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