Amid the posters of glamorous foreign cities and huge ocean liners in the the travel agent's window, was a small folder labeled "Tramp Trips". It looked enticing so we went in and asked for a copy. This was most unprepossessing--about thirty mimeographed sheets of paper. It was what was on those pages that excited us. We, four girls ranging in age from twenty-two to twenty-seven, had made up our minds that we wanted to see the world. The year was 1937, in the middle of the Great Depression. Three of us had low-paying jobs and I had made some money by knitting jackets and skirts. All of us had been saving up for what we hoped would be a great adventure.
We took the folder to one of our houses and pored over it. The places people could go on freighters were fabulous and they were affordable. There was one trip to Africa, and up the Congo River but the ship's owners didn't didn't want women passengers so that was out. We picked the longest voyage for the least amount of money. For $375 we could sail away on an eight passenger freighter that would be gone for three and a half months. The names of the ports of call were sheer magic. Who could resist Shanghai, Belawan Deli, Semarang, Surabaya, Saigon, Singapore? Who cared if there was only one bathroom for the eight passengers?
We informed our loving but doubtful families of our intentions, pointing out that this was a bargain. The money we paid would cover room and board for quite a while. (Remember, this was 1937, a time when families were still to be consulted.) The ship would be in drydock for a week in Singapore so that was an extra expense but the Klaveness Line, her owners, had a deal with the Raffles Hotel where we would stay at a minimum rate. The families gave in (as we knew they would.) We, Dorothy, Clara Louise, Susie, and I had taken the first step. Next, we took the big one. We paid our money and were signed on as passengers on the M.S. Corneville which would sail on the third of September from Richmond, across the bay from San Francisco. She was Norwegian owned, with Norwegian officers and a Chinese crew. Just at this time, the Japanese invaded Shanghai and the Klaveness Line informed us that the visit there was impossible. We would go to Sydney, Australia instead.
In preparation for our adventure, we had to be immunized for two or three tropical diseases. The only one I remember was a shot for cholera which made us feverish and dopey for two days. We each had a wardrobe trunk to pack. It would be late winter and probably chilly in Sydney so we had to take some warm clothes. Mostly the weather would be hot so we packed our summer things and the trunks were shipped north to be put on board ship. When the longed-for day arrived, we took the train (no planes in those far-off times) to San Francisco, an over-night trip. Boarding time on the Corneville was seven P.M. We went by ferry across the bay to Richmond. It was dark when we arrived so we didn't see much of the ship. We did however, see two U.S. customs officers come across the gangplank with a young man between them. They marched him up to what I suppose was the captain's cabin. It turned out that he had been a stowaway and was being deported. We found our cabins, hastily dumped the things we were carrying and dashed back to the deck. The ship was still being loaded and apparently wouldn't leave for several hours so we gave up and went to bed, regretting that we would miss sailing under the lately opened Golden Gate bridge but at that point, too tired and over-excited to care.
Next morning at breakfast, we met our fellow travelers. They were Tony, the Australian stowaway, Harold and Peter, two thirty-year-olds from Kansas City, and Amelia who was forty-five, she told us--on the elderly side in our eyes. We thought her very good-looking, considering her advanced age. The captain came in, introduced himself and invited us to join him in his cabin for cocktails before dinner. We had some cheerful chat, then everyone went to unpack trunks and to get stuff stowed away in our tiny cabins. After that, the four of us went out into the fresh, salty air and explored our ship. She was loaded from stem to stern with gigantic redwood logs that looked almost as big as telephone poles. A small biplane was perched on top near the stern. The cargo was destined for Sydney.
At five o'clock everyone gathered in the captain's cabin where he served us his favorite cocktails,"yin" (he had trouble with the letter J) and something. Amelia had brought her little pug dog Judy who now met the captain's miniature bulldog Jiggs (Yiggs). Amelia said how cute the two little animals looked together. She batted her eyes at the captain and added that perhaps a romance would develop. Judy's toenails were painted red to match Amelia's finger nails. Amelia struck us as a manhunter on the prowl. All the ship's officers came in and were introduced. We became very jolly and friendly--a fine beginning for this particular cruise of the Corneville.