Rolf Läuffer

After 4 1/2 days of fascinating sightseeing in Hamburg in the cold but sunny weather, my wife Elsbeth and I took a taxi ride to the Altenwerder container terminal. Right at the entrance to the ship, the crew showed common sense instead of formalism when my wife showed them her identity card instead of the passport.

When signing up for the trip I had sent copies of our passports to NSB, and my wife did not have her passport with her here because we were only travelling within the Schengen area. Captain Schlehf was understanding and exercised tolerance and so we were able to settle into our cabin as intended. On my previous freighter trips, I was either one of two passengers, or even the only one, but this time it was different.

Besides us, the others on board were: a Swiss with his bicycle whose destination was Sidney, an English couple heading for Freemantle, and the brother of one of the German crew members whose modest destination was, like ours, Genoa. To my delight, at dinner in the officer’s mess we saw an old acquaintance of mine, 2nd mate Dennis Schmidt, with whom I once travelled to Singapore.

After dinner we admired the Hamburg skyline at dusk until fatigue drove us into bed. The planned departure time was 1:00 a.m., so we slept through both the departure and the journey through the Lower Elbe.

On the first full day at sea, travelling conditions were extremely tame, from the North Sea through to Rotterdam. During a visit to the bridge I chatted with Dennis Schmidt and learned that all pilot ships are self-employed, but are organized into brotherhoods which operate the infrastructure together with all members.

In the evening at 8:00 p.m. we took a pilot on board in front of the entrance to the New Meuse in Rotterdam, who accompanied us on the ride to Prins Willem Alexander Port during the 2 1/2 hour voyage. Here, docking was done with the assistance of a tug. For one million (!) USD, the Captain stored heavy crude oil - whether he paid in cash is unknown to me. Nevertheless, we stayed here until the evening of the next day and did not leave the vessel for a shore leave. Firstly, we had previously visited Rotterdam and, secondly, we did not want to water down our impressions of Hamburg.

It turned out to be a wise decision - loading was already completed by 3:00 p.m. A tug boat pulled us away from the dock and helped us in turning. Thus, we were able to enjoy the ride on the New Meuse a second time while catching a glimpse of the big flood gates near the river's mouth. It was also exciting to watch the pilot boat maneuver away. After dinner and our obligatory lap around the deck, Captain Schlehf - a friendly, chatty sea dog - shared some information with us on the bridge regarding his ship and our onward journey. The next day, he was expecting bad weather.

At 9:00 a.m. the following day we were moored in Le Havre. During the night it had rained and now the sky was overcast, but it was dry. The cargo operations lasted until 8:00 p.m. and, of course, we often met on the bridge when setting sail. Unlike other captains that I have experienced, Mr. Schlehf allowed us to stay on the bridge during port maneuvers. In the English Channel some cruise ships were visible (our captain calls them "music steamers"), one of which we followed until it turned off to the east.

Brest was only just around the corner when it started "to rock" the next day. This was not surprising, since we were now on the move across the Bay of Biscay. Wind and waves in this area always come from the west and, in our south-bound course, we had the entire spectacle on the starboard side. My wife Elsbeth was quite brave, but the wife of the chief mate turned pale: Wind force at 7-8 bft, a wave height of 6m and our boat rolled like a child's swing despite its width of 32m.

Apparently, that was a bit too much for the crew - in any case, the third mate switched to manual control and changed the course by a few degrees. That helped! Nevertheless, the Captain invited us to a "diner à la française". He had bought excellent French wine and cheese in Le Havre, after speaking with the guests regarding the additional cost, and Lucullus made us forget the ship movements for a while.

Sleep was less than optimal that night - to put it mildly. The constant rolling of the ANPING forced us to experiment with different ways of lying down. An ideal situation would have been to lie at right angles to the ship's axis, but the double bed was too narrow. And in a normal (= longitudinal) position, sleep was simply not possible. Finally, we found the solution by lying diagonally across the bed. For this, daybreak rewarded us with calmer waters: From Cape Finisterre in northern Spain we were back in the protection of the continental shelf. The sun was shining and, when reading on the deck house, our nocturnal experience was soon forgotten.

The following day, and under the expert guidance of the 1st. Engineer, we took a tour of the "little motor". The main engine with additional units stretched over 4 decks and produced a lot of noise and heat. In the afternoon there was a fire-drill for the team with a subsequent abandon-ship drill for all of us. The seating arrangement in the lifeboat takes no account of any fear of physical contact. The weather was so nice that we were glad not to have to carry our survival suits. To relax after supper from this eventful day, we watched the porpoises play for a while as we stood on the bow. We were now in Cabo San Vincente at the southern tip of Portugal, so we expected calmer wind and sea, especially since we had both from astern on an easterly course. In addition, with the exception of the storms, the wave height in the Mediterranean is only a fraction of that in the Atlantic.

We saw virtually nothing of the crossing of the Straits of Gibraltar on Sunday thanks to the misty conditions but, on the bridge, you could determine our position at any time on the ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display Systems - digital chart with radar overlay). In addition to this, even today the good old paper chart on the cargo ship is used every hour to track position, giving another method of orientation. In the afternoon the 1st Engineer brought us to the rudder room and demonstrated to the two of us manual rudder movements through to the end position. On the bridge, this sparked panic rather than pleasure, because the maneuver was not agreed in advance.

As there was still time left until docking in Genoa on our last day at sea, despite hours of "slow steaming", both lifeboats were lowered into the water and test driven. From the bridge wing, the tail waves created by the moving boats in quiet, deep blue waters were very beautiful. All passengers got their cameras ready.

And then the unexpected happened: Frau Elsbeth Läuffer, normally more of a landlubber than a zealous sailor, and who travelled with me out of pure kindness, told her husband, the avid sailor, she could now even sail to Australia with ease. For the first time in years she felt totally relaxed on vacation. At another time, she would just take a few more books and a laptop computer with her, and also a passport with the appropriate visa. I was speechless (which is rare for me). Then she explained to me why: 1) She has no reason to be scared - all crew members are qualified professionals. Thus, she also felt released from any responsibility. 2) Remaining in the deck house is a safe distance from the see. 3) She has enough room in the accommodation (as opposed to a sailing ship) and also enough space to walk around on deck. 4) The ship's movements are much gentler thanks to the sheer tonnage. 5) There is no distraction of domestic duties.

The pinnacle of this journey stage was when our Captain organized a farewell party and a taxi to take us to the train station. A relaxing boat trip with a competent and friendly crew drew to a close. Thanks to favorable rail connections we reached Switzerland on the same day we docked in Genoa.

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