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Planning Retirement Online

Around the world by sea          

                            May 2009

Around the World by Sea - A Container Ship Journey

Pete Robertson

MV Aenne Rickmers






MV Aenne Rickmers in the Red Sea.

A few weeks after I retired, my son suggested I visit New Zealand while he was there. I realised that I now had the time to travel by ship and see the world en route.




A few hours on the internet and a dozen emails later, I
had the outline of a plan that would take me around the
world by sea and include five weeks in New Zealand. My
wife is still working: “What would you think, if . . . ?”
Bless her; she said “go for it.” So I did.

Planning and preparations were limited: transport and accommodation in New Zealand; the visas, medical and insurance certificates required by the shipping companies; and setting up the laptop and satellite phone I decided to take so that Elizabeth wouldn’t feel entirely abandoned.       

On the first of August, I boarded MV CMA-CGM Manet at Tilbury. Our route took us to Rotterdam, Dunkirk and Le Havre followed by a week at sea crossing to Brooklyn, New York.

approaching manhattan

 Approaching Manhattan

From there we followed the US coast south to Savannah, passed the Bahamas and Cuba to visit Kingston, Jamaica, before crossing the Caribbean to Colón in Panama. After transiting the canal we had ten days in the Pacific to Papeete, Tahiti. Next was Lautoka in Fiji, then Noumea in New Caledonia and Botany Bay near Sydney. Melbourne was my last call before crossing the Tasman Sea and passing through Cook Strait to disembark at Napier on September 25.

On board, I had a spacious cabin and shared a lounge with three fellow passengers, all Australians returning home. (The Manet takes up to six passengers.)We had three square meals a day in the officers’ dining room and plentiful supplies of tea, coffee, soft drinks and duty-free beer and wine.

We were free to visit most parts of the ship, although the huge and noisy engine room was “guided tours only”. We spent plenty of time on the bridge, except when port manoeuvres were under way, and there was a small gym, table tennis and a library at our disposal. A sun lounger in a quiet corner of the deck was all that one of my shipmates needed, but I preferred to spend time up in the bows. There, there was no engine sound, just the sea hissing by and the occasional “slap-slap” of a dolphin leaping from the bow-wave.

dolphin showing off

Dolphin Showing off!

Photographing sunsets, coastlines, dolphins and sea birds (and one whale) provided much interest; other spare time was spent reading, watching DVDs, and keeping up correspondence via email and postcard.


(I transmitted and received emails from internet cafes in every port.) For exercise, I walked every morning, with plenty of time to “see the sea” and also the operations of the ship as I circuited the main deck – twelve laps made a three-mile walk.

The arrangements at each port were subtly different. At some, you simply walked to the gate while at others you had to wait for a bus; some were very strict on security, with forms and passes required, while at others it was simply “good morning” at the gate. All, however, had in common that passengers had to wait for the officials (from customs, immigration, quarantine, security, the shipping line, etc) before going ashore. At most ports on the way out, we less than a day ashore and became adept at getting quickly into town, shopping, seeing the sights, eating the local cuisine, and hitting the internet cafe in a few hours. The deadline for returning to ship was strictly observed; when the containers were ready, there was no waiting for passengers!


The highlights of the outward journey were: dolphins playing in the bow-wave; approaching New York through the Verrazano Narrows; two pleasant days in Tahiti; the scenic coast of New Caledonia; and the moon rising above Sydney Opera House during dinner.

MV Manet in Tahiti

MV Manet dominates the harbour in Tahiti

After five weeks touring New Zealand - which is another story - I left Auckland in the MV Aenne Rickmers November 3rd. The ship is very similar to the Manet, and my cabin was almost identical. I was the only passenger for the first and last weeks of this voyage, but from Australia to Italy there was one other. My daily walks continued; perhaps the main difference was the Captain’s personal contribution to the cooking for barbeques on the “poop deck” and other parties.


pilot comes aboard

A pilot comes on board

The return voyage took me via a brief call at Napier to Port Chalmers, Melbourne and Adelaide. Then we crossed the Great Australian Bight and headed north through the Sunda Strait and Sea of Java to Singapore.

From there, we cruised the Strait of Malacca to the Indian Ocean and Colombo in Sri Lanka.   After that, we were in pirate territory; as we followed the Yemen coast toward Somalia, there were extra watch-keepers, fire-hoses were rigged to deter boarding from small craft, we steamed at full speed and kept an eye on communications from the coalition forces. In fact, we saw no pirates and were soon sailing north in the Red Sea and back to normal. By an amazing coincidence, one of the coalition ships was commanded by a friend of mine and we passed in the Red Sea – I was honoured by a personal“fly past” by the Lynx helicopter of HMS Cumberland!

The Gulf of Suez led to the canal, with the deserts of Sinai to starboard and the irrigated settlements on the west bank to port. We stopped at the Mediterranean port of Damietta, and then our route took us through the Strait of Messina and on to La Spezia. The final leg of the voyage passed Mallorca and the Strait of Gibraltar, north past Portugal and across the Bay of Biscay to the English Channel where I crossed my outbound course and completed the circumnavigation. A day later we were in Tilbury.

On the return voyage, most of the port calls were brief – a few hours only, for most of them. The highlights for me were Singapore Slings at the Raffles Hotel, meeting HMS Cumberland, seeing Stromboli active at night and the many albatross in the southern seas.
People ask about sea-sickness: there was none. There was some difficulty due to the ship rolling in the Bay of Biscay – wine was spilled – but no real problem from it; a few instances of bad weather added interest rather than difficulty and there were only three or four days when I couldn’t complete my walk.

Would I do it again? Well, not the same voyage - but a trip among the Pacific islands or along the coast of South America would appeal. However, I will have to wait for Elizabeth to retire before the next trip!

If you want more information on container ship travel, there is plenty to be found on the internet, or for a day-by-day account of my journey see my blog: 2/tpod.html (press “Continue” when the introductory page comes up). Happy Sailing..

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