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A fascinating ship history. Built in 1914 by Blohm and Voss, Hamburg for the Hamburg America Line and named SECUNDUS. Under the German flag for all of WW1. Then ceded to France and owned by 2 companies before sailing under the USA flag for Barber S.S. Lines as the MINDORO. Became the CONGELLA when purchased by Andrew Weir in 1933, and served for 10 years before being sunk by the Japanese…. ( see below)
These are the 18 vessels of a single order made in 1924. Fate dictated that 9 would be lost, mainly in WW2, and the other 9 would each serve well over 30 years each.
The ones lost were: Birchbank; Cedarbank; Alynbank; Elmbank; Weirbank; Larchbank; Oakbank; Speybank; Springbank, plus the Forresbank which was wrecked in the 50’s. The long term survivors were: Inverbank; Glenbank; Comliebank; Clydebank; Nairnbank; Levernbank; Myrtlebank and Olivebank.
Most of the photos are taken in Capetown and the sampson posts aft made the ships easily identifiable. The ships were built at Govan in Scotland, and they were twin screw with 2 x 6 cylinder oil engines made by the builders.
A strange thing was that conditions on board these ships were quite primitive with no mod cons, but they had an appeal to those that served on them which is hard to explain. Maybe it was the endless wandering around the world, and the long voyages of 2 years or more that made it feel a reasonably comfortable home once settled in. Whatever it was, the surviving ships were always greeted warmly when spotted in some far flung outpost. We were maritime gypsies and those ships remaining in the fleet in the 1950’s are remembered fondly by those that sailed on them.
The Springbank was chosen by the Admiralty in 1939 to be converted to a fighter catapult ship. She carried out vital support work until Sept. 1941 when a torpedo from U201 caught her in the Bay of Biscay.
The account above courtesy of the Bank Line House magazine of April 1979.
There are a few Bank Line desk calenders on offer to Australian based Bank Line readers. Free to a good home, as the saying goes…. Postage appreciated. Please email your address and interest to email@example.com
The BIRCHBANK featured here was one of an 18 ship order placed in 1924 which was hailed at the time as a huge order.. Exactly half (9) of the completed vessels were lost as a result of war action, but the survivors put in a total of 286 years service between them!
An extract from the book – ” Any Budding Sailors”?
The author and fellow apprentice at the Shwedagon Pagoda, Rangoon.
The ‘ Inchanga ‘ had broad wood sheathed alleyways dominated by very wide cowl ventilators serving the cargo decks below. It was possible to lean into the cowl, like boys do, and even without doing that, the whole area often had a wonderful spicy aroma which I can still conjure up writing this 66 years later! The reason was that we carried bags of spices like cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, and assorted herbs which gave out a lovely rich perfume. It gave those ships a distinctive smell, and those wide alleyways were somehow more like those on a really big passenger liner. At sea between Africa and India or Ceylon it was the practice to erect a wooden framed make shift swimming pool for both passengers and officers to use, and it just about served its purpose, but with some unique features brought about by the weather. This type of pool facility would give the modern cruise ship owner a nightmare, or maybe a fit of the giggles. Situated just in front of the bridge structure, and close to the ships side, any rolling motion would tend to slosh the water straight over the side! At 16 years of age this constituted fun, but I don’t believe anyone was ever washed out with the water despite the danger. Being watched by the bridge personnel above was a bit off putting, but they were just ogling the ladies in bikinis.
This ship was built as WAR BURMAN by Caird & Co, Greenock. Name changed at launch to BURGONDIER (Lloyd Royal Belge). In 1926 she was sold on to Buenos Aies Gt Southern Rail Co. who renamed her AZUL. In 1935 she became the DAVID DAWSON., and in 1937 the PENTELI under the Greek flag. Yet another change in 1939 when she took th name of BROCKLEY HILL. Sunk by U651 in the Atlantic when fully loaded with grain.
This ship was on the stocks in S Shields during the depression years of 1934, and was built very slowly, by John Readhead. She led a charmed life sailing all over the globe for the 6 years of WW2 unscathed. In 1955 she went to a HK company and became the INCHJURA for a further 4 years trading.
TYNEBANK (Br) 4,651 tons, built 1934
Departure Convoy Arrival
Rosario, Sep 23, 1939 Independent Buenos Aires, Sep 24, 1939
Independent Montevideo, Oct 1, 1939
Buenos Aires, Oct 1, 1939 Independent
Montevideo, Oct 2, 1939 Independent Freetown, Oct 19, 1939
Freetown, Nov 8, 1939 SL.8 (Freetown – Liverpool) Liverpool, Nov 27, 1939
Liverpool, Dec 16, 1939 OB.54 (Liverpool – Dispersed) Cardiff, Dec 18, 1939
Cardiff, Jan 5, 1940 Independent Milford Haven, Jan 6, 1940
Milford Haven, Jan 12, 1940 OB.70 (Liverpool – to OG 14)
Passed Gibraltar, Jan 18, 1940 Independent
OG.14 (to AT SEA – Gibraltar) Passed Gibraltar, Jan 19, 1940
Independent Port Said, Jan 27, 1940
Suez, Feb 8, 1940 Independent Calcutta, Feb 26, 1940
Calcutta, Mar 3, 1940 Independent
Madras, Mar 6, 1940 Independent Cochin, Mar 15, 1940
Cochin, Mar 15, 1940 Independent Colombo, Mar 19, 1940
Colombo, Mar 21, 1940 Independent Durban, Apr 5, 1940
Durban, Apr 7, 1940 Independent St John Nb, May 7, 1940
St John Nb, May 8, 1940 Independent Boston, May 11, 1940
Boston, May 11, 1940 Independent New York, May 12, 1940
New York, May 15, 1940 Independent Philadelphia, May 16, 1940
Philadelphia, May 17, 1940 Independent Baltimore, May 19, 1940
Baltimore, May 20, 1940 Independent New York, May 22, 1940
New York, May 31, 1940 Independent Halifax, Jun 4, 1940
Halifax, Jun 5, 1940 HX.48 (Halifax – Liverpool) Liverpool, Jun 19, 1940
A rescue of Vietnamese refugees in 1978 when on charter to EAC as SIBONGA
Some of the children rescued
The boat hoisted on deck
NOTE: This rescue was 1978, and in 1979 the same ship, with Captain Healey Martin picked up 1002 survivors from 2 boats, an incident which hit the world headlines. A 40 year reunion was held recently. ( See the articles and reports elsewhere on this site)
One of the early 4 built in 1906 by Russell & Co who had built many of the sailing vessels. In 1927 had a severe collision in the River Plate, and was sold 2 years later, becoming the QUINTALMARE for Italian owners.
This vessel was unfortunately wrecked in 1938 when fully loaded, and in the Maldive Islands – always a tricky area especially without a radar set. An enquiry was held (see the report on this site). The Master was on his first command.
In 1954, the Liberty ship Maplebank set off around the world in an unforgettable trip of somewhat drunken revelry, punctuated by routine calm at sea between ports. In port where drink was available, there were crises after crises as the crew went missing or appeared on deck drunk and unable to work.
The Maplebank was one of a dozen so called Sam Boats or Liberty ships bought into Andrew Weir’s Bank Line after WW2. Previously named Samwash, she was in the fleet for 10 years to 1957 before being sold on to Liberian registry and named ” African Lord” where she had another 12 years before going to the breakers. She had also been at the Sicily landings in WW2.
The author joined her as a 19 year old senior apprentice, in 1954, one of four, later to be three, as one, a Geordie Apprentice, deserted in New Zealand.
The previous trip had also been an eventful one, with the Master sadly disappearing at sea. Also, a fire whilst in the Mississippi River delta was extinguished after she had been beached to enable firefighters to put out the the blaze.
On board, it was quickly realised that standards on the American built war time ships was higher than we were used to. There were no frills, but there was a solid feel to everything, and the most noticeable difference to our usual ships, was in the accommodation. Bunks were wider and better furnished, and the heating was heavy duty. On the bridge, it was functional and a bit spartan, but again, all fittings seemed clunkier. The Maplebank still had the gun Bays on the bridge front to remind of the real purpose of their existence. Down below, a three cylinder steam engine seemed simple and robust, as indeed, they were. It is probably true to say that those who sailed on Liberty’s enjoyed the experience, and the memory of these ships is regarded fondly by many.
It was to be an interesting round the world voyage that would end in Bremen with only one of the original deck crew remaining. Signing off with a bad discharge, a DR (decline to report) he was the Bosun, but had started the trip as an EDH (efficient deck hand) and found rapid promotion as his shipmates deserted around the Australian and New Zealand ports that we visited. It was a bit rough that he was made a scapegoat for the misdeeds of his colleagues, but the Master had been frustrated for 15 months by the antics of them all, and probably felt justified. To my mind it was ironic, and a bit unfair, as he was the only member of the deck crew that had stayed loyal.
We joined on a cold snowy January day in Bromboro dock , where the Maplebank was discharging Copra and heated coconut oil into road tankers, and the pungent and distinctive smell permeated everything. Steam winches were clattering away. To the author it was like home, with a welcoming and familiar smell, but once on board it was immediately apparent that this was no ordinary Bank Boat. In the apprentices cabin a weighted rubber cosh dangled on the radiator, and the companionway up to the officer’s accommodation had a hinged thick steel door which set us all wondering. However, we soon settled in, and started to meet our shipmates. It was mid-winter in Birkenhead and the heating was off due to repairs below, so we trooped ashore to eat in the Lever Bros canteen.
Unlike the Asian crews on most of company’s ships, the Liberty’s had so called ‘white’ crews from the Seaman’s pool, and they were Liverpudlians on this voyage with a rich sense of humour. Many were great seamen. We were to discover that their brand of humour sustained them through all situations, good or bad. They were irreverent fun to work with, tipsy or not, although the fun wore a but thin when we apprentices had to cover for them, either steering, or covering hatches and working long hours.
We loaded in the Gulf Ports of Texas and Louisiana after a ballast voyage from Liverpool. Bulk rock sulphur went into the lower holds, and after levelling, heavy plant like tractors and harvesters were lashed down on top. General cargo of all sorts, barrels, cartons, and bundles filled the tweendecks. It was long before containerisation hid nearly all cargo inside ubiquitous steel boxes. On deck we carried a refinery pressure tank loaded from a floating barge and associated heavy lift crane. The big thick steel tube took up all of the starboard side of the afterdeck and the deck crew quickly decorated it with painted slogans, Kon Tiki, being the most prominent. No thought was given to any views the consignees might have! Amazingly, there was yet no major signs of the boozy mayhem ahead in New Zealand.
We sailed for the Panama Canal, and arriving at Cristobal in the evening, anchored to complete formalities before an early transit the next day. It was magical with coloured lights twinkling ashore, and the cooler air after a tropical day. The crew then disappeared unnoticed after hitching a ride on one of the launches alongside. In the morning, with no sign of the crew, a decision had to be made how to proceed and it was decided that with 4 apprentices, a transit could be made without the majority of the deck and engine room staff. The author spent a few hours at the wheel, spelled by one of the other apprentices, and the pilot, strolling up and down the bridge wing kept up a running commentary with the police ashore as they attempted to find and round up the missing crew members. One of the engineers has also had a night in Cristobal and unfortunately had been stabbed in a fracas, ending up in hospital.
The Liberty ships had an upper wheelhouse, a glorified box on stilts which contained a steering console, with a compass, telegraph, whistle lanyard, and a clock. As it was a small area, it was possible for a nimble helmsman to control all three devices, and the author took a great delight in steering, ringing the telegraph, and blowing the whistle when required by the Canal pilot. It was shades of Para Handy on his Clyde Puffer but on a larger scale! The crackly walky talky radio kept us informed as we transited through the Lakes whenever another member of the crew had been located. After we exited we anchored in Balboa Bay, awaiting developments. Finally, the rounded up members were sent out on a police launch. Still feisty, they were handcuffed and released one by one to climb the Pilot ladder on to the deck, where they flung wedges and anything lying around back down on the police boat, which sped away. The police had had enough. Fined by the Master the next day, they claimed triumphantly to us apprentices to have nominated the ” Destitute Master Mariners Fund” as their choice for the deducted wages.
Our deck crew were good seamen, often from families of seafarers, and skills had been learnt which included the sewing of working suits from duck canvas, complete with cap. The young deck boys had trouble reading however, so the apprentices sometimes read out their letters when asked to do so. Crossing the line with this Liverpool crew was quite an elaborate affair, a pool being assembled on one of the hatches, and the court of King Neptune suitably dressed in crown and with a gold trident, presiding over the prisoners.
In New Zealand we discharged around the coast, starting in Auckland and Wellington, and then moving on to Lyttleton and Dunedin in the South Island. The last port was New Plymouth, back on the North Island, where the sulphur was grabbed out into lorries. This was also the port where one of the apprentices decided to leave the ship, and he did so successfully, leaving behind all his possessions. There was a big fuss, being quite unusual to lose an apprentice, and it was made worse because a pact of silence had been agreed among the remaining apprentices in exchange for a few items. This had given him a valuable head start. (Some years later there was a report that his parents had visited New Zealand to get him home again.)
We spent time discharging in the pretty port of Lyttleton in the South Island. Things got bad with the deck crew drinking heavily and being unable to turn to for work. They were having fun ashore, and one morning a battered piano appeared on board, commandeered from a shoreside pub, and slung aboard late at night. It had been wheeled down onto the quay in a prank. At sailing time no one other than the officers and apprentices were available to cover hatches, lower the derricks, and cast off. This was duly done, aided by one or two sober crew members, but once outside of port, a rota had to be drawn up for steering and lookout duties until sufficient members of the crew were available for work. The first man collapsed in a heap beneath the wheel after relieving the exhausted apprentice. Desertions had also started, and in these cases, the agent and the police made up the complement by providing seamen who had been rounded up and caught usually from previous ships. It was a sort of merry go round. The men took jobs, readily available in those 50’s days, of taxi driving, bar work, or labouring in the building trade. Both Australia and New Zealand were much more accommodating than today in how they viewed and treated unexpected arrivals.
Eagerly awaiting news of our next destination, we were told that the Maplebank had been nominated for the ‘phosphate run’. This was grim news, as it was well known that ships loading phosphate in Ocean Island and neighbouring Nauru usually stayed on this run for several voyages. The Bank Line carried phosphate rock for the British Phosphate Commission to supplement the regular carriers, and it went to Australian and New Zealand discharge ports where it was a valuable fertiliser, after treatment. So we commenced running up and down from the islands which are near the Equator, and made several voyages through the Tasman sea in all weathers. It could be very rough. In Ocean Island loading was from barges but Nauru sported a big custom built loading arm which poured the phosphate into the holds, covering everything in dust in the process.
Christmas 1954 came and went, and it was marked at sea in the usual way, but minus any great quantities of drink. We knew where that might lead! In the dining saloon, the stewards went to great lengths to create a festive air. They blew up a box of condoms in lieu of balloons, and we all ate surrounded by a circle of them, suitably painted, but still obviously condoms.
Life on board was routine, and we apprentices shared watches on the bridge, steering and keeping lookout. There was no automatic pilot to take over the boredom of steering which only became interesting for us lads in heavy weather. In the Tasman sea, fully loaded with phosphate we experienced very heavy weather. The Captain had his wife on board, and it so happened that she was well up in her husband’s duties, much to our amusement. The Captain’s first name was Billy, which also happened to be the name of the author’s pet cat, living on the bridge deck. When we heard the Captain’s wife calling Billy, Billy, come here, it was a bit uncertain which Billy she meant. Standing more or less silently behind the wheel, hour upon hour, many incidents amused. On one occasion in heavy weather, the wife summonsed the Captain and said, “. It’s quite bad, Billy, I think we ought to heave to!” Much hilarity by those within earshot.
The stays in Australia were the highlight on this otherwise monotonous service, and our Liverpool lads made up for lost drinking time – as you do. On our final run, they exceeded themselves and stowed away lady friends, ( and a male friend), for what was expected to be a routine round trip. They stayed more or less hidden in the accommodation, but It was an open secret and seemed to work with our guests staying discreetly in the crews quarters. The Liberty ship design had all the accommodation in a central block with the galley handy for all. It was useful for the apprentices and others on night watches to snack when the need arose. Disaster struck however, when we were redirected to New Zealand on one particular voyage, and the Customs rummagers there discovered the extra hands. More fines. Regular fining was a double edged sword for the company, as the crew had little incentive to stay onboard if their cash account was nearly always empty.
Ocean Island had a resident population and a club for the benefit of the British Phosphate company staff, and they challenged visiting ships to both cricket and football. We arranged teams, and for cricket a mixture of odd looking whites were worn to conform to as near as possible to traditional cricket garb. One oddity at Ocean Island was the outfield which consisted of very deep ravines where Phosphate had been mined earlier. Any ball crossing the boundary was likely to be permanently lost.
Eventually, we were relieved of our phosphate duties, and proceeded to the Spencer Gulf in South Australia to load bulk grain for India. In Port Lincoln more crew deserted. In these ports like Wallaroo, Port Pirie, and Port Lincoln, it was the often the author’s job to go around the nearest pubs to persuade the crew to return to the ship. It was not unusual to see them working, serving drinks from behind the bar. The success rate was close to zero, and a few choice but humorous words were often added. The Bosun, a good natured man and a true seaman, also decided to try his luck ashore in Australia during this visit, and left us for good.
Meanwhile, some of the apprentices and the Maltese carpenter together built a sailing dinghy, and sewed a set of sails. It was a bit basic but gave hours of fun, being slung over by derrick on the after deck, and sailed in the sheltered waters of the Gulf. Eventually, it was lost on a trip that proved to be a tad too adventurous.
The run up to India was uneventful, and we made the usual tortuous passage up the Hooghly river to Calcutta. After discharge, we went onto the buoys in Calcutta, and moored alongside another company’s vessel with an Indian crew. Looking down on them, some of the Liverpool wags were heard to say, “. Look at them savages, not like us white savages! “
Having Discharged in Calcutta, we then loaded for Buenos Aires in Argentina, and everyone decided we had hit the jackpot at last! Jubilation all round, with the old hands describing the delights of this notorious haven for seamen, still under Juan Peron when we visited. He was to be deposed later in the year in a coup d’etat.
Loading bales of gunnies in Calcutta and in Chittagong took some time but eventually we set off for the Cape of Good Hope and onwards to South America without any major incidents.
Down in the BA docks, there was a notorious area at the time, known as the ‘Arches’ where cafes and bars, dance halls and clubs were flourishing, and it was a magnet for visiting seamen. On our visit, the atmosphere on shore visits was charged up, especially for us young apprentices, ignorant but game as we were. Expectations were high as we set out to taste all the delights on offer, and there was a distinctive musical background with orchestras belting out tangos and the loud piano bars wherever we went. There was a fascination which has lasted to this day. The Argentinians only got going late on into the night, and it was quite usual to see families with young children dining in the city around midnight or later. As a result of the late hours, some of us took a rest in the evening, and went ashore better prepared for an all night foray.
There were many highlights of this visit, or possibly low points, depending on your viewpoint. On one occasion in an upstairs dance hall, there was the usual music, drinking, and dancing, and some of our crew were seen hanging on to girls on the dance floor and generally having a good time. Some of them however, the worse for wear, were also spotted urinating in the corner of the room creating damp patches in the ceiling below!
Our discharge alongside took two riotous weeks, and near the last night, shots were heard from the shore in the early hours. It turned out that some of the returning crew had been fired on by the port police, after they had kicked over bins, and generally created mayhem as they staggered back on board. There was a breathless discussion in the mess room afterwards as they re-lived what had happened. It had been a memorable port stay that had fully lived up to expectations.
Next stop was Vitoria in Brazil to load iron ore for a homeward run. This was completed without further incident, the loading going very quickly, and giving no time for high jinx ashore. Only the rhythmic music flooding the radio waves told us what we were missing.
In Bremen, we all left the ship to travel home in the ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich. Our crew at the end of the voyage were a mixed bag of seamen that had been recruited or obtained in various ports around the world. They were replacements for those that had signed on in Liverpool. Some were hard cases, with a story to tell, and there were more incidents on the ferry as drink and freedom took hold. The author’s last recollection of this trip, was an AB with a bird in a cage covered by a cloth. We were boarding the train in Harwich. Responding to requests to see the bird, the owner lifted the cloth only to see the parrot laying flat on it’s back in the bottom of the cage with it’s feet in the air. It was somehow symbolic of the whole unforgettable trip.
A fine view of a loaded Marabank, probably in the 1950’s. Bank Line had 12 Liberty’s, mostly with European crews, i.e. Liverpool or London men. They were great ships to sail on, comfortable, practical, and with a simple layout both on the bridge and in the engine room with its chunky 3 cylinder steam engine. Remembered fondly by many who sailed on them. ( See the article about a sistership voyage on the Maplebank in the Books section of this site)
This twin screw stalwart was one of 18 vessels ordered together in 1924. She was one of 9 that survived the war, the others all being lost, many tragically. She served for 35 years until 1959. Does anyone know the identity of the onlookers?
Being seamen we didn’t see much else of Hamburg at that time and ended up in places like the “Zillertal” which is a Bavarian-type beer hall which always had a Bavarian band on the go. If you bought all the band members a drink you were allowed to conduct them. If too many tourists did this, the music suffered progressively! At intervals everyone had to get up off their benches with their beer “Steiners” in their hands and climb up onto the long tables and sing “Ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit….” or “Hoch soll Er leben….” or similar beer drinking hits. All good clean fun until one night Donald M. our 4th Engineer wouldn’t get down of the table after the music stopped and instead kicked the beer mugs of several Italian seamen (who were sitting at the same table) into their faces. There is a balcony running around the top of the beer hall and out of the corner of my eye I saw the bouncers already on their way …. I will never forget that the Zillertal entrance/exit was a big wooden & glass heavy revolving door! Outside on the street I was busy learning Italian the hard way – I can especially recommend the word “Vafancula” for anyone who wants an Italian to kill him.
Another “main attraction” was the Herbertstrasse which is a side street blocked off from public view by a tall wooden barrier to stop mainly women from being able to look down the street. It is a street both sides of which are lined with shops just like the Co-op or “Boots” except that the wares behind the glass windows are “Bordsteinschwalben” (Kerb Swallows) wearing not much and in many cases sitting knitting out of boredom waiting for their “watch” to end. Through mimicry a prospective customer would be directed to a side door and thankfully for them (although not all) to a room at the back.
A woman could not enter the Herbertsrasse without being accompanied by a man. Even then she did so at her own risk – many a woman has had a bucket full of p… thrown down on them by the swallows.
So much for some of the main attractions – there were and still are many more and some of them would make the Herbertstrasse sound like a Kindergarten.
The Kiez however is not how Hamburg should be remembered as it is a beautiful city with a long heritage and its own culture. Ten days before we were due to sail I met Inge. We were married in Hamburg when I returned there with the Weybank fifteen months later.
The weather was very cold at the time and Hamburg was covered with snow and ice. Icebreakers had to break up the ice on the Elbe. While in drydock I spent my days continuously checking the radio & radar and other Marconi equipment – replacing weak components etc. and making up new wire antennae which were made from copper wire.
I had been informed that a German company called DEBEG for short (similar to Marconi) would install the new VHF transceiver but after a few days nothing had happened. I telephoned the DEBEG and was told not to worry, it had not been forgotten. The weeks went by and still the same assurances were made during my subsequent calls. Finally a week before we were due to sail, a happy young German arrived with his carpenters box and drill etc. and asked me where I would like to have it – he meant where should he install the VHF. I marked out a position in the Chart Room for the transceiver unit and its rotary converter and another one in the Wheelhouse for the operator’s control unit. He also asked me to show him where the “mains” cable could be connected to and finally where the antenna was to be sited. He then merrily spent the rest of the day and half of the next drilling, hammering, running cables etc. until he proudly announced “Alles fertig” (all ready/done) and invited me to switch-on – just like launching a ship. I went to the control unit in the Wheelhouse and switched the on/off switch to the on position and – nothing happened – or so I thought until I turned around and saw that all the Loading Lights were illuminated. These are big lights which shine on the holds to enable cargo to be loaded/unloaded at night. I switched the control unit off and the loading lights extinguished. We now had an expensive LL remote control station.
Once the wiring was sorted out the VHF (Very High Frequency) transceiver appeared to be functioning perfectly ( I found out soon enough that it was not!) and indeed this type of radio revolutionized coastal and port radio communication. It is a radio telephone with which the speaker could communicate with tugs, radar stations, pilot vessels, port authorities, other ships and at that time amazingly hold a normal telephone conversation with just about anyone in the world via a coast station link. Its only drawback is that it has a range of only on average roughly 20 nautical miles (depending on the weather atmospherics, the strength of the transmitter and the height of the antenna – the higher the antenna is mounted, the further the distance that can be covered which is why this kind of VHF transmission is called “line of sight” – the higher you stand, the further you can see). At the time that it was installed on the Weybank there was another drawback in that as it was so new, ships and coast stations were just starting to be fitted with one, if at all because they were not compulsory. Because they cost money, there were at first plenty of shipping companies that ignored or were unaware of the benefits that it could bring.
The Weybank loading cargo at the Waltershofer Hafen in Hamburg before departure to Karachi.
Finally the sad day arrived – on a freezing snowing dark February evening we slipped our moorings and as the tugs slowly pulled us out from the pier I waived to Inge until I could see her no more.
Ice breakers had broken up the ice on the Elbe and so the tugs were free to tow us out of the Waltershofen Hafen and into the Elbe where, after letting them go we slowly moved down river with a German pilot aboard towards the mouth of the Elbe, where it flows into the North Sea.
Blankenese is a suburb of Hamburg which is sited on higher ground on the north bank of the Elbe where many a rich banker or shipping company owner has a villa. After passing Blankenese there is nothing much else to see in the dark.
An oil sketch of Blankenese on the Elbe in summer
Zillertals’s front entrance and its beerhall inside
After Blankenese, I hung around for a couple of hours and then went to my cabin and “hit the sack”. The next thing I knew the 1st Mate was in my cabin – “Sparks – get up! The radars f…..!”. In my subconscience I had been dreading this moment. In Hamburg I had the radar running everyday to try and detect any “gremlins” but they hid from me real good. Now they were in my face.
I stumbled up to the bridge and through the chart room entered the wheelhouse.
The wheelhouse at night is an enforced “dark zone” where “Dark Vader” awaits any idiot stupid enough to enter while shining a light. A light switched on at night in the wheelhouse blinds the bridge personel from being able to see outside into the dark.
Just as serious is the effect when the light is switched back off again. The eye cannot rapidly readjust to the darkness again, it takes at least 5 minutes before night-vision is regained.
In my present predicament I was in a kind of “Vice Versa” situation – I came out of Osman’s light zone (most of our light bulbs aboard at that time were from the Osman Co.) and entered Dark Vader’s. Guess what! – Right! – I could see f… all.
When I entered the wheelhouse I became immediately “blind as a bat” but my ears were still functioning. I even asked questions in the dark like “where are we?” This question hit the jackpot – we had left the Elbe 1 Lightship (stationed at the mouth of the Elbe) behind us and were following the German coastline with the aid of the radar, until the radar decided to self-destruct. It was snowing and visibility was next to “Zilch”. As the Yanks say: “Houston, we’ve got a problem”.
Klong Toei (sometimes referred to as Klong Toey) is the name of the Port district of Bangkok, located some 34 or so kilometers upstream along the Chao Phraya River. Between the years spanning 1940-80s, it served as the main maritime gateway, strategically situated, to service Thailand’s capital city. The port has draft limitation but was capable of handling average sized deep sea ships of the era.
During the Vietnam War the Port of Sattahip was constructed by the Americans, together with the adjacent airport of Utopao, mainly as a military facility in support of their operations in Vietnam. They also built a two lane highway connecting these developments with Bangkok. The other main Port in Thailand at that time was that of Songkla, which was situated on the western side of the Gulf of Thailand and serviced southern areas of the country. In later years the newer and more modern Container Port of Laem Chabang superseded Bangkok as the principal commercial port for Thailand, although Klong Toei still retains a smaller portion of the shipping traffic to this day.
My first recollection of Klong Toei stretches back to 1961 when I was a deck apprentice with Bank Line but over the ensuing years I have always maintained a close relationship with Bangkok, both professionally and personally, having worked in Thailand for some years.
My initial visit was before the onset of the Vietnam War, and was therefore devoid of noisy military personnel on leave and therefore remained relatively unspoiled. The worst we had to contend with during the early 1960s was the odd sailor having one over the eight or the occasional bar room scuffle. Even after the commencement of the hostilities in Vietnam, Klong Toei still managed to retain some level of order, because it remained outside the focus and off the Radar of the American forces, as they tended to favor Pattaya since it was closer to their bases. From Sattahip to Bangkok, in those days, would take a good 2-3 hours by road and if they did go to Bangkok they usually congregated in the bars located in the area of “Pat Pong”, which was the main hot spot at that time and still remains so for tourists.
Klong Toei was the main night entertainment area in Bangkok for mariners, and whilst not completely unknown to local residents, it sourced the majority of its commercial activity from crews of visiting foreign ships and to a lesser extent from the European expat community. During the Vietnam conflict, even with the influx of American GIs to Bangkok on R&R it seemed they did not know of its existence since very few ever ventured to patronize the numerous night Clubs, Bars, Massage Parlors and other entertainment venues, so we sailors established “squatters rights” so to speak. Hence it maintained its hidden secrets, they being mainly directed to the seagoing types who visited the port.
Klong Toei nightlife did not come alive until after 9pm when it erupted, going non-stop until around 5am, by which time most sailors had consumed too much alcohol and wandered back to the ship with empty pockets, to get their head down, or having spent the night in the company of Bar girls or ladies of the night.
We were very fortunate inasmuch as our ship usually berthed very close to the Klong Toei dock gate, a stone’s throw away from either the Mariner’s Club – if you were broke then that was your venue. The alternative being the local night life if you were more financial. Both options were within a very short walking distance of each other.
At the heart of the night entertainment area was the notorious Mosquito Bar and the next door VenusRoom. Both were notorious and the “headquarters of insanity” when it came to exotic and erotic night life.
The Mosquito Bar was just across the road from Klong Toei dock gate, situated on the corner. It was so ideally located and was the first thing to catch the eye having walked out the gate from the wharf area into the street. Downstairs there was an open bar with tables and chairs outside under the building’s canopy. The actual Mosquito Bar was upstairs on the second floor. At the entrance you had to wait to be seated at one of the tables but first it was necessary to adjust your night vision as inside was in virtual darkness.
Soon one of the Bar girls would escort you inside and take you to a vacant table – you needed to follow closely for fear of bumping into other tables. Then the available girls would jostle for your attention. Their next modus operandi was to get you to buy them drinks. Even after a period inside, it remained so dark it was difficult to really see much. The atmosphere was thick with cigarette smoke and fumes. The air-conditioning and ventilation, being minimal and of no use whatsoever.
The darkness was twofold in purpose, firstly to mask the identity of many local patrons and secondly so the freelance females were not so visible helping to conceal the wrinkles of those more elderly amongst them. The girls ranged from very young, about 18-20 years of age, right through to the near geriatric. The ladies seemed to be shipped in as most originated from outside Bangkok The upstairs bar was void of any internal decoration from what one could determine, anyway, if there was it could not be easily seen.
The bar was nearly always filled to capacity as well as noisy. There were the most daring of striptease artists, some bordering on sickening, amongst the cast of regulars was “Midget Rooter” and “Skinny Minnie”, to name but a couple (no idea how these names derived). In short it was a meat market, with a polluted atmosphere laced with the smell of cheap perfume and the females asking “you like me”, “you take me hotel”? Business boomed and was very popular, despite the occasional brawl – generally over a female or alcohol related.
On one of my calls at Bangkok our ship’s electrician got into a “Mekong” Whiskey drinking session and subsequently got himself into a fight over one of the females. Mekong Whiskey was brewed locally and was dynamite if consumed in quantity. He was missing for 4 days before the Thai Police managed to find him, spread-eagled over some close by disused railway lines (see map below), still very drunk and bleeding from the ear after having been hit with a baseball bat. He ended up in hospital with alcoholic poisoning and perforated ear drum. He missed the ship and rejoined at our next port which was Hong Kong. Hence the Mosquito Bar truly earned its international notoriety
It remained as such until the 1970s when the proprietors decided to upgrade and renovate the premises with new internal decoration. This included wall papering, pink lighting, cubicles and proper seating to replace the previous cheap and flimsy folding ones. It still remained absolutely full every night despite the renovations which caused it to lose much of its legendary atmosphere. And, I believe there were a new intake of girls and striptease artists. This all ended abruptly, during the early 1980s when finally the local Port Authority bulldozed the premises to make way for new construction to take place
The Mosquito Bar as it was in its heyday, between 1960 –1980. Hand outs and cards distributed usually by the Bar staff.
Below, the infamous sign, hanging innocently on the wall of the two story building, not revealing any of its inner secrets.
The nearby “Venus Room”.The sign hanging ajar, which was no surprise as the building was ramshackle and in a state of disrepair, having long past seen better days.
With somewhat less notoriety, but still packed most nights, the next door Venus Room, was in the same ramshackle building as the Mosquito Bar and was also on the second floor. It appeared bigger than the Mosquito Bar (MB) and seemed to be favored more by local Falangs, (expat residents). It still got its fair share of sailors but it was never quite as popular as the MB. It had its girls who I recall, used to take it in turns to sit at an outside table, trying to entice you inside, rather like modern day Thai Bars, but without their conspicuous flashing fairy lights and decorations designed to catch one’s eye. During that time most Bars or nightclubs employed Spivs or shady looking types to act as pimps to get you inside their disreputable dens of iniquity.
It was still as rowdy with its share of brawls but not quite in the same league as the MB. I believe the girls were more local and freelance than those that frequented the MB since they all seemed to know each other and were friendlier amongst themselves. That is how it appeared to me anyway. Today, all that remains of the site where these notorious Bars were located; is a few small buildings and trees. There is no evidence whatsoever of its previous history since the site is substantially derelict.
The Mission to Seafarers still remained, at the time of my last visit, just down the small “Soi” (Lane) as shown in the image above.
Both these establishments form a substantial part of the history of Klong Toei despite the fact that there were numerous other bars close by of much less infamy. The good seafood eateries were close to hand and always popular, but the motto was “eat first and play later”.
For those with more sober entertainment in mind there was always the Mission to Seaman which was located only a few strides away down a small Soi (small lane) adjacent to the Mosquito Bar, across a wooden footbridge spanning a swampy area that occasionally was ablaze with water lily flowers, despite the smell. The “Mission” featured a swimming pool and the other usual facilities offered by similar establishments world-wide, including the rather featureless bar, but cost of beer was cheap. It was open during the day and closed about 10pm. One unusual attribute was it did have its share of freelance ladies during the day, who were always willing to keep you company and to chat, whilst they scrounged a drink or some snack food. There were those who still attempted to peddle their extra curricula services somewhat discreetly, as it must be said that the ladies at the mission were slightly less pushy as they were under the watchful eye of the management. Unless you were short of funds the only reason to go to the Mission was for a swim or to support the expat Chaplain who always visited the ships when in Bangkok port.
The Mission to Seaman was later renovated and is now known as the Mission to Seafarers. Although, it remains, in the heart of the once infamous Red Light district, of Klong Toei.
Nowadays there are still one or two night venues that come to life after 10pm but nothing of the caliber of the Mosquito or Venus Room bars. Today, they are mainly surrounded by Massage Parlors and Karaoke Bars, and restaurants, mostly catering for Thai patrons. Seldom are tourists seen in the area nowadays since Bangkok City, which provides its own huge array of nightlife is within quick and easy reach, by using the Mass Transit Railway from Klong Toei, a convenient conveyance for visiting sailors, seeking an exciting and adventurous night of entertainment in Bangkok’s “Dark Side”, known as Pat Pong.
As mentioned, only memories remain of these infamous bars. What a sad end to an exciting era for the foreign sailor. Alas, a port call at Bangkok is no longer the same.
Became the Greek ship FAMILY UNITY in 1979 and in 1982 sold to Bangladesh when she took the name of BENGAL STAR for 6 years until scrapped at Chittagong in 1988 – a good run for the Doxford built vessel.
This ship was built in 1921 for Brocklebank but only ran at 9.5 kts, and was called MALIA. She was a twin screw vesse and these engines were replaced in 1923 by two eight cylinder ones giving 11 kts. She was sold to Burmah steamship co in 1927 who again changed the engine to. single unit. They named her DAGA. 6 years later in 1934 Bank Line purchased her and renamed her KELVINBANK. She gave 9 years service before being torpedoed. 28 crew and 1 gunner were lost. (See similar report on this site)
A sample paragraph………….On the second day we had two stoppages, each of about 2 hours, due to main engine defects. The third day was similar with a couple of stoppages. This caused me to become concerned and I ventured to enquire of the Chief Engineer, if he had any doubts we could easily put into the small Port of Wewak or even Vanimo, but he assured me he had everything under control and the events of the past 2 days were quite common occurrences for this ship. With some hesitation I accepted his advice to continue towards Palau, but, as a precaution I replanned my courses to remain about 15 miles off the New Guinea Coast until abeam of Wewak, before heading North West, directly towards the Palau archipelago. This I concluded was the safest bet in case things went drastically wrong.
The 18 ships of this order in 1924 all had the distinctive sampson posts aft, and the square shaped ‘lattice’ derricks. Like many of the old time Bank Line ships, they also had the distinctive deckhouse abreast of the foremast containing crew toilets and the galley area.
The author was 3rd Officer on her from 1955 to late 1956, a 21 month voyage. See her war record below, and the criss crossing of the oceans throughout the conflict. How often might she have been seen through a U-boat periscope?
She was a sister to 3 other vessels, the Lossie, Tay, and Tweedbank, and remarkably they all came through WW2 unscathed.
an extract from a novel written by an ex Bank Line apprentice
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 bar, 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 proverbial ‘drunken sailors’.
The one thing that he did not welcome 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 extremely 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, were 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 alike 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 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 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 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 steaming, 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 sufficiently effect the draft because by the time we re-bunker, the fuel we will have used will amount to more 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 fully 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 heavily 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 to be 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,
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.”
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. 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 in the holds and on the barges.
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 his 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’re 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 bridge instruments to commence 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.?”
“Certainly! Count me in. I’ve got nothing to loose.”
The Third Officer said. 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 a certain euphoria prevailed throughout the ship. Old quarrels were patched up and even Captain Imez 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 and said,
“Aren’t we taking a big risk? With the Cameo’s I mean.”
“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.
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 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 Hamburg.
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 seaman 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 only returned to his cabin a little earlier and was writing the second page of his reply 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 the door.
He sat on the edge of his bunk, picked up the telephone and dialled.
“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 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.
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 and taking the parcel said ,
“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 miraculous 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 unsurprised that the conservation had abruptly ended.
He finished his eggs and ordered another coffee, which he took with him to the boat deck to enjoy with 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.
From just after nine onwards the Officer observed from his vantage point on the boat deck, a trickle of men dressed in their travel gear descending the gangway with their bags.
Further along the quay were iron railed gates with a door in them, manned by a uniformed guard who inspected passes of people going either way.
He was concerned to notice that once through the gate the men seemed to hang about in a group and 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 with 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 and 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 added,
“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.”
After lunch, the Chief Officer called the Third to his cabin.
“The apprentices have been paid off so I’ve detailed to the Chippy to make a few alterations to their cabin. Let’s go and take a look.”
On their arrival the bunks had been moved aside and the ships carpenter was in the process of removing part of the bulkhead.
While they waited the Chief Officer advised that it was 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.
“There’s nothing there,” 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; we won’t have enough time to find the cameos. If one of us gets posted to this ship again we will have more time.”
The Third Officer replied, “Yes Sir, that would be good but what you haven’t had you won’t miss. Let’s swap addresses 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.
On balance, the German thought, the reward was better than the thick stack of Deutschmarks that he had received from the jewelers in the Bahnhoff Strassa.
This ship was buit in 1918 in Seattle, USA. Driven by a GE steam turbine. She was owned by the United States Shipping Board, and named WEST HOBOMAC. Fifteen years later in 1933, she was sold to Lykes Bros/Ripley S.S. Co, and became soley owned by Lykes in 1938. In 1940 she was handed to the French Government who named her ILE de BATZ and operated her under the French Line. In July that year in WW2, she was taken over by the Ministry of War Transport in the U.K. who awarded the management to Andrew Weir. In March 1940 she met her end when bound from Rangoon to Freetown to the UK with a cargos of rice and generals, torpedoed by U68. ( See above account). 4 dead.