A ship came into the harbour carrying a cargo load of...

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December 6th 2006
Published: December 10th 2006
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Port Klang - Kuala Lumpur - booking and joining instructions

A - First things first. And that is the 'why'. Why on earth did we decide to take a container ship from Malaysia to Perth, when we could have flown a lot more cheaply and arrived in a fraction of the time. We blame you lot. All of those people who read our original plan, which included a couple of short flights, and issued us with a challenge to do the whole distance without flying. We searched around for options without much success. Then Huw, one of my old work colleagues came to the rescue with the freighter suggestion, and better yet, an e mail address for a kiwi agent who could arrange it for us.

It may surprise you to learn that catching a container ship isn't like hitchhiking. It's not a simple matter of turning up at the port and asking if anyone's going your way. One needs to book ahead. We first made contact with Hamish (hamish@freightertravel.co.nz - for those who might be interested) in about September. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing over the e mail, we managed to agree and pay for passage on the ANL Esprit from Port Klang, Malaysia to Fremantle, Perth departing on approximately 29 Nov. Then we had to provide copies of passports, waiver forms, medical certificates and copies of our travel insurance. In return he had to send us a ticket and instructions for joining the vessel in Port Klang.

Although this all sounds simple, most of it was happening in the couple of weeks immediately prior to departure. And we were on the move so getting faxed copies of our tickets was proving to be difficult. Especially when there were only three hours of the day when we overlapped with Hamish's working day. Although we'd like to think we've relaxed since we've been travelling, the truth is that we haven't quite managed to lose the London desire to manage everything to ensure it gets done. Which means we were getting pretty stressed by the time we got our tickets the day before we were due to sail.

The next step was joining instructions. When we rang the port agents to find out what time and where we needed to turn up to board the ANL Esprit, they couldn't find us on the passenger list and had no idea that they should be expecting us. This caused further panic, which was only alleviated by turning up at the Port early on the day of departure and just hoping. Hamish later told us that the German shipping company had forgotten to let the Port Klang port agents know!!

The ANL Esprit

Some stats for the nerds;

Length - 208 metres Max. Speed - 21 Knots
Width - 29.8 metres Power - 24,420 ps
Weight - 27,290 tonnes Propellor - 7.1 metres diameter
Draft (loaded) - 11 metres (the bit below the sea!)
Number of containers - 1,000+

We saw the following readings in the bridge;

Depth of sea in Melaka Straight - 30 metres (shallowest was 24 metres!)
Depth of sea in Indian Ocean - 5,048 metres (it does get as deep as 6,000+, but not where we were)
Last day, Gale force winds, 6-8metre waves (bleurgh!)

Once we arrived at the Port everything seemed to have been sorted out and it all went smoothly. So we were ferried out to the Port and the ship that would be our new home for the next seven nights.

To say we were impressed by the size would be a complete understatement. This ship utterly dwarfed us. And watching the containers being loaded was a standing staring, slack-jawed experience for us. Basically they use these huge gangly legged cranes, which have small units for men to sit in which pick up the containers and whisk them to their position on the ship. Amazing.

On board, we met Captain Marut, a Pole, who was obviously extremely impressed by the two words of Polish we could remember from our time there. We also met lots of the crew - officers mostly German and crew mostly Phillipino.

And the thrills and excitement only continued when we were shown our cabin. It was huge. In fact, the word 'cabin' doesn't do it justice. It was a suite. We had our own sitting room, complete with matching sofas, arm chairs, desk, TV, DVD and stereo. And a seperate bedroom complete with huge bed and private bathroom. What utter bliss. Not to mention the four portholes facing forward, with a fabulous view of the containers stacked on the deck.

The other passengers - Nick and Natalie

At lunch time on the first day, over a huge meal (which we later learned was normal) we met our fellow passengers - Nick and Natalie. Natalie, a Hong Kong born Kiwi, who'd spent 14 years in the UK, had the supreme honour of occupying the 'Owners' cabin. Like us she was endeavouring to get from London to Sydney (her new home) overland. Nick, a Brit, was also attempting to do the same, but with the option of carrying on around the world. And he'd been to the 'Stans'. Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikstan, Kazakstan (Hello, My name a Borat) and Pakistan. We couldn't quite believe that there were others with the same crazy ambition as us. And we couldn't quite believe our luck to share the long journey with two such similar minded travellers. If you would like to check out the gorgeous Natalie on her own web-site - prepare to be impressed - go to www.london2sydney.com.

How did we spend our time?

It's a pretty relaxed life on board the ship for us passengers. It's no cruise liner so it's not like we could spend our afternoons playing shuffle board, ballroom dancing or having purple rinses. In retrospect it seems we spent a lot of the time eating. And boy was there a lot of food. Full cooked breakfast if we wanted it. Full cooked lunch with dessert, cheese and cold cuts. Full cooked dinner with cheese and cold cuts. It took a while before the novelty of these sorts of meals wore off. It's fair to say that we're both a bit plumper after seven days aboard.

We also spent time sun-bathing (we had sun-loungers), reading, writing diaries, talking, looking at the ocean, watching DVDs, listening to music and wearing beards. But the best stuff we did on-board was exploring. The ship had a cadet on board, Camillo, who seemed to have a lot of spare time on his hands. So he gave us our safety instructions, showed us our seats in the life boat, took us down to the bow, took us to the engine room, explained the charts, and he didn't take us up one of the unloading cranes as this is strictly forbidden - good view though!

The bridge is awesome. So many dials, switches, knobs and red buttons. More pairs of binoculars than you can shake a stick at, and most worrying of all were the frequent chattering printers describing the latest attempted pirate attacks in the area. One that arrived while we were on board read:

28 Nov 2006 - Kuala Bintulu, anchorage -
Robbers armed with pistols, knives and crow bars boarded a general cargo ship at the forepart of the vessel. They broke into forecastle store and stole ship's stores. Ship raised alarm and robbers jumped into water and escaped in their boat. Port control informed.

This was one of perhaps 10 reported incidents that had occurred in the week prior to our departure. Not a nice part of the world to be. Still, I wonder whether they still raise the jolly roger, walk with a limp or make their hostages walk the plank? Aharrrrr, me hearties!!!

Sea conditions

Conditions during our 6 days were varied. The first two days were mill pond calm, the sea almost like a mirror. From the cabins it was hard to get the impression you were on a ship, other than the distant throb of the engines. Sunbathing six stories up was a little tricky though, as the constant 21km 'apparent' wind was a bit tedious.

D - On the third, fourth
The Sea-saw, ANL EspritThe Sea-saw, ANL EspritThe Sea-saw, ANL Esprit

Well, it cuts through the waves doesn't it?
and fifth days we finally had some waves. Two to four metres in height, these caused a little rocking and rolling, but no more than light turbulence on a plane (and no, we didn't have to wear seatbelts for three days solid - no nannying here!). Many happy hours were spent gazing off the side or back watching the thousands of different blue hues of the sea, and the being hypnotised by the constant rythmical rolling. It was too wet to get to the bow of the ship, unless you were prepared to get a good soaking. However, it was on the final day of our trip as we motored (shouldn't that be chugged?) down the west coast of Australia, 50kms or so from land, that things got a bit rough. Six to eight metre waves, caused a lot of moving around. I got a bit green after lunch and so did Abbie not long after. Frequent trips to the deck to watch the horizon (apparently one way to calm the nausea) were made, but something more drastic was required. Down to the kitchens and a visit with Mr. Fixer, Gary. He had just the thing - Skybiscuits. No, not the hallucinogenic kind, merely the variety that cures nausea and headaches in under ten minutes! Magic.

Arriving in Freemantle

Throughout the journey our ETA (estimated time of arrival) was being constantly calculated and recalculated. Any conversation with the officers at mealtimes inevitably touched on this point. Before boarding, we were only aware of what day we would be arriving. On the final day we had it pinned down to 'between 18.00 and 22.00 hours'. Imagine that level of timekeeping on an aeroplane!

Finally seeing lights on the horizon at dusk was magical. We all stayed up on the bridge watching them form into the identifiable sky line of Perth and the lights of the ocean front. This was probably the most exciting stage of the whole trip. Our speed slowed as we manoeuvred through a series of buoys to a point where our pilot boat could meet us. Then we watched with considerable admiration as the pilot climbed from the pilot boat onto our ship, both of which were still moving.

Then the pilot issued directions in the kind of language you might recognise from watching Star Trek: 'check', 'midships', 'on my mark', 'heading 175'.
Amazing skies, Straight of MalakaAmazing skies, Straight of MalakaAmazing skies, Straight of Malaka

Testing our new camera - check out the line of smog on the horizon
You get the picture. And before we knew it we were in the Port of Fremantle, and the pilot and Captain Marut had moved themselves to the port overhang to bring the ship to berth next to the dock. We had tug boats helping, but we were still impressed that there was no bump as we came to rest.

By the time we were berthed it was past 11pm. The Customs and Immigration officials came straight on board, and quickly and pleasantly dispatched with the immigration requirements. Because we had no accomodation booked in Fremantle they suggested we stay on board and do our immigration first thing the next morning. Which made sense. But we had to say goodbye to Nick and Natalie who had by now become fixtures after so much time together.

Normally we don't bother telling you about the in and outs of immigration (unless it was especially bad) but on this occasion we do have a lovely story to tell. At 7am the next morning two immigration blokes turned up to stamp our passports and check our bags etc. We knew we needed to get to the Fremantle North train station as it would take us direct to Perth. But we didn't have any Aussie currency and these guys couldn't think of anywhere we might be able to change our US dollars. So one of them reached into his pocket, pulled out $7 in change and gave it to us for our train fare. We offered him some US$ in exchange but he wouldn't take it. We couldn't quite believe this kind of generosity. Our usual experience of arriving in any new country is that we are about to get soundly ripped off.

But things only got better. After disembarking, a car came to pick us up to take us to the port gates so we wouldn't be wandering around the port unaccompanied. Then at the gates, we had to go through security. We asked the guy for directions to the North Fremantle station. He started giving them to us, then gave up and offered to drive us there instead. Once again we couldn't quite believe our luck. What a lovely way to be welcomed to Australia.

So what happens next?

We've managed to make it to Perth early on the 6th of December. We have booked tickets for another ship to take us from Sydney to Tauranga, departing on the 12th of December. This is the only ship we could catch that would get us to NZ in time for Christmas. Which gives us a grand total of six days to get to Sydney.

With the uncertainty about our ships arrival we didn't want to book tickets for the Indian Pacific train that takes three days to get from Sydney to Perth. The problem is that the Indian Pacific only runs twice a week. And the next leaves at 11:55 on the 6th. If we miss this train, the next one won't get us to Sydney on time to catch our ship.

What we will tell you is that on arriving in Perth we found out that seats on the Indian Pacific for the 6th are already fully booked. And because it's high season, hiring a car will cost us $2700 for a five day rental. There are no coaches running between Perth and Sydney. And we refuse to fly. So with 4300 kms to get across, how are we going to get to Sydney?

Full details in the next exciting instalment.

Additional photos below
Photos: 30, Displayed: 30


Oily rags and gloves, ANL EspritOily rags and gloves, ANL Esprit
Oily rags and gloves, ANL Esprit

Yep, it's true, it's not the engineer, but the oily rag that gets things done.
The engine, ANL EspritThe engine, ANL Esprit
The engine, ANL Esprit

Check out the spare piston, at the bottom in the middle of the picture.

10th December 2006

Hi This is the first time i have commented on your journal-mostly i've just wanted to sit back and travel with you silently. I've followed you all the way from London and it's been an exciting adventure throughout. I really am hoping that you make it back to NZ in time for Christmas. It would be a great way to end your trip I can't wait to see the next installment, yet am a little sad that this blog is soon coming to an end hehe Take good care Catherine (Leeds, UK) xx
10th December 2006

This is something I've always wanted to do!
Good report, helps me keep the dream alive!
11th December 2006

great adventure!
Thats awesome that you sought a means of travel that most people would never use or only remotely consider.
12th December 2006

Air Miles
Hello darlings! Feeling slightly guilty about flying to Sydney for christmas now, does planting some gum trees in my garden offset the miles????!! Loving the blog, what will I do at work when you arrive home and blog is over? Hope you like my home town....
8th September 2009

This is an amazing blog! I am looking at doing the same, but again I am hit with hot to get to Australia from the far east... Where did you book this? thanks in advance, and well done, Chris

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