Working vessels offer a new window on the world, says Nick Trend – and are worth considering for when Covid-19 restrictions ease
Italian shipping company Grimaldi owns a large fleet of ro/ro (that’s roll-on, roll-off) multipurpose vessels operating worldwide itineraries and also offering cabins to paying passengers. These include a cargo-passenger service from Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia, with the option of continuing to Newark and Baltimore. Five of its ships run this itinerary each offering 12 passenger berths in standard or lounge cabins.
Grimaldi Freighter Cruise between Liverpool and Halifax from €937 (£817) per person, one way for nine nights based on an outside cabin, including all meals. Departs weekly when restrictions allow (cruisepeople.co.uk).
Built in Bremen in 1958, MS Oldenburg is a vintage supply ship which was bought by The Landmark Trust in the mid-Eighties to service Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, 12 miles off the Devon coast. She takes cargo and passengers to the island on a two-hour sailing trip from Bideford and Ilfracombe up to four times weekly, from March to October. In winter she is used only for essential deliveries.
Return fare to Lundy £42 (adult); £22 (child under 16 years, free for under four years); £95 (family of two adults and two children) (landmarktrust.org.uk).
St Helena adventure
Despite an airlink to St Helena, the MV Helena still supplies the far-flung South Atlantic island together with Ascension Island out of Cape Town – journeys of 1,945 miles and 2,749 miles respectively. The ship has one passenger cabin containing four berths with bunk-style beds which are curtained for privacy and passenger meals are served in the mess room. Books and games provided and Wi-Fi available for an extra fee.
Round trip from Cape Town to St Helena and Ascension £1,500 (33 nights); Cape Town to St Helena £900 return (20 nights). Fares include all meals and nights in port (sthelenashipping.com).
The Alaska Highway
The Alaska Marine Highway System delivers essential supplies to over 35 of Alaska’s far-flung coastal communities set in some of the world’s most spectacular coastal landscape. A fleet of vessels, each carrying between 125 and 499 passengers as well as freight, provide basic but clean two-and four-berth cabins, a cafeteria-style restaurant, shower rooms and observation lounges and passengers are permitted to camp on deck. Voyages depart for the northern Alaskan coast and islands from Bellingham in Washington State but you can join and disembark from the ship along the way.
Voyages from around $504 (£362) for three nights, with supplements depending on cabin reservations and group sizes (dot.alaska.gov/amhs).
Translated as “the fast route”, the Hurtigruten service was first introduced in 1893, and by the early 1900s offered departures from Bergen all the way around the Norwegian coast to Kirkenes, near the Russian border, completing the 780-mile voyage in just seven days. Now Hurtigruten operates 11 ships carrying freight and paying passengers along the Norwegian coast and elsewhere, with 34 daily ports of call. The full round trip from Bergen to Kirkenes lasts 12 days and the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights is between October and April.
Classic Round Voyage from £1,249 for 11 nights including flights, transfers and all meals (hurtigruten.co.uk).
The primary function of Aranui 5 is to carry freight through the Marquesas, Tuamotu and Society Islands of French Polynesia. But she also carries up to 254 passengers in 103 cabins. Departing from Tahiti, the regular two-week voyage is accompanied by a guest lecturer and facilities include two lounges, four bars and an outdoor pool. There are also voyages to the Pitcairn Island which book up fast.
Aranui 5 voyage from €4,200 per person full board for 12 nights in a stateroom cabin, including taxes. Excludes flights and transfers (aranui.com).
A 135ft working freighter, the Aurora Explorer works the straits to the east of Vancouver Island in British Columbia departing from Menzies Bay, near Campbell River. Transporting heavy equipment and supplies to lumber and fishing camps nestled in numerous mainland and island inlets, she offers a great chance to see whales, porpoises, grizzly and black bears, eagles and cougars. Departures are on Tuesdays, returning Sundays, and run from late March until the end of October. There are a dozen passenger berths alongside a crew of six.
Broughton Archipelago or Discovery Islands itinerary from $2,365 (£1,704) per person for five nights including all meals from late March to October (marinelinktours.com).
Cape Town via the Canaries
The German-owned shipping line NSB operates from Hamburg and offers berths to passengers on lengthy itineraries to ports throughout the world. Its regular 55-night freighter voyage on the MSC Flaminia from Hamburg to Cape Town sails via the Canaries and along Africa’s west coast.
NSB freighter voyage from €5,653 (£4,933) per person for 55 nights based on an en-suite cabin, including full board (hamburgsued-frachtschiffreisen.de).
In Cook’s wake
To explore the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island, you can book a day out on MV Uchuck III, a former Forties US Navy minesweeper, which supplies remote fishing lodges and logging yards scattered around the inlets of Nootka Sound. Departing from the tiny harbour of Gold River, she slowly circles the wooded islands with up to 40 paying passengers on her upper deck. If conditions allow, the itinerary passes Resolution Cove where Captain Cook took refuge in 1778.
Day cruise on MV Uchuck III (getwest.ca) from CAD 82 (£47), year-round. The Lodge (thelodgeatgoldriver.ca) has rooms from £274. See also Destination British Columbia (hellobc.co.uk).