20 July 2005

Sea Life 1951. Modasa Maturing rapidly.

First draft:
Yes, maturity came rapidly. I soon learnt what a gin sling was on the Modasa, a favourite cooling and partying drink. Socialising with the passengers on the deck below us was encouraged and it soon became a enjoyable experience when off duty. By this time I had begun to smoke as most did during this era. Cigarettes were very cheap on-board attracting no duty when at sea. Alcohol at sea fell into that category too.

It was not as though smoking and having a drink was new to me, it wasn't. During my time at South Shields more than once I had slipped into a pub underage with older friends for a beer but that was not too often due to lack of funds. It was the same with cigarettes.

I found that my manners were a little rough around the edges, too. I soon adapted and learnt quickly. During this period I used to use quite a lot of Brycreem on my hair and plastered it down. A couple of girls a little older than I soon set me straight. Fingernails were now attended to and no longer left over long with a hint of black at the base. Yes, I quickly learnt the social 'do's and don’ts'.

Leaving Aden we passed round the horn of Africa and hugging the coast of Somalia down to Kenya. The sea in the Indian Ocean in1951 was rich in sea life. One day lounging over the ships rail I spotted a giant turtle paddling along happily oblivious to our large vessel only metre away. On another occasion, a large whale sporting in the water perhaps 500 metres distant, again oblivious to us. Gigantic would be a better term for the animal for as he came out of the water, steeply upwards at speed and then, before diving again, it seemed an age before his tail appeared.

Again on another day our ship gave way to a large sea-going dhow, triangular sail billowing in the breeze, low in the water with tied down cargo and the 3/4 crewmen sitting lounging on top. I was told that it was probably coming down from Arabia or the Persian Gulf carrying cargo to the African ports. These dhows were just the same and following the same routes since biblical times and before. I can only picture it as large. These dhows are said to be upwards 25 - 30 tons in weight and a capacity of 300 gur... an old Babylonian measurement... upwards to 90,000 litres capacity.

About 5 days sailing found us close to our next destination, Mombasa in Kenya.
Sea Life. 1951. The Modasa. The Port of Aden.

I wrote the text of the following piece about 2 years ago to see if I could still write following my decision to write my memoirs. I had spent most of my writing life since school with stilted technical language, reports and a few letters. After a number of test pieces, grammar slowly started to return and what follows is one of those pieces. This is my remembrance of Aden.

Yes, Aden, which is now in Yemen, is presently in the news. I remember Yemen for other things. When I was a young Merchant Navy Radio Officer on my first trip to sea and just in my late teens we called in at the port of Aden to discharge a small amount of cargo and take on bunkers (refuel), we were on our way to the ports of East Africa. We anchored in the small-enclosed harbour, which was surrounded with large, almost menacing black volcanic cliffs and the small township was perched on a narrow ledge-like strip at the foot of the cliffs. The black cliffs and the sparkling blue water gave the place an almost exotic feel, especially with the colourful bumboats circling the ship. The ship I was on, the SS Modasa, as well as cargo, carried 200 passengers. The bumboats rowed out from the township carried all manner of goods; veritable floating shops and were very popular with everyone. I had to buy something and my eyes settled on a large wall or throw rug with a deer scene woven on it. Just the thing I though and I bought the rug. It was the first item I had bought with my new income and I felt pleased with this first purchase. After the trip was over I took the rug home and gave it to my parents, the first real present I was able to afford. I suppose it was a small thank you for the struggle they had had to send me to study for 2 years at South Shields Marine College.
After the early death of my mother at the age of 56 and the family home was broken up my father gave me the rug and we brought it to New Zealand with us. For many years the rug covered our dining table until it was old, worn and faded. Sometimes I would look at the rug on our dining room table and remember my parents with affection and think of their struggle and my first visit to Aden.

This morning as I write this my eyes mist as I think of them, I feel a little sad and drained. They had given up a lot for me. I reflect, maybe the title of this piece should have been "The Rug and my Parents".