One Of My Favourites;
"One ship sails east and another sails west
With the self-same winds that blow.
Tis the set of the sail and not the gale
Which determines the way they go.
As the winds of the sea are the ways of fate
As we voyage along through life,
Tis the act of the soul that determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife."
-Ella Wheeler Wilcox
In special memory of my brother John EARL 1930 - 2004
A fine seaman and Bo`sun, he served on many ships during his time at sea,
among them were the M.V. King Steven, M.V. Baron Inverclyde,
S.S. Consuelo, M.V. Sacremento, S.S. Merchant Knight,
S.S. Dorrington Court, S.S. Beechwood, S.S. Rinaldo,
S.S.Athel Knight, S.S.Ariosto, S.S. Saint Thomas,
and the Sir Arthur Kennedy.
If you have been to sea......
THE LAUNCHING OF JULIAN
THE LAUNCHING OF JULIAN
My name is Julian Earl, - Joe to my friends.
I was born on 16th June 1941, the Battle of the Sea was being fought. Even now over half a century later, it is frightening to think what might have become of us without the unarmed sailors who brought succour to an island under siege. They would voyage anywhere - into the mouth of hell, if asked; they would carry any cargo, sitting atop holds stuffed with armaments, munitions and oil; they would suffer any conditions and there were hardly any conditions on earth worse than the bone-numbing cold and the voracious seas of the Arctic; and if they survived disaster they would go back, again and again, for more.
During this catastrophic 1941, 717 British-flag merchant ships and with a tonnage totalling almost three million were sunk, mainly in the Atlantic, almost 9,000 crew members were lost, and food imports dropped to a critical level. In an almost equally disastrous 1942, the import of another vital commodity, oil, the very life-blood of the war effort, fell perilously low with the loss of 222 Allied tankers. Most of them went up in flames, the men aboard them blown apart or incinerated. There were very few survivors.
On and on went the losses but so, too, did the Merchant Service and when the tide turned Britain’s civilian sailor sons rode it proudly as was their right. No body of men could have rendered greater service to their country than this “Fourth Service”.
During the First World War it was not uncommon for women to approach young civilian men and ‘brand’ them with a white feather - the badge of cowardice - because they were not dressed in uniform. These rather assertive women just assumed that they were not ‘fighting’ the war. This happened to an old colleague of mine whom I later sailed with in the 1950’s. He explained to me that his ship had been torpedoed and sunk killing many of his ship-mates, he, and those who were left, were adrift in a lifeboat for three weeks before being rescued (their pay was stopped on the day their vessel was sunk as was the custom).
While recuperating in his home town of Liverpool prior to joining another ship, he was ‘issued’ with one of these white feathers while taking a stroll down Lime Street. (Insult to injury indeed). In the second world war he was again sunk, injured and captured, although this time he was incarcerated in a German prisoner of war camp. Although walking with a severe limp old Danny was a superb seaman and good friend. He retired in 1960.
Autobiographies tend to be self congratulatory, this is certainly not my intention, (although modesty is not one of my impediments). Everybody’s life story is of interest. Any life throws light on historic circumstances. My interest is focused on these men of the merchant navy who became my heroes, and I was stretching my malignant legs towards my teenage years I wanted to emulate them and go to sea.
I think my first childhood memory was the day after the Victory over Europe celebrations. A large bonfire had been ablaze for the occasion and the next day found me idly wandering through the ashes, and as I trudged amongst this grey stuff I observed that my little feet were getting hot and my shoes were on fire. Apparently I just stood in the middle and screamed for assistance. Help did arrive of course, an I was whisked away with considerable velocity. Luckily there was no lasting damage to my feet - although I never did like walking much - especially outside!
Within about a year the family moved to Tilehurst, near Reading in Berkshire. My eldest brother Jim had gone off to the army, joining the Sherwood Foresters, the next eldest, John, went to sea in the Merchant Navy as a cadet; and then Jock also joined the army, going off to the Royal Horse Artillery. That left at home, under the care of my mother Jessie (fondly known by everyone as Bunny), the fourth eldest brother Jerry, my elder sister Judy, then myself, and my younger brother Justin - he was always known as Buster. I had a childhood nickname bestowed upon me - it was ‘Stinker’, apparently it was something to do with the none too subtle aroma of my nappies - this was only in my early years I hasten to add - it was later changed to Tinker which I thought was eminently more suitable.
As time went on Jerry left Reading Football Club where he worked, and took a £10 assisted passage to New-Zealand sailing on the ‘Rangitoto’ of the New-Zealand shipping line. He went to live with one of my mother’s brothers there, but soon found himself in the army fighting in Korea in Those bitter Manchurian winters.
My sister Judy, my senior by about eighteen months, went to boarding school in Hertford - she was only nine years old.
I was happy at Park Farm - the name of the old farmhouse in which we lived - and there was plenty of countryside around where Buster and I, and our friends roamed at will. My grandmother, grandfather and great-aunt Nellie lived in an old thatched cottage just down the lane where we were regular visitors. One day wandering home from there, we found a small black mongrel puppy in the ditch, so we adopted him, named him Jacky and he grew up with us and followed us everywhere - he even trailed us to school but he usually stopped short at the butcher’s shop. We also taught him to swim by the simple expedient of dropping him over a footbridge into the Kennet canal.
Buster and I grew up together, and, as brothers do, we had the odd argument. One day, I was pretty mad at him for something or other and hurled a round-pronged garden fork at him like a spear and hitting his legs - fortunately his legs weren’t as large as they are now and the sharp prongs went either side of the bone. He may have been amused as he pulled the fork out, but he certainly lost any brotherly love towards me that day, in fact, I spent many hours hiding up a tree until he calmed down.
Our older brothers decided that if we were to continually engage in fisticuffs then we should wear boxing gloves. Two pairs were duly purchased and we spent our recreation time pummelling each other red and purple, because we were both too stupid or too stubborn to give in.
Otherwise I did all the usual things that happy-go-lucky boys did at that time, learning to swim, and playing football and cricket with a certain passion, I ran errands like shopping, and renewing the ration-books at the village hall, I moved around on an old bicycle with motor-bike handlebars, a ‘fixed’ wheel aft, and no mudguards.
I drifted blithely along in the ‘B’ stream at Tilehurst Junior School and was not worried about anything in particular except when I was asked by my mother to take an entrance exam at the age of nine, to enter the Bluecoat boarding school at Horsham in Sussex. My father went there as a child and it was, and still is, a very fine and respected establishment. I failed this exam and went back to worrying about nothing in particular - until another shock to my system loomed up. It was time to sit exams for the dreaded ‘eleven plus’ - it was in two parts and I actually passed the first part, then came the pressure, I was moved from the ‘B’ class and hurled headlong into the ‘A’ stream class, where all the kids did homework, as well as studying all day. This of course was an attempt to enable me to pass the second part of the examination, so that I could then attend a Grammar School and do even more homework and perhaps then move on to university and a worthy career after that.
This didn’t happen - I failed the second part and duly went on to Norcot Secondary School where I was very happy. On one of my school reports, it stated ‘Julian is not mathematically minded’. As well as the academic stuff we learned woodwork and went swimming every week, I played in the football and cricket teams. I loved cricket, I watched every ball of the ‘Ashes’ series on a friend’s early black and white television set, our family didn’t possess one as they were not to become widespread until people bought them for the Queen’s Coronation in 1953.
Bob Arnott, who was later to become our stepfather, took us every year to the Royal Tournament at Earl’s Court and also to the biennial Farnborough Air Show. The highlight of the show one year, was the breaking of the sound-barrier by a De havilland 110 jet fighter plane (the prototype of the Sea Vixen) piloted by the test-pilot John Derry. The very next day on 6th September 1952 after we had watched this amazing spectacle, he attempted it again, but this time as he flew low over the crowd of spectators the jet blew up killing 28 people and injuring 60 more, most of these unfortunate victims were watching from a grassy mound known as ‘observation point’ close to an ice-cream van. It was the very spot where we had been observing twenty four hours earlier.
Something else occurred about this time. It was the Flying Enterprise, Land’s End Radio, December 28th. Following received from a steamer A. W. Greely at 1253pm G.M.T. xxx (emergency signal). Following received from American steamer Flying Enterprise: Encountering severe hurricane in lat.49 10N., long 17 20W., situation grave, have 30 degrees port list and just drifting. Ships in vicinity please indicate.
This message was to lead to a drama which became front page news for days at the end of 1951, and into 1952, and which made the name of Captain Carlsen known throughout the world. The s.s. Flying Enterprise, belonging to Isbrandtsen of New York, and which was carrying a general cargo, including pig iron, objects d’art and antiques, cracked across the deck and down each side as far as the ‘tween deck line. The ten passengers and the crew, except Captain Carlsen, were taken off with great difficulty, by rescuing vessels. The vessel then developed a list of 60 degrees to port, rolling to 80 degrees, but Captain Carlsen indicated that he thought he could hold out till a tug arrived.
The British tug “Turmoil” left Falmouth on 2nd January 1952, in a storm, and reached the “Flying Enterprise” on 3rd January when she had drifted to a position about 360 miles from Land’s End. The “Turmoil” made several attempts to connect, which were unsuccessful. The Master of the tug, Captain D Parker, reported that Captain Carlsen could not haul in the heaving line owing to the necessity of his having to hold on with one hand because of the angle of list, and the lurching of the chip.
Next day, First Officer Kenneth Dancy, of the “Turmoil” boarded the “Flying Enterprise”, but the weather was still bad and connection was not made until the morning of 5th January. The tow began and progress was made for some days, and it was hoped to reach Falmouth on 9th January. However, shortly before 2am on that day the tow line parted, the weather deteriorated, and it was not possible to reconnect.
The “Flying Enterprise” rode lower in the water and rolled heavily, until it became obvious that she was sinking. On 10th January Captain Carlsen and Mr Dancy were forced to move to a more exposed position. Shortly before the vessel sank, the two men jumped into the sea and were picked up by the “Turmoil”. The “Flying Enterprise” sank at 4.12pm in a position 62 miles from Falmouth.
Later, the Committee of Lloyds awarded Captain Carlsen the Lloyd’s Silver Medal for Meritorious Service. In his response Captain Carlsen said “It is extremely difficult too understand what is going on. I find it very hard to express my feelings and thanks. I feel that I have not done anything that deserves any recognition. I tried as a seaman to prove what a seaman is expected to do. I want to thank all of you for the extremely warm welcome, and I want to thank you for the big honour you have done me by giving me this medal”.
The seeds were sown - I wanted to go to sea.
So I joined the Sea Cadets, it was the Reading branch and we attended the “S.C.C. Jervis Bay” for two or three evenings a week and we messed about on the River Thames on the occasional week-end. We were issued with a Royal Naval uniform and were taught to march and ‘square bash’ including the ‘Guard’ in which we were taught to slope and present arms etc. With heavy Lee Enfield 303 rifles complete with bayonets. We also had a drum and bugle band in which I attempted to play the bugle - but not very successfully. We learned basic seamanship of course and I practised my knots on Buster or if he wasn’t in a co-operative mood I would slip a few bends and hitches on our faithful but long suffering mongrel pet - Jacky.
It was a happy and busy, normal childhood, I awoke to my alarm clock at 5.30am and proceeded on my paper-round (for which I was paid six shillings a week) arriving home in time for breakfast, back on my trusty track-bike, off to school and then back in the evening (sometimes I would get side-tracked on my way home on some non-felonious escapade and get home late, I was quite often in trouble with Mother for this). Then on to Sea Cadets, so by the time I was safely tucked up in bed, it was after eleven o’clock.
During the school holidays, a bunch of us sea cadets went for a two week course at the Fleet Air Arm base at H.M.S. Heron at Yeovilton. This we thoroughly enjoyed, especially a flight in a “Domini” five or six seater aircraft, and we spent happy hours in the gunnery dome which was an early type of simulator, where we could shoot into the ‘sky’ at ‘targets’ with anti-aircraft guns. Another outing with the sea cadets was arranged with the R.A.F. We were picked up in a lorry one Sunday and transported to R.A.F. Benson in Oxfordshire where we all took turns for a flight - complete with parachute - in the navigators cockpit in the two seater “Harvard” training aircraft.
In the autumn of 1955 my mother and I travelled by train to Southampton to attend at the Mercantile Marine Shipping Office where I undertook a Board of Trade standard eye-sight and colour test. We found the building all right and it was interesting to note the damage to the building and others nearby, caused by the bullets fired into them by German aeroplanes during the war. The sight test I passed with no problems - this was the first step to enable me to take up a career at sea.
THE TRAINING SHIP `INDEFATIGABLE`
On 16th January 1956 at the age of fourteen and a half, my mother put me aboard a train to Liverpool - my instructions were to find the Liverpool Sailors Home in Canning Place where I was to meet up with several other lads who were destined for the training ship ‘Indefatigable’ in Anglesey. The Sailors Home was a fascinating place, full of ‘characters’, I was to stay there many times over the next few years. It was, in Victorian times, a woman’s prison and it hadn’t changed much either - the rooms were small single cabins on five or six floors with a kind of continuous veranda on the inside, with toilets at one end and iron stairs at the other end, with an extremely noisy cage-like lift running up between the stairs. Over the veranda was a sheer drop to the ground floor except for some wire netting stretched across the first floor to catch anyone or anything unfortunate enough to fall over the veranda. I found some other ‘Inde’ lads, we were allotted rooms and the next day we were rounded up and paraded in front of a man in Naval Officer’s uniform from the training ship, he directed us in no uncertain terms that we should “keep quiet and do exactly as we were told”.
We boarded a train
later that day en route to the Indefatigable, over the Menai Straits to Anglesey, arriving about seven thirty on that dark, cold, January night in 1956. We filed into the long hallway of this large mansion, were told to place our bags on the deck and proceed
to the mess-hall, this we did and then stood to attention by some long tables with painted linoleum forming the top. Placed on this were two slices of bread, and a small pat of butter placed at intervals alongside a plastic mug of very weak orange juice. The
Captain (George Washington Irvin) arrived shortly afterwards - a huge bull of a man in full uniform (he was an ex merchant navy master); he stood at ease, placed his hands behind his back, glared at us, then proceeded to expound the value of the Indefatigable.
“ The values that honest men know to be true, integrity, discipline, the determination to do one’s best, a wish to serve others. These are the values by which the Indefatigable has tried to live and strives to maintain so that true Indefatigable boys the world over, are able, not only to cope with life and all it’s complications, but are ambassadors, trying to show others by example the way we should all live our lives”.
He abruptly turned on his heel and departed leaving us to our supper. While we were coming to terms with our food - there were no plates, and the one piece of butter that we were allowed was very small. In fact, I discovered later, it was one slice from a half-pound block which was divided into thirty two pieces. We were left in charge of the Chief Petty officer boy - in effect the head boy, Andy Anderson, who turned out to be very tough, but fair and popular C.P.O, we were allowed some leisure time and allotted our bunks in one of the large rooms of the mansion and put under the care of the Leading Hand in the dormitory.
I awoke next morning to the sound of ‘Reveille’ played by the duty bugler at 0630, I joined the rush to the ablution block and returned to make up my bunk neatly with the blankets folded on top, before the next bugle call ordered us to fall in. We were then sent off on various cleaning jobs - it had just turned 7 o’clock and was still dark. My first job, along with four other boys was to get down on my hands and knees and rub in polish on the wooden deck of the large recreation room, the polish was of similar consistency to soft butter and it was applied to the deck by the leading hand in charge. He scooped a handful out of a large tin and splattered it in front of us as we worked backwards spreading the polish with dirty rags as we went.
When the boy in charge was satisfied with our work, we were given cleaner rags and told to start again, this time, bringing the floor to a lovely shine. By then it was becoming daylight and although I was beginning to get pangs of homesickness, I could appreciate the beautiful scenery which struck my gaze when I finally arose from the deck and peered from the window. Below me were the Indefatigable’s playing fields running down to the wide Menai Straits, across the Straits were the forest areas on the slopes of the Snowdonian mountain range and, in the distance, Mount Snowdon itself, topped with snow, completing the vista I shall never forget.
Similar work was being carried out throughout the school, all under the command of senior boys - if there was any slacking or backchat, any slight infringement at all, the culprit was given a crack or a poke with a broom handle - or worse still - put on ‘jankers’. One of these regular punishments was to peel one hundredweight of potatoes - with, or without, assistance - during leisure time in the evening. This was always done outside in the cobbled yard in all weathers. A sack of spuds was tipped into a wheelbarrow, peeled, and thrown into large pots containing water, now this tended to splash a bit, hence the alfresco method, we had to clean up the yard afterwards and without complaint, otherwise we would be ‘volunteered’ to repeat the task the next day. Well, someone had to do it!
There were 120 boys, and each boy belonged to one of four ‘divisions’ named Hood, Rodney, Raleigh and Drake, identified by their respective colours of yellow, green, blue and red. Each division included three ‘Leading Hands’ and in overall charge of his division was the Petty Officer boy. Andy Andrews, our popular Chief Petty Officer boy was in charge of all us lads but was of course answerable to any of the ships Officers. These consisted of two seamanship and one signal’s officer plus two schoolteachers, our Captain, and the Chief Officer, Mr Derrik. Mr Derrik was a man of about fifteen stone, he was ex-Royal Navy about sixty years old, and he ran a very tight ship with the aid of his senior ranking boys. There was no way any lad could ‘pull the wool over his eyes’. If anyone tried this inane act while being interviewed by him he would receive a painful jab under the rib-cage, delivered by two very stiff fingers.
This had the effect of knocking the guilty one backwards about six feet when he was supposed to be standing to attention. I learned quickly not to get involved with any tête-à-tête with him. He delivered our mail after dinner by standing in the centre of the mess-hall and flicking them at us like cigarette cards at the general direction of the intended recipient, which I always found amusing.
On this first day us new boys were kitted out with our naval uniforms and the rest of our ‘working gear. We wore a cap, heavy blue cotton shirts, short blue corduroy trousers, leather boots and long socks - similar to white football socks, but with our respective divisional colours decorating the top quarter. I was now Boy J. S. Earl number 98 of Hood Division. All my clothing was stamped with two inch high numbers. I was given a ball of bright yellow wool and a needle and ordered to embroider all the numbers in a seaman-like fashion, I was advised to keep my boots polished and my white cap blancoed, so as not to let Hood Division down.
The officer in charge of Hood Division was Mr Firth, (the same officer that met us at Liverpool) he had a rather long nose and was affectionately known as ‘Beaky’, he was a very keen sailing and seamanship instructor - his hobby was photography - I liked him and he quickly gained my respect. More of him later.
I was afflicted with home-sickness, I missed my old routine, my freedom, my dog, home cooking, especially Sunday dinners, my friends, even my old bike.
Alongside the mansion, was a rock known as ‘Nozzers’ rock. It was huge, being about thirty feet high and about forty feet wide, the new boys, the ‘Nozzers’ as they were called, sometimes climbed atop this rock to contemplate their predicament and get a bit of peace. I clambered up there several times in the first few weeks, but as I became more familiar with the life and made friends, I settled down and began to enjoy the challenges that were thrust upon me.
One of these challenges was a lad called Beagley he didn’t like me, and one day after
a slight mishap with a bucket of water, we started swapping punches. However, before long we were caught red-handed by the sports officer - a Mr Adams, he said “Earl, Beagley, finish this tonight, in the gym” (he was a man of few words).
This apparently was the custom when anyone was caught fighting, so the contest was arranged between myself and this ‘tough nut’ from Liverpool, in the gym, a converted stone barn, it was sparse, cold and had a bare wooden floor where a boxing ring
was permanently set up.
The specific rule for a ‘grudge fight’ (for that’s what it was), was that there were no rounds, the fight had to continue until one was knocked out or gave in. My second and good friend Jimmy Hughes, from Leeds, came armed with a white towel, a sponge, and a very worn pair of boxing gloves. Mr Adams was the referee, he started the match by saying “get stuck in”. So we did, before long we had both sustained nosebleeds, the inside walls of the gym were coated with whitewash, and as our blood was being freely splattered everywhere, what missed the avid audience was sprayed all over the nice white walls, but egged on by my supporters I refused to give in. Neither would Beagley. Eventually, after what seemed a very long time, severely battered, bruised and bleeding, we could fight no more, we had both exhausted ourselves to a halt, so the bout was declared a draw, but it had been good entertainment for the lads and it was talked about for a long time. I became Beagleys respected friend and found my esteem or ‘street cred’ as it is now called, had risen considerably. (Later, Beagley earned the rank of Petty Officer boy of Drake Division, Jimmy Hughes, Petty Officer of Raleigh, and I became Petty Officer of Hood Division).
A few of us lads were entered for the National Schoolboy Boxing Championships and I managed to do quite well, although in one bout with a ‘Conway’ boy (from the Officer’s training ship) one of my front teeth was broken off, I was able to have it crowned but it gave me trouble for years after. When it came to the Welsh finals, I managed to lose on points in a hotly disputed decision to a chap named Walsh, he, however, beat the English champion easily in his next fight and he consequently won the Great Britain Schoolboy Championship. So close, never mind!
Joe Earl in uniform
Another injury I received, was when I received a severe kicking while playing rugby. It was extremely painful and turned out to be quite serious with complications. This involved taking a urine sample to the hospital in Bangor (on one of these journeys I stopped on the suspension bridge to watch the old H.M.S. Conway which was ablaze below me. It had gone aground years earlier while being towed through the Straits, and then abandoned, apparently it had caught fire while being dismantled). Eventually, I ended up in the Royal southern Hospital in Liverpool for two weeks, mainly for observation for something called ‘albinuria’ a kidney complaint. I actually put on weight in hospital, possibly due to the admirable administrations of Nurse Margaret Fenton. She was a chocolate box beauty and took care of all my needs (mainly in the sluice room in the small hours) I fell madly in love with her. It couldn’t last of course - she was too old for me. Margaret was seventeen - I was by then fifteen!
On Saturday mornings we did our washing, or ‘dhobi-ing’ as it was known (from the Hindi dhobi - washerman). This chore was carried out in the courtyard, using buckets, hard soap and a scrubbing brush, all under the watchful eyes of the senior hands, our washed clothes had to pass the scrutiny of these lads otherwise we would suffer miserably for what would seem to be Neolithic incompetence.
Early on Saturday afternoons, the lucky ones not on duty or jankers would don their uniforms, fall in for a brief inspection by the divisional officer, we marched off and dismissed, whereupon we ran hell for leather to the railway station to catch the local train to Bangor. (The station was in the village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, this name was devised by a nineteenth century local cobbler and it must be one of tourism’s most successful publicity stunts. Almost everyone has heard of the place even if few could pronounce its name - which means ‘St Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St Tysilio near the red cave’).
Anyway, off we went with our five shillings (25 pence) pocket money which was the maximum that was officially allowed, and we reached the cinema in Bangor in time for the matinee. Afterwards, my friends and I crossed the road to the College Cafe (near the University) where we each tucked into a large place of egg and chips with bread and butter, and then hopefully chatted up the local or college girls to the tune of Rock Around The Clock by Bill Hayley on the juke box. So this was the highlight of the week, we never got far with the girls though, mainly because we had to abort our amorous intentions to return to the Indefatigable on time.
Sunday was church parade. The duty bugle-boy would sound divisions which was the signal to line up on the parade ground. Dressed in our best uniforms, standing in three ranks in our respective divisions, and the band with their instruments gleaming and the white caps, belts and gaiters newly blancoed, we would be inspected by the Chief Officer and the Captain. The lads that were not attending church, the sick, and those of some obscure religion, and as the village barber always attended on Sunday mornings, those that were detailed off for a haircut, were dismissed. The rest of us marched off in a column of threes headed by our drum and bugle band up the drive to the gate. We took the long way round to the church along the A4080 with every boy marching proudly to the tunes of Sousa.
We duly arrived at the Church of St Mary (by the rapid whirlpool and white hazel) and duly filed in to take our pews behind the local parishioners. I must have learned something as I was at some stage confirmed by the vicar who was also the school’s padre. It was always interesting to watch the collection plate being passed back along the pews from the locals - God only knows how much was left in it by the time the vicar retrieved it!
Sunday afternoons was for sports which included sailing and rowing. One cold winter’s day, a bunch of us discarded our boots and socks and left them on the groin as that was the rule. We then manned one of our heavy cutters and rowed off up the treacherous Menai Straits, however having the wisdom of youth and the energy of old age, we were mistaken in the strength of the tide and were unable to row back. It was now sunset, we were in danger of being swept out into the Irish Sea, in by now, gale force conditions, with no means of assistance apart from our oars. (A salutary lesson this, for the future). With freezing feet and blistered hands, and some fortitude, we managed to manoeuvre the boat to the Anglesey side and secure it to a tree. We walked painfully back along the rocky shore in the dark to collect our footwear and report to the Chief Officer. We received little sympathy, (sympathy was just a word, found in the dictionary somewhere between shite and syphilis!). He gave us a few hours rest and ordered us to return and fetch the boat when the tide turned. This we did, finally falling into our bunks at three o’clock in the morning. We didn’t get much sleep the next night either, one of the boys was making a noise in the dormitory but wouldn’t own up to it. Because of that, the whole ship’s company was made to stand to attention in our pyjamas on the parade ground for an hour. The boy that made the noise was later reminded of his responsibilities and never repeated the occurrence.
There were various excursions that we embarked on. We walked up Mount Snowdon each year, attended fetes at Rhyl, Llandudno and Menai Bridge with our band. On Remembrance Day 1956, our buglers, including myself, played the Last Post at the Cenotaph in Holyhead. And one day we lined the route at Llanfair P.G. when Prince Philip whizzed through on his way to R.A.F. Valley.
Wilfred Pickles came to the Indefatigable. His radio show was called ‘Have a Go Joe’ and it was transmitted live from the school. It was a very popular programme at the time and he was aided by his wife Mabel and Violet Carson who was later to become famous on Coronation Street. The format was to interview interesting local people and then ask them questions for prize money. His well known catch phrase was “give him the money Mabel”. All the boys were stacked at the rear of the large mess hall and when it came to our turn, we gave a rendition of the school song, with Violet Carson playing the piano.
We are some of the Inde boys,
Sailors of Britain are we,
When you hear the bos’un shout
Hands on deck and all about,
Sailors of Britain are we.
Fortunately, I can’t remember the rest of it.
After receiving my Leading Hand’s stripe I was presented with a gold star to sew on the sleeve of my uniform.. This was issued for completing six months with good conduct, although my step-father, Bob Arnott, alluded to it as “six months of undetected crime” he was probably right.
Some of the boys were given special jobs on a monthly basis, among them being the Stores Boy in charge of cleaning materials, brooms, soap etc. There was a Boiler Room Boy, Officers Steward, Cook’s Assistant, Gardener’s Boy and a Messenger Boy. I enjoyed being the messenger boy and held the post three or four times. My duties consisted of cleaning the large brass bell before breakfast, and during the day I would strike it at the appropriate times. It was situated at the end of the Main Hall just outside the Captain’s office. I would remain there until sent on an errand, these were quite frequent and I would walk up to the village two or three times a day.
I would post the mail and go shopping for the Captain’s wife, this gave me a certain amount of freedom and I was able to engage in a bit of illicit trading. Smoking was forbidden of course, so I was able to buy ten Woodbine cigarettes for one shilling and fourpence and sell them to the lads at sixpence (two and a half pence) each.
The Captain’s wife was always kind to me and I would tarry as long as I dare, eating her home made cakes and teasing the Captain’s African grey parrot. Her house was down a lane from the school, and overlooked the groin where the boats were moored. In the summer it was ‘all hands to swimming’, we had no swimming trunks so we divested ourselves, leaving our gear on the mole and dived in starkers. It was fascinating to see the upstairs curtains twitching, indicating that Mrs George Washington Irvin was taking an interest in our leisure activities!
Leave was granted at Christmas, Easter and in the Summer. On arriving home for Christmas 1956, I was greeted with the news that my old and faithful mongrel Jacky had gone. He was terror stricken by fireworks and he had been inadvertently let out on the evening of 5th November. He hadn’t been seen since. I was devastated.
I became the Petty Officer of Hood Division, and worked well with the divisional officer Mr John Firth. On my return to the school, after the Easter 1957 holidays, Mr Firth was absent, rumours abounded until the following extract was spotted in the Daily Mirror on 25th July.
THE DAY A MAJOR BOUNCED INTO TOWN were the headlines. A Court heard yesterday about the day the Major bounced into town. The ‘Major’
- Donald Scott, 32 - took a heap of smart new luggage with him to a quiet seaside resort in the Isle of Man. It weighed five hundredweight and included; cabin trunks, leather suitcases, photographic and electronic equipment. The ‘Major’ said he
was going to set up a photographic business. But did absolutely NOTHING. Neighbours got suspicious and mentioned it to the police. And THAT was only a few hours before police at Manchester circulated the picture and description of a man they wanted to interview
in connection with DUD CHEQUES.
The wanted man was handsome Donald Scott, alias Major John Worth.
At Manchester Crown court yesterday, Scott of no fixed address, was gaoled for five years for stealing and forging cheques and obtaining money by false pretences. Scott, an instructor in seamanship, appeared for sentence.
He told the Recorder, Sir Basil Nield, that he was being blackmailed at a nautical school in Wales and had yielded to the demands of his blackmailer.
At an earlier hearing Mr J.S. Oakes, prosecuting, said Scott, under the name Kenneth Wilson, got a job as a bookmaker with a London firm. After stealing two cheques he asked for time off and a letter of recommendation. He used the letter to obtain his employer’s signature. Scott wrote out a cheque for £578, took it to a London bank in the name of Wilson and drew a cheque on the account. Then he left for the North of England and again changed his name. As ‘Major’ John Worth he bought cars and other things with dud cheques.
Scott, who was dismissed from the Royal Navy in 1948 was commissioned in the Royal Army Service Corps a year later. He was dismissed from the Army in 1950.
In May 1952 he was fined for unlawfully wearing an Army uniform.
If he was being blackmailed, I had no idea who it might have been. By this time, being a Petty Officer and one of the Chief Officer’s right hand men, he took me into his confidence and explained that he had had his doubts about Beaky when he had applied for the Seamanship Instructor’s job. Apparently he had said that he had been working abroad, but his face had a rather pasty colour as if he had been in jail. When questioned about it, he said that he had just got over malaria. The Chief Officer also told me that it had been a toss-up between myself and my friend Jimmy Hughes on which one of us was to be chosen as Chief Petty Officer Boy. Jimmy had finally been picked because he was going to sea as a cadet, and therefore more academically advanced.
I reached the age of sixteen and waited impatiently for a summons to the Captain's office to be told I could leave and proceed to sea. It finally came, and on 25th. July 1957 I left
the Indefatigable a very different boy from the one that had joined nineteen months earlier.
That was the start of 43 years at sea and another story.
OFF TO SEA - M.V. AFRICA PALM
Off To Sea
No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail: for being in a ship is being in jail, with the chance of being drowned... A man in jail has more room, better food and commonly better company.....
When men come to like a sea life, they are not fit to live on land.
Dr. Samuel Johnson
The wonder is always new that any sane man can be a sailor.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was to report to a Mr.Whitfield at the Liverpool Sailors home. He was to act as a kind of honest broker, and for the next few days I trailed round with him obtaining my seamans discharge book (number R680857) an identity card, complete with photograph and fingerprints, and a National Union of Seamen`s member`s book. I was registered at the `pool` in the modern Shipping Federation Office, close to the Liverpool Liver Buildings. It was much like a bank inside, with steel grilles over the counter and revolving steel bar doors which could only be passed through with permission after an official had pressed a button on his side of the counter. I came to understand why these security measures were advisable when I heard some of the conversations between the seamen and the Federation staff.
Normally the men would report after their leave and make themselves available for work, they would then be given a choice of three ships although not usually on the same day. When one had agreed to join a vessel he would be processed through the revolving door for a medical, pay his union dues up to date and then sign on the articles for his particular ship. If the articles were not there, they would be on board or at a Board of Trade Shipping Office. In my case, the demand for Deck boys was less than the supply so there was no berth immediately available so the pinch of poverty was soon upon me. However I was allowed to earn my keep at the Sailor`s home by shovelling tons of coal from underneath the manhole in the pavement through which it was tipped, and transporting it to the other end of the large celler nearer the boilers. This was a filthy job, but I was able to clean up and acquaint myself with the City of Liverpool at night. Finally, on the 8th. of August I signed on my first ship as Deck boy, it was the M.V. Africa Palm, she was laying at the Brombourgh docks at Port Sunlight on the west side of the Mersey. The articles that I had signed was a more or less standard agreement at that time. It stated that the length of voyage was for two years unless the vessel returned to the United Kingdom, in which case the crew member had the option to leave. My wages as Deck Boy as stipulated by the National Maritime Board were 12 pounds. 17s 6p a month, and my overtime - after working 56 hours a week was to be 1 shilling and three pence an hour. Out of this, I arranged to have an allotment of four pounds per month sent home. Half a minute later, I came accross the Bos`un, "Well Peggy" he said, "Your job is to do what I tell you without argument". Peggy?....... I didn`t want to be the Peggy. So I promptly commenced to argue with him. The Peggy was the name they called the junior rating, usually a Deck Boy, who fetched the meals from the galley, washed the dishes, cleaned and kept tidy, the deck ratings and Petty officers accomodation, made the tea and coffee and was general dogsbody. But worse, he was the butt, the vicarious sacrifice to all the accumulated ill-temper of the ship. The next rank up from Deck boy was the J.O.S. - junior ordinary seaman, this position was officially reached by serving nine months at sea with a clean voyage report. Because I had already served over eighteen months at the training ship I was entitled to six months remission of sea time. I did not want to be the Peggy - I wanted to work on deck, I had been taught all the essentials of seafaring except the actual going to sea. However the Bos`un was right of course, I was the lowest rank on board, and therefore had to do it. But before I dug myself into really deep trouble, Captain Winters who had apparently overheard my argument for instant promotion, called me over and said quietly. "Listen lad, you will answer to the bos`un, but I will say this to you. This voyage will take about three months - if you keep your nose clean and I hear no adverse reports - I will sign you on as Junior Ordinary Seaman next voyage". This sudden encounter with the Master and his statement, mollified me somewhat so I said `Yes Sir, Thankyou" and moved to depart. I think then was the first time I realized that the voice of real authority had no need to be raised. As I moved towards the exit, the Chief Officer looked at me with disdain and said "I`m keeping a weather eye on you lad". I kept my` nose clean' for about three days. We sailed that evening for Glasgow. A full sea- going crew had not yet been signed on. We had instead, a `run crew' working on deck, known as Riggers, these men were older, experienced ex- Able seamen who sometimes replaced the regular men while the ship was dicharging and loading cargo at ports around the coast. I shared a two berth cabin with one of these men. We were having breakfast in the mess room, I was sitting opposite him whereupon he started to malign me, and besmirch my character in a most foul manner.
"I know why you were sent to that naughty boys school, you thieving bastard"
on and on he went in a similar vein, ignoring my protestations that I had no idea of what he was talking about. Naturally, he was starting to annoy me, so I made some derogatory remark about him. He then retaliated by reaching across the table and hitting me on the nose with his porridge spoon. In a purely reflex and unpremeditated manner I delivered a straight right hand punch to the middle of his face, which immediately stopped his tirade in a quite permanent way. The other Riggers told me to go out on deck and cool off, while they finished their breakfast in peace. Shortly afterwards, they came on deck gave me a cigarette, and revealed to me that I had just thumped the ex-Bos`un of the `Dahomey Palm' and he had thouroughly deserved it. It transpired that he had been ashore in Glasgow the previous night, had got very drunk and spent all his money. Apparently that morning, finding his wallet empty, he assumed that I had stolen it. My own Bos`un turned a blind eye to the whole occurence and as far as I know, it was not reported to the 1st. Mate. Eventually a sea-going crew was employed, and with a full general cargo of miscellaneous goods we sailed for West Africa by way of Las Palmas in the Canary Isles for bunkers. I settled into the ship`s routine as we headed south, my intention was to carry out my duties as diligently as possible so that I could impress the Bo`sun and consequently show my worth on deck.
One small part of my job was to enquire from the Bo`sun whether or not he wished the six men from the midnight to four watch and the four to eight watch, out on overtime commencing at 0900. I had drawn his breakfast from the galley and it was waiting for him in the Petty Officer`s messroom, it was unusual for him not to be waiting for it so I set out in search of him. I found him right for`d struggling to splice an eye in a huge mooring rope, he was inserting a `fid` which is a large wooden tapering pin made from lignum vitae used to open the strands during splicing. I approached him with caution and said "Your breakfast is ready Bos`, and do you want the men out this morning"? His only reply was "Get them all". So I went aft put the watches below on the shake gave them their breakfasts, and they duly trooped out on deck at 0900 to confront an irate Bo`sun "What are you lot doing out - I didn`t want you this morning"? he hollered, slowly all eyes turned on me. I was a bit puzzled but obviously an explanation was called for. "You said get them all" I asserted. This seemed to stun the Bos`un a second or two but then a light seemed to dawn in his eyes and he replied "You stupid bastard, I said get the `maul' - I needed it to hammer the fid in". I went away feeling sorely aggrieved, and thinking that I would never be allowed to do proper sailor`s work. I was wrong, the next day found us steaming deep into the Atlantic and pitching heavily into a very rough head sea and swell. "Right" said the Bos`un, "this afternoon in your time off between 1500 and 1700 I want you to go down into the lower fore- peak and dip all the shackles and bottle screws you`ll find down there, and free them up. On descending into the lower fore-peak down the vertical steel ladders, I found a forty gallon drum about two thirds full of fish oil lashed to the bulkhead, strung all around me and arranged fore and aft were wires, and suspended on these wires were dozens of rusty shackles and bottle screws. My task was to dip these items into the drum of fish oil, clean them up with a wire brush then grease all the threads and return them to their positions all ready for use. Now normally this would be no problem to anyone, unless they suffered from claustrophobia however this lower fore-peak had no port-holes as it was below the waterline, the single bulb artificial lighting was very dim, the place was virtually airless and absolutely reeking of fish oil, grease, paint, paraffin, rust, and a few unidentified odours all adding to the fetid and foul atmosphere. Now this didn`t bother me much either, what was distracting me slightly, was the fact that the whole ship was rising to each sea and swell higher and higher - like a horse jumping over Beacher`s Brook in the Grand National- and I was right in the bows of the ship with only about one inch of steel, or less, between me and the Atlantic. It wasn`t too bad being lifted sixty or seventy feet into the air, it was when the bows suddenly dropped - after a second or two of suspense - into what seemed an abyss and a shuddering and thundering crash which kept knocking me off my feet when the bows reached the bottom of this watery pit, and then, just when I might have regained the feeling of gravity, the whole cycle would repeat itself, like a demented elevator, although it was not consistant enough to get used to, as the ship would occasionally take a tremendous lurch to port or starboard at the same time. This action is known as `cork-screwing', and if you ask anybody that has ever been sea-sick, they will tell you that the picnic element is missing from this thing the French romantically call mal de mer. I soon realized of course, that the Bos`un was having his little joke, so I persevered and completed my task, I was definitely ill, but never actually spewed up. I made the hazardous journey back aft covered in fish-oil, changed my clothes and layed up for tea at 1700 looking a bit anaemic, and the rest of the `crowd' who it transpired were in on the joke, immediately jumped to their own conclusions and offered their advice like; "Listen lad, the only cure for sea-sickness is to sit under a tree". And "Been driving the big porcilain bus then, have you"? And "been having a technicolour yawn, have you Peggy"? and "been calling for Yooee then" I did not bite, I kept my own council, I never, ever, felt remotely sea-sick again. We later bunkered at Las Palmas and then crossed to Freetown in Sierra Leone, while there, we took on about thirty Kru boys to operate the cargo winches and other duties while the vessel was working round the African coast, this was normal with Palm line - these men were native seamen and were taken on board as cheap labour. They had their own very limited accommodation and galley, their toilet was an oblong box made from planks or dunnage - like a vertical coffin with the front and bottom missing, it was suspended over the stern rails on the poop-deck. This `thunderbox' was known among seamen as the West African ensign because of where it was situated. We sailed from port to port along the Gold Coast, where the old slave trade was centred (later known as Ghana after it`s independence in 1957) discharging our general cargo in Port Harcourt, Takoradi, Accra and then on through the Bight of Benin to Lagos, Sapele, Warri and the Cameroon. One very hot Saturday afternoon, on arrival in Port Harcourt, I took a run ashore with the A.B.s. We ambled along the dirt road and before long were surrounded by young boys inquiring if we would like to "jiggy jig with my sister". The A.B.`s carried on walking during their good natured replies and finally settled in the nearest drinking den for an ice-cold beer. This `bar' was an old wooden shack with palm fronds on the roof. After a few more beers the lads decided that I was a `cherry boy' and it was time for me to lose my virginity - despite my protestations that I wasn`t a virgin, my concupiscence got the better of me, especially if they paid, so they had a few words with the owner of this particular hostelry, a ten shilling note was passed and a shapely young African girl of about sixteen years was produced. "Well don`t knock it `till you`ve tried it" I told myself, as the girl and I were shoved through the old torn curtain that served as a door to the inner sanctum and bedchamber, with many a ribald comment following us. As it turned out , I had a very pleasant afternoon, while my seafaring companions proceeded to get drunk out of their skulls on the ice- cold imported german beer, while waiting for me.
Our return cargo was to be large logs of mahogany and sapele, we went to some very small villages, miles up the creeks, sometimes these creeks were so narrow that as we navigated round the bends, the stern of the ship would swing wide and catch the trees and foliage of the jungle overhanging the river bringing them crashing down among the awning spars on the poop deck. Before we moored fore and aft to tree trunks alonside a ramshackle jetty, the vessel had to be turned around so we were pointing in the right direction for sailing. This was done by driving the ship`s head into the mud bank of the creek, putting the helm hard over `till almost round, then coming astern, thus bringing more foliage down onto the fox`le head. I can`t remember the names of some of these small ports, but they weren`t very pleasant places to be in, especially at night. There were some very weird and dangerous looking insects flying about, attracted by the lights, one favourite was the rhinoceros beetle, this was a pest of coconut palms, there were several types, but all had one or more rhinoceros-like horns on the head, and they were big enough to send us diving for cover when sighted. The weather was very damp and humid, our go-ashore suits and jackets were turning mouldy in our cabin wardrobes. We were told to take eight large salt tablets a day and we were also taking paladrin anti- malaria pills. But we worked and survived, the native pilot came on board to be greeted by the Bos`un who said "mornin` Pilot, I suppose you know where every rock in this river is"? "No Suh" quipped the Pilot, "but I knows where they ain`t"! We carried on loading logs and some cocoa beans travelling as far south as the Belgium Congo, on the way back, in Takoradi, I ran into my old friend Jimmy Hughes from the Indefatigable, he was now a cadet on the M.V. Elizabeth Holt, we had a few beers on board his ship and compared notes, unfortunatly I lost touch with him after that, and have not heard from him since. I was to find this many times at sea, where one may make very good friends, but rarely see them again after leaving the ship. We made the homeward voyage with a full cargo, logs stowed high and chained securely on deck, the Kru boys were put ashore at Freetown, the Africa Palm was cleaned up, battened down and on our way to Tilbury. We berthed at Surry Docks on 15th. of November 1957, where I was paid off with a steering ticket in my pocket and the promise of a Junior Ordinary Seamans job when I rejoined after my leave. I was quite pleased with my work, I paid off with a net wage of Twenty nine pounds, eight shillings and threepence for the voyage which had taken three months and eight days. On top of this, the A.B.s and Petty Officers gave me a tip for looking after them which amounted to twenty four pounds. The first thing I did when I went ashore in Tilbury was to buy myself a charcoal-grey drape suit. Then I went home.
I rejoined the M.V.Africa Palm on 3/12/57 gaining my promotion to Junior Ordinary Seaman and served another voyage to West Africa till returning to Liverpool and paying off on 13/2/1958
THE M.V. AMARNA
I joined the Amarna as junior ordinary seaman in Liverpool on 12/3/58, altogether serving three voyages round the Mediterranean calling at ports in Malta, Turkey, Syria, Israel, Egypt, Sicily, North Africa, Algeria and Tunisia. It was a good ship and a wonderful Scouse crew the Mate and Bosun didn`t want me to leave but after about six months of the Medi I wanted to go further afield- I left on 27/8/58
M.V. CAPE YORK
North Towards Alaska
Britannia needs no bulwarks,
No towers along the steep,
Her march is o’er the mountain wave,
Her home is on the deep.
Campbell, Ye Mariners of England
After a few days at home, and a few more in Liverpool - money all spent, on the eleventh day of September 1958, I joined the MV. Cape York - she belonged to Lyles of Glasgow. She was a fairly new ship of 8279 tons gross. Her Scottish crew had already signed on at Glasgow prior to me wandering aboard in Liverpool. I was pretty much an outsider especially as I couldn’t quite catch what they were saying for a week or two, but once I proved I could ‘do my bit’ I was accepted and insulted just like anybody else. General cargo was loaded in Liverpool and we sailed for the west coast of America via the Panama Canal.
I had turned seventeen years old in June, but I was still serving as Junior Ordinary Seaman as I had not yet sufficient sea-time to be promoted. There was another J.O.S. on board so I was now resigned to sharing the Peggy’s duties on a week about basis.
While I was engaged in these tedious duties, the ABs told me not to waste any bits of old bread that was left over, but to keep them in a bag for the mules that pulled the ships through the Panama Canal. When we arrived at the canal, I found that the ‘mules’ referred to, were the short squat powerful locomotives that took a line from each bow and quarter to haul us along and keep the vessels positioned while the locks were filled. I lost that large bag of stale bread very quickly.
As we approached the Panama Canal zone (the land about five miles on either side of the canal) it was fascinating to see the vessels which had already passed through several locks, and now progressing half way up a hill, we had lost the sea breezes, it was very hot. I’d never been so hot. The Panama Canal, I thought, went from east to west, but after taking a peak at the chart I could see it ran almost north and south, joining up the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans by cutting through the Isthmus of Panama, it was a distance of about fifty one miles. It was begun by the French in 1881 but later abandoned (1889). In 1903 the United States backed a successful Panamanian revolt against Colombian rule and gained construction rights for the canal which opened in 1914.
It was still very hot, as we steamed north, we discharged some of our cargo at the Los Angeles port of Long Beach, and then we sailed past the ‘Golden Gate’ of ‘Frisco Bay and the prison island of Alcatraz which lies in the bay, the weather was cooling rapidly now as we approached our next discharging port of Portland in Oregon at the entrance to the great Columbia river.
The ship was visited by some of the inhabitants of Portland, these men and women seemed very kind and offered to drive us young lads into town after we had finished work for the day. Now we were quite happy to have a free run ashore, so we agreed to be picked up at about seven o’clock that evening. Our mentors duly arrived in their huge American gas gussler, and away we went.
Before we knew it, we were being delivered to the doors of some kind of Evangelist church, and being ushered in before we could think of some coherent argument against it. The place was quite full so we were just shoved into a half empty pew by a couple who looked as if they thought they were doing us a great favour, then they took up a position at the end of the same pew to ensure that we remained there to listen to these people who had sinned, but now seen the light.
Now I wasn’t quite ready to hear this over zealous stuff from these Jehovahs, all I wanted was to go into town and get a tattoo, the other lads of course were thinking along the same lines - ‘let’s get the hell out of here’. We did eventually escape but it was a long walk back and we never did get into town. I’ve tended to give these preacher guys short shrift ever since.
The next port of call was through the Puget Sound to Seattle, it was well into October by now and getting colder and colder as we were now close to the Canadian border, a few days later and we were finishing off the last of our outward cargo in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia in Canada. It’s situated on the south east tip of Vancouver Island, it was founded by the Hudson Bay Company in 1843. All our cargo was now discharged, the homeward cargo was to be timber, the province of British Columbia is almost entirely mountainous, with the Rocky Mountains in the east and the coast mountains in the west. Timber and pulp and paper manufacture were it’s leading industries, so we found ourselves going deeper up the rivers between the mountains to ports called Chemainus, Alberni, and then even further up to where the timber was being felled and rolled down the mountain side to the river and then into the mills. Now it was very cold, the sun would just about creep into view over the top of one mountain just before noon, and then disappear behind another, two hours later.
It didn’t stop the Mate from making us work over the side on a ‘stage’ even though the ship’s side was covered with a layer of ice. With the wind whistling down the valley, God knows what the chill factor was, I’d never been so cold. (This a few short weeks of never being so hot!).
The Cape York was fully loaded with differing sizes of timber, including on deck to a height of over twelve feet and as the cargo was decked out across the whole beam of the ship, we had to construct walkways over the top of the deck cargo so that the forecastle and the oppo deck could be reached safely from ‘midships, we covered the deck cargo with canvas and secured it with wires and bottlescrews and headed south for home.
The crew suffered many days of continuous fog as we steamed parallel to the American coast, it eventually cleared as we neared the Mexican coast - the temperature hotting up again, starting to thin the blood, I swore I’d never complain about the heat again.
We were now looking forward to being home in good time for Christmas.
Through the lakes and locks of the Panama Canal again and into the Caribbean Sea, nice and warm now sporting a healthy tan. Into the Atlantic . . . . then we hit bad weather, or rather it hit us, these were frightening days for me in the most heaviest seas I was ever to be in.
Dawn was breaking as I was serving my trick at the wheel, the vessel was very difficult to steer, the heavy head sea and swell had reduced her speed, the wind had been steadily increasing overnight from gale force eight at midnight to storm force ten at daylight. The Chief Officer who was Officer of the Watch, upon being questioned by me, explained the criterion devised by Admiral Beaufort brought into use in 1808 and know as the Beaufort Scale. "Gale force eight" he said, "meant that a sailing vessel would have to triple reef her topsails, etc there would be moderately high waves of a greater length; edges of crests begin to break into the spindrift. The foam is blown into well marked streaks along the direction of the wind and the average velocity was 37 knots". "OK" I said, that seemed reasonable, I’d been in weather like this a few times now, it didn’t bother me, but the swell seemed to be getting larger by the minute. "It’s about force ten now", he volunteered, giving me a hand with the wheel as I tried to put the ship back on course. "According to the Beaufort Scale, that which a ship could scarcely bear with close reefed topsail and reefed foresail. With very high waves with long overhanging crests. The resulting foam in great patches is blown in dense white streaks along the direction of the wind. On the whole the surface takes on a white appearance. The tumbling of the sea becomes heavy and shock-like, visibility affected."
"What’s the wind speed?"
I asked, "It’s averaging fifty two knots now, which is about right for a storm force ten, this strength of wind is seldom experienced ashore," he said, "if it was, there would be trees uprooted and considerable structural damage would occur".
By midday it was a hurricane - force twelve. According to Beaufort; that which no canvas could withstand, wind force above sixty five knots, exceptionally high waves (ships may be lost to view behind waves) the sea completely white with driving spray. Everywhere the air is filled with foam and spray, visibility very seriously affected.
Well I could vouch for all that, but my God, how would I describe it?
A great wall of water came roaring at us, the size of a house and the length of a street, as it did, it created a trough which the ships bows plunged into, the wall came thundering on, then lifted the bow up, up, she went, now pointing the bows to the sky as the Cape York reached the apex of the wave just as it broke, white water everywhere, the ship balanced on this pinnacle then the bows crashed down again into the next trough. As the propeller came out of the water it lost it’s resistance and raced like mad until the governor cut in and slowed it down. The bows came up again, shuddering and staggering as it shed the tons of now green sea which now ran aft in a torrent.
The wind screamed, clawed and whistled in the shrouds, stays and aerials. Meanwhile all the canvas which had been covering the deck cargo was being ripped to shreds, the rails on the fox’le head were bent flat, and the cat-walks we had constructed on top of the deck cargo had been washed overboard.
As the sea came aboard, it filled up the gap between the end of the deck cargo, and the after end of the amidships housing, before it was able to drain away, it squirted round the edges of the heavy teak doors and into the accommodation, at a much faster rate than it could be bailed out, this caused the water - now a couple of feet deep to slosh around the messrooms and the galley, consequently lifting all the Marley tiles, and upsetting the cook who was trying to hang on to his utensils. It was a matter of pride to him that something had to be cooked, he did eventually end up with a strange variety of curried stew which was delivered to most of the crew in a pint mug with a spoon standing in it.
The deck and engine room ratings cabins were situated right aft, as the catwalk was now missing, the only sensible way to get there was to descend into the engine-room, and follow the propeller shaft from the back of the engine, right aft, through a tunnel in the bowels of the ship, to where it almost joins the screw in the place where the steering mechanism joins the rudder. When we eventually came up for air, the movement of the ship astounded me, one minute we were sinking deeply into a great trough, the next, we were flung high into the air, into the flying spray and spume, with the propeller churning into nothing but salt spray. When the ship is supported amidships on the crest of a single wave this is called ‘hogging’, when the opposite occurs, that is when a ship is supported at each end of the crests of two waves, she would bend downwards at the middle of her length, this is called ‘sagging’ well, the Cape York was hogging and sagging alternately to a frightening degree. Ships of course, are built to withstand longitudinal stresses, but this particular ship had never been exposed to such excessive forces.
The Master was carrying out the conventional safety seamanship by ‘heaving to’, that is heading the vessel into the wind and sea, slowing down, and ‘riding’ the waves as gently as possible ‘till the weather abated, if the bow was thrown sideways too much into the trough, she would be ‘broached’ and not be able to steer back out again, and then she would have been subjected to such violent rolling, and transverse stresses, that surely, she would never recover. As it was, the fish-plates (iron plates, used to strengthen beams etc.) running fore and aft along the boat deck had large jagged cracks in them, which opened and closed as we watched - powerless to do anything about it.
For the crew of the Cape York there was no rest, as the ship laboured to stay afloat, we wearily performed our duties as best we could, night and day, under the physical harassment of this monstrous storm, we were thrown about endlessly, bruised and shocked by violent and ferocious movement, we had to watch and feel the same thing happen to our ship. She pitched, she rolled, she laboured, she met the shock of a breaking wave with a jar that shook her from end to end, she dived shuddering into the deep troughs, shipping tons of water with a noise like a collapsing house, and then rose - when we thought she wouldn’t - with agony to shoulder the mass of water aside, shake herself free, and prepare herself for the next blow. I do not know what the wind velocity reached, I do not know how high the waves were, I do not know the name of the hurricane we went through, it doesn’t matter, I had to see it to believe it. In later years I experienced winds over one hundred miles an hour, several times, but never such mountainous seas, not even in the ‘Roaring Forties’ and not one man aboard admitted to seeing it’s like before.
Eventually we arrived in Surrey Docks in London, we were two weeks late, the ship was listing to starb’d at an angle of thirty degrees, a lot of the deck cargo was missing and great balks of timber was projecting from both sides of the ship, there was structural damage and everywhere was streaked with rust.
I paid off at the Dock Street Shipping Office on the 23rd December with fifty-two pounds fifteen shillings and twopence halfpenny, and went home for Christmas.
THE M.V.SANDALWOOD - tanker
The Sandalwood - The "Perishin" Gulf
After Christmas, I made my way up to Liverpool, booked into the Sailor’s Home, and spent a few days socialising with the natives, - mostly of the female variety, but knowing I would have to ship out soon, I kept a weather eye on the shipping lists at the ‘Pool’. Having had my fill of cold weather, and in way of a change, I thought I’d try shipping out on an oil tanker running to somewhere a bit warmer than I had experienced on my last voyage.
On the 7th January 1959, I signed on the M.V. Sandalwood, a tanker of about 10,000 tons belonging to John I. Jacobs of London. A bunch of us signed Articles in the Shipping Office. (Apparently one had to be a bit careful when signing on at the Shipping Office without first sighting the ship, the story goes that a ship called the "Baron Geddes" - a notoriously unpopular vessel for reasons that are many and varied, could never get a crew, however a crafty ‘Pool’ Official after having a pint or two with a crew of worthies duped them into signing on the "Barrongeddes". We then we piled into the bus provided and let it take us up to Heysham to await the ship’s arrival. While we were waiting we made each others acquaintance in a pub called the Strawberry Inn Hotel, not far from the dock gates.
We knew each other quite well by the time we were notified that the Sandalwood had arrived, we piled our gear onto a British Railways trolley - one of those things that was powered by pushing the handles up and down like a see-saw - and careered off to the end of a very long jetty where we could just about see the ship through a heavy snowstorm. She discharged overnight, I took up my position as Junior Ordinary Seaman, allotted to work on the twelve to four watch, sailed, and headed south for warmer climes. We were going to load a cargo in Caracus which is in Venezuela, what we didn’t know then, was that the cargo was destined for Birkenhead, across the Mersey from Liverpool.
We arrived there on the 9th February. Although we had signed on for twelve months, there was a clause which allowed us to be ‘paid off’ upon returning to a UK port, as the Articles would be closed and new ones opened. The food was dire on this ship, there was no air-conditioning and she was rife with cockroaches, however, as I had only been aboard about four weeks and not yet accumulated much in the way of wages, and when I heard she was sailing to the Persian Gulf for her next cargo, - with a change of Cook, I thought it prudent to remain on board for the next voyage. I would also soon have my sea time in for promotion and a slight rise in pay.
Off we went again, it didn’t take long to realise our new cook was a bloody sight worse than the last one, but it was too late now - we were on passage to Banda Mashur, right at the top of the Persian Gulf. The ship carried on with normal routine as any other British merchant ship, I was one of a team of three on the 12 to 4 watch, in the afternoon watch I would serve my trick at the wheel, steering the ship two hours at a time from 1200 ‘till 1400 or 1400 to 1600, and at midnight I would take my turn as lookout before or after my trick at the helm depending on rotation. My day would go something like this, including overtime; on duty at midnight, one hour as lookout on the fox’le head or the monkey island (the deck situated directly above the bridge) one hour below on standby, then two hours steering, the four to eight watch relieved us at 0400. We would then turn in until the Peggy called us for breakfast at 0730. At 0900 the Bos’un issued us with our various tasks for the day, interrupted by taking the wheel again during my watch in the afternoon, at 1700 I would knock off for tea, shower etc. And then relaxing before my watch commenced again at midnight. This was more or less the standard routine as we steamed through the Bay of Biscay, past Gibraltar and through the Mediterranean Sea to Port Said (the flies were still there as one couldn’t help but notice) and prepared to proceed through the Suez Canal. A huge searchlight was positioned at the bow (so we could see the banks at night as we took up our place in convoy, then we waited ‘till the convoy coming the other way had cleared before we steamed through. The Suez Canal is about 103 miles long and extends from Port Said in the north to Suez in the south. The canal was planned by the French engineer Ferdinand d Lessops, who also supervised it’s construction (1859-1869). Britain became the largest shareholder in the Suez Canal Company in 1875. In 1888 an international convention proclaimed the free right of transit to all shipping, to be guaranteed by Britain. An agreement of 1954 provided for the British evacuation of the zone. In 1956 Nasser nationalised the canal company, provoking the Suez Crisis, in which Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt but were quickly forced to withdraw due to hostile world opinion. (Restored to Egyptian control, the canal was subsequently closed in 1967 to 1975 because of Aran-Israeli hostilities).
The Bos’un thought it would be a good idea to repaint the fore part of the bridge, while the ship was steady on passage through the canal. So we all turned to, and painted the bridge and a large part of the accommodation housing a lovely brilliant white, it looked beautiful, unfortunately, before it was dry we had run into a short but fierce tropical sandstorm. The bridge now had the permanent texture of sandpaper.
We now steamed south down the Red Sea, it was very hot, we were engaged in chipping the decks, and with the resulting dust and chippings sticking to our sweaty bodies it became a bit uncomfortable, the Mate knew this of course and every day, at mid-day, we lined up for a very large tot of rum, which he dispensed himself with an air of great magnanimity, and which we drank with an air of unremitting thirst.
We loaded our cargo in Bandar Mashur and steamed off with it on passage to Hong Kong, the same ship’s routine, the same awful food, the same huge cockroaches, (we dispensed some of them for sport by putting them on the cook’s hot-plate, that didn’t half make them jump).
I loved the hot weather but it had it’s drawbacks, there was only one refrigerator on the ship, and that was the big walk-in one where the mead was kept, this was out of bounds to all of us except the catering department. Consequently the butter was permanently in a liquid state, the cold water was always warm, so there were no such niceties as a cold shower or a lump of ice. We were allowed to buy two cans of beer per man per day, these were kept in the steward’s cold room until issued in the evening. And boy! We really enjoyed those beers.
South then round the tip of India and Ceylon through the Straits of Mallacca, with a short stop at Singapore for mail and fresh water, and then on through the South China Sea to Hong Kong. We anchored in the bay very close to the end of the airport runway, on land which had been reclaimed from the sea, which resulted in aeroplanes flying very close overhead either to land or take off every few minutes. The next day we moored at our discharging berth on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong, that evening my mate and I drew a sub of our wages, showered and shaved and dressed in our traditional ‘go-ashore’ gear of faded blue jeans and clean white t-shirt, made our way through the slums ‘till we reached the Hong Kong-Kowloon ferry went across and had a brilliant unforgettable few days on the town.
Later we sailed and proceeded to the north west coast of Borneo to a place called Miri. The refinery, where we discharged some of the cargo, was built well into the jungle, we were advised not to go ashore because of the Head-hunters and cannibals which abounded there. So a few ABs and myself went ashore, we found a pub of sorts a small shabby hut with palm fronds for the roof, more noticeable were half a dozen shrunken heads suspended in the corner, I offered to buy one, but was slightly deterred by the look the owner gave me and the large machete which he kept by a cardboard box he used as a till.
We were served a type of bottled beer from a small refrigerator which didn’t work, as there was no electricity. There were no ladies present, the insects were starting to bite us, but at least we had a run ashore, so it was back to the ship to stand our watches. We steamed south again, across the Equator and on to the east coast of Borneo to a place called Balikpapen, where the remainder of the oil was discharged. We then filled up the cargo tanks with fresh water and steamed north, back to the Persian Gulf. The weather was very hot and airless, we managed to make wind scoops by cutting an empty five gallon drum diagonally lengthways, fixing a piece of broomstick about twelve inches long at the wide end, and then shoved it through the porthole until it jammed tight, quite effective as the ship steamed along. On the return voyage to the Persian Gulf, I reminded the Captain that I now had my sea-time in for promotion (eighteen months) he immediately promoted me to Senior Ordinary Seaman, my wages were increased from 21 pounds 7 shillings and sixpence to 25 pounds per month. That was on the 19th April 1959.
The Sandalwood exchanged her cargo of water for oil in Mina Al Ahmadi. We steamed back to the UK by the same route that we came, and we paid off in the shipping office in Cardiff on the 24th of May.
They were mostly a fine crew and I was sorry to see them go, but being at sea, that was the way it was.
I went home on leave.
I joined a ship named the Roscoe, in Liverpool on the 2nd of July 1959. She was a lovely old ship built by the Germans in 1935, she had been a German `war prize` and now belonged to the Lamport and Holt shipping company.
Although I had left the last ship in May, I had decided to wait before shipping out, and sit for my Efficient .Deck. Hand. Certificate as I was now eighteen, (on June 16th.) And now eligible to do so.
However - prior to taking the E.D.H. exam, one had to take a Lifeboatman`s course and examination, which entailed theoretical and practical work, everything was going quite well as there was a bunch of us , a motley bunch, of about, ten - eighteen year olds, until the afternoon of the Friday, this was the last practical part of the exam, this was also the day we had picked up our `wages` from the shipping Federation. Naturally we were able to have that extra pint with our pork- pies that dinner time, consequently the Board of Trade examiner that was waiting to test us aboard the lifeboat in the Seaforth docks seemed a bit miffed. We all clambered aboard the 32 ft lifeboat, the Examiner, consulting his clipboard, delegated me as `bowman` and told me to “let go” and “bear off forward", now this entailed standing up in the bows, using a boat hook, and pulling the boat ahead a bit, giving some slack on the bow rope so that I could let it go. Well I managed to retrieve the boat-hook from amongst the bunch of oars that were being manhandled by the rest of the crew, into the correct position for cast off, ( namely sitting on the thwarts with the oar being held upright, with blade in the air) and then, I cast the boat-hook onto the top of the gangway to pull the boat ahead, well, the hook wasn’t a very `hooked` hook in fact it was more of a straight hook and when I put weight on it, it came adrift from the top of the gangway, thereby lurching me backwards into the rather murky waters of the dock with the boat-hook flying over the top of me.
The B.O. T. examiner was not too impressed by my unfortunate accident, and when I had surfaced he told me to “retrieve the boat hook and get out of the water, get myself ashore, and don’t come back, - you’ve failed “. I walked all the way back to the Sailors home in my wet clothes, changed and returned to the Shipping Federation. I figured that the best course of action now was take a ship to somewhere I hadn’t been before, and also one which wouldn’t be too long away, so that I could try and take my E.D.H. certificate again. My failure to do so this time meant I had to ship out as a Senior Ordinary Seaman again, which of course, was costing me money.
The M.V.Roscoe fitted the bill nicely. I was soon on my way to Brazil with a happy Liverpool crew and an old, but fine built ship. We were carrying a general cargo outbound, but we called in at Recife, just south of the equator, for stores, fuel and fresh water.
As we lowered the gangway to the quay wall there appeared at the bottom of it, a very good looking dark haired girl, about my age, on closer inspection she was a real stunner, with just about a perfect figure, she was carrying a large basket, I had a quick word with the Bo`sun, and found out that she was the `washer woman`, she would do all the washing and ironing for a small fee. Well, I felt the feckless whim of testosterone stirring within me, so decided I had better do something about it, I had heard that soap was a rare commodity in Recife, so I quickly raided as many cabins and toilets as I could, ( knowing that the Steward had plenty more soap locked away in his stores ), and used these as a bargaining ploy.
There was no washing or ironing carried out, but this voluptuous young lady showed her whole hearted admiration for me - or the soap - and showed me her appreciation in the most practical manner.
A few hours later we sailed on our way South, discharging our cargo at Rio de Janeiro, Santos, and Porto Alegre. One Saturday night in Rio, a bunch of us lads and a few more British merchant sailors congregated in a large popular sea-front pub with huge glass windows from deck to ceiling, we were enjoying a couple of quiet rums when in came the American crew of a visiting warship, they were very loud and brash in their uniforms and tending to be rather impolite to the attendant girls, when from within the ranks of our sailors came the old rendition ;
With a bottle of Coca-Cola ,
And a dirty great blob of ice- cream,
They are the nation`s pride and glory-
The United States Marine.
With that, the whole place erupted, it was just like a scene from a bar brawl in a cowboy film, with chairs used as weapons, glass smashed and tables turned over, I made a rapid exit when the American Military Police turned up, by leaving through a window which `till just previously, housed an eight foot piece of glass. Apart from some miner facial injuries, I escaped reasonably unscathed, however I was not best pleased because my tin of tobacco and my lighter were lost in the fracas.
Still in Brazil, it happened to be my turn in the forenoon watch to take the wheel for a couple of hours after entering the river on our way up to Santos, which is the seaport of Sao Paulo (founded by Portuguese Jesuits in1554). It was very satisfying to a lad of my age to be steering this ship going up the river at quite a good speed with the currant, although the pilot kept a watchful eye on me, he could see I was maintaining the correct position for the Roscoe rounding bends and passing other river traffic, and I was thoroughly enjoying the experience.
The Roscoe loaded frozen meat on it`s way back up the coast of Brazil, and then leaving Vitoria - our last port of call, we made our way home, arriving at Hull on the 13th. September 1959.
I immediately made plans at the Shipping Office to sit my E.D.H. Certificate. For some reason ( which I could only assume was inefficiency on the part of the Board of Trade Mercantile Marine Office) I was not asked if I had taken and passed my Lifeboat examination which I would have had to do in Liverpool. I sat and passed my Efficient Deck Hand certificate on the 15th. September and wandered happily home for a spot of leave.
I joined the M.V.Tremayne in Liverpool on 2nd. of October 1959 she was deeply laden having already loaded a general cargo including several tons of whisky. My first job on board was to climb the mainmast burdened with wire, bottle-screws and small shackles, and wearing my knife and marlin spike in a sheath around my waist, I was ordered to lash the top of the derricks together in a vertical position against the cross-trees on the starboard side, between hatches four and five, this was being done because we were unable to stow them in their crutches in their normal horizontal position due to double decker buses being loaded on each hatch beneath them. On completing this task I returned to the deck and stood by the masthouse chatting to the ship’s carpenter when I felt something brush my shoulder and then something hit the deck with a clatter. The other fellow who had been lashing the derricks on the port side, had dropped his heavy metal marline spike from about 120 ft. of course, I was foolish to stand below a man working aloft, but if I had been standing just a few inches to one side I would almost certainly have been killed. But off we sailed settling down to routine the crew getting to know each other, the first port of call was Hamilton in Bermuda where we discharged the aforementioned buses, then to Nassau in the Bahamas there we discharged part of the cargo ,(although there was not quite so much whisky put ashore as there was that originally came aboard ) before steaming off to Havana in Cuba. It was very interesting ashore at that time as Fidel Castro had just overthrown the dictator Fulgencio Batista and all his victorious soldiers seemed to be on a non stop celebration, every where we went these fierce black bearded men - still armed to the teeth were knocking back copious amounts of rum.
Then of to Nassau in the Bahamas taking general cargo including tons of whisky, then up to Tampa in Florida to load phosphates, then through the Panama Canal to the Gulf of California loading cotton on top of the phosphates in Mazatlan in Mexico, then taking it on a long lazy ride across the Pacific to Japan. Then down to Geelong in Australia to load grain then home via Cape Town. I paid off with £125 in Avonmouth on the 13th. March 1960
What a wonderful ship – Built by charles Hills and Sons at Albion Dockyard, Bristol and launched by Mrs Douglas Lovell ( Owner Wife ) on 1st. June 1954.
A motor vessel, flat decked aft of short f`csl,. 1266 tons gross; 254 ft 5 inch. Long, 39 ft. 6 inch. Beam, 13ft. 7inch. Loaded draught; 8 cylinder Polar engine giving 12.25 knots. ( in a run from Dublin to Avonmouth in the 1970`s she often averaged 12.66 knots on the 212 miles voyage). 89,000cu.ft. refrigerated space.
A crew of 18 including the Master. Cost £250,000.
Described as a "revolutionary type of short sea trader without cargo handling gear and cargo winches " it said that Apollo and her sister ship Echo were ahead of their time and possibly the best coasters ever built. ( They certainly were – I served as Mate and Master on both of them for many years as well as sailing on several other coasters - They were the cream – well known and well run ). As like the Milo her bridge was rounded at the fore part to enable the helmsman to see more while navigating the river to Bristol. Polished wood panelling in the accommodation, single berth cabins for all hands, the Master enjoyed a whole deck to himself with bathroom, bedroom and saloon, below this deck, the fore part gave the Chief Engineer his bedroom and saloon on the starboard side and the Chief Officer the port side, running aft from this was the Officers cabins and two `Owners cabins` and aft of these were the officers pantry and dining area – on each quarter were saloons – one of which was the Captains/Owners special entertaining saloon. Not long after I took over as Master, I turned it into a very successful bar.
The crew accommodation was below this on the main deck with large mess room and recreation room.
For much of her life she operated, initially with the Milo and later the Echo, the cargo liner service between the Bristol Channel and Antwerp/Rotterdam, but in her later years she was used on the Irish services.
In the early hours of Thursday 9th. June 1955, on passage from Rotterdam, Apollo rescued 12 of the 14 crew of the blazing Swedish tanker Johannishus, which had been in collision with the Panamanian freighter Buccaneer about 40 miles off the Dutch coast . Captain Barnes`report shows that the crew of the Apollo carried out a fine act of gallantry. Her lifeboat was launched with a volunteer crew, when about 500 feet off, to make their way in heavy rain, poor visibility, burning oil and drifting smoke. Chief Officer Mowat in command of the lifeboat, was conspicuous for the way he handled the situation and he and his boats crew of seven were awarded Royal Humane Society testimonials.
Reconstructed as a container ship in the autumn of 1968 in Rotterdam, Apollo was lengthened by 24 ft. and hydraulic McGregor hatch covers fitted, her new capacity being 72 by 20 I.S.O. containers.
I was there at the time and remember working out the new stability tables required with the extra weight and ballast tanks etc.
The work was completed in December and she started sailings on the Irish service on January 1969.
She was, in 1976, the last vessel to use the original lock out of the Old Dock at Avonmouth opened by the Juno in 1887. This occurred in the evening when dark and I was requested to switch on all floodlights for a newspaper photograph which turned out well.
Entering the Avonmouth Docks during a 60 mph gale in November 1977, Apollo`s engines failed and she hit the entrance pier.
Again I was Master – although I was, of course, ultimately responsible it was just one of those things – we had been through some atrocious weather returning from Dublin, normally on reaching King Road off Avonmouth I would slow down, stem the tide (for maximum control) and perhaps stop engines while awaiting the signal to enter the locks. On this occasion however the locks were ready, so as I approached Avonmouth in severe gale force winds, I swung the vessel hard a`port away from the entrance took a round turn to give me sea room and place the Wl`y. wind directly astern to minimise lateral drift and proceeded between the piers before stopping the engines to reduce speed. Shortly after, all I required was a touch `dead slow` ahead on the engines to `kick` her to port and into the locks.
There was no response from the engine when I gave the order, except the whooshing sound of escaping air indicating I had no engine movement, the vessel missed the lock entrance and ploughed head on into the granite wall on the starboard side of the lock sustaining damage to our bow and also the quay wall. The ship’s stern then fell heavily to port due to the wind, causing damage to the ships side 3ft. below the belting on the port quarter. We managed to warp the vessel into the locks whereupon I conversed with my Chief Engineer Dennis Hyde, he informed me that the engines failed due to a fractured air pipe probably caused by the pounding the ship suffered on our way home from Dublin, ( the crack was in a copper/brass pipe within a nut that secured it to the air start mechanism, therefore undetectable until he tried to restart the engine) we decided to convey the offending pipe to the shipyard adjacent to the locks and have it repaired with all possible speed.
After explaining the situation to Jeffries Ship repair men, they braised and annealed the pipe immediately.
The engines repaired, we left the locks for the berth with the wind (according to the Dock master) of 45knots, we reached `N` berth in the Old Dock with no further incidence. Nobody was hurt. There was a lovely photo of me standing by the bow damage, requested and taken by the local Evening Post, I was not particularly amused – it had been a long couple day since we left Dublin.
The damaged fore peak water ballast tank was filled with cement as a tempory repair until such times we could be pulled out of our schedule for dry dock to effect repairs.
I understood later, that we had a free dry-docking under insurance which proved to be beneficial in a number of ways.
On Monday august 13th. 1979, at about 1900hrs we sailed from Cork on passage to Avonmouth the forecast gave us force 5/6 but further South the forecast that midday
warned of 6/ 8 Sw or Wly winds. But something was wrong it didn’t feel right, I went below to see the Chief Engineer and asked to give us all possible speed.
By 2000 the wind speed had reached 30 knots the seas were building up and pushing us ahead, by midnight it was a full storm force 10 - My ship was very difficult to steer due to the heavy following seas pushing us on the stern and quarters.
This was the night of the Fastnet yacht race which claimed 15 lives and 23 lost or abandoned boats. The terrible thing was I could hear all the distress signals broadcast from the yachts astern of me but not a thing I could do, it was too dangerous for me to turn about and even if I did I wouldn’t have made any headway in those seas – I would have just been hove to.
Laid up at Newport following the closure of the Bristol Steam services in April 1980
Apollowas sold in the July to the Anna Martina Shipping Company., Caicos Islands.
She was last reported in 1982, up the Amazon with defective machinery.
I joined the Apollo in the first instance on the 21st. Jan. 1964 as 3rd. Mate under Capt. Barnes.
I had joined the Bristol Steam Nav. Co. as A.B. on the Cato on 7th. Jan 1962.
Shortly after, I decided to sit for my Mate’s Home Trade certificate so I left on 12th. May that year (the Cato was sunk later that month) to attend the Welsh Collage of advanced technology.
I passed part of my `ticket` and returned to sea as A.B. aboard the Milo for a while to save up some cash, and eventually passed and gained my full certificate on 28th. Nov. 1962.
I was now well on the way to an ambition which was to become a Master with the Bristol Steam Nav. and try to achieve it before the age of 30.
However I could not apply for an officers berth ( with B.S.N.C. ) without officer experience so joined the M.V.Uskport as 3rd. mate, running deep sea with phosphates from Casablanca, then I found an opportunity to join a coaster as 2nd. Mate it was the S.S. Leicesterbrook – a steam ship belonging to Comben Longstaffes – on the 8th July 1963 the Mate became ill after drinking out of a bottle of cleaning fluid after a night ashore – he thought it was lemonade as someone had put it in a lemonade bottle, so I was promptly promoted 1st Mate.
After a few months there, I paid off and took some leave (we were due 23 days per year at that time) then took the opportunity to return to the Shipping Federation waving my discharge book and pressing the point that I had sailed as 1stMate and insisting I ship out again as 1st.mate although I was only just 22years old.
So I was sent to Cardiff to be interviewed by the owners of the S.S. Rudry they seemed quite impressed, so I signed on as Chief Officer aboard this rusty old steamer under the auspices of Captain Garfield Howells from Swansea – he had quite a fondness for the bottle, consequently I rapidly gained experience in ship-handling, dealing with ship chandlers, accounting and drawing the wages and a hundred and one other things that the Master usually does. Especially as we were on foreign-going articles running down to through the Bay of Biscay taking coal down to places like Bordeaux, Saint Nazaire, Bayonne also Santander ( with pitch from Newcastle) and then usually returning with grain.
I paid off for Christmas and was then able to return to The Bristol Steam Nav. Co. as an officer with experience – that’s how I came to join the Apollo as 3rd. Mate in 1964.
I remained with the company until made redundant 17years later. (Gaining my Master`s Home Trade Passenger Ships Certificate on 16th Aug. 1965)
Of course I sailed at some time on all of the companies ship, being Mate of the Milo for about three years tramping around, also the Pluto and Juno on the Dublin run, The Hero and Dido, but then Mate relief Master of the Echo ( I first became Captain of the Echo on 14th June 1971 – 2 days before my 30th. birthday thus achieving my ambition) until being made permanent Master of the Apollo on 9th. Jan. 1975.