M.V. Weybank.

An extract from an interesting and amusing voyage on the M.V. Weybank. Read this and some more chapters by clicking the link (junglecat.de) below, and then the ‘ about ‘ heading on the site.


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”.

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