Bay of Bengal

Bay_of_Bengal_map

Upon sailing from  Colombo we cleaned ship – the crew hosed down the decks and all rubbish was thrown overboard (well before it became un pc), the smell of the land fell away and we could unlock our windows and doors, we were free of petty thieving and the smell of industry, our destination was Chalna in East Pakistan (now called Bangladesh).

Each cabin had two doors – an outer door that was a thick solid door that was only closed when in port, and an inner door (only a couple of inches between each door) which was a louvered door. When opening the main door we could lock it open by the use of a hook attached to the bulkhead in the passageway.

door

The door was similar to the one in the picture, but on the ships in which I sailed our inner door was not full height, but about three quarters high of a standard door, and the slats could be moved to allow more air in to the cabin or to close it off completely.

One seldom locked the inner door so if one wanted to sleep or a quiet time, we would hang a bath towel over the top of the door and people would respect your privacy. We never locked our cabin doors when at sea because we felt that trust of ones colleagues was paramount.

The feeling that the ship is ours again after being in port is a definite feeling of ownership.

Once again, I was on the ‘graveyard’ watch – mid-day to 4.00 pm and midnight to 4.00 am, I loved that watch – peaceful, and particularly at night one felt in total command.

There are certain nights that I can remember and the short voyage from Colombo to Chalna has been in my mind for a long time.

The weather was perfect – cloudless sky, about 29 c (84 f) with a light breeze that took the sting out of the sun. The waves were small with very few white caps, and the flying fish were – flying, and visibility must have been about twenty miles.

Sunset was dramatic with shades of blue green yellow orange purple grey and red beams that reflected off the sea. As the sun set the sky became silver as the moon took over from the sun.

DSC05144c

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera at the time of the sunset but have used the above which I took during a cruise. of course the sunset was not during my watch times, but later when we would sit outside – feet on the lower bar of the ship’s rails and a beer in hand and all was well with the world.

rails

The gives you an idea, but the deck space on a cargo ship was a small area and we didn’t march around the ship for exercise as people do on modern cruise ships.

As we approached the coast of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) we were looking for the light vessel that warned of sand banks and other dangers.

Calshot_Spit_light_vessel

This is not the Chalna lightship, but I posted it to show those who may not be aware of a light ship. The lightship would be moored at a designated spot, and its light would flash at night in a certain pattern to warn vessels of danger.

We arrived off the lightship at around 5.00 pm (1700 hrs) and anchored and waited for the pilot to guide us up the Pasur River the sixty miles to Chalna.

Once again we waited and waited and finally, we heard that the agent didn’t even know that we were due in to Chalna. The added problem was that the date that we arrived was the 12th March, and we had to be out of the river and in to the Bay of Bengal no later than the 14th March because the water in the river might drop so low that we wouldn’t be able to cross the bar (sandbanks) at the mouth of the river.
I must admit that there were times when I was glad I was not the Captain, and this was one of them.

When the pilot did arrive to guide us up the river we could only cross the bar at high water, and when we sounded the depth we had less than two metres (seven feet) under the keel of the ship as we crossed the bar in to the river.

We moved up the river in the evening and moored to a buoy off Chalna.

Chalna at that time was the main seaport in the area (second only to Chittagong) having been created in 1950, but due to difficult currents in the Pasur river it was decided in  1954 that the anchorage should be moved nine miles south towards the river mouth to a place called Mongla although in the 1960’s it was still referred to as Chalna, but now it is known as Mongla, due to the port’s expansion.

Chalna

Warehouse style barges came out to us and using our cargo derricks we unloaded / loaded cargo. I took the above picture in 1968.

The flat land on both sides of the river were just mangrove swamps, the main town of Khulna was thirty-two miles further up river, which was the regional administration centre. At our anchorage the river was about five miles wide.

We were due to load 1500 tons of cargo and so had five gangs working flat out because we had to leave the river while we had enough water to cross the bar at the river’s entrance.

We managed to load our cargo and cross the bar, although we were later than expected, the water was deep enough for us as we entered the Bay of Bengal on the 16th March.

Destination Trincomalee in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), a destination which is on the north east coast of Ceylon.

Trinco

One of the finest harbours in the world, which was of great importance to the British during the colonial period. It was a safe harbour, and an ideal base to protect the Coromandel Coast, which is the south eastern coast of India.

Coromandel_coast

 

The light brown area marked on the east coast of India is the Coromandel coast and I hope you can see the pink dot on Sri Lanka, which indicates Trincomalee.
Madras (now called Chennai), marked on the Indian coast with a pink dot in the light brown area, was an extremely important port for the British during colonial times.

In 1812 Britain order a couple of frigates to be built in India, due to the shortage of oak in Britain during the Napoleonic wars. The ships were built in Bombay (now Mumbai) out of teak.
One of the ships was named HMS Trincomalee after the battle of Trincomalee in 1782.

HMS_Trincomalee_at_Hartlepool_2010_(800x600)

Launched in 1817, and is still afloat in Hartlepool ,in the UK after major renovations.

H.M.S._Trincomalee,_Hartlepool_Maritime_Experience_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1605081

Considering where she was built note the figure head.

As we sailed to Trincomalee we heard that the labour in Trinco (as Trincomalee was called) were on strike, which meant that we would not be able to load our cargo of tea.

The Company asked if we could make Fremantle without stopping for fuel – we could, but it would be a ten day voyage from our location in the Bay of Bengal, and we had enough water for fourteen days, so as long as we didn’t hit any inclement weather we should be able to make Fremantle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southbound from Calcutta

On our return to Singapore I received a letter from head office informing me that I was to fly to Calcutta to join an Australian bound ship.
More frequent flyer points lost . . .

Great Eastern Hotel - Calcutta (Kolkata) 1930's

I flew to Calcutta and stayed at the Great Eastern Hotel, which had been a hotel since 1840 and it still had the Raj feeling. It has been called the Jewel of the East, also The Savoy of the East, and carried various names until 1915 when it was renamed The Great Eastern.

Its original name was Auckland Hotel, so named after George Eden who was the 1st Earl of Auckland, the then Governor of India. Originally it had a department store under the hotel, and it is said that  “a man could walk in at one end, buy a complete outfit, a wedding present, or seeds for the garden, have an excellent meal, a burra peg (double gin) and if the barmaid was agreeable, walk out at the other end engaged to be married”

It was the hotel where ‘everyone’ stayed when visiting Calcutta – Nikita Khrushchev,  Queen Elizabeth II, Mark Twain, Dave Brubeck (I wish he’d been there when I was there), and many others

The above picture is from a Great Eastern 1930 post card – it hadn’t changed much when I stayed there in 1966. The Government took over the running of the hotel in the 1970’s and sold it to a private company in 2005.

Until it closed in 2005 for extensive renovations,  it was the longest continuous operating hotel in Asia. It was partly reopened in 2013 and is still being renovated.

From memory I think I stayed in the hotel for two nights before joining MV Bankura.

 

Bankura

 

Launched in 1959, so she was ‘new’ as far as I was concerned being only seven years old. She was 6793 gross tonnes, with deck cranes rather than derricks, and she was fully air-conditioned.
She was one of five ships in her class and one of the first UK built ships to have AC current for all deck purposes.  Her trading route was to be Calcutta to Australia and New Zealand, thousands of miles away from the Persian Gulf – I couldn’t wait!

All of British India Navigation Co vessels were named after places that ended in ‘a’. Uganda, Kenya and of course Bankura, which is a town in West Bengal, India, and is not all that far from Calcutta, only about 168 km.

The Company began in 1856 and the first route was Calcutta to Rangoon, which at that time the Company’s name was the ‘Calcutta & Burmah Steam Navigation Co Ltd.’ It was not until 1862 that the name changed to become British India Steam Navigation Co.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

In 1947 India was ‘partitioned’, and the partition was based on two main religions – Muslim & Hindu.

The Muslim majority in the west became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and the Muslim in the east became East Pakistan. The Province of Bengal (which was in the east) was split between India and Pakistan . The western areas were allocated to India and the Eastern areas to Pakistan.

Partition_of_India

The green area near Burma is Eastern Bengal, soon to become East Pakistan.
(Map from the internet)

West Pakistan, was 1600 km to the west, on the other side of India.

Political upheaval in in West Pakistan in the late 1950’s and through the 1960’s caused unrest in both West & East Pakistan.
After the 1970 general election the Eastern politicians had 167 seats out of 300, but the military junta in the west dragged their feet to transfer power.

Civil disobedience broke out in East Pakistan and they advocated Independence from Pakistan.  In 1971, on Pakistan’s Republic Day many households in East Pakistan flew the Bangladeshi flag.
The Pakistani army cracked down on the dissidents and civil war broke out – certain West Pakistan military units based in East Pakistan, went over to the Bangladeshis.

The war lasted nine months, but in the end the Pakistanis in East Pakistan surrendered to the joint forces of the Indian Army and the Bangladeshi guerrilla forces. The new independent State of Bangladesh came in to existence in December 1971.

220px-Flag_of_Bangladesh_(1971).svg

Bangladeshi flag in 1971

255px-Flag_of_Bangladesh.svg

The current flag of Bangladesh.

The history of the partition of India makes interesting reading, as well as being a very sad episode in the history of that country, because millions were displaced as they moved either to Pakistan or India, depending on their religion, and it is estimated that well over half a million died during the Indian / Pakistani exodus.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

We worked cargo around the clock for the next eight days – my shift was 6 am to 6 pm. It was hard work in the humidity of Calcutta, and left little time for pleasure.

We sailed on the eighth day for Chalna in East Pakistan (as it was called then).

To reach Chalna it required us to sail up the Pasur River for around six hours. This river is a tributary of the Ganges.

We didn’t go alongside – I don’t think, in those days, that they had the facility for deep sea vessels to go alongside. Floating warehouses came out to us and we used our own cargo to gear to work cargo.

Chalna

Jute, in the form of bales, was the main export at that time, along with tea.

After we had finished in Chalna we sailed to the mouth of the river, anchored and waited for the tide so as to pass over the sand bars, and then set course for Chittagong.

We had three days in Chittagong before our next port which was Trincomalee in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Trinco, for me, meant water skiing, but this time things didn’t quite work out as planned.

010r

On previous visits to Trinco I’d been shown how to ‘water ski’ by being towed on a hatch board behind a lifeboat. We may not have been a cruise ship but we had all the right gear. . . . .

This time two of us borrowed a lifeboat and motored off to a clear area for a swim and possibly to water ski, only to have the motor breakdown, and we failed to get it restarted. During our frantic efforts to get the engine going the lifeboat was drifting further and further from the ship. The only thing left for us to do was to row!
By the time we returned to the Bankura our arms were coming out of their sockets. Rowing a ship’s lifeboat, which has a capacity to carry twenty to thirty men is very hard work for two.

We spent two days loading tea, after which we sailed for Port Swettenham in Malaysia.

As we approached the port, our radio contact was to Klang exchange on the Klang River, which was the old port before the railway arrived from Kuala Lumpur in 1890.

The port was named after Sir Frank Swettenham, who became Selangor’s Resident in 1882, and he initiated the start of the rail track between Kuala Lumpur and the main port of Klang, which was twenty four miles from the capital KL.

Once we were alongside at 6.00 pm, a few of us made a bee line for KL. The evening was not a particularly memorable night. The drive took a lot longer than we expected and the return, after a few beers and a meal, took the edge of the whole evening. The roads in the mid-60’s were not to the standard of today.

The following evening, after work had stopped, I decided to visit the Hollywood Bowl Massage Parlour, because I’d never had a massage.

I hadn’t a clue what to expect. I had a basic idea of massages, but when I was covered in talcum powder during the massage I couldn’t stop sneezing and called it quits, and went back to the ship for a shower and a beer.

It would be thirty eight years later before I would try a massage again, when I was on holiday in KL in 2005.
We were a party of four couples who were staying at the Renaissance Hotel, and the hotel recommended a particular parlour to visit. Three of us men decided to give it a go, and the difference was like chalk and cheese, and I didn’t have a sneezing fit.

From Klang / Port Swettenham our next port was Singapore. After two days of working cargo we were off to Australia!

regional_map-static

As we approached Northern Australia (Torres Straits) we picked up a Torres Strait pilot who piloted us through the Straits and the Great Barrier Reef to Townsville in northern Queensland.

Pencil

 

We had less than 24 hours in Townsville after which we were off to New Zealand. The one thing I remember about Townsville was that some of the pubs had bat wing doors – all very old west, but very real.

kr5qd

Picture found on the internet – it was taken in 1958, but it had hardly changed when I visited in 1966

The Bankura had cargo tanks as part of her cargo space, and from Townsville we loaded molasses, which wasn’t much different from the Ellenga’s crude oil that we loaded in the Gulf, both had to be kept in a liquid state to assist discharge.

Black

If you grew up in the UK not long after the end of the war this might bring back a memory or two. Besides spooning it on your cereal it can also be the basis for rum!

The voyage to Auckland was a rolling down to Rio type voyage that took some getting used to, but after five and a half days we entered Auckland harbour.
I’m glad that I was the junior officer, because it took me a few ‘noons’ to get the noon site correct due to the rolling.
It was all very well doing it in a classroom or when the sea was calm, but matching the roll of the ship and managing to record the exact time of noon when the sun kissed the horizon was a skill I had to quickly learn.

Two_ship's_officers_'shoot'_in_one_morning_with_the_sextant,_the_sun_altitude

Picture from the internet

nz

Auckland in the mid-sixties was very different than the Auckland of today. I do remember that at main street junctions when the all the lights turned red and the traffic stopped to allow the pedestrians to walk diagonally across the junction if they wished. This system was introduced in 1958 in New Zealand, but not in the UK until 2009.

Queen_Street,_Auckland

At that time the population of Auckland was about half a million, and the streets didn’t feel as packed as those in Liverpool, but the idea of stopping all the traffic for pedestrians seemed a great idea to me.
Even the single decked trolley buses had to stop. It was years later before I saw this road crossing system elsewhere.

005r

I took the above picture in 1966 at a ‘busy’ road junction in Auckland, how things have changed.

Television in NZ was only six years old in 1966, so the standard of outside broadcasting was well below what we were used to in the UK.
The job of the junior cadet was to stand on the monkey island (which was above the bridge), to slowly turn the aerial until we were all satisfied with the picture. The one thing I noticed about the news at that time was the poor standard of camera shots. I can still remember watching a news item of a building that was on fire, and the camera zoomed so fast to concentrate on the flames of a burning beam that it made me feel slightly sick. The camera would focus on pieces of burning wood and then zoom out at great speed, adding to my discomfort. I stopped watching NZ TV news after this experience.

In 1966 there were around 300,000 homes across New Zealand with TV, so the whole industry was in a huge learning curve.

Broadcasting didn’t start until late afternoon, and they only broadcast for a total of fifty hours a week, which helped to keep the pubs full in the evenings.

As we sailed down the coast to our next port of call, the poor cadet spent most of his evenings tweaking the aerial to pick up a stronger signal.

We pumped our molasses ashore, which took longer than planned, because our pump kept stopping, and we had to wait for the engineers to fix the problem. The failure of the pump put us behind our schedule, which put the Captain in a very poor mood, so most of us stayed well clear of him. On the plus side the delay allowed us time ashore in the evening.

Our visit to New Zealand was what we would call today as a ‘quite time’ – we worked cargo, sailed sedately from port to port with little excitement.

Our next port of call was Dunedin. The scenic trip from the sea to the city, via Otago harbour, was beautiful, and reminded me of the fjords of Norway.

Otago1

As we approached our berth in Dunedin I could hear music from a radio in one of the of the officers’ cabins. At the end of the music an advert for the local cinema began, and at the end of the short advert they named the film (movie) that was to be shown that evening, it was African Queen, with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, which had been released fifteen years earlier.

220px-Hepburn_bogart_african_queen
I don’t know if the cinema was advertising a retro evening or if the film had just arrived in Dunedin, but in 1966 Dunedin was pleasant quiet back water after Singapore, Hong Kong and a dry Bombay, and I had the feeling that the film had just arrived.

Dunedin is the location of the only castle in New Zealand, built in 1871 by William Larnach for his wife. At least it was built for love, rather than war, as many castles in Europe.

Our next port was north of Dunedin, Timaru. We spent two days in this small town with its pastel coloured buildings. Unfortunately I don’t remember much of my visit to Timaru.

Next stop was Lyttelton, which is the seaport for Christchurch. Lyttelton is a deep water harbour created by the collapse of the seaward side of an extinct volcano, as you see in the picture.

lyttelton1965

Picture from an old post card – 1965

We were in Lyttelton for six days and worked cargo constantly so we had little time for sightseeing. I did manage to visit Christchurch for a short time and found myself impressed with the wide clean streets. Fortunately the road tunnel through the hills was only two years old, so the journey didn’t take long by bus.

Next stop Wellington for freezer cargo, Bankura was a multi-faceted vessel with the ability to carry dry cargo, freezer cargo, chilled cargo and liquid cargo in tanks.

I managed time off on the Sunday and two of us caught the ferry to Picton, which is northern end of the South island. The trip was uneventful, but the scenery, as we sailed up Queen Charlotte Sound was spectacular.

qcsound_

Queen Charlotte Sound

During our time in Wellington I was on ‘pins’, because Maureen was due to fly out to Melbourne with her parents.
Maureen worked for BOAC  (now British Airways) and she was able to buy discounted tickets, and she had planned an Australian holiday for herself and her parents before she met me.
Once I knew our itinerary from Calcutta to New Zealand I realised that Maureen would be in Australia during the Bankura’s NZ coastal trip.
It was suggested that perhaps she might be able to fly from Melbourne to Auckland for weekend, if she could get discounted tickets.
Being resourceful Maureen did manage to get a discounted ticket from Air New Zealand, so now all we both wanted was to be in Auckland at the same time.

TEAL

The new airport at Auckland began services in 1965, but was not opened officially until January 1966, just in time, I hoped, for Maureen !

The above shows a 1960’s  DC8 of Air New Zealand, and if you are wondering what the TEAL means on the tail – Tasman Empire Airways Ltd, which was the original name of Air New Zealand.