Mal de mer

Finally, despite the rain, we managed to load all our Calcutta cargo in a dry state, as well as a number of passengers who were returning to the UK. The additional faces in the dining room and saloon expanded our conversational subjects beyond the sea and ships.

Three nuns who were retiring from service joined us for the homeward voyage. They had spent most of their lives in the hills of northern India as medical assistants and spreading the gospel. They brought two dogs on board and intended to pay for the six months quarantine in the UK, and keep them as pets. Part of our duties, as cadets, was to look after these animals, feed them, hose down the barker’s eggs from the deck area that they were allowed to use, and make sure they didn’t fall overboard.
The problem was that these dogs were vegetarians because the nuns could not afford to feed them meat during their time at hill station.

We had other passengers, which included a couple of teenage daughters who were around eighteen years of age. It was going to be an interesting voyage.
It was August before we eventually sailed out of the Hooghly River into the Bay of Bengal.

For the next few days, I was as sick as could be, due to the corkscrewing motion of the ship in the monsoons conditions. I hardly ate anything and would get sick cleaning my teeth. One way of losing weight I suppose but when one is seasick and you are offered a gun to shoot yourself, you would thank the gunman. Seasickness is the most horrible feeling I’ve have ever experienced, because you cannot stop the corkscrewing motion of the ship.

It was not until we were close to Ceylon that the ship’s corkscrewing changed to a steady roll, which was much easier on the body, allowing me to get used to an even roll in the ocean swell.
Finally we entered Trincomalee harbour, which is a beautiful natural circular harbor on the northeast side of the country. We moored to a buoy and began to load chests of tea from barges, using our own derricks.


We loaded tea in Trincomalee for five days before sailing too Madras.  I stayed on board this time because I was not going to be accused of not being aware of our sailing time.

Our next leg took us from Madras to Aden, which is across the harbour from Little Aden, which is the oil refinery that I visited several times during my tanker days, which was my first ship.
At least this time we could walk into the town at Aden.

Crater City Aden

Aden is located at the southern end of the Red Sea and is part of the Arabian Peninsular. It has been a very important trading port and strategic point for hundreds of years.
It was captured by the British in 1839 to stop pirates attacking shipping in the area and to protect the route to India.
Crater city’s name is due to the town being built inside a dormant volcano.

At that time there was an independence movement that began with a grenade killing one person in December 1963.
The British had promised independence, but in the meantime British troops were sent in to keep the peace. It was never a holiday destination for me.

The white passenger vessel is the P & O Arcadia anchored off Aden in 1964.

From Aden we made our way to Port Tawfiq at the southern end of the Suez Canal – you can see the town and canal below. We were waiting for a north bound convey to join, to transit the canal.

The above picture is part of the land curve in the aerial picture shown below. 

The bottom of the above picture is the Red Sea, and the curve is the beginning of the Suez Canal.
During the voyage from Aden to the Port Tawfiq the dogs went off their food. I wasn’t surprised, because if I’d been given stir-fried or stewed vegetables for as long as they had, I’d have gone off my food.
So to encourage them to eat we gave them a curried meat dish. They both gobbled this down and then started to howl and run around the deck. Obviously, the curry was too strong. The howling stopped as they started to drink and drink and drink.
We had our comeuppance later as the dogs lost control of their bowels, and we had the unpleasant duty of clearing up the mess. Fortunately, we were able to apply high-pressure fire hoses to the area, and blast it clean with salt water.

After transiting the canal at night, we anchored off Port Said. Worked cargo for a few hours in to dhows, and then set course for Marseilles in southern France.

While in Marseilles we were allowed ashore. An interesting town steeped in history. It is France’s oldest city, having been founded by the Greeks over two thousand years ago.

It was a short taxi ride from the berth to the old port, and we were soon walking the old, cobbled streets and drinking in the sites of the area that the ancient Greeks would have known. It wasn’t long before we’d forgotten that we were only visiting for a short time. The aroma of food wafting from the pavement cafes, mixed with the smell of Gauloises cigarettes is a lasting memory of Marseille.

I even went as far as to buy a packet of Gauloises cigarettes as a change from the British & American cigarettes that I smoked at that time. In 1964 Gauloises hadn’t yet reached the stage of adding a filter to each cigarette, so it wasn’t long before I was coughing myself to death with a burned throat. I keenly shared the Gauloises with the other cadets to reduce the number I had to smoke. The thought of throwing them away never occurred to me. My upbringing, that I was never to waste anything, wouldn’t allow me to throw them away.

The following day we sailed from Marseilles for Gibraltar.

Six square kilometers of rock, captured by the British in 1704 and under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 The Rock was ceded to Britain.
This treaty was renewed in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris, and later 1783 by the Treaty of Versailles.
Gibraltar has been a bone of contention for the Spanish’s for long time so in 1968 the British Government held a referendum whether the people in Gibraltar would like to remain ‘British’ or become Spanish. 12,762 voters voted to stay British and 44 voted to become Spanish. A second referendum was held in 2002 with similar results.

The Straits of Gibraltar are only about 13 km (8 miles) wide from Africa to Europe and were known in the ancient world, as the Pillars of Hercules.

Once through the Straits and clear of the southern part of Portugal, we headed north.

It was during this phase of the voyage that one of the dogs gave birth to several pups. The nuns knew that the dog was pregnant and had hoped that it would not give birth until after it had arrived in the UK.
After the pups had been born (about six in total, I think) it was explained to the nuns about the cost of six months in quarantine for each pup. They were devastated, because they only had enough money for the two adult dogs.

One morning, in the Bay of Biscay, when my colleague and I arrived to feed the dogs, only one pup could be seen. We never did find out what happened to the other pups.

Fortunately, the Bay of Biscay was calm so we made good time to the English Channel, and finally to the mouth of the Thames, where we picked up the Pilot for the last part of the voyage up the river Thames to the Royal Albert Dock in London.

Ben Brooksbank / Royal Albert Dock,

The above is the Royal Albert Docks and the white passenger ship on the right is either Uganda or Kenya – both were Company ships on the London East Africa run.

Three days later I signed off Chakdara and went home on leave. I had been away for just over fourteen months and was given eight weeks leave.

I managed to fill all eight weeks without becoming bored.

Suez Canal Transit


We entered the Suez Canal at first light, and with camera in hand I started photographing our transit.
The canal had been built by Ferdinand de Lesseps between 1859 and 1869, and was opened in 1869.

The Egyptian / French plan for the opening was to allow the Imperial Yacht L’Aigle, with the French Empress, Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III,

Eugénieas guest of honour on board, to be the first vessel to transit the canal.

Imperial Yacht L’Aigle

The second vessel was to be the P & O liner Delta, which was full of society people and passengers from Great Britain.
Unfortunately for the French & the Egyptians a British Royal Navy vessel HMS Newport,

300px-S_S_Yacht_BlencathraThe picture shows her later in her life.

captained by George Nares, was the first vessel to transit the canal. Captain Nares on the night before the canal was to open, navigated his ship in the dark, and without lights,  through the various anchored vessels waiting to enter the canal at daylight, and positioned his vessel in front of the French Imperial Yacht in such a way that HMS Newport could not be passed.


 Admiral Sir George Nares, 1831 – 1915

When dawn broke the French and Egyptians were quite ‘upset’ (to say the least) at the position of the Royal Navy vessel..
Captain Nares was reprimanded by London, but unofficially congratulated by the Admiralty. He rose to the rank of Vice Admiral later in life.

In 1875 the Khedive of Egypt (ruler of Egypt as Viceroy, under the Sultan of Turkey) offered nearly half the shares in the canal for sale.
The PM of Great Britain, Benjamin Disraeli, bought them for Great Britain against the advice of his senior ministers, but with the support of Queen Victoria, because he wanted to control access to India and the Empire East of Suez.
The cost at the time was £4 million, and the canal remained under British control until Nasser nationalised it in 1956, although there was a lease on the canal, given to Ferdinand de Lesseps, for 99 years, which would end in 1968.

The view from the Wake Bar from the Majestic Princess’ stern area was of green and pleasant land on the starboard Egyptian side, but on the other side, a desert that has been fought over for generations, from Lawrence of Arabia in WW1, to the Israelis in recent years.

The Majestic Princess being a passenger ship on her ‘maiden’ voyage to China, was given the lead position in the southbound convoy. You can just see the next ship, which is a black dot well astern of us. The tug just astern of us followed in our wake all the way through the canal – I presume ‘just in case ‘ anything went wrong.


It was far more pleasant to be a passenger, when transiting the Suez Canal this time, than a deck officer on the bridge of a cargo ship, which I was in the mid 1960’s. The guy in the red shirt is Will, our New Zealand friend who was on the Conway with me from 1960 to ’62. Will has memories of being blockaded in the canal during the Six Day War in 1967.

The Mubarak Peace bridge across the troubled waters of the canal. The bridge was built with the help of the Japanese government and opened in 2001. The height of the two main pylons support the span at 154 mtrs (505 feet) above the water allowing for a clearance under the bridge of 70 mtrs, so the largest any vessel can be is 68 mtrs above the water level.



Some very nice-looking homes on the starboard side of the canal as we approached the town of Ismailia.



 Car ferry waiting for us to pass – plenty of horns sounding and much waving of arms from those on land as well as the passengers onboard.

Shortly after we entered Timsah Lake, which appeared to be a holiday area.

DSC08753rBeach front of the Mecure Hotel

DSC08752rI saw the above blue building in the distance, but have not be able to find out what it is . . .

DSC08757rOn our port side a striking difference to the holiday feel of Timsah Lake.

The original canal was 164 km long, and over time with various expansions became 193 km long, and its depth grew from 8 meters to 24 meters. Even with these expansions it was realised that a second canal or further expansion would be required. Under the old system ships would anchor in the Bitter Lakes and wait until the opposite convoy had passed before continuing their transit. In certain areas of the canal, when I used to sail between Asia & Europe in the 60’s, we used to tie up alongside the canal bank in wider areas of the canal, to allow the opposite convoy, north or south bound, to pass.
The new part of the canal, which is 35 kms long, took just a year to build, see the right hand picture



The occasional cut over, but I should think for only small craft.


Warship passing from the Bitter Lakes to the Mediterranean via the new expansion – she didn’t fly a flag of nationality that I could see, so I presume she was Egyptian, with the canal being Egyptian water.


Ships that pass in the day, as we entered the Bitter Lakes – the container ship is sailing north in the ‘new’ canal.


The Bitter Lakes – there are two linked to the canal, the Great Bitter Lake and the Small Bitter Lake. Before the canal was opened in 1869 there used to be a dry salt valley, which after the canal was opened became the Bitter lakes – the valley flooded. The ‘lake’ is used as a passing area for the north & south bound convoys. When I was at sea we would anchor in the lakes while waiting for our convoy to be ready to resume the transit.

This time Majestic Princess just steamed very slowly passed the various waiting ships.

The water flows freely between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean and many Red Sea creatures have migrated to the Mediterranean and colonised their new home. North of the Bitter Lakes the water flows with the seasons – it flows northwards in winter and southwards in the summer months. South of the Bitter Lakes the water is tidal and influenced by the tidal flow of the Red Sea. Due to the salt in the original valley, the salinity of the Bitter Lakes is very high, about twice as high as normal sea water.

DSC08773rDuring the Six Day War in 1967 the canal was closed and fifteen ships were locked in the Bitter Lakes. They became known as the Yellow Fleet because of the sand blown from the desert that covered their decks in yellow sand. The crews cooperated with each other and created their own post office and stamp. The Yellow Fleet stamps have become a collector’s item. The canal didn’t reopen until 1975.

Our friend from NZ, Will, spent some time in a Blue Star ship, Scottish Star, marooned in the Bitter Lakes.


I was looking for an example of the stamps used by the Yellow Fleet and came across this envelope, which is addressed to a home in Birkenhead (UK). The address is quite close to where I used to live in Tranmere.

At 144,212 gross tonnes the Majestic Princess was not the largest passenger ship to transit the canal – this honour is held by Quantum of the Seas at 167,800 gross tonnes when she transited the canal in 2015.


Heading northwards . . . . .fully loaded.

DSC08783rMore and more sand on the port side . . . .


Trucks waiting for the ferry to cross the canal . . . I think the ferry only accepted two at a time.

DSC08793rThe queue for the ferry went for quite a long way.


The southern end of the canal is quite near – Port Tewfik – which used to be spelt Taufiq in the 60’s.

Port Tewfik at the Southern end of the canal as we passed the final point and entered the Red Sea.


The pilot has left us – full ahead in to the Red Sea.

F & B

Food & Beverage always helps to make a holiday.

Dining in the Symphony Dining room – breakfast, lunch or dinner. Maureen and I started having our breakfast in the restaurant, but ended up on deck sixteen at World Fresh Marketplace – the choice was larger, but each evening we had our dinner in the Symphony restaurant.

Breakfast in the World Fresh Marketplace, which was very good with a huge choice of food from around the world. On one side, we had a darker décor (see above pic) and on the other side of the ship we had a lighter décor. (see pic below)

The darker area concentrated on hot dishes – roasts, curries, Chinese spicy dishes, and the lighter area on ‘cool’ dishes – salads, puddings, cakes etc. It was a joy to wander around and check all the dishes, which for me made choosing what to eat, without overeating, the decision of the day.


A colourful spread of puddings, jellies and sweets, some sugar free, others gluten free, they did their best to satisfy as many people as possible.


A wide choice of food from around the world – hot or cold.



Smoked salmon for breakfast or lunch . . . just help yourself.


I had read comments on the lack of bars for such a large vessel, and the difference in the western and Chinese culture of visiting bars. As soon as we had settled in we investigated which bar was going to be our favourite. The above picture shows Bellini’s, which concentrates on Champagne.


Or was it the Fountain Pool Bar, near the pool area.


Seaview Bar near the pool was popular, particularly on hot days.

Sitting at the bar we could watch the passing desert as we moved gently along the Suez Canal.

For those who are TT, a fruit and veg bar- drinks produced by blending / crushing various fruits & vegetables.
But, for us The Piazza Bar replaced the Crooner’s Bar on other ships.

Maureen & our friends at the Piazza Bar for a pre-dinner drink.


Same bar area of the Piazza bar

This bar was close to the main ‘entertaining’ area of the dance floor, which was also used as a centre of offbeat entertaining.


Specialty acts


Jazz band

The female acrobat returned a few nights later with a double wheel.


Plus of course we could dance or in my case crush Maureen’s feet.

Another popular bar was the Wake Bar


This was a favourite place for many to have their breakfast – the World Fresh Market was just for’d of the Wake Bar, and the day could start with a Bloody Mary and fried eggs if this was to your liking.
There was a ‘day starter’ menu available at the bar if you wished for a breakfast cocktail. This menu changed to lunchtime cocktail menus around 11.00 am.

Additional bars were Crown Grill (part of a small restaurant) –


and there was a bar inside the casino, which we didn’t use.



I bet (excuse the pun) the casino will be popular with the Chinese during the Majestic Princess’ year long China contract.


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