4 December 2011

Sea Life 1952-1953. SS Springtide Part 3.

 First draft: Part 3
Montevideo lies on the northern bank of the River Plate estuary, The estuary is about 48 nautical miles across at the mouth. First, on the northern bank of the River Plate lies Montevideo. Further up the River Plate estuary on the southern bank lies Buenos Aires in Argentina. Passing Buenos Aires and going up the River Plate for about 40 nautical miles, we come to a tributary, the River Uruguay. Looking on Google Earth map, we head up the river Uruguay for 50 nautical miles and come to Frey Bentos, 40 miles further north from Frey Bentos sunflower was originally planted in Uruguay by Russian settlers. This part of the river is the Uruguay border with Argentina, the Uruguay river is still very wide and deep. Large ships, much larger than us, go up to Frey Bentos. When I lived in the UK as a young man I remember popular Frey Bentos tinned corned beef, sold by most grocers.

I have no idea where we picked up our cargo of  sunflower seed. The central and north-western area of Uruguay is riddled with tributaries and tributaries of tributaries. Many tributaries are shown on the map, they seem to be wide and deep. Somewhere in this maze of tributaries it was, I think where we went. I remember, we went up a narrow tributary, more like a canal, flat land either side, the water must have been deep to accommodate us. We moored alongside a wharf and picked up the bagged sunflower, taking a few days. In the distance was a small town. Nothing much else. A large area of land must have been needed to grow this amount of the sunflower seed that we loaded.

Further up the river we reversed and returned. Did we have a pilot? I don't remember him, we must have had one.  I seldom went up on to the Bridge, except to deliver received messages, I don't remember the pilot. We wended our way back down the rivers to Montevideo.

Arriving in Montevideo we bunkered and left, sailing northward up the coast of Brazil We were about 10 days or so out from Montevideo and we struck trouble. We were close to the Equator, still roughly following the coast of Brazil but a long way out from the coast, we were starting to swing more westerly from our northwestern route to cross the Atlantic to the north African - European side.

Our engines started to give us problems and eventually failed. Our engine tubes had blown out and we were completely disabled. We were 400 miles off the Brazilian coast, in deep water and unable to anchor.
Fortunately the weather was calm and predicted to remain calm. If foul weather blew up we would be at the mercy of the sea and wind.

The captain prepared a message for head office for me to send. I reminded him our transmitting equipment was only short range and it may be a while for me to make an intermediary ship contact to relay the message. We then then needed to get  an intermediary ship to relay the return reply. We discussed the problem, I suggested an "XXX" message addressed to all ships; one level down from an SOS message. This was agreed to and I transmitted the "XXX" with a short message containing our position. We were immediately answered by a British ship, a few hours away. I answered, more fully describing our problem including our size; he answered he would standby.

We were then answered by another ship, a Brazilian Navy deep sea  tug. This tug said he was more than big enough to handle taking us in tow. He was based at the port of Receife in Brazil and could be with us in 48 hours. The captain digested the information and agreed to the navy tug to tow us, I transmitted the message to the tug. An hour or so later the tug indicated he was leaving port and affirmed he would keep us informed of his progress. The British ship again made contacted with us and asked if we needed him any longer, the captain  said no and I transmitted this, and our thanks.

Meanwhile the crew went about their normal tasks and the off duty ones tried some fishing but were not too successful in such deep water. Soon sharks started to appear, mainly young ones and some of medium size, curious of us. The crew started fishing for sharks and were able to hook them, the only trouble was that the medium sized sharks got exited and snapped at the hooked young ones and ate them. The experienced crew members suggested, stop fishing and wait. The big sharks moved away looking for other prey but the younger ones stayed around. These would be in the vicinity of a metre long and some a little larger. Later when  the lines were again put out down the ships side the younger sharks started jumping up at the meat on the hooks. A few of them became hooked before the bait hit the water. These and others were pulled up on to the deck, the 2 cooks then took charge and quickly killed the ones that were picked out by them. We all had shark steak for dinner that night. The remains were tossed over the side and their kin in the water had a good feast of the remains. Some of the young ones also tossed back were wounded and bleeding. The larger sharks had a good meal of these ones too. It was a dangerous business on deck with live sharks jumping around snapping at anything including bare feet. Even today I can remember 'how to do it" including the cook's slash of the knife. It is imprinting on my mind. The picture might be of yesterday instead of more than 50 years ago.

The following day more sharks were caught and these disappeared into the galley, dressed and put into the cold store. Later an exited crew member shouted something like "come and look at this". In the water was a long dark shadow; it certainly had a visible head and tail and it was certainly large. It was moving, drifting slowly just under the surface of the water. It came along the side of our stationary drifting ship. Everyone was amazed and trying to decide what it was. By its general appearance... was it sick... dead?

Its body was certainly moving to and fro from the ships side. As it drifted back alongside the ship, I counted the stanchions (vertical posts) of the ships rail and quickly worked out in feet that "it" was 36-38ft long. Recently with the Springtide story it in my mind, I searched on the internet and in my favourite stopping place, Wikipedia, I found  that it would almost probably be a Whale Shark. But I cannot remember the round bands and spots on its body though. Maybe the pictures in my mind will return, they often do. After some time the "Whale Shark" suddenly seemed to come to life and slowly swam away at right angles to the ship.

During these 48 hours waiting for the Brazilian tug to arrive I kept the communications receiver running exchanging information as needed. Mainly this was advising the tug of our estimated position given from the Bridge. Currents drifted our ship and the tug  had to compensate its course. Slowly as the 48 hours went by the tug's signal increased in strength. The Captain, towards the end of the period, had put a watch part way up the mast. The tug was sighted on the horizon, the angle was measured and I notified the tug.

I then, by radio exchanged the orders given by the Tug-master to our ship. A tow line was passed across from the tug and hooked up to our forecastle. Two members of the tug's crew on the Tug-Master's orders came across to us and made the connection. One remained as watchman for the towline and the other relieved him periodically. We slowly picked up speed and we headed for Recife. I think it took us 3 days to reach Recife.

We were towed to a berth, Marine engineers came on board and inspected the damage to the engines the Springtide's owners had made the arrangements.. The damage was major and they estimated we would be here for 3-4 weeks, the work continuing 24 hours a day. The ship's owners had, as normal when in port, appointed their preferred shipping agents to take over and handle all the Springtide's needs. Our cargo, sunflower seed was inspected daily and was said to be sweating, ventilation was provided to keep this in check.

Just across the square was a small, friendly bar where we could have a quiet beer. A little further down the street was a cafe with clean tables where fish and chips, or steak and chips with all the trimmings could be had, the owner speaking good English. Here in Recife not much English was spoken, just Portuguese the language of Brazil. The population of Recife in the early 1950s was about 500,000 and a pleasant small city, but now in the early 2000s the population had now increased to 1.5 million and the with the growing outlying metropolitan area the population had now reached a total of 4.5 million.

The ship was very noisy during the engine repairs both night and day,  reverberated thoughout the ship, sleep was difficult. From what I could gather, the ship's engines were fully pulled apart and all the embedded tubes replaced, a slow procedure. Our repairs were completed in just over 3 weeks and then we put to sea for testing. We returned to Recife, we were deemed seaworthy and the following day the Springtide left Recife with orders to reduce our normal 8 knots down to 6 knots. We had no more incidents and arrived at our destination, Antwerp safely. We all signed off from the ship here in Antwerp. Complete with supplied ferry and train tickets, a headed via London. My Discharge Book noted  this was 20 April 1953. This also noted that this was my 4th ship. I had been a Radio Officer now for almost 2 years.

 During this voyage I had had my birthday, I was now 19 years old.

Note: I probably remember more about the Springtide than any other ship. Everything about the Springtide, its crew, the places we visited and the ship's problems were all, in their own way,  unusual. 

2 December 2011

Sea Life 1952. SS Springtide Part 2.

First draft: Part 2
We sailed until we reached 2 degrees West. There was no message so we followed orders and prepared to anchor. We moved in closer to shore into shallower water, we would be about 1-2 miles off shore. There was a town in the distance which was Almeria and we lay in Almeria Bay.

Watches were kept in the normal fashion  over the 24 hours, we were strictly at sea. The Captain asked me to check the traffic list every hour for any messages during daylight  hours but, no need through the night. We heard nothing. Off watch hours were  spent by some of the crew trying their hand at fishing but with little luck. In the late afternoon fishing boats could be seen in the distance heading home. One of boats as they got near to us veered towards us and one of the crew in broken English asked us if we needed help. We indicated no, then one of our crew shouted "any fish for sale" and they indicated "yes" and the cost. The Captain from the bridge indicated for the fishing boat to come alongside. Quickly the Captain worked out the price of a box of fish priced in pesetas, and settled the deal in British pounds. The crew hauled the crate on board and the cook and his assistant came from the galley and loaded the fish into their crate and the crew heaved the fishermen's crate back to them.

While this was happening the Captain had come down from the bridge and instructed the cook to put the fish in the freezer and we would eat tomorrow night. The cooks were not to waste the food already in preparation for dinner that evening. The fish lasted us 2 days.

We had been anchored here for 54 hours before we received further instructions. We were to head for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands and refuel, our instructions would await us at the shipping agents. Shortly after after receiving the instructions we raised anchor, the Captain drafted a message acknowledging the instructions and I sent the message  by  our usual means. We headed for the Gibraltar and then out into the Atlantic, we then headed southerly, out from the coast of Africa for Las Palmas. The journey took us about 11 days, I think, from Valencia and allowing for our wait at our Almeria anchorage.

We speculated over the next few days, where would we eventually be heading for. Not one of us guessed or came near to guessing our eventual destination. When we were advised, I remember, there was silence all around.

We arrived in Las Palmas, Canary Islands, our first job was to refuel immediately. We then tied up alongside a stone wharf. A surprise for everyone, the sister ship of the Springtide was tied up just in front of our berth. She was the Springdale, a carbon copy of our ship. Round about 2009 I managed to find separate of photographs of both ships and yes they were exactly the same. I never found out were the Springdale was bound or were she had been. Thinking just now, as I write, was we, the Springtide  bound where the Springdale had just been? I don't suppose I shall ever know.

Our sailing orders were waiting for us. We were to go down the African coast to the port of Takoradi in Ghana, near to Nigeria. There, we were to load exotic timber logs... mahogany, teak, rosewood, meranti and some types I didn't know. Most of the logs would be 1 metre in girth with a few larger. All the logs were to be stowed below decks in the ships holds for protection.

Shortly, we left Las Palmas and sailed for Takoradi to pick up our cargo of exotic timber, the journey was in the region of 2,300 nautical miles and took us in the vicinity of 12 days. We did not berth alongside one of the wharves but  anchored within the harbour. The timber was towed out to us across the harbour and then loaded into the ship's holds by the ship's derricks. We were here for a relatively short time only, 4-5 days, loading our cargo.

 As far as I remember, I went ashore once only . A boat went round the harbour periodically picking up and delivering passengers. When I went ashore there was a few crew members going ashore, too, one I remember was called Bill, a friendly fellow. "Hello" Sparks, he said,  "going up town on your own, join us if you like", I did. It seemed a way to town, so I was glad of company. There was not much to see. The old town encompassed the harbour. We wandered back to the harbour. A cheerful muscular local shouted to us, he said his name was "Glasgow'". Apparently he had lived in Glasgow for some time and his nickname locally became Glasgow. I remember, he talked for sometime, with nostalgia of his time in Glasgow.

By this time we had  became conversant of our new destination. It was to be in South America. We were more than surprised, I can't say we were stunned, or maybe, just a little. In the south Atlantic it was summer,   being in the southern Hemisphere. Summer, we all felt happier in our small ship of 889 tons. The first thought of everyone including me was the low free-board of the Springtide; seawater often slopping over the side, even in moderate seas. Our destination was to be Montevideo, Uruguay. A small country just north of  Argentina and south of Brazil.

During our visit to Takoradi a fruit and vegetable seller called on the Springtide and during his round he called at my cabin and asked if I wanted anything. I thought for a moment and said any pineapples? He indicated yes. I then asked if had enough to last me a week to 10days. He said he would return the day before we sailed. On the last day he returned with my order, the pineapples in various stages of ripeness, he told me to string them up on a line across the cabin and they should last me 10days.

Next morning we sailed with our shipload of exotic timber stowed below decks. Our journey was in the vicinity of 4000 nautical miles across the South Atlantic to Montevideo. Just over 3 weeks sailing time. My pineapples slowly ripened, over the coming days, filling the cabin with a sweet aroma of the ripening fruit. Each day I would peel the ripest fruit and usually consume most of it. After a week I was starting to get sick of pineapple and they were getting close to over ripe. I started to eat only half of a pineapple,  remains went over the ship's side. The last pineapple went over the ships side untouched.

As we proceeded on our course, traffic on the radio from both land and sea became weak until I could only hear weak signals in the evening and later. Few ships sailed our course. As the days passed I began to hear ship plying the South American coast, and the radio coast stations dotted along the coast. Music stations could be heard too, pounding out Latin music which over the years I began to like.

We were now getting closer to the coast of Uruguay, so I sent my TR to the Montevideo coast station giving our EST for 2 days hence and again when our ship was closer giving our estimated time of arrival. Soon, it seemed we were entering the harbour, which was like a huge bite taken out of the coastline. The city is very pretty, with the colourful houses of the city perched on the low hills surrounding the harbour. Montevideo is a city of 1.5million inhabitants. Settled first by the Spanish in the late 1700s and later by large waves of immigrants from most European countries including the UK. The sub tropical temperature in Uruguay is similar to NZ but rain more evenly distributed over the year. There are no high mountains so snow is very rare.

The logs took quite a time to unload though the hatches so we were here for sometime. Each evening quite a number of the local inhabitants came down,  in the cool of the summer evening, to look at the ships tied up along the wharves. Sometimes they stopped to try out their English and ask questions. One of the crew had bought a small, young monkey in Takoradi. It used to like to run along the ship's railings, jumping on and off its master. It was quite quite tame and popular with the local strollers. One evening a family came past and stopped to watch the monkey and its antics; their children were fascinated. The man wanted to buy the monkey for the children. Jim said no to the offer, I remember earlier, him saying he wanted to take it back home to the UK. The man kept trying, up and upping his offer. Jim, picked up the monkey and starting to move away from the rail. After a few words with his wife, the man in desperation shouted his final offer and Jim paused. The price the man offered was very high. Jim was tempted, we could see. After a short conversation, the man pulled out some notes and offered them  to Jim. I could hear a crewman standing next to Jim, say, whistling, American dollars. Jim holding the monkey stopped, quietly for a short while, then quickly parted with the monkey and took the proffered money. I can still picture the scene as it was played out so long ago. Even Jim's anguished face as, at the end, he turned  from the ship's rail and walked quickly away.

Some days later we finished unloading the exotic timber. Our next stop was west along the coast from Montevideo and up a river to pick up a load of sunflower seed for Antwerp in Belgium. We had quite a long way to go.

1 December 2011

Sea Life 1952. SS Springtide. Part 1.

First draft: Part 1.
I was unable to use up all my leave of 15 days.There was a package with orders for me to join the ship Springtide at Barry Docks in Cardiff, Wales. I took the early morning train going by via Crewe. Where just about everyone need to change trains, in those days, if your destination was south. At Crewe, there was always the inevitable wait for the connection  for your destination. Sometimes hours waiting time if your incoming train had been running late and causing you to miss your connection.

When I did arrive at Cardiff station together with my luggage, I caught a taxi down to Barry docks and the wharf where the Springtide was berthed. I got quite a shock when I first saw the Springtide; she seemed so small, just like the small coaster's I had sometimes seen hugging the coast line and crossing over to the continent. She was so dirty, too. I learn't  later, she was only 892 tons nett weight. The ships I had been used to, were much larger than the Springtide's small size. The black dirt, well I was soon to learn that it was coal dust. She was carrying a cargo of coal and our destination was to be Valencia in Mediterranean Spain. When I arrived in Cardiff that day, it was cold and damp, the sky was overcast; even wearing a heavy overcoat, the dampness seemed to penetrate everywhere. The mention of Cardiff today, always brings that cold grey day back to me.

The bridge and the accommodation was all aft,(to the rear of the ship), just like an oil tanker. The taxi driver dumped me and my luggage at the foot of the gangplank. A face peered over the side and looked  down on me and my luggage but said nothing. I said "I'm the new Sparks, can someone give me a hand with this lot". I didn't have to shout, the face was not far above me and the sight reinforced my view, of how small the Springtide was. He grunted and came down the gangway  grabbing some of my stuff and I took the rest. We went on board and he paused, felt in his pocket and then he (we) went up a ladder to what looked like a large metal box standing, welded between 2 lifeboats, overlooking the rounded aft deck. He took a key out of his pocket and opened the door on the side of the 'box", this was to be my cabin.

We dumped my stuff in the "box" (cabin) and he grunted "I'll show you the wireless room. We made our way for'ard  towards the bridge and tucked to the rear of the bridge was the radio room. He gave me the keys and left me to it. I then made my way to the bridge and the chartroom to see about signing on. There was no one there. I wandered around and still no one, so I wandered back to my "box" and unpacked my stuff. Later as I sat contemplating, I heard a voice with a foreign accent calling me, I answered. An oily  haired dark man stood there, he said the first mate wanted see me, "up in the chartroom, soon". We went there together. The chief officer was also an accented dark haired man, he smiled, shaking my hand, saying "I have waited for you to sign on".  I told him I had visited the bridge earlier but could not find anyone. He shrugged and said "we busy, Captain not here". I signed  on the Springtide on November 26th 1952.

At the start of Dinner that evening Captain August Keskull came roaring into the mess. I knew it was him before I even saw him, he was just one of those people, shouting not talking. Captain Keskull was a large bulky man and his head was completely bald, not a hair on his large round pink head, his eyes pale blue. His eyes swept the table and settled on me, "ah!, Sparks, you have arrived he shouted, "now we can sail and get out of this miserable place". He did not give me time to reply, his eyes swept on to the First Officer. " Ah, Chief how did you get on today, all work finished" he shouted. Not a question but a statement. I think, I hoped the chief had finished. Everyone else kept their heads low, almost in their dinner plates. It was very clear who was in charge here.

Leaving Cardiff, next morning, we sailed on the tide and in the rain for Valencia in Spain , within the Mediterranean. We passed down the Bristol Channel and rounded Lands End into the open sea towards the Bay of Biscay. Crossing the Bay of Biscay it was still raining, then as we completed the crossing the sun started to shine. The run down to Valencia  took us  9-10 days and as far as I can remember, good weather for early winter. Our speed was in the region of 8 knots. The Springtide started to look cleaner after all the rain, The superstructure looked grey, although still not white, looked much better when not covered in coal dust.

The crew was considerably varied on this ship. I was told it was 11 nationalities, the ones I remember were Estonian, Lithuanian, Latvian officers, some British, a Japanese Cook and French 2nd Cook, the rest I don't remember. The 2 cooks were very funny and always shouting and arguing, neither could speak more than a few words of English.

The ships radio transmitting system was for medium frequency (MF) only, that is once we were well clear of the UK communication would be difficult with our short range equipment. The procedure here was to relay any out going messages via another ship within range which had high frequency (HF) transmitting equipment capable of world-wide communication. To do this a CQ call, "calling all ships" was broadcast using the code QSP, meaning "can you relay a message for me". Sometimes a contact was quickly made, other times the call took a while and had to be repeated before someone answered.

With incoming messages it was a similar reverse procedure. Each watch I would monitor the UK traffic list  for our ship's call sign. This could be done, the ships communications receiver was capable of receiving over world wide long distances. In this case, if our call-sign was listed in the traffic list I called for a relay of the message by another ship for us.

Note: This was the normal procedure in 1950s, and onwards into the 1980s. Today in the 2000s Morse is no longer used and my job of Radio Officer became redundant. Today Satellite communication is normally used.   

  I remember Valencia  as a pleasant city with wide open squares and plenty of seating. We unloaded our coal in about a week and we left light ship and dirty holds. I don't remember much more of Valencia except for the typical Latin, whitewashed or coloured walls of the  tall 3/4 storied street houses.

We left Valencia with no known  destination, strange, I know. Sometime later there was a message from the ships owners. I cannot quote the message word for word but in essence it said "sail Eastward no further than 2degrees West. Anchor until we contact you". 

To be Continued

20 September 2011

Sea Life 1952. Delilian leave Avonmouth bound Canada.

First draft:
After my home leave my next voyage on the Delilian was a short one of 5 weeks. The Delilian's route was a standard between the UK and the St. Lawrence River in Canada except when the deep winter freeze iced the river over. The Radio Officer's post on the Delilian was a permanent one and he was due to take his annual leave. I was to be his stand-in for one voyage. This also would be the Delilian's final trip this season before the big freeze started to close the St. Lawrence River to sea traffic.

The Delilian was a passenger cargo ship licensed to carry up to 50 passengers. The passengers on the outgoing voyage were mainly immigrants including family members to Canada from the UK, mostly. On the return voyage  passengers were a different variety and  lower in numbers. A few,  as one of my colleges put it were disillusioned  immigrants returning to the UK.

I cannot remember much of the other officers aboard, one of them the 3rd mate was older than the usual 3rd officer who was usually young. He was  considerably older and would be possibly in his early 50s and sported a neat trimmed grey beard. I learned that until recently he had, after marriage, spent many years ashore. His wife, apparently died, he was very lonely and in the end could not carry on further on his own. He then reactivated his qualifications and came back to sea as 3rd mate. He was a pleasant man, I can picture him distinctly, I got on with him well. I also remember the 1st mate, the chief officer as a friendly man but that was really all except what I will relate a little later.

The captain, I remember him as a thin man and somewhat austere, not very approachable.  I tried to decipher his surname  on one of my documents. It seemed to be Macfitzallen. I found his manner not very pleasant. One day when we were getting close to Canada, the days were foggy and also been overcast. The noon sighting could not be taken for the past few days to determine our position.

The Chief Officer (1st mate) phoned me and requested that I try to take a DF reading from the coast stations to possibly pin point the ships position. We were 500 miles from the coast and I said I would try but 500 miles distant may introduce an error. I selected the two strongest stations after warming up the DF receiver and carefully measured the bearings of both stations and then repeated the remeasured  readings 3 times. I then took the readings up to the bridge. I gave them to the 1st mate and he plotted them on the chart. He said that our course indicated we must be drifting south. He then informed the captain who came up to the bridge. Looking at the measurements he said we could not be that far south. Turning to me he snapped that those measurements could not be right, and to try again. I did so and added a extra measurement  from a 3rd station for possibly more accuracy. The 1st mate re-plotted the bearings  but our position came out near the same. The captain turned his back on me muttering can't you use the bloody thing. I said to his back that 500 miles could introduce a slight error (but not that much I knew). I left them to it.

Next day the fog cleared and the day was sunny. The 1st mate would get his reading today. Just after 1600 there was knock on the door and the 1st mate now ending his watch,entered the radio room. Smiling he said "Sparks, you were spot on with both those readings, we had drifted south! But don't expect the Captain to acknowledge the fact. I've sailed with him too long". After that I noticed the captain used to speak to me occasionally and pass the time of day but did not mention the the DF bearing readings.

Note: Years later I learn't the probable reason for the captain's rudeness. When I was young I did not look my age due to my light bone structure and my small figure. At barely 19 years old, I looked much younger than I was. As the years progressed I learnt to cope with the problem and shrug it off and by the time I was in my 30s it did not seem to be there.
Since moving to Hamilton my new doctor is similar to what I was, even in his early 30s. I think that is why I relate to him very well during my visits to him. He is a very pleasant young fellow and his mind is very sharp on the up take with any question I may have.

We visited Montreal  and Quebec, I do not remember any other port. We seemed to dispense of our passengers mainly at Montreal, being a more "English" place than Quebec which is very French orientated, many speaking only using  French speech. Later, on another ship, my thoughts were reinforced that this was correct. We unloaded our general cargo and also picked more for our return trip back to Avonmouth.

The weather in Canada was very cold, but the days were sunny and the air dry, the temperature was minus 20 degrees, that would be Fahrenheit in those days.

We arrived back in Avonmouth on November 20th 1952 and after I had signed off the Delilian I caught up on some overdue leave owing to me from the Tynebank trip.

17 September 2011

At Port Kembla. The Steel Works Hotel

First draft:

In the early afternoon we left our sad, lonesome berth at the Phosphate wharf on the Brisbane River; 2 tugs from the Port lower down the river came up to pulled us off the wharf . Our pilot was aboard and at his command , the tugs pulled us off the wharf and then at a further command the tugs slowly pulled us 180 degrees round to point us down river and towards the open sea. We now picked up speed and soon passed Port Brisbane on our starboard, (right-hand side) and continued into open water. There waiting for us was the pilot boat ready to pick up our pilot.

I used to usually watch over the side as the pilot, quickly shaking the captain's hand turned, and as quickly descended the rope ladder, then pausing at the bottom as the pilot boat, keeping pace with us, slowly nearing the rope ladder, the pilot ready to hop from ladder to boat in a neat, swift motion. I was not the only one who watched the pilot’s departure, the officer of the watch, standing on the flying bridge would be there, too and usually members of the crew would pause to watch as well. It was a kind of ritual, it seemed to be done, always.

We now headed in a southerly direction. In 3 days or so we should be nearing Port Kembla, 450 nautical miles to steam.

I didn’t send an early ETA warning, with only 3 days sailing time. The Captain would decide when to do that. The message duly came from the Bridge a few hours before our arrival was due.

We picked up our pilot who took through the 2 concrete arms of the harbour and we berthed not far from the Steel Works. Again we were here for in the vicinity of 12-14 days, while unloaded what was left of the phosphate rock cargo.

Port Kembla was just a small town with one main street, Wentworth St., as far as I remember in 1952. I understand now Port Kembla is engulfed by the nearby city of Wollongong.

I well remember the one main street with the Steelworks Hotel at the top and the men’s toilets across the road on the way back to the wharf. The main street is still there today and so is the Steel Works Pub, and across the road, is that the toilets peeking out through the bushes or is it my imagination, when peering on Google Earth? The road seems much better than the one I remember in 1952.

I also remember the milk bar (now its called a coffee bar) a short way down the main street were we would often drop in, with its big shiny American jukebox which played all the latest tunes when a coin was inserted in the slot and then you pressed your selection(s). If the place was crowded you would probably have to wait for your selection to come up, they came up in selection order.

When we finished unloading we found our next port of call was to be Ocean Island, also like Nauru, almost on the equator.

Port Kembla Main Street - old and now. 2011

Port Kembla - Wentworth Street - (Main Street) circa 1952?


Posted By OldEric to OldEric: thoughts on 9/15/2011 11:30:00 AM

First draft:

12 September 2011

Sea Life 1952. Tynebank leave Geelong bound Fremantle

First Draft

Leaving Geelong and our pilot behind our ship, the Tynebank turned in a westerly direction to cross the Great Australian Bight for Western Australia and Fremantle. A few days after crossing the Bight we would enter the Indian Ocean and turn our heading in a northerly direction for Fremantle.

Our journey to Fremantle in Western Australia would take us about 15 days. Our cargo was to be grain and the destination to be the UK.

After carrying a “dirty cargo” of phosphate the holds needed to be cleaned down before loading grain. This kept the crew busy and the officers busy with supervision. The apprentices had to work with crew to learn how the job was done. Loading loose grain particularly, the holds had to be prepared so the grain had little movement and the load stayed level. Loose grain was a dangerous cargo to carry and if it shifted a dangerous tilt could be caused, or even capsizing the ship in foul weather.

The walls of the holds and flooring including between decks had to be washed down and clean. On completion the bilges had to be flushed out and clean. The 2 main ways of carrying grain was bulk and bagged. The Tynebank was a general cargo ship and so had to be ready to carry almost anything. Our cargo would probably have been bagged grain, I cannot remember. To carry bulk grain would mean building latitude and longitude walls of boards in the holds the keep the loose grain from moving. Today bulk like grain is carried in special ships called bulk carriers.

We eventually arrived off the port of Fremantle, picked up the pilot who took us into port and to our berth. Fremantle lies on the Swan River, the port is just inside the river mouth which is protected by breakwaters either side of the river mouth, each breakwater with its own stubby lighthouse. A short distance further up the Swan River is the capital of Western Australia, Perth.

It was  August in the southern hemisphere and early Spring. Western Australia is famous for its show of wild flowers. I remember we went out to nearby countryside to see the blooming of the flowers and like many before us, mightily impressed; flowers bloomed wherever there was a spare patch of ground.

We would have been here approximately 2 weeks, loading bagged grain. Loading times in 1952 was much slower than today. Twenty-four hour shifts and 7 days a week working was unknown in Australia then.

Periodically the Marconi Company, my employers required a major overhaul of the radio equipment. One day, here in Fremantle I had a visit from 2 engineers from the Amalgamated Wireless of Australasia (AWA).  They found little wrong except for worn valves in the communications receiver which they replaced. Later going outside the radio-room they checked the big bank of batteries and found there was deterioration. They indicated they would return tomorrow with a new bank of batteries. This they did and after doing a number of tests to check if everything worked correctly they asked me if I could drop the old ones over the side after a day or 2 at sea. They placed the old batteries in the radio-room so that I would not forget them.

During our time in port here in Fremantle I could see at an angle across the harbour a navy ship. In fact it was large, it was an aircraft carrier. I queried its reason and was told it was here for a series of nuclear tests. Or to put it, as called in 1952, atomic bomb tests. I took a photo of the Carrier with my camera but the distance was too great for my camera and the picture was small. I still have the black and white picture somewhere.

Recently, I dug around in Google. A number of atomic tests had been carried out in the uninhabited desert in  southern Australia and one test was still to be carried out with a target ship. The selected place was on a group of islands called the Monte Bello Islands, uninhabited and lying off the northwest coast of Western Australia. The target ship was to be moored within the reef, close to shore and a Hydrogen bomb placed 2 metres below the water line internally within the ship. The aircraft carrier was to monitor the explosion from a set distance on the horizon and take measurements.

Some of these following notes were taken from the writings of a sailor on the aircraft carrier which I found on Google. He said the crew were assembled on deck and instructed to cover their eyes with their hands. At the moment of explosion the flash was so intense his hands were blood red in colour and the bones of his hands were sharply outlined. He felt a sharp pain in his eyes from the blast. He said at first he thought he had forgotten to to put his hands over his eyes but quickly realized that he had already done so.

Another report said nothing remained of the target ship but small pieces which rained down on the island and the surrounding sea. Beneath where the target ship had been anchored in shallow water was a deep crater. By more modern standards the bomb was not a big one.

The aircraft carrier was the HMS Campania built in 1942/3.
The target ship, a frigate HMS Plym. also built circa 1943.

A few days later we were due to sail, our destination was to be Avonmouth near Bristol, UK. I enjoyed our stay in Fremantle, the main enjoyment here, seemed to be boating, fishing boats, sail boats, speed boats seemed to be everywhere. Around Fremantle everything seemed to be clean and tidy, even the wharves and commercial buildings. Recently I saw a real estate series on Sky TV, wherever the camera took us the city was so clean and tidy, the weather seemed to be always sunny with balmy a wind off the Indian Ocean keeping everything cool. A similar impression as when we were there, so many years ago.

My brother, John with Edith a few years ago, 4 years I think, on one of their visits to us in NZ decided to return to the UK via Western Australia and asked my opinion,  including the weather situation. I dug into Google and the results paralleled my impressions of the area. Talking to them sometime later, they loved Western Australia. So I didn't have my rose-tinted spectacles on after all

Well getting back to our voyage; we returned to the UK, crossing the Indian Ocean. Two days or so out from Fremantle, one by one I dragged the large batteries out and to the rail, heaving them over the side. Strange, I still think of those batteries now and then, I suppose they are still lying there on the bottom of the ocean. Crossing the Indian Ocean we now headed for the Suez Canal, passing through we we would  soon be close to the UK.

Arriving at Avonmouth I signed off the Tynebank on September 22 1952. A voyage of just over 41 weeks. Normally on the Bank Line ships a voyage can last up to 24 months. A travel voucher was waiting for me and via rail I headed back to home and 2 weeks leave.

29 July 2011

Sea Life 1952. Tynebank leave Newcastle NSW bound Geelong

First draft:

Time came to leave Newcastle in New South Wales and sail with our remaining cargo of rock phosphate for our second destination, Geelong.

The pilot was aboard, 2 tugs were sitting close by with our crew on alert fore and aft on our vessel , our engines turning over gently, all awaiting the pilot’s instructions from the bridge. Then the pilot gave the signal, and the tugs moved us slowly away from the wharf, into mid stream and paused, the tugs then just as slowly moved us 360 degrees round.
First, before sailing we needed to go to the coaling wharf to load bunkers for our journey. Arriving at the wharf, our 2 tugs at the pilot’s instructions  manoeuvred us smartly round, pointed us seaward, to be able to sail without the tugs assistance on our completion of coaling.

On completion of coaling we left the wharf under the pilot’s command, his instructions came quickly, to the engine room. Slowly forward then stop, slowly aft then pause, then forward again, then stop. Between these instructions other instructions went to the coaling crew on the wharf waiting fore and aft to loosen the ropes holding us to the wharf. Slowly, we drifted from the coaling wharf.

At the correct moment the pilot gave the order slow ahead and the Tynebank moved into the river channel. We moved down the twisty channel, then past Nobby’s Head and out of the harbour. The pilot was not ready to leave us yet, a number of ships were anchored, waiting for berths in the harbour. We cleared the vessels swung onto a southerly course and then our pilot decided to leave us.

Our journey would take us about 4.5 days. Past Sydney, round the “corner” and into Bass Strait separating Australia from Tasmania. We didn’t have radar so the officer of the watch needed keep a sharp lookout for there are many small islands in Bass Strait, strong currents and many fishing boats.

We were now approaching Port Phillip Bay and about 2.5 nautical miles from the entrance into the bay itself, we were met by the pilot boat. Our destination was of course not the port of Melbourne sitting at the northern head of the bay but the port of Geelong on the western side in its own separate bay.

Port Philip Bay is large, covering 1930 square kilometres and the shoreline is 264 kilometres in length.  Although it is extremely shallow for its size, most of the bay is navigable. The deepest portion is only 24 metres, and half the region is shallower than 8 m.

Geelong is tucked away in Corio Bay and is a pleasant city of 100,000 with many parks, reserves, gardens and green areas. The beach and long foreshore is its main draw card. The rainfall is low and the sun keeps to a moderate temperature of 25 degrees in summer.

The port area was neatly tucked away to the north end of the bay and like the town neat and tidy. I remember liking Geelong and all that went with it.

During our stay in Geelong we visited Melbourne mainly window shopping in the city centre and sightseeing around the city and many  its parks. 

Thinking back, during our time in Port Kembla we had wanted to find  possible local dances... there weren't any, nearest ones were in nearby Wollongong. We had got 2 taxi's, one of the drivers suggested a particular place so he had taken us there. There was plenty of activity but no one would dance with us, apparently we were considered strangers. I didn't try my luck at all, I couldn't dance.

One day whilst walking down a street in Geelong and window shopping, I came across a door next to a shop advertising "Dance Academy, upstairs and open". My thought went back to our time in Port Kembla and dancing, I then thought for a minute, then I hopped up the stairs and knocked on the door from which music was emanating. A lady maybe 38 opened the door and invited me in. I said I wanted to learn to dance, so she asked me a few questions including "what kind of dancing". When she understood, she suggested 3 or 4 lessons would get me going enough to be able to go down to the local dance hall  and get some practise in. I don't know now how much it cost but it didn't seem at all expensive. So we arranged next day for the first lesson. She taught me the steps for the different dances and by the forth lesson I could manage to stay off treading on her toes.  

In those days, down at the local dance hall there was mainly, only 3 dances types, foxtrot, quick step and waltz. Jive, rock n' roll, swing were "just nosing in the door" in the 1950s.

In Geelong , I didn't get the chance to go to a dance. It wasn't until I got back to the UK before I could put my "skills" to use and then only after a couple of beers.

We were coming  to the end of our time in Geelong, our cargo would be unloaded in a couple of days. One afternoon I wandered up to the bridge and wandered into the chartroom, the first  officer had a chart out and plotting a route, he looked up and said "hello Sparks, heard the news?'... "Don't think so", I replied. He said      "we're due to sail for Fremantle when we finish here, picking up a load of wheat, not sure for where yet". We talked awhile and then I wandered off, wondering where our destination might be.

A couple of days later we left Geelong. As usual our pilot turned up to take us down the channel and through the heads. Then, dropping off the pilot, we started to head westerly across the Great Australian Bight, light ship for Fremantle in Western Australia.

15 July 2011

Sea Life 1952. Tynebank leave Brisbane bound Port Kembla

First draft:
In the early afternoon we left our sad, lonesome berth at the Phosphate wharf on the Brisbane River; 2 tugs from the Port lower down the river came up to pulled us off the wharf . Our pilot was aboard and at his command , the tugs pulled us off the wharf and then at a further command the tugs slowly pulled us 180 degrees round to point us down river and towards the open sea. We now picked up speed and soon passed Port Brisbane on our starboard, (right-hand side) and continued into open water. There waiting for us was the pilot boat ready to pick up our pilot.

I used to usually watch over the side as the pilot, quickly shaking the captain's hand turned, and as quickly descended the rope ladder, then pausing at the bottom as the pilot boat, keeping pace with us, slowly nearing the rope ladder, the pilot ready to hop from ladder to boat in a neat, swift  motion. I was not the only one who watched the pilot’s departure, the officer of the watch, standing on the flying bridge would be there, too and usually members of the crew would pause to watch as well. It was a kind of ritual, it seemed to be done, always.

We now headed in a southerly direction. In 3 days or so we should be nearing Port Kembla, 450 nautical miles to steam.

I didn’t send an early ETA warning, with only 3 days sailing time. The Captain would decide when to do that. The message duly came from the Bridge a few hours before our arrival was due.

We picked up our pilot who took through the 2 concrete arms of the harbour and we berthed not far from the Steel Works.  Again we were here for in the vicinity of 12-14 days, while unloaded what was left of the phosphate rock cargo.

Port Kembla was just a small town with one main street, Wentworth St., as far as I remember in 1952. I understand now Port Kembla is engulfed by the nearby city of Wollongong.

I well remember the one main street with the Steelworks Hotel at the top and the men’s toilets across the road on the way back to the wharf. The main street is still there today and so is the Steel Works Pub, and across the road, is that the toilets peeking out through the bushes or is it my imagination, when peering on Google Earth? The road seems much better than the one I remember in 1952.

I also remember the milk bar (now its called a coffee bar) a short way down the main street were we would often drop in, with its big shiny American jukebox which played all the latest tunes when a coin was inserted in the slot and then you pressed your selection(s). If the place was crowded you would probably have to wait for your selection to come up, they came up in selection order.

When we finished unloading we found our next port of call was to be Ocean Island, also like Nauru, almost on the equator.

10 July 2011

Sea Life 1952. Tynebank leave Nauru Island bound Brisbane.

First draft:
We left Nauru Island full to the gills of phosphate rock for part discharge at the port of Brisbane and then the remaining phosphate at Port Kembla, just south of Sydney. We retraced our journey down into the Coral Sea, then bearing west towards Brisbane, then entering the inside of the Great Barrier Reef and sailing down the coast to Brisbane.

Loading the phosphate rock in Nauru had taken only 36 hours but unloading in Brisbane was a different matter, the process was slow in 1952, 14 days to discharge half of our cargo. The Port of Brisbane is situated at the mouth and lower reaches of the Brisbane river. I can remember very little of where we were berthed. It was certainly not in the Port area, our berth was on the southern bank of the river with no other shipping in sight. There was a railway line nearby with passenger facilities; we used this facility to go into Brisbane city  further up river. Our berth was in a desolate area with nothing but phosphate storage facilities and possibly crushing facilities. There were many large sheds I remember and not much else.

I do remember going up to the city a few times but not much else. The city I understand today is modern in look; in 1952 the city buildings were old and to my young eyes had an almost ugly, tired look to their heavy, dull stone facades.

The last evening of our stay, quite a few of us went up to the city for a night out, for a few beers followed by a visit to the city dancehall packed full of young Australians. To cut a long story short I got parted from my shipmates and I fell in with a friendly bunch of young Australians. Late in the evening I asked by chance if there were trains running to where we were berthed. Someone piped up that they were going last train in that direction  and to stick with them.

Later getting on the last train and seated I again asked if the train would be going past the Phosphate berth and a number of  voices now piped  up with a resounding “no”. A few started to ask the reason when they saw the look on my face. One of the group said “ look you can have a bed at our place for the night. Its on the veranda but the mosquito netting works pretty well and we will see what we can do about the problem in the morning”.

I remember waking up around 4.30 in the morning and thought about my situation. Thinking what if  the ship sails early morning? I hopped out of bed and found my new friend snoring happily. After 2-3 shakes he came to and I asked him to point me in the wharf direction. He took me up to the main road  ad said to follow the road until I came to a certain land mark, I forgot what, and turn right at the junction which would take me directly to the wharf.

I set off down the road at a steady pace, the sun was up, it was summer  After 30-40 minutes walking I could hear a rattling in the distance. I came to a side road on my left and I could see the cause of the rattling. A number of wagons were loading milk bottles for street delivery from a bottling plant. I walked the few yards down the side road to the building and stuck my head through the door and a man looked in my direction and asked what he could do for me. I quickly told him my story, he said I was going in the right direction and it was still quite a long way to walk and  the sun would soon be getting hot. I asked him if there would be a nearby taxi I could call. He scratched his head and said “not at this time of the morning”.  As I turned away he said “wait a minute, I’ve got a good mate who is a taxi driver. I‘ll see if I can rouse him and see if he has any ideas. He knows the area well.  The phone rang and rang and then he said into the mouth piece, “is that you Bob?” (I used the name Bob I haven’t a clue what his name really was). It was Bob. They talked for a while, discussing my problem.

Then the milkman said “ you’ve been up a while now,  Bob, how about doing this your fella a good turn and bring your taxi round and help him out” as he said this he turned to me and winked. There was silence, then the milkman held the phone away from his ear and left it there for a while. I could hear a raised voice coming out of the phone, but couldn’t hear what was said. Bob sounded angry. All the time the milkman was smiling. After a while the angry voice slowly died away. The milkman said into the phone “You’ll be round in 10 minutes? You’re a good cobber, Bob.

The milkman and I talked for a while until we heard the slam of a car door and a ruffled fellow walked in, in shorts and shirt. The milkman greeted him with “ I knew I could depend on you, Bob, to get this young fella out of trouble”. You’re a real good mate, one of the best. By this time Bob had half a smile on his face and he said” come on young fella, we’ll get you down to the wharf before that ship sails.

On the way to the wharf, Bob told me all about his best mate, the milkman and when we reached the wharf Bob didn’t want to take anything for the journey. We argued for a while until I told him to have a few schooners of beer with the milkman for the help both had given me.

With a wave I headed for the corner of the large metal building, turned the corner and there was the “Tynebank” still moored  to the wharf. I needed not to have worried, the second mate was passing as I climbed the gangplank, he stopped when he saw me  and said “thought we had lost you last night… jumped ship“. I laughed and asked him what time we were sailing and he said, “probably early this afternoon”

I have always liked Australians and still do. They are a cheery  bunch and I found, easy to get on with. Always ready to give you a hand.

7 July 2011

Nauru. Phosphate loading mechanism

Sea Life 1952. Tynebank Nauru Island.

First draft
We left Sydney after bunkering, with our orders to sail for Nauru Island roughly 2200 nautical miles away, almost on the equator and roughly NE of  the Solomon Islands. The journey at our best speed of 6.5 knots would take us around 15days. We steamed in a north-easterly  direction and crossing the Tropic of Capricorn, we passed into the Coral Sea. Then  through the gap between the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu (which in 1952 was called the New Hebrides), we now had a relatively short run to Nauru. As was my usual practise when we were a 2 days or so from our destination I radioed our EST to the little coast station.

Soon we got our first glimpse of Nauru, a haze of greenery from the palm trees on the coastal strip and then the pylons of the loading ramps as pictured above of the phosphate loader. The concrete and steel pylons stretch out into the sea to the coral reef edge where the reef drops sharply into deep water. At this point a telescopic heavy duty flying lattice arm protrudes over the deep water to which the ship ties up.
On top of this lattice work runs a conveyor belt which carries the crushed phosphate rock from shore. The phosphate then pours into a long swivelled metal tube which in turn guides and pours the phosphate into each of the ships holds in turn.

The phosphates were seabird droppings, known as guano, deposited on the coral island over millions of years which slowly over time turned into phosphate rock.

The loading of the Tynebank took 36 hours, I think. I didn’t go ashore here. Nauru is not a very nice place as we shall see below. Although when looking into the deep crystal clear water over the ships side,  the view was beautiful, full of both multicoloured coral and fish and when nearer to shore, plant life. The shoreline when viewed along the length was pleasant, too with swaying palms and white sandy beaches. The ugly part of Nauru was the centre of the island.

In 1970s and 80s Nauru was favoured by scuba divers and spear fishermen in the deep water of the edge of the reef.

The following is a short description of the island which I found, trawling on Google. 
Nauru, once called the Pleasant Island, is nowadays far from being a paradise. Nauruan’s have lost their little island, severely devastated by mining, and face an uncertain future even as a nation. Some would blame original exploiters
for environmental disaster (Great Britain, Australia, etc.) as they mined out about2/3rds of the phosphates. But the truth is that after becoming an independent republic Nauru kept on mining the phosphates until recent exhaustion.

When we were fully loaded we headed back to Australia and our ports of call were to be Brisbane and then Port Kembla, just south of Sydney.

Nauru, once called the Pleasant Island, is nowadays far from being a paradise. Nauruan’s have lost their little island, severely devastated by mining, and face an uncertain future even as a nation. Some would blame original exploiters for environmental disaster (Great Britain, Australia, etc.) as they mined out about 2/3 of the phosphates. But the truth is that after becoming an independent republic Nauru kept on mining the phosphates until recent exhaustion.

Nauru island 8 sq. miles

17 April 2011

First draft: Sunday Morning Jobs
Lovely sunny morning. It had been raining for the last 36 hours which was needed. I borrowed a small incinerator from our neighbour, just across the paddock. The breeze was coming from the south-west an ideal, day for burning all of our outdated invoices, bills, etc., and at the same time, the breeze keeping the smoke from our nearby neighbours.

I messed up my Favorites on one of my computers the other day and this morning I decided to fix the problem. There are well over 2000 entries, mainly for Trainz, when I started, it seemed fairly simple to sort out but it took me over 2 hours to unravel.

 A&C have got tenants for their new house, they are a Filipino family, husband, wife and 2 teenage children. The wife is a Geotech engineer and her husband also works in the same business. Pat opines that they may be working on the new motorway bypass and ring-road for Hamilton, Ngaruawhaia and we hope, Huntly, too.

2 April 2011

Sea Life. Tynebank in Port at Sydney, Australia

Circular Quay

First draft
In 1952 Woolloomooloo in Sydney was a run down area and one of the more common places for merchant ships to dock, loading and unloading cargo. We were here to unload all our cargo over a few days. I made the most of my time in Sydney and as a young person came to love my time here. The city centre was less than a mile from our ship’s berth and buses and trams were frequent. Sydney in 1952 was an easy place to get around with streets running mainly north-south and east-west, trams seemed to run everywhere in the city centre and further afield. Today the Woolloomooloo area has been upgraded and many of the adjacent Victorian streets swept away and the wharves and warehouses upgraded to become expensive upmarket apartments and cafes.

Usually, if on my own I made my way through the Royal Botanical Gardens lying next to the Woolloomooloo quayside and come out at Circular Quay. Here the crowds swirl to and from the many ferries operating from here, for Sydney is a harbour city made up of a myriad small bays. In 1952 most of the population of 1,500,000 or thereabouts lived on or close to one of the many Sydney bays. As I write this in 2011 the population of Sydney has increased to well over 4,500,000 and the population is now more extensively spread.

It was Sydney that I bought my first camera, I was in Pitt St ( I think, it was so long ago) outside the main railway station, just inside the entrance was a small camera shop with a good selection of cameras in the window. My eye fell on a fold-up one and on impulse I decided to buy it. The man in the shop seemed well versed in cameras and queried what kind of photography I was interested in and, after I told him he pulled out the fold-up camera from the window and suggested that this might be the best one for me. I was pleased, for I had not indicated which one I was interested in. I bought it on the spot along with a few rolls of film and I went down to Circular Quay to try the camera out. I found I had to get up close, telescopic lenses were not common in those days. I used up one roll of film and returned to the camera shop and enquired how long it would take to develop it. He told me that he developed the film himself and it would be ready tomorrow. I returned the following day and he had the photo’s ready for me. He then proceeded to give me instructions how to use the camera to take better pictures; close up, or if unable to get close up, how to adjust to take a sharp picture so that it could be enlarged. He also gave me, a raw novice, a few more tips to help me on my way.

The first evening of our arrival in Sydney, 5 of us decided to have a night out at Luna Park across the harbour. Riders on the ‘Wall of Death’ was popular to watch. We missed the last ferry, 10.30 pm. A lone taxi driver said he was just going home to the top end of the harbour, he offered leave the meter off and switch it on only when he passed his home, taking us back to our ship. The cost was not very much when shared between us. Sydney harbour is 50 miles around by road, it would have been a long way to walk!

Over the years, sometimes in an idle mood, I have wondered why we could not have gone over the Harbour Bridge. There was a reason, I’m sure, 1952 was so long ago to remember the reason, but for a long time now, I have thought, I wonder if……?

Driving around the harbour road and looking out of the taxi window I well remember the front gardens of houses as we passed, oranges glistening on branches the trees in the street light glow. Strange how apparently, small inconsequential remembrances are remembered, so clearly.

This reminds me of another clear remembrance. Walking up from the ship at Woolloomooloo, was a row of tall 3 story narrow terraced houses. Narrow enough to fit only a door and a window in at the front ground floor. The upper 2 floors had a single wide window, with a wide narrow balcony, with woven ironwork railings. Each house, was similar. Sometime before the upgrade of the Woolloomooloo area these houses, when becoming vacant were purchased by the Yuppie set and upgraded by them and painted in various bright colours. From recent photos on Google I noticed this upgrade in turn was swept away by the later major upgrade of the Woolloomooloo area. No doubt any of the Yuppie set, if still there would have made a good profit on their purchase… at least I hope so.

I have some other clear remembrances’ of Sydney. The first was my introduction to crayfish (lobster in the UK), I was a hungry young man and usually had a meal at a small café up from Circular Quay in a side street. Special on the menu one day, was fresh caught crayfish with chips and salad. Just the ticket, I thought and shortly after ordering I was presented with a large plate with a half crayfish looking at me. It was really a medium sized Cray split down the middle long ways, but to my eyes, it was still large.

The fellow (owner) who brought it to me saw me staring at it and he said “not had Cray before? I answered, “no”. He said “eat the tail first, if you can’t eat the rest, it doesn’t look too bad when I collect the empty plate”, then he said “see that funny looking tool there, its for cracking the legs to suck out the meat… that’s if you manage to get that far” and he gave me a friendly chuckle, I smiled back.

I did my self proud with that Cray, I managed most of it, including the chips, some salad was left, I think. I sat back in the chair and stretched as the man brought me the drink I had ordered. He looked at the almost empty plate, smiled and said “you must have been hungry”. The café was empty by this time; he sat down and we talked for a while.

Another clear remembrance; on one of Sydney’s main streets just up from Circular Quay was a group of shops one floor up of what today we would call a mall. One shop was what was termed, in Australia, a “milk bar”. It had a long counter with swivel seats and booth type leather seats on the opposite side if you preferred, just like on the American movies. I used to call in here regularly for a milk shake. My favourite was banana flavoured malted milk. I used to usually sit on one of the swivel seats at the counter.

In this mall just up from the milk bar was a jewellers shop with an advert to buy gold. I was getting a bit short of money which I could draw on. I had a pair of cuff links I didn’t use, said to be gold, They came from Sharrow Bay, leftovers from when the house was sold and were marked with the gold stamp which I was sure was the gold mark. Next day I took the cuff links into the jewellers and proffered them to the goldsmith who took them over to his workbench. He weighed the cufflinks and said that they were close to the expected weight but to be sure he would have to melt a hole into one of the hinged links to be sure. This he did when I said that was ok. He looked up and said “sorry, gold plate only” and handed them back to me. I didn’t feel ratty about the incident, neither did I throw them away, I kept them for many years in one of my drawers.

One day I met by chance a young fellow, somewhat older than me and we got into conversation. Asking what I was doing in Australia, I told him. He gave a surprised laugh and told me that he too was a radio officer, but on an Australian ship. Exchanging reminisces for a while, he asked me, out of the blue, would I be interested in swapping positions on our respective ships. He wanted to go to the UK and get on the British ships. He caught me left footed with the question, I confessed what I had seen of Australia in the short time we had been here, I liked, very much. He continued the Marconi company with whom I was employed had lose connections with the company with whom he was employed. This was the Amalgamated Wireless of Australia (AWA). We talked a while longer before parting and I gave him our ships phone number. He said he would ring in 3 days, early morning.

I went back to the Tynebank and had lunch. A short time afterwards, when Captain Betts left the lunch-table I got up from the table too, then asked the steward if he knew which direction the captain had headed. He told me the he had gone up to his cabin. Heading up the stairs, I knocked on the door of his cabin, I got a cheery “come in”.

I told Captain Betts the story and he patiently listened me out. He replied that it was quite possible to exchange ships and it was sometimes done, but sometimes there could be problems. It was usually done through the shipping agents. He had been mixed up in a similar situation once before and had trouble with the ships owners on his return to the UK, he did not want to go through the process again.

He said he was sorry but the answer was “no”.

We talked for a while before I left the captain. I was disappointed.

Next morning I remember laying in my bunk thinking the problem over. Maybe what the captain had said was for the best. He did say AWA were very short of Radio Officers and if I put in an application from the UK, I was likely to have a 10 pound immigration clearance and possibly refunded by AWA. My friend rang 3 days later and I told him of my decision, he didn’t sound too disappointed. He said the chance at the time of our meeting was too good to miss.

During the 1950s and later, the Australia Govt. encouraged a big wave of immigration into Australia, mainly from the UK. They became known as “10 Pound POMs”.

Circular Quay and the CBD districts have changed much since my 1952 visit. I sometimes think I would like to visit Sydney again and see all the changes. I doubt the small camera shop, the café or the milk bar and goldsmith would now exist. The ferries are still there at Circular Quay but from photographs much has changed in that vicinity also.

After about 10 days we left our Woolloomooloo berth and anchored in a berthing area in the harbour waiting for our sailing instructions. Within a few days our sailing instructions arrived. We were to sail for Nauru Island.

8 February 2011

 Sea Life 1952. Tynebank bound Sydney, Australia.

Panama -  Bridge of the Americas. South entrance to Canal.
First draft:
We left Balboa mid afternoon, and with the aid of tugs we pulled away from the coaling wharf and waited for a break to join the convoy of ships heading away from the Panama Canal in their various directions. We passed underneath the Bridge of the Americas and into the Gulf of Panama. As usual I called the radio coast station and sent our TR message and he acknowledged receipt.

The journey from Panama down to Australia is a long one, in the vicinity of 8,000 nautical miles and a slow ship like the Tynebank at 6.knots took us 52 days. I have the days taken imprinted in my brain.

At first the voyage seemed normal, just as any other voyage from port to port but as the days progressed to 3-4 weeks a sense of isolation seemed to start to chew at my innards. Each day was the same doing watches 7 days a week and as we got further and further away from land, in the middle of the Pacific, fewer and fewer signals could be heard especially during the day watches. It was better at night, signals would come in from much further afield. The logbook which required an entry, at least every 10 minutes became full of “no signals” entries. I would turn up the volume and wander outside and sometimes come across a like soul likely feeling the same.

It wasn’t that I had nothing to do. Traffic lists still had to be taken on the HF bands (shortwave) at the beginning of each watch, with an occasional message for the Master. Weather forecasts, too were taken daily.

I think I should have had a hobby to indulge in. In the days of sail many old sailors had similar troubles and used rope work and carving to name a few, to while the time away. Holdling an amatuer radio lisence G3IJX, sometimes I would listen to the amateur “ham bands” and occasionally come across amateurs’ with a marine prefix. I made enquires but I didn’t get very far, marine amateur operation was banned on British ships. The ones I heard using a maritime prefix, were from ships flying “flags of convenience”… mainly, in 1952 from Liberia and Panama.

My other main hobby, philately really was out of the question due to a heavy baggage problem.

On board ship the best way if possible was to make friends, but this had its limitations. Of the officer‘s, the choice was limited often by age and numbers to choose from; 3deck and 3 engineering . If you are relatively young or older, that limited  the choice further. So as can be seen, on long trips it can be a problem. If you come across a like type you are in luck. The best compromise seemed to be a drop in, now and then kind of friend for a chat.

Over the almost 8 weeks journey, and thinking about Panama City and the black transmitter case, which I had picked up from the street collection rubbish pile; when a friend dropped into my cabin and if I happened to open my wardrobe door and they happened to see the black case sitting in the wardrobe bottom, they would sometimes say with a laugh, “oh, I see you still haven’t tossed that tin can over the side yet!” or something similar, and I would answer with my stock reply “it’s going home” with a laugh.

So to sum it up, if you are the gregarious type of person, the sea going life is not the best place for you, if you are an officer. If you can stand your own company for periods of time, that is better. From experience I preferred the drop in, now and then, type of friend the best and reciprocate in similar fashion.

One evening during my last watch of the day I heard a weak signal and slipped on my headphones, it was Hawaii calling with a traffic list and then some days after this I heard French Polynesia in then the late afternoon, soon Auckland, NZ became audible in the late afternoons as we sailed further west and then shortly other NZ coast stations. We eventually pass north of North Cape, North Island, New Zealand. I could now hear VIB Brisbane and VIS Sydney. Two days out from Sydney I sent a TR message to VIS advising our time of arrival and shortly afterwards a message arrived for the Master and he replied. There now seemed to be a spring in everyone’s step including mine, another couple of days and we would see land again.

Two days later Sydney heads was sighted and soon the pilot boat. We picked up the pilot and he took us through Sydney Heads to our berth at Woolloomooloo just short of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Ferries.

Sydney harbour impressed me greatly from the very beginning, I didn’t know it then but some years later I would write an essay for an examination for my entry into the RAF and I picked Sydney Harbour for my piece.

The Black Case
The case did go home with me, but I never found a use for it. In fact, when we moved to New Zealand in 1966, the black case came with us in the wooden packing case which travelled by sea, full of our belongings. I still had the black case unused until we thought about selling the house in 2009. We had a big clean out under the house and elsewhere, I remember looking at the black painted aluminium case, now harbouring small radio bits and pieces and reluctantly, I tossed it into the rubbish skip along with many more useless bits and pieces I had collected over 42 years.

As I write this in 2011, I now realize I had grown fond of that black case, I had picked it up off the streets of Panama City in 1952 and brought it home, it reminded me of times past as it sat there in the basement,
unused, with odd radio bits and pieces in it.

And again as I write this today, I wonder now, with second thoughts if I should have thrown it out. As I sit here thinking, I realize now that, that black case was a souvenir in its own right. Today I know without a doubt, I would not have tossed the black case out into the skip as rubbish… I would have kept it… and if we do eventually move I would have found a use for it.

When we moved to New Zealand in 1966 I became ZL1ADD, but a few years ago I gave up amatuer radio and turned to computers.

When I sat down today my plan was to finish this piece above, I had no idea I was going to write about the black case.

2 February 2011

Sea Life 1952. Tynebank bound Panama Canal

First draft
After dropping the Galveston pilot, the Tynebank set a southerly course across the Gulf of Mexico, passing across the Tropic of Cancer on course to pass between the western tip of Cuba and the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula, then into the Caribbean Sea and heading for the Panama Canal. Each day the weather got a little warmer as I took the weather forecast reports twice a day for the Bridge.

This leg of our voyage to the Panama Canal was about 2750 miles from Galveston Bay and at 6.5 knots took us roughly 18 days. 24 hours before arriving at the northern end of the Canal I made contact with the radio coast station and sent our TR message which included our Estimate Time of Arrival (ETA). I was instructed to advise again when we were 3 hours from Cristobal port. We picked up the harbour pilot outside Cristobal port who took us though the breakwater entrance to our mooring to await our canal pilot to take us though the canal.

I suddenly realized during this, our journey to the Panama Canal I had, had my 18th birthday

The Panama Canal is 77 kilometres (48miles) long and the passage takes 8-10 hours to complete. Our turn came to enter the Canal and in a short time we reached the Gatun Locks. These locks lift us up in 3 stages into Gatun Lake. The Locks are 2way so ships can travel in both directions. Gatun Lake takes us more than half way of our journey. The lake is full of islands, big and small and makes our journey twisted. We turn from Lake Gatun into the Culebra Cut.

The Gaillard Cut, or Culebra Cut, is an artificial valley 540 metres(0.33 miles) wide that cuts through the continental divide in Panama. The cut forms part of the Panama Canal, linking Lake Gatun and thereby the Atlantic Ocean, to the Gulf of Panama and hence the Pacific Ocean. It is 12.6 km (7.8 mi) from the Pedro Miguel lock on the Pacific side to the Chagres River arm of Lake Gatun, with a water level 26 m (85 ft) above sea level.

Note: For further information look for “Culebra Cut” in Wikipedia.

Traversing the Culebra Cut we arrive at 3 locks, Pedro Miguel Lock, then the 2 Miraflores Locks. These 3 locks drop us down to the level of the Pacific Ocean.

Leaving Miraflores Locks we now head for Balboa, just north of the Bridge of the Americas at the Pacific entrance to the Canal. We needed enough bunkers (fuel) to take us across the Pacific to Sydney, Australia. Our fuel was coal and took well over 24 hours to load. A number of us took the opportunity of having a night out in Panama City about 7kilometres (5 miles) away. We would not see land again for quite a some time. We ordered a taxi for 5 of us from the ship’s phone (a phone was always connected to the ship soon after the ship is berthed alongside the dock. No cell phones in 1952!).

We had an excellent evening with a meal and a few beers to follow. We met quite a few friendly resident Americans posted here on Canal business. The canal belonged to the USA in 1952 (handed over fully to the Panama Republic in 1999). In the early hours of the morning we wandered down to a nearby taxi stand for our transport. On the way we passed a number of shops, one shop happened to be a radio shop and of course I peered in. As I turned away I noticed a heap of rubbish out on the pavement edge for next days collection. One of the items was a black aluminium transmitter case with most of its insides removed but the front panel intact. It wasn’t very big and quite light so I tucked it under my arm. I got quite a few surprised queries as we walked along. I explained I held an amateur radio licence and when home, I often built transmitter accessories and often wanted a case to use. I got quite a few chuckles and shaking of heads as we wandered along. We caught our taxi and we were soon back on board, in our bunks and asleep.
Tomorrow we would sail for Sydney, Australia.

24 January 2011

Sea Life 1952. Tynebank bound Houston Texas

First draft:
Leaving Galveston Island with a pilot on board we moved up to the Galveston harbour to the entrance. Here we turned to port (left) to pick up the Houston Ship Channel Entrance Lighted Buoy 18 in Galveston Bay and headed in a straight north westerly direction following the Houston Ship Channel until we reached Ship Channel Light 54 as we slowly pass up past the buoys we reach Morgan’s Point and we enter the Houston River. From here by river Houston is 28miles away and the Houston Ship Channel runs for roughly 22miles from the river entrance.

As the river winds its way along, the Houston River is very wide in places. For much of the 22miles it is heavily populated with industry of all kinds, both sides of the river. Many areas are oil tank farms, refining facilities, petrochemical plants, general cargo outlets plus mid-west grain outlets, shipping berths are many along the full length of the Ship Channel from the river mouth. Housing and public facilities is for the most part well back from the river. A few parks and sports could be seen here and there. Trees and greenery could also be seen along the river edges in places on waste ground, probably just waiting for industry development.

In the lower reaches the river it was noted that quite a few US navy ships were berthed.I’m not sure where we berthed along the river, I would guess about 2 thirds of the way along, this seemed to be where most of the general cargo ships were berthed. We seemed to be here for 3-4 days unloading our USA cargo and loading fresh cargo for Australia. .

During our stay I didn’t go into busy Houston, I decided to have a look around locally and to possibly pick up some souvenirs. Although it was 1952 and WW2 had been over almost 7 years, luxury items were scarce in the UK with even a few things still rationed, I think. I made some enquires of the US officials coming and going on board and most pointed me in the direction of a shopping complex not too far away as my best choose locally if I didn’t want to go up into Houston city centre.

The road I was pointed to was sealed and dusty with a footpath on one side with a few buildings dotted here and there, and overhead power lines hanging on bent poles. The land seemed to have been cleared, I remember thinking that it was not a very inviting area. I seemed to be the only person walking, with a few cars going to and from the docks. I think I must have walked a mile to the shopping area and during that time at least 2 cars stopped and asked me if I wanted a lift. This seemed somewhat strange to me, this did not often happed in the UK. I was suspicious and refused politely with at least a smile, I think. I remember mentioning the fact when I got back to the Tynebank during dinner that evening. The consensus of opinion was that this was not unusual in the USA. Americans tended to be friendly people and drive everywhere, a lonely figure, tidily dressed on the road was probably from a ship at the docks going up town and maybe would like a lift.

Reaching the shopping area I had a good look around, I remember looking into a window display of radio and electrical items and within seconds a salesman came hurrying out of the shop doorway wanting to know what I was interested in and I told him I was just, window shopping. Not satisfied with that he tried to sell me a TV… “Just got some new stock in” he said as he tried to shepherd me inside. TVs were all the rage in USA then. When I laughed and said no he tried to sell me something else. I then explained I was off a ship in port, that deflated him and he wandered back inside and didn’t want to talk any longer. So that was my first encounter with a fast talking, pushy American salesman. Further down the road I had similar encounter of a salesman trying to edge me into his shop, I don’t remember what that was now. I found the encounters quite humorous, thinking we were lucky not to have that kind of thing in the UK, at least not in 1952.

I wandered down the street until the shops began to peter out and I walked back up the other side of the street. I remember buying something in one of the shops. But for the life of me I can’t remember what it was now. There was not a lot people in the street I do remember, I enjoyed the walk even though I still had a mile or so to walk back to the ship. My legs were used to walking and biking and climbing fells in the English Lake District. Later on I found it was pleasant to get away from the ship like this, just for a walk when in port, not only just to stretch my legs but to see something different also, even if though it might be a bit scruffy or dirty.Next day we were due to sail, as before we discharged cargo and picked up more for Australia. I suppose this is why the name of this type of ship came from; “tramp ship”, tramping from port to port.

We sailed with our pilot again down the river section of the Houston Ship Channel, out of the river entrance and into Galveston Bay. Here in the Bay the channel was still called the Houston Ship Channel, and so it was, right down the Bay until it and we reached the Bay entrance into the Gulf of Mexico. Someway out of the Bay entrance we slowed to drop off the pilot. We watched the pilot climb quickly down the rope ladder thrown over the ships’ side and as he jumped nimbly into the boat, with a smile and a quick wave he was gone. At the Captains’ order to the officer of the watch who then in turn “rang full steam ahead”, the Tynebanks’ engines, after a few moments slowly changed their note. We were on our way to The Panama Canal.