Author’s note. I would like to thank Peter Kaye for giving me permission to use some of the ideas in his ‘Freighter Trip’ blog: http://freightertrip.blogspot.com This was a riveting read to one who has never travelled on such a ship!
The Loading Dock
Port of Felixstowe
July 13 1997
I have finally rattled up the jointed-metal ramp leading up to the deck of ‘Sugar Cane Sue’ with my suitcase on wheels and panting a little under the additional weight of my rucksack. This ramp was exceedingly narrow and my beastly belongings kept on catching on the joints between metal sections. I think some of the crew were relishing the spectacle of my, rather laboured, ascent – but I was determined not to ask for assistance. My days of depending on men (like Austen) are over! It didn’t help that, on one side of me, I could see the ship’s superstructure being washed down with high-pressure hoses and, on the other, a massive – ten-storey-high – gantry was loading bright blue, and brilliant orange, containers on to the deck. The noise was incredible!
A rather grinning face (I thought) greeted me at the top of the ramp and welcomed me on board. I handed over my ticket – which had Deck E stamped all over it – to the proffered hand and asked for directions. ‘Up there madam,’ said the bosun, pointing up to a height amounting to about five floors of a tower block. ‘You can get to it on the catwalks.’ I gazed, mum, at this network of external staircases criss-crossing the exterior paintwork – and wondered how on earth I was going to do it with a (large) bag on wheels and a pack on my back. And I must admit to a pang of gratitude when the man gestured to a deck hand and asked him to assist me. Even without the bags it was a considerable hike! But I must admit it was pleasant to have such a young lad chirping in front of me and wishing me a pleasant voyage and a hearty meal in the not-so-distant future.
The ‘owner’s cabin’ is interesting. It accommodates two passengers, and has two beds, but – so far – no-one else has materialized. I was particularly interested in a faint green Phosphorus sign (situated on the ceiling) which reads ‘lifeline.’ I opened the panel mum and, behind it, is a long – knotted – rope. It seems that, in an emergency, one is supposed to run it through the porthole and climb the five storeys back down to the deck! I gazed out through this porthole (a tight fit in anyone’s money) and there were the longshoremen catching hold of the ship’s hawsers and throwing them over the stanchions securing the ship to its berth.
Well mum. There has just been a blast from the ship’s incredible horn. And a little tinny voice, heard over the intercom, seems to be announcing the presence of food in the mess. I think we are off!
Your loving daughter (in law)