I've Done It - UK To Oz Overland!


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Oceania » Australia
March 29th 2007
Published: August 6th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

We've done it - we've finally arrived in Queensland, Australia after travelling all the way from the UK without taking a single flight! It's taken a sometimes hard but always fantastic nine months and one week to get here and was topped off by a great trip aboard the MV Baltrum Trader, sailing from Singapore to Brisbane in 9 days. I've jumped the gun a bit in writing this as I haven't blogged Malaysia and Singapore, where we had a great time travelling southwards from Thailand, taking in amongst others, the tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands, the capital Kuala Lumpur and finally seeing a friend from home, now living in Singapore. However, I'll cover that in the next blog after this in the next few days.

In the meantime, back to the Baltrum Trader! It was about 18 years ago whilst chatting to Malcs, a good friend from school that I started thinking what a great challenge it would be to get to Australia from the UK without flying. After all, the bit of sea between Asia and Australia looks tiny on the map, doesn't it? Surely there must be boats that sail that bit of water and if
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Singapore Port, MV Baltrum Trader
you can do that, then the rest overland must be relatively straightforward and I'd be able to visit all those places that you normally fly right over, only imagining what is below you. Well, as time passed, this trip got put to the back of my mind - other things took precedent like uni and finding a job and it was only in the last couple of years when I realised what a rut I was in. Spreadsheets had become a daily activity in a job that quite frankly, bored me to tears and I knew that if I didn't make a drastic change when I did, then I may as well have given up thinking about anything more exciting than saying something on a rather dull conference call or balancing figures at the bottom of the screen. This might suit some people but for me, the time was right - my house was let out and farewells were said. I was finally setting out on a trip that I'd dreamed of, sometimes sub-consciously, for 18 or so years. As I travelled through Norway and into Asia, I chatted with other travellers in hostels and on buses and trains, wanting
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View From The Baltrum Trader As We Set Sail, Singapore Port
to hear their stories and plans but always listening out for anyone that had sailed to Australia. The closest I came was meeting someone on the Trans-Siberian, who knew someone who had done it - but I never met that someone. Maybe the best bet would be to try to score a job sailing from Indonesia to Australia - but I didn't know the first thing about crewing a yacht and although I can cook an omelete like the best of them, 2 weeks in a galley trying to please a crew with my mediocre culinary concotions did not appeal! I'd read Peter Moore's book, "Wrong Way Home" and despite his best efforts, even he had not managed to do the last bit from Indonesia back in the 1990s - maybe this trip would fall at the last hurdle and that so-called little bit of sea would turn out to be bigger than I imagined... .

After a few days spent googling on the internet, I found some websites related to freighters that sail around the world and I got in touch with Hamish at Freighter Travel, based in New Zealand. He quickly replied with a couple of suggestions
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Baltrum Trader
of boats that sail from Singapore to Australia - one to Freemantle and another to Brisbane. All of a sudden, I'd gone from no boats to having a choice! It wasn't going to be the cheapest way to travel, but the trip would mean I had realised a long-held dream and experienced a voyage that promised to be a bit different from the usual.

It was in Singapore where we said goodbye to Cherry - a good friend from home who had kindly put us up at her luxurious condo for a few days, and we got picked up by the shipping agent's driver to take us to the port. We'd originally been told that the ship was due to sail on Saturday afternoon and we then realised why we'd been told to remain flexible - the time changed to Saturday morning at 1am (a night out dancing in Singapore will have to remain one of those must-do things for another trip!). When we were picked up, we were told that the sailing time had changed again - to 5pm Saturday. Ah well - the vaguaries of travel - various containers had been delayed and a busy time in
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Danielle In Pink Shorts(!) And Her Lifejacket, In Our Cabin, Baltrum Trader
the port meant that it was anyone's guess when we left - but it would give us more time to explore the ship before we sailed.

The driver took us through the security gates where our passports were examined and we were taken to an office to get our dock passes - pictures taken of 2 apprehensive but excited travellers and we were ready to go! The port was full of massive ships - 1000 cars were parked in front of us, having come off of a boat from Japan which towered above us, it's gleaming blue and white sides the trademark of the bulk carrier. Huge gantries marked the dockside and we drove over to the various boats lined up. We peered out of the window anxious to see the name of the ship that we'd recognise - the MV Baltrum Trader.

All of a sudden, we were alongside the dark green hulk of the ship that would be our home for the next 10 days. We were dropped off at the bottom of the stairway and we made our way on board, complete with bags of little chocolate treats and a few beers - not really
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View From The Bow, MV Baltrum Trader
knowing what supplies there would be on board a freighter! Several smiling faces greeted us - dressed variously in bright orange boiler suits, hard hats and ear defenders, some of our companions on this ship led us into the ship's office. This seemed to be the hub of operations - several computers hummed and radios lined the desks, amongst the posters detailing emergency duties for every crew member and as we were relieved of our passports, the steward arrived to show us to our cabin.

We climbed what felt like miles of stairs but what was in fact only about 4 flights to get to our cabin. We'd gone for the cheapest option - as long as got there, we didn't really mind what the room looked like. Therefore, we'd been warned that although we'd have a window, the view may be obscured by containers so it was a great surprise to find a well kitted-out room, complete with 2 bunk beds, a sofa, desk and table, as well as 2 wardrobes and an en-suite toilet and shower! Compared to what we'd been living in for the last few months, this was luxury. The view was across the tops
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My Handheld GPS Showing Our Position, Sailing Between Borneo And Java
of hundreds of containers and whilst we were in Singapore, the huge gantries maneouvered them from lorries that pulled up alongside, and onto the ship all night. Weighing up to 50 tonnes each, they can contain anything from washing machines to meat and vegetables, the latter of which are stored in the refrigerated containers.

Once we'd unpacked and dumped our bags, ready to live in what was to be the longest time we'd stayed in 1 "place" since leaving home, we went to explore. A dull thudding noise came from the bowels of the ship as the engine ticked over and as we climbed more stairs, we bumped into several crew members, hurrying about their business as the loading and unloading continued. As we explored, we found our way to the mess rooms and galley. The rooms were divided into one for the officers and one for the crew and although we were told we could sit in either one, our meals would be served with the officers and captain.

That evening we enjoyed our first meal on board - the food was a hearty mixture of Ukranian/Polish/Filipino/western food to reflect the diversity of the crew and officers
and it wasn't long before we could see some serious pounds were going to be put on during this voyage! Whilst everyone else burned their calories off on duty, we were bound to be sitting around, reading, writing and watching the world go by outside! Hey ho, it was going to be hard, but we were sure we could cope!

After dinner, we all moved to the mess rooms for a bit of r&r. Although the loading would be going on outside all night, most of the crew were able to relax so we were able to meet some of them over a drink or two. The officers were mainly from Poland, Ukraine, and Germany whilst the crew were from the Phillipines and it wasn't long before they were entertaining us with old sailing tales - some of which originated in the mess room that we were drinking in. Pictures were up on the walls showing various other fare-paying passengers drinking from a coconut in the bar and the Chief Engineer, Mario told us we too could have our picture on the wall, as long as we drank the ominous sounding "Baltrum Drink". A mixture of all the spirits in the bar, combined with whatever was left half drunk in the fridge and a secret 'special ingredient", it would be our initiation for crossing the Equator. To get us into the swing of things, Mario mixed us a taster - just a couple of spirits to welcome us aboard and the rest of the night deteriorated into a hazy memory. St Patrick's Day was around the corner - the mess even had a green top hat from a previous party and we were already well into the swing of things!

Not long after we arrived, we were given a safety briefing - shown where our muster point was and what to do in the event of an "abandon ship". Roland, the very friendly Chief Officer from Germany had told us bluntly - "always tell someone if you walk to the bow. If you fall overboard, you are finished". Although there was a rescue boat on board, the ship was travelling at 20 kts and by the time it had been noticed that you'd fallen overboard, it would have been too late to pick you up... .

The next few days were spent enjoying a mixture of reading and writing - catching up on long overdue journal writing and reading the library-like amount of books we'd lugged on board. We spent time playing table tennis in the gym room, or sweating it out in the sauna after a dip in the sea water pool. Every so often we ventured further from our cabin - exploring the outside deck and amongst the huge containers that towered above us. They creaked and groaned as though they were alive and the occasional knocking sounds that came from the depths of the ship only fired up the imagination as to wonder what we were carrying to Australia. We had 1700 containers on board - well short of the maximum load of 2500, but the boat still weighed in at a massive 25000 tonnes but as we stood on the bow of the ship, we seemed to plough on as though we were a light sailing ship. The walk up to the bow took us alongside the containers - some we had to walk under and as we got further forward, the sound of the waves crashing against the bow became louder. The sea became churned and frothy but the further we walked from the superstructure housing the engine, the more isolated we felt until we climbed some steps to get amongst the thick ropes, chains and winches and climb up to the point housing the flag pole to stand in true Kate Winslet-style looking out to sea. Here it was silent - even the sound of the waves seemed to be distant now as we were in front of the bow wave and 15 metres above the water. At times, the water was so calm it looked like frosted glass, only broken by the flying fish that took flight to avoid being run down by our bow - their wings making the only sound we could hear as they touched the water as they flew only centimetres above it, sometimes for 50 metres or more, matching our speed. More often than not, we were joined by dolphins who surfaced nearby and followed us, cutting in front of us in large groups - at one time we counted more than 50, and the Filipino crew started clapping and whistling to encourage a dolphin display which we continued to do everytime we saw a fin break the surface! At one point, more ominous fins appeared as we watched 15 or so sharks circle something not far from our ship. Sailing through Indonesia meant we saw some beautiful islands - in the distance a volcano fired ash and smoke into the atmosphere - we could see ash roll down the mountainside and into the sea as we passed, imagining the crashes and bangs it must be making, as we watched in complete silence.

As the days progressed, we got to know the crew better and they told us about their lives at sea. The voyage would take them 28 days, calling at Port Kelang, Singapore, Brisbane, Melbourne and back to Malaysia which they would do 4 times before having 4 months of unpaid leave, flying home to spend time with their families. Most of the crew and officers had been with the ship for a few years, but some had joined it recently, working their way up from smaller vessels. They were all very friendly and keen to chat to us in their freetime in the evenings. They had a collection of latest DVDs which they were keen to show us and we joined in many a darts game - Mario, the Chief Engineer being the undisputed Baltrum Trader darts champion who was always a challenge to beat. It was after one of these sessions that we were reminded of the Baltrum Drink and a quiet evening quickly turned into a big night. We were passed the coconut, now containing shot of every spirit on board, (including strawberry ice cream) and told it wasn't a race - we just had to finish it. Back in Thailand, I'd finally resigned from IBM after almost 9 years (including near enough a year on this trip!) and one month later we were celebrating my last official day as an employee. Well, we'd been having the first bottle of wine in ages that night, so we were truely mixing our drinks now and the Baltrum Drink didn't come top of the list in the most drinkable of drinks. To put it bluntly, I vaguely remember following Danielle as she was helped upstairs to our cabin by the Third Mate as I managed to open the door and plonk ourselves down. The Third Mate carried on upstairs to start his shift in the Bridge and I remembered that I hadn't quite finished my drink, I then tottered back downstairs,
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One Of The 5 Or So Lifeboats On Board, Baltrum Trader
to make sure I earned my place in the mess room's gallery! The rest of the evening is a blur, but we did in the end get our picture placed in the mess, taking pride of place next to the bar!

As St Patrick's Day beckoned, we were told that in honour of both this festival and a crew mate's birthday, a barbecue would be held, with the obligatory karaoke. It turned out that a party isn't a party for the Filipinos unless there's karaoke and they queued up to have their turn, with Danielle hard to beat singing Unchained Melody, to much applause by everyone on board! The Captain had said it would make the crew's day if she sang - and there was no stopping her! The chef was a whiz with just about every type of food he turned his hand to and we seemed to spend most of the voyage eating or sleeping a large meal off in a quiet corner, the bbarbecue being no exception.

We were always made very welcome to tour the ship whenever we wanted - and that included visiting the bridge. This was obviously the nerve centre of the ship, full of paper charts, and their electronic equivalent - the satellite navigation with radar and radios. The various officers had to do 4 hour stints here, on pirate watch as we sailed from Singapore, through Indonesia and also watching for small fishing boats. At one point as we entered Australian waters, we were radioed by the Australian coastguard asking us to identify ourselves. We all stood outside to look for their aircraft, but decided it was too high to see and the Chief Engineer confirmed our presence. Shortly after, a pilot boarded us as we passed Thursday Island on the northern tip of Cape Tribulation in the Torres Strait, to guide us through the northern half of the Great Barrier Reef. A small, fast boat came alongside and the pilot and his trainee climbed aboard using a rope ladder, swinging precariously 10 metres up the side of our green hulk. It is compulsory to have a pilot aboard on this section as they know these waters like the back of their hands and I spent some time in the bridge, watching the pilot call out to the second mate, where to turn and by how many degrees. We had a draught of 10 metres and just after we picked up the pilot, we only had a clearance of 4 metres below us - the sand churned as we accelerated away. The depth of the water along the reef was usually around 30 metres which was plenty, but further out where the continental shelf dropped off, the bottom plummetted to 4000 metres! This pilotage is the longest in the world and another boat came alongside for him as we passed Cairns as we were free to sail just outside the reef.

One day we ventured to the bowels of the ship, into the engine room. The sounds as you descend the steps reminded me of a scene from Lord Of the Rings when the orcs are smashing metal to make weapons and as the heat increased as you got closer to the heavy metal doors that enclosed this deafening monster, we were handed ear defenders for our tour. Two heavy doors mark the entrance to the engine room, to prevent the heat and noise escaping, but also any CO2 in the event of a fire on board. Mario, the Chief Engineer showed us around - although we weren't really
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Baltrum Trader
able to hear any of his commentary, the sounds and smells of the engine left a lasting impression. Steep stairways ran past the cylinders and they clanked and hissed, the a/c units pumping out cold air as we walked past, various dials and gauges showing the temperatures and pressures of this and that. The control room however was a haven of peace - a heavy steel door closed off the sound and noise, as we looked at banks of more gauges and computers - giving the temperatures of everything on board, including the sea (a balmy 29C). From here, the engineers could control the engine speed, the power provided to the ship via the auxiliary motors - they even had one of the ships' engine speed "thingy" saying "dead slow", "stop", etc.. The ship takes on enough fuel to cover 18000 miles when in Singapore - at a cost of $250 per tonne, it uses about 70 tonnes of fuel per day at full speed, enough to power the single propellor through all weathers. We were fortunate on our trip - calm weather was common on this route through Indonesia - the roughest section for us was sailing past Innisfail,
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Baltrum Trader
northern Queensland, finally calming down as we approached Brisbane. As we felt like we lurched from side to side and felt distinctly green, the officers laughed and said the swell didn't even feature here. As they passed Melbourne, they would have to endure swells of 6-7 metres, with 12 metre swells a possibility. The Captain explained that it was fine as long as the side to side roll was once every 30 seconds - if it was every 15 seconds, they risked losing containers overboard. The Chief Officer then piped up and said that in that case, the crew walk around the decks in the morning collecting the flying fish that have been thrown aboard by the big waves overnight, and are cooked for brekkie!

As we neared the end of our 9 day journey, we realised that it was also the end of the bigger journey - the trip from the UK to Australia without taking any flights. It was a strange feeling as we hugged the Aussie coastline, never venturing far away - the TV picked up various stations and we started to pick up mobile phone networks, getting SMS messages from home. Then it was time to enter the Brisbane river - another pilot came aboard and guided us in and we pointed straight towards the huge red gantries that marked the container port in the distance. The sea had calmed now and as we stood on the bow, a turtle poked his head above the water, looked around and saw us charging down on him and rapidly dived! It was also a strange time for the officers and crew - the charter was about to change and the rumours were that it would do one more Singapore to Singapore trip and then head west to South America, changing it's name to Grand Challenger - the end of an era for the ship and the hard-working crew who would stay with their vessel on her new route.

This trip had been the icing on the cake for me - an amazing end to a dream that I'd held for a long time. I never imagined that 9 days on a ship could be such an eye-opening experience, to see how goods are transported around the world. All the clothes that we wear at home that are made overseas would have been packed up in containers like these, the white goods in our kitchens, the cars we drive, TVs and computers would never have got there without crews like those working on the MV Baltrum Trader, yet their life seemed a mystery to me before this trip. The Chief Officer said he found that people never seemed to know anything about the life they all led, yet without them, life for a lot of us would be very different.

The voyage also meant that I had finally realised my dream of getting to Australia by land and sea - I'd seen a lot of those bits that you fly over and discovered an amazing world and met some fantastic people, some of whom I know I'll keep in touch with for a very long time to come. It's also allowed me to see people who lead completely different lives to me, people who have comparatively very few material goods but who seem happier than many people who have more.

I'll update the blog with the Malaysian and Singaporean section as soon as possible, but in the meantime we're travelling to Sydney for a few days, and then hitting the outback for a few weeks on a 4x4 trip! Can't wait for that. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this blog - I didn't realise I would write so much about a boat trip, but I hope it's enjoyable. Keep in touch and keep the emails and comments coming :-)




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29th March 2007

Don't offer to crew a yacht !
Andy - fantastic achievement ! Glad you binned the option of being a galley slave on a yacht for the last leg....I have seen what you can do to peas !!
29th March 2007

WOW
Amazing Andy- you have done it. The boat trip sounds amazing! You really should feel very proud of yourself. Was really lovely to see you both in Singapore - hopefully one day we will have that night dancing in the ministry of sound!!!XX
29th March 2007

Well Done!
Andy I can remember you just mentioning this to me in IBM Weybridge, well done - I take my hat off to you! I see you have resigned also... good luck for the future and keep save! Declan !!!
29th March 2007

Congratulations!
Well done Andy - glad to hear you finally got to fulfilled your dream!
30th March 2007

wow
Congrats – I know a couple who have tried but failed at the last hurdle so that is some accomplishment and story!
30th March 2007

Congratulations
Well done, Andy, sounds like you could get used to this cruising lark. A teriffic achievement, I'm sure that you are well proud of yourself. I can confirm that you're no longer on Blue Pages.
30th March 2007

Hi Andy, well done. That entry was very exciting to read - who would have thought that a ship voyage would be that exciting? I could do it any day! It's always refreshing and pleasurable to read your blogs. Liked the volcano picture as well as the view from cabin while docked picture. Take care in the final country. Hello to Danielle and don't miss her too much. Francis.
30th March 2007

Still can't believe.....
....you've left IBM. Who's gonna do those "white text on white background" spreadsheets now (Danielle, make him explain that). So the boat was a highlight, I told you you should have just got one from Southampton to Perth in one go ;-) Anyway, congrats mate, throw another shrimp on the barbie, have a XXXX for me (Oi, I mean a Castlemaine not what you're thinking!). I bet you can't come back without a flight, going via South and North America.
9th April 2007

you've come a long way since sapa
Nice one, Andy.
9th June 2007

Fun on the Baltrum Trader
Well done Andrew. I boarded the Baltrum Trader in Sydney on the 22nd of March obviously just after your voyage. I did the round trip of 18,000 KM, returning to Sydney on the 19th of April. I enjoyed my time with same crew, spending a lot of time in the officers mess with Mario and Shrek. I got to see the BIG seas accross the great Australian bight. We got into some heavy rolling with seas of up to 11 meters, great fun.
3rd July 2007

Baltrum Trader
Thanks for your comment, Roger - it's a great way to travel, isn't it? Especially with a crew like Mario and Shrek - once in a lifetime experience (or maybe not!).
23rd May 2008

Incredible. :)
I want to do that too when I have lots and lots of time in one chunk. It would give one a real perspective on just how big the world is. Mel
24th December 2008

Awesomeness
Hi Andy! Great to see this post, I did a similar overland trip in 2002 and crossed on the Baltrum Trader as well, awesome experience and a great crew! I left a blow up globe hanging in the officers' room, and it's still there on one of your pics above, totally awesome, I love it.
2nd January 2009

Reply To Koko
Hi Koko, thanks for your message - that's amazing! Great to know who left the globe behind and that you had such a great time on the Baltrum Trader. Cheers - and thanks for letting us know, it's a great story to tell!
21st October 2009

wow ;)
very exciting :)
31st October 2009

Reply to Babel
Thanks, Babel - it was a fantastic experience
10th December 2009

sounds like an amazing trip!!! im going to australia next year with a working travel visa. ive been looking at flights and stuff and it all seems so boring!!! from what ive read before, going on a ship like you isnt that cheap, but it sounds fun. how much did it cost you? please reply to my email address :) thanks, josh (devon, england)
13th December 2009

Josh
Hi Josh - just replied. Cheers
29th December 2009

ex buss fleet seaman
I like your work. Great Job. It brings back memories when i used to work on board a ship name TRAVE TRADER (sister ship of Baltrum), specially buss fleet. And I think I know Ch.Engr. Mario, I used to work with him a couple times. He was our ch.Engr. and I work on Deck. I quit going to sea for about 7 yrs. I decided to be with my family and work here in Bakersfield, California, U.S.A. If you know the name Capt. Reiner Kluglein or just his email address, pls email it to me. Thank You.
6th January 2010

Reply to Noel
Hi Noel, thanks for your message. Great to hear that you worked with Mario - he was quite a legend on the Baltrum Trader, and made our stay on the boat even more memorable. You must have seen some sights on your travels, which routes did you travel? I'm afraid I don't have Capt. Reiner Kluglein's email address. Thanks for getting in touch, Andy
25th July 2010

ex. Buss Fleet
Hi Andy, I sailed on the Baltrum Trader and on the Trave Trader. I do know Noel Nalupa. He asked for Capt. Kluegleins email address. I do have it. Please ask him (Noel Nalupa) to get in contact with me. By the way: Great report. All the Best - Roland
8th December 2010

That was a great entry! ive always wanted to go to England by boat from Australia ever since i decided id go overseas. but I had no idea as to how that could be done. but when you described how you went about it and all the details of the trip, I was spurred on to not give up my dream. It didn't seem that long when i was reading it; just got lost in it. this is a really corny message, but when im 18 next year im going to do exactly what you did, but the other way around. Lizzy.
12th December 2010

Reply to Lizzy
Hi Lizzy, Many thanks for your kind message - glad that you like the blog. You should definitely think about taking the container ship - it's an amazing way to travel and a real window on a life that we never really get to see. I'm glad that you will follow your dream too - I had mine for 18 years before finally packing my bags and heading off. It was the best thing I ever did! All the best, Andy
7th November 2012

Local plumber
Small bits of content which are explained in details, helps me understand the topic, thank you!
9th May 2013

Interested...and scared!
I just came upon your blog Andy, obviously pretty late, but it was captivating. I am currently trying to secure a teaching job in Asia and am considering this option (sailing from California to maybe Korea or China). I can't help but wonder though if I will be freaked out on the open sea...especially if and when we come upon bad weather and big waves. I know you mentioned that you kind of lucked out when it came to weather, but overall was it ever really scary out there? Did you ever have moments of panic?
14th May 2013

Reply to M. Sensei
Hi there, Thanks for your message, it's a good question. As you say, we were lucky with the weather. We'd been told if we were sailing around south Australia then we'd hit some rough seas and I guess that would've become more of a challenge. As it was, we could stand on the bow and see for miles and apart from going on deck at night (which we didn't enjoy), it never seemed scary. The opposite side is that we were told that if we fell overboard, then the sharks would get us before we could be rescued :-) If you like the big open spaces, realise you're travelling in a relatively unusual way and remember that there are thousands of ships sailing at any one time with no problems, then you'll enjoy it. Cheers, Andy

Tot: 0.343s; Tpl: 0.024s; cc: 33; qc: 116; dbt: 0.0935s; 116; m:apollo w:www (50.28.60.10); sld: 2; ; mem: 7mb