How I survived 35 days on a cargo ship

Posted by on Dec 7, 2016 in Cargo Ship Adventure, News | No Comments
How I survived 35 days on a cargo ship

After a couple of false starts I finally made it out of dodge…

My departure had been delayed on what seemed several, frustrating occasions. I was all packed, my accommodation cleared and cleaned out, notifications and good-byes made. I wasn’t going to get any more ready, when I received word that our departure was delayed for another 24 hours. A glaring sign of what was to come!

I arrived at the Tilbury Docks, windswept, cold and very late despite hitting the M3 motorway at six in the morning. It was a sea of red brake lights refracting in the fog. The morning was spent stopping and starting and filtering through the traffic.

After locating the Grimaldi Agency, I cleared customs and was waved onto the Grande Nigeria cargo ship. Wow, what a beast! Get all the nerdy facts about the ship further down the page.


The fox is strapped in for the voyage

I was really looking forward to being completely cut off from the world for a time and just sail into the horizon.

The life on board a cargo ship is not nearly as romantic as sailing peacefully into the sunset. As a passenger you are a guest onboard a working ship, and very much left to your own devices. All the crew were very respectful and friendly. At times it was even hard to get a bit of crack out of them. That’s until you get to know them better.

I wasn’t alone though, it was full complement of passengers on the first leg of the voyage. I was accompanied by 2 swiss couples, 3 french couples and a single french lady.


I met some great people on board



The first few days for me was just about pulling the plug. I really allowed myself time to wind down slowly and for that alone, it was all worth it.

The days were interspersed with face-slapping sunsets and sunrises, the most spectacular starry nights, some cabin fever and occasional boredom. Thankfully, very little seasickness.


Free to roam the deck – taking in the sights.






Company vessel The Grande Argentina on the horizon

A typical day for me would start with breakfast, lounging on the deck licking sun and reading, lunch at midday, siesta in the afternoon followed by a run on the treadmill/yoga, shower, dinner  and socialising for a bit and  then sleep. It’s a hard life.

Our first stop was in Dakar, Senegal and my first time to Africa. We were given shore leave and we all scrambled to get into Dakar to sniff around and more importantly get a wifi fix.


Port of Dakar




In the ship’s itinerary we were due to cross to Brazil next but had to make another port of call in Freetown, Sierra Leone. When this became apparent, it was obvious that stopping in SL was less than welcome, as dealing with the officials there, require certain “gifts” in return for a trouble free passage.


Freetown, Sierra Leone


The presence of the ship generated some curiosity



Part of the defence against unwanted “passengers”

Freetown became a bit of a nightmare for us all. It took a couple of days of waiting off shore in hot and humid conditions before docking. Once we docked, we were unable to leave the ship for security reasons and when the day of departure finally arrived, another ship collided with us.

Frustration grew among the passengers as we were kept firmly in the dark on the matter, until finally we were informed that we were going to be delayed indefinitely, until an expert could be summoned to assess the damage.


Note the damage on the railing and ladders of the other ship

It was a relief to be on the move again and heading for the South Atlantic Ocean.

At the equator we were all invited to the deck for an equator-baptism. A ladleful of seawater was poured over our heads by the Skipper – except one unlucky passenger, who got the whole bowl thrown over him. As part of the ritual for the cadets – the newest members of the crew – a fancy haircut was given by other crew. A line cut down their centre parting – representing the equator. Probably not a favoured look for a young Italian man.


I’m obviously pulling one of my faces at the Skipper –  it didn’t deter him…


… I still had water poured on me


Furthermore, we were part of a recurrent training exercise to abandon ship, which we took very seriously, of course.


Awaiting instructions to abandon ship

Brazil was a really nice surprise. Our first port of call was Vitoria with an interesting approach into to harbour. Equally exciting was Rio and Santos. Rio’s docks were impeccable which I guess can be attributed to the recent olympic events held there. A few of us managed to escape the mothership and sneak off to Copacabana for a couple of Caipirinhas.


Approaching Vitoria – Brazil




Sugarloaf Mountain and Copacabana – Rio



The docks in Rio were sparkling and very organised

Frustrations grew on the final stages of the trip. We had to do a port of call in Zárate, Argentina before hitting our destination Montevideo, which meant sailing straight past it on the Rio de la Plata into Zárate.


Meandering our way towards Zárate along the Paraná River


The sunsets in Zárate were phenomenal

Frustrations were replaced by even greater frustrations when we experienced a 4 day delay near Montevideo. So close… The nickname for the ship; the “Grande Alcatraz” came fully into it’s right!


Cabin fever has set in


Montevideo on the horizon – but we’re stuck here

The Chief Engineer invited us down to visit the engine room which was a very welcome distraction.  When going to the engine room you are hit by the distinct smell of men and moving parts (Thanks for that term Lindsey) The Grande Nigeria just has the one engine – but it’s an eight cylinder beast producing 23000 Bhp to drive the propeller. The control room reminded me of something that could have been designed by a Bond villain with great big switches, levers, buttons and dials. Great stuff.





Finally the day came and the fox and I made to Montevideo. Clearing customs and immigration was very simple. Our passports were already stamped by the time we got off the ship and getting the temporary import for the bike was a simple paperwork exercise, which was handled by the port agent.





Think I have a light case of Stockholm syndrome as I really miss my Italian captors and have an unusual craving for pasta. I am staying in Montevideo for a few days to get myself organised for the next leg of the journey.


See you out there!