Death at sea

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The gap at the mouth of Port Phillip Bay is called the RIP , or The Heads, which can be very dangerous. The gap between the two points of land is just over three kilometres, so of course to pass into Port Phillip requires a pilot.

It is said that this stretch of water is the most dangerous in Australia the tidal flow from Bass Straits into Port Phillip can be around 15 k/m per hour (9.5 miles mph) through a very narrow channel.

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The above picture is downloaded off the internet

The pilot boat that came out to a ship had to fight the Rip outbound, and after leaving the pilot to board the inbound vessel it would return to the relative safety of Port Phillip.

We had sailed from Sydney and arrived off Port Phillip Bay on the 24th April and were slowly making out way to seaward of the Rip to pick up our pilot.

We regularly practiced emergency signals for fire drills, man overboard, collision  etc so as we approached the pilot area for Port Phillip, which was around 11.00 am the alarm bells sounded and the ship’s whistle blew long blasts and kept on sounding three long blasts. At first, I thought it was another drill until I realised it was a genuine emergency. The three long blasts indicated a man overboard.

As I ran on deck, I saw a warship racing towards us and our manned motorboat was being swung out to be lowered to the water as we slowed.

As I reached the bridge I was told that an engine room fitter had gone mad and thrown himself overboard.

I was ordered to the mast head so grabbed a powerful pair of binoculars and climbed the foremast in the hope of spotting the man in the water.
The problem was that the sea was covered in ‘white horses’ or breaking wave caps due to the wind  The above picture from the internet illustrate my meaning. The boat in the picture is one of the Port Phillip pilot boats.

Every available advantage point on our ship was covered with crew trying to spot the ‘jumper’.

The warship called in a spotter plane, but from memory it was a jet and at the speed it travelled, even though quite low, it had little chance of sighting anyone in the water. I thought I saw him once waving, but as I tried to focus the binoculars on him, he or what I thought was a man in the water disappeared.

My own ship, the warship & the spotter plane spent two hours looking for the missing man, but the only things we recovered were our own lifebuoys that had been thrown overboard in the hope that the man would use them to stay afloat.

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We were required to recover our lifebuoys because each lifebuoy had our ship’s name printed on each buoy and the last thing we wanted was a stray lifebuoy to be found washed up on a beach, which might cause people to think that we were in distress.

At the time we doubted that the seaman wanted to be rescued so perhaps he would not have made it easy for us to find him. The wind was quite strong to he could have been blown further out to sea, plus the tidal rip would not have helped.

We eventually entered Port Phillip Bay and made our way to the docking area only to be told that because we were two hours late, we’d missed our docking time so we had to anchor off Melbourne and wait until the following day, which was ANZAC Day, so there wouldn’t be any cargo work done that day.

It was not long before some of the crew considered the ship to be unlucky. She used to be called MV Cornwall, and now she had a new name MV Juna, and changing a ship’s name is supposed to be bad luck . . .  we had had some accidents during the voyage, we had been short of water, and short of food, and now we had a death. We also had three wives on board, which is supposed to add to our bad luck.
You’d of thought that we were still in the sailing ship days, with sea monsters and mermaids.

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Picture is an illustration from the original 1870 edition of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. 

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I always see pictures of mermaids never a merman, very un pc . . . .

We worked cargo most days until we sailed for Adelaide in early May, the city of churches. Pleasant enough town, but quiet.

Sailing from Adelaide was on the brink of the southern winter (June, July & August is classed as winter), and our next port was Fremantle.
This would require us to cross the Great Australian Bight again, and this time it was a rough crossing and it was cold. I remember wearing two pullovers and a duffel coats on the bridge during the midnight to 4.00 am watch.

On the plus side the stars were spectacular due to the clean air and lack of light pollution, but it was far too cold to spend too much time admiring them from the wing of the bridge, which was open to the weather.

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This is a recent picture of the southern night sky; I was unable to find exactly what I wanted.

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An illustration of part of a bridge (not MV Juna) – the helm can be seen and the engine room telegraph. The helmsman would stand on the wooden platform when required, but as M.V Juna had auto-steering we would only become ‘manual steering’ when close to shore, or when picking up a pilot.

When the autopilot was in control the helmsman would become a bridge lookout, along with the officer of the watch, but on the opposite side to where the OOW stood. We would regularly swap sides to keep warm and awake!
As usual at night, we had a seaman in the bow of the ship who was also on lookout, but he didn’t have any cover, so his night watch was only two hours.
On seeing anything (light, shape in the water, or anything unusual) he would ring the fo’c’sle bell – one trike for starboard, two for port or three for dead ahead.

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Picture from the internet – could not find a picture of MV Juna’s bell.

It was a pleasure to arrive in Fremantle, because we were out of the cold wind & choppy seas, and the weather was very pleasant.

 

 

 

 

 

MV Juna née Cornwall

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My new ship MV Juna, launched in 1951, 7583 gt, and built for Federal Steam Navigation Co. under the name of MV Cornwall.
She was prone to engine trouble and had been in Sydney for extensive repairs after which she was transferred to British India Steam Navigation Co and renamed MV Juna in August of 1967. I joined her in November 1967.

Both companies were in the P & O Group at that time, so moving vessels between companies was nothing new.

I arrived in Perth W. Australia, at 4.00 am and took a taxi to the ship, which was in Fremantle, the seaport for Perth. When I boarded it was about 5.00 am and of course the ship was quiet and everyone was asleep. I found the cabin area that was used as a ‘hospital’, locked myself in and went to bed.

Less than three hours later I was awake and getting dressed because I had to ‘sign on’ because the ship was about to sail for Sydney. At least I was given the rest of the day off as it appeared that I was number one spare!

I had quiet a pleasant time during the ‘cruise’ to Sydney where the current third mate was leaving. I’d sailed with the 2nd Mate on the African coast a few years earlier when he was 3rd Mate, plus I knew the purser having sailed with him before on the Japanese coast.

‘Juna’  was clean and well built, but had a tendency to roll her way across the Great Australian Bight.
She had been built to have air-conditioning, but this vital (for us) piece of equipment was never installed, and I wasn’t looking forward to the Persian Gulf.
At least all the equipment on the bridge worked correctly, and we had a new radar set, that worked! The joy of it all . . .

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The reddish dot on the left is Fremantle and the blue dot on the right is Melbourne and the curved coastline between is the Great Australian Bight.

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Beautiful when calm, but a dangerous place in a storm.

Magnificent Great Australian Bight and Southern Ocean.

One can drive from Melbourne to Adelaide along a road called The Great Ocean Road – very dramatic, and very popular with overseas visitors as well as those of us who are lucky enough to live in Australia.

Ocean birdOut at sea, away from the land, I never tired of watching the albatross.

Loch Ard

In 1878 the iron clipper Loch Ard was sailing from London to Melbourne with luxury goods, as well as everyday items. There were fifty-four people on-board including seventeen passengers.
It was winter in Australia, on the 1st June 1878, with fog and sea mist all around, as they kept a look out for the Cape Otway light

The captain thought he was fifty miles to seaward, but instead he saw breakers dead ahead, he tried to alter course away from the danger and make his way out to sea, but the waves washed his ship on to the rocks of Mutton Island. She sank within fifteen minutes of striking the rocks.

Mutton Island is at the mouth of a gorge and only sixty meters off the shore.
Only two people survived, eighteen year old passenger Eva Carmichael, and crewman Tom Pearce, who was nineteen.
Pearce made it ashore and as he staggered up the beach he heard a woman cry out for help, so he went back in to the sea and managed to rescued Eva Carmichael.
The gorge was named after the ship in memory of those who died, and is now known as Loch Ard gorge.

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Tom

Tom Pearce
Tom Pearce returned to England, completed his apprenticeship to become a ship’s officer and eventually gained command of his own ship. He died at the age of forty nine and is buried in Southampton.

 

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Eva Carmichael
Eva Carmichael later married Captain Thomas Achilles Townsend, who had migrated to Australia. The couple later returned to live in Ireland.

Over the years there have been a number of novels linked to the Loch Ard tragedy, and one fictional account became a TV hit in the 1980’s as All The Rivers Run  starring Sigrid Madeline Thornton.

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I’ve seen the series and read the book, on which the series was based. I enjoyed both.

 

We arrived safely in Sydney –

Opera

 

The opera house hadn’t yet been finished

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but they had fast ferries across the harbour.

Where docked in 1967 is now a very chic area that I think twice about if I was to visit one of the restaurants in this area. The finger wharf that we berthed alongside has been converted into very expensive apartments – how time have changed. In the 1960’s few would live anywhere near where deep seas ships docked.

Our next port was Melbourne, we are on our back to western Australia, before sailing for Bombay (now Mumbai).

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A touch of yesterday Bourke Street 1967 – Melbourne still have their trams.

Melbourne was where Maureen visited her aunt & uncle before flying to Auckland to see me in 1966. I couldn’t visit Melbourne without introducing myself to Maureen’s family.

I was given a very warm welcome and in the evening Robbie (Maureen’s uncle) took me to his local pub, and over a few beers we talked of life in Australia compared to life in the UK. Robbie and his wife had emigrated in 1951 out of pure frustration.

They were married, but due to the housing shortage, particularly in Liverpool after the bombing during the war, they were unable to find a house or flat where they could live together.

Robbie had been in the British army in north Africa and had joined the LRDG (Long Range Dessert Group), which was used to ferry the new regiment called the SAS, to within range of enemy airfields and fuel dumps.

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The above photograph is off the internet and not one of Robbie’s – it is to illustrate the LRDG.

Robbie spent four years in the desert, which was where he met Australians, and became interested in migrating.
The Australian attitude to life fitted well with Robbie’s, so after a few frustrating years of not being able to rent / buy a house he thought he’d be better off in Australia, so he and his wife became £10.00 Poms, his daughter was born in Australia.
He didn’t return to the UK until 1976, when he and his wife & daughter stayed with Maureen & I in Congleton, Cheshire, for three weeks.
It took quite a few beers to get just a brief outline of Robbie’s adventures during his years in the desert, and his time with the LRDG.

Phantom Major

If you are interested in the link  between the LRDG & the SAS, may I suggest this book. It took me many years to find this copy, because I’d given my original to Robbie.
The book was published in 1958, and I found this copy in 2015 in a small second hand book shop called ‘Chapter Two’ in Stirling, which is a small town in S. Australia.
Everything  comes to him who waits :- o)

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                 The above picture from Chapter Two book shop web site in Stirling.

After searching second hand book shops for many years looking for The Phantom Major which is about David Stirling and the beginning of the SAS. I found it in a book shop in Stirling!

Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.”
so said by P.J. O’Rourke, who is an an American political satirist and journalist.

From Melbourne it was Adelaide, across the Great Australian Bite to Perth in Western Australia.

Cornwall

MV Cornwall, during her time with Federal Steam Navigation Co.
before becoming MV Juna for British India Steam Navigation Co.