Monthly Archives: January 2020

A 1924 dismasting…. a fairly common occurance during the sailing ship era.

The Dismasting of the sailing vessel ‘Falkirk’

The Falkirk was a beautiful steel 3 masted barque of 1,863 tons, built at Port Glasgow by W.Hamilton and Co in 1896.  and owned by J.Stewart & Co, London.     Length was 81.7m and breadth 12.2m.   She traded all over the world, and for her early life, all went well.    However, in 1919 the Mate was washed overboard and lost 40 miles N.W. of Ushant.    This was reported in the Liverpool papers where he lived.   At the time, the ship was homeward bound  from Buenos Aires. Captain George Bloom, the man lost, had only shipped as Mate due to a shortage of a suitable Master’s position.  The Armistice of WW1 had seen many ships disappear, which left  a temporary oversupply of Masters and Mates,  so many seasoned Captains were forced to sail in a lower capacity to make a living.  

During the Falkirk’s long career,  her log books recorded voyages to New York after departing from Cork in Ireland. Then on to Sydney and Queenstown for orders.   Then she sailed for Nantes. 

In 1909 she was recorded sailing from Tacoma in Washington State to Antwerp.   Then a voyage from Cardiff to Bahia Blanca in Argentina, and on to Wallaroo in Australia.   A voyage to Callao and Tocopilla followed by Durban, Fremantle, and then Cape Town, before heading again to Queenstown for orders.    She was a true globe trotter, but fate eventually caught up with the Falkirk in 1924.   She ran into serious trouble in the Bay of Biscay, some 28 years after she was launched. 

The Master’s account to Lloyds List in Falmouth states that the ‘Falkirk‘ left Bordeaux for New York in January 1924, and in ballast.  She was to load case oil.  The very next night she ran into heavy weather which lasted for a full week. On the Friday night the wind blew with hurricane force, and veered SW the following day, resulting in a tremendous cross sea.    He turned into the wind which was from the north west, and this meant the sea was was now an awkward cross sea. At 8.20pm the ship was hit by huge waves of 20ft  which flooded the decks. Storm conditions gave hail and lightning, and shortly afterwards the foremast came down with all the rigging and all the attachments.   Twenty minutes later, the mainmast and topmast also went overside with the big yards still attached and banging on the hull.  The storm continued with the rigging suspended overside and crashing against the ships sides.  It was eventually cut free and cleared from the ship.    The mizzen mast was still in place, but the topmast swayed continuously for 48 hours before it too fell with a tremendous crash.   It remained hanging by the rigging until partially cut away when it unfortunately carried away the rigging to the lower mast.   Just afterwards, the spanker boom fell on the charthouse, missing the second mate who had been there minutes before.   The bulwarks were damaged by all the falling masts and yards.   The Master added that it was wonderful that several of the crew had not been killed by the falling masts and rigging. It was a curious fact that the galley, binnacle, and two lifeboats were also spared.    Three members of the crew needed medical attention, however.   The steamer Somerset had stood by on Monday and did everything possible to render assistance. 

On the 25th of June 1924, after the dismasting, she was towed to Falmouth by the tug Roode Zee with only her lower mizzen mast standing , and very soon after the  tug Vanquisher took her round to Appledore in North Devon for scrapping. She was declared a total loss, and as a footnote, the figurehead  ended up many years later in the garden of the Rock Ferry Hotel, Birkenhead! 

TAYBANK – a grounding in 1972…..

Around the Cape of Good Hope and up the Madagascar strait, and all was going well. Day after day, we cadets chipped anything that took the Mates fancy! It was a Friday evening, and we were closing on the Seychelles. The Mate had us in his cabin for mock Orals questions. Just after ten, we got together in the senior cadets cabin to crack a few cans from our beer ration. At about 1030 we hit Wizard reef. The ship shuddered and ground to a halt, from full sea speed. We shot out onto the boat deck and as the overside lights came on we were hit with the strange sensation of the ship, stopped in the water, with the engines still banging away at full ahead. Eventually the engines were stopped.

The crew headed for the boat deck, with as much gear as they could carry. We were sent to sound round. 

The result was, we were hard aground, but with no signs of water ingress. We subsequently got off the reef at around dawn, with much scraping and grinding, but under our own steam. However it soon became apparent that some of the shaft bearings had been displaced as a result of the grounding. This was an obvious cause for concern. After closer inspection, and l imagine, much discussion, we proceeded to Mahe on reduced revs. I think we spent a couple of weeks at the Mahe anchorage, where we had divers down to inspect the hull plating and a number of classification surveyors inspections. As l understood it there was considerable damage to the hull plating, particularly in way of the shaft tunnel. Hence the issue with the bearings. Eventually we were allowed to proceed, at reduced revs, on our discharge programme, to a number of Red Sea ports and then to Singapore for dry dock, for the necessary repairs. Unfortunately l had to fly home from Jeddah, for personal reasons, and did not get to see the extent of the damage.

Wizard Reef is within the Farquhar group of Islands, some 600m SW of Mahe. As I understand the situation, we were heading NE’ly, about 650miles from our destination, and should have passed well clear of any danger. However, it seems that we were further to the west than thought, and hence the accident. This is the region of the south equatorial current and the equatorial counter current and this may have been a contributory factor.

Re the radar, this was the days of Raymarc’s and Marconi Mark IV’s, which were not renowned for their reliability. I am aware that some Master’s did like to limit their use, in the hope that they would work when they were most needed. However I am unable to confirm that this was the case on the Taybank.

Four men in a boat story – chapter 12

12 CHAPTER TWELVE (Malaria and mayhem)

It was to be his last voyage to West Africa, though he didn’t know it, however it was no less memorable.  Two things stood out and would forever leave a lasting impression on his mind.

He loved the short trips and the way the shore people took care of the ships and crews

He loved the ships themselves that were without exception, modern and well founded.  The food was excellent and the accommodation, including the luxurious bars, was a welcome and convenient place to relax.

He also discovered an affinity with the white crews, who he found to be very experienced even if they sometimes lived up to their reputation of the proverbial ‘drunken sailor’.

There was however, one thing that he did not welcome and that was the African destinations and especially being confined to the North West Coast. 

 He could not stand the insects particularly the mosquitos.  Nor the oppressive climate that was invariably hot and very humid.

He did not mind the intensive working schedules of loading and unloading cargoes and felt it served to swiftly pass the time, enabling him to quickly return to his home port and his fiancée.

They were about two hundred miles off of Gibraltar when they received confirmation of their schedule.  The Captain was extremely pleased as they were instructed to load coffee and ground nuts for discharge in Italy, the ports to be confirmed.

The Captain was Spanish and saw their diversion into the Mediterranean as an opportunity to catch up with his family.  The ship was the largest in the fleet and due for a refit in Germany so the company had arranged for the remainder of its cargo to be off loaded on the continent and to finish up in Hamburg where the crew, was to be repatriated.  A skeleton crew and most of the deck Officers would follow after the last of the cargo was discharged.

Only part bunkers were taken aboard in Las Palmas as the draught had to be restricted for entry over the bars that exist in many of the African river entrances, a factor that was an additional complication when loading was considered. 

 The Captain found that the price of fuel was very competitive and arranged for a full top up upon their return in advance of their passage through the Mediterranean.

The next few weeks passed like a whirlwind, unloading at nineteen ports along the West African Coast and visiting seven Countries including the Senegal, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Douala, the Cameroons, and Portuguese Angola.

 Their southernmost port of call was Lobito in Angola where they were due take on the coffee.

Although further cargo was picked up on the return from Angola, the main loading was to commence at a place on the Congo high up river towards Kinshasa and about five hours from Matadi.  Due to depth restrictions, places higher up the river were loaded first with Matadi being left until last.  It was fortuitous that the facilities at Matadi were more developed and capable of handling a greater volume of cargo than other navigable places on the River Congo.  It was also much nearer the estuary.

Progress into the river Congo is impeded by it’s swiftly ebbing current and constantly changing sandbanks.

  Once clear of the estuary the river considerably narrows with dense jungle on each side.  Sometimes, a very sharp turn is encountered and being his first time on the Congo, the Third Officer was amazed when the Captain, on the Pilots advice, caused the ship’s bow to use the jungle canopy to assist in turning.  Often when this happened all kinds of birds and monkeys would screech their protests at being disturbed


The navigable channels were unlit so it was the practice to anchor at dusk, as the darkness would arrive very suddenly.

When near a township, the ship would often be visited by several wooden dugouts with their occupants selling all manner of souvenirs made mainly from woodcarvings.

Scantily dressed girls shouted ‘Dash for cash’ and when the Third mate asked an old hand what it meant the man said,


It seemed a common event for both the sailors and the girls and when one of the crew threw a coin into the dugout the smiling African bared her bosom.  It seemed that the more money the more was revealed and to the unavoidably celibate seamen, it proved a popular pastime.

  As time passed and less money was forthcoming, the more adventurous the girls became.  Sometimes the crew would wrap a coin in silver foil and deliberately miss the boat.  In unison the girls dived into the rapid current and came up down river spluttering and gasping.  Then they held the exposed coin aloft and shouted ‘B….rd.’

The remaining occupants of the dugout would expertly retrieve the swimmers and paddle back to the ship where it would all begin again until it was too dark to continue.

They had been in the Congo for three days and were loading timber at the furthest point upstream from Matadi.  The ship was anchored in a wide delta that the bosun described as being,

 ‘In the middle of nowhere.’ 

 Nothing apart from jungle could be seen.  Barges came with timber each day and it was loaded using the ships own derricks and gear.

On second day the Third Officer felt very peculiar.  He was very cold and felt sick and dizzy.  He was ordered to remain in his bunk but as it turned out he needed little encouragement.

The senior Officers discussed how anyone could feel cold when the outside temperature rarely went below thirty degrees centigrade and decided to take his temperature.  It was one hundred and three degrees Fahrenheit.

Not trusting the local facilities the Captain ordered ‘Sparks’ to get on to Portished, the UK’s main marine radio station.  A doctor attended the call and said it was vital to get the temperature down to avoid permanent damage.

A very tricky situation existed.  They had no air conditioning and no ice making facilities.  Civilisation, as they knew it, was hundreds of miles away and there were no made up roads.

After consultation with one and other, the Officers decided to treat the high temperature in the only way they could think of.  In short, it was a methylated spirit bath.  In practice it was the bathing of the patient with cotton wool soaked in the spirit.  For the spirit to vaporize it needed to take the heat from its surroundings.  In this case it took heat from the body thus reducing the temperature.

The treatment lasted for twenty-four hours and gradually the temperature reduced to a touch less than one hundred degrees.  The Officers treating their colleague were extremely worried as his teeth chattered violently throughout, accompanied by profusive sweating and hallucinations.

The Doctor back in the UK said it was more than likely malaria and a course of quinine should be given.  Constant monitoring of the temperature was required.

The ship had completed loading its designated cargo around four in the afternoon on the third day but the Captain decided to delay their departure until first light the following morning.

When the Third Officer’s cabin door opened he felt sure he was hallucinating once again.  A native in bare feet entered.  He was dressed in some sort of grass skirt with a necklace of what looked like an assortment of bones.  An ivory spike pierced his nose.  He carried a small earthenware platter containing a steaming non-descript concoction that he offered to the bed ridden man in a deep wooden spoon.

The Officer assumed it had been arranged by one of the others and allowing it to cool, he reluctantly swallowed the foul looking brew.  Like most medicine, he thought it tasted awful. 

The sun reached above the treetops as the Captain went out onto the wing of the bridge.  It was only seven in the morning and the temperature was already over seventy degrees Fahrenheit.  He instructed the Chief Officer to stand by to weigh anchor.

Suddenly an apparition appeared before his eyes in the form of a witch doctor. 

“Money, money.  You give two pounds.”

“Get off my ship.”  Responded the Captain.

“Me give powerful ju ju, money two pounds,” said the old African.

The Spanish are not noted for their calm temperament and the Captain was no exception.

“This is the last time before I have you physically thrown off,” he said.

Unfortunately he had reverted to Spanish that was lost on the now very agitated doctor.

 The apprentices who had witnessed the incident from the wheelhouse thought that had he spoken in Belgium, the Skipper might have had a better chance of being understood.

“I curse you, very bad man,” said the native who decided that as he was getting nowhere, it was best to leave.

The Captain entered the wheelhouse and instructed the senior apprentice to put both engines on slow ahead.  It relieved the tension on the anchor chains caused by the current.

He casually peered over the bridge dodger and saw the doctor approaching two other people on the main deck.  They were huddled around an open fire that had been lit on a piece of galvanized sheeting.

He turned to the other apprentice, who was logging all spoken instructions and said,

“Don’t write this down.” 

Armed with an electric megaphone he shouted down to two able seamen who were battening hatches. 

‘Get them off.”  Pointing to the group by the fire.

“Gangway’s up Sir,” responded one of the sailors.

“Doesn’t matter.  Over the side.”

With no more encouragement needed, the group was unceremoniously thrown overboard, followed swiftly by their dugout and the corrugated sheeting together with the fire and the still sizzling, pots and pans.  They were last see floating on the current, baling out their boat as it rounded the bend in the river.

Miraculously, next morning the temperature was normal but his fellow Officers excused the Third Officer from his duties for a further two days when he was given a ‘clean bill of health.’  Apart from diminishing repeat bouts of malaria about every seven years, the only lasting detrimental effect he suffered was a total hatred of the smell of methylated spirits. 

They left the River Congo in high spirits (although not the smelly kind) and turned to starboard heading for the seaport of Takoradi on the west coast of Ghana where they were to load about two thousand five hundred tons of groundnuts.  It was a laborious process as the nuts were loaded in sacks of about twenty to a ton and up to two tons on each sling.  Gangs of stevedores in the ships holds would manually unload the slings and restack the sacks to allow ventilation during the voyage.

Not infrequently, the slings were torn open on the ships coaming when being winched aboard and the gangs would only unload the full bags and indicate the amount to the tallymen.  Torn bags were replaced but a substantial amount of loose nuts cascaded into the holds and disappeared down any gaps.

At first, as duty Officer on cargo watch, the Third Officer was quite concerned about the spillages and tackled the Chief Officer.

He was told.

“Don’t worry, we will sail with the correct number of sacks and any loose nuts aren’t tallied.  It won’t have any detrimental effect on the draft because by the time we re-bunker, the fuel we will have used will amount to a greater weight than the extra nuts.”

He accepted his superior Officers the explanation but he couldn’t help noticing a glint of mirth in the Chief Officer’s eyes and was to find out later, the reason for this humour

 The heavily loaded ship headed north towards Canary Islands and entered Las Palmas to fully bunker before continuing on the homeward bound part of the trip.  The almost mandatory ‘bum boat’ moored up alongside.  Soon the decks were teeming with souvenir sales people who could not only speak several languages but would accept almost any currency.

Most sailors having been ‘there before’ had a very good idea of what they wanted and what the bargains were.  Information they were only too pleased to pass on.

Madeira Wine, from the nearby Portuguese Islands, was one of the most sought after items but even more popular with family men and those with girl friends was the traditional Spanish dancing dolls.  They were more lifelike than doll like and were made with exquisite costumes that were heavily embroidered in colourful silk braid.  The males were dressed in boleros and tight silk pantaloons and the females displayed revealing flared skirts and carried wooden castanets.

The ‘bum boats’ disappeared as quickly as they had appeared and the fully loaded ship left the volcanic islands and headed on a northeasterly course bound for Italy. 

It wasn’t until the ship had passed Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean Sea that they were advised by the head office in London, of their actual destination in Italy.

The Radio Officer handed the Captain a message advising him that they were to discharge all of the groundnuts and coffee in Leghorn known in Italy as Livorno.

It was a beautiful sunny day when they arrived and everyone was looking forward to going ashore to soak up the ambience after being on the sweltering, humid coast of West Africa.  The lack of humidity coupled with the fresh warm breeze gave rise to balmy evenings with long drawn out sunsets.

 They had arrived on a Wednesday and it would take at least a week to discharge as the Italians were not to be hurried and true to their Latin temperament, would not work at weekends, freeing most of the crew for excursions ashore.

Florence was the nearest large city but the famous tower of ‘Pisa’ was much closer.

  The beaches were renowned for their golden sands and the sea was crystal clear and not only attracted swimmers from all over, but even tempted crewmembers that would otherwise be visiting the dockside bars.

The Captain seeded his authority to the Chief Officer and left to join his wife and daughter on a week’s leave.  He had arranged to meet his family in Northern Italy at a place called Sirmione on lake Guarda.

The coffee beans was first to unload and the Third Officer couldn’t believe his eyes when armed police turned up to provide security for the discharge.  Each sling was loaded into a windowless box van and transported to a locked and guarded strong room under the watchful eyes of the armed ‘Poliziotto’.  The manifests were checked and double-checked against the details of the off loaded goods.

In complete contrast the bags of groundnuts were discharged without undue attention onto wooden pallets that were forklifted into one of the adjacent warehouses.

To facilitate the ship’s overall balance, a complicated formula had been applied that would ensure economic loading and discharge together with maintaining the required stability.  As a consequence the holds containing the groundnuts were emptied but the adjacent tanks could be used to compensate, where necessary.

When the discharge of the ground nuts had been completed the number of sacks offloaded exactly matched the quantity taken aboard, yet a not insignificant amount of spillages remained.

The Third Officer knocked on the Chief Officers door and reported the fact to the stand-in Captain.

He was invited to sit down and accepted the proffered drink while the erstwhile Chief Officer chatted for a while about all manner of things.

Eventually he got round to explaining the situation.

“At six in the morning I’ve arranged for the holds to be cleaned which will of course require the removal of the sweepings.”

 He snapped the ring pull of another beer and passed it to his junior.

“The normal practice is to take the sweepings, including the spillages, away in a couple of barges.

“To do this, you will need to liaise with the bosun to provide derricks and a couple of winch drivers.  The shore boss man is called Pablo Corleone and he will give you an envelope for me but will not want a signature.”

He opened another can for himself and asked,

“Any questions?”

The Third Officer said there were,

“Are we still on duty or are we stood down Sir?”

His number one grinned and raised his beer and said that they had been off duty since he first opened the beer.

“In that case Roger, I should remind you that my watch starts at eight in the morning.” 

“As your Captain designate, it is my wish that you take care of this bit of business personally.  Although you will not be paid you will be more than compensated.”

Ignoring the last bit about pay and compensation, the Third Officer responded,

“ Fine by me, will this Pablo be expecting me?”

“Absolutely, if you pop along and make arrangements with the bosun, I’ll meet you in the bar in half an hour.  Don’t forget to tell him to warn the night watchman.  Also mention my name but nobody else needs to be concerned, Got it?” 

“Roger Roger,” the officer said, and finishing his beer in one long pull he rose and lifting his arm in a mock salute, he left the cabin. 

Pablo Corleone did not resemble his Mafia namesake in any way whatsoever, apart from his dark glasses.  He was balding, grossly overweight and slightly stooped, giving him a gorilla like posture.  He compensated for his lack of English by saying ‘yes’ to every question and smiling rather inanely most of the time.

  His method of communication was not uncommon amongst his fellow citizens, as he gestured with his hands and arms on an almost continuous basis.

The relatively simple operation was turned into quite a performance and conducted with endless gabbling by Senor Pablo to his fellow countrymen down in the holds and operating the barges.

Luckily, just before his duty watch was to commence at eight a.m. Pablo approached the Third Officer saying,

“Completare, completare”

He produced a thick brown envelope that had been sealed with sticky tape on the flap and also crossed over in both directions.  A lighted cigar hung rakishly from the Italian’s lips.

The duty Officer had a conflict of interests.  His first thought was to

remonstrate with the man for smoking but this didn’t sit well with someone about to hand him a package.

In the event he ignored his first instinct and took the package as he had agreed to do the night before. 

The Captain had returned from his break looking relaxed and tanned.  He was talking to the Chief Officer at breakfast who, in between mouthfuls, was up – dating him on events and progress during his absence.

 As the Third Officer entered the dining room both men looked up.  The Captain smiled in recognition and the Chief Officer briefly winked and said aloud,

“Hello Third, can you pop into my cabin after breakfast?  As you are duty Officer there are one or two things you’ll need to attend to particularly as the Captain wants to sail as soon as possible.  Pilot’s booked for two.  Let the bosun know.  I’ll square it with the Chief Steward, as we’ll need an early lunch I’ll get him to bring it forward half an hour.  That should do.”

Before reporting to the Chief Officer he advised both the bosun and the Chief Engineer of the arrangements and suggested the testing of the engines and the bridge instruments to take place at one thirty.

By the time he got to the Chief Officers cabin it was around ten o’clock and he was invited to take tea.

He passed over the package and not being familiar with the way of things in Italy in particular and many other places as well, he assumed the package contained receipts or stamped copies of ‘bills of lading’.

The Chief Officer tore open the envelope revealing a wad of Lire about an inch thick, of high denomination notes.

The duty Officer was totally astonished and at a loss for words.

“The bosun gets twenty per cent to share with his lot.  You and the second mate get fifteen per cent each.  The old man gets thirty per cent and I get twenty per cent.  Some of mine goes to the apprentices though they don’t where it comes from.”  The Chief Officer finished speaking and poured the tea.

“I don’t know what to say Roger!” the Third Officer said, sipping his tea.

“We don’t have much time so you can keep yours or leave it with ours for investment.” 

Taking a biscuit from the plate he continued,

“We buy Cameo’s and sell them in the UK and divide the proceeds.  Are you in.?”

The Third Officer said,  “Certainly!  Count me in.  I’ve got nothing to loose.” 

It turned out to be wishful thinking.

                            —                —              —

They sailed, as planned, straight after lunch dropping the pilot off at around three.  They were bound for home via Germany so certain euphoria prevailed throughout the ship.  Old quarrels were patched up and even Captain Imaz seemed much improved by his week’s break.  They had all enjoyed their stay in Italy and the weather had been superb with sunshine and clear blue skies every day.

After dinner, there was about an hour and a half before the Third Officer’s watch at eight in the evening and the Chief Officer called him to his cabin.

“Thought you might like to see this before we stow it.  Customs in Germany are very thorough.”  The Chief Officer said with a broad smile indicating a pile of Cameo’s stacked on his bunk.

Gobs smacked are not pleasant words but describes exactly how the visitor felt.

  He examined several of the beautiful carvings, all were traditional and of exceptional quality,

“Aren’t we taking a big risk?  With the Cameo’s I mean,” he said.

Roger chuckled.

“Not to worry.  Done this before.  I’ll let you into a secret.  ‘Chippy’ removes the veneer paneling from behind the apprentices’ tiered bunks and the goods are secreted there.  The paneling is replaced and the bunks screwed back providing a perfect hiding place.  It’s even better if we arrive at night or early in the morning as its doubtful that the Customs would disturb slumbering youths.”

“Surely it’s wrong to implicate the lads?” the Third Officer questioned.

“They won’t even know about it which makes their innocence a perfect cover.  Besides they’ll appreciate the one day that they are not chased from their bunks!”

Even the Third Officer grinned at the mental picture of the Customs tiptoeing around the sleeping apprentices.  He remembered as though it was only yesterday, when as an apprentice himself, that he had relished a lie – in, however rare it had been.

Leaving the famous rock of Gibraltar to their starboard side they turned north into the Atlantic Ocean.  In spite of there still being well over half the cargo left on board, they were making good speed.  The weather remained sunny and bright with light fluffy clouds and the comments in the ships log continued to be ‘cloudy, fine and clear’ which lasted all the way past Portugal and Spain where it took a turn for the worse as they entered the notorious Bay of Biscay.

For the next two days they battled with huge waves that had built up from the West, crossing the deep North Atlantic Ocean.  On encountering the relatively shallow waters of the bay the waves developed deep troughs causing the Ship to heavily pitch and roll.  Dangerously forming breakers relentlessly travelled towards the land where they noisily broke and covered the beaches and rocks in spray and foam.

It became necessary to reduce speed and assume a course that eased the motion and was amenable to their direction.

 On the third day as they sighted the lighthouse at Ushant on the Western tip of France, they entered the English Channel where their new course brought the sea onto their stern.  The normal speed was resumed and the severe rolling stopped as they passed France and carried on through the ‘Straits of Dover’ into the North Sea, leaving Holland and Belgium to Starboard.

Approaching their destination they passed the ‘Ost Friesiche Inseln’s” and sighted Cuxhaven where they picked up the pilot for their first port of discharge which was about fifty miles outside Hamburg.  Two other small ports followed but the bulk of their cargo was due to be unloaded in Hamburg itself.

Hamburg’s reputation amongst seamen was not unfounded and the Captain summoned the duty Officer to his cabin on their second day in port.  He told him that his wife and daughter would be arriving on board at the weekend and he wanted all other women off of the ship.

The duty Officer returned to his cabin and dialed the bosun’s extension.

The bosun was a huge ex North Sea fisherman from Stornaway.  The crew was about half ‘Scouse’ and half ‘Geordie,’ disliking one and other intensely.  However they were united in their common hostility towards the Scotsman.

The gruff voice of the Islander answered the call, ’Bosun here.’

“Ah, Third Mate calling bosun.  The old man wants all the women off PDQ – his wife and daughter are coming aboard for the weekend so it’s urgent.”

The bosun assured the Officer that he would attend to it right away. 

His official watch keeping ended at nine in the evening but as there was little to do the Third Officer took the opportunity to reply to his mail.  Sometime after eight thirty he heard noises on the stairs and left his cabin to investigate.

Two inebriated sailors were unsteadily ascending the stairs each carrying a dinner plate.  Neither man had been in the Officers accommodation before and asked directions to the Captains cabin.

The Third Officer made an instant, if unkind’ decision and decided on delaying tactics.  He knew that if he denied access outright they could become aggressive so he merely said,

“He’s busy at the moment.  Come back in half an hour.”

Somewhat non-plussed, the men retreated the way they had come.

A short while later he knocked on the next-door cabin to acquaint the Second Officer with details that he should be aware of as the follow-on duty Officer.  The most recent being the two seamen now departed.  He neglected to mention that they would probably be back but he did however remember to appraise him of the Captain’s wishes regarding the removal of female ‘guests’.

“There is nothing to do in this respect as the bosun is dealing with it.”

“Thanks Third,” the second Officer responded, “Fancy a beer?”

An old ploy used to make your watch seem to pass quickly, but one that invariably worked.

“Just a quickie and then I must finish my letters.”

The Third Officer had returned to his cabin a little earlier and was writing the second page of his reply to his mail, when he heard scuffling in the corridor outside and some muffled voices, followed by the sound of a key locking the door to the adjacent cabin. 

His phone rang.

A voice whispered.  “They’re outside.  What’ll we do?”

“Stay calm, I’ll go and see what I can do.”  He replied.

Feeling guilty as well as apprehensive he cautiously opened his door and was surprised to find both men complete with plates, waiting in the corridor.

“Would you eat this?” said the elder of the two sozzled sailors who thrust a cold plate of unappetizing food at him.

All he could think to say was that the gravy looked a bit congealed.

“Where is the old-man’s cabin?” the spokesman asked.

The third Officer didn’t say a word but just cast his eyes up the stairs and returning to his cabin he closed and the door.

He sat on the edge of his bunk, picked up the telephone and dialed.

“Second Officer speaking,” came the reply.

“Thought, as duty officer, you might like to know that there are two of the crew on their way to see the Captain.  They’ve been drinking.”

“Thanks for that,” came the reply, “I am unwell.  I’ve turned in.  Can you double for me and let the Chief know?”  The second Officer responded.

The Third mate replied, “It’s going to cost you!” and put the phone down.

He was just about to ring his senior when an almighty crash shattered the peace.

His first instinct was to stay put and lock the door after all it wasn’t his Watch.  Then he remembered being told by a mentor that he had greatly admired, “You’re on duty twenty four hours a day.”

He opened his door.

With the remains of the meal splattered down his front, the crewmember lay at the bottom of the stairs.

Stepping over his unconscious body, the Third Officer raced up to the Captain’s landing where evidence of a recent scuffle was very apparent.

The other seaman, also covered in food and blood, lay amongst the remnants of dinner plates and a keyboard that had once been screwed to the bulkhead outside the Captain’s accommodation.  The man face had become impaled on some of the empty hooks.

The Spanish Captain stood glowering in his doorway rubbing his knuckles and seeing one of his Officers he said with a growl, 

 “Get them out of here.  Have someone clear up this mess.  Make an entry into the log and remind me in the morning to make sure they pay for the plates.”

With that he mumbled, “Goodnight” and closed and bolted his outer cabin door.

Back in his cabin the Third Officer rang the bosun and before he could speak the bosun started intoning in his strong Scot’s dialect.

“Their all gone Third.  As it’s my last night, would you do me the honour of taking a dram with me?’

The Third replied,

 “Love to, but first the Captain wants his landing cleared up.  Two of your crew are sleeping it off in his accommodation.  They look as though they’ve been in a fight.”

“No problem,” was the reply, “I’ll get the stand by and watchman on it right away.  See you in about half an hour then.”

It was not his policy to socialise with the crew but the giant Scotsman was a bit of an exception, particularly as he was paying off in the morning.  As a new crewmember and recently appointed Officer he appreciated the help he had been shown by the bosun in dealing with the hard case crew.  The bosun had often intervened on his behalf averting any confrontation.

With those thoughts in his mind he knocked on the bosun’s door.

“Take a seat Third,” the Scotsman said, handing him a crystal tumbler half full of whiskey.

The Officer passed over a package to the ex fisherman.

“Like taking coals to Newcastle,” he said.

The bosun thanked him for the present.  He unwrapped the parcel to reveal a bottle of old Malt Whiskey. 

The Scotsman continued, “I’ve a surprise gift for you too.”  Grinning he said, “Look in my wardrobe.”

Putting his drink down the curious Officer opened the Wardrobe door.

“Two pretty ladies of the night stepped out but their smiles withered when they heard the young bearded Officer say.

 “Sorry Jock, first of all I’m engaged and secondly it’s contrary to the Captains orders.  I’ll leave you to it.”

“Just a wee floor show then.  That won’t do any harm!”

“If I stay, then they must go, okay?”

“Seems such a waste especially as I saved the best two.”

The girls’ smiles returned when he opened his wallet and passed them a wad of notes as they left.

Early next morning, the petty officers steward shrugged to himself as he cleared away two empty bottles from outside the bosun’s door.

The Second Officer had made a surprisingly swift recovery and was already enjoying a hearty breakfast when the somewhat bleary-eyed Third joined him in the ding room.

“Coffee and a couple of lightly boiled poachies,” he told the waiter

“I hope we don’t have any trouble after pay-off this morning,” the Second offered.

“You could always go sick or lock yourself in your cabin,” the Third responded after which he was grateful when all conservation abruptly ended.

He finished his eggs and ordered another coffee, which he took with him to the boat deck where he enjoyed a cigarette.

The shore Superintendent and the shipping agent had arrived shortly after eight o’clock and set themselves up in the crews’ mess for the pay-off.

 As many of the crew had a long way to travel, they were eager to make an early start.

It was a little after nine when the Officer observed a trickle of men dressed in their travel gear descending the gangway with their bags.

From his vantage point on the boat deck he watched as they made their way along the quay towards the security gates.

At the entrance to the quay, uniformed guards manned the iron railed gates with a door in them and inspected permits of people passing either way. 

The Third Officer was concerned to notice that once through the gate the men seemed to hang about in a group, when it suddenly occurred to him.

He sought out his drinking companion of the night before.

The burly Scotsman was resplendent in his Kilt and long thick socks complete with dirk.  He wore a ‘tam-o-shanti’ at a rakish angle and his flushed face beamed with good humour.  His sporran contained his precious gutting knife and a fid.

He extended his huge hand saying, 

“We’ll meet again my wee friend.”

“Ignoring the proffered hand The Third Officer said,

“Jock, I think they’re waiting for you!”

“What’s new?  I’ll take a few with me.”

With that he lifted his kitbag to his shoulder as though it was filled with feathers and made for the gangway being careful to avoid getting wedged by the pickaxe handle protruding from his luggage.

Then he was gone, the last of the crew.

At lunch the Captain was entertaining the Shipping agent and the Marine Superintendent.  The Third Officer couldn’t help overhearing their conversation.

“At what time is your wife and daughter due Captain Imaz?” the Superintendent asked.

‘About this time tomorrow,” came the reply.

“At least you shouldn’t have any bother with the skeleton crew.  I noticed the two men you fined have gone,” the Super said.

“Yes, I decided not to give them a DR. It’s only natural to let off a bit of steam before you pay off.”

The German agent not wanting to be left out of the conversation decided to join in. 

“My people think your crews are very strange.  The security told them that earlier this morning they rescued eight of your crew who had been swimming in the docks fully clothed, including one big man dressed in a skirt.”

Without batting an eyelid, the Captain turned to the German and replied, “I’ve always found the British to be rather eccentric too.”

After lunch, the Chief Officer called the Third to his cabin. 

“The apprentices have been paid off so I’ve detailed the Chippy to make a few alterations to their cabin.  Let’s go and take a look.”

On their arrival in the apprentices cabin, the bunks had been moved aside and they noticed that the ships carpenter was in the process of removing part of the bulkhead.

While they waited the Chief Officer advised that it had been best to wait for a few days after Custom’s inspection but since they were soon due to depart he felt it was opportune to retrieve the Cameos.

The panel was finally dislodged and the carpenter said,

“Can someone pass me that torch, ” indicating his large toolbox.

The carpenter stuck his head into the newly revealed void.  “There’s nothing here,” he exclaimed.

The Chief Officer said, “Here, let me look.”

After a minute or so he said, “ Damn, must have shifted with the rolling.  Carry on Chippy.  Let me know the minute you find it.”

Receiving an affirmative they left the carpenter to it and returned to the Chief’s cabin.

I’m afraid Third; there won’t be enough time to find the cameos.  If one of us gets posted to this ship again he can let the other know when the Cameos have been retrieved.”

The Third Officer replied, “Yes Sir, that would be good but what you haven’t had you won’t miss.  But, I agree with you.  Let’s swap addresses, just in case.”

A month later a German shipwright was rewarded with special favours from his girlfriend who was delighted with the brooches she had been given even though it wasn’t her birthday.

On balance, her German boyfriend thought that the reward she had given him in return, was much better than the thick stack of Deutschmarks that he had received from the jewelers in the Bahnhoff Strasse. 

 He was glad that he had kept the best two for ‘Eva’ and whistled cheerfully as he cycled to the shipyard next morning.

Tribute to a shipmate..

Jim Ferrier, ex Bank Line and a friend all the way from sea school passed away on the 28th Decenber aged 84.

We both had a long voyage on the Liverpool crewed Maplebank – not to be forgotten!

Crossing the Bar 


Sunset and evening star,
      And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
      When I put out to sea,

   But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
      Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
      Turns again home.

   Twilight and evening bell,
      And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
      When I embark;

   For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
      The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
      When I have crost the bar.

On The Hooghly – last chapter……..


A tribute to the Service—The immaculate pilot—I leave .the Service—Conditions on the Hooghly to-day—Qualities of a good pilot—Indianising the Service—Pilots in the War—A chat with Jimmy Keymer—Envoi.

IN the Pall Mall Gazette of September 19th, 1911, under the heading ‘ The Bengal Pilot,’ appeared a contribution from a writer who had made the passage down the Hooghly in a cargo steamer. It struck me as being a good sketch of one of my confreres, so I kept it and reproduce some extracts from it here. It runs as follows :

” Ships leaving Calcutta anchor oH Garden Reach to await the tide. It is here that the pilot arrives on board. Let it be carefully noted that he arrives—-he does not come, he is too great a man. He arrives in State, accompanied by his Leadsman and his servant. For the Bengal Pilot Service is different to other services. Its senior members —Branch Pilots they are called—earn from two to three thousand rupees a month (the latter when trade is good and ships are plentiful), and a man who earns the salary which a civilian does not attain until he becomes a Commissioner of Division is entitled to much respect. He demands this respect, and exacts it from everybody indiscriminately.

” The Amaryllis was on time-charter, carrying coal between Calcutta and Bombay, and I was her only passenger, when the pilot arrived on board at Garden Reach. He arrived in all the glory of a beautifullystarched white suit, and a resplendently varnished solar topee of imposing dimensions. In appearance he was tall and lanky (wire all through), with a clean-shaven,



clear-cut, tanned face, that would have become a naval officer and at once conveyed the impression that its owner was a strong man. He gave his orders in a curt, quiet manner, and in five minutes we were under way.

” I learnt to admire that pilot long before we parted with him at the brig off the Sandheads. Despite the coal dust which lay everywhere, and covered everything at least one inch thick in grime, his immaculate suit managed to retain, somehow or other, all its spotless purity, and although the sweltering heat was sufficient to make the most stiffly-starched collar scragged and limp, the starch in his held out until the end.

” I was filled with a great longing to mount the bridge and ask him respectfully to admit me to the secret by which all this was achieved, but fortunately for myself I recollected in time that I was only a passenger on a tramp collier, while he was a member of the great Bengal Pilot Service. I therefore dusted off some of the grime which had settled upon my easy-chair on the poop, wiped some smuts off my nose, and in doing so smudged my cheek all over, and settled myself down comfortably to watch my pilot and his ways.

” He stood under the awning over the bridge with telescope at his eye, watching intently the various signals which were placed along the banks of the Hooghly to intimate the different depths of water obtaining in the stream. Ever and anon, on the sultry breeze, the voice of his leadsman rose and fell: ” By the mark five.” ” And a half four.” ” By the mark four,” and so on. Ever and anon he rasped out some curt order, which the subservient mate of the watch passed on to the man at the wheel; round went the spokes with many creaks and groans, and the snub nose of the old Amaryllis swung off’ two or three points on to another course. All of which as a mere landsman I found vastly interesting.

” Gradually as the day wore on we slipped down the muddy Hooghly, and gradually and by degrees the colour 292


of the flowing waters changed from a dirty, evil-looking brown, to a more refreshing green, showing that slowly but surely our pilot was bringing us out to sea. As the shades of night fell (swiftly as is their habit in the East) we anchored at Mud Point—the dreary, dismal-looking expanse of mud-covered shore visible from the ship emphatically justifying the name. The pilot came down to the cuddy to dinner, and afterwards unbent just a little, proving that he was a good fellow. He discussed the skippers of other ships on the coast with the captain, and the slump in the Bengal coal market with me. Like most of us in Calcutta, he had been tempted to his fall, had speculated in coal shares, and was loaded up with many thousands of rupees’ worth of Sudamdih, Bilbera, Phularitand and Sinidih shares, all of which were a bad investment for him, as he had bought during the boom at prices ranging from ten to fifteen rupees each. Which goes to prove that my pilot was essentially human ; first, in that his two to three thousand rupees a month salary was insufficient for him, and he desired to grow rich quickly by means of speculation, and, secondly, in that he had been sufficiently foolish to allow shares of nebulous value to be unloaded on him in a falling market. I advised him to desist, whereupon he became positively chilly. He did not require advice. My pilot was very, very human.

” Next morning on the bridge he was the same unapproachable, impeccable figure he had been the day before—telescope to eye, jerking out sharp orders, the temporary master of the ship. At dusk we sighted the pilot brig and rapidly drew up to her. From on board came sounds of music, then a burst of song. The hfe of a Bengal Pilot, even at sea, is not all work. A boat shot out, came alongside of us, the pilot clambered down into it, and the rowers gave way.

” The mate on the bridge turned the handle of the engine-room telegraph, and sounded full-speed ahead. THE WORK TO-DAY


Prom the bowels of the ship came an answering ring. The snout of the Amaryllis swung round sou’west and by south, and we sped away in the rapidly gathering gloaming towards our destination.”

I retired from the Service in 1913, and since then all sorts of changes have taken place. The river has been lighted from Calcutta to Moyapur, and from Hospital Point to sea, and the Service has been put on pay instead of receiving fifty per cent, of the pilotage. A lot of the work is now done at night, for which extra night fees are paid. The bars in the upper part of the river are kept open by powerful dredgers, and the steamers coming to the port are larger and draw more water.

The following extract from a letter received from one of the Senior Branch Pilots last October will give some idea of what the work is now like :

” During about seven months of the year, owing to the deterioration of Sankral Reach, Pir Serang and Poojali crossings, all ships over—say—25 feet draught go to Ooloobaria anchorage at night. Swing flood next morning and proceed.

” Draughts of 30 feet are common. The maximum so far is, I believe, 31 feet 3 inches. The Middleton Bar below Saugor is the shoalest spot—at present 14 feet 9 inches at lower water, but has been 13 feet 6 inches.

” The usual procedure for a 28-foot ship would be : leave Garden Reach, straight out of dock, or from the Garden Reach jetties, at half-flood at night. Anchor at Ooloobaria at high-water slack. Swing ebb. Swing flood next morning, and go to Kulpee. Leave there at night and go to Saugor. And out to sea on the next morning’s tide. All ships navigating at night above the Eastern Channel Light pay a night fee, and vessels that have to go to Ooloobaria at night pay an additional night fee. The Service is in good fettle. A good type of keen, energetic men, but overworked. The night work is taking its toll, and people are cracking up earlier than 294


they used to. One man aged 45, and another of 464, have applied for their pensions, as they cannot stand the work. The Government have decided to abolish recruitment from England. The last home appointment was nearly three years ago.

” They have cut the pay for future entrants to an absurd figure. Maximum pay, rupees 1,300 after 28 years’ service. The present maximum pay is rupees 2,200 per mensum, plus £30 a month overseas’ pay, plus night fees which vary, and may amount to rupees 500 a month, and plus four first-class return passages, Bombay to London, during 30 years’ service. None of these allowances, even night fees, are to be given to future candidates.”

As I have stated earlier in this book, the Service has been recruited in all sorts of ways, and very casually. The strength would be allowed to dwindle, and then the authorities would wake up and bring in a lot of people, some of whom would make good, and some would prove unsuited to the work. For it is not every man who possesses the qualities essential to a successful pilot. Of the men who joined after myself from the training ships, quite a large percentage dropped out from one cause or another, and comparatively few reached the grade of Branch Pilot. With the lighting up of the river, there can be no question that the work which was always strenuous has become much more so and will call for men of very tough fibre in addition to the ordinary qualities of nerve and quick-wittedness.

I have a letter in my possession from my old Commander, Mr. R. C. Rutherford, dated 1920, and written not long before he died. In it he speaks with bitterness of the introduction of the Licensed Pilots, and says : ” It was a wicked act and a breach of faith with us, as we joined a service with closed grades.”

It was not until I was nearly half-way through with this record of my recollections of life on the Hooghly that I learnt with surprise that the Government were INDIANISING THE SERVICE


introducing Indian recruits to the Bengal Pilot Service. I suppose that I ought not to have been surprised, but I was.

My mentality probably resembles that of the beadle of the Scotch parish, who when asked if he could recommend a good reliable beadle to replace one who had just died in a neighbouring parish replied, ” Now if you asked me to find you an elder or twa, or even a Meenister, I could have suited you fine ; but to get a really responsible beadle is well nigh an impossibeelity.”

I knew, of course, that the Army was being Indianised, and the Indian Civil Service. We all had the greatest admiration for the Indian Civil Service, and I recollect a discussion on the brig, at the conclusion of which we agreed that if the British Empire had produced nothing more than that efficient, incorruptible and devoted Service, with its wonderful record of pure administration, it would have justified its existence. But together with the other Services it was being Indianised, and I thought that although it would probably lose somewhat in efficiency, it would still function, in the same way that a boy’s watch may still go after its inquisitive little owner has poked its works about with a pin. But it never occurred to me that the Bengal Pilot Service would be interfered with.

It would be absurd to suppose that among the three hundred million inhabitants of Hindustan there are not thousands who would make excellent Hooghly pilots. I had the good fortune during the War to spend eighteen months in France with Pathans and Punjabis who had been recruited for the Indian Labour Corps, and amongst them were men who would have made excellent sailormen.

I may mention here that many of the Bengal pilots volunteered to serve with the troops during the War of 1914-18. Some of them were given commissions in the Royal Engineers, for inland, water transport, and did useful work in Mesopotamia and in Belgium, reaching 296


the rank of Major and being awarded the D.S.O. Others were employed as transport officers in various ports’, or served afloat.

Recently after an evening spent in jotting down the fruits of retrospection, I turned in and dreamt a dream of the Sandheads. The sun was just rising, through the early morning mist of a day in the north-east monsoon. There was a nice little breeze to put a ripple on the water and impart a feeling of freshness and vigour. Just below me was the Eastern Channel Light, about a mile to the westward the pilot steamer Lady Fraser, and away to the northward the smoke of a steamer inward-bound. I planed down towards a group of big grey gulls who were sitting placidly together and had not yet commenced the business of the day, the chase of the succulent bumalo. As I approached them and caught a glimpse of my reflection I saw that I was one of the Brotherhood myself. Instinctively and without any hesitation I addressed myself to a big fellow who was sitting slightly apart from the rest.

” Mr. Keymer, I think ? “

” That’s me,” he replied ; ” and I never forget a friend, and well remember the day when you were taking the Drum Druid up. I had just caught a fine bumalo, and, being chased by George Smart, clumsily collided with the steamer’s foremast, and fell half-stunned on the deck. You very kindly came down off the bridge, picked up my fish, handed it to me, and enquired whether I could get up off the deck without assistance. It seems like yesterday, but it must be more than thirty years ago. And now you have come to join us. You will find them all here. There’s Le Patourel, sitting beside Lidstone. Next to them are Ben Revett, Bond and Kendal. The chap who looks as though he had not finished moulting s Jock Taylor. Yes, we are all here.” MR. KEYMER’S OPINION


” Things have altered a bit since your time, Mr. Keymer ? ” I observed.

” Yes,” he replied, ” and they are going to alter a lot more unless I am very much mistaken. But we need not worry about it. We can safely leave the Service in the hands of Mother Gunga, who will see to it that her pilots are Masters of their Craft.”

” What is your opinion, Mr. Keymer, about the present scheme of Indianising the Service ? “

” It seems only fair,” he replied, ” that the people of the country should be given a chance of doing the work, or of showing whether they are able to do it. But I think it unfair to restrict the Service entirely to Indians, to the exclusion of all the other sailormen of the Empire. Calcutta and the Bengal Pilot Service are both the result of British energy and enterprise. The men who created them were certainly not afflicted with that distressing malady, the inferiority complex. So long as the City of Calcutta exists, it will be necessary to maintain an efficient service of pilots to give access to it from the sea! “

I was about to ask his opinion as to remuneration, but the scene faded away, and on opening my eyes I found that I had been awakened by a fool of a bluebottle who, having found his way into my room by the open window, appeared unable to find his way out again.

But I have no doubt that Mr. Keymer would share my own opinion, which is, that if you want a really good article, you must pay for it.

In conclusion, I wish good luck to the men, whatever their race or complexion, who are destined in the future to conduct the traffic up and down the Hooghly.

On The Hooghly – A pilot's tale…


My only collision—The Lismore and Venetia—Big windjammersThe Brilliant—On the Gasper Bar—And off again—The two deserters.

IT was on February 20th, 1906, that I had my one and only collision. This occurred as I was taking down a tramp steamer named Venetia, drawing about twentythree feet and capable of steaming at her best between eight and nine knots.

The bar at the James and Mary had been shoaling up and I could not expect to have there more than a foot over my draught at the top of high water.

In view of the slow speed of the Venetia it behoved me to cross Moyapur Bar as soon as there was sufficient water to float the steamer, and it would then be necessary for the engine-room staff to do their best if we were to get across the James and Mary’s. Should we fail to do so the steamer might be held up for several days, for the tides were ‘ taking off ‘ and there would be less rise on the following day.

Another tramp steamer, the Lismore, which was leaving on the same day as the Venetia, was doing so under almost exactly similar conditions.

We turned round in good time, steamed slowly down to Moyapur, where we stopped and waited for the semaphore to show sufficient rise of tide to float us over the bar. The Lismore did the same; and as we waited side by side, the pilot of the Lismore told me that she was drawing three inches more than my vessel.

I told him that I would go over the bar as soon as



I had my water. He said that I had better let him go across first, for although he was drawing three inches more than us, his vessel had a six-inch keel, and was also faster than the Venetia. Of course I agreed and he led the way over Moyapur, closely followed by the Venetia. Before he got to Royapur we caught him up, but could not succeed in passing him. Thence onward both steamers went along side by side. This was a nuisance, as it entailed considerably more attention to the steering, but we could neither of us afford to ease down or give anything away, if we were to save the James and Mary’s bar. I hoped that the Lismore would increase her speed and draw ahead. We kept each other company in this manner, going neck and neck through Fisherman’s Point anchorage, past Fultah, and round Fultah Point.

After rounding the Point, I suggested that he should ease and let me go ahead, but he said that he could not afford to do that, which was perfectly true, and added that they were cleaning fires, and would draw ahead directly.

I then said that as we could not go round Nurpur in that manner tw r o abreast, I would ease my engines. We did this, but still the Lismore failed to draw ahead. So I said, ” All right; I will stop, and go astern.”

Having reversed our engines we at last managed to get behind the other steamer, but the action of the reversed engines had caused the Venetia’s head to pay off to starboard, so we had to go slow ahead again with our helm to starboard to straighten up in the channel.

The Lismore seemed to be hardly moving through the water, for we began to overhaul her again as soon as our engines went ahead. I steadied the helm and then put it hard a-port, and as it looked as though we were going to be very close to the other steamer, put the engines full speed ahead to make the Venetia answer her helm. 284


Instead of doing so she ran up and hit the Lismore just abaft the bridge, pushing her right athwart the channel. We were then just above Nurpur Point.

Our engines were reversed until the two steamers separated. The Lismore then turned round with her port helm and proceeded back, and as soon as I saw a clear channel ahead, I rang the engines full-speed ahead, intending to go on and cross the Gut as there was still sufficient water showing at the semaphore. But the mate hailed me from the forecastle that we had a hole in the bow just above the water-line, so there was nothing for us to do but turn round, too, and follow the Lismore back to Fisherman’s Point, where we both anchored for the night, returning to Calcutta on the following day for repairs. There was a court of enquiry, which I had to attend as a witness. Neither the pilot of the Lismore nor I was blamed for the collision.

I ran across the pilot of the Lismore a short time ago. It was many years since I had last seen him. Speaking of the collision, he agreed that it was unfortunate, but said that we were both trying to do our best for the vessels which we were piloting.

In the Calcutta Statesman of July 26th, 1912, the following appeared:





” For many years Calcutta has been regarded as one of the world’s ports which it was impossible for sailing ships to trade to, and in consequence of this no sailing ship of any size has come up the Hooghly. Small schooners and Arab dhows from the Persian Gulf have traded here regularly, but the bigger ‘ windjammers’ have kept away.

” On Wednesday, however, the American ship Brilliant, said to be one of the biggest barques that has ever visited the East, arrived at Saugor, and it is expected THE ” BRTLLTANT”


that she will be brought up the river to-day. The Brilliant is a four-masted American steel barque, commanded by Captain C. Morrison, and she has brought a cargo of about 5,000 tons of oil from Philadelphia. She is 352 feet long, with a beam of 56 feet, a displacement of 3,565 tons, and the hold is 28 feet deep.

” Her cargo consists of 111,000 cases of kcrosine oil, and 21 tons of lubricating oil.

” On Wednesday the Brilliant arrived off the Eastern Channel Lightship, and Branch Pilot Beattie boarded her, but owing to the heavy seas running, the ship could not be anchored off the Sandheads. The pilot consequently had the very difficult task of sailing the vessel as far as Saugor Roads where she anchored.

” The Port Commissioners’ tug-boat Retriever is being sent down to Saugor, to tow the Brilliant to Budge Budge, where she will discharge her cargo.”

I had not boarded a sailing vessel for very many years, and certainly did not expect ever to handle one again on the Hooghly, but fate decreed that before retiring from the Service I should once more give the order, ” Lee main brace ! “

I had the first turn of Branch Pilots at the Sandheads, but when a sail was sighted to the southward did not feel particularly interested. Like everyone else on board the pilot steamer, I felt rather surprised, for sailing ships of any sort had long since ceased seeking a cargo at Calcutta. In any case, I could only take vessels of over 3,300 tons, and I did not know of any sailing ship of that tonnage. As she approached, it became evident from the size of her sails that she was a large ship, and the Senior Master Pilot of the turn showed signs of concern, and very naturally, for there were no longer powerful tugs, commanded by expert tugmasters to handle them, and to get a large sailing craft up to Calcutta was going to be a problem. But when she was close enough for her flags to be read, his anxiety was removed. She 286


was the Brilliant, 3,565 tons, with a cargo of oil, and I was sent off to her.

She certainly seemed large, and was drawing twentyfive feet six inches. The wind was fair from south-west when I boarded her, but it was about half-ebb, and I should not have enough water over the Gasper Bar until half-flood, so we hove-to on the port tack and waited until the flood made.

When we filled away and stood up-channel the wind was still south-west; but when we were about level with the Intermediate Light we got a heavy rain squall and the wind shifted to west-south-west. If the wind remained like that we were going to have a difficulty in getting through the Gasper, so we braced sharp up and luffed to hug the edge of the Middle Ground. The wind came, if anything, more to the westward, and it was as thick as a hedge. I had a leadsman with me, who kept the lead going. We were under topsails, topgallant-sails and foresail and were slipping through the water nicely. The leadsman kept singing out, ” By the mark five,” and although I could see nothing of the Lower Gasper Light, which was obscured by rain, I felt happy enough, for I knew that there would be enough water for us by the time that we reached the Gasper Bar. And by keeping well to windward on the western side of the channel wc ought to be able to lay through, for she seemed to be a smart vessel. So I kept luffing up, and the leadsman kept giving mc five fathoms. I have often blamed myself since for not taking the lead personally. The leadsman gave mc ” Quarter less five,” and still I luffed up; for I was prepared to stand into four and a half fathoms or twenty-seven feet in my anxiety to get well to windward.

Suddenly I felt her touch the ground, and asked the leadsman what water he had got. He called out, ” Quarter less five,” but I knew that she was on the ground. We brailed in the spanker and squared the after-yards. Her MAKING HER A STEAMER


head payed off at once, and almost immediately we came clear and slipped through the water, to my very great relief. At the same time the weather lifted and I could see both the Gasper Lights. The lower one was bearing about east by north, between two and three miles. At the same time the wind shifted to south by west and remained so until we anchored abreast of Saugor Light.

I felt very sick at having grounded the ship, but it was no use saying anything to the leadsman. With the disappearance of the sailing vessels the lead had become much less important, and I don’t suppose this particular man had had any practice in getting soundings in a seaway.

The next day the tug Retriever, which now belonged to the Port Commissioners and was used in the River Survey Service, came down and took us in tow, and considering that the officer in charge of her had had no experience in towing a vessel of any size, he did remarkably well, and we arrived at the Budge Budge oil moorings without any trouble.

When the Brilliant was ready to leave, the captain applied for me to take him down. I accepted the application but stipulated for two tugs for the first day. It was all very well for the Retriever to tow the ship up the river on the top of the flood tide, but I did not fancy being turned in the Reach and towed round Melancholy and Fultah Points by someone new to the game; so I decided to have a tug on each side and make a steamer of the ship. This plan answered perfectly. The Brilliant became for the time being a twin-screw steamer, and I conned her seated on the roof of the deckhouse on the poop. The second tug was the Rescue, which, like the Retriever, had been one of Turner Morrison’s tugs and had also been purchased from them by the Port Commissioners, who used her to move vessels in the port. We lashed a tug on either side of the ship. The three of us abreast certainly took up a good deal of room, and 888


occupied most of the channel, but we got along quite well, and I do not think that we inconvenienced any of the vessels which we met.

We got to Kulpee, and lay at anchor there with our tugs alongside until the afternoon’s tide, when we weighed and proceeded to Mud Point, where we cast off the tugs and anchored for the night. I decided to tow out from there with the Retriever ahead, so we discharged the Rescue.

In the morning, as we were taking in tow, I remarked to the captain that he had got together a heterogeneous collection of humanity to serve as crew. They were of all races and colours. ” Yes,” he replied; ” but they were the best I could get,” and added, ” I expect by the end of the voyage those two deserters will have become the best sailormen of the lot.” I became interested at this and asked him to point out the two men. It appeared that they belonged to the regiment stationed at Dum Dum just outside Calcutta. I told the captain that I would take the two men with me back to Calcutta, and that unless he agreed to let me have them, the ship would remain at anchor while I telegraphed to the Port Officer for instructions. He demurred at first, but finding that I was really in earnest, gave the required promise, so we hove-up and towed to sea.

When the boat from the pilot steamer came alongside, I asked him to call the two men aft. As they marched along the deck in step, there was no doubt about their calling. They were obviously soldiers, and smart, well set-up soldiers at that. When they were close to the break of the poop I said ” Halt,” and they stood to attention, while I told them to fetch their kitbags, and get into the boat. I felt sorry for the captain who was thus losing two of his complement, but I could not be a party to a couple of soldiers deserting. When we were pulling to the pilot vessel, I suggested that they should put on their helmets, as it was no use getting sunstroke. They TWO SOLDIERS


promptly fished them out of their bags and donned them. It was difficult to understand how they could have been so foolish as to desert, for they were both men of considerable service, and one of them was an N.C.O. On arrival at the steamer they were each given a bottle of iced beer, which probably comforted them a little. They went up that night with me in a steamer which came in to my turn, and as the Port Officer had been notified by wireless, they found an escort waiting to receive them at Calcutta, and they departed bearing a letter to their CO. begging that they might be dealt with as leniently as possible, as they had returned quietly and without making any trouble. Probably they were not very sorry that they had been prevented from making that long voyage round the Cape, which would not have been altogether a joy ride.

I was destined to see the Brilliant once a^ain. Shortly after the War had broken out in 1914, walking on the front at Eastbourne, I sighted a large ship running upchannel and remarked to the person with whom I was walking that she was a very large vessel and leminded me of a ship called the Brilliant. A couple of days later I read in the newspaper that it really was her. She had been sold to the Germans and was wending her way to Hamburg in blissful ignorance of the state of war, when she was captured and taken into Dover Harbour.


My Asian Feeder at Work

By Geoff Walker

I was sitting alone in my cabin with my coffee mug, pondering how the demise of the multi-purpose general cargo ship had come about so quickly because of the unprecedented pace the shipping industry changed in favor of containerization during the 1970s.

Change within the shipping sector had hitherto been somewhat slower and more measured, so perhaps a degree of empathy was due to those unfortunate owners that were unable to remain competitive due to their existing tonnage becoming uneconomical and unviable due to their conventional life expectancy being optimistically over estimated. Of course this was not helped by the Fuel Crisis of the 1970s.

Hence was born the “Container Feeder” designed specifically to carry up to about 500 TEUs between the major container hubs and secondary ports. Many secondary ports did not possess the infrastructure suitable for handling the mammoth container ships used in the world’s main trade routes. In most cases it was not a case of the feeder ports not being container savvy, but rather a simple matter of economies of scale needed to make enlarged port developments financially worthwhile. So there became a “niche” for what we now call a “Container 


Although my residential origins were in Asia, I had been recalled from semi-seagoing retirement for a 2 year contract, to which I had agreed, provided the vessel remained trading within Asia. I did not wish to go further afield because my wife, being Asian, was reluctant that I return to sea. Anyway, this was a workable compromise. She could sail with me from time to time and never really be more that 4 hours flying time away from home.

I had been seconded as Master of a relatively modern container ship servicing a regular regional container feeder service. Japanese built, meant the ship was somewhat basic in terms of crew comfort but she never let me down and performed very well during my tenure on board.  The vessel was operated by Singapore interests and she was like a yacht, Gross Tonnage: 6100, Deadweight: 8530, LOA: 114m, BHP: 6000, 16.5 knots but when I was on her we maintained an economic service speed of about 14 knots. We carried a crew of 18 plus a Radio Officer even though we had an early version of GMDSS. This was because of the quick succession of ports and associated high work load of radio traffic and administrative duties, much of which was handled by the R/O on behalf of the Captain.

She was fully cellular with a TEU capacity of 480 units. Containers could be stacked 4 high on deck, depending on their weights. An ideal ship for working the Far East feeder trades, especially due to her 2 x 36 ton SWL container cranes which made her fully self sustaining at secondary Ports. In fact, ship’s cranes were used at most of the ports of call in the Far East feeder service in which we were engaged.

We had been laying idle at Singapore Eastern Anchorage for several days before we commencing to load containers  from the Container Terminal, due to the ship earlier experiencing main engine Turbo Charger problems, the owners did not wish to resume our liner service until they were certain the engine defect was well and truly resolved. So with a delayed introduction, we set off.

This ship was considered quite a large container feeder for that period, during which many regional ports were still engaged in developing fully fledged Container facilities. At this time many, so called, container terminals were limited to open wharfs with good sealed lay down areas at which loaded and empty containers were stacked. Much of the consolidation and deconsolidation was done in adjoining warehouses. Very few had weighbridges whereby accurate  container weights could be ascertained, so at many of the secondary ports TEU’s were categorized as “Heavy”, “Medium”, “Light” purely calculated or as a best guess, on weights of what was loaded within.  As a rule of thumb, Heavy meant 12-18 tones, Medium 6-12 tones and light under 6 tones. 

The liner service, incorporating Port Klang, Singapore, Pasir Gudang, Maura, Labuan, Kota Kinabalu (KK), Sandakan and Tawau (with occasional calls at ports further afield subject to cargo inducement) and was idyllic as far as I was concerned. In reality it was very hard work because port stays were limited to hours in some ports. The Master was up and about constantly and experienced long periods on the bridge, especially when transiting the Singapore Straits and similar areas which called for precise navigation in regions of dense traffic. GPS was not very accurate when transiting the Singapore Straits, unless differentials we available for the ship’s system. This was mainly due to the extremely narrow separation lanes in certain sections of the VTSS and precise reporting needs.

Nevertheless, we soon discovered we spent very little time in Port except at  Tawau, Sandakan, Kota Kinabalu and occasionally Labuan which of course stemmed mainly from wharf congestion and lacking Port infrastructure during that period. Other Ports were generally a one day affair (or often less). 

We generally timed our arrival for daylight and first Pilot in Ports where Pilots were compulsory for foreign flag ships. Of course many ships tried to do the same thing so the anchorages of the Pilot Boarding Grounds were frequently inflicted with wide spread congestion. To overcome the congestion at the Port Klang outer anchorage (always congested early morning), following 4 consecutive trips, I underwent examination for Pilot exemption 

The exam for a Pilot Exemption at Port Klang was conducted by the Port Manager and was relatively thorough, mostly focusing on Tides, Buoyage and Port Regulations. Once obtained it meant I was permitted to proceed upstream without a Pilot and go to enter the inner anchorage, which in reality was only a short boat ride to the main wharf. This arrangement turned out to be good because rather than wait overnight outside the Port limits we could go in and the crew would enjoy the benefit of a bit extra shore leave or rest. However, no matter what the circumstances, a Pilot remained compulsory from inner anchorage to wharf. When sailing, there was no benefit to the ship so I engaged a Pilot from wharf side the full distance to outer Boarding Ground. This kept the local Pilots contented because they were not losing all their bread and butter to an outsider, only a tad.

When the Port of Singapore was busy or suffering Pilot shortages, as it frequently was, permission would be granted to Masters to depart from the working anchorages without using a Pilot.

Of all our Ports of call the best organized was Singapore, Pasir Gudang and to a slightly lesser extent, Port Klang (which used to be named Port Swettenham). These three were making the fastest transition to more or less full containerization, hence they evolved as the main regional hubs for container traffic, transshipment usually to Europe, Americas or largest Asian Seaports, via one or a combination of these Ports. It stood to reason therefore that these destinations became our principal ports of call. Singapore Port became so well organized the inward Pilot would often tell us what time the outward Pilot had been booked to depart, before we had even fully arrived. This timing was very accurate and seldom differed by more than 15-20 minutes.

The Malaysian Port of Pasir Gudang (PG) in the Johor Straits was also undergoing a more measured degree of expansion. Seldom did we spend more than 12 hours alongside. PG was not one of my favorite Ports because it necessitated crossing very dense conflicting traffic in the Singapore Straits, which could be quite chaotic and even hazardous because some ships still failed to obey International rules of navigation. The Traffic Separation Scheme (VTSS) for East and Westbound traffic in the Singapore Straits (first established in 1981) became progressively more regulated, resulting in today’s VTSS (Vessel Traffic Separation Scheme) in the Singapore Straits, where there are now crossing zones. Once established, this did much to enhance vessel control and safety of navigation and has since been extended into the Malacca Straits. This contributed considerably to the earlier disorganized rabble of traffic and eliminated the “Cowboy” element that unfortunately prevailed at times. 

“Rogue” ships could be a problem, which came about due to the significant growth in global shipping, rapid expansion in numbers of vessels under Flags of Convenience and the serious shortage of experienced and qualified seafarers. This was enhanced by the low standards of training and certification accepted by some maritime administrations, fledgling ship-owners (who generally engaged the cheapest of the cheap crews), not to mention corruption and reported availability of “dubious Certificates” being issued in return for payment. This was rampant amongst some Third World administrations in the Asian area. All this reflected on the quality, safety and reliability of crews. Consequently, this situation in turn lead to the introduction in the mid 1970s by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) of the STCW (Standards for Certification and Watch keeping) regulations, which, has developed into the mainstay of worldwide Maritime code of practice for qualification and certification. As a consequence of STCW much improvement has been made regarding crew standards.

It was long hours and hard work on board – not so much in terms of manual labor but rather in the constant need for officers and crew to maintain sea watches. With Port time being so limited one never got a break from the daily routine, day in – day out. If anyone went down sick it placed a definite burden on others and everyone became affected having to share the extra workload. Rapid port transits also caused engineering staff concern with routine shipboard maintenance, time became of the essence in so many different ways. 

It could also be stressful on the Master in attempting to maintain the shipping schedule. If the ship missed a specific berth allocation time at a Port for whatever reason, the ramifications could cause costly delays. Obviously many delays were entirely beyond the control of the ships, for example, adverse weather, fog, and the like. Nevertheless, delays frequently amalgamated and compounded creating and provoking ongoing hold-ups through the entire schedule cycle. One of the biggest features of containerization was the speeding up and rapid handling of the cargo transit process – obviously any delays encountered went against the scheme of things.

The feeder service soon became second nature to us and we accepted that to a degree we were becoming somewhat robotic in various ways. It was like running on “Tram Tracks”. Over many consecutive trips we became quite familiar with the Ports of call, their quirks and benefits alike. Our crew achieved “squatter’s rights” in many of the Pubs, our arrival being anticipated to the day from the shipping List in local newspapers or from shipping agents. 

Kota Kinabalu and Labuan were the only two Ports where we could always expect at least one night in Port (sometimes longer). This was entirely due to lacking Port infrastructure at the time and the need (in many cases) to deconsolidate and then consolidate the same containers ready for back loading aboard. The congestion was not helped due to the severe lack of container vehicles to cart the containers down the finger wharfs being utilized at the time.

When bound for Sandakan or Tawau I would calculate my arrival for first light at the entrance to the narrow navigable passage, which separated the South China and Sulu Seas, just at the northern most tip of Sabah. This was a restricted navigable channel that could only be safely transited during daylight hours with good visibility. The water depth was good but it was demanding and required accurate coastal navigation, because many of the important beacons and leading markers were hard to detect by radar. It took about 6 hours to transit this passage and it was a tropical delight weaving between the various tropical islands, atolls and reefs.

Tawau and Sandakan were notorious Pirate prone areas, and it was always wise to limit time spent at the respective anchorages, to an absolute minimum. Between 1960 – 2000s the entire region of what was previously British North Borneo Island including Kuching (Sarawak), Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu), Miri, Bintulu, Tawau, Sandakan, down as far as the Indonesian Port of Samarinda, was a haven for Pirates, especially on the East coast where Filipino Pirates based in Jolo Island (Tawi Tawi Group) which was very close to hand, joined ranks and roved about plundering the coastal waters more or less at will and unhindered. One always needed to be on guard when navigating in these waters. During the migratory season the East coast of North Borneo (Kalimantan), close to the Sibutu Passage and Reef in the Celebes Sea is a great place for Whale watching. This is also a world class Scuba Diving venue but fraught with danger, with participants running a high risk of kidnapping by Pirates, always cruising around the Tawi Tawi Group of Islands seeking easy prey.

I remained as Master on the “Kris Madura”, engaged in the same service for another two years. Life was becoming somewhat boring to say the least, only disrupted on one occasion when we were hit by a huge freak wave in the South China Sea. The wave damaged about 5 containers on the starboard side which were stowed on deck. Fortunately they remained secure and we were able to reach our next port and have them discharged safely. No damage was sustained to the ship but the containers were badly stove in and dented. Still, I considered us as being fortunate since this was the only incident during my tenure on board. Constantly working in waters with high density traffic, pressure to maintain schedule and with very restricted port time it was not uncommon for statistics to be higher in terms of mishaps, near misses or incidents.

 Image of the MV Kris Madura under new ownership. Gone is her silver grey hull.

At the conclusion of my contract, which coincided with the vessel being sold to other Asian interests and although I was invited to stay on, I declined and was happy to leave and try returning to retirement once again. However, it did not pan out as planned and I soon became involved, yet again, in the “maritime pie”.

Credit: submitted by: mbbmikepsss

Photo of my feeder after being sold to others, captured in the Philippines

                                                MV Kris Madura – My Asian Feeder


Image taken by the Author, at Port Klang


Image taken by the Author at Pasir Gudang


Image taken by the Author, approaching Port Klang Fairway Buoy.


Image of ex “Kris Madura” taken at Shanghai, some years after being sold, when operated by Indian Owners. Definitely no longer the “spick and span” vessel she was when I served on her.

Geoff Walker started his seagoing career serving an apprenticeship in the Bank Line.


The Hooghly story..continued..


The Fraser—Our brigs become lightships—Ships fallen on live days—The Clan MacArthur—Tramp steamers—A swarm of quail” Justice ” in Texas—The gouging match—”Champion Ananias ” —The Bosnia—The profitable Monarch.

BY the time I reached the grade of Branch Pilot in 1900 conditions on the river were very different from what they had been when I joined the Service. The sailing ships had entirely deserted Calcutta, and with them had gone the fine tugs, and the splendid men who commanded them. The only two tugs remaining were the Retriever and Rescue, which had been bought by the Port Commissioners and were employed in the River Survey and in the port. Steamers had become much larger and deeper draughted. The men who had taught me my work had either taken their pensions or joined the great majority, and I had seen several generations of Harbour Masters come and go ; for they wore out more quickly than we did, because their work was largely nocturnal, and they were always in the stuffy atmosphere of Calcutta. Some of the old sailing-ship lines had replaced their windjammers with steamers. Brocklebanks did so, and I remember one of their early steamers arriving at Calcutta officered entirely by captains of their sailing vessels, who were making the trip in order to learn how to run a steamer.

We were amused on the brig when we were told that the great Bully Mackenzie, a well-known old sailing-ship commander who had made many smart passages, had been seen tallying cargo at the new steamer’s mainhatch.

207 2fl8


Having made their voyage of instruction they were duly appointed to steamers, and doubtless found them a much easier job than the work they had been doing in sail. The Germans were getting a large slice of the trade of the port, and their steamers were becoming larger all the time. The French flag was only seen on the small steamer which the Messagerie Maritime ran between


Calcutta and Colombo. The Arab ships were nearly finished, and James Nourse was taking coolies to the West Indies in steamers instead of in the smart, well-found sailing ships with double crews which had done the work so well. This change was not altogether a change for the better. The voyage being shorter in steam, the coolies did not have so much chance of putting on flesh, and arriving in plump condition.

Sailing vessels having gone, it was merely a matter of time before the pilot brigs would follow them and STEAM PILOT VESSELS


be replaced by steamers. In 1905 arrived the pilot steamer Fraser, named after the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal. A handsome yacht-like vessel, painted white with a yellow funnel and three masts, she was fitted with wireless to send and receive messages, and with a refrigerator and cold storage. We did not regard this last altogether as a boon, for it meant no more gram-fed Sandheads’ mutton, or well-fed poultry, and the messing was not so good in the opinion of some of our epicures. But we were now independent of the weather. Westerly gales made no difference to the steamer, and the weather had to be very bad indeed before we shut up shop and refused to put the boat out.

We had not yet entirely finished with the brigs, for when the Fraser went up to town to refit, she was relieved by a brig which kept the station until the return of the steamer. In 1908 came the second steamer, the Lady Fraser, and then we were entirely done with sail, and our brigs departed to become lightships as their predecessors had always done when past work at the Sandheads.

To a seafaring man it is always a pathetic sight to see a vessel which has fallen upon evil days, after having been a thing of beauty and a source of pride to all connected with her. As a leadsman I had hove the lead in one or two of the famous tea clippers which used to race home from China to be first in the market with their precious cargo of the new season’s tea. With the opening of the Suez Canal their racing days were done, and with reduced spars, and a much smaller spread of canvas, they now picked up a living by wandering from port to port, like any other ocean tramp. One of these was the Sir Lancelot, and in spite of the way in which her sail plan had been reduced, I was surprised at the manner in which she slipped through the water with a very light wind as wc sailed into Saugor. She held, if I am not mistaken, the record for the best day’s run, and had now become 370


a ‘ country ship ‘ trading between Calcutta and Mauritius. Another one was the Pericles, which had fallen from her high estate, and had her spars cut down.

But the fate of these ships was not so dismal as that of the S.S. Clan MacArthur, which had been one of the crack passenger steamers running to Calcutta from England. Having been sold to the Russians she was used by them in the whaling trade in Bering Strait, where she served as a sort of oil factory to which the blubber was brought to be boiled down and stowed in casks. She came in, to my turn, one breezy afternoon in the south-west monsoon. Age and probably ill-treatment had impaired the engines, which in the days of her prime had been the pride of her Scotch chief engineer, and she was coming to Calcutta to be patched up. *

It was many years since I had last boarded her. She was then one of three popular passenger steamers belonging to the Clan Line (the other two were the Clan Macpherson and Clan Matheson) and was a smart, well kept-up vessel, with spotless decks, and a general air of prosperous self-respect. I had not heard anything of her for a long while and did not know what she had been doing, but as we pulled alongside I noticed that she looked as though she wanted a coat of paint, and as I climbed over the rail saw that she was in a very dirty and neglected condition. The people who received me at the gangway were foreigners, but I did not know what they were until I reached the bridge and learnt that she was now a Russian steamer. I took charge and set the course up-channel, and then had a conversation with the captain, who spoke English quite well and told me why they were coming to Calcutta.

When we were in the neighbourhood of the Lower Middle Ground Buoy the engineer came on the bridge and I was told that we should have to stop for an hour or two to effect some necessary repairs to the engines. There was a good sea running and it was not at all the AN OLDTIMER


sort of place in which I cared to anchor, so I asked them to hold on if possible for a while until we got to Saugor anchorage. They said that the engines would stop of their own accord directly, so I turned round to head the tide and we brought up with forty-five fathoms of chain.

On going below I saw how greatly the Clan MacArthur had altered for the worse. The long line of passengers’ cabins had disappeared. The saloon was still there but indescribably frowsy and dirty. In one corner was an ikon, and a couple of monkeys were walking about as though they owned the place, as they practically did. I joined the captain and officers at their evening meal, at which they drank neat gin and seemed surprised when I restricted myself to one glass of the fiery liquid. When the ebb made down, we lay in the trough of the sea and did some heavy rolling, and I was not sorry when the engineer reported the engines in working order again and we were able to heave up and proceed over the ebb to Saugor, where we brought up for the night.

We weighed at daybreak, but on the way up had to stop three or four times on account of the engines, the last time being at Pir Serang, where I had to anchor for an hour. When I handed over to the Harbour Master I told him that the engines kept breaking down, and as I left the vessel he hailed me from the bridge that they had gone wrong again.

The people in the tramp steamers who wandered about all over the world, putting into all sorts of strange ports in search of cargoes, had some queer tales to tell of the places they visited and the people they encountered in the course of their travels. The mate of a tramp told me the following extraordinary story. He said that one day in the Black Sea, when on watch, he noticed a dark cloud to the northward which approached with great rapidity, looking for all the world, he said, like the north-west squall which we had experienced on the previous evening. But instead of a violent squall of 272



wind and rain they were suddenly invaded by millions of migrating quail, which, exhausted by their long flight, sought shelter on the vessel. In a few minutes the decks were piled up with the birds to a depth of two or three feet, and still they came. All hands including the firemen had to turn to with shovels to get the decks cleared, and they all lived on quails for a week afterwards. It may be that the man exaggerated. He looked a stolid, weather-beaten old salt and not at all an imaginative sort of person. But one cannot always judge by appearances, and, as a Yankee skipper once wisely remarked to me, ” You can’t tell by the look of a toad how far it can jump.”

I gathered from what I was told by these ocean wanderers that the manner in which law and justice were administered was somewhat peculiar in certain ports. At least it struck me as being peculiar. An interesting instance was given me by a dry little clean-shaven man who was in command of one of the steamers which it fell to my lot to take up the Hooghly. The ease which he narrated was as follows. On one of his voyages, the steward stole some of his property, money, trinkets and clothing. The stolen articles were found in the steward’s cabin, and there could be little doubt as to his being the thief. On arriving at their port of destination, a port in Texas, he handed the man over to the poiitM-, and waa advised of the date on which the case would be heard.

On the morning of th<r appointed day, as the captain was about to go ashore, the stevedore who was loading the vessel asked if he could have a word with him. This stevedore was an old acquaintance, having been employed by the captain on previa u, voyages, when he had shown himself to be a reliable person and good at his job.

” Well,” said the captain, ” what is it ? “

” It’s about that steward of yours, captain. He’s engaged Johnson the lawyer to defend him, and I guess you’re going to lose your case.” A POLITICAL PULL


” But,” said the captain, ” the evidence is dead against him. What can Johnson do ? “

” He can get him off. He’s the cutest lawyer in all Texas, and he ain’t never lost a case yet! “

The stevedore seemed so positive as to the invincibility of the redoubtable Johnson that the captain thought that it would perhaps be advisable to engage a lawyer himself, and asked the stevedore if he could recommend one.

” ‘Tain’t no good, cap.; none of the others has a dog’s



chance against Johnson. . . . But,” he added, ” tell you what I’ll do. I’ll introduce you to Mr. Brown the chemist, he’s a friend of mine.”

” Mr. Brown the chemist! ” said the astonished skipper. ” What on earth can he do ? “

” Well,” said the friendly adviser, ” he’s got a big political pull, and he’ll be able to fix this.”

As the case was to be heard that morning there was no time to be lost, and the stevedore lead the way to the little shop where the powerful Mr. Brown made up prescriptions and sold remedies and poisons to the surrounding population. Mr. Brown’s appearance gave no hint of the formidable power which he possessed. He was a small

s 274


man with a grey beard, and weak blue eyes framed in horn-rimmed spectacles.

” This,” said the stevedore, ” is Captain Jones of the steamer Dalkey. He’s prosecuting his steward on a charge of theft and the steward has engaged Johnson to defend him. I shall be much obliged, Mr. Brown, if you’ll see that Johnson don’t get away with it.”

Mr. Brown enquired when the case was coming on, and on being told consulted his watch, and said that they had better go along at once to the court, which was situated a short distance away.

They did not enter the room, in which a stout, red-faced man, who on account of the heat had removed his coat, was dispensing justice, but stood in the doorway and addressed the bench from there. The conversation was short and to the point.

” Morning, Judge,” said Mr. Brown.

” Ah, Mr. Brown, good morning,” said the Judge. ” How are you ? “

” I’m all right, Judge,” said Mr. Brown. ” This is the captain of the Dalkey, whose steward is coming before you this morning on a charge of theft. . . . The captain’s a friend of mine.”

” That’ll be quite all right, Mr. Brown,” said the Judge affably.

” Thank you, Judge,” said Mr. Brown; ” I thought it would.”‘

He turned to leave, when a sudden thought seemed to strike him. He turned again, faced the Judge, and remarked :

” Six months, Judge ? “

” That will be quite all right, Mr. Brown,” said the legal dignitary.

And six months, said the captain, was the sentence which the steward received.

This tale was told me many years ago, and things are NOT MARBLES


probably quite different nowadays in Texas, where I do not suppose the following incident could now occur.

A young Englishman, so the story runs, came in the course of his travels to Galveston and spent the night in one of the best hotels there. It was a disturbed night, his rest being somewhat broken by the sounds of revelry which rose at intervals from the restaurant below. He


managed to drop off at about three a.m., but was almost immediately startled into wakefulness by a succession of bloodcurdling yells which continued for several minutes. After that things were quieter, but his nerves had been rattled, and after tossing restlessly about for an hour or two, he decided to get up and go for a little walk in the fresh air. As he passed through the large hall of the restaurant, he noticed a negro busily engaged sweeping up some little round objects resembling marbles. Adjusting his monocle, for his sight was not too good, he said to the negro : 276


” Have they been playing marbles ? ” ” No ! ” said the darkic ; ” they had a gouging match, and them’s eyes.”

The horrified globe-trotter fled from the country without delay.

I was amused on board a tramp steamer which arrived from New York with case oil, and which I piloted to Budge Budge, by the captain’s account of his experience with the newspaper reporters at the great American city. He arrived at New York after a voyage to the


South Sea Islands, m the course of which he had touched at a number of places which are very seldom visited, amongst then being the island of Owhyhee in the Sandwich group, the spot where the great Captain Cook came to a violent end at the hands of the natives on February 14th, 1779. Immediately after arriving at New York the steamer was boarded by a couple of reporters from the principal newspapers, who asked him to tell them something about his cruise in Polynesia. He had acquired A SHOCK FOR THE CAPTAIN


quite an interesting collection of curios in the way of canoe paddles, knives, bows and arrows, clubs, ornaments and earthenware utensils, which he produced for their inspection, inventing some little story in connection with each exhibit, which the simple-minded reporters accepted without demur. As they seemed prepared to swallow anything he chose to give them, he let himself go and thoroughly enjoyed himself, showing them amongst other precious relics a bracelet made from the whiskers of a missionary who had been barbecued, and the identical club with which Captain Cook had been massacred. When he had exhausted his power of invention the innocent


reporters took their leave with many expressions of gratitude, leaving him convulsed with merriment and feeling very pleased with himself.

His enjoyment, however, was somewhat marred on the following morning, when he opened the newspaper and read:




These, however, are not the real names either of the steamer or of her commander, who told the story against himself. 278


The largest steamer which I handled during my time was a German named the Bosnia. She had four masts and a black funnel; I don’t know what line she belonged to. She was taken up by W. T. Wawn and I was appointed to her by turn. She was lying at Mutteabrooj moorings and was to haul out at daybreak. I think it was in the month of September, but I know that it was in the freshets and the day after the moon, or fifth day of springs.

When I went on board I found the Harbour Master getting ready to unmoor. I asked him what her draught was and on learning that she was drawing twenty-seven feet three inches forward and twenty-seven feet aft told the captain that I wanted her to be three inches by the stern instead of by the head. He demurred at first, but as I was resolved not to leave with her in her present trim, he consented to run some water into the after ballast tanks and to trim her by the stern. As a matter of fact all her ballast tanks were empty and she was lying with a list, and there was no difficulty about altering her trim.

My reason for being so insistent about the draught was that, shortly before, I had had trouble with a steamer named the Knight Bachelor, which had been loaded two inches by the head. I had piloted this vessel several times before and had always found her steer quite well, so that when I was told that she was an inch or two by the head I did not worry about it, but hove up and turned round in the Reach with a light heart. As soon as she gathered way, I found that she was slow and sluggish in answering her helm. Just at that time the channel round Sankral bight had contracted and was narrower than usual owing to the encroachment of Sankral Sand, and it was necessary to keep close in to the bank before approaching the narrow spot. But the Knight Bachelor declined to do this, and was so slow in answering her port helm that we grounded on the extension of the sand, THE S.S. BOSNIA


and stuck there. W. Bryant, who was following me, on seeing that I was aground promptly put his helm hard a-port and stuck his steamer’s nose up the bank just below the National Jute Mill. She swung round to the ebb, slipped off, and he steamed back to the Reach. The Knight Bachelor lay where she was quite comfortably until the tide rose, and she floated off. The engineers drove her all they could, and we got down to Kulpee. I attributed the grounding entirely to the fact that she was loaded by the head, and I was very chary ever after of leaving with a heavy-laden, flat-bottomed vessel in similar trim.

When the Bosnia’s draught had been altered to twentyseven two forward, and twenty-seven six aft, we unmoored and I took charge from the Harbour Master. She had a heavy list, which disappeared as we crossed Moyapur Bar with only a few inches more than our draught, and on reaching deep water returned again. She gave no trouble at all, steamed and steered quite well. We got to Kulpee the first day, Saugor the second, and out on the next tide. But when we were over the Gasper Bar and they started to fill the ballast tanks, she took a really serious list. I watched the captain as he studied the clinometer which was fixed to the binnacle and which registered a greater inclination which each lee roll which the vessel took, for wc were going along in the trough of the sea, and I was glad when we were able to alter the course to bring her head to sea. I put the engines to slow and kept within boating distance of the Lower Gasper Light until she began to come upright, when we went ahead again and all was well. I have never had to do this with any other vessel.

The S.S. Monarch was another vessel to which I was appointed by turn, as the pilot who took her up did not want her, although she was drawing the lucrative draught of twenty-six eight. The trouble t with her was that one could not rely on the engines going astern when 280


asked to do so. I was on turn and was told that the agents wanted to see me about her. On going to their office I was told that on account of the state of the steamer’s engines I could have the tug Retriever to help me to turn heT round, and to keep me company through the upper reaches of the river if necessary. I did not much fancy the job, for I was no fonder of trouble than other people, and preferred a comfortable, straight-forward bit of work without any extra risks.

When I went on board in the morning she struck me as being a very fmc-Iooking steamer, in fact quite a handsome vessel. The Harbour Master, in answer to my enquiries, told me that the engines certainly took a little time to think it over before going astern, perhaps a minute or two, but that I could rely on their doing so in their own time. He had had no trouble with her. I therefore decided not to make use of the Retriever, which was standing by in the Reach, but to make sure that while turning round we never got into such a position as would render it imperative to go astern in a hurry. We went as close as possible to the northern bank and drifted until we were nearly dead in the water before putting the helm over and going slow ahead. As soon as her nose got into the strength of the current she commenced to turn quite nicely. The engines were slow in making up their minds to go astern, but they did so in ample time to keep her stern tucked into the bank, and she came head down without any trouble and in reasonable time. She steered beautifully and was a very nice vessel to pilot. We got to sea in two days without any difficulty.

On returning to town and calling at the agents’ I was asked whether I thought that a couple of hundred rupees over and above the pilotage would meet the case. I thought that it would, and to my surprise was presented with two hundred and fifty. That was the only occasion on which such a thing ever happened to me, and is TOO MODEST


probably the reason why I retain such a vivid recollection of my trip down in the S.S. Monarch.

I received a larger sum for sailing up the Albyn, for when the agents of that ship asked me how much I thought that I ought to have, I modestly said three hundred. Having received notes to that amount I invited the captain to share a bottle of wine, and while discussing it learnt from him that they had been prepared to part with four hundred. On both these occasions the vessels concerned had been saved a lot of expense for tug hir

"A Tow to Remember " by an ex Bank Line apprentice….

A Tow to Remember – A Personal Odyssey


Geoff Walker

11th January 1965 was a date for me to remember. I boarded a Walla Walla at Blake’s Pier for the short ride out to join my new ship laying at one of the Typhoon Buoys, close to Stone Cutters Island, in the scenic Hong Kong harbor. I had recently completed a short leave at my home in Hong Kong upon the completion of my Indentures with Bank Line. As I was not yet 20 years of age I was too young to sit for 2nd Mates examinations, so I had secured an interim job as uncertified 3rd Mate for a 4 month trip on a Hong Kong registered cargo ship named “Asia Fir” (renamed “Asia Breeze”).We were chartered to load a full cargo of Copra around various ports in the Philippines – a pleasurable voyage in the making for my first job as 3rd Mate, so I thought. 

“Asia Breeze”, being of 5328 GRT and 9270 DWT, had acquired her own history of tramping the oceans over the years. She had been built by Charles Connell & Co at Scotstoun in 1949, as the “Carronpark” for the Denholm Group, before having been sold off in the early 1960s and eventually finding her way to new owners in Hong Kong. 

I joined her soon after she was placed under the management of John Manners & Co of Hong Kong. The ship was completing a one month period of maintenance prior to resuming her trading life and her intended future name change to “Asia Breeze”. The Master, a Geordie I believe, was a gentleman of unfailing courtesy, modesty and fair-mindedness, who lived life with a good sense of fun, balanced with an ever-present concern for the welfare of those who served under him. The Chief Officer a Hullensian, I recall had an extraordinary knowledge of horseracing. Our Chief Engineer was of Anglo-Indian a decent fellow, whilst the remaining crew, apart from me, consisted exclusively of Hong Kong Chinese. The ship was nicely presented, both in and out, one memorable feature being the large fridge on the Captain’s deck which was continuously replenished with bottled beer – withdrawals were based on an honor system which worked very well.

Unfortunately, after several days on board, whilst I was descending into one of the tweendecks to check on some work in progress, I slipped and lost my footing on the ladder, causing me to fall heavily on to the deck below. To cut a long story short, I injured my right leg which necessitated me being hospitalized. I spent about 10 days in the Canossa Hospital before flying to Cebu to rejoin the ship which had obviously sailed from Hong Kong without me.

Having rejoined the vessel, over ensuing weeks we transited various Philippine coastal Ports and working anchorages, with captivating names such as Jose Panganiban, Tacloban, Iligan, and Iloilo loading parcels of the dried coconut kernels as we progressed, before ending up in Cebu where we were scheduled to top off our load. Having completed loading we made our departure but soon afterwards had to return to the anchorage with engine trouble. It took our engineers about one day to try and fathom out the cause. Apparently, it was something to do with the Thrust Pads seriously overheating. Believing the engineers had rectified the defect we set off a second time but once again we were required to return to the anchorage because of a repetition of the same problem. This situation caused me to ponder over a similar incident I had experienced when an apprentice, with the ship suffering a Crank Case explosion and engine room fire, the route cause being melting Thrust Pads – not an episode to be repeated.

A third attempt yielded a similar result. Over the next several days our engineers toiled endlessly in their efforts to resolve the issue. By this time the Company’s Marine Superintendent had arrived on scene from Hong Kong. He wasted no time or effort in endeavoring to investigate and rectify matters, but unfortunately it was not to be, despite a variety of spare parts being flown in. 

Following several more days swinging around the anchor with the engineering staff striving to overcome the inoperative main engine, followed by further engine trials; it soon became apparent it was proving to be an exercise in futility. Henceforth, remedial action was taken and the Master informed us of the edict from our Head Office in Hong Kong which instructed that the ship would be towed by a local Tug from Cebu to Manila where we would discharge the entire cargo into another chartered vessel so that attempts could be carried out to repair the engine when the ship was in light ship condition. Furthermore, it was also reasoned more comprehensive engineering support was available in Manila, should it be required.  

Suitable Tugs must have been scarce at the time because the following afternoon a dingy looking tug arrived from another Philippines Port, to tow us from Cebu to Manila Bay. I think the term “dingy” was an understatement because the tug looked very rundown and shabby indeed. However, as time was of the essence we wasted no time in preparing for the tow and over the ensuing hours we disconnected one of our anchors and placed it on deck. We made a good connection with our anchor chain to the tugs towing wire under the watchful eye of a Warrantee Surveyor who had been appointed by the insurers and flown in from Hong Kong. In typical Board of Trade fashion, an emergency towing arrangement was also rigged and made available for quick and ready access should the main tow part unexpectedly.

Our departure from Cebu was hastened in order to avoid the predicted onset of adverse weather. Once the tug had assumed the full weight of our loaded vessel, reached unrestricted open water, and lengthened her tow line, we settled down to slow but safe progress along the planned tow route, which had been pre-approved by the Warrantee Surveyor. We had a peaceful trip; the only requirement was frequently checking the navigation whilst under tow to ensure we maintained track and keeping a watchful eye on the main towing arrangement for any signs of excessive wear which could lead to imminent failure. 

Time passed slowly and it was unusually quiet on board without the “thump, thump” of the main engine with only the diesel generators being active. I remember additional lookouts were posted to minimize the risks of being boarded by Pirates, especially due to our slow speed through Pirate prone waters. Although our passage had been slow, but safe, we eventually anchored in Manila outer harbor. Once our local tug slipped the tow we reconnected and housed the anchor we had previously placed on deck.

We lay at anchor for what must have been a week before the vessel that had been chartered to accept our cargo, arrived.  It was a Philippines President Lines ship and she expertly hipped alongside us ready to commence the transfer of our Copra cargo. As it was anticipated that cargo operations would be round the clock, and our hatches were fitted only with basic wooden hatch covers, canvas hatch tents were rigged for all hatches to facilitate quick access to hatches or to afford rapid protection of the cargo in the event of sudden rain squalls.

Cargo was transferred from ship to ship using ships gear rigged with one ton clam grabs. In retrospect the operation was trouble free other than for the occasional snag with the cargo winches which was only to be expected under such relentless working conditions. Once our cargo holds had been devoid of the Copra, the laden PPL vessel did not lose any time in departing and proceeding on her voyage. I recall the entire exercise of transferring the cargo having lasted approximately 2 weeks.

Now in a light ship condition our engineers, in cooperation with the Engineering Superintendent enlisted their time and efforts in troubleshooting and trying to rectify the engine defect. Alas, allowing for the very best of efforts by our shipboard engineers, several more engine trials proved unsuccessful even in light ship condition, resulting in us returning to the anchorage at the conclusion of each engine trial.

Eventually, the owners decided that the vessel would be towed back to Hong Kong for extensive engine repairs at Taikoo Shipyard. This was likely influenced by the fact that the “Asia Breeze: was fitted with a Doxford Economy Opposed Piston Engine and Taikoo Dockyard were a licensee of Doxford. Henceforth, preparations were made for the pending tow. It did not therefore come as any surprise, within a 2-3 days the Salvage Tug “Taikoo” arrived in Manila to tow us back to Hong Kong. She hipped up on our starboard side for ease of access because there was much planning to be done between both vessel’s Masters and the Warrantee Surveyor (who would certify the tow) prior to commencement.

“Taikoo” was a supreme tug for her day, having carried out numerous all weather salvage operations in the South China Seas under the command of the celebrated and highly regarded Captain William (Bill) Worrall, who was her Master for numerous years and a Liverpudlian, from the district of West Derby (which so happened to be my place of birth). Over many years Captain Worrel had established himself a fine reputation for being a superb seaman and one of the foremost salvage experts in the Far East which accounted for him becoming synonymous with the Tug. 

Built by Taikoo Dockyard in 1950, and operated by the Swire Group, she soon carved out an exemplary history of salvage exploits, especially in the South China Sea, which became the basis of her iconic reputation. She had an oil fired steam engine and at approximately 12.5 knots had a range of about 3500 nautical miles. When actively engaged in salvage, she carried a full crew of about 33. At other times she was kept usefully employed within the confines of Hong Kong waters or assisting in the berthing of dead ships at Taikoo Dockyard.

The “Taikoo” looked every bit the part of an ocean warrior – a true salvage tug; robust and impressive in her construction she immediately symbolized the type of work for which she had been designed. I understand she was the third such vessel to proudly bear the name within the Swire fleet and served the Taikoo Dockyard faithfully over a valuable working life of some 23 years, eventually meeting her demise in 1973 when she succumbed to the breakers torch.

By this time it was approaching mid March, so we were past the worst of the volatile North East Monsoon and Typhoon season in the South China Sea. Typically the Northeast Monsoon sets in over the South China Sea in early November and lasts through to early March. As we were now in the inter-Monsoonal or transitional period which is usually characterized by light winds, overcast skies and occasional squalls, we were anticipating a relatively good ocean passage over the distance of approximately 630 nautical miles between Manila and Hong Kong. At an average towing speed of say 5 knots (bearing in mind we were in light ship trim) the passage should take us around 5 or 6 days.

Over the ensuing 2 days there was a number of meetings between both Masters, Warrantee Surveyor and our Engineering Superintendent to agree and draw the passage plan so that courses could be laid off on the charts. The Towing Master (Master of the tug “Taikoo”) would be in overall charge of the tow. Weather forecasts predicted reasonable conditions for the intended voyage, so we were all prepared to proceed.

The day arrived for our departure. Our crew, assisted and supervised by those from the “Taikoo”, required several hours to connect one of our anchor chains to the towing wires from the Tug. This was a classic Board of Trade arrangement – well proven rig over many years. An emergency towing arrangement was also rigged, the same as for the earlier yow from Cebu. Once outward Port clearances had been received for the combo we set off, cautiously moving from our anchorage in South Harbor out into Manila Bay, escorted by another Port Tug until we cleared the breakwater. As we entered more open waters we slowly increased speed and the Towing Master progressively lengthened the towing wire as is the norm. By the onset of darkness we were making a reasonable 5 knots with the tow wire set at about 500m until we were well clear of the coast, into open Ocean when it would likely be lengthened even more. The length of the towing wire was set by the Towing Master and depended on weather and sea conditions and how well the tow was performing. Twice daily the tow line was to be “refreshed” by a few meters either way to eliminate excessive wear and tear and chaffing of wires in one spot. 

Our progress was a little slow but once we had cleared San Nicolas Shoals we transited the South Channel between the Island of Corregidor to starboard, and Carabao Island to port. The south Channel was slightly deeper and wider, hence the decision made in preference to the Northern Channel. By the time we had cleared the South Channel we had been under tow for about 6 or 7 hours. Once having entered the South China Sea, our Tow Master set  a more North Easterly course, the towline was lengthened somewhat and we continued making a steady 5+ knots. True to form, the skies were overcast and grey but we were blessed with only light variable winds and low seas. Naturally, we were predominantly occupied in frequently checking the towing connections, maintaining good VHF radio contact with our Tug and continuing our navigation as if on a normal passage, taking Sun and Star sights, and comparing our calculated position with those determined by the “Taikoo”, which were generally in complete alignment with their own, but their confirmations were always reassuring.

Ensuing days saw little change in the prevailing weather as we continued to make steady progress towards our destination of Hong Kong, always maintaining that magical speed of just over 5 knots.

On our third day under tow we started to sight the distinctive sails of Chinese fishing junks on the northerly horizon. These junks usually sailed in sizable fleets when engaged in fishing and it was a sure signal that we were now closing in towards the China coast. Sailing junks engaged in fishing seldom ventured more than 200 miles offshore; otherwise it would take too long to get their catch back to port even though many were fitted with auxiliary engines. The increased shipping activity was also evident by the smudges of smoke observed on the distant horizons, all pointing skywards as if reaching for the heavens. 

Our Tow Master was an expert on all matters concerning ocean salvage, towage and in particular the South China Sea, so it was like second nature for him  guiding the tow, ensuring we maintained a safe distance from such notorious dangers like the Scarborough Shoal, Macclesfield Banks and the Pratas Islands. So it was, during the afternoon of our 5th day under tow, Waglan Island emerged from the haze. Waglan Island is the easternmost Island of the Po Toi Group which mark the southeast approaches to Hong Kong and features a powerful light house, is extremely rocky and steep so makes for an excellent Radar target for vessels approaching, as in our case. Before our arrival off Waglan, our Tow Master had already commenced shortening the towing wire ready for us negotiating Lye Ye Mun passage and ultimate arrival at Taikoo Dockyard.

As we approached Lye Ye Mun we were accompanied by two other tugs belonging to the shipyard. Their function was to escort us through the relatively narrow harbor entrance and assist the Asia Fir whilst releasing the towing gear, as we were a completely dead ship. Once complete they would take us under tow and place us alongside a lay by jetty at Taikoo Shipyard to await repairs to commence. By 1700 Hrs we were safely secured alongside at the dockyard and our electrics plugged into shore power. 

We lay alongside for about 2 days before the vessel was placed in the drydock. Our engineers still had not determined the exact cause of the engine problems, but we did glean that the stay in drydock would likely be for several weeks. Meanwhile, expert engineers from the engine manufacturers supervised the strip down of the main engine. Most officers and crew signed off and were transferred to other vessels within the fleet. I was lucky and stood by the vessel from 8am to 6pm during day, then went home every evening. Unverified rumors soon surfaced that the cause of the thrust pads seriously overheating was due (going by hearsay) to issues with the main engine bedplate. Deflections taken reportedly indicated some distortion which was put down to a grounding, which the vessel had sustained a year or so earlier, during a Typhoon, whilst under the management of different owners. True or not it took about 4 weeks, for the shipyard working around the clock to rectify the defects.

A few days before the ship was due to be refloated and undertake sea and engine trials, my contract completed so I signed off and prepared to go to college for my ticket.

As mentioned, the vessel had changed name to “Asia Breeze” and served the owners for anumber of valuable years prior to being on sold for continued trading.


See Geoff Walker’s book titled: “A Tramp For All The Oceans”


The Iconic Ocean Salvage Tug “Taikoo” in Hong Kong waters

The “Asia Breeze” (ex Asia Fir) depicted whilst

loading a cargo of Copra at Cebu, Philippines.

A fine image of the “Asia Breeze”, following engine repairs and having resumed normal trading.


A lovely view of the old TWEEDBANK , 30 years of service to the Bank Line 1930 to 1960. War survivor and the epitomy of the old Bank Line ships in the 1950’s. Twin screw and basic facilities! Notice no radar fitted. Astro Navigation plus the DF set was all that was available. This snap was taken when the white line was still in vogue on the hull – phased out over a few years in the early 1950’s.

On the Hooghly – Chapter 20


The loss of Anglia—Colonel Crawford’s account—Mr Elson and his observations—The sacred paper weight—Superstitious Bengalis—Snipe-shooting—The ghost train—The Indian problem —My model—Indian servants.

OF all the unfortunate happenings on the river during my time probably the most tragic was the loss of the Anglia at Mud Point anchorage on August 24th, 1892. She was a steamer of 2,120 tons register belonging to the Anchor Line, and left Calcutta with a general cargo, in pilotage charge of Mr. S. R. Elson, Branch Pilot, and was lost when turning to anchor at Mud Point.

When a pilot decided to ‘ come-to’ at that anchorage he would get as close as possible to the western side of the channel and turn with starboard helm to the eastward. The reason for this was that the ebb tide ran much more strongly down the western side of the channel than on the eastern, where it was comparatively slack. The recent sketch charts issued at the time showed that a lump had formed in the channel rather to the west of the centre, and it was necessary to turn either well above the lump or pass it and turn below it.

Mr. Elson elected to turn and anchor below the lump; but as the steamer came round, and was athwart the channel, she took the ground and capsized immediately. At the court of enquiry which sat to investigate the cause of the accident, it was held that the lump had shifted its position and formed lower down.

On taking the ground the Anglia went completely over, putting her funnel in the water. Of the crew of thirty-nine asi 252


men, five were in the forecastle at the time of the disaster. The forecastle doors became jammed and the men were trapped. The port side of the forecastle remained above

water, and the imprisoned men were able to put their heads through the scuttles, which were, however, too small for the men to climb through. The B.I.S.N. Com–. pany’s steamer Goa, which was also bound down, anchored close to, sent her boats away to the wreck, and took the people off; but she could do nothing to help the unfortunate fellows trapped in the forecastle.

At first it was thought that it would be possible to cut through the iron plates of the forecastle and release them. The engineers of the Goa, with some of the engineroom staff, worked at the plates with cold chisels and encouraged the prisoners with a hope of speedy release. There was no time to waste, as the flood tide, when it made, would certainly cover the wreck entirely.

But after the plate had been cut through it was found that the plates were double, and that there was another, and thicker plate, under the top one. The engineers worked away with feverish haste, for it was now after low water and the tide beginning to rise; but they were unable to effect an entrance into the forecastle before the water covered it and flowed into the scuttles, drowning everyone inside. An attempt was made to pull one slightly-built man through one of the scuttles. They got him half-way out but were unable to extricate him altogether, as his pelvis would not come through the narrow opening. He implored them to push him back again as he was in agony, and they had to do so, and reluctantly abandon their efforts at rescue.

On the morning of August 25th I left Saugor in pilotage charge of the S.S. Argus, bound from Melbourne to Calcutta with horses. Wc started from Saugor on the first quarterflood. It was raining and the visibility poor, but I sighted a white ship’s boat bottom-up on the Mizen Sand, which was not yet covered by the rising tide. At the head of COLONEL CRAWFORD’S ACCOUNT


the Eden Channel I met the S.S. Goa outward-bound, and saw that the pilot, Mr. Marshall, wanted to hail me. As we passed each other he told me to look out for a wreck in the channel. It was very thick but I kept a bright look-out, and suddenly sighted the two masts of the Anglia right ahead. I ported and passed to the eastward of her, feeling grateful to Marshall for the timely warning.

In Bengal Past and Present of July-December, 1909, there appeared an account of the loss of the Anglia, with a letter written by Lieut.-Colonel D. G. Crawford, M.B.,



I.M.S., who was a passenger on board the steamer. The letter was written shortly after the occurrence, and I reproduce part of it here, as it gives a vivid description of what happened:

” On the morning of the 24th, Wednesday, Booth took me down in a steam launch to Garden Reach, and I went on board the Anglia. There was also another passenger, a man called Mackenzie from one of the jute mills. As pilot we had Elson, who has the reputation of being the best man in the Service, with a young chap called Curran as his assistant or leadsman, and another pilot called Cox was going down to the pilot brigs as a passenger. All went well till we reached the bottom of the sandbank called the Jellingham Lump about twelve miles above. Saugor Lighthouse. Here Elson meant to anchor for the 254


night, and the ship was just turning round to anchor with her head up-stream, when she touched the bottom, and in ten seconds or less, I should think, was down on her right side with her masts under water.

” At the time it happened I was standing in a passage on the upper deck, into which the companion ladder leading down into the cabin or saloon opens. Being a cargo boat she had no regular deckhouses or smoking saloon. I had been talking to Cox most of the day. He sometimes used to play football in the old Black Watch Club. He had just brought up from his cabin some photos of the Sunderbunds to show me (one minute later and he would have been drowned in his cabin to a certainty), and had just put the first into my hands when she touched. Cox said, ‘ She’s aground; she’ll right herself immediately.’ But she heeled over further and further. When she got on her beam-ends, she seemed to hesitate for a second or so, as to whether she would go over or not, and then went right over on her side with her masts under water, from butt to top, and one side of her hull right out to the keel. A few minutes later her masts came out of water again, all but the first few feet above the deck. She was then on her side, at about a right angle to what she should have been, so that the rigging from the bulwarks to the mast was quite flat and level.

” When she began to heel over more and more, Cox and I scrambled out of the passage on to the side of the deck, which we reached just about the time she was hesitating as to whether she would go over any further. After that we found ourselves standing on the side of the captain’s cabin, with the deck like a wall beside us. A railing across the part of the hurricane deck was standing up like a ladder by us. Cox called out, ‘ Up here, sharp,’ and we went up it sharp, and found ourselves standing on the side of the ship. We were the first there, and were there, I should think, within one minute from the CURRAN’S LUCKY ESCAPE


time she struck. Men were pouring up on every side until there were twenty-one there in all,

” Most of those below had no possible chance of escape, but there was one man shut up in the wheelhouse above the captain’s cabin who was got out after a little by two other men. She went over on her right side with her left side up. The only places from which it would have been possible to save anyone were the officers’ cabins on the left and, as it happened, they were all empty at the time. There were four poor fellows shut up in the forecastle, but we could do nothing for them, as we had no implements but an axe. With this some men managed to wrench off the brass ring round the scuttle, but even then it was too small to let them through, and the poor fellows were drowned as the tide came up. The others must have been killed instantaneously at the first inrush of the water.

” Fifteen lives in all were lost, including the second engineer, chief steward, Elson’s native servant, all the saloon waiters, who, of course, were below at the time, two sailors, and several firemen. One sailor jumped overboard and was drowned. Elson, the captain, the first and second officers, were all on the bridge at the time, which was the safest place they could have been in; the third officer also turned up from somewhere. There were several wonderful escapes. One was Curran, the leadsman, who was heaving the lead on the right side of the ship. When the ship came over on top of him, he jumped into the river as far as he could, and swam, getting into the rigging as the masts came over. Also the men in the engine-room somehow were all washed up, though those who were in the stokehole were drowned. The other passenger, Mackenzie, was sitting on the upper side of the deck, and was up on the side before we were.

” When we got up there, that is those who escaped, the captain told us to get into the rigging or remain near it in case she rolled over any further, or in case she rolled 256


over on the other side. I sat up there for some time (it was really on a level with the side, not above the side at all), but after a while, seeing that the ship seemed firm enough, I came down again on to the side. The first and second officers’ cabins were above water, and they managed to save a good deal of their kit, including a sextant and another instrument belonging to the chief officer. One of them also got out a box of cheroots, which he handed round. Somebody also got a lot of cork jackets from somewhere, and we each put one on.

” The B.I.S.S. Goa, the mail to Rangoon, was coming down the river behind us, and when we got settled, we saw her nearly abreast us. Some of the men began to wave jackets, etc., to her, but there was no use doing that, as they could not possibly help seeing us. Indeed some of the people on board her saw us go over. The place where we were was near the middle of the river, but rather to the Midnapur side, about five miles from Kedgeree, and perhaps seven from the Saugor Island side. The Goa came down a long way to the east of us, and then came slowly round to the south-west. Then she went away to the south-east and dropped a couple of boats. Then she went and anchored to the southwest. When her boats came within a quarter of a mile of us Cox hailed them, and told them not to try to come alongside, but to anchor there and wait till slack water, which they did. The river and the tide were running like a millrace round both sides of the Anglia, and boiling in and around the masts and rigging. Through this a boat would have had to come.

” Then after a while the chief officer and some men managed to cut away one of the Anglid’s boats, and it floated, though it had not any rudder. Three of the boats were smashed up underneath her when she went over; the others were swung downwards towards the masts and funnel. Cox offered to take this boat out to communicate with the Goa, to try and get some tools, ABOUT MR. ELSON


to cut out the men shut up in the forecastle. The second officer took charge of the boat. Cox, Mackenzie and I went with him, also Curran, who was pulling an oar, and about eight men. We drifted and rowed down to one of the Goo’s boats. Then they took their anchor and attached it to the Anglia’s boat, while the Goa’s boat took us to the Goa. We were very hospitably received on board the Goa, which we reached about 6.30 p.m. The captain, and the first and third officers, remained on the Anglia until 8.0, when they had to leave, too. All those who got on to the side of the ship were saved, and none of them seriously hurt.”

Colonel Crawford goes on to say that the Goa transferred the survivors to the tug Rescue on the following day at Saugor, that the Rescue took them all up to Calcutta, and that he sailed for home in the S.S. Dalmatia a few days later. Curran, who was Mr. Elson’s leadsman, became a pilot, and was in pilotage charge of the steamer Deepdale when she was lost at Pir Serang crossing, touching the ground and capsizing as suddenly as the Anglia had done.

I have a sketch of Mr. Elson working at his signal book which I made on board the brig, and which is fairly like him. He was rather a remarkable person. He had been a bluejacket in the Navy, and had joined the Bengal Pilot Service as a licensed pilot, when the licensed service was started by the Government, as I have mentioned previously.

Not all the people thus introduced made good, but Mr. Elson was one of those who did so. He was a self-educated man, possessed of considerable ability. He compiled a very elaborate book of signals for the use of the Service, and wrote a guide to the Hooghly, which was a textbook for the leadsmen. He was also an authority on meteorology, and for years kept a record of the density of the water at the Sandheads, at different times of tide, and at the different seasons of the year. He used an

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hydrometer which he had manufactured himself from a soda-water bottle weighted with lead inside, and he had some little discs of tin and lead which he used to slip over a pin stuck into the cork. When at the Sandheads he would draw up a bucket of water from alongside, measure the gravity carefully with his home-made instrument, and enter the reading in a little book reserved for the purpose. This he would do several times during the day.

On one occasion while he was leaning over the side, engaged in filling his bucket, a mischievous leadsman removed his soda-water bottle, to his intense annoyance. He said that he had been given to understand that the Service was now recruited from sons of gentlemen, but that he found himself as a matter of fact in the society of sons of female dogs. While he was thus relieving his feelings the bottle was deftly replaced, and the culprit tried to persuade him that it had been there all the time. As a leadsman, I hove the lead with him in many vessels, and found him very interesting. He had some amusing anecdotes to relate about his service on the China station when Sir Edward Pellew was in command.

For a time I shared the top flat over Traill’s the printers in Mango Lane with two other members of my Service, who like myself were grass widowers, our respective wives being in England. The durwan, or gatekeeper, was a Hindu, a tall, good-looking man, and very devout. Just within the gateway of the entrance to Traill’s stood a peepul tree, the sacred tree of the Hindus, and under the tree was placed a large, smooth, oblong stone to represent a lingam. The durwan, who kept the spot well swept, neat and tidy, spent most of his time seated under the peepul, resting. But at night, when we wanted to sleep, he became very wideawake indeed and would chant or recite long passages from one of his holy books in a loud but monotonous tone which, to a man who was trying to get some sleep, was simply maddening. THE GIFT FROM ABOVE


On the”writing-desk in our sitting-room, and used as a paper-weight, stood a block of old red sandstone about eight inches high which had carved on it a deer and some figures, representing an incident in the life of Gautama Buddha. This block came from the great Buddhist Temple of Buddha Gaya, where it had perhaps been deposited by some devout pilgrim as a votive offering


some two thousand years ago. It had been given to me by a friend, who had received it from a relative who had been engaged in the work of restoring a part of the temple, which was in a state of dilapidation.

One very hot night, after we had turned in and were attempting to get some necessary sleep before turning out again at three o’clock to go on board our vessels in Garden Reach, the durwan began his evening hymn. After standing it patiently for half an hour or so my companion hailed him and asked him to desist. But the 260


durwan was wound up and in his religious fervour paid no attention whatever to the entreaty, but continued his monotonous chant, which rose with painful clearness on the hot, still air.

” Throw something at him, and then perhaps he will stop,” I suggested. My fellow-sufferer grabbed something and flung it in the direction of the noise, which immediately ceased. ” I hope it did not hit him,” said my companion ; ” for it was that heavy paper-weight.” I hoped so, too, but as silence now reigned we got off to sleep, and slept soundly enough until our boys called us with the intelligence that the gharry was waiting to take us to the ghat. Having dressed we went down. There we found the durwan standing in the moonlight under the peepul tree and showing to an interested knot of co-religionists the wonderful sacred stone which had suddenly fallen from the skies while he was engaged in his religious exercises, and which now held a place of honour next to the lingam. We did not claim it, for it had now fallen into the possession of one who valued it more highly than we did. The Bengalis are extraordinarily credulous and superstitious. They are firm believers in ghosts and goblins.

My principal relaxation when ashore was snipe-shooting. Nothing took one so completely away from the work on the river as a long day in the big open spaces, and I attribute the perfect health which I enjoyed during my thirty-five years’ service on the Hooghly to my habit of getting away from the work and into the paddy fields whenever I could do so. For many years I retained the services of a shikarry, Kushoo, whose duty it was to explore the surrounding country while I was down the river, and to take me to some spot where I should be sure to find some birds, as soon as I returned to Calcutta.

He never failed me. On arriving after a long and tiring day’s work, he would put in an appearance with the news that there were half a dozen couple of birds at Sam- IN THE PADDY FIELDS


nugger, Naihati, or Chinsura, or perhaps down the Budge Budge road, and that we should have to start for the railway station very early on the following morning. If he said that there were half a dozen couple of birds, I knew that I should see that number and probably more.

It was on one of these excursions that I was amused by a discussion about ghosts, and impressed by the superstition of the Bengali peasants. We had caught an early train to Chinsura where we were joined by two coolies whom Kushoo had engaged as beaters, and with them we marched to the ground where he said he had located eight snipe. It was in July, very hot when it was not raining, and the paddy fields looking their best, a wide expanse of the most beautiful green, standing in about six inches of clear limpid water. I could never look at a paddy field without reflecting on the prodigious amount of labour which it represented. The rice was sown in small square patches, and when it had attained a height of nine or ten inches was transplanted over a stretch of many acres. Each stalk had to be planted separately and at a regular distance from the next. The amount of patient toil which this involved all over the rice-bearing districts of Bengal filled me with wonder and admiration. I was always extremely careful not to walk in such a manner as to damage the standing crop which had been planted with so much care.

On this occasion we found the birds scattered over a wide stretch of ground, about half a mile to a bird, and having bagged one or two, were glad to knock off for lunch and a little rest under the trees close to a village, inhabited by the people who had planted the rice.

While eating my sandwiches we were joined by a couple of young men clad simply in loincloths, who looked like field labourers; but Kushoo told me that they were the proprietors of the land round the village. Kushoo asked them about a ghost train which he understood was in the habit of running through Chinsura railway 262


station every night at a certain hour, and which he believed was causing some concern to the railway officials. They said that it was quite true, that it generally ran through the station without stopping, but that two nights ago the people at the station had watched its lights approaching, had seen it slow down and stop, and then suddenly disappear. That night an old resident of the village had died.

There was a large peepul tree close to where we were seated, and I asked whether it was haunted or inhabited by ghosts. They were not certain, but rather thought it was, and in any case would be very loath to climb into it at night.

One of the coolies then had a tale to tell of a long white form which had walked by his side one dark night, and did not leave him until he reached his hut. I asked him if he had been carrying any fish at the time. He was very indignant at the suggestion, and said, ” Am I mad to walk about with fish at night to attract ghosts ? ” I think the belief in ghosts and evil spirits is pretty general in Bengal, where the people are extraordinarily ignorant. I always found the peasantry simple and inoffensive, and it was impossible not to like them. British rule has given them security of fife and property; they are no longer harried by marauding bands of Pindaries, and improved communications have abolished famine. But this very security of life and property has permitted the population to increase enormously, and accentuated the struggle for existence.

The problem is a very difficult one indeed. I am quite sure that Swaraj is not going to solve it. They are probably in the same state of mental development as they were thousands of years ago. As a race they are suited to their environment, and are not likely to be displaced by any other race less suited to exist in the moist heat of Bengal. So they will probably persist for many thousands of years to come, and in some way perhaps things may A GOOD MODEL


right themselves. Or will they always be overcrowded and compelled to accept a very low standard of living ?

Amongst the interesting Indians whom I came across during my long residence in the East, I recall a sadhu who sat to me as a model. I had always been fond of drawing, and when on long leave to England had become


a pupil of the late Mr. J. Crompton at Heatherley’s in Newman Street, among my fellow-students being Laurence Koe and Gerald Ackerman. In Calcutta I studied under Mr. Jobbins and Mr. Ilavell, who were successively Principals of the Calcutta School of Art. In Mr. Havell’s time a few of us formed a small art club, which was allowed to meet in the studio in the Calcutta Museum, and there 2U4


we drew for an hour or two, from the models engaged for the School of Art.

One afternoon the model failed to attend, and after waiting for a bit we told the durwan to bring in any passerby who was willing to sit for four annas an hour. He returned in a few minutes accompanied by a tall, well-made man, with fine features and a black beard, who looked to be about thirty years of age. We gave him


an easy sitting pose, for it is no use giving the amateur model any other.

I found him an interesting study, and when the meeting broke up asked the sadhu whether he would come and sit at my rooms on the following morning. He agreed, and I commenced a head in oil. He seemed very drowsy, his head kept nodding, and he nearly fell off the packing case on which he was perched. So to keep him awake I engaged him in conversation, and he told me his story.

He had been a landed proprietor in a small way in the North-West, having succeeded to an estate which had been in his family for many generations; but from one cause and another he got into debt and into the clutches of a moneylender. I could well imagine it, for he looked A SADHU’S LIFE


a dreamy unpractical sort of man. In the end the moneylender took everything, and finding himself reduced to beggary, the erstwhile landed proprietor became a sadhu or religious mendicant. A pleasant enough life, and since adopting it he had wandered about all over India, and as far as Ceylon, visiting all the holy places which were worth visiting. He had just come from Puri, and was in Calcutta for a religious festival which was being held at Kali Ghat. I asked him what had become of his wife and familv. He replied reverently, ” Khoda janta ” —” God knows”.”

I was in town for several days before being sent down the river again, and my friend turned up every morning for a sitting. At the close of the second sitting he drew my attention to a patch of skin trouble on his shoulder, and asked me if I knew of any remedy. I replied that I would consult a doctor friend about it, and in the course of the day called on Colonel Maynard, who told me to send the sadhu to him at the Medical College Hospital. The next morning I gave the man a letter for Colonel Maynard, and told him to make his way to the hospital, where he would be treated and cured. He said, ” Yes, but you surely don’t expect me to walk all that way; it’s over a mile.” I said of course not and gave him his tram fare in addition to his pay for the sitting.

When I returned after a trip to the Sandheads he posed once more and showed me his shoulder from which, thanks to Colonel Maynard’s treatment, all trace of skin disease had disappeared. Some years later, when I was waiting for a tram to take me to Tollygunge, I was touched on the shoulder and, turning round, saw my old model, who asked me whether I wanted him to sit again. In reply to my enquiry he mentioned some of the places to which he had travelled since our last meeting, and said that he was once again busy with his religious duties at Kali Ghat.

But the Indians, of whom I retain the pleasanteht 300


recollections were my ship’s boy, Syed Abbas AH, and my Ooryia bearer. They were with me for many years before my retirement, and it would have been impossible to have found two better or more reliable servants. On the river and on the pilot vessel my comfort depended largely on the boy, who brought me my meals on the bridge, provided me with dry clothing if I got wet, made a bed up for me at night, and looked after me generally. When we arrived back at my abode, he handed me and my belongings over to the old bearer and departed to his own dwelling, coming back in the evening to see if we were going down the river again.

If I had been appointed to take some vessel away, it was sufficient to tell them both the hour at which I wanted to leave the house, and I could turn in with perfect confidence that when they called me my traps would have been packed and placed on the hackney carriage and there would be nothing for me to do but get dressed and depart. This went on for many years and they never once let me down in any way. The boy kept my purse, and made what disbursements were required for drinks or anything of that sort, handing me back the balance on return to town.

When I retired, they both decided to do the same. I gave them their choice of a small pension or a lump sum, and they elected to take the latter, and to buy two small bits of ground, on which to grow sufficient foodstuffs to keep them alive. They both came from Orissa, their villages being near Cuttack. Syed Abbas Ali wrote to me three or four times a year, until a couple of years ago, when his daughter informed me that he had died. The bearer, who was a much older man, died about a vear after I left.

Hooghly Tale continued….


An unpleasant night—Mastering the Greek language—The ” turret” steamers—The mate of the Aislaby—The case of the Mignonette—The ex-actor mate—The Chemnitz—Mr. WoodrufFe and the man-of-war—Dynamite in a thunderstorm.

ONE of the most unpleasant nights which I can recollect was spent on board a ship named the Earl Spencer’, which fell to my turn in town. I forget who took her up to Calcutta, but it was not me. She had been a steamer, and her engines and propeller had been removed, and she had been rigged as a ship. The tug Dalhousie, Captain Sampson, towed us down and we had no trouble of any kind on our way down the river, getting to Kulpee the first day and out to sea on the second. The weather was not too good as we passed Saugor—hard monsoon weather, with occasional heavy squalls, and after passing the Lower Gasper we found quite a big sea running. While the ebb tide lasted we made fairly good progress, but by the time that we were midway between the Intermediate and the Eastern Channel Lights we met the flood, and it was not until about nine o’clock at night that the Dalhousie pulled us to abreast of the latter, when Sampson blew his whistle and hailed us through his megaphone to let go the hawsers. At least I concluded that that was what he wanted us to do, although I could not make out what he was saying. The tug had eased down and kept on whistling, so although I would rather have been towed a mile or two south of the Light I told the men to let go the hawsers and to loose the topsails and foresail. We already had the fore and main staysails set. They were a long time getting the sail on her, and by the time they had hoisted the topsails we had

239 240


drifted close to the Light. We could not have weathered it, so I put the helm up and passed to leeward.

We set the foresail and stood down close hauled on the starboard tack. It was blowing a gale from south-south-west and we had a succession of squalls to which we had to lower the upper topsails, hoisting them again after the squall had passed. She was not too well manned and the men seemed played out after an hour or two of this sort of thing, but I could see that she was not too weatherly and that we must carry as much sail as possible if we were to reach the brig by daylight.

Having stood down for two or three hours, and the flood tide being finished, we wore round and stood to the westward, the weather if anything getting worse. She certainly was not too weatherly, for we only weathered the Light by about a mile.

I stood on until the Light bore east-south-east and then went round again, and we set the main topgallantsail, which was just about as much as she could carry. I had seen nothing of the brigs, but as the daylight came in I made out the Buoy brig hull down to windward. We stood to the westward again and put the mainsail on her, which certainly sent her through the water, but she was a regular crab on a wind and went to leeward in a most disheartening manner. It was evident that she had not been built to sail. But about noon the brig took compassion on us and ran down to where we were. I was very glad to be taken out and grateful to Mr. Rayner, who was in command of the Buoy brig.

Greek vessels were almost unknown on the Hooghly, but I recollect being sent on board a green-painted tramp steamer, the Marietta Ralli, which flew the Greek flag. I always made a practice of giving my orders to the helmsman in the language to which he was accustomed, instead of giving them in English to be translated by the officer of the watch. Before doing so on this occasion I had to learn them myself. I therefore asked the captain, who spoke LEARNING GREEK


English, what I was to say if I wanted to direct the vessel’s course to starboard. He replied, ” A dexia,” and to port, ” A ristera.” Steady was translated ” Grami” My traps having been hoisted on board, and the book filled in, I called out, ” A dexia ! ” I could not see the wheel or the steersman as they were concealed in a little round wheelhouse situated in the centre of the bridge, but a


face surrounded with black whiskers and beard suddenly shot out from an opening in the wheelhouse and grinned at me, displaying a fine set of glittering white teeth. He had evidently been startled by my foreign accent. I looked firmly at him and repeated, ” A dexia ! “

The face disappeared and I heard the wheel going over, so I knew that I had mastered the Greek language, as far as my requirements were concerned, and that all was well.

English vessels are different from foreigners in that we say ” Port the helm ” when we want to direct the course to

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starboard; but if we wish to go to starboard on a foreigner we simply say ” Starboard,” or its equivalent, and take no account of what the helm does. This little difference very nearly put me ashore one day when I was taking down an English steamer. It so happened that I had just been piloting a succession of foreign vessels. I had taken down an Italian steamer and brought up a German one. On the Italian if I wanted to go to the left the order had been ” Sinistra,” on the German, ” Links.”

Now, in the English steamer going round Sankraal Bight


I wanted to go to the left, and instead of saying ” Starboard,” or ” Starboard the helm,” I said ” Port.” I saw the man putting the helm to port, and called out to him, ” I said port! ” He looked surprised and replied, ” I’m putting the helm to port.” I tumbled to my mistake at once, got the helm over the other way quickly, and nothing happened. But it was a warning to me to keep my wits about me.

When the ‘ turret’ steamers came on the scene they were regarded by us with mixed feelings. They were easy to handle and steered well, but they did not draw much water when laden, which was a serious defect in our eyes, as our remuneration was based on the vessel’s draught, and with a heavy sea running they were awkward to board or to leave when deep-loaded, for the platform alongside which the THE ” AISLABY”


boat had to lie was only a foot or so above the surface and would be submerged with each successive wave. These vessels were designed to reduce the registered tonnage on which port dues and other charges were based. In the formula for calculating a steamer’s tonnage the width of the deck was taken into consideration, and in the turret steamers this width was reduced to a minimum.

When going out from Saugor in the south-west monsoon the turret steamer with each sea which she encountered would pick up tons of water which would rush along the platform and, as she lifted, cascade back again to where it belonged with a continual roar and din. This was the reverse of restful, but the people of the vessel were accustomed to it, just as a miller gets used to the sound of his mill wheel and does not notice it.

Of all the tramp steamers which I have taken up the river, the Aislaby was probably the most uncomfortable. She had a very narrow bridge which rendered it difficult to get away from the venerable steering engine which emitted steam from all sorts of unexpected places whenever the helm went over with a banging and clanging that made one wonder how much longer it was going to hang together before going out of action. The bridge was surmounted by an ancient awning, so threadbare that an observation of the sun might have been taken through it. The funnel was close abaft the bridge, and as we slowly wended our way to Calcutta the following breeze came to us several degrees hotter than it need have been, and flavoured with mephitic vapours from the stokehole.

But my chief reason for remembering the Aislaby was her mate. He was a tall, spare-built old man with one eye, reminding one involuntarily of the Ancient Mariner, and, like the Ancient Mariner, he had some pretty grim stories of the sea to relate. Perched on the bridge-rail he regaled me with tales of disaster to the various vessels in which he had sailed. In each case, whether the trouble was shipwreck, collision, or fire, he appeared to have played the leading 244


r61e and to have been on watch when the disaster occurred. He certainly was no mascot, although he seemed to have led a charmed life and to have been extraordinarily lucky personally ; for on one or two of the occasions he was the sole survivor.

We anchored for the night in the upper reaches, and on



leaving at daybreak I found that the mechanism for lifting the anchor was in keeping with everything else on board. There was no direct steam to the windlass, which had to be worked from one of the winches by means of a ‘ messenger ‘ or endless chain which clattered and thumped as it did its work. One of the links of the endless chain broke in halves, and I watched with interest the efforts of the old mate to repair it with a shackle while the crew looked on, CANNIBALISM


occasionally offering a word of advice and encouragement. Eventually the anchor was hove up, catted and fished, and we resumed our journey to the port.

On another occasion I made the acquaintance of a man who had been an actor in one of the tragedies of the sea. He was the second mate of a steamer which I was taking up the Eastern Channel. It was night and we were slowly making our way over the ebb tide with the idea of arriving at Saugor somewhere about daybreak, and proceeding to Calcutta with the first of the flood. To pass the time and to keep myself awake I got into conversation with the officer of the watch, who seemed at first to be rather a taciturn person. But he suddenly asked me whether I remembered the case of the yacht Mignonette.

I remembered it very well. Two men and a boy formed the crew of the Mignonette, a small yacht which they were sailing out to hand over to the purchaser in Australia. They encountered very heavy weather, and the yacht was so badly knocked about by the sea that it foundered, but the crew had time to take to their boat. The two men were picked up and rescued by a passing vessel when they were at the last gasp and nearly dead from hunger and thirst, but the boy had disappeared. The men, to calm their troubled consciences, confessed that they had killed and eaten the boy Peter. They stood their trial at the Old Bailey, were sentenced to death, and subsequently pardoned in view of the circumstances of the case.

The officer of the watch told me that he was one of these two men. He said that the boy was so ill and weak that he could not in any case have lasted much longer. He also added the information that when the judge before passing sentence asked them if they had anything to say, his companion looked at the portly row of jurymen and exclaimed, ” I don’t suppose any of you gentlemen have ever been really hungry.”

Having told his tale the officer relapsed into silence and appeared to be absorbed in his own reflections during the 246


remainder of his watch. I have sometimes wondered whether he really was one of the two unfortunate men who were constrained to cannibalism, or whether he was pulling my leg. If the latter he was certainly a good actor, for at the time he impressed me with his sincerity.

I did meet an actor on another steamer which I was taking down the river one Christmas Eve and had anchored for the night at Fisherman’s Point. I had left orders that I was to be called when the vessel began to swing at the change of tide.

When the quartermaster turned me out in the small hours with the news that she had started to swing, I got into a thick coat, for it was quite chilly, and made my way to the bridge, where I found on watch a very stout officer whom I had not noticed before. It was a calm, still night, the moon shining softly through the usual cold weather mist on the tall trees and village huts of Fisherman’s Point. The far-off wail of a jackal seemed to accentuate the general effect of peace and quietness. The steamer was evidently going to take her own time about swinging, and having canted across the river she remained in that position without any regard for my desire to get back to bed again.

I lit a cheroot and remarked to the officer that it was a fine night. He agreed, and said, ” Very different with me at this time last year ! ” He sighed and continued, ” I was King Pippin in the Christmas pantomime at Blackpool. But it’s a messing game playing to kids.”

He did not explain why it was a messing game, and I did not like to recall any painful recollections by asking him whether his royal mantle had been sullied by a well-directed egg. Anyway he had retired from the profession and was once more afloat.

I asked him whether he had filled any other leading rSles such as ” Hamlet,” or the dismal jockey in ” The Arcadians.” He had not played either of those parts, but he had been one of the two Corsican Brothers, and the THE ” CHEMNITZ”


memories connected with that performance seemed to have a depressing effect on him.

The steamer having by now got three-quarters of the way round, and the possibility of her tailing the sand no longer a matter of anxiety, I wished him the compliments of the season and retired to my bed in the chart-house.

At certain seasons of the year, and principally at the end of the dry season and before the freshets had commenced to do their useful work of scouring out the channels and improving the tracks over the bars in the upper reaches of the river, we found it necessary to limit the draught of vessels leaving the port. As we were paid according to the vessel’s draught we naturally gave them as deep a draught as possible, and the fact that we did so was generally understood and appreciated by the captains and agents. But not always, as I discovered in the case of a German steamer, the Chemnitz, which I took up with a cargo of horses from Australia. They were a poor lot of horses in bad condition, and the captain told me that they were a poor lot when they came on board, and that many of them had died on the voyage. He also told me that they had lost the boatswain overboard a couple of days before. There were a number of horses standing on either side of the boat deck, and the boatswain was going along outside the rail with the hose and washing down, when one of the horses kicked him overboard.

Nothing worth noting occurred during our passage up the river. I handed over to the Harbour Master and the Chemnitz was berthed at the usual moorings off the remount depot. A week or ten days elapsed, during which I piloted one or two other vessels, and then I learnt that the Chemnitz was nearly loaded and wanted me to fix a draught. The Eastern Gut had been shoaling up, the neap tides were coming on, and the consensus of expert opinion was to the effect that twenty-three feet was the utmost we could expect over the bar in two days’ time. I accordingly told them that they might load to twenty-two feet six, but that 248


they would do better to restrict the draught to twenty-two feet, as there was a possibility of the bar shoaling still more. The captain wanted to load to twenty-four feet, and said that he understood that we always kept a foot up our sleeves. I assured him that that was not the case, and that if he exceeded the limit which I had given him, his vessel might have to wait until the next spring tides, or unload.

When I boarded the Cliemnitz in Garden Reach to take her away I found to my disgust that she was drawing twenty-three feet six, and I was very much inclined to go ashore again. However, I decided to go and have a look at it; the tide might rise better than the forecast, as there was a good southerly wind, or the bar might open out a few inches, though this latter contingency was unlikely.

As we passed Fultah Point the blackboard on the bank used by the Hooghly Point serang to show the very latest soundings over the bar gave ten feet, a reduction of three inches on the previous day’s report, while the semaphore at Hooghly Point registered thirteen feet three, the combined total making twenty-three feet three, or three inches less than we were drawing. It wanted another twenty minutes to high water, when possibly it might show another three inches.

I had a good look at the last sketch chart of the bar, and the shoalest bit certainly looked very narrow. I suppose it was really my duty to turn round and go back, but I went on instead, feeling by no means too happy. Abreast of Nurpur Point the semaphore did show the longed-for three inches, and I sent word down to the engine-room to ” give her all they could.” The high water ball went up at the same moment and dropped just as we approached the bar.

I had the marks dead on, of course, but she suddenly lost her way and looked as though she was going to stop. I looked at the skipper, who had gone rather pale and who cried out, ” Vot is this, vot is this, Pilot ? ” I saw MR. WOODRUFFE AT NYNAN


she was still moving over the ground, and greatly to my relief was gathering way again, so I said to the captain, ” That is the foot we keep up our sleeves.” As we cleared the bar the semaphore showed a fall of three inches.

Of course I was quite in the wrong, and really ought not to have taken the risk. I can only recall one other occasion on which I did the same thing at the same place, but the steamer that time had a big rise of floor and we went over without noticing the bar at all.

This recalls a story which was told me by one of the senior pilots, with whom I was heaving the lead, of what happened to Mr. Woodruffe who was taking down a small man-of-war and who found on rounding Fultah Point that he would not have sufficient water to cross the Eastern Gut. It was first quarter-ebb and the tide falling fast. The only thing to do was turn and anchor in Nynan. He stopped the engines and told the First Lieutenant that when he gave the order to let go the anchor, he wanted them to hold on the chain as soon as the anchor touched bottom, and then give it to her link by link very slowly. The officer told the captain what the pilot wanted done, but the captain said, ” Nonsense, give her thirty fathoms and hold on.” The result was that the whole of the cable ran out and parted at the clinch. Mr. Woodruffe then asked to be allowed to anchor the vessel in his own way with the remaining anchor, pointing out that otherwise she would possibly be lost. He had his way, and having come-to, proceeded to write out a report of the loss of the anchor, and stated that instead of holding on to the chain as he ordered, they had let it run out to thirty fathoms when, of course, it was impossible to hold it and they lost the lot. Having written it out he took the report to the Captain for his signature, but that gentleman declined at first on the ground that he might be called upon to pay for the chain. But as Woodruffe refused to move the vessel until his report was signed he gave in and parted reluctantly 250


with his autograph. I never met Mr. Woodruffe, who had retired before I joined the Service, but I have heard this story more than once and have no reason to doubt it.

Inward-bound vessels had to discharge all explosives at the powder magazine, which was situated at Moyapur, nineteen miles below Calcutta. On boarding one of the German steamers of the Hansa Line, I was informed that she had on board a large consignment of dynamite, so I telegraphed the news from Saugor, and on reaching Moyapur turned round and anchored. In addition to the red-painted powder boat, two other cargo lighters came alongside, and the crew proceeded to get the cases of dynamite on deck. They were stout wooden boxes about eighteen inches long, and the men flung them on to the iron deck as cheerfully and carelessly as though they contained oranges. The captain assured me that it was quite safe to treat them in this manner, and that the stuff would not explode without detonators. I took his word for it, but soon after we had anchored a black bank of cloud formed to the north-west, and we got one of the most violent thunderstorms which I have ever experienced. Forked lightning of the most viciouslooking description seemed to be playing all round the steamer, and the captain’s air of cheerful nonchalance disappeared.

As we sat together on the bridge watching the men pass the cases into the boats, I asked him, after one particularly wicked electrical explosion, what he thought would happen if the steamer was struck. He said that there would probably be a hole in the riverbed about half a mile deep. . . . Nothing of the sort happened, but I was very glad when it was all discharged, and we were able to go on our way to Garden Reach.

A Master's role working offshore in the oilfields far and wide….

from the varied career of an ex Bank Line apprentice…… An original and factual account

A Snapshot of my Reminiscences Working in some of the World’s more interesting Oil Fields 

By Geoff Walker

Having been involved in mainstream shipping most of my seagoing career and before moving ashore into ship management, I decided to spend a few years in the “Offshore” sector. I subsequently served on AHTS, PSV, Self Propelled Jack-ups, Pipe Laying vessels, Offshore Construction vessels, Dive Support vessels (DSV), and a wide variety of other Field Support vessels, including a very interesting few years as a Marine Advisor; working in the Middle East and Asian Oil and Gas Fields. This work could be very challenging at times but certainly had its fair share of satisfaction. In retrospect, I hold good memories of my time spent in the O&G sector but it is definitely a sphere of shipping more suited to the younger seafarers. Traditionally, the more vintage people on board tend to be Masters and Chief Engineers, who are there by virtue of long experience provided they can meet the stringent medical standards and levels of fitness required by the O&G industry.

I found offshore work to be somewhat different to what I had previously experienced. It was first necessary to undergo a period of additional “hands-on” training to familiarize one with the various techniques used in this challenging sphere of the shipping industry. In keeping with modern methods the offshore O&G sector is strictly controlled by Safety and Operations procedures as well as a rigid PTW  (Permit to Work) systems. It was therefore, vital that one was continually updating ones knowledge and endorsements for all aspects of HSE (Health, Safety, and Environment) as well as regulatory and other sensitive requirements of the industry. 

Apart from the ships obviously being considerably smaller and cramped, they were run and operated differently in some respects. The Master does almost everything, and undertakes the ship handling on virtually an exclusively basis, except during his rest periods, it is very “hands on” in comparison to other areas of mainstream shipping. An additional night Master is generally carried when engaged in round the clock operations. Due to the high level of concentration required for prolonged periods, fatigue can set in quickly if one is not properly rested. A momentary lapse in concentration can cause havoc, damage to the ship and/or offshore asset, but most importantly to the deck crew who are prone to working in a hostile and sometimes hazardous environment. Weather conditions also play a significant role in maintaining safe operations. Looking down from the deck of a Rig does not always give a true appreciation of the sea state and can often be misread from lofty heights. This can contribute and become the root cause of misunderstandings between some OIMs (they are in the absolute minority) and AHTS Masters. It is therefore essential, in order to uphold the highest safety procedures, the Master and crew must remain alert and be ready to quickly respond to any potential dangers which may lead to catastrophic development and consequences. It goes without saying the AHTS Master has the final call when it comes to weather working conditions as the safety of his crew and vessel are his absolute priority. Weather may always be a contentious issue but the Master is well justified in evoking the “Stop Work” procedures if he considers it necessary, and is included as standard in ISM documents under “Master’s Authority”.

Most offshore vessels are commonly referred to as AHTS (Anchor Handling, Tug, Supply) and generally fall within the 65-75m length and 2500-5000 GT range. They are extremely sophisticated, fitted with multiple thrusters (Bow and Stern) including Twin Screw or Azimuth main propulsion systems and Dynamic Positioning capabilities (DP) which provides for the most remarkable handling and station keeping features. They are very powerful ships for their size with HP ranging anything between 5-20,000+ BHP, and with Bollard Pulls that can run into the hundreds of tones. These vessels are fitted with strengthened decks which enable them to deploy, recover and handle the largest of Anchors, in addition to extra chain lockers for stowing additional anchor chain, usually needed when deep water anchor handling. In keeping with their multi-purpose role they are designed to carry large quantities of water, fuel and deck cargo as well as accommodation for passengers. 

There are a number of other specialized types of OSV (Offshore Supply Vessel) but the workhorse is the AHTS, with a primary role of deploying and retrieving anchors for Platforms or Rigs when relocating or towing oil field assets, inter or intra Field, or indeed on prolonged ocean passages. Their secondary function is that of Oil Field Support and Supply, passenger transports for Oil Field personnel and assisting in Survey work. Most modern AHTS are now DP (Dynamic Positioning 2/3) rated, which is a very accurate system used for position and heading station keeping. Masters and DP Operators require special certification in order to operate the system when in “Live” DP mode. 

For towing purposes AHTS are equipped with a very large and powerful Towing winch, usually with a Towing  Drum capacity of between 1,500-2,000m x 76 mm diameter wire, multiple telescopic Towing Pins and  “Sharks Jaws”,  devices used for clamping, when connecting or releasing towing wires or anchors. An extra towing wire is generally carried on a spare spool.

My introduction to the Offshore sector was in the North Sea, servicing Rigs and Platforms, from our base in Aberdeen. It was an excellent location in which to learn and hone skills because you always had the benefit of the most experienced of personnel as fellow crew. The weather could be very bad at times, resulting in long and stressful periods being “Hove To” whilst on station, deprived of decent sleep, whilst waiting for a break in the weather. Serving in the North Sea was considered to be an essential part of the “offshore apprenticeship” since it encompassed the full range of requirements in order to become a proficient operator and set the “Gold Standard” for offshore safety.

Following my time in the North Sea I was sent to Nigeria for 6 months before being placed in the Persian Gulf, followed by the Caspian Sea, Bay of Bengal – Andaman Sea, Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea theaters of operation.

One of my most interesting assignments was as Master of a Self propelled “Jack-Up Rig” operating in the Iranian Oil Fields. We operated it two fields, namely, Just off Kharg Island Terminal and at Nowrouz Field in the Far North of the Persian Gulf.

 Self propelled 3 leg Jack-up identical to the one I operated in Iranian waters. The 4 Azimuth thrusters can be clearly    identified. The Jack-up could accommodate 146 POB and was fitted with a 100 ton Crane. The Heli-Deck was in constant use throughout my time spent on board. Note the “Billy Pugh” personnel basket connected to the crane. The Jack-up was subject to the MODU (Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit) Code of regulation. When pinned in position, and elevated to working level, the Rig used to sway from side to side in rough seas which could be quite alarming at times, until one became accustomed to it. Stability and calculating equal stresses for the legs was a full time job for the Master. Shifting of Ballast was used for remedial action in this case.

The main function of our assignment was “Well Stimulation” so it was a relatively easy work load.

We departed under tow from Dubai to the Fields about 5 KM off Kharg Island Export terminal. When shifting intra field, from Jacket to Jacket we operated under our own power but were towed when shifting inter field. It was unassisted maneuvering when “Pinning” at respective Jackets, except for a single safety tug connected aft, in case of emergency. Maneuvering between the platform or Jacket was relatively easy using the 4 Azimuth Thrusters. Good positioning, taking advantage of any currents together with small periodic adjustments on the Thrusters was the secret to easy handling. I recall never once having to use the Safety Tug in earnest. Truthfully, the unit was a dream to handle.

The far north region of Farouz Field was good because we had Kharg Island close to hand and the sea bed was firm so did not pose a risk of high penetration or “Punch Through” by the Legs. Once Pre-load tests were completed it was straightforward working. Whereas, in the shallower “Nowrouz” Field we encountered a very soft sea bed which encouraged excessive penetration which called for regular lifting and lowering of legs, using an inbuilt water Jet systems to assist in the process.

An identical Jack-Up on location in Iranian waters alongside a Jacket, with Thrusters retracted.

 Three months on the Jack-Up without ever stepping ashore was long enough and I was pleased when I departed on an AHTS bound for Dubai and some leave.

My next posting was Master on an AHTS in the Caspian Sea. Living in Asia made it difficult to get there. I was required to take a BA flight to London then connect and backtrack part of the way on another BA flight, to Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan. The Caspian Sea is landlocked by Azerbaijan, Iran and Kazakhstan. 

We used 2 main bases of operation, a Port called “SPS” (no idea what it stands for) and Primorsk a little further to the south, in Azerbaijan. Both ports were in a semi derelict state, well run down after years of neglect following the Soviet withdrawal and virtual abandonment. I recall at Primorsk there was a cement works with tall chimney which belched the filthiest of emissions 27/7.The dereliction started at the breakwaters which were constructed in part from sunken ships and hulks coupled with large rocks. Their construction was very haphazard and showed no form of orthodoxy; they were built as if as an afterthought with whatever could be found, to form a harbor (of sorts). On the adjacent sandy coastlines to the two Ports were several beached Soviet warships (Destroyer types). Obviously abandoned when the Russians moved out and the funds to operate and maintain their Caspian Fleet ceased. These two Ports had been working cities originally with typical square, identical and repetitive apartments blocks, which had been very shoddily constructed during the time of Stalin. Many of these apartments were still occupied. On all these buildings it was difficult to find a straight angle or perpendicular and they had obviously been built in great haste by an unprofessional work force.  A walk around either Port area would reveal abandoned warehouses and derelict machinery, disused railway lines leading nowhere, diesel locomotives and rail wagons. These were often overgrown with flora and were nothing more than rusted out hulks. A stark reminder to the former years of Soviet rule.  

The Caspian can be a dangerous place in which to work, in my opinion. The weather could change dramatically in minutes, going from flat calm seas to a raging full blown storm with heavy seas and when Northerly or South Easterly winds blew conditions would become quite savage. Extremes in climate can be encountered, during the summer it can be very hot, humid and oppressive, whilst in the winter it is freezing cold with frequent snow falls and icy winds. In the northern part of the Caspian, where the water is much shallower and less salty, the sea freezes over completely. These conditions are severe enough to call upon the services of icebreakers. 

Baku is the main city with most of the shipyards and “Oil Donkeys” scattered around that area. I seldom went there except when visiting the office (inside the old walled city). The roads between Baku and Primorsk and SPS were very bad and home to the world’s craziest drivers. It was much safer staying aboard the ship. The city center itself is quite reasonable with an assortment of shops and hotels and of course there is the old walled city which is very interesting and worth a visit, if for no reason other than the market stalls and small shops selling carpets and modern day antiques. 

There is one other location which we occasionally visited nicknamed “Oily Rocks”. It was a rundown place with broken and dilapidated jetties, most having been abandoned for years. Basically it was a floating oil city and at its peak, home to about 2500 people and 2000 oil rigs.  At one point “Oily Rocks” produced half of the world’s oil. It still produces to this day but on a very reduced scale.  “Oily Rocks” was established in 1949 during the Soviet Stalin era, but when I was in the Caspian Sea it had long since past its heyday. I understand it is being cleaned up and rebuilt but it will be a mammoth task. Oil is now exported and piped overland from Azerbaijan to Ceyhan in Turkey, via the Kirkuk-Ceyhan Oil Pipe Line.

The place stinks of oil, due mainly to the thick layer of oily sludge around the jetty piles and on the rocks which are visible and surround the location. The only reason we went there was to replenish bunkers (alongside the only fully intact jetty) or to try to take shelter during adverse weather, but the sea bed is fine silt which, due to the poor holding characteristics, frequently causes ships to drag anchor in strong winds. It could be a nightmare at times so a good place to steer clear of from a Mariner’s stand point. Much safer to remain at sea and ride out the storm.

The Caspian Sea is salt water typically but considerably diluted in the northern sector, with fresh water from the inflow of various rivers. It can therefore be “Brackish” at times in some places. There is an assortment of Drilling Rigs used in the Caspian, a combination of old Semi – Submersible types and the usual 4 leg Jack-Ups. Rig moves in the Caspian were not that common so most of the time we spent ferrying supplies, fuel, water and drilling cement to the various installations.

The average water depth in the Caspian Sea is about 200m but it does reach a depth of about 1000m close to the center. The Caspian Sea sits about 27m below the level of other seas and oceans. The seabed is generally of a sticky sandy sediment. During the Soviet era the Caspian Sea was considered to be a holiday venue with multitudes swimming in the sea. In fact the water is highly polluted with oil and household residues, as well as human waste. This is evidenced by the stench when recovering the ship’s anchor.


The dilapidated “Oily Rocks” circa late 1990s. 


Since my time there, I understand there has been efforts made to rebuild the floating city but to what extent it has now developed I am unsure.

The Ships were all around 8000 BHP and standard AHTS with an LOA of approximately 70m. The ones I served on were Finish built. They had some peculiarities, for example, the Master’s Cabin which was quite large was on the lowest deck, instead of on the highest deck closest to the Bridge which is generally the case. In emergencies one was required to climb 4 decks to reach the wheelhouse. It was rumored that this was because in heavy weather when the ship is rolling, it is more comfortable on the lower decks. Personally I could not detect any difference. The crew messes and galleys were all on the upper decks. The ships were not kitted out for precision Dynamic Positioning at that point in time. Their handling characteristics however were quite good. 

The ships were both versatile and functional but by far the most difficult aspect of working in the Caspian was the Officers and Crews as they were all Russian speaking Azerbaijanis. An interpreter was used but generally they well intended and highly educated ex university types in the main, but without any notion of the operations of a ship and, or, the terminology commonly used. Hence, at times, getting things explained and done could be frustrating. I found it easier to translate through the Polish Chief Engineers, who were all fluent Russian speakers. The Crew in general, were good seaman but rough in their work and it became a full time job trying to improve their standards of shipboard safety. There was little discipline amongst the Crew, they often used to come and go as they pleased. The crew most certainly had their own mind set, stemming from their Soviet training and background. The Master’s were usually British or European. The Chief Engineers, as previously mentioned, were Polish, well trained and excellent technicians, who all spoke flawless English.

As the ships were Azeri Flag, the “paper” Master was an Azeri, although the expat ran the job and acted as the normal Master in command. However, I must say that whilst very few, if any, of the Azeri Masters had ever sailed outside the Caspian Sea at that time, they were excellent ship handlers. The ships were over crewed and included a Radio Officer (who’s only job was to obtain the twice daily Russian Weather Forecasts – which were very good), with an overall compliment of about 30+ Azeri crew members, another legacy from the Soviet era.

Drinking could be a problem with some of the Crew, especially the older members who were used to consumption of alcohol being free and easy as it was in the Soviet days. We always tried to sail early morning so they could sleep off the booze. Replacing troublesome Crew was almost unheard of. In the best case an offender would be removed, only to return the next trip…and so it went on. Mind you, a 1 Liter bottle of the Vodka, which they drank like water, only cost US $2. Every effort was made to prevent this practice but it must be said it was not very successful. Things may now have changed for the better since my time there.

All in all, a six week roster was enough, at the conclusion of which one was ready to face the hazardous trip to the airport and that BA jet that would take you to London, and onwards in my case. There was a high level of stress working in the Caspian, and this coupled with limited facilities, led to a high turnover of Masters. The remoteness did suite some but the majority did not stay more than 6 months or so, despite what was then an attractive tax free salary. Not forgetting the tins of top quality Caviar available at the airport for about USD $5 per tin.


Modern day Baku

Working the Oil Fields of Asia was in sharp contrast to those of the Caspian and Persian Gulf. One enjoyable experience was when I towed a brand new Jack – Up Rig from the Singapore shipyard to its destination in the Andaman Sea. The tow was expected to take about one week each way but in fact it took us almost two months. The rig was a large standard 3 Leg Jack-Up. My vessel was acting as the lead tow in combination with 2 other AHTS which where secondary towing vessel. Departure from Singapore was uneventful. We worked our way up the Malacca Straits, past the Andaman Sea coast of Thailand until we arrived at location approximately 100 nautical miles south of the Irrawaddy Delta, mid-way between Mergui and the Andaman Islands. 

Weather conditions were perfect for our arrival but try as they may the Rig legs failed to gain any penetration when lowered to the seabed. Efforts were ongoing for about 3-4 days but without success. The result of this was that we ended up steaming around the location area with the Rig in tow whilst the charterers consulted with their Head Quarters to take stock of the situation and determine what remedial action would be best suited. After several days we were informed that the intention was to engage a small Drill Ship from Singapore to make numerous drill holes in the seabed around the required pinning area. A sort of, “Swiss Cheesing” of the sea floor, in the hope of breaking up the seabed sufficiently to allow penetration by the Rig’s legs. However, it was estimated it would take approximately one week for the Drill Ship to arrive and another week to complete the “Swiss Cheesing”, two weeks at best. This posed the question as to where we were to take the Rig because Rigs cannot just pin anywhere, the seabed characteristics and suitability first need to be established, then normally surveyed.

In our towing plan we had designated a Safety Haven, which had been pre-approved by the Warranty Surveyors, in the event the weather was too bad to place the Rig on location when we arrived. This refuge was situated behind a large Island close to the Mergui Archipelago (the name I cannot recall) which would afford suitable protection and shelter from any storms originating from the direction of the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean.



We slowly towed the Rig towards the point of refuge, eventually arriving at our pre-arranged and designated target area. We ended up in 40m of water about 1 mile behind a beautiful pristine island, which afforded excellent protection from the seasonal elements and provided good space in which we could maneuver. Initially we were required just hold the rig in position but the prolonged running of engines at reduced speed on the other tugs caused overheating to their engines. 

Once it was agreed that the Rig was in a completely safe position, the solution was we pay out our towing cables, then, dropped our anchor. Once the anchor was brought up, we gently took up slack on our towing wire. Both my ship and 2 other supporting Tugs did likewise so the Rig remained firmly held in position. It worked very well because we ended up remaining secured in this fashion for almost 3 weeks until the “Swiss Cheesing” had been completed.

This may not have been the most conventional method but it worked out extremely well with no incidents or moments of concern. The waters around were crystal clear and pristine in every way. We were visited every day by schools of large Manta Rays which looked upon us with curiosity as they glided effortlessly around us. Another bonus was being treated almost every night to wonderful sunsets and dawn sunrises for which the Andaman Sea is world renowned. It was a superb location in which we found ourselves and although our engines were on “Short Standby” it felt as if we were tourists.


               Sun flare out at Sunset in Andaman                           


                    A Typical Andaman Sea Sunset

Following a relaxing period at our Andaman resort anchorage it was time to go back to work. We reluctantly raised our anchors and configured the Combi back in to towing mode. Once the Rig was ready we gently moved away towards the Oil Field once again. Some 12 hours later we were on location and this time the small Drill Ship had done its job well, the rig was successfully pinned right on target, despite the vicious currents. The strong currents, no doubt aided by the proximity to the Irrawaddy Delta, was one of the main reasons for using 3 tugs which made the positioning and pinning of the Rig much easier to achieve with a higher degree of precision. This was a virgin territory with no Jackets or other installations in the vicinity. Upon the Rig having completed its preload tests our tow lines were disconnected and we were released. After replenishing the rig with as much fresh water and diesel fuel as we could spare, we then I set course back to our base in Singapore. One of the other tugs remained with the Rig until the arrival, a few days later, of another OSV. 


Very similar to the Jack-Up we towed from Singapore to the Myanma Oil Fields, situated between Mergui and the Andaman Islands.

I continued to work the Far East Oilfields from operating bases in Singapore, Labuan and Thailand. In Singapore we had our own berthing location at Jurong which was convenient but heavy on one’s pocket with frequent (and expensive) visits ashore due to our extended stays between assignments. I did another 6 trips to the Myanmar Oil Fields, but working for an international company with main offices in Singapore and Hong Kong it meant we could go anywhere at short notice. My next caper was to be Labuan, then taking a ship to Dubai before returning for service in the Vietnamese Oil Fields.

I found Labuan to be an excellent base, much cheaper than Singapore and the work was interesting. I was Master on an 18,000 BHP AHTS engaged in deepwater anchor handling in the oil fields off Brunei and Labuan, occasionally we would venture out to the South China Sea fields. At one stage my vessel had held the world record for the deepest anchor handling at 1300m, for a short time. This depth has long since been exceeded. This was a fine ship and fully DP 2 which made life easier and she was fitted with the very latest of electronic equipment, including, electronic charts which was quite a novelty at that time. She was Norwegian built and owned. I was seconded there on a short term contract because the Master’s wife had been taken ill and I had been sent to replace him temporarily. On Norwegian vessels priority must be given to Norwegian Crews but since there was no suitable replacement for the permanent Master, I was given the berth. It was great working with the Norwegians, even though they were limited in their permitted duty hours and they commanded the very best of pay and conditions. The ship’s hull had been built in China, then, she was towed to Norway for fitting out. I suspect this may have been a “Dry Tow” as conventional towage would have taken too long. The ship was sensitive in terms of stability and at some stage had been retrofitted with saddle tanks to assist in overcoming the problem. The story goes at some earlier stage she had been involved in a girding incident, which apparently was close to catastrophic. I should say, I could not find any record of this on board but everyone spoke about it, especially the Chief Mate whom witnessed the drama – which I guess was the main rational behind the saddle tanks.

Labuan is a semi autonomous island in the Federation of East Malaysia. By enlarge the locals are a lovely, friendly people, always willing to assist. To be frank, we did not spend too much time at sea as we were more or less retained exclusively for deep water work, but when we did go to sea it was very challenging and satisfying. The Offshore Supply Base was limited with its number of berths so when not on assignment we either went to the anchorage (close to the renamed Dorsett Grand Hotel, previously known as the Waterside Hotel until the mid 2000s) only a short boat ride away. Most other times, if the anchorage was over crowded, we would go to a lay by berth at the nearby shipyard. There was a good night life in Labuan, along with good hotels and restaurants, needless to say our Norwegian friends became well known ashore! 

A typical crowded Anchorage at Labuan. The OS Supply Base can just be seen upper right. No room for larger ships to anchor.

In the above caption, the Waterside Hotel and Marina are located at the bottom. The Hotel is the large white building to the right of the one with the red roof. The wide expanse to seaward is Labuan Bay, a favored spot for the temporary laying-up of unemployed ships, most large tankers and container vessels.

After 3 months the Norwegian Master returned and I was repatriated home. My next assignment was to take a ship from Singapore to Dubai to undertake a short charter before bringing her back to Vung Tau in Vietnam. The voyage to and from the Middle East was uneventful and time passed quickly.

The approaches to Vung Tau can be a mariner’s nightmare due to the hundreds and hundreds of fishing boats, all darting about every which way and seldom if ever observing the Colregs. At times of bad weather it is even worse with all the fishing craft bunching together, seeking some kind of communal shelter, and which refuse to give way to larger traffic navigating in the restricted waters. Many of these fishing boats do not display lights during the hours of darkness, only flashing a torch at you if lucky. There are so many the Radar PPI is totally one big mass of “Clutter”.

Vung Tau which lies south of what was called Saigon (now named Ho Chi Minh City) in the Mekong Delta is rated as one of the most dangerous ports in my book. There are savage currents, shifting sands and what buoys there are, tend to be very unreliable, frequently drifting out of position. The weather can turn bad instantly, causing steep choppy seas in the shallow waters. Ship’s engines need to be kept at short standby for this reason as the risk of dragging and potentially grounding is very real. Masters take their ships to the anchorage but from then on a Pilot becomes compulsory. 

The Pilots I found to be very mediocre at best, and it was not unknown that they arrive on board reeking of alcohol. On more than one occasion I told the Pilot to sit out of the way, and I did the job, refusing to allow the Pilot any involvement whatsoever. However, in fairness they were not all like that but making complaints to the authorities fell on deaf ears, so a few bad eggs ended up undeservedly tarnishing the reputation of the good ones and caused Masters to become very cautious.

One of the worst things about Vung Tau at that time was the alleged fuel scams that were supposedly rampant. The charterers insisted all foreign flag vessels carry an additional Vietnamese 2nd Mate (supposedly for training purposes). We never broke watches so the 2nd Mates were on duty 12-4 am/pm as usual, coincidentally this became the time that most hydrocarbon transfers took place. Falsification of figures was not uncommon but having been pre-warned and therefore wise to the scam I always insisted we use our own correctly calibrated “Flow Meter” plus one of my other officers also remained on duty. This combated the risks of any fuel scam but it was reportedly rampant on many other vessels, not all I must admit, however someone somewhere was apparently making a fortune procuring and selling ill gotten fuel oil. We never became associated in this on my ship because I think the word got around we wouldn’t become involved in anyway whatsoever.

Typical of the DP AHTS used in the Middle East and Asian Oil Fields, during my era. There were various classes and designs for AHTS but most conformed to the standard layout.


We were only involved with one Rig which was situated to the South West of Vietnam, I have forgotten the name. Location was about 180 miles South West of Vung Tau, right at the lower extremities of the Gulf of Thailand. Typically, steaming was around 16 hours from DOP Vung Tau to arrival at the Rig. The Jack-Up was a solitary presence in mid-ocean, looking to all intents and purposes as if a lonely sentinel. The Rig was engaged in exploration so was not within an established Oil Field at that time. Securing to the rig to offload and backload cargo and discharge liquid commodities was straightforward despite the strong surface currents and winds. There was always one AHTS on standby, attending the Rig. Standby was usually for about one week before being relieved by another AHTS, then returning to Vung Tau. 

  Rig Location        

During that era the local population seemed friendly enough but one could be forgiven for thinking one was always under surveillance, in one manner or other. There was a hunger for USD everywhere, even so a curfew was imposed at midnight by which time all crew must be back on board. It did not bother me but some of the younger crew, who became involved with local ladies, often took the risk and ran the gauntlet. Fortunately, none of the crew were ever caught or detained. I suspect their wallets may have possibly become a bit lighter at the dock gate after parting with some kind of “tribute”.

As far as I am concerned on a personal basis, one excellent feature of Vung Tau was the large number of shops that specialized in making model ships out of wood. All exactly to scale and built in the most minute detail. By our standards they were very cheap and real works of art and absolute masterpieces. Another nice thing was that the sellers would package them beautifully to reduce the risk of damage whilst being transported.

On the downside the fume congested roads with huge numbers of motorcycles, mopeds and scooters gave me a headache as soon as I walked outside the dock gate. There was no traffic code to speak of and it was common to have a motorcycle run into the side or back of you, if in a car. No one seemed to bother or stop, they just drove on. The constant honking of motor cycle horns became deafening after a while.

I spent 6 months operating out of Vietnam and I must say I hold mixed memories. It was no longer like the glory days when HCM City was still named Saigon and prior to the commencement of hostilities in the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, that changed Vietnam forever and it will never be the same, even though I am a supporter of throwing off the shackles of colonialism.


Typical Vietnam traffic, just looking triggers a headache


Another project in which I was involved was in the laying of a 200km Gas Pipeline between Singapore and the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea. I was hired specifically as Master for an Anchor Handling Tug (AHT) chartered for the task. The tug was one of several. The project took 42 Days and was absolutely grueling. Throughout the non-stop laying period an anchor was raised, repositioned and dropped on average every 8 minutes (according to claims), thus allowing the Pipe Laying Barge to crawl along the planned route, whilst continuously laying the pipe line. During the entire jobs we only suffered a handful of days when the weather was too boisterous to work. You can well imagine my feeling of relief when I finally boarded the flight at Matak for the trip back to Jakarta, then home.

Pipe Laying and Offshore construction became my focus whilst I was based in Songkhla, Siricha and then Singapore. I had been managing a fleet of Thai Flagged offshore supply vessels operating out of Songkhla and Sattahip, but after two years the joint owners decided to separate and go their own ways. The Thai element moved out of the offshore shipping sector completely in order to focus on their large fleet of Bulk Carriers and Drilling Rigs. I was very fortunate because I moved into another comparable ship management role, almost immediately.

Apart from the ship management I also undertook marine representation, acting on behalf of charterers to oversea the deployment of anchors of Pipe Barges working in the Thai Oil Fields. My role was as Marine Advisor to the OIM and apart from the anchor deployment aspects, the role also encompassed  wide ranging maritime scope of responsibilities. It was an open contract which meant I could pull the plug anytime, provided I gave 3 months written notice. 

Typically, I would fly out to the large work Barge by Helicopter, approve then oversee marine operations and report back to charterers and OIM on a daily basis. It was an interesting job. The only snag was that once anchor work commenced it was round the clock operations until completed. In essence this meant many hours sitting in front of a computer monitor checking for correct deployment and compliance with the Oil Field regulations. It was very complex and demanding work. Stints aboard the Barge was usually around 20 days, then relieved by another expatriate MA, so I could take the chopper back to the Thai mainland and go back to work in my office. I enjoyed this work immensely because there was never a dull moment. I was later based in Thailand and Singapore for many years during my time spent working in the Asian offshore O&G sector.

The barge was relatively modern, quite comfortable with decent accommodations, and owned and operated by a Japanese conglomerate, and technical team with whom I worked closely. It was a privilege to work with such a well organized and managed group. The vessel was about 16,000 gross tons with a displacement of about 26,000 tons. Fitted with 8 x 12 ton Delta Flipper anchors, it was built for both pipe laying and offshore construction. One of her main features was a 2500 ton crane.


                                                              Credit: Nippon Steel Corp

One of the Work Barges on which I was engaged in the Gulf of Thailand Oil Fields

Occasionally, we would be assigned offshore construction work and Hook-Ups. Below is a selection of images relating to the actual work undertaken by the Author whilst working in the Gulf of Thailand Oil Fields.


Preparing to transfer and connect Anchors and Buoys to the Pipe Laying Barge, ready for deployment


Connecting a Buoy to a Piggy Back Anchor, ready to “Splash”


The Author, seen inspecting the Sharks Jaw and Towing Pins, on one of the AHTS. The image was captured before departing from the Port of Songkhla. Cat and Mouse Islands can be seen in the distant background.


The aft working deck crammed with equipment ready for the offshore assignment.


A Jacket Module loaded on a Flat Top Barge, approaching the Pipe Laying/Construction Barge in preparation for lifting by the Jumbo crane. Typically, the construction yards were situated in Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia (Batam).


An Offshore construction vessel seen mobilizing in Thailand, ready for project work in the Fields.


Positioning a pre-fabricated Boat Landing for a new Jacket during the construction process.


You see….Reflective Tape does work effectively! The Author seen attending one of the MANY on board operations and safety meetings which play such an essential and important role in the O&G industry. The Author has his back to the camera and is wearing the Blue Coveralls.


Using the 2500 ton Crane on the Pipe Lay Barge, to lift the upper platform section to a Jacket under construction. Operations were 24/7, day and night. Obviously all sections were pre-fabricated then towed out to the Field on a flat top Barge. The erecting of these offshore modules was surprisingly quick using this technique, it was essential to plan well ahead to ensure operations could be conducted in a window that ensured good weather conditions.


Herewith depicted, a typical oil field anchor spread, consisting of 8 anchors, carefully designed to avoid any risk of damage to sub-sea pipe lines (indicated by bold black lines) or structures. There is a minimum distance from the pipe line at which an anchor can be laid (in the case at hand 100m either side) which is rigidly observed. The two “RED DOTS” indicate the deployment of “Spring Buoys”, connected to the anchor wire at a pre-determined distance, used to keep the wire well above the pipe line when it is being crossed. To ensure absolute accuracy the Barge and support vessels use the most modern and up to date Star Fix Navigation Systems which is usually managed by one of the international maritime survey organizations.

In this caption the Barge is in the center (working at a Jacket). The Blue lines indicate the boundaries within which anchors cannot be deployed.

(Pictures to be added shortly………)

See the book: ” A Tramp For All The Oceans” , a life story by the same author.