Kuwait

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The emblem of Kuwait

Kuwait is about 277 miles north of Dammam, or a short seventeen hour voyage, but far enough away for the weather to have changed for the worse.

We arrived off Kuwait at night during a wild storm with high winds and dashing rain that hammered on the bridge windows. The clear view screen was going flat out.

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The Clear View is a circular area of the bridge window that spins at high speed which doesn’t allow water to ‘grip’ on the glass. As the rest of the bridge windows might be ‘blind’ by sea spray or heavy rain the ‘Clear View’ is always clear for those on the bridge, a limited amount of visibility on this night was in great demand.

Of course, we had to arrive during the midnight to 4.00 am watch, which was my watch, so I had all the fun. We had tugs in attendance, which helped us to ease our way alongside, cargo ship in the 1960’s didn’t have side thrusters to ease a ship into a berth.

People don’t think that it can get cold in the Persian Gulf, but it can, and during my time in the tanker (62- 63) we had ice on the deck after a cold night. Admittedly it didn’t last long once the sun came up, but it was still cold if you were out and about.

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The above is Kuwait in the early 1960’s. I sent this post card home to my parents, so I was surprised that it came to light recently. Obviously, I am a hoarder of the old school.

Kuwait may be on certain people’s bucket list today, but in the mid 60’s it was not a holiday town, and foreigners were there to work, and not holiday.

The smell of oil hung over the whole area and just forty kilometres south of Kuwait was Mina al Ahamadi, which was my first port that I visited on my first ship in 1962, which was the tanker.

Due to its location Kuwait has been a crossroad for trade for thousands of years. Evidence has been found that there was a society living in the area 8,000 years ago. The island of Failaka, which is just of the Kuwait coast, is where the Mesopotamian people settled in 2,000 BC.

In 400 BC the Greeks, under Alexander the Great, colonised the area, and even today the remains of a Greek temple and fort can be seen.

In the fifteen hundred Kuwait was under the control of the Portuguese and they built a defensive settlement.

By the 1700’s Kuwait was part of the trading route from India to Basrah, Baghdad, and on to Constantinople. The British East India Company controlled the sea route from India to Kuwait.

Kuwait became a melting pot of nationalities,and was ethnically diverse & was known for its religious tolerance.

In 1899 Kuwait signed a treaty with the British, granting Great Britain the responsibility of Kuwait’s foreign affairs, and Kuwait became a British protectorate.

In the early 20th century during WW 1 Kuwait supported the Ottoman Empire (the Turks), so Great Britain imposed a trade blockade, which damaged Kuwait’s economy.

As the pearl trade declined a number of prominent families turned to smuggling gold from Kuwait to India, and some became very rich.

In the 1960’s it was not uncommon for sailors to take advantage of the fact that Kuwait was a ‘very’ dry State concerning alcohol.
This created opportunities for some to buy spirits on their ship and to hoard it until they reached Kuwait.
On anchoring to wait for the labour to come out to work cargo, small dhows would arrive at night to buy the liquor, via basket at the end of a rope lowered to the dhow. Of course is was cash in the basket before lowering the alcohol.
The cash was then spent in Kuwait to buy gold jewellery, which the ‘smuggler’ wore, around his neck or as bracelets or rings when he went ashore in Bombay.
He would sell the jewellery & have a good time with the profit, and any cash left over would be exchanged for various currencies, other than Indian rupees, using a foreign passport, and so began the circle once again.

Just to be clear I did not take part in this trade.

After WW1 Saudi Arabia attacked Kuwait, in what is now known as the Kuwait Najd War, which further damaged Kuwait. The Saudi’s wanted to incorporate Kuwait into Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia blockaded Kuwait from 1923 to 1937.

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The above map shows how precarious Kuwait was with Saudi Arabia, Iraq & Iran as potential aggressors. Kuwait is the white area on the map.

Kuwait suffered economically for years until 1938, when they found oil and things changed.
Due to the oil Iraq now claimed Kuwait as part of their territory and offered incentives in support of an uprising in Kuwait, which failed.

The oil revenue helped Kuwait to become the largest exporter of oil in the Gulf at that time, and major public works took place throughout the country.

In 1961 they became independent of Britain when the protectorate ended. Six days after they became independent Iraq resumed its claim that Kuwait belonged to Iraq, which was knocked back by the British, and later also by the Arab League.

The period from 1948 to 1982 is recognised as the Kuwaiti golden age of development.

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A close up of the earlier map – I’ve underlined with green Kuwait – also Abadan, and Basrah, which are both on the Shatt Al-Arab, Abadan is in Iran & Basrah is in Iraq.

After discharging our cargo we sailed for Abadan – we were virtually empty of cargo, our fuel was low and we were still on water rationing, so we had very little weight to allow our propeller to dig in to the water – everything on board shook as the engine struggled to drive us forward because only part of the propeller could be used. Talk about shaking . . .    Shake rattle & roll  it was not just the pots & pans, but the furniture, our bunks, the crockery, everything vibrated, and the vibrations were felt through our bodies, which was not a pleasant feeling because it was constant.

We sailed after lunch and took our time to sail the 120 km (about 70 miles) so as to arrive at the mouth of the Shatt al Arab just after midnight, where we anchored to await the pilot for the river transit.

Being on the midnight to 4.00 am watch I was on anchor watch – the pilot for the river transit was due to board us at 4.00 am.

 

Qatar – Bahrain Island & Dammam.

Everyday Life of Doha in the 1960s (5)

The history of Qatar can be traced back 50,000 years. Throughout history various empires controlled the peninsular on which Doha stands .

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Qatar is the purple bit which is a peninsular, not an island. Manama is the capital of Bahrain and not part of Qatar.

Qatar became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1872, and in 1893 the Ottoman administration imprisoned 16 Qatari leaders. Later a battle took place and the Ottomans lost.
It wasn’t until 1913 that the Ottoman Empire finally renounced sovereignty over Qatar and in 1916 the ruler of Qatar signed a treaty with the British under the Trucial States system. This treaty required the ending of gun running, slavery and piracy by Qatar.

Oil was found in 1938, but due to WW2 it was not exploited until 1949. Qatar suffered from constant unrest for some years and when the British decided to withdraw its military commitment to the area, Qatar became an independent State, it did not join the Trucial States which created the UAE.

We in the Juna arrived in early February 1968 and worked cargo – once again we anchored off and labour came out to us in dhows (see photo at the top of this blog) to unload into cargo dhows, shown below

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Qatar has become the country with the highest per capita income in the world and is regarded as the most advanced Arab state for human development.

They have gone from this –

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to this

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thanks to having the third largest natural gas reserves in the world.

We had one incident while at anchor, one of our engine room oil pumps blew-up and caused a problem for the engine room, which became covered in oil. One of the engineers was injured, but fortunately not seriously.

A short time later we sailed for Bahrain and this time we went alongside, which allowed us to at least walk around on solid ground that didn’t move all the time.

The one thing that sticks in my mind during our visit to Bahrain was that we could buy cold draught beer – called Red Barrel!

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The only place in the Gulf where you could get a cold beer, other than private clubs such as the British Club in Basrah.

Bahrain has belonged to quite a few empires, from the Persian Empire to the Greeks (who used to call the island Tylos), to the Portuguese, the Omani and eventually the British in 1820 when Bahrain signed a treaty of friendship with the British.

Once again it was the advent of oil in 1932 that brought modernisation to Bahrain, and in 1935 the Royal Navy moved its entire Middle Eastern Command for Bushehr in Iran to Bahrain.

Bahrain in 1820 was the first of the Trucial States, but when the Trucial States became independent in 1971, and they created the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain did not join this creation.

Via a referendum, controlled by the UN, Bahrain voted to become an independent country.

After independence the British moved out and the Americans moved in, and they took over the British facilities, which later became the HQ for the US 5th Fleet.

From Bahrain we sailed a short distance to Al-Dammām, in Saudi Arabia, it is also spelt  Damman with an ‘n’, one of my least favourite destinations.
When I tried to find information about Damman, which is what we used to call the port in the 60’s I failed, so I’ll stick with Dammam, which is the capital of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932, and the area around Dammam lived off pearls and fishing.

In 1936 oil wells were drilled to prove that there were commercial quantities in the Dammam area, and it was well #7 that proved the drillers correct that the area was sitting on a huge ‘lake’ of oil.
More wells were drilled all around Dammam in the 1940’s and 50’s that confirmed that that Dammam was sitting on top of about a quarter of the world’s oil.

A number of times a day one of the officers or a cadet would go on to the quay to check the draught of the Juna.

Each time I went the overpower smell of raw oil would fill my nostrils and take me back to my first, ship which was a tanker.

We carried oil from Mina a Ahmadi in Kuwait to Little Aden in Yemen, sometimes to Europe, and once in mid-winter across the Atlantic to Marcus Hook on the Delaware River near Philadelphia, followed by a back load from Venezuela to Germany.
It took years for me to be free of the taste of crude oil, particularly when I had a bad cough.

At that time the draught was measured in feet and inches – in the illustration below the top left picture shows 27 feet – each figure is six inches high and the gap between each number – 27 to 28 – is 6 inches, so the water level will tell you how much of the ship is underwater at the bow & stern (there were a set of markings at the bow and another set at the stern).

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The above picture shows feet & inches
Since I left the sea the markings are now all metric.

Dammam was ‘dry’, as in the lack of rain & beer, but it was hot, sandy and dry all day and every day, so I doubt that it will ever be on anybody’s ‘bucket list’.

We were only there long enough to unload.

Our next stop would be Kuwait, and their flag is shown below.

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“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date! (Excuse the pun)

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I’m late I’m late for a very important date.

We still had to call at Doha (Qatar), Dammam (Saudi Arabia), Bahrain Island, Kuwait and finally Basrah (Iraq), which is about 90 miles up the Shatt al-Arab from the Persian Gulf.
The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers meet and become the Shatt-al-Arab and in English this means The River of the Arabs, so if people refer to it at the Shatt-al-Arab river they are actually saying the River of the Arabs River, which is a little odd.
The Shatt-al-Arab marks the border between Iraq and Iran (which used to be called Persia).

I’ve indicated the places mentioned with a coloured line under the name, and I’ve also marked Dubai as a reference point.

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We arrived off Abu Dhabi at 6.00 am and once again we anchored, and the labour came out to us in boats and dhows.

A little about Abu Dhabi in the 1960’s.

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The photograph was taken in 1963 by David Riley, who was working for the British Bank of the Middle East at the time.

Abu Dhabi is a small island a few hundred meters off the coast, and in the early ’60’s the only way to cross was via this causeway at low tide. The two petrol drums mark the beginning of the causeway. It wasn’t until August 1968 (after I’d left the area) that a bridge was opened.

Maqta-75  It was known as the bridge to nowhere, but the proper name is Maqta Bridge. The old causeway was called Al Maqta (which means The Crossing) hence the name of the bridge. It was a symbol that Abu Dhabi was joining the rest of the world.

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I took the above in 2017, and if you wish to read a more detailed post about the 2017 visit to Abu Dhabi please click on this link. The link post is more of the current situation than reminiscences of yesteryear.

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Abu Dhabi airport in 1968, in 1965 the landing strip was hard packed sand.

The cargo work went well and we hoped to make up for lost time until that evening we experienced another shamal, but this one was far stronger than the earlier shamal at Dubai in Dubai.
It whipped up sand and the combination of the wind and the sand would strip paint of parts of the ship. It was similar to sand blasting to remove graffiti in a city, and it you were unfortunate to be outside it was a very painful experience for any exposed skin.
All work had to stop as it was too dangerous to allow the boats carrying the labour to come near the ship because the wind, and the sea would smash the boats against the Juna and more than likely sink them.

For the next six days we worked cargo intermittently due to the shamal stopping and later beginning again. It was not a pleasant time for any of us, and we were still on water rationing.

During our off duty hours, the officers had the opportunity of taking a small boat out to try our luck at shark fishing. It was pleasant in the boat, just sitting and chatting while holding the shark line. The main thing that I caught was sunburn, but we did catch a couple of small sharks, well I helped to drag one into the boat. They were not all that big, perhaps just over a metre, (perhaps four feet).
On returning to the ship we gave the two sharks to the crew who cooked them that evening – the first non-frozen fish that we’d had in months.

For a number of reasons, we were now behind schedule and the captain decided after being anchored off Abu Dhabi for six days, that we would sail at midnight, (the seventh day) even if the cargo work was incomplete. We had to be in Basrah (Iraq) to pick up a thousand tons of dates during harvest time.

The Captain considered that if necessary, we would call at Abu Dhabi on our return.

Oh! the joys of cruising in the Persian Gulf when on water rationing!

Ras al Khaimah – Trucial State

It appears that I have a post out of sequence – after Muscat the post should have been Ras al Khaimah, and then Dubai – please accept my apologies. Too many readers have already read the ‘Dubai’ post to change the sequence.

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Ras al Khaimah from a painting in 1809.

Ras al Khaimah has been inhabited for over 7000 years, one of the few places in the world where this is the case.

The coastal area was also known as the pirate coast. In the 18th century Ras al Khaimah became a major maritime force and had control of areas in Persia and Arabian coast, and frequently came in to contact with British trading vessels.

War broke out between the rulers of Muscat and Ras al Khaimah in the 18th century and in 1763 the ruler of Ras al Khaimah sued for peace.
The peace was later broken in 1775, and the ongoing war brought Ras al Khaimah up against Muscat’s ally, Great Britain.

After a series of attacks by Ras al Khaimah against Sindh (which is in what we now call Pakistan, which did not come about until 1947), the British Authorities in India decided that the raids had to stop.

The British mounted the 1809 campaign, which destroyed much of the Ras al Khaimah fleet, and put a stop to the raids. The British withdrew and it was not until 1815 that a treaty was agreed, but this was broken in 1819.
The British returned and again defeated the ruler of Ras al Khaimah, and the treaty of 1820 put an end to piracy and slavery & removed the ruler of Ras al Khaimah.
This act began the creation of the Trucial States, which has morphed in to the United Arab Emirates that we know today.

The Trucial States name came from the principal sheikhs in the Persian Gulf area that had signed protective treaties with the British – it was known as the ‘truces’ hence the name Trucial States.

Abu Dhabi – 1820 to 1971
Ajman – 1820 to 1971
Dubai – 1835 to 1971
Fujairah – 1952 – 1971
Kalba – 1936 – 1951, when it was re–incorporated into Sharjah in 1952
Ras al Khaimah – 1820 – 1972
Sharjah – 1820 – 1971
Umm Al Quwain – 1820 – 1971

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The above gives you and idea as to how close each of the sheikdoms are to each other.

The first cargo of crude oil left Abu Dhabi in 1962, Dubai commenced exporting oil in 1969, so when I was in this area from 1962 to 1968 it was very different than what you see today.

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The foreshore of Ras al Khaimah during my time.

 

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We anchored off and waited for the dhows to come out, obviously we didn’t require the aide of a tug. I don’t think Ras al Khaimah had any tugs because they didn’t have a port.

Work began as soon as the dhows arrived and within a short time it was night – we were surprised that that work didn’t stop. Being on the mid-night to 4.00 am time seemed to drag as there was little that I could do except watch the labour unloading.

It was about 1.00 am when the wind began to increase.

With a sandy or mud bottom we wouldn’t have had a problem, but the bottom where we had anchored was coral and the flukes of the anchor were unable to dig in to the coral.
I spent the next couple of hours wondering the ship and peering over the side to estimate if we were dragging our anchor.
If we had anchored off a more ‘sophisticated’ coast line I would have taken bearing to confirm or not, if we were dragging.
Off the coast of Ras al Khaimah, the land was a black mass to the west of us, without any lights or navigational points that I could have used.

Fortunately, near the end of my watch, the wind dropped, and I felt easier that I hadn’t woken the captain . . .

I was back on duty the following afternoon, and I think the Captain and first mate were ashore, when I sighted a motor boat approach the ship.
Aboard this boat were a number of well-dressed locals in a mix of European dress and Arabic traditional robes. Our gangway was down to allow the labour to board.

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The picture will give you an idea.

The motorboat hooked on to the gangway and I was asked permission if they could come aboard.
A Lebanese interpreted introduced me to a gentleman is robes as Sheikh Abdullah, (as he was known to the locals), who was the nephew of the then ruler at that time of Ras al Khaimah,  Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammad Al Qassimi. (February 1948 – 27 October 2010).

Sheikh Abdullah was interested in the ship and wanted to practice his English, so I showed His Highness (which was his title, as he was the equivalent of a prince), and his interpreter around the ship, after which I invited him to the bar, which he accepted.
In addition to his royal title he was also the Minister of Education for Ras al Khaimah.

It was an interesting time for me as we spoke of many subjects (excuse the pun), all in English, and occasionally the interpreter jumped in with a quick translation for the Sheikh.

We spoke for a couple of hours and he spoke of the history of his country, and that his family had ruled the area for over 600 years.

He spoke of his ancestors raiding Persia, India and defeating the Portuguese. He also told of his people sending the fleet out against British merchant ships, which caused the British navy to arrive and take over his country.
He assured me that his people no longer attacked British merchant ships, which was nice to know considering I was part of a British merchant ship’s crew.

He didn’t feel any discontent with the British, who had been involved with his country for eighty years, and I think he considered the arrival of the British to be more positive rather than a negative move, because it helped his country to expand their horizons as far as trade, education and modern devices.

As our chat drew to a close he told me that they expected to be drilling for oil within five months, which would change his country once again.

Unfortunately for the Sheikh, we now know that the drilling failed to find any oil. This meant that R.A.K (the abbreviation for Ras al Khaimah) did not become a second Dubai, but it did allow his country to go down a different path, and they have now become popular as a destination for what the area used to be before the glitz of Dubai.

What Ras al Khaimah has also become is a major producer of pearls and ceramics.

R.A.K used to be a major supplier of pearls and had been for a couple of thousand years at least. The Trucial State coastline around 1810 had 3000 pearl boats and by 1900 the number of boats had become 4500.
The pearls didn’t stay in the Gulf area but were exported to Bombay (Mumbai), which was the world centre for trading pearls.
In 1917 the Bank of England considered that a gram of Gulf pearl on the Bombay market was the equivalent of 320 grams of gold or 7.7 kilos of silver.

The inflation of the pearl market was such that Cartier bought a building in New York, for a two-string pearl necklace, valued at that time for about $1.2 million. The same necklace in the 1940’s was sold for $157,000.

All of this started to fail with the discovery of oil, why risk your life diving for a pearls when you can earn good money in the oil industry in other areas of the Trucial States, plus the creation of the Japanese cultured pearls had expanded considerably. The last Gulf pearl fleet sailed in 1949.

If you can’t beat them join them – in 2004 a pearl farm was established in Ras al Khaimah.

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In addition to pearls R.A.K Ceramics is now a global ceramic brand.

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Leave the city behind and go back in time . . .

In 1971, R.A.K joined with other Trucial States to become part of the UAE (United Arab Emirates).

Our next port of call was Dubai, but due to my error I’ve already posted the Dubai blog.

 

 

Flies, sand & water rationing . . . .

We sailed from Ras Al Khaimah for Dubai, which was a very short ‘voyage’ of about 112 km (70 miles) or about four hours at a very economical speed.

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Dubai Creek in the 1960’s.

As you see the creek was too small for a deep sea ship to use, so we anchored off the coast once again, and waited for the dhows to come out to us. Click on this link to see how the cargo was handled, which was very labour intensive in Dubai Creek in the 1960’s

After we’d anchored the sea started to get rough due to a sudden squall, and the wind increased (called shamal by the locals) so we didn’t see any dhows for two days. It was a  hot wind  that brought flies & midges that infested everywhere, and not just outside, but also inside our accommodation. The result was short tempers and a lot of hand waving – today we would have called it the Aussie salute

To cap it all we were running out of water, so we had to ration what we had left. Water was available from 7 to 9 am, Noon to 1 pm & 5 to 8 pm. We were not sure how long we would be at anchor and the water boats could not get out to us during the poor weather

At that time desalination systems for cargo ships was unheard of, we just got used to the different taste of water from around the world, a bit like tasting different beers from around the world, but not as enjoyable.

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Another shot of Dubai Creek in the 1960’s.

We did have a fight on board between two of the crew, I put it down to the conditions at the time.
It happened when I was on anchor watch, so I kept out of sight just in case it became ‘nasty’ at which time I would have interceded. I considered it better to allow the fight to happen now, rather than to fester and perhaps become a major problem later.
My concern was in case a knife was drawn, but it started like a girl’s fight at school with a lot of slapping and hair pulling.
It upgraded to a little wrestling, but neither looked like they were getting hurt and eventually the heat and the flies won, and they both gave up fighting and disappeared below to their accommodation.
We had an Indian crew, and they didn’t drink alcohol, so I didn’t think it was an alcohol fueled fight.
During my time at sea I only saw two ‘upsets’ – this one, and another were a Chinese cook became upset at another Chinese crew member and went for him with a meat cleaver. That one was stopped immediately.

Just to show the changes that have taken place in Dubai –

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Note the clock on the monument . . .  1968

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The same clock in the same position today.

Oil was found in Dubai in 1966 and the first cargo of oil was exported in 1969, so when I was there, the richness of Dubai that we know today was in the future.

Dubai Airport 1971

The above photograph shows the new expanded Dubai airport, which was opened in 1960, and the first runway was compacted sand and could only take DC3s – in 1965 a second runway was built, which was tarmac – and the first passenger jet landed in 1965.

Before the original compacted sand runway was built the only way you could arrive by air was in a flying boat of Imperial Airways, later BOAC,  & later again, British Airways.

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Imperial Airways flying boat – top speed was 160 mph.

In 1938 they offered four services a week from London, and when the passengers went ashore in Dubai they were taken to the BOAC Jetty, and this jetty was still called BOAC jetty until it was demolished in the 1980’s.

Eventually the wind dropped and the dhows came out to us to unload cargo and sail / row their dhows back ashore and up the Dubai Creek.

The change in weather conditions also allowed the new first officer to come out and to take up his duties. It turned out that I’d sailed with him when I was a cadet in Dunera just before I sat my 2nd Mates exams.

The original first officer had been promoted to captain and his new command was anchored not far from us – happy families – my ten pound a month extra for being a temporary 2nd Mate didn’t last long.

Our next stop would be Abu Dhabi.

 

 

Bombay to Muscat

We sailed from Bombay (now Mumbai) for Muscat (which is in Oman), and we planned for a few changes.
The first officer was due to leave us when we arrived in Dubai, and the second officer would be moved up to first, and I was to be the second officer – all very temporary, but for me it was worth an extra ten pounds a month, (about £178 in today’s money), until the new first officer arrived, and the second and myself move back to our own slot.
We were hoping that the new first officer wouldn’t join us for some months, the extra cash would help with the bar bill.
It was the 6th January 1968, and I was on the midnight to 4.00 am watch when we entered a huge shoal of flying fish. I’d seen this type of fish before and even eaten one or two when the Chinese crew cooked them, but this time the sea was full of them as it they were being chased. I shone an Aldiss lamp on the water only to see the whole area around the ship covered in flying fish.

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To avoid predators flying fish accelerate to 60 km per hour (37 mph) before launching free of the water. Upon opening their wings they can glide over 183 mtrs (600 feet) or more before they enter the water to repeat the exercise if necessary. They glide about 1.2 metres (4 feet) above the water.

I only wished that I had a camera to record such a site, which lasted for over one and a half kilometers (about a mile), before we sailed out of the shoal. I just wondered what was chasing them, and why where there so many.

I entered the chart room to check the chart in case our location would give me a clue as to why there were so many flying fish, when suddenly the quartermaster rushed in and asked me to look ahead.

The quartermaster was also the helmsman, but at the time we were on autopilot, so his duty was as a bridge lookout.

‘Flashing lights Sahib, starboard side!’ and pointed ahead through the chart room window and to starboard (right hand side) of the bow.
I followed him out onto the wing of the bridge and looked where he was pointing. I felt my heart give a jump, the whole area was covered in flashing lights, at that moment the lookout in the bow rang one stroke on the fo’c’sle bell, which was the signal to warn me that he’d seen a light to starboard.

My first thought was that we were about to enter a large fishing fleet and we didn’t have enough time to alter course as the fleet ahead stretched across our bow.

Local fishing boats were made of wood and propelled by oars or sail and would not have shown up on our radar. Plus, native fishing boats were renowned for not showing lights until a large ship was quite close, guaranteed to give the OOW a heart attack.

My mind was racing, how many would we sink as we ploughed through the fleet.

All of the above thoughts flashed through my mind as I studied the lights, when I realised that the lights were not of a fishing fleet, but bioluminescent.

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The above & below photographs gives an idea of bioluminescence at night at sea.

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Most deep-sea animals produce some bioluminescent light, but the phenomenon isn’t relegated to the deep: one of the most common sightings occurs at the surface of the ocean. Many small planktonic surface dwellers—such as single-celled dinoflagellates—are bioluminescent. When conditions are right, dinoflagellates bloom in dense layers at the surface of the water causing the ocean to take on a sparkling sheen as they move in the waves at night. (The above is quoted from https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/fish/bioluminescence).

The night was moonless & cloudless and the stars in the clean atmosphere of the ocean appeared to reflect off the water, so adding to the illusion of a fishing fleet. I must admit that I was not the only one who was expecting us to plough in to a fishing fleet. The quartermaster turned to me with a big smile and said, ‘All’s well Sahib’.

A comment with which I heartily agreed.

As the ship broke through the water it created white foam, that turned a deeper and deeper green until at the top of the wave that we created it became emerald, like icing sugar on a cake.
The ocean area that had not been disturbed with our passage was a sea of flashing green and white lights.

As we passed in to a clearer area I shone a light to see if the luminescence was still around – it wasn’t.
I wrote a report of what had happened, taking in to account barometer readings, temperature, state of the sea, wind strength and direction and cloud cover etc, at that time many merchant ships reported the weather at their location to assist in forecasting weather ashore.
The first successful weather satellite was launched in April of 1960, and it wasn’t until 1965 that meteorologists produced the first global view of the Earth’s weather, so the reports from merchant vessels at sea were a great help to meteorologists.

We arrived in Muscat the following afternoon.

Muttrah Oman before 1970

Muscat, Oman in the late 1960’s was very ‘old school’ – we anchored in the harbour and dhows came out to us into which we unloaded cargo.

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Larger dhows for cargo carrying

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This is an old picture of Muscat harbour, (1903) but it hadn’t changed all that much when I visited in January 1968. We anchored near Fort al-Jalali to work cargo – I suppose in times gone bye I could have said that we anchored under the guns of the fort.

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The fort is still there – originally built in the 1580’s by the Portuguese to protect the town from attacks made by the Ottomans. It was twice captured by the Persians in the early 1700’s.

For most of the 20th century the fort was a prison, and was closed as such in the 1970’s. It is now a museum.

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An old map of the harbour and at the centre of the ‘star’ is where we anchored. I still have a small sketch that I made at the time, of where we anchored and the above fits the bill well.

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The old town in the distance.

During our stay we all tried our hand at fishing – part of our crew were Chinese and they caught about twenty-five fish, and one was very large and they had real problems in landing it on deck.

The fishing equipment was all ‘home made’, ships rope with a hook on the end and a bloodied piece of meat.

Those of us with a more sensitive nature used the pull tab off beer cans and sometimes this worked, as the fish saw a silver item in the water and thought it was a smaller fish.

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I used to like supplying the bait for those who used the ‘pull tab system’, via of course  . .

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The Chinese fishermen did catch a large ray and they had a fight on their hands, but the ray won, it broke the line and swam off with the hook.
The Chinese answer was a thicker piece of rope and a bigger hook.

DSC06223rThe fort was still there in 2016 when Maureen & passed through Muscat on our way to Dubai.

We sailed from Muscat at 6.00 pm on the 8th January 1968 for Ras al Khaimah in the ‘Trucial States’, as the various sheikdoms were called in 1968.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MV Juna – Christmas 1967

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There comes a time that when you are offered something and it sounds great, you should be careful – but I wasn’t careful and agreed.

As MV Juna reached Fremantle in Western Australia I agreed to supervise the loading of freezer and chiller cargo, on the understanding that once is had been completed I was free to do whatever I wanted while in port.

I felt in a good mood as it was late December, and Christmas was just around the corner, so I agreed to the 1st Mate’s offer.

We arrived on Sunday 17th December in the evening, and of course being Sunday, we had to wait until the morning before work could begin.

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I started at 7.00 am on Monday, just as the shore labour came on board. We were to load deep frozen meat, ice cream, vegetables, butter and yoghurt into freezers, as well as cheese in to the chiller. Most of these items were for the Persian Gulf.

The stowage plan had been created so I didn’t expect too much trouble, and I anticipated that the whole job would be about two working days.

The plans of mice and men – we had two freezer/ chiller holds and I was up and down the vertical ladders to the various decks all day to sort out problems, and to change the stowage plan, because not all of the cargo was available at the correct time, so I had to improvise taking in to account the ports of discharge. There was no point in stowing ice cream for Bahrain behind ice cream for Kuwait – if our first port of call was Bahrain.

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All through the first day nothing went right – cargo delayed, ringing suppliers & transport companies, making sure the freezer doors were closed as we waited for the next truck load. Making sure the cargo was frozen solid before it was loaded – I must admit I was not particularly polite to our agents who had arranged the cargo – I didn’t get to bed until 6.00 am Tuesday.

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The above diagram is not of the Juna, but hopefully will give you an idea of what I am mean.
Using No 1 or 2 as an examples the upper tween deck and the lower tween deck of both holds had large freezer chambers, and to get to each, one climbed down a vertical ladder attached to the inside of the hold.
You held on to the ladder with both hands as you climbed up and down. I was responsible for the freezer cargo in both ‘tween decks of No 1 & No 2, a total of four areas.

We worked both holds at the same time, and I was up and down the ladders several times an hour, so it didn’t take long to become tired, and I had to be careful not to make mistakes when climbing the vertical ladders.

After going to bed at 6.00 am I was woken at 8 am and again at 9 am with questions, and in the end  I left my comfortable bed at 11.00 am frustrated at the constant questions considering each gang had an experienced supervisor.
Of course the labour changed shifts every so many hours and went home, which required fresh instructions for the new supervisors.

The second day progressed, and I returned to my bed at 4.00 am on the third day – fully clothed and with my shoes on.

I passed out cold.

I was twenty three and reasonably fit, even though I smoked at that time – I considered it my duty to smoke, because cigarettes & alcohol were duty free.
A carton of 200 cigarettes was about 9/- (9 shillings or about 45 p – about £12.21 ($15.25 US) in today’s money.)

I was up and about at 10.00 am and worked through to midnight, by which time I didn’t know what day it was or what time it was . . .

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We finally finished loading the freezer / chiller cargo at 11.00 am on Thursday, it had taken us 75 hours to complete the loading, the original plan was 48 hours, and I’d been on duty for 60 of the 75 hours, and at the end I had a whole 24 hours to myself, before we were due to sail.

I slept most of my off-duty time, so next time I will consider any offers more carefully.

All the above pictures are from the internet to illustrate how we loaded freezer and chiller cargo in the mid 1960’s.

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Today the container is packed at the freezer works and is lifted in one piece on to the ship and plugged in to a power supply.

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To illustrate how far transport has come; the above container was created to carry sushi!   Both above pictures are off the internet.

I wasn’t the only one working long hours during our stay in Fremantle. The First Mate had suggested various cargo work for the other officers, and the cadets, everyone worked flat out for the entire period of loading. We loaded dry cargo as well as the freezer cargo.

We sailed for Bombay (now Mumbai) on the 22nd December, and once again I had the ‘graveyard watch’ midnight to 4.00 am and mid-day to 4.00 pm, my favourite watch.

It was going to be Christmas at sea, and New Year’s Eve at sea, before we would arrive in Bombay.

Each ship in which I’ve sailed, except for the LST, had a small bar where the officers would congregate when off duty.

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Obviously when the above was taken it must have been Christmas time, but I’ve blotted out their faces because I don’t know how to get in touch with the officers in the photograph. This was not the bar in the Juna, but another Company vessel.

Each bar had a unique name – Stagger Inn, (the bar of MV Carpentaria) is one that comes to mind, Coolumbooka Inn,  Coolumbooka River supplies water for the town of Bombala in NSW Australia, and the name of the ship in which this bar is located was MV Bombala.

You’d think I could remember more than two, but . . .  the one thing I can remember is that in every officers’ bar / saloon a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth was prominent.

For other Christmas’ at sea I kept the Christmas Day menu of our main meal, but for some reason I can’t find Juna’s menu.
Watches still had to be kept and so those who worked day work (mainly the cadets and  the First Mate & Captain) could enjoy Christmas Day, but for those of us who stood watches, we had to be circumspect as to how many drinks we consumed.

At that time we didn’t have a breathalyser system on board, and this system of checking car drivers had only just been introduced in the UK, in October 1967.
It was up to the Captain or First Mate to decide if anyone was unfit for duty, and if they did decided that one was not fit to stand his Watch you were finished as a deck officer with British India Steam Nav. Co.

If you were an engineering officer, the final decision would be made by the Chief Engineer but logged by the Captain.

On New Year’s Eve all the deck and engineer officers were invited to the Captain’s cabin for drinks, and if you were on the 8 – 12 watch (i.e 8 pm to midnight & 8 am to noon) the party could  well be still going when you left the bridge.
Being on the midnight to 4.00 am watch, I left the celebrations about 9.00 pm to get a couple of hours sleep before taking over the Watch on the bridge, which was just before the New Year came in – and by ten minutes passed midnight I was sure to have a number of visitors to keep me company, other than the helmsman.

In the middle of the ocean one could be as noisy as one wanted to be and not upset the neighbours,

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and even in ‘a lonely sea and sky’ we would never use fireworks, because ‘fireworks’ (distress rockets) were only to be used at sea, when in distress.

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Sea Fever – by John Masefield
“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.”

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HMS Conway in the River Mersey.

John Masefield, who, I am pleased to say, was also an old ‘Conway‘ and he was in the old ship from 1891 to 1894, and UK poet laureate 1930 to 1967. In addition to writing poetry he also wrote twenty-three novels.

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John Masefield 1878 – 1967