The eyes have it . . . or do they. . .

During school assembly in March of 1959 when I was still fourteen, the headmaster of my school asked if anyone wished to take an examination to enter a merchant navy officer-training establishment called HMS Conway.

I discussed this opportunity with my parents, because I planned to stay another year to gain nationally recognised educational certificates in various subjects before applying for  a job. The extra year at school would take me to July 1960 when I would be sixteen, and looking for a job.
Most of my class friends planned to leave in July 1959 (when they were fifteen) to take up apprenticeships, working in the local shipyard or Port Sunlight soap works. None of which attracted me, which is why I wanted to stay on the extra year to take the examinations. The thought of going to sea and seeing the world suddenly became my desire.

My parents agreed that I could attempt the examination, which required a weekend at Plas Newydd (HMS Conway’s facility) on the island of Anglesey, in North Wales.

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Plas Newydd the home of the Marquis of Anglesey.

In addition to being the Marquis’ home part of the house was used by HMS Conway’s captain, Captain Hewitt and his wife, as well as first term junior cadets.

The examination had several written parts as well as an oral examination. I suppose the oral part was to see what we looked like, and if we were aware of world events.

It was weeks before I was told to report to HMS Conway for the weekend of examination, and further weeks before I received a letter of acceptance, and my father received notification that I had been awarded a scholarship, because Conway was a fee-paying school.
Overall the planning and waiting took months, and it wasn’t until close to Christmas 1959 that I was told that if I was able to pass the eye sight tests then I would be join HMS Conway for the September term in 1960.

I had to take the eye test at the Ministry of Transport in Liverpool, (UK), because all merchant navy deck officers had to have 20 / 20 vision and were not allowed to wear spectacles. Besides the traditional word chart and the colour chart,  Blind

to make sure I wasn’t colour blind (a deck officer could not be colour blind), I was given a test in a very dark room, where I was required to spot red, green and white pin pricks of lights as if I was on the bridge of a ship. The positioning of the lights would allow a lookout or the officer of the watch, to know the general direction of the other vessel.
I was able to see some of the lights, but not all and I failed the test.

Eye test fail 001As I left the testing centre I was given the above form that stated that I had failed, but if I wished to challenge this result I could apply to London for a more detailed test at my own expense. If I were successful in the London test, all of my expenses would be reimbursed.

After discussing the failed eyesight test with my father, I borrowed £5.00 from him (a weeks wages for an sixteen year old), for the return train ticket to London and the second eye test fee. I passed the London test.

Eye cert Pass 001

On returning to Liverpool I visited the MoT eye-testing centre to let them know that there was nothing wrong with my eyes. They asked me to take the test again, which I did, and failed again.
At this point someone had the bright idea to switch on the light in the testing room. I had been placed on a wooden box to view the screen, which showed the red, green and white lights, but because of my height (6 ft 1 inches) and being on top of the box, this made my eye level to be just beneath a cross-beam (the testing centre being in a basement).

On taking the test one was lead in to the testing room, which was in total darkness, and you were helped on to the viewing box. The idea of total darkness being that you would gain your night vision faster than being plunged in to darkness by switching off a light.

In the dark one has a tendency to sway slightly, because you do not have a point of reference on which to focus. The swaying was enough for me to see the lights some of the time, and not be able to see them other times, due to the beam! It made me wonder how many others had been failed, and accepted that they had an eye ‘problem’, and perhaps never going to sea, but ending up in a job that they hated.

At least I collected my £2.00 reimbursement for the second eye test, my train costs and 7/6d for my trouble. I returned the borrowed £5.00 to my father and kept the ‘profit’.

Wales – land of my mother

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I’ve always loved North & Mid Wales, perhaps because my mother was Welsh and only when the family moved from Caernarvon (Carnarfon to be PC) to Birkenhead, when she was thirteen, did she start to learn English. When my mother spoke of the move she would comment that she moved to England, which sounded strange to me as a child, because Caernarfon was only about eighty miles from Birkenhead, but it is in England so I suppose she was correct.

When Mum wanted to tell her sisters anything that I shouldn’t hear, it was always in Welsh, which was very convenient for them because they never had to whisper.

My grandfather had a butcher’s shop just off the Castle Square at 17, Pool St, which is now a branch of the Lloyds Bank

Lloyd and funny enough at 16 Pool St across the road is

Jones Dafid Wynn Jones the butcher!

It passed through my mind that perhaps the family lived across the road from their butcher shop, but I think it more likely that they would have lived over the shop, because I doubt that they were rich enough to have owned two properties, or even to have rented two properties.

My grandfather’s problem was that he had four daughters – my mother, born in 1909 was the youngest – but he didn’t have a son to take over the butchery shop. In the early part of the twentieth century, and living in Wales, daughters did not run or own a butchers shops. His other problem was his generosity – he allowed his customers to run up bills, because they were his friends, and as one would expect there came a time when his friends couldn’t pay for one reason or another. The mixture of poor payers and the lack of a male to carry on with the business was all too much, so the family ’emigrated’ to England.

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Castle Square around 1900

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Castle Square a hundred years later.

A short while before moving to England my mother’s eldest sister married a local man, so we always had a place to stay when on holiday.

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In the 1950’s I was old enough to be let out on my own and I spent hours in and around the castle. I became so well known at the castle that they gave me the same concession as a local – I was allowed in for nothing.
Later in life I revisited the castle, once in 2004 & again in 2008, (I paid each time) and I was very pleased to see that a lot of care and attention had been spent on the inside of the castle, because now it had become a major tourist attraction. Perhaps the investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969 had helped create the demand. There have been two investitures in Caernarfon castle in the twentieth century, 1911 and 1969.

As a child the other attraction for me was swimming across the Aber River or this is what I thought the river was called. Later I found out that the river is called Seiont River and ‘aber’ is a Welsh word that means ‘river mouth’ in English, and for years I thought I’d swam the Aber River – we live an learn.

Swing bridgeThe old bridge that I used to cross the river and sometimes swim under when the tide was right.

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The new bridge installed in 1969

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All our yesterdays – I would dive in to the river from about this point and swim across to the trees – I could do it at ten, but I doubt that I’d do it now – too far.

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The red car is near where I was standing in the previous photo.

The first picture in this blog is of the Welsh flag flying over Harlech Castle, which is in mid-Wales. You can just see the sea, which used to lap the bottom of the battlements.

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It is now a long way from the sea. During a siege the castle was supplied by sea.

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The castle can just be seen – I had my back to the start of the sand hills, the sea was further away again from the sand hills.

Men of Harlech the original was as a poem, which was later set to music. In the film Zulu the song that the British (Welsh) soldiers sang was written especially for the film.

Rick Rescorla check this link for something different linked to the music of Men of Harlech and the terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York.

To drive from the mainland to Anglesey we would have to cross the Menai Straits.

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P5131829rBuilt by Telford and opened in 1826

Holiday 049rWhat ever the weather I never get tired of the scenery in Wales.

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I did manage to swim the Straits a couple of times, to the house on the other side, and back again, all in one go. At sixteen it seemed a good idea – I slept well that night.

The photo was taken from the Marquis of Anglesey’s home on the Anglesey side of the Straits.

As a child, North Wales was more than castles, bridges or swimming in rivers it meant Gronant, and beaches, where the sun always shined, the sand was clean and the water was warm.

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The boy on the left is yours truly abut 1953, my best mate, John, was three years older than me, but the age difference never bothered us, and we stayed friends for over sixty years – he died a couple of years ago.

We’d never heard of ‘flip flops’, you either had sandals or you went bare foot.

Gronant 1Try peddling these things across grass . . .

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I told you the water was warm . . . me on the right.

The accommodation at Rainford’s Holiday park was a wooden bungalow, which didn’t have running water or an indoor toilet. John and I had the job of keeping two large buckets full of fresh water for the kitchen which we hauled from a central tap. The public toilets were ‘dry’ toilets, so you only visited this area of the camp when you had to  . . ..

We spent a fortnight of living in shorts and running bare foot everywhere everyday unless we went in to Prestatyn for a knickerbocker glory.

knickerbockerglory_bluesmThe treat of the holiday, cost was 1/- when I first went to Prestatyn, (which was expensive, so it was a great treat), but over the  years the price grew to 2/6d by 1958, which, I think, was my last visit to this ice cream shop and my last visit to Gronant.

The whole experience of Gronant was the creation of great memories – we didn’t even have a radio never mind an iPad, smart phone, DVD player etc and our amusement from dawn to dusk was self created using twigs as guns for cowboys and indians and going mad by spending 6d for a bamboo poll with a net on the end so as to fish in the gully that ran from the shore to the sea. With hindsight we were fortunate in not catching anything, other than stings from nettles.

The importance of oil fades in to history for Dubai.

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I wrote three months ago about out recent visit to Dubai, with air conditioned bus stops, very clean railways station and the largest shopping centre in the world.

The above photograph shows Dubai Creek flowing sluggishly towards the Persian Gulf in 1964 – I never dreamt that I would return as a tourist fifty two years later!

The Dubai of 1964, which was my first visit, was nothing like the Dubai of today. In 1964 cargo was unloaded in to dhows or barges, because they didn’t have the docking facility for ocean going vessels.
We went ashore in small dhows and walked up the beach or the bank of the Creek to get to the market. Our buying interest was for Japanese radios, record players, and Chinese toys which were made from tinplate with very sharp edges. I bought a mechanical cat requiring batteries to take home. I doubt that it would be allowed in to the country today – health and safety. The market and the town was always very hot and dusty.

 DXB marketThe local Dubai market or Souk in 1964

DSC06375rThe Souk in 2016 . . .contrast with or should I say without customers??

To put things in context, in 1964 it was two years before oil was found, and a year before the airport runway was asphalted. Dubai was a trading port, and had been for hundreds of years, but what a leap of faith for the people to build for the day that the oil will run out. Currently I think only five present of the country’s revenue comes from oil, the remaining ninety five percent is mainly trading and tourism – i.e selling sun shine (and snow skiing, would you believe), to sun shy Europeans, particularly in the European winter.

I think that Dubai is a destination that is on many ‘bucket lists’. If you do visit Dubai try Emirates Airline, which has been voted the best airline in the world for 2016 by Skytrax based on fare paying passenger ratings. Unfortunately I haven’t flown with Emirates, yet.

What did I see ? I don’t know.

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In 1968 I was third mate on the cargo ship in the picture, when we were sailing from Colombo (Ceylon, as it was then) to Muscat in Oman.

I was on the ‘graveyard watch’, which is the midnight to four AM and noon to four PM. I loved the time after midnight because the ship was quiet with most people asleep except for the helmsman and the lookout in the bow.

Cleaning out some papers recently I found a copy of a report that I’d written after an incident that I experienced one night during the voyage. It was the 09th June, 1968, which was the local time in the Indian Ocean, but 08th June GMT. The local ship’s time being 03.50 am.

Without going in to too much detail I thought I’d try and describe what happened.

I was in the chart room when I heard a single bell from the for’d lookout, who was stationed on the forecastle, at the bow of the ship – one bell meant that he can see a light on the starboard bow, two bells would mean the light is on the port bow and three bells would mean the light is dead ahead.

I walked out on to the starboard bridge wing and observed what looked like a moving star approaching from the North West – which is 315 degrees on a compass heading and we were steering 307 degrees, so it was just off our starboard bow. Most vessels in the 60’s had open bridge wings i.e open to the weather, and not part of the sheltered bridge area where the helmsman stood. Many ships today have enclosed wing areas, little if any open air area is available to the watch keeper.

I followed the strange light through binoculars because at first I thought it was a plane, but I couldn’t see any side lights or shape to the object. The light from the object was very bright. I checked the radar screen for targets, but the screen was blank, which wasn’t a surprise because the radar would screen approximately 40 nautical miles at sea level, but would not ‘see’ a flying object. The lack of target on the radar screen told me the light was not attached to another ship.

The light drew closer and as is curved over the ship and headed south I didn’t hear any noise. At no time was it moving fast, so I didn’t have any difficulty in following it through a telescope, which magnified better than the binoculars. It was brighter than any star. As it curved south I called the second mate to the bridge to witness this light knowing that he would take over the watch in a few minutes at 4.00 am.

We both observed the light, which was at an altitude of about seventeen degrees above the horizon. At this altitude the light stopped and appeared to hover. We watched it for about twenty seconds when we noticed a second moving light to the right of the first. It was not as bright as the first, but it was now moving towards our ship. It passed astern and headed in a north north easterly direction. I can not say if the second light was from the first bright light or independent of the first light.

The second officer left the bridge and I returned to watch the first light, but was unable to find it amongst the stars. I stopped looking and moved to the front of the bridge just in time to hear the bow lookout ring three bells, he’d seen a light dead ahead. I focused on a third light as it approached my ship from ahead. This light passed us on the starboard side and headed in the same direction as light number two.

untitledI downloaded the night sky for the Indian Ocean on the night of the 9th June 1968. The stars were so bright that you had the feeling of being able to touch them if only you could reach that high.

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The above is to illustrate the vastness of the cloudless sky, but I am not sure of which part of the sky.

I was unable to judge the height of the lights because the sky was cloudless, and the moon had set. Except for the occasional light from my own ship, aft of the bridge, the light pollution forward was nil. The night vision of the lookout and myself couldn’t have been better.

The weather at the time was as follows –

Cloudless sky, we didn’t have a moon (it had set), it was extremely clear with a westerly wind at about three knots. Air pressure was 1003.3 and the air temperature 83 f. Our course was 307 degrees true, at a speed of 14 knots.

I did report what I’d seen to the meteorological authority in the UK, but never heard back. It was also logged in the ship’s log.

Last week when I found the report this was the first time I’d read it since 1968.

 

 

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.

wind-at-sea

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.

cloudchart (1)

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.

Punduastorm
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)

 

 

 

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.

gateway-of-india

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!

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