Around The Coast on the Berg

Durban-Walvis Bay-Durban 08-11-90 to 22-11-90.

Cruise time had arrived again, but this time I could not afford the local cruise liner prices, so I decided that it was time to go to sea on a “real ship”. There were not too may options available for cargo ship travel, I could have taken Unicorn’s Border or Barrier to Cape Town or Swakops or Kuiseb to Walvis Bay. however I decided to do either Berg or Breede to Walvis Bay and back as it was a nice long voyage and would be calling at East London, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Walvis Bay. Besides, it was not all that expensive even with single supplement. My choice was governed by whichever ship was available at the time I decided to travel; and in my case it was the MCV Berg.

Publicity photo of MCV Berg

After much confusion with my booking, I left for my trip, arriving in Durban the day before I was due to sail. I finally found my ship at pier 108 deep in the container terminal. Fortunately I had been taken to the ship by Kathy of King Travel who was forced to stay on board until the gangway could be fixed! Finally at 14H00 we sailed, straight into a howling wind and quite a rough sea, was it a portent of things to come?

Sailing from Durban

Sailing from Durban (image by Cecil Clemo)

Passenger accommodation (Brochure image)

My cabin as can be seen from the brochure pic, was large with a double bed, and it’s own bathroom. It was very comfortable but tending to squeak when we rolled, which being a cargo ship we did all the time. A letter in my cabin from the master had explained that I was free to look around the ship and go to the bridge as often as I liked. This I did, only to find that the only person on watch was the Chief Navigating Officer, no lookouts. It was a great feeling to be at sea again.

I stayed on the bridge until supper arrived, passengers ate in the officers mess at the captain’s table. The food was edible, not on par with the QE2 but varied and well prepared. Usually there was a soup, cold meat and salads, a main course, and desert.

Breakfast Menus

Right next to the officers mess was the Berg Kelder which was the officers pub, it was nicely decorated and you signed for your drinks and any snacks or chocolates which you ate. There was a TV in the mess for watching video’s and a smallish bookcase full of books. However the bridge beckoned and once there I discovered that we were due to make an unscheduled 4 hour stop in East London the next morning. I went to bed feeling very happy, the feel of ship at sea is enough to put a smile on my face any day.

Brochure image of officer’s saloon on board Breede (sister ship of Berg)

East London

East London was a disappointment, devoid of shipping, the only two things of interest was the Energos (ex Mobil Refiner) and the salvage tug John Ross, I was very impressed by the Ross, she is much bigger than I had imagined. After leaving East London it was off to Cape Town, the weather was moderate if not windy and we puttered along at about 12 knots.

Salvage tug John Ross in East London

The bridge

On the bridge was given a laymans course on Decca Navigation and I figured out how the Radar worked, I also got on good terms with the cadet and third officer, these two would work the 8-12 watch and we would sit and talk ships and all manner of nauticalia. We also encountered a school of dolphins, I had hoped to see them from a ship and this was they chance I had waited for. There they were, swimming and playing a metre from the bulbous bow. I spent an hour watching them and sniffing around the forecastle. I had been told that if I wanted to go to the bow I had to make sure somebody knew about it or I had to take someone with me for safety, a reasonable request.

Cape Town was a let down, it was drizzling, Table Mountain was covered in mist and generally the harbour was empty except for the Actinia which was an accommodation rig for Mossgas. I spent the day with friends and being Sunday everything was closed so there was not much to see either.

We sailed into a moderate swell which made us roll equally hard for the two day voyage to Walvis. The afternoon before we arrived we had man overboard drill, this entailed a throwing a 44 gallon drum with a hole in it overboard. We spotted the drum but it was lost in the swell and eventually sank, not very promising if you have fallen overboard I am sure.

We duly arrived early in the morning in Walvis Bay, there we met up with the Stella Lykes and the Swakops, unfortunately photography was difficult because of the glare. I walked into town, walked 6 another blocks and ended up in the desert, needless to say Walvis is not too big. I also visited the Walvis Bay Missions to Seaman who were very friendly and I spent a pleasant hour talking ships with the Padre, Chris Stratton and his wife. Back to the ship and a quick but fruitless attempt at getting on board the Stella Lykes- no luck

Also present was fleetmate Swakop which was loading salt. It was possible to do a voyage on her too but it was a non stop run to Walvis and then back with no ports inbetween. 

We sailed at 20H00 for Cape Town into another rough sea and at reduced speed. The Berg is a single screw vessel with a variable pitch propeller, there are two engines clutched together to drive this arrangement, so in theory it is possible to obtain the same speed with one engine clutched in and with full pitch as it is to use both engines at half pitch. You can also shut down an engine for maintenance purposes without affecting performance. Unfortunately the sea was running and we had reduced speed so the voyage to Cape Town would take a few hours longer and we would get in after 14H00 on the Saturday. Being late meant that all my arrangements for Cape Town had gone down the heads and we would be spending less time in port. By the time we arrived everything was closed again and I was only able to see a small part of town and the V&A waterfront area. I did get to see Table Mountain and was suitably impressed.

We sailed late that night in foggy conditions, groping our way with radar. The next day I visited the bilge, holds and other dark and smelly compartments (the Berg can also carry fish oil) with the cadet. By this time it was evident that we were going to be spending an extra day in Port Elizabeth which meant that there was no way I would be able to get to Durban in time for my bus back to JHB.

Approaching Port Elizabeth

PE was quiet, we were virtually the only ship in port which is very depressing if you are a ship fanatic, however the NYK Container ship Osaka Maru turned up and the Unicorn products tanker Eland was hiding in the corner so I went to give them a look see.

I also went to town to change my travel arrangements and look around. The next day the cargo ship Elso arrived and we were still stuck in port, I hoofed it to the Dolphinarium to have a look and came across the local museum which had some very nice models. I would have preferred to have had the two days in Cape Town but then cargo ships depend on cargo and not passengers.

The next morning saw us beating Unicorn’s ro-ro Border into East London, the break bulk ship Tamarind was loading and I went to town again, by the time I got back Tamarind had sailed and I had not even photographed her. East London is the only active river port left in South Africa and is not very busy. We sailed late that evening for Durban, My bus had been cancelled and by the looks of it I would miss it again if we did not speed up.

On Thursday afternoon we reached Durban, however we were forced to lay out in the bay for an hour, the ultimate frustration! finally we went in, berthing at 104 in the container berth. While I waited for the the gangplank I saw the Gasikara sailing past and quickly took two slides of her, little did I know it would be the last time that I would see her as she would be lost in a cyclone with all hands 2 months later.

Gasikara. foundered with all hands in a cyclone

I was lucky to get a lift to my hotel with a bus from Pentow Marine and the next day I spent an agonising 9 hours on the bus back to Johannesburg. I had just completed a 14 day voyage, covering 3860 miles and visiting 5 ports, it was worth every cent.

I had also had an interesting glimpse into the lives of seamen and those who keep our commerce flowing, it was a rare vision of the life I would have chosen had the option been available to me when I was young. Sadly poor eyesight, maths and  a lack of training availability meant that I was never able to take up going to sea as a career. 

When last I heard, the Berg and her sister Breede were up for sale, I saw Berg just before she sailed from South Africa, her hull was painted black and she looked very smart. I am glad I sailed on them before they went. The only information I was able to pick up about their further careers is that Berg was scrapped at Gadani Beach in 2001 under the name Gulf Cooperation, while Breede soldiered on till broken up at Alang in 2007 under the name P Express. 

DRW. © 1992-2022. Last updated 03 Aug 2004. Some images replaced and added 24 October 2011. Moved to blog 09/12/2013, images resized 17/04/2016, moved to Musings 22/02/2021, tagged 14/11/2008

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