A West African voyage

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,

 “Watch.”

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,

“Any questions?”

The Third Officer said there were,

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

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

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

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

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.

“Completare, completare”       

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

Roger chuckled.

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

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

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

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

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.

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