Mal de mer

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

Three nuns who were retiring from service joined us for the homeward voyage. They had 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 barker’s eggs from 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 August before we eventually sailed out of the Hooghly River into 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 would thank the gunman. Seasickness is the most horrible feeling I’ve have ever experienced, because you cannot 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 beautiful natural circular harbor on the northeast side of the country. We moored to a buoy and began to load chests of tea from barges, using our own derricks.


We loaded tea in Trincomalee for five days before sailing too 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, which is the oil refinery that I visited several times during my tanker days, which was my first ship.
At least this time we could walk into the town at Aden.

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. It was never a holiday destination for me.

The white passenger vessel is the P & O Arcadia anchored off Aden in 1964.

From Aden we made our way to Port Tawfiq 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, to transit the canal.

The above picture is part of the land curve in the aerial picture shown below. 

The bottom of the above picture is the Red Sea, and the curve is the beginning of the Suez Canal.
During the voyage from Aden to the Port Tawfiq 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 to encourage them to eat we gave them a curried meat dish. They both gobbled this down and then started to howl and run around the deck. Obviously, the curry was too strong. The howling stopped as 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 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.

The following day we sailed from Marseilles for Gibraltar.

Six square kilometers of rock, captured by the British in 1704 and under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 The Rock was ceded to Britain.
This treaty was renewed in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris, and later 1783 by the Treaty of Versailles.
Gibraltar has been a bone of contention for the Spanish’s for long time so in 1968 the British Government held a referendum whether the people in Gibraltar would like to remain ‘British’ or become Spanish. 12,762 voters voted to stay British and 44 voted to become Spanish. A second referendum was held in 2002 with similar results.

The Straits of Gibraltar are only about 13 km (8 miles) wide from Africa to Europe and were 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 several 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.

Ben Brooksbank / Royal Albert Dock,

The above is the Royal Albert Docks and the white passenger ship on the right is either Uganda or Kenya – both were Company ships on the London East Africa run.

Three days later I signed off Chakdara and went home on leave. I had been away for just over fourteen months and was given eight weeks leave.

I managed to fill all eight weeks without becoming bored.

Author: 1944april

Traveled a great deal - about 80 countries - first foreign country I suppose was Wales, which was only 80 miles away from where I was born. Visited each Continent, except Antarctica, and I doubt that it is on my bucket list - too cold. I love Asian food, Australian wine & British beer & trying to entertain by writing.

10 thoughts on “Mal de mer”

  1. Another good read Geoff.

    I concur; “My upbringing, that I was never to waste anything, wouldn’t allow me to throw them away.”

    My pet waste is food. Guess that’s our being post WWII children and witnessing the struggles of our mothers.

    Regards Robert,

    “Set a guard over my mouth, O’Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

    Psalm 141:3


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting as always. I only went to India twice and that was on a tanker as mate -never ventured ashore there kept busy discharging. Remember little Aden & Suez from the 60’s. Went through Suez about 6 years back as a passenger – very different with no exit north bound through Port Said, new big diversion canal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Morning Mike, I enjoyed my time in India, remember our crew were from India so we had to learn some Hindi, which came in handy ashore.
      I still have my Malim Sahib’s Hindustani cost 5/- 2nd edition dated 1958!


      1. Thanks Geoff – I have many photos & video of our northbound transit on Seven Seas Voyager, it is my understanding that passenger ships must take a tug escort as they have no means of lifting bum boats on deck which could run lines ashore should it be necessary whereas the tug could assist controlling the situation

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Another very fine post. I enjoy reading every one of them. Many thanks Bone. What happened to the young ladies? Donnie Campbell Main 62/64, Culloden Moor, almost 18 inches of snow, minus 4C Daily dig outs instead of venturing to gym

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  4. I might have known someone would ask about the young ladies . . . :- o)
    Let’s just say the authorities were very strict in making sure that the parents of the young ladies had nothing to worry about. Cards – chat & chess seemed to be the order of the day- unfortunately . .


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