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.