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?
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.”
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.