Back to sea

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In mid November of 1964 I received a telegram that ‘my services were required’ in London, because I was to join the Chilka – she was launched 1950 so she wasn’t too old.
I enjoyed my time in Chilka, because she was a very happy ship, and when I joined she was loading cargo for the East African coast.

I signed on late in the afternoon, and after unpacking I visited the ship’s bar for pre-dinner drinks. In the bar I met friends from HMS Conway – one was the first tripper who was with me on my first ship, the tanker, and another who was also in my term during my time at Conway. We had a very pleasant evening of ‘remember when’?

During the next eleven days, the ship worked cargo and I was on general duties depending on what the First Mate required. It was mainly day work, so I had the evenings free, which gave me time to visit London, rather than just the dock area.
Being cadets we did managed to visit a couple of very famous London dockland pubs near where the Chilka was berthed at KGV (King George 5th docks).

These docks were opened in 1921 and reached their peak during the late 1950’s early 1960’s just as containerisation began to grow. The docks eventually became uneconomical and closed in 1981, after which the London City Airport was built. Part of the dock was filled in to create the runway and passenger terminal.

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King George V docks in the 1960’s, as you see, the dock was huge.

rdhist6Loading cargo in the 1960’s was very labour intensive, and the introduction of containerisation put a lot of stevedores out of work.

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The 1990’s

All our yesterdays, times change, and after the heartache at the time, I think the locals today are better off than their predecessors in the 1960’s.

We sailed on the last Friday in November, in a rain squall. It was a dirty afternoon that turned in to an early cold and wet night as we made our way down the River Thames, to the open sea and the English Channel.

My watch was the graveyard watch – midnight to four am. As I climbed the ladder to the bridge, for the start of my watch, I remembered a line of poetry from John Masefield’s poem ‘Cargoes’ – ‘Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,’ but for us it was November, but butting down the Channel was exactly what we were doing that dark and wet Friday night. It’s funny how the smallest things come back to you years later.
The last verse of Masefield’s poem.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

PunduastormcropI took this photograph when I was 3rd Mate on another BI ship a couple of years later, I’ve included it in this blog as an illustration of butting down the Channel.

 

Wineglass Bay – Tasmania

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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.

John Masefield – second verse of Sea Fever.

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Approaching Wineglass Bay, Tasmania.

Ah! what pleasant visions haunt me
As I gaze upon the sea!
All the old romantic legends,
All my dreams, come back to me.

The Secret of the Sea – verse one – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

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Entering the Bay

“Wouldst thou,”–so the helmsman answered,
“Learn the secret of the sea?
Only those who brave its dangers
Comprehend its mystery!”
The Secret of the Sea – verse eight – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

DSC09755rClose enough for me . . .

DSC09757rPeaceful and calm as we enter the Bay.

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Clean, clear water – ‘civilisation’ has yet to arrive.

DSC09759rVirgin beaches

Like the long waves on a sea-beach,
Where the sand as silver shines,
With a soft, monotonous cadence,
Flow its unrhymed lyric lines;–
The Secret of the Sea – verse four – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

DSC09760rThe entrance through which we passed to enter Wineglass Bay.

DSC09761rBlue on Blue with our wake drifting astern.

DSC09762rAt peace with the world – our ship is hardly moving.

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We curved through Wineglass Bay, followed by Oyster Bay, and exited via another gap in the coastline.

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 White caps can be seen as we leave the shelter of the Bay and head out to sea.

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Till my soul is full of longing
For the secret of the sea,
And the heart of the great ocean
Sends a thrilling pulse through me.

The Secret of the Sea – verse ten – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 – 1882

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.

The final verse of Sea Fever – John Masefield, 1878 – 1967

‘the long trick’s over’ – at sea your watch (time on duty), was sometimes referred to as a ‘trick’. I liked the ‘graveyard’ watch, which was Midnight to 4.00 am and noon to 4.00 pm.

Nice and quiet at night in the middle of an ocean, when you touch the stars, because they were so clear, and so close.

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.

Ellenga

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.

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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.

Punduastorm
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.