The 1945 built WEYBANK

The WEYBANK above features in a book whose cover is shown below. It was the author’s first ship…….

Here is Chapter 7 ……………

Our next destination was to be a trip to Nauru Island to load a full cargo of bulk phosphate for Australia. We did not know exactly where in Australia other than our destination would be on the east coast. During our passage to Nauru we were kept busy about the ship along with the crew preparing holds and “bilge diving”, so called cleaning the bilges and strum boxes ready for the loading of the upcoming cargo. We renewed the Hessian we had previously cemented over the bilge well gratings and made certain that all the limber boards remained intact and were well fitting. This work continued right up until our arrival off Nauru Island.

Nauru is an exposed low-lying barren rock consisting substantially of phosphate. At that time most of the phosphate operations were run by Australian expatriates. It is a small island with little to offer other than its remoteness and of course phosphate.

The method of loading in Nauru is for the vessel to tie up fore and aft, to several buoys (all moored in very deep water). Two large, slewing cantilevers protrude from the shore and is the method by which the cargo is conveyed and loaded directly into the ship’s holds thru a telescopic chute to the end of which is attached a rotating trimming machine that can throw product well into the hold or tweendeck extremities. Loading cannot be conducted for obvious reasons if the prevailing swell is too high. This was the case when we arrived, so we steamed some 10 miles offshore to drift in open Ocean until the swell subsided enough for us to return and load. This was considered a prudent distance as the water depth was far too deep to even contemplate attempting to anchor. During this period, I was introduced to shark fishing.

By this time, I had been at sea almost 4 months. I was fit and bronzed, had managed to keep myself out of any real bother with the top brass and was still enjoying life on board.

For reasons best known to them and based on my observations, the sharks always seemed to congregate around the stern of our ship. There were dozens of them milling around just below our gently heaving stern. Large and small alike but all looking extremely sleek, dangerous, and evil as they slowly cruised in incessant circles.

After work we would get an old heaving line, make up a trace out of seizing wire and affix a butcher’s hook, which we obtained from the stewards department (being Chinese they were keen to lay claim to the fins for sharks fin soup).

With the aid of junior engineers and their machine shop lathe we fashioned a barb in the tip of the hook and introduced a semi twist. All this was attached together to make an effective fishing line. We did not use bait but rather tied on colored rags, just above the hook to act as a kind of lure. For the sake of good order, we did however empty some galley food scraps over the stern as well as a little offal to act as a sort of “chum”.

The sharks became frenzied and we tossed our fishing line over the side. Soon we had our first strike. A medium sized specimen and hauling him on to the deck was not a problem. What struck me was how little resistance the sharks put up when hooked. Once landed, we clubbed the shark to put it quickly out of its misery. When dead the crew saw to the fins. The remainder of the shark was used as bait. Some of its teeth were formidable.

Over the course of the next week we hooked some 25 sharks ranging in size from 6 to 9 feet in length. At that time sharks were not protected anywhere but we were humane in our handling of the fish. By the time we proceeded back towards Nauru to prepare for loading there was a string of shark’s fins stretched out about the poop deck, drying in the sun. 

If one had fallen over the side whilst we were drifting, I have no doubt as to the fate that would become the individual concerned.

Loading at Nauru was very rapid, in just over a day we had loaded about 10,000 tons. Battening down was done as quickly as possible so we could sail as other ships were waiting to load at the island’s single facility. The fine dust like phosphate gets everywhere so the entire crew (us included) spent many hours hosing down to rid the vessel of the powder like cargo residues.

As we had been busy all day we did not learn until after we departed Nauru that we had a female passenger on board, accommodated in the Pilot’s cabin up on the Captain’s deck. She was a schoolteacher, working in Nauru, and was on her way back to Australia for vacation. I must say over the next 10 days she kept very much to herself, the only time we ever sighted her was at meal – times or when she sunbathed on the monkey island. A day or so after sailing from Nauru we were advised that our first port of call in Australia would be Cairns, followed by Newcastle (New South Wales), a two-port discharge. There was an air of excitement on board amongst the officers as most had visited Australia many times and it was of course a favorite destination. I did not realize it then, but I was eventually to become a naturalized Australian myself.

About a week after leaving Nauru we arrived at Thursday Island. This is the northern most boarding point for the Great Barrier Reef Pilot Service for ships arriving from our geographical direction. At that time becoming a GBR Pilot was the “crème de la crème” of jobs, offering high pay and much prestige amongst the seafaring community, worldwide.

Our Pilot boarded without any fuss and we set off southwards dodging in and out of the various channels and islands. The pilotage took two days or so and there was only one Pilot, so he was spelled from time to time by our Captain. The Pilot was always about when nearing any difficult spots or shallow patches. Wonderful descriptive names such as; Jardine’s Point (old coaling station at head of Cape York used in the days of the first steamers), Cape Tribulation, Lizard Island, Magnetic island, Endeavour Passage, etc., most dating back to the time of Captain Cooke. The Pilot navigated us the entire route right up until our arrival off Green Island where the Cairns Harbor Pilot came out by launch to board us and take us into the port.

We were lucky and tied up to a jetty quite close to the town area. It was early on a Saturday afternoon and the stevedores were not intending to commence work until Monday. Hence, I had a wonderful chance to stroll ashore unaccompanied and to explore for myself. The town was quite large if not a bit dusty and lay back. The streets were wide. The shops were all set back under verandahs and the pubs were full. The local cinema was an open-air affair, one sitting in a deck chair under the stars watching the big screen. I saw my first Aborigine, bought a Kangaroo skin, fish and chips for my tea to satisfy a sudden craving, and then posted a few letters to my parents from the Seaman’s club. The locals were very friendly.

On the Sunday we went on an outing arranged by the “Missions to Seaman” and made our way up into the rain forest and then to the beach at Yorky’s Knob for a barbeque, before being driven back to the ship late afternoon in time for dinner. What a wonderful day. Soccer matches were arranged for us later during the week after our days work had been completed. Our goalkeeper was none other than our trusty Captain.

Once started it did not take the wharfies long to discharge and trim the designated amount of cargo earmarked for discharging at Cairns and after only a few days we were once again underway making our voyage south along the coast towards Newcastle, located just to the north of Sydney. Newcastle at that time was a major coal exporting port. This time we did not have a Pilot for the coastal passage south.

Arrival at Newcastle was a non-event and we glided into the port early one bright sunny morning, to tie up to a wharf not too far from Hunter Street, the main drag. This time however the stevedores were about their work promptly, discharging into bins and trucks for transport to a distribution point elsewhere.

A few of our officers had been the Newcastle previously and knew the ropes. I was designated the ship’s “entertainment officer” and was tasked with inviting the nurses from the large local Hospital, to come on board for a party. I was reluctant but knew if I did not follow thru with it, I would not be popular. I can still recall the old phone number, B 3324 and ask for nurse……. To my amazement it was as easy as falling off a log! That evening we had a raging party on board in the officer’s smoke room with many nurses attending. Music and enough to eat and drink, smiles and happiness all round. I was popular due to the turn out, but little did everyone know how easy it had been to arrange. From this point forward it would be a piece of cake for me. The party ran most of the night. I will leave it to your imagination to work out the rest.

We were advised by our local agent that as soon as we had discharged we were to clean cargo holds and shift across to the other side of the harbor to one of the coaling berths where we were to load a full cargo of coal for Nagoya in Japan. At last we were heading back towards Asia.

The holds had been cleaned and hosed down in record time after discharging the phosphate. We had obviously done a good job with our earlier “bilge diving” the bilges pumping and emptying easily, then we moved across to the northern side of the port where we were to load.

Our ship squeezed into a berth between the ships “Baron Minto” and “Ridley”; on the next berth was “Fresno City” of Readon Smith’s loading grain at the silo jetty. There was another old Bristol registered tramp steamer that had definitely seen better days, complete with a counter stern but whose name escapes me waiting in line for coal. It seemed to be a popular place for British tramp ships at that time.

Newcastle was geared up for quick dispatch of ships loading bulk coal. Complete railway wagons were run up a ramp of sorts, lifted and contents of coal tipped into the vessel’s hold by a specially designed lifting device and chute. It was all new to me but very impressive and efficient. Loading and trimming took us about 4 days, but we did manage a couple more parties before we had completed our loading. Relationships were starting to blossom between some of the nurses and officers.

We went thru the same routine of rigging temperature sounding pipes in all the cargo holds. I knew the drill well by this time, so we just went ahead and prepared even though it was only about a two and a half week’s voyage to Nagoya. I was very excited about going to Japan and returning to Asia.

The book details and other interesting maritime matters can be seen on the website

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