22 May 2005

Sea Life. 1951. The Modasa. Life on the Ocean Wave.

First draft:
As we cleared the Thames, we moved into the busy English Channel. The Channel was a busy maritime highway with ships of many nationalities, ferries, fishing boats and small boats. It brought to mind one of my favourite poems, John Masefield's "Cargoes" and then his other famous one "Sea Fever".

I had spent the first morning with Jock as he familiarised me with so many 'this and that’s', not really taught at Marine College. At lunchtime... Tiffin, he said the afternoon was mine and not to forget my first watch at 1800 hours. I remember wandering the length and breadth of the ship, with plenty of hellos from other friendly officers off duty. I moved next deck down, here were many of the passengers, talking in groups, sunning themselves in the warm August sun and many strolling the decks like me, familiarising themselves with the ship, or just plain exercising.

Many of the passengers knew each other; many were family groups and a few young single people. Most people were going to Kenya and Tanganyika now called Tanzania. Many were government officials, plantation owners and managers, import/export staff, and business owners, for these counties still belonged to the British Commonwealth and had not achieved their independence in 1951. Many were returning from their annual leave and others were newly posted out to East Africa. Today these people would have normally flown out by one of the many airlines operating with baggage following by sea. Although there was an airline service, the planes were small compared to today and travelling by air was expensive.

The Modasa was an old ship close to the end of her days but was very comfortable, even luxurious. She was what is known as a passenger cargo vessel, carrying close to 200 passengers. Other than passengers baggage she also carried everything from a pin to steam roller as the saying goes, with the exception of bulk cargos such as coal, fertilizer, sugar or grain to name a few. Cargo carried might be items to stock the shops of the various countries visited, refrigerators and other electrical goods, tools, machinery, books and paper, food stuffs and tinned items, a myriad of things. Nothing was manufactured in the African countries, South Africa being the exception.

On our voyage out we would stop at other ports as needed to deliver, usually small amounts of cargo and occasionally drop off or pick up passengers.

The Modasa belonged to the British India line serving the Indian Ocean area and the Far East; we were on the East Africa run of course. She came to the end of her life about 1953 if my memory serves me correctly. In later years the B.I. Company was amalgamated with the P & O Company.

Over the next few days I began to get my bearings, meet the other officers and passengers. I found I was enjoying life on the Modasa, a life I had not really envisaged before, not just a work life but a social life too. I was on a fresh learning curve that I began to enjoy.

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