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Trip Report Soren Larsen Trip Report 2011

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Well, we just returned from our 22 days in Vanuatu. The first half of the trip was spent on a 10 day voyage on the Soren Larsen around the northern Banks islands of Vanuatu. We read a lot of reviews before booking this trip, but didn't find many and no negative ones. So, we booked and were excited for the adventure. Well, we arrived and the boat looked very rough and worn. Rust and paint flaking off, not like the brochure pictures at all. The brochures and website show a very well maintained ship. The engine and interior did look to be in good shape, but the outside was not as appealing for pictures. I am sure the boat is painted and refitted priodically, but not in time for our sailing. I am actually not thrilled to show the boat off to my friends, since it looks so worn. Too bad we did not have it repaited for our sailing. The sails looked great, so everything else was in working order.

The cabins were tiny, with very noisy fans and no portholes, etc. Three really moldy tiny bathrooms to be shared by all passengers and crew....with a toilet that required a three valve/ pump system to flush. My issue as mainly the gross moldy bathroom ..I was scared to go in there barefoot. I also had the pleasure of flushing the crew's waste as some of them would not flush before me. Just disgusting.

Everything was always damp and moldy smelling because of the lack of air circulation down below...thank goodness for my bottle of Febreeze.

Besides the tiny cabins and horrible bathroom conditions, we were handed raincoats and belt gear for when we were working.
The raincoats smelled of body odor! They do not wash them between sailings. Good thing we brought our own, along with our own sheets. The sheets in the cabin appeared to be clean. They also have no towels, so bring your own. But this is in the pamphlet you receive before going on the trip. They are not kidding, so bring towels!

The pamphlet you receive explains that this is a working shipe where crew is expected to work, but they also say it is light and optional. The pamphlet and advertisements really downplay the amount of work expected and we felt this was a bit shady. We never would have booked this teio had we known exactly how much " roughing it" we were to endure. We love adventures, but comfortable as possible.

We had to work the sails a lot more than we thought, which was not asy work. A lot of sweating/ tailing to be done. They never mentioned the work was optiinal and they feel free to order you to do things. At one point I was yelled at by a crew member because she felt we were not pulling hard enough.

The whole operation felt like we were actual permanent crew there to make life easier for the paid crew. Comfort and tourism was not a high priority, very secondary. Had we known that, we would not have booked it. Number one priority was manning the ship, so be aware of this.

The crew is young and seems to be very transient with new members coming and going at each leg of the trip. A few have been there for years, but the feel was it was consisting of people that have a gypsy style of living. No doctor on board, so if anything happens to you, you better pray for help. The incidents we observed were actually happening to crew members....and that one guy lived through it, thank goodness. So, watch your step and be aware of what you are doing.

Lots of chances for injury/ death, since no thought to passenger safety is really observed. You climb the rigging while the ship is moving and rocking. Surprise is, nothing to attach you to the ship until you reach the top. So, you better not slip. Nobody has ever fallen, but if they ever is certain death. Getting on the dingy to get off the boat is hazardous when you are told to climb down backwards as you step on a float they have placed right where you need to set your foot on. We observed several people slip on that float with no crew members actually helping the passengers. I decided to switch and go in facing forward, which the captain complained about. But, I told him I am looking out for myself and ignored his protest. People were slipping! I just can't believe they would not move that float out of the many people slipped on it. Little things like that made it hazardous.

They also had the bright idea to oil the decks with coconut oil before we boarded. So when it rained the first night, everyone was slipping, including crew members. Very inconsiderate for passenger safety. They did not find the normal oil they used, so they tried coconut, which turned out to be too slippery.

Schedules were dictated by the captain, but sometimes we had to go ask for someone to take us to shore, as they had planned. They would not have taken us had we not insisted. That was very obnoxious. They were busy working on the boat, so didn't have time to man te dingy, so we had to wait...although it was scheduled for us to go.

The captain on our journey was only there for a few months and left after our leg. He was just like Captain Ron, if you ever saw that movie. He never made sense and loved to sail off at midnight each night. Not in the afternoon before dinner or even after dinner. No, he waited until midnight to take off to the next destination. So anyone on watch at midnight had to work and anyone trying to sleep would her him yelling commands regarding the sails. Totally inconsiderate.

Please note that you will be assigned to watches. We knew there was something related to working 4 hours on and 8 off, but did not fully grasp what that meant. We were assigned to 12-4, of course. So, we had to do three night watches that meant working midnight to 4 in the morning. Not only were we jet lagged by 16 hour difference, but we were expected to work until 4 am and then sleep 4 hours and be up in time by 8 am to not miss breakfast and to be ready for the days excursions of hiking, etc.

The first watch we did was rainy and choppy, so deck was slippery and everyone was sea sick. I took pills, but still was sick that night. They had us watch in the rain and we also were asked to bake bread. So, when I went in the kitchen to avoid the rain, I got sick. That night was horrible for most people. We had unusual choppy seas.

We realized real quick that our 12-4 watch worked the most of any others because of the captain wanting to sail at midnight. There were people that only had 1-2 shifts and we had most of them. It got to the point where I just refused. I told them no and put in my ear plugs to drown out the sounds and yelling going on. They say earplugs are dangerous on boats, but I used them every single night and slept much better. Forget sleeping on deck if you want to sleep because people are running around on deck all night hauling sails.

Anytime you tried to relax and read or enjoy the sailing, they would need to fool with the sails, so they always yelled for hands to help with the various masts and sails. It was so annoying and got to the point where I stayed below deck to avoid having to do work. There was pressure to do work...did not feel optional in any way, no matter what the literature says. They encourage you to work to make their lives easier. The ship requires a lot more crew than is supplied, so they count on half of the passengers to work at any given time. Keep in mind, there is a lot of work to do.

We chose the shorter sailing and avoided open seas cruising, and still had work to do. So if you do a long sailing, you will be asked to work frequently.

The first night we had the 12-4 watch at night, we over slept the next morning and missed breakfast. We asked and they told us it was over, we should have woken up. They told us to wait untl lunch. Thank goodness we brought protein meal replacement packs with us. After that treatment, I refused to do the other watches. Not only did we miss breakfast, but the days annoucements had been made and dingy boats had left for shore already. All because we had to work from 12-4.

Overall, we are glad we saw the banks islands, as this was the only ship we found to go there. The only other option would have been to hire a yacht with crew and sail around. Definitely would have done that instead had we known what the Soren was going to be like.

It was an adventure and some of the crew was nice, as well as the fellow passengers. We just thought the conditions were too rough for us, espcially having paid $6,000 US for both of us. That much money gets you a much more luxurious cruise with other companies. We feel almost taken advantage of since we had to pay them to pass a very uncomfortable 10 days, when we wanted a fun off te baten path vacation. How does vacationing turn into work??

Half of the passengers actually loved the cruise and worked all the time, nailing things,,painting, cleaning floors, ashing dishes!! WHY? Some evern booked 2 consecutive legs. It is beyond me why you pay someone else to let you work for them. Not my idea of a vacation. Can't recommend this to anyone I know because we are he only crazy ones to jump into something like this. But, I will stay away from anything that says anything about " work" . Never again.

The rest of our 12 days around Vanuatu were fantastic and much more comfortable. We were very happy when we reached port in Santo and were taken to Oyster Island!!! MY own bathroom and napkins!! I was in heaven there, we also went to Epi and Tanna and Eratap in Port Vila before Heading to Fiji. We found a Dugong on Epi and had an amazing two nights at Mt Yasur.

Vanuatu as great overall, but could have done without the Soren Larsen voyage...but enjoyed the actual islands we saw and visited in the Banks Islands.

OH, the costume party on your last night on the Soren is fun, BUT take your own costume. We did thankfully. The ones they have there for you are old and musty and smell bad. They dump them in a bag and never wash them!! Also beware that a lot of the voyage crew do not believe in deodorant. Our captain did not and was a true neanderthal in allways..he kept sitting next to me for meals and smelled bad.

Sorry for Typos, using my Ipad Keyboard

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