My big mistake last night when I was on the bridge was to have a cup of coffee before heading back to my cabin and I paid for it with a fitful and restless sleep.

Container ship artwork

During the night I had the impression that they were revving up the engines and, at one point, the noise was very loud.  Yesterday the ship switched from expensive low sulfur fuel to regular fuel. Because of environmental regulations only low sulfur fuel can be used in coastal and near coastal waters and, in order to save costs, the engines are not pushed at maximum performance.  Once the switch to regular fuel is done, the engines are revved up to gain more speed.

We are now cruising at 17.5 knots COG and have about 3 knots of current against us.

Overnight, we entered another time zone, two hours ahead of Chicago time which meant getting up earlier for breakfast.  Poor Emilio, the cook, must also have been suffering from a bad night as I only got a hot dog for breakfast.  Thank Goodness there is always Nutella to fall back on.

I already sent my Spot position out for the morning and checked my emails.  The “Admiral” confirmed that she does indeed receive my Spot positions.

One of my fellow members of the Rotary Club of Wheaton, IL, also receives the position and shares it with all the other members on a daily basis.

Current position as I write this is 3924.938N and 63◦14.799W.

Back from breakfast and the bridge but really tired from that lousy night, I decided to go back to sleep and woke up right before lunch, which consisted of some watery vermicelli soup followed by a rice and meat dish.  The meat reminded me of a bastardized version of Mila’s delicious Peruvian lomo saltado.

Back to my books and computer for the afternoon and time to think about doing the laundry.

Laundry done, I go up and down the stairs a few times to keep in shape followed by some more reading, trying in vain to access my emails and, after giving up on that, I go down for dinner.

What’s happening, Emilio?  Some dried out pieces of pork on a skewer with some potatoes swimming in olive oil?  It may end up being a forced diet after all.  I will have some salad and an orange, thank you!

Up the stairs to the bridge for the last Spot transmission of the day and a brief evening chat with the First Mate who wants to know everything about hiking the Inca Trail, which is on his bucket list. Having hiked the trail twice and being a regular visitor to Peru, where my lovely wife, “The Admiral” is from, I was able to share lots of useful information.  Back to my cabin trying to check my emails again and finishing the last few chapters of my first book of the trip.

I have been swearing and muttering all afternoon long because of the unreliable internet connection that prevents me from getting and sending emails.

Finally, around 23:00 local, I was able to get my messages.

Time to hit the sack.  Tomorrow is day four…….



The alarm on my iPhone woke me up at 7:45, after a very restful night.

A quick shower later, I went down to the mess for breakfast. Again, two eggs sunny side up with a nice slab of bacon followed by a toast with Nutella. The first mate joined me for breakfast and had a special dish made with lots of veggies.

It looked that appetizing that I asked Sergio to make me one for tomorrow morning.

After my second cup of coffee (instant Nescafe but OK), I went up to the bridge to send my position on the Spot.  The captain was on the bridge and showed me the weather forecast for the next few days.  Maybe some more wind and bigger seas in three days from now but really nothing to worry about.  The computer model showed the tropical storm in the mid-Atlantic that was moving NE from the Cape Verde islands, but it would probably fizzle once it gets further north into colder waters.  No effect whatsoever on us.

I checked the emails this morning but no response from the “Admiral”. It was 10:00 Chicago time and knowing her, she might still be asleep late on a Sunday.

My Cabin

I will check again later but, while I have a connection, I sent her another update and wrote an email to the children and to my friend and business partner, Maria, in Antwerp to tell her that I am still expected around 06:00 on September 11.  She will pick me up at the ship, bring me to the Marine Police in Antwerp to clear immigration and, the following day her boyfriend, Bob, and I will be driving to Italy to join the flotilla.

The emails have been sent and it is time for my routine to go up and down the stairs a few times for my daily on-board exercise and then back to the cabin to read a bit before lunch.

Emilio had a nice pea soup waiting followed by sautéed potatoes and chicken wings in a creamy tarragon sauce.  As a side dish there were asparagus spears rolled into a slice of ham followed by a slice of cheese and oven roasted to melt the cheese. Delicious! I will try to duplicate this at home.

The Captain was there for lunch together with the First Mate and one of the engineers. We had a bit of small talk about the ship and other light subjects.

My Cabin – My Bed

The server, an always smiling Filipino, brought dessert….  Ice cream on which he poured real liquid Belgian chocolate. Dear “Admiral” would have a fit seeing me indulge.  I don’t think that diet thing will work on this trip.  The Captain said that this was Emilio’s first stint on this ship. 

Apparently, the previous cook’s food was not very popular and, because of his reputation as the best cook in the company, the announcement that Sergio would replace him was very well received by the officers.

Time to go back to the cabin and see if I can connect to the Internet and then the afternoon nap.

I finally figured out how to download the pictures from my iPhone to my new Windows laptop.   I kind of regret my MacBook Pro.  So much easier to work with.

I spent most of the rest of the afternoon putting together video presentations of my trip.

Six o’clock and it is time for dinner.  Emilio has prepared a light meal of broiled seabass accompanied by a Mediterranean (of course) salad.  No rice, no potatoes.

After dinner I head back up to the bridge where I spend an hour chatting with the Luka, the First Mate, who’s watch ends at 20:00.  He will be back on at 04:00 tomorrow morning.  He explains to me the display showing all the ships functions and all looks clear. Nothing at all on the radar and we have over 14,000 feet of water underneath us. Spot position sent. I still have not received any confirmation from the heartland that they are actually receiving them.

Time to go back to the cabin, check some emails, play with the computer and read my books, then crash for the night.



Breakfast is served in the officers’ mess from 07:30 to 08:30 and I went down the four decks to get whatever I still could get.  Emilio, the Croatian cook, told me that I could come and eat whenever I wanted and prepared me a nice omelet with bacon.  I toasted some bread and found my preferred contraband on board, Nutella!  Thank Goodness, I can burn all these calories off by running up and down the stairs. Well, maybe “running” is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is still a good exercise.

The sea is totally calm and there are puffy clouds.  We are on a 055.8◦ course going about 15 knots SOG and paralleling the coast but without sight of land.   Tomorrow morning, around 09:00, we will turn further east and head 068.7◦ towards Europe.

The Third Mate, Edwin Borbon, a very nice Filipino guy, is standing watch by himself and happy to shoot the breeze with the only passenger on board.  He will be showing me the ship and guide me through the safety briefing after lunch when his watch is over.

I stand on the outside bridge and activate my Spot to send the second position to my wife and friends.  Last night, before our departure, I did send the first one as a test.

Until now, I have seen only one cargo ship in the far distance and a smaller powerboat, probably fishing, about six miles away.

Time for lunch and I descend the eight flights of stairs to the officers’ mess where I meet yet another Croat officer, Engineer Vedran Francickovic.  The menu consisted of hearty soup followed by chicken breast with boiled potatoes and a “medley” of Mediterranean vegetables drowning in a pool of olive oil.

Time to go back to the bridge to admire a bit more the view from up there before I have to meet the Third Mate for my security briefing. The officer standing watch is only too willing to chat.  During the day the watches are four hours long and only need one person (talking about single handed sailing a huge cargo ship) and it gets a bit boring.  At night, two people are on the bridge to keep things safe.

Two small speed boats are about two miles away, probably fishing, but they remind me of the picture of the Somali pirate boats in the Captain Phillips movie.

Thank God we are far, far away from any pirate infested waters. A bit later a large pod of dolphins appeared on our starboard side, about half a mile away, swimming in the opposite direction. From high up here, we get a great view of them.

One o’clock and time to go down to the first deck for my security briefing.

We go over the sound signals (general alarm: seven short blasts, abandon ship: repeated one short blast followed by a long blast), my position at the muster station (number 22) in case of an alarm or evacuation, the location of the firefighting equipment, of the life rafts and of the life boat. He then shows me the rest of the amenities on board. We even have a (very) small swimming pool aboard in the hobby room.  They fill it up with sea water but. when empty, it doubles as a small basket ball court with only one hoop.

Swimming pool when full. Basket ball court when empty

The rest of the hobby room is filled with a ping pong table, a stationary bike, some weights and one single pair of boxing gloves (go figure).

Time for a nap. The previous long night has me still exhausted and a two-hour sleep gets me ready for the five-thirty barbecue event on the aft deck.

The smell of the grill five decks below seeps into my cabin and wakes me up.

When I get there, the Filipino crewmembers are already putting their food on the grill while the Croatian officers and the only Ukrainian on board, the Third Engineer, are having beers and smoking cigarettes. I join them for some small talk and wait for the Filipino crowd to thin a bit around the grill, then pick-up a T-bone steak, a hot sausage and two skewers of veggies and start cooking.

The meat is of really high quality and absolutely delicious. The Captain finally also shows up for dinner but sticks to himself.

Emilio, our ship’s cook. You can almost smell the food from this picture

After a few beers and a small piece of pie, I climb back up to the fifth deck and my cabin to digest and to write down some more of my impressions.  I already sent my Spot message out to the satellite while the food was grilling.

I am finally able to connect to the Internet and received an email from my “Admiral”, Mila. The Internet connection is extremely slow and it takes several minutes for the typed answer to be transmitted.  We will see tomorrow if she gets the message.  I am also not sure yet that the Spot transmissions have reached their destination.

Unfortunately, not much of a sunset tonight.

Hasta mañana…


Independent Pursuit Atlantic Crossing 2018


Back in June of 2018, while sailing in Croatia during our annual flotilla, I noticed that my peripheral vision in my right eye was getting limited.  The following week, back in Chicago, I had to undergo emergency surgery for a detached retina.

Part of the surgical procedure consisted in putting a gas bubble inside the eye ball to keep that retina back in place after it had been reattached with a laser.

As a result, I was not allowed to fly until that bubble has resorbed itself because, at higher altitudes, it would expand and could cause permanent damage or even blindness.

This problem forced us to cancel our annual flotilla in Mallorca, but we still thought it would be possible to fly to Italy for our first Tuscany sailing flotilla starting on September 15.  That was not the surgeon’s opinion and he told me that, under no circumstances, should I be flying.  Twenty-one friends and customers had booked and paid already and there was no way we would let them down.  The solution? Go the old fashion way and cross the Atlantic on a ship.

Here is the story of that crossing.  I hope you will enjoy reading about my experience as much as I did when doing that crossing.


After a very tedious and exhausting drive from Chicago to Wilmington, NC, and after dropping off the rental car at the local airport, I finally reached, around 13:00 hours, my destination for the day, the Port of Wilmington, where I found the Independent Pursuit of ICL Container Lines in full loading operations mode.

Two large container gantry cranes where picking up containers from trucks and loading them aboard the vessel as local longshoremen secured them in the holds and on top of the hatches.

After being invited up the gangway while two Filipino crewmembers hauled my heavy suitcase on board, I was introduced to the First Mate who took my boarding papers and passport after which I was shown my lodging accommodations, called the Owners Cabin.  It is quite large with a desk, table and two settees, a double berth (very comfortable) and a bathroom or head, complete with shower and vanity.  Strangely enough, the smell of the head on such a large vessel is extremely similar to the one on sailboats.  Must be the sea but thank God for lemon scented air spray.

The Chief Officer, Luka Bjelic, showed me the bare essentials I needed to know to pass the afternoon on the ship while she was being worked. He introduced me to Emilio the cook and told me where I would have my meals with the Captain and officers in the mess.

Unpacking and getting organized the cabin done, I watched the loading operations through my cabin porthole and from the bridge until it was dinner time, around 17:00.

No sign of Captain, Aleksandr Valentin, yet.  He was sound asleep in his cabin after a long night of bringing the ship to berth.  My dinner “mate” was the Chief Electrician, Hrvoje Balent. who mentioned that all the senior officers on board except for the Third Mate are Croats.  Needless to say, we found a lot in common to talk about sailing in Croatia, the food, wines, etc.  By the end of the meal, the Captain showed up and introduced himself.  A very nice guy with a firm handshake, he welcomed me warmly on board of his ship.

After dinner, I continued to watch the never-ending line of trucks bringing containers alongside the ship and the crane picking up the boxes and putting them deftly in place in their slots.  It is a fascinating and mesmerizing show.

As this trip was going to be with very little access to wi-fi, I overdosed a bit on social media sending pictures on Facebook, emailing and texting my wife, Mila, friends and kids before starting my eleven-day social media detox program.

At the time of booking this trip, the departure time was scheduled for 19:00 but, with the slower than expected pace of loading the ship, it was pushed back to 23:00 and finally we left at 00:45 on September 1.

When I saw that the last containers had been loaded and the crane was being moved, I headed for the bridge where preparations for our departure were underway.  The captain was on the bridge with two pilots.  One was the dock pilot who would assist in pulling the vessel away from her berth and guide the tugboat and the second pilot was the river pilot who would guide us through the maze of buoys and markers on the Cape Fear River to the open sea where he would be picked up by the pilot boat.

The Cape Fear River is long, narrow for large cargo ships, and it snakes its way with several twists and turns towards the Atlantic.  Halfway down the river, I called it the night and crashed in my berth.  At first, I thought I would not be able to sleep because of the constant drone of the engine but it proved to be a powerful lullaby and I was out until well past 08:30.


Most people in the USA have never heard of Tintin and his white Terrier, Milou, or Snowy (who looks suspiciously like my dog Sophie) as he is called in the English language versions of their adventures.

Even in Vietnam

Tintin, his sidekick Captain Haddock and the other characters, are still wildly popular in Europe. The author, Hergé, happened to be a patient of my Dad during WWII in German-occupied Belgium and, as a kid, I grew up avidly reading all his adventures.

Did you know that Tintin was the first human to step on the moon, decades before the Americans planted their flag there? Check it out in Destination Moon and in Explorers of the Moon. Eat your heart out Neil and Buzz.  That young Belgian reporter beat you to it…

The ones that really left profound impressions on me were Tintin in America, which probably planted the seed of my desire to move to the USA from my native Belgium, King Ottokar’s Sceptre, which inspired the flotilla sailing trips to Croatia and Montenegro, but the adventures that impacted me the most were The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun, which brought Tintin to Peru.

I became fascinated by that country and it was on my bucket list ever since I was in my early teens. I knew the song “El Condor Pasa” years before Simon and Garfunkel decided that they would rather “Be a Hammer than a Nail”.

The Lovely “Admiral”

Not only did I finally make it to Peru (a business trip was the excuse to go) but I had the opportunity to get involved in humanitarian work there (which sometimes was quite adventurous too) and visit some fascinating places like Cusco, Machu Picchu, Paracas, Sipan, Kuelap and the Amazon jungle. I got to hike the Inca Trail twice and ended up marrying a lovely Peruvian, our flotilla “Admiral” Mila (itself an interesting adventure and the subject of a book that I am in the process of writing).

I am always looking forward to new discoveries in that country and have a long to-do list ready for 2021 but, in 2020, we are going back in March. Mila and I have organized a fascinating trip that we want to share with our friends.

We will publish the report when we return from that trip in future blogs but, if you want to experience it first-hand instead of living vicariously our adventures through our blog, you can join us on this fascinating journey. Check out the program and sign up as the space is limited to twenty participants.


October 24, 2019

So, once a while, I feel inspired to write a blog about whatever…

It does not necessarily have to do with sailing. 

I could share one of my favorite recipes with you (look out for my favorite Paella recipe).  I have plenty from the countries we visited during our flotillas.

I could share my impressions about certain regions where we did sail and write about their history, culture, gastronomy and so on.

I could share with you some of my life experiences, like meeting people that have inspired me or have had a huge impact on my life.

There are lots of subjects that I could touch perhaps.

Maybe, we could even link some of the blog content to a YouTube video?

Here is an idea… In 2018, I enjoyed a truly unique experience.  I had it published on Facebook and on our old website but, with the new website, this trip report got lost.

After we came back from our June 2018 Croatia trip, I had to undergo emergency surgery to reattach my right eye retina. I was not allowed to fly for several months but needed to be in Italy in September for that year’s Tuscany flotilla. The only way for me to get to Italy was by ship.

Some of my followers here have already read this trip report but, for new visitors to our new website, I will publish this as my next blog because it was such a unique experience.

Talking about surgeries, for those of you who hadn’t heard yet, I am stuck at home with my leg propped up after last week’s ankle fusion surgery. It sucks…  I am therefore a bit limited in what I can do, like taking some relevant pictures.  I am on the mend and will be sailing again (a lot!) in 2020.

More news to follow! Captain Jean De Keyser.

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