Home Line

Chakdara – launched 1951, 7,132 gt

The first Chakdara (3,035 gt) was launched in 1914 and was named after an important trading town in northern India, which was on the main trading route to Afghanistan.
In 1933 she was sold to Burma Steam Nav Co., but she foundered off Burma in 1935.
After partition the town of Chakdara was in Pakistan and Chakdara II was named after the original ship.
She had accommodation for 12 passengers.
The ‘atmosphere’ on the ship was different from the other cargo ships in which I sailed.
I can only put it down to the Chakdara was a Home-line ship rather than an Eastern-Service ship.
The Home Line vessels had to contend with Head Office in London, whereas the Eastern Service vessels had little to do with Head Office because of limited communication facilities. The internet was yet to be invented and all correspondence was via air mail or faxes to a network of agencies.

The officers on the ship paid for the mail from our ship to family and friends in the UK. The above is one of my letters from Abu Dhabi in the Persian Gulf to the UK. 

Our mail from family and friends would be sent to the London Head office and H/O would bundle the officer’s mail for a particular ship along with official business documents and send the combined package to our agent to wait for the ship’s arrival.
If while at sea we were diverted to another port it was a panic job for the local agent to try and send the ship’s mail to meet our arrival at our new destination. To say that we were upset if the mail failed to reach us is an understatement.
A similar system operated for our crew, but the crew’s families did not send their mail to London, but to Calcutta or Bombay because this would be a domestic postage cost for the crew member’s family.      

After checking out of the Beach Luxury Hotel in Karachi I was taken by the agent to sign on Chakdara, which had arrived a few hours earlier. She was outbound from the UK to Pakistan and various Indian ports before loading in Calcutta with a homeward bound cargo. The majority of our cargo would be for the UK, but we would also carry smaller amounts for various ports that we had to pass e.g. Colombo in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) or Aden (now called Southern Yemen).    

I signed on Chakdara on the 6th July and on the 7th July I was sent to take a lifeboat examination.
All officers had to hold a current lifeboat certificate particularly if we were to carry passengers.
I already held a lifeboat certificate (but it had not been issued in Pakistan), so I was told to do it again.
I think this was to satisfy the Pakistani authorities, plus a number of our crew were taking the exam so I was given the job of keeping an eye on the procedures.
On arrival in any port the First Officer is responsible for the overseeing of the discharge and loading of cargo and allocated various duties to the 2nd & 3rd officers, who in turn were supported by cadets.
The arrival of a new cadet, who did not yet know his way around the ship, was inconvenient, so appointing him to look after the lifeboat attendees would mean that a cadet who had more knowledge of the ship was more useful onboard than overseeing the crew’s lifeboat exam.           
It was an interesting day with a boat full of unknown crew rowing around the docks of Karachi after we had released the ship’s lifeboat, swung it out on davit and lowered it into the dirty water of the Karachi docks.

The above is an illustration of a lifeboat in the early 1960’s, which was open to all the weather and propelled by oars.

           
The above is to give you an idea of an open lifeboat

A modern-day ship’s lifeboat, which would you prefer? 

I passed,

and as Ratty said to Mole – “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
(Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows.)

Ratty did not spend several hours in a dirty smelly Karachi dock in 40 c heat.

We sailed with a couple of passengers, an Indian lady and her daughter. I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with the daughter who was in her late teens and wanted me to teach her chess.
For those with questionable minds we just played chess.   

We sailed to Ceylon, as it was then – Ceylon didn’t become Sri Lanka until 1972. After which we sailed to our first Indian port of Madras (now called Chennai).

Mount Road Madras, in the 1960’s – note the lack of rubbish. 

The day after arrival in Madras, I and another cadet were allowed ashore. We were under strict instructions that we had to be back on board no later than 6.00 am the following day, at which time we would sail for Calcutta.

Madras was a pleasant place, but it could not hold our interest until 6.00 am the following morning, so we decided to return to the ship around 11.30 pm.

Another Madras scene in the mid 1960’s

On entering the dock area, we noticed that our ship was no longer at the same berth as she was a few hours earlier. We looked along the quay thinking that she had been moved to a fresh berth – we couldn’t see her.
On reaching the original berth a well-dressed Indian stepped out of the shadows and asked if we were cadets from the Chakdara, with him was an armed soldier.
We agreed that we were from the Chakdara and asked where our ship was berthed. He pointed to a vessel turning in the outer harbour.
‘You are booked on the next train to Calcutta, and an armed guard will accompany you’ said the agent.
‘How were we to know she was going to sail early?’
He shrugged his shoulders and spoke to the guard, who moved towards us to make sure we were not illegal immigrants trying to enter India.

As he did so we noticed a small rowing boat passing near the steps that led from the quay to the water, and we both ran down and jumped into this boat. The dozing boatman was suddenly wide-awake.
We waved money at him and pointed to our ship in the outer harbour, and we set off in hot pursuit. Behind us the armed guard was not at all happy at losing his prisoners, but at least he did not fire at us.

Our ship was turning very slowly in the harbour, and the boatman was pulling on his oars like mad, in an effort to catch our ship.
While the boatman rowed, my friend and I stood in the stern shouting and waving like demented fools as we waved our lit cigarette lighters, in an effort to attract attention.

The ship completed her turn and was now pointing out to sea through the harbour entrance. We could see the white disturbance of the water caused by her propellers as she began to move ahead.
Suddenly the disturbance stopped, and a Jacob’s ladder was lowered down to the water’s edge – they’d seen or heard us. The harbour and the quay were all brightly lit so perhaps someone was keeping an eye out, just in case.
We paid off the boatman and began the climb up the steep side of the ship, via the ladder.

The picture shows Chakdara with a Jacob’s ladder hanging over the side – our problem was that it was half past midnight – not daylight as in the photograph. At least the deck crew shone a light over the side to assist our climb.

We were nearing the top of the ladder when the sound of the engines could be heard as half ahead was rung on the telegraph, and we could feel the vibration of the ship’s  engines as the ladder quivered and our grip tightened on the ladder.  Time was money.
As the senior cadet I was ordered to report to the Captain to explain our lateness.
Even though I’d been told that we were not due to sail until after 6.00 am the following day, I was told that I should have known that we would have sailed early.
At that comment from the captain, I kept my mouth shut – I was not sure if he was joking or blaming us.

Our next port would be Calcutta.

Colombo – Ceylon

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Ceylon did not become Sri Lanka until 1972.

The country has had a chequered  history, from the Portuguese arriving in 1505, followed by the Dutch, when the king of Sri Lanka signed a treaty with the Dutch East India Company, in the hope that the Dutch would get rid of the Portuguese.

It was during the Napoleonic wars that France occupied the Netherlands, and made that country part of France, which caused concern to the British.

The British didn’t want France to have any influence in or around India, so they occupied the coastal areas of Sri Lanka. At the end of the Napoleonic war the British occupied the whole country, and it was they who called the country Ceylon.

Ceylon gained their independence from the British in 1948, but it wasn’t until 1972 that the country’s name changed to Sri Lanka.

Sirima Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike, the first female Prime Minister in the world.
She was PM three times and it was during her second period in office (1970 – 1977) that the country’s name changed to Sri Lanka.

ColomboOn arrival we were moored to buoys in the harbour of Colombo (see above) and the labour came out to us in barges to load / unload cargo.

The small problem with Ceylon is that they have 26 public holidays a year, which consist of a mix of Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim faith days.
One of the holidays is Poya Day which happens when there is a full moon they are entitled to a holiday, so little is done on the 12 full moon days in a year, plus it is not unknown for some to take the day off before Poya Day, so working cargo can be slowwww.

The slow speed of work gave us time to experience Colombo and enjoy the beautiful island.

One Sunday four of us hired a taxi to take us from the dock area to Mount Lavinia Hotel, which used to be the Governor’s house. The hotel was about ten miles out of the city and the drive would have been about thirty to forty minutes, due to traffic.

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An old picture of the Governor’s House taken around 1900 – it had fallen in to disrepair as it was no longer the Governor’s House.

The British Government sold the house in 1842 and it was bought by Rev. Dr. John MacVicar, the Colonial Chaplain and turned in to an asylum.

In 1877 the railway line was built along the coast from Colombo and it passed very close to the old building.
A developer saw the potential and restored the old building and added two wings and the building became The Mount Lavinia Grand Hotel. The hotel changed hands a few times until it was bought by Mr. U. K. Edmund in 1975 and is still in the family.

In 1957 it was used for a few scenes in the film Bridge on the River Kwai, the film was made in Sri Lanka (not Thailand) and the hotel ‘played’ a military hospital – oddly enough it was a military hospital during WW2.

Most of the British prisoners in the film were local Sinhalese made up to play British POWs.

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Above picture from the internet.

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The Mount Lavina Hotel is now one of my favourite hotels, and it took me thirty-eight year before I was able to return, this time with Maureen.

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The taxi dropped us at the hotel, and the uniforms may be a little more modern, but the ambiance of our arrival was the same.

 We booked a curry lunch; – at that time they didn’t have a swimming pool, why would you need one considering the location.

They owned the beach.

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At that time the hotel had facilities for day visitors, and we were able to get changed and be confident that our clothes & valuables etc would be safe. I kept some money in my pocket – just in case I wanted a drink.

Swimming in the waves can make one tried so I decided to take a walked along the beach away from the hotel and the distant city of Colombo. I came across a lady selling fresh pineapples, so I bought one, and found that the taste was out of this world,
I’d only ever had tinned pineapples in the UK, funny how some memories stay with you.
We had the use of showers and it was time for a pre-lunch beer, before entering the dining room for our lunch.
We ate under giant ceiling fans that moved slowly enough to cool, but not to make the food cold – all very ‘pukka sahib’.

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I took the above picture in 2014 and I don’t think it was all that much different than in 1968, I think that now they have air conditioning.

After lunch we sat on the lawn and chatted or just doze – the lawn has gone and it is now the swimming pool.

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Now guests have a choice . . .

I took the photograph at the beginning of this post from the end of the pool at Mount Lavinia Hotel.

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At the end of the day it was back to Colombo and the ship,

Loading tea onto a freighter. Colombo Harbour, 1960’s

loading chests of tea.

I can remember that the exchange rate between the UK pound and the Sri Lankan rupee was 14 to the pound and the black-market rate 25 to 27 to the pound. Today it is about 236 rupees to the UK pound.

Next stop Chalna in East Pakistan (now called Bangladesh)

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Hotels with style . .

 

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I’d always wanted to return to Sri Lanka (still Ceylon in my mind) to show Maureen something different, but this time I wanted to stay at the Mount Lavinia Hotel, not just visit for lunch as I had when I was at sea.

We flew in from Malaysia and after immigration & customs we entered a colourful mad house of people shouting and gesturing in the arrival halls. The air conditioning system was losing the battle against the humidity of the outside world. I was back in Ceylon after nearly thirty years, it had the same smells, the same heat, the same friendly faces – I loved being back, and only hoped that I hadn’t over sold the holiday to my wife.The Mount Lavinia hotel is about a ninety minute drive south of the airport, which is only about 43 kms in distance (about 25 miles), but this depends on the traffic of course. imgp0657r

We had to drive through the centre of Colombo, which was an experience in itself.

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I’d picked the hotel because as a cadet, during my time at sea, I’d visited the Mount Lavinia Hotel for a genuine Sunday curry lunch, and I wanted to experience the location, and the local food once again, but this time with Maureen.

The hotel used to be the Governor’s home governors-palace in 1805 and remained so for many years. Click on the link and read of the romance between the 2nd Governor, Sir Thomas Maitland and a dancer and how the hotel was named.

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Entrance to Mount Lavinia Hotel.

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dsc03223rA touch of the old days with pith helmets. . .

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 The hotel is located on a small promontory jutting out in to the sea, and overlooking a magnificent beach, which is lapped by the Indian Ocean. The feel and design of the hotel is old colonial, but it had all of the 21st century requirements. The hotel owns this part of the beach.

dsc03211rThe cooling effect of an ‘indoor’ water fall as you checked in to the hotel.

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Picture taken from the hotel web site – all other photographs are my own.

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View from our room – one of the cheaper rooms.

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Small bar area near reception, most of the time we would sit out near the pool and admire the ocean view. When I visited as a cadet the pool area was a large lawn that sloped down to the cliff’s edge. We would have a beer and then the curry and find a shaded area to have a doze before returning to the ship. The roads were not as crowded then, so the taxi ride to the hotel used to be quite pleasant. Today the ride from the city is about thirty minutes or more, and the airport is further north of the city, which is why it takes so long to drive from the airport to this hotel – but we considered it worth the effort..

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Pool

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Sometimes we would have our evening meal in this area – enjoying a cool evening breeze – and we were covered in case of rain.

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We would sit at the far end near the ocean and watch the sunset – never tired of watching the sun go down. We did see a wedding party with spot lights and professional movie style cameras
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What more could I want  . . . ?

How about eating on the beach in the evening  . . the restaurant is the thatched area on the right.

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dsc03221rThe restaurant can be seen on the left – the tide never came in far enough to upset our meal.

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As you see the floor is sand packed tight. Reservations required even if you are a hotel guest. The restaurant is owned by the hotel so you sign and put it on your room account.

dsc03240rI think it had just started to rain, but we were dry under the thatched roof.

dsc03279rThe fish is displayed in ice and the price marked is per 100 grams, which includes rice or chips (French fries), and salad or vegetables. Tell the cook how big a piece you want and it is cut fresh from the whole fish, and they are seldom wrong when estimating the weight before cutting – they weigh the piece in front of you and ask how you want it cooked. For me it is always grilled and I like swordfish, tuna, and any steak style fish slightly pink in the middle – it was grilled perfectly. In the photograph you can see 300 LKR (Sri Lankan rupees), which is about AUD $2.50 for 100 grams of Grupa (Grouper) fish.

dsc03283rIf you can not find your fish in the ice display just pick from the blackboard.

All the fish on display was that day’s catch, and still whole at the start of the evening. Some of the fish were very large and it was fascinating to watch as the exact weight that I required, was cut from a large swordfish – none of the portions that I saw, even from the smallest fish, had bones attached to that portion.

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Breakfast could be inside, in air conditioned comfort – or outside in the pool area.

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 Hot food just outside the air-conditioned dining room.

 A lovely hotel with old world charm and friendly staff, a relaxing time for both of us.

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