediterranean was impressive. The air temps were immediately warmer, and somehow things got a bit cozier. When daylight came, we could catch glimpses of Algeria and Tunisia – and what we think were Crete and Malta.

High Seas Adventure II: Same Song, Second Verse

Clearly this trip is more about journey than destination: The ever-shifting time zones and constant adjustment of watches certainly contribute to a fuzzy sense of time. I am told that at one point we will lose an entire day! This probably would have really rattled me earlier in the trip, but it is amazing how relaxed one can become without the daily prescribed dose of television, cell phones and internet.

Tomorrow we will start our passage through the Suez Canal which I now know to be his most important destination in this whole adventure – just one of several insights I’ve gleaned during some long, soul-searching conversations we’ve shared over the past two weeks. We eagerly anticipate the Suez – and maybe being able to text with our kids if the air waves are favorable. At the same time, I have come to recognize that in some inexplicable way these unplugged days present a rare and precious opportunity to Be Still and Know – to grasp that somehow, on some level; being deprived of all these luxuries is perhaps the greatest luxury of all.

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.

About this writer

  • Connie BarnardConnie Barnard traveled the world as a military wife and taught high school and college composition for over 30 years. She has been a regular contributor to Sasee since its first issue in 2002.

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