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.

Sea Life 1952 Tynebank bound Galveston Texas

First draft:
After leaving New Orleans with our pilot aboard we made our way down the Mississippi River back into the Gulf of Mexico. Dropping the pilot off we made our way almost due East to the port of Galveston in Texas. A trip of approximately 2 days or so for us.

Galveston sits at the west end of the mouth of Galveston Bay. Roughly, the Bay is 24 miles wide by 21 miles going inland and just a 7 to 10 feet deep. Across the mouth of the bay is a long low island acting as a breakwater. For large ships numerous deep channels have been dredged up to 50-55 feet deep and of good width. The main deep water channels seem to go to Galveston Island, Texas City and also up to the Houston River, the channel continuing up river to almost to Houston City which is some 44 miles inland and north west of Galveston as the crow flies.

Looking on Google, Galveston Island is a long elongated island thickening at the eastern end. On this thickened end is Galveston City. A dual carriageway road on a causeway joins Galveston City to the mainland. Paralleling this causeway runs a railway feeding Galveston docks. Here the crescent shaped harbour lies between Galveston Island and nearby Pelican Island, the harbour being 400 and 800 metres wide and 6 kilometres long.

The docks and wharves on the south side of the harbour seemed to stretch for about 3 kilometres. The rest of the south side seemed a mixture of marinas, small coastal freighter berths, ferries terminals, fish wharves and a few very large berths for cruise ships, servicing the nearby Caribbean; Galveston is in an ideal position for cruise ships.

On the northern side of the harbour on Pelican Island is a mixture of coastal freighter berths, oil depots, oilrig and ship repair berths, fishing wharves and probably a few more things. Pelican Island is served by another causeway, this one via a 2 lane highway only and a single railway track.

In 1952 when we visited, Galveston Bay seemed to be busy with oil refining facilities and oil rigs dotted about the Bay, with oil and gas wells on shore. The Bay water then seemed to be muddy and polluted in places. Today Wikipedia states that a massive cleanup started in the 1970s and looking today on Google Images this seems very true. Many, many pictures of fine fishing catches can be seen, and many of the fish are large. The Bay now hosts dolphins escorting boats and ships within the harbour. Today most of the Bay oil wells are gone, Deep water off shore oil rigs now take their place but the refineries are still there, now mostly along shores of the Houston River but their activities are now cleaned up.

13 January 2011

Sea Life 1951-1952. Tynebank bound New Orleans USA

First draft:
The morning after we left Middlesbrough and heading southerly down the coast of England I was wakened by the steward at 07.00 am with a cup of chai on his tray. I quickly drank it and then had a wash and a shave in the cabin sink. Getting dressed, I put on my nice warm doeskin uniform, not animal skin, doeskin was a fine, smooth, soft, woollen fabric. By the time I had done all this it was time for an early breakfast at 07.30z and then ready for my first watch of the day starting at 0800z.

During the first watch I again checked the traffic list but there was nothing for us. I then made myself familiar with the rest of the wireless room and signed myself in the log for the day required at 10 minute intervals. Also listening at the specified times of 15minutes and 45 minutes past the hour for the 3minutes silence period for any possible distress call. And so it was, the same day after day as we crossed the Atlantic.

During this time I got to know better the Captain and 3 deck officers or mates as they were known and also the Chief and 3 Engineers. We carried 2 apprentices sometimes known as Cadets. They were about the same age as me. Of them all I cannot remember any of their names now, but I can still see their faces lodged within my memory.

We had left Middlesbrough on a cold December 8 1951 and arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana USA January 14 1952, 36 days later. The Tynebank was a slow old tramp ship making only 6.5 knots.

As we slowly crossed the Atlantic Ocean the days grew slowly warmer and then we reached the coast of Florida. The temperature was now nice and warm, at around 22 degrees Centigrade. Christmas Day found us still in the Atlantic Ocean and New Years Day in the Gulf of Mexico enjoying a pleasant temperature. To celebrate these holidays we had a few extras with our meal, otherwise the day was just the same with watches be kept as we wished each other a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.

We made our way down the Florida coast passing Miami, rounding the Florida Keys not far north of Cuba and into the Gulf of Mexico. Then we angled northerly across to the Mississippi Delta sticking out into the Gulf. A couple of days before we reached the Delta I made contact with the nearest coast station and sent our TR message. At the entrance of the Delta we picked up the pilot to guide us up the Mississippi. New Orleans was about 90 miles up river from were we picked up the pilot. Once in the delta and well up the Mississippi I closed down the ship's radio. As we passed up the river there was nothing but swamp to be seen during low tide, as we progressed up above the tidal line low levee's appeared. The first habitation was the small town of Venice, 25 miles up stream. Having a look on Google Earth the sloping levee measured 14 feet high and the buildings behind were at minus – 4 to 5 feet below the river water line. The land surrounding the town seemed to be mainly swamp or water with a road on the levee crest.

Going up the river each side was lined with a levee (same as a dyke or stop bank), there was not much to see except sometimes traffic. Roads were often placed on the crest of the levee.

The levee's of Louisiana averaged 24 feet in height and some were as much as 50 feet in height. There are over 3500 miles of levee's in Louisiana.

We eventually reached New Orleans The levee's here seemed to measure about 18 feet in height above the river, the city streets on the west side of the river between plus 3 feet and minus 3 feet, below or above the normal river level. On the east side of the river the city was much higher in places, reaching a maximum of 40 feet.

We did not stay long here. Probably 2-3 days to unload some of our cargo and pick up more for Australia. I only went ashore once with the 2 apprentices and I think the 4th engineer, more or less just to stretch our legs. Someway from where we were berthed was the famous Bourbon Street, the home of Dixieland jazz. I would have loved to have gone down Bourbon Street and the French Quarter with its many jazz clubs but it was just a little too far to go by foot.

I was a lover of Jazz and Swing music when I was young. Of Swing music today I am still a great fan. Today in New Orleans Dixieland jazz is still played and it is a great hit with tourists. I came across a saying which sums up New Orleans and its music.

“Whether it is a jazz brunch on Sunday, a jazz band in a street parade, or a jazz funeral on Friday, there is always jazz to be heard in New Orleans” .

Nearby is Canal Street and the French Quarter which are still famous today for their Jazz Blues and music clubs . Today many famous stars are often seen mingling with the crowds of music lovers.

New Orleans is also world famous for its Mardi Gras Parade (Fat Tuesday, in English) during late February and early March, everyone who can is on holiday. I see that even after the recent great storm and flooding from the breeched levee‘s the Mardi Gras for 2011 is going ahead.

Tomorrow we sail back down the Mississippi for Galveston and nearby Houston in Texas.

12 January 2011

Sea Life 1951. Tynebank Middlesbrough 02

First draft:
We were to sail this evening. This lunchtime I met Captain J Betts for the first time, who introduced himself to me and also his wife. He was a large tubby fellow with a cheery smile, twinkling eyes and sandy hair, probably in his mid-fifties. His wife looked somewhat younger with blond hair and carried a fair bit of weight also. I had met most of the other officers yesterday evening at dinner. The captain kept the conversation flowing, with queries to the 1st mate and Chief Engineer mostly. Not much else was said, the Stewards served the meal and as each cleared his plate the next course was served. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry with jobs to do. I learnt that the The Captains wife would be leaving this afternoon for their home. She had been with the ship since it had arrived at its first port of call, as the Tynebank delivered its cargo to various ports around the British isles.

This afternoon I twiddled my thumbs for a while, I felt I had to do something so I went next door to the radio room, I switched on and ran up the alternator power... , tried the transmitter..., did it transmit?, I was nervous, I was now on my own for the first time. What was the radio coast station for Middlesbrough?, I quickly looked it up and saw it was Cullercoats Radio, call-sign GCC. I wrote it down ready for when we left port and I was ready to send the TR message. I tried the communications receiver and tuned to the general calling frequency, 500khz... usually a busy place and sure enough it was. I became immersed listening in to the traffic, especially when I went up on to the HF bands, picking out the various stations of the worldwide network.

The afternoon rolled along slowly, I remember the steward came with chai and sandwiches. After that I wandered round the deck and into the saloon, no one here to talk to, I suddenly thought, the aerial slung between the masts, had it been slung correctly and the down-lead dressed down correctly. As I checked the aerial a figure appeared and I saw from his dress he was the serang (boatswain, or foreman) of the deck crew. He was just checking too, he introduced himself and we talked for a little while.

Not long after this there was a rumble and pulsating below my feet, I knew that sound, the ship's engines were starting up for testing. Once the pilot was on board it would not be long before the tugs pulled us away from the wharf and turned us round in the river, if necessary and we would be ready to slowly steam down stream with the pilot in charge to the mouth of the river Tees. Once clear of the river mouth the pilot would be dropped off to the pilot boat. That could have been roughly 3 to 5 miles or more away. By this time in December darkness would have set in. I decided to leave sending the TR message to just before dinner time. To “celebrate” my first in charge ship I decided to write the TR in full into the log. Usually the date and time followed by the words “TR sent” was entered.

The TR said the name of the ship, port left, to where bound with some extra information in shortened words and coded letters in between.

I had a final watch to do after dinner... 2000z to 2200z. Towards the end of the watch I monitored GCC local traffic list and the HF list just in case there was late traffic for us. After closing down and setting the Auto Alarm to pick up any SOS messages calls I went to bed feeling pleased with myself.

Sea Life 1951. Tynebank Joining Middlesbrough 01

First draft:
I did not manage to get my full 10 days leave. Just over a week after I arrived home an urgent telegram arrived from the Marconi Co. asking me to cut my leave short and sign on as 1st Radio Officer on the SS Tynebank at the port of Middlesbrough on December the 6th 1951.

Middlesbrough was about 50 miles south of Newcastle on Tyne. The shortest train route was from Kendal (Oxenholme) to Carlisle, change for Newcastle-on-Tyne then change for Middlesbrough.

I remember leaving on the slow early morning train from Oxenholme stopping at all the small stations on the way north to Carlisle to catch the fast express across country to Newcastle-on-Tyne. Then just a short wait to catch the connection to Middlesbrough. Yes, I made the connections OK. Then I caught a taxi to the docks and I was quickly deposited at the bottom of the gang-plank of the Tynebank. The taxi driver unloaded my bags and I gave the him my supplied voucher. An Indian crewman on duty at top of the gang-plank came quickly down and enquired “Marconi,sahib?”. I was evidently expected and I said “Yes”. He duly pulled out a whistle on a lanyard from his tunic and gave 2 short blasts. Two crewmen came down the gangplank quickly and when instructed, grabbed my bags and headed up the gangplank with them. I then went aboard to find my bags gone… somewhere. Standing before me was a smiling Indian steward who greeted me, and smilingly lead me to my cabin and my bags deposited by the cabin door. The steward heaved the bags into the cabin. He then asked me to follow him outside where he then opened the adjoining cabin door and there it was, the radio room. I went across to the chair and sat down looking all around me, noting the equipment. As I slowly spun the chair round the steward said a magic word, would I like chai, a word I knew well from my time on the Modasa… tea.

I returned to my cabin and started to unpack my bags, particularly my uniform to hang up in case it was creased. Another thing had been gnawing in the back of my mind on the train journey. I needed to get and change the braid on my sleeves of my uniform. Meantime the steward arrived back with a tray on which was a cup of chai and a covered plate with sandwiches, suddenly I felt hungry. He also had a message for me from the 1st mate. Would I go up to the chartroom when I had finished my chai to sign on the ships articles. Whilst the steward was there I thought it a good idea to ask if he knew of a shop or ships chandler’s nearby which sold uniform braid. I pointed to my uniform sleeves, his eyes lit up and he said that he would attend to it, get the braid and sew it on for me. He would call for the uniform later. I was a bit hesitant about that.

Finishing my chai I then made my way towards the bridge and chartroom. After signing on I found the 1st mate talkative, he told me we would be sailing tomorrow for the southern states of the USA, namely Louisiana and Texas ports then through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific Ocean to Sydney, Australia and then for goodness knows where. We could be away for as long as 2 years, he told me. My heart jumped, I remember. In my excitement I almost forgot my question. I then explained my problem with the uniform and he asked which boy the steward was. I described him which was easy enough and he immediately recognised him. Yes, he is good and reliable boy said the mate. That set my mind at ease.As I made a move to the chartroom door he said that there was no need for uniform for dinner whilst in port, just after we sail.

I made my way back towards my cabin. The cabin, and wireless room were to the aft of the funnel and sitting on the top of the aft end of the mid-ships superstructure, and the door facing aft. I was up here alone. This was a common location for the radio room on older cargo ships. The reason was the lead-in of the aerial slung between the 2 main masts had to be completely in the clear of all objects. The down lead was an effective part of the aerial which was often known as a “T” type aerial. The down- lead was in fact, the main effective radiating element.

I unpacked the rest of my gear, putting it into the drawers’ under my bunk and in the wardrobe, odd and ends went into the small drawers in the unit below the mirror. I had a blue case and a dull orange coloured small trunk. Where I kept those I cannot remember. The trunk was old and came from Sharrow Bay and the case was presented to me by the Nelson’s of Kidside House as a going away present. I had them both with us when we came to NZ and they were still with us until recently.

The steward came by and picked up my uniform for alteration, the following morning it was with me again to wear when we sailed. I enquired the cost and thought it very reasonable. That night I remember, I slept well, it had been a busy, and exiting day.
Sea Life 1951. The Modasa. Homeward Bound

First draft:

We left Tilbury Dock in London, down the Thames, into the English Channel and headed in a northerly direction up to the River Tyne. I remember little of the short voyage. The weather, no doubt would be at the best, chilly and more probably cold. It was now late November and not the best time to be leaning over the ships rail in the cold.

Strange to say I remember little or nothing of this part of the voyage and its end. My memory was a complete blank. When I made the rough notes of the voyage in 2004 and now continuing 6 years later I still cannot remember anything.

We would pass through the 2 sea walls guarding the entrance to the river Tyne, pass the groyne inside the sea walls, here was South Shields and we would slow as we turned into the river. I must have looked up onto the hill and noted 47 Lawe Rd were I had boarded so long. Cold day or not, I would have noted the familiar architecture of the boarding house. Passing up the river I must have looked at the familiar places I knew so well.

Where we berthed I do not know. I did not remember signing off the ships articles, or receiving my first salary cheque, travel warrant to home or the train journey home.

Our voyage lasted from August 8 1951 to November 27 1951. The ships master was Captain Busby

Arriving home I found I had 14 days leave which included Sunday’s at sea days.
Sea Life 1952. Modasa Potted History

 The "Modasa" was one of a class of six near-sister ships owned by British India Steam Navigation Co. Built by Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson, Wallsend-on-Tyne, she was a 9,070 gross ton ship, length 465.2ft x beam 58.3ft x depth 32.6ft, one funnel, two masts, twin screw and a speed of 13.5 knots.

There was accommodation for 127-1st and 41-2nd class passengers. Launched on 24th December 1920, she entered service in December 1921 on the UK to India or East Africa service and in 1927 carried the first large export cargo of maize from East Africa to London.

In 1933 she arrived at Middlesborough to discharge her cargo before proceeding to London for repairs. She had 450 tons of oil in her tanks and Customs ruled that, as this constituted a coastal voyage, this oil was liable to customs duty. The row was only settled by taking the ship to Antwerp for repairs, this being classed as a non-coastal voyage.

Between 1939 and 1945 she was employed on both commercial and government service and was refurbished in 1946 to carry 183 single class passengers. She then resumed the East Africa service until being sold for scrap in December 1953. On January 23rd 1954, after unloading her cargo at the Tyne, she proceeded to Blyth where she was scrapped.

The voyage I sailed on the Modasa in 1951 was somewhat different to the typical 1953 voyage listed below.
A typical 4-month voyage for 1953 was –

3rd June Sail.......... ...........London,
15-16 June call .................Port Said,
19-20th June call... ...........Port Sudan,
23rd June call ...................Aden,
30th June - 6th July call..... Mombasa,
7th July call....................... Tanga,
8th July call....................... Zanzibar,
9th - 12th July call............. Dar-es-Salaam,
14th - 16th July call........... Lindi,
20th - 23rd July call........... Beira,

Return Voyage

28th - 30th July call........... Dar-es-Salaam,
31st July call..................... Zanzibar,
1st - 2nd August call......... Tanga,
3rd - 8th Aug. call............. Mombasa,
14th Aug. call....................Aden,
17th - 18th Aug. call......... Port Sudan,
21st - 22nd Aug. call........ Port Said,
28th - 30th Aug. call......... Marseilles,
1st Sept. call.................... Gibraltar,
 7th Sept. Arrive............... London

[Sea Safari, British India S.N.Co African Ships and Services by Peter C. Kohler] - [Posted to The ShipsList by Ted Finch - 27 July 1998]