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.