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.
Part 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.