The first installment describes his time leading up to going to sea and his first trip aboard the M.V. TAHSINIA" of Anchor Line.


I would like to thank <mnnostalgia.com> for the use of a number of illustrations used in my book.  The website "photoship.co.uk"has also been a great source of material for which I am indebted.
My book has been produced, printed and collated at Craigmore, CW8 4AE, using a Hewlett Packard Photosmart Series C4100 all in one printer, scanner & copier.


When I finally decided it was high time I gave up pottering around earning a somewhat meagre crust with the part time job that had kept me occupied for over seven years, the extra time that became available to me needed to be filled somehow or other. I had had an idea running around in my head for some time that needed pursuing and this seemed to be as good a time as any to explore this further. With this idea nagging away it was time to expand on a short period of my life that had given me so much pleasure and enjoyment.

On completing my biography a few years ago, I felt that a significant part of my early career, namely the four years spent in the Merchant Navy going round the world with the Anchor Line in the late fifties and early sixties, needed further exploration. There were many stories that had been left untold, many characters that I had come across that needed introducing, places that I had visited required reporting on. There was indeed, much to write about.

What had started this all off? There is undoubtedly a time, generally later on in life, when we look back at what has gone before; be it good or be it bad – nostalgia seems to be the order of the day! I had come across an old file in a drawer I was clearing out and photographs and papers relating to my time in the Merchant Navy appeared. These papers were too valuable to just throw away so on looking up a web site on the internet – Merchant Navy Nostalgia – led me into looking a little deeper into these four years and the first point of call, hopefully, is the guest book.



Clouds permitting the noon sighting was a tradition dating back many moons (suns).



Let the records show that I actually joined the Merchant Navy on Friday the 4th June 1954, my 13th birthday. A rather strange statement certainly but how can that be? Well, that was the day I became a teenager and as such, would then be allowed to go out at night on the fishing boats in Carradale. Here I think, an explanation is required! As a family, Mum and Dad together with my two younger brothers Alan and David, had for years taken our summer holidays in Carradale on the Mull of Kintyre on Scotland’s west coast. After the war in the late forties and early fifties, Carradale had returned once again to be a thriving fishing community, based around the ‘Silver Darlings’, the herring. Carradale was known for its three F’s – Fishing, Farming and Forestry but it was only the first of these that really interested me.

A tradition at Carradale that seemed to involve the entire local and visitor community alike was to go down to the harbour just as dusk was approaching each evening to watch the boats go out for another night’s fishing in search of the elusive, above mentioned Silver Darlings! I was fascinated by the sea and had been for as long as I could remember. I loved pottering about in our small dinghy in and around the old pier, and the thought of being able to go out at night and accompany the fishermen seeing them at work, had been an obsession with me for ages. I could see each evening that as the boats left the shelter of the old pier, in addition to the oilskin cladded fishermen, there appeared to be a number of visitors going along for the ride as it were. It was fairly obvious that they were going out with the fishermen to see what happened during the hours of darkness and I too wanted very much to experience this for myself. I was forever asking Mum and Dad if I too could go out on the boats but was always being told - wait until you’re a little bit older and in your teens and we’ll see. I clearly remember, as if it was only yesterday, a conversation I had with Mum as we left Carradale in early September of 1953 that the next time we were in Carradale, I would be able to go out to the fishing! 

I was right too, because in August of 1954 I was able to experience at long last, the thrill and excitement of watching these fishermen, hardy souls each and every one, hard at work as they hauled in the nets time after time during the course of a nights fishing. I loved being out on the water, the movement of the boat the sights and smells but above all else, the privilege of being allowed to be with these men as they went about their daily work in all weathers. Undoubtedly, the many evenings, and there were plenty that I spent on board these herring boats night after night, prepared me for what was to come. This experience had sown the seed and I longed for the day when I could leave school and seek a career that would allow me to further my ambition.


That therefore, is the background to this story. All that remained was for me to compete my education at Dumfries Academy and as soon after my sixteenth birthday as was possible, I would then hope to take up any opportunity that was open to me that would allow me to actually get to sea. That was my dream, however what actually happened took a little longer than I had planned!   


The Glasgow Wireless College


As I started what turned out to be my last full term at Dumfries Academy, it was January 1957 and I knew that the time was drawing ever nearer to when I would be able to seriously consider my future. I had already made up my mind, and had done so many years before, that the Merchant Navy was where I wanted to be and nothing was going to change my mind. But where to start and how to go about it?  Before anything could be done, however, I did have to see out this final year but at the first available opportunity following my 16th birthday on the 4Th June, which would be the end of term in any case, I would leave school for the final time.

Friday 28th June 1957 dawned and so ended the formal part of my education.  This was really the start of the summer holidays but this would be very different to those that had gone before. Instead of setting off for Kintyre and our annual stay in Carradale, I would be endeavouring to find some way of fulfilling this ambition of mine by joining the Merchant Navy.  During a conversation one evening that Mum was having with Grandpa Taylor in Glasgow, it was suggested that perhaps I should move up there and be close to where I could attend college. There were a number of opportunities that could be explored but the rather remoteness of Dumfries to these colleges, was a bar to me moving forward. So it was that after a two week break at home in Rathan, Mum and Dad helped me move out to stay in Glasgow with Grandpa, Grandma, Alexa and Edith in Rowallan Gardens and I took up residence with them, something I will always be grateful for. I still wasn’t too sure what exactly I had to do but an advertisement I saw in the Glasgow Herald during August, certainly caught my eye.

Although it was something I had never thought about, training to be a Radio Officer was a means to an end in that I would be able to go to college and further my education rather than sit at home and wait for something to happen. Courses lasted for 12 months and at the end, either a First or Second Class Radiotelegraph Operator’s Certificate would be awarded. I’m pleased to say that the aforementioned certificate was always referred to as the PMG 1 or 2. (Postmaster General) and these awards ensured employment, either afloat in the Merchant Navy, or indeed could be used at the many shore establishments up and down the country and overseas that monitored radio traffic coming into or out of the UK. I was lucky enough to be in a position to enrol in the upcoming course; one scheduled to begin on Monday the 2nd September and this would take me through until August the following year. I had to call upon Dad to help me here as this was a private college and the course had to be paid for. Unfortunately, I no longer have the records to show the cost of this course but I do remember it wasn’t cheap.

The Glasgow Wireless College was located at 26 Newton Place, a rather stylish building in a road running parallel to Sauchiehall Street close to Charing Cross. Although the college is no longer in existence, the building is still much in evidence and today houses the Glasgow offices of Foster Care Associates, a nationwide organisation catering for the needs of young people. However, back in September of 1957, all I was interested in was getting myself organised and I duly reported to the college bright eyed and eager to begin. The course, if my memory serves me correctly, consisted of twenty young men ranging in ages from the youngest like myself, to men who were obviously well into their twenties and in one case I can clearly recall, a man that I thought to be nearing his fifties or sixties! Unfortunately no members of the opposite sex were in evidence – this appeared to be a male only environment!

After initial instructions and introductions, we were given a tour of the college, which consisted of the main tutorial room where obviously the principal instruction would take place. We were introduced to what would become our own particular place in this room, the desk we would operate from every day for the coming twelve months. Although I would have to work hard and learn, this was different from the formal schooling I had just completed. Hopefully, I would now be learning something that would stand me in good stead for whatever was to come in the future. Apart from the main room, there were other smaller facilities containing many types of radio and signal equipment, not unusual I suppose bearing in mind the training I was about to undertake! We were told that the rest of this first week would really be just a familiarisation exercise of all the equipment; rules and regulations etc. because the fun and games would start the following week.

So began the process of reporting to college every morning for a 9.00am start. There was a break of fifteen minutes mid morning and a lunch break of 45 minutes at or around 1.00pm.  In the afternoon, a second fifteen minutes break was had before lectures or demonstrations ended for the day at 5.15 pm. It wasn’t too hectic a day but the routine was fairly constant and followed a more or less similar pattern day after day. The morning session up to the mid morning break was taken up by lectures on procedures and the rules and regulations surrounding the role of Marine Radio Operators – be they on board or in shore establishments. The remaining part of the morning was invariably taken up with the basics of using Morse. Obviously we had to learn the code and the very simple process of repetition achieved this.  Trial and error, sounding out aloud to a colleague so that the noise emanating from that tutorial room every day would drive any visitor up the wall! It must have sounded awful but very soon we were more or less proficient but still very slow. The speed would come later.  At this early stage, we were nowhere near being allowed close to a Morse key; that day would come eventually but it was something we did eagerly await. 

During the two sessions in the afternoon, various pieces of equipment were taken apart and put back together again, this appearing to be the best way of demonstrating how the various items operated. The ‘Oceanspan’ transmitter was to become very familiar to all of us during the coming months. Apparently, this was the favoured machine in use in the majority of establishments – be they afloat or on dry land!

That therefore was our day and this carried on until we broke for a weeks break over Christmas and New Year. Four months of a daily slog had been completed and it was hard to believe that we were already a third of the way through our course. The ninety minutes each day that we spent on the Morse Code, although rather tedious to begin with, gradually became more exciting as our expertise improved. What had started with us sounding out to colleagues verbally eventually led to us actually being allowed to use a Morse key. The operation of such a key is a fairly simple procedure; you merely press down and make the required contact. The clever part is using the key to differentiate between dots and dashes and in time we all managed to do this quite successfully.

As a requirement to securing the coveted PMG Certificate, we had to prove that we could send and read at a minimum of twenty five words per minute but in reality, something approaching forty words was perfectly achievable. In the early stages during that first term, twenty five words per minute seemed a very long way off and I think that something like five words per minute would have been nearer the truth! So day after day we would practice sending messages and reports taken from newspaper articles. Our instructor was able to listen in to any conversations that were taking place in the room and we often incurred the wrath of this gentleman, either for some minor misdemeanour or more likely, some inappropriate comments were being made about fellow classmates!


At this point I should mention that each evening I made my way back to 26 Rowallan Gardens in Hyndland where Grandpa and Grandma Taylor, together with Alexa and Edith, looked after me so well. I was able to take a tram from Charing Cross out west along Sauchiehall Street and Dumbarton Road before changing to a second one at Crow Road for the final part of the journey. To this day, I remember that this first tram was a number 24 and it went from Auchenshuggle in the east to Dalmuir in the west and was reputed to be the longest tram journey under the auspices of the old Glasgow Corporation Transport system. If my memory serves me correctly, I think it covered a total of something like 28 miles from end to end. Many a time, however, once alighting at Crow Road, I decided to walk home rather than wait for a second tram but it really all depended on the weather. Mealtime at Rowallen Gardens was generally around 6.00pm and I don’t think I missed one in all the time I stayed there! However, with Christmas fast approaching, I did manage home for three or four days but little did I know that this would be my last one in Dumfries for quite some time.

After enjoying a few days with the family, it was time to begin my second term at the College. I was thoroughly enjoying my time there and was more or less convinced that as soon as I graduated with my PMG Certificate, I would be off round the world. Advertisements were appearing all the time and during our breaks, we would all avidly appraise them comparing the terms and conditions that all the various companies were advertising. One in particular drew my attention but it was in a most unlikely direction. Rather than be attracted to the higher salary being offered to fully qualified Radio Officers, I liked the idea of taking up a deck apprenticeship with a company that would allow me to pursue a career as a deck officer.  Such a company was the Anchor Line, probably the best known of all the shipping companies sailing out of the Clyde. They were offering positions as deck apprentices or cadets, and the attraction for me was that it was more or less right away. Whether this was the correct decision or not, the thought that within a matter of weeks I could be off round the world was too good an opportunity to miss. I did talk this through with my two families in Glasgow and Dumfries but they left it all up to me.


Without too much delay, I decided to apply for an interview with the Anchor Line whilst still leaving my options open at the Wireless College. By this time, we were coming to the end of January 1958 and I knew that this was a chance I had to take. With some assistance, I duly applied to the Assistant General Manager, a Mr Noble, and then sat back and waited for what I hoped would be a satisfactory reply. I carried on with my studies at the Wireless College but I didn’t have too long to wait for a response from Mr Noble. I think no more than ten days had passed before I received an invitation to attend for an interview with my parents at the Anchor Line Head Office in Glasgow.


In his letter offering me an interview, Mr Noble also explained that apprenticeships with the Anchor Line were indentured and as such my parents would have to pay for this privilege. This was quite a shock to the system but both Mum and Dad said that as this was always what I had wanted to do, they would not stand in my way and I should go through with the interview. So it was that on the appointed day, Mum and Dad were able to come up to Glasgow to go with me to my interview at St Vincent Place, just off George Square right in the centre of Glasgow. The interview was very satisfactory and there and then I was asked if I would like to take up a position with the Anchor Line. Obviously my answer was a very big yes and it was then that Mr Noble dropped a fairly large bombshell!

One of the vessels in the Anchor Line fleet was a general cargo ship called the Tahsinia that was due back in Glasgow within the month.  After a week here in port, it was scheduled to leave again on Friday the 14th March and there was a place on her for me if I so wished! The delicate matter of salary was mentioned and I was told that during my first year as an apprentice, my salary would be £150 per year, which worked out at about £3 per week. Certainly not a lot by today’s standards but to me back in 1958, this was all just a bonus. To be paid for doing something I loved was indeed more than I could ask for. After a successful year, the salary would be increased by about £50 per year and so on each year until my apprenticeship was completed after four years.


The Tahsinia was one of three general cargo ships, known as the “T” boats, all employed on the north Atlantic run between the UK and New York, the others being the Tarantia and the Tyria. All had originally been employed on the Far Eastern run to India but had proved too slow and not really big enough so had been transferred to where they were currently being used.  This information only came to light after I joined the Tahsinia but it was nonetheless all very interesting and exciting.

With my interview at an end and as we were now in the middle of February, there was not a lot of time left to make all the necessary arrangements, the most important of which was to purchase all the uniform equipment I would need. There were so many loose ends that needed tying up with the Wireless College being top of the list of things to do. More or less straight away I had to inform them that I would not be completing the course so the very next day, I attended for the last time at Newton Place and formally announced to them that I would be leaving.

Naturally I was sorry to say goodbye to the many friends I had made over the preceding five months but I knew I was making the right decision and perhaps one day our paths would cross again. It was back down to Dumfries for all of us, however, as one of the urgent things I had to do was to undergo a full medical examination with our own Dr McNish. This had been requested of me by the shipping company but it didn’t prove too much of an ordeal and was duly accomplished in good time. I have previously mentioned the need to purchase uniform items and we had been told that the place for this was Paisley’s Department Store on the corner of the Broomielaw and Jamaica Street, sadly no longer in existence. This was one of the leading Stores in Glasgow and one of their departments specialised in catering for the needs of the various shipping companies operating out of Glasgow.  We had been supplied with two lists of equipment - one absolutely essential and the other not so urgent. On this latter list were items that would normally be required on voyages to hotter climates but as I had been told the Tahsinia was currently operating in the North Atlantic between Glasgow and New York, we put this list to one side for the time being! However, the other list was still formidable and it soon became obvious that once again, poor Dad was going to have to foot the bill.


To start with the actual uniforms. Two were required, one for general or working use and the other to be for more formal occasions such as at meal times or when we were in the presence of passengers. Each uniform suit consisted of a jacket and two pairs of trousers and of course, the hat. Two were required, adorned with the well known cap badge of the Red Anchor. All the buttons on the jackets had the Anchor Line emblem and to complete the picture, cadet’s epaulettes were sewn onto each lapel. A navy duffle coat, oilskin coat and boots completed the main items. Various items of workwear also had to be purchased and this included navy coloured boiler suits and work gloves. Along with other personal items, we all left Paisley’s laden with numerous parcels and boxes. It was back down to Dumfries for a quick break because at that stage, I didn’t have any idea when I would next be in a position to get home and see the family. So ended my connection with The Glasgow Wireless College. I had thoroughly enjoyed my six months but a new chapter was opening up to me. I couldn’t wait to begin what I hoped would be a long and successful career with the Anchor Line.



A proud cadet stands before his family including envious younger brothers !


The MV Tahsinia was built by John G. Kincaid & Co. Ltd. Greenock and launched on the 16th May 1946. Her registered number was 169473 with a gross tonnage of 5680 tons. Length of 425 feet, Breadth 58 feet and a Depth of 38 feet.


The weekend of the 8th and 9th of March 1958 was soon upon us and on the Sunday with Mum and Dad, I left Dumfries to go up to Glasgow. During the previous ten days, I had been in touch with Captain Noble as I now had to call him, and we had agreed that I would report for duty on the Tahsinia on Monday 10th March. She had arrived in the Clyde the previous week after sailing up from Avonmouth where she had unloaded a cargo brought across from the east coast of America. So it was with great excitement we drove the eighty odd miles from Dumfries and on our way to Grandpa Taylor’s, just happened to drive past Yorkhill Quay so that we could have our first sighting of what was to be my home for the foreseeable future. 

Speaking to a security guard on the gate, we explained the situation to him and he kindly allowed us to take the car onto the quayside and see the Tahsinia close up. She, of course, looked enormous and the biggest ship by far that I had ever seen. The fact that she was empty of any cargo and was therefore riding high out of the water just emphasised this but I did know that once cargo was loaded, she would eventually settle down and perhaps not look quite so big. Dad did take a few photographs before we left to go to Rowallen Gardens but I knew that a sleepless night lay ahead before my big day arrived.

A day I never thought would come, Monday 10th March, did eventually arrive and although no time had been given to me, I had been asked to report on board to the purser so I was itching to get on my way. Breakfast over, we were off and on arrival at Yorkhill Quay felling just a trifle apprehensive, I made my way up the gangway. The whole scene on the quayside, to my eyes anyway, appeared to be quite chaotic – cranes swinging in and out, lorries in a queue right round the warehouse obviously waiting to be unloaded and noise!

All the documentation I would need for my time in the Merchant Navy; Discharge Book, Union Membership Book and in front, my British Seaman’s Card or Passport.

On deck, I was met by another cadet, a young man called Phil Streeter who like myself, was joining the Tahsinia for the first time and the two of us made our way below to find the Purser. For the rest of that first morning, various important documents were completed including the all important Seaman’s Record Book and Certificate of Discharge. In addition, we were issued with a British Seaman’s Card, our equivalent to the British Passport and last but by no means least, a membership card for the Merchant Navy and Air Line Officers’ Association, our Union!  After handing over the princely sum of £1.00, we were fully paid up members of the union for the coming year. We were in!

Messrs Black & Michie - shipmates

The Tahsinia                                                           Officer Crew List


14th March 1958 to 7th May 1958



Master                                                            Captain G.Ramage

Chief Officer                                                  D.Lamont

Second Officer                                               G.Robertson

Third Officer                                                 D.McArthur

Cadet                                                              I.Walker

Cadet                                                              A.Black

Cadet                                                              A.Michie

Chief Engineer                                               J.Meikle

Second Engineer                                           J.McAskill

Third Engineer                                              A.McLellan  

Fourth Engineer                                            A.MacGregor

Fifth Engineer                                               J.MacLean

Sixth Engineer                                               J.Harrison     

Chief Steward                                               P.Dourley                 

Radio Officer                                                A.Murray





"Tahsinia" at Yorkhill Quay on Sunday the 9th March 1958.  Anchor Line's dock.  In the background may be seen one of the U.S. Lines Victory boats e.g. American Packer, American Scientist etc.

I think it is fair to say that the rest of that first day was a bit of a blur. We were told to familiarise ourselves with the ship as best we could and to stay out of trouble! Later on,


A typical Yorkhill scene of the fifties.  Future containerisation was alrady on the horizon and wousld alter this picture completely.  No more pilferage.  They just steal the whole container nowadays !

Phil and I met a third cadet and the three of us wandered round with eyes like saucers.  Everything was so new and strange but armed with plans of the ship that had been given to us earlier, we slowly but surely worked our way around. We were told that our captain was Mr Ramage, always referred to as the Captain and nothing else. The Chief Office was Mr Lamont but as to the names of anyone else, that would have to wait. During our familiarisation tour and in the accommodation block on the first deck level, we discovered our own cabins. As far as we were concerned, Phil and I would be sharing a cabin and with two bunk beds in it, we tossed a coin to decide who would sleep where. I won and chose the top bunk and, as I was later to find out, this would be my resting place for the coming year!

 In the same accommodation alleyway on that first deck, we were able to identify cabins for the Captain, Chief Officer, Second and Third Officers and the Chief Engineer. The Radio Officer and Purser also had cabins very close to our own. Opposite our cabin door, was a staircase or companionway as it should properly be called, leading to the bridge. We had a quick look round here but more would be explained to us in due course. One deck down, on the main deck, we located the dining room and accommodation for the remaining engineering officers. However, as the galley was not operational as yet and meals were not being provided, the three of us managed to find our way to a café close to the warehouse and had a snack there. Back on board, we were introduced to the Second Officer and he was able to give us a lot more information about what we would be doing during the coming week before we sailed for New York on Friday evening.

Most important of all, that morning we had started to load what would eventually turn out to be a full load of Whisky. Crates of this were currently being loaded into four of Tahsinia’s five holds and we would have important roles to play at the beginning and end of each day’s operation. The

lorries I had seen on my arrival were called onto the quayside in turn and the cartons and crates were then stacked onto pallets before being lifted and lowered into one of the waiting holds, Down in the holds, other dockers or stevedores to give them their correct titles, were waiting to offload the pallets before stacking each individual box neatly. It certainly was a high labour intensive operation and there were literally hundreds of dockers labouring away both on and off the ship.

Due to the high value of this cargo, stringent security had to be followed and our parts in this operation were to ensure

that once the hatch covers and tarpaulins had been put back in place at the end of the working day, the hatch locking bars would then have to put into position and padlocked. The locking bars, once positioned correctly on top of the hatch covers, had large bolts and nuts, which had then to be screwed up tightly before attaching a padlock. To this end, we three cadets were each issued with a very large Stilson wrench that would become our most prized possession and woe betide you if it was ever mislaid!

The Tahsinia on Sunday the 9th March 1958 with loading yet to start.

Stevedores normally finished work at 4.30pm sharp so immediately afterwards, we set to work putting these very

heavy and cumbersome bars in place. Six locking bars per hatch were required so working as a team, we soon mastered the art and we finished each of the four holds in about an hour although I can honestly say, I was extremely tired at the end of the operation. We were also considerably dirtier than what we had been on starting out and the need for working overalls had certainly been proved very necessary. Another important role that we cadets would have to perform was the raising and lowering of the Red Duster and the Company House Flag at sunrise and sunset each day. The Red Duster is the affectionate name for the Merchant Navy Union Jack and was always flown at the stern of the ship whilst in port. At sea, it is flown from the main mast. So each day, having carefully worked out and had the timings checked for sunset and sunrise, one of us would perform the necessary duty, taking it in turns to share out the duty. If we had to stay on in the evening, someone else would come in first thing in the morning and vice versa. As I mentioned, I was tired but also exhilarated and we cadets sat for quite some time talking over our thoughts and feelings about our shared experiences on this our first day as cadets. 

The rest of the week followed a very similar pattern. An early start in the morning in time to break out the flags at sunrise although in March, the sun wasn’t actually visible. As the dockers started to arrive, the locking bars were removed and then we were able to spend a lot more time learning about the ship and what our duties as cadets entailed. More and more people were being introduced to us, most of whom would become integral to the part that we would play as very junior deck officers – namely our seamen. Most were Able Bodied, better known as AB’s, the name given to those fully qualified individuals who had undergone years of training to attain that high standard and also EDH’s or Efficient Deck Hands, a grade slightly lower than that of an AB. As the week progressed, I felt that I was becoming a part of something really important and also by

this time, I had been told that we would be sailing in the early evening the coming Friday so I was able to let my families know that Thursday would be my last night at home.

During Thursday, the eve of our sailing, we were given details of our duties regarding the watches we would be doing once at sea and our duties when leaving port. At sea on board ship, the day is divided up into six four hour spells or watches. Entering and leaving harbour and time actually in port would be dealt with at a later stage. Each of the three cadets were allocated a particular watch and I was to be on the four to eight watch, both in the morning and early evening.  This was also the watch that the Chief Officer was in charge of so I felt quite privileged and the hours didn’t seem to be all that bad. Little did I know what was about to happen! I found out also that the Second Officer always took the twelve to four watch whilst the third Officer, the eight to twelve one. The Captain didn’t stand a watch but obviously could appear at anytime. However, that was not quite upon us yet. The following evening at high tide just after eight pm or twenty hundred hours as it should be called, we would leave Yorkhill Quay behind and start the long journey to the other side of the Atlantic.

Friday 14th March 1958 was, if I remember rightly, dark and damp with a lot of rain in the air.  All loading had been completed the previous day and what was now happening, was a giant clean up operation.  All of the hatches had been secured, tarpaulins had been were stretched over the boards and security bars were padlocked and in position. Stores were being taken on board and there seemed to be a realisation amongst everyone that our departure was soon to be upon us. Everyone had been issued with linen for their respective cabins, the dining room was at last open for business and I had had my first meal on board the Tahsinia – lunch! I had been briefed by the Second Mate that my station for entering and leaving port would be on the bridge

where I would have to keep a record of all that happened in the bridge log.

At the rear or aft end of the bridge, was a high desk above which were a number of telephones connected to different parts of the ship. The bow and stern were fairly prominent plus of course, a telephone connection to the Engine Room.  It would be my job to record the time, and report all verbal commands issued on the bridge, reports coming in from other parts of the ship and this would continue until such times as I was relieved or when there was no longer any need for a full report to be recorded.  Just after 6.00pm activity increased as two Clyde Port Authority tugs appeared and took up position forward and aft of us. At this time, I was told that all we were waiting for was a Clyde river pilot to come on board and when that happened, we would be able to proceed. No ship is allowed to enter or leave any port in the world without a pilot who was authorised to operate in that particular harbour or river.

The previous evening, I had telephoned Mum and Dad in Dumfries just to say cheerio and that I would see them again in about two months time. I was somewhat surprised therefore, to see them on the quayside shortly before we left that Friday evening. I did manage a quick goodbye but as things were moving fairly rapidly, all I managed was a quick five minutes with them before they left. Later on, I was surprised to see them again but I’ll relate that part of the story later. I was aware that the tugs had had ropes attached and were in position to assist us off the quay. The final sign, however, that we were about to leave, was the taking in of the gangway that had been in position all week. This last link to the shore having been removed, we were now ready to cast off and move away from the quayside. From my position inside the wheelhouse on the bridge, my view was somewhat restricted but I certainly was well aware of what was happening. Telephones were ringing, orders were being given, bridge telegraphs were being rung and although dark, I could still see and hear that we were

starting to move under our own power. I was being kept busy answering various telephones and reporting on all that was happening that I never noticed how the time was passing. 

No sooner had we left Yorkhill Quay when I was aware that we were about to pass the point where the Renfrew Ferry crossed the river. By this time, we had cast off the aft tug but we were still under the control of the forward tug and I was informed that this would be in place until such times as we reached the Tail o the Bank near Greenock. The next point I noticed was the famous shipyard of John Brown and Company in Clydebank, the home of both the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. With things beginning to settle down, I was told that I could be relieved but to stand by, as I would be required again to report when the pilot had to leave us at Greenock. This was the first opportunity I had had to actually see what was going on and I enjoyed standing with the other cadets just watching as we moved on down the Clyde through a part I was so familiar with. Very soon, another landmark appeared, this time the ferry crossing at Erskine and to my surprise, there waving to us as we passed by, were Mum and Dad.  Obviously when we had left Yorkhill, they had driven down and there they were, standing on the ferry slipway as we passed by on our way down to Greenock. It was good to see them but very soon, they were out of sight as we continued down river.

The river began to widen at this point and Dumbarton Rock was soon visible on the starboard side before Port Glasgow and then Greenock appeared on our port side. Little over an hour had passed since leaving Yorkhill but very soon we were back at harbour stations as we prepared to disembark our pilot. A small motor launch appeared out from the shore and as we put a pilot ladder over the side, I was asked to escort the pilot from the bridge down to deck level to see him safely over the side and on his way.  That accomplished, Tahsinia was now clear to carry on and we

moved past Gourock and rounded the famous Cloch Light at the entrance to the Clyde itself.  It was nearly 2300 by this time and, as I was on watch at 0400, it was time to turn in. I would be getting a call half an hour before so it was indeed time to call it a day at the end of an exciting and somewhat tiring twenty four hours.

I had a rather rude awakening for my first morning at sea – 3.30am to be precise! My opposite number on the midnight to four watch brought me a mug of tea and the news that it was pouring with rain and better wear an oilskin coat! It was pitch black as I made my way onto the bridge, rather feeling my way as my eyes got used to the darkness. The Second Officer was in the process of handing over to the Chief Officer and I was told that we were now rounding the Mull of Kintyre having made our way south from the Clyde during the four or five hours since I had turned in.  I was just a trifle homesick at this point because I obviously knew this area so well having spent numerous years in Kintyre during our holidays each year in Carradale. I could see the Mull of Kintyre Light flashing away to starboard and it appeared to be quite close. I had a quick look at the chart laid out on the table inside the wheelhouse and noticed that our course out into the Atlantic had been marked out very clearly. However, my responsibilities lay with trying to keep a good lookout and to be in a position to help out with whatever the Chief Officer wanted – whatever that might be!

As the night gradually turned to day, more and more could be seen and the coast line of Northern Ireland was clear to see on our port side. Our fore deck was an extremely busy place as our seamen went about their duties making everything shipshape and tied down before we headed out into the North Atlantic. I was intrigued to see that some sort of lifeline was being created on the foredeck stretching all the way from the forecastle at the bow to the bridge housing itself. Later on, whist in the middle of the Atlantic, I was to find out for myself how important this line was for

the safety of everyone on the ship. Tahsinia was moving to a slight swell but the motion was actually very comfortable as I settled down to enjoy the rest of my first watch.  A rather amusing moment occurred when I asked the Chief if he wanted me put up all the flags as we had done each day whilst in port. He replied that this wasn’t really necessary as who would be around to see them! Certainly the Red Duster could go up but instead of raising this at the stern as we had done in Glasgow, the flag would be raised on our main mast. Apart from that, this first four hours just flew past and soon I was relieved at 0800 and after changing, made my way to the dining room for my first breakfast.

After breakfast, I changed into working clothes and reported, as I was later to do each day, for duties and to undertake any tasks that were required of me. This could range from clearing rust from the ships rails, perhaps the odd touch up painting job in and around the bridge to just about any odd job that needed doing – anything  really to keep us occupied. A favourite job for the cadets was to keep the two bridge engine room telegraphs, one situated on each side of the bridge just outside the actual wheelhouse, spotlessly clean. These were substantial brass telegraphs and we had the devils own job keeping them clean. This work, plus the two spells on watch each day, was to be the norm whilst at sea. In addition, we had to keep up to date with our studies and the Merchant Navy Training Board had set out a schedule that we all had to adhere to. The Anchor Line were very clear on this and during my interview, Captain Noble had stressed how important it was to keep up to date. A nominated officer on board and in the case of the Tahsinia, this was the  second officer, would be checking on our progress on a regular basis.  Something like an hour each day really had to be spent on the likes of International  Code Flag recognition and the Morse Code. This is where my six months at the Wireless College certainly came in handy and this part proved no obstacle for me.

On our first full day at sea and once we had cleared the coast of Northern Ireland, a surprise lay in store for those of us on our first trips when we were told that we had a Duty Free shop or bond on board, something that we were completely unaware of.  As the ship had now entered International waters, the bond could be opened and various items could be offered for sale free of Tax. The likes of cigarettes were an obvious popular choice but chocolates too figured high on everyone’s lists. I saw and bought a most beautiful Parker Fountain pen with a gold top that I certainly couldn’t have afforded back home but it was something I would be able to use for many years to come. The bond was actually open for a short while every day under the control of the Purser but with shortage of funds being a fairly important issue, I wasn’t able to take full advantage of this as much as I would have liked. It was noticeable, however, that the bond was a favourite place for everyone the day before we arrived back home as we all sought ideas for gifts for family and friends!

A favourite ritual that occupied some of our time on the long night watches, was to be allowed to signal to passing ships. As with our Training Board work, I was again able to use my knowledge of the Morse Code to good use. Having firstly sought permission, that is if they didn’t call you up first, using an Aldis signal lamp, we would flash messages to one another. The Atlantic Ocean is a very large body of water and when you are in the middle of this great expanse, to suddenly see another ship is quite exciting. Very simple messages would be passed i.e. ‘What Ship’ or ‘Where Bound’ were good examples of the sort of message we would send to each other. Timing was fairly critical because from first sighting to last, would be no longer than fifteen minutes or so, depending on the weather. On one very memorable occasion, having sought and received permission from the Chief Officer to call up a ship, rather than reply in the normal fashion by signal lamp, this ship merely switched on their funnel lights. I’m sure you can

imagine our surprise and delight when we were able to see at first hand, the magnificent Queen Elizabeth making her stately way to Southampton. To see this iconic ship was a tremendous thrill for a young man and was something I never forgot.

Another function that occurred each day was the need to take sightings to determine the ships position. In 1958, there were no such thing as Satellite Navigational Systems and the only way that a ships position could be calculated was by the use of a sextant. At noon each day, the sextant would be used to determine the angle between the sun (when visible) and the horizon and after numerous calculations, a position line or longitude could be found. At night, the angle between the Pole Star and the horizon would give the latitude and by combining the two, together with accurate timing, a position could be determined. Sightings depended on the weather and many a time, only a DR or dead reckoning calculation could be used to plot the position. A few days of DR positioning did sometimes give rise to concern, as it was pretty important to know where

we were at any given time! Many a time all deck officers, Captain and Cadets included, were called upon to try and

capture the sun when several days may have passed when it was impossible to see it.

Me and my sextant. Every day whilst at sea, we had to shoot the sun – provided it was there to see!

Another interesting fact I discovered was our course was not just simply a straight line between the coast of Northern Ireland and our landfall in the United States. We would be following what is known as a Great Circle Route, a course that is designed to take into account the curvature of the earth. The course that we would eventually follow went in an arc rather than taking what would appear to be the most direct route i.e. a straight line.  Tahsinia was capable of twelve knots, approximately fourteen miles per hour. Between Glasgow and New York, something like three thousand nautical miles would have to be covered and our ETA or estimated time of arrival on this my first trip, was the 24th March. However, anything between two hundred and fifty and three hundred miles would be sailed each day so the final accurate ETA was never known until more or less the last moment.

In addition, because of the time difference between the UK and the east coast of the United States, we had to gain five hours during the course of the ten or so days we were in transit. So every second night, at 0200 hours, all the clocks on board would be put back one hour. This meant that the midnight to four watch keepers did an extra hour on these nights but they made up the difference on the return trip when we had to lose five hours. On this first trip, however, after having had a more or lees uneventful ten days, it was announced that we would be able to dock on schedule in New York sometime during the Monday evening.

When I came on watch at 0400 that Monday morning, I was shown a light flashing on our starboard bow and was told that this was our first landfall in the States. This was the famous Nantucket Light, the first sign of life we had seen since leaving the Northern Irish coastline some ten days previously. Looking at the chart, the calculations

showed that we had approximately 200 miles to go, something like fifteen hours sailing time so by my estimation, we would be in a position to pick up a pilot sometime during my evening watch.

For this my first trip, I was excited, as were my fellow cadets, that we were about to dock in one of the most famous cities in the world and we would be arriving in daylight so would have a chance to see some of the sights that we were all so familiar with. I was particularly looking forward to seeing the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island, which was right in the entrance to the Hudson River, our eventual destination. As I have mentioned previously, a harbour pilot is always required when entering or leaving port unless that is, the master is so qualified as to not require pilotage. So it was that on reaching the entrance to the Hudson River, we slowed to allow a pilot launch to approach and for our pilot to come on board. Not only did a pilot come on but representatives from the New York Port Health Authority also boarded and they were there to carry out checks on each and every member of the crew.

As I was later to find out, we were arriving in the United States during the so called “McCarthy” era when a senator

of the same name was leading a campaign to weed out and stop communism from pervading American society. Whilst we were being piloted into the dock area, the entire crew had to line up and during very brief interviews these Port Authority agents asked questions such as – “Do you have any Communist Leanings?” I didn’t even know what Communism was let alone have any leanings towards it so I’m afraid I wasn’t much use to them! We also had to undergo personal questions regarding our health but nothing untoward was discovered and as far as we were concerned, were now free to enter port once we had tied up – or so we thought. By the time these interview sessions were completed, I never saw the Statue of Liberty but I hoped that on our reverse trip out of the harbour, I would get a chance to see her then. However, we did have to take up our positions for entering harbour so I found myself, once more, on the bridge with the Captain, Pilot and Third Officer.

As we moved slowly up the Hudson, on the starboard side we could see the berths normally taken up by all the famous transatlantic liners. The famous Pier 49 where the Queens always berthed, and close by were the berths that the United States and French liners used. Although none of the big liners were present this day, as I’ll recall later, I was able to visit an old school friend on board the Queen Elizabeth when we were both present in New York, the only occasion I was able to do this. So, as we moved slowly towards our eventual berth, we were accompanied by two Port Authority tugs and once lines had been taken from us, we were able to move into position. Our docking position was at right angles to the river and we were informed that we had been allocated a berth at Pier 86.  Docking was completed without too much bother but with darkness having arrived, it was way too late for any of us to think about going ashore. We were advised by the Chief Officer to have an early night because in the morning, unloading would begin and we would be on our feet all day.

Having taken the advice offered to have an early night, we were given a rude awakening just after 7.00am when we heard teams of dockers streaming on board to begin the task of unloading the hundreds of thousands of cases and crates of Scotland’s finest produce! The previous evening, we had been told that our hours whilst in port would be from 0600 in the morning to 1800 at night; just a little bit different to what we had just become accustomed to. So with us all ready and prior to the removal of the locking bars, the Chief Officer briefed the entire crew that with such a popular cargo that was soon to be unloaded, we had to keep a good lookout for pilfering that was bound to happen. Breakages were to be expected and if that was the case, not to turn a blind eye but to keep a careful note of exactly what was happening and to be watchful at all times.

An officer was assigned to each of Tahsinia’s holds and would remain in position there as long as work was going on. Even at break times, the locking bars would be put back and then and only then, would we be allowed to leave the deck. So started an exceedingly long and tiring day sitting down a hold watching pallet after pallet being unloaded. Breakages did occur and we all saw examples of bottles being rescued from broken cases and being hidden away obviously for removal at some later stage. However, we soon discovered that provided the dockers were ‘allowed’ to have a bottle to take away, the level of breakages certainly diminished.  We soon struck up a level of friendship with the men, most of whom were of Polish descent, and the day did eventually pass without too many incidents to report.

The locking security bars can be seen on top of number one hatch cover.

With the day drawing to a close at 4.30pm, and after the daily ritual of locking up securely, after our meal thoughts did turn to the possibility of going ashore into the City that never sleeps! The somewhat important matter of money then cropped up but as I mentioned much earlier, I was only earning the princely sum of £3.00 per week. Having started with the Anchor Line on Monday 10th March, I had been in employment for exactly two whole weeks and as such, was owed something like £6.00. Wow!! What was I going to spend all that money on? Obviously I am being just a trifle facetious but with that sum of £6.00, I was then able to augment this with a couple of pounds I still had from when we left Glasgow. Although there were three of us, one cadet had to stay on board at all times whilst in port so by the old method of tossing a coin, we decided on a rota of who could go ashore this first night. This time, I lost the toss so stayed behind whilst the other two sampled the delights of New York City for the first time.

Later on that first evening, whilst waiting for the two wanderers to return, I tuned in to local radio and heard for

the first time what a commercial radio station sounded like. Such a thing was unheard of in the UK so it was absolutely fascinating listening to adverts, something that was so different to anything we had heard before back in the UK. Radio WINS and Radio WNEW were two of the most prominent in New York but we soon got to know and listen to many others as we moved around different parts of the country.

On returning back from their brief sojourn ashore, the wanderers regaled me with how they had managed to find a café/bar/restaurant and had enjoyed a hamburger meal with a soft drink. That had taken up more than half of their meagre savings so had spent the rest of their time ashore just walking around familiarising themselves with the neighbourhood.  I was warned by them that when I ventured ashore, the security on the dockside was very strict and we had to sign off and then on again each time we left the ship. This was all down to our friend ‘McCarthy’ again – they certainly didn’t like the idea of three sixteen year old cadets wandering around spreading vicious rumours about the Communist party! So ended our

first day in America and it was off to bed before repeating the process with the unloading the next day.

Unlike the previous day, our first, unloading of the whisky continued more or less continuously with no real issues other than the minimum amount of damage and subsequent ’pilfering’. We knew by this time, that at the current rate of unloading, a further three to four days would be needed to complete the task which would mean that sometime over the weekend we would be in a position to move out and on to our next port of call.  That was in the future however. Right now I was more interested in finishing that second day because it would give me the opportunity to go ashore, something I had been eagerly looking forward to since arriving nearly two days ago.

It is worth spending a few minutes describing what it was like going ashore in New York City as a sixteen year old in 1958. Having agreed with the Purser to cash in my hard earned six pounds plus £2.00 of my own meant that with the exchange rate at something like 2.75 dollars to the

city which he kindly lent to us and on looking at this, we saw that getting around didn’t appear to be too much of a problem. The city was laid out in grid fashion, Avenues going from North to South whilst Streets went from East to West; all very simple - or so we thought. Immediately outside the gate to Pier 86 was a very wide road that we could see was signposted as 12th Avenue whilst directly opposite to where we were standing, was West 49th Street.  The time was now about 7.00pm Wednesday evening and I was about to face my second issue of the evening. How do we cross the road?

Waiting for export to some far flung destination. Compared to what we were used to in the UK, these cars were simply huge.


Traffic was fairly solid and we couldn’t find a place to cross with any degree of safety. Bearing in mind that traffic was coming at us in a direction opposite to what we were used to in the UK. Things were not looking too bright when out of the blue, a rescuer in the shape of a New York City policeman appeared. Strange as it may seem, at least to us anyway, he spoke in a broad Irish accent and when he heard that we were from Scotland, he went out of his way to help us across. He didn’t actually stop the traffic; he merely pointed us in the right direction to a nearby intersection where traffic lights controlled the traffic! So problem number two was solved and it was off to find the same café that Phil had used the previous evening.

This was accomplished satisfactorily and after seeing off my first very large American hamburger with accompanying French Fries, I parted with almost half my money. So one day down, eight dollars spent and still at least another three or four days in New York so at this stage, I began to wonder how long my remaining twelve dollars would last. Having left the café, we both decided to call it a day and head home, hoping against hope that we would be able to get across 12th Avenue in one piece. We could do our sightseeing later and keep what money we had for another day. As it turned out, despite not seeing our friendly cop, we safely negotiated 12th Avenue and also managed to convince the security guard on the gate that we weren’t escapees from the Kremlin! So ended my first foray ashore in the United States and feeling very proud of all we had achieved, we turned in at the end of our third night in the Big Apple.

As the week progressed, we were able to go ashore each evening, going progressively further until one day, when all three of us had been given permission to go together, we walked along 12th Avenue until we came to 42nd Street which, from looking at our map, lead to Broadway, New York’s equivalent to the West End in London – Theatreland! Passing other well known theatres and after

about seven blocks, we arrived in Times Square and Broadway at the junction with 7th Avenue. One evening, we witnessed street entertainers in action, something I had never seen in my life before; we were certainly having our education completed with all that we were seeing. However, as I’ve said, getting around New York appeared to be relatively straightforward but the distances we were now covering were quite daunting. All these sights were, to a group of sixteen year olds from Glasgow, quite eye opening and totally at odds with anything we had seen or heard anywhere before.

The weekend was now upon us and it had all been announced to the crew that Tahsinia would be sailing on Monday for Baltimore in Maryland. I had, however, one more eye opener to come before we set sail. On Sunday morning, Mr Lamont took me to one side and asked me to go ashore for him and pick up a Sunday newspaper. No problem I thought, what could be difficult about that? He wanted the New York Sunday Times so armed with a couple of his dollars, I set off on my own as the other two were still in their bunks having a lie in on a Sunday morning, something that was a bit of a luxury to us all. Being a Sunday, the roads were relatively quiet and having safely negotiated my way out of the dock and across 12th Avenue, I found this small delicatessen type shop that advertised the sale of newspapers quite a distance up West 49th Street. Inside, I asked for the said New York Sunday Times and was shown where they were and saw this apparently huge bundle. Thinking the newspapers had not yet been separated properly, I took only what I thought was the correct paper, and having handed over the money, made my way back to the ship. Back on board, a rather surprised Chief Officer took the paper from me but instead of thanking me, merely asked where was the rest of the paper! It was then explained to me that this paper came with several sections and all I had brought back was one of them! This, of course, was news to me but I then had to

reverse tracks and go all the way back to the shop and hopefully, pick up the remaining sections hoping that I would be remembered by the shopkeeper. I was, by this time, becoming an expert at crossing 12th Avenue so without meeting any further problems, managed to identify what I had missed the first time and re-traced my steps back to Pier 86 and the Tahsinia.

Preparations were now well under way with regard to our departure later for Baltimore. Monday 31st March was indeed going to be our last day in New York this trip but we already knew that we would be returning again sometime in the not too distant future. Baltimore is a large port city in the state of Maryland at the head of Chesapeake Bay, a little over one hundred and fifty miles away, something like twelve to fourteen hours sailing time. A pilot had been called for just after noon so by our reckoning, we were going to have a fairly busy evening and night with an arrival now scheduled for around 0400 the following morning. We all had to stand our normal watches of course but unless you were lucky enough to be docking during your own watch, you had lots of broken sleep to contend with. Our harbour pilot duly arrived and with the help and assistance of two of New York’s finest tugs, we cast off from Pier 86 just after 1300.

Moving slowly back down the Hudson and having been released from my docking station on the bridge, I was able to have a really good look at the Statue of Liberty. First impressions – she appears to be green in colour and is simply huge! Liberty island is a massive tourist attraction and I was told that if you take the ferry from Manhattan and when on the island are patient and prepared to wait hours, then it is possible to actually climb up inside and onto a platform inside the crown. This looks out over the harbour area back to Manhattan over three miles away. The tourist information on the map told me that when the statue was first erected, it was possible to actually ascend up the arm coming out at the very top but this had been discontinued many years before. Shame really because the view from the top must have quite spectacular.  Having passed Liberty Island, we made arrangements to drop off our pilot, which we managed without any difficulty and set course for our short trip to Baltimore in Maryland. I had a brief break before coming on watch as we sailed down the extremely busy eastern coastline towards Chesapeake Bay.

Rather than being called at my usual time of 0330 for my morning watch, this time it was 0200 when I had my morning mug of tea brought to me! We were well inside Chesapeake Bay and about to board our pilot who would take over control of Tahsinia for our final manoeuvres prior to docking in Baltimore. This port was different to New York in that we would be docking alongside a quay rather like Glasgow instead of having to turn at right angles to enter our berth. In the dark, we came alongside with the help of two port authority tugs that had appeared seemingly out of nowhere and without too much difficulty, moored safely and securely. We were going to be loading grain, a lengthy process that would take a number of days but, like the whisky, this was all very new to me and I looked forward to seeing how all this would pan out.

Later that morning, rather than seeing grain being loaded, the first thing I noticed was a number of carpenters appearing and then stacks of wood being landed on board alongside each of our five hatches. As the morning progressed, these carpenters were building what I can only describe as a Coffer Dam type of construction in each of the hatches. On the way south from New York, the 3rd mate told me that when bulk grain is being carried, there are safety concerns; all to do with the possibility of the grain shifting. Bulk grain is very susceptible to movement and even a slight shift can cause serious problems for any vessel particularly facing the weather that can be experienced crossing the North Atlantic. So, in order to alleviate this, some sort of store has to be created in the hatch itself that will act as a feeder to the main hold so that

if there is movement during transit, there is sufficient reserve storage that will take up any slack. It was these reserve storage bins that were being built that we were seeing this first morning in Baltimore.

Construction continued all day but we were assured that everything would be completed in order to start work with the actual loading the next morning. So it was that we were able to be moved along the quay wall to a position under this giant grain elevator in such a way that two of our holds could be loaded at the same time. As well as being susceptible to movement in transit, grain has to be loaded in a particular way. If too much is loaded at any one point, this will undoubtedly cause stress at that part of the ship so very careful monitoring has to take place at all times. It is merely a matter of moving from one hold to another with like quantities being loaded each time. This is a long and tiresome process but one that has to be followed very strictly or serious consequences can follow. There have been examples of ships breaking their backs, even in harbour, caused by dangerous loading practices so it is imperative that correct working procedures are followed. The Master has ultimate responsibility for this but the Chief Officer was ever present as we loaded all day.

Unlike New York where we were docked right in the city, Baltimore was totally different. The dock area, and in particular the area where we were, was completely removed from any civilisation and with no means of transport available to us, we were more or less confined to the ship for our stay in Maryland.  Loading was expected to last for three days so we didn’t have too long to wait before we would be heading back across the Atlantic. Our destination in the UK was going to be Avonmouth in the Bristol Channel and after that, a quick trip north to the Clyde and a berth at Yorkhill Quay. However, that was in the future and we passed the remaining time in Baltimore with various tasks such as the old favourites, rust removal and the odd paint job in and around the wheelhouse! These

seemed to be the ones that the officers fell back on if they could think of nothing else for us to do – all very boring. Loading of the wheat continued each day until the weekend when everything stopped and unfortunately we then had two days of nothing to occupy ourselves, We were so close to completion and it was a shame this could not have been planned better. However, we knew by this time that with luck, we would finish quite early on the Monday and therefore be in a position to leave Baltimore for Avonmouth sometime the same day.

As expected, work on our loading did complete before lunch on the 7th and without any further delays, we were able to leave on time just after 1400. After dropping off our harbour pilot, we sailed under the quite spectacular Chesapeake Bay Bridge and out into the Atlantic and set course for Avonmouth. Back onto our normal watches of four hours on and eight hours off, the next eleven days passed uneventfully until we picked up the welcoming light from the Fastnet Rock just off the southwest corner of Ireland. Known as Ireland’s Teardrop, the name given to it by thousands of Irish emigrants; this being the last sighting of Ireland they saw as they set sail for America during the last century.

Saturday 19th April saw Tahsinia duly arrive off Avonmouth and waiting for permission to enter port to unload our cargo of wheat. Being late on Saturday, not much was moving in or out but we did manage to secure a berth late that night and with the usual pilot on board, secured alongside in time for me to go ashore and make a telephone call home to Dumfries. It was lovely being able to speak to everyone but at this stage I was unable to give them any idea when I would be allowed leave. It was to be hoped that unloading would be completed in time for us to sail back up to Glasgow before the following weekend but all depended on how quickly our full cargo of grain could be unloaded. In any case, whatever happened, I knew that I

would, in all probability be in a position to get to Dumfries in about ten days time.

Over the weekend, we three cadets were told that one of us could leave the ship in Avonmouth so we drew lots to see who that lucky person would be. Suffice to say it wasn’t me but I knew I only had a further week to go before I too could go on leave. Monday morning arrived and stevedores arrived to begin the unloading process, which started more or less straight away. As it turned out, this lasted until Thursday and late that evening we duly left the Bristol Channel and headed north through the Irish Sea towards the Clyde and home. Early on Friday 25th April, the day I suppose we had all been looking forward to, I was on watch in the early hours as we passed one of the Clyde’s most famous landmarks, Ailsa Craig.  Later on, as we sailed up the eastern side of Arran, waters so familiar to me, we approached the Cloch lighthouse at Gourock but this time, we were heading for Glasgow instead of leaving it!  My memory does not stretch to describing what sort of day it was but I do know it was wonderful as far as I  was concerned. It had only been six weeks to the day since we left but it was the longest period I had ever been away from home and was so looking forward to getting back to Dumfries to see all the family. 

The next two hours passed very slowly as, after picking up the obligatory pilot, we made our way up the Clyde and after being taken into Queens dock to allow us to do a one hundred and eighty degree turn in order that we could then face in the correct direction when next we left, we tied up at our home base, Yorkhill Quay. So ended my first trip with the Anchor Line in the Tahsinia. Six weeks had simply flown past and I had so many stories to tell to whoever would listen to me and I couldn’t wait to do it all again very soon. After saying my goodbyes, I was given permission to go on leave with the news that I should report back again on Monday 5th May, a mere ten days away.

Managing to find my way to Rowallen Gardens to stay for one night, the next morning I was given a lift to St Enoch’s Station in the centre of Glasgow so that I was able to complete the final part of my journey home. There, the days away from the ship passed fairly quickly but I did enjoy a few long lie ins; a complete change from the watch routine I had become so used to over the previous six weeks. I did spend a great deal of time with friends and neighbours relating stories but in all honesty, all I wanted was to get back to be ready in time for my second trip to the states.

Before carrying on, I would like to tell of an interesting story that occurred during one of my brief spells at home. On one of these breaks, I met up with two old school friends, Leslie Higgins and John Ratcliffe. They, together with yet another classmate, Bobby Prentice, had all joined the Merchant Navy at more or less the same time as I did. Leslie, John and myself happened to be at home at the same time and the local newspaper, The Dumfries and Galloway Standard, got wind of this and did a short article about each one of us. Unfortunately, Bobby was away at the time but the fact that three of us managed to be present was extremely fortunate. Getting four together was well nigh impossible!. Anyway, we all enjoyed ourselves and I did eventually bump into Bobby in the most unlikely of places as you’ll soon find out! 

Getting back to the real story, I will not begin to relate each and every voyage I was to subsequently make on the Tahsinia. Suffice to say, I did a further six trips all more or less the same. Whisky out and grain coming home – all very boring if the truth were known. These trips took place between May of 1958 and April of 1959 as follows:-



   Signed On                                                     Signed Off

2.    08/05/58                                                   28/06/58

3.    04/07/58                                                   22/08/58

4.    23/08/58                                                   20/10/58

5.    21/10/58                                                   21/12/58

6.    22/12/58                                                   22/02/59

7.    06/03/59                                                   15/04/59

I would like, however, to tell an interesting story that occurred on one of the outward bound trips. I’m sorry to relate that I am not at all sure on which one this particular story happened but it is worth telling nonetheless.  In addition to the whisky, we had to make room for some passengers. Now Tahsinia was not a passenger ship as I’m sure you know so who were these passengers? Answer, one hundred Shetland ponies!

We realised something unusual was in the wind when we saw animal pens being constructed in our tween decks. A tween deck, as the name implies, is an intermediate deck inside the hold underneath the main deck. Normally, this is merely additional cargo space but when special lighting was also being installed, this merely confirmed to us that we were about to experience something very different. I do recall that once all other cargo had been loaded, a convoy of trailers arrived on the dockside at Yorkhill Quay and a modified horse box was then used to lift these rather cute animals on board. They had to be lifted up and then lowered into the tween deck area where they were then released and subsequently coaxed into the pens that I’ve already described. This process was quite lengthy as I’m sure you can imagine, but it was completed successfully - eventually.

The real reason I’m relating this story is that in addition to our own duties which I’ve outlined in some detail elsewhere, we had to assist a groom who had been taken on board and was accompanying the ponies on their journey to the States. Obviously this groom had overall responsibility for the ponies but he had to sleep sometime so it was during the night hours when we, the cadets, took over. Food and water were taken care of as were their sanitary arrangements, but we did enjoy the times when we were

allowed to climb into the pens and just be with the animals. I do like animals, which was lucky I suppose, but it did enable me and the others to build some sort of relationship with these creatures during our ten days with them.

On arrival in New York, we thought we had seen the last of the ponies when the last of them were finally taken off. However, the three of us were in for a rather nice surprise when we were each handed fifty dollars as a thank you from the importer for helping to look after the animals during the crossing. Also, and this was the real surprise but the importer picked us up in his car the following day and drove us to just outside Washington in order to see the ponies in their quarantine stables. This gave us a chance to see them all well settled in after their somewhat traumatic time with us. They were going to be held there for about three months before being moved to their new owners all over America. It was nice to be rewarded in this way and we all appreciated the gesture. It also gave us the chance to do a little sightseeing around the nations capital and I do recall seeing the White House in all its glory.

I have one final short story to relate from my year with the Tahsinia and it all came about following the story of the four sailors that was reported on by the Standard back in Dumfries. The missing matelot, Bobby Prentice, was serving as one of the junior pursers on the Cunard flagship, the magnificent Queen Elizabeth and I had always hoped that our paths might cross one day. It was unlikely to happen in the UK so New York was our only hope but the nearest I had been to her so far, was seeing her pass by early one morning on one of my night watches. However, during one of my subsequent visits to New York, whilst moving up river to our berth, who should be tied up in the Cunard Pier but the Queen Elizabeth herself. Now I was aware that these large ocean going liners were only in port for a limited period so not knowing when her departure date and time were, I was given permission to go ashore

more or less as soon as we had been cleared by port officials to try and find out if Bobby was actually aboard.

Taking Phil with me and having been advised to go in company uniform, we set off to walk back to the Cunard Pier, some distance away. We did make it eventually after a considerable walk but that actually turned out to be the easy bit! The difficult bit was to convince both the security on the gate and secondly, a very severe looking Master at Arms strategically placed at the inboard end of the gangway that we were genuine visitors. The Master at Arms is a marine equivalent of a policeman and those on board the Queens had a particularly fearsome reputation. To cut a very long story short, we did manage to meet up albeit for a very short while because Bobby was actually on duty and couldn’t really be spared from his duties. It was nice, however, to catch up with him and it did prove that the world is indeed a very small place. To think that the last time I had seen him was in class in Dumfries Academy the previous year. A small world indeed.

So ended my time on the Tahsinia and seven enjoyable trips to the States. Exciting times lay ahead however, because I was now going to need all the clothing items that were on my second uniform list. I was off to India!


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