THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JAMES A. BONDOUX

PASSENGER DELIGHTS
The Ships I've Known

And here is the CLELIA II:

CleliaII

The CLELIA II at the dock in Duluth. Crews usually include many nationalities, but Filipinos tend to be the most numerous. The CLELIA II cew put on a particularly good folkloric show one night, much of it derived from Phillippine culture.

La Pinta

The small ship LA PINTA is a very good choice for exploring the Galapagos, since it is a compromise between the bigger ships with more regimented programs and the smaller vessels with a narrower offering of resources such as naturalists and beefy landing inflatables.

The small ship format usually offers more congeniality, as passengers tend to develop closer interction with crew members and with each othr. A big point in their favor, especially in cruising off the beaten path is their ability to access the tighter, out-of-the-way harbors, and are therefore better adapted to expedition or adventure cruising. The LA PINTA in the Galapagos, LE PONANT in the Seychelles, and the TRUE NORTH on the Kimberley coast of Australia were perfect for us in that respect.

Le Ponant

LE PONANT, another sailing ship, is operated by a French cruise company of the same name. The former SONG OF FLOWER wound up in the the company's fleet under a new name. This experience included gourmet French cuisine while sailing the western Indian Ocean among the isolated islands of the Seychelles.

True North

More of a SuperYacht than a pocket cruise ship, the TRUE NORTH took us around the Kimberley coast of Australia in great comfort. Just as on the YAMAL in the Arctic, we were treated to nearly daily helicopter excursions to visit spectacular landscapes not really accessible in any other way.

We’ve also traveled with a couple of what we would call mid-size vessels (perhaps categorized as small in the age of mega-cruise ships) such as Silversea’s SILVER SHADOW which took us on a coastal exploration of Viet Nam, and Regent’s VOYAGER, on which we did both a Baltic cruise and a British Isles circumnavigation.

Silver Shadow

Silversea has brought back shipboard life in the grand manner, reminiscent of the old transoceanic passage steamships. Yet we were relieved that there was no formal wear evening on the SILVER SHADOW's schedule, as would have been the case if it had been a day or two longer.

REGENT VOYAGER

The REGENT SEVEN SEAS VOYAGER, our home for two Northern Europe cruises. In my opinion, top of the heap for conventional cruising voyages, due to elevated standards of service and to the all-inclusive fares, which translate to no bar tabs, no end-of-cruise tipping concerns.

To complete my compilation of shipboard experiences, I have to include the AMADEUS II, which took us up the Danube and the Rhine, and overnight ferry crossings on the CALIFORNIA STAR and the BRETAGNE.

AMADEUS

River ships are radically different, being constrained by shallow waters, low bridges, and narrow locks. The AMADEUS was long and narrow, and thanks to both ballast tanks and a wheelhouse mounted on hydraulic lifts was able to deal with low bridges and shoals by shrinking its height profile and altering its draft.

Ferries are a special kind of fun, because, although the passages are much shorter and measured in hours rather than days, they are a blend of passengers and freight. Loading priority goes to the big trailers and eighteen-wheeler rigs, and the big tour buses, and then the automobiles, many packed to the gills with luggage, large families and pets. There is plenty of activity to watch, and it's all about getting there rather efficiently and cheaply - just enjoying the passage is very secondary.

Baja Ferries

Not many "gringos" on the CALIFORNIA STAR which crossed the Sea of Cortez from Pichilingue to Tobolobampo – and back. There's not much to recommend about the onboard food, but the people–watching was fun and the cabin was spotless, if a bit spartan.

I have a feeling that The BRETAGNE is nearing the end of its service life, as younger members of the fleet of Brittany Ferries Company are faster and more efficient. But the fine dining on starched white tablecloths, after having been escorted to a table by the maitre d', is a far cry from the cafeteria-style offering of most present-day ferries.

Bretagne

Just the opposite of the Baja Ferries – many repeat customers choose the French ferry BRETAGNE for overnight sailings across the English Channel, enjoying eleaborate meals served in the main dining room. Our cabin was narrow, but comfortable.

Voyaging on a ship has never failed to satisfy my wanderlust and my taste for adventure. I love "setting sail", the moment of departure when I can hang over the rail and fully experience the parting with land. The ship vibrates as the props start turning, the dockworkers release the last mooring line and the ship eases away from the quay.

I scan for the first mate and see him, hanging over a rail of his own and speaking into his handheld radio, while on the now deserted dock the last of the officials and landside agents trudge off to their offices and vehicles, their big job for the day now behind them.

I have traveled more than two dozen ships, and would welcome the opportunity of repeating any and all of those sailings, aklthough I can't be sure about the first one: it was onboard the SS EXCAMBION (American Export Lines) of which I have no memory, being all of one and a half years old at the time and in care of my mother as we fled wartime Europe, sailing from Lisbon to New York in January 1941.

However, I keep vivid memories of the return crossing on the ARGENTINA in August, 1945. The vessel, in troop ship mode, was deadheading back to Marseille after having brought home the 4,000 soldiers of an USAAF bombardment wing.

SS Argentina

On the ARGENTINA we were just a handful of passengers berthed in the best cabins – down below, the vast empty decks populated by rows and rows of vacant tiered pipe berths were dark and silent. Arrival in Marseille was fascinating to a six–year old, as the ship had to thread its way through a narrow channel winding around the superstructures of sunken warships, wrecks either scuttled by the French or sent to the bottom by Allied bombers.

Commercial, scheduled transatlantic air service started shortly after WWII, but passenger vessels remained competitive for a number of years and didn’t really give up until the jet age dawned it the early 1960s. What fun – lots of conversation with new acquaintances, musical entertainments, shuffleboard games, ping-pong tournaments, movies, endless meals and snacks, all the fresh sea air you could stand – totally free and relaxing, as long as the seas weren’t stormy.

Those were the days, so to speak, but that is when I learned to love the motion of a boat, the openness of the seas, and the pleasures of pampered life aboard a passenger ship.

Liberte

LIBERTE was the former EUROPA, taken from Germany as war compensation and refitted with additional internal decks. A star of the fleet of the Compagnie Generale Transatlantique.

During the 1950s I had a great time, completing three traditional crossings on the French Line’s SS LIBERTE and one, in 1959, on the brand new SS UNITED STATES. The latter was the unquestioned queen of the passenger ships built with a contingent US Navy mission, and had a “secret” but very high speed potential – this was in a way counterproductive to my taste for being at sea, as the crossing time dropped from six or seven days to five. But passenger ships were already beginning the transition from straightforward transportation to leisure cruising. Ocean Liners were no more, but Cruise Ships became increasingly popular.

SS United States

Passenger ships competed for the "Blue Riband" for the fastest crossing speed. The massive but speedy SS UNITED STATES won it hands down (and still holds it, never having been surpassed), but the transatlantic passenger market had already peaked and the vessel soon became a white elephant.

As a break from the ocean crossings, I travelled the length of Sweden’s Gota Canal in company of my Mitchel grandparents, from Gothenborg on the North Sea to the Baltic just south of Stockholm, through a string of lakes on a four-day cruise on the ancient, classic boat, SS WILHELM THAM. This was 1956. Then, the following year I made overnight crossings of the English Channel on the Paris-London rail ferry SS TWICKENHAM.

Gota Kanal Boat

The WILHELM THAM, the oldest vessel here, which took me through the large Swedish lakes (Vanern and Vattern) on my way to Stockholm. Narrow beam so that it can make it through more than two dozen locks on the waterway.

Twickenham

Wonderful old ferry crossing the Channel at night. The train would leave Gare du Nord in Paris around 10pm, right after a nice French dinner, and if you had the foresight to pay for a sleeper car, you were shuttled onto the ferry in the middle of night without having to get out of your bunk. Breakfast in the dining room, and arrival at Victoria station in London around 9am. Slick, and saved the cost of a hotel night in the bargain!

In 1965, my bride Susan and I embarked on the SS INDEPENDENCE for a voyage from New York to the Mediterranean, with calls at Casablanca and Gibraltar. We returned from Southampton via the Panama Canal to San Francisco on the SS ORIANA, part of the P&O Lines fleet.

Independence

The SS INDEPENDENCE was part of the American Isbrandtsen fleet. Like so many passenger ships, it changed owners and livery, and wound up in the intra-Hawaii trade, protected by the Jones Act. Indeed, that law intends that only a US-built hull can trade between US ports, and US-built passenger ship hulls have practically all been sent to the the scrap yard.

Oriana

In 1965, the SS ORIANA of the Oriental lines was loaded with migrants from the UK on their way to Australia. The hotel crew was largely Pakistani, and chicken curry was on offer on the menu every day of the passage...

The next big caper was exploring Southeast Alaska with Kathryn on Paquet’s RENAISSANCE. Since I disembarked in the same port I had embarked from, I consider this voyage to be my first real cruise, as contrasted to a crossing-oriented passage. One major difference I noted was a lesser schedule of onboard activities than was the case with the ocean passages, due to the almost daily stops in ports of call which provide more than sufficient passenger amusement.

Renaissance

The RENAISSANCE was the last of the Paquet ships, Paquet was a century-old French ocean carriage company, now long gone. Much of the crew was French, and the immersion in French language and behavior caused me, without really being aware of it, to revert to a "French" demeanor, catching Kathryn by surprise and causing her some consternation.

Sometime in the early 1980s Kathryn won a four-day cruise as a raffle prize at a conference, and we enjoyed a short interlude on the S.S. OCEANIC, sailing out of Port Canaveral. Turbulent weather caused by Hurricane Kate disrupted the cruise plan, and although the storm was swirling far to the south of our track, it caused our plans for scuba diving to be scratched.

Big Red

SS OCEANIC, known as the "Big Red Boat", was our home for a short cruise. This was the first vessel in Disney's experimental entry into the cruise business, and sailed from Port Canaveral, just down the road from Disney World.

A whole decade passed before my next shipboard adventure. This was family Christmas week on the CLUB MED II with my parents, Kathryn and Mitchel, cruising out of Martinique and calling at several Eastern Caribbean islands. That ship subsequently became the WIND SURF, and we renewed our acquaintance another decade later during a two-week itinerary through the Adriatic Sea.

Wind Surf

The WIND SURF in the Adriatic. Reconfigured to harmonize with the rest of the Windstar cruise fleet. We had already sailed aboard the world's largest sailing ship when she was the CLUB MED II running the Caribbean.

We followed that up with another Caribbean cruise on the STAR CLIPPER to celebrate our good friend Catherine's birthday, along with a group from the St. Francis Yacht Club and from Catherine’s loyal Parisian crowd.

Star Clipper

A rollicking cruise with our rowdy crowd. A very traditional sailing ship as compared to the high–tech approach on the WIND SURF. I particularly remember a crusty Russian sailmaker responsible for keeping up the vessel's numerous sails, not the type of crew member one normally encounters on today's cruise ships.

In 2000 we signed up for a circumnavigation of New Zealand, aboard the delightful and posh SONG OF FLOWER. This was my first experience with an all-inclusive fare, open bar and total pampering (crew to passsenger ratio coming close to an extraordinary 1:1, partially due to the ship's occupancy being well below capacity for that voyage).

Song of Flower

Really "First Cabin" cruising. Hard to believe that the SONG OF FLOWER started off as a roll-on-roll-off freighter. The onboard story was that a Japanese company had performed the modifications according to the taste specifications of the boss' wife, and subsequently had sold the ship to Seven Seas Cruises when the owners tired of the venture.

The following year was out introduction to real “Expedition Cruising” with an exploration of Antarctica on the CLIPPER ADVENTURER. A second voyage on that same vessel took us up various jungle rivers of South America, starting with the Amazon.

Clipper Adventurer

An unflattering shot of the CLIPPER ADVENTURER as we ran aground on a sand bank. We waited 24 hours for high-high tide to return to get off the shoal, somehwere upriver on the Essequibo, in Guyana. Nautical charts don't easily keep uptodate on changing river bottoms, especially remote ones such as the Essequibo. There were two local pilots on the bridge at the time, too.

Another vessel from the same fleet, the CLIPPER ODYSSEY took us on our circumnavigation of Japan, and then a few years later also through the archipelago of Papua New Guinea.

Clipper Odyssey

CLIPPER ODYSSEY was a lot posher than the CLIPPER ADVENTURER but found her way into just as many remote spots.

A very different expedition involved going to the North Pole, which could only be done on the monster, nuclear-powered YAMAL.

Yamal

The YAMAL sitting on the ice at the North Pole.

The Renaissance Cruises company was for a while a leading operator of small but deluxe ships offering diverse and somehwat offbeat itineraries. Sadly, the company went bankrupt and scattered its fleet before we had ever sampled its attractive travel format. However we were on the lookout for those ships and we were able to enjopy a couple of them in different livery, namely the SPIRIT OF OCEANUS (through French Polynesia) and the CLELIA II (through the Great Lakes).

Spirit of Oceanus

The SPIRIT OF OCEANUS. Great little ship, one of the former Renaissance Cruises vessels. Now somewhere in a different fleet, as cruise operators seem to come and go.