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Author Topic: Nautical "Strange but True!"  (Read 137764 times)

Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #75 on: April 03, 2008, 07:58:35 PM »

Pic of "Bardic" with any luck;-
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Notes from a simple seaman

Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #76 on: April 04, 2008, 05:55:27 PM »

The main duty of a very young cadet was "cargo watch". This entailed sitting in a corner of a working hold and making sure none of the puny 6'6" politely spoken stevedores attempted anything naughty regarding the cargo. I really don't think my imposing 5'6" stature had much effect as case after case of whisky was accidentally broken. "Bardic" was an open shelterdeck ship that served during WW2 as the escort carrier HMS "Puncher". We later sailed for Liverpool where the stevedores were like the Glaswegians but the language was different, and instead of drinking liberated whisky they took simple delight in wrecking a consignment of Daimler Conquest Century cars. Eventually we slunk away en-route to New Zealand and into the teeth of a gale that would batter us until we were beyond the Azores. Thats with hindsight as us cadets weren't allowed anywhere near the ivory tower...only much later on were we "allowed" to go up to scrub the deck and polish the brass. Promotion! It's a very odd thing but all my life if the ship was just doing what ships do in normal (?) weather I would feel slightly seasick with the regular heaving (of the ship), rolling and pitching. I'm sure I am not alone in this, but one learns to disguise it. But in really bad weather I was "as happy as Larry". So I was badly sea-sick through the Bay of Biscay until the weather turned really nasty...as did the circumstances. The sail training ship "Pamir" had gone down somewhere near us and we were part of the search team. Nothing found. The entire crew including 84 cadets were lost. Quite an intro. to life at sea. Us cadets were put to really good and purposeful use....things like cleaning blocked toilets or sitting in a stinky sweaty heaving fo'c'sle cutting up old mooring ropes into 6' lengths, stripping the lengths into yarns and then making football sized balls to be used later as cargo separation markers. But one job really sticks in my mind. As well as the normal bilges she had athwartship ones. Basically square tubes about 2.5' in section and nearly 80' long. We were told to paint the inside of one of them with "Silverine". No ventilation, just an open "strum-box" hole at each end. No lights, only a torch, a tin of smelly paint and a 3" brush. My claustrophobia didn't kick in for a few more years. But a moment to savour was the sudden appearance of the bottom of a sounding line in front of me. It clunked a few times on the bottom of the dry bilge, so I gave it a few tugs. I learned later that the Chinese "chippy" had run off in hysterics. I had been warned that as a cadet I would be treated harshly and was sort of prepared for that, but the treatment I and others endured for the next 3 years bordered on the sadistic, and if it happened nowadays the perpetrators would be serving a jail sentence...on second thoughts, perhaps not.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #77 on: April 04, 2008, 09:10:28 PM »

Just to lighten the mood after the last one. Before the advent of easy air travel and before Terminal was even a dream, the only way to get "odd" cargoes around the world was by sea. So 3 little tales here. The first one I was not involved with, but a mate of mine was. They were fo some reason carrying a circus from somewhere to somewhere else on the China coast. Naturally, all the animals were in cages except for a cow elephant and her calf that were shackled together and to to the deck. The baby managed to slip its shackle and went walkabout. Enticed by the smells from the galley, that's where it went. And got stuck in the door. Trumpets of distress. The mother elephant broke free and went to the rescue. I will leave the ensuing Chinese Fire Drill to your imagination. The last time I saw a Full Blown chinese fire drill was watching them trying to lasoo a runaway tank ( the 60 ton variety) that had broken adrift on the tank deck of "Bedivere" Another story. But the next 2 I was definetely involved in..although still a cadet. There was an occassion when we had to transport around 30 Military Police dogs to Malaya. (We were having a few problems there at that time). Mainly Alsations but a few Labradors etc. plus a team of Army handlers. The dogs were well accomodated..better than me, anyway; with large kennels and one dog to a kennel. Very quickly the dogs were befriended by the crew (UK this time) and so became pretty useless as police dogs without remedial training. The smaller dogs (Labs) worked out how to slip the collars, and showed the others how to do it. Clever buggers. But they only did it at night. It became a fairly regular thing for the lookout to report growling and scratching of claws on the steel deck...and climbing a mast or whatever to be safe. This only happened to me once, but it was from "my" friendly dog. A really huge Alsation that sadly died during the voyage. But they could scare the pants off the crew though, if the smell wasn't right. The second (and oddest) was when we had to bring a small swimming pool sized tank of live tropical fish from Singapore to Antwerp. The tank was erected in a sheltered spot and 4 little wiry Chinese chaps placed a plank of wood diagonally across each corner of the tank. Our Chinese "painter" (Ben Line carried painters specifically to maintain and paint the wood-grain on the exterior bulkheads) translated. These 4 guys were going to sit (in watches) all the way to Antwerp stirring the water with bamboo poles. The ships engineers evolved a way of using the fire main, filters and heaters to do the job for them. As I recall we did not lose too many fish. But there was a "closer" to this. The "Stand-by" to Antwerp was very long and in those days an anchor party was always deployed. The Carpenter (who always drove the windlass) was in desperate "need", but was refused permission to leave his station... so he "went" down the hawsepipe. Pulling his overall back on he quickly realised that he had missed the hawsepipe and was now wearing his "doings" down his back. Ho Hum. BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #78 on: April 05, 2008, 08:25:02 PM »

The old "Bennevis" (ex-"ocean Gallant") has to be one of the worst ships I ever sailed in. You would think that a "Ben" boat would have "Ben Nevis" as its flagship.Just the opposite. A really crappy old "Ocean" boat capable of perhaps 10 knots if the elements were favourable. The crew even lived in 10 man dormitories..the old "gunners" accomodation. and this was 1957/8! The cadets had their own bivuacs somewhere up behind the funnel. To go for a shower was an exercise in fortitude, plumbing and engineering expertise. Imagine you are doing this in the depths of a very cold and snowy winter. Strip off and wear a towel..rememember to take your soap (issued one bar per week or less).Go 20 yards and down a ladder and enter the main accomodation block. Then enter the Engine room and turn on the water (hot and cold) supply to the bathroom. Return to bathroom. Have shower. Go back into Engine room and turn off water supply. Dash across open deck, up outside stairs and enter hovel. That's living? But then there were the cockroaches and maggots to be dealt with. This caboose was adjacent to the so-called fresh vegetable locker. Which really meant that due to the rotten steel the cockroaches and maggots had an open door to my house. Better than an alarm clock was the slight tickling of a cockroach sucking the moisture out of a nostril. But us 2 "occupants" had a cunning plan. We would put a cup of cold tea into the bottom of a kit-bag and wait. A few hours later we would have a seething mass of cockroaches in the bag. Then we would use the old "Flit-Gun" as a flame thrower. Insect crematorium...but they kept coming back. Must have killed millions of the buggers. The largest cockroaches I ever saw wer in Port Sudan. Again, as a "cadet" I was on "cargo watch" observing very tall thin black men with huge mops of hair annointed with camel dung (Brylcreem not having reached these parts of the world) loading sacks of Gutta Percha. This must have had some sort of security aspect, but it escaped me. But these guys were a gentle and friendly people who just wanted to show us cadets "things" about their country. The only one I really recall is "the march of the cockroaches". The stevedores took the pair of us to the back end of the ship where the hatch tarpaulins had been laid out to bleach and dry out. At a signal the tarps were whisked back and underneath were millions of these 3" long creatures. An awesome sight. But they must have sensed the water as there was a stampeding headlong rush to the quay edge and a "waterfall" of cockroaches resulted. Lots of big smiles. That is how they dealt with cockroaches on the quay in Port Sudan.
I have often cogitated about my early life at sea. But this forum is better than writing a book. All of you are interested in ships, boats or whatever and so what better place to tell of a life at sea? Better by far than being stuck on a Library shelf and ignored. BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #79 on: April 05, 2008, 10:38:02 PM »

Why would Mr.Thompson & Co. name this rust bucket after the main "Ben" in Scotland.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #80 on: April 05, 2008, 11:53:39 PM »

But I wa still a "first-tripper", this being my first excursion to the magic "Orient". Our first port of call was to a place whose name I cannot recall at the N.end of the Dutch East Indies. Soon to be called Indonesia. All sorts of little wars were going on then between everybody and everybody else. The ship tied up ahead of us was bombed and as she was loading cubes of paraffin wax (what did we use that for?) she went up like a Roman Candle. All very exciting. The downside to this was the thievery. The locals must have been the forefathers of the modern day pirates. I well remember slamming down a scuttle (plus deadlight) on to a bunch of prying fingers and chucking the severed bits out again. Tough, but that is how it was. My first visit to Singapore was "so-so", but Hong Kong was magical. No high-rises then. I loved it. The team of lady painters who slapped new paint on the hull, the traders who were everywhere but wouldn't steal anything, the Star Ferry that cost only a penny. I was more than earning my 13 a month when I bought my parents a beautiful carved top folding coffee table for $84(hong kong) when the $hk was worth 1 shilling and 3 pence. (about 12p now). I now have it after my parents died and it still looks wonderful. It is really hard to convey how marvellous Hong Kong was then. Singapore was drab and smelly. Now the tables have turned and Honk Kong is just a noisy, smelly (diesel) place with concrete canyons instead of streets. Singapore has (in a lot of areas) re-furbished itself and is now more interesting as a result. Go there. But miss out Hong Kong. But back to the fifties:- Our agents must have been scraping the barrel for a cargo for this crappy tub that was supposedly part of a "crack-line" company. (modern usage of "crack" not known then). So we were sent off to Haiphong in N.Vietnam. Just a few years after the French did their usual withdrawing act and the US were just starting to settle in further south. All this just to load 4,000 tons of stone. It was very odd to hear "Orientals" speak French as their first language. The pair of us cadets went off for a walk (having been given permission by "him" after proving we could recite whichever "Rule of the Road" he wanted to hear). I changed 1 into 10,000"dongs" (all in 10 and 100 dong notes) and bought a pith helmet that I still have. Haiphong then was surrounded by paddy fields. But as much as I looked I never glimpsed an Irishman. But we were chased by 2 ton of very angry water buffalo. I have never been so scared in my life..even after all that has happened later. But then off to Shanghai to give them 4.000 tons of stones that they must have really wanted for some reason. Wow! This place in the 50's was from another planet. No cars. Millions of rickshaws. Millions of bikes. Millions of people and millions of smells. THIS was the Orient as far as I was concerned. By now I had discovered the delights of beer. And Shanghai did not disappoint. The old waterfront used to hold the British Consulate that the Chinese had turned into a bar. The superb bar top must have been nearly 100 ft long! And the beer was as good as anything elsi in the world. And I am NOT talking about that yellow stuff they call lager. But everything has a downside. In Shanghai then there were billboards all over the place depicting Americans being skewered and/or decapitated and the heads being used as footballs. Every street lamppost had loudspeakers attached that spewed out exhortations to the populace..loudly. I got the impression that most of the more menial labour was done by women..whose sense of fashion was to paint their gums black and their teeth red. Startling to a young western kid. We had a "mega" accident here. We were using the "new" nylon mooring ropes. Not knowing how much they would stretch and how they could fuse. Quick break, vicious backlash and 3 (UK) crew members cut in half. My luck that it was my turn on the bridge wing, so all I really saw was a red mist before our Captain (a more kindly man than the earlier one) just spun me around and told me to sit down. Such are memories. BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #81 on: April 06, 2008, 06:58:25 PM »

Just to lighten the mood a little after the last one, a couple of tales about anchors and anchoring.
I think I have mentioned before that the guy on the Bridge seems prone to leaping about and screaming orders to the guys on the foc's'le. It always struck me as odd that "him up there" seemed to forget that he  was once "one of us down there". Arrogance? Possibly. But I think it comes from a misguided feeling of superiororority. "Let it be done" seemed to be the watchword. The first time I saw this was (again) as a cadet when the ship was approaching a quay in Singapore. Port side to the quay. Captain said "let go port anchor". The mate doing the job up on the front end waved his hands and said (basically) No. "That is an order" said God. So we dropped the anchor on to the quay. So many examples of power going to the head I couldn't even begin to describe.
The next one that comes to mind was many years later whilst in "Pearleaf" (RFA). Again involving minesweepers. For some reason that escapes me we had to rendezvous with 6 of these little things off the coast of Socotra. (Look it up yourself). Re-fuelling these things was akin to filling up a car. Similar nozzle. Except that we could pump at "x" thousands of tons an hour...not gallons per minute. Chances were that the little sweeper would be covered in diesel within a few seconds. After a few "hiccups" they were all secured alongside fo the night. Chose a nice anchorage and let go the anchor. Nice an secure. Out of sight of land, overcast cloud and nobody on the bridge thought to check on the anchor cable. When I came up for my watch (4-8 a.m.) I noted that the ships head was "meandering" a bit. Checked the anchor cable and thought it was odd that it was hanging vertically. Called Captain. During the night the ship had dragged the anchor over the edge of the shelf and so the anchor was dangling uselessly underneath us. So we were drifting "somewhere" with 6 minesweepers attached to us with 6 shackles of anchor cable dangling about. No way was the windlass going to be able to lift that weight. So we just moved North (in hope) until the anchor grounded, picked up a bit and went on "bit by bit". We had drifted over 20 miles and no-one had noticed! Could have happened to anybody I suppose.
Many years later whilst in RFA "Fort Austin" coming in to anchor in San Carlos sound a direct order from the bridge to "let-go" led me to ask for a delay...there was plenty of space. NOW!!! was the reply. So I dropped 7 tons of anchor directly on top of a poor unsuspecting little penguin. I hate killing things of whatever genus. I later had a stand-up row with "God" over this and he sort of apologized. But it was on this same ship when we eventually returned "home" from the Falklands we anchored overnight in Broddick Bay. Very secure and safe even in the lousy weather. Picking up the anchor next morning changed all that. We again had about 5 shackles out. ( For those who do not know, a "shackle"is the length of cable between joining shackles and is 15 fathoms long...90 feet). The anchor snagged and the windlass struggled. Wind blew up to 80mph and the ship went backwards. Too much for the windlass (Capstans, actually) which blew a fuse and siezed up. The anchor cable got tight. Each link in this cable would be around 15" long and made of 2.5" dia. steel. I watched this steel being stretched until the links became over 2' long and the centre strut bent. I then cleared the foredeck and waited for the bang. Only time I have ever seen an anchor cable snap. Getting a replacement from Rosyth Dockyard was then a comedy of errors. We had lost 4 shackles of cable plus a 7 ton anchor. All items on an RN or RFA ship have a "pattern number". So I called Rosyth who confirmed that the pattern number I had requested was in stock and would be delivered the next day. 3 days later and still no sign of delivery I called again. OK, they had the pattern in stock, but had not realised that we were asking for perhaps 8 tons of cable. 4 big trucks and no crane to help. Such is life. Eventually sorted but what a performance. Heavy Lift ships next. Cheers. BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #82 on: April 07, 2008, 04:37:46 PM »

I only did one voyage in Benledi...but it did last a year. The heavy lifters were very interesting and unusual ships developed from the earlier Danish "Bel" boats (not "Ben"). In the main pic of Benledi she looks like an overgrown coaster but these looks are deceptive. In reality she was 470'x67'..about the average size of a cargo liner of the period (1945). Ben Line had 4 of these. Benledi, Benwyvis, Benarty and Benalbanach. Originally built for the "War Ministry". Can you imagine a modern country having a "Minister for War"? Makes it sound like going to war was a day to day happening...but again...on second thoughts...ho hum. More honest than the euphemistic "Ministry of Defence" I guess. But back to the ship. The high bulwarks and hatch coamings make the ship look smaller than it was. The 3 heavy derricks were rated at 120tons SWL. Big by even modern standards. The base of these derricks was not as found these days, but were in effect a half of a 2' (or even a 3') ball bearing and just sort of sat there relying on its own weight to keep it in place. The "shrouds" to the mast were heavy round steel castings around 4" dia.But even at that size they would "thrum" when lifting say a big steam locomotive. "Normal" derricks have the guys attached at the derrick head, not with these things, the guys were attached directly to the load. Sensible really as who would want to try and catch a free swinging 100 ton load swinging idly in the breeze? The tripod arrangements abreast of the 3 big derricks were for the guys, 4 guys to the load thus giving good control over the load. All the winches for the guys and lifting gear were housed in compartments under the deck. I seem to recall that the ships crew manned the winches when doing the heavy stuff, probably to the fury of the stevedores union. The guys themseves were either 6 or 8 fold purchases. Huge lengths of wire involved. The main hoist purchases were similar but used (possibly) 1.5" diam steel rope. Lots of that also, and it all had to be maintained with oil/grease whatever. That meant many hours in a bosuns chair getting slung all over the place in lumpy weather and getting oil into every orifice a human was born with. And no "Swarfega" in those days...paraffin. No rags either. Just cotton waste that had bits of metal embedded that were there to rip skin. Happy days. The hatch covers were large and heavy steel slabs that needed the heavy gear to lift off. Nothing easy on these ships! Before lifting anything heavy the main derricks had to be used to lift their own lifting gear..if that makes sense. The main lifting beam would weigh about 10 tons . That was centrally attached to the lifting purchase (the shackles alone took 2 men to lift them), the the 2 "bananas" (about a ton each) had to be fitted to the ends of the beam. Pics 2 and 3 show this quite well although they are of one of the original "Bel" boats. See how similar these ships were to the later "Benledi" type. A good example of "if it aint broke don't fix it" Note the size of the bilge keels on the light vessel. You will also realise that the high bulwarks and coamings provided access for the tending of lashings and very much secondarily gave access to the back end for the inhabitants of the midships accommodation so they could get something to eat.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #83 on: April 07, 2008, 07:21:36 PM »

Being such a rotten, cold,damp,windy and slushy day up here in Geordieland I have decided to keep the central heating on and do another post instead of getting on with "Havelock". I cannot now at a distance of nearly 50 years remember where I joined Benledi. It must have been London. But without looking at my early discharge book I can't be sure. Just in case you were wondering, a seamans discharge book is NOT a medical record.It is in fact a record of sea service. Dates of joining and leaving a ship (discharge) are recorded, as are grades of conduct. VG, G or DR. That is;- Very Good, Good or Declined to Report. All seamen including the Master and Ch.Engineer have to have this book....but considering the behaviour (for want of a better word) I have often wondered who notates the Captains book. The vast majority of people got a VG. I remember only a very few that had a G....and a DR could mean the end of a sea going career. Not to be given lightly...although there were more than a few. In those days we had a very different rating structure. Mainly for ratings, but there was also an "officer" thing that now looks strange. We still had National Service in those days and one way of getting out of it was to be a time-served engineering apprentice which allowed one to join the Merchant Navy as a Junior Engineer Officer. At the end of National Service I wonder why the MN found it had a severe shortage of junior engineers? But the rating structure was also "odd". Going from the "bottom-up" (if you will excuse the expression) we had the Deck Boys, the junior of which would be "Peggy". Now don't get into a lather. All that meant was that this kid had to maintain the crews mess and make the tea and so on. As they got older and a bit more experienced they would become Ordinary Seamen. Once their "time" was served (see my earlier alliteration to a judge being able to send me to a better place) they could go to school and take their EDH (Efficient Deck Hand) certificate. But there was an anomaly.We also had an in-between rate called "DHU" (Deck Hand Uncertificated)These men were generally older than the late teens of the OS and had decided for whatever reason to try life at sea in their 20s or 30s. I guess a lot of it was economic, and some were ex-RN whose experience was not at that time given any recognition. Some were great, some total misfits. And I'm sure some of them were on the run anyway for one reason or another, and in those days it was not unusual to have a few jump ship at a port they liked the look of. Especially New Zealand and Australia where they would most likely feel at home. ( Sorry!!!! Forgive me, but I just could'nt resist that one...true as it is). But after a while a rating could sit for his ABs ticket. After that they could be promoted to bosun, but to all intents and purposes thats where the rating structure stopped. Of course there are many well documented cases of ratings going on and getting their 2nd Mates. Mates and Masters Certificates and many went on to be Master. That must have been a hard and dedicated slog for them as even now a rating who wants to climb can be seen by some of his thicker brethren as something of a class traitor. It does happen. But I really must get back to heavy lifts! But I hope you found this little excursion at least readable. Cheers. BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #84 on: April 08, 2008, 05:13:11 PM »

Back to the main subject. I haven't a clue now what was in the holds, but I clearly remember 9 tugs as deck cargo. How long is a TID? As Benledi was 67' wide and these things had a considerable overhang I'm not sure what they were, but they were destined for an oil company and we were to take them to St.John, New Brunswick. As this was early Spring (and so the ice should have melted) we could still look forward to a lumpy passage. And so it proved. I guess our average speed from here to there must have been not much over 8 knots. We also got a bit fed-up with seeing the old Queen Mary keep on going past us in both directions. (I think we may have been a bit south of the "quicker" route because of the cargo). I guess the 3rd mate felt the same as one night he flashed it up and asked the standard question "What Ship?". The snooty sods didn't even reply, just swtched on their funnel lights for a moment or two. So our 3rd made switched on the funnel light (singular) to our puny little buff coloured thingy. Respect restored! I have mentioned St.John before, but it bears repeating. Going ashore to look at the town we walked across a horizontal gangway to the quay. When we returned a few hours later all we could see were the tops of the big derricks. I really thought that the ship had sunk. The tidal range there is just phenomenal. When the tugs and whatever was left was unloaded the ship was both bereft of a cargo and well out of the normal operating area of the Ben Line. So some bright spark got us a charter to carry coal from Sydney (Nova Scotia) to Montreal. Bit of a come-down for a specialised heavy lift ship. This is when I saw the upside-down mirages etc. To give us cadets a little more spending money than our 13 a month we were allowed to help the "trimmers" in the holds (along with our ABs etc). The money was great, but it months later that I found out that the "mate" had been trousering half of our wages on top of his own "cut". I still cannot forgive people like that. Then Buddy Holly died.
A quick excursion into year 2008:- After my couple of allusions to a judge being able to send me to a better place , there was in todays Daily Mail (8th April) a reference to "hard labour" meted out by British courts in the past. One of the hated tasks was that of making "oakum" by the shredding of old ropes. Left fingers bleeding and hurting a lot. Very odd that this was a staple task throughout my (and others) cadetship. Character forming?
Back to Buddy. We were again back in Sydney loading more coal but I remember the whole town going into a muted sort of mourning, his sort of music being even more popular than it was in the UK. Then the main reason for our trogging up and down the St.Lawrence became clear. A large cargo needing a heavy lift ship had been arranged but weeks of preparation and contracts had had to be finalised. The cargo turned out to be a pair of huge American steam locos. and associated rolling stock that were needed at the new town (as yet unbuilt) of Port Cartier. (North shore of the St. Lawrence but much further east). Much cleaning of holds and loading of dunnage resulted. Dunnage? Lots and lots of rough timber planks of all sizes but of poor quality suitable for not a lot, and used to protect the ships structure from damage and various other "odd jobs". The rolling stock down in the holds could be chocked and lashed but the locos were too big and heavy for that and so had to be "landed" on a specially constructed short length of rail track. A specialised job done by the rail company. Not too well as it turned out. Loading the 2 locos on to the foredeck was quite exciting to a 19 year old. Much better than those grubby old tugs, big as they were. The listing of the ship was quite severe during the lifts. I wish I knew then what I know now about stability (or used to know) and how the ship was compensated. Nearly wrote constipated, but that could have been just as apt I think. But all very impressive. The St.Lawrence being a river is generally pretty flat until you get down into the estuary when proper seas are met. The loco on the starboard side loosened up a bit and the first the mate knew about it was when a pair of big buffers came through his office bulkhead. What joy! Pity he wasn't in the way of them. Port Cartier was at that time just a jetty with a rail line on it going nowhere except what was to all intents and purposes a lumber camp. Moose,bears and all sorts of other ambulatory killing machines were abundant. Not as abundant as the black flies and midges though. But for all that, Benledi was the ship that gave the embryo town a link to the rest of Canada. Job done. Now off to warmer parts.
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Roger in France

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #85 on: April 08, 2008, 05:51:38 PM »

Bryan,

This is really excellent. Not only am I learning a lot but I am also enjoying it and having a few laughs on the way.

I repeat my earlier comment....I really do think there is a book here. Maybe you should find a publisher with a "nautical bent" (excuse me) and send them a few samples.

Your reference to picking oakum takes me back to when as a very junior Inspector of Weights and Measures I was asked to check some scales in a prison where the prisoners were picking oakum and seemed to be producing a small volume picked for the weight it was supposed to be. I found that the crafty so and so's had jammed a large lump of metal under the goods pan so the weight they actually picked was much reduced!

One day I will tell you about weighing the gold raked out of the bottom of the cremation ovens, or weighing raw opium which had melted in flight and seeped between the planks of its crates!

Roger in France.
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Bunkerbarge

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #86 on: April 08, 2008, 06:21:41 PM »

This is a great thread Bryan and all credit to you for putting it all together for us to enjoy.  You use all sorts of marine experessions that now seem to be a thing of the past but as soon as I hear them they all just seem to fit into place.  If I mention dhobying round here now they all look at me blank and if I ask a junior to get me a piece off dunnage god only knows what he will come back with!!

The anchor one makes me smile as my father used to tell me a tale of one of his very early days with Manchester Liners.  He must have been a third mate then in the early sixties when the company had a couple of ships with the up to then unheard of stern anchors.  Anyway my dad was on standby on the aft mooring deck going down the St Lawrence when for what ever reason the "Old Man" called for the stern anchor to be dropped.  Now althought the engine revs were very low the current down the Seaway was significant so the SOG was probably quite a few knots.  Anyway my father made the mistake of questioning the order and so was severely shouted at from the bridge and told to do as he was told if he wanted to keep his job etc..etc..  Needless to say he realeased the brake and stood well back.  The anchor hit the bottom, dug in and proceded to rip the chain completely though the windlass and down the hawse pipe. 

"So could you tell me please Mr Simpson, what steps did you take?".  "Very large ones sir!"

The bitter end came flying out of the chain locker, through the windlass, rattled down the hawse pipe and joined the anchor on the bottom of the St Lawrence!  Manchester Liners lost thier first stern anchor!!

By the way Bryan, when I used to go up the St Lawrence in the late seventies there was a guy on the American side who always used to hoist the flag of the ships nationality in his back garden as you passed him and play the contries national anthem through monstrous speakers so that the passing ships could hear it.  Did you ever come across him?

Great days.
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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #87 on: April 08, 2008, 06:41:47 PM »

As a young and unattached cadet I didn't really give a monkeys about getting back to the UK....but the married guys did. We had now been away from "home" between 3 and 4 months and if we went home now it wouldn't be all that much shorter than the average 6 month trips the were the "norm". Add another month for "coasting" and you would hit the 6 months no problem. Except that 3000 miles the wrong way doesn't take you home. We go west. More mutterings among the marrieds, but what did the 3 of us care. As cadets we had been heaved upon from a very great height so many times that we had no sympathy at all. Not a career enhancing move, but morally satisfying at least. So off we went to Cuba. In ballast...I do recall that as we were across the seas all the way down the US coast. Regular rolling...upchuck. So we got to Cienfuegos just a few days after Castro had taken over, so we "endured" a week of Cuban "hospitality". Wild celebrations, shootings and Bacardi fuelled "high spirits" (remind you of anywhere?). Perhaps that is why I cannot recall what we loaded...but it must have been sugar.What else did they have? Apart from guns of course, but I don't think the authorities in Hawaii would have been amused. So sugar it must have been, for Hawaii and Japan. By now I was an "old-hand" re. the Panama Canal.  After all, it was my 3rd transit, and as the Ben Line was really a "Far East" outfit very few of the "seniors" (anybody above the "rank" of cadet") had been through it. Not that my advice and experience was called upon, you understand. Hawaii next stop. Wow! Just a pity that us cadets couldn't even afford a hamburger there. So as wandering around like lost souls became a tad depressing we went back to the ship and didn't go ashore again. I did manage to do a "trade" for some new Johnny Cash LPs that I still have today. In my ignorance I thought that Hawaii to Tokyo was only a hop skip and a jump. Big ocean is the Pacific. Being patriotic Scotsmen to the last, our bridge staff had arranged the crossing of the "date-line" so we got 2 working days instead of a day off. Bloody typical. But then came Tokyo circa 1959.
I recall Tokyo for only one reason. The mainmast light bulb. With all the heavy gear so high up you will appreciate that Benledi could roll a lot, and entering Tokyo Bay we were really rolling. It was not entirely unexpected that I would be given some unusual task..but this was a beauty. (I haven't mentioned that I was the only English cadet, and one of very few crew members aboard who were not of the Scottish persuation). So I was despatched up the mainmast with a bag of tools and a new bulb. No lifelines, no safety harness (not invented yet)and that was it. But no problem to a 19 year old immortal. So there I sat on the lamp bracket,wafting in great arcs enjoying the sights of a new city. Gloria Gaynor didn't coin the phrase " I shall survive"...I did! I have no more recollections of Tokyo so it must have been unusually uneventful. Osaka was different. A kindly "Missions to Seamen" guy took the 3 of us ashore for the day over the protests of the mate who wanted us to do some chipping or something equally vital. During daylight this saviour showed us temples and so on and explained much about Japan that I would never have known if it were not for him. In the evening (after finally getting a hamburger) he showed us the town. Never in my life had I seen so many lights. Everywhere was open. Adverts hurt the eyeballs, western dress mingled with kimonos and wooden clogs. Rickshaws competed with swarms of tiny little cars and vans....and over all this noise was the racket of the Palichinko balls. I think I have the name about right. All UK resorts used to have them. A row of slots and a spiral shoot that a ball bearing whizzed around until the ball dropped into a slot...or more often didn't. There must have been millions of them for the noise to deaden all the other town noises. Should have become an Olympic event and the Japanese would have won hands down. But time to leave and for the more experienced hands to look forward to more familiar stomping grounds.
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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #88 on: April 09, 2008, 03:58:35 PM »

We must have called in at Singapore as I still have a couple of LPs that I bought in either the "Happy World" or the other one. Anyone remember these 2 places. A cross between an open air market and a fun-fair. Great for hard-up cadets, even though I was now getting 21 a month. And all I remember about the Phlipines was how many lovely big conical volcanoes there are..with smoke coming out of them. I do recall one of the engineers telling us lads about their night on the town (?). Seems that they were still thirsty whilst stumbling back to the ship when they saw a "pub" constructed out of metal advertisements so they went in, sat down and called for drinks...which really annoyed the owner of this desirable little residence. But then came Borneo or Sarawakto either Kuching or Rejang. Calm waters and a benign climate that cheered up even the grumpier people...except the mate of course. Vever really saw much of the Captain since we left Hawaii!. He seemed to spend his time searching the ship including the holds looking for his precious little cat that had fled from the 3rd mate ages ago. It was eventually found inside an empty spare bit of pipe, but by now it had gone feral and was not his little pet anymore so a lot of sulking was the order of the rest of the voyage giving Machiavelli the Mate a clear run at his beloved cadets. The next, and large in all senses of the word was for the UK. Wood. Whichever "port" it was we never saw it as we couldn't reach it and so did the usual thing and tied up to tree stumps downriver. This "visit" was to be a pretty defining period in a young lads life. Tied up to the tree stumps that were at the far side of a mangrove swamp using dipping eyes. Dipping eyes? Nothing to do with shyness or modesty. Just a way of putting 2 ropes on a bollard so either one can be let go first. The eye of the 2nd rope is passed through the eye of the 1st before being dropped over the bollard...or tree stump etc. Fairly common practice but hated by dockies the world over as it means a little more effort. The cadets had to go with the mooring crew as they had another task. This swamp was real M.U.D. Lots of tripping over and getting filthy and smelly (again)...not to mention coming eye-ball to eye-ball with these walking fishy type things that looked at you with the geet big goggly eyes as in the ballad of "The Lambton Worm". Scary as it was getting dark and our job was to hang oil lamps it the trees as sort of marker or anchor lights or something. Never did work out the reasoning as the ship was lit up like a Xmas tree anyway. While the crew were struggling with the ropes the 4 of us (a junior engineer had been volunteered to help us) split into pairs ..2 forward and 2 aft. Struggled back to the boat in real darkness and realised that the J/E was missing. Called, waved torches and all that but no answer. Next morning odd bits of hime were found in the trees. Never heard a thing. Could have been any of us. Never went back to re-light the lamps either. Not a sight to forget in a hurry. When I said the cargo was to be wood, I really should have said logs. Monsters of up to 8' in diameter and up to perhaps 40' long. This was in 1959 and so considered "a good thing", so don't go blaming me for destroying the planet. These logs had been cut years ago and left floating as "rafts" until they were bought. So they were probably twice as heavy as dry ones and covered in slippery slime. The "rafts" were allowed to drift downriver to our vicinity when they were pushed, paddled or whatever so we could hoist them. Everybody on board (probably not the Captain) had seen the ominous tall fin that surfaced now and again. I and another cadet were watching when one of the log jumpers slipped and fell into the water. A quick swirl and he was gone. The locals who were doing the loading just shrugged as if to say "things happen" and went back to work. The local means of transport were powered canoes. More or less very long "dugouts" with an odd outboard motor arrangement in that the prop shaft would be about 10' long and easy to swing up and so avoiding obstruction is the water. We had another couple of serious accidents here. Remember I told you about the high bulwarks and hatches? As one couldn't see over them a hatch slab was used to "bridge the gap". The foreman stevedore who controlled the winch drivers could thus walk back and forth between the ships side and the hatch. This worked well until one of the logs began to slide out of its lifting slings. The foreman heard or felt the thump behind him, turned and saw 15 tons of log coming at him He turned and ran...straight int a 40' deep hold. I hope he was dead before the log landed on top of him, as were 2 other men down the hold. But a good hosing down cleared most of the mess up although the bits that had gone down between the logs had to stay there. I had left the ship on arrival in London so I don't know the reaction of the London dockies ..if anything was ever found. The next one was serious for me. This was not the dryest part of the world and everything was permanently wet and slippy. I fell off a hatch coaming on to the deck. Alas, I was carrying a peplacement 500watt light bulb at the time. This shattered and sliced through a wrist artery and then up inside my palm. Until then I hadn't realised that blood can spurt a good 6' high. I managed to clamp the artery and went in search of the 2nd mate (in the absence of a doctor the 2nd mate was the usual "medic"). Didn't help me much when he fainted. Between me and another cadet we strapped my wrist up, pulled out the glass and bent my hand back towards the elbow. Hurt like hell but the bleeding was nearly stopped. Our kind and caring "mate" (what a misnomer) grudgingly gave me 24 hours off before returning me one handed to full duties. I still have the scar if I look for it. And that, despite a lot of future events, was the only injury I ever sustained at sea. Quite lucky really. And that is the end of the Benledi saga. My last "Ben" before completing my sentence was on "Benhiant" (ex-Beaverlodge). Another really crappy ship. End of the Ben Line for me!.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #89 on: April 10, 2008, 02:52:35 PM »

This is a great thread Bryan and all credit to you for putting it all together for us to enjoy.  You use all sorts of marine experessions that now seem to be a thing of the past but as soon as I hear them they all just seem to fit into place.  If I mention dhobying round here now they all look at me blank and if I ask a junior to get me a piece off dunnage god only knows what he will come back with!!

The anchor one makes me smile as my father used to tell me a tale of one of his very early days with Manchester Liners.  He must have been a third mate then in the early sixties when the company had a couple of ships with the up to then unheard of stern anchors.  Anyway my dad was on standby on the aft mooring deck going down the St Lawrence when for what ever reason the "Old Man" called for the stern anchor to be dropped.  Now althought the engine revs were very low the current down the Seaway was significant so the SOG was probably quite a few knots.  Anyway my father made the mistake of questioning the order and so was severely shouted at from the bridge and told to do as he was told if he wanted to keep his job etc..etc..  Needless to say he realeased the brake and stood well back.  The anchor hit the bottom, dug in and proceded to rip the chain completely though the windlass and down the hawse pipe. 

"So could you tell me please Mr Simpson, what steps did you take?".  "Very large ones sir!"

Thanks for your kind words. My only trips up and down the St.Lawrence were in 1959, a long time before your trips in the late 70s. I hope the guy is still around. The only other place I recall ships being greeted was Durban where ships were met by "The Angel In White" standing on the end of a jetty. A sort of operatic Gracie Fields. But her heart must have been in the right place. At least it was better than being greeted by a bagpipe player! Bryan.

The bitter end came flying out of the chain locker, through the windlass, rattled down the hawse pipe and joined the anchor on the bottom of the St Lawrence!  Manchester Liners lost thier first stern anchor!!

By the way Bryan, when I used to go up the St Lawrence in the late seventies there was a guy on the American side who always used to hoist the flag of the ships nationality in his back garden as you passed him and play the contries national anthem through monstrous speakers so that the passing ships could hear it.  Did you ever come across him?

Great days.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #90 on: April 10, 2008, 04:18:57 PM »

OK, I know that I saidI wasn't going to comment on my time in Benhiant, but looking through my old Discharge book reminded me of a quite different experience. Being caught in a full blown typhoon in Hong Kong. Nothing startling about the voyage. Same old same old and now getting seriously miffed at still being a dogsbody cadet. Mainly because cadets in other companies that we used to meet up with now and again (back to Connell House etc.) could all look forward to a spell as an uncertificated 3rd mate to give them a good grounding (oops, wrong word) in bridge procedure etc. But the Ben Line seemed to think that painting and chipping underneath a winch was more important. For "miffed", choose your own word. I assume some warning of the approach of a typhoon must have been promulgated as many ships up and went away to ride it out at sea. Possibly we had a mechanical problem, but all we did was to pay out more anchor cable....a further "aside" on anchors and cables (chains). Most ships carry around 8 or 9 "shackles" of cable on each anchor. As I mentioned earlier a shackle is 15 fathoms x 6 = 90 feet. 8 x 90 gives a total of 720 feet of very heavy chain to each anchor. That's a lot of chain and an awful lot of weight....even more when you add on 7 tons each or more of 2 anchors. Seamen know this, but an anchor is not there to hold the ship. It is there to hold the cable. The weight of the cable holds the ship. I never sailed in a ship longer than 680ft. So  a ship can put out a length greater than her own length. During dry-docking periods it is normal practice to range all the anchor cable on the dock bottom and swap the outboard end to being the inboard end, thus "renewing" the lengths. (After taking the anchors off, of course!). I would say that all ships nowadays have "self-stowing" cable lockers which by their design prevent the anchor cable either getting knotted up or jamming in the spurling pipe. Earlier ships did not have this facility. Although to be honest, I have examined both sorts of locker when empty and still can't work out much of a difference. Anyway, the non self-stowing sort required man-power or boys (read cadets) armed with 3ft long steel hooks to guide the incoming cable to precent it piling up. Pretty dangerous work really, especially when a pile of chain decides to topple over unexpectedly. Great fleetness of foot was required. It was also fairly common for a hook to get jammed and be trapped in the pile of chain, (sorry about the use of "cable" and "chain"..same thing in this context) only to reappear at great and lethal velocity when that anchor was next dropped. I imagine that many windlass drivers were killed or injured by these flying hooks over the years, but I only ever saw a few near misses. When you consider the sort of sea bed a ship would normally anchor in ( let us assume the Thames in the 1950s) imagine if you can what would be clinging to the cable. This was by far the most dangerous, smelliest and filthiest job on board a ship it was possible to do. Saw a few guys get broken ankles and so on but no deaths..."fleet of foot" being the watchword. But quite awful.
But back to the Typhoon. The tale itself is quite simple. The wind got stronger and stronger. The rain became a deluge and the noise became deafening. The bamboo scaffolding on nearby buildings collapsed in great heaps of debris. We were anchored just off the SW end of the Kowloon peninsular, just in sight of the old Kai-Tak airport. We actually observed a 3000 ton ship being swept up and plonked across the runway. Awesome. But "our" night was just beginning. At the N. end on the west side of Kowloon was (maybe still is) an area designated as a refuge for the many Junks and Sampans etc. during a typhoon. Just about all of these vessels had families of all sizes living aboard them. probably a few thousand people in all. As with all typhoons the wind changed and our anchors just dragged and the ship began to move sideways towards the "haven". The ships First Officer and his crew (including me) were depatched to pay out more cable. Walking was impossible. We all crwled along the deck but couldn't climb the foc'sle ladder to reach the windlass. Our old-fashioned "oilskins" had gone, as had much of our clothing and we were all being quite severly battered. Surrender. Benhiant eventually slammed sideways into the "haven" pushing and crushing the boats sheltering there. Many of the Chinese families tried to climb up on to our deck but our crew were ordered to beat them back. Every time this episode comes to mind I am so grateful that I was not involved in this carnage. Lord alone knows how many deaths "we" were responsible for apart from those caused by the typhoon itself. As far as I know no action was ever taken to find out. A very frightening and not glorious night. An that IS the end of my involvement with the Ben Line. RFA next! BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #91 on: April 10, 2008, 04:21:19 PM »

Bryan,

This is really excellent. Not only am I learning a lot but I am also enjoying it and having a few laughs on the way.

I repeat my earlier comment....I really do think there is a book here. Maybe you should find a publisher with a "nautical bent" (excuse me) and send them a few samples.

Your reference to picking oakum takes me back to when as a very junior Inspector of Weights and Measures I was asked to check some scales in a prison where the prisoners were picking oakum and seemed to be producing a small volume picked for the weight it was supposed to be. I found that the crafty so and so's had jammed a large lump of metal under the goods pan so the weight they actually picked was much reduced!

One day I will tell you about weighing the gold raked out of the bottom of the cremation ovens, or weighing raw opium which had melted in flight and seeped between the planks of its crates!

Roger in France.
Roger, for heavens sake don't wait for me to finish! Join in!
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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #92 on: April 11, 2008, 07:21:15 PM »

Wrapping up some loose ends, as always with this sort of writing things get missed, so these are just a few anecdotes to fill some gaps...all from C&W days.
Way back when I was prattling on about "Norseman" I mentioned that the "odd" bits of Marine life were pickled by the ships doctor. Berore this elderly and frankly, well pickled Irishman was replaced by a much younger and more savvy Scot, he kept us amused with his "little hobby". He used to collect very large insects (moths and so on) and give them a little injection of what he was probably on himself, tie the insects to a thread and take them for "walkies" around the deck. Perhaps he was on the wrong end of the thread.
Later, when in "Recorder" we had to survey and find a route for the new telephone cable across the Pacific and also down to Australia and so on. This route was to go past the Philipines and out into the Pacific from Singapore. The area we were going to look at was then (1964) not perfectly charted. Not quite at the "here be monsters" level, but not far off. The reason became obvious when our launch (sent ahead as a scout) reported many coral heads just below the surface. Many hours of sights were taken to establish a route through this maze. No GPS in those days.Pretty exhausting work for everybody for perhaps 6 weeks or more. The launch even put little poles on the really dangerous ones. Wonder if some of them are still there. Doubt it. But notwithstanding the odd jibe on this forum about the length of time we spent in port (jealousy) you wouldn't have your global comms without the submarine cable network. It was extremely difficult to ascertain with any accuracy the actual distance travelled by the ship. We always knew where we were (and where we had come from) but working out a mileage between these points was difficult because of all the alterations of course and so on. All the methods used in those days had a built-in inaccuracy. Sights included. So all known methods were tried and evaluated. Going by Engine Revs. allowing for slip was the Engineers solution...but as they could be relied upon to reach port hours (if not days) before the rest of the ship this was a non-starter. Similarly with "Dead-Reckoning". Reasonably accurate using trigonometry, geometry and a wet thumb was OK but more was needed. So a bit of kit called "Taut Wire Measuring ) was introduced. Perhaps it was an old RN system, but there we are. Essentially it was a deep sea sounding machine modified to work horizontally but with drums of thin piano wire each with 50 miles of wire. As the wire was payed out at the ships speed it was a bit like laying a very thin cable. Pretty good. Must have been, the real cable still works!
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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #93 on: April 12, 2008, 06:54:36 AM »

Bryan,

Thanks for the encouragement but most of my experiences are not related to the interests within this Forum so I will keep them to share over a beer if we meet one day.

However, there is one nautical one I can share.

My "patch" as a very young, newly qualified Inspector of Weights and Measures included Devonport Dockyard. As a Government Establishment I had no jurisdiction over what went on there and never visited. One day I received a request from a senior naval officer to visit him in the Naval Stores to advise on "disappearing rum". I set off in my van with all the equipment I would need to test the weighing and measuring equipment but being a non-naval type I drove on to and parked in a nice open, clear space which turned out to be the Quarter Deck of the naval land base. All hell broke loose and I was ordered to, "Get the ******* Hell off there!".

I met the officer who had contacted me and he explained that as Quartmaster and responsible for re-victualling ships he had large discrepancies in his rum stocks. We agreed I would test all his measures and as a ship was being resupplied at that time I was invited to go on board and test all the measures she had. I should explain that on board ship each mess had its own measures which were taken to the Ship's Quartmaster and the rum measured out for further subdivision in the mess. What I found was the motliest collection of measures you could imagine, most of which had been turned up in the on-board machine shop. They had been carefully designed to extract the maximum amount of rum Jack could secure without being seen to cheat.

I then returned ashore and was asked that while I was there could I test all the weighing and measuring equipment in the stores. I did so and found some tremendous errors. On producing my report to the officer I was asked what would happen if I had found such errors in civvy street (where I had jurisdiction) I said I would condemn most of the equipment and probably several folk would have faced criminal prosecution.

"Great", said the officer, "Can you give me a statement to that effect? Then I can write off 50,000 of missing stores to - bad weighing and measuring"!

There is a sequel. New, standard measures were issued to the ship but after a very short time they became damaged or lost and so the home made measures were resurrected!

Roger in France.
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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #94 on: April 12, 2008, 01:52:15 PM »

Still back on Recorder...If by some mischance you have been following these tales you will recall that we called in at the Cape Verde islands for yet another "handover" of station. I'd forgotten that we also had to re-lay a shore end while there. Great delight from the locals. Many spectators. Our Captain (the same one who was, a few years later, to cast the entire complement of Mercury adrift in the middle of the Pacific) decided to "put on a bit of a show". A common way of putting in a "shore end" would be to first dig a trench up the beach (or whatever) for the cable to be buried in. Where no assistance from the shore was available the end would be towed ashore by the ships launch, the heavy cable being supported by oil drums. A little thought and a bit of mental arithmetic will tell you that a 56 gallon oil drum will support a weight of 500 lbs. (You don't expect me to do ALL the work, do you). But this time there was too much willing assistance from the shore...including a bull-dozer to drag the thing ashore. But Capt."X" (looked the spitting image of Pugwash) had his own ideas. Instead of floating a messenger line ashore and eventually the cable, he decided to use the Schermully line throwing rocket gear. All ships carry this equipment. Nowadays it all comes in a compact "Ready to Go" package, back then it was a large brass "blunderbus". Very impressive. The rocket itself was a metal thing that fitted either in the barrel or over the top of it, can't remember which, and had a dangly tail that a light line was attached to. We had always been warned that this gear should NEVER be fired without the line being attached as the rocket was almost guaranteed to flip over and come back to the launcher. This stuff is on board a ship to enable a "Breeches" bouy to be rigged between a vessel in distress and a rescue ship. Breeches as in trousers as that is how it transported a person. Not half as "sophisticated" as the RN/RFA method of "light jackstay" personnel transfers. None of us had ever seen one of these things fired in anger so to speak (how many seamen had?) but Pugwash said he knew all about them so he would fire the gun. A great shot. Direct hit on the roof of a little thatched cottage. Total constructive loss due to fire. The crowd got their entertainment and no doubt the house owner got a very nice new house and furnishings etc. out of C&W. Good fun though.
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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #95 on: April 12, 2008, 02:27:51 PM »

For some reason that is now long forgotten instead of heading from the Cape Verdes direct to our "new" base port of Rio de Janeiro we had to go to Capetown first. Somewhere off the coast of Senegal we thumped a deadhead with our port propeller. A deadhead in this connotation is a log that has been drifting around for so long and has become so saturated that it "floats" vertically with its top end sometimes actually just below the suface. Many of them around, but the ocean is a big place. We were fortunate in having a spare prop for both sides aboard. Not that unusual when you consider the out of the way places a cable ship could be operating in. Easily got to Dakar on one engine and so into drydock. Although there were one or two new hotels being built Dakar was by no means the holiday spot it is today. Poverty was really rife. I would suggest it was as bad as that in Bombay or Colombo at the time. One of my abiding memories is that of very tall, very elegant, and very poor women striding along with impossible loads balanced on their heads whist the menfolk lolled around on the beach. Perhaps they were fishermen. When we were in the dock and the water was pumped out to perhaps 6' deephundreds (literally) of the locals leapt into the (large) dock with baskets and began scooping up the great shoal of fish that had been trapped in the dock. I wish I had pics of this. On to Capetown, nothing exciting apart from enjoying "local hospitality", but the departure was quite special.  Another mirage (should have mentioned this earlier when on about the St.Lawrence. Sorry. Capetown to Rio is not that far off from being a due east to west course. S.America hangs down a lot further than Africa. For 3 days steaming west at 12 knots we could still see cars and even people on the streets of Capetown. And the lights at night. A bit disconcerting at first until we decided that both our props had'nt fallen off and then just enjoyed the show. And then at about 800 miles out...poof...just disappeared. Felt quite lonely for awhile! Weird.
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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #96 on: April 12, 2008, 06:48:08 PM »

Old Charts. Another pretty rotten afternoon so what better way of passing it than writing. Nowadays I expect most of you have seen a modern navigation chart. All pretty blue and yellow..and in metric for heavens sake! Before these bland objects came into use the charts were in black and white and were real works of art. The actual nautical information on the "new" versions is possibly better now than it was....but. The old style charts also showed a lot of topographical detail and information. Even land contours were often depicted. And always shown was the name and rank (plus the dates of the survey) of the guy who did it. In an earlier post I mentioned the island of Socotra (near the Horn of Africa) so I shall stay with that one, although it is by no means unique. This survey must have taken ages in pretty uncomfortable climates and surroundings. The chart showed little dotted lines showing the paths taken by the survey parties. Notations such as "wild pigs found here" or "natives not very friendly" abound. And this was only one of the thousands that make up the Admiralty world-wide folio of charts. The Americans had a slightly different "take" on the subject. Whilst not (then) as comprehensive as the Admiralty folio (indeed, a lot of the American charts accredited info. to the UK surveys), they printed a history of the chart area on the back of the chart. This was always fascinating and what a good idea. I guess the UK was "still ahead of the game" , but extra info regarding politics, flora and fauna were more or less hidden away in the depths of the "Pilot Books", and written in cold language whereas the US made the writing interesting.  Maintaining the folio was more or less a full time job for the 2nd Mate. Few ships carried a "full" portfolio. In general a ship would only carry the charts that it was "possible" that they may need. I suspect a "tramp" would carry more than a ship on the liner trade. Liner being a term for hips on a more or less regular run (or line) as opposed to those posh jobbies that carried a lot of passengers. Blue Funnel, British India, Ben Line etc. all qualified as being in the "liner" trade.
Apart from the charts to keep up to date there were (are) many other publications that need constant updating. Wherever in the world you may find yourself the mail would include the monthly issue of "Admiralty Notices To Mariners". (NMs in future).  Serious ones that needed immediate action were broadcast. Stuff regarding new wrecks, rocket firings from Cape Canaveral, War Games and firing areas...that sort of thing. The 3rd mate would normally be the corrector for the "Light Lists". Books that gave all the details one needed to know about every lighthouse and buoy etc. in the known universe...including whether or not it was on or off.
The equivelant one for Radio Officers was rapidly passed on to the "Sparky" to deal with. All this was the "commercial" side of things. The RN/RFA had all that plus the outpourings of guff from MoD...and their books were enough to more than fill an average sized cabin. Chock a block. (another nautical reference that I won't go into here). Charts are the present interest. In the 1960s the chart corrections were just printed in script giving lats and longs and details of the correction to be made.(In purple ink). Oe correction could affect up to a dozen charts. The poor 2nd mate (when I started doing it) had a selection of mapping pens and a few bottles of different coloured inks. Remember mapping pens? Thought not. The quill pen was peplaced by a similar thing but with a metal nib. A mapping pen was a very small nibbed version of that. One learned a great deal about calligraphy. But thank goodness a bit of modernisation came in and the various corrections were issued in the form of tracings to fit the chart. Cut the time doing corrections from days to hours. But there is always a downside. Whenever a noxious job came up the 2nd mate couldn't always plead "chart corrections" and disappear into the chartroom. Now of course with the advent of electronic charts all corrections are downloaded automatically, and a full world folio is at your fingertips. I guess this is all a great technological improvement...until the plug is pulled...but the sheer "class" of the old black and white things takes some beating.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #97 on: April 13, 2008, 04:54:48 PM »

In common with most other ex cadets/apprentices taking the 2nd mates course (South Shields again) spending money was in short supply. I had managed to save enough to allow me to buy a 1959 AJS 500cc twin motorcycle. I think it must have been one of the first without the "jam-pot" rear shockers...could be wrong. I kept falling off it so I fitted crash bars front and rear. Really smart. Nice bike. But cash was needed and so I (along with others) got a job as "Second Mate" (direct from cadet!) on the Flat-Iron collier "Harry Richardson". No, we were Not all on the same ship. Poor grammar. Sorry. The "interviewer" never asked about my bridge experience...the fact of being an ex Ben Line cadet was good enough for them. I had never stood a bridge watch in my life! Nor had I supervised the loading/discharge of any sort or cargo before..ever. Outwardly jubilant but inwardly crapping myself I joined this barge thingy. The first odd thing was to go aboard via the wheelhouse and down stairs to my "cabin". Another surprise. No lights. Although working for the CEGB (Central Electricity Generating Board) in the days of Nationalised Industry, the owners were obviously too tight to "plug-in" So in port the generator was turned off and those on board had to turn on their "bulkhead dynamos". i.e.an oil lamp. As my cabin ports would only be a few inches above the water line when the ship was loaded even I could see that it would be a little foolhardy to open one. I really should have been a farmer...the smells are nicer. The next big surprise was that all courses and canges of course were expressed in quarter points. And here was me thinking that a circle had 360 degrees. Not here they didn't. Gyro compass? "Whats one of them the, bonny lad?" (I will go into this at the end of this post).
Actually, I was pretty good at (theoretical) chartwork..laying off for tides and whatnot. Wasted. The watches on this early version of Bunkerbarges Disneyboats were 4 on and 4 off. Totally knackered within 24 hours. Thank goodness the whole trip was not much more than that. And the food was....well,..not quite like mother made. Everybody had to chip in a few quid a week to give to the cook (?) who went ashore to the nearest Salvation Army soup kitchen and later swore blind that he always got a "ggod deal" from his shops. Paying for your own food? What barbarity was this? Going from the results I assumed he was cooking bits of the cargo.
Trying to be a good "navigator" I eventually unearthed an (unused) azimuth circle and ploked it on top of the compas so I could take bearings. This annoyed the hell out of the guy on the wheel as he couldn't see his course. Didn't make any difference though. The bridge windows were at the level of a semi-submerged submarine and were so pitted, scarred and salt encrusted that even looking out of them was like wearing someone elses prescription glasses. And whoever heard of trying to take bearings through a window (that hadn't been opened since the "ship" was built). Nah, the navigation here down one of the most dangerous and congested routes around the UK was a rhyme which always escapes me as I was not there for the decades in which to learn it. So "they" never took bearings or even marked a position on the chart. Too expensive to rub out I think. Log Book? A good example would go something like "Passed Goodwins to port", with a time of passing if it could remembered or guessed with any certainty. A very slim volume. After a while I realised I was just there to make up the numbers and let the wheelmen get on with it. They knew the job better than me anyway. I was not expecting the whistle to loudly break-wind every time the "ship" pitched a little. I was assured by "them what knew" that the bending of the ship tightened the (long) whistle lanyard and produced these non authorised sounds. Oh, how I missed the dear old compassionate "Ben Line" (Not). But without my assistance we got into the Thames. Given how often the ship came here I was surprised they needed a pilot. Union Rules I expect. But I think the Captain would have s... a b.... if he had had to do his own pilotage and work out the clearance under the Thames bridges. "Harry R" had a tall funnel that had to be lowered to get under the bridges. But the stuff coming out of the funnel hole was still there. Made for a few unexpected laundry bills for the gawpers on the bridges. Oh, I nearly forgot. The mast(s) had to come down as well. One of them had a radar scanner on it. Radar? One of the owners must have won the pools and bought a job lot of WW2 items. Invariably the scanner would whack the top of the wheelhouse so making the picture a little odd. Still, with any luck, next time it may strike the other end and straighten up again. The next trip was to Dagenham. No problems. Full discharge for the mighty Ford Motor Company. The berth ahead of us was owned by the Tate and Lyle Sugar Corporation. The same grab cranes were used on both berths. As soon as we were offloaded the cranes dunked their filthy coal covered grabs into the pristine clean waters of the Thames circa 1961 and proceeded to discharge sugar from the ship ahead of us. I told this tale to a pal of mine who used to work in the Spillers Flour Mill (Newcastle) and he recalled that grinding up the flouralso include grinding up the rats and mice that were in there.  All that lovely protein...which incidentally would include the entertaining sight of weevils swimming out of the Shredded Wheat, before drowning in what was laughingly called "milk"....used to bet on which one would make it, or which one would drown first. Happy days.
We actually did some "foreign" trips on this scow. It still amazes me that so many people spent their entire working lives in this trade. At least as a miner you got to go home at the end of the shift (usually). My first foreign trip was to Blyth, about 5 miles north of the Tyne. Not to worry. The crew knew where the best pubs were and which bus to catch that would take them home for the night. This became more problematical when we went from London to Methil/Levin (Scotland). The extra hours on the length of the voyage proved to be too much for the cooks powers of forward planning so we ran out of food just before we got abeam of St.Abbs Head. But the crew knew the best pubs. Alas, no bus home this night.
In truth I cannot say I hated this ship. Taught me something that I still haven't fathomed. The money was great. 30 a week against 21 a month....and a few quid off that to help pay for the cooks new Ford Anglia (such were aspirations). In retrspect all I can say that it was "odd" and not seafaring as I had come to know it. Passed my 2nd Mates first time and joined Cable & Wireless of which you now know almost as much as me...until other snippets creep into the memory. BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #98 on: April 13, 2008, 05:32:53 PM »

The basic layout of a "flattie" never really changed. This one is older than the Harry R, but gives some idea wahat they looked like.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #99 on: April 13, 2008, 07:34:05 PM »

As promised, a little talk on the "proper" Mariners Compass". Note to Martin, why can't I put the pic up first instead of last?
I, like all seafarers of the modern era grew up with the Gyro Compass. But I do have to admit to a bit of puzzlement as to why the word Gyro has become synonymous withe free money. Perhaps it is because they both depend on "spin", but what do I know.
Before the Gyro Compass the Magnetic version was "King". A quite brillianr bit of kit that is up there with Harrisons Chronometer. Unlike a Gyro, a magnetic one to retain its accuracy has to be constantly adjusted for all sorts of reasons. Much emphasis was always given to this subject at the "Nautical Colleges" although I suspect it has slipped down the agenda by now. It was all very mathematical....so I will ignore that side of it. For those who know the mag. compass I apologize and for those who don't I shall try to explain. We all know N.S.E & W. These are the "Cardinal Points". Half way between them we have NE, SW etc. Now, a Gyro uses all 360* of a circle (unless you are in the army where they use something called "mils"). All degrees measured from 000* (North) to 360*. Easy peasy. "Steer 025*is 25* to the right of 000* and "270* is 90* to the left. (of north). Not that easy with the mag compass. The mag. compass does not use the degrees of a circle. It uses quadrants. North to East is 90* and so on.The middle one (NE etc) is at 45*. But then that means that NNE is 22.5*. Get the drift? The 2 notations are mutually incompatible. So, the next  point "east of north" will be "north by east".. the pic will show that better than I can explain. The "B" means "by" and not me. So working it all out a "point" is 11.25* of a true circle. But as I said, forget degrees/Splitting it all up again you get half points and quarter points. (A bit like they serve in Norfolk).
But the mag. compass is affected by a few things. The main one being the earths magnetism (obviously), but the earths poles meander about a bit ( and even reverse, but not in this lifetime....)That in itself cocks up where North may (or not) be. This comes under the general heading of "Variation" and is marked on charts as "such and such" for a particular time and gives notes of predicted "variation" for some years to come. But the ship itself is a sort of magnet. Leave a ship in dock for an extended period and the ships integral magnetism will align itself to that of the eath. Not Good. Ask rmasmaster on this forum, he knows more about this than I do. The other concern for the mariner is "deviation". Funny how some words can come back and haunt you. Deviation is why ships compasses have "balls" (here we go again), and the vertical Flinders Bar (no comment) are fitted. I think I should go now before the hole gets deeper. But all of that is the difference between a mag and gyro compass.  Whew! By.
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Notes from a simple seaman
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