Sunday, April 20, 2008

Logbook: Hamish Hooked Me Up!

Hamish1I had lunch with Hamish on Wednesday -- at the historic, "gentlemen only" Hawke's Bay Club here in Napier no less! -- to get the "final word" on my transport arrangements for crossing the Pacific Ocean. Before I tell you about that, however, let me tell you a little about Hamish, who is undisputedly "The Man" for freighter travel. A long-time resident of New Zealand, Hamish is a Brit who worked much of his life in the merchant service and various aspects of ocean travel. Some years back he decided to strike out on his own and leverage his vast experience and industry contacts in the form of Freighter Travel (NZ). I'm convinced that he knows every company, ship and berth that's available for passengers in the world and he makes the booking process as simple, straightforward and sane as possible. If you recall all the nonsense I went through booking my last freighter voyage with another outfit last winter, you'll know I speak from experience when I say that if you ever decide to travel by freighter, Hamish should be your first, last and only contact.

As a way of illustrating why I speak so highly about Hamish, let me now tell you a little about the saga or my imminent sailing. First of all, it turns out there aren't that many passenger berths from New Zealand to North America. This has something to do with the limited amount of cargo traffic between the lands, and a little more to do with the fact that not all the ships will carry passengers. Also, this is a very popular route with folks who travel by freighter and the few berths that are available are booked as much as two years in advance. So, the fact that Hamish was able to get me a berth on short notice is pretty remarkable and is due largely to the amount of leverage he has with the shipping companies.

Second, the shipping industry has some idiosyncrasies that can make it particularly challenging to deal with. For example, the first ship that Hamish booked me on was sold to another shipping company just a few days later and all passenger bookings were cancelled by the new owner. Thankfully I hadn't been counting on it for long like the other poor passengers must have been. Another example is that unlike the airlines which can replace a plane that is grounded for repairs with any one of many identical aircraft in their fleet, shipping companies have only a very few vessels that are always far apart in both time and space. So, when a "catastrophic engine failure" required that the second ship Hamish booked me on go into dry dock for at least a few weeks, there was no handy replacement and I would have been back to square one. If I had tried to do this booking on my own -- or with the "help" of some other firm -- I am sure I'd have been having a stroke by that point. Thanks to Hamish, I could just sit back and say, "Call me when you've got it sorted!" This, of course, he did, and it was the first topic of our lively and enjoyable lunchtime conversation. (Thanks, Hamish!)

Hamish2Okay, so here's the "final" solution that Hamish has come up with for me. This Wednesday morning I will board the Marfret Provence here in Napier. If the ship looks similar to the Aenne Rickmers I was on back in January don't be surprised, because Hamish believes that they are identical sister-ships. What's more, we believe that I am booked in the same cabin on the port side of E-Deck that I had before. So, I may very well be in for a deja vu experience of epic proportion! Beyond that the details are a little uncertain, for the same reasons that I hope I was able to convey in the Logbook entries from my previous "Freighter Days." Namely, cargo is the ship's sole priority, and passenger go where/when the containers go. Since cargo schedules can be quite dynamic, so must be a passenger's. That said, the ship is now scheduled to transit the Pacific non-stop, proceed to and through the Panama Canal, make a very brief -- i.e. no shore leave -- stop at Manzanillo then head to Savannah, GA where I will disembark sometime mid-May.

That's it! You now know everything I know! I'll try to make one more posting to this website before I leave and give you any updated info I have then. Otherwise, fair winds and following seas... The Voyage of Macgellan continues!

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