Time, simplicity and beauty,these are the three pillars on board a cargo ship

- Eline Van Wynsberghe, De Hoogvlieger (VVR), October 2021

"I have only been back from Crete since yesterday evening. The sun, good food and friendly people, Crete is really good for that. So I'll stay in holiday mode for a while", is how Joris Van Bree, inspirator of CptnZeppos, puts it. A unique travel agency, to say the least, because those who set off with CptnZeppos need not expect an abundance of entertainment or culture. What you do expect is lots of time on board a cargo ship.

Following the Red Star Line to New York

"The fascination for the sea and ships has been there since my childhood. As a child, I often went to Nieuwpoort with my parents, and when I grew up, I went to Spain or the south of France, where the sea was never far away. The sea is beneficial for mind and body, I am sure of that. I have lived in Antwerp for a long time now and regularly cycle along the harbour to relax, where I always see all those impressive ships lying along the quay. Have you ever stood in front of a cargo ship? A mastodon that towers above everything and everyone. A cargo ship is simply not made to measure and that is what makes it so fascinating", says Joris enthusiastically.

"So although I have always been fascinated by the sea and ships, for a long time it remained only a fascination. I studied for five years at the art academy and obtained the degree of Master of Monumental Arts. After that, I ended up in the graphics sector, after applying for a job in a newspaper - because that is how it was in the days when animals still spoke -" he laughs heartily.

"For the first twenty years of my career, I worked in a print shop. Until I gradually got the feeling that it was time for something else. At that moment, one particular memory had a decisive influence during one of my bicycle trips through the port of Antwerp: I was making my way through the port when a Filipino man saluted me from a cargo ship. I immediately wondered what life on board would be like and such a freighter seemed the ideal setting to think about where I still wanted to go with the time I have been given.

After some research, I booked my first trip from Antwerp to New York. That journey was largely inspired by a visit to the Red Star Line museum, where the story is told of some 2,000,000 people who came to Antwerp from all over Europe to seek a better future in North America. I found the first journey on board a cargo ship so overwhelming that I decided in the middle of the Atlantic that this was what I wanted to do when I returned: offer people the same fantastic experience.

It was the start of everything for me and I am still as impressed as ever: sailing along the American coastline until you see the Manhattan skyline appear and the Statue of Liberty looming over you while standing under the bridge of a cargo ship. The climax of an unforgettable trip. Upon returning, I started researching like crazy what the possibilities were and in April 2019, CptnZeppos then saw the light of day, quite soon after the trip in August 2018.", the driven continues.

"Mad or driven, it's a fine line"

"Because it is not an everyday concept, when people hear about CptnZeppos for the first time, they often have a lot of questions. You can't think of anything else that hasn't already been asked: 'how is the weather on the Atlantic' or 'do we sleep in containers? It is such a niche of a niche and so unique that I can say with my hand on my heart that whoever jumps and dares to travel along, will experience a journey that he or she will remember with a smile on their deathbed. You will return as a different person."

"Starting entrepreneurs in the travel sector can normally be classified fairly easily in a certain segment of the existing market, but that was different with CptnZeppos. Offering cargo ships, they had simply never heard of it!

The first introductory interview at VVR was therefore quite indicative of what was in store for me. That first conversation can be summed up quite simply: 'do you have experience in offering tours?' and 'do you have experience in the maritime sector?' The answer to both questions was no, so you can imagine what a challenge it was. It took me months to familiarise myself with the port world and to build a network. But in the end I succeeded, whether it was because of my enthusiasm or some other reason. Looking back on it today, I was also a bit naive. Well, maybe you have to be a bit crazy to do that," he laughs.

"Because it is not an everyday concept, when people hear about CptnZeppos for the first time, they often have a lot of questions. You can't think of anything else that hasn't already been asked: 'how is the weather on the Atlantic' or 'do we sleep in containers? It is such a niche of a niche and so unique that I can say with my hand on my heart that whoever jumps and dares to travel along, will experience a journey that he or she will remember with a smile on their deathbed. You will return as a different person."

"The right passengers contribute to the happiness of the crew."

- Joris Van Bree, founder of CptnZeppos

"The biggest challenge for us is to put the right passengers on the right ship: it is very important that the right passengers get on board and that we inform them sufficiently. If we do not, it will not be a pleasant experience for either the passengers or the crew. Passengers are guests in the place where the crew not only works, but also has its home. CptnZeppos is an intermediary between the shipping companies and passengers: empty cabins, varying from very basic cabins to the owner's cabin, are offered to passengers. So very exclusive trips are also possible: a trip through the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal for example, that is a trip of about 80 days or a trip from the Netherlands through the Norwegian fjords where there is only room for one passenger.

A cargo ship never waits: passengers must adapt to the rules of cargo traffic.

In any case, a maximum of 12 passengers are allowed to travel on a ship, so you are always far away from mass tourism. The strength of this type of journey lies mainly in the experience of living together and talking to the crew, captain or other passengers. The crew normally never gets questions about their daily routine and live a rather monotonous life, so they are usually very happy to have passengers on board who show an interest in them. Passengers ask a lot of questions and are often impressed by the environment in which the crew do their work. Allowing passengers on a ship is therefore, in my opinion, an important part of keeping the crew happy."

The rise of ecology and climate awareness

"We now offer routes all over the world, thanks to the extensive presence of the ports in the area: Antwerp, Ghent, Zeebrugge, Ostend, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Terneuzen, but you can also sail from New York to Antwerp or from China or Australia. The possibilities follow the trade routes: so much is possible. In the first months, our audience was mainly Dutch, but since last year, we also get worldwide requests. Anuna De Wever also contacted us about eighteen months ago when she wanted to travel from Brazil back to Madrid for a climate summit and did not want to take the plane.

A number of people who come to us no longer dare or want to fly, for ecological or other reasons. I definitely think that the recent weather conditions and the corona crisis have increased climate awareness. Mind you, a cargo ship is polluting in itself, but our society is supplied by cargo ships to such an extent that cargo traffic is now an integral part of our lives. So it is better to make full use of the cabins on board. You are, as it were, hitching a ride.

In my opinion, the big difference between cargo ships and luxury cruises lies in the fact that the latter mainly focus on their passengers, whereas cargo ships are 100% focused on their freight. If there are not enough passengers on a cruise ship, the departure date may have to be changed. With a cargo ship, the passenger has to adapt to the cargo traffic: depending on the loading and unloading times, the departure date will be adjusted and the passenger has to be flexible.

The power of being unattainable on the move

"Being on the move is essential to this form of travel. It is not a quick means of transport from A to B. If that is what you are looking for, you would do better to take a plane. Time is of the essence with us, more than that: it frees up lots of time to think and relax. On top of that, you get a complete detox on board. There is no entertainment and no wifi connection: smartphones are therefore only useful for taking pictures. The ideal alibi to say 'just go your own way for a fortnight, I'm not here, just for myself'. A healthy escapism, so to speak. All the usual toxic stimuli fall away at sea, with the result that many passengers think they are ill the first few days because their mind and body are so rested and they are not used to that anymore.

All the addictions that people are offered on land: alcohol, smart phones, drugs... fall away at sea. So after six or seven days, the mirror is often very close, which can be very difficult and challenging, but better that than wandering around in a dead-end street, I think.

I myself am the result of travelling on a cargo ship. My life is nothing like it was when I left for New York. I have a firm belief in the power of time, beauty, and simplicity and that is not only who I am, but also what I offer: a pure experience where you get time for yourself and reconnect with nature."

"After six to seven days on board a cargo ship, the stern is often very close."

- Joris Van Bree, founder of CptnZeppos

Sympathy is a good basis for really meeting people

"Through this job I have met many different people: from a lady who had just lost her grandfather, a former sailor, who undertook a journey accompanied by his sailor's booklet, to a psychiatrist who confirmed the healing power of the sea or Ward Hulsemans, whom I can call a good friend today. It is for these special encounters that I ultimately do what I do today.

We are an atypical travel agency, but so are our passengers. If those passengers are in turn understood by future passengers, I dare to hope that this will make them happy too. Our passengers often resemble each other: they are often introverted, looking for peace and quiet. Seeing existing passengers at information sessions engage in conversation with potentially interested parties makes me genuinely happy. My biggest dream is to build a CptnZeppos community, where people can meet and share experiences.

Where does our name come from? Indeed from the iconic childhood character Captain Zeppos: a mysterious figure who is very respectable. Today's episodes are of a slowness that is barely comprehensible. All values that I want to convey with CptnZeppos. It is also the ideal conversation starter. I usually wear a cap with the name on it, so I am regularly addressed. On the train, for example: 'iersi, captain Zeppos! What an honour to transport you', Joris laughs. The name conjures up sympathy. A good basis for really meeting people', he concludes.

Company informationEstablished: April 2019Member of: VVRTelephone: +32 478 57 21 74E-mail: info@cptnzeppos.comWebsite: https://cptnzeppos.com

Short questionsShort answers

Are there any journeys left on your wish list?

"The journey from the Netherlands to the Norwegian Fjords as a single passenger is still on the absolute to-do list. I would also like to do the Panama and Suez Canal voyage.

Is this a job you want to do for the rest of your life?

"I try not to depend on material things or status: 'Look at me, I am the owner of CptnZeppos'. I am the sum of the experiences that I have had in my life and no one can take that away from me, no matter what. The advent of the corona crisis and accompanying wake-up call was a redemption: today I'm doing everything I can, but if I've done everything I can and it doesn't work out, then it will have to be and I'll look for something else."

What is the next trip you would absolutely like to take?

"Antwerp - Finland- Antwerp because it is the most booked as it is very accessible and has some important advantages for those who are boarding a cargo ship for the first time."

What interesting books have you read recently or what podcasts can you recommend?

"Jean-Paul Kauffmann, 'Kerguele', Sylvain Tesson, 'Six Months in the Siberian Woods', Yoko Ogawa, 'The Housekeeper and the Professor' and so on and so forth."

What do you always take with you in your suitcase?

"Books, anyway. If necessary, without clothes, but books have to go with you. The process of turning an A4 sheet of paper into a book is fantastic. It's not for nothing that I worked in a print shop for twenty years."

What do you do yourself to preserve the environment?

"Since 2020, I hardly ever travel by car, but use bicycles and public transport. I also made a conscious decision to move to a studio and live in a smaller space to have more time. I also don't buy meat anymore. I'm not extreme about it, but if I have the choice I avoid meat."

Craziest travel anecdote?

"On the way to New York, there was an Englishman who ended up seeing dolphins three times. I myself saw them twice: the first time I was too late, and the last time I was able to film them. Our fellow American passenger was too late the first two times and the third time he quickly went upstairs to get something from his cabin. Meanwhile, the dolphins passed by for the third time. Fortunately, I was able to film the dolphins or he would never have believed me. A memorable moment."



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