m.v. "HOLLAND" - A COASTAL VOYAGE  Dona de Vries
DIARY OF A SEA BUM  -  Bob Harrison.
THE "DARA" DISASTER  -  Narve Sorensen.
A CADET'S FIRST TRIP  -  Tony Thompson.
'LECKY'S FIRST TRIP  -  Derek Lewis.
FIRST TRIP COASTER 1952 - Stuart Jones



The following 'story' was kindly provided by Bob Murdoch who reveals some of his exploits in the sixties while wandering around New Zealand and occasionally Aussie ports..........
Anyone wishing to contact Bob regarding his escapades, please contact the site manager.

A Sense of Humour Helps


There are many instances highlighting the total lack of a sense of humour in Chief Officers and Masters, however, I had the good fortune (?) to sail with a couple who gave lie to this calumny.

I joined the Union Steam Ship Company’s KAITOA/ZMGC in Tauranga on the 17th August, 1960.  This in itself was unusual as the port of call was usually across the harbour at Mount Maungonui.  However, she had just opened new six month articles and a new crew was assigned.  The Master was Captain Wilf Kehoe, who was fast approaching retirement and who had a reputation as a practical joker.  The Chief Officer, whose name I cannot remember, was an enormous lad from Aberdeen, with the soft musical accents of a “furry boots” (furry boots are ye frae? Translates to 'whereabouts are you from'.

"KATAO" - Courtesy Bob Murdoch

The "KATOA" was built around the same time as the "KAIMIRO"on the Clyde.  She was even smaller at 1256 tons and was a one off I think. She was small for the cross-Tasman run but she was a great little ship.  The accommodation was like most Union Co ships, excellent for those days.  She did not have a set run as we discharged in most of the major NZ ports, although we usually made it to Auckland at some stage.  Aaaaaahhhh  Auckland in the early sixties.  Full of young lassies in to the big city from the country and just as keen to have a good time as we were.  I somehow made friends with a reporter for N.Z. Truth. the News of the World of NZ.  Strangely I remember his name, Geoff Hole.  Whenever a party was desired, I would go and find Geoff in De Bretts Corner bar and he would come up with the address of the best place for that night.  Great times. 
After loading timber products in Mount Maunganui, we would head out for Aussie.  Again, we had no regular run.  My first trip was to Sydney, but future trips were to see us in Melbourne, Adelaide, the Spencer Gulf ports and along the Great Aussie Bight as far a Ceduna.  A great time indeed.

The following day, we moved over the harbour and loaded the usual export cargo, New Zealand to Australia, in those days; newsprint, sawn timber and such like timber products from the large farmed forests in the centre of the North Island.

We sailed a couple of days later and arrived in Sydney, the first of our scheduled ports of discharge in Australia, during the afternoon of the 23rd of August. 

On arrival, I was down the companionway like the proverbial rat deserting a sinking ship.  My task was a matter of life or death; in my capacity of Purser, if I did not get up to the office in time to organise the ‘subs’ for the crew before it and the banks closed, I would be lynched!

We officers, deck and engineering, had ‘bonded’ at a party given ashore during our one night in Tauranga and it was soon established that we would be off together on a tour of

the Rocks area of Sydney, under the southern side of the Sydney ‘Coat Hanger’ or Harbour Bridge, which was within easy access of our Pyrmont berth.  Mr Mate led the way.  However, when he said a pub crawl, he meant A PUB RUN.  It was into the bar, order the appropriate number of ice cold ‘middies’, down them smartly and then off to the next bar. OK, I had lost my alcohol virginity some time before, but I was only nineteen (just).  I am pleased to say that I was not the only one having difficulty keeping up and I will leave the rest of the evening to your imagination…………..

The following morning saw a very dejected, woebegone officer cadre turn-to for breakfast (mainly coffee).  The fourth engineer, a first tripper, had had the watch the night before and so was very lavish with his sympathy.  He had a girlfriend who was a nursing sister and she had given him a bottle of special pills which were much better than aspirin for hangovers.  All the nurses and doctors used them.  We were all easily convinced and a couple of said pills were gulped down by all concerned.

Come morning ‘smoko’ and a very subdued group sat disconsolately drinking tea all obviously engaged in deep inner soul searching.  Not much was said, an unusual happening on that ship, except the Mate gave me a throwaway remark to the effect that as I had not met the alcohol consumption criteria the night before, I was to discharge myself and get ashore.  This was said with a smile and I said OK so I had not managed to drink my ‘fair quota’ the night before but he couldn’t sack me for that, smirk, smirk.  He smiled and the subject was dropped.

Just as we were all preparing to go about our various duties, our helpful fourth engineer asked if we were all OK?  Someone sheepishly said that he was having strange results when peeing.  It was bright blue.  At this, everyone’s face lightened and there was a general confession to similar symptoms, it must have been the beer.  Then it was noticed the fourth ginger beer was just about peeing himself with laughter.  A confession was wrung from him that said super hangover pills were in fact used in the diagnosis of kidney complaints and if we were blue, then we were all healthy.  The language that greeted this cannot be repeated, but was of a similar colour.

About half an hour later the mate stuck his head into the radio room and asked, jokingly, if I had packed yet.  Suddenly, I had a bit of a sick feeling; is he doing a double joke on me.  Nah, the Union Company did not discharge guys in Australia, or swap them around with the Aussie side of the Company.  Too many complications with the Aussie unions.

Another half hour and the mate again asked if I had packed yet.  Suddenly, a mild panic set in.  I went and rang the Sydney office and then I got the full story which the mate had switched around.  The Radio Officer of the KAIMIRO/ZMEC had taken ill and was in hospital.  As she was on the grain run and heading back to New Zealand that afternoon, and the KAITOA would be coasting for a week or ten days, it had been decided to transfer me over to her and put an Aussie replacement on for me, till the KAIMIRO’s sparks was released from hospital to take over.  So although I had been told, it was in such a way as to be totally unbelievable.  And isn’t that the best sort of practical joke?

"KAIMIRO" - Courtesy Bob Murdoch

The "KAIMIRO" was built in the early-mid fifties on the Clyde, at either Henry Robb's or A Stephen and Sons yard.  All the Union Company ships, up 'till the sixties, were generally Clyde built.  She was 1909 tons and was pretty small even for the Union SS Co cross-Tasman trade but she was ideal for her job of carrying Australian grain across the Tasman to New Zealand.  There was no fixed discharge port, we discharged part cargoes in Wellington, Dunedin and Auckland and Lyttleton.  We had a very quick turn around, generally being lucky to get a night in each port in NZ but only hours if we hit the grain berth when it was empty in Geelong, or Sydney or wherever.
She was a happy ship and everyone got along.  When we hit Wellington one trip and the port was congested with no prospect of gangs of wharfies for some days, the crew were given the option to take leave and work as casual wharfies to discharge our ship.  We did, seamen, motormen engineers and mates, even me.  I spent a couple of days working as a trimmer in the hold, not fun.  Protective clothing was nil, I borrowed an old pair of overalls and with a scarf round my nose it was into the dust of a hold full of grain.  Do not think the various safety bods would allow that now !

I soon had my wages made up and my gear packed.  The Aussie arrived and immediately told me we were a disgrace to the international brotherhood of unions.  There was an electrical switchbox on the bulkhead inside the radio room which was not associated with the radio room equipment. This ship would not be taken to sea if it was under OUR rules, says he.  OK Sport, have a good trip.  (For the sake of international peace, I will point out that I later went to live in Australia and have in fact got Australian citizenship.  I also support Australia in all its sporting endeavours, except when they play Scotland at football (soccer) and especially do when they are playing England.)

I made the fabled pier head jump, the KAIMIRO was singled up, fore and aft and a couple of wharfies were standing by the gangway to remove it as soon as I was on board.  A large, white-boiler-suited figure was standing by to help me with my gear, and I was greeted with the welcoming cry of “Wee Murdoch, I knew it must be you.”  Andy Higgins, the third  engineer and “big brother” of one of my earliest schoolboy friends (actually our friendship stretched back pre-school).  Bert, my pal, later also moved out to the Union SS Co as a freezer engineer, then went on the mains.  Who says it is a big world.

A few weeks later, when about to QTP Auckland, I heard the New Zealand Shipping Co’s ‘OTAKI’ working Aucklandradio/ZLD and gave her a call.  My old mate Robin Macnee from Watt Memorial days had been 2RO on her a couple of years previously and had still been on her when I passed her as a passenger on the HAURAKI on my way out to take up my contract with the Union SS Co.  Yep, he was still on board and we arranged to meet up in Auckland the following day, a Friday, in the Long Bar of the Waverly.  We did meet up and had a very pleasant session till throwing out time at 6 pm.  We ended up going to a public dance at the St. something or other church hall.  Remember those days?  We ended up chaperoning each other walking the same girl home after the dance finished at about 11.30pm.

The USS Co lived up to its name, Usual Saturday Sailing.  We sailed the next day, however, I had struck a goldmine as I had a phone number and she lived in a rooming house with about another dozen young single girls in from the country.  Thank You, Lord!


Wrapped in the U.S.S.Co towel in my hand is what I think would be reckoned as a modern (1960 modern) belaying pin.  It was used to position the various cables for the derricks.  I am wearing a lavalava which was popular for night attire.
I and the rest of the officers were quite sober even if it was the morning of the 1st January, 1961.  We had a bit of a mis-understanding the night before and ended up without any booze to celebrate the New Year.  The pubs in Victoria closed at 1800 and we were left high and dry on Hogmanay's night.  We got ejected from the pub at about 1815 had a feed and then went to the first screening of Peter Sellers and Sophie Loren in the Millionaires, the one with the "My heart goes Boom didi boom" etc.  The show started at about 1030 then stopped at 1145 to enable the patrons to do the usual count down.  We did have a concealed bottle of whisky, concealed in my pocket, so that I could not go to the loo or anywhere else for that matter without an escort.  Trusting B....s.  So for us it was off to the Gents and a quick couple of slugs at the appropriate moment. Great fun  Unfortunately, we found out much too late to do anything about it that the pubs were not opening on the 1st January.  So as the Union Co ran dry ships, we did not even have a wee something with our New Year's dinner.
As a matter of interest, the next New Year was spent on the "KORANUI", in one of the Spencer Gulf ports, Port Pirie, I think. We spent it at a special on-air party for the local celebs and the young upstanding(?) New Zealanders off the "KORANUI" berthed far from home in Port Pirie.  The local radio station did a good show with plenty of booze and grub, a typical Aussie bash, however, the young New Zealanders were;  Mate, English,  second Mate, Welsh, third Mate, Swiss and of course, me, Scots.  A great night, we got run back to the ship by the local police sergeant so at least there was no chance of drunk driving problems, he assured us.

When I regained control of my shaken senses, it was to see the mate and old man plus almost the rest of my fellow gentlemen officers making an awful mess of my cabin rolling around laughing at my quite understandable reaction.  That was the last time I looked a crab in the eye.  I had the last laugh, though, as I ate him for dinner that evening.

As I said, Wilf Kehoe had a reputation for practical jokes.

When we returned to Auckland, I was enjoying a little light relaxation after lunch on the same day bed.  I had had a very enjoyable, energetic evening as a result of the phone number obtained while on the KAIMIRO and this, coupled with a busy morning at the shipping office paying off and signing on replacement crew (which also involved a visit to the Auckland sub-branch office, the Long Bar at the Waverly, for a little sustenance to give an appetite for lunch) meant that a post lunch nap was in order.

The proper state of bliss was just being reached and once again, the meaning of life was just becoming clear in my mind, when the mate fired off the emergency fog horn a few inches from my left ear.  Once again, there was a dispute as to the height of levitation I achieved and whether or not I had outdone my Ceduna efforts.  My shrieks went un-heard due to the competition from the instrument.  Again, the record breaking attempt was witnessed by most of the other officers.  If this goes on I am going to start charging I decided.

You may have gained the impression that I was renowned for liking my sack.  This was not the case and it was rare indeed for me to indulge in the after lunch nap so favoured on board ship.  After this it was even rarer for me to indulge!

Captain Kehoe retired that trip.  He was a real gentleman of the old school.  I never sailed with a Captain who could handle a ship so well.  The USS Co was very short of deck officers and many of the ships sailed with just two mates.  To assist, the Radio Officer would do the third mate’s bridge duty for berthing and leaving port.  This involved operating the engine room telegraphs and keeping the manoeuvring log.  USS Co ships never used pilots as the Masters were all holders of exemption tickets.  I remember once in particular, leaving Napier when we reversed down the jetty and swung round the knuckle to point nose first out the breakwater and he did this whilst holding a conversation with his sister on the wharf using about four engine movements, the last being full ahead both and two or three helm orders.  I also sailed with one Captain, whose nickname was “Tich” who always had boxes made so he could see over the bridge coaming.  He was not very popular with either the crew or the officers and would regularly find that his box had disappeared over the side.  Manoeuvring with Tich was enough to give you writer’s cramp as engine movement followed engine movement and helm orders flowed freely.

Even after he had retired, Wilf did not leave me alone.  When we called in at Auckland, his home port, he came down and had afternoon tea with us.  As he came into the saloon, he asked if Sparks was there.  I was.  He said he had been passing the phone when it had rung and he had automatically answered it.  The call was for me from someone

calling from up-country to ask me what I was going to do about his daughter and the forthcoming grandchild!

Once again there were, naturally, plenty of witnesses to my discomfiture.  My normally tanned, manly face turned grey and developed a slick of cold sweat.  Damn that phone number and all those lovely young girls.  I made my way shakily to the phone trying to clear my mind and come up with some reply.  It was the Auckland office with a query about the wage sheets. Yes, a sense of humour helped.





In 1958 Dona de Vries,  Canadian spouse of Coos de Vries, who worked in the Beira (Mozambique) office of the Holland-Africa Line,  obtained permission from Captain A.G.P. Post,  Master of the m.v. HOLLAND, to make a trip on the ship. 
Dona passed away in September of 2004 and from notes left behind,  the under mentioned report was taken.  This story was also published in 1958 in the RHODESIA HERALD in Salisbury, Rhodesia  (now Zimbabwe).

M/V HOLLAND - Courtesy Coos de Vries

Has your work lost its challenge?
Do you feel at sixes and sevens with your family?
In short, would you welcome a complete rest, a holiday free of work, raucous voices, demanding telephones? Then let me suggest that you tie yourself to the deck of a coaster for a few refreshing and inexpensive weeks and cruise away your cares!
Not long ago I embarked as the only passenger on a pocket-sized freighter calling regularly at Beira.  Veteran travelers, hearing my plan, cautioned against the heat of a small cabin, rough menus and, worst threat of all, inescapable boredom. 
Now, having returned, I am happy to report all these pessimistic charges greatly exaggerated.Obviously coasters are not luxury liners, nor do they purport to be, but even before the pastel buildings of Beira fade from sight, it is clear that it may be warm on board but certainly it is much warmer and more humid on land.
As soon as the ship begins to respond to the gentle swell of the ocean, skin and clothing are dry, perhaps for the first time in weeks, and from the resultant feeling of physical well-being, a new mental perspective commences to generate.
Landmarks, the black and white striped lighthouse, for example, take on the aura of glamour and charm known only to visitors and this is the point where holiday truly begins and workday world is left behind.  With luggage stowed in  a compact but adequate two-bed cabin, the traveler is free to settle on the miniature deck in a comfortable cane chair to read and relax uninterruptedly.   Even the coastline, flat, uninteresting and fringed with an uneven bristle of scrubby trees, conspires to allow the voyager undisturbed relaxation.  As compensation for this dearth of scenery, however, a coaster trip does offer a visit, almost daily, to one of several communities, some of which are sizeable, others mere dots on the map.
The number and point of call vary from trip to trip according to cargo demands, but, generally speaking, from three to five calls are made between Beira and the northern terminus, Zanzibar.
The largest of these, Quelimane, is the first call north of Beira.

Lying well inland on a winding river, it is a colorful, busy town with wide main street, lovely modern homes, and attractive shops dispensing everything from pocket adding machines to the latest model cars. Here a new wharf greatly facilitates loading cargo and small, red forklift trucks, like diligent beetles, rush the cream-coloured bales of woolly sisal from warehouse to ship. Tour of inspection completed, the visitor can return to the ship for a refreshing mid-morning tea and a welcome breeze from the water.  Next call on the itinerary is usually Macuse.
No need to question the raison d'être of this small settlement or its northern neighbour, Pebane, for in all directions coconut palms splash the sky, their fringed fronds crackling sharply in the slightest breeze.
Graceful, grey-mottled giants, these trees cannot fail to impress the visitor as they stand in silent avenues carefully hoarding their seeds in the false security of their height. Beyond Pebane with its sandy bluffed beaches, black streaked with ilmenite ore, the traveler notices a coastline becoming more rugged  and irregular, as well as a water horizon broken by a persistent peppering of small coral islands.  A thrill is in store for him as the ship turns toward the river entrance of  Moma, the next point of call, for here shifting sandbars make navigation hazardous.

At half speed the vessel heads directly for the beach and, when only a few hundred yards from it, wheels sharply to port to crawl cautiously along a path of quiet water lying, incredibly, between two bands of surf.  Not only is surf seething on both sides but occasionally a bared bar, pink frosted with flamingos, forms a sand channel to left and right. Then, gliding through a narrow river entrance, the ship anchors in a wide bay.  Soon natives, whose features and whirled turbans hint of Arabian influence, stream from a warehouse bearing sixty kilo sacks of copra on their shoulders.
As in Macuse and Pebane, these sacs are tossed into waiting lighters and sometimes, under poor night visibility, into the waiting river.
Good humor undaunted, the native plunges to the rescue. Northward again with possibly a call at Antonio Enes, where it is possible to enjoy the dubious comfort of a chair ride across the exposed mud flats, or at the beautiful bay of Nacala, or Porto Amelia, all the while keeping company with a shoreline jagged with the pencil peaks of ageing mountains.
Then, a few peaceful days later, the greenness of Zanzibar appears! 
Few places in the world have more attraction for visitors than this picturesque page from the past, this slim, emerald island. The town itself, perched on the beach, presents a bold face in the brilliant sunshine.  Fluttering in poletop isolation, a plain red square marks the Sultan's walled, white palace and nearby, a high tower pinpoints Zanzibar's tallest building, Bet-el-Ajaib, or the House of Wonders.
Behind these two edifices and huddling round them clusters the town, a Hampton Court maze in multi-colored plaster, which at once delights and confounds the visitor.   In and out the narrow treets and apparently blind alleys he wanders, delighting in the infinite kaleidoscope of life in Zanzibar, the next corner always luring him on.  He sees gay bolts of cotton hanging from street stalls; dark workshops where shadowy men are tailoring or bookkeeping; colorful fruit stalls with wizened owners perching hawk-like above their meager wares.  
He discovers modern jewelry shops behind whose varnished counters squat craftsmen building bracelets and mosaics in the fluttering light of a flame. He wonders at the exquisite ivory and ebony carvings taking form beneath the crude tools and deft fingers of a native.  He marvels at the inescapable contrasts of exotic silks and perfumes being sold by a barefoot, unwashed vendor;  the magnificence of Zanzibar's ornate, brass-studded doors too often affixed to unworthy hovels.
Occasionally his peaceful stroll is interrupted by the jangling serenade of interminable bicycle bells, whose owners careen around corners with reckless optimism.  Just as often he flies for the safety of a doorway as a motorist passes with fenders barely missing the walls close on each side and he thinks it appropriate that the narrowest street in town is called  ‘Suicide Alley’!.
Of course no visit is complete unless a cursory glance is cast toward the dhows, those elegant fragile craft which, for centuries, have utilized the monsoon in their annual trek from Persia to Zanzibar.   Some ornate, others decrepit, each is a hive of industry with a heterogeneous crew loading and repairing.  Looking like modern pirates, these dark-skinned men, swarthier still from sun and wind, stroll the quay with elaborately sheathed daggers in their belts.  With long curly hair and often crooked sticks in their hands, they look simultaneously like shepherds loosed from the Bible and yet daring and ferocious like Ali Baba's famous thieves.
Theirs is an exotic cargo-luxurious carpets, vital spices and, not too far back, the illicit slave trade.
Cargo having been discharged, too soon the empty ship leaves Zanzibar behind and bounds lightly southward but the clove-scented island with its polyglot population, its wealth and poverty, its glamour and squalor, is not quickly forgotten.
Then, after a few quick calls for cargo,  Beira comes once more in view. 
In reviewing his water journey, among other things, the traveler realizes that he, as a land dweller, has come to know few of the thrills of a life at sea, the sudden violence of an adolescent cyclone; the unobstructed panorama of a sunset as large as the ocean itself; the breathtaking beauty of a full moon creating liquid silver from the dark water; the exuberance of a leaping, graceful group of dolphins; the crystal clarity of flying fish skimming from wave to wave; the sweet lullaby of soft silken foam dissipating itself on indigo waves.   He is almost certain to decide that he has had a novel holiday and a restful one, a jaunt which has accomplished all he wished, provided new sights which are always a stimulating catalyst for future conversation and reading, freedom from routine and time to think or even not to think.
What more then can a traveler ask?                          


MEN THAT GO DOWN TO THE SEA...............




                                                  THE JOINING

 I stood uncertainly at the bottom of the gangway of the passenger cargo vessel looking up into an unknown world. The ship was quiet. No gangway watchman – no welcoming sign to guide my next movements – no hint as to what to expect.

This was the way of it.

The office sent you to the quay, you found your vessel by looking for its name, you reported. I carried in my hand all the gear that I could possibly want during any voyage to anywhere - N° 10’s, whites including shoes and long socks, cap complete with white cap cover, black patent shoes with black silk socks, stiff white shirts with detachable collars (plastic in my case on the advise of an over enthusiastic naval outfitter who assured me all this gear was befitting a Merchant Navy Officer). The only thing the outfitter could not supply me with in time for the trip was my doeskin best uniform. I suspect this was a ruse to enable him to sell me a "battledress" uniform.    Basically a daily working uniform and I was too inexperienced to refuse him.

I never ever met anyone else with a "battledress". This item was to be the beginning of the end of my passenger ship image.

How did I get to this momentous point in life’s journey?

You’ve heard of the 11+. No? Ah well! Was it really that long ago!...... At the junction of primary and secondary school one was assessed as to whether one could go to a "Grammar" school and thus launch oneself into academia – or spend life as a second-class citizen. My own 11+ era was somewhat modified by an attempt to reduce this lifelong blight. The "Secondary Modern" was introduced. This meant that you had a second choice – if you failed the exam and your life was reduced to practicality you would, if showing previously unexposed talent for the arts or science or languages, be given a second chance and allowed to pursue the subject of your choice. It may have somewhat coloured my attitude as the first school in my experience to enter this new era of education was named "Blackwell’s" and somewhere along the line I confuse it with a film called "Blackboard Jungle".

However I digress.

My future was not in question.
Out of three classes of around 40 pupils each class, only four people passed the dreaded test and these were all from the same class as myself.   I can only comment on the standard of education in these days or perhaps on the severity of the examinations combined with the excellence of "Ma Palmer", the current teacher of our class.
In either case,  let it not detract from one of my finest moments.
So here we have a bright lad about to embark on an education the best the country has to offer. Here we come to momentous turning point number one. I should have continued, like the other three, to "Grammar" school.   After all, I lived on a council estate and my Father worked in the "Post Office" and Mother was a "Housewife".   No, no, - the chance was too much.  My Parents, wanting only the best for me (though unfortunately not knowing what it was),  decided that I would take an offered scholarship and attend a fee-paying school (Private for want of a better word).   Six scholarships were awarded each year, (no doubt to enable the faculty to acquire a certain amount of government funding), and I suspect that I was the obligatory disadvantaged one.   Being of a council estate as it were. Certainly the other five were not short of a bob or two. I add, just for cerebral stimulation, that we were required to go to school on Saturday morning and have Wednesday afternoon off, just like any shopkeeper!   Without dwelling too long on my education at this establishment I can say I have never seen such a bunch of misfits in the teaching profession in my life.
The majority of them were ex army with Captains, colonels, Majors prominent – then followed a selection of totally disenchanted academics with no ability to teach and consequently spent their time reminiscing on the latest "dig" or country they spent their "Hols" in.
Next came the young men from University who either had no idea how to encourage the will to learn or who simply wanted to continue their own studies while "open your books at page 23-ing" their lesson away. Then came the "Old Boy" – educated at the same school and now intent on unloading all the agro he had suffered on the heads of all he came in contact with – tenfold!   The inevitable happened.

Form 1A, Form 2A, Form 3B, Form 4B, The 4th Remove.
Finally my parents were advised that it really was not much point in me staying on.   Father, having been RN suggested the Merchant Navy and as he had been a "Radio Operator" how would I like it?   This actually meant another year at a college so I agreed – the prospect of ranging the world in the future was an added incentive true but a bit far in the future to really have any more influence than a vaguely romantic appeal.
This was the beginning. There is an end. The contrasts are 45 years apart and in between lie the Vietnam War, The Red Guard and Mao Tse Tung, The bridge at Lo Wu, Castro’s Cuba, The Berlin Wall and numerous Countries at various periods of their development.   Many years of flying, from the Comet to the Concord. Many people of many nationalities met in passing or closer. A career in radio ranging from "Spark gap transmitters" to Dynamic poisoning main frame computers controlling the six engines of a sophisticated Diving Support vessel.
Summed up in finality with an incident in the entrance to Aberdeen. On an offshore Diving Support Vessel, which had been out for about 3 months, we were entering the river at Aberdeen with a following sea. As we passed the breakwater a heavy swell picked up the stern and threw us across the river, beam on and steaming ahead with the sea wall in front of us. The Skipper was wrestling with the controls of all six engines when across the VHF came the dour voice of the Harbourmaster – "I wouldnae be steaming much more that way Skipper".   On a sad note said Skipper, one of the finest I’d sailed with, later drowned in the icy waters of the same harbour. Was the incident an omen the sailor in me wonders?
The sea is always waiting.

So here I was – at the bottom of a gangway on the first rung of life’s rich…..
Right then!
Lugging a suitcase containing most of ones worldly goods up a narrow gangway in the dark is no mean feat and I was therefore pleasantly surprised when a Chinese gentleman suddenly appeared and insisted on taking over.   I was escorted up the gangway and along the deck to a heavily varnished wooden door which, when opened revealed a highly polished alleyway  (I learnt that later – corridors were only at school) with another door to the left, equally well varnished. I was ushered inside and the door was closed.
What the heck do I do now?
No need to worry – a knock came and a cheery, stocky bloke come in and introduced himself as the Radio Officer.   I took it he meant the Chief as I was also supposed to be the Radio officer so I cleverly addressed him as such.   This seemed to impress him and we were off on the right foot.   After a few questions regarding my experience or otherwise he informed me that we would be signing on tomorrow and breakfast was at 7 and hurriedly departed to continue what I guessed from a certain aroma about him, was known as "sinking a few".
My first ship!
I was a Radio Officer of the Blue Flue line and of the MV Agapenor.   Magic, I thought as I fell asleep.I am not going to dwell on this voyage.   Suffice to say that I discovered that I was not suited to passenger vessels and they were not suited to me.  I was first denied access to the saloon for being "improperly dressed". (my battledress working uniform was not allowed in the saloon), and by the time this was sorted out I was a marked man.   The Chief left me in charge of the radio room on the way over to Dublin and I never saw him again until we arrived.   He was unjustifiably annoyed as I had done absolutely nothing but sit there listening to the radio – all of my previous training lost in the strangeness of it all.

The final straw came in Swansea dry dock where we were undergoing some sort of survey.   All facilities were off and the toilet was a fair walk across a pile of bits of ship and muddy puddles.    I set out to do the necessary when I passed the Captain who was in conversation with a civilian.  
As I approached a stentorian roar penetrated my urgency; "Where’s your hat laddie?"
Considering this apparition to be a local manic in disguise and not after all the Captain I replied that I shouldn’t be needing it as I guessed there would be a toilet where I was going.
"Never leave my vessel improperly dressed – go back and get your hat!"
From me to him there passed a look of such patronization that rendered him speechless and I ran for the toilet leaving him to his own thoughts.   I never saw him again and when we arrived in Liverpool and I repaired to the office to sign off and thank them for their consideration but I had other plans, no one seemed awfully upset. 
Except my family.
However, amid much wringing of hands and calling upon favours from friends of the family, my will prevailed and I joined a Radio Company – alas, not without a final thread of the apron strings in that I weakened to Mother’s tearful request that I insist that I would not be assigned to tankers – you could do that in those days as radio officers were like gold dust.
This, as I might well have known,   led in the end to me leaving the "Radio Company".
Looking back, I should have thanked her.    My life improved greatly after I had.
However, for the present I was to join a 16,000 ton Troopship in Glasgow.  So, once again I stood at the bottom of a gangway  this time feeling very good.  I had broken away.  I had made my own bed and I was no stranger to ships!
I strode up the gangway and encountered an odd looking character in a double-breasted suit and trilby hat.
"Could you show me the way to the Radio room Mate," ses I.
A lifted arm and a glare indicated to the left.
Oddball I thought as I turned along the deck.   Yes, you're absolutely right!  It was my job during lifeboat drill to report to the bridge and test all communications between there and the Shack and report to the master that all was well - who, of course,  was the "Oddball" in the trilby hat and the double breasted suit.   To add insult to injury he expected me to salute him,  as did the Troopdeck Officer.  Not on I thought - start as you mean to go on. 
We never did see eye to eye and,  fortunately,  I was able to delegate these duties to a junior R/O on the next voyage. 
Knowingly,  I headed for the highest deck where most radio offices are found and sure enough I came upon a metal box on the boat deck with a door above which was a brass label           "Radio Room".
I knocked.   The door flung open and another odd character stood there,  old as the hills,  bald as a coot,  5 foot 6 with a dummy cigarette stuck in his mouth that I think was called an "Apal" and designed to stop you smoking.
"Is this Sparkies shack?", I asked confidently.
"No SPARKIES here,   they’re all Radio Officers".
Good Start!
The door opened and I was induced to enter.   After that auspicious beginning I was pleased to see two other men inside, one about my age and one five or ten years older.
"Been at sea before?" Apal asked.
"Yes", I replied, "I was…."You’re the third then",
and disappeared into a cabin off an alleyway next to the shack.
The second, who later turned out to be called Brian, introduced himself and showed me my cabin where I dumped my bags and returned to the radio room.  The fourth was a first tripper, which gave a bit of a boost to my confidence especially when he turned up for dinner in uniform but with a white submariner’s polo neck sweater underneath and was promptly thrown out of the saloon.
Fortunately,  I had by now come into possession of my proper uniform and could sit back and enjoy the incident safe in the knowledge that I had already been through this initiation and my "battledress" had been consigned to a cupboard under the stairs.   I refer to my fist visit to the saloon on my first vessel where the self same Chinese gentleman who had helped me aboard refused to allow me in to hear "improperly dressed".
George,  for so the fourth was named,  seemed totally unaffected by the incident and completed the six months that I knew him in much the same vein – acting the way he felt right about and taking no umbrage when corrected.
The voyage was to Hong Kong and back and what an enjoyable experience it was.   To have the comradeship of your own department was fine enough but we were carrying troops and above all Wrens and the parties in the evenings in our little box on the aft boat deck were renown. 
"Apal" was far too interested in the administrations of the "shopkeeper" – a woman of similar maturity – to bother too much about what was going on.
Later it was revealed that this was to be his last voyage before retiring.
We went out via Suez,   of which I remember very little as I managed to contract vaccination fever,  never having had a smallpox vaccination.  "Apal" stood my watch muttering darkly under his breath whilst I lay feverishly in my bed enjoying the care and attention only dreamed about from a Queen Alexander’s Nursing Corps nurse and a W.V.S. girl with whom I had a continued relationship long after the end of the voyage.
Suez came and went followed by Colombo, Singapore and finally Hong Kong.

The only disadvantage of a troopship is that the cargo 'walks' and as a consequence we saw little of the intermediate ports. Hong Kong,  however,  had a garrison to relieve and there was all due ceremony to be adhered to.   Three days destined to shape the rest of my life.
Attempts to do justice in words to the Hong Kong of the late fifties elude me.  
It was all sound. 
The clack of the mah-jong tiles and the click of wooden shoes.  The staccato calls of vendors.  The cries of rickshaw boys calling for fares.
At night people slept on the sidewalks but the noise went on.
The heat and smells.
It excited me like no other place has since and I’m afraid like it has been unable to do since.   I have always loved the place but by the time I returned things had changed enormously.
As we left the quay with the Ghurkhas band playing us off and all the pageant of a garrison relieved I promised myself that I would not rest until I could return.
The rest of the voyage was parties, parties, parties.   The troops were going home and all was celebration.   We were so full of troops that they were sleeping on the floor in the lounges – unfortunately one lot were below the radio room and at night the rank smell of feet stayed with me during the 12 – 4 watch.
Still all was forgiven in the enjoyment of life aboard and indeed ashore as we managed a memorable night in Del Monico’s in Cape Town,  which was finished off on our return by the Captain’s tiger,  (Captain's personal steward for the uninitiated), finding that the Captain had had a cocktail party and there were amazing amounts of "canapés" to be cleared up.   We all obliged and the evening went on – and on!
Then there was memorable occasion for me just after sailing from Dakar.   We left about 2200 and I was as usual, on the 12 – 4 watch.   Suddenly, around 0300 I heard in my headphones -
I immediately tuned up and replied and got Lands End Radio who informed me that my Father was on station but would be returning home the next day and sent his love.   I was well pleased with myself, as the contact was pretty good at that distance – roughly 2100 miles – and especially so on medium wave.   The operator at Lands End was quite impressed that I had come straight back at him – he hadn’t really thought I would even hear him.
"Apal" merely grunted when he read the log next morning but then by that time he’d seen it all and done it all!  
First port Liverpool and we steamed up the Mersey with a list to port as all the troops strained to catch a glimpse of familiar places or faces.   Off the quay the ship spun round to face downriver again and for a moment we thought we may capsize as thousands of troops rushed across the decks to the shoreward side to hunt for loved ones and the ship changed from a port list to a starboard list.
Such excitement – and for us too with the thought of a bit of leave to come.
As soon as the passengers had left we were off again, up to Glasgow and off home for a 10-day leave. A bit of money in the bank and stories to tell and a bit of strutting to do around old friends. Didn’t last long though and soon I was back off to Glasgow to rejoin.
"Apal" had quietly retired and a new Chief was on the ship when I arrived  . Much more sociable character and the trip promised to be a lot easier.   It was to Cyprus though I remember very little about it, as it was quick dash out and back and there I was back in Glasgow again with instructions to go home and await further posting.
My training was complete.

I was now ready to go solo.
My short leave was punctuated with periods of excitement tinged with trepidation.   I didn’t have long to wait and within 10 days I was off again, this time to the London River and a little old North Sea collier running up and down the east coast.
                                         THE MOULDING
What a contrast!
I knew enough by now to leave most of the trappings of the Merchant Navy behind me and reverted to trousers and sweaters.   I joined the ship on the 24th of December 1956 and sailed immediately.   I soon found out why.
The rest of the crew were Geordies and were definitely going to be home for Xmas.   We screamed into Jarrow straits with all but the helmsman and two sailors for the ropes lining the side with their shore gear on and who barely waited for the ship to touch alongside before they were off and running.
By the time I had realized what had happened I found myself onboard a dead ship.   No electricity, only an oil lamp in its gimbals for cabin light and a severely deaf watchman in the galley for company.   To boot it was snowing and freezing cold. Fortunately there was on the quayside a comforting pub called "The Dunn Cow" and to this I repaired until the cold didn’t matter and I couldn’t see anyway.
As things went I was off the ship on the 19th January and managed to stay at home on leave until the 13th of February. This was not the company’s intention but all revolved around my mother’s desire to keep the apron strings attached as mentioned earlier.
It was the practice in those days to give a new man a 6 month period on a passenger ship for training,   then a coastal trip on his own and this to be followed by a year long stint as far away from home as possible.   In my case it was to be a Shell 'shanker' in Singapore.
Now it so happened that when I had joined the Company the boss had the same name as me.   He had since moved on and another man taken on.   It was with him I was dealing when I said that I really wasn’t keen on joining tankers as I considered them somewhat dangerous.   At first he was decent enough and suggested that I took a week to think about it and then let him know my decision. (Mainly, I learned afterwards, because the tanker had not yet arrived anywhere I could join at).
Come the end of the week I phoned to say that I had considered and still was unable to join a tanker.
At this the gloves were off and I was told in no uncertain way that I had joined the company and my agreement stated that I could be attached to any vessel the said company chose to assign me to.   Therefore I was to proceed to Singapore etc.
I now played my trump card.
I explained politely that my agreement did not state that and that I had a letter in my possession which plainly stated that I was NOT to be assigned to tankers.
To say that he went apoplectic was a fair understatement and was without doubt enhanced when he realized that there could have been some relationship between myself and my former boss as screams of "favouritism" echoed down the phone.
I believe someone said   "he who laughs last….! I was about to be introduced to the wartime built "Empires".   This was a type of vessel I was to become all too familiar with but, in the end, came to love.   I was to proceed to Bremen to join one of Chapman and Willans ‘Greyhounds of the north".   
So called,  I heard,  because basically they were painted grey and because they used to go up the Tyne backwards on to the berth so that they wouldn’t need to pay for a tug on the way out. 
After serving on two of their ships I tend to believe it.
I proceeded by ferry over Rotterdam and there caught a train for Emden – my fist venture alone to foreign climes.
Arriving a 4 a.m. I was to be met – but wasn’t.
Nothing moved and I know I was there until the agents opened. Finally got a taxi to the agents hoping that someone was going to pay for it and in the end made it down to the ship.   Quite an education!
My cabin was minimal – bunk, wardrobe, chest of drawers, settee and a washbasin.   Bare bulkheads full of rivets, pipes gurgling their way across the deck head and one round porthole facing aft.   Opposite my cabin was a guest cabin,  left of the door was a door out onto a veranda deck and to the right of my door was the Captain’s dayroom and bedroom.   Down a deck were the 3rd mate, the Chief Steward, the Chief Mate and the Second Mate along with the Saloon and a recreation room, which was usually converted to a bar by the Officers.
Above me were my Radio Room and the Bridge.
All other Officers and Petty officers lived in a separate housing with a hatch between them and us, the galley being across the forward end of this housing.
This led to some interesting incidents whilst food was being transported from one place to another.   Besides the fact that by the time it got to the saloon it was invariably cold,   in bad weather it was tainted with salt water and in certain harbours of the world the "shitehawks" would dive down and lift it off the plates before the steward could make the crossing.
In really bad weather you ended up with very irregular eating times as the deck between the housings was usually awash and the storm doors closed.   I have to hand it to the catering department in those days – they seemed to produce under the most adverse conditions, though the language emanating from the galley at various trying times was a delight. 
The rest of the crew lived right aft on the poop and a very noisy area it was.   On some vessels we had what were known as "Lascars" – seamen of Indian origin - then it was also exceedingly dirty and it was not unusual to encounter chickens hanging from the deck head after a ritual killing.
Time to investigate the Radio room.
It was directly above me at the top of the stairs that lead to the chartroom and the bridge.  I opened the door and stood in amazement! 
– nothing that I could recognize anyway.   Right in the middle of the desk lining the after end of the room was a tin box roughly 18 inches long, a foot wide and perhaps 14 inches high.   In the middle of the front was a large double knob and to either side slightly lower down two other black knobs.   Above the big central knob was a small fan shaped dial about two inches at the top and 1 ½ inches at the bottom and perhaps 3 inches high.   The top of this tin box was obviously a lid and I cautiously lifted it to reveal three valves and very little else.
Obviously some sort of emergency receiver. 
I turned my attention to another receiver on a shelf above it.   This looked a bit more promising until I looked at the dial. MF R/T and MF W/T.   This was obviously the emergency receiver and the other was my main.   I looked more closely at the dial of the main receiver and could not,  for a while,  figure out what theses figures meant.   Suddenly I did! 
It was calibrated in metres!
Every book in the radio room had radio station frequencies (Kilocycles) which meant that before I could tune this abortion in I had to convert everything to wavelength (metres).   Even then there was no way to tune directly- I had to get as near as possible and search until I heard something.   At the same time it turned out that I had to play with the reaction control,   which caused the set to break into oscillation and reveal a CW signal.   Too much reaction and the signal was swamped – too little and you never even heard it.  
This was going to be a heap of fun!
I turned to the transmitter and was a little mollified to find quite a newish looking set.   However, relief was soon dampened when I discovered it was only 100 watts at best and MF only.   I believe it had radiotelephone on it but I cannot remember ever using it.
With the receivers available I feel I would have been more likely to burn them out than anything else.   Perhaps the emergency transmitter would be a surprise!
It was!
I took my radio certificate in London and the Principle of the college was a man who had developed the "cat’s whisker" to a more permanent form,  fore runner of the diode. 
He had some things on exhibition in the science museum and we went along to see them. It is the only other time I remember seeing this transmitter.   Suffice to say it was a genuine spark gap transmitter.   These things radiated on just about every known frequency and you hoped to select the one you wanted by a large coil and variable capacitor.   Other than that there was very little else in it.   The radio room was wall to wall with copper tubing culminating in a large circular switch with long hands radiating from the middle with which you selected which aerial was attached to which piece of equipment.   There was also a large box on the bulkhead containing several knife switches with which to change over batteries and ships power and such.
Generally speaking a scrap man’s paradise all round. 
I wandered out into the bridge for some light relief and felt once again I had walked into the science museum.
Other than a wheel,  compass binnacle complete with somebody’s balls and a shiny brass telegraph the place was empty.   No radar, no gyro, no, VHF.
Communication with the engine room was still the blower – literally.   There was however a direction finder and during the voyage I was called upon to show my skills to the limit.
Chapmans took no excuse for late ETA’ s and having once given your final ETA you kept to it.   Coming in from the States we were around the exit of the English Channel into the North Sea when fog came down – and I mean fog.
You could barely see the bow of the ship from the bridge and only knew it was still there by the sailor up there banging the bell every so often warn shipping we were around.   I don’t remember the ship’s siren going off too often but I suppose by law it was.   The Skipper called me to the bridge and asked me to take bearings of Terschelling light Vessel and work out where we were.
Bearing after bearing after bearing was taken punctuated by, "How’s your head?" and the three figured reply "212" or whatever it was.
Slowly a picture began to emerge based on our speed shown on the log (a spinner towed behind the ship on a rope) and the bearings.   The bearings gave us what side of the light vessel we were on and by using the distance we should have run between bearings we could estimate how far off we were.
Very tricky!

However,  after about 2 hours the Skippper deemed himself satisfied that we had successfully negotiated round the Terschelling and were on course for whereever we were going.
I retired well satisfied with the importance of the part I had played and treated myself to a couple of beers. Officers could have six cans a day but sailors only two. The other diabolical piece of equipment on the ship was the auto alarm.
This was designed to be set when you were off watch and respond to any three of a number of dashes sent by a ship in trouble.   It consisted of a box full of post office type relays that closed and latched in sequence and in theory was excellent.
I say in theory as I have rarely had one go off during an off watch period during the day.   They had some fiendish inbuilt circuitry that caused them to go off three or four times night and, of course, when it was bit choppy and had difficulty sleeping and you had just dropped off!
Here I learned a most successful dodge to avoid excessive ringing of alarm bells and give you time to get up sensibly instead of running around like a blue-arsed fly trying find clothes whilst bells pounded your ear drums.
In the radio room the operators chair had a fixing device to keep you from racing from one side of the ship to the other when she was rolling heavily. This basically consisted of a bottle screw, one end of which was attached to the chair seat and the other end to an eyebolt that screwed into the deck.
Now Empire boats being devoid of any decoration this eyebolt screwed right through the deck to emerge from what was my cabin deck heard. I hit on the brilliant idea of removing the eyebolt and running a piece of string up into the radio room and attaching it to the knife switch which controlled the 24 volts to the bell circuit of the auto alarm. This way I could wake, yank on the string and get up in a civilized manner to go and check that it was a false alarm. There was something to be said for knife switches.
So this was to be my home/place of work for two and a half months.
First port was Boston and I remember it for Washington Street and pizza makers skillfully throwing discs of dough up I the air to create the requisite shape – the pipes running across the ceilings were adorned with several miscalculations – and the fact hat nobody walked anywhere.
I was given a lift into town by a character intent on selling me some clothes, me on eight pound a month!
Did I mention this?
Being a Radio Company and the Shipping Company employee I was allowed to draw only eight pound a month from the Master whilst my bosses held the rest until I returned.
Anyway, I felt I had made a smart move and got into town for free.   However there remained the chore of having to return. Confidently I set off to walk the couple of miles to the ship but within minutes the pavements – sorry, sidewalks! – disappeared and I was battling my way down a major highway with the prospect of having to negotiate a two level bridge which spanned part of the docks.
Cars were the biggest I’d ever seen and forget the trucks.   I was going to die, my whole life before me. What a waste!
"hey, you best get your arse in if you’re going to live out your life".   Not a lady to argue with, I thought, and quickly summed up the advantages of being shot or at best mugged of my eight pounds or being crushed to death by some huge juggernaut. I climbed in.
"Where you going honey?"
Good question – I suddenly realized I didn’t know the name of the berth.   I knew roughly where it was but not the exact location.
"I’m on a ship came in this morning" I said inanely.
"That that Brit ship, the Demeterton?
 I know where she is – hold on."
This was the other thing I remembered about Boston – friendliness, kindness.   Though I think perhaps the fact that she parked the car at the ship, nimbly shot up the gangway and disappeared down aft was perhaps not so indicative of the general Bostonian population as I then believed.
I don’t remember the next port, only that we arrived in north Shields mid April and once again I was off home.
Despite the lack of radio equipment I felt well blooded and that I had come through with flying colours.
I looked forward to better ships and good times.
Well, I misjudged the vindictiveness of my employer.
By September I was back with Chapman and Willan and spark gaps and MF and the lot – if you can use the word in relationship to empty expanse of the bridge and radio room of these ships.
This time it was for nine months and believes or not I began to enjoy life. It certainly wasn’t comfortable but the companionship was good.   We had an all-British crew and this meant around 65 to yarn to and to drink with and go ashore with.   I believe I joined the Emden but cannot remember.   My discharge book entry is totally indecipherable.
The sequence of the ports of call is also hazy so perhaps I will recount some of the highlights/lowlights of the trip.
I was lucky at Christmas time and then New Year in Rijeka.
We spent a good bit of the time in Yugoslavia and particularly New Years Eve.   Yugoslavia in 1957 was still under communist rule and the people had very little to call their own.   You could change money on the black market for nearly double the going rate and just about anything was sellable.   Women flocked round the ships not particularly because they were "professional ladies" – mostly they were desperately trying to keep their children and themselves alive and if they had to sell themselves to achieve this then so be it.
However,  the spirit was alive in the people and we were welcome.   New Years Eve was a most enjoyable experience – though a little hazy until after the "post mortem" the next day when things were pieced together.   I had teamed up with the second engineer who was hitting 60.   This relationship had developed mainly due to watch-keeping duties and inclination, making him available just about when I was ready to have a beer or two or wander ashore.
By inclination I mean Radio Officers, 2nd Mates and 2nd Engineers seem to have an affinity.   Anyone above those ranks seems to be too busy and those below were mainly of the other nationalities. The other erstwhile companion is the Chief Steward but as the one on the last ship spent his time perfecting "Silver Threads Among the Golden" on the guitar and talking about his family to such an extent that on arrival at North Shields I was able to pick them out from the crowd on the pier and the one on this ship nearly killed himself with his home brew made in an aluminium bath tub and was a week recovering, this avenue was somewhat questionable.
This is not the norm but seemed to be so on the type of vessels I sailed on, as you will see anon.   I digress.
Come New Years Eve we had learned that there was to be a township celebration up the hill in a place that bore a striking resemblance to a beer hall but which I believe to have been some sort of civic building.
It was a beautiful night – cold but crisp and clear and the air was fresh with no wind.

The first item on the agenda was to acquire some money so wads of sterling were hidden in shoes and all personnel were wearing two pair of trousers and several shirts plus anything else they could double up on.   I suspect the gate guards changed out at midnight otherwise they would surely be wondering how such a bovine crew could return to the ship so emaciated!
The first few hours of the evening saw fat people entering alleyways with thin people and the hitherto thin people emerging fat whilst the hitherto fat people emerged thin but with suspicious bulges on the hip in the region of the back pocket.   Also several people appeared to shrink in height.
Eventually all this activity ceased and the bars began to fill with men and women – the men to drink and the women hoping for whatever. 
Who cared about nationality, who cared about tomorrow, who cared?  You couldn’t understand a word.
We did,  however,  catch the greeting, which as far as I can remember went "Stretna Nova Godina!" and this echoed everywhere.   Whether it was our pronunciation or not I don’t know but when the second and I announced to everyone in the toilet "Stretna Nova Godina!" about 12 blokes turned round and said
"You are from England?"
"We are English" we replied, whereupon 14 people linked shoulders in one great circle and to the tune of something like "Knees up Mother Brown" danced round the toilet and out of the doors without breaking stride and continued dancing in the middle of the floor. 
We went back later on and I can assure you it was impossible for 14 men with their arms round each other’s shoulders in a circle to dance through the doors of that toilet without breaking stride. 
Sober! We did!

The evening finally came to a halt and we wended our way down the hill to the ship calling "Stretna Nova Godina!" to all and buying more chestnuts.
                                               PART TWO:
At one point the  second disappeared into an alley and on investigation I deemed it best not to intervene.   How the heck he managed it I do not know - all I know is that his feet  must have been bloody cold by the time he got back to the ship.
They were his working shoes too !
                                            THE CROSSING 
Eventually we had to leave Rijeka - on the 8th of January to be precise and into the worst weather situation I have ever encountered in all my years at sea.   Once we moved down the east coast of Italy and  rounded the heel of the boot the weather became rough.   I felt it was rough but in fact I had little experience and we were experiencing a mild gale.
However, as we were light ship, or "in ballast" it seemed as though we were being pounded by huge waves.   I have since wondered about "in ballast" and how relative to the Mate’s experience  this was.  
Looking back I have to say that in my recollection we were in very little ballast the whole way across the Atlantic.
We battled our way through the "meddy" right up until the Gibraltar Straits and then believe it or not we shot through in good weather at 14 knots.
I suspect this was due to the build up of water in the Med . during the storm being released out into the Atlantic.   Barely had time to report to the rock - by aldis lamp of course - before we were spewed out.
This was going to be good!

Sea like a millpond. Dolphins having nothing to do but entertain us. 2 - 4 watch on  the monkey island.   Which, incidentally, reminds me of the old superstition about albatrosses being old bosuns.   If this is so I have a gut feeling that seagulls may well
be old stewards.
The monkey island is the very top of the bridge structure. On these ships it consisted of the flat roof of the bridge and radio room.   In other words a "T" shaped area where the top of the T was the bridge wings and the stem of the T was covering the bridge and radio room.
At the junction of the top and the stem of the T was a square box-like structure containing the magnetic compass.  Depending on which way the wind was blowing one could set up a deck chair with its back against the box and settle down to a good read and a beer.
This particular day I lugged my deck chair up the "ladder" to the monkey island and set it up with its back to the port side of the box.   It so happened the sun was also on the port side.
I 'arranged' my beer and settled down into the chair.
2 Hours to relax!   Just have a look around before the book.
Nothing on the horizon - azure blue sea - lightly rippled surface - seagull sitting on the foremast - second mate leaning over the bridge keeping watch - all well with the world.
Wait a minute!!
That bloody seagull looked a bit iffy!  Looked again. The damn thing is looking at me.  Oh right! - I know exactly what you are up to!
I moved from my chair just as the seagull launched from the masthead and turned to flow down the port side.   Its bombing run would have put the Dam Busters to shame.
A jet of white left its stern with perfect trajectory and curved with precision to coincide with the vessel’s speed, wind calculation and velocity of ejection to land slap in the middle of the back of my chair.
Now there was only me and that bird but I can swear to you that communication was there.  I knew what it was thinking and he knew I knew.   Notice the sudden personalisation - it was probably a ‘she’. 

That was the last pleasant event for 30 days.
From hereon the wind increased, the seas increased and the clouds increased.  The only navigational aids we had were a
sextant and the log line.  The ship was light and this meant the bridge was around 60 feet above sea level.
For days no sights were taken and the log line was sometimes at 90 degrees to the vessels supposed course, sometimes straight aft and even sometimes ahead.
I did keep a log - long since lost - plotting every noon position
given out by the bridge. This was a complete zig-zag - ahead when they did a dead reckoning and then a complete reversal when they actually managed either a star sight or the sun appeared.
Thus for three or four days we would be making 50 miles
ahead and then suddenly 120 miles astern and to the south when the mates found out where we were roughly.  Most of the time you could not see over the next wave.  This estimated the wave height to be 50 to 60 feet and I know for a fact we rolled often to 40 degrees.
We saw nothing - except twice.
I think it was a Ropner’s ship the first time.  What a pluke.
We were always flying the "not under command" signal as we
just could not steer.  This idiot, for some unknown reason, sailed past us to leeward which meant that the closer we got to him the more we bore down on him.   Eventually we passed not more than two ships length apart which when you consider that at one time he was 30 feet above us and then 30 feet below us, was a little frightening.

However, they were British and we managed to throw a few epithets and potatoes at them. 
The next sighting was our sister ship.  
After a particularly bad three or four days weather the sun was out.  I crawled up the stairs to the radio room and began my 8 - 10 watch.  Portishead traffic list - nil for us - on to 500 for a listen to see who was around.   All quiet. I got up and peered out of the starboard port for a look at  the weather.
It was down a little and every now and then you could see a fair distance from a wave top.   I was just about to draw my head in when I felt I’d seen something on our starboard quarter.
I had to wait until we were both on wave tops but suddenly
there she was.   Another ship and a somewhat familiar looking one at that.  I decided to go out onto the bridge wing and get the ‘bins’ on her.
No doubt about it, she was a Company boat. Back in the radio room I tuned up and gave her a call. She turned out
to be the ‘Riverton’ and was on a voyage from Liverpool to Boston.  She should have been about 600 miles north of us at this point in the Atlantic.   When we got a ‘sight’ at noon it turned out even worse.  We were 100 miles south of our course line which made her 700 miles to the south of hers.
We heard later that she made it to Boston but must have been running on air.   She would not have managed another day! 

After a few more days of pounding and wandering around the ocean we realised that we would not make Norfolk and the only alternative was to try and hit  Bermuda.
The ether around Bermuda was thick with urgency calls. There were vessels without screws, lost when the stern, lifting clear of the water, caused the screw to over speed and judder and then suddenly brake as it returned to the water.

Days of this and either you broke the shaft or screw just fell off. Other ships were limping in to Bermuda having sustained a variety of damage.
One Finnish vessel we saw laying in Hamilton was particularly bad.  All one side the stantions and lifeboats and anything else movable had gone and a thing I’ve never seen before or afterwards - her bows were polished silver with the incessant pounding of salt laden water.
We bunkered and the Chief Engineer decided that a few repairs were necessary before moving on and we spent a pleasant 5 days in.   The weather held off for the first two but then started blowing again.
One night we heard an unusual engine sound and on sticking our heads out into the wind we saw a US Navy blimp above us. Several times he made a run into the landing field, which happened to be abeam of us.   He would come in, lower and lower, until over the field and then peel off and repeat the
manoeuvre. He was up there all night and I did hear that they managed to refuel him by getting one of his lines attached to some form of tank which he heaved up and transferred fuel to his tanks.
I never saw this and I have since lost the newspaper cutting with the whole story.   Anyway, he was still there in the morning and several people were badly grazed by being dragged along the ground by his mooring lines, which they grabbed as soon as he was low enough.
Eventually, at around 10 am. he decided he’d had enough and came in for the final run.  He got down as low as he could and exploded the envelope.   Apparently they have this ability for emergencies.

The gondola dropped to the deck and we later heard that fortunately the crew got away with it.
Quite a spectacle seeing the whole big envelope disintegrate - one minute there - next minute rags dropping to the ground.
Eventually it was time to leave and try for Norfolk again.
It took us a further ten days but finally we arrived - 45 days after we had left Yugoslavia!Argentina 
The next place of note was Bahia Blanca in Argentina.  What a place and how lucky we were that the dockworkers decided to call a strike.  In Argentina everything was state owned and thus if the dockworkers went on strike everyone else did too.
I think we were there about a month and the only ship that managed to get away was a German twin screwed vessel
that, of course, did not need tugs to get off the quay.
There were several other vessels in port and a great camaraderie was all about the place.   I hardly ever ate on
board.  The morning would be spent poking about catching up with corrections - the bane of an R/O’s life.
Come noon it was my habit to disappear ashore to a local
cantina just outside the dock gate and tuck into a ‘bife de lomo completo con heuvos y patatas fritas’ - along with a bottle of the local ‘tinto’.
Sometimes I had company, sometimes I managed to meet up with one of the other R/O’s later on but whatever,  I never managed to make it back aboard that day.
I would sit for a good while over my meal and then wander down the road to another cantina for a beer or two.
One never seemed to get too drunk - there were always things to eat.
All bars automatically put a soup plate of large prawns (gambas) on the table as soon as you ordered a beer and
these were renewed regularly.  They were caught locally and cost nothing.
My lunch of steak and wine cost around 2/6d (around 12 pence)!
The other choice for the days was to catch the bus up the road the Bahia Blanca town but one had to be a bit canny getting back.  There was a rush hour and unless you had good elbows and no manners there you stayed until later.  The night usually ended in the local night club to watch Paula who could do quite amazing things with various parts of her body.
Then back to the ship to repeat the whole thing the next day.   The second local cantina was the scene of one of the most amazing battles I have seen, on a day that everyone
from the ships had decided was to be a ‘day off’
These days seem to happen on ships and seem to happen to all ships at the same time.  So the bar was quite full of all
nationalities and the beer was flowing.  About half way up the wall in one corner they had a square platform on which an attractive girl was employed to play record requests or just what she fancied.
Unfortunately what it turned out she fancied was a bit of slap and tickle in the intervals, of which she could manufacture a few.
This particular afternoon there were two hombres involved. One would give her the wink and she would manufacture an interval and return a few minutes later dabbing at the make up. Then the other guy would become interested and the same procedure would be adopted.
Of course the inevitable happened and through an alcoholic haze the winks coincided and both hombres retired behind the cantina with spectacular results.
A fight ensued but was quickly suppressed by amigos on both sides. 
This, however, was not to be the end of it.
As the day progressed and the beer flowed the two aggrieved hombres rallied and in actual fact in a way joined forces, both equally aggrieved at the senorita’s behaviour - nay treachery! Soon Spanish comments were  being made to the stage  - then improved to derogations - finally the nail in the coffin.
"Puta!"  A hush descended.   Several faces disappeared into beer glasses and other men decided too much had gone in and it was necessary to ‘pump the bilges’.
Then all hell erupted from the balcony.
Quite what was being said was not clear but the general meaning was, especially when a 78 record was launched like a frisbee and headed into the crowd.
You remember 78’s? 
Definitely time to take cover.
Soon the 78’s were coming thick and fast and tables were put on their sides to provide cover.   Those 78’s that survived impact - surprisingly many - were hurled back to the balcony, the projectionist risking life and limb in the process.
Things got worse.

Bottles gave way to plates of prawns, which in turn gave way to chairs and anything else detachable.
My party decided to make for the door in an honourable retreat and started a move to do so. Suddenly the doors burst open and our chance was gone.
Enormous horses complete with riders burst through, batons waving. Some one had called the police.
They do not take any prisoners down that way. 
I last saw the DJ girl directing operations from on high as I did a spaghetti western exit from a window.

Later the survivors gathered in a bar up the road and spent an enjoyable session recounting, with increasing elaboration, the afternoons event. 
There was a sequel.

Some Dutch seamen returning in the early hours decided to make a comment on the police action.   It was not until the shift change that they found the policeman on gate duty still in his sentry box with it laying door down on the floor.
Heavy things them! 

We pottered around South America and the States and at the end of 8 months of questionable food, no proper radio equipment and living conditions that left a lot to be desired I began to become very disillusioned with life at sea.
I decided to make a change though to quite what I was undecided.
I was, however, determined to the extent that I wrote a letter to International Marine Radio from South America stating
that my resignation would become effective on my arrival in the UK. 
This duly happened and I rather think there was no love lost between us.
Another era in my life began !                                         
CONTINUED BELOW............................                                            
                                       A MOULDING OF ANOTHER SORT.
I stayed at home until I had exactly £9 in the bank and, after writing to the powers that be to enquire whether or not I was to be called up - I was borderline in the programme to do away with National Service - and receiving a non-committal reply I decided to volunteer for three years in the RAF. If I had waited to be called up and done the requisite 2 years my pay would have been around £2.50 a week.
For three years one got around £6.50 including various allowances.   I thoroughly enjoyed the experience but how on earth it paid the ministry to employ me I cannot imagine.
Although I was already a trained radio operator I had to be trained again and even with the fact that I managed to get by on a reduced training and arrive at Senior Aircraftsman ahead of time, it basically took 2 years of training before I became
fully trained in the particular trade of operating I chose and then I was demobbed 2 months early.   One of the better times was a trip to Cyprus for special training.   We left Soton on board the troopship ‘Dunera’ which was quite an experience for me
having travelled on the ‘Empire Clyde’ as an R/O.   Certainly a different aspect what with crowded troopdecks and salt water showers.  Tried to visit the Radio Room by waving my PMG but no luck.   There certainly was no mixing with the riff raff on that
boat unlike the wild parties we had on the ‘Clyde. She was on her way to Singapore and really must have been one of the last trips, if not the last, she would make as a trooper. 
I was finally based in Bahrain and was reading arabic plain language and very fast 5 and 10 figure code sent in short numerals.  Quite a strain on the wrist when things got a bit lively in that arena.  At one time we were taking over from each other
whilst still writing as the other man overlapped and slid onto the seat  you vacated.
I really found no difficulty copying anything after that experience.  Another thing worthy of not was that we were there when the Dara went on fire off Dubai and in fact it was the Navy lads from the base where we worked that went down to assist.

We followed every move on the radio but nothing could compare with what those boys had to go through.   Their descriptions of bodies half out of portholes burnt to cinder inside the ship but relatively unscathed outside was only part of it.   The sharks
were around as well and I don’t think very many were rescued. Unfortunately the time came for me to be demobbed.   I say that because we lived in flats in Manama with the close comfort of  good friends and with our animals, dogs Killer, Spike and
Sputnik, cats Gruesome and kittens and above all our adopted donkey Ephraim Jones.

All good things come to an end and December 1961 found me ‘on the beach’.   During the time I spent in the forces I had much time for speculation and had managed to become influenced by Douglas Reed, George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Jack
Kerruak and a reputed ex Tibetan lama turned doctor and author called Lobsang Rhampa. 
I took up Yoga and investigated the Origins of Oriental religions. The end result was that I acquired an affinity for Buddhism and even more cynical outlook on life than before.   Mixed up in other words. I’m not sure the world was ready for me - I certainly wasn’t ready for it.  
Some time during these 3 years I had come across an advert for a marine radio operator with Mullion and Company, Hong Kong and I remembered the promise I made to myself on my last visit there on the Empire Clyde.
Missives were exchanged!  The Far East.......
At last, a letter from Mullions.   Would I be prepared to join the Ardgroom in Khaoshung?    Would I just!
My bags packed and I was off. A two-year contract did not faze me at all; after all I was a born wanderer. I had a girl friend but things were not going well and when, after I had boarded the Comet, I received a farewell message from her via the flight deck I guessed things could be left in abeyance until my return - if I returned!
The excitement was made greater when I found that we were overnighting in Hong Kong.
The flight was great and the drinks flowed well after Karachi when for some reason the passengers were severely reduced.   I got chatting to an Australian cloth buyer and some others and in the end, the stewardesses, who were stopping in Hong Kong for a
few days before returning to the UK.
Although they did not drink they sat with us and provided most convivial company such that when we called for more beer after a brief stop at Singapore we were informed that we had drunk the plane dry!
Finally Hong Kong.
I was put up in a hotel and immediately went out to enjoy the island.
Many changes but still the old feeling was there. I knew I was in the right place.

by Narve Sorensen

B.I's "DARA" - Courtesy Narve Sorensen

Some months ago I was studying the website of Mr. Ian Coombe of Montreal, Canada, www.mnnostalgia.com; I had got hints that a section dealt with my former employer A/S Thor Dahl of Sandefjord, Norway, and one of its liner services, the Christensen Canadian African Lines (CCAL). Since I have been a collector of ship pictures on behalf of this company, I came in touch with Ian and said that I maybe could help him complete his collection of CCAL vessel pictures. I also mentioned to him that, when looking through the various parts of his website, old memories came back, especially when seeing pictures of the SS DARA fully ablaze in the Persian Gulf in 1961, a disaster of which I played a small part in the rescue operations. Ian asked me if I could compile a small story in my own words, which is what I shall try to accomplish. So here is my story.
   Some 45 years ago, I was working as a Radio Officer on board the Norwegian tanker THORSHOLM. She was a 1954 built vessel of 18840 tons deadweight, callsign LFKE. Early in the morning of April 8th 1961 we were outbound, passing Dubai in the Trucial States, fully loaded with crude oil for Far East destinations. (Dubai then belonged to the Trucial States, and on the British withdrawal in 1971, Dubai came together with other small states in the area to create the federation of the United Arab Emirates, U.A.E).
   At 0200 we had strong northerly gale with rainshowers and thunderstorms, moderating an hour later with increased visibility. At 0420 the officer on duty observed a vessel on fire ahead on starboard side some 7 nautical miles away. (I later heard that the official report said that an explosion and subsequent fire broke out at 0443; I do not know what this discrepancy in time originates, one should think we operated on the same local time. Generally, local time in this area is UTC (formerly GMT) plus 3 hours).
   I was called on duty and reported at once on the international emergency frequency, 500 kHz. Our radio auto alarm had not been activated, this is explained later in this story. Anyhow, one could say that we were on the right spot at the right time. The ship on fire proved to be the British India Liner DARA, now burning fiercely amidships. DARA was accompanied by the British transport vessel, the EMPIRE GUILLEMOT, they had left Dubai almost simultaneously.  Of other vessels arriving at the disaster scene, I can remember the tankers BRITISH ENERGY and YUYO MARU, but some other vessels also arrived at the
scene soon after.
   As the dawn came we observed 5 lifeboats and some rafts near by the burning vessel. Two of the boats were empty, half filled with water, but it was survivors in three others, one of them almost sinking. We assisted the latter one, managing to haul it alongside and also to get all 68 persons on board, one of them with a broken leg, another a broken arm and also
badly burnt. They received treatment in our small hospital. The two other lifeboats sighted were assisted by other vessels. At the same time we lowered our motor lifeboat as we had seen bodies in the sea. Under command by the Chief Officer they first picked up two men and one woman clinging to remnants of a hatch, thereafter a man floating on a piece of plank. So far we had saved 72 persons from the lifeboat and the sea.
   Several people, among them many women and children, had gathered astern on the DARA, away from the flames, and our lifeboat was directed to the wreck to assist in saving as many as possible. When alongside two of the crew managed to enter the aft deck to handle the panic among those poor survivors and to get them into the lifeboat. Our crew experienced some dramatic moments on this occasion; one man tried to throw a little girl into the lifeboat from the deck, luckily he was prevented in doing it. Also, a woman fell down from the railing into the water, one of our crew dived and got her loose from some wreckage. At last, after much struggle, we managed to transfer all 23 alive on the poop deck over to the THORSHOLM.
   So far we had rescued 95 persons, among them Captain Charles Elson and two of his officers. I can’t remember their names, but I think it was the Chief Officer and the Chief Engineer. Captain Elson came up in the radio station, soaked and freezing. I supported him with a pair of trousers and a shirt, for which he was very grateful. He then told me that no radio alarm signals or radio distress signals (SOS) was sent by DARA, as the radio room was engulfed in black smoke almost immediately and had to be abandoned. His Chief Radio Officer was ordered to try to make contact with one of the lifeboat emergency transmitters,
but this also failed. Eventually the EMPIRE GUILLEMOT sent out the radio distress signals, they had been quite near the DARA all morning. At that time I was already participating in the distress radio traffic. I also dispatched a few telegrams for Captain Elson to the owners, agents and so on.
   Our search and rescue operation continued for a time, and as we did not observe any additional survivors, it was arranged for a transportation of the survivors to a British transport vessel. (I do not remember if this was the EMPIRE GUILLEMOT or another vessel). All went well and at noon we continued our voyage, heading for the Hormuz Strait once again. We sailed at slow speed due to heavy rain showers, very poor visibility and the possibility of loose wreckage in the area. Some half an hour later we suddenly heard cries for help. The weather improved after a while and we observed several dead bodies in the sea, mostly women and children, truly a dreadful sight. Our motor lifeboat was launched once more, and we managed to find 13 alive, two of them women. They told us that they had been in the water for some 7 hours and they were of course completely exhausted. They would surely all have died if we not had been, again, on the right spot at the right time. On search completion we returned and again arranged a transfer to the British transport vessel. A total of 108 survivors were rescued by THORSHOLM and her crew’s efforts on this day - almost 45 years ago.
   It was truly a very dramatic day, also a horrendous day which I never, never will forget. I have dreamt of it many times, but as this long time has passed, not very often any more. I have later heard that the aft part of DARA never caught fire, and was taken in tow but sank before she could be brought into Bahrain. I often have wondered if more could have survived if they had not entered the lifeboats or flung themselves into the sea, but stayed on deck. But this is, of course, pure speculations. As far as I know, the official number of casualties was 238.
  The major part of the above story is written in accordance with my memories only, but I have had assistance from various sources regarding the weather details, indication of time and also how many survivors there were in our different rescue operations.
   Finally, let me mention that our Captain, Ragnar Tande, later was awarded the Emile Robin Legacy as an honour to his leadership in this rescue operation.
  As to myself I served 28 years in the company, both at sea and in the main office here in Sandefjord. Later on I worked on oil platforms in the North Sea for 15 years and I am now retired since 2002.
Narve Sørensen



 Tony Thompson relates his story in a manner that will, I'm sure, bring back many memories of voyaging around the Indian coast at that time.  The sights and smells come alive once again in this narrative that I certainly recall from my trips with Anchor Line!
It is also interesting to note the relative tonnages of the other vessels mentioned on Tony's voyage compared with the 'box barges' of today.  A testimonial to the unprecedented  consumerism sweeping our world 46 years later!
(Courtesy SHIPS MONTHLY - Aug/92)

"CLAN MACLEAN" - Courtesy Don Chapman

"The telegram was short and to the point. "From Cayzer Irvine. London, to Cadet A. N. Thompson.
Join CLAN MACLEAN, Vittoria Docks, Birkenhead, 11th August, 1959".
So, this was the big moment - after 12 months pre-sea training at the Warsash School of Navigation the great day was approaching.  I was about to join my first ship, to embark upon what I then saw as a lifetime at sea.
As I write, 30 years later,  it is fascinating to reflect on the changes which have occurred.  My career at sea lasted only until the end of 1965, but strong and fond memories remain and with the aid of journals and diaries I am able to recapture that first voyage as if it were only yesterday.
After a long , slow train journey from my home in Portsmouth to Birkenhead via London, Crewe and Chester (not the most direct route I was later to discover), I finally arrived at Vittoria Docks, to find no trace of 'CLAN MACLEAN'.  I was directed to the office of the Marine Superintendent (Captain Mobbs - a most delightful man) who revealed that the ship was not due at Birkenhead for, at least, another 7 days!  Such errors in dates were common in those days, but rather perplexing for a young first tripper standing on the quay with all his luggage and nowhere to put it!
But I need not have worried.  Captain Mobbs soon found me a stand-by berth on another company ship the 'CLAN SHAW' which was lying in Alfred Basin, Birkenhead waiting to load.
'CLAN SHAW' was the first of the streamlined "S" class of 4 vessels.  Built in 1949 and of 8,100 gross tons, she had excellent accommodation for 12 passengers and a service speed of 17 knots.  'CLAN SHAW' represented the company at the Coronation Fleet Review in 1953, but she was to meet  a sad end when as the 'SOUTH AFRICAN SEAFARER' she stranded outside Capetown on July 1st. 1966 and became a total loss.
I spent one week aboard 'CLAN SHAW' before 'CLAN MACLEAN' arrived and I transferred to my permanent berth.  During this period I spent my days at the cadet school in the company's LiverBuildings offices and evenings discovering the delights of Liverpool in those pre-Beatles days.
Other company ships in dock at that time were 'CLAN KEITH' (1942/7,174 grt, ex-OCEAN VERITY, lost in the Mediterranean on November 5th. 1961, with heavy loss of life).  'CLAN MACDOUGALL' (1944/9,710 grt),  'CLAN MALCOLM' (1957/7,326 grt), 'CLAN MACLEOD (1948/5,997 grt), also the Blue Funnel vessels 'MENELAUS' (1957/8,539 grt) and 'ACHILLES' (1957/7,974 grt).
'CLAN MACLEAN' was built in 1947.  Of 6,009 gross tons, she was one of a class of six vessels, the first new buildings for Clan Line after the Second World War.  Built by the Greenock Dockyard Company, each had a service speed of 14.5 knots and no passenger accommodation.

For  the first two days, as we negotiated the busy shipping lanes off the West Coast and Western Approaches, the cadets stood '4 on 4 off' bridge watches,  which quickly became an exhausting business.  We were therefore glad when we passed Ushant and headed down towards Cape Finnisterre and able to commence our routine day-work duties and studies.
Cadets were obliged to keep a daily journal, which we then saw as a pointless chore, and after a while, due to lack of supervision, it was allowed to lapse.  I now wish that I had been more tenacious in my writing for posterity, but in those days we only thought of the present. 
The sea was kind to me on my first experience and we were treated to glorious calm weather all the way from Birkenhead to Port Said, a voyage of nine days.  An early morning arrival at Port Said left lasting impressions of this bustling entry port to the Suez Canal (bearing in mind that it was less than three years since the invasion of the Canal by British and French forces).
We arrived at the same time as the American 'C3' type freighter 'STEEL AGE' (1943/8,000 grt) owned by Isthmian Lines, and the Danish tanker 'VEGA', so we had to wait some time for our pilot.  When he boarded, we steamed slowly up the narrow channel and moored to buoys fore and aft on the starboard side of the main channel, immediately adjacent to the lighhouse and the casino.
Although I had been warned, I was totally unprepared for the 'invasion' of the ship by the hordes of 'traders, barbers, 'gully gully man' and others, all of whom claimed Scots ancestry and were named 'Jock MacKay'.  All portable equipment was securely locked away and cabins battened down.
We awaited in Port Said harbour until entering the Suez Canal with the midnight convoy, navigating with the aid of a powerful searchlight mounted in the bow.
Ahead of us was the Radcliffe tanker 'LLANISHEN' (1957/20,978 grt), and astern was the Liberian freighter 'PEARL ISLAND' (1956/8,100 grt), owned by Monrovia Shipping.
Daylight presented a fascinating scene to the young first tripper.  The barren desert of the east bank contrasted sharply with the cultivated and populated west bank.  Widening and dredging was in progress along the whole length of the canal with the aid of massive American dredgers.
By 7 a.m. the sun was well up and having reached the Great Bitter Lake the whole convoy anchored to allow the north-bound convoy to pass.  Bringing up the rear of the north-bound ships was an ageing member of the Clan Line fleet, 'CLAN MACBRAYNE' (1942/7,100 grt), an 'Ocean ' Class war time standard ship which started life as the 'OCEAN MESSENGER'.
We remained at anchor until midday before entering the southern section of the canal, clearing the southern end into Suez Bay at 3.30 p.m.
After an interesting passage down the Red Sea, where all ships beat virtually the same path resulting in some textbook collision avoidance situations, we arrived at the barren rocks of Aden where we were to refuel.


The 'MacL' class were 'goal posters',  445 ft in length and with a 61 ft. beam.  Each set of goalposts supported a heavy lift derrick of 80 tons SWL.  They had a raked bow and typical Clan Line cruiser stern, composite midships superstructure which, with the white upper hull strake, presented a smart and neat appearance.  The short flat-topped funnel showed off the famous company colours (black with two horizontal red bands) to best advantage.
There were three holds forward and two aft, each with hatchboard and tarpaulin covers. Each hold was served by 5 or 10 ton SWL derricks with electric winches.
'CLAN MACLEAN' was a comfortable ship with spacious accommodation - a vast improvement on the austere facilities of the wartime built ships that preceded her.  The cadets accommodation was at the after end of the starboard upper alleyway and had three berths with a separate study.  She carried a typical complement of officers - Master, Chief Officer, Second Officer, Third Officer, two Deck Cadets, Radio Officer, Chief Engineer, Second Engineer, Third Engineer, Fourth Engineer, two Junior Engineers, Purser/Chief Steward and Carpenter.  The deck, engine room and catering crews were Pakistani.
As was normal in those days, 'CLAN MACLEAN' had arrived in Vittoria Docks to complete loading, having already loaded cargo at Fowey (china & ball clay) and Glasgow.  On completion of loading we sailed from Birkenhead on August 21st. 1959, with a full general cargo for Ceylon & India.

For  the first two days, as we negotiated the busy shipping lanes off the West Coast and Western Approaches, the cadets stood '4 on 4 off' bridge watches,  which quickly became an exhausting business.  We were therefore glad when we passed Ushant and headed down towards Cape Finnisterre and able to commence our routine day-work duties and studies.
Cadets were obliged to keep a daily journal, which we then saw as a pointless chore, and after a while, due to lack of supervision, it was allowed to lapse.  I now wish that I had been more tenacious in my writing for posterity, but in those days we only thought of the present. 
The sea was kind to me on my first experience and we were treated to glorious calm weather all the way from Birkenhead to Port Said, a voyage of nine days.  An early morning arrival at Port Said left lasting impressions of this bustling entry port to the Suez Canal (bearing in mind that it was less than three years since the invasion of the Canal by British and French forces).
We arrived at the same time as the American 'C3' type freighter 'STEEL AGE' (1943/8,000 grt) owned by Isthmian Lines, and the Danish tanker 'VEGA', so we had to wait some time for our pilot.  When he boarded, we steamed slowly up the narrow channel and moored to buoys fore and aft on the starboard side of the main channel, immediately adjacent to the lighhouse and the casino.
Although I had been warned, I was totally unprepared for the 'invasion' of the ship by the hordes of 'traders, barbers, 'gully gully man' and others, all of whom claimed Scots ancestry and were named 'Jock MacKay'.  All portable equipment was securely locked away and cabins battened down.
We awaited in Port Said harbour until entering the Suez Canal with the midnight convoy, navigating with the aid of a powerful searchlight mounted in the bow.
Ahead of us was the Radcliffe tanker 'LLANISHEN' (1957/20,978 grt), and astern was the Liberian freighter 'PEARL ISLAND' (1956/8,100 grt), owned by Monrovia Shipping.
Daylight presented a fascinating scene to the young first tripper.  The barren desert of the east bank contrasted sharply with the cultivated and populated west bank.  Widening and dredging was in progress along the whole length of the canal with the aid of massive American dredgers.
By 7 a.m. the sun was well up and having reached the Great Bitter Lake the whole convoy anchored to allow the north-bound convoy to pass.  Bringing up the rear of the north-bound ships was an ageing member of the Clan Line fleet, 'CLAN MACBRAYNE' (1942/7,100 grt), an 'Ocean ' Class war time standard ship which started life as the 'OCEAN MESSENGER'.
We remained at anchor until midday before entering the southern section of the canal, clearing the southern end into Suez Bay at 3.30 p.m.
After an interesting passage down the Red Sea, where all ships beat virtually the same path resulting in some textbook collision avoidance situations, we arrived at the barren rocks of Aden where we were to refuel.

Our stay in Aden was short, and we were soon off again on the 7 day lonely passage across the Indian Ocean to Trincomalee in Ceylon where we were to top up our fresh water tanks and unload a small amount of cargo.
Next came our first major port of discharge, Madras, on the east coast of India.  We swung at anchor outside Madras for a full 7 days, due to congestion, before we entered to commence unloading.  This was a frustrating business as it seemed that many other ships were given priority over us and entered harbour without delay, including passenger ships and Indian flagged ships (Jala boats!) .  I had begun to think that we had been forgotten and would be left to rot, but I was assurred that such delays were common on the Indian Coast.
When we were finally allocated a berth we found our own 'CLAN CAMPBELL' (1943/9,545 grt), a B.P. tanker, the 'BRITISH GUNNER' (1954/10,076 grt) , Bank Line's 'WAVEBANK' (1959/8,500 grt), Bharat Line's 'BHARATVEER' (1943/7,300 grt) and a number of Scindia Line's 'Jala' ships already in port.
Once secured alongside, 'CLAN MACLEAN', was immediately swarming with dock labour, who commenced ripping off hatch boards and unloading cargo at an alarming pace (they worked on 'piece' money) with seemingly little regard as to whether it was destined for Madras or not!
We surely had our work cut out to ensure that only intended cargo was landed.
There was little regard for safety, speed was the essence.  This was particularly evident during the unloading of heavy steel channels, some of which were dropped over the side.  On one occasion about 6 feet of the end of one channel was impaled through a bridge-front porthole into the dining saloon, coming to rest about 6 inches above the head of the Chief Officer (Mr. Rowlands), who was eating his lunch.  He was not amused!.
We discharged about half our cargo in Madras, comprising heavy machinery, steel channels, caustic soda, foam compound, oil and motor chassis.
We all worked hard in the intense heat and dust but there was some relief.  Captain Harry Whitehead, Master of 'CLAN MACLEAN', was renowned as a hard task master but he believed that his cadets should be properly educated and he arranged, through our agents, for us to be taken on a conducted tour of Madras by car.  I soon gained a lasting impression of both the beauty and the squalor of India - a situation that seems to be little changed in the intervening years.
After 10 days in port we shook off the dirt and dust of Madras and headed north towards Calcutta, a two day passage.
Calcutta was reached by a slow and tortuous passage up the river Hooghly, with it's constantly shifting sand banks and severe silting problems.  The passage took seven and a half hours with frequent breaks to anchor and await tide levels over the various sand bars.  We made the passage in company with Irish Shipping's 'IRISH MAPLE' (1957/6,218 grt) and Ellerman's 'CITY OF LANCASTER'(1958/4,900 grt).
On arrival in Garden Reach we locked into Kidderpore Dock (a depressing place which I was to get to know well in the ensuing years), where we berthed alongside the British India vessel 'NARDANA' (1956/8,511 grt).
The rest of our cargo was discharged at Calcutta, during what was a most unpleasant and uncomfortable stay.  'CLAN MACLEAN' was not air-conditioned so we had to endue the heat and pungent odours at all hours of the day and night.  It was unwise to leave portholes open when cabins were unattended due to the abundance of sneak thieves, so we sweltered and looked forward to the daily relief of the monsoon rains.
The waters of Kidderpore Dock were not noted for their purity, frequently containing the bodies of dead animals, and worse!  It was therefore a very unpopular task for the cadets, at the conclusion of discharging cargo, to go over the side to repaint the draught marks and load lines.  The load lines could usually be reached from a pontoon, but the fore and aft draught marks were definately a bosun's chair job.

I have vivid memories of sitting suspended over the putrid waters of the dock, reliant on my colleague to keep me airborne.  (Strange how it was always the junior cadet who ended up in the bosun's chair, whilst the senior supervised the lowering gear!).  A ducking in those waters resulted in a swift trip to the hospital for a stomach pump and numerous precautionary injections with blunt needles.
Once 'CLAN MACLEAN' was fully discharged we moved to a stand-bi berth to await our homeward cargo.  During this period the holds had to be fully cleaned,  dunnage and sparring renewed, and bilges cleaned.  This last job invariably fell to the cadets and the 'chippie' and quickly led to heat exhaustion.
At our stand-bi berth we were moored alongside the Scindia Company vessel 'JALAPUTRA' (1954/5,200 grt),  which soon became known as the 'Jalaputrid', for reasons which I will not discuss here!
Our general comfort and well-being were not enhanced by the presence of the coaling berths on the opposite side of the dock.  Constant clouds of black dust swept across the ship, into every nook and cranny both inside and outside, as a succession of Bharat steamers loaded their cargoes.  This did little for our Chief Officer's gleaming paintwork.
On Monday October 12th, 1959 we commenced loading our homeward cargo, the majority of which was tea (in chests) for Manchester, London and Port Sudan.  At that time, as was inevitable in those days, our subsequent loading and discharge ports in the U.K. and Continent were changed on a daily basis,  making notification of mailing addresses a complete headache.  We also loaded into our strongroom several million pounds worth of opium,  under armed guard.
During our stay in Calcutta we struck up a freindship with cadets from the Union S.S. Co., of New Zealand ship 'WAIRIMU' (1941/3,800 grt).
Completion of loading and sailing was scheduled for midnight on 20th October.  However, this was delayed by a particularly violent storm which hit us at lunch-time that day, during which 'WAIRIMU' and 'BHARATTRA'  were torn from their moorings and driven across the dock into the wall on the opposite side.  It took over two hours for tugs to restore calm and normality.
So it was that our departure was a rather chaotic affair.  To quote the Company Agent, 'a typical Clan Line finish; derricks waving all over the place, gin falls snapping, hatch boards collapsing, winches breaking down, stevedores sleeping, chief officer tearing his hair, and a furious captain'.

Finally, all the cargo was loaded and we left our berth, only to breakdown immediately with a defective lubricating valve, causing us to be stuck in the lock for one and a half hours, much to everyone's embarrassment.
To make matters worse, 'CLAN DAVIDSON' (1943/8,067 grt) was waiting in Garden Reach to enter the dock.  She was one of the twin screw 'CLAN CAMERON' class built just before and during WW2, but 'CLAN DAVIDSON' entered service as the midget submarine depot ship HMS Bonaventure having been purchased by the Admiralty 'on the stocks'.  She entered Clan Line service in 1948 and was scrapped in 1961.  At that time she was serving in the dreaded role as cadet training ship.
Once clear of the river Hooghly we set course southwards towards Ceylon's main port of Colombo.  This was another very congested port with many ships waiting outside for a berth, but as we were calling only for oil and water we were handled without delay.
Among the many ships in Colombo Harbour were the PO managed trooper 'EMPIRE FOWEY' (1935/19,121 grt), PO 'DONGOLA' (1946/7,400 grt) and the Royal Navy was represented by the 'Battle' class destroyer HMS FINISTERRE.

From Colombo we made the short hop to Tuticorin on the southern tip of India.  This was my first experience of an 'anchor port', many of which were to be found around the Indian coast.  There were no harbour facilities, ships anchored about two and a half miles offshore and cargo was brought out in large sailing dhows, each holding about 75 tons, and crewed by four men and a small boy whose job it was to crawl along the huge gaff to work the single sail.
The war-built 'Empire' Class ship 'CLAN MACKINLAY' (1945/7,392 grt), ex Empire Fawley, arrived at Tuticorin shortly after us.  Also at anchor were the indian flag vessels, 'INDIAN TRADER' (1944/7,700 grt), 'JALAJYOTI' (1943/6,000 grt), 'JALAPUTRA' (1954/5,200 grt), and 'JAG DEVI' (1943/7,000 grt).
We loaded more tea at Tuticorin, before heading south again to the southern tip of Ceylon and the picturesque port of Galle.  Here we were to load another 600 tons of tea at a leisurely pace, over a period of 10 days.  We were also to load oilcake in bags which had previously been on on fire before being unloaded from 'CLAN MACKENZIE' (1942/7,600 grt).
Galle was a welcome break for the whole crew, with day time cargo work only, there was ample time for relaxation.  Our motor boat was constantly in the water, manned by cadets, for runs ashore and to the many secluded beaches for swimming parties.  I quickly fell in love with this most agreeable place.
Although Galle was the second largest town in Ceylon, it had no quayside facilities for large vessels. Once ships entered the shelter of the bay four 6 inch hawsers were picked up aft, two on each quarter, and both anchors were dropped forward.  It was not unusual for these moorings to drag in the frequent southerly gales.

Cargo was ferried out to the ship in small oar-propelled lighters each holding about 12 slings of tea chests, and once our sister ship 'CLAN MACLEOD' (1948/5,997 grt) arrived to discharge cargo, these lighters were in very short supply.
On the 7th November 1959, we sailed from Galle on the first leg of our homeward voyage to London.  Our usual bunkering stop at Aden was unavailable due to a srike, although we did call briefly to load a small amount of cargo, so we had to bunker instead at Djibouti in French Somaliland.  Djibouti was then a very small and usually quiet port but it suddenly found itself having to cope with all the shipping that normally bunkered in Aden.  However, we were in and out before the queues started to build up.
Our final loading port was Assab, a small Ethiopean desert town which was then just starting to install modern port facilities.  We loaded 400 tons of peas, beans, lentils and particularly smelly camel hides.
The homeward cargo was now complete and 'CLAN MACLEAN' was loaded down to her marks.  Number one hold contained bagged oilcake (ex-'CLAN MACKENZIE'), camel hides, hemp, leather, rubber and coconut oil.  Number two had mainly tea in chests and small parcels of wax, carpets and personal effects.  Number three hold had bagged oilcake, tea, mica and cotton yarns.  Number four hold was entirely tea chests and number five had bagged oilcake, camel hides, lentils, senna and bags of quills.  In the locker was cutch, carpets, walnuts and opium.  Ports of destination were London, Rotterdam, Avonmouth, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Dundee, Bremen, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Port Sudan, Port Said and Antwerp.  The continental ports and Dundee were for transshipment.
Thus, our first unloading port was just a few hundred miles up the East African coast at Port Sudan.  Here we discharged 200 tons of tea and gunny whilst at anchor in mid-harbour, with the help of the famous 'fuzzy-wuzzies' whose presence was easily detectable due to their special brand of after shave (camel dung!).

Also in port were the Ellerman Hall vessels 'CITY OF LYONS' (1926/7,200 grt), and 'CITY OF PHILADELPHIA' (1949/7,600 grt), Harrison's 'ARBITRATOR' (1951/8,200 grt) and the Swedish schooner 'ALBATROSS'.
After only 18 hours in port we sailed from Port Sudan and headed northwards towards Suez Bay; a two day passage.  We remained in quarantine during our Suez Canal passage, because of our call at Assab which was a yellow fever port.
Our north bound convoy of eight dry cargo vessels was led into the Canal by the Anchor Line passenger ship 'CALEDONIA' (1948/11,255 grt), but we were to pause briefly in Port Said to discharge a small quantity of tea chests from numbers two and four upper 'tween decks.  The yellow flag fluttering from our signal halliard served to discourage the hordes of bum-boat men.

Our departure from Port Said was marked by the lowering and lashing of derricks and generally batterning down tarpaulins and hatch covers.  Bad weather was forecast ahead on the homeward route, but the Mediterranean remained kind to us, although increasingly cold. We were soon back in the unfamiliar 'blues' and appreciating the hot curries which were always a feature of our menu.
Among the many ships we passed on the well beaten track between Port Said and Gibraltar was 'CLAN BRODIE' (1941/7,473 grt), a twin screw turbine vessel, taken over from new by the Admiralty and completed at the seaplane depot ship HMS Athene.  She was not finally delivered to Clan Line until 1946.  'CLAN BRODIE' was typical of the type of vessel completed for Clan Line just prior to and during the Second World War, of which 'CLAN CAMERON' (1937/7,243 grt) was the lead ship of twenty.  Now almost 20 years old, the 'CLAN BRODIE' was nearing the end of her active life, but she still portrayed a smart , business-like appearance.  Deep laden to her marks, she ploughed eastwards towards Port Said; thick black smoke pouring from her tall black funnel, the two red bands shining proudly in the evening sunlight.

Other Company's ships in the area included King Line's 'MALCOLM' (1952/5,883 grt) , on passage from the U.S.A. to Red Sea ports.  One of a class of six small motorships built between 1951 and 1958, I was to serve in her sister 'KING CHARLES' 18 months later during a round-the-world tramping voyage.
'ROXBURGH CASTLE' (1945/8,000) was also in the area, one of the Union-Castle 'R' Class fruit boats.
Also seen in this busy part of the Mediterranean were Shaw Savill's 'CRETIC' (1955/11,191 grt), British India's tanker 'ELORA' (1959/24,300 grt), and Denholm's 'NORSCOT' (1953/12,700 grt).
After passing through the Strait of Gibraltar and heading northwards the weather started to deteriorate rapidly and a full gale was soon battering 'CLAN MACLEAN', with hurricane force winds ahead of us in the Bay of Biscay.  This was my first taste of really bad weather and I was soon suffering from the mal-de-mer and hoping that I would die!
Ahead of us an ore carrier lost a man overboard and we picked up an SOS from a Liberian ship in ballast eight miles off the coast with steering failure.  We altered course towards her position, which did nothing to ease the motion of the ship, but the casualty had regained control before we reached her and was heading into Oporto.
Mercifully, as we approached Ushant the winds began to moderate and normality returned to our lives.  Perhaps 'normality' was the wrong word as a strange disease had now afflicted the European members of the crew.  When I enquired I was told that this was a severe attack of the 'channels' and I soon found that I was also affected.  Symptoms included light headedness, sparkling smiles and skipping around the deck shouting, whistling and occasionally kissing each other!
Off Ushant traffic was heavy and conflicting, in those days before separation zones. We cadets were back on four hour bridge watches to act as an extra pair of eyes and practise our basic knowledge of navigation under the watchful eye of the O.O.W.  The weather was now calm and fine, 'CLAN MACLEAN' sped up-channel with the flood tide.  Off Beachy Head we were making 18 knots as we headed towards the Dungeness pilot station.
The pilot boarded at 0730 on December 3rd 1959 and we proceeded immediately through the Dover Strait, the Downs, around North Foreland and into the River Thames, where we docked at East Branch, Tilbury at 1530.
Already in port were P & O's 'STRATHEDEN' (1937/23,700 grt) and 'IBERIA' (1954/29,614 grt).  Brocklebank's 'MANDASOR' (1944/7,071 grt), Ellerman's 'CITY OF PHILADELPHIA' (1949/7,600 grt) and 'CITY OF WINNIPEG' (1956/7,700 grt).  Palm Line's 'MATADI PALM' (1948/6,246 grt).  Lambert's 'TEMPLE HALL' (1954/8,003 grt) and our own 'CLAN MATHESON' (1958/7,685 grt).
So ended my first voyage and, five days later, I went home on leave over Christmas, with all the airs and swank of an 'old salt'.  My recall orders directed me to join 'CLAN MACLEAN' in King George V dock Glasgow, at 0815 on New Year's Day.
Obviously, some one's idea of a joke, I thought. 
It wasn't, but that's another story."


The following short story has been kindly provided by Derek Lewis and describes his first trip aboard Furness Withy's "QUEEN OF BERMUDA" as Junior Electrician.

Artixst's impression "QUEEN OF BERMUDA" - Courtesy Derek Lewis

 The picture below of himself and shipmates was taken in 1962 after a refit hence the reception of the fire tugs in the background. 
 The first lad is Danny Docherty, 4th. engineer in the aux. engine room.  Derek as 4th electrician.  Third from the left is Johnny McCoogan, junior engineer and last, Tom Boyce, 2nd

Derek plus 'mates' aboard "QUEEN OF BERMUDA"

It's October 1960 and I'm nearly at the end of my 6 year apprenticeship. (How the young ones would suffer today if they had to apprentice for 6 years!).  In those days we all know what happened when you reached 21 and the end of your apprenticeship.  Ta, ta son, it's down the road for you...............
So, what do we do next?  Well, living in Sunderland, once the biggest shipbuilding town in the world, the thought of going to sea crossed my mind.  However, as I had worked in the building industry side of the electrical services the nearest I had been to ships was watching them launched and berthed in the River Weir.
Never mind,  being young and confident I wrote off to the big shipping companies in London and enquired about going to sea as an electrician.  It only took a couple of days for the application forms to arrive. 
Well, winches, capstans, generators and swithcboards!  What on earth were they?  All very strange to the building services electrician.  Being pretty cocky I ticked all the required boxes.  "Yes, I was familiar with all that lot!" and posted off the forms.

A few days later I received a letter from one of the companies offering me a position as a Junior Electrical Engineer Officer, subject to a medical.  Boy, how chuffed I felt.  Me, an officer.  Naturally I accepted the offer and off I trotted to the pool in Newcastle for the medical and form filling to get my discharge book etc.  We all know about the medical for the MN.  "Read that line", what's that colour? and cough..........
Always wondered if anyone actually failed the medical for the MN!
Next, off to Caslaws, (for those reading this who live or lived in Sunderland, you will remember this as the naval outfitters) with the list from the shipping company for the measuring and ordering of the uniform plus all the other items required for sea service.
"And what will you be doing in the MN sir?"  "Electrician", I replied proudly.  "Ah yes, that will be a green stripe for you and what company are you joining?"  "Furness Withy" I replied.  "Oh yes, we have their house badges here so we can make up your complete uniform. 
And so it went on.  Scarf, Macintosh, overalls, engine room shoes etc. etc.
At this time in 1960, still an apprentice remember, I was earning 3/9d an hour.  I think that was just over 8 quid a week, 32 pounds old money.  So just how was I going to pay for all this fine uniform and accessories.  Back came the response, "No problem, sir.  The company will loan you the money and then deduct it from your pay". 
Ah, my first taste of the 'never-never'!

"QUEEN OF BERMUDA" Built 1933, 22,501 grt - Courtesy derek Lewis

Then the letter arrived from the London office.
"Dear Mr. Lewis,  would you like to join (not, you HAVE to join) the QUEEN OF BERMUDA as a Junior Electrician?
At this time of my life my parents and I lived in a pub which they managed in the docks area of Sunderland so it wasn't too hard to pick up some information about my very first ship before joining her.
As a cruise liner on the American coast she used to come regularly to the Tyne for her yearly refits.  Just the job!
A nice short taxi ride to Wallsend with my new gear. Or so I thought.
The next letter from London was the travel instructions and railway warrant to join the ship down in Falmouth which was a day's journey from Sunderland.
11 p.m. SUNDAY, DECEMBER 4TH. 1960.
The beginning of my sea-going career!
There I was standing on the north end platform of Sunderland railway station, mother crying by my side and me saying.
"Mother, I'm only going to work" but that was the last I was to see of Sunderland for another 11 months.
Long trips were quite often the 'order of the day' back in the fifties and sixties!

In those days trains to London seemed to take forever, especially the night train.  Seaham Harbour,  Hartlepool,  Stockton,  Darlington.  You name it,  that's where the train stopped!
Eventually we arrived at King's Cross around 6 a.m. and then I hopped over to Paddington to catch the next train to Falmouth.  One good thing about joing a ship travelling at Company's expense one usually could indulge in a good meal.
So, arriving at Falmouth late in the afternoon I took off down to the waterfront and saw this rather huge (by 1960 standards anyway!) grey and white liner complete with three funnels.  I had never seen anything like this on the Weir.  The crew seemed to be leaving with all their gear so I was going in the opposite direction it seemed.  Were they rats deserting a sinking ship - was there something I hadn't been told about this particular ship!?
Stores all over the deck, shipyard workies with their tools etc.  Complete chaos, or so it seemed to this 'rookie'.
At the top of the gangway I was instructed to go to the purser's office to report and be assigned to a cabin.  Boy, what a pleasant surprise. A very nice 'spot' on "B" deck, my own toilet and shower.  Pretty well everything one could ask for.  What I didn't know at the time was that this was only a very temporary assignment as the 'ginger beers' and 'leckies' were installed down on "E" deck.  Not quite as fancy I discovered later but quite satisfactory nonetheless!
Tuesday morning and breakfast in the main dining saloon along with the rest of the engineers and our other departmental 'shipmates'.  Deck officers and 'sparks'.
Again, this was to be temporary as segregation was the order of the day for the engineering staff aboard the "Empress".
Once the ship was 'running' normally with a complement of passengers we would again be moved down to "E" deck.
For the next 6 weeks it was a case of finding one's own way around the ship, check the shipyard lads work and generally settle in for the voyage.
One thing I shall always remember about that first week.
I joined her on the Monday so by the middle of that week I did have some idea as to the 'correct' dress at mealtimes i.e. full uniform.
One of my electrician mates from back home, unknown to me at the time, had also joined the "QUEEN OF BERMUDA".
He had joined late on Wednesday night.
At breakfast Thursday morning in he strolled to the dining saloon, straight out of his bunk, slippers and rolled up shirtsleeves, just like at home.  BIG mistake!
Following breakfast the Chief 'Leckie" asked me to inform my 'friend' that he was not to arrive in the dining saloon looking like a cowboy and to be 'correctly attired' in the future...........

Derek in his pristine 'Nr 10s'

Middle of January 1961 and we sail from Falmouth on our way to our base port of New York, 5 days of pure hell! 
I did eventually cross the North Atlantic a number of times but this first trip was the worst.  No stabilisers in those days, just good ol' 'rock & roll' with repeated trips to the deck rail or the nearest head.
By this time I'm installed in my cabin down on 'E' deck. 
At the time of sailing we were instructed to close port holes and dead lights.  Soon some of the lads who either didn't hear the order or chose to ignore it found out why they had to be closed.  For the sleeping watchkeepers it could get very wet.
We arrived at Pier 95, West 55th Street on a Wednesday morning in the middle of January and New York was FREEZING!  On docking days the electricians usually worked until noon then, if not on standbi that day, we'd have the rest of the day off.   So, a quick lunch and then off to see the "Big Apple".  Broadway, Times Square, all the sights and big attractions for first trippers.  Following sightseeing it was back to the ship for dinner and a few cans, quite a few in fact, and then off again for a visit to the Merchant Navy Club.  One of the electricians, Joe Steel, missed that first night.  He collapsed at the top of the gangway.  We always said it was the cold that hit him coming out of the warm accommodation.  Nothing to do with the amount of ale he had consumed, of course.............

Derek, young but no longer innocent.....

Saturday dawned and the passengers arrived for the years first cruise to Bermuda.  Being January most of the passengers at that time were the 'blue rinse' brigade, not one under 60..............
However, we first trippers were informed by the seasoned crew members that, come Easter, things improved considerably when those lovely student 'maidens' come for their spring cruise.
By this time I had been assigned the 4 to 8 watch in the engine rooms.  Saturdays and sailing days you would work the morning from 9 to 12 on duties as required then dash up town for some quick shopping and back for standbi at 2 p.m.
By that time the passengers would be boarding and the band would be playing on the dockside.  All very festive indeed.
At 3 p.m. on the dot the engine room telegraph would sound and 'slow astern' would be the order from the bridge.  Off down the Hudson and a short 36 hour trip to the island of Bermuda.
By this time the routine of the day to day life was well established.  As I mentioned, segregation was still the order of the day as regards who could go where on the ship.  The engineers were only allowed on deck between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and, with the exception of going to the movies, could not mix with passengers.
We had our own dining room and smoke room etc. The day time electricians, working among the passengers and on the decks, had the enviable job of 'checking out the talent' for the parties.  Mix with the passengers?  Well not officially, but you could bet there would be a party in the engineers lounge most nights.  It was certainly a game dodging the Masters-at-Arms and getting the guests down to 'E' deck to show them the 'golden rivet' etc.
Monday 8-9 a.m. and docking at Hamilton, Bermuda.  One big difference from New York!  Nice and warm although I would later be saying otherwise in the summer months sweating down in the engineroom.  On docking days you would do your watchkeeping hours and then, following breakfast, work from 9 to 12 with the rest of the day off.
First day in Bermuda and first day in a warm climate it was off to Elbow Beach and pink coral sand.  One helluva difference from Roker & Seaburn Beach back home I can tell you.................
Again the first trippers learned their lesson about warm climates.  A couple of the 4 to 8 watch keepers, being up most of the night partying, fell into an alcohol induced sleep on the beach and got royally burned for their trouble.

In the summer months we often got a laugh parading around the decks in our tropic 'whites' and would often get requests from passengers to serve them drinks.    I suppose it was understandable as it was somewhat easy for us to be mistaken as catering staff or waiters.  You can imagine some of the replies they received from the more 'earthy' Glaswegian engineers!

Our stay in Bermuda would last until around 3 p.m. on the Wednesday and then we were back to New York for 8 to 9  a.m. on Friday which was,  more or less,  the routine for the next 9 months.  It did, however, change occasionally when we were to make a couple of trips down to Nassau which meant arriving and leaving New York on the Saturday.  Once, when we hit the back end of a hurricane and didn't get back to Bermuda until the Wednesday, quite a few of the passengers left and flew back to New York.

After 9 months we came back to Belfast for a 6 month refit which included new boilers and new accommodation.  This included moving the engineers up a couple of decks which meant a longer run when the engine room alarm went off! 
Another big change was the removal of two of her funnels.
I did a second trip before going into cargo passenger liners, tankers and ore carriers.
What a change in both working conditions and attitude amongst the crew members, especially the 'mates', as they had now become known by!

"QUEEN OF BERMUDA" following her 1962 refit - Courtesy Derek Lewis

Some good points I remember about my first trip...............
As far as my home town was concerned some changes did occur in my absence.  When I left Sunderland for the first time we still had bomb sites and barrow boys in town.
Going on the 'Queen' and finding out that you ate the same food as the passengers i.e. 6 course breakfasts, lunches and dinners with 'smokoes' in between was simply not expected.
Being actually woken up for 'work' with a cup of tea (which normally went cold and had to be poured down the sink!)
People calling you 'Mr. Lewis'.  There was even a time when this was brought to a point...
One day, while doing daywork on the passenger decks, the Purser's Office made an announcement over the PA system for 'Lewis, Electrician to contact the Chief Electrician' - before I could find a  'phone there was a second announcement.  'Would Mr Lewis, 4th Electrician please contact the Chief Electrician?
Well, when I think back now it was really all 'bull' but made this young fella feel pretty important.............

Being so impressionable at that 'young age' some of one's shipmates are indelibly printed in our minds, seemingly for ever.  The Chief Electrician, Al Watson.  'Put one in there son' was his favourite saying meaning - 'Put a light bulb in that light fitting'.
The Chief Engineer never spoke to a lowly 4th Electrician, of course.  When the engine room alarm went off he would be there most times in his best white uniform which soon became covered in oil etc..  He, of course, didn't have to buy his!
The rest of the engineers were mostly Scots  (now why is that!?).
On a sad note, for whatever personal reasons  (the fabled 'Dear Johns, perhaps!?) a couple of engineers,  with whom I was on watch with on later ships,  jumped over the 'wall'.
I suppose being away from home for an extended period affected different people in different ways.
Dislikes about the first trip?
The Engineroom loudhailer 'phones.  One would listen to the 'message' with difficulty due to general distortion and 'noise' coming at you from all sides.
Getting up at 4 a.m. for watch.
Having to get the 8 to 12 watch keeper 'leckie' up so you could be relieved, especially following one of his 'benders'!
Probably a few more that escape me right now but one could always go around singing the Beach Boys "I Want to go Home' which seemed to help.
Now, what was always great was getting back home to the office in Newcastle and picking up a few hundred quid in back pay and meeting some of your old mates and bragging about it all................................

Derek today, no longer at sea but with happy memories.............................

So ends Derek's 'baptism' to his 'career at sea'.

We hope you have enjoyed these memories and if any reader has a similar story to tell or would like to contact Derek please communicate via the site manager.



Cunard's "ASSYRIA" - Courtesy Stuart Jones.

In November 1956 I was the senior apprentice on the Cunard  cargo vessel Asia.

Cunard had two other cargo vessels ships identical to Asia these were Arabia & Assyria.

Two hatches forward of the bridge, one hatch on the boat deck and three hatches aft.

We had part loaded in Montreal and finished loading in Quebec. The Master was Captain F.E Patchett known in the company as’ Foggy Patchett’ He had served his time in sail and this was his last trip before retiring.

We left Quebec in the afternoon and were in the channel under the pilotage of a Mr Cloutier passing Orleans Island during  the Mates watch.

The other apprentice, Willie Stevens and I were  off  watch below in our cabin when there was an almighty bang. We dashed out on deck and found out that we had collided with an inbound cargo vessel – the Wolfgang Russ.

After all of the melee had died down we were towed back to  Quebec and berthed at Wolf Cove. We later found out that the Wolfgang Russ had had to be run ashore as she was in danger of sinking.

Once alongside we found that our bow from a couple of metres above the waterline to the forefoot was bent round like melted toffee.

The No.1 hold in the Asia was a deep tank and had been loaded with ‘Bush Peas’ in bulk The bulk peas were secured with bagged peas to prevent  shifting.

General cargo had been loaded on the tank top

No.2 lower hold was part filled with grain with logs and general cargo in the tween decks.

It was found that the force of the collision as well as having bent the bow round had also fractured the collision bulkhead with the result that No 1 hold which was full of the dried peas was flooding.

Although the massive hinged tank top lid had not been secured the securing dogs had all been engaged.

Soon it became apparent that the peas were expanding at a rapid rate as the whole of the tank top was gradually rising.

Due to the expansion in No.1 hold taking place in all directions the bulkhead between No.1 & No.2 holds was also starting to fail. Water was streaming out from numerous places and falling onto the grain in No.2.

As inevitably the ship would have to go into dry dock it was necessary to try and discharge as much cargo as possible beforehand. This discharge  was getting more and more frenetic as if the bulkhead was to seriously fail with Nos. 1 & 2 flooded it was possible that the ship would sink alongside.

While the discharge went on people from Davy’s dockyard at Lauzon, on the opposite bank of the St Lawrence were in No.2 hold  trying to weld cofferdams over the worst of the leaks from the bulkhead.

After about two days it was decided to put the ship into Davy’s dry-dock. The collision had taken place on the last day of November and it  would have been our last trip before the river closed for navigation for the winter.

It was a Sunday afternoon  and there was a blizzard blowing when we left the berth and were towed to Lauzon stern first to avoid forward pressure on the bow and bulkhead.

Eventually we got there and the ship was settled on the blocks.

It was still necessary to empty the No.1 hold for repairs to commence.

It was decided that the most practical way to empty the hold was to cut four holes in the shell plating – two on each side of the No.1 hold bilge and let the wet peas run into the dry-dock.

At first the wet peas ran out in a stream however after the first cascade had stopped it was found necessary to have people inside the hold shovelling the peas towards the holes and also necessary to have people in the bottom of the drydock shovelling the peas away from the hole.

I don’t know whose idea it was – probably Cunard’s idea to use the crew to do this. Anyway it was like winning the pools for us apprentices as we were paid something like three Canadian dollars an hour. At that time apprentices were paid £10 per year in the first year, £15 in the second year, £20 in the third year and £25 in the last year plus £25 on satisfactory completion of indentures !

I think we worked something like twenty hours  and earned riches beyond our wildest dreams !

We were paid out promptly in cash. That evening, after we were paid Willie Stevens & I then got our go ashore gear on and went across to Quebec. It was necessary to cross on the ferry from Levis to Quebec and I well remember the ferry having difficulty getting alongside due to the ice which already was starting to form on the river.

As soon as we hit Quebec we made for a night club called Bel Tabarin and started spending money like the proverbial drunken sailors.

We met up with a couple of girls who were sisters and off we went to their apartment for a good time.

By the time we surfaced and got back to the ship the following morning we were both totally broke !

Life was pretty boring with little to do in the evenings other than surreptitious  drinking as drinking was definitely not allowed for apprentices.

Soon the ship ran out of beer.

Willie and I were then picked to go ashore and get some beer so a  sledge was made and  off we went to the liquor store to get in some supplies.

As we were getting the beer back on board we were spotted by the mate and given a severe bollocking, threatened with cancellation of indentures etc, etc.

Soon after we were put in the dry dock the Wolfgang Russ was put in the other half of the dry dock. I cannot recall any fraternising between the crews but I remember having to go with some of our crew to recover some of our forecastle stores which finished up in the officers ward room on the German ship.

The Wolfgang Russ had been split from the bulwark to the bilge and our bow had almost penetrated to the mid-ship line.

Davy’s yard was large and in the winter ‘Lakers’ were laid up there in dry-dock. One night Willie and I had been ashore in Lauzon in a bar and had fallen out of there in the company of a couple of the crew of a Laker called the Saskatoon. They invited us back to their ship and took pity on us thinking we were all starving back on the Asia. They then commenced to knock off the lock on the galley store and gave us a small side of bacon.

We staggered back to the Asia and no doubt scored a few brownie points with our Chief Steward.

The repair in Quebec was only to be a temporary one to enable us to get round to Halifax, Nova Scotia for a permanent repair to be made.

The St Lawrence was getting more and more ice bound as December progressed and finally just before Christmas we left Lauzon,  preceded by the Canadian ice breaker  McClean. At this time the ice was only three or four inches thick and was not really a problem. Nevertheless the ice breaker went with us as far as Father Point.

By this time poor old Foggy Patchett had been relieved. It must have been a great tragedy for him after serving his whole working life at sea and finally coming to grief on his last trip.

On arrival at Halifax we went straight into the Navy Dockyard and the permanent repair commenced.

At that time the Canadian Navy’s frigates  were doing anti-submarine training with British submarines which were temporarily based in Halifax. This training took place southwards from Halifax as far as the West Indies.

There was a British submarine tied up in the dockyard not far from where we were in dry dock. Normally the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy  have a healthy disregard for each other however for some reason the officers from the submarine and our Mates and Engineers struck up some sort of understanding which resulted in copious amounts of liquor being consumed. One night they would come to our ship and then the following night we would all go to the submariners. As apprentices we chummed up with our opposite numbers - the midshipmen. It was a great experience getting shown around submarine .

The main attraction in the town was the YWCA where regular dances were held. I remember in the depths of winter walking along the main drag in Halifax on our way to the ‘YWCA’ with the snow piled so high on the pavement that you could hardly see over the top of it.

Both Willie and I got fixed up with girlfriends. Mine shared a flat with two or three other girls. As far as I can remember it was like being in a dormitory.  I cannot remember the name of my girlfriend but I well remember Willie’s girlfriend’s name was Louise as I called him up on New Years Eve from my girlfriends flat singing ‘Every little breeze seems to whisper Louise’

We spent about three months in Halifax before the repair was completed.





Stuart Jones has kindly provided an account of his first trip to sea back in 1952 when going to sea was not the comfortable experience it evolved into in later years...............a short 'bio' of his career is also provided below.

"ELIDIR' - Courtesy Stuart Jones


"I completed my indentures with Cunard in 1957 and got Second Mates & Mates tickets in 1960. However between mates and Masters I  got pneumonia and was paid off sick in Genoa in May 1961. The pneumonia developed into milliary TB and eventually I got TB spine. I was repatriated to the UK and spent until the August following year recovering.
I decided that as I was by this time engaged  and doubtful whether I could go back to sea to seek work ashore.
I started with the Liverpool & Glasgow Salvage Association,a ship salvage organisation, in a clerical capacity on the bottom rung of the ladder. This was with a view to a career combining  my limited seagoing experience and studying marine insurance.
However the pay was abysmal and so I left and joined a firm of Produce Brokers as a broker. This was difficult work as brokers were generally paid by the seller the sum of 1% of the selling price.
An offer of a job working  for a metal assaying company as a representative came up so I jumped ship again. The work  involved protecting the interests of sellers who were selling  metal scrap, minerals and ores to refineries and smelters.
This eventually resulted in me travelling almost literally all over the world.
By a strange quirk of fate although on the face of it the work had no relation to seagoing, the company became involved in the weight determination of bulk cargoes of minerals by difference of vessel's displacement ie Draft Survey. Suddenly I was the only one in company with the ability to undertake such work.
I spent the next thirty six years doing this job during which time I also lived in Hong Kong for five years and worked extensively in China and the Far East.
I retired in 2001 and continue to do part time work in the UK for the company.
As a result of working in  Hong Kong I bought a 29 ft sailing boat in 1991 and have sailed it, mainly singlehanded in the English Channel to the Scilly Isles, Channel Islands and North Brittany."



First Trip


In 1952, the year before officially I went to sea, I did a couple of trips on a coaster called the 'ELIDIR'.


My father worked for a grain and flour importer in Liverpool who chartered ocean going and coasting vessels as part of their normal trading. During the school summer holidays he was able to arrange a trip on the 'ELIDIR' from Birkenhead  to Glasgow.

The coaster was loading at Ranks Blue Cross Mills in the West Float with a cargo of flour in bags and I joined her there.

I was fifteen and a half at the time. My father took me from where we lived in West Derby, Liverpool down to where the she was berthed.

The 'ELIDIR' had been built in 1905 by the Ailsa Craig Shipbuilding Company at their yard in Ayr. She was propelled by a coal fired triple expansion steam reciprocating engine.

There was no generator so no electricity. Steering was manual rod and chain, assisted when manoevering  by a steam steering engine.

My bunk was to be on the settee in what passed for the chartroom and the Old Man’s day room below the bridge.

As far as I can remember there were about eight crew – the skipper, the mate, an engineer, a greaser a couple of firemen and a couple of sailors and a cook

It was a Saturday afternoon  when we arrived on the quay and we could see no sign of anybody. After some hollering and shouting eventually a seamen emerged from the forecastle and helped me with my gear.

His name was Tim and he came from Clear Island on the south west coast of Ireland. After sorting out my bunk he offered me a cup of tea in the fo’csle.


The crew lived forward. The greaser and the two firemen on the port side of the fo’csle and the seamen on the starboard side.

There was a coke fired, pot bellied stove in the middle on which was a pot of tea simmering away. He poured out two mugs of tea and then took a tin of condensed milk -‘conny onny’ and proceeded to blow in one of the holes in the top of the tin to force out the ‘conny onny’ into the mugs. I was really impressed and felt I was now among men !

Eventually the crew returned and then the skipper accompanied by his wife and off we sailed down the Mersey.

I can’t really remember how I passed the time away during the trip although I do remember the skipper giving me my first lesson in chart reading by the light of an oil lamp.  Of course I had a go at steering. The wheel must have been at least four feet in diameter in order to get a purchase on the drum around which the steering chain was rove.

Going into or out of port the steering engine was clutched in to help the helmsman. I distinctly remember the intermittent 'bang, bang, bang'  as the wheel was turned and the steering engine jumped into life.


We progressed up the Irish Sea and called up Port Patrick radio as we passed through the North Channel.   It was probably on Medium wave as there was no VHF then.  Passing  Ailsa Craig and the Cumbraes we eventually picked up the pilot off Greenock and sailed up past John Brown’s yard to tie up in Glasgow Docks.

In 1952 Glasgow was still in more or less full tilt building ships and an important general cargo port.


I think we were in Glasgow for a couple of days. The berth we were in was near to the Gorbals and Kelvin Haugh and at that time was pretty rough. Despite my fifteen and a half years I went ashore with the seamen but I guess it was for no more than fish and chips or such like.

As we walked back to the ship I vividly remember seeing some unfortunate drunk in a shop doorway drinking from a broken bottle with blood running down his chin.  A common sight in that city !

While we were in Glasgow the mate decided that it was time to renew the shackles which attached the steering chains to the steering quadrant.

The quadrant was under a grating on the poop. The grating had been removed and one of the crew was having to hacksaw the shackles apart as the pins were so corroded.

Being young and over enthusiastic I asked if I could have a go at sawing. Of course I went at it like a bull at a gate and the hack saw jumped out of the cut and across the  thumb of my hand which was holding the shackle. Although it was a deep cut and through the nail it did not go as far as the bone.

I got up and sucked the blood off my thumb and, playing the tough guy, said I was OK and wanted to restart the sawing.

Tim, the Irish man, said I should go along to the galley and get a hot drink. After a little mild protesting I went along to the galley and the cook sat me down with a steaming hot cup of sweet tea.  The next thing I knew I was sliding off the bench onto the deck as I passed out.

It was a classic case of shock.


Eventually we completed discharge and left again for Birkenhead. I helped to sweep out the hold and prepare it for another cargo of bagged flour.

The next job I tried was helping the fireman in the stokehold. The bunker was on the forward side of the stokehold and there was a space for the fireman to work and on the after side were the fires. I recall that there were three grates heating a fire tube boiler.

The coal was fed by gravity from the bunker which extended right across the ship onto the tank tops through small hatches from where it was shovelled or pitched into the fires.

The fireman,  I remember, suffered from some sort of disability which forced him to walk unevenly and with a kind of lurch. Whatever the disability was he made up for it in the strength of his arms which were like legs of ham!

Periodically the fires had to be raked with a ‘slice’.  This was a steel shaft with a short piece of steel at right angles to the end of it.

Beneath the grate was a bar at the front of the firebox. The slice was placed over this and the pointed end projected between the fire bars. The slice was then worked fore and aft to break up the clinker and allow the ash to fall onto the bottom of the fire box.

The ash was then raked out of the firebox onto the tank tops, wetted and allowed to cool.

It was a joint effort with the seamen to hoist the wet ash out of the stokehold and dump it overside.

There was a single whip shackled to the fiddley deckhead. A seaman would stand on the top grating in the fiddley while below the firemen would fill large cans with the ash.  The can was then hooked onto the single whip. The fireman then hoisted the can up to the seaman who unhooked it, took it to the ship’s side and dumped the ash.

He brought the can back hooked it on and lowered it down. 

Anyway that was the theory !

I remember working in the stokehold filling the cans and hooking on when I heard this almighty shout from above.  Looking up I saw a can whistling down directly at me. The seaman had not hooked it on properly and had just kicked the empty can off the grating into space.

I did manage to step sharply to one side and the can loaded with the sodden remains of ash landed with a bang on the stokehold tank top . Times have changed with the HSE !


I don’t recall anymore dramas but in any event it did not put me off going to sea as in the following year I signed indentures with The Cunard White Star,  as it was known then !




Sailing Close to the Wind


by Ray Simes


These are the random recollections of an old man, the events that I describe all happened a life-time ago, back in the 60's.  And they happened at sea. This is no biography, that would take a volume, these are just snippets to accompany my photographs. The photographs are mostly of ships and scenes. I wouldn't like to “name names” or show photographs of any person without their knowledge and consent.

I wear no rose-coloured spectacles when I look back at those years, I bear no recriminations against the sinners, and I cherish the memory of the saints and the wonderful souls that I also sailed with. Life was like the ocean waves, with high crests and low troughs and I cannot appreciate the highs without acknowledging the lows. However, I have deleted three sections in case anybody reading this may be upset by them. (The un-edited version on request from my email address at the end).


I was always going to go to sea. I was born in Liverpool, on the banks of the great River Mersey, before parts of it became a pond for small pleasure craft and the rest a berth for tankers and container ships. As a small boy I stared with wonder from the landing stage at the great vessels that paraded there. After my mother died I was deposited into a charitable orphanage. I escaped regularly to the river. I could walk the seven miles of docks from the Herculaneum in the south end to the Gladstone in the north. I knew all the docks' names and all the ships berths. I knew the ships' names and their colours and their owners and their trade routes. Trespassing the Liverpool docks was difficult, because each entrance on the dock road was guarded by the police, the best way was to use the landing stage to enter the docks from the sea wall. Birkenhead was much better, the docks were open and criss-crossed by the seven bridges. The only policeman was on trafiic duty at Duke Street. It was easy to evade the negligent gangway men and I would walk the alleyways of Clan boats and see the lascars asleep four to a cabin which they shared with their bicycles. I breathed in the heady heavy oil fumes from the engine-rooms and savoured the smells of exotic spices and foreign cargoes.


I was 15, in my last year at the school and it was the annual sports day. We were all kitted out in our PE gear – rough shirt, baggy shorts, and running shoes, nothing else. I was delegated to escort a prominent member of the board of governors. I was naive but not stupid and it was quickly apparent that he was more interested in me than he was in the sports field. He asked me what I wanted to do when I left school at the end of the term.

“Go to sea” was my reply.

This prominent member of the board of governors was acquainted with other directors of commerce in the city and as a result he took me to Riversdale Technical college in south Liverpool and introduced me to an Alfred Holt director. He was a dapper, bespectacled character with a staccato voice and an intermittent stutter. It was like being barked at by a dog, or quacked at by a duck.

I had thought that I might apply to Marconi in Rumford Street (I had no aptitude for the engine room and my eye-sight precluded me from deck duty) but as a result of my interview I found myself instead being kitted out at Greenbergs in the uniform of an Elder Dempster purser cadet. 


I was lodging in Speke, a stone's throw from the airport, when I was told to report to the steps of India Building in Water Street with my kit, at 7am one fine summer's morning. I was told nothing else. I managed to get a lift and left Speke at 6am, travelled out through Garston, Aigburth, and into town. I joined a group of total strangers (officers and crew) in Water Street and we all boarded a coach. The coach turned around, headed out of town, through Aigburth, Garston and back to Speke (airport)! I could have walked there. Apart from Pwhelli (Butlins) in North Wales, and a trip on the steamer “St Tudno” to the Great Orme (Llandudno) I had never been anywhere. When the charter DC3 Dakota of Dan-Air took off, I was trembling as much as the plane's old wings were.

Rotterdam, where we seemed to fill the whole ship with Heineken. Antwerp, Dunkirk, Rouen. I should have lost what innocence I had to a harlot in Hamburg, but lost it instead to the Chief Steward in his cabin a few days later....  I had just turned 16.


In my own company I was bold, resourceful and artful, but in the company of others I was painfully shy, nervous and literally out of my depth. I kept getting lost onboard and missed meals rather than admit that I couldn't find the dining room. I was vulnerable and an easy target, but that all soon changed.


The actual transition from school to sea was a natural one for me; I just swapped one uniform for another, one set of rules for another set, I certainly wasn't used to going home every night and so I didn't have to suffer the trauma of homesickness. (It upset me to hear first-trippers crying themselves to sleep with homesickness).  Seasickness was something else that luckily did not effect me.


 It was the silence that woke me up. After the constant throbbing of the Doxford engines, day and night, the ship was quiet and rolling on a swell. Dazzling sunlight was pouring through the porthole. I quickly dressed and ran out on deck. The horizon was empty and shimmering. I ran to the port-side and there was the mountain of Freetown, Sierra Leone. My heart was bursting with excitement. I never lost that sense of wonderment or privilege.

At the end of the voyage we berthed back in Rotterdam. Nobody explained to me about “signing off”, so as it was a crisp Autumn morning, I took myself off for a walk around the neighbourhood. I returned around lunchtime to find the ship deserted with only a Dutch gangwayman for company. I was not very popular by the time I got signed off and caught up with everyone else waiting at the airport.


The only way to approach New York is from the sea. I was 17 and on the “Sherbro”. It was dusk and on the horizon the skyscrapers stuck up like distant telegraph poles. I recognised immediately the silhouette of the  liner “France” as it sailed outward. We sailed under the Verrazano Bridge which was still missing its final central section. We berthed in Brooklyn. The Beatles were causing hysteria in the country and in a club in Greenwich Village I watched a young man named 'Bob Dylan' perform.

On our last day in New York myself and two other cadets were walking back to the ship. A big yank-tank drew alongside and a slick salesman claimed he was a rep for “Crown Colony” and could let us have a couple of their famous shirts cheap. I had no dollars left but the other two handed over their money and the car accelerated away in a cloud of dust. Back onboard the opened boxes revealed their contents to be 'collars and cuffs' only, dummies for display.


I always loved thunderstorms, but I loved storms at sea better. On the mailship APAPA in 1963 we hit a storm in the Bay of Biscay that held the ship almost static for 48 hours, and you can appreciate the size of the waves from the photographs. The force of the waves buckled bow plates, tore the tarpaulins from the life-boats and smashed the glasses from the deck lights. The passengers stayed hidden below decks.

I loved it and had hysterics as potted palms and aspidistras slid the length of the alleyways and smashed into bulkheads. In the deck pantry, plates crashed to the deck and cups fell from cup-hooks.

I was always fascinated when we were in a storm with a following sea, how the giant waves would lift the screw clear of the water, and then part and overtake the ship on either side. One of the photos was taken from the afterdeck and shows one of those big, black horrors pass us by. The big waves were never blue, or green – they were always coal black and just as hard.

I still believe that every seventh wave is the biggest. On this particular occasion I was on the “Diplomat” and there was a fierce storm running. I took my camera and ran from the accomodation block and up the foredeck and then hid in the lee of the fo'csle. Then I peered over the bulwark ready to photo the next big wave.  I glimpsed over the bulwark and saw that the wave was a monster. The ship was teetering on the brink and ready to crash into the trough.  My nerve gave way. I turned and sprinted for the safety of the accomodation. The ship plunged into the trough and the wave swamped the foredeck. The wave caught me from behind and swept me off my feet and sent me flat on my back toward the superstructure. Three feet to my left and it would have smashed me into face of the accomodation. Three feet to my right and it would have swept me over the side and out to sea. As it was, it sent me straight down the outside alleyway and I was able to grab hold of the railing and save myself.


The ship was my home, and my best friends were my cabin and my bunk. It didn't matter where you were in the world, how bad it was, at the end of the day the ship always sailed away. The ship was never 'dead' – it was always warm and lit and welcoming.


In 1963 I had the misfortune to be in Matadi and Boma when the Congolese war was developing as the nationalists tried to expel the Belgians, and witnessed victims of the atrocties being evacuated by ship.


Capetown is like New York – best approached by sea. The first sight of Capetown, whether the Table mountain is covered by its tablecloth or not, is breathtaking. Anchored off and awaiting our berth, the ship rolled in the swell to a greater degree than it had in the storms in the Biscay. I stood atop the mountain and looked down on the city clustered below. The “Custodian” was suspected of having grounded in Lobito and we spent ten days in dry-dock in Capetown. Marvellous!


In 1968 during the Biafran war in Nigeria, the “Oranyan” was requisitioned by the government (General Gowan) for war service against the Ibos (Colonel Ojukwu). The decks were swamped with troops and we set off for Port Harcourt. Hapless conscripts who thought that without weapons they would be excused from the fighting threw their guns over the side. Colonel “the Scorpion” Adekunle threw those soldiers overboard as well. We kept ourselves locked in our cabins for the duration.


During one of those all-too-frequent dockers' strikes in Liverpool, office staff were asked to volunteer to help berth a ship on a Sunday morning. I was back off leave and working by in the office. A dozen of us turned out, including a Personnel Manager. As the ship slipped into the lock and mooring lines were cast onto the quay, the Manager saw that the vessel was going to make contact with the lock wall and quickly lowered his brief-case on the handle of his umbrella to act as a fender. 6000 ton of “Herbert Macaulay” ground his case and cane to a pulp.


My first five Christmas's in the Merch' were spent at sea. In 1963 on the “Apapa” we were passing the Canaries and heard how the Greek cruise ship “Lakonia” was on  fire (and subsequently sank there).  In 1964 on the “Swedru” we spent Christmas day homeward bound in the English Channel but were confident of being ashore for New Year. But a strike by dockers in Tilbury meant that we spent New Year's Day anchored in the Thames, and could only watch the distant firework displays.

(Everybody got the “Channels” - that contagious excitement that took hold once you had passed the Canaries northbound, had gone back into “blues” and could feel the pinch of cold weather. The race to raise a UK radio station. I recall shinning up a samson post with an aerial wire gripped in my teeth to attach it to the highest place to try and get Radio Caroline – in a force 10 gale! On the “Swedru” supplies of booze and tobacco were already running low when we spent Christmas Day in the Channel. But when we had to anchor in the Thames due to the strike, supplies had run out. The tension and frustration manifested itself in various ways. The “sparky” was a fan of Sandy Nelson and had a drum set in his cabin. He spent the days beating his drums to death then spent the remaining days teaching me how to play chess).


In 1966 the “Custodian” was due to sail from London on Christmas Eve. From there we would spend Christmas Day en route to Hamburg. In Hamburg we were to load a heavy lift onto deck and then return to London to complete loading general cargo, and then sail – on New Year's Eve! The officers were all Company men and in place. Harrisons used native crews on the West Indian run but, for obvious reasons, used white crews on the South African run. White crews were difficult at the best of times but finding anyone prepared to sign on to a ship that was sailing on Christmas eve and then on New Year's eve, proved impossible. Drastic measures were called for. The Chief Officer scoured the dockside pubs. In one he found an inebriated Donkeyman/Greaser just signed off a Port line boat. The donkeyman was put to bed on the Custodian and when he awoke we were in the North Sea and his thumbprint was on the articles. The Company flew down two AB's from Aberdeen (both were alcoholic and one was a kleptomaniac) who took one look at the port of registry and declared there and then that there was a “scouse plot” aboard against Scots and began drawing up plans for retribution. A 15-year old boy from a broken home in the East End was taken on as a cabin boy, despite being under-age and unable to read or write. An EDH from Welwyn Garden city came aboard wearing shirt and trousers and a “witches stone” on a chain around his neck. He was barefoot, and this was December in London. All he carried was a parcel wrapped up in newspaper, which we assumed was his kit but much later turned out to contain only marijuana.

The ensuing tragi-comic voyage led to violence aboard and ashore, a near mutiny, a death in Durban and a farcical funeral.


Paddy Henderson's “Koyan” was built in 1952 but surely must have been built from a pre-war design? I was told that Hendersons had got the K-boats “off the stocks, two for the price of one”. Anyway, the Koyan was under Elder Dempster colours when I joined her and was past her best. She was rusty and forlorn in the Herculaneum dry dock. Not only was she past her 'sell-by' date, she was well behind her sailing date as well. When the dock was flooded, the tunnel flooded too. The dock was emptied but when it was flooded again there was a problem with the screw. When we finally sailed there were still shore-side workers aboard trying to complete outstanding jobs. In the toilets the WC bowls remained unbolted to the deck. Outside the Mersey bar the engines failed. While we were loading fertiliser in Londonderry the fore-topmast came down. The foredeck looked like a scene from Trafalgar. The mast was secured on deck to be re-stepped in Lagos. The engines failed leaving Las Palmas. Fresh water ran out on our way down the west African coast. A passing fishing boat was signalled and drums were transferred to the Koyan, but I can't recall whether they contained water or lub oil. I do know that we had to throw buckets on ropes over the side to use sea water for shaving and flushing the toilets. We all looked and smelled like pirates! The water was replenished but up the creek (in Warri or Sapele) the engines failed again and we were stuck there for days and the water ran out. With no fresh water supply available we were issued with tins of Skol and Tennents lager instead. Yippee! When we finally arrived back in Hull the engines failed again, within sight of the harbour lights. The Koyan was the last ED ship that I sailed on.


I loved my job at sea. I was diligent and competent. It didn't matter whether I was sweating and covered in dirt down the hatch in Calcutta, or tallying tin all night in Lagos, or overseeing port entry, I loved it and everything else that we experienced was a bonus. I particularly liked getting the bundles of mail from the agent and handing out the letters. They were such a welcome morale booster.....unless the letter was a “Dear John”!

After a voyage on the “Wanderer” Harrisons promoted me to full Purser – I was 18.


Being a teenage officer was not without its problems. The age difference between myself and most of the other officers caused some friction. As far as I was concerned, my age was irrelevent, as long as I was capable of doing the job, then I deserved the extra gold stripe on my epaulette and the money that went with it. On one ship that I joined the Purser that I replaced was a fixture aboard, elderly and much-liked, and some of the more narrow-minded officers treated me as an 'upstart' and gave me the cold shoulder. But that wasn't the only problem. I needed to mix and engage with people of my own age, other teenagers, and they were only to be found in the cadets cabins, or down aft amongst the junior seamen and catering staff. Officers socialising with cadets or ratings was simply “not done” so at sea I sometimes felt myself isolated. But ashore was a different matter. These were the years of the “swinging sixties”, of “flower power” and “free love”.  The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. But once ashore and out of uniform, we were no longer officer and cadet, or officer and rating, we were teenagers, and there were many escapades and escapes!


I did learn one painful lesson that age and experience may have helped me to avoid :

that “Familiarity breeds contempt”.


The coast of South West Africa is notorious for its sea-mists, white and pink. At slow ahead, the regular blast of the whistle had kept some of us awake all night. Out of the mist loomed one of those big, C3 freighters of Farrel Line, slicing through the water at full speed. It was just feet and seconds away from slicing through us.


We were alongside the Landing Stage at Liverpool. There was a thick fog on the River Mersey but it was settled on the water. Up on the boat deck of the “Apapa” we were above it: it was like looking out of the window of an aeroplane at the clouds beneath. There were whistles and fog-horns sounding all around. And then I saw the top of the mast and navigation light of a small vessel. It appeared through the layer of fog from the Birkenhead side and it was heading in our direction. It was going too fast and its mast was cutting through the fog like a wire through cheese. It just kept coming and I couldn't believe it when the bow of a tug appeared right beneath where I was stood, and slammed into the side of the “Apapa”. Perhaps the skipper shoved the engines astern at the last moment, but the tug rebounded off our side and shot backwards into the fog at much the same speed as it had hit us at.

“Someone get that boat's number!” a voice shouted from the bridge, but the mast-top was already disappearing from view.


We were homeward bound and the weather in the Atlantic was atrocious. I went out on deck wrapped up in one of the heavy duffle coats that we used when working in the cold store. The wind was so strong that it was impossible to breathe while facing it, I had to turn my head sideways to gasp my breath in. And I was able to lean forward to about 45º against the wind. The sea as far as the horizon was foaming like boiling water.  And then I saw it. On the horizon and on a parallel course there was a ship, but not just any ship. It was a liner, an ocean greyhound, and it was flying. It was lean and sleek with a straight stem and a counter stern. It had four raked funnels. The seas were overwhelming her and several times the white water covered her bridge. I was sure that there were no pre-war style passenger ships still afloat with four funnels. It had no funnel or hull colours, the whole ship appeared to a pale blue-grey. It soon overhauled us and was gone into the distant gloom. I waited impatiently and at midday when the mate came off watch I asked him about the ship. He told me that the only ships that he was interested in were those that were on a collision course but that there had been no ships in the area and no radar contacts.

On the bridge there was a copy of Adlard Coles “Merchant Ships – World Built” and  my belief was confirmed when I found no outline of any four-funneled liners. But I had stood and watched that ship for maybe forty minutes from the moment it appeared on the distant horizon to the moment it was lost to view.


I remember:

Listening to the Durban Symphony orchestra and choir perform Verdi's Requiem.

A hilarious but fraught safari in Ceylon.

Watching the Apollo 11 spacecraft lift-off for the moon from off-shore Florida in 1969.

Being frightened rigid by Hitchcock's film “The Birds” at a showing aboard the “Apapa”.

Parties onboard with nurses from the hospitals and telephonists from the exchanges.

Floating on my back in the Red Sea (and then being battered against the ship's side by the wash from a passing tanker).

The marvellous canopy of stars at night at sea and a thousand wonderful sunsets.

Dolphins racing us, changing leaders in the bow-wave.

Whales being slaughtered and prison chain-gangs shovelling coal in their filthy, striped uniforms in Durban.

Preservation Hall in New Orleans and the Irish Showbands in Belfast.

Walking along the beaches at Dunkirk.

The Empire State building.

And much more...

                                                                I wish it could have gone on, but jobs for Pursers were fast disappearing and so were the ships that we served on. I think it was around 1980 and I had just completed a commission, an oil painting of the “Clan Sutherland”. A man who saw it told me that his father had just sailed on the “last Clan boat”. I couldn't believe it - what had happened to the fleet of 45 ships that they operated in 1965?  Similarly, I revisited Mersey Chambers (the headquarters of Harrison Line in Covent Garden) a couple of years later. No longer able to walk in freely and admire their display of ship models in glass cases, there was a glass security gate which I was not allowed to pass. I asked for a 'sailing list'. There was just one vessel on it, the “Author”. They used to have a fleet of 35 ships.

I am not being nostalgic but pragmatic when I suggest that for an island to lose its shipbuilding and shipping industry is a nonsense.


I would welcome any comments or feedback to : falaba63@hotmail.com

Also where and when the photos were taken.  


The Slop Chest


The "APAPA" in pain..........Ray Simes

"APAPA" still in pain....................Ray Simes

A clutch of cadets! A deck cadet, a purser cadet (supernumerary), a catering cadet, myself (purser cadet), and an engineering cadet and a case of ale. This is Christmas 1963 on the “Apapa”. You can tell it is a festive occasion by the pinned-up flag!
The ship's library boxes are in the background. 


Below, my cabin on the “Factor”. A junior engineer in the foreground and myself behind. African art and two 'Playboy' centre-folds adorn the bulkhead. A brass porthole. On the desk are a VAT 69 ashtray, cans of Harp lager, a Holland-America Line funnel ashtray, pictures of the “Falaba” and the “Administrator”, pictures of two girlfriends (one from Bolton, Lancashire, and one from Salisbury, Rhodesia) and some stickers supporting UDI and decrying Harold Wilson, and a pack of 20 Senior Service plain.


This is one of my favourite photographs. The flour mills on the far side of Birkenhead's West Float are long since gone. So is the City Of Bedford. The peace and quiet of the scene is in sharp contrast to the reality of life aboard and in the docks when loading.


Here is the "DALLA" loading logs "up the creek" at Sapele, Nigeria in 1968.  The "DIXCOVE" leaving Lagos with its decks full of troops and cattle, having been requisitioned for war
service during the Biafran war.  The "EGORI" arriving to berth at Apapa quays in 1964.  The cadet ship 'FOURAH BAY" arriving at Lagos 1968 and the "FOURAH BAY" alongside Apapa quays with Nigerian National "KING JAJA" ahead (I was on the "JAJA" then. 1968)
The "DIXCOVE" and Harrisons "ADMINISTRATOR" at Lobito, Angola in 1965.  Lobito was the furthest south that Elder Dempster's went on the African coast, and the furthest north that Harrisons went.
I left the former to join the latter and took this when I was on the "ADMINISTRATOR"."



Brian Williams who presently lives in Adelaide South Australia has sent me the underlining few words and also a selection of ships he sailed in whilst at sea beginning in the mid fifties.
Should any readers like to comment on Brian's contribution to the site please let me know and I shall forward his e-mail address..

I have lived in Adelaide, South Australia since 1970.   Hobbies include listening to music and reading anything maritime.   I have a vast collection of books pertaining to the sea along with many CDs from the earlier years of rock'n' roll to classical.  Since retiring my wife and I have enjoyed travel which has included the occasional cruise on ships which bear no resemblance from those passenger ships of an earlier era !   Unfortunately as we are all aware travel has now become very restricted since March of 2020.  The photo of us below is from our last cruise to New Zealand just before the virtual collapse of the cruising industry.

Shortly after coming ashore I went door to door cold selling and must say how soul destroying that can be even with a company car provided !  Later I joined a friend as plumber's mate and also dabbled in home maintenance.  After a year living in South Australia I started my own business as a contract painter building the business to eventually become one of the most successful in Adelaide providing work for a dozen employees.

Eventually retiring in my mid fifties I encouraged my son to carry on the business which he is still doing today very successfully.

As you can see my wife and I continue to enjoy good health while, sadly, many of our old shipmates are no longer with us.


You mentioned South Africa Ian and your time with Union Castle. I only ever got to Durban on a couple of occasions & that was in my first couple years at sea. As a 16 year old and knowing only the world from school atlas & certainly unaware of such things as apartheid, I found signs in Durban saying `Whites Only` on park benches and `Blacks` having to go atop double decker buses quite bewildering to say the least.

Not sure if I related to you the time I jumped ship in Lisbon a country then I thought was great. We would call in there when coming across from Canada on our way into the `Meddy` and Lisbon would be our last port of call on the way out of the Mediterranean and back to the Canadian East coast. This we would do for a number of months.

I was only in Lisbon for a couple of weeks when I was picked up by the police having a beer and a feed in a local bar. Having no papers but telling them I was a British seaman who had `missed` my ship they took me to the British Embassy. They of course had been informed of `a seaman abroad` so they gave me a couple of pounds which they in no uncertain manner said was to be spent on toiletries only and not booze !

The police then took me by car along the coast to the seaside town of Estoril where I was put into a large house with big grounds out back. I discovered it was a detention center for anti government disasant`s who were trying to over throw the then President Salazar. For the couple weeks I was there I was a bit of a curiosity being a young British guy . Several of the detainees in the first few days of being there ,would ask me to speak to them in the center of the garden as they indicated that the inside of the place was bugged. The strange thing that I found odd was most of the prisioners were not Portuguese but Asian`s !

Every morning a couple of plain cloths, I guessed police, would drive me back to the Lisbon docks and take me aboard any British ship going back to the UK. Several Captains for what ever reason refused to take me, so back to Estoril we would go. Eventually a skipper of a Blue Star vessel agreed to repatriate me,   (he was a Scot). So after signing the obligatory DBS articles stating I was to be a `paid a shilling a week` that being the case`` no British citizen would be a slave under the British flag `` ! You could be made to work if the captain so wished, but he said` just sit it out until we get back to UK.`

Another adventure that I made for myself !...................Where I hung out before being picked up is another story Ian !