Wednesday, January 19, 2000

Travelling by ship to the "colonies"...

During the first part of the 20th centruy, before the "jet age", people living in the colonies used to travel by ship to go on their "home-leave". As the trip could take 3 to 4 weeks (depending on destination), the home leave was not taken every year but every 3-4-5 years depending on the employers...

1/ In 1957, I took my first trip by ship, Tamatave to Marseilles, on the M/V "Ferdinand de Lesseps"; in fact I turned 5 years old while the ship was in Durban and it continued to France via the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. The trip took approximately 4 weeks. From Marseilles we took the train to Switzerland.

Paquebot-mixte type MD
Longueur HT: 150 m, largeur: 19,6 m
Jauge brute: 10100 tx, port en lourd: 6040 tonnes, déplacement: 13700 tonnes
Passagers: 78 premières, 112 touristes, 48 troisièmes, 162 rationnaires
Propulsion: 2 moteurs diesel deux temps 10 cylindres Burmeister & Wain
Puissance: 12500 CV, vitesse: 19 noeuds, 2 hélices

Lancé le 21 juillet 1951 à Bordeaux aux Forges et Chantiers de la Gironde. Deuxième de 4 "sisterships" avec LA BOURDONNAIS, PIERRE LOTI et JEAN LABORDE. Décoré par Jacques Adnet. Assure toute sa carrière sur la ligne de l'Océan Indien (Marseille, Côte Orientale de l'Afrique, Madagascar, La Réunion), passant par Suez sauf en 1956 et après 1967 où il utilise la route du Cap.

Vendu le 7 avril 1969 en Grèce, il prend le nom de DELPHI. Désarmé au Pirée en 1974, il manque de peu d'être démoli, mais repart pour une nouvelle carrière sous le nom de LA PERLA en 1977 puis LA PALMA en 1980. Reste désarmé en baie d'Eleusis de 1996 à 2003. Quitte Limassol pour son dernier voyage sous le nom de SAGAR le 25 juin 2003 afin de se rendre en Inde où il est démoli.

2/ In 1958, after our home leave, we returned to Madagacar on the M/V "Marechal Joffre", this time via the Suez Canal as security was restored in the area after the short war in 1956-57. The trips was a bit shorter, only 3 weeks long!
Paquebot-poste de type nautonaphte => Paquebot équipé d'un moteur diesel (et non d'une machine à vapeur comme ça avait toujours été le cas jusque là). Messagerie Martimes inventa pour l'occasion un néologisme promis à un brillant avenir pendant les années 30 (mais totalement oublié depuis...) celui de "nautonaphte" (littéralement "bateau à pétrole").
Longueur HT: 150 m, largeur: 19,5 m
Jauge brute: 11500 tx à l'origine, port en lourd: 6244 tonnes, déplacement: 14800 tonnes
Passagers: 135 premières, 92 secondes, 74 troisièmes, 600 rationnaires, puis 129 premières et 130           .               touristes après 1951
Propulsion: 2 moteurs diesel Burmeister et Wain de 8 cylindres, suralimentés après 1937
Puisance: 6800 CV puis 10450 CV après 1937, vitesse: 16 noeuds, 19 noeuds après 1937, 2 hélices

Lancé le 14 mai 1931 à La Ciotat. Affecté à la ligne de l'Ocean Indien, puis d'Extrême Orient jusqu'en 1937. A Saigon en juin 1940, il reste sur place pour assurer les liaisons régionales. Il continue le service commercial jusqu'au 7 décembre 1941, où, après Pearl Harbor, il est réquisitionné à Manille par la France libre et mis à la disposition de l'US Navy. Le 27 avril 1942, il est armé et transformé en navire d'évacuation sous le nom d'US Navy ROCHAMBEAU (n° de coque AP63), reconditionné par les chantiers de San Francisco entre avril et septembre 1942. Entre octobre 1942 et février 1945, il effectue 5 grands voyages à travers le Pacifique.

Il reprend son nom et repasse sous pavillon français en avril 1945. Il sert de transport de troupes vers l'Indochine jusqu'en mars 1950. Premier paquebot à toucher Haiphong en juillet 1946, il est aussi le dernier à quitter Shanghai aux mains des communistes le 9 octobre 1949.

Il est entièrement refondu à La Ciotat entre mars 1950 et septembre 1951. Après sa refonte il reprend du service commercial sur la ligne de l'Ocean indien, puis en 1953 en Mediterrannée. Il continue ensuite d'être affecté tantôt vers l'Extrême Orient, tantôt l'Océan Indien.

=> The Suez Canal was closed from October 1956 until March 1957 - Wiki

The "Suez Crisis", was an invasion of Egypt in late 1956 by Israel, followed by the United Kingdom and France. The aims were to regain Western control of the Suez Canal and to remove Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser from power. After the fighting had started, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Nations forced the three invaders to withdraw. The episode humiliated Great Britain and France and strengthened Nasser.

On October 29, Israel invaded the Egyptian Sinai. Britain and France issued a joint ultimatum to cease fire, which was ignored. On November 5, Britain and France landed paratroopers along the Suez Canal. The Egyptian forces were defeated, but they did block the canal to all shipping. It became clear that the Israeli invasion and the subsequent Anglo-French attack had been planned beforehand by the three countries.


The three allies had attained a number of their military objectives, but the Canal was now useless and heavy pressure from the United States and the USSR forced them to withdraw. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had strongly warned Britain not to invade; he now threatened serious damage to the British financial system. Historians conclude the crisis "signified the end of Great Britain's role as one of the world's major powers".



3/ In 1962, we were living in Tuléar (in the South-West corner of Madagascar) and boarded there a "cargo" ship for Le Havre in France. As a tradition, cargo ships always have a few cabins for extra passengers. Thus we were a handful of passengers on the M/V "Ranenfjord" and again sailed via the cape of Good Hope. The M/V Ranenfjord belonged to the "Norwegian America Line". As a 10 year old boy, I soon made friends with the officers and crew and roamed freely the ship from bow to poop, from the engine room to the wheel house! What an amazing, fantastic experience it was during the 4 weeks of the trip!
NB - This is NOT the M/V Ranenfjord (cannot find a picture) but is similar to it (albeit a bit bigger)
Load 3,801 gross, built 1947 at Gothenburg, Sweden by A/B Lindholmens Varv , 406.6ft. x 54.1ft.


Norwegian America Line. Established in 1910 to operate passenger and cargo services between Norway and the USA. In 1914, cargo ships were chartered to supply grain to Norway, which although a neutral country during the Great War, suffered from a lack of foreign imports and also lost many ships to U-Boats and mines. Before the end of the war, the company had purchased several other cargo steamers and even a sailing ship. The company then expanded and by 1923 grew to become one of Norway's largest shipping companies with 19 vessels. The economic collapse of the 1920's and new United States emigration regulations caused the company to diversify into other routes and also into pleasure cruising. Heavy ship losses were incurred during the Second World War, but a new program of ship building after 1945 quickly replaced these. In the 1960's passenger traffic was largely taken over by aircraft and the company concentrated on cargo work and cruising. By 1983 no ships were owned by NAL and they operated with chartered tonnage until 1986 when they entered the car carrying business and purchased new ships for this trade.

4/ In 1963, we left Marseille for Port-Louis on the island of Mauritius where we were going to stay for 4 years. We sailed on the M/V "Jean Laborde" and the trip took almost 4 weeks. This was my last major trip by ship.


Lancé le 12 juillet 1952 aux Chantiers de la Gironde à Bordeaux. Dernier de 4 "sisterships". Assure toute sa carrière sur la ligne de l'Océan Indien (Marseille, Côte Orientale de l'Afrique, Madagascar, La Réunion), premier départ le 31 juillet 1953, passant par Suez sauf en 1956 et après 1967 où il utilise la route du Cap. Repeint en 1963, le liston noir disparait au profit d'un volumineux "faux-col" blanc.  Arrive à Marseille de son dernier voyage le 30 août 1970. Vendu en décembre 1970 en Grèce, il prend successivement les noms de MYKINAI, ANCONA en 1974, puis EASTERN PRINCESS la même année pour des rotations entre Singapour et Freemantle et enfin OCEANOS à partir de 1976. C'est sous ce nom, effectuant une croisière dans l'Atlantique Sud, qu'il fait naufrage le 3 août 1991, sans qu'il y ait de victimes.

All of these ships belonged to Messagerie Maritimes
Messageries maritimes was a French merchant shipping company. It was originally created in 1851 as Messageries nationales, later called Messageries impériales, and from 1871, Compagnie des messageries maritimes, casually known as "MesMar" or by its initials "MM". Its rectangular house flag, with the letters MM on a white background and red corners, was famous in shipping circles, especially on the Europe-Asia trade lanes. From 1871 to 1914, the Compagnie des Messageries maritimes knew its Golden Age. This was the period of the colonial expansion and of the french interventionnism in the Middle and Far East. The Marseille liners continuously served the Mediterrannean sea, the Black sea, then the Red sea, the Indian Ocean, the China sea and finally the Pacific ocean. In the West, the south atlantic line fills out. Even the North Atlantic knew the ships with the typical double funnel, wich make the line London-Dunkerke-Le Havre-MarseilleIn the Middle-East, the ports of call are Malta, Alexandria, Port-Saïd, Beyrouth, Syria, Smyrna, Constantinopolis, and the Black sea.In the Indian Ocean, the line serves Mahé des Seychelles, La Réunion, Maurice, Zanzibar and of course Madagascar.

In 1977 it merged with Compagnie générale transatlantique to form Compagnie générale maritime. In 1996 CGM was privatized and sold to Compagnie Maritime d'Affrètement (CMA) to form CMA CGM.

More info in English here : http://www.messageries-maritimes.org/e1mm.htm
More info in French here : http://www.messageries-maritimes.org/

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Flying by airplanes became cheaper than taking a ship for 3-4 weeks
and soon all those passenger ships stopped servicing the colonies. 

A page of history was being turned...

=>  Lucky me (!), I had the chance to sail TWICE around Africa by ship 
before the jet age took over and I started to fly Boeing 707s and 747s...