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Freighter Days Aboard an Africa-Bound Lady

September 09, 1990|GRAHAME L. JONES | Jones is a free-lance magazine and newspaper writer based in Los Angeles.

Apart from the meals, served promptly and without fanfare at 7:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. (I could raid the refrigerators in the galley for a "night lunch" if I grew hungry later on), the three-week trip passed pleasantly and far too quickly.

What is there to do on a freighter? Nothing and everything.

I lazed in my cabin (not a bit less comfortable than a lower-grade cabin on a cruise ship) or in the sun up on deck, reading the stack of books--Lawrence Durrell, Paul Theroux, Norman Lewis--that I'd brought with me.

I shot roll after roll of film: New Orleans and the Mississippi, the ship itself, magnificent sunsets, Jamaica as a smudge of green and brown on the horizon (not an award-winning shot), passing ships, sea birds and flying fish, the curious islands of Fernando de Noronha off the eastern tip of Brazil, a fierce lightning-and-thunder storm off the African coast.

I climbed to my favorite spot aboard the Genevieve Lykes late at night, stood on the flying deck above the bridge and counted the stars, or scanned the horizon in search of distant ships, or stared at the locomotives chained securely across the foredeck, wondering what their own future journeys across the African veld might bring.

I talked to the crew, listened to sea stories, did a little writing, but most of all I just unwound, throwing overboard the accumulated tensions of the land and watching them float away like so much driftwood.

And isn't that what an ocean voyage is really all about?

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