30 October 2010

Sea Life 1951. The Modasa.

First draft:
Dar es Salaam means "Haven of Peace". Tanzania in the 1950s was called Tanganyika, and like Kenya and Zanzibar, British ruled.

We were in port here for about 3 days; most of the remaining passengers would disembark here.The majority of our remaining cargo was unloaded here, too. The town had a more Arabic feel in comparison to Mombasa. Of the population of  Tanganyika, 33% were estimated to be Muslim.

Whilst we waited anchored in the harbour for a berth a lone bum boat came out from the wharf loaded with goods and being a lone boat was allowed up on deck. He laid a large sheet out on the deck. Then from the boat below, with the aid of  helpers, hoisted up a number of baskets with selections of his wares. Our remaining passengers crowded round buying and bartering for various things; asking for this or that and he, instructing his helpers to heave this or that item up to him.

I noticed a few seashells on show. The elderly Arabic man noticed my interest and he picked one or two up for me to have a closer look. I asked him if he had any bigger ones, He indicated no but he could  get some for me, if I wished. I described the shape and size I required and he said he would return tomorrow. Walking away, I thought well he was just  being polite. I probably would not see him again.

Later, we berthed  and next morning Jock called me, he decided to do a few maintenance checks to the ships radio equipment. He showed me how to check over the transmitter motor alternator, a bit of grease here and there, tightening this or that. Then along to a large bank of batteries outside in a waterproof box used to drive the radio transmitter, whilst stressing the importance of  regular maintenance and topping up the battery acid with distilled water. I then made the mistake of saying to Jock that I knew all this from the Radio College tuition. Jock looked at me for a few moments, then he growled that he knew that, he was just empathizing the importance of the fact that when at sea our power had to generated completely independent of the ships power supply.  He went on to say that if the batteries failed or the motor alternator failed we were in serious trouble. If the main transmitter failed we had a standby, the same applied to the communications receiver. We could send out an advise message advising of our problem and get shore help when we reached our destination port. (The above is only a simple explanation). He told me later that he applied the above to each new 2nd Radio Officer to come aboard. Jock knew the consequences; maintenance usually, was quickly passed over at the Marine Radio College. Years later when I worked for British Civil Aviation and transfered to the Maintainance Unit Jock's remarks stood me in good stead.

 In the afternoon I stood by the rail watching passengers disembarking, officials coming on board, cargo slings bringing goods slowly out of the holds together with the general wharf  activity. It was hot standing in the tropical sun. Jock would be asleep as he usually was in the afternoons, so I retired and propped myself up upon my cabin day bed and read a book which I had from the ship's library. Sometime later there was a small knock and the cabin door opened, it was my cabin steward. He said with raised eyebrows of surprise, a man was here to see me. As I got up I saw the elderly Arabic man of yesterday standing behind him. I grinned at the steward and said OK, my visitor said he had some shells to look at. He unwound a cloth and put it on the deck outside my cabin door and proceeded to lay a number of large shells on the cloth. Two caught my eye immediately, both pink and white in a twisted cone form, blunt at one end and pointed at the other,  about 9 inches long and 4 inches across the base, just what I wanted. He had, I think 5 shells in all. I took the two cone shells,the others were too small or wrong shape.

I asked him the "how much" and the price he named seemed to me quite cheap, I said OK without trying to bargain. My purpose for the shells was to drill a hole in the middle blunt end and carefully hollow out the centre to make a lamp. I had once seen this done in a book with instructions how to proceed. I did this with the Radio Room tools and then procured the necessary parts from the ships Electrician. When the inner shell was hollowed out enough and the bulb inserted  the whole shell glowed with a varying soft pink glow all over. To complete the job I needed some glue to glue the bulb socket base into place. this lead me to the ships engineers who came up with just the thing.

There is a postscript to this story. After buying the shells from the Arabic gentleman I found to my dismay the shells were live. The question was what to do? I had plenty of suggestions, mostly dunk them in salt water and the fleshy part would come out seeking food. Dunk them in fresh water and it would kill them. I selected the salt water way. To get it to come out fully I found I needed to pin the shell upside down with a weight and quickly with a knife severe the fleshy part. Borrowing a sharp knife from one of the deck officers I quickly managed to cut the majority of the tongue out. As a boy who spent many hours fishing I was an expert at this operation. I then with a bent piece of wire managed to hook out a good part of the remaining flesh and left the 2 shells to dry in the sun for a few days.

I was able to do most of the above messy and noisy drilling away from the accommodation. Aft of our accommodation was a block of cabins part empty, and a few used by the Engineers at the aft end of the block. At the end of the block nearest me was a washroom of sorts with brushes, both scrubbing and sweeping and a sink and with, of all things... a salt water tap. During our voyage I had noticed the washroom didn't seem to be used. I moved my bits and pieces in. No one queried me.

One evening someone mentioned to me would I like to make up a six to hire a taxi for the evening and go down the coastal road (South) to a nice place for a drink...I said yes. Off we trooped. When we reached our destination we found the place closed, but lights on at the house. We were told that they were normally closed, off-season. If we were staying a while, they would be glad to open up the bar. A few minutes later a house-boy came out and led us a short way down towards the beach and opened up a circular bar and arranged a table for us. Sometime later the owner and his wife joined us with a few locals. We had an excellent time. Midnight saw us returning.

Many years later, as I write this in 2010 I looked on Google Earth and spotted the resort we had gone to. It now looked absolutely different. Where we had sat near the beach was now 2 large concrete multi-storey apartment blocks. I thought at first I must have been wrong. Checking the area again there was not another place it could have been. The lovely simple resort of long ago had been wiped out. I sat quietly in my chair and felt sad and not wanting to write anymore today.