B.H.S

 

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B.H.S = Boredom – Heat – Sand (and for my British readers BHS is not British Home Stores!)

We sailed from Muscat for Doha, but for some reason, which I can’t remember, we were diverted to Bahrain, which is 130 km ( 81 miles) as the crow flies from Doha, but a little longer by sea.

The above map shows how close most of the ports are to the Straits of Hormuz.

Before we arrived at Bahrain we were diverted again to Dammam, which is in Saudi Arabia. I have underlined Dammam with a green line. Again, not all that far as a diversion but . . .

The problem for us was that we had loaded the cargo in a set way for discharge i.e Doha, Bahrain, Dammam, but by making Dammam our first port of call we had to move the Bahrain & Doha cargo before we could discharge Dammam cargo – a small detail that had to be taken in to account.
Due to delays in Bahrain I think our Gulf agency was trying to avoid further delays by unloading Dammam before Bahrain.

Dammam was, and still is, an oil port, so there was little incentive to go ashore, plus Saudi Arabia was ‘beerless’.
We had to contend with sandstorms mixed with dust and the overpowering smell of crude oil. I thought I’d left that particular perfume when I left tanker life in 1963.

It was not a happy stay because we had to constantly check the cargo being discharged. The supervisors failed in their jobs to identify cargo destined for Dammam, as against Bahrain or Doha.
With a language barrier (supervisors were expected to speak & understand English but didn’t), and the heat and dust, while  standing on the wharf sweating pints to get the labour to reloaded certain cargo was a ‘trying’ time.

I was told by one supervisor that he was a fine fellow who had worked on many British ships . . . biting ones tongue so that we were not in this port any longer than necessary, was a huge effort.

There was a suggestion made that we should ask Australian exporters to write the contents of each box in Arabic, because this might stop the labour breaking in to as many boxes as possible to find something worth stealing.
We had cartons of tinned peas, and other vegetables, which were broken in to, and the cans were opened by the labour, who then drank the liquid and threw the rest away. The pictures of peas & vegetables on the cans didn’t mean anything.
Cartons of liquid detergent were also broken in to and the detergent consumed, at least the thieves would have been ‘regular’ thieves. . . .

I think we were in Dammam for two long days before sailing to Bahrain and anchoring off while waiting for barges to come out to us.
Bahrain did have berths for deep sea ships, but the only time I was on a ship that went alongside was on my first ship in 1962, which was a tanker. So, I think the berths were tanker berths, not general cargo berths, which is why we anchored.

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Arad Fort Bahrain – built in the 15th century, before the Portuguese arrived in 1622.

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Manama Bahrain in the late 1960’s – Manama is the capital.

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Manama today – Picture is from the internet.

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Another shot of Bahrain in the 1960’s – we liked Bahrain because it allowed us to buy Red Barrel beer legally. Buying a beer in the Gulf was always ‘hard work’, unless you had access to private clubs such as the British Club in Basra or you went ashore (via dhow) in Bahrain.

It was very pleasant to sit ashore and drink a cold beer, a different feeling than drinking the same beer on board ship – small pleasures.

Our next port was Doha, and we arrived at 4.00 am and anchored. We hoped that we would begin discharging cargo at daybreak, but we just sat at anchor all day. To keep cool we would shower, but not dry off but just stand in the shade on deck allowing the water to evaporate to cool down.

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Doha in 1968 – picture is from the internet

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Coastal strip in 1968

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Today . . .

Qatar, the capital being Doha, gained independence from the British in 1971, after being a British protectorate since early in the 20th century.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Thani signed a treaty with the British in 1868 that Britain recognised Qatar as a separate status at the end of the Qatari – Bahraini war of 1867–1868.

In 1867 the ruler of Bahrain sent his brother with 500 men and 24 boats to attack Qatar. The attack was joined by a force of 200 men under Ahmed al Khalifa, and the Abu Dhabi ruler also sent 2000 men in a further 70 boats.
Doha was sacked and basically wiped off the map, the houses destroyed and the people deported.

The following year, 1868, a Qatari force counter attacked Bahrain, and destroyed 60 ships and 1000 people were killed.

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British Resident at Bahrain Lewis Pelly – Lt General, KCSI (Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India) awarded in 1874. Click on the link to read of an interesting life.

Lewis Pelly, accused Bahrain of breaking maritime law by attacking Qatar in 1867 and he fined Bahrain 10,000 Iranian Tomans.

One Iranian Toman was the equivalent of 10,000 dinars or about £740 British pounds at that time.
So the total fine was around £7 million (GBP) in 1868, which allowing for inflation, is about £125 million (GBP) today. A large sum for a small area like Bahrain that had yet to find oil . . . .

The official currency of Persia was (is) the Rial and 10,000 rials would equal one toman, which itself is a Mongolian word due to the Mongolian invasion around 14 AD, but spelled as tomen, which in Mongolian means ‘unit of ten thousand’.

The current Iranian currency can be referred to in two ways as rials or toman, which for a foreigner is confusing, but the actual notes and coins are the same.
In 2019 the Iranian Government passed a Bill that the currency would change from rial to toman and this would take place in May 2020, and the change over will be phased in over the next two years.

Back to 1968 . . .

We sat at anchor for days waiting for labour to come out to us and discharge the cargo. With temperatures around 40 c (109 F) at 4.00 pm in the afternoon, life was a little tedious to say the least.

We did have one high moment – a group of us where outside around 4.30 pm having a beer (in the shade) when we heard a loud shout from the Chief Engineer – he’d just had a telegram from England that his wife had given birth to their first child – it was party time!

We lay at anchor for thirteen days, the sea like a mirror and our position was sheltered from any cooling breeze. It was hot!

We did experience a ‘small’ distraction when another BI ship anchored near us – she was the MV Chyebassa.

Chyebassa

Any diversion from the heat and boredom was welcome. On the day of the Chyebassa’s arrival I was on duty, but the other officers went across to her and many stayed the night, and the following day MV Juna reciprocated the hospitality.

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MV Juna

It was a pleasure to rekindle friendships with two cadets that I’d sailed with when in MV Bankura, in 1966 on the India to New Zealand run and the second engineer I’d sailed with when in MV Pundua in 1967 on the India, Hong Kong, Japan run. It was have another beer, and ‘remember when’ time . . . . a very pleasant interlude.

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MV Bankura

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MV Pundua

Thanks to the heat during our time at anchor I think we were Allsopp’s best customers in the Persian Gulf,

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and when we eventually sailed for Kuwait we didn’t have any regrets leaving Doha, even though Kuwait was not on our holiday list.

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Kuwait maybe on certain people’s holiday list today, but I doubt that it was a holiday destination in 1968.

 

 

 

Bombay to Muscat

We sailed from Bombay (now Mumbai) for Muscat (which is in Oman), and we planned for a few changes.
The first officer was due to leave us when we arrived in Dubai, and the second officer would be moved up to first, and I was to be the second officer – all very temporary, but for me it was worth an extra ten pounds a month, (about £178 in today’s money), until the new first officer arrived, and the second and myself move back to our own slot.
We were hoping that the new first officer wouldn’t join us for some months, the extra cash would help with the bar bill.
It was the 6th January 1968, and I was on the midnight to 4.00 am watch when we entered a huge shoal of flying fish. I’d seen this type of fish before and even eaten one or two when the Chinese crew cooked them, but this time the sea was full of them as it they were being chased. I shone an Aldiss lamp on the water only to see the whole area around the ship covered in flying fish.

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To avoid predators flying fish accelerate to 60 km per hour (37 mph) before launching free of the water. Upon opening their wings they can glide over 183 mtrs (600 feet) or more before they enter the water to repeat the exercise if necessary. They glide about 1.2 metres (4 feet) above the water.

I only wished that I had a camera to record such a site, which lasted for over one and a half kilometers (about a mile), before we sailed out of the shoal. I just wondered what was chasing them, and why where there so many.

I entered the chart room to check the chart in case our location would give me a clue as to why there were so many flying fish, when suddenly the quartermaster rushed in and asked me to look ahead.

The quartermaster was also the helmsman, but at the time we were on autopilot, so his duty was as a bridge lookout.

‘Flashing lights Sahib, starboard side!’ and pointed ahead through the chart room window and to starboard (right hand side) of the bow.
I followed him out onto the wing of the bridge and looked where he was pointing. I felt my heart give a jump, the whole area was covered in flashing lights, at that moment the lookout in the bow rang one stroke on the fo’c’sle bell, which was the signal to warn me that he’d seen a light to starboard.

My first thought was that we were about to enter a large fishing fleet and we didn’t have enough time to alter course as the fleet ahead stretched across our bow.

Local fishing boats were made of wood and propelled by oars or sail and would not have shown up on our radar. Plus, native fishing boats were renowned for not showing lights until a large ship was quite close, guaranteed to give the OOW a heart attack.

My mind was racing, how many would we sink as we ploughed through the fleet.

All of the above thoughts flashed through my mind as I studied the lights, when I realised that the lights were not of a fishing fleet, but bioluminescent.

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The above & below photographs gives an idea of bioluminescence at night at sea.

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Most deep-sea animals produce some bioluminescent light, but the phenomenon isn’t relegated to the deep: one of the most common sightings occurs at the surface of the ocean. Many small planktonic surface dwellers—such as single-celled dinoflagellates—are bioluminescent. When conditions are right, dinoflagellates bloom in dense layers at the surface of the water causing the ocean to take on a sparkling sheen as they move in the waves at night. (The above is quoted from https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/fish/bioluminescence).

The night was moonless & cloudless and the stars in the clean atmosphere of the ocean appeared to reflect off the water, so adding to the illusion of a fishing fleet. I must admit that I was not the only one who was expecting us to plough in to a fishing fleet. The quartermaster turned to me with a big smile and said, ‘All’s well Sahib’.

A comment with which I heartily agreed.

As the ship broke through the water it created white foam, that turned a deeper and deeper green until at the top of the wave that we created it became emerald, like icing sugar on a cake.
The ocean area that had not been disturbed with our passage was a sea of flashing green and white lights.

As we passed in to a clearer area I shone a light to see if the luminescence was still around – it wasn’t.
I wrote a report of what had happened, taking in to account barometer readings, temperature, state of the sea, wind strength and direction and cloud cover etc, at that time many merchant ships reported the weather at their location to assist in forecasting weather ashore.
The first successful weather satellite was launched in April of 1960, and it wasn’t until 1965 that meteorologists produced the first global view of the Earth’s weather, so the reports from merchant vessels at sea were a great help to meteorologists.

We arrived in Muscat the following afternoon.

Muttrah Oman before 1970

Muscat, Oman in the late 1960’s was very ‘old school’ – we anchored in the harbour and dhows came out to us into which we unloaded cargo.

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Larger dhows for cargo carrying

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This is an old picture of Muscat harbour, (1903) but it hadn’t changed all that much when I visited in January 1968. We anchored near Fort al-Jalali to work cargo – I suppose in times gone bye I could have said that we anchored under the guns of the fort.

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The fort is still there – originally built in the 1580’s by the Portuguese to protect the town from attacks made by the Ottomans. It was twice captured by the Persians in the early 1700’s.

For most of the 20th century the fort was a prison, and was closed as such in the 1970’s. It is now a museum.

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An old map of the harbour and at the centre of the ‘star’ is where we anchored. I still have a small sketch that I made at the time, of where we anchored and the above fits the bill well.

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The old town in the distance.

During our stay we all tried our hand at fishing – part of our crew were Chinese and they caught about twenty-five fish, and one was very large and they had real problems in landing it on deck.

The fishing equipment was all ‘home made’, ships rope with a hook on the end and a bloodied piece of meat.

Those of us with a more sensitive nature used the pull tab off beer cans and sometimes this worked, as the fish saw a silver item in the water and thought it was a smaller fish.

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I used to like supplying the bait for those who used the ‘pull tab system’, via of course  . .

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The Chinese fishermen did catch a large ray and they had a fight on their hands, but the ray won, it broke the line and swam off with the hook.
The Chinese answer was a thicker piece of rope and a bigger hook.

DSC06223rThe fort was still there in 2016 when Maureen & passed through Muscat on our way to Dubai.

We sailed from Muscat at 6.00 pm on the 8th January 1968 for Ras al Khaimah in the ‘Trucial States’, as the various sheikdoms were called in 1968.