And congratulations for starting this thread. You managed to collect a very complete set of highly instructive insights on life onboard a containership from a vast array of contributors, to all of whom I am sure you are very grateful. They reflect accurately the perspective of the professional seaman working onboard.
Summing up, you have booked a trip on a containership. The trip will extend over two continents, will last for some three weeks, and you will visit several ports along the way.
And by now you already know all the DO’s and DONT’s that will make your presence onboard a success. This thread already contains 99.9% of what you will need to know.
From your own personal standpoint, however, and in order to be able to enjoy every minute of the trip on an end-to-end basis, I think you will need to view yourself according to a dual framework:
- As a Passenger
- As a Tourist
Expectations and behaviours are likely to differ in the two cases.
Passengers onboard a container ship can be tolerated, even be considered welcome, but are infrequent, as they are not the rule. Facilities and services onboard are not designed to cater for any special needs of passengers, but whatever exists onboard can be used by the sporadic, courageous few that come onboard, provided they comply with the prevailing rules (written, and unwritten) regulating life on board the ship.
What does a Passenger want? As a Passenger you simply want to go from A (starting port) to B (arrival port) onboard a non-conventional mode of transport (for most Passengers). You are now concerned with fitting well in the well-established, on-going, well-organized, safe and comfortable (within reason) non-standard mode of transport you have chosen to travel from A to B. There is no doubt this can be achieved by the environment in which you are embedded, i.e., the ship and her crew.
If, as a Passenger, you behave just likely any crew member, even if they have a mission (job) onboard and you don’t, your trip will be a success.
Allow me only to suggest a couple of things for your consideration that may help improve your stay, and your experience, onboard. Up to you to judge whether my suggestions may be of interest to you, or not.
• On Binoculars:
Maybe you can consider investing on a pair of long range binoculars, and bring them as part of your luggage. Carry them with you at all times while on the bridge, or outside. If you have them with you, maybe they end up bringing endless joy to you, and be a source of very lively entertainment when you least expect. You’ll be amazed how curious you may get sometimes, when you finally spot a dot on the horizon, and wish to know more about it…Binoculars do not cost much, and you may find them easily on the internet or at your local maritime store. At the end of the trip, you may even keep them for future use, or as a souvenir…
• On staying outside while sailing (on deck, or wherever they will let you…):
Maybe you can give some consideration to investing in a light weight folding chair, that you may buy at any department store at Le Havre before reporting onboard. I do not think anybody will object to you bringing it onboard, but you may wish to check with your handling agent before the trip starts. If that is OK, you can carry it folded under your arm when you check-in onboard, and inside the ship. After departure, when you find a good spot where you may want to sit outside, your own foldable chair may give you lots of freedom to sit there for a long period of time in reasonable comfort, without risking having to sit on a rail or pipe, and be frown at by whomever is in charge at that time… When you retire to your quarters, you simple fold the chair up again, and take it with you. A couple of elastic cords with hooks at the end (that you may also purchase at the same department store) will help you quickly and firmly secure the folded chair inside the cabin when not in use. Remember always that containerships have no stabilizers, and unrestrained objects are subject to the laws of gravity… At the end of the trip, you may perhaps give the chair away as a gift to a crew member, and leave it on board. No need to carry it with you on the flight home!
Of course, during the trip you may decide to be a 100% Passenger. This means you stay onboard at every single intermediate port, and await departure wherever they tell you is a safe place for you to be during the loading/unloading (or bunkering) operations. Fine! If that is the case, please disregard what I say below, which attempts at expanding your insights on what it may mean and entail being a Tourist under the extraordinary circumstances you have chosen.
As a Tourist your aim is probably Discovery. This means you will want to disembark at every intermediate port, or at least at some of them, and move around freely outside of the port area.
For that you will be essentially on your own. And in a foreign environment (not to confuse with a foreign country, which may also be the case).
Little has been said so far about the container terminals that the ship is scheduled to visit along the way. On the other hand, containerships travel frequently on a tight schedule and have quick turnarounds at most ports. And like all ships, they wait for no one when it is time to leave.
Please be aware that when you disembark at an intermediate port, you will need to comply with a severe constraint, which is Time. Again, I stress the fact you will be on your own. Excellent time management will be essential to ensure the success of the Tourist part of your trip.
You need to be concerned not only with your personal safety on land, but also with the organization of local transport that will take you back and forth to the places you may want to discover. Remember, while on land you are on your own... Unlike what happens with passenger cruises, you will have no-one organizing things for you. And you will have no ship-related support on land… no cruise tour guides, for example. All support, if any, will be limited to the contacts you may have established by yourself in advance, or during your stay ashore.
That is why, in my humble opinion, you need to pursue the subject of disembarkation further. Some additional considerations and information that might help plan your intermediate port visits may also be very useful.
So, please allow me only to add just a few more words to clarify this last point, provide a few more hints, and hopefully help you plan better, and in due time, the land part of your trip.
To become a happy Tourist in this case you may need to consider in advance a few things:
- Pro’s and Con’s of disembarking at a given port (ie., Go/No-Go)
- What is required to disembark, and then come back onboard again
- Where to go and what to do while on land (your ‘discovery’ goals)
- How to get there and back in time to catch the gangway, still on the quay
- Whom to contact on land to obtain all information, and for support in case of need
Please give some consideration to the following aspects regarding the shore environment:
The ship can be viewed as a mobile industrial plant of the seagoing type that is part of a global containerized logistics chain. Intermediate ports visited during the trip can then be viewed as land-based industrial parks that are part of the same global logistics chain, where ships moor, but where multiple modes of land-based mobile transport (cranes, tractors, trucks and trains) operate also. This array of vehicles renders the container terminals a highly hazardous environment. You may easily describe them as organized chaos. It is an hostile environment for anybody, where it is not advisable to walk around on your own, especially if you do not know the place…
Container terminals are usually huge, and are often located in remote areas. This means they may be miles away from the city centre. They are not meant for Tourists. So, do not expect to find rent-a-car services, for example, outside the container terminal main entrance, or even a taxi stand nearby…Even bus stops may be hard to find, and bus schedules may very well be irregular, and aligned mainly to the port workers’ shifts, which may not suit you…
Container terminal areas are also extra-territorial industrial facilities. In Europe, this means that there are border controls to access or leave the premises. In most container terminals there is no terminal building as such, so those controls normally take place at the terminal gate. Please bear in mind that the distance from a moored ship to a port gate may easily be half a mile, or even more. That means a 10-15 minute walk as a minimum, often even a lot more, as a straight path from ship to gate may be obstructed (by stored containers, freight trains, etc.), be offlimits due to ongoing work, or not be allowed due to miscellaneous safety reasons. Add to that the time required by the border controls at the gate, and if you estimate half an hour per leg (out, and back in again), it may be close to an hour or so before you are finally outside, turnaround, go back to the gate to re-enter the port facilities, and go back by the ship’s gangway again...
Each port is different. What may be easy to achieve in one may be extremely hard to achieve in another. Each container terminal has an operator, as each port has a port authority. These entities have their own rules and regulations covering movements inside the container terminal premises. Also for them, safety is a primary concern. So you may not be allowed to walk freely in there, unless you are duly authorized by those entities. Authorizations take time (maybe a couple of days) and may entail having to sign a Port Safety Rules compliance document in advance. And when you enter the area, you often are required to wear a safety helmet and vest... Theoretically, that may be required also in case you come to the quay from the moored ship only to take a photo of your lady... Beware of port security if you are a non compliant photographer…Naturally, and on top, only duly authorized vehicles will be allowed inside the terminal premises. So, disregard taxis by the gangway…
Last but not least, bear in mind that most container terminals work around the clock. Which means that your ship may very well arrive at an intermediate port after dusk, and leave before dawn the following morning…That may render going into town even more difficult! And what you may do in town at night will be completely different from what you may expect to see or do there during the daytime…in that case, will your interest in going ashore still be the same?
So, allow me to give you a few suggestions for the homework you will invariably have to do if you want to be a successful Tourist during this trip:
- Obtain your ship’s intermediate ports’ schedule for reference asap
- Calculate effective available time to be on land at each intermediate port (and factor in appropriate margins)
- Visit the websites of Port Authorities and Container Terminal Operators of the intermediate ports, and obtain info on access to the facilities for non-Workers (as a minimum, for your general information…)
- Get familiar with port lay-outs in the greatest possible detail (expanded satellite views, for example, may help…)
- Identify tourist targets in the area that you wish to visit. Check their exact location, distance from the port, opening hours, means to get there, land travel times, etc., and prioritize them according to your interests (you may not be able to visit every single tourist sight if the duration of your stay on land is short…)
- Compare time to visit preferred targets with the effective available time above, and check if they are compatible
- Check mobility in the area with the help, for example, of applications such as Google Maps, Street View, Bus schedules, etc.
- Discuss the subject of disembarkation at the intermediate ports with your handling agent before the trip starts
- Obtain the lists of the ship’s port agents at all intermediate locations, including emergency contacts
- As soon as you enter the ship, identify the person onboard that is responsible for liaising with the port agents (clerical work…), and obtain info on the process to follow for disembarkation at the intermediate ports
- Confirm to that person onboard with at least 48 hours’ advance notice your intention to disembark at the next intermediate port
- Check if it is possible for the ship’s port agent to come and collect you with a car at the gangway immediately after mooring, take you to the port gate (as a minimum), and, for the return trip, to collect you at the port gate (or downtown, if at all possible…) at a set time, to take you back in the car across the terminal facilities to the ship’s gangway
- Ask if there is a charge for any service that will be provided in relationship to your disembarkation at the intermediate port, and if so, how much that service will cost
- Leave your private mobile phone number with the Captain before disembarking, so that he may warn you if the ship has to leave ahead of schedule for whatever reason…not likely, but it might happen!
So, Passenger? Or Passenger and Tourist? You decide!
I hope this helps.
Have a great trip!