Monthly Archives: October 2019

The Copra Run


It doesn’t seem so long ago,
Joining sometimes in the snow,
But what a life on the Copra run,
Cruising round the Pacific sun!

First, a visit to Gulf Ports,
The hectic loading of all sorts,
Sailing down to the Antipodes
Then island hopping in Southern Seas.

There were those times, – a precious thing,
When island folk began to sing,
The natural lazy way of life,
Free from worry, free from strife.

It was a gift, we never thought,
Just a job that we had sought,
But looking back it was something special
Joining on that Copra vessel.



This is a true story about a boy’s good spirited journey through life, and the slow transition from being  a naive, innocent, and wild eyed kid in the London blitz, to a somewhat reflective and philosophical old  man residing happily deep in Cornwall.  It is a path that all men tread more or less, but having the good fortune to follow a seafaring career, topped up later with a  world wide shipping career,  makes this a varied and somewhat gifted life.       The time spent at sea, and in the Bank Line in particular,  had a deep and lasting effect, and why wouldn’t it?     It was far more than a set of job descriptions.     Meeting so many nationalities at all levels, from the Pacific islanders to the urchins of Asia and Africa , and grappling with ever changing demands at sea and in port made for a rich education.  The only thing that never waned throughout all the years was a love of the world and its people, and a breathless admiration for the sheer beauty of our surroundings, coupled with boundless enthusiasm and optimism. 


Chesham was near the American air base at Bovingdon, and the high street always had many smart uniformed Americans. My memories of the airmen and the activity are still vivid.     In the town, the flyers couldn’t have been more generous to us scruffy lads.    They parted with gum and money, which we asked for shamelessly.    ” Got any gum, chum ? ” were  the magic words that did the trick, and I can still hear it ringing in my ears.     It never failed to work.  In later life, I read all the books on the air war I could find, fascinated by the horror and torment of the daily battle.  It gave me a slight appreciation of what those young smartly dressed American boys were going through mentally, and I could imagine what their thoughts might be as we youngsters held out our hands.  They sacrificed so much more than mere gum.       A major attraction at this time, was the display of crashed German planes In the park.  The  centre of the bandstand was used for  wrecked German planes placed on display, and linked to the ever present need for money for the war effort.  This area, with it’s swings and the lake was our playground, and I was attending the church school that lay next to the church bordering the park.   Suddenly, it was the town focus, with war bond drives, and displays of all sorts, all designed to stimulate the flow of cash.  There were endless campaigns, characterised by a huge wood and cardboard  thermometer in gaudy colours placed near the planes.  This colourful creation had a moveable column of pretend Mercury which was raised in line with the daily contributions.   Buckets were distributed around for the money, which people gave to generously.      A target was set at the top of the display, and there seemed to be yet another giant wood and cardboard  thermometer towering over us in the park, when the previous target had been met.      The downed planes were beyond fascination for young boys!      We were allowed to sit in the often battered cockpits, and the smells and sights of the instruments, together with the weird and wonderful array of knobs and levers made this an unforgettable moment.    It was heaven for lads of the right age, like me.   We fought to climb into the magic pilot’s seat.   Best of all for me was the seat in the Perspex bubble, either at the nose or on top of some of the exhibits.  There were fighters and bombers, and we eagerly awaited the next arrival, which came on the back of a trailer towed through the town centre.    At that age, there was never a thought for the poor soul who may have lived and died at the controls.      

I think the most emotive part of this experience was seeing the swastikas plastered all over the wings and fuselage.      


This old Bank Line favourite started life as the CHRONOS for Howard Smith of Melbourne, Australia in 1915. Became the CABARITA in 1929 and purchased by the Bank Line. Served right through WW2 to 1952 (32 years) before spending her last 10 years with Pakistan owners as MAULABAKSH. – after 42 years afloat went to the scrapyard in Karachi.

FORAFRIC one of 3 ‘ AFRIC ‘ suffixes, the others being SOLAFRIC and DUNAFRIC – all a departure from the normal ERIC endings..

The three vessels mentioned above were built for the EAST ASIATIC COMPANY in 1909, and changed hands a few times before the Weir purchase in 1927. FORAFRIC was owned by a HK company from 1935 and was bombed and sunk in the Philippines in 1941.


This ship had quite a career. Originally the NARA in 1977 owned by Chargeurs Reunis S.A. on their S African service. Chartered by the Bank Line as MARABANK 86 to 87. Was the Greek CHRISTINE 1 until 1989 when she became the RICKMERS NANJING on charter to Deutsche Afrika Linie. In 1990 purchased by an Andrew Weir subsidiary as OLIVEBANK under the flag of Panama. In 1993 fitted out for 10 passengers. In 1999 went under the British flag to breakers for just over $1.0million.



Within a few weeks, I was told that I would be acting third mate.   Shock, horror!     There was I still working out my ass from my elbow at 16, and I was catapulted up to the bridge deck to keep the 8 to 12 watch.   In the event of course, all went reasonably well, especially as there were sympathetic fellow officers to lend a helping hand.  The second mate at that time was a rare bird, who managed the Herculean task of sitting his tickets effortlessly without recourse to school.  He was later to rise up to become the company superintendent for South African ports.      To set the mood of life in 1952, there is nothing better than the pop tunes of the day, and I recall that Johny  Ray was all the rage, singing about ‘ Just crying in the rain ‘ and ‘ The little white cloud that cried’.        Other hits were Jim Reeves with ‘ I love you because’ and Guy Mitchell with his ‘ Red Feathers’ !     

Life on board the Inchanga for me fell into a pattern. The stint as third mate lasted only briefly, when I reverted thankfully back to apprentice duties.     However, on the bridge watch there was one memorable night sailing through the Maldives Islands at night which is burned in my memory.  Down below a party was in full swing, and I could hear the muted music and laughter from the saloon.     The Captain had a reputation as a lady’s man so it all fitted.    On the bridge we were swooshing silently through the tropical night, phosphorescence in the bow wave, and a balmy breeze out on the bridge wing.    At this time, the Inchanga had yet to be fitted with radar, so we were sailing blind through a quite narrow passage and relying on the last star sight  position, which meant that I was hanging over the bridge wing straining my eyes to see any sign of the islands or surrounding reefs.  I was apprehensive in the extreme.          Events in the Bank Line fleet over the next few years more than justified my terror, as it happened.    There seemed to be a fatal attraction to the many islands we visited, lit and unlit, with consequential casualties. 

Back as apprentice, a twice daily routine was the unlocking………….

This book is available to purchase on AMAZON or from this site by following the ‘books’ link on the first page.

FIRBANK – the lead ship of 21 ordered from William Doxford in Sunderland in 1957. The last ship, the SPRUCEBANK, was delivered in 1964.

Sailed the Oceans for 24 years. 1957 to 1973 for Bank Line, then as AEGIS BEAUTY under the Greek flag for 5 years. Her final 3 years were under the flag of the Maldives as MALDIVE SEAFARER. ( A nice touch given the Bank Line’s familiarity with the Islands.)

INVERDARGLE – Great photo of the loaded tanker – one of 6 built at Bremer Vulkan Schiffs, Vegesack 1938. 480 ft long. All six were WW2 casualties….

History: This beautiful vessel with a full cargo of aviation spirit from Trinidad and heading for Avonmouth hit a mine almost at her destination when off of the North Devon coast, and blew up and sank, killing 49 persons. It was only a few months into WW2 but the Bristol channel had already been mined. ( see below an extract from wrecksite).

The British motor tanker Inverdargle struck a mine laid by the U-33 on November 9, 1939 in the Bristol Channel, southwest England. All of the ship’s complement of 49 died. The 9,456 ton Inverdargle was carrying aviation fuel and was bound for Avonmouth, England.