Southbank painting by https://junglecat.de


The fat is in the fire and you have had your chips

Rejoining my ship, the MV Southbank after being hospitalized, in Calcutta, with dysentery. The Company Doctor Gangully deemed me fit for light duties.  This did not impress our Chief Officer who put me on a twelve-hour cargo watch every night. We were loading Gunnies Huge bales of jute Gunny sacks destined for the grain trade in Argentina). 

The cargo was being loaded from barges as the ship was tied up to buoys in the River Hooghly as it flows through the center of Calcutta. My duties were to assist the 2bd Officer in supervising the loading particularly looking after portable floodlights which were prone to damage from all sorts of causes and involved climbing in or out of holds dodging swinging bales of gunnies. It was a dangerous and demanding job in the humid heat. The work went on relentlessly without a break

It was the practice, to sustain the 2nd Mate and myself together with the 5th Engineer that we had our breakfast left out by the Chief Cook. The ingredients rashers of bacon and bread were left in a fridge and the chips were all cut and steeping in a bucket ready for the Officers breakfast. The galley had an oil burning stove which had a powerful fan, a noisy contraption that would do your hearing damage. No wonder that ship cooks were usually bad tempered and cantankerous working with that noise and enduring the heat of the tropics. I was glad that my work was not in the Catering Dept. When I turned up at the galley for my initiation into how to get this fearsome contraption worked etc., the Chief Cook a swarthy Goanese spent the briefest time showing me the ropes before locking up and giving me the keys. He did say, with a menacing leer, that the galley had better be kept spotless or he would not be responsible for the consequences.

The 2nd Mate was a Dutchman Van Dan who had been in the War and stayed on in the UK. A short-tempered nervous fellow who made me run around checking on the Indian dockers, and a multitude of tasks. I was exhausted by 0200 hours when I got instructions to cook our meal. It took me a wee while to get the galley range fired up. The only control I could find was full on and I got the chip pan ready, I did not realize that the top of the range was glowing red.  The lard for cooking the chips was solidified in a large aluminum pan.  I got the fat steaming hot and then grabbed a handful of chips and tossed them in. Seconds later the inevitable happened and the pot of lard bubbled over and the fat went on fire. There was nothing I could do but shut of the fuel and fan and grab the two-gallon foam fire extinguisher and hope for the best. Once you start these extinguishers it keeps splashing out a huge amount of foam.

Realizing that I could not stop the discharge and as it was causing havoc to the galley I rushed with the apparatus and held it over the side letting the foam fall into the Hooghly. I then had to report the sad news to the Dutchman who allowed me to go and clean up the galley and we got no meal, I managed to get everything tidied up, as best I could before the Cook turned to at 0600 in the morning and I thought that with a bit of luck the bully of the Chief Mate might never know about it. The following nights I gradually learned to cook and to control that dreadful stive. Bacon and eggs and chips remain my favorite meal.  

Now at that time Bank Line used their time in Calcutta to have the Southbank’s hull painted from stem to stern by a shoreside contractor by the name of Babel Lal. A day before we completed loading the painting completed the Chief Mate and the contractor did a trip in a sampan around the ship to check up on the paint job.  The Chief Mate always got a large buckshee from the contractor so that hee would get a good reference for future work, they were astounded and enraged when they saw that the starboard side abeam of the galley was streaked with the yellow foam. I was soon sent for as word about the Galley Fire had reached the Mr. Orford who summonsed me to his office. He gave me a severe telling off and said that there being no time to repair the damage he would have no option but to re paint the area at sea and that yours truly would have to do 

 We left Calcutta and as soon as we dropped the Pilot at Sand heads the dreaded Chief Mate had me dangling over the ship’s side in a bosuns char with a bucket of Suji-mutti and soda to rectify the damage. In this I failed and was hoisted aboard, and I refused to go down again for another go. Anyway, the serang arrived with some man helpers and soon painted over the blemish.  Looking back on this incident this was the only time I have ever seen a seaman put over to work whist steaming along and without a safety belt.

Serving your time teaches you all sorts of things and chiefly how to manage people and that your sins will find you out. 

When I retired, I was offered a Contraors job insoecting Training Establishments for the North Sea Offshore Oil Industry. I travelled the length of the UK ensuring that Firefighting and lifesaving skills were taught to Roustabouts and Rough Necks.  I saw many Galley fires and demonstrations on how to tackle them but not with a foam extinguisher but by using a fire blanket. A utensil sadly not found in ships galleys when I was serving my time

Thanks to Captain John Campbell for the account

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