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.

tea-chest

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.

Don’t eat the plate . . .

chakdara-07

I’d been out East for just over a year and the Company decided that I should start making my way home.

Chanda

I signed off the Chanda (black & white picture above) and made my way to a hotel in Karachi  called the Beach Luxury Hotel.beach

This hotel was much better than the Bristol Hotel in Kuwait; at least I could buy a beer. It also held floor shows in the evening. I’d never seen a real floor show in a hotel or restaurant, except via the cinema, courtesy of Hollywood. The nightly show guaranteed at least one person in the audience.

I was to await my next ship the Chakdara, (top coloured photograph), which was a ‘home-line’ vessel i.e she was based in London rather than Bombay or Singapore, and did the UK to India run. I waited eighteen days in Karachi before signing on Chakdara.

The two things that I do remember about Karachi in 1964 was a three-legged jackal in the Karachi zoo, and visiting a horse racing meet and watching a horse called Solomon Star, and in brackets (formally Woodland Star). Never having been very good at gambling I thought the last horse to bet on would be an animal linked to me – so I didn’t bet on Solomon Star, but of course it romped home, thus confirming my lack of skill at gambling.

Fortunately I didn’t receive the same welcome that Paul McCartney received a week or so before my arrival. He’d been mobbed at Karachi Airport and police had to protect him from screaming girls. The Beatles were on the way to Hong Kong for a concert as part of their world tour. I think their transit stop at Karachi airport was supposed to be a secret . . . .

np

I joined the Chakdara for the voyage back to the UK. She was more modern than my two previous ships, having been built in 1951. She had a very different ‘feel’ to her because she was a ‘home line’ ship, and she carried twelve passengers. She would receive visits from Head Office, whereas the Eastern line vessels never came in contact with HO, and so the onboard atmosphere was a little more relaxed on Eastern line vessels..

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).

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.
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 in to 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 didn’t 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 the Chakdara. While the boatman rowed, my friend and I stood in the stern shouting and waving like demented fools, 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.

chakdara-jacob

The picture shows Chakdara with the 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.

On nearing the top of the ladder the sound of the engines could be heard as half ahead was rung on the telegraph. 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.

Next port was Calcutta.

ccu

It was not a long voyage from Madras to Calcutta, but the river transit of the Hooghly was interesting due to the constant changing of the sandbanks. The distance from the sea to the docks is about 126 miles (203 km). We anchored at night and completed the river journey the following day.

riverfront-of-calcutta-in-1960sTwo BI ships working cargo from barges.

Once along side we began to work cargo. The problem was the monsoon season. We had to contend with heavy rain that stopped after about an hour allowing work to resume, and then perhaps half an hour later the rain would start again. We had a system of tarpaulin tents attached to the ship’s derricks and as soon as the rain started the tent was hauled up to cover each of the hatches to protect the cargo. Our time in Calcutta should have been for a few days, but turned in to more like a fortnight, all due to the monsoons. Even visiting Calcutta itself was no longer a pleasure, due to flooding and heavy rain.

oldcal22

Street flooded in Calcutta 1964

Due to our inability to keep dry, when out and about, we entertained ourselves onboard, and of course the entertainment revolved around beer. Each evening around 10.00 pm one of the cadets would go ashore and buy curried suppers for those involved in the entertainment. We used to toss a coin for the first and second nights and after that took it in turns.
I lost the toss on the first night and trudged ashore to the local street stall just outside the dock gates. The food, various curries and rice, was packed in banana leaves, and tied with strong cotton. I hurried back with my load and handed the parcels around, and sat to enjoy my own with another cold beer. Unthinkingly I used the banana leaf as a vegetable. I thought the leaf was edible, forgetting that it was in place of a newspaper wrapping that we used in the UK for fish and chips. Fortunately I didn’t finish too much of the leaf, just enough for me to realise my mistake, but enough to keep me ‘regular’ for the next two days. Of course the others noticed me eating the leaf, but didn’t say anything – friendship?

ccu-ship

During the day it was the cadets’ duty to keep an eye on the loading, and that the cargo was being loaded correctly, and in the right order for discharge. This was well before containerisation.
As you see in the photograph it was all manhandled and loaded via the ship’s derricks. One time I remonstrated with the dockside supervisors about the stacking of the cargo on to the pallet, before the pallet was lifted from the ground to be deposited in the hold.
With indignation the supervisor raised himself to his full height, he came up to my shoulder, and stared in to my eyes, while saying with great dignity in his sing song Indian accent, ‘you think I know damn nothing, when in fact I know damn all!’
I nodded as if in agreement, turned and made my way to the officer’s accommodation where I could no longer hold in the laughter.

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

Three nuns joined us on their way home for retirement after they’d 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 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 the 4th August before we eventually sailed out of the Hooghly River in to 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’d thank the gun giver. Seasickness is the most horrible feeling I’ve have ever experienced, because you can not 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 natural beautiful circular harbor on the north east side of the country. We moored to a buoy and began to load chests of tea from barges, using our own derricks.

tea-chestThe loading was very labour intensive – loading a few chests of tea in to a cargo net, which would be brought on board and lowered in to the hold. A different labour gang would unload the net and then stack the tea chests in the appropriate area of the hold. In the meantime the empty cargo net is sent back for another load. This process started in the cool of the morning until lunchtime. After a lunch break the loading carried on until late afternoon. At night we would rig the cargo tents over the holds just in case of rain.
We were quite happy at the slow loading because it allowed us time to use the lifeboat to go ashore for picnics and a BBQ, along with some of the passengers. The lifeboat was powerful enough for me to be taught to ‘water ski’. I used a cargo pallet from the ship; a long rope from the lifeboat and my friends dragged me around the harbour behind the lifeboat.

010r

I must admit it was great fun, and it didn’t take me long to find my balance riding the hatch board, and to bounce over the lifeboat’s wake. The next time I tried water skiing would be in Victoria, Australia, twenty years later, so this small introduction at Trincomalee came in handy.

trincomalee-beachA small part of the beautiful beaches at Trinco where we had a BBQ.

Our next port was Madras – again, but this time I didn’t go ashore.

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