Halong Bay

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During our visit to Hanoi we’d booked to visit Halong Bay for an overnight sail. The drive was about three and a half hours. It was an interesting trip, particularly watching the motorbike drivers taking live pigs to market on the back of their bikes. The pigs didn’t seem distressed, perhaps they were used to days out on the back of a bike!

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We would only be away from Hanoi for one night and the standard practice for hotel guests to Halong Bay is for the hotel to lock the guest’s suitcases in a secure area. We only carried an overnight bag. On our return, the hotel allocated the same room as we had at the beginning of our Hanoi visit.

On arrival in Halong Bay we looked for our ‘Junk’, but which on was ours. . . . there seemed to be dozens all clamouring for jetty space. The picture below doesn’t give the full ‘picture’ if you will excuse the pun. We were told that there are 500 junks operating in the bay. . .

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Eventually we found ‘Halong Green’ which was our junk – the above picture.
The junk had six en-suit cabins, but as we were a party of four couples, the whole junk had been allocated to us. The cabin size was OK for the one night. The cabin was air-conditioned, had a double bed, plus they also had small fans. We found the temperature to be cool enough not to require the air-conditioning, but warm enough to sleep with just the fans. The en-suite consisted of a toilet, shower and washbasin. Towels etc were supplied.
As soon as we boarded, we sailed. Because of the number of junks involved it was like a small armada when a number sailed around the same time. I wondered if we would be in a race, but all the junks just sailed slowly through the still waters of the Bay.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALater our junk rigged the sail, but at the beginning we used the engine.

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On the top deck they had sun lounges, which was a little optimistic considering the weather, but we still used them as we sailed past the islands of the bay – we were well wrapped up.

Next deck down from the viewing area was the ‘public’ area – which consisted of a small bar, dining room and lounge area.

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All meals were included in the rate and an honour system allowed one to help ones self from the fridge for soft drinks and beer. Wine was also available, and it was chilled correctly!
As soon as we boarded and dropped our overnight bags in our cabins, lunch was served. Three course lunch while we floated past beautiful scenery, with small islands everywhere. In the afternoon we reached an island of grottos called Hang Sung Sot. We disembarked and climbed the stairs to enter the grotto, along with a number of other people from other junks.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see how large the caves are as the visitors walk along the man made paths.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can just see the fence posts to designate the path way.

Later we stopped at Tip Top Beach on Tip Top island, which gave a panoramic view of Halong Bay as long as you didn’t mind climbing the 500 steps to the top.

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Taken from half way up – puff – puff – pant . . . .

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Back on board to watch the sunset from the top deck as we cruised in to a secluded bay where we met other junks, all lit up for the night. I had a feeling that they ‘circle the wagons’ just in case anything goes wrong during the night – pirates perhaps?

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Then it was dinnertime.

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The birds and flowers were carved in the afternoon from vegetables, while we were sightseeing. The chef used cucumbers, large white radish, carrots and melon. The swans were made from the radish plant – note the rose carved in to the melon.

After breakfast we climbed in to a sampan to be rowed in to an old volcano. The entrance was through a hole in the side of the volcano – and for some reason as soon as you passed in to the flooded volcano everyone, without exception, only spoke in whispers.

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Once inside the volcano we where not asked to lower our voices, but it was just something about the place that demanded silence. It was a beautiful feeling of absolute quiet except for the occasional bird call. We just floated, even the oarsman at the stern stopped rowing so as to experience such tranquility.

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As we started our return others where still arriving – I don’t think the junk in the background is ours.
As we left the volcano area a sea mist drifted in and began to gather all around.
Many of the island now appeared as shadows. Some of the islands had special names due to their shape – Indian Chief – the island on the left.

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We were served an early lunch as we were now on our way back to the wharf and civilisation.

homeFollowed by a three and a half hour drive back to Hanoi.

 

Homeward bound

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Chakdara

We loaded tea in Trincomalee for five days before sailing to Madras.  I stayed on board this time because I was not going to be accused of not being aware of our sailing time.

Our next leg took us from Madras to Aden, which is across the harbour from Little Aden – at least we could walk in to the town at Aden. The trip from Madras took us eight days during which time I did my best to teach one of the teenage passengers named Annette, how to play chess.

adenPart of Crater City Aden

Aden is located at the southern end of the Red Sea, and is part of the Arabian Peninsular. It has been a very important trading port and strategic point for hundreds of years. It was captured by the British in 1839 to stop pirates attacking shipping in the area and to protect the route to India. Crater city’s name is due to the town being built inside a dormant volcano.

At that time there was an independence movement that began with a grenade killing one person in December 1963. The British had promised independence, but in the meantime British troops were sent in to keep the peace.

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We anchored off to work cargo.

The Company required all cadets to complete regular study after we had completed our ‘watches’ or day work, depending on the day. Any extra curriculum activity, such as teaching someone to play chess in the evening outside the accommodation, had to come out of sleeping time. I didn’t get much sleep.

From Aden we made our way to Port Taufiq at the southern end of the Suez Canal – you can see the town and canal below. We were waiting for a north bound convey to join, so as to transit the canal.

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suez-canalThe above illustrates how a ‘convoy’ transits the Suez Canal

On the voyage from Aden to the Port Taufiq the dogs went off their food. I wasn’t surprised, because if I’d been given stir-fried or stewed vegetables for as long as they had, I’d have gone off my food.
So in an effort to encourage them to eat we gave them a curried meat dish. They both gobbled this down and the started to howl and run a round the deck. Obviously the curry was too strong. Then they started to drink and drink and drink. We had our comeuppance later as the dogs lost control of their bowels, and we had the unpleasant duty of clearing up the mess. Fortunately we were able to apply high-pressure fire hoses to the area, and blast it clean with salt water.

After transiting the canal at night we anchored off Port Said. Worked cargo for a few hours in to dhows, and then set course for Marseilles in southern France.

While in Marseilles we were allowed ashore. An interesting town steeped in history. It is France’s oldest city, having been founded by the Greeks over two thousand years ago.

It was a short taxi ride from the berth to the old port, and we were soon walking the old cobbled streets and drinking in the sites of the area that the ancient Greeks would have known. It wasn’t long before we’d forgotten that we were only visiting for a short time. The aroma of food wafting from the pavement cafes, mixed with the smell of Gauloises cigarettes is a lasting  memory of Marseille.

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I even went as far as to buy a packet of Gauloises cigarettes as a change from the British & American cigarettes that I smoked at that time. In 1964 Gauloises hadn’t yet reached the stage of adding a filter to each cigarette so it wasn’t long before I was coughing myself to death with a burned throat. I keenly shared the Gauloises with the other cadets so as to reduce the number I had to smoke. The thought of throwing them away never occurred to me. My upbringing, that I was never to waste anything, wouldn’t allow me to throw them away.

We enjoyed our time in Marseille and ended up back at the old port area for a meal and a few drinks.
The bar that we visited for our meal and drinks had two sliding doors at the front that sealed the bar from the street when the business closed for the night.

While we were in the bar we met up with three cadets from another ship and realised that we had friends in common in the BI fleet. Around ten thirty in the evening, I and the other cadets from my own vessel, decided to go back to the ship. We left the bar to look for a taxi.

We’d left our ‘new’ friends in the bar, and they were a little over the top with drink, and had started to become noisy. I was glad to leave. Suddenly we heard a noise from the bar and we saw the barman shoving the remaining cadets out in to the street. Business had been quiet and I think the barman wanted an early night. His English was very limited, and none of us spoke French – déjà vu for me, because I’ll never go abroad, so why learn French.

As the barman shoved the last cadet in to the street he pulled the sliding doors closed. The cadet turned and pulled them open – the barman closed them again while shouting abuse.
This open / closing procedure went on for about five more times until, finally, the barman poked his head out, and shouted at one of the drunken cadets. The cadet shut the door on the barman’s neck and he slid quietly down the rubber seals to the floor. The door was not forcefully shut on the man’s neck, but just enough to cause him to gasp, and to try and haul the doors open, by doing so he lost his footing and slid to the floor.
Fortunately, at that moment, a taxi arrived, and my friends and I climbed in and gave the driver our wharf number. As we pulled away from the old port area the peaceful night air was shattered by the sound of hee haw – hee haw of police sirens. Someone had called the cops.

The following day we sailed from Marseilles for Gibraltar.

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The Straits of Gibraltar are only about eight miles wide from Africa to Europe. The Straits were originally known, in the ancient world, as the Pillars of Hercules. Once through the Straits and clear of the southern part of Portugal, we headed north.

It was during this phase of the voyage that one of the dogs gave birth to a number of pups. The nuns knew that the dog was pregnant, and had hoped that it would not give birth until after it had arrived in the UK.
After the pups had been born (about six in total, I think) it was explained to the nuns about the cost of six months in quarantine for each pup. They were devastated, because they only had enough money for the two adult dogs.

One morning, in the Bay of Biscay, when my colleague and I arrived to feed the dogs, only one pup could be seen. We never did find out what happened to the other pups.

Fortunately the Bay of Biscay was calm so we made good time to the English Channel, and finally to the mouth of the Thames, where we picked up the Pilot for the last part of the voyage up the river Thames to the Royal Albert Dock in London.

Three days later I signed off Chakdara and went home for some leave. This time I’d been given eight weeks, and I managed to fill them all, without becoming bored.

Homeward Bound – trivia pursuit – Paul Simon wrote this song on Widnes railway station in 1965. For non-British readers Widnes is a town located in the Northwest of England.

Stay in Melaka & catch the Trade Winds

A ninety-minute drive south of Kuala Lumpur international airport is Melaka (Malacca).

We first visited Melaka for a day trip from Kuala Lumpur – it was a long day, but we liked the look of the place and a few years later, we returned and stayed in a small Chinese hotel. Along the Melaka River bank we saw a hotel called Casa del Rio, being built.

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A year later we had the opportunity of returning to Malacca, and the Casa del Rio was open and had ‘opening offers’, so of course we stayed and loved the hotel, the staff and the service.

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The finished product.

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You’ve guessed it – we have stayed at this hotel more than once. They never seem to get my name the correct way around for a Westerner, but who cares, it is the thought that counts. The cut on my chin was due to me shaving on the aircraft when we hit an air pocket – I bled most of the day – had to replace the lost liquid via the bar.

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The picture above is of the view behind where I was sitting in the foyer. We had cold drinks and cold hand towels while the staff filled in the forms – all we did was sign our names. The pool is not for swimming, but ornamental and is lit up at night. See below.

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Our room was on the third floor of the building facing.
We sat in the corner on the far left, under the awning,  for our arrival drinks etc.

Our room from a couple of angles.

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Photograph taken from inside the bathroom, through the bedroom to the balcony doors.

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View from our balcony – which contained table and chairs and could be lit at night, if we wished to sit out.

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The horizon pool on the roof of the hotel, with bar of course.

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Our hotel is the one with the blue roof, which is the swimming pool. I took this picture from a viewing tower. The building to the left of the hotel contains private apartments, which the hotel manages.

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Corner of Casa del Rio, near the road bridge that crosses the river.

The picture below is the other end of the hotel along the river bank. We preferred this end of the hotel, which was more private.

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Our preferred bar, where we could sit on the veranda and enjoy the evening breeze.

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Even the rain was warm.

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Breakfast area that stretched on to the balcony overlooking the river. Inside was air-conditioned – sometimes we liked outside and other times inside.

Each year the hotel industry has a boat race – waiters, maids etc are all involved and during breakfast one day I saw one of the hotel boats out on the river practicing. For what I saw I don’t think Oxford or Cambridge would have anything to worry about.

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An evening meal with our friends at the River Grill, just what the doctor ordered after a day of sight seeing.

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What more could we want on a warm tropical evening, good food & wine accompanied by the tinkling sound of a piano player in the background. The pianist offered to play  requests, so of course I asked for As time goes by ; don’t we all when the ambiance and the time and place fits?  :- o)

Don’t eat the plate . . .

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I’d been out East for just over a year and the Company decided that I should start making my way home.

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I signed off the Chanda (black & white picture above) and made my way to a hotel in Karachi  called the Beach Luxury Hotel.beach

This hotel was much better than the Bristol Hotel in Kuwait; at least I could buy a beer. It also held floorshows in the evening. I’d never seen a real floor show in a hotel or restaurant, except via the cinema, curtesy of Hollywood. The nightly show guaranteed at least one person in the audience.

I was to await my next ship the Chakdara, (top coloured photograph), which was a ‘home-line’ vessel i.e she was based in London rather than Bombay or Singapore, and did the UK to India run. I waited eighteen days in Karachi before signing on Chakdara.

The two things that I do remember about Karachi in 1964 was a three-legged jackal in the Karachi zoo, and visiting a horse racing meet and watching a horse called Solomon Star, and in brackets (formally Woodland Star). Never having been very good at gambling I thought the last horse to bet on would be an animal linked to me – so I didn’t bet on Solomon Star, but of course it romped home, thus confirming my lack of skill at gambling.

Fortunately I didn’t receive the same welcome that Paul McCartney received a week or so before my arrival. He’d been mobbed at Karachi Airport and police had to protect him from screaming girls. The Beatles were on the way to Hong Kong for a concert as part of their world tour. I think their transit stop at Karachi airport was supposed to be a secret . . . .

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I joined the Chakdara for the voyage back to the UK. She was more modern than my two previous ships, having been built in 1951. She had a very different ‘feel’ to her because she was a ‘home line’ ship, and she carried twelve passengers. She would receive visits from Head Office, whereas the Eastern line vessels never came in contact with HO, and so the onboard atmosphere was a little more relaxed on Eastern line vessels..

We sailed to Ceylon, as it was then – Ceylon didn’t become Sri Lanka until 1972. After which we sailed to our first Indian port of Madras (now called Chennai).

The day after arrival in Madras, I and another cadet were allowed ashore. We were under strict instructions that we had to be back on board no later than 6.00 am the following day, at which time we would sail for Calcutta.

Madras was a pleasant place, but it could not hold our interest until 6.00 am the following morning, so we decided to return to the ship around 11.30 pm.
On entering the dock area we noticed that our ship was no longer at the same berth as she was a few hours earlier. We looked along the quay thinking that she had been moved to a fresh berth – we couldn’t see her.
On reaching the original berth a well-dressed Indian stepped out of the shadows and asked if we were cadets from the Chakdara, with him was an armed soldier.
We agreed that we were from the Chakdara and asked where our ship was berthed. He pointed to a vessel turning in the outer harbour.
‘You are booked on the next train to Calcutta, and an armed guard will accompany you’ said the agent.
‘How were we to know she was going to sail early?’
He shrugged his shoulders and spoke to the guard, who moved towards us to make sure we were not illegal immigrants trying to enter India.

As he did so we noticed a small rowing boat passing near the steps that led from the quay to the water, and we both ran down and jumped in to this boat. The dozing boatman was suddenly wide-awake.
We waved money at him and pointed to our ship in the outer harbour, and we set off in hot pursuit. Behind us the armed guard was not at all happy at losing his prisoners, but at least he didn’t fire at us.

Our ship was turning very slowly in the harbour, and the boatman was pulling on his oars like mad, in an effort to catch the Chakdara. While the boatman rowed, my friend and I stood in the stern shouting and waving like demented fools, in an effort to attract attention.

The ship completed her turn and was now pointing out to sea through the harbour entrance. We could see the white disturbance of the water caused by her propellers as she began to move ahead.
Suddenly the disturbance stopped and a Jacob’s ladder was lowered down to the water’s edge – they’d seen or heard us. The harbour and the quay were all brightly lit so perhaps someone was keeping an eye out, just in case.
We paid off the boatman and began the climb up the steep side of the ship, via the ladder.

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The picture shows Chakdara with the Jacob’s ladder hanging over the side – our problem was that it was half past midnight – not daylight as in the photograph. At least the deck crew shone a light over the side to assist our climb.

On nearing the top of the ladder the sound of the engines could be heard as half ahead was rung on the telegraph. Time was money.
As the senior cadet I was ordered to report to the Captain, to explain our lateness.
Even though I’d been told that we were not due to sail until after 6.00 am the following day, I was told that I should have known that we would have sailed early. At that comment from the Captain, I kept my mouth shut – I was not sure if he was joking or blaming us.

Next port was Calcutta.

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It was not a long voyage from Madras to Calcutta, but the river transit of the Hooghly was interesting due to the constant changing of the sandbanks. The distance from the sea to the docks is about 126 miles (203 km). We anchored at night and completed the river journey the following day.

riverfront-of-calcutta-in-1960sTwo BI ships working cargo from barges.

Once along side we began to work cargo. The problem was the monsoon season. We had to contend with heavy rain that stopped after about an hour allowing work to resume, and then perhaps half an hour later the rain would start again. We had a system of tarpaulin tents attached to the ship’s derricks and as soon as the rain started the tent was hauled up to cover each of the hatches to protect the cargo. Our time in Calcutta should have been for a few days, but turned in to more like a fortnight, all due to the monsoons. Even visiting Calcutta itself was no longer a pleasure, due to flooding and heavy rain.

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Street flooded in Calcutta 1964

Due to our inability to keep dry, when out and about, we entertained ourselves onboard, and of course the entertainment revolved around beer. Each evening around 10.00 pm one of the cadets would go ashore and buy curried suppers for those involved in the entertainment. We used to toss a coin for the first and second nights and after that took it in turns.
I lost the toss on the first night and trudged ashore to the local street stall just outside the dock gates. The food, various curries and rice, was packed in banana leaves, and tied with strong cotton. I hurried back with my load and handed the parcels around, and sat to enjoy my own with another cold beer. Unthinkingly I used the banana leaf as a vegetable. I thought the leaf was edible, forgetting that it was in place of a newspaper wrapping that we used in the UK for fish and chips. Fortunately I didn’t finish too much of the leaf, just enough for me to realise my mistake, but enough to keep me ‘regular’ for the next two days. Of course the others noticed me eating the leaf, but didn’t say anything – friendship?

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During the day it was the cadets’ duty to keep an eye on the loading, and that the cargo was being loaded correctly, and in the right order for discharge. This was well before containerisation.
As you see in the photograph it was all manhandled and loaded via the ship’s derricks. One time I remonstrated with the dockside supervisors about the stacking of the cargo on to the pallet, before the pallet was lifted from the ground to be deposited in the hold.
With indignation the supervisor raised himself to his full height, he came up to my shoulder, and stared in to my eyes, while saying with great dignity in his sing song Indian accent, ‘you think I know damn nothing, when in fact I know damn all!’
I nodded as if in agreement, turned and made my way to the officer’s accommodation where I could no longer hold in the laughter.

Finally, in spite of the rain, we managed to load all our cargo in a dry state, as well as a number of passengers who were returning to the UK. The additional faces in the dinning room and saloon expanded our conversational subjects beyond the sea and ships.

Three nuns joined us on their way home for retirement after they’d spent most of their lives in the hills of northern India as medical assistants, and spreading the gospel. They brought two dogs on board, and intended to pay for the six months quarantine in the UK, and keep them as pets. Part of our duties, as cadets, was to look after these animals, feed them, hose down the deck area that they were allowed to use, and make sure they didn’t fall overboard. The problem was that these dogs were vegetarians because the nuns could not afford to feed them meat during their time at hill station.

We had other passengers, which included a couple of teenage daughters who were around eighteen years of age. It was going to be an interesting voyage.
It was the 4th August before we eventually sailed out of the Hooghly River in to the Bay of Bengal.

For the next few days I was as sick as could be, due to the corkscrewing motion of the ship in the monsoons conditions. I hardly ate anything and would get sick cleaning my teeth. One way of losing weight I suppose, but when one is seasick and you are offered a gun to shoot yourself, you’d thank the gun giver. Seasickness is the most horrible feeling I’ve have ever experienced, because you can not stop the corkscrewing motion of the ship.

It was not until we were close to Ceylon that the ship’s corkscrewing changed to a steady roll, which was much easier on the body, allowing me to get used to an even roll in the ocean swell.
Finally we entered Trincomalee harbour, which is a natural beautiful circular harbor on the north east side of the country. We moored to a buoy and began to load chests of tea from barges, using our own derricks.

tea-chestThe loading was very labour intensive – loading a few chests of tea in to a cargo net, which would be brought on board and lowered in to the hold. A different labour gang would unload the net and then stack the tea chests in the appropriate area of the hold. In the meantime the empty cargo net is sent back for another load. This process started in the cool of the morning until lunchtime. After a lunch break the loading carried on until late afternoon. At night we would rig the cargo tents over the holds just in case of rain.
We were quite happy at the slow loading because it allowed us time to use the lifeboat to go ashore for picnics and a BBQ, along with some of the passengers. The lifeboat was powerful enough for me to be taught to ‘water ski’. I used a cargo pallet from the ship; a long rope from the lifeboat and my friends dragged me around the harbour behind the lifeboat.

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I must admit it was great fun, and it didn’t take me long to find my balance riding the hatch board, and to bounce over the lifeboat’s wake. The next time I tried water skiing would be in Victoria, Australia, twenty years later, so this small introduction at Trincomalee came in handy.

trincomalee-beachA small part of the beautiful beaches at Trinco where we had a BBQ.

Our next port was Madras – again, but this time I didn’t go ashore.

The Magnificent PC

Earlier this week my son & I went to the latest Hollywood effort of the Seven Samurai.

Seven Samurai (1954)
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The Magnificent Seven (1960)

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Return of the Magnificent Seven (1966)

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Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969)

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The Magnificent Seven Ride (1972)

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The Magnificent Seven (2016)

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The latest version for me is so politically correct that it is a pure Saturday afternoon matinee film of my childhood. The hero shoots the bad guy’s gun out of his hand, the goodies never miss with hand guns, and use rifles that fire such distances with such accuracy that it brought back my ability when I was a six-year-old cowboy – I never missed either.

The most noticeable influence for me was the politically correctness of the film.

The leader is a black American (Yul Brynner in the 1960 film))

His off sider is white American (Steve McQueen – 1960 film)

We have an ex sharp shooter form the civil war with ‘problems’ of using his gun to shoot people. He’s not all that keen on Mexicans,

So we have a Mexican, who is not sure of his skills. (Robert Vaughn in the original 1960 film)

We also have an Asian knife thrower (I think James Coburn is the closest in the 1960 film, but he wasn’t Asian).

This time we have something new, a ‘red’ Indian (Comanche) called Red Harvest who is painted red . . . .

Even the baddies have a red Indian, just one, out of what seems to be hundreds on the baddies side.

Don’t let’s forget the leading lady – according to her she has more balls than any man in town as she sets off to look for the Magnificent Seven to help reclaim the town, which is being threatened by a bunch of white Americans. (Mexicans in the 1960 film)

Of course the town people are frightened and only our heroine and one other has the guts to leave and to look for the ‘seven’.

Our heroine is taught how to shoot and uses her new skills to great effect right up to one of the final scenes. The feminist movement should be happy with her character.

Plenty of gun play, bows and arrows, knife throwing, explosions, and not one horse is shot or injured, only the riders – and they are bad guys so they are fair game.

The film has so many ‘tokens’ that I think it has covered everyone who might be offended.

We attended the lunchtime session at 12.50 pm, which allows pensioners like me to have my lunch at 10.30 am, so as not to miss the film. Many other patrons had the same idea, because I think my forty year old son was the youngest person in the cinema. The cinema could seat about two hundred people or more, but I doubt that the cinema would cover their costs, because there were only fifteen people in the whole place – pensioners $8.50 and my son paid $21!

Based on the audience it was obviously a popular film . . .

Places not on my bucket list

Das Island

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The photograph of Das Island has been downloaded from the net –

tc-map1I’ve marked the position of Das Is – under the ‘er’ of Persian under lined in cream.

I think the only main change since 1963 would be the upgraded runway. I always had the feeling that the island was floating on a pool of oil.
Das Island is a hundred miles (160 km) off the coast of Abu Dhabi; the size of the island is three quarters of a mile by one and a half miles, and is famous as a landing spot for migrating birds and a place for sea turtles to breed. Not a particularly sexy place to visit, but apparently the turtles liked this place as a holiday island.

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Banda Mashur in Iran now called Bandar-e Mahshahr
In August the temperature can reach 50 c (122 F) not a fun place to be at the best of times.

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Kharg Island

Memories, memories – every time I smell crude oil it all comes back to me.

Five miles (8 km) by half a mile (0.8 km) – 8.1 sq miles (21 sq km) – another island on a pool of oil
The Kharg Island facilities were effectively out of commission at the end of 1986. Heavy bombing of the facilities from 1982 through 1986 by the air forces of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War had all but destroyed most of the terminal facilities.

It’s other claim to fame is that it has inspired a computer generated a game called Battlefield WiKI . . . enough said.

My final ‘hot spot’ would be Ras al Khaimah. Funny, but Ras al Khaimah means ‘top of the tent’; which is the last place I’d think of in 1963 if I wanted to go camping.

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The thought that Tip Advisor would list the best hotels in Ras al Khaimah would have been science fiction in 1963.

On our return from Europe  it was a fast loading and this time we were off to Wilhelmshaven in Germany, via of course LEFO.
In the next few months we focused on Mina; the corrugated canteen, with its joy of the reason for travel, and visits to Little Aden, but all good things come to end and we finally returned to the Isle of Grain where I paid off the tanker, after nearly nine months, and went home to Birkenhead in June 1963.

I was given eight weeks leave, but after two weeks I was bored. The boredom was my fault because I’d changed. I’d seen some of the world, experienced storms, picked up enough Hindi words to make myself understood to our Indian crew, and could now steer an ocean going vessel. I was even beginning to miss the Mina / Aden ferry I was in a bad way.

My friends back home hadn’t changed. They spoke of last night’s TV, football at the weekend, and they looked forward to their annual holiday.
There was nothing wrong with their life, but it wasn’t for me, after all, I doubted that I would have any reason to go ‘abroad,’ didn’t I say that at school?

The thought of another six weeks of boredom was too much, so I rang the Company and asked for a ship.

The Company obliged, and sent me an airline ticket for Kuwait!

They must have hated me in Head Office .. . .

comet_4

I left Heathrow on a Comet 4 for Rome, next stop should have been Damascus, but we were diverted to Beirut, and finally we arrived in Kuwait. On landing I was met in the arrival hall by a representative of the shipping agent and within minutes I had my bag and was through customs and immigration, while many other passengers were still queuing.

Outside I was escorted to a very large American car; (see similar cars in the picture below) the driver opened the rear door and indicated that I should sit in the back. The agent shook my hand and wished me a safe journey, which at the time I thought was a strange comment. After all we were only going to a city hotel. The driver smiled at me, via the rear view mirror, and put his foot down on the accelerator. Now I understood the agent’s comment, within minutes we were travelling at over one hundred miles an hour along a freeway to the city. At that time nobody wore seatbelts. I just hung on to the roof strap. Thirty minutes later we pulled up at the Bristol Hotel in a cloud of dust and sand. I was to wait in this hotel until my ship arrived in to Kuwait.

kuwait-001r

I sent the above post card to my parents to let them know that I’d arrived safely. At that time we did not have a phone at home, and e-mail was thirty-five years in the future.
It was mid July and I only ventured out of the hotel in the early morning or late afternoon – it was the height of summer and it was HOT & dusty. The hotel was ‘dry’ i.e they were not allowed to sell alcohol, so one couldn’t have a cold beer in the cool of the evening.
I received a phone call at 4.00 am one morning, and I thought it was the agent telling me that my new ship had arrive – wrong number.
I received another at 10.00 am the same day and this time it was the agent to let me know that I would be collected and taken to my new ship in the early afternoon, the Landuara.
What a difference between this vessel and the tanker. The tanker was just over two years old, and my latest posting was to a vessel that had been launched in 1946, two years after I had been born. Her deadweight was 7200 tons. She didn’t have any air-conditioning, cadets slept two to a cabin, and the cabins were not at all large, in fact the shared cabin was smaller than the single cabins on the tanker.

landaura1

Our first port of call, after leaving Kuwait, was Basra, about 60 miles up the Shatt al Arab. Many people refer to it as the Shatt al Arab River, but the Arabic meaning is Stream or River of the Arabs, so by putting river at the end we have Stream or River of the Arabs River, which is a bit of a mouthful.

shatt_al_arab

The river itself denotes the border between Iraq and Iran, and it is the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates. Basra is about as far upriver as a sea going vessel can reach from the Persian Gulf.

The river flowed through miles and miles of Iraqi and Iranian desert. Khaki was the colour of the day, in fact every day. Sand storms, along with the heat and the flies made this area of the world one of the most unattractive. From memory the only green things I ever saw were the leaves of palms, and the lawn of the British Club, which was not the lush green of England, but a pale green – yellow effort that stood little chance of ever turning a lush green in the searing heat of August. The Shatt al Arab water was a dirty brown combination of local sewers, run off from the surrounding land after oxen had walked in circles to drive water from the river to irrigate the riverbank area, and the occasional shower of rain. It was unthinkable for any of us to wish to swim in such water, walk on it perhaps, but never in it to swim.

palm-treesShatt al Arab river near Basrah

111641They do say that photographs don’t lie – they do, because I’ve never seen the Shatt al Arab look so blue and attractive.

I did hear once that where the Tigris and the Euphrates meet, is where the Garden of Eden is supposed to have been located. Things have changed in the area since Adam and Eve left the garden.

By now it was August the hottest time of the Iraq summer and temperatures during the day were well over the 40 c (106F) mark and when working in the holds of the ship, the temperatures were higher again. At night I used to obtain two very large bath towels, soak them in a bath of fresh water, and put one on the deck of the highest part of the ship, and pull the other over me in an effort to get some sleep before either towel dried out. Sleeping in the cabin was impossible, because of the lack of air conditioning. We did have a small fan, but all that did was move the hot air from over there, to over here, without generating any cooling.
When I was in my fifties I suffered from rheumatism in certain weather conditions and I blame the use of the soaking wet towels as the cause – but without the wet towels we wouldn’t be able to get any sleep. Imagine the conditions for our engineers when they were on duty in the engine room.
At the end of the workday (we were alongside, not moored in the river) we did have the chance to visit the British Club, where we could buy English beer. The members allowed us to use their swimming pool, and they were very kind and friendly to us poor cadets making us ‘honorary’ members. The other advantage of the British Club was that a number of the members had their daughters visiting during the British school holidays (late July to early September), and some of the daughters were my age. . . . . but we were not going to step out of line and cause any problems, after all the Club had been very kind to us, and they sold cold beer.
On the evenings that we didn’t go ashore, we would sit outside our accommodation on the riverside of the ship, not the shore side, and eat watermelon, and hold pip-spiting contests across the river – we never reached the other side. The melons were obtained via barter. Wood in Iraq was expensive and hard to obtain. Our ship used wood as dunnage when stowing cargo during loading cargo (well before containerisation), because it was inexpensive or a waste material from another process. After we had unloaded cargo we would always have plenty of dunnage left over, and we either dumped it at sea (forty years before the PC brigade were invented), or we would reuse some of the dunnage for the next time we loaded cargo. Our old dunnage had value to the local Arabs, so we would swap some for huge watermelons that grew along the banks – we were happy and the local Iraqi boatmen were happy.
After completing our unloading and the loading of export cargo (dates), we dropped down the river to Khoramshah, which is on the Iranian river bank, so we had to remember to refer to the Shatt al Arab as the Arvand Rud (Swift river), which is the Persian (Iranian) name for the river.

kharomInstead of watermelon pips we swapped dunnage for pistachio nuts; we didn’t spit, but flicked the shells across the water. Iran, being the largest producer of this nut ensured we had a regular supply.

Eventually we left the Shatt al Arab / Arvand Rud and sailed for Bombay.

DSC05969r

See https://wordpress.com/post/silverfox175.com/1919 for beer & onions in Bombay.

 

 

Lefo ? Where’s that?

ler

This blog is a follow on from my earlier blog, ‘The Silver Grey Sea’ on the 30th September.

In addition to tank cleaning we were expected to keep up with our studies, via a correspondence course, for the examination for a 2nd Mates ‘ticket’. Certain certificates were required before we would be allowed to sit the examination in the UK, and this included the ability to steer an ocean going vessel correctly.
The Captain of Ellenga soon had me practising my helmsman’s skills.
After a time one gained the ‘feel’ for steering, even a 37,000 gt tanker.
While at the helm if the wake was not arrow strait the Captain would make him self heard – he didn’t like a zig zag course, because it used too much fuel, and he maintained that because the war was over we were no longer a target for submarines, zig zagging was for cowboys.
Other certificates that were required before sitting the examination consisted of a Lifeboat certificate, RADAR operator certificate and St John’s Ambulance First Aid Certificate. If a British vessel had ‘less than ninety-nine souls on board’ the vessel was not required to carry a doctor, hence the first aid certificate. Of course we had a book called the ‘The Ship Captain’s Medical Guide’ – I still have mine published in 1946, Ministry of War Transport – cost was 3/6d. It has plenty of black and white sketches and photographs to help us remove foreign bodies from eyes, or people.

helm-001Helmsman certificate

lifeboat-001

Lifeboat certificate stamped in my discharge book.

radar-001Radar certificate.

 Christmas Day 1962, was celebrated in the Persian Gulf, as we sailed through the Straits of Homuz. The cadets were given a day off, with a very slack day for Boxing Day.

breakfast62rc          lunch62c

Christmas Day breakfast menu         Christmas Lunch menu

xmas62-dinner

Christmas dinner –

Don’t forget that we were a tanker, not a passenger ship.

 British India Steam Nav. Co ships were known as good ‘feeder’ ships.

We were off Little Aden wharf at 2.00 am, 27th December and sailed at 4.00 pm the following day. Our departure time from Little Aden allowed us to celebrate New Year Eve and the first day of 1963, at sea, in the Persian Gulf.

1963

After loading in Mina the Company took pity on us and we were ordered to Philadelphia; to be exact the oil terminal at Marcus Hook, on the Delaware River. We didn’t care where our destination was, as long as it wasn’t Little Aden!

The voyage was twenty-eight days, out of the Persian Gulf in to the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal, and across the Mediterranean, followed by the Atlantic in mid-winter. The winter of 62/63 was the coldest winter in the UK since 1947. In the Atlantic we had to put up with storms, and mountainous seas that smashed in to the ship and twisted metal ladders, while the wind carried away ridged awnings that were bolted to the ship. All galley fires were extinguished and we lived off corned beef sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs for days. Nobody was allowed on deck because of the wind and waves. I’d read about huge Atlantic waves, but being on a 37,000-dwt ship, and being tossed about as if we were a toy boat in a child’s bath, is something else.

ellenga1

To get from the mid-ship accommodation to the crew’s quarters or the engine room we used the catwalk.The catwalk is a suspended walkway to allow people to get from the midsection of the ship (officers’ accommodation and bridge area) to the aft area, without climbing over the deck pipes. Most tankers have a catwalk, which are a number of feet above the deck piping. Along the catwalk are shelters, also known as bus stops, to protect the walkers during bad weather. The idea being to dodge, from bus stop to bus stop, as you moved aft.
The above photograph shows the Ellenga, and the two bus stops aft of the centre accommodation can be seen – they are the two white objects on the deck. The weather was so bad that nobody was allowed to move from one accommodation to the other – it was too dangerous, which is why we were living on boiled eggs etc.

Eventually we made it to the mouth of the Delaware River and picked up a pilot. I was on the bridge keeping the logbook up to date – every thing that happened was recorded in writing – pilot aboard, pilot on the bridge, when he gave his first order it was Pilot’s advise, Captain’s orders. The Captain was still in command even when the pilot was on the bridge.
I did not record the first comment from the Pilot to the bridge personnel as he walked through the door.

Although we had been at sea for twenty-eight days we managed to keep up with world affairs, particularly those concerning the UK. Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister, had his hands full dealing with John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War, the Soviet Naval Attaché at the Russian embassy, and a young woman named Christine Keeler, who was supposed to have been sleeping with the Secretary of War, and the Soviet Naval Attaché, at the same time, but not in the same bed!

The American pilot threw out the following to those of us on the bridge –
‘What are Christine Keeler’s favourite newspapers?’
Of course none of us knew the answer –
‘She takes a Mail, a Mirror, a couple of Observers, and as many Times as she can get.’
This caused all the British to burst out laughing, but the helmsman, who was Indian, looked at us as if we were completely mad. He was not aware that the Mail, Mirror, Observer & Times were all British newspapers.

I managed to get some hours off and went by train to Philadelphia. It was extremely cold, which took the edge of any idea of sightseeing. I did buy a Tommy Dorsey LP for $1, which I still have (music transferred to the computer and cleaned of the original scratches)

dorsey

Sugar Foot Stomp I think is my favorite on this LP – turn it up!

I also bought a black fur ushankahat, which came in handy some years later in Leningrad (now called St Petersburg), where I swapped a ball point pen for a comrades red star!

Our next move, after breaking out of the ice in the river, was to Maracaibo in Venezuela, for a cargo of oil for the UK. At least it would be warm in Venezuela!
During the voyage we were followed and watched by the US navy, because the Cuba crisis had not long been resolved (about ten weeks earlier) and the US & Russia were still a little ‘nervous’. Nothing untoward happened and we were able to load our cargo in Maracaibo, Venezuela and sail for home.

Every time we sailed for a European port we sailed for Lefo – I tried to find this destination on the chart, and in an atlas, but failed. I eventually found out that Lefo is fictional point just off the south coast of England – Land’s End For Orders! Our cargo may have been on sold to another destination.

lefoLEFO

lefo1The wild coast of Land’s End

Having crossed the Atlantic again and having our destination confirmed at LEFO, we entered the English Channel, which was wrapped in thick fog. There is nothing so
haunting as the sound of ships’ foghorn to warn other vessel of your closeness. The problem is that sound bounces around in fog and the vessel may not be where you expect it to be. Fortunately my own ship, being only a couple of years old, had radar so we were able to ‘see’ our way up the channel. Even so we were only moving at a very slow speed.

We arrived safely at the Isle of Grain oil depot at the mouth of the River Thames. A fast discharge and by mid April, we were back in the Persian Gulf at a new loading port called Banda Mashur in Iran, (Some times known as Bandar-e Mah Shahr), where we managed to load at a rate of 4200 tons an hour. We didn’t wish to hang around, and I think this was fastest hourly rate that we recorded.