The Most Conspicuous Escape From The UK…..Ever!

The Most Conspicuous Escape From The UK…..Ever!

Today, A View To A Thrill welcomes our second guest poster, Craig “Crash” Williams.  We met when he posted a comment on my article, Sailing the high seas on a…..freighter, which detailed the growing freight cruise industry.  Well, it’s one thing to write about it, but another to actually experience it.  I knew that he was planning his own voyage with his lovely wife, Shelley and was journaling the experience on his own website.  Now that his voyage has come to an end (or at least I think so), he has agreed to share his experience with the rest of us.  As you read his personal account, you will learn that he firmly believes in traveling on his own terms.  Hopefully, this will give someone much-needed insight if they were contemplating doing the same one day.

During a cold, wet November day, my wife and I boarded the Grande Francia – an RORO (Roll On Roll Off) Cargo Ship, part of the Grimaldi shipping group. For us, this was the culmination of several months planning, during which time we’d sold our house in London, bought another which we then rented out, all whilst finishing our jobs.  Jobs we’d held for ten plus years!

Many of our friends and family questioned us as to why we would take a Cargo Ship from London, through Africa, down past Brazil before finally arriving at our destination, Buenos Aires!  All we could tell them was that it was for the total adventure of sailing the open seas, not on a cruise ship but aboard a fully working Cargo Ship, one with very few passengers, no entertainment and no sign of any organised tours in any of the ports we docked at.  ‘Sounds fantastic’ they all chorused, ‘the pair of you must be crazy…’

Craig and Shelley enjoying the wide expanse of the ocean


However, when it comes to looking back at the things you’ve done, a fourteen-hour flight somewhere is hardly front of the queue for stories!  The ship itself is one of the largest container ships in the World measuring over 200 metres long by 32 metres wide; it’s also thirteen stories high with our cabin being on the twelfth! Until you’re actually stood alongside a Cargo Ship, you cannot comprehend how big these ships are – massive – and with a sense of awe, we boarded via the very busy ramp at the Stern, introducing ourselves to the duty officer whilst being careful not to be hit by the many vehicles loading and unloading.  We were taken aboard and shown to the lift.

Grande Francia at night was a sight to behold


The inside of the Ship is cavernous – it’s at least 2 football pitches long and was a hive of activity – crew, wearing hi-viz jackets busily working around large agricultural plant destined for far-flung shores, huge pieces of engineering plant; engines, cranes, parts of structures with vehicles everywhere – it was very apparent that this was a fully working ship and we were the Ship’s Guests.

Inside the engine room


Inside the cargo hold


More vehicles occupying the cargo hold


Given we were aboard for a minimum of thirty-two days, we booked the best cabin on the ship; The Owners Cabin; with our neighbour on one side being the Master (Captain) and t’other neighbour being the First Officer – we were travelling in style, we had two sea facing portholes and a bath, luxury.  As mentioned, our expected journey time was to be for 32 days though we were told it could go a week, either way, depending on the ship’s schedule, whether it missed out a port, stayed longer due to more cargo or indeed, making a detour to a different port for a ‘pick-up’ – for the next 32 days our lives were in the hands of the Ship…



Craig and Shelley prepping for Lifeboat drills


Our itinerary was as follows: Antwerp in Belgium, Le Havre in France, Dakar in Senegal, Conakry in Guinea, Freetown in Sierra Leone, Vitoria, Rio de Janeiro, Santos in Brazil, Montevideo in Uruguay, Zarate in Argentina before disembarking in Buenos Aires, from where the Grande Francia departed on her return leg.  In each place, we had the opportunity to go ashore, though we were warned:   ‘…the Ship waits for no man…’

The docks at Antwerp, Belgium


We had some excellent nights ashore in places we wouldn’t ordinarily see – nights out in Dakar will live long in our memories as will the nights out we had in Santos and Rio. We had afternoons off in some great Cities and the beauty of the ship was that you could arrive at any time of the day or night, you never ever knew or could, the second guess.   In one instance we sat off the coast of Rio de Janerio for twelve hours – Rio was in front of us like a mirage yet we were mere spectators, desperate to get ashore and finally when ashore, it’s all the sweeter and memorable.

Enjoying a taste of Yerba mate


Life on board passes slowly though it’s surprising how quickly you settle into the Ships Routine; breakfast at 07:30, lunch at 11:00 with dinner at 18:00. The food being excellent – we had an Italian Chef, Sicilian by birth – he prepared his own fresh pasta each day. One of the joys of this type of travel is that he was more than happy for me to spend a couple hours in the kitchen watching / helping whilst he prepared his pasta, it was a real honour and I felt particularly proud that the Crew and my fellow Passengers were eating the pasta we’d prepared several hours earlier.  Between meals your time is yours.

Chef Nicola preparing fresh Pasta for the crew and guests as I look on


There’s a small but adequate gym, foosball and table tennis are pretty much all the activities the ship provides though to be fair the reason for being aboard a Cargo Ship is to enjoy the open seas, so all the Passengers would congregate on the upper deck, reading books, chatting, tuning into World Service via a short-wave radio – there is absolutely nothing to do and it’s truly blissful.

Most of my fellow passengers


We saw many Whales along with Hammerhead Sharks, Turtles, Seals off the Canary Islands, Dolphins – at one stage in the middle of the ocean there were at least three hundred plus Dolphins frolicking off the starboard side of the ship, truly magical and breathtakingly beautiful.  Looking back at the time we spent aboard the Grande Francia, is without doubt one of the best things we’ve ever done; being in the middle of the Ocean at midnight, the sky is stunning – so many stars looking down at you; crossing the equator and sharing a wee dram of single malt whiskey with my wife, whilst pouring a drop overboard for Neptune! Partying with the Filipino Crew whilst in the middle of the Ocean; being invited to see the Bridge; going beneath the deck to see the Engine Room; seeing the various decks and the cargo being carried – if you ever get the chance I recommend you explore the opportunity of travelling via a Cargo Ship.

Partying with the crew!


We’re going to be in South America for a further four or so months and we’re already thinking about taking another voyage, this time across the Pacific, from Central America to Asia.  A journey of 28 days, give or take a week or two…
Craig Williams is a former Royal Marine whose been living in London since 1997, working within the Recruitment and Staffing industry. Recently turned forty, chucked his job in and along with his wife Shelley, took a Cargo Ship to Buenos Aires and is currently living in said City…  Check out his website where he journals their adventures at  He’s fond of pictures too, so be sure to check out his Flickr account here:



Renee King
[email protected]
  • glen
    Posted at 09:27h, 01 March Reply

    Wow, what a fascinating story! Sounds like a great experience and one I’d have never thought about doing!

    • Renee
      Posted at 09:34h, 01 March Reply

      I know! As much as I did not enjoy my first (and last cruise), I would consider doing something like this because of the exotic ports of call. That would be very appealing to me.

  • Grace
    Posted at 17:49h, 01 March Reply

    This has got to be one of the most unique travel stories I have come across in a long time. I never thought you can travel by ship freighter!

    • Renee
      Posted at 18:52h, 01 March Reply

      Can’t you imagine going on such a journey? And better yet, meeting what could end up being lifelong friends from all over the world!

  • Cathy Sweeney
    Posted at 16:05h, 02 March Reply

    What an awesome experience! I wouldn’t have known that it was possible to do such a thing. Great reading about your travels on the cargo ship. Cool.

  • Gray
    Posted at 14:22h, 03 March Reply

    What a FUN way to travel!

  • Turkey's For Life
    Posted at 15:43h, 03 March Reply

    Our friends once sailed to Spain aboard a cargo ship so they could tour Northern Spain on a budget. It’s a great idea – especially judging by the photos in this post.

  • Craig
    Posted at 14:07h, 15 April Reply

    Hi Renee – just wanted to pop by, say hi and give you a quick update re our travels. Our South American trip is coming to a close – we’re currently ‘holed’ up in the beautiful city of Cusco, which is in Peru – it’s stunning though sadly it seems that not many people stay longer than a couple of nights as it’s really a launch pad for Machu Picchu (MP is breath taking BTW) we’ve stayed for three weeks, the city is stunning as are the people and there is so much to see and do, I really recommend it!
    Next stop is Vietnam, there for several weeks then Cambodia, Thailand and finally ending up in Delhi to stay with Shelley’s family. Get this, if you were impressed by the cargo ship you may like my next plan… If I can convince Shelley, I’m going to purchase an Auto-Rickshaw (tuc-tuc) and ride/drive from Delhi through India before arriving in Goa – I’ll keep you posted!

    As ever, I trust you’re well and life is good – liking the new layout of your blog.
    Keep happy,


    • Renee
      Posted at 14:49h, 15 April Reply

      Craig! Thanks for checking in…yes, I had heard the Cusco was pretty much the gateway to MP….I guess people get too narrowly focused that they miss the forest for the trees. I’m kinda surprised, I didn’t know that you were heading to Asia. I’m extremely jealous of you and Shelley. lol Craig, I wouldn’t put it past you to buy that tuc-tuc! That would be hilarious and such a memorable experience too. I vote yes, but I think we’re both going to be voted down by Shelley. Keep me updated, won’t you? I can just live vicariously through you guys. Thanks, I decided to change the blog a bit…it’s going through growing pains, but I hope to sort it out soon. Take care of yourself!!

  • Craig
    Posted at 02:26h, 02 July Reply

    Hola, we’ve now been in Asia for three months, having a most agreeable time. Vietnam is a wonderful country, thoroughly recommend it to you. We started off in Hanoi, travelling south with friends visitng the usual sights before crossing into Cambodia. Phnom Penh was so so, some great museums (S21 is a sobering experience and worth seeing.) PP as a place less so, we got out travelling south to Kampot, a sleepy backwater of a place before heading north to see Angkor Wat – superb, a real highlight.

    Currently we’re in Northern Thailand having spend several weeks on both the Andaman and Gulf of Thailand Coasts. Bangkok was a blast, we’ll be heading back there to spend some more time…

    Do you like tigers, check this out: – only in Thailand would you be able to do this!

    Shelley and I are having that conversation again, ‘where next?’ We’re thinking of Laos possibly Burma, maybe Nepal and onto India. So many choices (though after eight or so months our funds are somewhat lower than they were!)

    As ever, just wanted to stop by, hope you’re well and life is generally good.

    Be back here in three months!

    • Renee
      Posted at 16:47h, 03 July Reply


      Yes, I’ve been following you as much as I could. Since I hope to visit Thailand soon, I will be referring back to your exploits. Has it really been eight months already? I’m so happy for you and Shelley….you guys are living the dream…please keep in touch with what you are doing next so that I can continue to be jealous and happy for you at the same time! lol You guys stay safe!!

  • Crashwilliams
    Posted at 10:13h, 06 September Reply

    Alas – all good things come to a close, well almost! Our RTW trip which started aboard the Grande Francia ends tonight! However, before we return to the UK and embark on the next stage of our lives; finding somewhere and getting a job! However, after the craziness of India we need some r’n’r and tonight we fly from Delhi to Athens, via somewhereorother to visit several of the Greek Islands, putting our feet up and enjoying plenty of good wine and great food.

    If any of your readers are thinking of travelling overseas, though cautious about leaving well paid jobs, missing friends and family and voyaging into the unknown – all I can say is JUST DO IT!

    Having turned 40 and hating the job I was doing, life had become stale – my wonderful wife Shelley suggested selling up and just going for it – it turned out to be the best decision of our lives and we’ve not regretted a moment off it.

    The Worlds your Oyster, go and enjoy it – everything will still be there when you get back and your lives will be so much richer. You’ve one life…

    • Renee
      Posted at 11:17h, 06 September Reply

      Wow….it’s over already? Seems like you guys just got started……they say time passes when you’re having fun….guess it’s true! I hear you, Craig….people should really reevaluate their lives and consider doing something wonderful and drastic the way you and Shelley have. Congrats on taking a leap of faith and coming out even better for it. Bravo!!

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