Crossing the Pacific by Freighter

Crossing the Pacific by Freighter
The San Francisco Bay Bridge

In 1965, Heifer Project offered Poppa the opportunity to play goatherd for a herd of 50 goats destined for Korea. Poppa said yes, but his health disagreed. Forced into the hospital for minor surgery, his hospitalization coincided with the departure of the goats. Fortunately, Heifer Project had an alternative to offer. On July 1st, 1965, Poppa and I, aboard the President Lincoln, sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. We were crossing the Pacific by freighter, bound for Yokohama. Our “baggage” included twenty-five Holstein heifers securely penned in specially built sheds on the main deck of the ship. Heifer Project planned for these Heifers to go to the Pioneer Farmers on the island of Hokkaido. But first they would have to go into quarantine at Yokohama.

Our first dinner on board

Poppa and I had to be on board the ship the day before we sailed. As I read more about sailing ships, I assume that the reason had to do with the vicissitudes of tides. Or maybe not having an exact time of departure. For whatever reason, we ate supper that first evening while the ship was still tied to the dock. The President Lincoln’s dining room was cozy. There were no more than ten four-top tables spread around the room. I fear I do not remember the exact number of tables. The ship could carry twelve-passengers, and the passengers usually ate with the ship’s officers.

As I recall, Poppa and I ate with the ship’s First Mate. Sitting at dock, the ship rose and fell with the waves coming in from the Bay. As I watched out the window, I had to ask to switch sides with our host. He was a bit dismissive of my concern. “I thought you’d have a stronger stomach.”

I think, had we been given the choice once at sea, the view would not have bothered me. In port, however, I became queasy watching the dock rise and fall outside our window. I will admit to one other day of seasickness, lying in our cabin waiting for the nausea to pass. For the most part, neither Poppa nor I had any problems with the passage.

Leaving San Francisco Behind

Heifer Project

World War II destroyed the dairy herds of Europe. As a Christian activity parallel to the Marshall Plan, Heifer Project set out to rebuild those dairy herds. U.S. church members would buy a heifer and give it the Heifer Project. Before being shipped off to Europe, farmers inseminated the heifers. That way, two cows could be shipped for the price of one. A European farmer, receiving a heifer, agreed to certain conditions. If the calf came out male, the farmer could keep it for his own herd. If female, the farmer had to give it to another farmer who had lost his herd. The idea was so successful in Europe, the dairy herds across the continent were rebuilt in very little time. Heifer Project grew to encompass the world. It’s one of very few charities I promote.

The Ocean is Vast

Once we lost sight of the California coast, we wouldn’t see land for another twelve days. Twelve twenty-five hour days. We did see one other ship and one dead whale. That’s it. For twelve days. And yes, I said twenty-five hour days. We were sailing in a westward direction and we would spend a day crossing a time zone. We did lose one day in its entirety when we crossed the International Date Line. Today is Friday, tomorrow is Sunday. Funny how that happens. One of the passengers was quite happy to lose her birthday to the vagaries of the map. Of course, flying home, we got the day back. We landed in Honolulu twelve hours before we left Tokyo. Ain’t travel broadening?

And while we are on the topic, the President Lincoln was a freighter owned by American President Lines (APL). I still notice the APL logo on shipping containers, but the President Lincoln is no more. In 1965, it was the fastest freighter APL ran. Built in 1961 along with its identical twin the President Tyler, the two sea racer class vessels served faithfully for eighteen years before being mothballed in Suisun Bay near Vallejo, California. In 2011, both ships were dismantled. Shawn J. Dake writes about their final days in Maritime Matters.

What do you do on board?

Remember, this is not a cruise ship. We are crossing the Pacific on a freighter. There are no specialty restaurants, coffee and pastry bars, cocktail bars, for that matter. We have one dining room as mentioned above, a library/game/tv room, and a galley that separates the two. I loved the galley. At 15 years of age, I was always hungry. I could go into the galley and make myself a sandwich even Dagwood would envy.

Two teachers from Watts, Los Angeles, taught me to dance their way in the game room, and other passengers pulled me into impromptu poker matches. We watched movies in those pre-dvd days, although one movie was rescheduled. The captain thought Poppa would not approve of Night of the Iguana. I have to assume they showed it once we were no longer on board. It speaks volumes that I cannot remember what movies we watched, just the one we didn’t.

We had pretty much the run of the ship, and toured the engine room and the bridge. And of course, there were the cows. They needed to be fed and watered every day. And their stalls needed mucking every day. I can tell you this, you haven’t lived till you’ve shoveled cow shit over the gunwale while crossing the Pacific on a freighter.

Dishonest John speaks Japanese?

There was no television service available while we were crossing the Pacific on the freighter. This was before DVDs or even video tapes. But once we got within range, we could watch Japanese television in the library/game room. And in 1965, Japanese television was pretty strange. Lots of U.S. Programming, sure, but all dubbed into Japanese. John Wayne spoke Japanese. The Indians in old U.S. westerns spoke Japanese. Even Dishonest John, the villian in the Beany and Cecil cartoon series spoke Japanese. How do you say Nyah-huh-huh in Japanese?


Our entry stamps

We docked at Yokohama and then we waited. Our duties with the cows were done. We didn’t even get to see them off-loaded. Instead, we sat in our cabin waiting to meet with Japanese immigration officials in the library. Eventually they ushered us in and inspected everything. As a minor, I was traveling on Poppa’s passport, and he had a visa, No. 107591, good for “multiple journeys to Japan for Religious Mission.” Duly issued on June 25, 1965, in San Francisco. I don’t recall them going through our luggage, but the whole process seemed to take forever. And then it was over, we were off the ship, and headed for our hotel in Tokyo. What an adventure.

And the cows? We later got word that the cows were the healthiest the Japanese officials had ever seen. Poppa and I took good care of those cows, while we were crossing the Pacific on a freighter. And it showed. The cows were released from quarantine before we even left Japan. I am sure the Pioneer Farmers on Hokkaido were glad to see them.

Guest Site of the Day

Admittedly, 1965, when I was crossing the ocean by freighter was fifty-five years ago. Things may have changed. I’m not considering the “shelter at home” order most of us live with these days. At some point, we will be traveling again. And we will be traveling by ship. Yes, you can take the Queen Mary 2 with 2,690 of your closest friends, or you can relax on a freighter and see the world. You won’t need to pack your tux, or much else fancy, for that matter. Traveling by freighter is much more low-key. Julie and Patrick Lawson took a container ship from Seattle to Shanghai and wrote about it for the web magazine, To get a clear understanding of what’s involved, read their story about crossing the Pacific by freighter.

Recipe of the Day

Yesterday, I promised certain readers that I would post the recipe for the best egg salad I’ve ever had. I didn’t promise a photo, but I hadn’t planned on fixing the egg salad two days in a row. Today, I kicked it up a notch. In addition to following the recipe as written (even cooking the eggs in the microwave), today I added some crunch. I chopped up a stalk of celery and a quarter of a green bell pepper, and added them to the mix. I’ve got to say that I LOVE this egg salad. Note that the recipe says Curried Egg Salad Sandwich, but I’m watching carbs, so I’m eating the sandwich filling. Try the recipe and let me know what you think. I doubt I’ll ever use another recipe. This one is THAT good.

Video of the Day

Youtube has a surprising number of videos about traveling by freighter. Even some about crossing the Pacific by freighter. I wasn’t terribly happy with any of them. Guess I’ll have to make my own videos. Anyone care to pay my passage? In the end, I chose Daniel, a young(er) Englishman whose video shows him crossing the Pacific on a container ship. He’s starting from Yokohama and crossing to Mexico. Enjoy.

And that’s it for today

I can’t speak for you, but I’m ready to get back on a freighter and see the world…ok, the ocean. I hope you enjoyed the voyage and that maybe you might consider such a trip in the future. A note on the photographs. The two color photos at the beginning were scanned from slides Poppa took. I’ll talk about that more when we visit Japan next week. I tried to clean them up some, but these are the best images I could find. They do not reflect the normal quality of Poppa’s photographic skills.

Tomorrow we look at humorous poetry. Get out your copy of Speak Roughly To You Little Boy and follow along.



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