Farewell Birkenhead

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky

In October 2022 it will be sixty years since I first went to sea.

I had eight days to pack and join my first ship, did I have everything  . . .

I had only been to Woodside station once before when I was a lot younger, and we were visiting relatives in Stafford. Most of my train travel had been from Liverpool Lime Street, so Woodside was a new experience.
The station had been opened in 1878 and thanks to the Beeching Report in 1963 the station would close in 1967.

When I arrived at the station in October 1962 it was it was busy with trains arriving and leaving all the time.

My trunk was packed with my uniform for the tropics and for a European winter, along with civilian clothes if I wished to go ashore.
Mum & Dad took me to the station, and I was glad of Dad’s help to drag my sea chest to the guard’s van. The type of sea chest that I picked was invented before the wheel!
My passport and my brand new red British Seaman’s Card, and my new blue Seaman’s Record Book and Certificate of Discharge were stowed in a safe place in my jacket pocket.

Must not forget my collection of International Certificates of Vaccination, which over the next few years I collected details of varies ‘jabs’ starting with HMS Conway when I was about to leave in the summer of 1962 , followed by Liverpool (five times over the following years), Dubai (twice), Singapore, New Zealand (three times), Karachi (at least once, but could be twice – a blunt needle comes to mind) and even received a jab from the doctor on the Dunera, which saved me a trip ashore.
The Company was very strict that our various vaccination records were kept up to date.

Photo thanks to Bevan Price (picture taken in 1967).
In 1962 Woodside was busy and bustling with people travelling.  

       Picture thanks to Alan Murray-Rust ([Picture taken in 1967)
The smell of steam and hot oil remains a memory of happy train journeys because the engine was a living machine unlike the current rolling stock.   

There are many pictures of Woodside Station that were taken just before the station was closed, but little had changed from when I boarded the train to Falmouth in 1962. 

Falmouth Docks Station (the only station in Falmouth at the time) picture taken in 1966 – copyright Patrick English.

A quick phone call to the agent and I was soon in a launch because Ellenga was moored in the Fal River. 

Ellenga – 37,420 dwt

Launched in 1960 and was named after a village in the Tangail district of East Bengal, which at that time was known as East Pakistan and today is Bangladesh.

I was eighteen when I stepped aboard Ellenga and I was paid the grand sum of £16-10-0 a month  (about £200 / month in today’s value).
It was hard work, (we were not paid overtime) but she was a happy ship and I began to learn Hindi as most of the crew were from India.

The book was recommended by the Company, so I purchased The Malim Sahibs Hindustani as a guide to learn Hindi. I still have this book, and even now I can remember certain words and phrases. 

Once we arrived in the Persian Gulf we carried out what was known as the ‘Mina- Aden- ferry’ – which meant that we loaded crude oil in Mina El Hammani in Kuwait and five days later we discharged the cargo at a refinery in Little Aden, which is across the bay  from Aden  (which is now part of Yemen).
Once we had completed our discharge we sailed for Kuwait and the next five days we tank cleaned.
I was one of four cadets and we were worked in pairs – six hour on six hour off – each pair of cadets had three crew members working with them. 
H&S was in the future as we manhandled large flexible hoses with a  three legged Butterworth pump on the end of the hoses to blast the oil from the sides of each tank.
Each tank was just over fifty feet deep, and we blasted sea water at three levels – we had a total of thirty three tanks, but we only used twenty seven for oil, the others were used for sea water as ballast for when we were empty.  

I am second from the left and as you see tank cleaning was a dirty job. At the end of the process for each tank one of us would climb down the fifty-foot ladder into the oil sludge at the bottom. We had a large rubber brush to brush the sludge to the pumps to maximise the amount to be sucked out of the tank. The action of brushing caused fumes to rise, and these fumes made you feel drunk so climbing the fifty foot vertical ladder could be dangerous due to everything, including the ladder, being slippery due to the oil residue. Welcome to life at sea in tankers in 1962.

The ship carried breathing apparatus, and it was available for us to wear, but in the heat of the Persian Gulf wearing it was out of the question, it was far too hot.
Plus it was heavy and trying to climb out of the oil tank via a vertical slippery ladder wearing the full gear was unacceptable.

Tank cleaning went on day and night, and at night when cleaning the forward tanks, we had to use shielded torches so as not to ruin the night vision of the those on the bridge. 

The water used to clean the tanks was pumped overboard when we were more than 100 miles off land – the oil slick followed us for days because we had to have the tanks cleaned before we arrived in Kuwait for a fresh cargo.        

I sailed in Ellenga for just under nine months and besides the Mina -Aden ferry we also carried oil to Europe, and we did do one trip in mid-winter from Kuwait to Philadelphia in the US, 28 days without touching land, after which we sailed to Venezuela for a cargo of oil for Germany.
Our destination was LEFO, but even after checking the ship’s large atlas I could not find where LEFO was, until the 2nd mate mentioned Lands’ End For Orders – in case the oil had been on sold and was not destined for Germany.
In our case we discharged in Wilhelmshaven as planned and sailed in ballast back to the Persian Gulf, tank cleaning of course.  
While I was in Ellenga I was taught how to steer, it was not as easy as it looked, but eventually I mastered how to do it correctly (my certificate below).

Not long after I had started to learn to steer the captain commented to me that as the war was over, I did not have to keep zig zagging to avoid submarines. Steering such a large vessel one gets a ‘feel’ for her, and once this happens you no longer zig zag.

During the Mina-Aden ferry we had a bit of luck – we sailed from Kuwait fully loaded so tank cleaning was not required over Christmas.

Breakfast on Christmas Day 1962, and all cadets were off duty!

Lunch on Christmas Day 1962

Dinner Christmas Day 1962
The one thing about British India Steam Nav. Co, most of the vessels in which I sailed were all good ‘feeders.’ 

It was hard work but it was interesting and after nearly nine months I paid off Ellenga at The Isle of Grain, which is at the mouth of the Thames, and I was given another rail voucher, this time to Birkenhead and sent home on leave.

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.



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.

The silver grey sea

In mid 1962, after two years at HMS Conway, I graduated. British India Steam Navigation Company, also known simply as BI, accepted me in August, as an indentured cadet (apprentice).



House flag and funnelflagnfunnel

Once I’d been accepted I applied for a British Seaman’s Card and a Discharge Book



I had the paperwork to prove that I was a sailor, but I’d never been to sea.

In mid September I was order to join the tanker, Ellenga, on the 12th October, which was moored in the River Fal, just off the town of Falmouth. The vessel had been in dry dock and was about to sail for the Persian Gulf for a cargo of oil. For someone who didn’t have any intention of going abroad I was doing a lousy job of staying in England.


This is Ellenga  37,420 dwt built 1960 – the picture was not taken in the River Fal

  On joining I became one of four cadets, and the other first trip cadet turned out to have been in my class at HMS Conway! Seeing each other helped us to fit in to our new life. Each cadet had his own cabin, and we all shared a Goanese steward who looked after our requirements. I didn’t have any idea before I joined that a lowly cadet would be entitled to the services of a steward, and we had a wine account!
Later I realised how lucky I was to join B.I.S.N.C. A Scotsman, William Mackinnon in 1856, had started the Company, and he set certain standards for the benefit of the officers and crew; conversely he expected a high standard of service from his employees. B.I.S.N.C. was a proud company and highly regarded by both officers and crew. Many of the crew had spent their whole life in the service of the Company, and they considered it a great honour to be in the Company’s employ.


British India Steam Nav Co’s first ship – 500 gt built 1856

We sailed early afternoon, and as a first trip cadet I was ordered to the bridge and told to watch and observe and not to get under anybody’s feet. This gave me the opportunity to see the British coastline sink lower and lower in to the silver-grey sea, while on our port side the haze of the French coast could just be seen on the horizon. Eventually, both the British and French coast disappeared, leaving us all alone in the Atlantic Ocean heading for the gateway to the Mediterranean, Gibraltar, and then on to the Suez Canal.


I was on the Ellenga for about nine months and all of the cadets worked alongside the crew, because hopefully one day we would be watch-keeping officers and we would be expected to know how many men would be required to do a certain job, and how long is would take.
malimIn addition, we were expected to learn Hindi, because that was the language that the crew understood. Many of the crew spoke some English, because they had worked for the Company all of their working lives, but as an officer one was expected to speak Hindi. I still have my Malim Sahib’s Hindustani a book,  which includes all nautical terms and words in common use both ashore and afloat, quoted from the front cover. (Malim Sahib = Ship’s officer).

I only wish I’d spent more time reading this book.

When I left home my father warned me about being sent for a ‘long weight’ or a ‘bucket full of steam’, so I was well aware of the tricks played by older hands.
Not long after joining I was told by the First Officer to get the Cassab from the forecastle store. Remembering Dad’s warning I made my way to the store and lay down on a coil of rope to have a doze. I figured I’d report back in about twenty minutes.
I dozed for a few minutes when suddenly the daylight from the doorway was blocked, and I rolled over to see why. It was the First Officer, and he was not at all happy with this first tripper. It was then that I was told in no uncertain terms that Cassab was Hindi for storekeeper, not some fictional item!

My life as a first trip cadet became a mixture of boredom and extreme interest. We were expected to learn the layout of all the deck pipes that carried the cargo oil, including the cross over values to switch oil from one tank to another and the position of the firefighting equipment.
On the other hand we had to take part in chipping paint off the rusted areas of the deck and bulkheads using a small hand held bronze hammer. We used bronze hammers because they were made from non-ferrous metal and would not cause a spark.

hammerThe blisters were free – a bronze chipping hammer circ 1962.

A spark on a tanker was the last thing anybody wanted, because it could ignite the gas that seeped on to the deck from the crude oil. We used to receive regular warnings of tankers in distress due to gas igniting. I don’t remember ever reading that the damaged vessel survived, the report usually reported that the tanker had blown up due to gas ignition. The reports made comforting reading for those of us chipping away.
Once the bare metal had been exposed we would paint it with red lead paint (in today’s world, H&S would have a fit). After the red lead had dried, we used grey undercoat followed by the white topcoat. A 30,000 ton ship has a lot of metal to chip by hand. Many of the later ships in which I sailed the cadets and crew used an electric chipper that had several heads spinning at high speed, so making it easier to clean a large area quickly, but those vessels were not covered in gas.
The bane of using the non-ferrous hammer was that it quickly became blunt and required more force to belt the rust away so as to expose the metal deck. It was hot sweaty work in a Persian Gulf summer.

In our free time we studied, via correspondence courses, for our examinations to become deck officers.

‘Ellenga’ took me to some strange places. Our first port of call was Port Said as we transited the Suez Canal. We didn’t stay long in Port Said, just a few hours while the authorities created a convoy to transit the canal. ellenga-suez-canThe canal was only wide enough for vessels to go one way, so a group of vessels will travel southbound to the Bitter Lakes, or a ‘cutting’ where the southbound convoy can stop and allow the northbound convoy to pass. While transiting the canal local ‘bum’ boats came along side, and those that had the company contract would hitch a ride through the canal; so that when we reached the ‘cutting’ they would carry our mooring lines ashore to bollards. If we passed the cutting we would anchor in the Bitter Lakes. Before the canal was built there were salt valleys in the area, which became flooded after the canal was opened; hence the name of Bitter Lakes.

Mixed with the crew of the ‘bum’ boats we often had trinket sellers and entertainers.

port_said_bum_boatsThe sellers sold souvenirs, mainly to passengers on passenger ships, rather than the crew of tankers. Regardless, once we knew these entertainers / sellers would be aboard we locked everything down – cabin doors, windows, doors to the accommodation and any loose pieces of equipment belonging to the ship. We never locked our cabins at sea, but we did when ‘strangers’ were on board.

During my first trip through the Canal I was introduced to the Gully Gully man, who was an outstanding conjuror. On the main main deck he had an endless supply of day old chicks, and he could make them appear and disappear, and we (cadets) were only a few feet away from him. We couldn’t see how his tricks were done. He made the chicks appear out of thin air or our shirt pockets; he was very good and would have been top act for a TV show. We paid him as one would pay a street entertainer and when he had covered all of the officers and crew, and considered that he had made enough for the day, he shinned over the side and dropped in to a small riverboat that was following us.

poolOnce we crossed in to the tropics the small pool that we had on the tanker came in to its own. It was the cadets’ job to pump out the water each day around 6.30 to 7.00 am and refill with fresh seawater. Many times we noticed flying fish flying-fish in the pool; they had ‘flown’ in during the night, perhaps attracted to the deck lights. We would catch the fish as the pool’s water level dropped and keep them in a bucket of sea water. Once we had them all we would present them to either the deck crew or the Chinese ‘Johns’. The Chinese ‘Johns’ where Hong Kong Chinese (Cantonese was their language) and they were either engine room fitters or the carpenter. We cadets had more to do with the carpenter than the engine room fitters.
I don’t know why the Chinese crew members were called ‘Johns’, but perhaps it was due to the first Chinese person to take our British nationality in 1805, was called John Anthony.
The link for John Anthony makes interesting reading.

Kuwait (see picture below) is an oil rich kingdom that has its main city named after the country, but we were not to berth at the main city of Kuwait, but Mina Al Ahmadi the oil port a few miles outside the city. kuwaitAt that time they were separate towns, but I think that Kuwait city has expanded so much as to combine Mina as an outer suburb today. Once along side (an oil jetty) we were told that we were not allowed outside of the refinery, and that the perimeters was guarded by armed guards, and a metal fence with barbed wire on the top.Loading 30,000 tons of oil would not take long; perhaps twelve to fifteen hours and the cadets had the job of supervising the loading under the officer of the day. If we had time we would be allowed to visit the ‘canteen’ within the confines of the refinery. This canteen was a corrugated metal building and was restricted to foreign crews only.
Since joining the tanker I’d learned how to smoke and drink beer (I was a fast learner). The cost of a carton of two hundred cigarettes on the ship was eleven shilling and four pence (tax free of course) BUT the cost of the same carton of cigarettes in the Mina ‘canteen’ was seven shillings and six pence, a huge saving considering that I was paid four pound two shilling and six pence a week, for an eighty four hour week – we were not paid overtime.
To say that the purser was upset when we returned to the ship with a number of cartons of cigarettes would be an understatement.

The cost of a bottle of gin on the ship was about eleven shillings, and in the Mina canteen it was seven shilling. Fortunately for the purser, I didn’t like gin.

Inside the canteen it was all plastic chairs and Formica tabletops, everything was utilitarian, because nobody expected sailors to have any taste or finesse. I suppose we didn’t do our selves any favours because most evenings there were fights between different nationalities. Some would say that this was the only way tanker men could let off steam. They were not allowed in to the city, they would not see their wives or girlfriends for months on end and every port they visited was miles away from the population due to the risk of explosion or fire from the cargo that they carried.

When a tanker man could no longer stand the smell of crude oil, or handle the working conditions, he would leave, and his mates would say he had ‘tankeritous’ as if it was a disease.

From my position as a first tripper, I accept that we worked for long hours and didn’t get Sunday off every week. It was the life style of being at sea at that time. For years after leaving the sea, if I suffered from a heavy cough I could taste the crude oil. Heaven knows what it has done to my lungs.

From Mina we sailed for five days to Little Aden, which was across the bay from Aden, in what today is known as the Yemen. In 1962 Aden and the surrounding area was still under British control. The Crater District of Aden town is situated in a crater of an ancient volcano. This area was the main business area and to walk around for a spot of sight seeing was exhausting in the heat. I doubt that Aden will ever become a ‘must see’ place on anyone’s bucket list, but then I thought the same thing about Dubai and Muscat, and loved visiting both places earlier this year.
My visit to Aden town was some months in the future when we anchored off Aden to change deck crews and boiler clean. Once again we ‘tankermen’ could not leave the refinery area of Little Aden.

After discharging our cargo it was five days sailing back to Mina during which time we cadets had the unenviable task of supervising the cleaning of all the used tanks – tank cleaning, what a joy, six hours on, six hours off, day after day. Two cadets per shift with four or five crew members, it was hard dirty work.

I am second from the left – Health & Safety, what’s that when tank cleaning in 1962. To be fair we were supposed to wear breathing apparatus when we were fifty feet (15.5 mtrs) down a crude oil tank, but it was virtually impossible to climb down the vertical ladders while wearing the equipment, and to work when at the bottom. In the heat of the Persian Gulf we wore as little as possible. We didn’t work down the tank for too long, because the fumes would make one light headed (similar feeling as if one was a little drunk) and one’s judgment could be affected, and we still had to climb the fifty-foot vertical ladder to the surface.
There was one tradition that we all enjoyed on a daily basis, which was the consumption of fresh lime juice at 11.00 am. limesThis tradition was an obvious a throwback to the avoidance of scurvy when at sea, due to the use of salt as a preservative, before refrigeration, and the lack of vitamin ‘C’ because they didn’t have the ability to store for long periods fresh fruit and vegetables. It was because of this use of lime juice, during sailing ship days, that American sailors nick named British sailors ‘Limeys.’

In addition to being a welcome break from work, it also quenched our thirst. The odd thing about this tradition was that we used the lime juice to help us consume two large salt tablets!
We had to be careful that we replaced the salt lost due to excessive sweating when tank cleaning. Ironic that we used yesterday’s preventative solution to help us prevent a related problem two hundred years later.











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.


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.


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.

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.
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