Sitmar Line - TSS Castel Felice

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Maritime Historian, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer & Author

Please Note: All ssMaritime and other related maritime/cruise sites are 100% non-commercial and privately owned. Be assured that I am NOT associated with any shipping or cruise companies or any travel/cruise agencies or any other organisations! Although the author has been in the passenger shipping industry since 1960, although is now retired but having completed around 690 Classic Liners and Cargo-Passengers Ships features I trust these will continue to provide classic ship enthusiasts the information the are seeking, but above all a great deal of pleasure! Reuben Goossens 

The Sitmar Ships

Part Two

TSS Castel Felice


This delightful story was kindly sent in by Mr. W. D. Hempel of Canada and I am delighted to present it. Please Note: I have slightly edited the item but this has not changed any of the details or in any way altered the style of writing.

Reuben Goossens.

Maritime Historian.

My Voyage from Bremerhaven to Quebec on the TSS Castle Felice in 1957

By Mr. W. D. Hempel

“Thursday, May 2nd 1957, the day of my departure arrived. We had agreed that mother would not see me off in Bremerhaven. It was a sunny spring afternoon and I had left by bus, carrying my hand luggage. It was just a short good bye. In a way we were all rather sad and apprehensive at the same time. But this time, my leaving home was very different and not a big secret, everything was in the open. This time it was not a matter of life and death like it was in 1951 when I left East Germany. Now I knew that if Canada would not give me what I expected, I always could come back; I had sufficient for a return voyage. In Aachen I boarded the night train for Bremen. Arriving there I checked into a hotel and contacted the Sitmar Line office. I had to be in Bremen 24 hours prior to departure. I thought that all the paperwork had been done in advance, because of the numerous documents I had filled out earlier and mailed to the agency in Bremen. Passport, visa, health certificate and several other papers had been scrutinized and verified with all the other documents like ticket and boarding pass. By noon I had all these chores completed and I went sightseeing in the afternoon.

Next morning at 10 AM the special train left for Bremerhaven. It contained passenger cars and freight cars. It was a slow trip, it seemed to take forever. We arrived at the pier at 1.30 PM, taking a long 3 hours for just 80 km!

There she was what seemed like big white ship with a yellow funnel with a big blue V on it being the TSS Castel Felice, which was an Italian liner.

We had to remain in the train, but they started immediately to unload the freight cars and slinging the luggage in huge nets on board. My over sea trunk and suit cases were already sent to Bremen 4 weeks before departure!

Around 3 PM we started boarding. There were around 900 passengers boarding in Bremerhaven. We were soon ushered up the gangway, after a last identification check on deck a cabin steward led me to my cabin. My suitcases were already waiting for me in the cabin. I went up to the main deck, strolling about, watching the remaining passengers coming aboard. No visitors were allowed on board, all the farewell and good byes had to “executed” on the quay, and it was very emotionally for all “participants” directly involved. I, standing on the deck, looking upon these scenes, felt strangely rather detached. The brass band on the dock was playing various sentimental songs about the fatherland, the home town and the beloved ones you leave behind. Every so often a whiff of smoke, from the 3 tugs tied to the ship on the waterside, drifted across the deck. Sharp at 5 PM a wailing blast from the ships horn chattered everyone's emotional thoughts. The last official and the pilot came aboard and the gangways were removed. Passengers and left behind family waving to each other for the last time, many of them crying. In a way I was glad that my mother wasn't there it would have been too hard for her. My eyes did not get wet and I did not regret leaving Germany. The lines had been cleared, then there was a faint shutter and I realized the tugs were doing their job; there was one on the stern and two at the bow. Slowly the liner was pulled sideways away from her berth some small eddies formed between the berth and the ship. The dock slipped further and further away. The hold back tug on the stern had to cut his lines, the bow tugs delivered full power now, black smoke and sparks belching out of their stubby funnels, they left a frothy trail to the port and starboard of the liner. Another double blast from the ships horn and they too cut their lines. I was standing on the afterdeck, looking back to Germany, to Bremerhaven, lit up in the evening sun; I could feel the faint vibrations of the steam turbines, pushing the 12,000 tons of steel through the water.





Toward the north there was a storm was approaching as the sky was black. Was this an omen? It certainly looked forbidding. Now after all these years in Canada I know, it was an omen, but a good one. It taught me, not to be afraid of a dark future, to a certain extent we can shape our future, for we have an input, and we reap what we seed.

In the open sea the waves were getting heavy. The ship stopped, the pilot boat heaved along the lee. Now we were alone, Helgoland was hidden in a squall and we were heading into the dark of night.

The sea was getting progressively heavier and people were getting seasick. I survived the night very well, but next morning, after I getup, I felt a little woozy. For breakfast I only had some tea and a few biscuits. By noon we were steaming northward within sight of the Scottish east coast. But by now the sky had cleared but the sea was still quite heavy. We rounded the northern tip of Scotland between the Northern Highlands and the Orkney Islands. Early morning, around 4 AM, we berthed at Greenock, Scotland, The harbor of Glasgow. More passengers were taken aboard. At 4 PM at high tide, we put to sea again and commenced our crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

The funnel was belching black smoke and the ship was heaving in the swell of the ocean against a strong west wind. One day out at sea we had a life boat drill. Every passenger had to know which life boat station was theirs. The upper deck was off limits, because it was completely covered with life rafts. Life boats have to be launched, but these rafts would float by themselves after the ship sinks. It was May and we would head into icebergs, the Titanic somehow came into my mind.

Within a day everything was routine, breakfast, lunch and supper. To feed all these people was done in two sittings. everyone had his assigned time and place, in other words you were “stuck” with your table partner, but somehow the passenger were all “Auswanderer” immigrants, people, made all from the same “stuff” looking for a new land to live, all with the same interests. Somehow, no matter who you were talking to, you always had a pleasant conversation.

The ships doctor was a German, he had been with this ship for several years and he showed me the huge “patch” on the hull of the port side, as it had an “accident”, when she was rammed by a freighter. I questioned him, why people get seasick, he explained, the constant “jerking” around of the balancing system in the inner ear during heavy sea affect the nervous system in such a way, that you feel lousy and in most instances makes you puke. It is very similar as drinking too much booze. But, he said, drinking a small amount of alcohol in advance will prevent seasickness. But how do you know, how much to drink? Simple, while drinking, every so often try to walk a straight line, (lines on the floor), if you step off the line, lay off the booze for a while. In fact, being that “drunk”, hardly impairs you, probably for driving an automobile, for split decision making it is too much. In this state, I think I function perfectly normal.

One beautiful sunny afternoon, low on the western horizon, it looked like land, but these were storm clouds. The foredeck was cleared of passengers, on the main deck, protective plates were placed onto the windows, facing the foredeck. The doors facing the foredeck, similar to the ones you see in submarine movies, were also “screwed” shut. I went into my cabin, but what was happening, the stewards put on the “dead lights”, (Portholes) and they had closed the steel “lids” on the bull eyes. They mumbled it is going to be a bad storm. I went to the bar to initiate the doctors remedy.

The storm hit with might. I went onto the wings of the bridge and tried to get a few pictures. Only one of them turned out halfway, most of the time I was engulfed in spray and I had a hard time to keep the salt water off the camera.

The doctor’s prescription helped, I felt fine. The menu for supper was changed. There was no hot meal, only sandwiches. Normally the dining room held 600 people, but this evening there were only a few, maybe 2 dozen. All tables had ledges, which were normally hidden underneath, folded up, and a soaking wet tablecloth slopped over it, to make it sticky, so the plates would not slide all over the place. Cups had to be held in the hand, they would tip over. The ship was rolling and pitching badly, when you walked you had to brace yourself. After supper I didn’t go down to my deck, because the innards of the ship smelled horrible, sick people had puked all over. I stayed in the bar till the “wee” hours, listening to some non seasick “professionals” telling horror stories about ships sinking in a storm. In the meantime the crew was busy cleaning up the mess and the ventilation system did the rest. Finally I went to my cabin. When I came onto the A – Deck, I realized how bad the storm actually was. I hit the A-Deck about midships, normally I could see right to the last cabins at the stern. Now they were actually twisting out of sight, either to the top or bottom, I turned around, the bow the same way. The whole structure of the ship was creaking and groaning. When the stern was twisted toward the bottom out of sight, the stern of the ship was actually in the air, and not supported by the water, because in that instance the propellers were out of the water and speeding up. When they hit the water, you could hear that, the vibrations took on a different pitch. I had read, ships breaking in half in heavy seas, after experiencing this, I don’t doubt that. Actually, when I was standing there, looking around and hearing all these weird noises, I wondered if the Castel Felice would stay together. In the cabin everybody was moaning and pretty sick. I felt fine, but could not fall asleep. One of the guys’ briefcases was lying on the floor and with the rolling of the ship slid from on side of the cabin to the other, I was watching it. Suddenly the cabin door opened with the rolling, I guess when I had come in, and I hadn't closed it properly. When the vessel rolled over to starboard it closed again and the briefcase slid against the closed door. I watched this game of opening and closing the door and the sliding of the briefcase for quite awhile. But then, the door somehow did not close, and the briefcase was in the hall. I got up, secured the briefcase and closed the door, end of the game and I fell asleep.

Next morning, the storm had lost its fierceness, I, and only a few others had breakfast. By midmorning many of the half sick came onto deck to catch same fresh air. Later in the afternoon the sun came out and everything went slowly back to normal.

East of New Foundland, the icebergs are coming down in spring from the Labrador Sea. We crossed the “iceberg strait” during the night. It was announced on the intercom, and most of the passengers went on deck. It was eerie, the moon was shining brightly, the sea was like glass, the engines dead slow ahead, we were hardly moving, and there, the icebergs were all around us, I watched several hours, and still no end. I guess the captain knew what he was doing, I went back to bed.

Next morning to our starboard was New Foundland, this early in spring, with its snow capped mountains, and it didn’t take long we entered the St. Lawrence. The Atlantic was behind me, and so were my headaches. While we were crossing the Atlantic I had all the time a weird slight headache, probably caused by the constant up and down of the ship in the swell.

Quebec, the Liner had docked and it took a whole day to “put” all the passengers through customs, in the late afternoon it was done, and we continued upriver to Montreal. Sometimes during the night we arrived, we had the last breakfast on board and disembarked midmorning. The train station was right by the dock, in a small store I bought same oranges, a ring of sausage and a loaf of bread. In my ignorance I did not realize, that The Canadian of the CPR had a super dining car. The following 30 hours on that train to Winnipeg, gave me the first glimpse of this huge country.”


The Castel Felice INDEX:

Castel Felice-1 - History Page.

Castel Felice-2 - Cabin Plan & the Robert Brinkhuis story 1965.

Castel Felice-3 - My 1957 voyage to Canada by W. D. Hempel - This Page.

Castel Felice-4 - The Williams family sail to Australia in 1957.

Castel Felice-4 - A family’s voyage to Australia - on another site!

Or Return to:……The Sitmar Ships - INDEX - For all the Other Sitmar Ships!



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