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Author Topic: Nautical "Strange but True!"  (Read 137924 times)

Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #225 on: February 27, 2009, 04:38:14 PM »

Bryan,

You may be right after all. After a drop of Dr Gordon's tonic, my brain cell has creaked into life. It tells me that under ultraviolet light, fluoroscene glowed brilliant emerald green but under natural light it imparted a sort of dull green sheen to water.
Thus, my apologies.

Ye gods, the things you have to dredge up from your memory on this Forum. It'll be boiler water phosphate testing next or how the Mate tarmac-ed the Firth of Clyde.

Cheers,

Barry M
I'd quite like to hear about tarmacking the Clyde. Going back to that flourowhetever stuff. I recall that it came (comes?) in different colours. We had a junior Engineer (why is it always them?) who decided one night (after his 12-4 watch) to to use some of the red/purple variety to colour some of the bar lampshades. Next morning there were funny coloured lines all over the lounge deckhead. Strange how "deckhead" can rhyme with a more apt word. Bryan.
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BarryM

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #226 on: February 27, 2009, 07:17:27 PM »

Bryan,

Why is it always Junior Engineers? Having once been just such I think it is something to do with being in the limbo between apprentices and Senior Watchkeeper status. Five years of training (as such it was in my day) was behind you and suddenly you get a wee bit of responsibility and considerably increased pay ; a heady mix which encourages mild lunacy.

The Tarmac of the Clyde (cue for a song there?) ocurred on a bitumen tanker. Bitumen tankers carry their cargo at nearly 200 deg F. in order to keep it liquid and thus pumpable. Letting the temperature drop is a major calamity as the on-board heating is normally only enough to counter heat loss; not enough to warm it up from cold. Life on a bitumen tanker can be literally hellish because the accommodation is built over or alongside the cargo tanks. I served on two of them (one of which had bullet holes in the bar bulkheads) which was two too many.

The aforementioned attempt to create a new Clyde motorway happened when the Mate was transferring cargo and misjudged the ullage of the receiving tank. Hot bitumen poured out of the vents and an opened tank hatch, through the scuppers and over the side where it spread and solidified on the water surface while glueing itself to the hull.  By the time the pumps were stopped,the ship had its own motorway attached alonside and an interested crowd gathered at the rail. (Don't they always?)  Not long after this was augmented by Port Representatives who were not best pleased. Suggestions that attempts should be made to camouflage the spill by painting a white line down the middle and erecting a few bollards were judged unhelpful.
Next day the Old Man and Mate were summoned to the local Sheriff's Court to be charged, castigated and relieved of currency.

Cheers,

Barry M
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BarryM

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #227 on: February 28, 2009, 02:10:02 PM »

Roger,
Although there were a few who probably were borderline insane, most of us got by with patience, tolerance and humour. The latter especially was vital to the world we chose to live in.

Remember that the world of work in which Bryan and myself and indubitably others on this forum lived was a significant remove from today. There were no mobiles, email, ipods or iphones; two way communication with home existed only via surface mail (hugely appreciated) or a rarely used and very expensive radio link in Sparkies Shack (if within voice range).

Entertainment came from our own resources, the Walport Film Library (films swapped with other vessels whom you hoped had something you hadn't seen), BBC World Service, ship's library or out of date newspapers.

We couldn't choose our companions on the vessels we were posted to and so toleration was the order of the day. You may have loathed some of your colleagues but you had to live with them, quite literally cheek-by-jowl, for months on end and thus you learned to put up and shut up when necessary. We worked together, we lived together, around the clock and on top of the job for 6 months plus.

We had no Mission Statements or any of the gobbledegook that substitutes for plain language today. We knew our jobs and got on with them. If we got it wrong we got a b******ing, if we got it right - well, that was expected of you. Why else were you there? If you worked hard then you could play hard; but don't be late for or miss your watch.

Paperwork was at a minimum and almost exclusively for the Old Man and the Chief Eng to take care of with the aid of typewriters (no PC then), pencil and some of Dr Gordon's tincture. The job didn't suffer if we were not endlessly processing reports for submission to the Head Office where they will probably be filed unread.

Head Office indeed, was something we probably only saw for the biannual medical or an interview. Otherwise it was best avoided. Communications of a personal nature from all members of the ship's complement to the Office had to be read and countersigned by the Old Man to show he approved of them. Human rights had yet to be invented.

Communication from the Office came via surface mail or the dit - dit - dahs that poured into Sparkies ears and eventually drove a lot of them doolally; in my experience more than a few Sparkies came under the heading of 'Mad Bad and Dangerous to know'.

Automation of machinery was still fairly basic although this had changed vastly by the time I left. What had not changed was the manpower to run the plant which in my experience consisted of C/E, 2/E, 3/E, 4/E, three 5/E, a P.O. Storeman and 4 Fireman-Greasers. Note no Electrician as the 3/E doubled-up in this role. Watches were 4 hours on and (theoretically) 8 hours off but as 'Field Days' could be expected on at least six days per week lasting 2 - 3 hours covering maintenance, the actual 7-day working week was +60hours - and we did not get overtime. Why did we put up with it? Because the job demanded it and we were proud of who we were and what we did.

Machinery was less reliable than today when plant has been improved and ER manning has often been cut to the bone. Except for drydocks, we did all our own maintenance and benefited from the experience in terms of increasing technical knowledge, self reliance, and the ability to fault-find and turn our hands to most areas. I doubt if these days marine engineers have anything like the same opportunity to expand their depth and range of knowledge.

I hold a Combined First Class Engineer's Certificate (Steam and Motorships) for Unlimited Service which probably makes me one of a dying breed given that steamships have almost left the oceans. It took me a 5 years Apprenticeship combining practical and theoretical experience, followed by the necessary sea service and periods at Nautical College studying for higher grades of certificates and examination to get there. Nowadays, apprenticeships have shrunk in length and Certificates seem to be awarded for 'modules'. I am not decrying the efforts of todays marine engineers but I do doubt just how all-embracing their professional lives are.

All the above sounds like a voice from the distant past from an almost forgotten age but it all happened in the last 40 - 50 years; far less that a single lifetime. Was it some kind of Golden Age? No way - it was bloody hard work for less than just rewards but it was a life that taught self-reliance, confidence and knowledge of human nature in all its forms. It also taught tolerance of that same humanity and an ability to shrug and laugh at ourselves.

Would I do it again? Nowadays, not a chance. The world has turned and produced a different working environment which may be fine for the present generation bobbin' on the oggin'  who know no other way of life. Perhaps we forget all the rough times as memories lengthen but - and I suspect BY will agree with me here - it was a good time to be alive and serving at sea.

Regards

Barry M

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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #228 on: February 28, 2009, 04:05:26 PM »

I couldn't agree more with Barry. As many of you on this forum have mentioned, the most beautiful ships seem to have been built from the late 1940s until the mid 1970s. Just about the lifespan of a well made and well maintained ship. During that period, in the main, shipping companies did what they knew best, then the "bean counters" took over and diversifivation was the "in thing". Yes, I realise that other countries were developing their own Merchant (and Naval) fleets and so the UKs share of the market was bound to shrink...but so catastrophically as to be almost decimated. Flags of convenience, unfair (perhaps illegal) practice by some foreign Governments, the sheer bloody-mindedness of the UK unions all had a part to play. But in my opinion the root cause of the demise of our MN was the mistaken and malign influence of the "money-men". Ring a bell with any of you?
As for going back to sea in the modern environment not a cat in hells chance. My last ship was "Fort George" and it was like living in a utilitarian factory unit. Horrible. I also had a guided tour of "Wave Knight" and although the capabilities of these modern ships is beyond impressive there is no way I could ever get attached to any of them. Apart from the fact that everyone from a junior steward to the Captain seems to need a higher degree in electronics. To be honest, I can't even understand why the Bridge is fitted with windows. Nobody ever looks out of them nowadays. I'm with you Barry! Cheers. Bryan.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #229 on: February 28, 2009, 06:49:25 PM »

What better place can there be than to be chuffing through the Med at 18 knots without an RN ship within radar distance. Not a care in the world. A good chance to (lightheartedly) tighten up on some of our emergency procedures and get a bit of night-flying in. But in general, life was by RFA standards pretty quiet for a change. Now and again, when appropriate, some wives could be carried on "non-operational" trips. When I first joined the RFA this concession was for Officers only. But then, you must realise, that many of our crew members were "non-contract" and sent to us from "the pool". An horrific idea on this class of ship. As time went on the Established POs could also be accompanied. Now that the RFA is all contract manned I am led to believe that some senior ratings can also be accompanied. But still (for many reasons) the numbers are regulated. So we had some wives on board.
As there is no Naval Base in Cyprus (no need to when we had Malta) the closest we could get was to anchor off the harbour at Akrotiri RAF station. Very close to the end of the runway. "Harbour" is a pretty grandiose word for this haven. Probably big enough for three of our lifeboats and a couple of dinghies. But it was still an interesting place to be. Apart from the normal aircraft movements (not that I would agree that anything the RAF does can be classed as "normal") we could sit and watch, listen and have our guts shaken up by the dusk and dawn launches of the U2s and Blackbirds. Wow! Are these things noisy or what! But there we sat. Fat, dumb and happy transferring our gift offerings to those whose "Dear Santa" latters had been answered. We hosted a couple of CTPs (Cocktail Parties, Roger) and life was good.
Then the US Embassy in Beirut was hit with massive casualties. Cyprus is surprisingly close to the Lebanon....about 90 miles or so, less than an hours flying time in a Wessex. Our aircraft was immediately offered and the offer accepted. Ray Colborne (recently deceased) was our only pilot, but he flew that aircraft night and day bringing casualties back to Akrotiri. Of course he wasn't the only one, but it was quite heroic all the same. My flight-deck crew were also pretty stretched doing routine flight maintenance and so on because we were so far behind the normal flight parameters.
Two of our embarked wives were nurses, and one of them was a senior theatre nurse, both volunteered to help out ....and that was the last their husbands saw of them until we got back to the UK.
It was just one of those time when an RFA happened to be in the right place at the right time, but there are many, largely unsung, times when this sort of relief has been tendered (although this one was a bone-shaker).
There would be nothing else of note before we returned home and I went on leave (again)....but then Mr Galteiri had to stick his spoke in.
 Cheers. BY.
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Notes from a simple seaman

BarryM

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #230 on: March 01, 2009, 09:28:50 AM »

Ratings, MN (Merchant navy
CPO = Chief Petty Officer
PO = Petty Officer
AB = Able Seaman
EDH = Efficient Deck Hand
DH = Deck Hand

GPS = General Purpose Seaman (Seaman judged fit to work in either Engine Room or on deck as work required)
F/G = Fireman/Greaser

BM
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BarryM

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #231 on: March 01, 2009, 11:29:48 AM »

You'll also come across terms specific to particular crews such as 'Serang' for a Lascar Bosun or 'Casab' for a Chinese Deck Storekeeper or Carpenter.

BM
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #232 on: March 01, 2009, 04:17:28 PM »

Ratings, MN (Merchant navy
CPO = Chief Petty Officer
PO = Petty Officer
AB = Able Seaman
EDH = Efficient Deck Hand
DH = Deck Hand

GPS = General Purpose Seaman (Seaman judged fit to work in either Engine Room or on deck as work required)
F/G = Fireman/Greaser

BM

You forgot DHU (Deck Hand Uncertificated). A sort of honorary designation given to ratings who joined the MN too old to be deck boys or OS (Ordinary Seaman).But there are still others. L/T (Lamp Trimmer), DSK and ESK (Deck and Engine room Store Keepers), QM ( Self evident), unless it really stood for Quasie Matelot. I could go on, but I get bored so easily nowadays!.
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Notes from a simple seaman

Roger in France

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #233 on: March 01, 2009, 05:00:28 PM »

What qualifies an EDH as "efficient"?

Roger in France
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BarryM

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #234 on: March 01, 2009, 05:03:49 PM »

Roger,

'Examination' - if I remember correctly. What the standard was you might persuade BY to tell you. We Engineers never got involved in such things - too busy.

BM
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #235 on: March 01, 2009, 07:39:17 PM »

I can already foresee that Roger is going to keep this going out of sheer devilment! EDH.
When an "Ordinary Seaman" had "served his time" (not a bad anology in some cases) he then had to sit a sort of GCSE exam to see if he had learned anything beyond wielding a paintbrush, making tea etc. and prove that he had assimilated at least the rudiments of seamanship. Pass that and you became an EDH. Surprisingly many failed to progress further to become an AB. The skills were always there but perhaps the erudition and lack of education held them back. The "Seafarers Education Society" (still going) helped many educationally impoverished guys to better themselves. Some even reaching the rank of "Master". Their biggest problem as I used to see it was the downward peer pressure from their own shipmates. In a lot of cases the "students" would be castigated and sometimes even beaten up a bit for their "betrayal of their class". All very sad. Personally, I come from a large family of NE coal miners who always gave me support and urging to "better myself". I was one of the lucky ones. Bryan.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #236 on: March 02, 2009, 07:36:10 PM »

In common with all those of you who are old enough to remember, I spent many hours watching the unfolding events in the S.Atlantic on the "telly". This sort of engendered a feeling of deja-vu as it reminded me of the episode in 1974 when the Argentinians made another attempt to take the Falklands by force. I was in "Retainer" somewhere in the Eastern Med when a more or less full mobilisation of our naval assets were ordered to r/v (even you know that one, Roger!) somewhere west of the Gib. Straits. So off we plodded with great anticipation and not a little dread as the old "Retainer" didn't have much going for it in terms of self protection...or anything else for that matter...but we did have a cargo load that included weaponry. But it came to nothing as the "word" came through that the Argentinians had "returned to base". As far as I can recall little or none of this ever came out in the UK press....but it happened.
So watching the unfolding events in early 1982 gave me a bit of a sinking feeling (perhaps not the best word to choose in the circumstances) but at the same time I was glad I wasn't there, and also a bit of guilt knowing that many of my compatriots, friends and shipmates would be. Nothing I could do about that. Then the "Atlantic Conveyor" got sunk. From "the grapevine" and the media I had a pretty good idea what she was carrying, so the loss was going to be huge. I also knew one of the RFA guys who died, so it became a little more personal.
I may be being a bit controversial here, but it is what I felt at the time and I think I am being truthful. The RN in my somewhat limited experience often tended to "hide" behind large ships (RFAs) in exercise scenarios. And I think that became a bit of a "mind-set" and so the pattern repeated itself here. This is also when my esteem for the RN began to wither and become pretty jaundiced.
But sitting in front of my telly, and even though I still had another month or so of leave to go, I knew what was going to happen. When the 'phone rang I knew it was MoD(N) (always sounded "different" somehow). So I was "STUFT". (Sorry Roger, "ShipsTakenUpFromTrade"). I was "appointed" as the MoD presence on the Blue Funnel Ship "Laertes".
The ship itself is worthy of a chapter on its own, but that's another story....but it didn't look like any "Blue Flue" youwould recognize. Remind me later to horrify you with it.
After Devonport Dockyard had completed the required "A&A"s (Alterations and Additions) and we had been loaded up, off we went south.
Actually, for the sake of some sort of continuity with these ramblings, I think I shal break here and tell you about the ship and its personnel in the next episode. Bryan.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #237 on: March 04, 2009, 08:15:09 PM »

M/v "Laertes" and many of her sister ships were built in Poland around 1979. The main gripe I have about them is that we (the British taxpayer) paid for most of them. You can thank a certain Mr Callaghan our then Prime Minister for this. Then what really stinks is that "we" had to actually buy them when they were built!.
In general appearance she looked pretty much run of the mill. All aft accommodation and E/Rm etc. with a heavy lift Hallen or Stulcken type derrick amidships., and various cargo handling cranes set on top of mast-houses. This one was originally meant to go to "Russian" owners (the state) and was surprisingly heavily built. Not your usual cargo ship then. Later on the Ch.Engineer gave me a bit more of an insight and some associated problems. The biggest one was that of compatability. For instance, the Sultzer main engine was not quite a Sultzer so genuine Sultzter spares didn't fit. The same applied to most of the mechanical "bits" so getting spares was a nightmare for him. The electrical system was East European even down to the domestic electrical sockets...and all notices were in Russian. Even the toilet seats were "back to front". The internal constructio was all steel. ...even the small lockers had steel bulkheads. No "man-made" partition bulkheads on this ship, which in turn made the firefighting arrangements pretty basic. Shut the (steel) door, turn on the sprinklers and (hopefully) that was end of incident. So what's wrong with that. Well, nothing really, and in the majority of cases it is actually preferable to our (RN and RFA) way of doing things. But it breeds complacency, which can in turn lead to a pretty slap-dash approach to the whole subject of firefighting, damage control and survivability. I think that this "mind set" could be one reason why poorly trained and motivated modern crews  are so keen to abandon ship when Murphys Law comes into being.
So that was one aspect of the ship I had to keep in mind. There were some other quirks as well, "Standard" manning was at a minimum. The galley was run by one cook and a galley boy. The bridge would normally be manned by the OOW and a rating who doubled up as lookout, helmsman(when needed), waker-upper of the next watch and general runabout dogsbody and so on. Not quite the organisation I wanted to have in a ship going into a war zone.
When I arrived in Devonport all geed up and ready to go I had my first look at the ship. I was really quite amazed that there was no crew and just a handful of officers. There was a very good reason for this (as there always is!). When my Lords and Mastersdecided that they were going to charter this ship I don't think that they realised it had been trotting around the globe with a a Sudanese (or was it Somalian) crew. So they were paid off and Blue Flue had to collect a UK crew pretty smartish. They did, and the UK crew (mainly "real" Holts people) were excellent. But then the real and immediate problem was the seheer filthiness of the living spaces that had beeen recently evacuated (in more senses than one) by the departing crew. It made me wonder if Captains Rounds or any other inspection had been undertaken since the ship was built...and she was only 3 years old. I elected to book into an hotel for 3 nights and sort of "re-join" when things had settled down a bit. The Dockyard cleaned things up a bit and then the new "scouse" crowd arrived and did a more thorough job of making things habitable.
Must go now....Dinner is on the table. Continue a bit later. BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #238 on: March 04, 2009, 10:19:15 PM »

Laertes (contd).
In normal circumstances an Admiralty Dockyard is , at its best,pretty lethargic. At its worst, then nothing happens. But when it is really at its best it's like a beast transformed. Fitting an RN comms centre with all that goes with it would normally take a couple of months or so. This was done in 3 days and nights. All sorts of ancilliary steelwork was fabricated and fitted in the same timeframe. I could only stand back and wonder about the transformation in both attitude and work practise. If only that attitude could continue!
When I had my first meeting with the ships Master we hit an immediate snag. Being a dyed-in the-wool sort of chap, he insisted that me and my "team" should "sign on" as members of his ships company. No,says I, I am appointed here with my "team" by the MoD to oversee the running of this ship and relay the commands etc. of my superiors. At this point he gave up and for the rest of the trip was pretty well non-existent.But the Mate however was of a different calibre, and we soon had a very good working relationship. Thank goodness.
The new RN radio room now had an RFA radio officer in charge with an RN PO and 4 RN ratings.The ships cargo (when it was loaded) would be cared for by 8 members of the "Stonnery". In addition we had a sprinkling of RN, RAF and Army ratings embarked to "help out as and when/where needed. The galley was a first priority. This little lot more than doubled the ships usual complement. With the exception of the Stonnery and the Armed Forces personnel the ships crew and the RFA contingent were on the standard 100% "war bonus" addition to salary. This is only applicable when entering a designated "war zone" and ceases the moment you leave. This may seem to be a bit of an anomaly, but no matter what Naval training and "ways of working" the RFA use, the personnel of the RFA are still categorized as itinerant Merchant Seamen, and are therefore eligible for such things as a "war bonus". Whereas the Stonnery (civil servants)  and the armed forces are direct employees of the Crown, and are considered (as far as pay goes) to be only doing what they signed up for. Scope for argument perhaps, but I didn't make the rules.
So the ships company were sort of quite happy to share "their" ship with a bunch of strangers who were doing things they had no knowledge of. Being a fairly large ship and built to accomodate a much larger crew there were (almost) enough spare cabins available. But even so, some of the junior rates had to "double bunk". Don't get me wrong here. I don't mean they had to share a bed in "Morcombe and Wise" style. That would be a step too far. Perhaps not if Harriet Harperson had been Defence Secretary at the time. No, extra bunks were fitted.
While the loading of the ship was going on I made myself known to the ships officers. As I have said,only 2 RFA  people were embarked, me and the R/O. On our first night at sea we (the pair of us) dressed in our usual evening "Red Sea rig" (Black trousers, short sleeved shirt with epaulettes and a cummerbund). We were both a bit non-plussed to be greeted with jeers and laughter from the ships officers. How are the mighty fallen. From being a "pukka" mainstream cargo-passenger company the once mighty Blue-Flue now allowed its officers to dress in whatever they wish to dress in. For the rest of the trip we compromised by leaving off the cummerbunds and kept the rest. And, slowly, did one or two others.
They were all really nice guys though. All very proffessional in their work, just came from a different culture from us.
Before I finish this episode, one more thing. The Second Engineers cabin had been originally built as the abode of the (Russian) political officer. It still had an en-suite and workable fully equipped radio room in it, for the use of....
Just makes me wonder if we are being dragged down that same failed route in 2009. Bryan.
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Jimmy James

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #239 on: March 06, 2009, 10:31:24 PM »

The Swedish Navy have some super pic's of cat tracks on the sea bed made by Russian Submarines and I've seen them my self on the side scan sonar when we were working in the Baltic of the coast near Gothenburg. Some of the Russian seamen I've sailed with say they were actually wheels not tracks..
As for the Pentland Firth in 65 the ship I was on lost a lifeboat dancing with the Merry Men of May in a force 9 gale .. The sea just picked it up and ripped it out of the davits and tossed it away like a kids toy
Jimmy (Freebooter)
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BarryM

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #240 on: March 06, 2009, 10:59:34 PM »

Jimmy,

If you can be bothered to go back to my posting of 5th March 2008 in this thread, You'll find I raised the question of caterpillar tracks on the seabed around oil platforms but you are the first person I've come across who could throw any light on them. Do you have more detail?

Very interested,

Barry M
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #241 on: March 06, 2009, 11:01:47 PM »

The Swedish Navy have some super pic's of cat tracks on the sea bed made by Russian Submarines and I've seen them my self on the side scan sonar when we were working in the Baltic of the coast near Gothenburg. Some of the Russian seamen I've sailed with say they were actually wheels not tracks..
As for the Pentland Firth in 65 the ship I was on lost a lifeboat dancing with the Merry Men of May in a force 9 gale .. The sea just picked it up and ripped it out of the davits and tossed it away like a kids toy
Jimmy (Freebooter)
Jimmy, I may be wrong here, but didn't you mention these "tracks" awhile ago? I don't recall any feedback on the subject, but I can also see how frusrated you must be having visual evidence and a total schtumm from "them what knows". For what it's worth I believe you, and perhaps the relatives of the "Gaul" may met you at least half way. BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #242 on: March 07, 2009, 07:19:25 PM »

There reall is only one way to get to know a ship and its people, and that is to get free of tha land and rely upon yourselves, and the equipment you are either blessed with or lumbered with. In this case we had a large mixture. The Blue-Flue guys knew exactly what they were doing insofar as they were operating a commercial cargo ship. The RN blokes were fishes out of water without the strict RN Rules and discipline to guide them. But their PO (and temporary Regulator) was superb. Although they all enjoyed the freedom of the crew bar there was very little in the way of transgressions. The Army and RAF ratings did, at first, think they were passengers. Understandably really as none of them had "been to sea" before. So some training was required. They got split up into little groups and then on a daily basis given duties which involved them with more experienced members of the ships company. It worked OK. The "Stonnery" staffbecame a bit of a law unto themselves as they were niether nor fowl, but socially they mixed in pretty well and eventually everybody on board more or less knew what everybody else did for a living. Ostensibly they were all part of a team appointed to a ship with a sort of "structure" with me at the sharp end. In reality it didn't quite work out that way. The "Stones" (Supply and Transport(Navy)) are civil servants. As such they are unionised and steeped in the workings of a Naval Dockyard and had therefore an entirely different work ethic to a "normal" ships company. They also operate under a "different" set of Rules, have a different rank and pay structure. All very odd to me!. A few of them had actually seen service aboard an RFA so were not totally unfamiliar with a ships infostructure. But their expertise lay mainly with the "cargo", and particularly the bits of it that can go "bang". Professionally this was an impasse,but we got over it by by agreeing on some loose boundaries that neither of us woul deliberately breach.
With one excursion to help a yacht that had run out of food and got itself "lost" the run to Ascension Island was quite serene. At first, the various exercises I had devised were treated as a bit of a joke, but when it was graphically shown that a "life-saving" bit of kit will kill you if improperly used then a bit more attention was given. The stop at Ascension was "scheduled", but the outcome was not.

On approaching the Island I was repeatedly trying to make contact on a designated frequency. No response for 3 hours in spite of their callsign being "Wideawake" (named after the Wideawake Petrel that lives there). Oh,dear, shades of things to come, I thought. Eventually, when we were within spitting distance of the place they "Wakened Up" and told us where to anchor. Too late. As I was already familiar with the place from my C&W days I got the hermit (Captain) to anchor on a shelf that I knew was a good fishing ground. "Brownie Points" to me. So that was "done and dusted" as the saying goes. I was then told that "SNOWIE OWL" wanted to meet me for a debrief...or was it a brief?
First I had to wake up "Wideawake" and no I had to meet a guy called Snowy Owl courtesy of an aircraft called a Budgie. Even the old "Eagle" comic or "Thunderbirds"wouldn't stoop to that level of Public School humour.
As far as I was aware "SNOWIE" was the "Senior Naval Officer West Indies" (God knows where the Owl bit came from), but wayever it was it's still a long way from St.Lucia.
As I said earlier, I had already told the ships company that this anchorage was probably the best fishing spot around the island, and that they should make the most of it while I was gone. My judgement was correct, just a pity that the Army and RAF guys seconded to the Galley had to be taught what a pan was for and how to use one.
I used to love travelling in a "Service" helicopter. All the strapping down into a doorway and hanging over whatever the aircraft was over while it banked and swooped and dived and generally enjoyed itself. Like a fairground, but free. I've often pondered on why the "fast jet" pilots seem to think they are getting the best of the aviation world. A fasthelicopter that can "tree-hop" and stop in mid air is a much more exciting thing to do than screech along at a speed you have no reference marks for. All eyes are on the instruments, but with any sort of helo No.1 eyeball is king. Magic.
I was to be airlifted to this meeting via the HDS (Sorry again, Roger....Helicopter Delivery Service). As none of my motley crew had ever been anywhere near a flying aircraft I had to brief them on "static". I chose the "Blue=Flue" guys mainly on the principle that I didn't want them to feel "left out". Ducks to water. There are 2 ways of getting a passenger into the lifting strop. The easiest way is to wait until the aircrafts earthing line hits the deck and discharges. The 2nd (and most popular in the RFA) is to catch the aircraft line with an earthing pole. Basically a broom shank with a brass hook on one end and a solid lump of metal on a wire at the other end. ...this is because the paint on the deck can act as an insulator. There is a 3rd way..and is not advised. There always seems to be an overzealous muppet only too keen to dash out and grab the dangling wire. The static charge can Knock you on your back and is very painful. But it happens with untrained crews.  So as time went on the Blueys got used to "catching helicopters" in safety.
More later. Cheers. BY.




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Notes from a simple seaman

BarryM

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #243 on: March 08, 2009, 04:58:28 PM »

Can't get these bottom-crawling subs out of my mind. Jimmy James has come up with some more info but actual details seem impossible to find. The US Navy had bottom crawlers, (see http://news.softpedia.com/news/Secret-Forty-Year-Old-Nuclear-Submarine-Retired-99015.shtml ) it appears but details of the Soviet Navy seem to be like hens' teeth.

Barry M
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Jimmy James

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #244 on: March 08, 2009, 07:43:47 PM »

There are many strange things that go on at sea, BUT you tell them to shore people for the most part they think you are telling tall tails so for the most part I don't bother. I find people who have never been to sea have different values and a different way of thinking to long serving seafarers. And am always dropping myself in the smelly stuff for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time,,,But yes I've seen the tracks on sonar records and the people concerned have been sent copies .dates times ..and positions ..But this was years ago in the 70's and 80's  what they did about I haven't a clew
Jimmy (Freebooter)
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Experience: 50+ years at sea under Sail, Steam & Motor
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BarryM

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #245 on: March 09, 2009, 02:07:55 PM »

I have been having a PM conversation with Jimmy James who has also come across strange seabed tracks. Jimmy has survey ship experience and of working with Russians who hinted they were aware of the tracks and their cause. He related the following which I thought was just so hilarious (is that the right word?) that it was well worth passing to a wider audience. Thus, with Jimmy's permission, here is his account of working with one particular Russian. Read on and boggle.

Barry M


Barry
 I lot of my info comes from Nickoli Machinko (he died about 6--7 years ago just after berthing his ship in Hull -- Heart attack -- fell over on the Bridge just as they finished making fast). He was one of the original Russian officers we took on, I was sent along to baby sit them and teach them the job i.e.; paper work, gear deployment, line running and station keeping on gear deployed on the sea bed etc; He was by far the best of them and spoke very good English,  after about 2 years he was promoted to Master and was very good at his job,,, I met him about a year later in Freetown and we had a bit of a wee up (as you do) and learned a bit of his history, He was a Senior Master (and a red card holder) and used to do special jobs for the government. One night when he was well oiled, we were talking about West Africa when he banged his fist on the table and said "You people know nothing about Africa,-- I (he said jumping up and thumping himself on the chest) started the War in Angola". We all shouted him down and told him to explain how he could start a war, and this is what he said " I took my ship there with a cargo of 20,000 AK 47's , 3,000,000 bullets, 300 artillery guns  50,000 Shells AND!!! 30 Agricultural Advisers----"Compulsory" I --Thump- STARTED--Thump --- THE WAR ---Thump .. It turned out He was a Russian Gun Runner among other things, but due to bad luck he lost his ship and his card and was beached until Russia fell apart.
Anyway thanks for Listening to an Old Sailor Burbling on Glad I was of some small assistance
   Jimmy (Freebooter)
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #246 on: March 11, 2009, 07:36:31 PM »

I didn't actually start any wars...well, not major ones anyway, more like spats with SWMBO, and that is quite enough for me.
Referring back a bit; travelling as a passenger in a service helo is not quite the same as hopping on to a jet to Majorca. First requirement is a "flying suit". No shorts and stuffed donkeys here. Failing a "proper" fliying suit (khaki thing with lots of pockets and knee pads and so on) a cleanish white boilersuit will suffice. No nylon clothing (especially socks) as in the event of a fire the nylon will melt and fuse (permanently) into the skin. DMS boots. (Direct Moulded Sole) and a proper lifejacket if flying over water. The standard RN issue type (comes in a pouch that is impossible to re-pack once opened!) is sort of OK, but the aircrew waistcoat type is better. I had been supplied with one of these (just "in case"...). Then you will need a set of ear defenders. I always managed to lose mine as when I got into an aircraft I was given a set that plugged in so I could talk to the aircrew. Still, they're cheap enough, so no sleep lost there.
And so to meet SNOWIE. A very urbane chap in immaculate whites (had to live up to his moniker, I suppose) and me looking, well, a bit less than immaculate would be being polite. A little bit of blah-blah followed by a clearing of the throat. Oh,oh, I thought. Here we go, what's next.
"Ahem", We are a little short of spaces on the transport aircraft at the moment, and we have some people here who need to rejoin their units...can you help?"....."How many"...."About 25"...."What are they?"...."Um, various" (no clues there). Oh, dear, more "doubling-up", but as it wouldn't be for very long and the fact that in a few days the crew would be on the "war-bonus", I didn't expect too many complaints. OK. That's his problem sorted. I should have known better after all these years working with these sods who are trained in the art of duplicity from an early age. (They are more commonly known as Royal Navy Officers..and this one had "served his time"). "Ah, before I forget, we have a bit more cargo for you". Well, big-mouth me, always willing to help, says "OK, we still have a lot of space". Big Ooops. "Well, we have a few Cluster Bombs we need delivering"...."F...! How many?"...."Four lifts"...well, that didn't sound too bad. I imagined a Wessex or a Sea King (except most of them were already deployed), so I asked "What aircraft?"...."Chinook"....Oh, "xxxxx". Both the Wessex and the Sea King can carry 1 underslung load, but the Chinook carries 2. So instead of 4 loads I could expect 8 large nets full of cluster bombs. Now a cluster bomb is not a titchy wee thing. More like a full sized beer barrel. Oh, well, needs must I suppose. Next I had to explain this to the "Stones" who understandably went a bit ape-poo. The Chinook is a rather large aircraft. Well, there are 2 versions...but this was going to one of the big ones. "Laertes" was not designed to operate with any aircraft, never mind a bloody Chinook......especially as they were going to be operating with the standard 30' hoists, therefore operating at somewhat less than 30' above the deck. I couldn't risk the ships company with this as a) a large double underslung load is a lot different from a bag of mail. b) this was weaponry. c) As yet I didn't know if I had an experienced flight deck crew embarked. The crew were a bit miffed at first, but once they were organised into rigging fire hose, shot mats and so on they began to realise their limitations. But their main task was to shift the huge Heavy Lift derrick from its normal stowage position (ie leaning forwards) to a position where it leaned aft. That exercise kept them busy for a while. (Much sucking of gums again, and I guess I wasn't the most popular guy on board at the time). If the big derrick had been left leaning forward then the rotor blade clearance would have been down to a couple of feet, now it was about 8' Not much, but the best we could do. Another problem that was not immediately obvious to the ships Officers was the fact we were swinging to a single anchor, and while aircraft generally come in "into wind" (fortunately non to speak of here) and the ship was lying head to the slight breeze and sea then the aircreaft would have to approach from the starboard beam. Not comfortable for the guys on deck, but even trickier for the aircrew..especially given the minimal rotor clearance. Only those "new" guys and us RFA people knew that the rotor downwash would affect the ship, effectively blowing it a bit sideways and slewing it a little. And you always get the gawpers. Understandable I suppose, but very much a hindrance. So we were ready...or as ready as we could be. The sheer size and noise of the aircraft on its first approach obviously scared the whatsits out of some people. (I imagine that this very problem was why RN and RFA personnel were appointed to these commercial ships in the first place). The 1st and 2nd nets were landed successfully on the hatch covers, chocked as well as we could and the helo strop released from the aircraft end. The strop could be recovered later, but having it in place kept the net together...thank goodness. Then the hard work. The ships cranes then had to be traversed and the nets (plus bombs) lifted and lowered to the deck alongside the hatches, strip off the shot mats and open the hatch covers. Then lift and lower the "cargo" into the place the "Stones" wanted it. Then they were stowed properly. One load down and 3 to go. But that was the basic operation. Simple in concept, hard in practise and certainly stressfull for the aircrew. That little lot took most of a day, and in no way were we or anybody else going to attempt it at night.
Next day we started again. Similar weather conditions. Not used to it, but getting there. 3rd drop was fine. 4th was a disaster. Either the aircraft went backwards a few feet or the ship was pushed a few feet to port, who knows. But the load landed half on the 5' high hatch and the other half carried on to the deck. The strop holding the neck of the net together broke and so we had about 10 cluster bombs droppng 5'or more and rolling around the deck. People were scattering in all directions. Natural reaction I suppose, but there was nowhere to go. If that lot had gone up, followed by the rest of the ship I reckon that part of Ascension Island (including the airfield) may not now exist in its present form. But that had to be "it" for the day. Palpitations over, bombs stowed and everybody ready for a beer.
A couple of years later when I was again in the Falklands we were operating with a couple of Chinooks (another story) and one of the pilots listened with disbelief ...as he had been the pilot. I now think it was a combination of the rear rotor wash pushing the ship to port and the reaction pushing the aircraft backwards. So we had a beer. His (the pilots) co-pilot mentioned that his "boss" (him next to me) had a DFC. It's only polite to ask why....so I was told that on his way back to Wideawake....but on a different job to ours....he had had a front rotor failure but had managed to put the thing down OK. Takes guts to keep flying after that, I think.
Probably from the same aircrew I learned something that I really should have figured out for myself....except at the time I didn't know. I was always curious as to why a load of cluster bombs were sort of stshed away on Ascension. Years later I read about the RAF "Vulcan" raid on the Port Stanley airstrip. At that time an old fashioned but workable metal plate thing laid by the Argentinians. As we now all know I think out of the 5 aircraft that left Ascension, 3 had to turn back. I think we got their loads. But what a feat of Logistics!
Our "new" passengers were certainly not ignoramuses, but all pretty senior rates from all 3 services. They really took a lot of weight off my back and the RN PO who had been struggling a bit with being "the Senior Rate".
And so calm was regained. I had been instructed that somewhere South of Ascension I should post "The Articles Of War" about the ship to inform the ships company (now more like an emigrant ship than a regular/normal ship) of what was expected of them, and how this document was legally binding. The "Hermit" (Captain) refused to let me do this. Quandary, Seek advice. "Cover your bum" and all that. As the "war" was effectively over by then I was told to "let it ride"....."for now". Fine by me.
No-one was taking any chances however, and so we had been routed south paralleling the African Coast before turning West towards Port Stanley. Saw some wonderful icebergs. On a clear moonlit night the glint of moonlight on a berg could be seen way over the horizon. Wonderful clear skies....but as we point down the wrong way there, there are not as many stars to see as there are "up here", but all very pretty. Then we arrived and anchored in Stanley Sound.  More later. BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #247 on: March 12, 2009, 06:13:09 PM »

I knew I had a pic of a Chinook somewhere! I know the 2 pics don't match up, and it is only a single lift (or drop), but it may give an idea of "proximity" and so on.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #248 on: March 12, 2009, 06:51:12 PM »

As I was rummaging through my "filing system" trying to find the Chinook pics I came across these 2. Although they are not "model boat" oriented, they may bring back some memories to some of my fellow seafarers of a time before Singapore decided to become "posh"...and now they wish they had just left it as it was. Martin, Please do not delete these pics as they will stir old thunks. BY.
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BarryM

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #249 on: March 12, 2009, 08:37:57 PM »

Bryan,

Now I know where I fell over you! Memories of pints of Tiger, the crossword kids, shoeshine boys and a Marine Sergeant who looked like Dusty Springfield after a bad night - whom nobody ever crossed.

I remember waking up after a bad night to find a 4ft. yellow elephant at the bottom of my bunk. Closer (and later) inspection proved it to be plastic and inflatable but it gave me a nasty turn at the time.

Must dig out my old pics if I can still find them.

Thanks for the memories,

Barry M
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