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.