A cruise on the Natalie Schulte

Below is a letter from our client about his cruise on the Natalie Schulte from Melbourne to Oakland.

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Hope all is well! Been meaning to write you an email to give you feedback about the fabulous time we had aboard the Natalie Schulte from Melbourne to Oakland in Nov/Dec lsat year. It was by far the best holiday I have ever done. Thought you might like to hear about it and see some of my photos.

As you know, we boarded the Natalie Schulte on 19 November at the port of Melbourne. The weather was cool and with drizzly rain but we had a few of the Filipino crew to quickly carry our many bags up the 6 flights of stairs to the owners cabin. Jaci's father (Erwin) was able to come aboard (thank you for organising!) to see our cabin and the ship before we departed… it was funny as we meet the cook in the galley who was also called Erwin. Natalie was running 1.5 days behind schedule so we actually left on the morning of the 20th. It was pretty nice leaving Melbourne and sailing down the Yarra River, giving a great perspective of our home town. The pilot was a really interesting guy...  an ex captain who used to command bulk carrier ships in the north of Australia to Asia. We had a good chat with him as we sailed down Port Phillip Bay towards the heads there. He even said next time we are at Queenscliff (where the pilot station is) that we should contact him and we can go out on the pilot boats with him to meet ships.

Accommodation was really nice: clean and comfortable. The issues I had mentioned to you were all fixed by the time we went aboard.

As soon as we got out into the Southern Ocean outside Port Phillip Bay to head towards Adelaide we were hit by Force 9 gales up to 48 knots!!! Very very windy! The sea was rated at level 8 with 9 to 14 metre waves and swell. Poor Jaci started to get seasick after lunch and she spent the next 24 hours hunched over a bucket as the ship pitched front to back violently as we headed west. It didn't affect me at al amazingly… I didn't feel sick once. We eventually turned north to Adelaide and it then started to roll. As soon as we passed Kangaroo Island and the mainland the sea became like glass and I was fortunate to see a pod of dolphins playing in the wake. Jaci started to feel better being on dry land again thankfully. We bought up a big supply of seasickness tablets and wristbands which helped her greatly for the rest of the voyage.

We had the next day in Adelaide before sailing late afternoon to head towards Auckland. We were joined by two other passengers in Adelaide: a woman of 53 who was heading to USA for a holiday and hates to fly; and a 34 year old dutch guy travelling the world without flying. Both very interesting people that we got to know during the adventure. The sea heading back to Auckland was much more calm amazingly and the Tasman Sea between Australia and NZ was quite calm… amazing really as this sea is supposed to be always rough! I managed to spot a pod of Minke Whales somewhere between Australia and NZ. Auckland was lovely and we spent the day wandering around the waterfront area.

We were really lucky as we could walk around the cargo deck, up to the bridge at any time and to the bow at any time. So we often would spend a morning at the bow watching the flying fish and birds. The food too wasn't too bad… at least a lot better than I thought it would be. There was always heaps to eat and we would often skip lunch or breakfast (too much food sometimes). The captain didn't really get involved with us too much but he was always willing to talk with us and made us feel most welcome. We did have an outdoor BBQ / Filipino Karaoke with all beer and wine supplied half way across the Pacific that was fun.

Tahiti was quite interesting, especially arriving early in the AM and seeing clouds hugging Moorea. Papeete was quite busy and not really the tropical paradise I had envisaged... we were going to head further out to go to a beach but decided to stay around downtown as I had to get my Mac laptop fixed due to a few errors I was getting. We had a few Mai Tai cocktails that were great (but expensive).

We soon left Tahiti and headed towards Ensenada, Mexico. We had a crossing the equator party with the other passengers with some Aussie cheeses and good wines. Although it was about 9.30pm and the bridge was quite dark to get decent photos of the Latitude swapping from South to North. The Chief Officer thought we were crazy and said tongue-in-cheek that it was just another part of the ocean and nothing special!

We had big dramas about three days out of Tahiti. Jaci and I were sitting on deck in the sun reading when all of a sudden the ship changed direction by 90Ëš!! I went up to the bridge to see what was going on… and was told we are heading to Honolulu, Hawaii!!! I asked are we dropping off cargo? No. Are we collecting more cargo? No, it has been requested to go to Hawaii by head office. Why then? The 2nd Engineer was complaining of chest pains and numbness in his arms! We were about 5 days to go to Mexico so it was decided to head to Hawaii (4 days sailing away!!!) to seek medical help for him. They didn't want to backtrack to Tahiti so Hawaii was chosen as it has good medical facilities. He chose the most remote place in the Pacific ocean for it to happen that is for sure. It ended up he was OK and his heart checked out fine thank goodness. The captain said in the past 8 years of acting as a captain he had never done such a drastic course alteration due to medical requirements. It did disrupt our allocated time to spend in San Francisco down to just two days alas as we were booked to fly home on 19th November. It was all an unexpected adventure!

We arrived Honolulu in the evening and weren't allowed off the ship, but rather a boat came out to collect the 2nd Engineer. We were so close peering at the lights of Honolulu not more than a few miles away… would have great to go ashore! There was discussion about possibly missing Mexico to make up time, but was found this would cost more trying to get the cargo from Oakland back to Ensenada, so we continued onto Mexico from Hawaii. Ensenada was rather quiet as they rely on cruise ships to come in… there were none during our port stay. Food and cheap cocktails were great though!

We arrived at the pilot station at San Francisco at 3am, so drifted until the pilot came on board around 4am. We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge at 4.44am. Port of Oakland workers were hopeless though with the ship taking an hour to line up  and dock as there was no one giving directions on the wharf and no one had radios. Crazy! We then disembarked with all our luggage to catch the shuttle to the security gate… it kept driving past us and no picking us up. It did stop on the other side of the large crane and I thought I saw the driver beckon us, so started to walk to him. All of a sudden I had a security guard waving me down to stay stop, stop! He screamed where is your high visibility vest!! I said what, we aren't workers or crew and that we are passengers disembarking. He said you need vests on at all times and the shuttle won't stop to pick you up unless you wear them. No one told us this and we had been waiting for 30 mins so far. So we had to find vests (from the ship!) and wear them and then make sure they get returned to the ship. I was going to mention the ports of Ensenada and Papeete where we could walk through any part of the port with no issues at all, but thought better of it. The immigration officers were pretty strict giving us the third degree as well. Anyway, we got ashore OK in the end and it was very hard and sad to be departing the Natalie Schulte. It really got under our skin and felt a real connection with it.

The crew and officers were all great and hospitable. I would often spend the afternoon talking with the 2nd officer on the bridge after lunch. Vert friendly crew once they get to know you.

We got to see many dolphins and porpoise, flying fish, whales, albatross and other sea birds. I was amazed seeing so many sea birds so far from land. It was great being able to photograph them all (as I love photography) and every officer on board soon wanted copied of my pics! I was happy to share!