Christmas past. . . .1962


BI vessel S.S Ellenga

As a first trip cadet – I’d been at sea for about three months – it was Christmas at sea – we left Mina el Ahamadi in Kuwait at 3.00 am on Friday 21st December – it would be Christmas at sea for the five day voyage to Little Aden in what is now Yemen.


We were not all that sorry to leave, because I doubt that an oil refinery in Kuwait would be on many people’s ‘bucket list’, particularly at Christmas time.

Even though it was Christmas at sea the watching keeping officers and crew still had to work on Christmas Day.


Christmas breakfast menu,  on board the Ellenga in 1962.

The one thing we didn’t worry about was being hungry – couldn’t fault the British India Steam Nav. Co for the standard of food.

Certain cruise ship today think that they invented breakfast menus  . . .

For those of us who didn’t have to work on Christmas Day,
after a beer or two we all had lunch.


A quiet afternoon for the cadets and at 7.00 pm it was time to eat again . . .

It was Christmas dinner!

Xmas62 dinner

Ellenga menu.jpg

Cover of the Christmas dinner menu – signed by the officers.

All the time were ‘eating’ we were steaming down the Persian Gulf towards the Straits of Hormuz


Coast of Little Aden, Yemen shot from Al Burayqah

The view of our destination – Little Aden- of course we were not allowed ashore. If for some reason we had to visit Aden, it was about a 45 minute road trip, and HOT!
The above is from the internet and thanks to Taff Davies in the UK.

Aden and Little Aden were still Aden colony in 1962 – the British having captured the area  in 1839 to secure the route to India, control the entrance to the Red Sea.and to dissuade pirates.
Until 1937 Aden was governed from India, but in 1937 it became a Crown Colony.
Its location is equidistant from Bombay (now Mumbai), Zanzibar & the Suez Canal, so it was a very important strategic location.


We now jump forward four years to 1966, when I experienced another Christmas at sea.

I’d passed my 2nd Mates ticket and had been appointed 3rd Officer in the Bankura.


BI ship M.S Bankura 6,793 gt, launched in 1959.

We sailed from Chalna in East Pakistan (the name changed after liberation to Bangladesh in 1971), after loading in the Rupsha River from floating warehouse type barges – the photograph below will give you and idea. We used our own derricks / cranes to load the cargo, After we completed loading we sailed for Colombo in Ceylon.


I was once again at sea for Christmas, but only have the dinner menu as a souvenir.
This time I was third mate in a cargo ship running between Calcutta to the Australian & New Zealand coast. The round trip would take us about three months, unless we were lucky and became strike bound in Australia . . . . for the dockers in Australia this was their main hobby in the 60’s.

Although I was ‘at sea’, we were not sailing the oceans at Christmas, but anchored in Colombo harbour in Ceylon, (now called Sri Lanka). We arrived on the 20th December and worked cargo until Christmas Day, which was a holiday, not just for us, but Colombo as well. While we at the buoys another of the  Company’s vessels arrived and moored at a buoy close to us. She was the Carpentaria.
I think we were left at buoys because it would have been cheaper than going alongside due to the downtime, because of Christmas.


 Carpentaria 7268 gt Launched 1949

We had company and a change of faces, and the ability to swap books. The Carpentaria carried eleven passengers so their Christmas was going to be ‘posher’ than ours, not that we had any complaints. The menu for our Christmas dinner is below



Front cover of the menu – once again signed by the officers.

I have a letter that I sent to Maureen detailing the high jinks that took place between the Bankura & the Carpentaria officers – but that is another story.



Notes on an Aussie garden at Christmas.


Unlike Christmas in the northern hemisphere, Christmas for us is the height of summer. It is the time to have our meals outside as often as possible, time for warm evenings to stretch an evening meal in to darkness, before switching on the garden lights..

The BBQ on the right near the fence –


Table ready for a group of friends on Australia Day earlier this year.

DSC07436r.jpg Frangipanis with their distinct perfume is on one of my favourite flowers. We have both yellow and red flowering frangipanis.


I think the yellow has a stronger perfume.



Cumquats in flower and if the wind allows we will have enough for a batch of marmalade – nice and sour.

Down the side of the house we have a herb garden -chillies of course because I love them, try them in an omelette or mixed in scrambled eggs.

dsc07442rWe used to have several different varieties of chillies, from very hot to a more civilised ‘hot’, but now we just have the one kind (Birds Eye I think they are called, which has nothing to do with the frozen food company). They seed themselves – one less job  . . . If the crop is too large we just freeze them whole and they last for years. Chillies are easy to grow in our climate, as are most herbs.


The palm trees are not mine –

Maureen is very keen on her herb garden – the European mint spreads so quickly we have to cut it down to keep it in check.
Parsley needs looking after due to the bugs, rosemary has to be cut back because it grows so much, lemongrass has to be chopped back in winter and it springs back (in the spring of course  . . .old jokes) , basil likes the heat and plenty of water, we also have Thai basil which has a different taste with its hint of licorice.

The Vietnamese mint needs a little looking after, which has a different taste than European mint, oregano is enclosed to keep it in check, French tarragon is nursed a little, sage is under the lime tree and ‘protected’ by the tree, and the tree at the end is a lime tree.


Limes are coming along fine, but stink buds need to be kept in check.

stinkI used to pick the stink buds of by hand and drop them in to kero  – but I always used gloves because they give off a liquid (defense mechanism) that STINKS and the liquid dyes the hand orange / yellow and it will not come off, regardless of the amount of scrubbing and the use of soap or white spirit. It does eventually come off after a few days only because one grows new skin.

Just because it is 30 c during the day doesn’t stop it from snowing just in time for Santa. This not my house.



and if you can’t find snow perhaps sand will do . . .

A Very Happy Christmas and a safe and healthy 2017.

Lefo ? Where’s that?


This blog is a follow on from my earlier blog, ‘The Silver Grey Sea’ on the 30th September.

In addition to tank cleaning we were expected to keep up with our studies, via a correspondence course, for the examination for a 2nd Mates ‘ticket’. Certain certificates were required before we would be allowed to sit the examination in the UK, and this included the ability to steer an ocean going vessel correctly.
The Captain of Ellenga soon had me practising my helmsman’s skills.
After a time one gained the ‘feel’ for steering, even a 37,000 gt tanker.
While at the helm if the wake was not arrow strait the Captain would make him self heard – he didn’t like a zig zag course, because it used too much fuel, and he maintained that because the war was over we were no longer a target for submarines, zig zagging was for cowboys.
Other certificates that were required before sitting the examination consisted of a Lifeboat certificate, RADAR operator certificate and St John’s Ambulance First Aid Certificate. If a British vessel had ‘less than ninety-nine souls on board’ the vessel was not required to carry a doctor, hence the first aid certificate. Of course we had a book called the ‘The Ship Captain’s Medical Guide’ – I still have mine published in 1946, Ministry of War Transport – cost was 3/6d. It has plenty of black and white sketches and photographs to help us remove foreign bodies from eyes, or people.

helm-001Helmsman certificate


Lifeboat certificate stamped in my discharge book.

radar-001Radar certificate.

 Christmas Day 1962, was celebrated in the Persian Gulf, as we sailed through the Straits of Homuz. The cadets were given a day off, with a very slack day for Boxing Day.

breakfast62rc          lunch62c

Christmas Day breakfast menu         Christmas Lunch menu


Christmas dinner –

Don’t forget that we were a tanker, not a passenger ship.

 British India Steam Nav. Co ships were known as good ‘feeder’ ships.

We were off Little Aden wharf at 2.00 am, 27th December and sailed at 4.00 pm the following day. Our departure time from Little Aden allowed us to celebrate New Year Eve and the first day of 1963, at sea, in the Persian Gulf.


After loading in Mina the Company took pity on us and we were ordered to Philadelphia; to be exact the oil terminal at Marcus Hook, on the Delaware River. We didn’t care where our destination was, as long as it wasn’t Little Aden!

The voyage was twenty-eight days, out of the Persian Gulf in to the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal, and across the Mediterranean, followed by the Atlantic in mid-winter. The winter of 62/63 was the coldest winter in the UK since 1947. In the Atlantic we had to put up with storms, and mountainous seas that smashed in to the ship and twisted metal ladders, while the wind carried away ridged awnings that were bolted to the ship. All galley fires were extinguished and we lived off corned beef sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs for days. Nobody was allowed on deck because of the wind and waves. I’d read about huge Atlantic waves, but being on a 37,000-dwt ship, and being tossed about as if we were a toy boat in a child’s bath, is something else.


To get from the mid-ship accommodation to the crew’s quarters or the engine room we used the catwalk.The catwalk is a suspended walkway to allow people to get from the midsection of the ship (officers’ accommodation and bridge area) to the aft area, without climbing over the deck pipes. Most tankers have a catwalk, which are a number of feet above the deck piping. Along the catwalk are shelters, also known as bus stops, to protect the walkers during bad weather. The idea being to dodge, from bus stop to bus stop, as you moved aft.
The above photograph shows the Ellenga, and the two bus stops aft of the centre accommodation can be seen – they are the two white objects on the deck. The weather was so bad that nobody was allowed to move from one accommodation to the other – it was too dangerous, which is why we were living on boiled eggs etc.

Eventually we made it to the mouth of the Delaware River and picked up a pilot. I was on the bridge keeping the logbook up to date – every thing that happened was recorded in writing – pilot aboard, pilot on the bridge, when he gave his first order it was Pilot’s advise, Captain’s orders. The Captain was still in command even when the pilot was on the bridge.
I did not record the first comment from the Pilot to the bridge personnel as he walked through the door.

Although we had been at sea for twenty-eight days we managed to keep up with world affairs, particularly those concerning the UK. Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister, had his hands full dealing with John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War, the Soviet Naval Attaché at the Russian embassy, and a young woman named Christine Keeler, who was supposed to have been sleeping with the Secretary of War, and the Soviet Naval Attaché, at the same time, but not in the same bed!

The American pilot threw out the following to those of us on the bridge –
‘What are Christine Keeler’s favourite newspapers?’
Of course none of us knew the answer –
‘She takes a Mail, a Mirror, a couple of Observers, and as many Times as she can get.’
This caused all the British to burst out laughing, but the helmsman, who was Indian, looked at us as if we were completely mad. He was not aware that the Mail, Mirror, Observer & Times were all British newspapers.

I managed to get some hours off and went by train to Philadelphia. It was extremely cold, which took the edge of any idea of sightseeing. I did buy a Tommy Dorsey LP for $1, which I still have (music transferred to the computer and cleaned of the original scratches)


Sugar Foot Stomp I think is my favorite on this LP – turn it up!

I also bought a black fur ushankahat, which came in handy some years later in Leningrad (now called St Petersburg), where I swapped a ball point pen for a comrades red star!

Our next move, after breaking out of the ice in the river, was to Maracaibo in Venezuela, for a cargo of oil for the UK. At least it would be warm in Venezuela!
During the voyage we were followed and watched by the US navy, because the Cuba crisis had not long been resolved (about ten weeks earlier) and the US & Russia were still a little ‘nervous’. Nothing untoward happened and we were able to load our cargo in Maracaibo, Venezuela and sail for home.

Every time we sailed for a European port we sailed for Lefo – I tried to find this destination on the chart, and in an atlas, but failed. I eventually found out that Lefo is fictional point just off the south coast of England – Land’s End For Orders! Our cargo may have been on sold to another destination.


lefo1The wild coast of Land’s End

Having crossed the Atlantic again and having our destination confirmed at LEFO, we entered the English Channel, which was wrapped in thick fog. There is nothing so
haunting as the sound of ships’ foghorn to warn other vessel of your closeness. The problem is that sound bounces around in fog and the vessel may not be where you expect it to be. Fortunately my own ship, being only a couple of years old, had radar so we were able to ‘see’ our way up the channel. Even so we were only moving at a very slow speed.

We arrived safely at the Isle of Grain oil depot at the mouth of the River Thames. A fast discharge and by mid April, we were back in the Persian Gulf at a new loading port called Banda Mashur in Iran, (Some times known as Bandar-e Mah Shahr), where we managed to load at a rate of 4200 tons an hour. We didn’t wish to hang around, and I think this was fastest hourly rate that we recorded.

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