Frieghter journey from Boston to Japan in 1966

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Frieghter journey from Boston to Japan in 1966

Post by thesun »

Hello Forum Folks!

I was very appreciative of help here a few years ago and have another question that I'm hoping someone could answer or take a stab at. I am writing a novel and it involves a young man getting passage on a freighter (not as crew but as a paying passenger) from Boston, going through the Panama Canal, and then ending up in Japan. 1966.

Obviously there wouldn't be many stops between Panama and Japan (Hawaii, perhaps?) but I'm curious if anyone would know a route that the vessel might take and the stops it would HAVE to make along the way. This is relatively minor to the overall plot, but currently I have only a stop in Panama, where something important happens, with no other stops between Boston and the destination of Japan. I am realizing that is highly unlikely, and thus need 1 of two things to happen:

1) Is there a chance that this no stops might actually happen -- that a freighter out of Boston might make a beeline for Japan and only stop once, in Panama? If that's feasible, that's perfect and I might be able to only mention the reason in passing. That the freighter's cargo of kidneys for transplant, for instance, had an expiration date. That the hold full of chicken eggs would hatch if not delivered in time...

2) If a stop in Panama and then in Japan is NOT feasible to the point of being ridiculous to anyone who knows anything of sea voyaging, where would the vessel stop? And why? (Refueling?) Could it have its first stop in New Orleans? Venezuela? Puerto Rico? (The existing scene is somewhat important, and much of it depends on the location being spanish-speaking and foreign.)

Lastly, and very important: how long might this journey take in total, assuming it's a "normal" freighter in 1966? Are we talking a week? 10 days? 3 weeks? Would anything delay it to the point of months?

Thank you so much for any and all help or suggestions. Again, I really appreciate the original assistance, and hope someone will have some of these answers. Or if not, is there a place I might try to learn them?
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Re: Frieghter journey from Boston to Japan in 1966

Post by Big Pete »

Hi the Sun,

Interesting questions, I joined my first ship in 1973, she was a fairly standard refrigerated Cargo ship built in 1953, to a 1936 design, oil fired steam turbine Engines with a service speed of 15.5 knots, max 17kts equivalent to 372/ 408 Nautical Miles per day.
We steamed from New Zealand to Fremantle to top up with fuel and then came to Bristol UK without stopping, 30 days at Sea. In a straight line it would have been 10,600 odd miles, but initially we planned to top off with Fuel in Cape Town and Dakar, it was during the Arab Israeli war and the oil taps had been turned off, causing massive re routing off shipping to Ports where fuel was available. Same as after the 6 day War in 1967.

The Big US passenger liner "United States" was designed to carry a full armed and equipped US Army Division(15,000 men) from California to Japan at max speed (around 35 to 40 knots) and then return to the USA for more. ... oa,panama/

The website above gives you Steaming times and distances between Ports. At 17 knots it would take 44.4 days to cover the 16,897 Nautical Miles from Balboa, Panama to Tokyo, Japan.

The typical wartime Liberty Ship could maintain a speed of 11.5 knots and had a steaming range of 20,000 N.M., plenty of Liberty Ships were still around then, ( Many were still working until the 1980's) and they could get from Panama to Tokyo non stop on 84% of their Fuel Capacity, taking about 61 days.

Big technical changes happening then in Merchant Shipping, ships built during the War had steam engines, Direct Current Electrics, Painted match board Bulkheads ratings and cadets sharing Cabins and communal showers. In the sixties everything changed and the new ships were Diesel engined with Alternating Current Electricity, Formica Bulkheads, and single berth cabins with ensuite showers for all ranks. The old ships stayed around until they were 25 to 30 years old and were scrapped.

Hope some of this background helps.

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Re: Frieghter journey from Boston to Japan in 1966

Post by JollyJack »

G'day El Sol. I sailed on fruit ships in the '73 to '75, the major routes included citrus from California to Japan and Hong Kong, (Bunkers in Long Beach and Hong Hong) cars from Japan to Central America and bananas back to Long Beach. Bunkers at Bilbao in the Pacific side of the canal, then 7 days north to Long Beach. Time from Japan to Panama was 19 days at 25 knots. Fruit ships boogie along! As Pete says, in '66 there were mostly clunkers around, so I guess you'd be looking at a speed of 10 to 15 knots. (We had a 9 cyl Sulzer RND 98 and a GRT of some 6000 Tonnes)

A Panama passage could take 8 hours or 8 days, depending on the lineup to get through the locks. On the eastern side, I did a regular run from Halifax NS to Cuba, mid '90s. No sleek greyhound of the seas this, chugged along at 14/15 knots. It took 6 days from Halifax to Havana at that speed. I know I have travelled Panama to Florida Strait, but damned if I can remember how long it took! Maybe 7 days?

So, say 6 days to Havana from Boston (which is about a day's sailing South from Halifax), 7 to Colon, allow 2 days (average) for the Canal then, at 15 knots, not 25 as we did...…..lost my calculator since I retired last year, its (25 x 24 x19) + (13 x 24 x 15) /15 +(2 x 24) That is Panama to Japan at 25 knots, Boston to Panama at 15 knots, + 2 day in the Canal system. That should give an estimation of the time needed in hours. You'd have to take the time difference into account too, I believe it's about 12 hours. Full bunkers on departure Boston will take you to Bilbao on the pacific side of the canal. You could bunker at Colon on the Atlantic side, but check the time to get into the canal first! Don't want to all hooked up then get the call to join a convoy!

The trip down the Eastern seaboard can be a bit hairy at times. North of Cape Hatteras, it tends to be lumpy, but south of that, it's OK. That's where the Gulf Stream hangs a right and takes off for Europe. Between May and November is the hurricane season, you can meet one of these buggers at any time, eye on the weather forecast! But in 1966 weather forecasting was mostly guessing, there were very few satellites In orbit. I've been caught in two, one of which trapped us in Coatzacoalas in Mexica and the other killed 10,000 in Honduras, but that's another story.

The Pacific side is smooth sailing all the way. Between Panama and Hawaii is an absolute desert, very little life of any kind, light winds and oppressive humidity. Heads down, button the hatches and doors and turn the AC on. Nothing to see, nothing to do, I read War and Peace on one trip, Mein Kampf on another and Plato's Republic on a third!! Whatever you do, don't transfer heavy oil into an almost full overflow tank off Waikiki beach as the sun goes down! (But that's another story) Hawaii to Japan is more interesting more life at sea, including dolphins and flying fish. You can see the brown blob over Japan 3 days out and smell it 36 hours from dockside. In the early '70s it was pretty bad, I suppose it was much worse in '66. (When I joined my first ship, as it happens!)
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