LOF Yarns – Long Stories

Long LOF stories from days gone by…

Quick Links

Memoirs of John Clement
Up To Mischief In Vancouver
Life At Sea Post – Stamford Hill
The Trampship Apprentice 1947
The Painting
VIP Travel by LOF
The Marine Casualty
Letter to Mr. Mackenzie The Fleet Superintendent… 1986

Memoirs of John Clement


Download memoirs as Microsoft Word file (13 Mb).


John Clement (November 2012)


Return to top

Up To Mischief In Vancouver


Back in mid 1949 I had become well adjusted to life as an Apprentice on the ss Stamford Hill! I had now been at sea for some two years and, so I thought, I had pretty well ‘come to know the ropes’, so to speak. I was happy in the environment aboard the ship – we were a cheerful group (of four) Apprentices and we had at that time a Captain (Church) for whom we had the greatest of respect, a Chief Mate (affectionately known as ‘Wimpey’), a dear old ex sailing ship skipper who we looked upon as a pain in the butt, but who we recognized as a man of integrity and who just loved to have his Apprentices at his beck and call!

On 15 May 1949 we sailed from Yokohama, en route across the North Pacific for Vancouver in British Columbia. Our current voyage had taken us thus far, two thirds of the way around the world and we were about to complete the final third! Our recent ports of call in Kenya, Egypt, and Korea had been anything but exciting, but the thought of Vancouver really sent the adrenalin pumping! We duly arrived in Vancouver on 2nd June to a very unexpected welcome. Quite unbeknown to me some distant relatives of my mother lived in Tolmie Street in Vancouver and having been made aware of our impending arrival, the McKenzies were on the quayside when we docked and duly made themselves known to me! Their hospitality during our few days in port was wonderful, to say the least! However we were in for an even bigger surprise as also on the quayside was a guy (can’t remember his name, but for convenience let’s call him Mike!) who was a cadet on the ss ‘Manx Navigator’ who we had last met during our fabulous visit to East London (South Africa) in August 1948.

Mike, had in the meantime left the sea and taken up employment ashore in his home town of Vancouver and was currently employed as a Reporter with the Vancouver Times. That night he was on duty on the ‘night desk’ and he invited my shipmate Geoff (Baskerville) and I to spend the evening with him until his shift finished at midnight. We needed no second invitation and we spent an hilarious evening helping him to answer a myriad of telephone calls that came his way, mostly to find out the score of the Newcastle United v Vancouver All Stars soccer match played in the City earlier in the day!. It was during this evening that the plan of the story that I am about to relate was hatched!!

Our friend Mike suggested that we should go skiing with him – what a brilliant idea said we!! There was one BIG snag however – we would be away for 24 hours or so! Now we knew that if we asked either the Old Man or the Mate, if Richardson, Baskerville and Turner could have a days leave, the answer would be a definite ‘NO’! For one thing the Mate was trying to get the ship’s hull painted and he needed ‘all hands on deck’! So what were we to do? Mike made his offer one that we couldn’t refuse – he would organize GIRLS for us (tutors you know!) and there would be plenty of liquid refreshment etc, etc. So it was that we decided to take the law into our own hands – and to hell with the consequences!

Now the plan was that we were to meet Mike and friends at the bus station at 5.30 pm to board a bus that would take us to the Cable Car to Hollyburn Mountain above North Vancouver. So we arranged that Dougie, the fourth Apprentice, would do the ‘night aboard’ that night and he would be sworn to secrecy – he wouldn’t know WHERE the hell we had gone!!. SO, when everyone had gone down to supper at 5 o’clock, we three grabbed our bags and made our escape!! Our first disappointment came early on, for when we arrived at the bus station there was Mike but with ONE girl – obviously his!! Oh well, who were we to complain and as we traveled over Lions Gate bridge to North Vancouver our spirits rose as did our anticipation! We duly left the bus and climbed aboard the Cable Car to the top of the mountain and eventually on to the ski cabin – this really was breathtaking stuff the likes of which we had never seen before!! We lit the fire, identified our bunks and rigged our ski’s – what a laugh we had – and eventually we called it a day and retired to the cabin. We then proceeded to have the mother of all parties – obliterating all thoughts of Stamford Hill from our minds!! One by one we crawled to our bunks and slept the sleep of the dead!!

Next morning , heavily hung over, we were persuaded to try our hand at skiing again- but now reality was beginning to take hold – what was happening aboard the good ship Stamford Hill?? We had to have a good story to explain our absence as we knew that Captain Church would (a) be very concerned about our disappearance and (b) would take a lot of convincing as to why we hadn’t got his permission in the first place, and telephoned him to let him know of our predicament in the second! Basically our story would be that we didn’t get his permission because we knew he would say ‘no’, and that we couldn’t let him know that we were ‘stuck’ up the mountain because all the phone lines were down!

So, late that morning we commenced our return, now full of foreboding. We could imagine old Wimpey ‘doing his nut’ and phoning the police and the hospitals etc. On the way down to the bus Mike informed us that there was a police checkpoint on the North Vancouver side of Lions Gate bridge so you can imagine our apprehension! In the event there was no sign of the police and eventually we made our way back to Stamford Hill at suppertime the next day! When the Old Man returned to his cabin after supper he was confronted by three VERY sheepish looking Apprentices! We deliberately avoided old Wimpey as we knew he would be ‘trouble’ – we felt much more comfortable explaining ourselves away to Captain Church! In the event he was jolly decent and ended up telling us that when we next contemplated such an escapade, we should tell him first…Ha! Ha!

Wimpey, as we thought, was another story and he refused to believe our explanation and he very cleverly put Geoff and I on his (4 – 8) watch on the way home to Liverpool during the course of which he persistently tried to get the ‘true’ story out of us! We, for our part, stuck to our story! In retrospect we acted very irresponsibly I guess, and we caused those charged with our well being considerable anguish.

But, hell, it was fun!! And we were even able to enjoy the rest of our stay in the wonderful city of Vancouver B.C. It’s memories such as this that bring me to say that I wouldn’t have swapped my apprenticeship days for ANYTHING!!

Early in 1951, while serving as uncertificated Third Mate on ss Fry Hill, I had the good fortune to experience a second round the world trip, not unlike the one described above, which again took me to Vancouver. I didn’t meet up with Mike again but the Mckenzies once again blessed me with their wonderful hospitality, in addition to which I enjoyed the company of a very attractive lady friend of one Geoffrey Baskerville…. But then that’s another story!!

John Richardson (November 2009)


Return to top

Life At Sea Post – Stamford Hill


I enjoyed a wonderful spell of leave after leaving “Stamford Hill” in Manchester, but, all good things must come to an end and towards the end of November I received instructions to join the s.s. “Castle Hill” in Middlesbrough. This time I traveled by train (too far by car, my old man said!!), and, as I commented earlier, the sight that met my eyes when I arrived aboard on 9th December 1949, was unbelievable!! “Castle Hill” was berthed at a steel mill on the River Tees, and having discharged a cargo of iron ore, she was covered in red ore dust from stem to stern! I soon found my way around though and discovered that my new shipmates were not a bad bunch! As I said in my first letter to my folks written en route from Middlesbrough to our first port of loading in Antwerp,……”I am enjoying life to the full and have completely settled down and at present feel very happy in my new surroundings. I much prefer this ship to the last one – it seems altogether different. There is a very friendly atmosphere and the officers seem tops – at present! The Old Man seems jolly decent but very quiet – more like Captain Church – very capable and “decisive”. He has been on the bridge continuously since we left. The Mate is fine- a bit different to old James – and very friendly and considerate. He is a middle aged bloke but almost bald and looks very funny alongside the Second Mate who has a beard almost tickling his toes!!………..The bloke (the second apprentice) I share a cabin with is fine – very quiet, teetotal, non smoking and a woman hater!! Pretty good combination don’t you think – I’ll have to give the lad some tuition!!”

We arrived in Antwerp on 17th December to commence loading our general cargo for West Africa on a Palm Line charter. It was at about his time that my father first learnt of the possibility of his being transferred to Cape Town, South Africa. His Company, R.& W.H.Symingtons, was apparently planning to build a new textile factory there and my old man was being considered to head up the project. I was more than a little interested in the outcome as it could have serious implications on my future life at sea! Little did I realize at that time, quite what those implications would be!!

Loading continued apace and we duly sailed from Antwerp and later arrived in Rotterdam on 21 December, where, despite the cold, wet weather, we loaded a further 2000 tons of general cargo, including empty oil drums, cement, steel goods, bales of cloth, tinned milk, substantial quantities of liquor, potatoes, immigrants personal effects and two 80 ton steel barges (on deck). We had eleven ports of discharge so stowage of cargo was quite a complex business but to assist in this regard we had the services of a Palm Line “Supercargo”. With Xmas looming, it was obvious that the powers that be wanted us away before then, and, in the event we DID, in fact, sail for London late on 24th December!

News from home prior to our departure for London informed me that my father’s transfer to Cape Town had been approved which, obviously, would involve a major family upheaval! It was difficult for me, despite the past two and a half years at sea, to imagine setting up home in Cape Town although I had experienced happy days in East London and Durban while serving on “Stamford Hill”! In the meantime my folks had arranged to spend the festive season with my grandparents in Falmouth so a visit, for me, to Market Harborough was out of the question. As it was, no leave was possible during our comparatively short stay in London and we sailed for Freetown, Sierra Leone early on New Year’s Eve!

Our passage to Freetown via Las Palmas (for bunkers) was uneventful except for crew trouble in Las Palmas where two of the sailors decided that they had had enough and would rather stay behind. As the ship pulled away from the quay, they both, in their intoxicated condition, jumped over the stern and attempted to swim for shore! They were duly picked up by a police launch and brought alongside, but one of them refused to climb the pilot ladder and had to be hauled aboard by a rope sling – he was taken to his bunk and during the course of a struggle fell out and cut his forehead badly above his right eye – however, he survived!

We duly arrived in Freetown on 9 January 1950 and thereafter moved on to Monrovia (Liberia), Port Bouet and Grand Bassam (both in the Ivory Coast). We arrived at Takoradi (Gold Coast) on the 15th to find the port strikebound with a dozen or so ships in the anchorage! One of them was the s.s.”Haligonian Baron” one of Counties ships, later renamed “Wembly Hill” and commanded by Captain Roberts, the first Master I sailed with on “Stamford Hill”. I duly passed on my kind regards but regret to say they were not reciprocated!!.The strike was soon over and we docked on 22nd January. Discharging was slow, however, and pilfering became a major problem, both with the “stevedores” and with the crew.

Until Takoradi the voyage had been quite a pleasant one but from here, things took a turn for the worse. As I say, we had trouble with the crew stealing cargo, especially beer (of which we had a substantial quantity) and rolls of cloth. Four of the crew were caught going ashore with rolls of cloth wrapped around their waist and were duly put in gaol! The magistrate gaoled them for six months but the Captain said that the ship couldn’t sail without them – so they were fined forty pounds instead! Again the Old Man pleaded their cause and said that as we had only been away for a short period, they wouldn’t be able to afford forty pounds, so the magistrate reduced their fine to ten pounds!!
Interestingly, it was here that I bought a mahogany Elephant Table for my folks and today, some 59 years later, it stands in the entrance hall in my home here in Constantia, Cape Town.

We left Takoradi on the 28th and arrived in Accra (Gold Coast) the following morning where we joined four other ships at anchor, all working cargo via surf boats each manned by up to a dozen natives most of whom were stark naked! It was while we were at Accra that trouble started in the catering department. The crew was complaining about the quality and quantity of the food. It appeared that for this voyage the catering superintendent ordered stores for the voyage whereas it is customary for the Chief Steward to do the ordering, apparently. There followed a bit of an altercation between the Old Man and the Chief Steward during which the latter threatened to go ashore and order additional supplies. What actually happened at this stage is not quite clear, but as the voyage progressed things became worse – in more ways than one!
We duly arrived off Lagos (Nigeria) during the evening of the 5th of February and docked about noon the following day. Discharging continued apace until we shifted over to Apapa about breakfast time on the 8th. We apprentices, worked cargo watches with the second and third mate and in the larger ports such as Takoradi and Lagos, discharging took place on a shift basis, sometimes all through the night and we often had our hands full in trying to prevent pilfering, both by stevedores and crew! Most of the liquor was stowed in No.3 hold where it was considered to be most secure. By this stage of the voyage the Bosun had worked up a considerable thirst and was hell bent on quenching it – at any cost! He was a huge, loud mouthed Yorkshireman and he used his considerable size and weight (AND voice) to get what he wanted! So it was that he threatened me, who for long periods was made responsible for security in No. 3 hold, that if I got between him and his case of booze he would make my life a living hell!! I was quite petrified of the guy and when I could, I made sure that I wasn’t to be seen when he was on one of his thieving missions!

It was while we were in Lagos/Apapa that problems with the machinery aboard “Castle Hill” took a definite turn for the worse. Not only were we having problems with the main engine but more seriously with the boilers where tubes were leaking at an alarming rate. Deck steam pipes were also leaking and the winches were giving trouble too. Despite our problems we completed our discharge in Apapa and duly arrived in Port Harcourt (Nigeria) late on the 10th. We sailed again late on the 12th for Victoria (Nigeria), but shortly after dropping the pilot we ran into dense fog. Prior to our departure from Port Harcourt it had been decided that en route to Victoria we would anchor off Bonny in order to carry out much needed engine room repairs, so it seemed logical to do the repairs while we were anchored in the fog! We lay at anchor with our main engine shut down from midnight on the 12th until noon on the 15th! Although the persistent fog necessitated reduced speed we duly arrived at the anchorage port of Victoria late on the morning of the 16th only to find that there was a shortage of barges and labour. It seemed to us at the time that this voyage would never end as we still had to discharge at Santa Isabel, Bata and Sapele – 13 different discharge ports in all! Fortunately we were blessed with a cheerful and surprisingly happy crowd of officers – little did we realise at that time how important that was become in the weeks ahead!!

We eventually arrived at Santa Isabel on the (Spanish) island of Fernando Po on the 20th of February, but our (late) arrival unfortunately clashed with the arrival of a Spanish passenger vessel which, despite orders from the Governor in Madrid, we were told, was given preference over us and we only began discharging after she sailed on the 27th . Mis- fortune continued to dog us. I had been unwell for some time and the Doctor was called to examine me; he diagnosed Bronchitis and prescribed a course of injections, which no-one on the ship was prepared to give me, and thus the Doctor prescribed an alternative which could be taken by mouth! Thanks to a very understanding Mate, as well as the medication, I recovered in due course and lived to tell this tale! Food continued to be a source of much concern. Our refrigerator ran out of gas on the 17th and we had to dump some 500lbs of fresh meat, and today (28th), we were told that we could not get any more ice! On the lighter, the Mate bought himself a mandolin (which we soon discovered he could play quite professionally), and some of the other officers chipped in so as to acquire a variety of liquid refreshments! In the boring nights that lay ahead, this all proved to be a good investment as you will see!

We eventually left Santa Isabel on 2nd March for Bata in (Spanish) Equatorial Guinea and anchored there the next day. We commenced discharging into barges on arrival but after four days we had only managed to discharge 8000 out of a total of 20,000 bags of cement and with the imminent arrival of another Spanish mailship, there was no end in sight of our departure! The following excerpt from my letter home, dated 17th March, illustrated the predicament that we found ourselves in….”Today (6th March) we sent a message ashore asking for some fresh meat – you’ll never guess what they sent us – a live goat – the most scraggy looking thing you ever set eyes on!! Needless to say, we sent it back!!” To make matters worse under these conditions, we hadn’t received any mail since we arrived in Port Harcourt a month ago!

Our sojourn at anchor off Bata seemed never ending and by 12th March we STILL had 10,500 bags of cement to discharge! In the event, the Captain took matters into his own hands, and after 16 days at Bata, having only managed to discharge half of our 20,000 bags of cement, he decided that we should return to Santa Isabel to land the remainder. We eventually sailed from there for Sapele on the afternoon of the 19th, but before we lost sight of the Island we became disabled with leaking boiler tubes again. Given the hazards of a difficult passage up the River Benin to Sapele, the Old Man decided to make for Lagos and we eventually limped into the harbour there on the afternoon of the 21st.To give some idea of the conditions aboard I quote from a letter home dated 22nd March……”All this time remember, we were short of food and water, had very little shore leave – I haven’t been ashore for over a month – and expecting to be blown sky high any minute . Working in the engine room was like working in hell – there’s no other way to describe it, There’s water and steam flying everywhere and the engineers are now dead beat (such were my impressions of our mechanical problems in those days!). Everyone on board has had bad stomachs due to bad food – some of them have been quite ill – I was lucky and got off lightly thanks to Bisodol – I swear by that stuff!”

Shortly after our arrival we were moved to the buoys in Lagos harbour, the boilers were shut down and two Lloyds Surveyors inspected them to determine the extent of the problem. According to an extract from my next letter of 30th March….”The Surveyor has torn the engine room apart and says that he has never seen such a disgusting mess in all his life! He really is furious and is certainly going to town on her. Work is very slow and we haven’t even got one boiler going yet and no prospects for the near future either. The ship is completely dead – no lights, and we bath with buckets and have to get a bucket of water from over the side to flush the toilets. We use oil lights at night – so you can get an idea of the miserable time we are having. The food has not improved much either and, as you can imagine, there is general unrest among everyone aboard”…….

Re-tubing of the first boiler was completed by the 14th April so, after three long weeks without power of any kind, at last we had lights and other services back on line, but the bad news was that as a consequence of all our delays we had lost our Palm Line charter so it will be interesting to see if/when another will be negotiated! I had a letter from my ex shipmate, Geoff who was still serving his time on “Stamford Hill” telling me that he was en route from Sfax (Tunisia) to New Zealand with a cargo of phosphates. How I wished that I was back on my old ship again!!

The weeks went by and repairs to boilers and machinery went on at a snails pace! It was hot and humid (but now, at least, we had fans and lights and could take a shower at the end of a day’s toil) and the mosquitoes were a confounded pest. Although the food gradually improved it was still well below “par”. The deck crew together with the apprentices and the three Mates all busied themselves with deck maintenance (mainly chipping and painting) and the outward appearance of “Castle Hill”, now referred to by some as “Heartbreak Hill”, began to look less like “the wreck of the Hesparus”!! Despite all our setbacks the officers remained cheerful throughout and we had a number of musical evenings with the Mate and his mandolin which helped to keep out “spirits” up!! In spite of my illness, lack of shore leave, lack of mail from home, lousy food and general discomfort, my letters home generally told of my love for, and pride in my ship, and of prospects of another voyage – quite amazing in the circumstances!

Well, we were eventually given the all clear to sail and with our original charter having been reinstated we left Lagos for Sapele on the River Benin on 13th May. What happened next is best described in my letter home from Sapele dated 15th May……….”We reached the entrance to the river yesterday noon and crossed the “Bar” and dropped anchor for the night. About 6am today we began our 68 mile trip up the river to Sapele – and what a trip! We had a native Pilot and Quartermaster – and can they handle a ship! At times we were almost brushing against the trees along the river bank – it really was incredible. It was just like sailing up the (River) Welland!! The river is quite wide in general but in several parts it is very narrow indeed – it twists and turns all over Nigeria too!! I’m still wondering how we got around one bend (and I’ve got a picture to illustrate my point). It certainly is some experience”…….the next paragraph reads “You should just see where we are moored too – right alongside the bush – tied up to a tree stump aft!!……………..We are loading (1500 tons of) logs, by the way, weighing anything from two to ten tons!. I think most of them are around 3 – 5 tons but I think I heard the Mate say that we have three of 9 tons – poor winches!!” What my letter didn’t relate was the fact that all these logs were floated down the river and tied up alongside the ship before being hauled aboard by the ship’s derricks, and stowed in the holds. This, of course, all took place in 1950 – I wonder how it’s done today???

By this time the atmosphere aboard “Castle Hill” was much more cheery! We had left home nearly five months ago and had all gone well, we should have been back there by this time! However, we were now loading for the U.K. – we still weren’t sure of our loading ports, or where we would discharge, but at this stage we really couldn’t care! We had been lead to believe that Sapele was one of the worst ports on the coast but our experience dispelled this myth somewhat. To be sure, it was hot and the mosquitoes and other insect life was a problem, but we hit the jackpot for a change as we discovered that there was an establishment there called the Sapele Athletic Club and, more importantly that, on the third Saturday of every month it is “Club Night”. The officers of ships in port were made honorary members of the Club so a few of us who were not on duty decided that this invitation was too good to turn down!. It turned out to be the highlight of the voyage and in addition to being made to feel most welcome we were able to let our hair down in no uncertain fashion!! In my letter home dated 21st May I said…..”On Club Night all drinks are free from 8.30 to 9.30pm – during that hour you can drink as much as you like for nothing!! Imagine what a mad scramble it was – you couldn’t get near the bally bar!! I forgot to tell you that this is a European Club – there are only about 100 white people in Sapele and nearly all of them were there last night – male and female of course. Anyway after the drinks we had dancing until about 11pm, then we had a barbecue cooked by an American. Honestly it was marvelous – lovely fresh salad, grilled steak, Heinz beans and fried potatoes and then coffee. After the barbecue we had a firework show and bonfire, but the latter was a flop due to the rain earlier”…..My letter went on to describe the hilarious entertainment show put on by Club members that followed, and my story ended by saying that when we arrived back aboard about 2am on Sunday…”I don’t suppose you’ll believe me when I tell you that I was quite sober when I got back – I was anyway – so were we all as far as that goes!!”…. I guess it’s occasions such as that, that made up for all the nights we had been forced to spend aboard during the past three months.

Eventually loading was completed and we set sail, uneventfully, for Lagos (again!). We arrived off Lagos on the evening of the 30th May to find eight ships at anchor. It appeared that times were changing for the better for “Castle Hill” because we received orders to dock the next afternoon and as soon as we had tied up loading began! Despite the initial excitement, and anticipation of an early sailing, the situation soon deteriorated and it soon became obvious that we wouldn’t be ready to leave before the middle of the month. The main problem was the rain and the late arrival of our cargo, especially the timber. In the meantime we were confused (and somewhat annoyed!) by the Old Man taking a “jolly” ashore – he left on Thursday morning and only returned on Saturday evening, leaving us without mail, without money and without stores! We had been busy loading groundnuts in bulk in holds 3 and 5, and bagged groundnuts in No. 4 hold. We also loaded small quantities of pepper beans, rubber, charcoal and groundnut oil but the timber took forever to arrive! In a letter dated 15th June I said to my folks…….”Had a disastrous day yesterday, moving ship. Went aground and hit (the) quay – no serious damage. Had fire in the Engine Room – boilers on the bum again – windlass broke down and now one of the dynamos is on the bum. We’re having a lot of trouble with the double bottom tanks and we’ve been listing from one side to the other for the past three or four days………..the Old Man has blamed the Mate (and) you may guess how serious things are when I tell you that it’s the first time I’ve seen the Mate really worried. Honestly Mother, to hold any responsibility on this ship is a nightmare.” (say’s the 19 year old Apprentice!) .

As sailing day approached our next problem was stowaways…….my letter dated 19th June read “I caught seven with a policeman down No.3 hold on Friday and we caught another 3 down there today. Five of us, the 3 Mates and we two Apprentices have searched the ship from stem to stern today and although we found evidence of stowaways, like clothes, shoes, water, food, knives and even a watch, we only found 3 in No.3 hold. The Old Man has put the 3rd Mate, Ginger and myself on stowaway watch tonight, besides the ordinary ship’s watchman. We’ve put lights all around the ship’s side so hope to keep the devils away…………”

We eventually managed to get away from Lagos on 20th June bound for Dakar for bunkers, where we arrived late on the 29th June. But en route we had endless trouble and according to my last letter from Dakar dated 29th………….”We were only 28 hours out of Lagos when the port boiler went on the bum again – we managed to patch it up again and it has held so far. A few days later the Gwyn Engine fell to pieces and, in turn, blew the condenser. We patched the condenser with blocks of wood and also fixed the Gwyn Engine. A few days later, however, the Gwyn Engine went again and we fixed that last evening………………………….The weather has been pretty bad too for this part of the globe. We have had strong winds and torrential rain most of the way………..IF we have a reasonably good passage home we should be in London in 14 – 16 days, but the engines are far from satisfactory – the Engineers have them adrift now…….P.S.Are you coming to London to fetch me??!!”………………………………

We did eventually make it back to London, and I left the ship for some well earned leave on the 15th July, quite unaware that a totally new chapter in my life at sea was about to unfold!. In retrospect the most amazing aspect of service on s.s.”Castle Hill” was that despite the adversity we had to endure, the spirit amongst the Deck Officers was quite remarkable and they really set a fine example to we two apprentices. How the engineers survived, I’ll never know! The Second and the Fourth were great guys I remember, and we owed a great debt of gratitude to them and their colleagues! At least we on deck had sunshine and fresh air! Interestingly, after I left “Castle Hill” she was transferred to London and Overseas Freighters Ltd (part of the same Group) and renamed “London Builder”. Not long afterwards, however, she was sold (not surprisingly!) later in 1950, also to another reputable London Greek shipowner (S.G.Embiricos) and renamed “Silver Wake”. She was sold on to another three owners and was finally sold to Japanese shipbreakers and broken up in Onomichi in 1966.
Well…………home on leave I went and shortly thereafter I was notified by the Company that my Indentures were to be terminated on account of my being promoted to Uncertificated Third Mate and that I was to join the s.s. “Fort Cadotte” in Cardiff on 15 August 1950. I was over the moon of course and apart from the honour and the pride, my salary would more than double!! So began another chapter in my life at sea!

In the meantime, while on leave, and while out socializing one evening with my younger brother, he introduced me to a rather attractive young lady that he knew. I have to confess, dear reader, that from quite a young age I was attracted to the fairer sex and while at secondary school I ventured into several “relationships” – in fact the social life at school (during World War II ) was, for me, quite the best part of my education! In addition I enjoyed my sport too, but studying came a poor third – and my results showed it!! I failed my matric exams twice and, thankfully, was whisked off to sea before my third attempt!!

I was eleven when my folks sent me to the Market Harborough County Grammar School in August 1941 and I struggled academically from the start, but there were many other activities at the school which I thoroughly enjoyed! It was wartime of course, and as a consequence there was, amongst many other things, a shortage of labour. So there were quite frequent calls for “child labour”, especially to assist with the harvesting of certain crops, and whenever there was a call for volunteers for potato picking or pea picking , I was always the first to volunteer my services! And we got paid too, of course! At Xmas time there was a call for volunteers for postal delivery services, and again, I was there!! It was great fun – anything to get away from the classroom! And, as I say, there were the girls! There was one in particular with whom I became very attached – she and her mother had been evacuated from London during the Blitz – and, somehow, I’m not sure how, our friendship was rekindled some years after I went to sea!

But to get back to my leave in July 1950 – my friendship with said young lady was quite a passionate affair but inevitably very short lived as I soon had to join the “Fort Cadotte”.
Although many letters flowed “to and fro” during the seven months that I was away on that ship, my interest in her wained and more important things took her place, I’m afraid!! So – back to the “Fort Cadotte”.
I signed on the “Fort Cadotte” in Cardiff as Third Mate (uncertificated) on 15th August 1950. I had now attained the rank of a Merchant Navy officer, so there was a mad scramble to buy uniforms and other items befitting an officer of rank, including a sextant. Although I was not yet 21, my folks gave me twenty one pounds with which to buy my sextant, as a birthday present in advance. For this I was most grateful, and I still have that sextant to this day! My first impressions of the ship were very favourable – she was another warbuilt ship of the “Fort” type, built in Vancouver, Canada by the Burrard Dry Dock Company and delivered on 18th March 1943. She was similar in size to the other ships on which I had served and the layout much the same as “Castle Hill”, one notable difference being that whereas “Castle Hill” was oil fired, “Fort Cadotte” was a coal burner!. Since delivery, “Fort Cadotte” had been owned by the Ministry Of War Transport and had been managed on its behalf by Cunard Line. In 1950 she, together with many other Government owned vessels, was bought by Counties Ship Management Co.Ltd., to supplement their fleet which had been decimated by enemy action during the war.

Now, of course, I was an officer and initially that took a little getting used to! Captain Taylor was, as you will see, a “gem”, the Mate, James Lamb, had sailed as Master with McAndrews, and the Second Mate, Dave Morgan was not only an experienced navigator, but a super guy too. So we, on deck, became a great team although as we were to find out later, the Old Man had his problems! We sailed from Cardiff on19th August, bound for Bremerhaven (West Germany), where the ship was first to be converted from a coal fired to an oil fired vessel. I was put in charge of the 8 – 12 watch under supervision of the Master. I soon appreciated the training I had received on my two previous ships and this is illustrated in the next letter home to my folks written from Bremerhaven and dated 22nd August….”Well I had never dared to hope that things would go the way they have up to now!.I don’t think I could have got on better. We seem to have a jolly decent crowd and the Old Man is a “real gem”. I had the shock of my life to begin with. He just tells me to do a thing and leaves me to get on with it. Coming round the coast (Bristol Channel, Lands End, English Channel etc) I even laid off my own courses and made my own corrections. In fact I navigated the damned ship myself and the Old Man came up to the bridge now and again to see that I was okay. He couldn’t have left me to myself more if I had a ticket. Needless to say I have settled down very well and am very happy – so far of course!. The food and cooking is excellent and conditions in general are good. The old ship herself can get along okay too – we averaged 11 knots from noon yesterday to noon today – a bit different to the last wreck”!!

And so, after an otherwise uneventful trip we arrived safely in Bremerhaven (which at that time was in the American Zone of occupied Germany) at breakfast time on 22nd August and later that same day we were shunted to our layup berth. We soon pumped out all the ballast and the boilers were shut down on the 23rd. We were then descended upon by six gangs of scalers who set to scaling the double bottom tanks ready for use as oil fuel storage tanks. They worked day and night, non stop and, as one can imagine, the noise was “unreal”!.

It was during this time that we became aware that the Old Man was, indeed, a “sick old man”. He appeared to have stomach trouble but what I didn’t appear to realize at the time, his real problem was the Gin bottle! Nevertheless we were a happy crew at this stage and all got on well, although it wouldn’t be long before I changed my tune!! The ship appeared to have been quite well maintained (as one would expect of Cunard Line!) and the (Deck) Officers set to, to make the Bridge area even more presentable! We had a Company Engineer Superintendent to supervise the conversion work and I was very anxious to find out from him what was to happen to us once we were ready for sea again! At this stage he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, tell us! However, by the end of the month news broke – we were to sail on a P.& O. charter from Southampton to Japan with a cargo of motor vehicles and it seemed that we would be ready to sail for Southampton by 14th September – could we be in the U.K.in time for my 20th birthday on the 16th?? In the meantime we had undergone a name change and the ship was now known as the s.s.”Fry Hill”, with the new name engraved and painted on the bow and stern!
Conversion work continued apace but we all became increasingly frustrated due to our long spell in port – we were all “hard-up” and spent almost every night aboard, where conditions were rather unpleasant to say the least! After contract work was finished, we took on bunkers and completed all our tests and trials, and then shifted ship about four miles up-river to Nordenham where we loaded sand ballast in the two forward and two after holds. This was to provide as large a floor space as possible for the vehicles we were due to load in Southampton. We eventually left Nordenham for Southampton on the 18th – so my 20th birthday was celebrated in Germany and NOT in the U.K. – and we duly docked there on the 20th September.

By this time it became common knowledge that we had been chartered, not by P.and O. Lines, but by the British Government to carry war materials to Korea where the conflict between North and South Korea was hotting up. On arrival in Southampton we were quickly made ready for our cargo. The sand in numbers one, two, four and five holds, was leveled and “sheathed” with a layer of heavy Oregan Pine timber to complete the vehicle platforms. Our heavy lift derricks (50 tons at No.2 hold and 35 tons at No.4 hold) were rigged and tested. However, while testing the after derrick, the fall parted and the test weight plummeted to the bottom of No.4 hold. This could have been disastrous as the vessel’s (propeller) shaft tunnel runs through it, but fortuitously this had been covered by a sufficient depth of sand and timber to prevent any serious damage! We loaded a whole variety of military vehicles and support equipment and the ship was humming with military personnel, day and night. Each and every vehicle had to be secured, of course (those in the hold as well as those on deck), but eventually all was made ready and we set sail, headed for the Suez Canal, early in October, thankful to enjoy the peace and quiet of life at sea once more!

The passage out to Suez was uneventful and we averaged 10.75 knots. Life onboard settled into a happy routine and except for some rumblings amongst the (new) firemen, which the Old Man quickly sorted out, we were, at this stage to quote from my letter home from Suez, “a happy go lucky crowd”! I, personally, was thoroughly enjoying my first ocean passage as a watchkeeper and, in addition to my routine duties, I kept myself occupied with bridge maintenance jobs. Captain Taylor would visit the bridge and engage me in much interesting “yarning” – for him, a very convenient way of keeping an eye on his “fledgling” 3rd Mate, I guess!

The reader is reminded that at this time (in the 1950’s), basic communication at sea was via the morse code and each ocean going ship carried a radio operator (generally known as “Sparks”) who kept a series of “two on, two off” watches for a total of eight hours on each day. In addition to sending and receiving messages (“traffic”) for our ship, Sparks would keep us in touch with what was going on around us. He was required to monitor a three minute silence period twice every hour (15 minutes before, and 15 minutes after the hour) to listen out for any ship that might be in difficulty and require assistance. During our passage from the U.K. to the Canal we “passed” a number of Counties’ vessels and we had the pleasure of overtaking the “London Statesman” (ex Forest Hill”, ex “Putney Hill”) off Cape St. Vincent, and during the passage we passed the “Denmark Hill” bound for the Continent (of Europe) from the Far East and the “Dover Hill” which was bound for Baltimore (U.S.A) from Bone (Tunisia). We also had contact with the “London Dealer” (ex “Pentridge Hill”) which was about four days ahead of us, also bound for the war zone.

We arrived at Port Said early on the 19th and my next letter posted from Aden on 26th October gave a rather graphic picture of my first watch – keeping passage through the Suez Canal!…..”I was called at 04h30 (having gone off watch at midnight!) yesterday morning when we moved into Port Said from our anchorage. We tied up about 07h30, took bunkers and fresh water and sailed again (in convoy) at 14h00 for our passage through the Suez Canal. I managed to get a nap from 15h00 – 16h30, but then I was on the bridge continuously from 16h45 until midnight – gee was I tired?!. I don’t think I’ve ever slept so soundly as I did between 12h30 and 07h30 this morning!”

Thereafter we had a good run down the Red Sea, averaging 11 knots and en route we passed several more of our ships including the “Harrow Hill”, “Brockley Hill”(en route to Alexandria (Egypt) to be sold), and the “Hawthorne Hill”. We arrived at the desert port of Aden to bunker shortly after breakfast on the 25th and sailed for Singapore later that day. Again our passage to the Malacca Straits was uneventful and we averaged 10.5 knots. The only incident of note during the passage was a message from Counties head office informing us that after we had completed our discharge in Fusan we were to proceed to Kure (Japan) for bunkers and then proceed to the “North Pacific” to load timber for the U.K. We were delighted with this news and assumed (and fervently hoped!) that the “North Pacific” meant Vancouver, British Columbia! We duly arrived in Singapore on the 9th November, took bunkers, fresh water and stores and sailed for Fusan early the next day not quite knowing what to expect when next we made landfall!

Our passage through the South China Sea and the Formosa Strait and up to the Korean Peninsula was uneventful, save for the inclement weather, and we were only able to average 8.25 knots. We eventually anchored off Fusan on 24th November and we remained there for the next NINE days! So much for all the “hurry and scurry” in Southampton! When we did eventually get alongside, our discharge operation got off to a pretty disastrous start as one of the first vehicles containing a large number of car batteries, fell over the side and was lost! We found the Koreans to be very unhelpful and we relied heavily on the British soldiers to help us to get the cargo ashore. We quickly built up a fantastic rapport with them and soon became aware of the dreadful conditions under which they were living and working. We worked long hours, understandably, but for us it meant lots of overtime pay! We, thankfully, left Fusan on 8th December and arrived in Kure (not far from Hiroshima) the next day to discharge all our cargo lashings, timber decking and sand ballast. We left Kure for Moji to take on bunkers for our passage across the North Pacific on 16th December. We arrived there early the next day and left again the same afternoon, headed for Cape St.George on the west coast of the U.S.A., for orders Our stay in Japan was very uneventful but I did venture ashore in Kure to buy some presents for my family and had hoped to visit Hiroshima. However that was not possible, in addition to which the weather was bitterly cold and wet; in any case we were all looking forward to our next port of call which, despite the uncertainty, we hoped would be Vancouver!

And so Vancouver it proved to be! Our passage across to the American Continent was pretty uneventful except that on finding that we were having difficulty with the furnace fires, we discovered that water ballast was leaking into one of the fuel oil tanks and thus contaminating our bunker fuel. Xmas and New Year passed with little excitement, but the Second Mate and I made some effort to dress the officers dining saloon for our Xmas Day lunch with decorations we had bought in Kure! Xmas at sea is never really much fun, but the Chief Steward did his best with the limited resources at his disposal and a pretty good lunch was enjoyed by all! As a consequence of our fuel problem we averaged a little under 10 knots for the passage across and so it was that we eventually arrived at the quarantine anchorage off Victoria early on the 9th January,1951 After the routine (“short arm”) inspections and small pox vaccinations we weighed anchor and set off for Vancouver where we docked about 19h00 the same day. I had quite a welcome – my ex shipmate’s girlfriend, Marion, was on the quayside to meet me but although she wasn’t allowed aboard at the time, I went ashore to meet her for coffee later that evening!
We soon learnt that we were to load 2000 tons of wheat and 1000 tons of timber in Vancouver and more timber in New Westminster, Nanaimo and Victoria.

However, this particular time was notable for my social life! A quotation from a letter to my folks dated 14th January read……”Well I, to put it mildly, am having a whale of a time here in Vancouver. I have been ashore every night except last night (when I was on duty). I was with the McKenzies (distant relatives of my mother) on Thursday night – had a grand night of course – lovely meal, then to the movies and home again for supper. I returned to the ship loaded with magazines and gramophone parts!! The Mate has built a gramophone – it works too! The other nights I spent with Marion – she’s giving me a marvelous time (what would my friend Geoff have said ? Ed.).Her father, who is the manager, showed me over the fish packing factory here the other day – it was very interesting. Today I have been skiing, believe it or not! I met Marion at 9 this morning and we arrived up at the (Ski) Cabin (the scene of a very raucous party during my last visit to Vancouver on “Stamford Hill”. Ed!) at about 1130am. We left again at 3pm but didn’t get home until 6pm and Mrs Haining had a lovely hot meal waiting for us. I waited for Marion to change then her Mother and Dad drove us down to the ship and they all came aboard while I changed, then they drove us up here to the Mission (to Seamen). I have just been to the (church) service there so thought I would drop you a few lines”…..

We said farewell to Vancouver on 15th January and arrived in New Westminster the next day to load more Oregan Pine. I had not been well during the passage across from Japan and at this critical time (in my social life!) I was feeling really groggy by the time arrived, so went to see the Doctor who diagnosed reaction from my recent vaccination! All my socializing went by the board as I had quite a high temperature and was confined to my cabin. A visit from Marion brought me some degree of cheer, however! We sailed from New Westminster on Sunday, 21st and arrived in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island the following morning to load more timber; we left there for Crofton on the afternoon of the 23rd and some 24 hours later we were on our way to our final port of loading, Victoria, the capital city of Vancouver Island. Our stay there was not a very happy one!
Firstly there was the weather; the winter in this region had been mild thus far but since we left Nanaimo it had rained heavily but suddenly on the 26th, the temperature dropped to 15 F and stayed well below freezing until we sailed. This caused all kinds of problems aboard, particularly with burst pipes and winch damage. We also had all kinds of crew problems; we had left our Carpenter behind in Aden for some reason and while in Vancouver three of the seamen deserted and another “skinned out” while we were in Victoria, so altogether we were short of five crewmembers shortly before we were due to sail for the U.K.! While in Victoria to load the last of our timber cargo AND to take on sufficient bunkers to take us as far as Curacao, we ran into all kinds of problems. We had to finish off loading into Nos.1, 2, and 3 holds as well as the fore deck cargo and the completion of the after deck cargo and, as I have said, we were also to take on oil fuel. For some unknown reason our bunkers only arrived at midnight on Sunday 28th instead of on the previous Friday on which day the ship had taken on a decided list to port! The Surveyor instructed us not to load any more cargo until the bunkers were aboard. So while bunkering on Monday the Engineers “got their valves wrong” and flooded the decks with oil fuel – what a bloody mess!! You can but imagine the scene – freezing cold temperature, burst pipes everywhere, decks partly loaded with huge planks of Oregan Pine, an unstable ship, and thick black oil fuel everywhere!! Yes, we did eventually get ourselves sorted out with MUCH friction between Deck and Engine Room!
I can record that we eventually sailed from Victoria bound for the Panama Canal on Monday 29th January 1951, with or without our seamen, I’m not sure!

Our passage down the west coast of the States was slow and we averaged barely 9 knots. We continued to have oil spills and the ship “flopped” from port to starboard and back again all the way down. We ran short of fuel (not surprisingly) and fresh water and limped into Balboa (Panama Canal Zone) in dire need of both. The things that we deck officers said about our engineering counterparts don’t bear repeating here! We took on 175 tons of oil fuel and replenished our fresh water tanks and had an uneventful passage through the Canal but the voyage across to Curacao was anything but pleasant for we had gail force winds and a number of stoppages occasioned by our engineer friends of course!. We arrived in Curacao for bunkers early on the 24th and sailed later that day bound now for London and not for Liverpool as we had previously thought.
I have no record of our voyage home save for one particular incident which will be etched in my memory for the rest of my life! It had been a long haul since our departure from Southampton early in October 1950 and we had sailed many thousands of nautical miles during our voyage around the world. By the time we reached the Bay of Biscay we were all starting to get “the channels” as the port of London beckoned! We were some 18 – 24 hours out from Ushant (seen by many seafarers inbound from the Atlantic as the entrance to the English Channel), and when I went up to the Bridge to relieve the Mate for my 8 – 12 (evening) Watch, it was dark. The Mate and I passed the usual pleasantries, he indicated to me our Dead Reckoning (DR) position on the chart, confirmed that the lookout was at his post (on the Bridge due to our laden condition) and, most importantly he told me that although the visibility during his watch had been poor it had recently improved but that I should keep a sharp lookout and if in doubt at all, call the “Old Man”.

The Mate left the Bridge and “Fry Hill” continued on her course towards the English Channel with yours truly in charge of the Watch. What happened next is difficult to relate precisely but it was probably towards 21h00 when I saw a light fine on the port bow. I picked up the binoculars and then saw to white light which I took to be a vessels two masthead lights. I told the helmsman to put the wheel to starboard and called the Old Man who, fortunately was on the Bridge in a flash. He took one look out of the wheelhouse window and said ” Which way are you going”? I said “To starboard Sir”. He shouted to the man at the wheel “HARD A PORT, and gave two short blasts on the ship’s whistle – we both went out onto the starboard Bridge wing to see this ENORMOUS looking ship sliding down our starboard side at one hell of a speed! I was speechless with fright and after the Old man and I went back into the wheelhouse, he put the ship back on course again and proceeded to explain to me what I had done wrong! Most importantly I had not seen the colour of the other vessel’s sidelight before deciding to alter course and when in doubt about the visibility always sound the appropriate fog signal. My problem was, of course, that due to my inexperience as a bridge watchkeeping officer, I had not realized that the visibility had deteriorated again and neither we, or the other ship, was sounding our regulatory fog signal of one long blast every two minutes. I shall forever be grateful to the sickly Captain Taylor for the manner in which he addressed me and taught me a lesson which I was never to forget! When the Second Mate came up to relieve me at midnight I went through the whole saga with him and when I finally turned in, more than a little exhausted from my experience, I couldn’t get to sleep for thinking of what might have been…………!!

We duly docked in Surrey Commercial Dock in London on 20th March 1951. I was keen to get home because my parents were due to relocate to Capetown in the near future and lots of discussion had to take place before they left. In the meantime I had my sea time checked by the M.O.T. and confirmed that I now had sufficient qualifying sea time to enable me sit for my Second Mate’s Certificate of Competency . So I went to see the Counties Marine Superintendent, Captain Hughson, and advised him that I wished to leave the Company due to my family moving to South Africa. As I said before, we parted on good terms and I received a satisfactory reference which read, in part,…………” During the whole of his service as an Apprentice and 3rd Officer, J.D.Richardson was reported on by the Masters under whom he served, to be a willing, industrious and intelligent lad, who carried out all the duties entrusted to him in a most satisfactory manner, giving satisfaction in every way at all times. He was always of strictly sober habits. J.D.Richardson is now preparing himself for his 2nd Mate’s certificate, and in this venture we wish him every success” , I felt happy with those remarks and reckoned that I had rendered good service in return for the excellent training that Counties had given me.


So……..if you read the first part of my story you will appreciate how my life in seafaring was given a great start by the training I received during my service with the Counties Ship Management Company of London.

I spent all my working life in shipping. I met Pam in Cape Town in 1953 and we married there in 1955. She relocated to the U.K. until I obtained my Masters certificate and early in 1957 we settled in Cape Town where I obtained employment with the Division Of Sea Fisheries as a Ships Officer. I served on their fishery research ships (including five years as Master of FRS “Africana II” from 1961 -1966), and then as Marine Superintendent from 1967 – 1995. During that time my greatest achievement was to project manage the design and construction of the FRS “Africana” which was commissioned in 1982 to replace “Africana II”.

I have no regrets over my choice of the Merchant Navy as my career and I reckon that MY time at sea was the best ever, for the Liberties, the Empires and the Forts of “Counties” served me well!!

John Richardson (May 2009)


Return to top

The Trampship Apprentice 1947


The burgeoning development of the British Merchant Navy following the cessation of hostilities in 1945 presented youngsters with a wonderful opportunity to carve for themselves a career at sea. Not only were shipowners able to place orders for new tonnage to suit their particular requirements but a substantial number of war built ships became available to build up the fleets decimated by U-boat action in the North Atlantic and elsewhere. Many shipowners availed themselves of the opportunity to purchase considerable numbers of the now surplus Liberties, Forts, Oceans and Empire ships, amongst others. Some of the more opportunistic Owners built up very substantial fleets in quite a short space of time. One of these was Counties Ship Management Co. Ltd. of London which was featured in an article in the March 2006 edition of Ships Monthly.

In 1947 Counties began a major expansion of their fleet and soon acquired a considerable number of warbuilt ships that were now surplus to State requirements. This offered a golden opportunity for those youngsters aspiring to become Deck Officers. There were usually four berths available for Apprentices and this presented Counties with an ideal opportunity to build up their ships’ crews in a quite economical fashion! I’m not so sure of the Company’s recruiting criteria, for the writer was certainly no bright scholar, in fact my apprenticeship presented me with a golden opportunity to escape the boredom and frustration of school life. At 16 I had already failed my school certificate and the thought of writing again filled me with horror! However, I had been influenced by a Master Mariner Uncle, and it was he, in fact, who used his influence to get me into Counties! I became indentured to the Company on 21 May 1947 and in putting my signature to that Parchment I rather unknowingly signed my life away for the next four years! In return for my services the Company :

“hereby covenants with the said Apprentice, that during the said term they will and shall use all proper means to teach the said Apprentice or cause him to be taught to perform the duties of a deck officer, and provide the said Apprentice with sufficient Meat, Drink, Lodging, and, except in Great Britain, with Medicine, and Medical and Surgical Assistance, and pay to the said Apprentice the sum of 390, in the manner following; (that is to say,) for the first year’s service SEVENTY FIVE POUNDS, for the second year’s service NINETY POUNDS, for the third year’s service ONE HUNDRED AND FIVE POUNDS, and for the fourth year’s service ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY POUNDS, together with a further sum of FIVE POUNDS payable after satisfactory service for the term of this Indenture, and twelve shillings yearly in lieu of washing, the said Apprentice providing for himself all wearing apparel, and necessaries (except such as are hereinbefore specially agreed to be provided by the said Company)”.

In retrospect I reckon that both the Apprentice and the Company (“and their Assigns”) benefited fully from this Agreement!

I had received instructions to join the s.s. Stamford Hill in Hull and had been told to call at their Agents, Messrs Lambert Bros. for detailed instructions as to where I could find the vessel. It became somewhat confusing, especially for my father who had undertaken to drive me to Hull, as the ship was, at that stage still named “Samneagh”, being one of the Liberty Ships allotted to the British Merchant Service in 1944 and up ’till now having been managed by Messrs. Paddy Henderson of Glasgow. We eventually found the vessel triple banked at “rotten row” in King George Dock. This made the task of lugging my gear over two very scruffy ships more than a little difficult! Once on board” Stamford Hill” there was the job for my father of finding someone to whom he could deliver his dear son! We eventually found the Third Mate and formalities and farewells over, my career at sea was about to unfold! Quite what my father felt as he began his lonely drive back to Market Harborough, I shall never know!

I had enjoyed a comparively sheltered upbringing which had certainly not prepared me sufficiently for the life which was about to unfold. Throughout my days at sea I was a prolific letter writer, especially to my parents (and later to my wife!). It was some years before I realized that my folks had lovingly preserved all my letters to them so that I am able to quote from my first letter home dated 23 May 1947……..”Just a few lines to let you know that I am getting on fine and am so far enjoying every minute of the day. So far we haven’t done much, the Chief Mate has been giving us a bit of gen, we have done a bit of rope pulling and some tidying up. Last night when the Captain turned in , he left the Master key in his door, and when he rose this morning it had vanished so he came to the conclusion that it had been pinched, so today the Apprentices have in turn been on watch in case someone gets into the cabins! It’s terribly boring just walking round the cabins waiting for something to happen!……………………………..The food is really excellent- eggs each morning for breakfast, chicken, liver, beef, mutton, fresh salad, trifle to mention only some of the things……………………..We can get 100 Woodbines for 4/- and half pound of toffees and 6 bars of chocolate per week WHEN we are out of the three mile limit!!”

And then, three days later, a letter to my thirteen year old brother……………” You should see my cabin, the bunk is nearly as good as my feather bed – I have two drawers – a wardrobe – desk and chair, wash basin, hot & cold water, a bookrack , a carpet on the floor, a main light, light over each bunk the desk and washbasin and a lovely comfortable seat and two fans!! The food is terrific, yesterday we had chicken for dinner, fruit yesterday, rice pudding the day before and steam pudding today. We have porridge and eggs every morning for breakfast…………………………………..I made a mistake when I told you that we had Alaskans aboard, they are Indians (!). The Second Steward is a foreigner – but a very decent chap and he has a guitar or some such thing, and every night he plays it and sings in his cabin, he’s jolly good too……………………….Several of the officers like a good old booze up – the Chief Engineer came in late the other night drunk and took one of my pals into his cabin and gave him a lecture – funnily enough it was sensible!”

Those first days were very impressionable! I found myself with three colleagues, one from Glasgow (with whom I shared my cabin), one from London and one from Liverpool . They all drank, they all smoked and they all swore, whereas I shared none of these habits but, inevitably, I soon “learned”! Rumours were rife at this stage as to where the ship was bound. We were to go on a”long trip” and on 28 May I wrote to my folks thus…….”Anyway I think I have a bit of good news for you. That trip I told you about on the ‘phone seems to have fallen through. I have heard that some high ranking official will not sign it so the LONG trip seems to be off! I’m not sorry, although I wasn’t worried about it – I’ve got to do 4 years and I may as well get on with it(!) I am still getting on fine – we are beginning to do a bit of work now. This morning we were taking on more provisions and stores I’ve heard of a good bit today. The stores people come from Cardiff with things like cement, sand, salt, coke etc. A bit crackers don’t you think?………………..Swearing etc .is pretty bad and the trouble is( that) if you are not careful you pick it up It is unavoidable, but I do my best. Please don’t worry about that – you get it everywhere………….You asked me how old the other Apprentices were Mother. Well one is just 16, another is 171/2 and the other is 18. The cabin boys have nicknamed me “Dagwood” – I get teased a bit but I’ve got used to that – we all do in turn. I haven’t seen a decent girl in Hull yet – guess I shall when we get to Canada . Don’t worry about me behaviour with them – there’s no need (!)…………”

And so it was that a few days later we sailed for NEW YORK! We had stowed our stores, repainted the hull light grey and repainted the funnel with Counties colours. The real life at sea was about to unfold! At this stage I was blissfully unaware of how we were to navigate our way across the North Atlantic, but we made our way down the River Humber and out into the North Sea . As I recall the weather was fair as we turned to port and made our way up the east coast, through the fishing fleets, as we headed for the north of Scotland . We safely navigated the Pentland Firth ( no radar, GPS or other such navaids in those days!) and headed west into the grey Atlantic . My first impressions are best described in my first letter home from New York dated 14 June 1947.

………………….Well here we are safe and sound only a few miles from New York after a pretty rough crossing. I am enjoying sea life immensely, and you can tell how excited I am – going to New York of all places on my first trip……………As you may know the N.W.Atlantic can be very “Queer”, and it was this trip! After we had left the British coast the westerly wind and swell sprang up and gradually grew worse until last Friday and Saturday we were running before the full force of a gale. The ship did everything but loop the loop. Without exaggeration the ship rolled to an angle of at least 40 degrees. Many a time I thought we should never see land again – but we made it! I have seen the sea in pictures and films, but thought they were exaggerated but now – I know. On deck we were battening down hatches etc and would easily have been swept overboard if we had not held on – over we should have gone! After the gales we had fog – then at last these last three days have been glorious…………………….Of course we get all the dirty jobs to do – all those – as we were quite frankly told by the Third Mate – the seamen just wouldn’t do! Throwing garbage that stank like nothing on earth – brushing dusty holds out – cleaning the bilges and sumps and so on – but we have to do them – and we do so with a smile and a whistle (!) We have a very decent crew…………and a very good boatswain. I get on fine with all the officers. The old Mate who spoke to you Dad, looks after us like a bloomin father! The skipper(!) isn’t much good – he won’t have us in the saloon to eat while he is there and he seems a bit mean with fags etc. Another person I don’t care for much is the (Chief) Steward. We are not allowed to have the tomato sauce – that’s for officers only and although there are about half a dozen menu cards in the saloon we are not allowed to see one. Talk about red tape. The food and cooking is excellent – when I tell you the cooking is as good as yours Mother – well you can imagine how I enjoy my meals ……………………..We get plenty of cigs – Players at 4/6 per 100, Peerage at 3/6 and Woodbines (ships) at 3/6 per 100. I am smoking more now – one reason being that there’s nothing else to do(!)………..

My first lot of dobeying turned out fine – except that the dye out of my socks ran into everything – I got them CLEAN anyway……………….The ship has been steaming at 12 knots during the past two days, which is very good indeed. Last Friday when the gale was at its peak we actually went BACKWARDS instead of doing about 250 miles. It has taken us just 14 days to cross. We are loading bagged flour – taking it to Hamburg – going back to the U.K. to bunker and off out East, probably Singapore, so I have heard………..By the way I nearly forgot to tell you the most important piece of news – I haven’t been sick!!!!!!! Admittedly I felt a bit groggy in the rough weather, but I never even missed one meal!
Well I think that’s all for now – will try to write every other day in N.Y.. Please don’t worry about me. I’m not a bit homesick although I often think of you, don’t you worry!! We often discuss what we would be doing at home. Hope to receive mail from you tomorrow, Cheerio for now, Love to you all, Your loving son………………….”

According to my to my next letter ( the first from New York , and I DID write home more or less every second day!) the approaches to New York were shrouded in mist but the sight of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty are sights I shall never forget! We eventually docked in the New Jersey side of New York harbour on Monday 16 June 1947 and I couldn’t wait to get ashore (with all of my $5 sub), but the first night in port was my night aboard! Duty called – but let my letter writing take over (second letter dated 19 June)……………By now I know what New York looks like, gee it’s great- I’m having the time of my life. We docked in Claremont , New Jersey in a pokey, out of the way place on Monday at 8am. It’s a terribly long way to town (sic). We have to walk over a mile to catch a bus to the Hudson River , we get a subway to the other side, then have to catch another subway to wherever we want to go……. On Tuesday two of us were given the afternoon off, so we had a look around – we went to Times Square , Broadway, 42nd Street and 5th Avenue etc.etc. About 4pm we went to the British Apprentices Club at the Hotel Chelsea in W 23rd Street . Mother, it’s the nearest I’ve found to home since I left – it’s a marvelous place. It is run by a Mrs. Spaulding and her assistants. We get meals free there – can have a glass of milk anytime we like – the chocolate cake is the best I’ve ever tasted! There’s a billiard room, table tennis, gramophone, reading room etc. You are made a member of the Club when you first go. There are thousands of books and magazines which you can take on the ship if you wish. The ladies there take great interest in you and listen to all your tales (!) ………. Best of all there are girl hostesses – of course they’re selected girls – and some are very attractive too!!! When we went on Tuesday afternoon we had tea, played table tennis and talked over our experiences with the other lads until 8pm. Then 3 girls came and took us (those who wanted to) to some place the other side of New York for a game of bowls (skittles). I’ve never enjoyed myself so much for ages!! We went back to the Club about 10.30, had supper and talked with our hostesses ’till 11.40pm. We then had to get back to the ship – it took us 100 minutes and we never stopped going once!! You can tell how far away we are! I actually got to bed at 1.20 am. Disgusting eh??……………………………. New York is a proper picture at night – I’ve never seen anything like it. The other day in Woolworths we had a strawberry and banana pie – you should see the shops – I never know where to start! The next letter dated 22nd June reads……………..Phew! What a Sunday this has been! I shall remember today for years and years to come! I’ll tell you the whole story.

During the past few days we (Apprentices) have been trying to get a (deep) tank which was covered in oil and water, and which had been condemned, ready for cargo. The old Mate was determined that it shall take cargo. On Thursday we started to bail the water and oil out. On Friday we continued and at 5pm – knocking off time – we still hadn’t finished so the Mate said that if we finished after tea we could have all day Saturday off! That suited us fine – we finished at seven – and after dinner on Saturday we went into New York – with 5 more dollars!! I went in uniform – but never again – I was stopped and shouted after by MEN – I thought I should be in for a free fight. We had tea at the B.A.C. – did some shopping – at least we intended doing so but all I got was a tie!! We then went back to the B.A.C. for the formal (dance) – I had quite a good time (but) the trouble was there were about 20 boys to 7 girls!! The dance finished at midnight – we made our way homewards, had a strawberry sundae on the way and I finally got to bed at 2am. Isn’t it disgusting!! It’s worth it _ I’m having the time of my life – in a sensible way, may I point out (N.B.)!! WELL, on waking up at 7.30 the first thing I heard was “Get up, we’re working today (Sunday)!!!” That blued things altogether! Yesterday they had been steaming that ‘B’ tank to sterilize it Of course it all got damp and wet again and the deckhead (ceiling) was covered in sweat. Well it has taken we four Apprentices, working full pelt, from 9am to 4.30pm in a temperature of over 75 F to clean this tank. We got absolutely plastered in oil, water and grease. Of course the heat made things ten times worse, you couldn’t touch anything made of iron on deck. Anyway we’ve got six hours overtime and the day off tomorrow – to do some real shopping for all of you……..
P.S. I tell you I’m treating life as a holiday to impress on you how happy I am – I’m not neglecting my learning or anything like that, or feeling glad I’m away from home – I wanted the M.N. – I’ve been lucky enough to have it and I’m enjoying every minute of it so far which goes a long way to making my career a success – hope you see what I mean…………………We’ve just had some great news. We are definitely coming back to England with (the) flour, probably London . Just the job eh?!!!”

Quoting from the next letter dated 24 June …………”I only posted a letter to you yesterday but as it is my night aboard I thought I would drop you a few lines although there is not much news. After that strenuous days work on Sunday and two more full days last week, cleaning that tank out, they have finally decided NOT to load the tanks with flour. Just think of it, three days gruelling work for nothing!!!” And then finally a letter addressed to my brother dated 26 June 1947………..”Well this is the last letter you will get from me before I get home……………..We are hoping to sail this weekend but I’m beginning to doubt it. The men (stevedores) have a lot more to do yet and as there is only one more working day this week I don’t think they will manage it – although some of the stevedores are working ’till midnight. They worked all night last night on two of the holds. These men work very hard indeed. I hope we sail this weekend as I have spent all my money and it is such a long way to get into New York from where we are moored. I have bought you all something – altogether I have spent about 18 dollars since I’ve been here – that’s four pounds ten!! I should still get quite a tidy little wage packet when (that is if we do) get paid when we get home.
I hope we have a bit better trip going home than we did coming – we should do – we shall be sailing farther south this time. We are painting the ship now……………..She should look posh when we get home. It has been very “hard” working today as the temperature has reached over 80 F. I’ve never felt so warm!!………………………….Must close now as I want a bath and am then going to bed – HOPE to see you in about three weeks time. Hope all of you and everything at home is O.K. – I’m fine by the way………..”

So ended my one and only visit to the Big Apple! We had a good, but quite eventful (two near collisions in the fog off Long Island) trip back to the U.K. and arrived in Hornby Dock, Liverpool on 12 July to discharge our cargo of flour. The Apprentices living in Glasgow and London went on leave first and on their return the local guy and I went home for our four days. What celebrations!!

But soon it was time to return to the excitement of life at sea on the good ship Stamford Hill!!. Our cargo discharged and stores replenished
we set sail at the end of July bound for the West coast of the USA to load a cargo of sawn timber – more excitement – a passage through the Panama Canal! Looking back on those years on Stamford hill I never cease to wonder at the incredible experiences I enjoyed. After leaving Liverpool life at sea settled into something of a routine. We were put on watches, taught to steer the ship and other watchkeeping practices, and (some of us) got down to some serious studying. The Company (Counties) provided the Apprentices with an excellent Correspondence Course set by the King Edward VII Nautical College in London and I, and my shipmate from Liverpool , diligently applied ourselves to working through the papers. Generally the officers were supportive of our efforts and contributed our development as navigating

The voyage to the US Pacific coast took us to the most picturesque little timber mill “ports” of Coos Bay and North Bend and finally up the Columbia River to top up. We loaded Stamford Hill with sawn Oregon Pine timber and by the time we commenced our long haul home our holds were full and decks were stacked high. Luck was on our side again and despite all kinds of rumours of other destinations, we arrived in Surrey Commercial Dock in London to discharge at the end of October 1947 by which time I had turned 17! I had kept up my prolific letter writing to my family and also to my friends and relatives. Wherever we stopped over, such as Curacao (bunkers), Panama Canal etc., I kept my folks informed of our progress.I also gave them forwarding addresses so that they could write to me, hence I always looked forward to the arrival at our next loading (or discharge) port!

Discharge completed it was time to set sail again and another new adventure awaited us for next voyage we were to cross the Equator on a voyage to South America . We left London (light ship again) in mid November bound for the Argentinian port of Bahia Blanca to load a full cargo of grain. Southbound we made an unscheduled call at Las Palmas to replace leaking boiler tubes and thereafter we stopped at the island of St. Vincent and at Montevideo for bunkers but as I recall it the crossing the line ceremony was rather tame – especially when compared to others in which I was to participate on subsequent voyages! We eventually arrived in Bahia Blanca shortly before Xmas – my first Xmas away from home! Despite the Old Man’s instructions to the contrary we decorated the saloon but festivities were marred by the catering staff getting hopelessly drunk! However the Old Man invited the Officers and Apprentices to his cabin for drinks before lunch and that went down VERY well!! Despite the Cook being in hospital Xmas dinner was quite edible! Loading was a slow process and it was not until 9/10 January that we sailed from Bahia Blanca bound for Lands End for orders .Instead of bunkering at Las Palmas we were re-directed to Freetown due to the shortage of fuel oil at the former. On our way northwards we received orders to sail for Hull for discharge where we arrived early in February. Discharge was over in a week so no leave was possible and before we knew it we were on our way to South America (light ship once again) to load grain. Departure from the River Humber was memorable due to the appalling weather. Visibility was almost zero due to the gale and heavy snow so we anchored off Immingham until conditions improved. Passage down the East coast, through the Straits and down the English Channel was a navigational nightmare due to the rough sea, poor visibility combined with our light ship condition but once past Cape Finisterre conditions improved and we made good time to St. Vincent (Cape Verde Islands) where we bunkered once more. Next stop was Montevideo again where we awaited orders for our port of loading. We were directed to Rosario some 230 miles up the River Parana from Buenos Aires but on our way up the River while preparing the holds for cargo, one of the seamen stepped backwards and fell to his death through a trimming hatch into the lower hold some 25 feet below. We arrived in Rosario on 20 March to commence loading our cargo of maize and while we were in port an inquest into the death of our seaman was held and the funeral also took place.

It was some two weeks later that we moved down river to finish loading in Buenos Aires but that took us another fortnight and it was not until 17 April that we finally set sail for the North again! I shall remember our visits to Argentina for a number of reasons. The Missions To Seamen were a Godsend. They provided a real “home from home” atmosphere and the facilities and hostesses were great! The “Vigilantis and Marineros” who guarded the ports were a pain in the neck – they demanded a cigarette before they would allow you to take a photograph of your own ship! Although the dock areas were seedy in common with other parts of the world, the cities of Buenos Aires , Rosario and Bahia Blanca were most attractive. The shops were well stocked and the food plentiful and very reasonably priced. My biggest complaint – it took forever to load 9,500 tons of grain!
Once again we sailed for Lands End for orders and on this occasion we were directed to Belfast in Northern Ireland – no leave again! We arrived there on 17 May and 10 days later we were on our way again (light ship) but this time to Galveston , Texas , to load another cargo of grain. It was a calm and uneventful voyage and we averaged 11.69 knots. We docked in Galveston on 14 June and 4 days later we were on our way again with 9,400 tons of Texan wheat. My vivid memory of Galveston was the heat – hell, it was hot! We had another pleasant trip back to Lands End (for orders, of course!) at an average speed of just over 11knots. On this occasion we were directed to Hamburg in occupied Western Germany, where we arrived on 10 July .Although the devastation resulting from the Allied bombing was evident everywhere the Germans soon took care of our cargo of wheat and we discharged 9,029 tons in 14 hours!! On completion of discharge we went into (a floating) drydock where the underwater hull was cleaned and painted for the first time in over 14 months. On leaving Hamburg we sailed for London where we were to load general cargo on a Union Castle Line charter. This represented another new venture as it was the first time that we had carried an outward bound cargo and also we were to visit another new continent, Southern Africa . Whilst the ship was loading in London my Liverpool shipmate and I enjoyed a spell of well earned leave. The other two left having decided that the sea was not for them while at the same time having ensured that in future they would be exempt from military training. We sailed from London early on 31 July 1948 bound for the port of East London , via Las Palmas for bunkers. The voyage out was uneventful but is remembered for the change of certain crewmembers. Not only did we have two new Apprentices (one of whom was a first tripper, poor lad!) but we had a new Master, Captain Church who relieved Captain Roberts, and a new Chief Steward, both of whom were, to us, a great improvement on their predecessors! Captain Church was a great Master, big in stature, softly spoken, who commanded the respect of all and sundry. It was just as well for we had the most useless deck crew imaginable. Soon after we sailed from Las Palmas a fight broke out amongst the Acting Bosun and the crew, but Captain Church soon let it be known that if there was to be any fighting on his ship he would be involved!

We docked in East London on 26 August and it took us over two weeks to discharge. We had a large quantity of bagged cement and of railway lines, all of which had to be loaded onto railway wagons – which appeared to be in short supply! As a result of our extended stay we spent most of our free time at the local Missions To Seamen where we were able to repay their hospitality by painting out the interior of the Chapel as well as a number of carpentry jobs expertly carried out by our wonderful old “Chippy”. We eventually sailed for Beira (Portuguese East Africa ) on 10 September and I shall forever remember the wonderful hospitality shown to our crew by the staff at the East London Mission! The trip to Beira was uneventful but on arrival there on 16 September (my 18th birthday!) we were sent to the anchorage – and there we stayed – for nine days, during which time we discharged two vehicles from the foredeck! Once again the local Seaman’s Club was our saviour and provided our only source of entertainment with film shows etc.

We eventually moved out to the anchorage late on 10 October to clean the holds ready for our grain cargo which we were to load in Durban . Thankfully a gang of shore labour was employed to assist us with this quite substantial task, for the remnants of thousands of bags of cement took some cleaning up! We arrived in Durban a few days later only to find that our cargo was not ready and it was not until 5th November that we were ready to sail for Lands End (for orders – again). Our stay in Durban was particularly memorable and can best be described by an excerpt from a letter home dated 25th October………..
…………” think yesterday was the most wonderful day I have spent abroad. It was Trafalgar Sunday and there was a big Sailors Parade up at the cathedral. There were 850 South African sailors and cadets, and 21 Mission (to Seamen) girls dressed in white, escorted (this is the important part) by six M.N. cadets. I was one of the six – believe it or not!! What a laugh we had. Geoff (my fellow Apprentice) and I escorted the Red Ensign, Dougy and a cadet off the ” Sacramento ” escorted the Blue Ensign in front – and two of the cadets off the “Coombe Hill” escorted the Mission flag behind. After we dismissed we went the Mission for lunch. Then the Padre (Rev. Precious) and his wife took us in his “shooting brake” to Michaelhouse, the biggest boy’s public school in South Africa . It was a marvelous ride – about 100 miles from Durban – the countryside is really beautiful and we had tea by the Howick Falls on the way. We left the Mission at 2pm and arrived at Michaelhouse at 5pm. We were shown round the school and then had dinner with the Headmaster and his wife. Then we went to church with the boys at which the Padre gave the sermon – remind me to tell you about it and the two girls there. It’s too long to put in a letter. After church we went to a film show given by the Padre in the Hall – it finished at 9.30pm and we left straight away. It was raining hard and we ran into dense fog between there and Pietermaritzburg (have a look on the map). We eventually got back about 2am this morning – what a day!! The padre is taking us to a T.B. hospital on Friday and a girl’s school on Saturday night where he is giving a film show – he really is a great fellow………………………” A wonderful experience to say the least.

We arrived in Dakar for bunkers on 24 November where, for some inexplicable reason we found the locals in a state of “revolt” due, we were lead to believe, to the developing relationship between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip! Otherwise the voyage home was pretty uneventful while we anxiously awaited instructions as to where we were to discharge our cargo. We were anticipating Hamburg or Bremen but in the event we ended up in Emden on 7th December!. Once again discharging was rapid and we sailed a few days later for Middlesbrough where we docked on 12 December to commence loading on a B.I. (British India Line) charter – little did we know what challenges and excitement lay ahead!! Firstly, however, was a little matter of some (Xmas) leave!

My excitement of going home for a few days was somewhat dulled however as while en route from Middlesbrough to London on 16th December I met with a slight accident!. Shortly after leaving the Tees and while securing No.3 hatch a locking bar became jammed between the hatch coaming and the winch bed. Someone gave it a mighty kick to free it and it jumped clear and hit me full in the mouth. I suffered badly cut lips and lost half of one of my top teeth but was otherwise rather fortunate! We docked in the Royal Docks in London a week before Xmas 1948 to complete our loading. We managed a week at home and returned shortly after the holiday to prepare for our departure. I was pleased to find the Captain Church remained in command as I had come to recognize him as a Master of the highest quality – little did any of us realize at that time how circumstances were to prove this during the voyage ahead! All the Apprentices rejoined the ship too although there were the usual changes amongst the crew – who would want to sign on a trampship between Xmas and the New Year?!

Loading of our general cargo, including numerous heavy lift vehicles destined for the newly developed Ground Nut Scheme in East Africa , was completed on New Year’s Eve and we sailed at high tide that night. It was blowing a gale, freezing cold and pouring with rain! I was stationed aft with the Second Mate and well recall being brought to my senses, as the tugs eased us out of the lock into the River Thames, by the sound of every ship’s whistle in London docks heralding in the New Year!! We proceeded down river, changed pilots at Gravesend and proceeded seawards. The weather was foul and as we were in no way fully seaworthy Captain Church decided to shelter in Margate Roads until we were fully secure and seaworthy. My last letter home was posted by the Dungeness Pilot in Dover and dated 6.15pm on 2nd January1949. “Stamford Hill” proceeded westwards down the English Channel at the start of an exciting voyage that was to take us around the world – although we did not know that then, of course!

The gales lasted until we had passed Ushant, whereafter conditions improved and we made good speed past Gibralter and into the Med. headed for the Suez Canal . A few days out from Port Said we had more boiler tube problems and were forced to shut down the starboard boiler and as a result our speed dropped to 8 knots – fortunately we had a westerly gale behind us at the time! We arrived in Port Said late on the 16th January where the Lloyds surveyor prescribed which boiler tubes had to be replaced. In the meantime we were harassed by “bum boats” and those that did venture ashore wished that they hadn’t! ” Billy Mitchell” and his team carried out some chipping and painting of the ship’s hull, a unit of the American fleet passed through the port, but for us ,we couldn’t wait to get under way again. We joined a Canal convoy late on 22nd January headed for our next stop at Aden , for bunkers. We were ship no.5 in a convoy of 10 and our passage was uneventful and unexciting – nothing to see but sand! The Red Sea lived up to its name – it was, to us, unbelievably hot! We arrived in Aden on the 29th, bunkered and sailed later that day for our first discharge port. We should have gone to Lindi first but due to the delay caused by our boiler trouble there was now insufficient water for us to cross the bar to Lindi harbour, consequently we were redirected to Mombasa where we arrived at the anchorage on 4th February. During the next few days we discharged 1200 tons of cargo before leaving for Lindi on the 10th. We arrived in Lindi on the 12th, discharged the vehicles into tank landing craft and sailed for Mombasa on 17th February, arrived on the18th and lay at anchor until the 21st.We went alongside and commenced our discharging and all went well until Sunday 27th when, according to my letter dated 1st March…………………” Well, on Sunday I went on a swimming party with a crowd from the Mission to a place about 12 miles up the coast. We arrived there in time for dinner which we had at the nearby hotel (free of course!). We hadn’t been in the water 10 minutes…………..when a fellow came running along the beach yelling for someone off the “Stamford Hill”. It turned out that we had to return to the ship as soon as possible as we had to put to sea to go to the rescue of the “Akri Hill” whose engines had broken down. We arrived back about 3pm and after taking fuel aboard, sailed about 7pm. We reached her about 8am on Monday, drifting helplessly onto the land about 5 miles away. We lowered our motor (life)boat and took them a line but before we got it made fast it broke. We repeated this operation and succeeded in making their towing spring fast but it soon parted. Again we repeated the operation and this time made their wire fast. We managed to pull them about a couple of miles then it parted. By this time it was about 5pm and as a last resort they shot us a line by rocket and pulled one of our mooring ropes aboard, and made it fast but it wasn’t long before it parted. Four unsuccessful attempts in a day! We then made out to sea and waited for daybreak. About midnight they radioed us that they were aground and would have to abandon ship, but when we reached them this morning (1st March) about 7am they were afloat And anchored. We then manoeuvred ourselves about 400 feet away and dropped our anchor – we could see the bottom as plain as – well!!. We again lowered the boat as the rocket line wouldn’t reach them, and took them a line but before anything was done we hauled it in and changed our position. We then took them another line and made our 5 ½ inch wire fast to their anchor cable. We made the wire fast and they paid out 360 feet of anchor cable. Then we tried again – and touch wood – so far everything has held. We were about 66 miles from Mombasa and are now proceeding there, with the “Akri Hill” about 500 feet astern of us, at 7 knots – very good, although there is a 3 knot current with us. We should be off Mombasa about midnight. Her engines have broken down completely – she is taking water fore and aft and her steering gear has broken down. We have just heard that the latter is now in working order and that they have the flooding under control. We hope to tow her into Mombasa tomorrow morning by ourselves as we are claiming salvage money and if anyone else assists her they can also claim. Don’t mention the claim for salvage money to anyone – we may not even get it. Gee it has been tough going. I don’t think I’ve ever had to work so hard – we’ve been working from 7am to 7pm with just time off for meals. It is a very intricate and dangerous job and there has not been one single accident. The way the Old Man handled this ship was absolutely wonderful – you would never believe it. He handled her just like a tug. The lifeboat crew had a thankless job – Geoff and Turner represented the Apprentices besides the 2nd Mate, 4th Engineer and 2 sailors – three of them were seasick although there has been very little sea and swell. I was thankful to be aboard – although we, aboard, had to work much harder. I have found time to take several snaps – they may be very useful………………..

Well, we arrived safely in Mombasa about 2pm today (2nd March) with the “Akri Hill” but, oh, what an anxious time we had! We arrived off Mombasa about 11.30 last night and signaled that we would be ready to go in about 6am today. We moved up the coast until 4 am (today) when we should have turned round and headed for Mombasa but owing to an error by the Mate we didn’t alter course until 6am – then, low and behold, the “Akri Hill” radioed us that she was taking water fast and they were preparing to abadon ship. However, they managed to control the flooding and we arrived off Mombasa about midday. Then the trouble began – it appeared that the Pilot attempted to break our tow so that the tugs standing by could tow her in and thus claim Salvage. The tow rope went bar tight several times and did we hold our breath!!!???. Anyway we have made it and the “Akri Hill” is now grounded (intentionally to prevent her taking more water). The Old Man has thanked us for our efforts and is now looking into the business of salvage money – so we are keeping our fingers crossed. We are all having a day off tomorrow, thank heavens. We are now alongside and have eight cranes discharging us, so we won’t be here long – haven’t heard of any orders (regarding our next cargo) yet………………

The charter completed the vessel was handed back to her owners on Monday 7th March and the following morning we moved to the anchorage to await orders. Later that day we were instructed to proceed to Alexandria ( Egypt ) to load a full cargo of SALT for Japan !

I had mixed emotions on receiving the news for it meant that we could well be in for a long voyage but, in the spirit of seamens’ law, I guess it was a case of “more days, more dollars”! We sailed for Alexandria on 8th March, transitted the Suez Canal on the 21st and arrived in Alex. the following afternoon. It took us until the end of March to load our 9,500 tons of salt and we were mighty glad to see the back of Alexandria ! In the meantime we had received orders to discharge our cargo in Fusan (Korea) We passed through the Canal on our long voyage Eastwards on 2 April headed for Colombo (Ceylon) for bunkers. We had a pleasant passage down the Red Sea when it was discovered that we had insufficient bunkers to get us to Colombo . So on 7 April we arrived at Aden , bunkered and sailed the following day, this time bound for Singapore (for bunkers). After a pleasant and trouble free trip from Aden we eventually arrived in Singapore on 24 April and after a brief stopover there for bunkers we continued on our merry way. Except for a six hour stop to change a piston ring off the north coast of Formosa , we had another pleasant passage and duly arrived in Fusan on 6th May. This place proved to be much like Alexandria – to be avoided at all costs! Several of the crew ventured ashore and soon wished that they hadn’t, having been beaten up and robbed for their trouble! I ventured as far as the Seaman’s Club (in daylight!) and called it a day. We completed discharging on 10 May, having discharged 9500 tons of salt in 1 day, 19 hours and 21 minutes, non stop, using the ship’s gear!! We moved to the anchorage on the morning of the 11th and in the afternoon received orders to proceed to Yokohama ( Japan ) for bunkers, and then to Vancouver B.C. ( Canada ) to load grain for the U.K/Continent, thus lifting morale substantially! Passage from Fusan to Yokohama was a hazardous one in 1949 as the Bungo Channel was closed to British shipping. This meant that we had to pass to the South of Kyushu Island and to make matters worse for us we encountered fog, followed by gales and heavy rain, and in our light condition this made for difficult navigation (still no radar or GPS etc!).However, as we steamed Northeastwards towards Yokohama the weather cleared, the sun shone and we hurried along at 12 knots. We docked in Yokohama early on 15th May, took on bunkers and left for the long haul across the North Pacific to Vancouver . Passage across was uneventful, according to my letter……….”It has been very cold, wet and windy most days, much different to what I had expected – anyway we averaged 10 ½ knots, so haven’t done so badly”………..and “I have been studying hard during the passage across and have almost finished my papers”………. We arrived in Vancouver on 2nd June – what a spectacular sight!!!!! Puget Sound, Vancouver Island to port, under Lions Gate Bridge with Stanley Park to Starboard……. After the places we had been to during the past few months, it was enough to take ones breath away! And what an unexpected welcome I received!! An unknown relative of my mother was on the quayside when we docked and subsequently entertained me , and my shipmate Geoff right royally! In addition we received a call from an Apprentice who was serving on the “Manx Navigator” while we spent those happy days in East London last year! This was his home town and he had since left the sea and was working ashore now. I can but leave it to the reader’s imagination as to the time we had! We sure burnt the candle at both ends for the duration of our stay in port! On Friday, 10th June I write to my folks “Just a few lines before we sail to let you know I am okay. I have just completed the best week of my life!! What a time I’ve had. East London is nothing compared to this place!”……………… We loaded a full cargo of wheat in the meantime and reluctantly bad farewell to the beautiful city of Vancouver and our wonderful friends, as we set sail for the UK on Friday 10 June1949. Our passage southwards down the U.S. West coast was uneventful although somewhat slow and we passed through the Panama Canal again on 29th June, bunkering in Cristobal en route. Our voyage across the Atlantic was pretty uneventful and we received orders to discharge our cargo in Liverpool where we arrived on 25th July. We had been away for just over seven months and by this time I had accrued nearly 50 days leave. Unfortunately however, our cargo of wheat only took a little over a week to discharge and so only a quick trip home was possible.

We sailed from Liverpool on 5th August, this time bound for Houston ( Texas ) to load another cargo of grain. Our passage along the North coast of Wales was somewhat eventful as we experienced several engine and steering gear breakdowns all of which culminated in a funnel fire. For whatever reason we spewed fuel oil all over the ship and spent the next three days cleaning up the resultant mess!! Captain Church left us in Liverpool and he was succeeded by Captain Herbert; he turned out to be a great guy with a great sense of humour and, provided you did your job, very pro Apprentices! He encouraged me with my studies, encouraged those of us who showed an interest to take 8am and noon sights. During our passage west to the Gulf of Mexico we passed close to one of the American Atlantic weather ships; we spoke to them by morse light and calibrated our D/F with them. Our passage down the Florida Straits took us so close to the Miami beaches that we could easily the bathers! We docked in Houston on 26th and once again had the laborious job of cleaning out the ballast deep tanks ready for cargo. The heat and especially the humidity made it a really thankless job! We loaded 9,500 tons of Milo Maize for, we hoped, the U.K. before we set off once more on 31st August to Lands End for orders again!

. It is interesting to note that at this time food, clothing and petrol, were still rationed in the U.K. , so whenever I could, I purchased basic foodstuffs for my folks, depending on what I could afford and what quantity we were permitted to take into the country. I had a real fear of the Customs officials who boarded us each time we arrived at a U.K. port and who often searched the ship from stem to stern in an endeavour to find cigarettes etc. that we were trying to smuggle through!

My folks must have had quite a surprise when my letter posted in Southampton , dated 25th September arrived! Inter alia it read……….”We are to discharge our cargo in Hamburg, but as we are short of fuel we are putting into Fawley to take enough to last to Germany and back to the U.K…………………………………….What a journey we have had. To begin with, we left Houston on Friday morning and we weren’t a couple of days out when the 4th Engineer was very badly scalded. His burns soon turned sceptic so we put him ashore in Miami . He was in a terrible mess. From then on it has been a battle against the weather. We have roamed all over the Atlantic dodging hurricanes and storms. First we just managed to miss one of the most severe hurricanes known – it had winds up to 150 mph – some going eh? I’m afraid that if we had hit that I wouldn’t be sitting here writing to you now!. Since then we have either dodged or been through four more storms. I think yesterday was the worst day of the lot. In the early hours of yesterday morning one big sea lifted one of the lifeboats out of its chocks, tore up the duck boards on the boat deck, lifted off the ventilators and flooded the cooks and stewards cabins. It is better today though, although very rough. We are now 595 miles S.W. of Southampton. I’m afraid that if we get delayed much more we won’t have enough fuel to get us to Southampton and we only have enough food to last us ’till Saturday……………………………” But, arrive we did, on 25th September, took on stores and bunkers and proceeded to Hamburg the same day. Our short trip through the Straits of Dover into the North Sea to the River Elbe was undertaken in lovely calm weather and we picked up our pilot for the river journey up the Elbe to Hamburg where we docked on the 27th. In the meantime we had received orders to proceed to Manchester on completion of discharge, for drydocking and to load a general cargo for Persian Gulf ports on a Strick Line charter – yet another new venture was about to unfold.! In the meantime we had to prepare for our passage up the Manchester Ship Canal , which necessitated the striking of our topmasts and lowering our heavy lift derricks. Shifting boards too had to be dismantled and stowed and holds made ready for stowage of our general cargo. We sailed from Hamburg on the 31st September and arrived in Manchester three days later. At that stage, little did I realize the change that was about to take place in the course of my apprenticeship!

Shortly after arrival I was informed that I was to proceed on leave prior to appointment to another ship! I had now been aboard “Stamford Hill” for over 28 months and although I was sorry to leave her, I reacted positively to the idea of a change of scenery. So, I bad my farewells and journied home for (I thought), some well earned leave. I was sorry to leave Geoff behind as we had become good shipmates since that memorable day on 21 May 1947 – in fact we have remained firm friends ever since and correspond regularly to this day! So far as “Stamford Hill” is concerned, she remained under the Counties flag until 1951 when she was sold to another well known London Greek company (Rethymnis & Kulukundis) and renamed ” Rio Mar”. Thereafter she changed hands a further five times until, in 1968, she was sold to Chinese shipbreakers and scrapped in Hsinkang in October that year.

I spent 8 wonderful weeks at home before joining the “Castle Hill” in Middlesbrough early in December 1950. She was an “Empire” type ship, originally the “Empire Mandarin” and later renamed “Lulworth Hill”. Why she was again renamed I never discovered! I shall never forget the sight that met my eyes when I eventually found the ship berthed at one of the steel mills on the River Tees! She had been discharging iron ore and was covered in red ore dust from stem to stern! I soon learned that the ship was to undertake a Palm Line charter to West African ports. We loaded in Antwerp , Rotterdam and London – it was the most varied cargo I had ever seen – you name it, we had it, including two huge barges on the foredeck. We left London just before the new year for Freetown via Las Palmas for bunkers. We eventually limped back to London in mid July!! I could write a book about the dramas and misfortunes that we experienced, mainly as a result of mechanical and boiler breakdowns. We lay in Lagos harbour (mostly at the buoys and for a long period without power of any kind – except oil lights!), while the boilers were retubed. We called at 10 different ports, some of them twice, many of them where we discharged into “canoes”! We were fortunately blessed with a great bunch of officers (only two Apprentices) which proved to be a boon during the many breakdowns we had. Throughout, I maintained a regular flow of letters to my family and managed to keep up my study schedule too. However, by the time we returned to London in July we had had enough and I personally was extremely thankful to be informed by the Company that my indentures were to be terminated on account of my promotion to the rank of uncertificated Third Officer – so all my hard work and enthusiasm had not been in vain!

After three weeks leave I was instructed to join the ” Fort Cadotte ” in Cardiff where I signed on on the 15th August 1950. She was a Canadian built “Fort” type ship recently bought by Counties from the Government. We left Cardiff for Bremerhaven where the vessel was converted from coal burning to oil burning, and during the course of which the name was changed to “Fry Hill”. After the conversion we prepared the holds for the carrying of military vehicles as the vessel had been chartered by the British Government to carry war materials to Korea . So once again I found myself en route to Fusan and thereafter across the Pacific to British Columbia once more to load grain and timber for the U.K. “Fry Hill” returned to London on 20 March 1951 and by this time I had acquired sufficient qualifying sea time to enable me to sit for my Second Mate’s certificate. As my parents had in the meantime relocated to Capetown, I decided that I had to make a change of employer so I said “thanks” to Counties Ship Management Company Ltd for they had prepared me well for a career at sea and I felt that I had given them good service in return – so we parted on good terms! I then enrolled at the King Edward VII Nautical College in the east end of London to prepare for my Second Mate’s “ticket”, and , by the end of June I became a qualified navigating officer – it was a great feeling!

I then joined the Nourse line and served as 3rd Mate on their “Mutlah” on which I did a nine month voyage to Malaysia , Burma , India , Pakistan , Ceylon and numerous countries in the West Indies before returning to Liverpool . I then obtained employment with Bullard,King (Natal Line) of London and thereafter spent five years trading between the U.K. /Continent and South and Southeast African ports. It was both a proud, and satisfying day, when I obtained my Master (Foreign Going) Certificate of Competency No.78340 dated 2nd November 1956

John Richardson (April 2009)


Return to top

The Painting

London Resolution 74

London Resolution 74

    This painting of the same era is of the
‘London Resolution’ and does not refer to the story below.

In the days when there were no video machines, DVD players,
mp3’s, psp’s, x-box’s or any other gismos that exist today for the hard worked
seafarer. We had to contend with – if we were lucky the twice weekly showing of
a ‘Walport’ film, normally in the Officers smoke room, but sometimes outside if
the weather was favourable, and if we were very lucky indeed the Chief Steward
would lay on some luxury like fish and chips, or even an ice cream.

Real hobbies and time to kill pursuits, games, deck golf and
reading were the flavour of the day.

Andrew Sinclair a 3rd Officer in LOF, had been an apprentice
in the 60’s, Andy liked to pass his time either making models from scraps of
chart paper and any other junk he could find, ending up with the portholes
normally made from some ‘pills’ the Chief Steward had supplied, by the time the
product was finished and painted it looked a pretty reasonable model.

On one particular trip in the 1970’s Andy joined with more
than his usual amount of ‘hobby’ material. What are you up to, this trip then
Andy – someone enquired. To which Andy replied with some excitement that he was
planning to do a ‘Painting’ to enter the ‘Seafarers Education Service’ (S.E.S)
completion, which was being held some 5 months ahead.

Over the period of weeks, and some diversions, as every time someone saw what was
going on, they would ask Andy to knock up a picture for them, so he stopped his
project and would knock up either a watercolour (example above) or a pen & ink
drawing in a matter of a couple of days. After some considerable time the
‘painting’ was completed, and although I can not recall much about it, the LOF
cargo ship (maybe London Statesman or Craftsman) was entering Rio de Janeiro
harbour, the colours were vibrant, it was a classic British Cargo Ship, the
backdrop even more spectacular. The ‘Painting’ now complete was carefully rolled
up and put into a special tube/container and duly sent off to the Seafarers
Education Service HQ – Andy having to pay the postal costs, the final entry date
was fast approaching.

We were now into our 5th month onboard and was looking as to
when we might be relieved. We were headed towards Europe and there was a good
chance of a complete Officer & Crew change. Sure enough a telegram arrived a few
days before we arrived at Rotterdam to say we were all getting off – how happy
we were. On arrival at Rotterdam, the Ships Agent brought the mail onboard, it
was sorted and as most of us was in the ships bar – someone brought the mail
down. Andy opening up his letters came across an unfamiliar envelope, on opening
it up –  with excitement yelped that he had won “a prize” in the
Painting/Picture section of the S.E.S. competition – almost like ‘Monopoly’ – he
– Andy had won 3rd prize in the competition and all of £10 pounds, which in the
mid-70’s was a nice little prize – tax free.

The letter of congratulations went on to praise the picture and asked – what he
wanted to do with it. Andy sent a letter once he was at home telling the S.E.S.
that they could keep the painting and use it for what-ever purpose they wished.

Some 2 or 3 years later, Andy was due to join a ship, and
Mike Cuff the Personnel Manager asked Andy to call into the Balfour Place
Offices to collect the mail – which was going out to the ship he was joining. It
being a Friday afternoon, not many people were to be found in the LOF Offices!.
On arriving in the marbled atrium, the receptionist informed Andy the elevators
were playing up and best use the spiral staircase to go and meet up in the
Personnel Office.

As he was climbing the stairs, he admired the various pictures, paintings and
photographs that lined the staircase, some half way up – he noticed a ‘Painting’
that looked a bit ‘familiar’ – stopping and taking a closer look – he realised
when inspecting the signature – that lo – behold it was one of his – the very
one that had won the S.E.S. completion some few years earlier – the same
painting no less than he – Andy – had won 3rd prize and £10. He arrived to see
Capt Cuff, and asked about the paintings on the staircase – to which Capt Cuff
said he knew very little other than some Directors, Chairman and other sponsors
had donated the various memorabilia over the past 2 decades. Andy pressed Cuff,
– upon which Cuffs memory sprung into light. Ah hah I remember that one now, the
painting of an LOF Cargo Ship entering Rio Harbour – Ah yes – Stanley Sedgwick
bought that at an auction a couple of years ago, it was already framed – yes a
very nice ‘Painting’. Do you know how much he paid for it – enquired Andy – Cuff
having another ‘think’ replied that it was in the region of £300. Andy nearly
fainted. He asked ”Cuff’ if he knew who the artist was that had done this
painting – No, replied Cuff – to which Andy informed him of the ‘history’ behind
the painting. £300 was about a month’s salary for a 3rd Mate in those days – but
Andy Sinclair – was a very happy man indeed – he had won 3rd prize in the S.E.S.
completion  and all of £10. I don’t believe Andy ever entered another
completion after this one.

He has very generously, donated two paintings at the LOF Reunion 2004 and has
agreed again to paint a ‘ unique’ painting for the forth-coming LOF Reunion
Charity Raffle.

I can assure you all the ‘painting’ is worth more than £10
and in fact more than £300 – RIP Stanley Sedgwick.

Roy Gerstner (October 2006)


Return to top

VIP Travel by LOF

VIP Travel Logo

When Mike Cuff went into the Balfour Lane LOF Offices to work in
the Personnel Department with Barry Drew, ships staff, and superintendents
joining and leaving vessels in foreign ports was a bit of a hit and miss
arrangement. In the mid-60’s LOF used 3 travel agents and tended to
play one off against the other as far as getting the best deal was
concerned…….They tried to screw the best deal possible and I doubt if anything has changed?

So when Cuff became Personnel Manager around 1972, he found a travel agent
just around the corner called VIP Travel, there were no connections
to anyone who worked within LOF – as a rumour that Ken Stewart, the Chartering
Manager was a director of VIP Travel, this is not true.
So after some prolonged negotiations VIP were chosen as the sole agent that
would arrange travel on behalf of staff.
During 1976, when business was quite brisk for LOF, a cheque needed to be signed
by the accounts director Stanley Sedgwick.
However, he was not in the office on this particular day and it being the last
day of the month Cuff needed the cheque signing. So he made
arrangements for BM (Basil) Mavroleon to sign the said cheque, and duly, Cuff was
summoned upstairs to BM’s office – made to wait and then
invited to enter. Mike Cuff presented the cheque to BM, (it being for £80,000),
BM looked at the cheque and then signed it, handing it back
to Cuff, as he did so he said ‘Not too bad an amount for the year’ where upon
Cuff had to admit to BM that the amount he had just signed for was in fact for one month and not the whole year. Fortunately Cuff had the cheque in his hand at this stage and made a rapid departure from
the purple faced spitting BM.

As things began to tighten up, a novel way to use aircraft efficiently was to put
a few seats on Cargo Aircraft. I never travelled by this means,
but I understand a few did, the fare was around half of the normal fare and you
sat amongst the rest of the cargo. I doubt if there was any
‘service’ as such and what the temperature control was like I hate to imagine.

I had a few momentous intrepid journeys joining LOF ships. Here are a couple.

In 1974 2nd/Off Rogers-Gray and myself were to join the Cargo vessel London Grenadier in
Calcutta India. We duly met at Heathrow Airport, where-upon
R-G informed me proudly that he had all of 50p left from the £10 he had set out from
home with – the £9:50 had gone on his taxi fare, without
any tip for the taxi-driver!. The flight was delayed by some 2 hours, before we
could board.The aircraft began to taxi to the runway holding area, where it stopped.
We were informed of an
impending Air Traffic Controllers Strike over
France and we would have to wait
and see what happens – no duty free drinks were available as we were still in
the UK.

Some 4 hours later we still sat at the end of the runway – fortunately they had
opened the toilets! At last we took off, first stop Kuwait.
As we landed we heard a series of popping, bangs and smoke came from the Portside, on
getting to the terminal, the Pilot informed us
that the plane
had suffered 2 tyre blow-outs on the heavy landing! We all had to debarked whilst the ‘tyres’ could be ‘fixed’.
Another 4 hours passed, when we re-embarked the plane – remember R-G still had
his 50p on him.

Next stop was Hyderabad where we were delayed for another 4 hours due to a
passenger being ill.
Next stop Bombay – hurrah we had made it to India at last – some 14 hours
overdue!  The airline informed us that we had missed our connecting flight to
Calcutta, so they provided transport and accommodation at the 4 star Taj Mahal
Bombay (Now a 5 Star Hotel).

Rogers-Gray said we were to go to the
Indian Agents who supplied crew for LOF ‘I.K. Marine’, who would inform LOF of
our delays and ‘sub’ him some money! – this we did and he managed to extract all
of about £2 from the agents and sent on his way.

4 days later and I have to say, well rested after the intrepid journey – lovely
swimming pool, Rogers-Gray lived on what-ever the hotel would
supply him with (Airlines minimum), I lent him £10 since I had never met the guy
before I felt reluctant to lend him anymore.

We went up to Bombay Airport, checked in and boarded our flight – it left on
time and we arrived in Calcutta some 5 days late and overdue.

The agents met us and informed us that the London Grenadier was still in port,

As we left the airport there was a giant sign by the roadside from the airline
we had just travelled with……
‘Fly Air India and get there faster’ – need I say more!

In 1975 I had a similar experience to the above but this time in
Panama – to join the ship transiting. I was on my own, and when I eventually got
to Balboa, the Agent informed me that the ship had been diverted and was not
coming through the canal. It was late on a Friday night
Panamanian time, so I had no contact number to call. I put myself up in an
expensive dingy
hotel, and waited the weekend out.

On the Monday morning I went
to the Agents Office where he informed me that the ship was now due to call for
a transit through the canal on the coming Thursday.

We sent a telex message to LOF personnel who replied that they could not
understand why I was not on the ship!

Thursday arrived – and no ship! – I’d had enough at this stage and went to the
airport and bought myself a ticket home to the UK. I had only just
acquired a ‘Barclaycard’ and luckily American Airlines took it. I had to transit
back through Miami – this caused even more problems and
delays with the American officialdom (this was some 30 years before the most
recent issues – so not a lot has changed).

I left Miami and arrived back in the UK on the Friday afternoon, some 8 days
after leaving the UK. I went to the LOF offices, and saw a
personnel guy called ‘Christie’ who had only been in the job 2 weeks. Fortunately Mike Cuff rescued him, gave me some money
and a rail warrant. He said I could have another couple of weeks off – to get over the ordeal?

It transpired that Mr. Christie had got his ships and ports mixed up, sending me
on a wild but eventful journey, needless to say Mr. Christie only
lasted some 3 months in the job – before he moved on to pastures new – he was
replaced by Fred Baker – a nicer guy you could not meet
and was at least switched on.

Roy Gerstner (October 2006)


Return to top

The Marine Casualty by Ambrose Jones


Dear Sir,

I write in order that you will get this report before you form your own preconceived opinions from the reports in the world press, for I am sure they will tend to over dramatise the affair.

We had just picked up the pilot at sunset and the apprentice had returned from changing the ‘G’ flag for the ‘H’, and being his fist trip he was having difficulty in rolling the ‘G’ flag up.
I therefore proceeded to show him how, coming to the last part I told him to ‘let go’, the lad although willing, is not too bright, necessitating me my having to repeat the order in a sharper tone.

The Chief Officer overhearing from the Chart room, and thinking that it was the Anchors that were being referred to, repeated the ‘let go’ to the Third Officer on the forecastle.
The effect of letting the anchor drop from the ‘pipe’ while the vessel was proceeding at full harbour speed proved too much for the windlass brake, and the entire length of the cable was pulled out ‘by the roots’ I fear that the damage to the chain locker may be extensive.

The braking effect naturally caused the vessel to sheer in that direction, right towards a swing bridge that spans a tributary to the river up which we were proceeding. The swing bridge operator showed great presence of mind by opening the bridge for my vessel; unfortunately he did not think to stop the vehicular traffic beforehand. The result being the bridge partly opened and deposited a Volkswagen, two cyclists and a cattle truck on our foredeck.

The Third Officer dropped the Starboard anchor, too late to be of practical use, for it fell on the swing bridge operator’s cabin!
Up to now I have confined my report to the activities to the forward end of my vessel. Aft they were having their own problems. At the moment the Port anchor was let go, the Second Officer was supervising the making fast of the after tug, and was lowering the ship’s towing spring down to the tug.

The sudden braking effect of the Port anchor caused the tug to ‘run in under’ the stern of my vessel, just at the moment when the propeller was answering my double ring Full Astern.
The prompt action by the Second Officer in securing the inboard end of the towing spring delayed the sinking of the tug by some minutes, allowing the safe abandoning of that vessel.

It never fails to amaze me, the actions and behaviour of foreigners during moments of minor crisis. The Pilot for instance, is at this moment crooning to himself and crying after having consumed a bottle of gin, in a time worthy of inclusion in the Guinness Book of records.
The Tug Captain on the other hand reacted violently and has had to be forcibly restrained by the Steward, who has him handcuffed in the ship’s hospital.

I enclose the names and addresses of the drivers and insurance companies of the vehicles on the foredeck, which the Third Officer collected after his somewhat hurried evacuation of the forecastle, these particulars will enable you to claim for the damage that they did to the railings in the way of number one hold.

I am closing this preliminary report for I am finding it difficult to concentrate with the sound of Police sirens and their flashing lights.

Had the apprentice realised that there was no need to fly the Pilots flag after dark, none of this would have happened.

I am Sir,

Yours faithfully

Master M.v …………. (Ambrose Jones a LOF Senior Citizen)

(I can name a few not so fictitious ‘cadets’ who were ‘accident prone’ in their early years, made it all the way to Master and were just as ‘accident prone’ in their later lives) R.G.


Return to top

Letter to Mr. Mackenzie The Fleet Superintendent… 1986

S.T. Bond (Formally Olympic Bond) En Route – Taiwan.

As we have now cleared Jeddah and, hopefully, no more unscheduled happenings will take place, I thought you may be interested to hear of my trip (so far anyway).

The ship was built in Japan 1972 and had been laid up in Itea for nearly 4 years. She had been looked after quite well and it was obviously the owner’s original intention to put the ship back into service if at all possible. However, that was not to be and she was sold ‘as is where is’ to be scrapped in Taiwan with the ‘Memorandum of Agreement’ containing a clause that no cargoes were to be carried – Thank God.

She is just a little bigger than the ‘Pride’ at 265,000 DWT, but otherwise pretty similar and not too sophisticated down below. I was asked at very short notice to get a crew together and naturally started phoning around a few Ex ‘Pride – Guys’ and eventually ended up with the following :-
C/Off John Whiney 2/Off Not LOF 3/Off Dick McGannan R/Off Roger Smith Ch/Eng Not LOF – Ex Globtic 2nd/Eng Dai Walker 3rd/Engs Dave Johnson, Andy Forbes, Tony Tierney + 1x 3rd/Eng Ex BP Jnr/Engs Nigel Lewis and Philip Weaver, EEO Jack Knowles. The rest of the crew were Bosun + 4 AB’s Ch/Cook Tommy Eden & a 2nd Cook.

We all flew to Athens as planned on the 3rd December 1985 and after a rotten meal at a roadside cafe and the bus driver losing his way 3 times, we eventually arrived at the Hotel Gallini (Anyone remember it?) at 3am on the 4th. Unfortunately the Greeks would not allow us to board right away, except to look, as the contract still had to be finalised, but they did start up the diesel generator so that a few of us could have a look around. It was immediately noticed by the Ch/Eng that the fan belt was slipping and it was obvious that on full load it would soon overheat – as we expected there was no spare onboard and in fact, none available in Greece. We got a spare air freighted out and by Saturday afternoon it was fitted and OK – the diesel is a 12 cylinder Nation – very good but very noisy – so we all came onboard on Sunday morning and started re-activating. All things considered it went very well really – the ABS surveyor was very helpful and no big snags were found. Eventually the Port Boiler was flashed-up.

On Sunday 15th, one week after coming onboard, and the Turbo Generator put on the board. All was tight, as was the deck steam line and both auxiliary condensers, so we arranged to move from the bank on Monday morning assisted by 2 tugs. On commencing to heave in the starboard anchor a small valve on a pipe which connects the steam inlet and exhaust lines together blew out, but fortunately a spare was found and fitted in double quick time.

Dai Walker didn’t exactly run down the deck, but he did move fairly smartly! We then moved slowly out to the anchorage with a pilot on board and anchored in our predetermined position. During this operation a crosshead bolt fractured on the starboard windlass and made a very expensive sounding noise!!

Internal examination revealed the bolt had been cracked for some considerable time, and as the piston head had also fractured the cover, it was felt impractical for the Ship’s Engineers to try and do anything about it. It was agreed therefore to burn the cable and when we sailed, proceed to Taiwan with only one anchor (Suez Canal and all).

Whilst all this was going on, things were happening down below with the salinity indicator lamps, which were glowing ‘bright red’, the dial indicator pointers off the dials!!! The Chief soon pinpointed the trouble as coming from the main condenser, so the plant was shut down and the condenser opened up.

The first estimate was that a few tubes were leaking, so 50 brass plugs were ordered from Piraeus whilst the testing went on, but the order was soon increased to 500, then 1,000 and eventually we ordered 3,000. No regular pattern of leaks could be found as the testing and plugging went on, and it wasn’t until 1550 plugs had been put in that the Chief felt it was worth putting it on full test. This test found another 25 leaking tubes, so altogether we used 1,600 plugs before the Chief was happy and the main engine put on test.

All was now well and we finally sailed 16 days after coming on board – on the 24th December – not too bad really!

In the meantime I’d been having my usual crew troubles just to keep me on my toes so to speak as I paid off two of the AB’s who were always drunk, the Chief Cook with ‘gout’ and an Engineer from Falmouth who, apart from being useless, could not get on with the rest of the crowd. In their place I recruited three Tanzanians (very good and no trouble at all), an Ex 2nd Eng from the UK – ex Shell with a HNC and a Greek Engineer who persuaded the local agent to give him a job, I think – quite a bunch.

The passage to Port Said went very well with everything working fine and everyone doing a good job and making the convoy time with 36 minutes to spare. The transit also went well and we used the Port anchor twice, once outside and once in the Bitter Lakes, although the Mate said the brake was a bit tight and needed a large wheel key to operate it. On arrival at Jeddah for bunkers we waited outside for daylight (well it was New Years Eve!) and went into the anchorage at daylight. As previously discussed with both John Whitney and the Chief, we made a slow and careful approach and the anchor was not allowed to touch the bottom until the ship was completely stopped. (We didn’t have a Doppler).

Once we were brought up the brake was put on, the anchor taken out of gear and the bow stopper put on, but just at that moment the brake failed and the whole lot – all 14 shackles disappeared into the sea!!!.

As you can imagine the next twelve hours were quite interesting as I had to manoeuvre the ship around the crowded anchorage with a 25,000 to bunker barge tied alongside accusing me of breaking his ropes.

I am pleased to say that all went well in the end and apart from the Agent giving me a wrong clearance number, which meant further delay, we finally got clear of Jeddah and are now on our way. I am pretty sure at this stage that we will have to call at Singapore to top up with bunkers and as we don’t have any anchors, except the spare one bolted to the fore-deck, bunkering and taking stores should prove to be another interesting time!

As you can imagine a great deal of thought went into speculation as to why the condenser failed – the Greeks were quick to blame us saying that we put the steam on before the cooling water, but this was strenuously denied by the Chief and all the Engineers. (The condenser has 8,200 tubes by the way).

At Singapore we had to top up with fuel for the final leg to Taiwan. At the outer anchorage once the Pilot was told we did not have any anchors, he refused to stay! Once again an interesting time!

On sailing, as we had no anchors, I had decided to go strait across the South China Sea, but the owners disagreed and routed me close to the Borneo/Sarawak coast! During the passage
to Kaohsiung the owners asked us to move the remainder of the Starboard anchor cable to the Port windlass for mooring purposes, quite a job with only five crew, so that they could use the spare anchor on the Portside. A job we successfully did.

We eventually arrived at Kaohsiung on the 5th February 1986 after a 43 day voyage which was everything but uneventful and finally arrived back at Gatwick two days later in a snow storm.

Mike Cuff

(Of course there is another story of ‘Cuffs Commandos’… relating to when the London Pride
loaded a cargo at Kharg Island during the Iraq – Iran war… and their subsequent return at
Gatwick airport after travelling business class!) R.G.


Return to top


Do you have any stories to share? If so, contact us.

Return to top