The following memoirs are those of an ex Radio Officer of the U.S. Merchant Marine.
BOB LION presently lives in Port Vendres, a small fishing port on the Mediterranean between the Spanish border and the city
of Perpignan, at the foot of the Pyrenee Mountains. He settled there about two years ago, after having lived
since January of 1969 in the San Francisco Bay area. Bob has a wealth of stories regarding his career at sea,
some of which will be provided on this site over the next few weeks. A separate page will be created for these substantial
'memoirs' and it is hoped that many readers, especially ex R/Os, will enjoy getting in touch with Bob to swap some of their
own stories. Please contact the sitemaster for his e-mail address.
Bob Lion retired from the U.S. Merchant Marine in March of 1991. His sea-going career commenced
at Christmas Eve 1954 and continued for 10 years aboard Liberian flagged tankers, bulk carriers and dredgers.
Following another short 'career' as radio mechanic for Pan American Airlines he then returned to
his beloved 'high'seas' as Radio Officer from february 1979 until his present retirement. He is now living in France.
While many of us stayed at sea for a relatively short period Bob made it his life and diligently recorded some of the more
interesting aspects of his career. It is my pleasure to include an abridged version of his 'story' on the site.
On board MV MARINE PRINCESS (WNLH) of Marine Transport Lines
Summer of 1988
July 1999 : The last day of CW transmissions from KFS and KPH coast stations. It is the end of an era. This motivated me to
write my own recollections to bear witness to a lesser known period of the history
of the maritime industry. (*)
Today, the ship-going
Radio Officers have joined the dinosaurs and become another “disappeared species”.. However, no Green Peace or
other ecological organization is trying to preserve them. The “Sparks” will be part of the “Romantic Past”,
of the “Legend of the Sea”, joining the square rigged clipper ships. In Europe and elsewhere, coast stations are
closed. The US Coast Guard does not stand a CW watch on 500 kHz. Only the faithful nostalgic “ham” radio amateurs
still use Morse code today. On merchant vessels, a licensed engineer is maintaining all the electronic gear; the captain or
chief mate communicate with the shore via satellite and H.F radiotelephone and a
complex automatic distress signaling device (the “GMDSS”) , instead
of the traditional ‘SOS’ in Morse code, will transmit distress calls.
Maritime literature abounds in books of facts and fiction, about the
sailing ships, the men of war, the heroic deeds of many a brave sailor. Once in a while a story tells of the gallantry of
the Titanic Radio Officers on that fateful night when they called for help, in the pioneering days of maritime radio communications.
I have rarely in these books found any descriptions of the life and work of the Radio Officer. – But in the year 2000,
the San Francisco Maritime Museum dedicated two floors of its beautiful building between Fort Mason and Fishermen’s
Wharf to the history of Maritime Radio Communications. And last year I discovered on the Internet Ian Coombe’s absolutely extraordinary website “Merchant Marine Nostalgia”.
It could be that in a few more years the only vessel of the US Merchant
Marine flying the American flag may be the brave old Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah
O’Brien, which made the return journey to Normandy in June of 1994. You can visit her at the Fishermen’s Wharf
in San Francisco. In 1984, the last American-flagged passenger vessels departed
from Pier 32 for their cruise around Latin America. They were the four sister ships
Santa Mariana, Santa Mercedes,
Santa Magdalena, Santa Maria, of the Delta (ex-Prudential, ex-Grace) Lines. I sailed on all four of them.
Contrary to the famous Greek “tycoons” like Onassis, Niarchos, Livanos and the others, not much was known about the American shipping magnate D.
K. Ludwig and his vessels built at the former Japanese Imperial shipyard of Kure, on the Inland Sea, until I discovered Mr. A. Davis Whittaker’ website
father had sailed as Engineering Officer for National Bulk Carrier) . I took
the liberty of inserting extracts (lists
of ships and , photos) in my “memoirs”
Then I read the
“The Invisible Billionaire: Daniel Ludwig”, by Jerry
Shields. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA, 1986. “
I sailed as Radio Officer aboard
many of the ships of National Bulk Carriers / Universe Tankships .
I have researched into my souvenirs to bring back my life “as a seaman”. Unfortunately,
time has a habit of erasing some information such as names of people, exact dates, description of places, facts and events
in their chronological sequence. But all that I write about happened, existed,
and is true. I did my best.
in 2000, revised March 2006
I dedicate this narrative
of my memories to
To all the ”Sparks” of the World’s Merchant Marine
To all my old shipmates…
SUMMARY OF SEA SERVICES
SHIP / Call Sign Type of Vessel
Company Voyage details Dates: from to
SS PELOPS/ELCG Greek
Freighter - Scrap Iron
Dec 1954 - Feb 1955
BOSTON - ROTTERDAM
- AMSTERDAM - NEW YORK
PETROQUEEN/ELHU Universe Tankships
Apr 1955 - Jul 1956
SAN FRANCISCO - SAN PEDRO - KAWASAKI/YOKOHAMA - SUNGAI PAKNING (Sumatra)
UNIVERSE LEADRER/5LCN Universe Tankships
Sept 1956 - July 1957
At the time the largest (85000 DWT) tanker
in the world built at KURE / Japan
- NBC shipyards
KURE - SUNGAI PAKNING (Sumatra) - SAN
FRANCISCO - MENA AL AHMADI (Kuwait) – SANTOS (Brasil) - CAPETOWN( for drydock) - SUNGAI PAKNING - SAN FRANCISCO (RICHMOND)
ORE REGENT Ore carrier National Bulk Carriers
MORRISTOWN/PA - PUERTO ORDAZ(ORINOCCO RIVER Venezuela)
UNIVERSE CHALLENGER /5LPX Universe Tankships
later re-named FRISIA same as 5LCN - KURE –
SUNGAI PAKNING - SAN
FRANCISCO - KURE (for dry-dock) - SUNGAIPAKNING - LONG BEACH
(HUNTINGTON BEACH) CA
____________________________________________________________________________ST ANNA O/5LBD Maritime
Overseas Corp T2 Tanker Apr 1958 – Jan 1959
(“tramping”)YOKOHAMA - QUATAR - MITSUHAMA/Japan - PANAMA CANAL - BALTIMORE
- PUNTA CARDON/Venez. - BOSTON
- AMUAYBAY/Venez. - ARUBA - NEW YORK - SANTOS/Brasil
- CARTHAGENA/Colombia - CALLAO/Peru – PORTLAND /Maine
SS ORE MERIDIAN/5LZI National Bulk Carriers
May - July 1959
- Ore Carrier
Ludwig, built at Kure) KURE
- PANAMA Canal - PUERTO ORDAZ(Orinocco-River, Venezuela ) - BALTIMORE
____________________________________________________________________________SS ORE CHIEF/ELKM National
Bulk Carrier - July
- Aug 1959
- Ore Carrier
- PUERTO ORDAZ(Orinocco-River, Venezuela)
National Bulk Carriers - dredge
dredging BLACK WARRIOOR LAGOON,
BAJA CALIFORNIA/ Mexico
PEDRO, CA FOR DRYDOCK
SHIP / Call Sign Type of Vessel
Company Voyage details Dates: from to
DREDGE ZULIA/5MBC Nional Bulk Carr
1959 – July 1960
Dredge chartered to Venezuelan Govt.
built at NBC Shipyards Kure) KURE - GUAM - SINGAPORE - SUEZ CANAL - GIBRALTAR
for bunkers - PORT OF SPAIN/Trinidad - MARACAIBO then dredging Maracaibo channel
OLYMPIC ROCK/ELYP tanker Greek/Onassis Shipping
Oct - Dec 1960
from lay-up ROTTERDAM/SCHIEDAM - BREST(repairs) - PUNTA CARDON(Amuay
Bay, Venez. ) - BUENOS AIRES
- SANTOS - PUNTA CARDON - BUENOS AIRES
- PUERTO LA CRUZ/Ven - PAULSBORO/NJ
____________________________________________________________________________SS SPRUCE WOODS/ELYP National Bulk Carriers Apr
- May 1961
Bulk Carrier Coal from NORFOLK/VA for YOKOHAMA (via Panama Canal) then KURE for lay-up
SS J LOUIS/5MGC National Bulk Carriers
1961 - May – 1962
bauxite carrier built NBC shipyards Kure,
Japan chartered to Reynolds Aluminium from KURE - GALVESTON TX (via Panama Canal) for dry-dock - OCHO RIOS/Jamaica- CORPUS
CHRISTI /TX voyages to MIRAGOANE/Haiti and PORT OF SPAIN /Trinidad (bauxite discharge
through conveyor belts
SS PETROKURE/ELGE Universe Tankships Tanker
Aug 1962 - Jan 1963
MARCUS HOOK(CHESTER)/PA - PUERTO LA CRUZ/Venez..
- MARCUS HOOK - MENA AL AMADI/Kuwait
- MARCUS HOOK
Jun e 1964 – Jan
PONCE/Puerto Rico - PUERTOLACRUZ/Venez. - PONCE - VALETTA/Malta
drydock - MENA ALAMADI/Kuwait via SUEZ - DUNKERQUE - MENA AL AMADI - AUGUSTA/Sicily - BANDA SHAPUR/Iran - WILHELMSHAFEN
After 3-1/2 years of service in the US Army, I was “Honorably discharged”
in November of 1952 and settled down in New York to study under the GI Bill of Rights at the RCA Institute, on West 4th Street,
in Greenwich Village. I waited two years for my naturalization. All through that time, while continuing my studies at RCA’s
Institute, I could not get an FCC
license, as an “alien”, nor secure a decent job in the electronics
industry which was contracted for defense work. I was broke and became very lonely and homesick in New York, For the first two months after my discharge,
I went to school during the day and worked evenings as an “assistant” bar tender in a high class restaurant
on East 42nd Street.
During the day, I had to take in electronic and math formulas; Then “coached” by Luigi’,
the restaurant’s bar tender, I had to learn how to blend all kinds of liquors to make Manhattans, Martinis, Alexanders, and other exotic cocktails to satisfy the sophistic clientele of the restaurant.
But my GI Bill of Rights allowance
was not enough to support me. So I worked on many odd jobs during the day: welding
metal saw blades, assembling electronic devices, junior draftsman… attending evening classes until I completed the Radio Telegraph Operator Course. Homesick, lonely, restless, with no secure future, I thought of shipping out on some
vessel taking me back to Europe. By chance in December of 1954, I was directed to a crew
hiring agency on Broad Street in down town Manhattan. The manager’s name was Bodden, he was from the Cayman Islands. I packed a duffel bag with some clothing, books and a toilet kit, put the rest of my belongings into a footlocker, vacated my rented room on West 13th Street in the Village, spent a very noisy night at the Seamen’s Church Institute at the foot of the
Battery where I put my locker into storage in the basement, and reported aboard a Liberty Ship in dry-dock at Hoboken, NJ.
It was cold and rainy in December of 1954. The vessel, the SS Wolverine State (States Marine Lines), was changing her
registry, from US to Liberian Flag and renamed the Orion Trader. I was supposed to be her radio operator. After dry-dock,
she was going to load coal at Norfolk, VA for Naples, Italy. I had not yet a valid radio
license. The captain, therefore, hired a British radio operator and put me in
the crew’s galley as a mess man... The crew was a mixed lot of German, Spanish (the friendliest one’s), Puerto
Ricans and others... a sample of the jobless, homeless drifters one meets on lower Manhattan. I saw that I had put myself into a bind, having
left a secure job for some unknown adventure. For the last six months, while attending night classes at the RCA Institute,
I had worked for a good company and friendly people, bench-testing a new design of ni-cad batteries and doing some drafting.
Now, in the rough and unfriendly environment of my new ship, I was peeling spuds,
washing pots and pans, cleaning mess rooms aboard the wet and cold Orion Trader, in the midst of a miserable, rainy
winter in the Hoboken, New Jersey
dry-dock. But, once again, my “lucky star shone in the darkness”. An
hour before sailing, Bodden, the hiring agency’s manager, came on board, ,
I presumed to collect his fees. He asked me what I was doing in the crew’s
mess. After I told him, he said: ” I hired you out as a Radio operator, not as a crew mess man. You come back ashore
with me and I will get you the job you deserve”. I packed my gear, got my passport back from the pissed-
off captain who had to sail with one man short. Bodden gave
me a ride me back to Manhattan
After another noisy night at the Seamen’s Church Institute, I
took a train for Boston, where I joined the SS Pelops
as radio operator.
She was a tramp, a “Canadian” Liberty
ship, flying a flag of convenience (Liberia),
with a Greek crew. It was my first
“real” job and a turning
point in my life. It gave me a new confidence in myself, and made me proud to
have found a new “profession”.
On December 24th 1954, we sailed from Boston for Rotterdam, loaded with scrap iron. I was fluent with Morse code, knowledgeable
in electronics, but I had to learn from scratch my first job as a ship-board radio operator,
a “Sparks”! I was fortunate to get plenty
of help from many American radio operators, free ‘QSP’ advice on weather schedules and frequencies, traffic lists
and operating procedures. The radio room on the Pelops was located on the bridge behind the chart room. In port, the
smell of fried mutton grease from the galley reached up to the upper decks; the
ship lay under a layer of snow. I covered my equipment with signal flags to protect it from the ambient moisture. The radio
set was an old RCA type; the filament power was turned on with a key, and the emergency gear was a genuine spark transmitter!
I was the only one on board speaking relatively good English. The entire crew was Greek. They were black-haired and shaved
every second or third day. To look like a true sailor, I decided to grow a thin beard. I just had read a book about the Greeks;
they had quite a reputation. Therefore, I locked my cabin at night and wore a pair of pyjamas to bed. But they were a good
bunch, very friendly and did not bother me. The captain’s name was Leonidas Patronas. He kept a canary in its cage and had another pet, a lovely female white Pomeranian “Spitz”. Her name
was Pelops, naturally. Every one
aboard teased and played around with her. I was the only one who treated her as a friend.
I had been raised with a German shepherd when I was a kid, and all my life I have loved dogs with passion. Every time captain Patronas came into the wheel house, Pelops
came into the radio room to lay at my feet and keep me company. The Captain, while standing on the bridge wing, never
bothered to go down to his quarters to relieve himself, he pissed right into
the rain scuppers. Never, in my long seagoing career, did I see any other ship’s captain or crew member do such a thing. I presumed it was a “typically
I did not keep
a personal daily log then and cannot remember how long it took us to cross the North Atlantic
through the many severe storms of that winter. It was a long voyage. The normal speed of this type of vessel probably did
not exceed 10 to 11 knots and it appeared that Pelops sailed rather under the high waves than on top. During my first passage,
I got plenty of “on the job training”. There was nobody on board who could help me. I copied weather forecasts
from WSL, WCC, PCH and DAN, listened to their traffic lists, sent and received messages and acquired the habit of keeping
a neat radio log. At the end of my first North Atlantic
crossing, I knew I still had a lot to learn, but I felt confident that I could handle the job.
at about 4.00 am at the entrance of the channel leading to Rotterdam.
The Dutch pilot who boarded our ship made a very good impression on me. It was early in the morning, yet his uniform was impeccably
pressed, a black necktie exactly centred on his snowy white shirt. He was freshly shaven, his hands in shiny leather gloves,
his uniform hat squarely set, in a sharp contrast to the unshaven black-haired Greeks...
My parents had not seen me for almost three years. On this cold and snowy winter day of 1955, they traveled by rail
from Metz to Rotterdam. When
they boarded the SS Pelops
they expected to find a clean shaved uniformed ship’s
officer aboard a white ocean liner. I had to shave my new beard of which I was
so proud before they would embrace me! I was disappointed by their reaction,
since for the first time in my life ( I was 32 years already) I had found a job and an environment I really liked. Well, I
thought, tough for them if they could not understand me. I loved my parents very much, I was their only son. But it was time
I became my own counsel, and proceed with my new “career”. We stayed about five or six days discharging our cargo
of scrap iron in Rotterdam. I liked this modern and clean city, already rebuilt after her wartime destruction.
Leaving harbor on ballast, even with a pilot on board, SS Pelops hit a sand bar and twisted her propeller, which obliged
us to proceed to Amsterdam’ s dry-dock for repairs. I did not complain!. I
fell in love with this beautiful city and its friendly people. I toured the canals aboard a sightseeing launch, admired the
magnificent buildings, visited the Reijks (?) Museum where I delighted in Rembrand’s paintings, went to a concert one
evening for a performance of the Amsterdam Gebauw orchestra directed by Eugene Ormandy. I enjoyed spending my evenings in
the intimate smoke filled pubs where I imbibed Holland’s
good beer and many little glasses of Bols Genever. I also passed through Amsterdam’s
less reputable but world-famous streets where “hospitable” ladies sat behind their large windows beckoning for
trade. I took a day trip to the frozen Zuider Zee and the attractive little town of Vollendam.
After a week in dry-dock, we crossed the North Atlantic from East to West bound for New
York. In ballast this time, the old ship pitched and rolled through many more winter storms, until
she dropped anchor off Staten Island on a cold but clear day at the end of February 1955.
I left the SS PELOPS, eager for new adventures, other ships, other horizons.
II - SAILING FOR LUDWIG
I paid off the SS Pelops after she dropped anchor
near Staten Island on her return from Amsterdam. Stepping ashore from the Ferry on Lower Manhattan, I spent
another noisy night at the Battery’s Seamen’s Institute. The next day, I rented
a small furnished room in the upper West 70’s and spent my days at the Seamen’s Institute and other sailor hangouts
searching for a new job. One day I called at the offices of National Bulk Carriers on Madison Avenue. I was well received
by the licensed personnel manager, Mr. Southwell. He told me to wait until called for a berth aboard a tanker sailing to Sumatra. Meanwhile, he issued me for $ 5.00, and a passport photo a Panamanian radio operator’s
license (“Certificado de Idoneidad”). For a few days after that, I read up on Indonesia at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street.
At the beginning of April, Mr. Southwell called me to his
office. He gave me a letter of introduction to the master of the SS Petroqueen and a TWA tourist class ticket for San Francisco. At my arrival,
the company’s agents, Ahern and Co. (their offices were on Sansome Street)
put me up for one night at the YMCA near the Ferry Building. The next morning, a launch brought me, with the new chief mate, Mr. Gerhard
Krause from Hamburg, out to our new ship, the tanker SS Petroqueen, anchored in the
bay, awaiting a berth at the Standard Oil refinery in Richmond. The Radio Officer whom I replaced was a taciturn middle-aged American who did not
share my enthusiasm for my new job. His explanations were rather brief, he was in hurry to disembark. But this time it was
easier for me, I did not have to learn everything from the beginning. The small and narrow radio room was on the port-aft
side of the main deck. The radio equipment consisted of an RCA 5-U console. Its power supply had rectifier tubes instead of
a motor-generator. The equipment was in good shape, and the station well supplied with spares, tools and office supplies.
Together with my duties as Radio Operator, I had to take care of all the office
work: typing the crew's and customs
lists, ship’s articles, payrolls, crew allotments etc. I had to check the
crew’s passports and their vaccination certificates. It was a tedious task done
on the old radio room typewriter, the “mill”. There were no Xerox copying machines nor computers in 1955. But
I set to it willingly. It took two days for the ship to discharge her cargo of Sumatra crude
oil into the Richmond Standard Oil Refinery tanks, during which I familiarized myself with my
new surroundings. The Petroqueen was a tanker of approximately 35,000
dead weight tons, built in 1953 in Kure, Japan.
D. K. Ludwig, the American shipping magnate, had leased the shipyards of the former Imperial Navy at Kure, where all the great Japanese aircraft carriers and battleships, like the Yamato, had
been built. It was situated on the shores of the Inland Sea, near Hiroshima. Ludwig’s ships‘ construction was straight forward without any frills or attention to the crew’s
comfort nor to appearance. (his motto was: “If it doesn’t carry any oil, we don’t need it...”) The
smokestack was just that, a straight black pipe. There was no insulation inside the steel bulkheads, nor any air conditioning.
But the ship was freshly
|RADIO CONSUL - "PETROQUEEN"
The accommodations were clean and well cared for. My cabin, in the mid-ship house on the port side of the main deck, just
behind the radio room, was a little confined, with a bunk, a settee with drawers, a small wardrobe and a wash - basin. I had
to share the heads and showers with the 2nd and 3rd mates. The Chief Mate’s cabin and office faced forward of the midship
house. He had his own bathroom and head. The Captain’s stateroom and office, the slop chest and the owners cabin were
on the deck above. Then there was the wheelhouse, the chart and gyro rooms. In the aft accommodations where the engineers
and crew quarters, the galley and mess halls, and the large engine room with its steam turbine which could drive the ship
at a maximum speed of 17 knots (the captain usually maintained her at an economic 14 to 15 knots). The chow was tasty and
plentiful. The unlicensed crew came from the Cayman Islands which were still British territory, in the Caribbean between Cuba and
Jamaica. Their names were Bodden, Mclaughlin,
Ebanks... Bill Braud the chief engineer came from New Orleans;
those who did not know him thought he had a rough and tough personality. He reminded me of Wallace Berry, the movie actor
from the ‘thirties, with his right eye half-closed, his many colorful tattoos on his chest and arms. But he really was a very nice friendly person, a good shipmate
who ran an efficient engine room. It was so clean you could have eaten on the deck plates. It reminded me of a Dutch tugboat
I had visited in Rotterdam. The Chief was a “ham”,
a radio amateur. He had his transceiver in his office and had set up an antenna with
a six-element rotary beam antenna on the cargo mast on top of the after house. He was a great help to me and we got along
splendidly. He always inquired of my watch schedule so as not to interfere with my radio reception, when he wanted to transmit,
and I always advised him when I had traffic to handle or weather forecasts to receive.
We left Richmond on the afternoon
of April 12t 1955, passing under the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather was pleasant as we proceeded along the California
Coast, bound for San Pedro, there to
load refined petroleum products for Kanokawa, near Kure, Japan. The crew had a distasteful job to do before the tanker could load its new
cargo at San Pedro. All the tanks had to be thoroughly cleaned. First, steam pipes for the Butterworth machines were fitted
into the tank openings on deck, which then were cleaned with live high-pressure steam. When they were free of gas, the crew
had to climb down vertical iron ladders into the cargo tanks and muck up into buckets the thick petroleum residue on the bottoms,
the sides, in every corner of the huge deep steel caves. On deck, other seamen hoisted the buckets on ropes and emptied them
overboard into the sea. In those times, we knew nothing about ecology and the
protection of the environment, we had never heard of Captain Cousteau, no special containers existed yet aboard vessels to
store petroleum wastes.
San Pedro in the mid-fifties was still a lively sailor’s
town with many taverns and shops. After a day and a half of loading we put back to sea, on a Northwesterly course.
I hadcopied the weather forecasts broadcast from all the "Pacific Rim" radio stations: San Francisco,
Vancouver, Guam, Honolulu, Tokyo. On my first voyage, our skipper wanted
to take the shorter Great Circle route to Japan,
despite the risk of rough weather along the way. It did not fail. As expected, at about 49 degrees of latitude North, we met
several vicious gales which smashed our starboard lifeboat. The Captain was relieved
when we returned to San Francisco.
Our new Skipper, John Parker, was a young, active and very
intelligent gentleman from Philadelphia
who had a University degree in Marine Engineering. He kept a tight, clean ship. Parker was very "safety conscious". We had
to walk along the cat-walk to the aft accommodations for our meals or for any other reason. When the weather was rough, he
ordered a temporary change of course to protect all personnel from wind and waves. With Gerhard Krause the chief mate and
Bill Braud, the Chief engineer, we had a very good crew, the Petroqueen became
a "happy ship". There was plenty of overtime for the unlicensed deck and engine men. The Chief Engineer spent most of his
time at his ham set, chatting with radio amateurs all around the Pacific and on
board other ships, “Maritime Mobile” ham stations, but the engine room was clean and efficiently run. His was
a "colorful" personality: “... This is W6KXX, Mobile Maritime...the Tanker Petroqueen, in the Pacific....Hello,
old friend, how nice to talk with you again, a real pleasure...” then he would turn around, and, while his correspondent
answered him, he would wink to us and grumble “... what a pain in the ...,
that old s. o. b., that old f...”, with the transmitter cut off. He would come back on the air, and resume his “friendly”
conversation, with the nicest and kindest of compliments and expressions of his deepest friendship. But he carefully cut off
his transmitter whenever he expressed his thoughts with the strongest expletives. Every third or fourth day, if the weather
was good, Captain Parker and myself helped him to take down his 6-element rotating beam antenna, on the roof of the after-house
and put it back up again on the cargo mast after he modified his designs. My
friend Joe Prewitt told me that, when he was a teen-ager ham operator, he used to contact him aboard the “Tanker
Petroqueen, Maritime Mobile in the Pacific...”
The deck hands spent their
time chipping rust and painting decks and bulkheads. As soon as the last paint job was done on the poop there started a new
one on the forepeak. The engine - room crew maintained the steam turbines and the deck machinery: anchor windlasses, steam
winches, cargo pumps. The crew looked eagerly forward to their shore leave in Japan.
We usually stayed two to three days in Kawasaki or Kobe,
which was our favorite liberty port. The chief mate and the captain managed to find excuses for slowing the discharge of our
refined cargo. On my first voyage, we called at Kanokawa, on a small island in the Inland Sea near Kure where the Petroqueen had been built. I enjoyed my visits to Japan. In the mid-fifties; the US Dollar was worth 360 Yen.
We found the cost of living and prices of goods very affordable compared to the United
States. And we especially appreciated the beauty and gentleness of the Japanese women. Many
love affairs were born. I never spent a lonely night ashore in Japan.
As a Radio Operator (the “Sparks”) I was “the
first one ashore, the last one back on board”. But since I was purser and in charge of the payroll, I had to return
during the day aboard ship to issue more cash advances to the crew. I spent my
time in Tokyo, on the Ginza during the day and the early evening hours: Shopping in the large department stores, taking a “Turkish bath” in the specialized establishments, where a lovely attendant took good care of me ((bath and massage), viewing a show at the Nishigekki Music
Hall, or at the Kabuki theater. Behind the Shinjuku railroad station were little narrow streets with small restaurants where
I had many delicious sushi dinners, and little bars where I befriended the charming
“hostesses” who, sometimes, became my lovers for a night. I also took numerous sightseeing trips to the
country side. Once I traveled south to admire the great Buddha of Kamakura. Another
time, I went to Lake Hakone at the foot
of Mount Fuji. Some evenings a taxi brought me to a certain address near the Sumida River: It was a beautiful house, entirely
built of wood in the traditional Japanese style. In the entrance hall, an elderly lady, the hostess, greeted me with deep bows. I tool off my shoes, and was lead into a small room with thick rice straw mats
(called “tatamis”) and cushions on the floor. The financial transaction were simple and straight forward. I was
to get acquainted later with the so-called “red light” section of many Japanese cities. As long as these were
preserved from Western (American) influence, there was none of the sordid notion of prostitution, of raw commercial “sex”
as one is familiar with in the “West”. The Japanese architecture, its interior decoration, retained a delicate
beauty in its sober elegance. The girls were not the traditional Geishas, but were no less delicate, sweet and devoted to
your needs and desires. Sometimes, I met some “ladies” who had been spoiled by American GI's; believing they would
please me, they affected the “Yankee” style of speech and behavior. Our relationship rapidly came to an end and
I searched for a Japanese companion behaving in a more traditional fashion.
In the house near the
Sumida river… the hostess presented me, with deep bows, a cup of hot green
tea and small rice cakes, and left. I felt at ease, relaxed in this quiet environment. The Japanese style inspired in me a
state of peace and serenity... A few minutes later, the sliding door opened, a beautiful and graceful young lady dressed in
a colored silken kimono knelt before me: “Kombawa..”. It was my chosen companion for a night of love. Together
we took the honorable O’Furo, the Japanese bath. We undressed each other with no false shyness. There was no shame,
everything appeared natural. She soaped and rinsed me all over, I did the same for her, and when there was no more soap on
our bodies, we bathed together in the tub of almost boiling water. I felt clean, relaxed, serene, and spent a night of delightful
love with this sweet young lady. With time, I began to appreciate Japan
and its people; I became interested in its culture and read many books on Japanese history, literature and art.
After discharging our
cargo at Kawasaki, the Petroqueen proceeded on a southwesterly course, along the Ryu Kyu Islands.
If there was no threatening typhoon moving to the West we took a shortcut to the South China Sea by transiting the Surigao Straits and the Sulu Sea.
There was no air-conditioning aboard Ludwig’s tankers, and one can easily imagine how it felt sailing through those
Southern latitudes. But I enjoyed watching the flying fish and the occasional
dolphins jumping out of the clear deep blue waters and playing in our bow waves. Ferocious sea battles had beene fought during
WW II in the San Bernardino and Surigao passages. But now tere was only “pure enchantment of the Tropics”…
We entered the South China Sea through the Balabac straits, and sailed along the coast of Borneo.
Heavy, sweet vegetal smells arose from the tropical rain forest, dark thunder clouds hovered over the jungle, lightning bolts
flashed inland. In the evening, flights of “flying foxes”, huge bats,
glided over the land. We rounded Singapore,
leaving to starboard the elegant silhouette of Raffle’s Lighthouse framed by palm trees. Steaming by the many small
islands around the Southern tip of the Malaysia Peninsula, we encountered countless vessels of all kinds, sizes and nationalities. Approximately
100 miles into the Straits of Malacca, our ship sailed up the Bengkalis river, and docked at a clearing in the Sumatra jungle. It was the Sungai Pakning terminal of the Caltex Oil Company. Small river tankers brought
the crude oil from the drilling fields up river and pumped it into large oil tanks, from which it was loaded into the tankers
from Norway and elsewhere. Universe Tankships
Inc. (National Bulk Carriers) had a charter contract with Caltex and Standard Oil of California. The officers aboard the river
tankers and the managers of the terminal, were Dutch. They were wonderful fellows and I had many friends among them. All ships’
officers had a standing invitation to the club ashore, and we always got a warm welcome. I passed enjoyable days there with
my new friends, playing ping pong or billiards, sipping Heineken beer, invited
to delicious lunches of curry and other Indonesian rice dishes. On Christmas day of 1955, a large sign at the club’s
entrance “requested guests to leave their skis and boots outside”. The owner of the grocery store and restaurant
in the Indonesian village nearby was Chinese. He exchanged our US Dollars for
Indonesian Rupees. His was a large family, and his wife seemed to be in a permanent state of pregnancy.
I spent fourteen happy
month aboard the Petroqueen. I enjoyed my job and I got along very well with everyone aboard. Gerhard Krause was from Hamburg. I was French, had fought against the Germans during WW II
in the French Resistance. But right from the first day on, we agreed never to
speak in German while on board nor to mention any of our countries’s old problems. Mr. Krause was a Seaman of the “Old
School” and a Gentleman. I
came to admire, to respect and to like him very much and we became good friends. Later, he would be my Captain on another
of D. K. Ludwig’s ship (the bauxite carrtier J. LOUIS. ) I remember
two memorable shore parties with him. During a rainy month of November, 1955, the Petroqueen went to dry-dock for five
days at the Hunter’s Point shipyards in San Francisco.
One evening, Mr. Krause and I went “out on the town”: We had diner at an elegant French restaurant and, after
some “pub crawling” through the International Settlement, we finished the night at the Montmartre,
a French night club on Broadway. On other evenings, we enjoyed a more classical form of entertainment at the Bocche Ball,
on the corner of Columbus and Broadway, an Italian night club specializing in Opera singing.
In February of 1956, Gerhard Krause managed to get away from supervising our ship’s discharge and we spent a
beautiful night in Yokohama, in a typical Japanese inn, each
of us with a lovely companion.
Like the other tankers,
ore-carriers and dredges of National Bulk Carriers and Universe Tankships Inc., the Petroqueen sailed under the flag of convenience of the Republic
of Liberia, her home port Monrovia. D. K. Ludwig was assumed to be the richest man in the United States. But he shunned publicity and avoided the press; he did not belong
to the “Jet set” society like his Greek rivals. Not much was known about his private life. Despite his great fortune,
rumor had it that he traveled by commercial plane, not even in business class. Later, in the seventies and eighties, he had a huge floating paper mill built in Japan.
Tugboats towed it half around the world to the province of Jari
on the Amazon river in Brazil, where he had bought a piece of land as large
as the state of Connecticut. On it he wanted to plant a
special kind of pine tree. The mill would convert their wood into paper pulp. But the project proved to be an ecological disaster.
The military dictators who ruled Brazil
did not like the idea of a foreigner owning so much land in their own country and they expropriated him. He lost huge amounts
of money in his latest venture
The vessels of Universe
Tankships Inc. were efficiently run, well maintained, well supplied, with an emphasis on safety. At that period, most of the
company’s Captains and Chief Engineers were Americans. Other officers were
from Germany, Scandinavia
(my best friends were the Danes), Great Britain, the Netherlands, they
were Greeks, Italians, Yugoslav. I only once I met another Frenchman aboard a Liberian ship, but this, as Rudyard Kipling
used to say, “is another story”. In 1956 my wages as Radio Officer and Purser were approximately $ 250 per month
including overtime, with 15 days paid vacation a year. A voyage from San Francisco to Sungai Pakning via San Pedro, Kawasaki and back took about
60 days. We generally managed to avoid the many Pacific winter storms, because
we stayed South of 40 latitude North on our way to Yokohama.
Copying the available weather forecasts along our path I looked out in particular for tropical storm and typhoon warnings.
Captain Parker carefully routed our ship around or away from their paths.
One day, there was some
ill temper between the Chief Mate and the steward. Gerhard Krause left the choice
to the Captain. Either he, or the steward would leave the ship. When we returned to San
Francisco, the steward together with his young friend (?), the
cabin boy, were paid off. We got a new steward and a new BR.
(bed room messman). It resulted in a tremendous improvement in the taste of our
chow and the cleaning and upkeep of our cabins.
I had become proficient
with my duties as a Radio Officer and ship’s purser. I came to recognize the dangers of typhoons and severe storms of the Pacific Ocean, the dense fogs along California’s
coast; I knew the joys of sailing along tropical islands, the magnificence of sunsets, the inspiration of sunrises. And I
fully took advantages of all the pleasures of land, during my shore leaves. But when ever after a lengthy stay in port we put back to sea, we all had the same feeling of being cleansed, of being “purified” of all the vileness of the land (on board Navy ships, it was:”… Now hear this, clean sweep down fore to aft…”),
I have made three lists of Captains under whom I have sailed. On the first list, are those who left me indifferent.
They did not bother me, I performed my duties, they did theirs, we had no complaints
about each other. On the second one I listed the s… heads, the stupid ones, the mean b…, those who did not
like me. Luckily this list is a short one. On the third were listed the very
good ones. Theirs was always a happy and lucky ship, safe and efficiently run, like the Petroqueen under John Parker’s
command. How can I forget the big Christmas party he gave for the Officers and Crew
in Yokohama on
December 25th 1955?
He was most helpful to
me in my job as “purser”, with payroll work and ships articles. He let me use his personal electric typewriter
in his office. When we entered Japanese ports, about a dozen uniformed officials came aboard: There were always two or three
officers for each function: immigration, customs, public health. In separate folders, I brought crew lists, crew customs declarations
(how many cartons of cigarettes, bottles of liquor, phonographs, cameras etc...
), the crew’s vaccination certificates and passports. The Japanese were dressed in sharply creased uniforms, wearing
white gloves, their shirts freshly laundered, diffusing a clean smell of soap. Then came on board the gentlemen of Sharp and
Co. Ltd., the Company’s agents in the Far East, who brought our mail and thick bundles
of Japanese currency. It was one of my duties to give a draw to the crew. The boys had
to sign a list of their draw in triplicate, and this sum was then deducted from their wages at the end of the voyage .
As much as I enjoyed my shore leaves in Japan, with no less pleasure
did I look forward to our return to San Francisco. I never
missed our passage by day or by night under the beautiful Golden Gate
Bridge, it always thrilled
me. The San Francisco Pilot Boat had a sail. In the spring of 1956. On one of our approaches to the Bay entrance, the lifting
fog revealed a school of small whales alongside our ship. Ahern and Co. were our agents on
the US West Coast, and they were very good to us. Even before we dropped anchor
at the quarantine station off the Ferry Building,
while sailing along the Marina and Fort
Mason, and before the ship was cleared by immigration and health services,
a launch left the shore and came alongside carrying several US Mail bags for
us. I brought them to the radio room, where I sorted the ships mail. I distributed
the official envelopes to the different department heads, and brought the personal letters and packages to the officer’s
staterooms, the crew mess or even down to the engine room. After docking at Richmond’s Standard Oil pier, when all the ships paperwork was taken care off, when all of us were paid off and Captain Parker had given me his OK, Captain Miller, the port agent took me ashore with him to my beloved City of San Francisco. I usually went
shopping at the City of Paris on Union Square, dined in an elegant French restaurant, went "pub-crawling" in the International
Settlement, or saw the latest French movie.
I corresponded regularly
with my parents in France. From the Pacific
and China Sea, I was able to contact FFL - St.
Lys Radio, the powerful French marine radio station, through which I sent them our next ports of destination and approximate
dates of arrival. They sometimes sent me my hometown newspaper, the “Républicain Lorrain”. One day, I wanted to have some fun. I took the newspaper ashore with me to Tokyo. At a newsstand, I slipped it in-between the local press like the Asahi Shimbun and
others, all printed in Japanese characters. I took some photographs. Then again in Sungai Pakning, among huts and palm trees,
right in front of the local Communist Party headquarters, I gave the newspaper to a few young men who made as if they were
reading it. I went to visit the Hindu tailor of the village, a venerable gentleman with a long white beard and a large turban
on his head. He also spread the news paper in front of him. I then sent the prints to the Républican Lorrain with a caption:
”A citizen of Metz traveling in the Far East was immensely pleased to see that your newspaper is read also on the other
side of the world...” They published the photographs with my letter. My parents knew it was one of my funny tricks and
they had a good laugh.
A painter came aboard
one day in Yokohama to sell paintings of our vessel on silk. I bought one and sent it to my parents. They had it framed and
hung up in their living room. After they passed away, this picture followed me
from France to New York, to California, to France and back again to Belmont.
It is very dear to me.
of 1956, after 14 very pleasant and satisfying months aboard the good old Petroqueen, I needed a vacation,
it was time for a change. I was paid off in San Francisco on June 28th 1956.
The Company had authorized me to travel back to Japan aboard the Petroqueen,
this time as a passenger. With my discharge certificate, Mr. Parker gave me a letter of recommendation for my next Captain.
At the end of my vacation, I was to join on her completion in Kure, Japan, the Universe Leader of 85000 dead weight
tons. She was to be, in 1956 The largest tanker in the world.
from my personal files
The SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, Wednesday,
November 14, 1956
WORLD’S BIGGEST SHIP HERE
New Vessel Brings Record Oil Cargo
The visitor is the Universe
Leader - a tanker - American owned, Japanese built, flying the flag of the African
Republic of Liberia and under
contract to Standard Oil Co. of California. On her maiden
voyage, she carried Sumatra crude oil from the South Pacific to make enough gasoline to run every one of California’s 6,000,000 autos for 50 miles.
Low in the water with
her record oil cargo, the tanker glided in through the Golden Gate shortly after 6 a.m. dwarfing
two outbound aircraft carriers. She had waited overnight outside the Golden Gate for a high
tide so she could safely enter. Even so, she cleared the San Francisco
sand bar by only about four feet. The giant vessel dropped one of her 16 ton anchors to hold her steady against the quiet
tide and proceeded to wait for the first of several operations needed to pump out her cargo. The super tanker is so deep in
the water - her keel is 45 feet under the surface - that loads of oil must first be pumped out of the giant. Only after this
lightening can the Universe Leader proceed, about Thursday, to Standard’ long wharf at Richmond to complete her unloading. In 52 separate tanks below deck .the ship carried 602,622 barrels or 26,000,000 gallons of black sticky oil. This is enough oil to keep the
Richmond refinery going full speed for four days. The liquid
cargo with the weight of the ship displaces 109,000 tons of water. The tanker’s
dead weight tonnage. is 85,500 tons. Her nearest rival, the Queen Elisabeth, is 84,000 dead weight tons. “You can compare
that with your giant aircraft carrier Forrestal” said Chief Mate Bernard J. Baum. “The Forrestal displaces only
This $8 million jumbo is the responsibility of Captain Jesse F. Bird, a 60 year old
New Yorker. He predicted that his ship, one of the new breed of tankers that
can’t fit in the Suez Canal, will be just a has-been for size. The Universe Leader is owned by National Bulk Carriers Inc. of New York
which registered the ship at Monrovia, Liberia,
a home port the tanker is unlikely ever to visit. Liberian registry, however, allows the company to take advantage of liberal
maritime and tax laws enabling the ship to compete with other foreign flag tankers. The crew consists of 58 men of six nationalities
including American officers, a French radio operator, and German, British West Indian, Chinese and Okinawan crew men. “Everything
is big around here, but the men”, said chief officer Baum, grinning. “We are just human”.
There were some crew changes on our arrival in San Francisco, when I was paid-off on June 28th. My replacement was a young, and cheerful Dutchman who had brought his guitar along. Mr. Krause went back
to Hamburg for a well deserved vacation, and the young American third mate from Upstate New
York, a graduated from the Kings Point
Merchant Marine Academy
was promoted to Chief Mate by Captain Parker. The second mate was a grouchy old Canadian Irishman. I moved into the owner’s
cabin on the Captain’s deck, as a “passenger”.
to be a cheerful voyage. The weather all along our Westerly route, just South of the 40th
parallel, was perfect. Before departure, I had bought a case of French champagne
at the City of Paris, the great department store on Union Square (replaced by Neimann & Marcus). Captain Parker
still had a provision of exquisite Japanese caviar. In the evening, after the 4
to 8 p.m. watch, we sat on the main deck watching the sun set in the West. The Dutch radio officer would fetch his guitar
and sing sea-chanteys, cow-boy songs or popular tunes, while Captain Parker and I served champagne, crackers and caviar. We were happy, care-free, it felt good
to be at sea, on a good ship, with good men.
Meanwhile, in the North Atlantic near the Nantucket Lightship, the SS Stockholm
collided with the Italian liner Andrea Doria. The French Line’s Ile de France made a 180 degree turn to rescue the passengers of the sinking Italian vessel. In the Middle East, Nasser, the
Egyptian dictator, nationalized the Suez Canal, and a new world crisis was born.
In Yokohama, after saying good-byes to my Captain and
shipmates, I obtained a two-month tourist visa with my French passport. I took a taxi to Tokyo
and stayed overnight at the Kokusai International Hotel, behind the main railway
station. But I wanted to get away from the big city. A very humid heat wave had
settled over Tokyo to make my stay unpleasant. I shipped my sea bags by rail to Kobe and flew to Osaka by Japan Air Lines the next day. I had a lady-friend in Kobe. Her sister was married to an innkeeper near the ancient capital city of Nara,
between Kobe and Kyoto. I settled
down at this lovely hotel, adjusting myself to the local customs. I slept on
a rice straw mat, the “tatami”, ate with chop-sticks the food I was
served. A “western-style” toilet on the premises, was my only concession to "western" customs. I was happy with the Japanese way of life. My hosts were delightful
and treated me with much friendliness. There were many things to see; I went to
Nara to admire the huge statue of Buddha, to feed the tame
deer roaming freely in the park among the many temples and stately pine trees. I felt in peace and harmony with my surroundings.
In beautiful Kyoto,
one evening in a bar I met three Australian wool merchants. We had a big party, and I over-indulged with beer and sake. Trying
to jump over a low fence, I twisted my right ankle. In a minute it had swollen
to the size of a grapefruit. A taxi brought me back to my hotel in the country
side. The next day, my host called a doctor who prescribed hot humid bandages and complete rest. To overcome my frustration
and loneliness, the owner’s wife asked her sister, my lady friend in Kobe, to stay with me until I would be fit again. She gave me much tender
love and care. My injured foot was healing fast .and soon I was able to walk with a cane. I said “Sayonara” to
my love and to my friends. I had read James Michener’ novel, “Sayonara” (Hollywood made a very bad movie from the book) and I wanted to visit the resort town where
Marlon Brando, in the film, had met his lover. In Osaka, a
special train took me to Takarazuka. It had been built around a large music hall, whose performers were all women, in contrast
to the traditional "men only" Kabuki theater. It was a kind of Japanese style “Radio
City Music Hall” with
traditional Japanese and "western style" musicals and dances on a large stage. The women in the shows were lovely, the little
city was pleasant,. Then I returned to Kyoto, to celebrate my birthday with my lady friend on the 8th of
Towards the end of the month, I traveled south to the port city of Kure,
where my new ship was being built. It had been the main naval base of the Japanese Imperial Navy (what Norfolk
and San Diego were for the American, Brest and Toulon for the French Navies). The big battleships like the Yamato and the Japanese aircraft carriers of WW II , which had bombed Pearl
Harbour, had been built there. Daniel K. Ludwig, the American shipping
"tycoon" leased the big yards and started to built his own ships. Now the construction of the largest tanker in the world,
the Universe Leader was underway.
Kure lies on the shores of the lovely Inland Sea, across from the island shrine of Myia
Jima, about 15 to 20 kilometers
from Hiroshima. Since the ship would be finished in September,
I continued to “play the tourist”. I traveled by ferry boat to the famous hot spring resort of Beppu, on Kyushu Island. Famous for the ponds of boiling yellow sulfur mud springs - smelling like rotten eggs. I stayed at a charming Japanese inn on the outskirts of the town. The inn’s
owner had been employed before the war at the Japanese consulate in Hamburg.
There was no language barrier this time since we both spoke German. He treated
me like a “honored guest” and offered his special sake. In the evening,
he had a taxi bring to my room the loveliest host of the local “geisha (!?!) house”. I spent two memorable nights
at my new friend’s lodge. From Beppu, I continued, by train to the Mount Aso volcano, which I ascended on the back of a donkey.. Evil smelling vapors rose from the crater’s
depths. Then I traveled to Nagasaki where I was received with
“full honors” (French champagne, a steak diner) by the Honorable Consul of France. He was a retired French colonial
civil servant who had lived many years in French Indo China, and had settled
in Japan for his retirement. Nagasaki had been rebuilt after its destruction
in August of 1945. I visited the house on a hill overlooking the bay, where Madame Butterfly was assumed to have waved her
good by’s to her lover’s ship...
Puccini made a beautiful opera of this love story.
On my return from the island of Kyushu,
I stayed a few days in Hiroshima. It was another city which
became dear to me. There was a special atmosphere of “Peace on the World”, of "Universal Friendship" in Hiroshima, I visited the
Peace Memorial and the museum with all the reminiscences of that fateful August day of 1945... There was a popular music festival
at Hiroshima’s International Hotel, and one day a group
of Japanese teen-agers mistakenly thought I was a French singer and asked for my autograph. I graciously obliged, and I had
big laugh, at the kid's expense! Hatsuko Kawamoto was the receptionist at the Japanese-style hotel where I stayed. We became
lovers. Together, we traveled to Miya Jima, the Holy Shrine on a small island near Shikoku. Another time, we stayed three days at a hotel in the mountains. There was a small
stream of hot water, where all the guest bathed in the nude, without false shame or modesty.
But it was time to return to Kure,
and see for myself how a big ship was being built. All the licensed officers of Ludwig’s
ships resided at the Senba Hotel before sailing. I met Jesse Bird, the “commodore” of the N. B. C. fleet. He was
a real old timer, certainly closer to 70 than to the 60 years he declared on the crew list.
He had been around Cape Horn in sailing ships.
He commanded, on their maiden voyages, all the new ships built at the
N B C Shipyard. And there was also Borje Borjeson, the Big Swede, who was the company’s Port Steward. I was the first
of the crew to arrive.
I did not get bored in Kure.
I became interested in ship-construction, and did a lot of “pub-crawling” in the town's "red light" district.
From a photo shop I rented an enlarger and developing material to process and print my own photographs. And every second or
third day, I took the train or bus to Hiroshima to meet my
beloved Hatsuko-san; On other days, she took the last train of the evening after her work to join me at the Senba Hotel.
The Allied occupation of Japan
was in its last stages. The Kure zone had been allocated to
the U.K. Armed Forces and a small British army detachment was stationed there. Completed at the beginning of September, the Universe Leader was scheduled
for her sea trials. The British
officers of the Kure
garrison were invited aboard. I was busy in the radio room with the ship yard electronics engineers who tested the navigation
and communications equipment. I learned a lot, watching how the compasses were
swung, the radio direction finder calibrated, the transmitters and receivers tuned-up, the auto-alarm system and the battery
charger tested. The radio equipment was the latest RCA model 6-U radio console. The vessel’s sailing and engine performances
were in accordance with the required A.B.S. specifications. The shipyard managers, Universe Tankship's Port Captains and engineers,
Captains Jesse Bird, and Peter McGuire, John Rawles, the Ched Engineer, every one was satisfied with the new vessel's performance.
For the British officers the sea trials where the occasion for a big party; they could not have cared less for the Universe
Leaser's sea worthiness. They had brought
on board with them cases of whiskey, gin and beer. I was not invited to the party. But what pissed me off, was that
they took all the booze which they had not consumed back ashore with them, even half empty bottles. Stick under their arm, stiff upper lip, “ I say, old chap, jolly good show...” and all that...
Then the new crew arrived: Chief Mate Joe Baum, the steward, mates and engineering officers.. , The deck and engine
unlicensed men were a blend of Cayman Islanders and Japanese from Okinawa. The Cayman Islanders,
excellent seamen, where soft spoken,. friendly, never a source of trouble. Unfortunately their worked at a slower and more
relaxed rhythm that the Japanese from Okinawa. The Cayman Islanders’ nonchalance and
casualness would cause friction with the Okinawans, and later NBC’s personnel manager would man the ships with a more homogeneous crew.
Captain Litchfield, the Port Captain from New York,
joined us the day before departure. The largest tanker in the world was to sail on her maiden voyage. It would be a “first” in Maritime History.
That night there was a big party at the Senba Hotel. After a delicious diner of Kobe Beefsteak and O’Suchi, there was much rejoicing, singing, dancing
with the ladies of the Hotel. There were unlimited quantities of beer, sake and even a few quarts of Suntory whisky, smooth like aged Scotch… The party at the hotel broke
up around 10:30 p.m., but Chief Mate Baum, the young German steward, the 3rd mate and 3rd engineer, both from Hamburg and
myself, all of us dressed in the hotel’s house kimonos, Japanese wooden slippers (gettas) on our feet, made a last round of the neighboring bars to say good by to our many lady friends. Hatsuko Kawamoto took
a late evening train from Hiroshima and joined me in my room
for a last night of love. She came with us in the taxi who took us around
six a.m. to the pier, where we boarded the SS Universe Leader for her maiden voyage.
The weather was pleasant, a light swell welcomed us into the Pacific after our passage through the Bungo Suido straits
separating the Islands of Shikoku and Kyushu.
We were bound for Singapore
for bunkers. Captain Jesse Bird assumed command, assisted by Captain Pete McGuire who would take over as Master when Jesse
Bird would leave us in the United States.
McGuire was a very friendly Irishman from Boston, and a magnificent "Master Mariner". He
had been a pilot of the Suez Canal and told us many stories about his experiences. We were
particularly interested since Nasser's of Egypt take-over of the Suez Canal had created an ugly world crisis. The size of the Universe
Leader would not permit her to transit through Suez.
She introduced the era of the Super Tankers. They would bring Middle East crude oil to Europe and the United States the long way around the Cape of Good Hope.
We sailed along the Ryu Kyu Islands
and passed the Formosa Straight into the South China Sea. A few days later, we docked at Keppel’s Harbor in Singapore to take bunkers. There were also other kind of provisions brought aboard:
columns of coolies, ascended the accommodation ladder, carrying on their back cases of beer, gin, whisky, and other kinds
of alcoholic refreshments, Coca Cola, soda, Schweppes tonic water etc. Captain Bird had decided as a gesture of public relations
to open the ship to visitors. He detailed the steward and myself near the big
icebox in the mid-ship house to serve drinks to the many visitors, what ever
they asked for. To the Hindus, Malays and Chinese, Coca Cola, Pepsi or iced soda water. To Englishmen, Australians, Americans
or other Westerners, beer, gin, whiskey or what ever. And since it was very hot
in Singapore, and the ship’s quarters
not being air-conditioned, we ourselves became very thirsty. When I finally managed to get ashore after the party, I was unsteady on my feet and suffered from a headache. A Chinese lady I met at Singapore's "Great World" invited me to her home. She lightly spread some Tiger
Balm on my forehead, which relieved my headache and allowed me to fully enjoy her company.
It was autumn, there were no typhoon
warnings. But other alarming happenings were threatening the world's peace: British and French amphibious forces had landed
near Port Said, Egypt to take the Suez Canal
back from Nasser. The Soviet Army brutally suppressed a revolt in Budapest,
and President Eisenhower, probably intimidated by the Russians' saber rattling, ordered the Anglo-French Expeditionary Forces
out of Egypt. The French Forces had given
the Egyptians a thorough beating near Port Said, and were approaching Cairo. The Israelis were victorious in the Sinai Peninsula, but the unfortunate pull out
of the French and British from Egypt made the whole affair appear like
a big triumph for Egypt’s Nasser.
dropped anchor off Sungai Pakning, on the East Coast of Sumatra, I met old friends.
Again, Jesse Bird gave a few parties
on the big ship for the staff of the oil terminal. It took six days, and many loads of river tankers to fill our huge ship with close to 500,000 barrels of
Sumatra Crude Oil. I wrote to my parents: ”... It was like filling a bath tub with a tea kettle..."
The Universe Leader encountered
“no significant weather” on her Eastbound passage of the Pacific. The typhoon season was over. We settled pleasantly in our new ship’s routine. The radio room and adjacent stateroom were spacious
and comfortable, although there was still no air-conditioning aboard Ludwig’s big ships. The radio equipment worked
well and did not give me any problems. I communicated with all the familiar coast radio stations on the “Pacific Rim”, copying conscientiously all available weather forecasts and sending faithfully the
ship’s observer messages to the US Weather Bureau. As “purser”, in charge of all paper work, I was kept
busy typing on the radio room's “mill” three or four copies of crew and
customs, payroll and allotment lists, the ship’s articles, checking passports and vaccination certificates.
I was also in charge of the ship's slop chest. Borje Borjeson, the Company’s Port Steward, had provisioned the supertanker on her departure from Kure with the finest Australian beef and mutton, fresh fish, vegetables, fruits and many other delicacies.
The food was good, he was a great “feeder”. Officially, only the
two Captains and the Chief Engineer had right to alcoholic beverages, “as amenities to visiting shore-side authorities”. Some of us kept a few cases of beer and
a few bottles of other "supplies" in our quarters. There was an unwritten policy of tolerance aboard. As long as we behaved ourselves and did our job, Captain McGuire
closed his eyes. The seating arrangements in the Officer’s saloon was in accordance with traditional European Merchant
Vessel’s customs: The two Captains, Chief Engineer, Chief Mate and 1st Assistant Engineer ate separately in a smaller
dining lounge adjoining the main officer’s mess. We did not wear any uniforms,
but Captain McGuire did not tolerate T-shirts and insisted that we always wear clean shirts and shoes at dinner time.
The close friendship between Chief
Engineer John Rawles and Captain Mc Guire dated back to the war. They had sailed together on the North
Atlantic convoys.. Rawles was a very nice person and we became good friends. His hobby was photography; he was also a radio amateur. Twice daily, he
came forward to the mid-ship house to “report to the captain”, his arrival coinciding with the cocktail hour. Passing near the radio room, he called
in : ”Spark’s, setup your chess board.”. When he came down
from the Captain’s deck, he stepped into the radio room and, not bothering to sit down, made me “check mate”
in three or four moves. It went so fast that
I had no time to remember his moves. The second mate was a Norwegian who
had lived in Australia during the war.
He had an horrible accent. One of his many swear words was ”Bleuidy...”. I could not tell if he was speaking English
with his Norwegian accent and an Australian pronunciation, or the other way around.
The third mate was from New Zealand,
built like a rugby player. He was a cheerful fellow. His stateroom was across the alley way from the radio room. Sometimes,
he would step out of the shower bare a… naked but covered with soap lather from head to toe and call out to me: “Sparks, take my photograph...” (to send to his girl friend?).
He became another of the many friends I had on board.
THE LONG VOYAGE
On the eve of our arrival off the Golden Gate there was a big poker game with Captains Jesse Bird and McGuire, John Rawles,
Chief Mate Baum, and a few others in the Captain’s quarters. I have never been interested in any card games nor do I
gamble. I spent the evening taking care of the radio station’s accounts and checking all the ship’s paperwork
for clearing her into port the next day. Early in the morning, we passed under the Golden
Gate Bridge. I have not recorded the number of times
I passed under it aboard a ship, from 1955 to this date. At each of my passages, in
- or outbound, I always feel an indescribable emotion, like a pure joy.
A gigantic reception committee of tug boats, launches, helicopters and private planes
with newspaper reporters and photographers attended our arrival. We dropped our anchors at the quarantine station between
the Ferry Building and Alcatraz Island. While old Jesse Bird hosted
the different company executives and higher authorities with his liquid (!) gratuities, I assisted Capt. McGuire with the
ship’s clearance and crew payoff. Joseph Baum, the Chief Mate, did not measure up to old Jesse’s standards; he
was discharged and replaced by Capt. Daniel Haff, who, later would start a new career as a brilliant Panama
Canal pilot. He was a very nice person, and we became good friends. On
the first evening after our arrival, the same “band of brothers”: Joe Baum the Chief Mate, the 3rd Mate, 3rd Engineer,
Steward, the last three from Hamburg and Bremen, and the Radio Officer (myself), who
had made the last rounds of Kure’s bars the night before our departure, went ashore with a crew launch. We were disagreeably
surprised to find a few customs agents in civilian clothes awaiting us on the pier. They frisked us for narcotics and other
supposed contraband. But we were clean, and they became friendly. After a good steak diner, we left some of our hard earned
Dollars at a few “bistros” between Union Square
and Geary Street.
When we sailed from Mena Al Ahmadi, the Esso Lorraine
sounded her steam whistle in salute to the Universe Leader, all her officers
and crew lined the rails to cheer us along with their most cordial “Bon voyage, good bye, bonne chance, au revoir”. There was no ceremony when the Universe
Leader crossed the Equator. It was my first “crossing of the Line”.
But thanks to the several cases of good wine Captain McGuire had bought from the French tanker, our Christmas and New Year’s
parties were memorable affairs. I saw my first albatrosses when we went around
the Cape of Good Hope to enter the South Atlantic bound for Santos, Brazil.
The Suez Canal was still closed. All maritime traffic bound for Europe and the Americas, all
ships coming from the West sailing to the Persian Gulf and beyond to Asia had to go around the Cape of Good Hope, and called
at Cape Town for bunkers, provisions and mail.
In 1957, the Universe Leader, the largest tanker in the World, was due for her
first dry-dock period. Only a few shipyards worldwide were able to accommodate her: Kure, in
Japan, Vancouver in British
Columbia, Casilias near Lisbon and Capetown,
Departing from Santos we crossed the Atlantic in good
weather conditions, bound for this Southern most city of the African Continent. On a beautiful day of February 1957, the Universe
Leader’s arrival was the main event and made the front-page of every newspaper in South Africa. Planes and small craft of all sizes, crowded with newspaper reporters
and photographers, where all over and around us when we entered port. The harbor was packed with tankers, freighters, and
passenger ships. As usual I assisted Captain McGuire with the vessel’s clearance, while Chief Mate Haff and Chief Engineer
Rawles were busy with shipyard engineers. As soon as I stepped ashore I became aware of the strict regulations imposed on
the people of South Africa separating
colors of skins and races. I wondered how our crew of West Indians and Japanese would be treated. But I was too young and
certainly too selfish to worry about all those things. I could not solve by myself all the world’s problems. The city
was beautiful. At the foot of the magnificent Table Mountain, in the town’s center, tall modern buildings, bordered her large avenues.
While enjoying a glass of excellent “Cape Colony” wine at the bar of the largest hotel, I heard two ladies near me conversing
in French. I got up and very politely, in French, apologized for speaking to them. I explained my reason for being in Cape Town. The ladies were very friendly and soon we shared an excellent
lunch. The elderly lady expected her husband to arrive that day with their car aboard the Dutch passenger liner SS Bloemfontein.
The very pretty younger one, Olga Rausch, was their secretary. They had just
returned from a holiday back home in Belgium and intended to travel by
car, through the heart of Africa back to Usumburu, capital city of the Belgian colony of Ruanda - Burundi where they owned a big garage. What a safari! I wished I could make that
voyage with them! This was before the Belgian Congo’s independence. Great Britain, France and Belgium still shared most of Africa among them and traveling
through the continent was quite safe at that time. The next day, my new friends took me up to the summit of Table Mountain in their car before leaving
for their long journey. A group of the famous Follies Bergères
Music Hall from Paris was passing through Cape Town on a world tour.
That evening I went to their show, and talked afterward back stage with the artists'. The next day, the Universe Leader entered into dry dock. I took a sight- .seeing tour by bus to Cape Agulhas,
the real Cape of Good Hope, where we saw baboons
in the wild. The South African country side was beautiful and reminded me of the South of France. There were fertile fields,
vineyards, green hills, blooming trees. I noticed among my fellow passengers (naturally all white) an elderly gentleman and a young lady. They were Italians, father
and daughter from La Brescia, on a business trip to South Africa.
They spoke good French. We were able to exchange our impressions and became friends.
On my return to Cape
Town, after dinner, I sampled the local brew in a large beer hall full of noisy sailors. A brass band
playing popular tunes added to the high noise level of the place. At one time, I witnessed a developing conflict between British
and Scandinavian seamen. Rapidly the exchange of insults degenerated in a general fight; fists, then beer glasses and bottles
began to fly through the air, blood erupted from squashed noses. I am of a peaceful
nature, allergic to violence, and have always avoided such brawls in public places. I was lucky to be near the exit. I had already paid for my beer and could escape the "battlefield" unobserved and without
harm. I joined my Captain and the ship’s staff in a nightclub where soon
I met a friendly lady who gave me a warm shelter... (and all the rest) for a merry night of love.. The next morning I wanted
to go aboard my ship for a shave and a change of clothing. There were hundreds of sightseers watching her being towed out
of the floating dry-dock. I recognized my two Italian friends from the day before who introduced me to their hosts. They were
Maltese. The gentleman was the general manager of a large bank in Cape Town.
They invited me to their home, a beautiful residence on the outskirts of the city, close to a beach of sparkling white sand
and treated me to a delicious lunch. Afterwards, they loaned me a pair of swimming trunks for a dip in the warm waters of
the Indian Ocean. We spoke French the whole time; they were charming hosts, very cultivated
and I promised myself I would learn Italian in the coming months. They brought me back to port that same evening. I took them
aboard the Universe Leader and afterwards we visited an Italian passenger ship moored on the same pier. When I returned
to Japan the following summer, I sent
them a beautiful Japanese doll, in memory of their warm hospitality. For a few
years I exchanged postcards with my new friends from Cape Town
and with Olga Rausch from Usumburu. She wrote me of her engagement to a flight engineer of Sabena, the Belgian airline. I
often have asked myself what had become of her and her friends during the big mess and the many conflicts, after Belgium was
forced to give independence to the Congo and her other colonies.
A few artists of the Follies Bergères visited the Universe
Leader while she was in dry-dock and one of the acrobats, while performing a hand stand on the prow had her photograph
taken by a local newspaper reporter.. It was good public relation for our ship.
During the few days of our stay in Cape
Town, our unlicensed crew members had been well taken care off by the other ethnic communities of South Africa. All of us brought along many pleasant memories
of this beautiful port. Rarely have I seen elsewhere sailors being so welcome as
in Cape Town in February of 1957.
across the Indian Ocean bound for Sungai Pakning, to load crude oil for San Francisco.
We headed directly for the Northern entrance of the Strait of Malacca, passing near the Island of Mauritius. We all were getting a
little tired of this long voyage, afflicted with the traditional ailment of "Tankeritis".
We longed for mail, for news from home, for a change of scenery. It was a long track
across the treacherous monsoon waters of the Indian Ocean....
I love long sea passages. But when my supply of unread books and magazines is depleted, when I have to read for the
second or third time all the reading material of my sea-borne library and when as a last resort I have to raid the officer’s
and unlicensed lounges to find only frayed pocket books of Westerns or mysteries, the situation reaches a critical stage!
five to six days at Sungai Pakning until the river tankers had brought enough crude oil down from the oil fields up-river
to fill our ship. Again I met my Dutch friends and enjoyed agreeable afternoons and evenings sipping numerous bottles of Heineken
beer, lunches and dinners at the club of delicious curry and other Indonesian dishes.
At last were bound for San
Francisco. We crossed the International Date Line from East to West, which gave us an extra day on
our calendar. We encountered some Pacific squalls and gales, and were about three days out from San Francisco when John Rawles came into my radio room one afternoon. He asked me to type
a fake "received message" from our Company's Main Office to the Master saying in brief "......... There has been an earthquake
in San Francisco. A sand bar shifted under the Golden Gate Bridge,
and with our draft we could not enter the Bay... We were ordered to turn back and proceed to Honolulu there to discharge our cargo...". John Rawles and Peter McGuire were old friends,
and Rawles knew that Mcguire had a tremendous sense of humor. He was there when, as seriously as possible I handed the typed
message form to the Captain, who read the message, looked at Rawles, at me, then broke down in a such a fit of laughing he
had to sit down... Later, with John Rawles, he invited me to his office for a drink.
McGuire was leaving us on our arrival in San Francisco. Daniel Haff had hoped to succeed him as skipper. But Captain Mygind became
captain and Haff left, very much disappointed. My “tankeritis” became more acute and I was homesick for Japan. I had been forewarned that Captain Mygind, a grouchy
Dane was hard to get along with. I exchanged a series of messages with the radio
officer of the Petro King, sister ship of the Petro Queen, on the
same Yokohama - Sumatra - Richmond run. He wanted to leave the ship to get married.
It was arranged that I would replace him. The Petro King docked up stream at Martinez
at about the same time we arrived at Richmond. I packed my
gear, paid off the Universe Leader, took a taxi for Martinez and boarded the Petro King in late afternoon. Her master was Captain Gates,
a quiet gentleman from Texas, who neither smoked nor drank
and read his Bible every day. I relieved the radio operator. But I inherited
a very sloppy radio room: Spare tubes were mixed up with log books, tools thrown
together with message forms, everything was in a big untidy and unclean mess. It was not my style. I did not go to sleep and spent the whole night clearing everything up and setting up the station the way
I liked it. But at breakfast the next day Ahern's agent came on board to take
me back to the Universe Leader: The Irish radio operator who had relieved
me was suffering of some kind of “social disease” (!!!).. A doctor was summoned aboard. While injecting him with
a shot of penicillin, the Irishman collapsed and had to be taken ashore. Since I was the only radio operator available I was
called back. I bitched, I complained, but I had to accept my fate.
Sailing with Mygind was fun, after all. We had our share
of arguments, disputes and disagreements, both of us being stubborn and blessed
with strong personalities. John Rawles was replaced by Ruby. He was another memorable character, loud mouthed and full of
... wind. Our Radar broke down in
the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I was not yet familiar with radar repairs. But Mygind believed
that all Chief Engineers, like John Rawles, were electronic experts. He called
Ruby to the bridge. He said the trouble was a faulty magnetron, and started to “tune it up" with a crescent wrench... I knew enough about radar to recognize that you did not fool around a magnetron and
other delicate electronic equipment with a big wrench or other heavy steel tools.
When we came back to San Francisco I told the radar repair
technician about the problem. Naturally he had to replace the damaged magnetron and other parts. He traced the original trouble
to a faulty high voltage interlock switch on the PPI indicator console.
Captain Mygind had granted me the privilege, with the First
Engineer and a few others, to attend the daily “prayer meeting” (martini cocktails and other “refreshments”)
at 4 p.m. in Ruby's stateroom.
. In Mena
Al Ahmadi (Kuwait) I had been invited
aboard a French tanker. Walking back to my ship, in the evening, in a state of
"euphoria" and my bag fully loaded with French books and magazines, Gauloises cigarettes (I was still smoking at that time)
and a few good bottles of wine and Vermouth, I saw a Norwegian whale factory ship loading oil. There was an Englishman in
civilian clothes walking along side me. I told him how surprised I was to see a whaling
ship engaged in the oil trade. He
started to ask me all kind of questions, like what I was carrying in my bag etc...Taking him for another seaman, I told him...
He blew up! " I am a Kuwait
custom officer, (he was an Englishman employed by the Kuwait
government). You are engaged in unlawful contraband of prohibited alcohol beverages, in violation of Kuwaiti law, subjected
to fines and jail sentences …bla bla bla... “ The Englishman followed me aboard the Leader, woke up Captain
Mygind to complain and wanted him to punish me... Mygind did not care a bit, and sent the “bloody Limey” on his
way. The Englishman was infuriated and “confiscated” my bottles... If I had been sober, I would have “ dumped
all my good wines overboard rather than surrendering them to him; I do not know what his reaction would have been. But I was too drunk to care and let him take ashore all my
friends’ liquid gift,
off the Universe Leader at Long Beach on July 26th, 1957,
for a much needed vacation. Leaving most of my gear at the San Pedro’s Seamen’s House, I took a bus for Yosemite Park. For
two years, I had sailed in tropical waters and my whole system needed to be purified by the fresh sweet mountain air. I spent
a delightful week of sightseeing in that beautiful environment, passing by bus
through a hole in the tallest tree in the world, admiring the fire falls from the summit of El Capitan.
I took breakfast rides on horse back, serenaded by cowboy songs while being fed large amounts of pancakes. I met a lovely teacher from Los Angeles
whom I invited to celebrate my 35th birthday on August the 8th. On my return
to Long Beach, the Company’s agents t put me on a first-class night flight to New York.
PART FIVE OF BOB LION'S MEMOIRS "TRAMPING ON A T2" CONTINUES BELOW.
Not only tankers, but also ore-carriers and other type of vessels
were built and operated by D. K. Ludwig's National Bulk Carriers. When
I arrived in New York
and reported to Mr. Southwell, the Personnel Manager, he assigned me as vacation
relief for one voyage to the SS Ore Regent, sailing from Morrisville,
Pa, to Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela. She had cargo holds instead of oil tanks. Like a tanker, she had a mid-ship house for the bridge , chart and radio room, quarters for the Master, the Mates' and the Radio Officer. The
aft accommodations were for engine room, engineers and crew quarters, galley and messes. It was a new route for me: Sailing down the Delaware River, rounding Cape Hatteras, passing through the Mona passage, and after the Caribbean steaming up the Orinoco River into the dense jungle, to a small
port where conveyor belts filled our ship's holds with iron ore. While going up and down-river I had to keep a permanent watch
for ship traffic with VHF radio stations. Puerto Ordaz, surrounded by the hot and humid rain forest on the shore of the large
Orinoco, was a typical Central American village: a few streets, American trucks, donkeys, one-story houses in pastel colours
of pink, pale blue or green, and the usual bars and bordellos catering to the
local work force and to the careless sailor who would be tempted... to "indulge". In the ambient humid heat, the local beer
loaded with iron ore, we steamed down the Orinoco’s estuary, the Serpent's Mouth, through the Bay
of Trinidad, into the Caribbean. We were lucky to
come back to Morrisville without meeting any hurricanes. The Ore Regent's permanent radio operator, back from his vacation, was waiting for me and I went back to New
York, to seek a new assignment from Mr. Southwell. I
met Captain Bird in his office. He was going back to Japan to take out the newest Super Tanker. I asked to be his radio operator
again, and Southwell and Bird agreed. The next day I left for Tokyo's Haneda Airport
on a North West Airlines DC-6. It was a long flight which took me from New York to
Seattle, with stopovers in Detroit, Minneapolis
- St. Paul, Billings - Montana, Spokane, Seattle, where I boarded a DC-7 to continue my journey to
Japan, via Cold Bay, Alaska.
Tankships Agents in the Far East were C. F. Sharp and Co. One of their representatives met
me at my arrival. I made arrangements with him to spend a few days in Tokyo before boarding a night train to Hiroshima where I spent two days with my lady friend, Hatsuko Kawamoto, before rejoining Jesse
Bird and Borje Borjeson at Kure's Senba Hotel.
Our new ship was the 85,000 d. w. tons tanker Universe Challenger,
sister ship to the Universe Leader. (In 1958, after I had left her, her name was changed to SS Frisia). Her
route was the same: loading crude oil at Sungai Pakning for California.
As usual, Jesse Bird and Borje Borjeson, the Swedish port steward, left us in San
Francisco after our first voyage. Captain Gates, formerly skipper of the Petro King, took command. Around December, we tied up to mooring buoys off El Segundo, north of San Pedro, near
a large electrical power plant and discharged our cargo to the shore through submarine pipes lines. To go and come back from
land, we had to negotiate a pilot ladder hanging alongside our big ship. When
she was discharged, it was a long climb up. And it was very acrobatic to board the crew launch or grab the end of the ladder and ascent the high black sides of
our tanker while the little boat was bounced about by the huge Pacific swells. Sea lions were lazily loafing on top of the
mooring buoys and troubled our sleep with their loud bellows.
Christmas, I visited Disney Land and the
at Palo Verde's.
In January, the Universe Challenger went to Kure
for her first dry-dock period. My French passport needed to be renewed at the nearest French Consulate, which was Kobe. I got permission
from Captain Gates and from the Japanese Immigration authorities to travel by train to Kobe
where I arrived late in the afternoon. I took a room at the Oriental Hotel and went "pub crawling" around the Moto Mashi railroad
station. It did not take me long to become friendly with a very lovely "hostess"
in a bar. Maria Pace was born in Argentina,
of mixed Spanish-Japanese parentage. Her Latin blood was very evident in her
exquisite features and sweet manners. It was not for financial reasons only that she consented to become my lover. But I had to pay a "fee" of about $ 20 to the bar manager
to take her out that first night, more to keep her with me the following days when she did not go back to work. Together with
the "gifts" I gave her, the hotel, dinners, sightseeing and other unplanned expenses, it was an costly shore leave. But it
was well worth it! And I had enough cash left over to buy a telephoto lens for my Asahi Pentax camera. We spent four delightful
days - and nights of passionate love; we visited Kyoto
and Nara and we had a wonderful time.
I returned to Kure. The Universe Challenger, freshly
painted, sailed through the Bungo Suido into the great Pacific Ocean, bringing on her next voyages Sumatra's and Kuwait's
crude oil to El Segundo and Richmond. One day we had to enter Long Beach
Harbour for some repairs. A dense fog covered the entire Californian
coast. The crew launch who took us ashore got lost trying to find her landings . Once I stepped on land, I noticed a black
sedan on the dock... with a small radio antenna. A few husky men in blue jeans and chequered shirts loitered nearby; right
away, I "sniffed" them out as custom's agents. My conscience was clear, I did
not carry any contraband. But I wanted to have some fun. I went towards them and "spontaneously" opened my bag "for inspection". They were not too happy to have
been recognized, and sent me on my way.
I needed a change. I was homesick for Japan,
suffering from – what seamen call the “Hawaiian sickness”: “Lack’a Nooky” ….
6 1958, I paid-off the Universe Challenger, and said “Good By” to Captain Gates . By pure chance I met
Mr. Southwell at San Francisco’s airport. He was dispatching 45 crew members to Kure
for manning a new ship aboard a chartered
Pan American DC7 airliner. I volunteered to help him with passport, immigration
and other formalities. He added my name to the list – since the whole plane was on charter there were no additional
coast to Universe Tankships for one more passenger, and I managed a free trip back to my “beloved” Japan. Mr Southwell had agreed to Pan American’
offering full 1st class services and amenities (free drinks, delicious meals, reclining seats ). We travelled in comfort with refuelling stops at Honolulu
and Wake Island. Ruthless battles had been fought on that island during the War. But there was not enough time for sightseeing while
we waited in an air conditioned terminal lounge for ground crews to service our airplane.
On my arrival at Tokyo’s airport, I contacted a
friend of mine, an American who had a ship chandlery in Yokohama. We met at the bar of Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel.
The hotel had been designed by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and was supposed to be “earthquake proof”.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner together afterwards in small cozy “sushi” bar behind the Ginza.
From Tokyo, I wrote a postcard to my parents: ”Dear
Mama, dear Papa, I al back n Japan
for a vacation before joining a new ship….” They thought I was crazy,
and were mad at me for not once, since our last meeting in Rotterdam, in the winter of 1955,
to have come back to Metz.
I spent a few days and nights in Tokyo, sightseeing and
“pub crawling” , then took a train to Kobe where
again I met Maria Pace. I then went to Kyoto. Monsieur Hauchecorne,
professor at the French-Japanese Cultural Institute, was an old friend of mine. He
had lived in Japan all his life. He spoke
the language fluently, was a scholar of Japanese culture and art. He was wholly
devoted in improving cultural relations between France
and Japan. He taught me much about Japan’s
history, art, literature.
Kyoto, once the capital of Old Japan, was a beautiful city with many palaces, gardens,
temples. Each spring was celebrated the Cherry Blossom festival, with dances by the lovely “Maiko-Sans”, the Geisha
I intended to study Japanese and brush
ink painting. Mr. Hauchecorne helped me to find a Japanese style room for rent in a home of an elderly, very distinguished lady.
There were many old paintings and scrolls, vases with lovely flower arrangements,
“ikebana”… Clean smelling “tatami” rice straw matting on the floor. A sliding door opened on a small garden with a “bonsai” – miniaturized- pine tree, a stone lantern, some bamboo plants and a small fountain… after my “honourable o‘furo”, the traditional hot bath, .dressed in alight kimono, enjoying a flask of hot sake…
I felt in perfect harmony with my environment… imagining myself back a century ago, in the period of Emperor Meiji…
But “fate” again caught up with. I had given my new address to my friends… Three days after my arrival in Kyoto, I received a telegram from my friend, the ship chandler in Yokohama:
”………Dear Bob… Have found the ideal job for you aboard a tanker on a permanent run between Persian
Gulf and Japan. If OK, call me immediately by ‘phone, expecting you in Yokohama
tomorrow….” I called my friend,
then packed my gear, said a regretful “sayonara” to Hauchecorne
and to my landlady to whom I paid two months of rent, and took a night train for Yokohama…
VIII - RETURN TO NIHON…
I got off the Overseas Joyce in Kobe and moved directly to Kyoto.
I stayed for a month at a Japanese style inn, a few blocks from the Myako Hotel, where I went in the morning for a “Western”
style breakfast and to read the latest news in the English edition of the “Asahi Shimboun”. Four US servicemen, on leave, were staying at my hotel, and we
became good friends. In 1959, the renowned Kyoto Cherry Blossom Festival coincided with Crown Prince Akihito’s engagement
to his lovely fiancée, Miss Michiko Oda. All five of us, with a few pretty maids
from the inn, took part in the festivities. There was a big parade on Kyoto’s main streets, with lovely Maiko San’s
(Geisha “apprentices) in their colourful silken kimonos, many floats, carts, costumes of Old Japan. The weather was
beautiful, the cherry trees were blossoming in white and pink, and we joyously celebrated the events "imbibing" many flasks
of sake and bottles of beer… Monsieur Hauchecorne invited me to a formal
party one day at the French-Japanese Institute to celebrate the union of the two “sister cities” Paris
and Kyoto. That evening I met the conductor of the new Kyoto
Symphony, a reputed German musician from Kolln and his charming wife.
Japan’ economy was growing rapidly. The US occupation had ended, the people were eager to enlarge
their economic and cultural horizons. They were friendly and open to foreigners. With
the favourable rate of exchange (360 Japanese Yen for 1 US Dollar), I could afford to
have a good time. I was not worried about the future, did not think of saving
money. Western style and culture were fashionable. Young boys and girls met and dated in coffee houses or tea rooms. Each
of those had their own style: Some were playing classical music only on their hi-fi sound systems, some others had complete
collections of jazz records. One tea room was dedicated to the French “Chansons”: Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Mistinguett,
all the old and new favourite record and radio stars from France.
That is where one could find me almost every late afternoon, where I met my dates and friends. I visited all the beautiful
temples, gardens, palaces of old Kyoto, went sight
seeing to Nara, rented a row boat on Lake
Biwaka. I went on a week-long train and bus tour of the many spa resorts
of the Wakayama Peninsula, departing from
Osaka, At the Mikimoto Pearl centre I saw women dive “topless” for pearl oysters; I visited Japan’s most sacred shrine at Ise. In Kyoto, one day, I met Patrick James, studying for a doctorate in Japanese
literature and culture at Kyoto’s University. He was
“typically British” in appearance, dress and behaviour. He had served in the British Royal Marines and had a flashy
Grenadier Guards moustache. During the day, he dressed in British tweeds, with his handkerchief hidden in his sleeve... But
in the evening, he walked around in a “Yukata” (a light informal kimono, worn as a house coat or replacing a pyjama);
in his wooden “gettas” which made him appear even taller that his natural six feet six inches, he stood out in the crowd of evening strollers. He lived in a Japanese style house with thick tatami mats
on the floor. I admired a precious and antique set of Japanese swords he kept
in front of his desks.
At 4 AM, one day, I watched trawlers unloading freshly caught tuna at the Osaka Fish Market where all the seafood
traders and restaurant owners came to buy the fresh daily catch. I had an excellent sushi for breakfast. I learned to say
“Okini”, in the “Kansai” dialect, instead of the usual “Domo Arigato Go Sarimasu...” (Thank
You). I read up on the different eras of Japanese history: The Tokugawa, Kamakura, Edo, Meiji Jidai’s (periods). Patrick James called
the present one (late ‘fifties) the “Transistor Jidai”. I read Japanese classic literature translated into
English: Murasaki Shikibu’s “Pillow Book”, the Tales of Genji,
the narratives of the 19th century writer Lafcadio Hearn. I studied the different
styles of wood block prints. I got a brush, ink and paper to practice Oriental
painting. I visited a traditional “Geisha House” and was introduced to “O’Sha’no yu”,
the ancient Tea Ceremony, went to a Koto recital - a sort of harp, to the Kabuki theatre where an all male cast, in women’ as well as men’s roles, enacted dramatic
legends of the past. In the spring of 1959, the latest French films were very popular in Japan. But I also enjoyed many “Shambara Eiga”movies, the Japanese
equivalent to American Westerns. The actions took place in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries: stories of Feudal lords, the Samurai, in mortal sword fights with each other for their honour, or for the love
of a beautiful lady, violent tales of intrigues, betrayals and acts of loyalty
(like the story of the 47 Samurais). They were fierce, tense, emotional dramas. There were no English subtitles, I did not
understand one word of Japanese. But thanks to my fertile imagination I made up my own stories. I enjoyed most of all the magnificent period settings of architecture and furniture, the insides of palaces,
the gardens, the ancient costumes of lords and ladies, all fastidiously and artfully recreated for the screen. All the actresses
were very beautiful, their loveliness and grace contrasting strongly with the
almost brutal “machismo” of the male heroes. Of course, I was never
lonely at night; my loves were called Michiko, Kimiko, Sumiko, they were exquisite, sweet, devoted. I avoided those girls
who, believing to please their Western friends wore falsies to increase their breast’ volume and tried to speak in American
slang, who dressed too obnoxiously in American style clothes...
But the state of my finances started to deteriorate, and I thought of looking for a
ship again. I had written to Mr. Southwell, apologizing for my “unfaithfulness” to Universe Tankships. He had
secured me a free trip to Japan the year before, and I had sailed for another company.
He did not hold it against me and assured me of a berth on board the next ship to come out of the Kure yards in May.
the end of April, I packed my gear, said “sayonara” to Monsieur Hochecorne and to all my friends in Kyoto and took the train for Kure.
Kure had become my “home town”. As a Frenchman, I was given
a two-month tourism visa each time I came to Japan.
This time, my visa had expired. I was well known at the Kure immigration offices and I became an “alien resident”. As before, I stayed
at the Senba Hotel. Captain Bird and Borje Borjeson arrived shortly after me.
In Hiroshima I met again my lady friend, Hatsuko Kawamoto. On her days off we journeyed together to the holy island of Myia Jima, on the Inland
Sea, right across from Hiroshima.
My new ship was the SS Ore Meridian,
chartered to load iron ore on the Orinocco River
for the East Coast of the United States.
On the last day before sailing, there was the traditional party at the Senba Hotel, then a round of familiar bars with my new ship mates. And as before, Hatsuko-san,
after her work took a late train from Hiroshima to spend the
last night with me, and early next morning she went with me by taxi to the docks,
for a tearful “sayonara”.On May 18th the SS Ore Meridian departed on her maiden voyage through the Bungo
Suido, bound for the Panama Canal.
|'ORE MERIDIAN' - Courtesy Bob Lion
I always like to sail on a new ship. I
organize the radio station in my own orderly manner. My quarters on the Ore Meridian were almost “luxurious”
by D K Ludwig’s standards: A large and bright cabin amidships on the port side, with two portholes looking forward,
furnished with a large bed, a desk, a settee, a table which I covered with a
“furushiki (a large and colourful shawl in which Japanese women carry their belongings) and chairs I decorated my cabin
with the many paintings and wood prints I had bought during my vacation. And
I enjoyed my own bathroom: Shower and head!
The weather, Eastbound, was good. We won
an extra day crossing the 180th Meridian of longitude, the International Date Line. I worked with all
the Pacific radio stations and the US
coast stations for company messages and weather forecasts. The latest RCA 6-U radio set on the Ore Meridian worked
well. The usual problems with this type of equipment are breakdowns of the 500 kHz transmitter keying relay and of the antenna transfer switch. The latter is a little more annoying to repair. The ships of National Bulk
Carriers have a regular radio schedule at agreed hours GMT, on a CW HF working frequency, to exchange route and weather information, the latest company gossip,
news of friends, greetings from captain to captain, mate to mate, chief engineer to chief engineer etc. I listened to the BBC, Voice of America and other news broadcasts,
and, as a conscientious “sparks” put a copy of the daily world events
on the Officer’s and Crews’ mess room bulletin boards. I answered
to “QRU?” queries from other vessels, called French ships on 500 kHz when I heard them on the air. In January
of 1959 off the coast of Peru, aboard the Anna O, I communicated for more than an hour with a Radio Officer aboard a freighter
of the French Line. We exchanged addresses, corresponded, and our friendship endures to this day. One day, I was “chatting” (on a CW HF working frequency) with a Norwegian colleague when he had to cut
short our conversation: ”... Sorry mate, I have to help my fiancée wash the dishes...” Happy Scandinavians, they
could sign-on their wives or girls friends on the crew list as members of the Stewards department.....
Borje Borjeson, before sailing from Japan,
had bought a large quantity of ripe and delicious strawberries. He waited too
long before putting them on the menu as dessert. They turned green and the steward had to “deep-six” all of them.
This occurred after the incident with the bird. I am not superstitious, but what
happened to the Ore Meridian afterward left some unanswered questions on my mind.
On a sunny and quiet day, a sea hawk landed on the light box on top of our vessel’s
foremast. He gave us the impression of being happy to have chosen our Ship. Several times a day he swept low over the waves
hunting for prey. But our chief mate was a cranky old grouch and he got mad at the bird: Its white droppings spoiled the fore
mast’ fresh buff paint. One of our Okinawan sailors one morning rigged a boson’s chair and climbed to the mast’
top. He threw a rag over the hawk and took him down to the crew quarters where he tied up his feet and wings. I got mad. I
don’t like to witness any cruelty or maltreatment of an animal. Furthermore, I considered it some kind of a “blessing”,
a “good omen” for our ship to have been chosen by this magnificent
bird. I went down to the seamen’s quarters, put a towel over the hawk, untied his wings and feet and carried him to
the monkey bridge on top of the wheel house. From the steward I got half a pound of raw ground beef, a bowl of fresh water
and let him rest in peace. But, probably mad at us, he rejected my peace offerings.
As soon as he was recovered from his ordeal, he flew off, searching for a more hospitable ship on which to settle down.
We reached the Panama Canal without further incident.
Jesse Bird and Borje left us, and Captain Hornbech took command. He was a nice elderly Norwegian gentleman , veteran of the
North Atlantic Convoys in World War II, a true sailor of “the old school”. He had
been Chief Mate on the Universe Challenger and we were old friends.
Sailing up and down the Orinocco required a permanent radio watch on 500 kHz CW as well
as on VHF radio telephone channels. There were checkpoints every ten kilometres on the river where we had to report our passage
and note other vessels positions, relayed through a controlling radio station. A heavy traffic of ore ships, dredges and other
cargo vessels steamed up and down the river. The few towns and ports - Puerto Bolivar, Puerto Ordaz, were surrounded by the
lush jungle forest where still a few primitive Indian tribes survived in 1959. The Orinocco
River forms a large delta, the “Serpent’s Mouth”, flowing into
the bay near the island of Trinidad,
where we had to call for bunkers. National Bulk Carriers had assigned a “staff
Captain” to “assist” Captain Hornbech. The Trinidad pilot, Hornbech, the
“Staff Captain”, the Chief Mate, the AB on the helm, another look
out were all on the bridge while approaching the bunkering station, when the Ore Meridian hit a well charted underwater
reef, tearing a 30 foot long hole off her bottom. There were no leaks. I was kept busy with lengthy radio messages. The ship
was inspected by the local American Bureau of Shipping surveyor and allowed to proceed, at reduced speed, to Baltimore for ship yard repairs, after discharging her cargo of iron ore. In Baltimore, I got into a violent argument with the Chief Engineer. In Japan, he had bought
several thousand dollars worth of dishes, silverware, furniture and other house-hold items. He wanted me to make a list for
the US Customs, several dozen of pages long. He had never been particularly friendly to me.
As a radio officer and purser, it was my job to type up the crew’s customs declarations, but I thought it was beyond the scope of my duties, in port, to do him this special favour. I would
not get any overtime for all that extra work, and he was not the type to show me his appreciation. But I was lucky, because a message from National Bulk Carriers, in New
York, received the day after our arrival, ordered me to report aboard the SS Ore Chief, at
the New Port News shipyard. The Chief Engineer would have to find some one else to type his …blasted customs declaration.
It was not by plane or by road that I was dispatched to New Port News, but by a passenger ferry. It reminded me of the old Mississippi river boats one sees in Western
movies. In 1959 there were still such passenger ferryboats running on the Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore
to Norfolk. It was great fun; I had a comfortable cabin, the
food was good, drinks plentiful, and the mood joyous and festive...
The SS Ore Chief was the largest of Ludwig’s ore carrier fleet. I replaced
her Estonian Radio Officer due for his annual vacation. We departed New Port News on July 11th and made two or three voyages
between the Orinocco, to load our iron ore, and Mobile, Alabama where on August 29th the radio officer came
back from his holiday and I was paid off. I stayed one week at Mobile’s
Seamen’s Hotel, bored to death in this little Southern town. A nearby paper
pulp mill radiated a heavy smell of rotten eggs over the whole area. There were still no news from National Bulk Carriers
about any new assignment for me. I lost patience and decided to go up to New York. I travelled by Greyhound bus. The voyage took almost three
days and nights I crossed the States of the Old South and I disembarked at the
42nd Street bus station with a stiff and aching back.
I took a ‘cab to the friendly Jai Alai, the Basque Hotel in Greenwich Village
where I stayed each time I passed through New York. I spent a weekend in New York,
visiting old friends, seeing the latest French movies, dining at the Champlain on W
49th St. or the Du Midi, at the corner of Eighth Ave
and 48th Street,
my two favored French restaurants.
On Monday morning, I went to see Mr. Southwell at Universe
Tankship’s Park Avenue offices, who issued me a plane ticket for San Diego.
From there, a chartered twin-engine Aero Commander flew me to the Black Warrior Lagoon on Baja California. Daniel K. Ludwig, besides the Kure shipyards
and his large fleet, had diversified into many other projects: Horse ranches in Venezuela,
oil refineries in Panama and hotels and resorts on Caribbean
islands. On the Mexican Peninsula
he had set-up a sea-water evaporation plant for salt. A small dredge, owned by
NBC, kept the lagoon’s entrance channel open for cargo vessels loading the salt at a small pier. This dredge was scheduled
for her dry-docking period at a San Pedro shipyard. Sailing on open international waters, a radio watch was required , and
I was to be her radio operator for the round trip.
An American Chief Engineer made the voyage with me aboard the twin-engine plane. It was an interesting
flight. Baja California, is a dry desert. The dredge Sea Way secured to the loading dock at day’s
end after her job of keeping the lagoon's entrance channel free of shifting sand. After
diner, a few of the crew went ashore. An old decrepit taxi cab took them over a dusty trail a few miles outside the salt flat
concession to some corrugated board shacks, the local “cantina” serving warm Mexican beer and Tequila (Pouah,
I hate the stuff!). A loud scratchy old record player was playing ear splitting
Mariachi music, and three or four “muchachas” were catering to the “other needs”... (!) - of whom
ever felt like it - in a back room on a dirty mattress laid on wooden empty beer crates... I went along, one night, for curiosity’s
sake. But I preferred to swim in the lagoon, and the fishing was fantastic! No freighters were scheduled to load at the Black
Warrior Lagoon for two weeks, and the Sea Way
sailed for San Pedro. The dredge’s communication equipment consisted of an old battery-powered RCA emergency 500
kHz transceiver in the wheel house, where I stood my radio watches. In San Pedro, we were accommodated at the YMCA. There
was an 8 inch thick coat of barnacles and rust on the dredge’ hull; she
needed a thorough scraping, cleaning and several coats of paint. Some of our crewmembers rented a car to explore the greater
Los Angeles area. But
being flat broke, I had to content myself with San Pedro’s and Long Beach’s limited resources.
the Sea Way was ready we sailed back to the Black Warrior Lagoon. On 2nd of October 1959, a Liberian-flag Liberty Ship
loaded crude sea salt. I sailed on her as a passenger for Vancouver in British Columbia.
Bulk Carriers’ Vancouver Agent put me up for one night in seamen’s hotel. I visited a few pubs on a rainy night,
and boarded the next day a Canadian
airline four-engine turbo-prop for Japan.
acquaintance, C. F. Sharp’s agent was waiting for me at Haneda
Airport. He booked me on
a first class sleeper train for Kure... and I was “Back
Home” again ready for a new ship, a new adventure...
THE ODYSSEY OF THE ZULIA…
I was back “home”... at
the Senba Hotel, with Captain Bird and Borje Borjeson, reunited with my lady-love, Hatsuko Kawamoto from Hiroshima and meeting old friends in the city and at the ship
K. Ludwig had entered into another venture: building a series of dredges for the Venezuelan government. The first was the
Zulia, contracted to keep the Maracaibo sea channel open for shipping from its Caribbean entrance to the Lake.
a “self powered, side casting boom, suction - hopper dredge”. Four drag heads cleared a 115 feet wide path on
the sea bottom. Powerful pumps aboard the ship “sucked” the mud and
sand through a three foot diameter 437 feet long pipe, suspended on a “boom”. This “boom” rotated 180 degrees, on a turret, like the guns of a battle ship,
so that the dredged material was ejected outside the channel limits. It was a monster. (Refer to the sketches –drawn
many days aboard the new ship, with my old friend the yard’s electronics technician. The radio station was of the latest RCA 6-U type;
a RCA radar and several VHF transceivers were installed in the large wheel house. In the chart room was a huge drawer
cabinet for charts. On its left side, a glass covered compartment housed the ship’s chronometers. The Radio officer,
once a day, receives a standard Universal Time (or GMT) signal. In the United States
the specific station transmitting this signal on 5,000, 10,000, 15,000 and 20,000 kHz is WWV located in Colorado. The “sparks”
patches the time signal up to the chart room. The mate on watch, listening to it with his headsets, notes the clock ’s
error and records it in a special note book. The shipyard drawings had located the headset ‘phone jack about 7 feet
away from the glass case. Rather
awkward for the mate to watch his chronometers from so far away. I drew the electrical engineer’s attention to the discrepancy
which he corrected right away. But he got mad at me. A “Gaijin”, a foreigner, had made him “loose face”
in presence of his subordinates. In the good old times of the Samourais, he may
have committed “hara kiri” after having cut my head off with his big sword.
Lucky for me, we were in 1959... My friend, the technician, had a big laugh behind his boss’ back.
the acquaintance of a secretary at the shipyard offices. Motoko Hisaoka-san was sweet, pretty and very intelligent. It was “Love at First Sight”. This time, it was not, as usual, a casual
physical encounter nor a friend-lover relationship like the one I had with Hatsuko in Hiroshima
over the last 3 years. It pained me to have to break our old relationship.. It was tough for Hatsuko-san, - I was not very fair to her, but “C’est la vie”...
I was 37 years old, in love at last (or so I thought...). We spent our week-ends together in a Japanese style inn on the outskirts
of Kure. We hiked through the mountainous hinterland of Hiroshima, festooned in
the splendid colors of autumn. We became friends with a group of young students and their teacher, with whom we corresponded
for many months afterwards.
On a rainy December day the Dredge Zulia sailed through the Bungo
bound for the Panama Canal. We had a crew of about 100 men aboard.
Except for the officers and the maintenance electrician (Karl was from Hamburg, he became my best friend onboard) they were all Japanese from Okinawa.
The Ryu Kyu Islands were still American occupied territory.
National Bulk Carriers personnel department estimated that the Japanese were more efficient in their work than the
nice and gentle Caiman Islanders. They preferred to hire them for their special ships
like the dredges and the bauxite carriers.
I got along well with them. As usual I was in charge of all the paper
work, but this time I had a crew member assigned to me as a clerk. I appreciated his help.
We settled into the routine of a Trans. - Pacific crossing. As soon as we were on the
high seas, I sent out a general radio call on 500 Khz:
CQ CQ CQ DE 5MBC
GM DREDGE ZULIA QTO KURE
BND BALBOA PANAMA PLS QRU?
73 TO ALL AR
("calling all stations, good morning, Dredge Zulia leaving Kure
bound Balboa Panama please any traffic
for me? greetings - end").
I like to be brief but courteous on the air. I avoid contact with Greek radio operators.
They always want you to relay messages for them free of charge. They are a pain in the neck, they transmit Morse code usually
“with their left foot”, and take up all my time. Many ships
answered me, wishing us “bon voyage”, giving their name, port of
departure, position and destination, details on their local weather etc.
Jesse Bird, the ”Fleet Commodore”,
was in command until the Dredge became operational under the Venezuelan Government’s Charter. Captain Paarn was then to become Zulia’s Master. He was a very good captain, and
specialized in dredging operations. We had a very nice Spanish Chief Mate. Our
American Chief Engineer was working almost 24 hours a day, trying to fix all the too many bugs. A Venezuelan government official on board was Jesse Bird’s daily drinking companion. At about 11
o’clock in the morning and at four thirty in the afternoon, Jesse would
call down the midship house companionway for his friend, or he would send me to his stateroom to fetch him for the twice-daily
cocktail hour. We were spoiled, like on a passenger ship, by chief steward Borge Borjeson’ professional catering and all the fresh provisions he had loaded
before departing Kure.
proceeding at the Zulia’s average sea speed of 8 knots along 5 degrees of
latitude North. Three times a day I copied all the weather forecasts along
our route. But small local tropical squalls are not always predictable. We had
not yet passed the 180th degree of longitude, when one night we encountered moderate gale force winds and swells. The ship
started to roll and to pitch, and all the gear began to break loose. The huge boom swung from left to right, chains and cables
released their hold on the heavy dredge heads which banged against the ship’s side. The situation became panicky, it
was “action stations, all men on deck...” I manned my radio station,
ready for any emergency. We turned into the wind, stopped engines, and mates
and crew tried to fasten the heavy machinery with all the chains and lines we had on board.
I became busy sending out 300 to 400 word long messages to the Company in New York,
to the shipyard in Kure, to Daniel K. Ludwig in
Hong Kong where he was supervising the building of his private yacht. Jesse Bird complained “...of the murderous Pacific swells...” Later on, he was to be blamed for the incident.
I believe the Kure shipyard was responsible, not foreseeing
that heavy seas could put the dredge at risk, neglecting to inspect and test the restraining gear of the weighty machinery.
We were directed to Guam. We stayed three days at anchor off shore while the ship‘s
engineers secured the booms, the dredge heads and all other loose gear. We received orders
to proceed to Singapore. We stayed five days in a shipyard. Steel plates were welded all around
the boom turret, heavy chains tied down the dredge heads and the long boom pipe, all gear was very solidly secured and inspected
by shore engineers. Then we sailed for Venezuela the other way around, at eight knots average speed. It was a long voyage, through the Strait of Malacca, the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, the Suez Canal, Mediterranean, North Atlantic and the Caribbean. We celebrated
Christmas and New Year on the High Seas, between Sri
Lanka and Djibouti.
We were grateful for our air conditioned quarters. It was to be my first passage through the Suez Canal.
As soon we entered Port Tewfik, all kinds of people climbed aboard: First, the Egyptian Police, Immigration, Quarantine authorities,
then the Canal Pilots. Finally, shipping
agents, line handlers, pimps., crimps, vendors of souvenirs and dirty postcards. It reminded me of pirates assaulting a Spanish
Galleon... I bought a series of Egyptian post stamps glorifying Nasser’s “Victory”
over the Western states and Israel in
the war of 1956 which I mailed to my parents. But passing through the Suez Canal was not as interesting as the Panama Canal transit. Excepting Port Said,
only an occasional oasis of palm trees relieved the monotony of the sand dunes. We anchored in the Bitter Lakes and saw many tankers and freighters
of all nationalities passing by. We could imagine their crew’s curiousity and comments at the unusual sight of our floating
contraption… I did not stand a radio watch during our passage. The music broadcast from the Egyptian radio stations
reminded me of the cries of a charred cat. Not my kind of music. I tuned in to
the Israeli radio on the broadcast band to get decent music and the occasional French “chanson”… in defiance
to the Egyptian officials, agents and merchants bumming a free ride aboard the Zulia during her passage. At the Canal’s
Port Said exit I had a few sentimental and “patriotic”
thoughts for Ferdinand de Lesseps.
Eastern Med, I got a bad tooth ache. Captain
Bird promised to send me ashore in Gibraltar. The weather had been good all the way
through the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
But my bad tooth did not let me enjoy our passage off Malta, and along the North African coast. We dropped anchor
in sight of the famous rock, and I was sent ashore with the local agent who, through Gibraltar’s
narrow streets, took me to a dentist who appeared to be of another age; he did not bother with a lengthy examination and decided
to pull my tooth. His drill was an old fashioned one, driven by a foot pedal
rotating a large wheel, like "grand'mother's sewing machine". I needed about six injections of Novocain for a local anaesthetic. And then it still hurt like hell when he pulled my tooth with all his strength. I
was in a bad shape when I got out, needing a strong drink, but I had no money
with me. Captain Bird, the stingy old b…,
had refused to give me a draw before going ashore. I had to ask the agent to offer me a glass of Sherry in a local
bar. We were to sail the next day and Bird was worried about the weather across the North Atlantic.
I had to sit up all night, copying weather forecasts in Morse code, with the
headsets weighing heavily on my swollen and very painful jaws. This was also my first passage through the Straits of Gibraltar,
the first time I saw the Columns of Hercules. While I was being “tortured” by the dentist and the ship was taking
bunkers, Captain Bird and Borjeson had gone ashore, to buy cases of the finest wines, sherries, liquors and whiskies. Universe Tankships planned to throw a big party for the Venezuelan Government officials
the North Atlantic on a direct rhomb line from Gibraltar to Port of Spain, on the Island of Trinidad, The weather was sunny and warm, with pleasant trade winds. Bird had nothing to worry about.
LAND!!! at last, “dropping the hook” off the city of Port
of Spain on the lovely island of Trinidad. And soon afterward the usual routine. Clearing vessel and crew with the Port Authorities:
Crew lists, customs declarations, verification of passports and vaccination certificates, and finally the agent bringing aboard
mail and money. I helped Captain
Paarn give out the draw to the crew. Near the end of the afternoon, ASHORE! with
my friend Karl from Hamburg.
Good solid earth under our feet when getting off the crew launch... Karl and myself proceeded right away to the largest
hotel, one of those huge Sheraton or Hilton affairs set among flowering lawns not far from the city’s centre. Jackets
and neck ties were the required attire for Gentlemen in order to be admitted to the “Holy of Holiest”, the BAR.
Lucky for us, the maître d’ hôtel was a Frenchman. In a fraternal gesture, he loaned us the required apparel. Trinidad was still British in 1960.
our long voyage we had accumulated a gigantic thirst. The joyful and noisy crowd let us pass to the bar. Maybe they recognized thirsty seamen. We made friends with several tall cool glasses of Planter’s
Punch. It was a beginning and took care of our most urgent needs. Then, led by our new friend the Maître d'.. we proceeded
to the dining room to a table near the dance floor, and ordered a full curse diner. To honour my good shipmate, Karl, I offered
a very fruity and dry white wine from the Rhine for the Hors d’oeuvre. He, in turn, since I was a Frenchman, chose from the menu an absolutely splendid bottle of vintage Burgundy, to go with our main course. The gathering in the dining room
was elegant, sophisticated, absolutely “high class”. Karl and I thought
we had earned it. During the supper, we enjoyed the floor show, the “Limbo Dance”: tall thin athletic men would
bend their knees back, their torsos perfectly balanced, parallel to he ground; holding inflamed torches; they would pass under a horizontal bar. The bar’s
height above ground would decrease, from about 1 meter, to less than 40 centimetres. And the dancers would still pass under
it, with lit torches, well balanced, not one part of their body touching ground. All
this admirable spectacle to the Calypso tunes of the typical West Indies Steel Drum Bands. The sound was like a peal of bells, a pure delight... We were too lazy to look for female partners and join the
festive crowd on the dance floor. After our dinner, we returned to the bar, continuing to imbibe refreshing Planter’s
punches. At two o’clock in the morning, we returned the borrowed jackets
and ties to our friend. Singing German marching songs and sailor’s shanties, rolling from starboard to port, we marched
through Port of Spain’s dark streets in the general
direction of the harbour. Passing in front of a bar, we heard the pure carillon
of a Calypso steel drum band playing Charles Tenet’s famous song “Beyond the Sea”. We could not resist this “call of the sirens”. In
the bar, everything was black: the light, the people... The band on our request
played again this lovely tune for our enjoyment. The place was crowded and very
hot with many perspiring bodies. We were thirsty again. Here, the Planter’s punch tasted differently, maybe less delicate,
we were beyond caring. Finally, toward
5 am, we left the bar and resumed our walk in the direction of the port. Our roll became more pronounced, our voices faltering
on the high notes of our songs, but “we made it”. We found a few benches on which we “flaked out” awaiting day light and a launch to take us
back to our big ship... For Karl and myself, it was a “night to remember”.
Captain Bird and Borjeson had bought more liquid supplies to add to those already acquired in Gibraltar. Apparently, the party for the Venezuelans would be a “monstrous affair”.
After consulting with the Chief Mate, the Chief engineer and the other licensed officers,
I “elected” myself
as their spokesman. I had told my ship mates how we had been treated when Ludwig had
given the big reception on board the Universe Leader in San Francisco.
We thought that we deserved better this time, we were not again to be shut down in our quarters with box lunches. So I went
to speak to Borje and Captain Jesse Bird, in the Ship’s Staff name and asked them, this time, not to exclude us from the coming festivities. They agreed to admit us officers among the guests. On our
arrival at Maracaibo,
the Venezuelan custom officials had a different outlook on the whole issue when they inspected the ship and saw the
tremendous quantity of liquid stores. It could be that Bird, stingy old b.. that
he was, neglecting to satisfy their greed,
forgot to ”grease their paws”? Maybe had he never heard of
this Latin-American practice? The Venezuelan customs impounded the whole stocks of cases of bottles of whines, liquors, whiskeys,
gin, and beer, leaving us only the Coca Cola and other sodas…. They had the crew load all of it on barges, and store
it in a sealed warehouse. That evening, Bird ordered ashore and, with a young Dane employed by the local agents, assigned me the task of making a complete inventory of the whole lot, under supervision of the Venezuelan
Customs agents. It was late at night when we finished the big job. Bird was a
thoughtless bastard. As usual, he did not give me any draw, nor would I be paid
overtime for this work which after all was beyond the duties of the ships radio officer and purser. Luckily the young Dane took me to the Maracaibo Sheraton where he ordered a fine meal for me, with a good bottle of wine, and had the hotel’s concierge put
me up for the rest of the night in a comfortable air-conditioned room, on the
agency's account. A launch brought me back aboard the ship late the next morning to report to Bird with the complete lists
of the impounded merchandise.
remember under what conditions the Venezuelans returned the alcoholic beverages to the Zulia. I was not present at the negotiations nor was I kept informed. But the planned party took place three days
after our arrival in both air-conditioned mess halls of the aft accommodations and it was a big success! We licensed officers
acted as “Hosts of the Ship” to the hundreds of guests, Venezuelan Government officials, Oil Company Executives,
US Commercial and Diplomatic Representatives. The finest French white and red wines were served with the lobster, shrimps,
roast and vegetables, cooked, broiled, prepared to perfection by Borjeson and his helpers, worthy of the greatest Chefs of
the world‘s most famous luxury liners. And after the ice creams and pastry
there were the finest liquors and cigars to end it all.
party I met a charming French couple from the Alsace. He was an engineer working for an oil
company. We rapidly found ourselves on common ground, and became friends.
When, later, I got a chance to go ashore in Maracaibo, they
gave me the friendliest of welcome in their pleasantly air-conditioned apartment
off the city’s centre. We spent delightful hours talking of our country,
over cool drinks. They had many common acquaintances with my parents. I always left with a thick pack of French books and periodicals, welcome reading material with news from
the few months I was on board the dredge, I never had the opportunity to go farther south to see the hundreds of oil derricks
planted like beanstalks in the middle of Lake Maracaibo.
the party, the Zulia went to her task: No longer sailing on the oceans. At
an average speed of two knots, the dredge steamed back and forth along the shipping lane, 24 hours a day, from the entrance
near Amuay Bay, South of the island of Aruba, to a line level with the city of Maracaibo, and back. Her long boom swung out at 180 degrees to her longitudinal
axis, the big pipe spewing the dredged mud and sand out beyond the channel limits. At night, powerful search lights pointed
ahead and to the sides illuminating the channel buoys, bright navigation lights signalling her position. It was my friend Karl’s big job to replace the burned out light bulbs, climbing up and down like
an acrobat all along the huge boom, secured with safety belts...
large tankers riding high when they came from the outside, low, fully loaded with oil when they returned from the oil fields
bound for the refineries of Europe and of the Americas.
They were curious about us. Sometimes, the vessels greeted each other, blowing
whistles and dipping the flag. They were aware that we cleared their shipping lanes. On the deck below the radio room, was
a laboratory in which Venezuelan scientists analysed dirt samples from the channel’s bottom. During her dredging operations,
Zulia kept contact with the shore by VHF radio from the bridge. Several times a day,
fast hydrofoils came alongside with technicians, VIP’s on a visit. (Certainly taking advantage of Jesse’s
generous liquid hospitality ?). The whole operation became very boring for me. The paperwork was easy thanks to the efficient
help of my “secretary”. It consisted of the monthly pay-roll, updating
the crew lists and other routine office work . I stood my regular eight hours radio watches on 500 Khz, copying the weather
forecasts for the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.
The hurricane season was several months away. I exchanged routine messages
with National Bulk Carriers’ offices in New York. Otherwise, I was not very busy and I missed sailing on the high seas to foreign shores.
Our air-conditioned quarters kept us well protected from the humid heat of the Tropics.
Once a week, on Wednesdays, the Dredge halted her operations for a day and dropped anchors outside the channel limits. The dredge suction heads were hoisted out of the water to be scraped and cleaned.
Worn and damaged parts were replaced. It was hard work for the crew, all that gear was heavy in the oppressive heat. Launches from the land brought mail and provisions alongside. Mail service between
Japan, France and Venezuela was good.
I corresponded regularly with my girl friend Motoko. Her English was excellent.
My mother also wrote her from time to time. My parents’ health was
good, business was prosperous, they were not worried about me. A regular “R
& R” (Rest and Recuperation, like for the soldiers during the Korean War) rotation schedule was set up for the crew. On Wednesday, about a dozen crew members would be granted shore leave, leaving for land with one of the launches. In downtown Maracaibo,
the Venezuelan company had leased a few rooms in a small, clean and air-conditioned hotel where the crew could relax and enjoy
themselves until they returned aboard the next Sunday. The Japanese from Okinawa were hard
working and sober fellows. They behaved themselves very well, and I had many friends
among them. Once in a while I took advantage of the shore facilities,
supposedly for a medical problem (once I broke my glasses and had to consult an optometrist), like a bad tooth or a stomach disorder which could not be cured by the ship’s limited sick bay facilities.
Maracaibo was a large town, typical of Central America. In the
centre, many tall modern buildings housed the executive offices of the large oil corporations, government buildings (like
the Department of Canalisations managing Zulia’s operations), US and other countries consulates. Big department
stores, like Sears, supermarkets lined large avenues in the shadow of palm trees. Near the water front were the Sheratons
and Hiltons. Nightclubs, bars and restaurants catered to the “needs” of the prosperous and the foreigners (mostly
American oil company executives and technicians). A wealthy residential section (where my French friends lived) shielded from
the tourist’s view the smelly slums of the poor, where it was prudent to stay away from, especially after dark. It was agonizing to walk during the day among the shade-less streets, in the humid
heat, under the cruel tropical sun, where no fresh sea breeze could lighten the ambient air.
weeks after our arrival, Jesse Bird left us. I believe this had been his last
command as “Fleet Commodore” and he retired to his home in Long Island,
New York.. There was a rumour, which I cannot confirm, that he was being blamed
for Zulia’s troubles after she left Kure. Captain Paarn became master of the Dredge. He was a very decent and quiet gentleman and a good captain. Later, he was relieved, for his vacation, by Captain Gregg, whom I had known aboard the small dredge in Mexico. Gregg was a little more extrovert. He liked his drink and his women.
of 1960, I had enough sailing time with NBC to apply for a vacation. I packed my gear, said good bye to my Captain and friends, got my pay and discharge certificate
and proceeded by launch to Maracaibo. I spent one night at
the Company’s R & R hotel and the next day, I flew to Caracas,
where I had to wait three more days for a flight to Paris.
The travel agency took care of my hotel accommodation and I received a daily
Caracas, Venezuela’s capital city, was spread
out on a vast plateau dominated by the Humbolt Mountain. It gave me the strange impression of a disorderly mixture of high rise buildings,
city blocks of slums, quiet residential areas, golden baroque churches, a network of elevated freeways, atrocious traffic
jams, crowded streets... all thrown together into a huge cauldron to stew and
boil in 100 degrees F and 98 per cent humidity . There was no speed limit on
the freeways. Once your taxi veered off into the city, it was bogged down in
inextricable traffic jams of cars blowing their horns, people, trucks, pushcarts, donkeys. The first time, I lost patience
and left the taxi, but found myself squashed and suffocating in the dense throng of people. I suffer of acute claustrophobia
and I am allergic to crowds. And the humid heat added to my anguish. Afterwards
I remained inside the taxi - some of them were air-conditioned - until I had arrived at my destination. I went sightseeing
in Caracas and its surroundings: I visited the Botanical Gardens,
the local zoo. I ascended Mount Humbolt
by cable car. It was cool up there. In the evenings. I saw the latest French movies: “Hiroshima, mon Amour”, where I recognized familiar sights. And I enjoyed Brigitte Bardot’s
latest film, “Brigitte s’en va-t-en guerre”, in which she plays the role of a ”heroic” fighter
of the French Resistance.
I was booked on a First Class flight to Paris, on a Lockheed Constellation of the Venezuelan National Airline. The plane took off two hours late from Caracas’ Maiquetia Airport,
on the shores of the Caribbean. Right after take-off, just when retracting her landing gear,
the aircraft lost her number three engine. It was very scary. But the ‘Connie’ landed safely back on the runway
and we had a further four hours delay before finally taking off again. I was seated in the aft First Class section of the
plane. A delicious dinner and enough wine and liqueurs helped me to overcome my discomfort. A large seat allowed me a good
night’s sleep. We landed on Bermuda for refuelling, then continued to Lisbon. There, a young boy, dressed like the groom in the Philip Morris
Cigarettes ad, guided the passengers to a lounge, where we were served pastry and Port wine.
When we boarded the aircraft again each passenger received a small bottle of Porto
as a “god bye” present... This was a kind and wise public relations
gesture from the Portuguese. Then, we took off for Madrid
on the final leg of our long flight. As soon as we had passed the Spanish passport
and custom’s control, I was paged, in French, to the information booth: because of our late arrival, I had missed the connecting flight to Paris,
and to compensate me for the delay, the airline had booked me in one of Madrid’s
best hotels..... What a way to go, for a sailor! I enjoyed a bath, a change of
clothes and went to explore Spain’s Capital City.
I had a few glasses of sherry at a terrace of a café on the Plaza del Sol, an excellent lobster dinner at the Hotel’s
restaurant. And I spent almost the whole night at El Corral de la Murreria, Madrid’s most famous Flamenco nightclub, thoroughly enchanted
by the songs, the dances, the rhythm of castañets and tapping heels, the beauty
of the women.
next morning, I continued my flight to Paris, by Iberian Airlines.
We had a brief stay at Barcelona, and, in the afternoon, I
landed at Paris Le Bourget airport. Back in France, at last... I proceeded by taxi to the Gare de l’Est, offered myself a first class seat on a train to Metz.
My parents awaited me on the station’s platform... I was “home”,
in time to celebrate with them France’s
national Bastille Day holiday on July 14th, 1960....
only physical changes I noticed, since I was last home in 1952, were the newer car models. My father had traded in his Citroen
model 1934 for a new Peugeot 403. The faithfully old Citroen was a “veteran”
of the 1940 campaign and had taken my parents back to Metz
from the South of France in 1946. It had served them well. But the automobile
was dying of old age. In the summer of 1960, I enjoyed touring the Province
of Lorraine with my parents. General de Gaulle now governed the Fifth Republic, while
he tried in vain to bring the Algerian War to a satisfactory conclusion. In May of 1958,
sailing with Fultot on the Anna O, I had closely monitored news bulletins
relating the events which brought General De Gaulle back to power. I have a immense admiration for the Great Man, for me he
was the Hero of France’s Liberation and “Grandeur”. But I tactfully had avoided discussing the subject with
Captain Fultot. I knew that he still worshipped old Marshal Pétain and detested De Gaulle “who had condemned him to
death - in absentia - for desertion”. (which was absolute b.. s.. Fultot had been charged for collaborating with the
enemy). There was a semblance of hope now in France.
My parents also had faith in the future of the country. As usual. after a few
weeks ashore, I became restless again. I went on a “pilgrimage” through
the old streets of my home town, around my former high school, to the Aero Club where I had dreamed of “becoming an
Aviator” when I was a teenager... I rented a rowboat to paddle around on
the Moselle River. Some kind of a “let-down” for an “old salt” navigating “on
the worlds great oceans”. I “cruised” on a small excursion
boat on the Moselle to the outskirts of the city for a few drinks at a pub. I saw small sail
boats, ducks, and barges carrying sand. I felt myself fenced in. There were no
night clubs in Metz.
One day, I met an old school friend.
We were of the same age. He was a senior draftsman working for the Army Corps of Engineers. His farthest travels had
been to Nancy where he had studied architecture at the University.
He was married, with a couple of kids. We were glad to meet again, to talk about old school mates, teachers,. But we had few things in common, not even our war experiences. We met a couple of times for a drink at
our favourite “bistrots”, then drifted apart. Later, I sent him some
post cards from my exotic ports of call. I met a young lady. We went on walks
to the country, saw a few films together, flirted, necked, exchanged a few kisses... I had hoped for some progress in our
relationship, but one day I saw her from afar, in intimate embrace (…)
with some other guy. I was disgusted. Instead
of being jealous, I thought: ”If that broad prefers some local punk, then its tough for her, she does not know what
she is missing...” I became bored, disappointed, somehow my “home coming” did not meet my expectations. For a change of scenery, I went by train down to the French Riviera for a few weeks. By railroad and bus I travelled
from Marseilles to Menton on the Italian border. The harbours
of Saint Raphael, Cannes, Nice and Monte Carlo
were crowded with luxury yachts. In Monaco, I visited the Oceanic Museum, the Prince’s Palace,
and the famous Casino, where I lost a few Francs to the slot machines. On a modern building near the Port, I noticed a brass
name plate: “Olympic Shipping Company”. It was Onassis’ Fleet
Headquarters. I noted the address.
back to Metz at the end of August, still restless. I could
not “fit in” anymore into this narrow provincial style of life. I wrote a letter to the shipping company, in Monte Carlo, stating my qualifications,
references, shipping record, and offering my services as a Radio Officer
I got their answer. They offered me a berth, with monthly wages of $ 250. I was to report aboard the tanker Olympic Rock,
presently being refitted from lay-up at the Schiedam Dry-dock near Rotterdam...
I packed my gear, and my parents took me to the Metz Railway Station in their new Peugeot 403. I
said an affectionate “au revoir” to Papa and Maman, and boarded the express train which took me via Antwerp to Rotterdam.
TO BE CONTINUED