Sea Legs

As a child I had a fascination for ships and anything that floats. In those days the government harbour and rail agency, the SAR & H (South African Railways and Harbours) controlled everything – they even had their own drab olive green uniform police force with standard issue snor (moustache).

It was this police force that was tasked with preventing undesirables from entering the harbour, particularly for fishing. As a child I knew I had the ignorance of youth on my side, slipping into the harbour on my Chopper bicycle, bait and hand line stashed under its long seat.

Here I would spend many happy hours between the ships catching fish, until being caught by the snors .

Their training however did not encompass wayward children, more so ones who spoke English but had an Afrikaans surname.

Wat is fout seun, hoekom praat jy net engels? (what is wrong boy, why do you only speak English?)

After awhile they would tire of this novelty and would dump my bike and I into their matching olive green patrol van and escort me out of the harbour.

They always kept my catch.

Fortunately the SAR & H academy churned out so many of these mobile moustaches (from my relative height that’s all that protruded from their caps) that I was never caught by the same ones, making it a simple task to return another day.

Roll on a few decades and I still enjoy fishing and ships, so much so that we decide to catch a ferry across the Black Sea from Bulgaria to Georgia.

This would save us from having to travel again by bike across a cold Northern Turkey.

Here are a few pictures from a rekindled childhood.

We arrive at a cold Burguss which is covered for most of April in a cold wet fog

Yet life goes on. A midday dip in the Black sea

A lone hydrofoil kite surfer

Hot soup and giant roll- that’s only half of the roll

and simply time to wile away

On a deserted beach

Its impossible to understand anything in a language that has roots in Latin

We take a chance and follow a truck

Which leads us to the port . Fog causes all types of delays…

Every truck is weighed by customs

Customs clearance for us and the bikes

That happy face again, reserved for all officialdom

The ferry gobbles us up

On board the fog is equally cold and Linda does her own dance to keep warm

Trucks are loaded one by one to balance the ship. These are Polish trucks carrying live cows from Austria to Armenia for breeding purposes

and the other side to ensure we don’t topple over. This used to be the old fish port when fish were abundant.

Yet these intrepid fisherman still persist in an over fished and highly polluted Black sea

Over the hours it becomes a united nations with trucks from Poland, Armenia, Bulgaria, Czech, Georgia, Austria…. The cow trucks have receded into the background but if you look carefully you can still see the cows.

Still cold and misty, even for the gulls. We abandon hope of leaving any time soon

and warm up in the mess with 2 x Jack’s , 2 x Mario’s (we were not seeing double at this point) as these were the Polish cow truckers names . We crack open Jurgen’s special blend of homemade apricot Schnapps from Germany.

Vodka with intent. Linda is one of only 5 woman on board out of a total of almost 300 people

and when one tries to abstain from more Vodka ( by covering your glass with one hand), another glass is poured and pushed your way

More truckers roll in

When the Vodka and Schnapps run out there is always beer on tap, served by Todor. Todar, a heavy metal band fan, only opens the bar for one hour a day to prevent any boxing matches. Thankfully no heavy metal music at bar times.

Finally at 11 am the next morning the mist lifts sufficiently for us to leave. We have to wait for the St John to move first

The captain and first mate of the St John bid us farewell

It fascinates me as to some of the convenient registration ports of these vessels. This ones “home” is in Sierre Leone , West Africa, now plying the Black Sea

Our turn to leave. This ferry has her own bow thrusters and does not require a tug to maneuver out

Those Austrian cows must be as happy to get going as we are . Its been a long trip of many days for them so far and one can only hope for as green pastures in Armenia

A tight fit. Every thing is lashed down with chains as apparently the Black Sea can have storms from more than one direction, concurrently

We know these concrete interlocking storm breakers from home. They were invented by a school teacher in our home town of Port Elizabeth. He never patented them. As a child I used to hide in these when fishing in our harbour.

Controlled pollution???

A welcome cup of espresso after the night before. There are buttons for latte and cuppa chino however all buttons dispense double espressos. One feels like a Duracell bunny with fresh batteries.

The chef creates miracles from here.

The next day we are invited up to the bridge. I feel a child again.

L to R : 2nd mate Alexander, a lesser spotted gender, Rt Petty Officer Nikola, who used to have the best head banging music bar in Burgess( until he was muscled out by local landlords). He re-invented hinself by becoming a petty officer . Every day Nikola had a new comical t-shirt. Although we could not understand the words on this one one could guess the gist

An office to envy

The port engine runs at almost 600 rpm while the propellers are reduced to 150 rpm. The propeller blades can be adjusted to various pitches. Ditto for the starboard engine

A view aft port side. It is from here the ship is maneuvered out of ports

Next it’s down to the engine room

Both the port and starboard engines are 8 cylinders each. each piston is the size of a human. The noise is deafening

The engines run on bunker oil . 1 = the temperature of the oil . 2 = viscosity of the oil . At 12 knots she consumes a ton of oil per hour. Within 13 km of the shoreline regulations dictate the use of a low sulphur content bunker oil. Beyond this it is not required. One ozone layer though?

The chief engineer used to do the China to SA route but chose to be closer to his family in Bulgaria. The vessel is of Italian origin and he had to translate all the vessels operating tags and instructions into Bulgarian

The vessel has 5 generators. When sailing she uses her smallest one -a 220KW unit , enough to power 15 homes. When leaving port the bow thrusters require all 5 generators

After 3 nights on board we arrive at Batumi, Georgia

Small Black sea dolphins welcome the ship – these are about a third the size of bottle nose dolphins

And we say cheers to other non trucking travelers , mainly from Switzerland on their bicycles and one by foot , with her dogs.

18 Responses to Sea Legs

  1. Anonymous

    Very interesting time you both had aboard the ship, making new acquaintances. Weather looks very cold somewhat no wonder Linda you dancing around to keep warm. wish you well.
    Debbie — Durban.

  2. Colin

    Your fishing experiences remind me of the time I worked at the Port Elizabeth Container Terminal. We often saw fisherman being caught by the Railway Police. Interesting experience on the ferry. Stay cool
    Colin from Durban.

  3. Anonymous

    Fascinating boat trip & interesting, thirsty people – LOL!! Special treatment: the bridge and engine room – WOW! Very interesting. It is a beautiful picture of Batumi, Georgia with fascinating architecture! Looking forward to the next posting! Love Amelia xx

  4. Aloysius, Theodorus,Bernardus, A van den Bergh

    Linda and Harry, thanks again for your wonderful pictures and writings – such a pleasure to view them all!


  5. Anonymous

    I can’t believe they let that face past customs , Harry!!!
    Great descriptions and photos.
    Can’t wait for the next edition.

  6. Jan van der Mey

    Linda had a very early fascination with ferries when she was not quite 2 years old. We, that is Jan, Gail expecting Stella and my mother, which involved taking quite a few ferries to the most Eastern Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. This was specially so, since we took the long way back through the Southern tip of Sweden. We only acquired the Renault 4 after Stella was born. Then we used an already old Austin A35 which my Father gave to me after graduation in Glasgow and starting to work at Nijmegen University. I was then also worried that the old Austin. with a poor hand brake would start moving around in the ship. Linda looked happily at the vessels, saying ‘Ferry, Ferry’. Later she forgot however. My mother absolutely hated coming near the East German border and even became panicky! So good to see how times have changed.After Stella was born. Gail rightly insisted we buy a new car, which we still used in Bethlehem Free State. Later the local pilot and his wife used it to take passengers and sandwiches to their small plane!

  7. Gail and Jan van der Mey

    great descriptions and amazing photos. The packing of the trucks is unbelievable. It looks very cold no wonder the snaps and vodka went down quickly. Batumi in Georgia was your destination wasn’t it!!
    I can’t imagine spending so long on that ferry, well done!

  8. Naude.K

    Nou lekker gelag …and a story and photos that sparked a memories. Harry, the time when we fled in your fishing dingy (floating vessel of some sort) from the (must be a relative of snorre) guy chasing us with his company VW Jetta around Swartkops after we allegedly went over his fishing line. Also the time we took the ferry to Inhaca Island. Great to see your spirit for adventure has not faded a bit Harry. And the stories of you Linda when your family immigrated to SA on a passenger ship, with the little Renault car strapped on top of the deck – simple ways to travel that seem have not changed the way you do it today. You guys are legends! Safe travels and keep us entertained. Regards, Nod’s

    • Harry

      I remember the lone official/policeman/ customs official on Inhaca discovering us camping on the beach and deciding to charge us by the amount of sides our tent had … um, dois, três etc My tent had six sides so I paid more than your 4 sided tent. Mozambique was a lot different then!

    • Harry

      I remember the lone official/policeman/ customs official on Inhaca discovering us camping on the beach and deciding to charge us by the amount of sides our tent had … um, dois, três etc My tent had six sides so I paid more than your 4 sided tent. Mozambique was a lot different then! At the time it felt like arriving just after the apocalypse with all the war wreckage

  9. Anonymous

    The POOR COWS!! Did they survive? I was on tender hooks. First hoping the trucks would not capsize the boat and then I was in a toestand that you might have a storm from every side.

    You swam, in the cold and mist, in the Black Sea? Was it not FREEZING? Eish!!

    Controlled pollution. Ai – thats terrible.

    Baku looks like a mini Dubai and the ocean looks very inviting. Maybe its the sunny clear day? Can’t wait to hear all about that!

    Cute dolphins!!

    Write soon and thank you!!!

    • Harry

      We met the cows a week later at the Armenian border. There were problems with the documents and they were still standing in the carriages.

      Thankfully +- 8 days after that we saw these truckers on the road back out of Armenia so I can only hope all was well with these animals. I estimate a trip of more than 2 weeks for them which is enough to turn one into a vegan

  10. Anonymous

    Harry & Linda, thanks for sharing guys, it is great to travel along with you even though we sit at work ;^)

    I used to fish in the PE harbour too, my dad Was Chief Storeman at Shop17 and a few other Stores, on the harbour. Being a Railway kid, I knew the look well of the Harbour and Station police, some were neighbours, so was mostly ignore and allowed “fishing Priviledges”.

    Be safe guys and enjoy.
    Schaun fm PE

    • Harry

      When I finished school I wanted a bigger bike to replace my 50cc Honda Fury. My parents told me to go and get a job, which I did with the SAR& H working as a financial clerk at the technical supt in the harbor.

      It enabled me to buy a brand new Yamaha DT 175 for R900. Swopped it (when in the army) for a Z900 which needed rebuilding. Used to ride the Z900 from Pretoria to PE on camp passes . More fearless in those days than now as the tank slap was never an issue . Today it would be grounds for not getting on the bike!

      Good days those

  11. Anonymous

    Very informative and nice pictures Thyanks a lot

  12. Paul and Philna

    Lovely! I am surprised you weren’t allowed in PE harbour because when I got there (not later) we used to walk around and watch them load millions of oranges. Always wondered why there was no sucurity. Maybe they just wanted your catch! Have a wonderful time you two wonderful people. Love p&p

  13. Mike

    Nice write-up Harry, me, I prefer the solid ground under my feet (or wheels) and consequently have never slept on a ship or boat.

  14. Jim and Muriel xx

    Again, most informative but always ALWAYS interesting————-and with humour shining throughout !!
    Thanks you two intrepid travellers !

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