Ward Hulselmans:"A trip on a cargo ship gives you something unique: an empty day and the free choice of what to do with it."

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

"Actually, I have always been a writer. First as city and court reporter for the Gazet van Antwerpen and then as a scriptwriter. For me, writing is as essential as breathing. I've always done it and I'll probably always do it. Speaking is Ward Hulselmans, a writer. Known to the general public as the scriptwriter of a number of well-reviewed Sunday evening series such as 'Heterdaad', 'Witse' and 'Salamander'.

In the spring of 2019, Ward left the television world for what it was and started looking for other paths to take. "What exactly I wanted to do was not clear to me at the time, but just then I was introduced to Joris Van Bree, who offered me the opportunity to sail on a cargo ship. The idea of boarding a freighter was something I had secretly dreamed of since I was a child, like so many others. The mystery of the sea has always fascinated me. Since then, I have enjoyed going on board regularly. All a board, then, for a conversation with the sea as its lifeline.

Water as the ultimate relaxation

"The profession of writer is in itself a very lonely existence, so during my professional career I have not travelled much. A writer simply sits in a room, fills his days with writing reports and only comes out to inform himself. As a journalist, I did see and do a lot of research for articles, but as a scriptwriter, I did not see and do a lot of research.

In my spare time, I don't really travel in the traditional way of plane and hotel either. I bought my own boat about twenty years ago, and it is now moored on the Maas near the French border: ready to be taken out at a moment's notice. I have not really travelled by plane since that purchase. Sailing around and writing, that is the ideal form of travelling for me.

Water and its presence has always had a calming effect on me. This is the case with many people, by the way, only there is not always the space to realise it. We usually know the sea from the trips we regularly make to De Haan or Oostduinkerke, but being on the water and really living on the water is something completely different and is an experience I can recommend to everyone."

"The calming effect of water, some sailing and writing, that's travelling for me."

The adventure of introspection and an empty day

"That first trip on a freighter, from Antwerp to Dublin and Cork and back, gave me the opportunity to step out of my everyday routine and refocus. The trip strengthened my conviction that the choice I had made to leave the world of television was the right one.

Travelling on a cargo ship as the only passenger between the crew and sailors is not a 'holiday' for me, but it does give you the opportunity to reflect, adjust and learn a lot about yourself. There is no entertainment or things to do. Every morning is simply an empty day that you can fill in according to your own wishes. A day on land is normally determined to a large extent by the people around us. On a cargo ship, a day is all yours and you share it only with the sea, the sky and the crew.

Absolute nothingness, and therein lies the greatest adventure. Today, we are all so used to travelling. We are so used to comfort and entertainment when travelling that it is only when all that falls away that the real challenge comes: introspection, which I think is a bigger adventure than bungee jumping in South Africa."

As a passenger you are a spectator in another world

"On board, you step into another world, as it were: you live and live with people you don't know and meet sailors who spend years and years of their lives on board such a cargo ship. Everything is reduced to its essence and only then do you realise how simple life really can be. Such a confrontation is a real voyage of discovery: a big word, but it covers the charge perfectly.

Joining in with the crew is out of the question, as the work that the sailors do is of such great importance to safety that not just anyone can help. Laying cables between narrow corridors while thousands of containers tower above you, maintaining the temperature for the foodstuffs... Sometimes really dangerous work, but with a reassuring routine. You work eight hours and then you have eight hours of free time, always.

So there is always someone sleeping, so the atmosphere is almost never exuberant as the passenger cabin is between the sailors' and officers' cabins. There is always a great respect for each other on board: everyone eats and talks in silence during the entire voyage.

In honour of a new captain or a new crew of officers, I have experienced a barbecue on deck in the middle of the ocean in the evening, a unique experience, but even then everyone is in bed by 9 p.m."

"Compared to nature, man is very small".


"On board I have never really been scared, but it can get exciting sometimes. For example, I was once on a ship in the Bay of Biscay where the sea was incredibly rough and the ship was on an unbelievable incline. I really thought that the containers would roll off the ship and all disappear into the sea. In my cabin, everything flew out of the cupboards and I was rolling around in my bed all night. Only then do you realise that a 300-metre ship, which is quite impressive to us, means nothing to nature. To us, a ship like that guarantees safety, but once at sea, it's actually a joke.

Here, a day is largely determined by the people around us. On board, the day is all yours. You share the day only with the sea, the sky and the crew.

I have been waiting for about two years now to do the Panama Canal journey because, of course, passenger transport on the cargo ships has also been at a standstill throughout the corona crisis. Since March 2020, passengers have not had access to the cargo ships. It is now starting up again, but throughout the crisis several crews were not allowed or unable to disembark for months: their home ashore seemed a distant mirage. A hell for many of them as they often have very strong ties with their families. Much stronger than the ties we sometimes have with family. A silent drama that never made the newspapers here.

Really travelling to, say, another continent, whether by plane or freighter, and having a deep experience, changes you as a human being. If you then find yourself back in the daily rat race and confronted with the basis of our civilisation, this can sometimes cause difficulties, but I find travelling and the wake-up call that comes with it only positive. A bit less is sometimes possible. The hardest part is of course staying aware of that", Ward concludes.

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



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