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Author Topic: Nautical "Strange but True!"  (Read 151584 times)

Colin Bishop

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #625 on: April 28, 2010, 07:10:39 pm »

Well worth persevering Bryan. As you quite rightly say, many people don't document their lives and their descendants have little idea of what they achieved and of their experiences. Before you know it the record of a whole way of life has been lost, never to be recovered. I am sure that in time your Granddaughter will be absolutely fascinated by your writings and feel a sense of family continuity.

I have the postcards exchanged by my Grandparents while courting during the early years of the last century and they make poignant reading. In those days you could send off a postcard in the moring proposing tea at Lyons Corner House in the afternoon and it would be delivered in time for the recipient to make the rendezvous. No need for mobiles in those days.

Colin
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #626 on: April 28, 2010, 07:35:37 pm »

Well worth persevering Bryan. As you quite rightly say, many people don't document their lives and their descendants have little idea of what they achieved and of their experiences. Before you know it the record of a whole way of life has been lost, never to be recovered. I am sure that in time your Granddaughter will be absolutely fascinated by your writings and feel a sense of family continuity.

I have the postcards exchanged by my Grandparents while courting during the early years of the last century and they make poignant reading. In those days you could send off a postcard in the moring proposing tea at Lyons Corner House in the afternoon and it would be delivered in time for the recipient to make the rendezvous. No need for mobiles in those days.

Colin
Don't know about others, but I do remember quick deliveries. Isn't that such a quaint and primitive idea. Such a load of rubbish. Let them wait a few days...etc.etc. We have all this technology, and waste it. What an odd state we live in.
Answer me this, Colin: What is the prime purpose of a "modern" Trade Union? Is it political, or as originally intended, secure tenure and decent working conditions?
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Shipmate60

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #627 on: April 28, 2010, 08:46:44 pm »

Bryan,
The latter.
The days of "beer and sandwiches"at No 10 are well over.
All my members care about is for our T.U. to look after Pay and Conditions and representation during any disciplinary action taken.

Bob
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malcolmfrary

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #628 on: April 28, 2010, 09:03:25 pm »

Quote
What is the prime purpose of a "modern" Trade Union?
Same as ever, to keep the boss honest. Always was an uphill struggle.  
As you have observed in your notes regarding the various organisations that you have worked for, where some behaved decently by their nature, some would do anything for the bottom line.  With persuasion, backed up by legal force, bosses often observe the requirements of laws.  The laws are made by politicians, sometimes at the suggestion of lobbyists, sometimes by politicians who think a particular law is a good idea.  Sometimes the politicians believe what they are saying.  Where does the line between negotiating terms and conditions and getting support for laws governing those terms and conditions run?  Is there a real separation between persuading the boss to let you have the terms and conditions and getting the legal framework (via politics) for those terms and conditions to even exist?
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Roger in France

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #629 on: April 29, 2010, 07:53:45 am »

Bryan,

I am glad you are drawing all your writings together.

As well as recording for posterity what you did and who you were it avoids the development of family myths. A few years ago my daughter urged me to write down our family history.

When I started my research I was amazed to find that there were several seriously incorrect myths in my background which I have been able to set right. Fortunately, nothing nasty but misunderstandings about what happened to family members only two generations back. I also discovered several relatives and branches of the family in other parts of the world. I even discovered that my own father was three years older than we all understood!

I have no particular wish to contact the extended family but it is good to know who they were and what they achieved.

Roger in France
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pugwash

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #630 on: September 17, 2010, 02:04:34 am »

Hello Bryan,  could we or me prevail on you to complete your nautical saga, I keep looking out for the
final chapter(s) as I've  really enjoyed so far.  Any chance of a conclusion

Geoff
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Dreadstar

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #631 on: September 17, 2010, 02:00:28 pm »

Well Brian,I don't know about any other readers on here,but I think that you should publish your memoirs,I'm sure that many of us here would buy a copy. :-))
 Please don't leave us on tenterhooks awaiting the next installment,as the images conjured up by some of your anecdotal tales would bring tears to a glass eye. ;)
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #632 on: September 17, 2010, 02:51:53 pm »

How nice to be reminded that I hadn't finished the saga!
Actually, I've been plodding along with compiling all the guff and adding new photos etc. to the book(s). I've filled 4 ring-binders at 100 pages each, and the last page I did (yesterday) was of the Bugis Street beauty parade! So that was 1986....still a few years to go yet.
I think I left you all on "Olna" when Mrs Lust was with us ( and the doctors wife falling out of bed).
So (all) that's left is a relief stint on the replacement "Sir Galahad", "Orient '92" on "Austin", a long and not particularly nice time, then 6 or 7 months in Split aboard "Resource".
I suppose it would be a bit unfair to just leave the whole thing hanging where it is at the moment. Sorry. In a way, I suppose that I was half hoping that you'd all forgotten about the tales....for one basically very selfish reason. It sounds stupid, but somewhere in the dark recesses of what used to be my brain, I seem to have developed the notion that if I actually completed the saga up to the date of my retirement.....then I'd be finished as well as the story. I'd have nothing left to do!
Also, I've been struggling to re-build my model of the 1923 cable repair ship "Norseman" after it sustained so much "damp" damage while stowed in a clubhouse locker. Give me back the eyesight I had 18 months ago and that task would have been completed ages ago, but what used to take me an hour now takes all afternoon. A real pain in the tripes.
However. OK. I'll re-start the thread soon. Regards to you all. Bryan.
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craftysod

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #633 on: September 20, 2010, 10:00:59 pm »

Great news Bryan,we have been left hanging by tenderhooks for your upcoming episodes.
Its like a book that has no ending,hopefully you will finish the model and this great read.
Mark
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #634 on: September 21, 2010, 05:54:06 pm »

Just as a mild "starter" episode, and to sort of get myself back in the swing of things, I'd like to go back to "Olna" and relate a couple of things I missed out.
Starting with Mr. and Mrs "Blobby". Poor guy, actually he was quite good as a doctor, but by the mid part of the voyage it was quite clear to us why he wanted to keep her away from more civilised people. So she was inflicted on us sub-human types. The "Captains Table" in an RFA is always the preserve of the mighty 3 ringers and above. And as the ships doctor always held an honorary 3 stripe status he had a place at the top table....a big round one. Going to dinner after only a half hour in the bar would always find her both strident and abusive...thinking, I imagine, that she was being the epitomy of wit and wisdom. Our Captain.....he of 6ft6" and a girth to match was at a loss as to what to do. He probably just wanted to get back to his cabin and paint another flock of sheep for his railway layout. Don't get me wrong here. This Captain was a "real" Captain in every sense of the word, including having a volcanic temper that he could switch on and off as "things" demanded. But Mrs Blobby was a new experience for him I think. Thank goodness he (the Captain) also had his lovely, calm and diplomatic Spanish wife with him otherwise I reckon he would have thrown a real wobbler and banished the Blobbies to the Duty Mess.
During the whole of that voyage I was sort of trapped at meal times. Obviously I was going to have Anne dine with me, but I also had between 2 and 4 of the RN wives at the same table. All very enjoyable, but it divorced me from the usual meal-time chit chat with my fellow officers. So when the time came for all the ladies to leave the ship I was a bit of an unknown quantity and didn't really fit in anywhere. This was only at meal times, but as I only had another month to go it was reasonably tolerable.
The cabin sharer of Mrs Lust was the wife of the Padre on the Carrier. And a more unlikely "Man of God" would be hard to imagine.
He'd spent years as a Royal Marine (marksman) in all sorts of nasty places. Leaving the Marines he joined the Police and once confided to me that his most rewarding time there was being allowed to inflict damage and mayhem during the miners strike of 1984. A true "fire and brimstone" sort of guy.
I'm still in regular contact with that Captain (living in Barcelona) due to our shared interest in model making. One of his pals is Gerald Wingrove of car modelling fame. He also lives not very far from the F1 racing circuit, and reckons that the best thing that ever happened to his village was the ban on unlimited testing of the cars.
Shortly after I left "Olna" she suffered a major swtchboard fire way out in the Atlantic that could have been a real disaster. The days of dread and hardship that the "new" crew endured are not mine to tell, but they nearly lost the ship.
Way,way back I think I mentioned another illicit liason between a wife and another officer. What I didn't say was that this was known to a few people (not me, Engineers only for this one). But what made it "different" was that the occupant of the next door cabin had "superglued" a wine glass to his bulkhead and would "listen in".
I don't know what it is with women and the sea, perhaps it's a bit like riding a horse or something. Probably best not to ask.
So there we go. A starter for the rest of my take on a life at sea.
The next will be a nice jaunt on the then "new" "Sir Galahad" and a visit to a few Fjiords in the middle of winter. BY.
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pugwash

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #635 on: September 21, 2010, 07:32:34 pm »

Bryan, nice to have you back telling a good tale

Geoff
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #636 on: September 23, 2010, 04:01:27 pm »

And so, dear friends, once more unto the breach. The Lord alone only knows what direction and flights of whimsy this section will go in. Truthful (as always) but my latter days were somewhat darker than earlier years. I suppose there were many reasons for this. Partly because I was getting older and as one gets older perceptions change. Stupidity, ignorance and sheer "bad practise" are not so easily shrugged off, giving rise to bursts of anger. The almost total reliance on "electronics" became my bete-noire. This always gave rise to some snide sniggering....until the little green wigglies decided to go on a holiday. Then the younger sniggerers would just stand around with thumb up bum not knowing what to do next. I'm surprised that some of them even knew how to focus a pair of binoculars now that we have "auto-focussing" things. But these "kids" were all, without exception, pretty well educated. In what subjects I really wouldn't know....certainly not "seamanship" for starters. But of course, they are products of their age. Even though (contrary to popular belief) I never served "under sail", many of the lessons and methods used by those who had percolated deeply into the minds of my generation. And now so much of that knowledge, intuition, experience and sheer bloody-mindedness is all just being chucked out of the window in the name of "progress".
Creaming along at 20 knots in a modern ship. A big ship. Like being in a modern car. What on earth can go wrong? I'll tell you what can go wrong. The Sea can go wrong. You just cannot shut the doors and windows and pretend your'e on a motorway. Exercises and so on are allvery well, but they are "choreographed" and nothing in "real life" happens the way "the book" says it should.
      Hows that for starters? A silly old man ranting about the modern generation? No, I'm not. Old,yes. Silly no. And I was tarring everyone with the same brush. Unfairly...but not totally.

        After my leave from "Olna" during which I had the odd dreams about the outcome of meetings between the dipso wife of the doctor and the large gold encrusted gentleman (on a bicycle, singing to himself) in the aptly named Turks Islands I eventually got a phone call from the MoD. (I won't mention the kaleidoscope images of Mrs. Lust).
For once it was a very polite phone call asking if I'd reall mind spending 3 weeks or a month on the new "Sir Galahad". They had a new Third Officer recruit on board and the Captain had asked if someone with both experience of RFA "ways of doing things" and zotting in and out and up and down Nowegian fjords. I seemed to fit the bill. In fact I quite welcomed it. Something a bit "new", and also probably my last chance to cruise the fjords without paying for it. No real "duties" apart from sharing the 4-8 watch with "somebody". As it turned out I knew most of the guys on board (unsurprisingly) and rapidly found myself involved with "stuff". No big deal.
Also, the Captain was an old acquaintance. It's been said before, and it's quite true, that the Captains life and job can be a very lonely one. So having somebody like me on board who he could talk to "as a person" seemed to relax him a bit. (Not often anyone ever told him he was talking "xxxxx"...but he laughed).
But to the ship itself.

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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #637 on: September 23, 2010, 05:31:16 pm »

This is very apposite. Sitting at this computer in the middle of a torrential thunder and lightning storm. Suits my mood perfectly. I should be a fan of Wagner rather than Beethoven and Mozart.
         "Sir Galahad" was as you know built to replace the ship of the same name sunk as a War Grave off the Falklands in 1982. The "new" Galahad was produced so quickly that it's difficult to imagine that she wasn't intended as the first of a new class of LSL to replace the original ones. But times and "requirements" changed, and the new "Bay" class was probably already being envisaged. So she became, like the old "Sir Lancelot" a "one off" job. She was in many ways just an updated LSL, designed to do the same job. Considering the advances made in ship design and technology during the previous 20 or 30 years that shouldn't be surprising. Unless you're a member of the "Corps of Naval Constructors" that is. To just tinker with a 50 year old design was a very good recipe for built in obsolescence. I really believe that this "Corps of Constructors" (which probably pre-dates Samuel Pepys) has had its day and should be reduced to general overseeing and cost control. But I think that even if that came to pass they would still find a wheel to stick a spoke into and cause general problems for the contractors.
This new "Galahad" was considerably bigger than her ancestors, and faster, partly due to the adoption of a "visor" front door as opposed to the double sideways opening things that were all the rage during WW2. But some ideas seem to take longer to percolate than others I suppose. Being bigger and heavier with a stability profile that was easier to live with made the new ship a lot more comfortable in a seaway. At least "we" thought so, I don't think the troops we carried noticed much difference.
She was also built with a "cut down and cheap" version of the so-called "stealth" technology. I'm reall still not convinced that "stealth" can be achieved by simply angling the hull and superstructure plating by a few degrees and then lathering the whole lot with normal paint and then leaving little items like cranes and hangar doors "as always was". All this might work on Lake Windermere, but not when the ship's rolling its guts out in the middle of the Atalantic.
      From a crew members viewpoint these slopey bulkheads are lethal. 'Cos the doors have to fit into them. Heavy, watertight doors. Getting through one in a rough sea could bring in the "Elf'n'Safety" brigade. Let me take you through a door:-
This door is on the port side of the ship. The ship is rolling. Unclip the door (only one clip used on a normal daily basis). The ship rolls away from you slamming the door shut again, try again and the damn thing flies open so hard and fast that real nimbleness is required to prevent said crew member being just a red splodge on the grey paintwork. Gets worse if it's blowing a gale as all outer doors will open against a wind from ahead.
       All ships have a few "quirks". "Galahad" was no exception. As "older" readers of these tales may recall, The RN and RFA really really enjoy operating under "darken ship" conditions. A hangover from the diaries of Admiral Lord Nelson, but pre-dating radar and so on. This "darkening" involves screwing down all scuttles. Not possible on Galahad as they were permanently welded into place. Thus preventing fresh air from circulating and allowing a single case of Legionaires disease (or the plague,or whatever) spreading throughout the ship. Anyway. In the normal course of events, once the scuttle had been dogged down the deadlight would be dropped and also dogged. Great. Total blackout. "Galahad"? No deadlights. Nobody during the build of the ship had noticed this. Quite extraordinary considering the level of "overlook" normally done during a build. The ships answer was to cut plywood discs and tape them in place as and when required. High tech stuff.
        But "Galahad" was only 9 years old when she was sold off in 2006, leaving some of her older brethren to soldier on fo a few more years.
        A few remarks about the "Norwegian" runs.
Winter training for troops. Working in snow. When there is any snow. A dearth of it in my latter years, so troops in white suits were easily visible. Change into "Greens", and then it would snow. Poor souls just couldn't win. I think a lot of them go to Canada now, a lot more comfortable than a lumpy 2 or 3 day cruise up the North Sea. The "sea-sick" smell in the troop dormitories never really went away altogether.
But only  few weeks aboard her, a couple of weeks at home and then "Fort Austin" for "Orient 92". BY.
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Colin Bishop

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #638 on: September 23, 2010, 05:47:29 pm »

Good to see your tales resumed Bryan. A lot more interesting than certain other threads at the moment.

Colin
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #639 on: September 23, 2010, 06:28:34 pm »

I suppose there are better photos, but this will have to do for now.
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leafman

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #640 on: September 28, 2010, 11:52:58 am »

Hello Bryan. 
I found this fine site by pure accident a couple of days ago and am trying to work out how to use it.  We were on Pearleaf in 68 and sailed together on other ships. I remember Captain O J Coulthard (Curly) with fondness and I remember the radio active paint and other pranks! 
Your postings are fascinating and indeed a very accurate account of RFA life.
I received a letter from you many years ago (I still have it) but never got back to you - naughty boy!
I also remember meeting up with you at sea when on a SAR mission, me on Kirkcudbright Lifeboat and you on Sir Geraint.  That meeting gave me the impetus I needed to re-join the RFA after a couple of years on the beach.
You were always a good shipmate and talker of very common sense, Bryan, and I hope you are in good shape.
I will look out for a reply if this message has not got lost in cyberspace.
Very Best Regards from Rab T from Kir Coo Bree
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #641 on: September 28, 2010, 01:30:22 pm »

Well, well and more wells!
Rab, wonderful to hear from you, the man who hated Jimmy Young and decided that the RFA doesn't have traditions...just bad habits!
If I'd remembered at the time of writing the "Pearleaf" episode I'd also have included the "back flips" behind a lousy stage act in Mombasa!
However, I'll send you a PM and catch up with you. My e-mail address is under the "profile" (the blue one). Many happy regards. Bryan.
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leafman

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #642 on: September 29, 2010, 03:30:49 pm »

Me again, Bryan. VMT for emails (God-there we go again with these TLAs).  Looking at the pic of Sir Galahad above brings back some old memories.  I was sent out in Jan 70 to join her.  Little info was forthcoming from ESB (There we go agaiin) Empress State Building for non RFA readers. I arrived at Paya Lebar Airport to be picked up by our agent from Sembawang and whisked down to Keppel harbour.  She was still, unbeknown to me, a B.I. run vessel. I must say, she looked really good in those colours.  However on boarding I was directed to my accommodation -the Military Officers cabins, which were not air conditioned. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that
the engineers had put some heating on prior to my arrival. I quickly opted out and headed for a hotel, somewhere in the region of Bugis Strasser!.  I was invited on my way up to my room if I needed any "company".
Turned out I was the very first of the RFA squad to arrive and for many days was the target of jibes and jokes most were in good humour and I hope I did not react or take offence.  The OM was one Captain John Swan who was the Commodore of the Fleeet at that time and quite a formidable personality. Eventually he realised that I was there,  as I put it to him, to help and not to hinder.  I sailed with Capty Swan on 3 other occasions after that and was asked, on Sir Geraint, if I would present him with his retiral present from the ship's company. After a week or so on Galahad the rest of the RFA contingent started to appear,  Chris Carkeet (2/O),  Ed Wardlaw (Sec Eng), Mike Verwoerd (3 Eng), and Mr Yim Ah Ko (Ch Stwd) who I had sailed with many times before.
Eventually Capt Swan was relieved by Gentleman Jim Foster and Mike Wallace (Choff) by the mad Freeman. Both Swannie and Mike Wallace transferred to the RFA and brought their skills with them.   Ken Adams (Ch Eng) also transferred to RFA and stayed on Galahad.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #643 on: September 29, 2010, 04:29:38 pm »

Rab, if you trawl backwards to my first time in "Geraint" you'll find that Swan was Capt of her (as he was during part of my time in "Retainer"). I had a lot of time for him, and eventually we became personal friends. Last saw Mike Wallace when he had "Percy" during my time in Split on Resource......but thats a tale I've yet to recount, so you'll have to wait! Bryan.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #644 on: October 01, 2010, 03:56:22 pm »

“Fort Austin” deployment on “Orient ‘92”.
So, after a too lengthy gap, here we go again.
As has been my usual way when writing these ditties from the past I’ve had to rely quite heavily on my letters home. Just adding bits as I remember them…and deleting other bits. I hadn’t realised until relatively recently that Mrs Y had saved just about every letter I ever wrote to her! So I’ve had a mountain of stuff to put into some sort of readable, chronological order! I wonder how many other seafarers wives have saved so much dithering, moaning, repetitive, self-pitying, garbage. But I suppose most of us feel the same way when re-reading our own letters. Apart from that, a plus point is that in writing I could make sure that I now and again “had the last word”…something that seldom happens nowadays.
       Another apology. I doubt that there’ll be many (if any) photographs this time. If only “digital” had been around then! So you’ll have to make do with words.
       I joined “Austin” at her regular spot….on “Charlie” buoy out in Plymouth Sound at the beginning of  May ’92. About as far from habitation as is possible down there. “They” still hadn’t got around to fixing the telephone cable. But as only loaded and dangerous RFAs used the buoy, I can only assume that we weren’t considered any sort of target for the IRA or any of the up and coming terrorist outfits. Quite disgraceful really. A “Vodaphone” had been installed, big deal. But that didn’t work very well either. So it was back to the old boat routine just to phone home…expect to spend at least 3 hours just to make a 10 minute call. Much gnashing of teeth.
       But “Fort Austin” and I were by now old acquaintances. I knew where the pipes were that were liable to crack, the anchor that “I” had bent back in 1982 was still there on deck as the “spare”, and as I’d been aboard during her previous refit just about a year ago I had a pretty good idea where I could expect to meet problems. All well and good. The bit that wasn’t so good was the number of people on board that I’d never met, but knew by reputation. Especially when it came to the senior officers. This didn’t bode well for the future. I rapidly found myself caught between the Choff and the Ch.Engineer who seemed consumed by a personal battle, and an “old fashioned” Captain who thought he really was close to being a Deity. Oh, goody.
       We eventually left Plymouth to rendezvous with the other deployment ships off Portsmouth. This is “normal”, I mean, why does a ship have to go that far “backwards” when we could easily have waited a few hours and joined up as they passed Plymouth? Think of the fuel savings. However. On leaving Plymouth we were joined by our Flight. Two Sea Kings from 845 squadron. Oddly enough, this was also my first meeting with my Flight Deck crew. It seems like internal beaurocracy had dithered a bit. Another learning curve. This flight was due to remain with us for the entire deployment. Fat chance.
This deployment had been given a high profile by both the politicians and the media (or so I was told, but I can’t recall ever hearing about it….perhaps the MP for Plymouth and the readers of the “Western Morning News” did). S lots of media cover had been arranged to cover “the fleet” joining up off Portsmouth. But as the weather was pretty naff the whole thing was called off and the ships just slunk away. What ships? “Invincible”, “Norfolk”, “Boxer”, “Newcastle”, “Olwen” (she of fond memory and starvation a few months earlier), and (of course) “Fort Austin”. A veritable “Fleet”.
           The passage down as far as Gibraltar was a “fast” one in RN terms. That basically means they didn’t meander too far off a direct route. But we weren’t going to call at Gib, unusually.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #645 on: October 01, 2010, 05:15:52 pm »

As is usual with sort of deployment the “command ship” (“Invincible”, in this case) is overstocked with “Staff” who, all being avid adherents of Parkinsons Laws, just had to dream up exciting ways to both justify their presence and keep the crews occupied and not become bored. So although all the ships had recently been passed as “fit for purpose” another “Portland” style work-up was conducted. We did a lot of flying, which was understandable as the flight needed to get “bedded in”. But you can only do so many fire exercises before grouching begins.
Eventually we turned left at the bottom end of Iberia and the officers displayed all their white knees in their pristine white tropicals. Hard to tell which were the whiter, the shorts or the knees. “Austin” was actually despatched to anchor off Gib to collect the mail and some stores that some poor RN supply officer had forgotten about. If it had been purely for mail then some aircraft or other would have been despatched at maximum range and not departed Gib until the ships were at maximum range in the other direction, thus giving the aircrew a night ashore. These guys sure know how to play the system!
       Our group (I refuse to call it a “fleet” any more) was to join up with another bunch who were involved with another exercise called “Dragon Hammer” off Sardinia. Does some high ranking civil-servant (or Admiral) really get paid to sit at a desk and dream up exotic names for exercises I wonder. Probably. Especially if they are considered too intelligent to be in the “procurement” department. But Dragon Hammer mainly passed us by, but kept the warships busy. “Out of it”….but not forgotten!
      The Fleet NBCD team arrived on board. This time I use the word “Fleet” advisedly. This bunch had passed the “being a swine” testing at Portland and had been promoted to travelling the world to visit tears, despair and sheer bloody mindedness on any ship that was unfortunate enough to come into their sights. The last time I “had the pleasure” was that awful day (amongst others) after leaving Singapore on “Olwen” a couple of years earlier. By now, the job of NBCD had been transferred from the 1/Off(X) to the Chief Engineer. The 1/O remained as his deputy. Actually, that was fine by me ….I can’t answer for others of my rank….as the C/Eng should, in theory at least, know the ships systems better than a deck officer. In theory. Anyway. This bunch of sadists arrived on board. Smiled a lot and made like Mr. Nice-guy. And then reverted into their true personna. It wasn’t just the fire-fighting and damage control stuff (we were used to that), but we had the NBCD thing thrown at us as well. Shut the ship down. Get all togged up with the baggage and everything. As far as I can recall, the only good thing to come out of it all was a reminder to some of the crew “wise guys” that the respirator (gas masks to you and me) bags were really not meant as receptacles for ciggies and chocolate bars.
The British involvement in this “Dragon Hammer” thing that was an “Amphibious” exercise was HMS “Fearless” and the RFA “Sir Tristram” who later had a RAS(S) and Vertrep from us. I really love the word “Amphibious” in this context. I just can’t get rid of the notion of armed toads crawling up a beach. Until now we’d been hosts for a team of “media” people. And a right pain in the butt they were.
      Of course there had to be another reason for this. These media people always found odd ways of asking questions. Stuff like “What are you doing here”, “What are you hoping to sell” or “Is this a political deployment”? Apart from saying things like “"xxxxx" if I know” or “well, it’s better than paying £4000 for a cruise ticket, and  I’m getting paid to do it”, which would have played well on the BBC we just played dumb (as, in truth, we were). But spurious thoughts arose. Like….”why do we want to sell electronics to the Japanese and South Koreans”. All very odd.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #646 on: October 02, 2010, 04:36:41 pm »

      I’ve also just remembered that the spare prop was still unpainted and reasonably shiny….and the “modesty boards “ were still fitted!
( New readers will have to go back to 1982 to see what I’m talking about).
       Even though we’d just left the vicinity of Sardinia, our schedule said that we weren’t due another stop-over for another month. In Mombassa. Fair enough, we’d obviously have to stop at Port Said before transiting the canal, but that isn’t what you would call a “stop-over”, is it. But “events” made life sort of interesting. The first one was when the “poo tank” valves or something got a bit fed up and stopped working. “Poo-tank”? Change the first word and you’ll get the message….not as clear as we did though. In days gone by, all the “nasties” produced on board were simply pumped over the side into whatever pristine bit of water the ship happened to be floating in at the time. No-one cared about this very much. Everybody did it. Household “stuff”, Industrial waste, everything. Mostly it all got washed out by the tide…but tides turn, and a lot of it came back. On to beaches and so on. An old aerial photograph I once saw showed the mouth of the Tyne surrounded by a hemisphere of “brown” against the “blue” of the sea. Other rivers were the same.
But I digress. By now ships had to “contain” and “treat” the “poo-waste” in a tank, to be pumped out into somebody elses’  bailywick. All this “stuff” in the tank was supposedly treated by chucking in a handful of some bacteria or other that would gleefully gobble up all this gloop and render it “harmless”. They were helped in this by having a “macerator” (a propeller on a stick) that kept the contents from congealing. (The lack of all this was one of the reasons why the Royal Yacht was de-comissioned). But when it goes wrong……
I imagined us sailing serenely along with this brown haze travelling along with us. The stench was really appalling. And it was a fat lot of good to expect the Egyptians to do anything about it as they would think it was quite normal. The problem was resolved by an executive decision. A Junior Engineer would have to “volunteer” to go down, open the tank and withdraw the macerator rod and propeller. Poor sod. People gave him a wide berth for days afterwards. Made him wash his own beer glass and that sort of thing. The problem? Back in Plymouth a few wives had been on board with small children, and no-one had said that the ships system wasn’t designed to cope with disposable nappies….or tampons. So eventually they (the disposables) clogged up something or other and it all sort of ground to a halt.
I eventually got around to asking the J/Eng what it was like “down there”. He was an ex-submariner, broad Geordie. “Divent knaa, wasn’t gannin te hang aboot lang enuff te find oot like ye knaa.” And no more “poo” until Hong Kong.
       
           But we didn’t go on to Suez. What a surprise. Instead, we were “detached” from the group and basically told to stooge around the Med between Malta and Cyprus. Eventually we were given a rendezvous point about 50 miles south of Cyprus and were “requested” to stop engines and “drift” at a particular time. All very odd. I suppose the Deity knew what was going on, but he hadn’t let anyone into the secret.
At the appointed time and place at late dusk, in a nice empty part of the sea, I and other senior officers were summoned to the bridge. After about half an hour just stood around (including the navigator, who also hadn’t a clue what was going on), we were all a bit surprised to see one of our nuclear submarines surface about half a mile away on our stbd side. Now this was interesting! I’d never seen one of these things surface before and was surprised how graceful she looked. If a submarine can look “shy” then that was the impression I got. Periscope up, then down. Then very slowly the sub emerged. Getting dark now. But light enough to see a small boat being launched, filled with people and heading our way. Are we being hi-jacked? Perhaps our Captain had been “turned”? Nah, about a dozen UK Marines or something came aboard, the little boat returned and the sub sank (again gracefully) back to where she’d come from. This bunch of “visitors” were an SBS raiding party.
What on earth was going on here. Had we declared war on somebody? Soon all (or some of “all”) was explained. This little squadron had been given the task of infiltrating the RAF base at Akrotiri to sort of test their defenses….but without the usual cutting of throats and other stuff that seemed to be the preferred way of doing things.
This was all sort of interesting, but how were they going to get to Akrotiri from way out here? It seemed a bit optimistic to think that a 660ft long ship could just turn up and not be noticed.
Then a second rendezvous was produced. About 30 miles east of wherever we were at that time. Same procedure. Get there on time, stop engines and drift. Again at late dusk. This time I did have a “job”. At an appointed time I was to turn on the flight deck lighting…on “low” setting. Again, this was odd, as the flight deck team wasn’t closed up. Just me. It wasn’t long before I heard the familiar growl of a Hercules approaching. Bloody hell, we’re not going to land that thing are we! Obvious fantasy. So I realised the deck lights were only on so the Herc could be sure he was circling the correct ship. This was followed by a low and slow close fly-past with his stern ramp open and the “loadmaster” easily visible standing on the ramp just like a tourist.
Next pass was a bit higher and a great bundle was shoved off the ramp and parachuted into the sea about (again) half a mile away. Our “RIB” was launched with both its RFA crew and a few of the SBS guys. As you’ve guessed, this was the SBS boat meant to get them to wherever they’d decided to land.
       This dropping of a boat close to a stopped RFA had been practised a few months earlier. Not “Fort Austin”. Somewhere between Poole and Portland. It was just an unfortunate coincidence that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had been invited to view this demonstration of  accurate load dropping. Too accurate. According to the newspaper reports I read at the time, the load skimmed the upper bridge area where the VIPs were and landed on the forecastle head. Not the half a mile away where it should have landed.
      But back to “Austin” and our part in the invasion of a friendly nation.
The SBS team became really obsessive about secrecy and locked themselves in a spare cabin to do their final planning. A bit over the top really, but that seems to be the way they do it.
       Then came the “big night”. “Austin” was steaming at about 10 knots east to west around 25 miles off the south coast of Cyprus south of Limassol. The boat was ready for launching. The SBS were all togged up in their scary black suits and loaded down with all sorts of lethal “stuff”.
Ready to go!…and the boat wouldn’t start. After all the testing and so on when it had worked perfectly. Our engineers were called to have a look at it and declared it “totally goosed”. It was then suggested that our RIB could be used instead, after all, it was just as fast as the SBS one, and our coxwain was leaping up and down in his eagerness to take part in an SBS “raid”. Nah, said the men in black, and called the whole thing off. A nuclear submarine, a Hercules aircraft, hundreds of hours of planning….and the boat didn’t work.
Perhaps the RAF regiment at Akrotiri are still waiting?  The SBS blokes were taken ashore by one of our Sea Kings, and that’s the last I saw of them.
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Notes from a simple seaman

Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #647 on: October 03, 2010, 02:03:43 pm »

During all the hoo-ha with the SBS, we on the “Austin” were on the only group ship still at sea. The others were enjoying a 4 day “break” in Athens. So, the crew of “Austin” hadn’t been ashore now since leaving the UK, and the next place they could expect to “stretch their legs” (a very poor euphanism) would be in Mombassa….sometime in the distant future. Oh, dear. What planning! Keep a ship at sea for weeks longer than all the others and then berth it in the Aids capital of the world. A few days in Cyprus would have let a bit of steam off, and we could easily catch up with the rest of the group in the Red Sea. But that’s too easy for the “staff” to even contemplate. They had another problem.
“Olwen”, my beloved ship of 1988 had another major hiccup. “Hiccup”? Older readers (no reference to age….just time as readers) may recall that we on Olwen had a major setback when in Singapore 1988. Now it seemed that her main diesel cargo pumps have called it a day, so she can’t issue fuel to any of the ships in the group. And we haven’t even reached the Suez Canal yet. On top of all that she had reported severe contamination in her Avcat tanks. Bad news for everybody, but particularly the carrier. It all seemed to becoming a bit of an embarrassment. But even before this deployment got underway, it had been pointed out to the “planners” that having only one dedicated tanker was asking for trouble. And all of these “planners” were supposedly graduates of the “Staff Course” at Greenwich where logistics was quite high on the agenda. But there was more….”Olwen”, of course. UK RN/PLC was still truing to flog off the Petrel rocket/target system that I was involved with back in 1988. I should mention that “Olwen” was the only ship to have had her flight deck modified to accept the mountings for the 30ft launch tubes.
      But we on “Austin” were still just drifting around the ocean with nowhere to go and loads of time to do it in. I note in one of my letters that the highlight of one day was to watch a cow carcase drift by. Exciting stuff.
By now the flight was well embedded with us and compared with some other flights we’d had this lot were an asset to the ship So apart from not going anywhere and the ships company on the verge of mutiny, it was really a quite happy ship….about 3 on a scale of 0 to 10.
       This may sound a bit strange to anyone working in the private sector of shipping, but although “Fort Austin” was only a year out of a major refit; and the next one wasn’t due for another 2 or possibly 3 years the ships input should be completed and returned within the next 6 months. Such was the mind-set of the “pen-pushers”.
        After all this time at sea and basically doing nothing and going nowhere it didn’t do the ships morale much good when the mutual antagonism between the Deity and the Ch.Engineer (Satan) broke out into almost open warfare. To be honest, one was as bad as the other, but the rest of the officers refused (mentally) to be associated with either of them. Many were the little huddles in the bar just working out how we could continue keeping the ship efficient and operational in spite of the two dictators dictats. Common consensus? Ignore them. One really did expect a certain amount of “common dog” from people in their positions, but it sort of proved the adage that “power corrupts etc.”.
         A good example of this was when somebody decided that we should anchor off Akrotiri to give us at least a walk ashore. Then the Deity made a “pipe” stating  that “There will be no shore leave until morale improves”. Then the Chief Satan announced that as his staff hadn’t had time to check over the boats he wouldn’t give permission for “his” boats to be used for a shore barbeque. Can you believe these people? I suppose “despot” is the only word I can come up with. We should have stayed at sea. The real reason for anchoring off Akrotiri soon became evident. In no way was it meant to be a bit of a break for the ships company. There was never any intention of allowing shore leave. We were there to do a job. I can only assume that the Deity was scared to tell us the truth and so had to dream up an excuse. For all this guys bullying and bombast he really was a deep down “kipper” as the Aussies would say.
       I can’t believe that all this was “classified”! (It wasn’t, just made so by our dear leader). No, it transpired that we were to be the sea going part of a long “airbridge” from the UK. Our anchorage wasn’t all that far from the end of the base runway, and we’d been a bit curious about the number of Hercules flights arriving. Soon found out though. I, for one, had assumed that all the “stuff” that was part of the sales tour had already been loaded into the carrier and us (with odd bits in the lesser warships), and “Olwen” would be fully kitted out with all the “Petrel” gubbins. Wrong! It was all to be loaded into us…plus tons of more usual stores for all the other ships. And here was me thinking that everybody would be fully stored up already. Our MoD certainly have some strange ways of doing things.
      A while ago I mentioned that the “harbour” at Akrotiri was more or less just about large enough to hold the base sailing dinghies, so loading from a non-existent barge was out of the question. Time for our aircraft to do some real work instead of just poncing around the skies and interfering with the ships normal routines. The “flight time” per round “trip” was only about 10 minutes. Even so, it took 2 very hectic days of flight deck work. The “stonnery” and the sips deck crew were all pretty pushed, as was the ships engineering department dealing with the various glitches that always happened when so many lifts (the “elevator” sort) were constantly in use.
      Then just before we sailed one of our main pumps threw its hand in which took another couple of days to fix. This unexpected delay caused consternation on the carrier as (at first) no-one knew how long we would be out of action. There was even some talk about the possibility of having to go to Malta to get it fixed. So the carrier decided to transfer our aircraft to itself….”just in case”….
But clouds and silver linings came true, as the double delay enabled “Olwen” to get herself up and running again. Only the aircraft and aircrew were transferred, much to their chagrin, but to the delight of the flight maintenance lot. So we didn’t see the aircraft again until we’d cleared the canal. Not that it made any difference to the ships company as we wouldn’t have been flying during that period anyway.
      By now we’d been at sea for nearly a month and were still the only ship not to get a run ashore….and the natives were getting restless. Don’t know why they were complaining though. At least they had some fresh salad and vegetables to enjoy, which is more than the other ships had.
      Eventually we did have to collect all the ships together and head off for the Suez Canal. It’s only about 90 odd miles from Cyprus so not even the RN could "xxxxx" up this bit.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #648 on: October 03, 2010, 03:42:52 pm »

The "harbour" at Akrotiri". The main runway is just off the photo at the top left, pointing out to sea.
Port Said really is the most awful dump imaginable. The town has always looked dirty and ramshackle. The harbour has always stunk to high heaven, and full of ships that would appear never to have a penny spent on them.
But one building has always looked immaculate, on the outside at least. That is the headquarters of the old Suez Canal Company. I always found it gave me a bit of a giggle as the array of "palm trees" lining the frontage have been made of steel for as long as I can remember.
The photo of the port and the entrance to the canal vaguely shows the very long entry breakwater that used to have the landmark statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps on it (torn down during the 1956 "thingy"). In more recent years the growth in both traffic and ship sizes meant that the harbour was becoming increasingly congested what with local traffic, the waiting south bound convoy and the exiting north bound one. So a by-pass was dug for the north bound lot to enter the Med with minimal hassle and allowed the south bound to get itself organised a lot faster.
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Roger in France

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #649 on: October 03, 2010, 04:49:53 pm »

I am really enjoying the new "episodes" Bryan. Thank you.

You do mean that the palm trees are artificial?

Roger in France
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