You can sail the Danube or
or even the Amazon
for pleasure, and not have a worry, but I doubt that you would choose to sail up or down the Shatt Al Arab for your annual holiday.
The map will give you an idea of where we were heading – we bunkered (refuelled) at Abadan, then sailed to Basra (which is in the province of Al Basrah) Iraq for dates, and later to Khorramshahr (Iran) for pistachio nuts.
Shatt Al Aarab from the internet taken in the early 1970’s.
Shatt al-Arab, (which means the river of the Arabs in Iraq), but it is also known as Arvand Rud (Swift river) in Iran (Persia).
The river is 200 km (120 miles) long from the confluence of the Euphrates and the Tigris to the Persian Gulf. Just above where these two rivers meet is thought to be the location of a well known garden – The Garden of Eden.
The pilot joined us at 4.00 am at the mouth of the Shatt al Arab and we made our shaky way upstream to Abadan in Iran. Being so light (empty of cargo and nearly empty of fuel) we didn’t have to worry too much about running aground, just the hope that the vibrations, caused by the propeller, would not shake us to bits.
The Shah had celebrated his coronation only three months earlier –
At that time Abadan was an international cosmopolitan city, and the people appeared happy and carefree. Eleven years later the Shah had been deposed and the people were under Ayatollah Khomeini. How things have changed in the last forty years.
After a short stay in Abadan to bunker (refuel) our next stop was Basra in Iraq.
Ships alongside in Basra.
Basra was the end of the line for the British India Steam Nav Co passenger ships from Bombay (now Mumbai). The above shows one of the passenger ships arriving in Basra. The picture is off the internet.
We anchored in the river and waited for about five days to go alongside, why we waited so long I don’t have any idea, perhaps because the cargo wasn’t ready, or perhaps the berth was occupied, or the agent hadn’t ‘looked after’ the right people, but for us it was stinking hot, and a very uncomfortable time.
Once again we swapped old pieces of wood for uncut water melons – wood was valuable to the locals and the water melons a nice change for us.
In the evening, during the our ‘beer time’ it was melon pip flicking time to see who could flick the pip the furthest as the river was only about 37 metres (120 feet) wide at this point and we were not far off the river bank. Life at sea could be stimulating at times. . . .
Basra was the departure port for Sinbad on his third voyage. It is also renowned for being one of the hottest ports to visit. 50 c (122 F) on the Persian Gulf run.
This port is a destination that has never been on my return ‘bucket’ list, even though it used to be known as the Venice of the East, due to the canals.
Venice of the East?
Venice of the East
This picture is off the internet of one of the Company’s cargo ships, very like the one I sailed in, alongside at Basra in the late 1960’s.
The reason for our visit to Basra was to load dates – it was harvest time.
While we loaded the dates and other cargo, the only form of distraction in our free time, was the British Club, which had a swimming pool and a bar that sold cold beer.
Khorramshahr in Iran was our next port of call where we loaded bags and bags of pistachio nuts, as well as general cargo.
Pistachio nuts before harvesting.
As we know them . . .
There wasn’t much to do ashore and after our shift we would sit on the river side of the ship, drink a beer or two and see how far we could flick the shells of the pistachio nuts, I told you a life at sea could be stimulating . . .
Once our cargo was loaded,we sailed down the river to the Persian Gulf, and to our next port, which was Bushire, which is a port in Iran. I’ve indicated the port on the map.
We were warned before we reached Bushire not to bother posting any mail because it would never reach the UK, because the locals would steal the stamps and throw away the letter.
We were told to hold our letters until we reached Karachi. A small thing to remember so many years ago, but for us, at that time, mail was important. The internet was 25 or 30 years in the future.
We anchored off Bushire and barges came out to us – so to speed up the process we worked three holds.
The problem was that the labour was paid 1/ 9d a day or in today’s money AUD $2.52 a DAY! (USD$1.70).
If there wasn’t a ship in port to load or unload they didn’t get paid.
The Iranian company that hired the ashore labour considered that they were being generous, because they knew that the labour would steal anything from the ship that was not screwed down.
We had to post two crew members down each hold to stop the labour breaking into the cargo. At times the ship’s officers had to threaten violence to the shore side labour to stop them broaching cargo (breaking in to the cargo).
Even so some of the crew lost various items of of clothing, cargo went missing and various large crates were broken in to and some of the contents stolen.
The officer’s accommodation had been locked down, and all windows and other openings bolted shut, which made the accommodation extremely hot when off duty.
Stealing cargo was a common occupation across the world and it was a constant battle with shore side labour to put a stop to the thefts, but the labour in Bushire had it down to a fine art.
I was 3rd Mate of the above ship during our ‘cruise’ to Basra & the Persian Gulf.
A couple of years ago I visited Dubai on the way to Europe, and I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever stop over for a ‘holiday’ of four days in the Persian Gulf, but I did because we flew with Emirates Airlines. At least the bus stops in Dubai were air-conditioned.
One thought on “There are rivers and there are rivers”
I have you Geoff, to tell me about a part of the world that I don’t ever want to visit. – Zero interest in the people or their beliefs and modern politics. – Even through just to the North, there is supposed to be the very cradle of human life ! ….. As for the Venice of the East, the real Venice is like a magnet for me, though it is clear that it contains its own destruction. – First visit was mid 60s, and my last visit was 8 years ago. – I noticed how the stonework has broken in just that half century, with flooding every winter !
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