Whether the weather is what we want . . .

According to some people Mark Twain said, ‘Everybody talks of the weather, but nobody does anything about it.’, but he didn’t make this comment, it was his friend Charles Dudley Warner who said Twain’s famous comment first.

When I was at sea in the 1960’s we tried to do something about the weather. We didn’t have the luxury of satellite communications which supplies immediate weather information. Nor did we gain information from floating sensor buoys radioing weather information back to base. They hadn’t been invented.

What we did have was a network of ocean going cargo and passenger ships reporting their local weather along with a set of climate readings every six hours to a meteorological station ashore. The shore based station would collate all the readings from various vessels and hopefully they would be able to forecast the local weather a few hours or a day or so ahead.

On most ships at set times, the officer of the watch would take the temperature of the sea water, temperature of the air, barometer reading for air pressure, estimate the wind force by comparing what he saw from the wing of the ship’s bridge to a photographic chart of the waves.

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The chart above gives an idea of the state of the sea linked to the force of the wind. The chart that we used in the 60’s was not as well presented as the one above. The watching keeping officer would then record his estimate of the wind’s speed.

Once the wind’s speed had been decided he would check the clouds and use a ‘cloud chart’ to estimate the height of the clouds and the type of cloud.

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Again the chart above is far more detailed than the cloud chart that we had in the 60’s.

There are ten types of cloud and twenty seven sub types, depending on the height of the cloud above sea level.

The various types of cloud have Latin names – a few examples are

Stratus, which means, flat or layered and smooth

Cumulus, which means heaped up, or puffy like a cauliflower (sometimes called cauliflower heads.)

Cirrus, these are very high clouds and wispy in looks,

Alto, medium to high level

Nimbus,  a mass of cloud that can be jagged in shape, which can be a sign of rain or snow.

Once he had decided on the height and type of cloud, the wind direction, the force of the wind, and the sea temperature, the air temperature and the barometer reading he would then estimated his vessel’s position. All being well he would have known the exact spot at noon with a sun sight or early evening with a star sight and from that position he would have estimated his position for his report by dead reckoning. In the 60’s we found our way around the world much the same way as Columbus or Cooke. We used a sextant to ‘shoot’ the sun at noon, and we took star sights at dusk.
The one thing that Captain Bligh (of HMS Bounty fame) had in 1789 during his epic 3600 mile forty day open boat voyage, after the mutiny, was a good sextant.

sextantThe above picture shows a sextant – I had two when I was at sea – one I bought on passing my exams, and later sold when I got married (we needed the money), and the other (dated early 1930’s and similar to the one shown) given to me by an old sea captain, which I have kept as a memento of my time at sea.

Once all of the information had been gathered it would be radioed to the local meteorological office, as well as London – by Morse code, not by speech.

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Other ships would be doing the same so with the help of Sparks (Radio officer) the officer of the watch could estimate the weather ahead of his own vessel.

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Times have changed, but I doubt that being at sea today is as much ‘fun’ as it was fifty years ago, before containerisation. I feel sorry for ship’s captains today – head office is only an e-mail away or a mobile call during his night, because someone at H/O doesn’t have the ability to work out time zones.

I’ve sailed in tramp ships that once we left a port we didn’t hear from H/O until the next port, and then only via the agent – sending messages, via the radio or telex (fax was still a little futuristic) was expensive, so bothering the captain half way around the world had to be justified to the profit and loss account!

On a recent cruise I asked the Captain if he, or his officers, still used a sextant in case of emergency. I was told that if there was an emergency, and he (the Captain) had to abandon ship, he would make sure that his phone was fully charged, so that he would find his positon via Google maps.

I wasn’t sure if I found this funny or not, and wondered if the coxswain of the lifeboat that my wife and I would be in, who might well be one of the hotel staff, be able to steer the boat by reading an old fashioned compass, or would the coxswain also be contacting Google for advice about which way is north?

Lifeboat

 

 

 

 

The great affair is to move

 

According to Robert Louis Stevenson –

‘I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake.

The great affair is to move.’

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I visited the UK to take part in a reunion – it had been fifty years since I left the nautical college HMS Conway to go to sea – once at sea my great affair was to keep moving.

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My time in the Conway was when she was a shore based establishment in the grounds of Plas Newydd, the Marquis of Anglesey’s home and estate on the isle of Anglesey, which is off the north coast of Wales.

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My first three months were spent in the Marquis’ house, and you see can that the views across to Snowdon, which is on the mainland of Wales, are spectacular.

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The Snowdon range can be seen in the background – this picture was taken from the front of Plas Newydd.

Every cadet was expected to be able to be able to swim, and each year we had to take part in a swimming race across the Menai Straits and back again. The race was from Plas Newydd to the house that can be seen on the other side. We had rescue boats floating around just in case anyone was in trouble, but fortunately they were seldom required.During one swim the worst time for me was on the return when we had to swim through a smack of jelly fish – I was told that they were Portuguese men of war. It slowed us down as we waved the jellyfish away and hoped that the tentacles were not too long.

I was at Conway for two years and it took me that long to learn how to pronounce Llanfair PG, which was the closest railway station to Plas Newydd.

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The meaning in English is below

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Of course during the reunion we had to visit Snowdon, a mountain full of memories, because we used to climb this area and have to take part in initiative challenges.
Those of us who took part were in teams of three cadets.
One test that comes to mind was when the team that I was in came to a small lake and the waiting officer told us that at the bottom of the lake was a sunken submarine and that our job was to raise this vessel.
The sub was a large tank with a hole in it, which we had to secure before we could pump the water out so that the ‘sub’ would float. The water was freezing and of course we didn’t have any swimming trunks or towels, so we had to take it in turns to dive in and swim to the bottom to screw the plate back on to make the sub waterproof. The outside temperature was cold enough to discourage tourist  so there wasn’t any fear of us being charged as ‘flashers’. This was well before the PC brigade had been invented and well before the requirement of the current H & S regulations.
We were all between sixteen and seventeen years old, and it was expected of us to look after each other, to use our initiative, and common sense.

In all of the tests there was a requirement to workout certain maths, physics or navigational problems relating to the test, it was not all physical activity, but it was always cold.

My favorite memory of the climbing and hiking was that I used to carry Kendal Mint  cake for instant energy – it wasn’t ‘cake’, but a bar of whiteish chocolate, but not a chocolate taste. It worked wonders to keep me going.

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During the reunion and being fifty years older, we were taking the easy way to the top.

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Quite pleasant as we left the station

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 The scenery was just as dramatic as long ago and

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the summer weather was just as fickle.

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and some of us managed to climb to the top of Snowdon 1085 mtrs (3,560 ft) above sea level. I had to hold on to my glasses as the wind was very strong – check the two on the right trying to come down.

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My glasses, hands and everything else which was lose was in my pockets.

Sea Fever

I was fortunate to attend HMS Conway, which was a training ship (see picture below) to supply officers for the merchant and Royal Navy – most us went in to the merchant service.

The college began in 1859, and I attended ‘Conway’ between 1960 and 1962. During my time we lived in barracks because the old ship had run aground and broken her back in 1953 while being towed through the Swillies, which is a very dangerous stretch of water  between the North Wales coast and the Isle on Anglesey. She was on her way to dry dock in Birkenhead, but never made it.  . . .

Conway-01After leaving Conway in 1962, I went to sea, and my first ship was a tanker, the Ellenga, with a gross tonnage of 24,246 gt. At that time she was quite a large vessel.

Ellenga

Tomorrow we sail from Sydney harbour aboard the Diamond Princess, which is just under 116,000 dwt and nearly five times the size of my first ship.

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The above was taken last September, (2015), and the small yellow / green ship is a Sydney harbour ferry. The black vessel is a tanker bunkering the Diamond Princess moored alongside the Sydney Cruise Terminal, where she will be tomorrow when we join her.

For many of us who went to sea as young men (I was eighteen on my first trip) never lose the love of the ocean. One old Conway, John Masefield, captured the feeling of the sea when he wrote Sea Fever.

Sea Fever

By John Masefield.  HMS Conway 1891-94.

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.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

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South China Sea in 1967 at the start of a typhoon.
Cargo ship ‘Pundua’, built 1945, 7,295 gt
I think I prefer
Diamond Princess, built 2004, 116,000 gt
Tomorrow, thanks to our daughter & son-in-law, a hire limo will transport us for the expected hour’s run to the cruise terminal. Our check-in is 11.30 am, so all being well we will have lunch on board.

All my yesterdays . . .

I heard on the grapevine that a certain bar that I used to frequent in the 1960’s, in Georgetown, Penang, was still in existence.

My wife and I and two other couples were passing through Penang, so I had to try and find my piece of yesterday. The bar was (is) called The Hong Kong Bar and it was favourite watering hole for many a service man based in Malaya and later Malaysia. My first visit would have been in 1963 when I sailed in a cargo ship.

As I turned in to the street I recognised the area and at once became the boring old guy bending my two male colleagues’ ears about life well before PC and the Nanny State of today.

The street in which the Hong Kong Bar is located.

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As I walked in a realised that someone else was on a memory trip. An Australian serviceman and his wife. He was here to do the same thing that I was about to do – lean on the bar and drink in the atmosphere over a glass of Tiger beer.

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The reason I thought the bar had closed is that I’d heard of the fire in the early 1970’s, but the owner had rescued the regimental shields, ships’ crests and air force insignia after the fire and remounted them in their old places around the refurbished bar.

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The column of paper consisted of cash notes from many countries around the world. The bar owner must have been able to rescue this part of the bar decoration from the fire, because I saw old English money that went of of circulation in the early sixties.

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Fresh memorabilia obvious donated since the fire.

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A lady, (in purple) who can just be seen in an earlier photo served me my beer, and soon afterwards the gentleman in yellow came out of the back area and I had the feeling of deja vue, because I thought I recognised him from the 60’s. After a short conversation I realised that this gentleman was the son of the man that I knew, the original owner.

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The same family had owned the bar since the mid fifties and they used to collect photographs of their customers. When I asked if they still had the photographs several large albums where placed on the bar. As I scrolled through them looking for a familiar face I realised that the pictures from the mid 50’s through my period in the 60’s had been lost in the fire.

My recent visit took place in the late morning, which was a first considering that we used to be going back to the ship around breakfast time.

But at nineteen one had stamina  :-o)

 

 

 

1963 and all that in Japan & China. . . .

Yokohama, in Tokyo Bay, was our first port of call of our Japanese coastal trip.. If I thought Singapore and Hong Kong were foreign, Yokohama was real ‘foreign’ The people were different from Chinese, very friendly, but different. Fortunately at that time the exchange rate for a British pound note was 1060 Japanese yen. The current exchange rate is 172 yen for a British pound. How the mighty have fallen.
At least this time we were alongside, and we didn’t have to worry about shore boats, just taxis getting in to & out of the dock area so that we didn’t have to walk too far. We were alongside for three days, and the evenings were spent in the town, but as time passed I realised that even at the fabulous exchange rate I was running out of money. My weekly wage was about £5.00 a week and a taxi to / from the city was expensive. I didn’t see much of Yokohama city except in the evening when it was dark. Being October the sunset came early.
At 3.30 am on the third night we were called for departure stations. We manoeuvred off the wharf to the outer harbour around 6.00 am, and as the pilot climbed down in to the pilot boat I looked back at Yokohama and saw the sun shining on Mount Juji. When I was in Japan they told me that if you see Mt Juji on leaving, you would return. Each voyage I used to look for the mountain and I was able to see it, until on my last voyage when I couldn’t, because we sailed at night.
I didn’t return to Japan again until the late 1980’s. This time I arrived by plane, because I was working for another company, and no longer at sea.

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The short trip to Kobe saw us off the wharf the following day. It was a very short visit because within hours we had left and moved across the bay to Osaka.

I had a very unusual experience on my first run ashore in Kobe. As we left the ship my friend asked about the railway station and I pointed out the street and where we would turn right and then left for the station. I’d never been to Kobe and hadn’t seen a map of the city, so I do not have any idea how I knew the directions, but I knew I was correct. We followed my directions and they were correct. I must admit it left me with a very funny feeling. Sannomiya was the name of the station, but I didn’t know the name when I gave the directions.

Kobe_Port_TowerThe Kobe Port Tower had just been finished, but I don’t think it was open to the public. At 108 mtrs it looked huge to us at the time.

Kobe Tower at night.

After loading in Kobe we sailed through the Inland Sea to the open waters of the Yellow Sea off the coast of China, our next port was Tientsin (now Tienjin).

This was my first visit to Communist China, and I had been warned about what we could take in to the country, and to be very aware of the sensitivity of trading with the Chinese.

blue_antsAt the time I had just finished reading a novel called The Blue Ants by Bernard Newman, which was about a war that breaks out between China and Russia. In the novel the Chinese army is supplied by millions of people carry the supplies on their head. The standard dress for everyone at that time in China was blue shirt and blue trousers – everyone wore the same, hence from the air they looked like blue ants. The book was banned in China, and I was warned that I could get in to trouble if the book was found in my cabin. I am sorry to say that I threw the book overboard as we approached the pilot boat. Even though I’d finished the book, I intended to buy a fresh copy to keep, but I have never seen it since.
I cannot pass a second hand bookshop without going in for a browse, but not just for The Blue Ants. :-o)

My first impression of China was not a happy one – an armed guard at the top of the gangway and another at the bottom. The dockside labour would not speak to us unless it was via the foreman (political officer??). As part of our crew we had Hong Kong Chinese – the carpenter, the ‘donkey men’, who were engine room fitters, and one or two others. None of them spoke to the shore labour and the shore labour made sure that they were never in contact with these ‘gweilo’ (foreign devil) Chinese.

The one thing that I noticed when visiting Shanghai later in the trip, was the lack of seagulls and domestic cats. I often thought that perhaps the local population had eaten them, because many of the people looked hungry.

Before sailing from Tientsin I was instructed to take the draft reading. To do this I had to be given special permission to pass the armed guard at the top of the gangway, and on stepping ashore on to the wharf an armed guard accompanied me to the bow and stern as I read off the draft. We did not go ashore for any entertainment – entertainment was banned. Loud speakers on the wharf blared out Chinese propaganda twenty-four hours a day exhorting the labour to work hard. I wouldn’t have minded if the exhortations had been accompanied by music, at least I could have slept through the music, but the constant shouting did cause us to lose sleep. At least the shouting was in Chinese (Mandarin) so there was little chance of us being distracted or ‘converted’.

We were not sorry to see the back of Tientsin as we sailed for Tsingtao. The city of Tsingtoe was different, it was a naval base, and the locals were very twitchy.

Once again armed guards boarded us, along with the pilot, and watched our every move. We passed a Chinese submarine moored to a buoy, and the guards became quite agitated as we used binoculars to scan the sub, more out of interest than spying. After all we could see that it was an old diesel sub, circa WW2, and it was showing a lot of rust. Once the guards saw what we were looking at they became very ‘upset’ waving their rifles etc so we quickly looked the other way.

They authorities went through the ship in great detail checking every cabin and the crew’s quarters. I was glad that I had got rid of ‘The Blue Ants,’ the local guards appeared to be a little unstable.

During our time in Tsingtao, an army officer came on board and asked me if I could read English. I told him that I could, at which point he presented me with a number of books, in English. They were all propaganda books, and one was a red book containing the sayings of Chairman Mao. I still have three of these books. I wonder if the silver fish found them as unappetising as I did, when I tried to read them at the time.

Two Different Lines on the Question of War and Peace – a 38 page tome.

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On the Question of Stalin – a thin book of 23 pages, obviously the question was quite short.

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People of the World Unite etc etc see title – which is quite thick at 208 pages

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Once again it was guards on the gangway and we were not allowed ashore except to read the draft. This was another port to be crossed off my bucket list.

Next stop Shanghai. What a city to spark the imagination, from the early days of the 1800’s to recent times. Shanghai conjured thoughts of romance, white Russian émigrés, Charlie Chan types, and all the excitement of the East.

We were allowed ashore! But we could only visit the Friendship store and the old Shanghai Club, locally known as the ‘British Club’, now (in 1963) called the Seaman’s Club, which used to have the longest bar in the world.

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Noel Coward is supposed to have placed his cheek on the bar, squinted along it, and said that he could see the curvature of the Earth. There isn’t a record of how much he’d had that evening.

The Friendship store sold Chinese goods, but only to foreigners. The local Chinese where not allowed to shop in the store.

As I, and another cadet, stepped out of the dock area, a trishaw driver offered his services to take us to the Friendship Store at a rate that we couldn’t refuse. The trip was not far, and as we stepped down we offered the fare, which he refused and said that he would wait for us. After a little arguing with him in broken English (Chinglish?) we agreed that he could wait, and we entered the multi-storey shop.

The store contained many items of carved wood, from huge wardrobes to tiny figures pulling rickshaws. Much of the furniture was covered in dust showing us that business was not all that good. I did buy two decent size Chinese jars of pickled ginger.

They were to be a present for my mother, who loved pickled ginger.

Ginger

After about half an hour we had our fill of ‘shopping’ and left the store to be greeted by our friendly driver. Next stop was the Shanghai Club, come British Club, come Seaman’s Club – we used the British Club title and the driver knew exactly where we wanted to be taken. Even though the Government had renamed the building, everyone referred to it as the British Club. The trip along the Bund was bumpy as we crisscrossed the tramlines and bounced over the cobbled stones, but who cared it was the Shanghai Bund!

Once again our driver told us that he would wait.

On entering we came face to face with a large statue of Chairman Mao, with his right hand held out in greeting and the words ‘Workers of the world unite’ carved at the foot of the statue.

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The picture shows the idea of the stance of an eight to nine foot tall statue of Chairman Mao in the foyer of the British Club. (Seaman’s Club).

After passing the Chairman we found the world famous bar. Highly polished dark wood that one would expect from this type of British Club – all old world charm, three bladed fans on long stalks hanging from the ceiling added that little bit of yesteryear; but not quite old world. The Chinese had cut the length of the bar in half, and created a dining room, after one walked passed the beginning of the world famous bar.

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The above picture was taken in 1912, and fifty year later it hadn’t changed much at all.

To jump ahead a few months –

I returned to Shanghai and the British Club some months later, but this time on a different ship. Once again I went ashore with a colleague for a drink or two.

We had our drinks and something to eat, and as it was getting late, we decided to return to the ship. In the alcohol half of the Long Bar there was a group of Scandinavian seamen who were a little worse for drink, and they were very noisy.

As we moved out of the bar to the foyer I saw that one of the drunken seamen had climbed Mao’s statue and was trying to hang a small American flag from the Chairman’s little finger of his right hand. The statue appeared to be extremely heavy, so there was little chance of it toppling over, even with the extra weight of the seaman.

We took one look at the scene and made a beeline for the exit door. The last thing we wanted was to be involved with the start of WW3. As we left the building police cars arrived, and a great deal of shouting began. We managed to climb in to our trishaw during the confusion, and make our ‘escape’.

Returning to my first trip –

We had a strict curfew and had to be back on board by 11.00 pm – the curfew was enforced by the Chinese authorities, not by our Captain. On leaving the British / Seaman’s Club our personal trishaw was still waiting. The driver (it was a bicycle style rickshaw) was dozing on his haunches near his trishaw and jumped up to make sure that we did not use a different trishaw.

On reaching the dock gates, with armed guards patrolling the gated area, we climbed down from the trishaw and paid the driver, giving him a good tip. He handed the tip back to us shaking his head and looking sideways at the guards. We then offered a couple of packs of British cigarettes (Rothmans) in an effort to show our appreciation (his fee for the night was so low we couldn’t see how he could possibly survive without tips) – the packs were refused; he bowed low and climbed on to his trishaw, his eyes constantly checking the movement of the guards who had been watching us since our arrival. It was obvious that one worker could not earn any more than the soldiers, and he was not going to take a chance of being arrested, or causing any trouble for himself. The best we could do was to smile, thank him again, and wave him good night as we carried our ‘friendship store’ purchases through the gates towards our ship.

Our next port of call was to be Hong Kong, where we knew our tips would not be refused.

 

Hong Kong 1963

To carry on from Singapore 1963 and all that . . .Our next port was Hong Kong. We anchored in the harbour, just a week after entering Singapore harbour.

Once again the smell of Asia fired my imagination of day’s gone bye. They do say that you can smell money in Hong Kong – everyone is after their share.

Bum boats (sampans) surrounded the ship offering everything from sew sew girls, who actually did repair clothes, washer women who promise fast turn around of your laundry, food boats offering hot (heat hot and spice hot) food with a cold drink for a very cheap price, haircut and a free shave, there seemed to be a boat for everything. The smaller boats rowed by a single oar at the stern, operated by a female, the richer boats had small engines. Taxi boats came alongside to offer a ferry service to Hong Kong Island or Kowloon. Rates were discussed and bartered until we all had an understanding of the ‘correct’ fee for the trip ashore.

Sampan

Similar to Singapore we were at anchor and worked cargo in to junks and barges. Everything that we required from fresh water to frozen food and fresh vegetables had to come out by boat. Very few ships had the ability to turn seawater in to fresh water. Working cargo, while at anchor, occurred in so many ports from the Persian Gulf to the harbours of Penang, Singapore, and Hong Kong that we never found it strange.

The Star Ferry operated between the island and the mainland (Kowloon) and seemed to take quite a while to complete the run. I returned to Hong Kong in 2006 and due to land reclamation the trip today is much shorter, and some how not as romantic.

 

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Hong Kong Island in the 60’s

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40 years later in 2006

Of course we’d seen the film ‘The World of Suzie Wong’ and we’d read the book, so we had to find Suzie Wong during our short stay. The novel was made in to a film and stared William Holden.

Suzie Wong      SuzieWongPoster

We covered as many bars as we could find. We worked all day on the ship, and partied most nights. At nineteen one had stamina! Every bar we entered offered us a box or book of matches, after all most of us smoked in those pre PC days. Smoking was virtually compulsory considering the very low price of cigarettes, which were duty & tax-free on the ship. Samples of the matches from some of the bars are shown in this picture.

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We did find Suzie’s bar . . . not a bit like I imagined.
We were not on holiday and could only get ashore in the evening, so we didn’t spend every spare minute checking out the bars, but did manage to get to the Peak via the Peak tram. Even these sites have changed – the green trains are now red (or where in 2006) and the view has changed somewhat.

HONG KONG Funiculaire Victoria Peak

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After two days working cargo, the clanking of the anchor chain, as we weighed anchor, heralded our departure. We were off again, and this time to Japan. The short voyage, via the Straits of Formosa, took us six days and we anchored off Yokohama.

 

Onions and Bombay Beer

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My first visit to Bombay (as it was then) as a cadet opened my eyes to India with its teaming millions, garri wallhas (motorised rickshaw now commonly called tuk tuks), honking horns, the ringing of bicycle bells, and the ever mouth watering smell of spiced food.

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I’d grown to love curries, because at lunchtime on the Company’s vessels, the officers would be offered curry (as well as European food). The curries were different every day, from beef through to fish or vegetables. We had two galleys on the ship (sometimes more if we had Muslim & Hindu crews), one for the European officers and the other for the crew. The deck crew might have all been hired from one village in India or Pakistan, and the engine room crew from another village. The cooks and stewards for the Europeans were Goanese, which was a colony of Portugal until 1961. The Indian cooks might have been Muslim or Hindu, which meant that the officers would not be able to eat their bacon (Muslims will not touch pig meat) and eggs, or their roast beef (Hindu will not touch cow meat), so the solution was to hire people from Goa to attend to the officers, because they were generally Catholics, due to the influence of Portugal, so everyone was happy! The Goanese Company cooks produce great curries.

Bombay was a major location for the Company, having traded around the Indian coast for over a hundred years. This port had a Company Officers’ Club, which was part hotel, and part social club i.e snooker, cards etc and a small bar. The hotel part would be used by officers waiting for their ship to arrive in port.

On my first visit to the Club I entered the bar to see people drinking beer, so I asked the barman for a cold beer.
‘Chitty, Sahib’
On the ship one didn’t use money, but signed a chit for a case of beer or a carton of cigarettes, the books were balanced at the end of the voyage.
‘Chitty?’ I asked.
‘From the police, Sahib’
At this point a fellow cadet took pity on the new boy and explained the system. I had to report to the police and fill in a form stating that I was an alcoholic, and I would be given a chit allowing me to buy a limited number of beers at the Officers’ Club.

Maharashtra State, in which Bombay was located, was a ‘dry’ State! (It isn’t now). So it was pure panic to get to the police station before the senior officer went home for the night. I managed it! I wonder if I am still listed as an alcoholic in this part of India.

Outside, in the city away from the Raj like atmosphere of the Officers’ Club, one could get a large beer (650 ml) in the brothels (none of us wanted the ladies), for about ten shillings, which was very expensive, but better than nothing in the humidity of Bombay, after we’d finished our small beer allowance sanctioned by the police.
After ordering the beer we always wanted to see the un-opened bottle so that we could inspect the cap and make sure it had not been tampered with in anyway. I must admit the establishment made sure that they didn’t offend anyone (very PC for those days). Around the walls of the ‘ladies waiting room’ were pictures and photographs of most of the world leaders from,

Queen
HM Queen Elizabeth UK

 

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Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus
JFK
JFK of the US
De Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle – of France
Khrushchev
Khrushchev – USSR as it was then
Franco
General Franco of Spain
Pope_John_XXIII_-_1959
Pope John XXIII

the above pictures are of those that I can remember, but there were many others, few leaders were left out. To me it was an eye opener to another world. The ports visited by my previous ship, which was a tanker, were very restricted for going ashore, compared to my current tramp ship.

I did hear it say that the Bombay beer, at that time, was brewed from onions, but I am unable to confirm this as fact, but after seeing people drink a few bottles of the local Bombay brew, many would often start crying, so the theory might be true!

Singapore 1963 and all that . . .

landaura

I was a deck cadet on the above vessel in 1963.

Arriving in Singapore on Saturday the 14th September 1963, the cadets were allowed to go ashore and have a swim at the Seaman’s Club. The ship was anchored off the wharf area, and we would take a small junk and be rowed, usual by a female using the single paddle at the stern of the junk, from the ship to Clifford Pier near Change Alley. Sunday the 15th was a day of rest for us, as well as all of Singapore, because that was the day the festivities would start. On the 16th September 1963 Singapore would join Malay to create a new country called Malaysia. The British were no longer in charge of Singapore.
Singapore in the 1960’s was as ‘foreign’ as one could get – it was a mixture of British, Malay, China, Indonesia, and everywhere else in between – it was Asian, and I loved it from the minute I set foot ashore on Clifford Pier.

clifford_pier

Clifford Pier – still there today, but it is now a museum, I think.

First thing we always did on crossing the road, known as Collyer Quay, was to visit Change Alley – at that time famous for money changers. Now it is an upmarket, air-conditioned shopping area. The picture below was taken in 1970.

06 singapore 1970s change alley

With ‘Sing’ dollars in our pocket one could not go past the Cellar Bar, which was below street level (obviously), and a cool, quiet place (being late morning) for a cold Tiger beer. It would liven up at lunchtime and in the evening.

Tiger beer

 

To illustrate how important the Cellar Bar was to the seafaring fraternity, I will jump a head from 1963 to 1966.

After I’d finished my time as a cadet, and passed the exams for a Second Mates ticket I was sent, in April 1966, to Singapore to join an LST (Landing Ship Tank) as third mate. The Company had the contract to supply officers and crews for the various LSTs controlled by the British Ministry of Defence around the world. From 1962 to 1966 Malaya and Indonesia had been fighting an undeclared war, which dragged Britain, Australia & New Zealand in to this ‘confrontation’.
I joined LST Frederick Clover, which was built in 1945 as LST 3001, and named ‘Frederick Clover’ after the war, gross tonnage 4225, so not a particularly large vessel.
Our duties were to carry supplies and troops (the troops to and from) Borneo in support of the fight against Indonesia.
There were other LSTs on similar runs to Borneo, and the officers used to socialise at the Cellar Bar whenever their ship was in port. One day I asked, at the naval office, when a particular LST would be in port, because the third mate in this LST was a friend of mine. I was told that they couldn’t tell me because I wasn’t security cleared, and the movement of the LSTs were on a ‘need to know’ basis. I even explained that I was part of the LST fleet, but as I was still a merchant seaman, rather than Royal Navy, they couldn’t help me, although I’d signed the Official Secrets Act in case I gave away the top speed (10 kts) of the Frederick Clover.

Tiger

Not a problem, my next stop was the Cellar Bar and I asked the girls behind the bar if they knew when my friend was due in Singapore. They were quite happy to tell me the name of his LST, and that he was due into Singapore the following day!, so much for ‘need to know’, and naval security.

 

Let’s move back to the celebrations of Singapore joining Malaya, to create the new country of Malaysia.

Early evening we visited Bugis Street for something to eat – the place was already ‘jumping’. Bugis St was famous for the food stalls, beer halls and ‘girls’, although many were not female, but males dressed as females. The ‘trans’ girls would parade up and down the street in their finery and offer to sit near or on someone’s lap while photographs were taken. For this service ‘she’ would charge a small fee. If they worked the street for a number of hours they would earn a very good living. It was known that certain first tripper boy seamen, around fifteen or sixteen years old would be caught up with the whole ambiance of Bugis St and slide off with one of the very attractive ‘attractions’. It didn’t take long for his mates to see the young first tripper running like mad towards them, as if the hounds of hell were after him. His introduction to Bugis Street nightlife was not what he expected.

bugis st98_sm_dining

Early evening for food and beer.

470px-BugisStreetTrans003

Around mid-night the ‘girls’ would show up.

470px-BugisStreetTrans006

Anybody wish to take my picture?

How to tell the difference between the ‘she’ men and real women? The real women couldn’t afford to dress as well as the ‘she’ men. I was always told to check the Adams apple on the ‘women’ – but I never got that close!

In the 1980’s Bugis Street was closed due to the building of the MRT station. Later the Government realised that they had killed off a major Singapore ‘attraction’, so they opened ‘new’ Bugis Street, which is across the main road (Victoria Street),  and is now an open air market stall area. Regardless of the promotional effort Bugis Street is ‘dead’.

BugisStreet005

 

The picture shows Bugis Street today (the original area not the ‘new’ street)

 

 

The celebrations went on for a few days, but the ‘marriage’ of Singapore and Malaya didn’t last. It was all over by the 9th August 1965, when Singapore became an independent state. This was still in the future.

Judy Judy Judy

From Shanghai we sailed for Hong Kong.

Chanda

On entering Hong Kong harbour we encountered thick fog or very heavy sea mist. It was so thick that we put our engines on ‘dead slow’, so as to enter harbour very carefully. We had lookouts at the masthead, as well as down aft in case another ship came at us from astern. Being one of the two cadets, I was posted forward to the forecastle, with a crew member, to listen for sounds. The crew member listened on the port side (left hand side), and I listened on the starboard side (right hand side). Regular blasts, from our foghorn rent the air to inform any other vessel of our position.

A ship’s bell was permanently located on the forecastle, for the lookout when at sea. If at night he saw a light on the starboard side he would strike the bell once, for a light on the port side it was two strikes, and dead ahead was three strikes. The number of rings told the officer on the bridge the direction of the light. The bell was used in the same way during fog. Instead of distant lights, striking the bell indicated sound or even a sighting.

Suddenly I heard a sound and rang the ship’s bell with a single stroke. The sound that I could hear was very close. There was also a phone link between the bow and the bridge, and now it rang.

The Captain asked me what I’d heard.

‘Judy, Judy, Judy, Sir!’

‘What the blazes are you talking about?’

‘It’s the name of a pop song, Sir. I think we are close to a junk, and they have their radio on very high.’

Junk

As I finished my report a small junk came out of the mist, and when the junk’s crew realised how close they were to a 7,000-ton ship, they altered course to pass down our starboard side, shouting and cursing in Cantonese, and waving their arms in anger as Johnny Tillotson kept them company with ‘Judy, Judy, Judy’. The junk rocked back and forth due to our wake, even though we were hardly moving through the water.

Slowly the fog began to lift and we were able to enter harbour safely and anchor at the appropriate place.

Tea?

In the mid 1960’s I paid off a ship in Khorramshahr, (which is in Iran) and drove to Abadan (still in Iran) to fly Iran Air to Tehran to catch a BOAC (now called British Airways) flight to the UK. This was before the fall of the Shah of Persia, which didn’t happen until 1979.

Iran air

This trip from Abadan sticks in my mind due to the huge amount of hand baggage that the passengers were allowed to carry on board such a small aircraft (small for today’s aircraft), from memory it was a B727/100. At that time  Iran Air only had two jets, one B 707 & one B 727.

The hand baggage of one person included a small primus stove.

After we had taken off, and the seat belt sign had been switched off, the passenger with the stove squatted in the aisle and lit the primus to make his tea. The surrounding passengers didn’t react. I could see the tea maker a few rows ahead of me, and as I unfastened my safety belt to tell him to put the naked light out, there was a blared movement of a stewardess moving from the for’d part of the aircraft to the tea maker. I’ve never seen a cabin crew member move so fast before or since.