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.

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