The earliest that I can trace the idea to is January 15, 2007. Stephanie and I visited Baker Beach and then hiked out to Land’s End. While there, I took a picture of a Hanjin container ship passing underneath Golden Gate Gridge, which I posted with the following caption:
Is it just me, or does the idea of traveling on a container ship across the ocean sound totally awesome?
My friend Christy picked up on my off-the-cuff remark and left the following comment:
Travel by freighter does sound exciting. A friend of mine just left for 25 days to Hawaii and back on a tug, taking a barge-load of supplies to the islands. It sounds very glamorous, except for the 26 foot seas off Cape Flattery. But the going to Hawaii part, I like that.
When I suggested the idea to Stephanie, half-seriously, she was like: “Yep, you go have fun!” So I amused myself by looking into the shortest possible voyage that I could take by myself (e.g. Oakland to Hong Kong is ~15 days). The funny thing is that without any coaxing on my part, she went from being adamantly opposed to being a strong proponent of the idea (over the course of a year or two). As she says, all it took was time for the idea to sink in.
But why travel by container ship at all? Well, the short answer is that we want to travel slowly. We could have certainly gotten to New Zealand much faster and cheaper if we flew, but we liked the idea of having the time to transition from one reality to the next. It seemed like the perfect way to decompress and avoid having to make any decisions, before thrusting ourselves into a maelstrom of constant decision-making.
Something a lot of people have assumed, rather tongue-in-cheekily, is that we’ll be sleeping in a container. Nope. The crew and any passengers are housed in rooms located in the giant white superstructure sticking up towards the back of the ship. We’re not sure how many passengers will be traveling with us on the Cap Cleveland until we climb aboard in September. All we really know is that we’ll be staying in the “Owner’s Double Cabin”.
How did we book the trip? We started looking into container ship routes in February. First I emailed the French container shipping group CMA CGM, because they have an awesome transpacific route that stops in French Polynesia, Fiji, and New Caledonia before arriving in Australia. They never responded. In April I picked up the project again and emailed Freighter World Cruises. They never responded. I emailed Maris Freighter Cruise & Travel Club. They never responded.
Finally I emailed Strand Voyages a UK-based container ship booking agency, and heard back from someone. They advertised the CMA CGM route that stopped at the Pacific Islands, and I inquired whether it would be possible to pick it up in New York. Though this was theoretically possible, it’s not something they could book. The route originates in the UK, and the shipping company gave preference to passengers embarking there. The best they could do was put us on a waiting list, and notify us a few weeks in advance of possible space. But given the popularity of the route, our chances were slim to none. Meanwhile Stephanie reached out to The Cruise People and heard the same thing.
Since we were planning on packing up and shutting down our life in San Francisco prior to the trip, we needed a firmer departure date. Strand suggested we consider a German shipping company’s route from Philadelphia to New Zealand and Australia. It still transited the Panama Canal, but it made no Pacific Island stops. At first we dismissed it, but after further research, we realized this was really our only option. Strand advertised the price as £117 per person per day for the 28 days to Auckland, which included accommodation, meals, port taxes, deviation insurance, and booking fee. Yeah, not cheap.
We poked around a little more and discovered that Hamburg Süd, a German travel agency, offered the same voyage at €115 per person per day. The difference in exchange rates between the two currencies meant that essentially the same price in Euros resulted in more than a $1600 savings for the both of us combined. Still not cheap, but way better than Pounds. After several midnight Skype calls to Hamburg, Germany, we paid our 25% deposit on April 22, with the rest due 4 weeks before our departure. And thanks to the declining Euro, our voyage is only getting cheaper.
Have any questions or curiosities? Feel free to leave a comment.