A few months ago I travelled as a passenger from Toronto to Bremen on the TRANSMICHIGAN. A familiar ship in several Great Lakes ports, the TRANSMICHIGAN is owned by Poseidon Lines of Hamburg. She was built in 1966 by Mitsui Zosen, Tamano, Japan, and is a sister ship of the TRANSONTARIO and the TRANSATLANTIC. Her gross registered tonnage is 4,959 as an open shelter decker and 6,926 as a closed shelter decker. The ship is 430 feet long, 58 feet wide and has a draught of 26 feet. The six-cylinder Burmeister and Wain engine develops 7,200 b.h.p., giving the ship a maximum speed slightly in excess of 17 knots.
The TRANSMICHIGAN left Toronto about 9:30 in the evening, which meant that she went through the Thousand Islands and much of the St. Lawrence Seaway during daylight hours the following day. No single day of the entire voyage was more enjoyable than this one, combining as it did the natural beauty of the Thousand Islands and the engineering accomplishments of the Seaway. Ships which I observed included the PIC RIVER, SARNIADOC, EASTERN SHELL, RIMOUSKI, AIGLE D'OCEAN, POLARLAND and RIVADEMAR, most of them familiar to ship watchers of the Great Lakes but on this occasion providing literally a new angle for photography,
Montreal harbour was strikebound but the TRANSMICHIGAN had to make a bunkering stop at Montreal East and was tied up for about seven hours. We left at 8:20 a.m. and for nearly 40 minutes the ship tried to negotiate the current while a very strong wind was blowing but the various manoeuvres failed and the captain had to call on the tug RIVAL for assistance. Within a few minutes we were in midstream and bound for Port Alfred.
Port Alfred is about eighty miles up the Saguenay River. Unfortunately, the upward and downward voyages of the TRANSMICHIGAN were made almost completely in darkness so the passengers were unable to see much of the river, which has often been compared to a Norwegian fiord for its beauty.
We docked at Port Alfred and spent two and a half days loading aluminum and a small quantity of paper, these being the two principal exports of the area. The TRANSMICHIGAN was tied up astern of the ELIANNE, a brand-new Norwegian ship which was loading paper for Tampico and Vera Cruz. In the bay, waiting to enter the ore dock was the OLYMPIC PEARL, flying the quarantine flag which she hauled down the following day before making her way to the ore dock.
At a nearby dock pulpwood was being unloaded. Among the vessels engaged in this trade were three small wooden-hulled goelettes, JEAN IVAN, C. H. MARIE and F. MARY, each of which made two visits while the TRANSMICHIGAN was in Port Alfred. The number of goelettes has diminished greatly in recent years and comparatively few remain. Also unloading pulpwood were the open hold ships CASTOR CONSOL, OUTRE CONSOL and VISON CONSOL, each of 799 grt. and 209 feet in length. All three were built in 1960, by Zaanlandse Schps. Maats. of Zaandam, Netherlands, for the Anticosti Shipping Company of Montreal.
The Saguenay River is still visited from time to time by cruise ships. One of these is the Russian passenger liner ALEKSANDR PUSHKIN which is based in Montreal during the summer months. She made one of her calls while the TRANSMICHIGAN was tied up in Port Alfred, The passengers were taken ashore by boat to Bagotville, a small town which adjoins Port Alfred, from which they went on bus tours of the region. As they landed they were welcomed by a group of local ladies dressed in costumes of about a century ago and entertained by a display of folk dancing. The ladies served the passengers a local drink known, I believe, as petit caribou. The main ingredients include wine, vermouth and white alcohol. The hospitality of the reception committee was not limited to the PUSHKIN's passengers but was extended to the TRANSMICHIGAN's passengers who had strolled over to observe the welcome.
The voyage from Port Alfred to Cardiff took nearly seven and a half days. Because of the severe ice conditions off Newfoundland our course was well to the south of Cape Race. The last identifiable ship we saw in the Gulf of St. Lawrence was the Russian vessel ANGARGES which has made several visits to Toronto during the last year or two.
During the Atlantic crossing I made several visits to the bridge. The master, Capt. Karl Rode, was always willing to explain the functions of the various pieces of equipment. Although the ship was built in Japan, the equipment was German and British as well as Japanese. There was among all the modern devices an old-fashioned speaking tube linking the bridge with the engine room. I spent some time in the chart room looking over the charts while the captain explained the course in relation to ice conditions and other hazards.
We saw only two icebergs during the crossing, each about two miles to starboard. The passengers also noticed some creatures leaping out of the water at a distance which were variously described as whales, seals and porpoises.
The sea was remarkably smooth for the entire voyage but the weather was not warm enough for lengthy stays on deck. The passengers occupied their time by reading, playing cards and in conversation. The ship's library contained 114 books, 107 of which were in German. However, several passengers had brought on board sufficient paperbacks so that by sharing there was always something to read. A daily news bulletin in German was issued each afternoon which the lone German passenger was always ready to translate.
Meals were served at 8 o'clock, 12:10 and 6 o'clock. In addition, there was afternoon tea at 3:30 and in the evening a plate of apples and oranges was placed in each cabin. The food was generally plain but well cooked and attractively served. The tablecloths and napkins were of linen. Cutlery and chinaware were always very clean. There was little or no choice of dishes but the food appealed to the passengers. A menu for a typical day was as follows: Breakfast: orange juice, eggs (any style), various kinds of bread and rolls with butter, jam and honey, coffee. Lunch; potato soup, roast pork, boiled potatoes and red cabbage, cucumber salad, canned peaches. Dinner: bean salad, steak, french fries, assorted cold cuts and cheese, bread, tea. Towards the end of the voyage a special lunch was held for the passengers preceded by champagne and accompanied by wine. Each passenger was presented with a Poseidon Line lapel badge and a sailor's hat band inscribed M/V TRANSMICHIGAN.
Because of the low tide the TRANSMICHIGAN had to wait in the roads for about six hours before entering Cardiff harbour. We went into the lock assisted by the tugs DANEGARTH and LOWGARTH and berthed in the Queen Alexandra Dock, The aluminum and paper which we had loaded in Port Alfred were discharged as was also a quantity of frozen beef from the ship's reefer space. In the same dock were the TACOMA CITY, unloading timber from the Pacific Northwest, and the ARCADIAN unloading wooden barrels of concentrated orange juice from Israel. There was an imposing array of 23 cranes along one side of the dock but the impression a casual visitor receives is that Cardiff is not the thriving port it once was.
We left Cardiff after nearly three days, bound for Bremen with only 400 tons of cargo. Visibility in the English Channel and the North Sea was limited and few of the ships we saw were close enough to be identified. Not until the TRANSMICHIGAN reached the mouth of the Weser could ships' names be distinguished and then we saw a great variety of ships, ranging from the coaster GILLIAN EVERARD to the large container ship LIVERPOOL BAY. Our journey up the Weser from Bremerhaven to Bremen was made during the night. Next morning the passengers left the ship after breakfast, their voyage completed, and went off to their various destinations.
I had been aboard the TRANSMICHIGAN for 18 days altogether. The total cost of the journey from Toronto to Bremen, including transportation, accommodation in a single cabin and meals, was $425.00 or $23.61 per day. The fare from Montreal to the first European continental port, where passengers must disembark, is $320.00 per person in a double cabin and $365.00 in a single cabin. Since some Poseidon Line ships sail directly from Montreal to Antwerp in about nine days the cost per day can be much higher than what I paid. Sailing dates are subject to frequent changes, sometimes with very little notice, so intending passengers need to allow themselves considerable leeway. But regardless of cost, a voyage on a cargo ship is a different kind of holiday with a particular appeal to those who like ships and the sea.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.