Taken at Wallaroo 1924/5, among the sailing vessels.
Sold in 1981 and had various owners until scrapped in 1998, a 25 year lifespan.
This book is comprised of first hand accounts of life during the heady days of sail during the 1800’s and at the turn of the century. OLIVEBANK and CEDARBANK included. It will be available on AMAZON as an ebook and in print. 33 gripping first hand accounts from the sometimes desperate days under sail in all weathers and around Cape Horn.
Chief Officer, John Whiteside, relaxing at Nauru. (Under the phosphate cantilever) Ship was the Liberty, “Maplebank” and the year 1956.
Painting by junglecat – many thanks
Flip Flops and no epaulettes for the Chief Officer – shocked!
This interesting article is one of many penned by Geoff Walker who started his seagoing life in the Bank Line. He went on to serve many years in command sailing throughout the Far Eastern waters and elsewhere in the Pacific. His experience is vast, and his writings first class. See his website https://oceanjoss.com or read his memoir called: ” A Tramp for all the Oceans” available on Amazon.
Subsequent to a loaded voyage from Houston, New Orleans, Beaumont, the vessel discharged in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, loaded a quantity of Copper ingots in Port Pirie for the UK, and completed discharge of the US cargo in Fremantle. On board for Washington Island was several slings of mail and around seventy tons of food products and drink to last the island for six months, all stowed in No 2 tween deck, across the forward end. Resident in the ships hospital was the relief supervisor for the contract labor on Washington Island
Thereafter proceeded to the Solomon Islands for Copra, in bulk, and Nukaloafa, Tonga. for similar, followed by Suva for Coconut Oil and Copra, then Apia, Western Samoa for copra. The vessel then proceeded to Washington and Xmas islands in the line islands for it’s final loadings of copra.
Resident on the island was one Australian, Bill Frew, representing Burns Philip & Co, and in charge of a hundred families, on a three year contract from southern kiribati.
A moderate wind and a long, high, heavy ground swell was present on arrival offshore Washington Island. the water depth was prohibitive for anchoring. The loading was to be effected by cargo service boats who transit the reef which almost completely surrounds the island .
A heavy hawser line reached from shore to a large buoy position about sixty metres beyond the reef. The cargo service boats were built with a heavy bow and stern post, each cut with a groove to house the hawser. The boats would then transit a very narrow channel (probably created by dynamite) by positioning the hawser through their grooves, and with small lashings from boat to hawser, holds the boat steady, then to make headway in or out, quickly release the lashings on the incoming swell or the fast moving ‘drag back’.
For several days the ‘Southbank’ drifted offshore, and each morning around 7 a.m. the Captain would pilot the vessel close to shore and check the weather situation with Bill Frew on vhf radio. On December 25th1964 the conditions remained ;unsuitable’ and the ‘Southbank’ was, again moved offshore.
Being Xmas day, a party was held on the Starboard Boat Deck and went into the morning hours. From later conversations I would estimate between 2 and 3 a.m.
If not already awake, all personnel were immediately roused by the vessel’ shuddering, broadside’ to port against the side of the reef. The time was approximately 7 a.m. From that time there appeared no further attempt to start the engines.
The majority of the Indian Crew went into ‘immediate panic’, gathering their belongings into blankets, including food items, cutlery and any other items they assumed of some value, then attended the lifeboat stations. Chief Mate Angus MCbain, proceeded to lower both port side lifeboats. The heavy swell, with each surge was slowly turning the stern of the vessel to starboard, and little by little the entire vessel further on to the reef. While there still remained calmer waters to port both lifeboats were filled with Indian Nationals and towed away over the swell by the local cargo service boats. Then south-westward to a second channel way, where they were landed on the beach. The service boats then returned to attend the vessel.
During the first disembarkation, Second Mate MCintosh was assigned by the Captain to rig No 2 hatch forward derrick, and remove sufficient hatch covers to hoist the islands mail up and over the rail, for landing into a lifeboat. MCintosh was then assigned two remaining AB’s to lower the starboard forward lifeboat, and in conjunction with the breaking of the swell, ride the wave enough to collect the mail, then quickly turn and get back over the next wave before it breaks.
When the attempt reached fruition the vessel was ‘dead straight’ onto the reef and had been pushed forward sufficient to allow the swell to break directly at the point of ‘the drop’.
View of Washington Island with the Lake
See the extensive reports and photos elsewhere on this site – search SOUTHBANK
Fleetbank seen in the Hawaian Islands…
Painted by ‘junglecat’. See more on the website: https://junglecat.de
1977 to 1981 only…. 17 kts and a great improvement on her namesake below.
1953 to 1973 – Mainly on the Copra run
Built in Dumbarton in 1892. Wrecked 10 years later on Juan De Nova in the Mozambique channel. 50 years later in 1952, the M.V. Westbank ran ashore on the same island, but was successfully salved.
from the Dec 81 house magazine comes the following………..
1979 to 1981 only when she was sold on and became the Greek AMPHION.
MORE ON THE THISTLEBANK BY SEARCHING THE SITE….
Another of the 1953 Harland built ‘ Copra’ boats….. 6 month trips if you were lucky!
Rounding the Horn – a passage taking 11 months 15 days from South Shields to San Francisco,
An account from Sea Breezes in 1923
On June 3, 1899 we sailed from the Tyne Dock, South Shields bound for ‘Frisco with general cargo and going north about round the Shetlands soon reaching the Western ocean. There we were favoured with fair conditions all the way to Madeira and sighted that Island on the 24th day out. On 5 July, we spoke to the barque Banffshire, outward bound to Sydney whilst another vessel, apparently homeward bound, away on the horizon had evidently lost her main topgallant mast, but we were unable to ascertain who she was.
When we were well into the Doldrums, the skipper was keen on catching the numerous sharks that followed in our wake. One that he hooked gave a lot of trouble and required the services of several hands before he was captured. He measured 8’3″ long and when cut open he had a large bully beef tin in his stomach–a very indigestible meal. By 3rd August we were abreast of the rock of Trinidada and were experiencing heavy squalls and had lots of trouble with sails and gear carrying away; first the flying the gyb, then the fore Royal, and fore lower topsail went one after the other, which kept us very busy.
On 1 September we sighted land on the port bow, which turned out to be Staten Island and we passed through the Straits of Le Maire, and with a fair wind which carryied us right down the Patagonian coast to the Horn. On the 5th, the weather became very bad, and we reduce sails to 3 lower topsails and the fore topmast staysail. Next day it was blowing a hurricane from the Southwest with tremendous seas running, with the decks being full-up to the rails. Then the wind seemed to blow still harder, and there was a loud bang followed by another, and away went the fore and main lower topsails in ribbons. Fortunately we had an awning in the weather mizzen rigging so that, with a goose winged mizen lower topsail we were able to keep her head up to the seas, which were roaring down on us from a great height. It was now quite impossible to bend any more sails, so we just had to make the best of things.
These wretched conditions continued without any lull for weeks. One day, however, to break the monotony we spoke to the three masted ship Woolf, 75 days out from Belfast towards Port Oregon, and on another day the Corrievrechan a, Glasgow vessel homeward bound for Liverpool. Needless to say, how are we all envied those aboard her! With were now getting into a fine mess, all our lower storm sails blown away, skylight carried away on the Poop, cabin flooded, and many rail stanchions loosened, deckhouse stores and boats stove in, and worse than that hardly any fresh water to drink. We tried condensing salt, but this was hopeless.
At last came along came a lull, some fine weather canvas was set, and a course steered for Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, where we arrived off Port William. We sailed with a fair wind up the fairway as far as possible when the little launch Sissie, came to our aid. She piloted us through the narrows into the Bay of Stanley, where we came to anchor Here we found quite a fleet of ships all suffering more or less from the effects of the blow off of Cape Horn. These were the four mastered Barque Beechbank. They came in with the crew of a ship that had foundered, the German ship, Willhelm Mene, Penguin, the Barque Balkamar, and the Norwegian barque Langstown. Also HMS Pegasus and Beagle.
During our stay here carpenters and blacksmiths came off everyday making good the damage, and most of the hands were put on sewing canvas for the new sails, which kept them busy for a considerable time. We had a passenger aboard with us who, of course, signed on as assistant Steward, and he thought he had had enough after his swim in the cabin off the Horn, and did not care too risk his skin any further, So he implored the skipper to let him go home. The captain would not hear of it however, and after a lot of strong language and threats of what he would do if we ever reached San Francisco, the captain gave in, so when the mail boat arrived the passenger said goodbye to all of us, as he did not expect to ever hear of ship or crew again and taking his departure stepped into the boat and was rowed ashore for England.
The fleet thins out
Port Stanley in those days was a very bleak sort of place, with very little soil, and with no warmth in the sun, no trees and only the coarsest grass. It was altogether a very wind- swept place where most of the inhabitants spent their time farming sheep. The lads from the ship spent a good bit of their time in the boat between the ship and the shore and on one occasion were coming off in the boat under sail with the cargo of potatoes for the cabin with the wind blowing in strong gusts offshore. Suddenly we jibed and over went the lot in the none too warm water. Of course, we lost the spuds and nearly ourselves, but fortunately the Beechbank chaps had seen out plight and promptly came to our assistance.
On 22 November the Beechbank got underway but it took her three days to reach the open sea, owing to head winds.
Later, the Langstown and the Balkamar left for Antwerp,
Then the Wilhelm Mene tried to get out, but she went aground. However, she got off later without assistance and sailed for Iquique. By 30 January we were, except for stores, ready for a second attempt to sail around the Horn, so we shifted from the bay to outside of the narrows, and on 6 February we were all ready to sail. After heaving up and dropping anchor we managed after some delay to reach the open sea, and with westerly winds our course was set for the Horn.
These conditions however did not last long, and we soon had to reduce sail, topsails, foresail, and staysails until on the 15th we sighted the eastern side of Staten Island. The wind had dropped and all sail was then set. Next day we were well on our way around the Horn or at least we thought so, but that night the old conditions started again and it began to blow very hard. Before very long the mainsail and the fore upper topsail blew out, and then all hands were called to shorten down. The following morning all sail was again set and we sighted the Horn. This passing and repassing had been going on for quite a long time, and we were getting sick of it. However on 4 March we were rewarded with a fair wind, and with every stitch of sales set, we passed Diego Ramirez, on our port beam, so we were evidently cutting the corner close! Our spirits were high as the wind held and we got away to the west and clear from the spot when we had seemed to have spent a lifetime. We eventually arrived off the Golden Gate without any further incident on 24 May 1900, nearly a year from South Shields. When we finally dropped at the anchor we were besieged by newspaper reporters, doctors, missionaries, and all sorts of people. in fact our safe arrival caused quite a lot of excitement.
We left San Francisco homeward bound on 23 July with grain. We were heading for Queenstown for orders and in company with the Winterpark who we lost sight of on the third day out. On the 3rd September we sighted the island Claremont Tonnaire in Latitude 18.20 S and longitude 24 36W. And five days later Mangur Rewa island. The Horn was reached on 21 October 90 days out, and we went round with a good stiff breeze after us and doing 12 kn. Although she pooped and the decks were full up, we kept going for days into the finer weather.
We spoke to the Barque Ganges of London on 9 November in Lat 31.38S and Long 24.36 W, 75 days out from Sydney to Liverpool with hides. We also spoke to the Almeida of Greenock with Capt Greeveson in command, outward Bound to Iquique 71 days out from Liverpool. The line was crossed on 28 November, 128 days out a poor performance, But the Blackbraes was not built for speed ,but to carry cargo. On 4 January 1901 we signalled our arrival to the old head of Kinsale and receive orders to proceed to Birkenhead, where we arrived two days later after a total voyage of 106 days. We were all glad to be back in the old country once again.
This account was by a ” A. Goodban”.
Comment and observation:
This amazing voyage was made before the Panama Canal was open, and therefore a trip to San Francisco involved rounding the Horn, (or going right around Africa and across the Pacific). It would not be at all profitable with hindsight, given the duration and loss of spars and rigging plus salaries etc. The whole voyage including the return leg to the UK took 18 months for 2 cargoes only.
For anyone thinking it was a reckless undertaking, it should be remembered that 50 years earlier, the American clipper ships were regularly serving California from New York, Boston and East Coast ports, often carrying steam locomotives on deck around the Horn as the country opened up! The ships were so made and managed (and so beautiful) that the ship owners advertised a regular service in the newspapers of the time of around 110 days – port to port. Of course, there were mishaps rounding the Horn, but generally the service was reliable – a huge unmatched tribute to the builders, owners, and mostly, the seamen of that time in the 1850’s.
Bank Line’s hunting ground – Cuba, Mexico, Trinidad and more.. happy days………….
Trips on the Nessbank were often 6 months or less, but nothing was guaranteed on 2 year articles!
There were 2 “Thornliebanks” built 1886 and 1896 respectively. The four masted, fully rigged ship of 1896 was slightly bigger. The picture above is the earlier one referred to in the re-produced article. The 1896 built vessel was wrecked in 1913 on the Crim Rocks, Scilly Isles.
Richard Lloyd’s lovely painting of the Teviotbank, courtesy of Trevor Wilkinson.
Seen in the Mersey in a stiff breeze….
26 CHAPTER TWENTY SIX (The Wedding)
The yacht, along with a vintage taxi, a mini-bus and shares in a Thames sailing barge was officially owned by the corporate entertainment company. In addition, the use of a luxury box at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club was available to the three Shareholders, as were the entertainment facilities onboard the Paddle Steamer moored near Parliament, courtesy of Sir Edward Brown.
The joint owners of the company took turns in keeping proper accounts and producing an appropriate balance sheet.
Sometimes the shareholders used the facilities together and at other times they simply booked them for their sole use.
At the end of March, St Francis College, a private girls school in Letchworth Garden City, held it’s annual fund raising event in their spacious sports grounds. Parents were solicited to make a financial or physical contribution, so John, one of the shareholders, conceived the idea of using the vintage taxi for rides at forty pence a time with the proceeds going to the school. At around three o’clock when the heavens opened up, nearly two hundred pounds had been raised.
Passers by would have been shocked to see three nuns and a hirsute man sheltering beneath an ancient open vehicle, taking turns to consume a bottle of Champagne, intended for the raffle, and using a single crystal glass goblet between them.
When the rain ceased there was still half a bottle left and all four decided that it was divine intervention that led to the change in the weather. The nuns saw it that their libations had been strictly limited whereas the delighted parent felt gratified to be left with the remainder of the refreshment.
The vintage taxi ended up in Johns drive, as he had to prepare himself for the forty or so, mile journey to return it to its home garage.
The vehicle was an extremely attractive and rare example, but was somewhat unsuited to long journeys especially for the driver who was threatened with carbon dioxide poisoning from the exhaust fumes. Top speed was only around forty miles per hour, though at this speed it was hard to control the violent wobbling of the front wheels that became transmitted through the steering wheel.
The passenger’s seat was protected by a large shade, not unlike that of an infant’s carriage, which could be folded back concertina wise, in good weather.
Finished in Royal blue with a deep shine it looked very handsome with its jet-black wheels and canopy. The shiny chrome horn and large polished headlights ensured it lived up to its former purpose – a hansom cab.
A week or so after the fund raising there was a knock at the door causing the dogs to go berserk. Locking them away, John answered to find a young man confronting him.
“Is that your taxi in the drive?’
The visitor was smart, tall and slim. His shoes were of the latest fashion, as was his suit and his hair, though long, it seemed to have a sort of sheen, as though it had been spayed to keep it into place. Briefly, he could have been described as ‘Jack the lad.’
Having received an affirmative, the visitor asked,
“ Any chance of hiring it?”
“Afraid not,” said John, “It’s private and not for hire.”
Obviously disappointed, the young chap returned to his Audi sports car and disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
Over the next few weeks, John received another three visits, all in the early evening and all with the same result.
On his fifth visit it was different for two reasons. It turned out the taxi was wanted only as a wedding vehicle and the young man said he would be happy if John drove. In return he would donate a hundred pounds to the Church restoration fund, which had been an ongoing cause in the village. They shook hands and he gave John the bride’s local address and a time and date some six weeks hence. As he left, the prospective groom pledged John to secrecy since he said he wanted it to be a surprise for his fiancée. Surprise it certainly turned out to be.
There was something on John’s mind as he dug his vegetable garden and for the life of him he couldn’t bring it to mind. It was the Church clock striking ten that sent a shiver down his spine as he remembered the significance of the date.
Fortunately, he was able to buy five meters of white ribbon at the local shop and get back to quickly change before picking up the bride.
As he drove flat out to the center of the village he realized he didn’t have the address but he counted on some sort of activity to guide him. He was in luck. As he rounded the corner by the Five Bells public house, some customers came out sporting carnations in their buttonholes.
“Where’s the bride?” He politely enquired.
“Post Office,” came the reply.
It is always nice to know someone when in an unaccustomed situation and John was pleased that the Postmaster and he were both acquainted having, sometime earlier been on the Parish Council together.
He pulled up at the Post Office and his fellow Councilor came out accompanied by his daughter in a long white wedding dress and carrying a beautiful bouquet.
“Hello John, didn’t know anything about this,” Dennis said, indicating the cab.
“Grooms surprise Dennis. Hop in. Don’t want to be late!”
They took off in the direction of the Registry Office some ten miles distant without another word as the driver already knew where to go.
Negotiating the lanes was hard work, as the driver was half asphyxiated and without power steering.
After a while, John peered into his rear view mirror to ensure his passengers were okay, To his surprise the bride was a bit dumpy and somehow wasn’t the type he had envisaged for ‘Jack’ as he thought of the groom.
“The wedding is at Ampthill registry office Dennis?” he shouted over the wind and engine noise.
“Yes,” said Dennis.
“Reception at the grooms parents place after?”
“No,” said Dennis, “It’s at the village hall.”
Another terrible chill came over John as he did a ‘U’ turn and drove as fast as he could back the way they had come trying not to notice the wobble caused by the slightly buckled wheel.
The Gods had sent a helping hand as, upon arriving back at the Post Office, some late arrivals had just turned up and were able to transport the confused bride and her father.
The taxi sped off back to Johns house where he finally located the details of his earlier arrangements on a scrap of paper under his grandmothers clock above the mantelpiece.
As luck would have it the address was for the same road but at the opposite end and trying to appear calm, John knocked on the door.
A well-dressed young lady answered it and John relayed his treaty about the secret, to the young lady who was obvious the ‘lady in waiting.’
“We’ve also got a secret,” she said, “The bride, unbeknown to the groom, is dressed in a wedding dress.”
A short while later a beautiful petite bride climbed into the back seat. She pulled aside her veil allowing her long fair hair to cascade over her shoulders. She implored John to find somewhere they could remain hidden from the groom while they waited at the Registry Office.
Feeling like Sir Galahad, John replied,
“Your wish is my command,”
Finding first gear at last, the cab moved forward and they set off towards their destination without further delay.
They barely had five minutes to spare as they drew to a halt right outside the magnificent building in its park setting, which partly functioned as the registry office.
John found a small empty room containing records and a desk and chairs and left the bride and her ‘lady in waiting’ in order to park the car in the adjacent car park.
As he returned to the taxi, the earlier ceremony had just finished and the attendees were coming out. A man approached him and with a humorous demeanor, introduced himself as the best man at the postmaster’s daughter’s wedding.
“A funny and memorable event,” he said forgivingly, “would it be possible to get some photo’s of the married couple ostensibly getting out of the taxi on arrival, for the album?”
John readily agreed. He couldn’t help comparing the homely Postmasters daughter with his real passenger, especially as he recalled her shapely legs and the blue garter that was revealed as she disembarked when they arrived.
A crowd gathered to watch and the top hatted Groom helped his ample bride alight. Cameras flashed as they caught the moment on film, however, the pride John felt was soon to be dashed by the arrival of ‘Jack the Lad’ in his brightly polished Audi sports car.
“Where’s Madeleine?” he demanded.
John was momentarily at a loss. He didn’t want to break his trust with the girls.
Before awaiting a response the lad jumped back into his sports car and roared off with John in lame pursuit. He couldn’t help picturing the scene, as Madeleine’s fiancée must have viewed it. The wrong bride had been collected!
The chase was hopeless. The gap widened as they travelled the long straight road through the park.
For the second time that day, it seemed, God came to the rescue.
The traffic lights at the park exit were red. The steaming cab slowly ground to a halt behind the growling sports car whose occupant failed to hear the pathetic ‘burp’ caused by the rubber bulb being squeezed as John tried in vane to sound the horn.
John approached ‘Jack the lad’ and told him that his fiancée was waiting in the registry office.
Completing his five-point turn he followed in pursuit of the sports car as it sped back to the Office.
The journey to the parent’s house was a much happier affair. The newly weds kissed and cuddled in the back and John felt a certain satisfaction that they were undoubtedly suited to one and other.
Jack, as John now thought of him, apologized for his earlier mistrust and insisted that John join them for the toasts.
Nothing else can happen, thought John, as they arrived.
The detached house was ablaze with lights to welcome the couple and everyone was given champagne to toast the newly weds before the meal.
The elderly grandfather either wasn’t used to the excitement or the champagne and asked John who was standing next to him if he would mind helping him to the toilet. Unfortunately, the downstairs loo had been designated a ‘ladies’ so the old chap explained that he would need to use the ‘chair lift’ that had been installed to assist him after he lost a leg to a shark while swimming off of Bondi beach.
John escorted the old gent to the front passage and ensured he was properly seated on the chair lift at the bottom of the stairs.
What happened next was possibly due to a missing notice regarding safety straps.
The Grandfather was oblivious and John was unaware of said notice, so when John pressed the ‘up’ button the ascent commenced without any safety straps in place. A faulty relay didn’t help and rather than the gentle rise usually experienced, the chair shot up rather rapidly. Had there not been a corner, the Grandfather may have stayed on but in the event, his decent turned out to be a lot quicker than he went up.
John helped him onto his foot and finding that he wasn’t too much worse for wear, assisted him to the downstairs bathroom.
The exasperated driver decided it was time to return home and on leaving, could hear a stern maiden aunt complaining that there was a man in the ladies.
Anxious to get home, John started the taxi and grinned to himself as he remembered the bizarre events of the day culminating in the rapid rise and fall of the groom’s benign grandfather. He drove the taxi at top speed that was actually forty-two miles an hour that wouldn’t have normally concerned the police patrol car.
However, at this speed there was a tendency for voluminous fumes to be emitted and the wobble became more pronounced. To make matters worse because of wind and engine noise, John failed to respond to the police siren.
Eventually he was pulled over and confronted by a zealous ill humoured policeman.
The driver confidently produced both the license and the insurance.
“Neither of these documents entitles you to drive a Hackney carriage”, the policeman asserted and added,
“Have you been drinking?”
John’s confidence was rapidly diminishing.
“I’ve just come from a wedding,” he explained.
“Did you use that?” said the Police Officer pointing to the taxi.
“Yes, for the bride and groom. I’ve just been to the reception.”
The now belligerent policeman unbuttoned his top pocket, took out a small notebook and began to write.
After about five minutes he turned to John and said,
“Five counts of breaking the law.”
He consulted his notes.
“One. Exceeding the speed limit.
Two. Driving an unsafe vehicle.
Three. Driving for hire or reward while improperly licensed and insured.
Four. Emitting polluting fumes.
Five. Driving with alcohol on the breath.”
He replaced his pencil in the spine of his notebook.
“Have you anything to say?”
John decided to defend himself and angrily replied.
“Yes. Let’s start with the first last. I had one small glass of champagne to toast the bride and groom. Give me a test if you don’t believe me.
Classic vehicles are exempt from modern emission guides.
There was no reward, just a donation to the Church restoration fund.
The wobble had only just started.
The brakes and horn are up to the standard they were manufactured to suit the car. Speed dials in 1917 were not very sophisticated and I doubt that any Judge would look kindly on a law enforcement officer taking up the Courts time with such a trivial and relatively minor infringement.”
A long silence ensued finally being broken by the policeman who said,
“I’ll let you off with a warning this time. Off you go and keep your speed down.”
Its odd when one is attempting to be casual and nonchalant, how everything goes wrong.
The washer lever was pressed, rather than the indicators as they were on different sides to John’s car. The policeman just about managed to hold his temper in check, as the washer water dripped from his helmet.
John found reverse instead of first gear and when he eventually started forward a loud bang accompanied by a cloud of soot came out of the exhaust.
He was acutely conscious of speeding, and now held up the traffic that became formed into a long, slow moving, line.
Arriving home exhausted he pulled into his drive and regrettably forgot about the brakes, subsequently causing a significant amount of damage to the rear end of his wife’s car, which was parked in the driveway. Two weddings and a disaster, he thought.
John opened the back door and headed for the kitchen.
He was somewhat mollified at the sight of his lovely wife stirring a saucepan on the stove.
“Hello darling ‘” his wife greeted him.
“Have you had a nice day?”
With a brief nod John poured two large glasses of sherry and downed his in one.
The warming liquid relaxed him slowly and he felt his stress gradually subsiding.
“I’ve made a special meal tonight and lit a nice fire dear,” she said, sipping her drink.
“The children have gone out so I think we can have a lovely evening watching a video. While you were out, I went into town and your mission gave me a good idea. The video I got is on the sideboard, but it must be returned in three days.”
He picked it up and turning it over, read the title.
‘Four weddings and a funeral.’
IVYBANK in the fleet from 1947 to 1959
24 CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR Bedfordshire Clangers.
Mike was a farmer in that he had married a farmer’s daughter and they had inherited her father’s farm.
Being also an ex Merchant Navy Officer his love of the sea was slightly stronger than his love of the land. However, his love of his wife and family led him to change his profession from sailor to farmer although he was never to lose a hankering for the carefree life in the Merchant Navy.
He possessed a dry wit that became subtler as his intake of ale increased, although his favourite tipple was West Indian Rum.
As a young man he had not learnt about crop rotation or weed and pest control but had instead, been introduced to the delights of nautical matters such as navigation and seamanship.
Of all his marine studies the one that he came to like the most was drinking.
Rather than being ashamed, he was proud, when returning for afternoon lectures in celestial navigation, to be met with a remark from the brilliant tutor who was engrossed in chalking up schematic diagrams with his back to the audience. Although the lecture was due to start at Two p.m. precisely, Mike and his friend Mac hadn’t left the ‘Bunch of grapes until nearly five and twenty past.
Without turning round or even apparently noticing their furtive return, the lecturer said,
“Mr. Whitey, I would be eternally grateful if you could drink your lunch in one hour!”
They genuinely appreciated this approach and were never late again.
Throughout his early career, he was attached to and sponsored by the largest U.K. oil tanker company and reached the zenith of his training by being enrolled on an extra Master Mariners course. Having successful completed the course he returned to his tiny country village for the Christmas holidays and to await the examination results.
Someone once asked a lifelong sailor what he was going to do when he retired.
“I’m going to put a pair of oars over my shoulder and start walking,” he said,
“When the first person asks me what I’ve got on my shoulder, that’s where I’ll settle down.’
Sailors don’t expect there to be other kin in the middle of the country, so Mike was both suspicious and surprised when he overheard a conversation in the other bar of his local.
Because of background music and talking going on in his group, he didn’t quite hear all that was said but it was sufficient to catch his interest.
He couldn’t see who was speaking and although both bars were served from one long counter, a partition wall separated the saloon from the public bar.
Dick, the highly efficient young landlord and Paula his vivacious wife ran the Pub so well it made it, not only the most popular hostelry in the village, but a meeting place for farmworkers and townies alike.
The locals tended to be reticent in accepting newcomers so the different groups existed separately. Occasionally exceptions were made and generally depended on status and the depth of the pocket.
Mike would have preferred the more raucous public bar but hitherto being a temporary resident, he hadn’t been fully accepted and knew more people in the saloon bar.
As in most real Pubs, the conversation was usually about current news items, the weather, local gossip and jokes but not necessarily in that order. With one ear Mike was listening to the local odd job man regaling details of a suspected affair by the Vicar. The odd job man was responsible for cutting the grass in the graveyard and surrounds and his best friend was the verger. Mike wanted to hear more, as his wife was chief flower arranger and would be most interested when he recalled the story later and included a few extra details. On the other hand his other ear had picked up certain words from behind the partition wall that caused him to concentrate on what was being said.
“…and I hit a patch of black ice and went aground on the triangle just after Marquis Hill,”
He knew the small island where High Road and Bury Road met at Marquis Hill. What had caught his attention however, was the use of the word ‘aground’, which was uncommon amongst County folk who would have probably said, “I got stuck high and dry on.”
On the other hand, sailors commonly used the use of the adjective ‘aground’.
He turned to an accepted regular, who was a railway doctor but had lived in the village for several years and enquired if the doctor knew who was holding forth in the other bar.
“That’ll be John,” said the Doctor rather emphatically, “ Wears a suit, drives an old Bentley and lives in a wing up at the Bury.
“What’s he do?” enquired Mike.
“Not sure,” said Doc, “I think he used to be a sea Captain, but I don’t know what sort of boats because he seems a bit young.”
Mike determined to find out a bit more before revealing his chosen profession.
The third of January brought Mike good news by post. He had passed. It was also the first snow of the year and was to last until nearly Easter.
In the back of his mind, Mike was reviewing his options. Now he had an extra Masters he could teach which would mean he could come ashore to be with his family. Most of the land on the farm had been rented to other farmers while Mike was at sea, so income was not a serious problem. On the downside, the village was almost a far as anyone could get from the coast so either he would have to live away in the week or commute and he didn’t relish either alternative. In the event, his Certificate proved to be insurance and provided him with the confidence to make a living on the farm without farming the land.
It was time to celebrate his good news.
Opening and closing regulations, strictly governed the hours of all Pubs, though sometimes in the deep countryside, this was ignored. However, Mike was quite surprised to find his local open before 10.30 a.m. in the morning.
In the saloon bar, Dick the landlord was busy pulling off the ‘ullage’ from the pumps before the day’s customers started to arrive. Otherwise the bar was empty but nevertheless Mike ordered a pint of ‘the black stuff.’
The main reason why the draft Guinness was so good apart from Dick’s careful attention was that it was also his regular drink. There were no cars in the car park and yet Mike could hear stunted conversation from the public bar.
The elderly locals spoke in heavily accented English, which, unless you were used to it, was difficult to understand. For example the word roof was pronounced and rhymed with a small dog’s bark, ‘woof’. They also had many weird expressions such as referring to a young person as an ‘old boy’.
He idly listened as he downed his pint and ordered another. An elderly person was reciting some incident and punctuated at intervals by a younger male voice agreeing and encouraging. Dick disappeared into the other bar carrying two buckets brimming with ‘ullage’.
A short while later a most remarkable event occurred. Apparently it was a daily ritual.
A large donkey appeared from the garden and, as though he owned the place, pushed his way into the small cosy public bar and Dick, the landlord placed the first bucket on a chair. The conversation ceased as the two customers became engrossed in watching the buckets swiftly drained of their contents by the donkey engaged in non-stop slurping. There were two buckets from the saloon and one from the public bar. A loud and deep rumbling belch broke the silence and Joby, an ancient local said,
“I wish I could do that.”
His companion said,
“Why would you want to belch so loudly?”
“I mean drink a bucket of beer so quickly”, came the reply.
The donkey was so big it was unable to turn round and fearing the intervention of nature the younger man opened the door and the donkey backed out.
Mike upon hearing the encore and seeing the donkey retreating decided to investigate.
Two pieces of driftwood bumped into one and other but remained unaware of the extent of their mutual interest for many years.
Mike returned to the saloon bar that had started to fill and spotted his neighbour, the Doctor. Both men had several things in common. They were neighbours, professional people, neither was born nearby or attended local schools and above all they shared a love of drinking.
Comfortable in each other’s company, they started to chat.
“Big event for the village,” said the Doctor,
“What’s that?” asked Mike
“The wedding. The policeman’s daughter is getting married today.”
“Ah, that accounts for the Pub’s opening time! What time is it?’ asked Mike.
“I take it you mean the wedding and not now,” said the Doctor and continued without waiting for an answer.
“Twelve o’clock. Reception’s in the village hall.”
“We’ll need to be careful,” offered Mike, “There’s sure to be plenty of police about.”
His friend replied,
“They won’t be bothering the locals and anyway they will of had a few themselves!”
Around lunchtime both bars were packed. The ever-smiling Paula and her young daughter passed round plates of surprisingly delicate sandwiches and hot sausage rolls that had just come out of the oven.
The landlord Dick, calmly dispensed drinks ensuring that nobody was kept waiting. He was truly a professional barman and would catch the eye of a newcomer at the back of the crowd. He would tip them a wink and shortly after drinks would be passed over and paid for later. He knew what all his regulars drank so they were never left with an empty glass.
Three o’clock was the normal closing time on a Saturday and most people sticking to their routines, drifted home and soon the car park became empty.
The Public bar was still occupied by the original customers and the old shotgun hanging on the far wall had been primed and clicked many times.
Joby’s companion had a habit of leaning over the old church pew and supporting himself on the wall by the gun. At indeterminate intervals he would prime the empty gun by cocking the hammer and a satisfying ‘click’ could be heard when somewhat later he would pull the trigger.
Around five John left to meet his wife who was due to return from a trip to London and they both had to get ready for a dinner invitation.
The Pub opened at a little before noon the next day being a Sunday and John was one of the first customers, as he needed a livener. A smattering of farmworkers and farmers appeared for their weekly outing that was usually restricted to two pints. Their timing was as good as, if not better than the Church clock.
Sunday lunchtimes were the one time in the week that the saloon bar came into it’s own. The raffles attracted people but the main reason for the crowds was due to the attendance of the ‘townies’. Commuters in the week at weekends they donned their corduroy trousers and check shirts and some even sported a shooting hat. None wore a tie and yet many of the farmers felt undressed without one on a Sunday and the townies shiny Range Rovers in the car park reflected their smart attire.
Joby’s old bike trundled into the car park at five past twelve and was propped up in its usual place against the hen house.
Dick saw him crossing the car park and commented to John as he carried two empty crates of bottled Guinness out to the storage shed.
“Thirty Guinness’s yesterday and I think he paid for six!”
John chuckled, “ Cheap entertainment.”
As it turned out the story he was about to hear was worth every penny of his previous day’s generosity.
Joby entered the tiny Public bar. Although it had less than a dozen customers it seemed crowded but everyone knew the newcomer and before he reached his regular chair he already had two drinks in the pump and one on its way.
At weekends, Joby was seldom without a plastic bag on his carrier behind the seat of his prewar bicycle. He kindly brought freshly picked vegetables for his benefactors to encourage their continued generosity.
John, who he saw as a kind of kindred spirit, was the only person he confided in. The plot behind Joby’s house remained unsullied which is more than could be said for the allotments near the Church that Joby passed on his way to the Pub.
Taking a satisfying pull on his drink, Joby recalled the events on leaving the Pub the previous evening.
“ It were getting dark when I left and the steering on that old bike of mine is none to good and causes me to wobble a bit.
Passing the village hall I could hear all the frivolity a going on and just as I decided to investigate, a police car stopped me. Quite put me off. So I went home instead.”
‘What did they say?” Asked John.
“The tall one said, ‘ you haven’t got any lights.’ I said, “ I’ve lived in this village for eighty-four years and if I don’t know my way home by now, even in the dark, I never will.”
“Seemed like he couldn’t think of anything to say so I went on home especially as I was looking forward to a tot of whisky before going to bed.”
The following Monday was a Bank holiday so the regular early evening crowd had slightly increased. The usual imbibers propped up the bar in the tiny public bar but unusually for early on a Monday evening; the saloon bar was quite busy.
Unbeknown to John, a couple of his local friends had decided to play a trick on him so when John adopted his normal position adjacent to the shotgun hanging on the wall a slightly unnoticed hush descended but probably was only recognised by those in the know.
Dick, the barman, wisely retreated to the back room on the pretext of
‘Tapping a new barrel’.
A little while slowly passed as John, following his unconscious habit, cocked the shotgun on the wall.
Two of his friends had loaded the gun with a cartridge having removed the shot.
Immersed in a conversation with Joby and unaware of what was going on, John fiddled with the trigger for quite some before the punch line of one of Joby’s jokes, simultaneously made him laugh and pull the trigger. This time it was unfortunately not just a click that followed but a deafening bang causing the gun to fly from the wall and end up in the garden having broken the glass window.
Pandemonium broke out in the bar as people ran in all directions. Dick emerged from the back grinning all over his face and brandishing a fire extinguisher. The Doctor went into emergency mode and ‘Bracky” used the confusion to top up his glass without anyone noticing.
The donkey stampeded down the road and ran straight through Modge’s greenhouse.
John nonchalantly retrieved the gun and hung it back on the wall. It was no longer straight as the brackets had become bent.
He motioned to Dick who came over with a Guinness for Joby and a pint for John. John gave the landlord a Twenty Pound note and calmly said,
“You’d better take one for the window as well.’
Andrew Weir got involved in the South African shipping scene when he took over the Bullard King service between S Africa and India, and then building the 3 so-called ” White Ships”, Incomati, Isipingo, and Inchanga. in 1939. These local names had been used before however by the ‘ Rennie Line’ as mentioned in this interesting letter extract from an early edition of ” Sea Breezes”
The earlier Inchanga mentioned above was built by Hall, Russell & Co, Aberdeen in 1895. Sold in 1911 to Arab Steamers, Bombay, and renamed Bahrein. In 1922 she was sold on to the Bombay & Persian Steam Nav. Co. ( The Mogul Line). She had 10 more years before scrapping, and sailed under the Egyptian flag.
Here is a newspaper comment at the launch. “INCHANGA, A new steamer. Capt. Stuart RNR. With large airy 2 berth cabins, fitted with electric light, piano and all modern conveniences, surgeon and stewardess.”
In 1911, Rennie’s Aberdeen Line was purchased by T & J Harrison of Liverpool.
Purchased in 1908 and lost in 1910. Many vessels failed to arrive after sailing from Newcastle N.S.W. There was a substantial trade as shown by the port picture below, taken a few years after the ELLISLAND sadly disappeared.
22 CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
To gain entry into Honfleur from the sea it is necessary to approach via the great French river that runs through Paris, the river Seine.
The entrance to the estuary lies to the west of Le Havre on the southern part of the English Channel. In former times, the magnificent cantilever bridge over the river had yet to be built.
Ferocious gales in the Channel had driven the small yacht that was bound for the Channel Islands, to take shelter in the nearest port and the crew was thankful of the respite afforded by their arrival at the ancient unspoiled town.
The land-locked harbor was entered through a large heavy pair of lock gates and once inside the vessels were fully protected from the winds by the beautiful medieval buildings surrounding the harbour on three of the sides.
The contrast between the dreariness of the never-ending waves, the howling winds, and the merriment of the tiny town, was exceedingly uplifting.
The colourful lights of the carousel and accompanying music set the scene for the festivities that were in full swing,
The yacht, a forty-five foot ketch, was directed to a berth alongside the harbour wall with access to the quay by about thirty steep iron rungs set into stone to which treacherous seaweed was clinging. Large plastic fenders were positioned and mooring ropes were secured fore and aft. The ever opened bar permitted the partaking of arrival drinks.
There were six people on board, the usual contingent comprising, Nev’, the skipper, John, the navigator and Keith the playboy. In addition the guests were Ken from Darlington, who apart from being CEO of one of the group company’s was an ex merchant naval engineering Officer. In addition, sporting his ‘day-glow’ police issue jacket was Tom the policeman and last but not least came Stewart Garner who was Managing Director of a prestigious Petro-Chemical engineering company.
Neville, like all good skippers, was anxious that one of the guests should be suitably ‘christened’ and directed that they draw lots to see who went aloft to replace the masthead lamp that had succumbed to the fierce weather when crossing the channel.
Ken went first but being a mere engineer only reached the crosstrees before being overcome by an attack of vertigo.
Tom, the policeman went next and received a round of applause from local French onlookers as he neared the top. Unfortunately he froze when he looked down to his companions who were shouting lewd encouragement from the cockpit causing his rapid return to the decks below.
Neville turned to John and said, “ Let’s do it the proper way,” so John rigged up a ‘boson’s chair’ and secured Stuart, together with a tool bag and spare bulb. With three or four turns round the drum, the sixteen stone Stuart became airborne as Neville activated the electric windlass. Stuart had not sailed with the trio before so was completely unaware of what was to follow. Neville tied off the now stationary windlass leaving Stuart dangling in mid air while the others climbed the ladder and headed for the nearest bar.
Three hours later the crew returned somewhat red in the face. Perhaps it was the strong ocean winds that they had been exposed to on the crossing or more likely the strong beer that they had for lunch.
Stuart, on the other hand had not indulged in the beer but it didn’t go unnoticed that he also displayed a face that would have matched “Geronimo’s’.
It was just as well he was almost unrecognizable, for as they winched him down it was certain that none of his employees would have been familiar with his vocabulary. Most of the onlookers were foreigners and assumed he must be from a far off foreign country.
A small mutiny erupted when all members of the crew refused to go aloft.
John said, “Well Nev, its left to us to show them the easy way to change the lamp.”
“You or me?” asked Neville.
“We’ll do it together.”
The crew looked on with eager expectations knowing their leaders had imbibed past the point of caution.
An interested crowd had gathered above and neighbouring boat people watched, hoping to witness a disaster.
Neither the Skipper nor his navigator spoke a word as they went about their task.
It seemed amazingly simple to some of the onlookers and the crewmembers that wondered why they had been ungainly hoisted aloft.
Neville nimbly scaled the steps with the end of a mast halyard, which he attached to a nearby bollard. With the aid of a winch handle, John wound in the rope attached to the topmast. Slowly the vessel heeled over with the mast nearly touching the quay. Neville simply removed the spent lamp and inserted a new bulb. The halyard was eased and the yacht resumed the upright position.
It may have been Neville taking a bow that sparked off the Dixieland band that started to play his favorite tune “ I just called to say…”
But in no time at all the dockside was filled with music and dancers, most of them unaware of what was being celebrated. The pavement restaurants emptied as their customers joined in with the throng.
Members of a Canadian Brass jazz band looked on in amazement. They were flown in each year in commemoration of the D-day landing in which their relatives had taken part. The celebrations that were due to start at eight o’clock in the evening with a firework display and seemed to have begun a few hours early.
‘Damn’. Thought Neville, the instigator. ‘There goes my afternoon kip.’
As the dusk fell and the winds died, the floating pontoon that acted as a bandstand was anchored in the middle of the harbour. The artists and their easel’s had long gone and were replaced by vendors of all kinds selling roasted nuts, ice creams and colourful streamers. Fair- ground music drifted across from the carousel whose dazzling mirror backed lights flashed on and off in time with the music. The aroma of barbequed meats wafted in the light breeze and children with sparklers and candyfloss mingled excitably with the crowds.
The entire complement of the ketch eagerly climbed the iron steps in search of a suitable hostelry that would gain a few points if it also had somewhere to eat. They had covered at least a hundred yards when they came upon an oasis amongst a variety of restaurants, cafes, and other numerous eating-places. A corner Pub situated at the end of the quay and the road that sloped upwards to the cobbled square. The lone bar had doors servicing both the jetty and the market square and boasted its own resident jazz band for the occasion especially with the weekend celebrations in mind.
Nearly four hours later all but Neville and John boarded a taxi bound for a nightclub. The two senior members, in both rank and age, had elected to ‘mind the boat’ from their vantage point propping of up the bar and perhaps take turns to ‘check the moorings’ from time to time.
Before they left the two groups had a wager, which were free drinks for the following day. A bet that neither party relished losing. It was a simple bet that age-old honour, decreed that they all took part in the choosing of the winner and integrity ruled the outcome. The two parties were to bring on board an unusual relic and the most unusual would win.
It was approaching one o’clock when the two sailors, mellow from celebrating, were homeward bound. Luckily they remembered before descending the slippery iron steps and each took a different direction to scour the harbour. A little later they met up again and as though they hadn’t seen each other in years and decided to find somewhere for a drink. It was while searching for a bar, which was still open, that they espied an ideal souvenir. The large concrete ‘no entry’ sign written in French and framed in a metal swivel frame, which, however, proved too heavy to carry. Never in their wildest dreams, would the corner supermarket owners have imagined that two of their trolley’s had gone ‘AWOL’ on a nocturnal mission to assist the seafarers who were responsible enough to return them later from whence they came. For most people, the task of getting the eight hundred weight trophy on board would be impossible. Neville and John had no such trouble. Their seamanship proved it’s worth when half an hour later in the cosiness of the saloon, they toasted their success.
John was always an early riser. His friends had noticed he ‘died’ early on and could under no circumstances, be roused. Yet come daybreak he woke refreshed and was ready to go. Alas the loud banging on the outside of the cabin roof occurred just before dawn and it took John a few moments to come to his senses. Neville in the berth opposite snored on.
As he opened the bridge deck hatch, the presence of the large concrete prize confronted him and he smiled at the memory of the night before. Looking up, crowds of youngish people were gathered on the quayside and gabbling in unison. He felt pleased that the locals had been stirred by their acquisition that is until he glanced on the foredeck.
He was unable to believe his eyes. Taking up most of the deck space a double brass bedstead was sited, bereft of its mattress and looking singularly out of place. Two young women draped in college scarfs, gestured at the bed and were mouthing to John what sounded like unpleasant names.
It suddenly dawned on the sailor both figuratively and literally that the bed was his companion’s relic and would undoubtedly be the winner. The onlookers kept up their incessant babbling in French, so John, having no alternative, wakened Neville.
The Skipper, assuming he had been roused to take over the watch, demanded a cup of tea and lighted a cigarette. John in fewer than ten words explained the dilemma. Needless to say Neville didn’t believe him being rightfully wary that some prank was about to take place.
On spying the bed incongruously taking up the foredeck he changed his mind.
The verbal assault from above turned to laughter when the crowd, realized, slightly before Neville, that all he was wearing was silk polka dot boxer shorts which partly revealed his need to dispose of his excesses of the previous night. Having little option Neville retreated into the saloon but not before his inexpert French had invited them all aboard.
There weren’t enough cups to go round so some of the lads were happy with beer. Others elected to quench their thirst with wine and in spite of the hour a party soon got under way. One of the girls was studying English at the Sorbonne and she was able to explain their anxiety.
They were all from Paris. Their undertaking had started the day before when they had abducted one of their friends from his office on the Rue des San Joseph where he was a lawyer. He was bound and gagged and driven over two hundred kilometers North to the ancient town of Hon Fleur, Here they released him and wined and dined well into the night.
He was to be married in the morning and their intention was to float him out into the middle of the harbour tied to the bed for the night. In the event, the floats would not support his weight so instead they chained the bed to the wrought iron gates at the ornate entrance arch.
Although he was naked, it was a relatively warm night and being very late they did not expect any intrusions. They had intended to release him at five in the morning in plenty of time to get back to Paris for his wedding.
They were deeply shocked to find both their friend and the bed gone and unable to think of an alternative, they wandered along the harbour, looking in the nearby passages and roads. Shortly before the banging had occurred, one of them had spotted the brass bedstead some five meters below the harbour wall on the foredeck of a yacht. Of their friend, there was no sign.
The party was becoming a touch more relaxed. Someone had put some music on and the saloon was filled with Gauloise smoke.
The mystery was about to be solved when dreary eyed, Ken emerged from a door in the bows. Being an ex seaman he didn’t like missing a party and being a smoker accepted the proffered smoke with appreciation. With his beer in one hand and his cigarette in the other he recounted the previous night’s events. It should be explained that as highly acclaimed as the Sorbonne is, it failed dismally when it came to Yorkshire English and the poor student lost her position of group translator to Neville who was better versed in the dialect.
Like all Geordies, Ken had an extremely dry sense of humour that was typified by his party trick. Somewhere along the line, either in the engine room at sea or in his factory on one on his machines, he had lost the tip of his finger. He delighted in shocking folk by sticking the stump in his ear, which to the unprepared, looked as though his finger was deep in his head amongst his brains.
Neville, not only had to translate the words, but also had to censor the content and ensure that the Frogs understood without taking offence. It suddenly occurred to Neville whether professional translators put their own slant on matters of state between two or more foreign governments.
The clubbers had returned towards three o’clock that morning and it wasn’t until the sign blocked their passage that they recalled the bet. Back ashore; they split into two pairs in search of bounty.
The policeman was the first to see it. Probably his training made him aware of anything out of the ordinary as this certainly was. A naked sleeping figure tied to a brass bedstead that was itself, chained to the gates. At first he couldn’t be woken and when he was they wished he hadn’t been. A tirade, of what to them was nonsense, sprang forth from his lips. Two of them went back to the boat for some stout bolt cutters to release the bed and roughly untied the victim. Each taking a corner they stumbled along the cobbles with the Frenchman in tow beseeching them to leave the bed and help with his plight. Oblivious to his pleadings they were determined not to lose their prize. Back on board, Stuart with a rudimentary knowledge of French and with the help of a dictionary discovered the truth, which eventually led to their guest being assisted on his way back to his wedding in Paris. Meanwhile the others wrestled the bed down onto the foredeck with expectations of a free day’s drinking. Their tasked successfully performed; they joined Stuart who acquainted them with the groom’s plight.
A couple of hundred pounds in Francs was collected between them and Keith being the nearest in size, donated some of his clothes to the Frenchman and they escorted him on his way before returning to the yacht for what was left of the night.
Most of the partying Frenchmen left around eight heading for Paris via Deauville where some of the invitees caught a train to the Capitol but the party on board continued as other yachtsman took their place.
Business as usual.
It was after noon when the party broke up. Keith, Tom and Stuart all had to be at work on the following Monday and so, to some extent, did the rest of them. However it was eventually decided that due to the limited travel availability, a skeleton crew would remain to return to the U.K. when weather permitted. This only left most of the rest of the weekend for the whole crew to be together. Market day was nearly over by the time they went ashore and headed for their favourite corner bar. It was heaving when they entered the numbers being swollen by the market traders who had started and finished early. Within minutes the crowd had thinned and there remained only a few tourists and a couple of war veterans. The jovial French barman now eyed his former favourite customers with a mixture of suspicion incomprehension. Even the heavy drinking nautical party wouldn’t make up for his sudden lack of clientele. Several of the musicians had also disappeared.
The cause soon became apparent when Tom returned from the Gents zipping up his fluorescent jacket whose logo was recognized the world over, POLICE.
Later that evening, John and Neville, persuaded the others to temporarily avoid the bar and they found a wonderful restaurant that specialised in seafood cooked, as only the French knew how. Afterwards, another visit to the club was on the cards by those who went before so once again, John and Neville returned to the corner bar to listen to the ‘live’ traditional jazz. Without Tom, they were made most welcome and were well and truly stomping, when, at gone two, they were the last ones to leave.
With hindsight, perhaps it was the drink, but they had decided to play a trick on their fellow crewmembers.
With the engine barely ticking over they took in the mooring lines and quietly and slowly made for the center of the enclosed harbour, Luckily the pontoon for the band had been towed back alongside after the evenings performance and the Canadians had returned to their Hotel in Deauville.
They arrived at the middle and let go of the anchor before extinguishing the lights after battening down all the hatches and locked the doors from the inside.
A bottle of Merlot was opened and the pair settled down in the dark to wait. Hardly a sound broke the silence and even the town square’s clock was hushed throughout the night.
It was less than an hour and long before the first bottle was finished, when doors slamming and the shattering of the silence followed the sound of a car slowing to a halt.
In the still of the night they heard a slightly slurred voice say. “ It’s gone!”
Keith was heard to respond, “It can’t be.”
Footsteps were heard to and fro along the quay until after ten minutes or so someone announced that they could just make out a shape in the mist.
A cry of “ You b…rds, come and get us or we’ll get you.”
The mist swallowed up the shape and it was as though nothing had been seen.
Those on board had difficulty in stifling a giggle particularly when the cork popped as they opened another bottle.
“Come on – it’s bloody freezing here,” shouted Keith.
After a wait of a further ten minutes or so and just before Neville and John’s curiosity got the better of them, a rhythmic splashing broke the eerie silence.
Two of the shore party had commandeered a large wooden box and were attempting to paddle their way across using planks pulled from the box. They arrived somewhat soaked and boarded in a less than happy mood, which was made much worse when they discovered that they were locked out.
The assault on the openings decided John and Neville to open up and pretend they had just woken up. Surprisingly they were believed especially when they blamed the Harbour Master for moving them to accommodate the pontoon. The rubber dingy was launched to collect the rest of the party and with everyone back safely on board they celebrated with a nightcap or three.
At around noon the following day, a gap made by the fortuitous departure of a fishing boat, enabled the yacht to be re-moored alongside and by now it had acquired a doubtful reputation. In truth the yacht was innocent and it was the crew who had become notorious. As a consequence, a crowd of expectant onlookers who had assembled to witness the yachts arrival alongside was certainly not disappointed.
John was at the wheel and without the aid of bow and stern thrusters; he expertly brought the vessel abeam of the harbour wall. His seamanship was faultless and the onlookers responded by cheering that accompanied the spontaneous applause that had broken out. Neville was equally well practiced and in one casual throw lassoed a bollard to enable the stern to be secured.
Stuart, captain of industry he may have been, was as at home on a boat, as an Eskimo is in the desert. His first attempt to land the bowline on the quay failed, as it splashed helplessly into the water. Boaties will be aware of how it’s vital for unified and instant action to take place when mooring, without a moment to spare.
It therefore caused quite a stir when the watchers saw Stuart pause to light a cigarette having coiled in his line before attempting a retry.
Luckily his poorly aimed rope was intercepted by a helpful teenage girl and was sipped over the adjacent concrete post.
Ken, meanwhile, was enjoying his vantage point in the cockpit and much appreciated his view. The females in the audience would not have been so comfortable at seeing the old seadog quietly taking in the ambience had they known he was being treated to a worms eye view of their fashionable French lingerie. Later, when regaling the others of his observations he remarked that it seemed a shame to hide such delightful creations.
The trouble began when Stuart heaved in on the bowline. His knowledge of seamanship may have been weak but his physique was strong and proved too much for Neville, who, as a result, lost hold of the stern line. As the bow rapidly went in the stern equally rapidly swung out. John, not expecting a problem had switched off the engine and gone below to answer the call of nature particularly as the audience inhibited him from his normal practice of going over the side. He was really quite modest and didn’t want to lose his fine reputation indicated by the earlier applause. Had he not stayed below for an unseen beer, things may have turned out differently and the harbour master’s launch probably would not have been sunk.
The wind seemed to interfere as it often did, and got between the stern and the harbour wall. The wall was immobile but the stern was not. Assisted by Stuart’s zealous tugging, the stern gathered speed and the unsuspecting assistant Harbour Master had his attention drawn away by the arrival of a large fishing boat at the lock gates together with the road bridge being opened skywards. Many people were to say later that the helmsman on the launch wasn’t looking when the impact occurred and it was fortunate that the assistant Harbour Master was able to use the dangling stern line to heave himself out of the water. Neville added in broken French that the assistant harbour master was extremely lucky that his expert Captain had stopped the engine and that the propeller had posed no threat. He rather cunningly avoided explaining how the yacht came to be ninety degrees to the quay.
They say that most things have a reason and the sunken launch was no exception. People watching the rubber clad divers recovering the craft later, experienced no end of enjoyment. Stuart felt unjustly proud of his contribution to the entertainment.
On Sunday afternoon, a taxi was arranged to take them to Le Havre so that the returning crewmembers could catch the night ferry crossing to Portsmouth. John and Neville had stayed behind and Ken went with the taxi for a ride since it would be returning to Hon Fleur at no extra charge.
When Ken got back at a little after seven he fully expected to find both of his hirsute friends taking a nap. He was in for an unexpected surprise. The yacht was unoccupied apart from the stuffed parrot on its perch on the bridge. Ken’s presence set it in motion and with a flap of its colourful wings, it asked Ken, “whose a petty boy then?”. After a short while it croaked and answered its own question “Pretty Polly, pretty Polly.”
‘I don’t suppose you know where they are?’ asked Ken addressing the barman and thinking that the most obvious place would be in the bar on the corner.
“Haven’t seen them today,” said the barman.
“Tell them there’s a pint in the pump on me,” he added with a wink.
Ken exited on the square side and pulled his collar together against the wind and rain that had begun with a vengeance.
He walked the short distance up hill to the Hotel opposite the Church.
The receptionist was very pleasant and her English although delightfully accented, was most comprehensive. She even understood Ken’s Darlington drawl, somewhat slowed down and carefully enunciated to help he listener. The result was a sort of pigeon English that many foreigners are subjected to by Brit’s abroad.
“If you look in the lounge to your right, we have a number of overseas guests here at the moment. You are welcome to stay and the bar is open as long as there is a customer, ” she said.
Ken entered the opulent residents lounge and quickly scanned the occupants. No joy.
He carried on past the hotel’s customers towards the elegant bar smiling nonchalantly as he went. In spite of the bar being busy his companions were nowhere to be seen but he felt obliged to buy a drink to justify his presence. He ordered a pint of ‘Stella’.
From the timber Church opposite, came the strains of male singing as the monks offered up their age old chanting’s. The congregation joined in with the responses. It was difficult to tell from where Ken sat, as the singing was somewhat muted due the distance and thick walls in between. He supposed that the service was in Latin, as he couldn’t understand one word,
Two pints later, as he went through the Hotel’s entrance door he could hardly believe his eyes. He saw both John and Neville coming out of the wooden Church amongst the crowd of worshipers.
They feigned disgust at seeing Ken emerging from the Hotel, assuming rightly he had been sampling at the bar.
“Don’t you realise it’s Sunday exclaimed Neville?” as he put an arm around his friends shoulder. John added, “Even we, have a day off in recognition”, he paused and continued under his breath, “and to recover.”
Remarkably they passed the ‘Pub’ on the corner saying that the free drink promised by the barman could wait until the next day.
A 1954 Sea Breezes commentary over a Spanish ship loss and the crew rescued by the POTESTAS previously the FORTHBANK.
The loss of a….
Disappeared on a voyage from Shanghai to Portland, Oregon in 1898. She was 5 years old.
(A letter in Sea Breezes 1953)
21 CHAPTER TWENTY ONE (Knock Down)
He stood alone on the half open bridge of a forty-five foot sailing boat that was pounding into the great Atlantic Ocean waves some two hundred miles off the coast of Portugal.
Never had he felt so miserable, apprehensive and on the verge of being frightened. He was cold and damp. The wind was gusting up to sixty knots turning the tops of the waves into a ragged spume that was all the more worrying as in the failing light it resembled breakers.
The ‘Camper Nicholson’ ketch was well founded and its crew comprised of four relatively experienced sailors who had left Brixham in Devon full of eager anticipation and cider, bound for the Mediterranean Island of Minorca or more specifically its Capital Mahon.
They had planned to keep well to the west of Biscay in the hopes of avoiding the notorious seas by staying in deep water. This they were gratified to achieve but found themselves in a different sort of deep water two hundred nautical miles off of the coast of Portugal.
As a result of the immense seas, one of the crew became totally incapacitated and retired to his bunk where he stayed for thee days.
The lonely vigil of the watch keeper was somewhat tempered by the dusk turning to night on the basis of what you can’t see is not so frightening. Unfortunately, imagination and the eerie pale illumination of the navigation lights were sufficient to conjure up all kinds of threats. Although his sight had been temporarily obscured, the sound of the winds howling and the occasional straining and cracking of the sails, did little to comfort him. The boat was pitching and rising far too much, even to make a hot drink. As a qualified Master Mariner he knew all about keeping Thermoses ready and regretted ignoring such basic practices. At least, he reflected, without eating you didn’t need the loo but he new he must not become dehydrated. They always joked with a new crewmember particularly when suffering from a hangover and feeling unwell at the motion of the boat,
“You know what will make you feel heaps better?”
“A glass of warm oil with a hair in it.”
Often they’d leave a bottle of ‘spring water’ lying about for the unsuspecting who until they took a gulp were totally unaware that a bread crust had been added to the water. They even had a saying for the results, ‘A Technicolor yawn.’
Now the joke was on the unfortunate duty sailor who was recalling all this which made him feel even worse if that were possible.
Why they never thought of staggering the watches to accommodate the absence of one of the crew remains a mystery. They had agreed to work three hours on and three off with two men to each watch. The Skipper, whose name was Neville and the ex Master Mariner, John, were each to share their watch with the slightly less able seamen namely Rod an architect and Keith a playboy. Keith was a part owner and was partnered with the skipper and Rod, the jester who was never quite sober, kept John company that is until Rod succumbed to ‘mal de mere’.
Nobody thought to make a log entry when it happened.
Perhaps they were too preoccupied or maybe the truth of the matter is that the log pencil went missing which, as it happens, was quite understandable as chart tables and pencils are not expected to remain together when the boat ‘ turns turtle.’
None of them had envisaged this happening when they discussed their imminent voyage in the ‘Sprat and Mackerel’s’ public bar on the evening before their departure.
Rod was in fine spirits or to be more precise was full of spirits. Neville said he could never hit the dartboard even when he was sober and John as is the custom of seafarer’s world over had only sung the ‘Bumblebee’ song three times before taking a nap in anticipation of his duty. Keith, as usual, avoided a hangover by not over indulging and encouraged everyone else including strangers to take part in the revelry. The others could never quite work out whether Keith was a bad drinker who suffered too much or a scheming companion who appeared to take part but was unable to let his hair down.
In spite of their apparent casual appearance they were fairly responsible once at sea and ensured that their vessel and all it’s equipment was in good order. No expense had been spared but alas when the sea decides, no amount of equipment or expertise can prevent disaster although its true to say that those with more expertise and sound equipment will often stand a better chance of avoiding problems. This is undeniable, that is until a giant wave approaches when one is a couple of hundred miles offshore.
John was in robot mode. When off watch he was in his sodden sleeping bag that took almost the entire time he was off watch to warm up.
The gale had arrived two days earlier and grew steadily in strength from a mere force five in the Beaufort scale to a storm force nine. A fishing fleet with boats of around one hundred and twenty foot long, was encountered on the second day and even only about a quarter of a mile off, completely disappeared in the troughs. An added worry was they often fished at nights without lights so it was necessary to occasionally start the engine to keep the batteries charged for running the radar.
Towards the end of his watch John’s brain was active even if his body was numb. The worst bit by far, he reflected, was the overwhelming feeling of helplessness, which gradually crept up on him. Two days sailing to the nearest land on a treacherous course; no U.K. air sea rescue facilities. With the weather forecast to become even worse, they were totally reliant on their own capabilities and those of the boat. In the end he knew it would depend on the stamina and knowledge of the crew, as more often than not, boats survived long after the people.
Why did they do it? Little did he know he would be reminded in just over three day’s time.
Just after midnight at change of watch on the third night everyone was very subdued.
John had just climbed into his sleeping bag and was thankful to hand over his responsibilities, albeit for a few hours. Just as he was drifting into the comfort of sleep he became aware of a sound like an express steam train. The thirty odd ton vessel was picked up like a matchbox with seemingly little effort and rotated three hundred and sixty degrees beam ways.
In the pitch black of the main cabin, chaos took place. The sea came cascading into the cabin from all directions. Pots, pans, cups and saucers mixed with books charts, spares and hundreds of gallons of water. Bits of paper were everywhere. Oddly the perpetual motion of the boat pitching and rising relentlessly in the waves had ceased as the vessel lay wallowing and filling with seawater.
John was wide awake in an instant and clambering into the cold floods managed in the dark by feel alone, to engage the lever operating the main engine pump. By sheer coincidence or instinct Neville had simultaneously started the engine and the highly efficient pump discharged massive volumes of bilge water providing sufficient buoyancy to ride the follow up wave.
John, half naked and wet through, topped the bridge stairs and said to the Skipper, “ What the f..k was that?”
Nev replied, “Thanks mate, I think we just made it. Check Keith. He went aft to read the Log.”
Out on deck it was quite scary particularly as John had loaned Keith his safety harness earlier when he knew of Keith’s intention. Because John kept watch on his own he did not leave the steering bridge to check the log that was streamed aft from the poop. Luckily, ketches have a mizzen mast at the stern and Keith was hanging on for dear life. Although he was frozen to the bone by the howling wind and still half naked, John made his way aft clinging to the mast stays for safety to assist his shipmate, who in the event didn’t need much encouragement to abandon his task and return to the relative safety of the cockpit.
It was discovered later that the log had been a casualty of the swamping as well as one of the ten millimeter stainless steel lifelines that had been broken cleanly in two by the force of the massive wave.
They reefed in the Genoa and motor sailed for the rest of the night to keep the head up to wind to ease the motion of the boat while the pump continued to empty the bilges.
The weather remained ferocious and only subsided as they approached land and their absent shipmate Rod stumbled unsteadily on to the aft deck remembering to relieve himself on the leeside. When questioned about the encounter Rod reluctantly admitted that on waking he had discovered his berth had succumbed to the deluge in spite of it being about a foot higher than the others. His recollection was unclear however, as he attributed the source of the water as being his own business.
It was dark by the time they made landfall and normally they would have anchored off until daybreak but they were so anxious to be on dry land, that they decided to make for port. Their entry was hampered by most of the instruments becoming inoperable being submerged in salt water and the only full-scale chart of the area had been lost overboard. A tiny chart in an ancient pilot book was all they had to guide them and many of the lead lights and features had changed.
All four men peered through binoculars at the distant shore lights tantalizingly beckoning them closer.
Suddenly Rod said, “There’s the entrance lights over there and pointed about ten degrees to starboard. They all stared hard and Neville from the wheel said, “Are you sure?”
“Yes. Certain,” cried Rod, “I’ve got a gut feeling,”
“Bugger your gut, ”Neville responded from the helm, “I’m surprised after four days in your cart you’ve got any feeling at all.”
Rod went very quiet for the rest of the passage and Neville’s unkind but truthful remarks may have been the cause of Rod’s departure. Two days later he caught a flight back to the U.K. from Gibraltar.
Entry was finally made into the inner harbor at Vigo at about one a.m. and it was as though someone had waved a wand as the wind suddenly died. The anchor was brought up in a firm anchorage and the crew, less Rod who had volunteered to mind the yacht, were revitalised and made for the shore.
Anyone who has been to Vigo will know it’s not exactly New Orleans or even New York and the three survivors instinctively found the only hostelry open that was in the Sheraton International.
It is a credit to the night staff and their training that caused them to ignore the arrival of the three fun seekers who made straight for the all night bar. Currency was not a problem as they had at least two Amex cards with them. A real problem was their appearance having slept in their clothes for four or five days and being unshaven.
However, the beautifully turned out clientele in the bar were tickled at the appearance of the unusual late night customers all wearing ‘Breton’ caps and getting up to bizarre antics accompanied by the evening suited pianist on the grand piano. The floor tiles in the bar area were black and white chequers which encouraged John to perform the sailors hornpipe mingled with a dance that appeared to be some weird form of hopscotch, much to the amusement of the locals.
The party really got going when Keith, in his customary way, bought drinks all round that for three of them, who had completely empty stomachs, was the cause of the evaporation of whatever inhibitions that had remained.
Neville was an accomplished player of the piano but this was limited to one tune. He had the whole bar including the barmen joining in singing Frank Sinatra’s, ‘New York New York, I’m singing it now’ etc etc. while he expertly tickled the ivories.
John not to be outdone grabbed the ‘mike’ from the top of the piano and needing no encouragement started on the “Bumble bee’ song.
He too had the ensemble joining in, although on reflection it is more than likely that they were unaware of the words they sang. Tears of laughter rolled down some of the elegant customers cheeks as everyone sang the bit that goes …” Bzzzz… Bzzzz…. Get away you Bumble bee, I ain’t no rose, I ain’t no honey suckle flower,
Get off my f…g nose, I ain’t no……….’
Hangovers are always worse when you get tanked up on an empty stomach, Neville thought enviously of John’s apparent miraculous powers of recovery. He supposed it was years of training at sea where drinking and working was about all there was to do.
Rod had left early without saying good bye but it was as though he had never been there, which to all intents and purposes, was almost the case.
An hour or so before lunch they assembled in the tiny bar along the jetty for a livener that reminded them that they hadn’t eaten. They were ravenous, there appetites had returned with a vengeance. Mussels were the specialty of the house though perhaps not the best thing on an empty stomach. With no wives to advise them they tucked in to huge bowls of the local equivalent of ‘Moules Marnier’ accompanied by great hunks of bread and washed down with copious amount of beer and rough red wine.
Keith, being more practical or possibly less ‘merry’, proposed that due to the weather they abandon the rest of the voyage until later. Neville and John however were keen to continue having quickly forgotten the last few days. It was settled in the usual way.
They were each to have a coin and would take it in turn to toss there coin so it slid as near as possible to the stone step leading to the bar.
They all had to start about fifteen foot away on the ‘ockey’ as in playing darts and the winner whose prize on this occasion would be the choice, was person whose coin was the nearest to the step. If your coin actually hit the step you became disqualified. If all three were disqualified, as often was the case, depending on how much they had drunk, the competition would start all over again. A relatively simple game that over time had seen the exchange of hundreds of pounds and the allocation of many unusual tasks.
Both Neville and John hit the step so Keith who was to toss last claimed victory but not before they insisted he toss his coin in case he too hit the step. Of course Keith being true to form tossed his coin barely a yard. They were to go home.
19 CHAPTER NINETEEN (The George Hotel).
John Oldham was headwaiter at the George in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. To the retired Admirals and dignified Widows he presented a respectable demeanor, dressed in his immaculate dinner suit and boasting a perfectly tied bow tie. His manner matched his attire and he was well liked by everyone, being jolly with an abundance of quick wit.
Outside of work was another matter. He had grown up in the small town and together with his one eyed friend nicknamed Nelson, he had a reputation amongst the older villagers, of being a bit of a scallywag.
It began to be noticed at the age of six, when the vicar’s wife discovered an enormous crab peering out of the font. It continued throughout his adolescent years and many suspected that he may have been the reason why the head girl in the mixed school appeared to put on weight and eventually moved back to the mainland with her family.
The George was always considered the place to be, especially during Cowes week when it was particularly busy. John never gave the impression of being rushed and like all busy people he had learned to multi-task.
The Saturday night of Cowes week was buzzing and the Restaurant was full. John, from his lofty position as overseer in chief, found time to take a telephone call. It was the Captain. Friendship demanded that he help the old seadog that had apparently landed in a friends helicopter near the Needles and wanted a lift and some sustenance.
John didn’t own a car so he borrowed the barmaid’s mini and drove at considerable speed to meet his friend. Nonplussed, may not adequately describe how he felt on seeing his friend who, as it turned out, was accompanied by two charming young ladies and alas, the seventeen stone pilot.
It is remarkable what can be done when there is no alternative, but the return journey was an experience that none of them would forget. Although the passengers did not suffer lasting damage, it is doubtful that the suspension of the car was so fortunate.
All John kept worrying about was whether the Lord of the Admiralty would notice that the rare steak that he had taken an order for before he had left, was a little over done.
The headwaiter found a table for his friends to the annoyance of a disgruntled retired Admiral who discovered himself without his usual place by the window and having to share a table with a talkative widow only slightly younger than him. It didn’t bode well when she asked him,
‘Is that badge on your lapel the Salvation Army?’
Excellent food was served in the busy dinning room. The candle lit tables enhanced the ambience of the bustling room with its huge open fireplace complete with smouldering logs. A talented pianist accompanied by a gifted clarinetist and a beautiful young blonde woman played the double bass when she was not singing, providing the live music.
It was a little after midnight when visitors rang for a taxi in Newport and arranged for collection. Newport is the capitol of the Isle of Wight and the only place where cabs were available
The taxi took only ten minutes to arrive and the driver was instructed to take them to the Lakeside Hotel near Ryde. He was promised a substantial tip if he picked the pilot up in the morning and took him to where the helicopter was parked near the Needles. The plan being that as there was a landing pad at the hotel, the pilot would collect the others or maybe join them for lunch before departing back to the main land.
The elegant lounge in the George overlooked the busy waters between the Island and the mainland, In the Summer, Ferries docked adjacent to the pier, twice an hour and were driven by great paddle wheels resembling Mississippi paddle steamers. First, the newly arrived passengers and vehicles disembarked and then the long queue of an assortment of various cars, lorry’s, and caravans, that had been patiently waiting, many of them all night, trundled aboard for the return trip to Lymington on the mainland.
The ferries didn’t run during the night so the darkness on the channel was only broken by the late night arrival of yachts and the occasional passing commercial vessel. The big passenger liners either left Southampton during daylight or took the route around the other side of the island.
The lounge was laid out with comfortable settees arranged around the grand open fireplace. The bay window overlooking the modest beach accommodated a table and chairs occupied by whist players. The sound of billiard balls striking one and other came from the next-door snooker room. Seated by the fire, two ancient Admirals relived the battle of Jutland and did justice to a decanter of Cockburn’s.
The Hotel was run along the lines of a fine country house. The staff was made up mainly from locals, who were long serving and extremely loyal. As a consequence the established hierarchy tended to be continued whenever they were amongst the general community.
For instance the junior waitress would stand aside for the housekeeper in the Post Office.
There was one exception. The headwaiter was master of all he surveyed. When he was on duty he was highly regarded by clients and management alike, but his personal life was something of an enigma.
He did not associate with his work companions but preferred the company of his old school friends. They were nicknamed by the villagers as the four musketeers.
Andy was the eldest and had progressed from being a fisherman to starting his own growing and lucrative business. Hitherto, Charlie, the Harbourmaster not only supervised the harbour from his clinker built rowing boat but acted as a ferry, transporting yachties to and from ashore.
Andy had purchased a flat bottomed tender with a powerful outboard complete with a steering wheel and obtained permission to use the stone steps near the ferry. He started business as a water taxi and relieved Charlie, the overworked Harbourmaster from his self appointed duties. Freed from the ferrying, Charlie was able to relax more in between his official responsibilities.
Andy’s wife continued to sell shellfish from their cottage that was decorated on the outside with thousands of scallop shells. Their produce was so fresh the crabs could be heard squeaking in the boiling tub.
The coxswain of the lifeboat was in John’s class at school and sometimes called upon Nelson and John when the normal crew was absent. Rumour had it there was a private telephone line between the Lifeboat station, the Hotel and the Pub opposite. Suffice to say Nelson’s cousin was the local telephone engineer.
John seldom used the Hotel other than for work and could often be found in the public bar of the Wheatsheaf Public House opposite. Some say that in the winter or other slack periods he could always be contacted on the special telephone, which he used when he was liaising with staff. It was probably true because everybody knew the number and more often than not he was to be found exchanging stories and jokes with the landlord and their mutual friends. The landlord of the Public House encouraged John’s presence as apart from being good company he felt it was good for business that his customers could see a well-dressed gentleman in a bow tie lending an air of opulence and order to his establishment.
The landlord of the Pub was very keen on the horses so it was natural for anyone wanting a bet to gravitate towards the public bar. Old habits die-hard so even the advent of a new betting shop, proved to be of little attraction. After all, the punters reasoned, you couldn’t get a drink in a betting shop and none of them had seen a nice log fire in one either.
The ‘Captain’ was a familiar sight in Yarmouth with his friends. Mostly young couples but sometimes stag. The authorities were curious at first, how he came to have so many different boats and it was particularly noticeable outside the summer months when traffic was light.
It turned out that as an ex seaman, he still hankered after the water and did a deal with the only blue water charter company operating in English waters.
He agreed to charter at a reduced price for a minimum of ten weekends a year. Six were to be out of season and the four in season were selected by agreed notice if certain dates were required. Very often a ‘Silver’ twin-screw cabin cruiser called ‘Mary Sheila’ fitted the bill, but another half dozen or so comprised the fleet including a pair of ‘Nauticats’ that had been bought by the charterers parent company to offset tax.
Before commercialism had set in, Yarmouth remained relatively unchanged for generations. Between the end of the Pier and ‘Black Rock’ to the west was a good anchorage. The eastern side of the Pier, opposite the George, was trickier and less secure. Money was short in those days so the anchorages were often free and by taking most meals on board, expenses were kept to a minimum.
The first time John, the head waiter met the ‘Captain’ and his guests,
was one ‘Good Friday’ when the Hotel bar had an extension longer than the neighbouring hostelries. It has to be said it was after the other places had called ‘time’ and years before ‘all day opening.’
On reflection it may have been the parrot on his shoulder that made him stand out in the crowd, for crowd there was, or in could have been the ravishing girls in the group.
John was helping out in the busy bar as one of the barmen had gone sick. The Captains opening remark amused him,
“A long way from Ascot aren’t you? Anyway Thursdays is ladies day!”
He replied without hesitation, noting the parrot and the beautiful girls in tow.
“Talking about ladies, I see your fond of birds.”
Though neither of the men recognized it, a bond was formed and thereafter the George became a favourite of the sailors and John enjoyed boozy parties aboard the Captains chartered vessels.
The jukeboxes on the Island were about six months behind the London scene of the sixties, but of particular interest to John, when not peering up the fashionable miniskirts, was news of the latest pop music. Sometimes they would bring him the latest disc and he would wallow in reverence from the local girls.
The following winter saw the George Hotel undergo extensive renovations and it was only natural for John to get involved especially as the local builder was an old friend. His elder brother worked as a master carpenter for the builder but apart from being brothers they were very different. The carpenter had spent over ten years with the
P & O Shipping Company but in spite of this was introvert by nature.
His main hobby was putting ships in bottles. His preference was a bottle of Gordon’s Gin. No other payment was expected. Simply give him a full bottle of spirits and a few weeks later he would return it on a wooden stand complete with a three masted schooner inside. The rigging and scenery so lifelike, it was a wonder how it was ever achieved, especially as the sky had been painted expertly on the inside of the glass.
Certain advantages resulted from having a brother who was a master carpenter and who had travelled to the Orient and was fascinated by the skillful creation of wooden boxes with secret compartments. John supplied his brother with several bottles of gin around this time but made it clear that he didn’t expect them returned when empty.
The first long weekend break, the following year, was at Easter, and the anchorage being already full meant that ‘Mary Sheila’ had to anchor opposite the George to the east of the Pier.
With plenty of chain out, their new ‘Kedge’ anchor held firmly, cutting through the weed that sometimes caused ‘dragging.’
The partying went on longer than usual due to the extended hours at holiday times and carried on once they were back on board. As often when the guests had gone to bed John would signal from the beach, with three flashes from a powerful torch, a the pre – arranged signal for the dingy to be sent to collect him. He was often accompanied by one of the bar staff or possibly one of the live in chambermaids.
They welcomed him on board as apart from being great company, he often brought leftover delicacies’ to share with his hosts, which included on this occasion, a whole roast chicken that was still quite hot.
About one o’clock in the morning, he announced he had a surprise back at the Hotel. Everyone had to be quiet so as not to disturb the guests.
It took two trips in the dinghy gently paddling to keep the noise down. John let them in by the back door and led the way to the sumptuous saloon bar that had been freshly decorated. The grating was down on the bar but he served them fresh coffee with real cream as they sat comfortably before a dying log fire. They spoke in whispers so as not to disturb the sleeping guests. John was a little more robust and explained that the building had fortified walls about two feet thick which were a very effective sound barrier. Next came his secret surprise. Excitedly he took hold of one of the ornate wooden pillars at the corner of the grating. He twisted this way and that and lifted at the same time. ‘Hey Presto.’ The pillar was free and John had access to the bar.
He didn’t bother with an order as, after all, the drinks would be free.
He lined eight cut glass goblets on the counter and filled them with Napoléon Vintage Cognac and returned the bottle to the shelf. All would have been fine, had he not propped the pillar up against the remaining grating. It all happened so quickly that before anyone could intervene, the heavy carved hardwood toppled reducing the glasses to splinters and setting off a piercing alarm.
They all exited much quicker than they arrived. Fortunately, the Captain was a proficient sculler, which is the quietest method of propelling a boat. He had thoughtfully left the outboard on the yacht which just about made room for his five crew. When they finally clambered aboard he was exhausted or at least that was the reason he gave for wanting a large nightcap.
It was with a certain amount of trepidation that they returned to the George next lunchtime but from his normal superior manner, the headwaiter, displayed an ‘everything as usual,” posture. It was only later when they went for lunch in the Pub across the road that they learnt what had happened.
John silenced the alarm, cleared up the broken glass and replaced the pillar.
He waited for about ten minutes in complete silence with a number of scenario’s being considered.
A blue flashing light illuminated the darkened bar. The police car from Newport contained two Officers, one man and a policewoman.
He invited them in and spent the next hour or so, swapping jokes with his sister in law and his second cousin.
Early next morning while surveying the scene of the supposed crime, the owner asked John why so many police attended the suspected burglary. Even allowing for John and the housekeeper, there were still another six used coffee cups on a tray in the hearth.
18 CHAPTER EIGHTEEN (Play School)
(Yarmouth Isle of Wight).
The new yacht was a Camper Nicholson 48. She too was a ketch but here the similarity with ‘Meretone’ ended.
‘Meretone’ was a graceful lady of the sea and St. Jacut, the Nicholson, was more of a greyhound.
They left the River Hamble in fine spirits on a bit of a test run and decided to head down the Solent, turn to starboard opposite Calshot and enter the Thorn Channel heading on a southwesterly course towards the Needles.
She sailed beautifully and with the main set, her Genoa served to pull her along at over nine knots.
Keith, the playboy, had just returned from a business trip to New York and they were dreading what he had brought back. Each time he went abroad he picked up a little something that ‘may come in useful.’ Unlike most of his purchases, his latest acquisition did find a purpose but not quite what it was intended for.
As they passed between Yarmouth and Lymington, Keith proudly produced his latest find. It was to measure their speed through the water. It resembled a hollow inverted walking stick made of Perspex,’ but maybe twice the diameter. The sides had graduations marked on them. The idea being that you stuck the handle end into the water, which was forced up the tube the amount depending on the speed. The faster the speed, the higher it went. Theoretically the speed could be determined by reading the scale adjacent to the height of the water. Perhaps it may have been suitable for a calm lake but the seas motion prevented any serious or successful trials.
Just as they reached Castle Point, the weather turned nasty. The wind had increased to a southwesterly force six causing a very heavy swell in the Needles Channel. As a consequence, John, the navigator, decided that they take a close shore course sheltered by the ‘Shingles’ bank.
He knew that the channel was very narrow and unmarked. It had to be entered very close to shore so they took in the sails and started the engine. The first few minutes were alarming as she wallowed helplessly broadside on before the engine got hold and they reached the relative shelter of the bank. The crews were all anxious and their anxiety transmitted to John who wondered if his decision was valid and his memory sound.
However, the bank gave an effective protection against the tumultuous seas and they passed through the narrow channel without incident.
Emerging from the other side, they spotted the Mudeford entrance buoy and altered course for Poole bringing the wind and sea onto the port bow. Although crashing into the waves, she seemed happier and coped with the head seas much easier. The motion was such that it was uncomfortable to go below, so in true sailors fashion the lee side was used for relieving oneself.
Keith succumbed to the call of nature and mindful that the unpredictable wind sometimes caused the return of discharge, he devised a cunning method to counter the effects of the wind.
It involved hanging on to the mast stay with one hand whilst both legs were braced between two starboard stays for balance and support. Next came the stroke of near genius.
He turned his speed device round and placed one end near the water. The short end was placed between his opened flies and he could go about his business without the chance of any blowback.
The one thing he hadn’t considered is what sailors call a rogue wave. The next moment Keith was wedged empty handed hanging over the side. He started so he couldn’t stop and the highly unpredictable wind returned his offering somehow using his face as the target. Another gadget bit the dust.
Two tiring hours later they turned to starboard and entered the Poole Channel. It was well marked and they were all relieved to be close to a suitable haven and glad to be in much calmer waters.
They stowed the sails and motored past Brownsea Island at a moderate five knots. No one would know that they were exceeding the harbour limit of four knots.
The disadvantage of mooring alongside the stone quay was that the berth was tidal and even with very long warps they required constant attention. This was, however, compensated by the proximity to several fine public Houses. It was relatively easy to nip out between drinks to attend to the moorings.
Whether Keith was seeking a replacement for his lost widget is not known, but somehow after he had been shopping at a novelty shop, a realistic plastic item turned up that was later to cause much merriment.
It began on the morning after they arrived. It was truly a morning after. The evening before saw them celebrate their arrival and John lost count of the number of times Neville proposed a toast to the new yacht. At five o’clock in the morning when John went on deck, he noticed the lines were bar tight. He skillfully adjusted them and walked down the Quay in search of a loo.
As he came out, an old friend greeted him.
A black Labrador cross, without a collar, came running up wagging its tail and jumping up for attention. John remembered, rather hazily, that they had been adopted by ‘Sooty’ as they named him, who followed them from bar to bar, the night before.
His four-legged friend accompanied him to the lifeboat station where he obtained an up to date weather report and together they returned to the yacht.
John made a pot of tea and rummaged through the cupboard for something for ‘Sooty’. The only thing remotely suitable was a tin of sardines in tomato sauce so he removed the lid and placed them on deck. You would have thought it was the dog’s favourite food. He scoffed it down in ten seconds, licking the tin as clean as a whistle.
The Pub opposite opened at 10 o’clock and the whole crew plus the black stowaway were seated and pulling on their first drink before five past. They were the only customers and when the landlord noticed the dog, he chased him out.
Keith produced his widget. Neville placed the brown object strategically in the hearth and to add a bit of realism he poured over a drop of lager. They nonchalantly continued to relive the previous night when the barman came in to light the fire.
All hell was let loose!.
“That bl.. dy Dog. Sheila, get down here at once.”
Sheila arrived and took one look and disappeared.
Neville smartly wiped the floor clean with some paper serviettes and pocketed the curly brown plastic before returning to his seat and continuing with the conversation as though he never stopped.
Sheila returned. Her hair had been tied back with a scarf and she carried a mop and steaming bucket that was giving off an odour of disinfectant. She knelt before the fireplace as though about to pray.
“It’s gone,” she exclaimed.
She labouriously got to her feet, and, shaking her head, she slowly left the room.
‘Sooty returned shortly after and was very appreciative of the ash tray of bitter John gave him and the bag of crisps but the excitement obviously proved too much because he left a deposit in the grate before he went off to find somewhere safer.
A few moments after he left, the barman returned and shouted at the top of his voice. “ Get down here, Sheila. This fireplace needs your attention.” He went out to serve another customer who had just arrived in the saloon bar.
Sheila duly arrived and this time looking straight at Neville she said,
“You can’t make a fool out of me twice with your plastic turd.”
She turned and before anyone could say any thing, she marched over to the fireplace. As she bent over her glasses slipped off her nose but didn’t fall as she had a strap round her neck.
The fact that she couldn’t see properly, may have contributed to her actions. She put her right hand out and grabbed the offending article.
They didn’t wait to see the outcome. Drinks were downed in a second and as one, they quickly left the bar.
They left Poole in rather a hurry and pondered as to where “Sooty” was, but probably not so much as the Landlords wife. They intended to spend the night in Lymington so that it was only a short hop across to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight the next day.
Early the following day they followed the ferry out of the river serving Lymington and crossed to the Island. Soon after, they tied up between the wooden pylons and hailed the water taxi asking to be dropped of at the jetty near the George Hotel whose opening time was an hour and a half later, at noon. A little further along in the tiny square at the foot of the pier was their intended goal, the Wheatsheaf . It was their favourite watering hole and where they met for ‘play school.’
‘Play school consisted of several retired gentlemen who gathered for a drink while their wives went shopping. Or that’s how it started.
The original members consisted of an ex Judge, a lifeboat man, a retired head master and a postman. Apart from quenching their thirst, they had an unusual agenda.
It was an unwritten rule that nobody could leave until the ‘Telegraph’s’ crossword had been completed. Help from certain members of the public was encouraged and the banter was exquisite. The Judge was a dry old stick but his rich brown voice wasn’t without humour. By tacit and unspoken agreement, he was in charge and filled in the clues as they became solved. Both the postman and lifeboat man were very well read and the headmaster a fund of knowledge.
Over the years the sailors had become acquainted with the group and were often able to help out with an odd answer to a clue causing a problem.
John suspected the Judge would deliberately hold back to keep his companions from leaving.
This may well have been the case as the Judge and the headmaster had both recently, become widowers. Whereas the lifeboat man lived with his amenable partner, the postman seemed to have difficulty in deciding who worried him most. His dog or his wife. Both were constantly demanding in a caring sort of way. He was a little man with a little dog but he had a big heart.
Greetings over, each group carried on separately, occasionally joining forces to solve a clue.
The proceedings were unhurried and nobody from playschool noticed when John placed the plastic memento surreptitiously onto the floor by the fireplace. He added a generous splash of lager for good measure.
The postman arrived a little late and said hello to everyone while he gave the dog his customary ashtray of water. The normal proceedings resumed.
Ten minutes or so later, the Judge peered over the top of his reading glasses and in his rather imperial deep voice announced, “Popsie has done a whoopsie. ”
Although his observation was directed at the Postman, all eyes turned on the dog and the fireplace.
A look of unabashed disbelief crossed the postman’s features. A well-aimed boot connected with the unsuspecting dog and with a loud ‘yap’ he ran out of the bar.
Had the postman troubled to look a bit harder, he would undoubtedly have detected that the offending plastic was nearly as big as the dog. As it was, nobody from play school noticed and without exception they all followed in pursuit of the dog.
Yarmouth on the Isle of White is a very small town not much bigger than a village. In fact if it wasn’t for the Ferry and the harbour the world would have past it by.
There weren’t that many places to look. Five Pub’s six Shops Two cafeteria’s, a barber, the Church, village hall, boat builders, harbor offices, and a little way out of town over the bridge was the seafood shop where the lobsters and crabs were cooked.
The Judge was the first to return. He had forgotten his ‘Zimmer’ frame.
Before he returned however, the incriminating evidence had been removed and the Judge suspiciously eyed the empty hearth in silence.
The Vicar was halfway through a christening and was astounded by being having his service disrupted by the arrival of an unruly crowd calling out ‘Popsie’.
A little later, pensioners lining up in the Post Office became quite agitated when the searchers burst in looking for the dog.
Investigating the other hostelries took considerable time and the party split up to share the burden taking the opportunity to slake their thirsts.
One by one they returned. The lifeboat man had got his crew to form a search party. He needn’t have bothered because ‘Popsie’ was safely at home by the side of his mistress and was absent from all future meetings.
The postman, fearful of confronting his wife, resorted to ‘Dutch’ courage and was later observed staggering home with an idiotic grin on his face and assisted by the buxom barmaid.
Calm returned to the bar with the two main groups resuming their business and the chatting and drinking and carrying on as normal.
A friendly darts match was commenced but was soon abandoned when discovering that the starting double remained illusive and only about one in three darts actually hit the board.
The Judge had moved to a comfortable armchair in front of the fireplace and had adopted Court mode so that nobody could tell whether he was deep in thought or asleep.
It was getting on for three o’clock when the headmaster solved the final seven-letter clue, the answer that had been causing everyone perplexing moments of lengthy consideration.
‘ An absent God returns to America!’
17 CHAPTER SEVENTEEN (A fishy business).
Anyone who has left Portland Harbour in a small boat will have experienced concern about the notorious Portland races that are treacherous even to bigger craft.
Known to appear in various locations, depending on the state of the tide and the winds, the steep over falls worry the sailor into thinking shallow water is in the vicinity. No matter how experienced he is, all of his knowledge and instincts will be contradicted on encountering these unusual waters.
He may have been told by local fishermen in one of the local Pub’s before leaving Weymouth, that if headed West, that he should keep close to land.
The trouble is, the passage is so narrow it goes against all training and common sense, to take this route. At the beginning and end of the tidal cycle, is a calm period known as ‘ slack water’, that provides a window of opportunity but it still takes a certain amount of knowledge and courage or previous experience, to enter the narrow channel. Once in, one encounters daunting up- surges and swirling eddies together with occasional breaking waves that serve only in re-enforcing one’s doubts.
The phenomena is caused by two main factors that really comes down to a hard and uneven sea-bed and the confused and chaotic tides, as they are swept around Portland Bill having been tamed and funneled by the mile upon mile of pebbles along the gentle curve of Chessil Beach.
Once through the violent waters, a more settled pattern to the surface is encountered and the mariner can relax and enjoy the steady regular motion brought about by the unhindered wind and waves.
It was in these circumstances that our ‘four men in a boat’ (five actually) found themselves on their way to Brixham in Devon, intending to overnight in Torquay where Keith’s mother in law lived, to pay their respects.
It was getting dark as they rounded Point and turned to starboard on the last leg across the bay before entering between the harbour walls, bound for the new marina.
It was a clear night and the experienced crew readily spotted the red and green flashing lights. The sails were taken in and stowed and the engine slowly propelled the yacht towards the harbour entrance.
Once in the harbour, the helmsman put the engine out of gear while they ‘took stock’.
The illumination was adequate but there was no sign of a berthing attendant and they had failed to get a response on the VHF radio suspecting the frequency had been altered from that shown in their outdated ‘pilot book’.
Due to the belatedness of the hour and them not wanting to miss dinner before the Pub’s closed, they decided to save money and defer their berthing at the marina until next day. It would be easier in the light and would have the sanction of the harbour authorities.
Instead, they had spied an ideal temporary berth alongside a large high-sided day-trip boat, used for taking holidaymakers for trips across the bay. The enclosed cabin made it difficult to tie up to but they eventually succeeded before using the inflatable dingy to run mooring lines on the ‘bight’ to the buoys fore and aft. The whole procedure took about half an hour so they were anxious to get ashore to eat and slake their thirst.
The short distance from their yacht to the marina pontoon was negotiated without problems in spite of there being five of them in a dingy designed for four. Returning later, proved to be another matter.
The exit gate from the pontoon was the first difficulty they were to encounter. A code was needed both for egress and ingress.
After waiting for twenty minutes or so for a berth holder to return or depart, they became impatient when nobody turned up, so they decided to scale the gate. Of course the powers that be had anticipated this possibility and as a consequence, the coils of razor wire surpassed anything wartime concentration camps, displayed.
However, they hadn’t reckoned on the effect that denial could have on a thirsty sailor which was to ‘fine tune’ their resourcefulness. Five minutes later they were all safely over, although Paul England, the stoutest of the group, swore blind that the tear in the seat of his pants, was already there.
To most people the ‘hole in the wall’ means a cash-dispensing machine but in Torquay there is an ancient timber- framed ‘Inn’ of the same name that existed centuries before the cash machine existed.
Notorious with seaman over many generations, the hostelry has become well known for its exceptional dining but its public bar still retains its traditional charm. It was here that the eager party was headed and as they entered the warm convivial atmosphere, it seemed that a party was in full swing. It was most unusual that someone else had begun the singing and although the rendering of ‘an old mill by the stream Nelly Deane’ could hardly be accorded the term ‘sea-shanty’, it was certainly an indication of what was to follow.
The barman was quick to notice the ‘Bretton’ caps and waterproofs and without being asked sent over five dripping pints of Bass brewed locally, which was a favourite of the seafarers who frequented his tavern. They hoped that the surreptitious ‘wink’, indicated that their initial drink was on the house.
John, the navigator, was looking forward to a large ‘Gordon’s and Schweppes’ but he was too polite and thirsty to do other than justice to the foaming brew which he downed in one so he could order his much desired tipple at the start of a new round. Neville said he would prefer a lager but the remainder stayed on the Bass.
“Three pints of Bass bitter, a pint of Stella and a large G and T with ice but no lemon please,” was the order for several rounds before a table in the dining room became vacant.
The fifth member of their party was a large German, known by the name – Horst. He was a business partner of Keith and acted as Keith’s company’s agent on the Continent. The others thought that for a German he was quite humorous and almost displayed some of the quirky characteristics of an Englishman. This was thought by Keith to be attributed to the two years or so that he had studied at Southampton University.
Like many big men his demeanor was gentle but in common with most of his countrymen his voice was loud and emanated from below a heavy drooping moustache. The kind that had been popular in the first World War in Britain but was soon out of fashion. Many of the continentals, however, still displayed a liking for this kind of facial adornment.
It may have been the name association, unwittingly suggested by the barman’s generosity, but with the exception of Horst they all ordered sea–bass. When it came to Horst’s turn, he ignored the others suggestions of ‘sour-croute’ or’ brat-virst’ and instead asked for a pair of kippers.
Unfortunately the waiter was Polish and thought he asked for a pair of slippers and it took some time and involved much merriment before he settled for steak and ale pie.
The joviality proved infectious and soon most of the restaurant was joining in on the choruses of ‘Rule Britannia” and for Horst’s benefit ‘Lilly Marlene’.
Dinner over and three bottles of Poulet Montrache later, they all adjourned to the public bar, where luckily a large table and seats by the fire had just become vacant.
It may have been the drink that caused Horst’s gentleness to turn to clumsiness but the bikers, whose leathers ended up on the floor, were not best pleased. Horst nearly saved the day by picking the jackets off the floor and then blew it by commenting that he had seen better plastic in Germany.
By and large, sailors enjoy a brawl but not when outnumbered by two to one so when local fishermen sided with them the odds became more weighted in their favour and led to a stand off.
The roar of the ‘Harleys’ shattered the peace as the Bikers revved up defiantly, before leaving a short while later.
The display by the Hell’s Angels, of Swastika’s together with other Nazi symbols and their eventual stand down, prompted the locals in the bar to a rendition of old wartime favourites.
Paul England, although only in short trousers at the time had picked up many of these at family parties, so was able to accompany the singers on the well-played but tuneful, piano. Strains of ‘a long way to Tipperary’ and ‘bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover’ echoed around the harbour. Later in deference to the lone ‘ Australian ’ in the bar the usual emotional words of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ were sung leaving subsequent verses to the ‘Oz’ who was the only one who knew all of the words.
Only four of the party set out on the return journey. Keith had excused himself earlier to see his mother in-law or so he said but the others were unconvinced being sure it had more to do with getting out of scaling the razor wire and a comfortable nights sleep.
Neville, the Skipper and John, the navigator, were soon over the obstruction on top of the gate. The two heavier men remained on the other side. Unlike the experienced sailors they were unused to drinking so heavily and neither had ever had to climb a barbed wire fence to get home.
It had rained heavily while they had been in the ‘Hole in the wall” and the dingy had taken on quite a lot of water. John, with the aid of a cut-off plastic bottle, began to bail the dingy out. Neville sat on a bollard and lit a cigarette, contentedly puffing away while awaiting the two remaining crewmembers.
Unable to get over the gate, the German by nationality and England by name felt rather helpless. Paul sat down on a lobster pot and also lit a cigarette while the more resourceful German searched around for a means to help them. He soon came up with an idea.
A sailing boat stood alongside the fence in a wooden cradle. Horst took a handle from an ancient mobile crane about twenty yards away and scrabbled aboard the yacht. The handle fitted. He hoisted the boom and swung it outwards securing it with the stays. He found a length of stout rope and made a makeshift sling.
Back on the jetty he helped Paul fasten the sling under his arms and returned to the yacht, where, with the aid of the winch, he was able to hoist Paul gently into the air. Next, he threw one of the stays over the fence and Neville and John heaved in on the tackle while Horst eased of the restraining stay. Paul swung deftly over the fence and was lowered by his German colleague down the other side. The whole episode took only about ten minutes and John clambered back over the fence to assist with Horst’s similar rescue. The sling was placed around his ample back and under his arms. John was well practiced at using the hoist, which was known as a ‘coffee grinder’ to the seagoing fraternity, and Horst soon became airborne. Neville and Paul heaved on the stay and slowly Horst was winched over the fence.
Perhaps Horst was a little heavier than Paul or maybe the sling had been weakened by the initial use but whatever the reason just as Horst was halfway over the sling broke and the cargo was deposited unceremoniously on top of the fence. It was just as well that German is a little known language in Devon as the guttural expletives that followed, caused even the hardened seaman to look startled.
It took nearly an hour to extract Horst from the damage and when they left in the dingy they were somewhat chastened by the sight of the hitherto secure barrier, lying flattened and trampled on the pontoon.
A loud incessant banging came from above, disturbing the deep alcohol induced sleep of the Skipper of the yacht and his sailing companions. Neville, the skipper, pulled on a sweater and a pair of strides. He opened the deck hatch and staggered out on deck. He was faced with two burley men who were wearing dungarees and long rubber sea boots who glared at him menacingly. The larger one said. “What are you a doing of here?”
Neville replied, noting it was still quite dark, “Waiting for dawn so we can go alongside.”
He glanced at his watch. It was just after five a.m.
“You’ll have to move,” said the other man.
“It’s a bit early for trips round the bay,” responded Neville.
“Funny man,” said the first man. “We are going out to set a few lobster pots for our own use before the normal day starts so you’d better shove off!”
Neville stood his ground. “You may not have noticed we’ve got slip lines on the buoys so you can just let go without disturbing us.”
“This is our mooring so it’s not a question of disturbing you or otherwise. In any case there won’t be enough room for us to swing.”
“Our lines are sound, “said Neville, “so you can pull yourselves round on us. It’ll make it easy for you.”
“Please yourself, “replied the bigger man, “unless you go of your own free will, I’ll cut you adrift.”
“Shouldn’t if I were you,” cried Neville becoming a little angry, “there are five of us aboard including two Rugby players who definitely won’t appreciate being woken up. So be a good fellow and go and frighten the lobsters and leave us alone.”
Neville went below to avoid further confrontation and pointedly shut the hatch.
John was brewing some tea and said, “well done Nev.”
They drank their tea in silence, listening as the pleasure craft started her engines and a short while later, slowly got under way.
As a parting shot the helmsman of the tripper called over that he would report the yacht to the harbour master and he gave a sharp burst on his engine that caused the yacht to bounce around on the mooring in a jerky motion which spilt the tea all over the cabin floor.
“They’re not real fishermen, ” said John and Neville agreed. “ Probably drive a taxi in the winter to stay out of the cold.”
Using the dingy John rowed a bow line to the pontoon that he made fast to a cleat. He repeated the exercise with a stern line and Neville using a geared hand windlass, pulled the yacht steadily towards the vacant mooring opposite while slacking off the buoy ropes and eventually taking them completely in. The yacht gently came alongside the pontoon, which was fitted with a rubber apron and therefore didn’t need fenders. Back springs were tied and a couple of breast lines completed the mooring up.
Neville and John strolled down to the Harbour Office and were met by a charming old gentleman who was the out of hours duty officer but he admitted that he used to be known as the night watchman.
They reported the incident with the day-tripper and also mentioned that they had caused moderate damage during the night by not having the code.
The old chap made a note in his log and asked them to come back after eight to officially register their arrival with the day staff.
On seeing the results of Horst’s emergency landing, they decided to rope off the area to prevent anyone getting hurt or caught up in the netting. The watchman had given them the gate code so they were able to temporarily secure the damage on both sides.
By the time they had finished their provisional repairs it had just gone seven so they decided to head for the café at the end of the jetty for a full English with two mugs of tea.
John was deep into the morning paper when Neville asked if they should pull them up.
“Pull what up?” Asked John.
“The lobster pots” said Neville.
“What a great idea,” replied John, “we could put something appropriate in them.”
“I can smell a competition coming on,” said Neville just as breakfast arrived.
After settling for their meal they returned to the Harbour office that was now a different place. All hustle and bustle. A pretty young girl manned the phones and two uniformed officials went about their duties.
The senior of the two was identified easily, due to the gold braid on his epaulettes. He finished a conversation on the VHF radio with a fishing boat and gave his attention to the two arrivals.
“St Jacut”, he said, “the night officer left details. Just as well you arrived this morning. Our night security officer left a note that the motorcycle yobs tried to break in near to your berth. Damaged the fence something awful. Just as well we’re well insured. Might have to move you if your staying long.”
“Just last night,” said Neville were off to Brixham later.”
They paid for a night and left a note for Keith before they left, advising him that they would be in Brixham.
Anxious to leave before anyone changed their minds, John and Neville cast off without waking the other two and slipped quietly out of the harbour entrance, waving at a crowd of school children on an excursion who were sketching the scene from the end of the harbour wall.
The day-tripper was returning for its normal activities of running visitors around the harbour and visiting prominent spots. It studiously ignored the yacht as they passed but the name on its stern, after Nelson’s flagship, did not go unnoticed.
The yacht headed in a southerly direction to round Berry head just before ten. Carefully avoiding the rocks, they nudged towards the shore in a tiny bay where they brought up the anchor and shut down the engine.
The silence was palpable and caused the remainder of the crew to be awakened by the lack of noise, each with sore heads. Horst drank a can of lager in one go to take his mind off of his wounds and Paul settled for a large black coffee. Another ten minutes passed before either of them realized that they were no longer in Torquay.
Horst seemed to have started a trend and before long a case of lager graced the cockpit bench to fortify the sailors while they deliberated on their day’s activities.
A number of floats were strategically placed around the outlying rocks surrounding Berry Head, under which lay baited lobster traps. Each float carried a flag to enable recovery in rough weather and the floats carried markings of the fishermen or sometimes the owner’s name, which also occasionally appeared on the flag.
John was particularly interested in floats or flags bearing the name he’d seen earlier and using powerful binoculars spotted five candidates. He boarded the rubber dingy, started the outboard, and headed for the shore. The two buckets he had brought with him were soon filled with fine sand and he returned to the yacht.
The bilges were a handy place to keep items that were not often used, such as bottom scrapers and the like. John remembered a box of surgical gloves kept for Painting and retrieved these together with a small funnel. He then tied up the thumbs and the two small fingers. He filled the rest of the gloves through the funnel and sealed the hand openings with white ‘gorilla’ tape (waterproof variety). The end result was a hand with two fingers distended to form a ‘vee sign.’
All four of them were caught by the mood and they boarded the dingy carrying the inflated gloves in a bucket. The other bucket remained empty for now.
All five pots had their contents replaced with one of the gloves and they returned to the yacht with a bucket containing five lobsters.
Keith was waiting to take their lines as they arrived in Brixham and moored adjacent to the lifeboat.
A fine bottle of ‘Alsace’ complimented the fresh lobster cooked to perfection by the Skipper who’d been taught in Martha’s Vineyard a year earlier by a creole chef of renown,
They raised their glasses in a toast to Nelson’s Flagship: The Victory.
– – – – – – – – –
There is nothing so effective for learning about the true nature of ones friends and acquaintances than sailing with them twenty-four seven on a small boat. Paul England was not, and never would be, a seaman although he possessed many of the characteristics. He was strong, fearless, drank, and his language was less than genteel. He had been brought along as a sort of ‘make weight’ and had fitted in well having a particular affinity with his cabin mate, the other heavy weight, Horst. It therefore came as quite a surprise that it was him that came up with the solution.
Brixham is the only deep water fishing port left on the South Coast and in spite of the European Union restrictions, it is still busy as many fisherman land their catches there to benefit from the well established auction house and the rapid access to North European Markets.
In the summer, the activities attract a small but important tourist trade, resulting in an almost carnival atmosphere.
The ‘Spratt and Mackerel” opened early on market day and it was here that the sailors drank their breakfast. Over the years they had befriended some of the local fisherman who also arrived early to quench their thirst. Many tales were told over a ‘pint’ or three and local knowledge was imparted that became logged away in the sailor’s brain to be recalled later, if needed.
Horst was an avid listener to the stories, whether because he found it difficult to understand the Devonshire lilt, or in order to regale them later to his friends in some alehouse in Bremen, no one knew. Perhaps it lent him some credence, for he keenly wanted to be a sailor and although he wore his peaked cap at a jaunty angle and carried a sailor’s rucksack it was probably as close as he would ever get. Rumour had it, that he owned a seventy-foot pre-war wooden sailing barge that had become the scourge of the River Brest.
Horst was due to return to Germany the next day to get back to his family and work. Germans took their responsibilities seriously.
It had been agreed to sail across to Torquay in time for him to catch the first fast train to Paddington and he had re-arranged a flight from the City Airport. Apart from his kit bag and carry-on he had no other luggage and the big man favoured carrying his kitbag on his shoulder as depicted by American sailors on movies.
John happened to catch a glimpse of Paul putting his wallet away as he returned from the toilets accompanied by Trevelyan known as ‘Trev’ who skippered the deep sea trawler ‘Ocean Spray’.
Being a Saturday, the crew broke up. Keith returned to his wealthy relative, hopeful of being remembered when the time came and John went part way with him in search of a ‘betting shop.’
Horst and Neville went shopping and Paul said he felt tired and would catch up on some lost sleep. They had agreed to meet a seven in the Yacht club for a livener or two before dining, though it had been arranged to meet Keith in Torquay next morning, when they dropped Horst off.
“Can you smell something?” John asked as they stood at the circular bar of the Yacht Club.
Nobody could but Neville asked, “what kind of smell?”
‘Sort of fishy’” said John.
“What do you expect in a fishing port. Frankincense?”
Paul shouted a round and the conversation returned to the normal subject of wine, women and song.
They dined well on the club’s limited but ample menu and adjourned to the comfortable lounge to sit round the fire to take coffee and brandy although Horst requested Rum.
His ample body filled the ornate ‘Captains chair’ and he sighed with contentment.
“I feel bloatered,” he said.
Paul nearly creased up to stop himself from bursting out laughing.
Neville kindly corrected the German.
“You mean bloated!” he said.
“Yes, yes Nev’, now you mention it, you’re quite right.”
— — —
There was no sign of Keith when they tied up on the pontoon early next morning. The only available berth was opposite the damaged fence and was coned off. They figured that they wouldn’t be long so they moved the cones to one side and were gratified to find that the gate code remained unaltered.
It was a short walk past the theatre to the station and they didn’t have to wait long before Horst’s train arrived. Complete with luggage Horst boarded the near empty train and they bade each other farewell.
As they toured the town for a café open for breakfast, John reflected that it was sad that they might never meet their sailing companion again.
Neville agreed and added “For a German he was quite a good bloke, we should have got him something to remember us by!”
Paul couldn’t help stifling a chuckle and as the others thought he would be the most cut-up they were somewhat surprised.
“Do you remember what Horst ordered in the “hole in the wall?” he said.
In unison John and Neville replied that they couldn’t.
“He wanted kippers, ” Paul reminded them.
“So he has got something to remember us by.”
A wicked grin creased his face.
“I stuffed his kit bag with them, courtesy of the ‘Ocean Spray’ and tightly laced it closed so it was effectively hermetically sealed. Probably won’t open it until he gets home!”
Date unknown, but twin tower to the right.
The unlucky one of the three sisters, Inchanga, Isipingo, and Incomati. Torpedoed in 1943 off of Lagos with the loss of 1 life. The 2 surviving vessels put in 30 years service as passenger/cargo vessels running between Calcutta and Durban with many ports between both ways….
16 CHAPTER SIXTEEN (That sinking feeling).
Christmas of the year 1981 in England resembled the picturesque scenes as depicted on Christmas cards, complete with an abundance of snow. On the whole, many City dwellers were secretly thankful of their extended holiday, due to the inability of public transport to function, with very few exceptions of which the West Country was one. However they had not entirely missed the bad weather and were battered by enormous waves and gale force winds.
In the days before the marina was built in Torquay, many sea-going vessels would be moored with one end onto a buoy attached to the seabed and the other end tied to a cleat, welded onto the pier housing the Theatre and leisure center and known locally as the Princess Pier.
The events that occurred just before Christmas were unlikely to be forgotten by any of those involved.
The late September weather that year was glorious with hot sunshine and calm seas. John, the navigator had taken his young family for a late boating holiday. They joined the boat in the river Hamble and sailed to Devon stopping at Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight and spending the night at anchor in Studland Bay between Swanage and Poole in Dorset.
John was ex Merchant Navy and had spent several years at sea and took it for granted that everyone should share his love of the water. Consequently he hardly gave a thought to his young pretty wife who was coping with a five year old daughter and a barely year old toddler.
The weather was so good that they decided to avoid mooring fees and anchor in Torbay that was alive with all sorts activity.
Speedboats towing inflatable bananas kept the tourists happy and a floating platform had been provided to advertise a well-known brand of cigarettes and offer paragliding by towing behind a fast launch.
Pottering about in the rock pools was a favourite entertainment for the five-year-old gregarious girl whose mental age and communication skills were very advanced. She had made friends with a young boy who turned out to be the son of the couple operating the paragliding. Being pre-occupied by their work his parents unwittingly neglected the boy and as a result of the new friendship it was suggested that he join the yacht for a sail. He excitedly rowed back to the floating pontoon and seeing that John not only had a sea going yacht but a young daughter, his busy parents readily agreed to the proposal.
A very pleasant morning was spent fishing and Tom, as the lad was known, was very keen to learn. They motor sailed at just the right speed to ensure the spinner was at a depth of about three meters and would attract the fish. They were using an expensive fiberglass rod and had just the right weight of line.
Margaret, as well as being pretty was accomplished, caring and compassionate. She gave Juliet, the toddler, a sufficient amount of freedom that enabled her to run around without falling overboard. As a precaution a soft light rope also tethered her but allowed her adequate movement.
After a couple of blissful hours in the sun they reached the point near Berry Head where, having been unsuccessful, they decided to reel in, stop the engine and drift a while.
In between beers, John stowed away the rod and opened the stern locker seeking amongst the gas bottles and an assortment of other gear. He finally came across an old bucket containing two crabbing lines. The outriggers and hooks were rusty but the hollow doughnut shaped lead weights were in tact as were the wooden ‘H’ frames for winding in the nylon line.
He took out his pairing knife and cut off the rusty hooks and attached a length of feather hooks to each line. At this stage he showed Tom how to tie a double bowline, a knot familiar to his older daughter for some years.
Peering into the depths of the crystal clear water he was able to discern silvery flashes through his Polaroid lenses. The mackerel were running.
Each young person had a line, which they enthusiastically cast into the sea. Almost immediately the mackerel struck.
They eagerly pulled in their lines and in total they had five fine fish wriggling and glinting in the Sunshine
Into a bucket of seawater they went, to be dispatched later, when the children weren’t in sight.
The shoal seemed to have moved on as no more fish were caught but it wasn’t for the want of trying by the pair of youngsters whose interest had been forever captured.
Margaret soon had the mackerel topped and tailed and the boneless fillets were cooked in a pan of meted butter and served with freshly baked bread, accompanied by a green salad of rocket with a hint of garlic and a light dressing of homemade mayonnaise. They agreed it was only way to eat the delicious sea bounty and it was deemed to become an occasional favourite.
John started the engine to bring the vessel about and the sails were set so that they ‘goose-winged’ all the way back to the anchorage courtesy of the moderate southwesterly wind.
After anchoring, Tom was eager to tell his parents of his adventures and actually eating the fish he had caught although of course it may have been one of the others.
His father had finished for the day and came over to collect his son. On the spur of the moment he asked John if he would like to take his daughter for a ride. John readily agreed but when the launch stopped at the floating platform, John realised what Tom’s father meant.
To save face he decided to have a go. He had watched other people and it seemed fairly easy apart from the landing again, which required both strength and good timing, qualities which John felt he possessed.
Tom’s father ensured the leather straps were properly secured to both of them and ran through the finer points before returning to the launch. To take off they had to lean back and resist the pull of the towrope but eventually it became irresistible and towed them into the air. As their speed increased so did their height and as more line was paid out they gained altitude.
Toms father was determined to repay John’s kindness and the ten-minute trip was considerably extended.
Sound became distorted and familiar items seemed like mere toys below. The white wake of the launch seemed to move at a snails pace and the towline dipped and disappeared as it got nearer the speeding launch. Looking up at the colourful chute made John feel sick so not wanting to alarm his daughter he kept his eyes low. He suddenly realised what the expression ‘free as a bird’ meant. The only concern about the fantastic experience was about the landing and sometime later, the driver of the launch expertly slowed, causing the chute to lose height as they approached the tiny floating landing stage. The more they descended the closer they became and John suddenly found himself running along the deck to keep his balance. He slowed and then stopped. Both father and daughter were exhilarated.
John was ready for another go with the toddler but Margaret sensibly chose otherwise.
They followed the setting Sun to the west and dropped anchor about a quarter of a mile off shore to the west side of Berry Head in a tiny sheltered bay. The dingy was baled and pumped up, ready to take John ashore to check with his sales manager regarding any problems in his absence. As dusk was descending, Margaret waived to her husband as he headed for the inlet in the inflatable. He failed to see the sharp rocks just beneath the surface that had become concealed by the high tide. The dinghy suddenly lurched as the rocks tore into the bottom, causing several punctures.
John was concerned about the safety of his outboard and dingy, so he dragged them behind some rocks higher up the beach for collection later. Next he scaled the cliffs and was able to shout to his wife that he would go into Brixham and get a lift back with the harbour authorities. Though he was a little concerned about a sea mist that had begun to gather, the sea was calm and his wife was very capable.
His first thought was to find telephone and at the top of the cliffs the land flattened out, allowing a rather run down holiday camp to be built. The proprietors were approaching hostility when John asked for change for the phone and his call from the public call box soon gobbled up all of his money. With no cash for a taxi, he set about to walk into Brixham some three miles away.
At last the road went downhill towards the harbour. John sighted the Harbour Office opposite the Yacht Club and decided to enter to acquaint the Harbour Master with his plight. The reception was empty but John thought he heard a noise coming from the back room. He set off to investigate and hearing sounds similar to someone in distress, he expected to find someone having some sort of seizure. He was a trained First Aider and also inclined to expect anything. He burst into the room from where the noise was coming and all sounds and movement stopped.
He retreated as fast as he could followed by the red faced Harbour Master adjusting his trousers.
As though nothing had happened, John blurted out his plight and the Harbour Master suggested that he wait for the assistant Harbour Master to return from seeing the fishermen in and he would get him to take John back to his yacht in the tender.
“How long is he likely to be?” asked John.
“One, two hours possibly in this weather. The fog seems to be getting worse. Why don’t you have a couple of pints in the ‘Spratt and Mackerel’ while your waiting?”
“I’ve no money,” replied John.
The Harbour Master fished in his wallet and took out a note, giving it to John.
“This should see us both right,” he said and disappeared down the corridor.
With a twenty-pound note in his pocket, John entered the bar and ordered a pint of lager. He calculated that he had enough for two more pints and still had enough over for a ten-pound tip for the assistant Harbour Master. The irony and price of passion.
An hour later saw them slowly searching through the fog for the anchored yacht. The searchlight’s powerful beam pierced the gloom and just as they were losing hope the yacht appeared with Margaret displaying a mixture of anger and relief at their arrival.
John thanked his rescuer and insisted he keep the note he had passed over and before the Official could protest further the fog swallowed his tender. It’s not every day, John chuckled to himself, that ones boss provides you with a tenner for doing your job.
— — — —
At five thirty the following morning John donned his wet suit. He had decided to salvage the dingy. He placed a hand pump and repair kit a into a black rubbish bag and added a couple of dry towels and a paper kitchen roll. He sealed the bag with waterproof repair tape.
Although it remained calm the mist had slightly lifted. There was no wind. His wife and elder daughter appeared, he thought, to see him off. It turned out the five year old was insisting on accompanying her daddy and however much he tried to deter her, he failed.
She wouldn’t wear a life jacket but accepted the inflatable armbands used to keep her afloat during swimming lessons.
John felt the cold creep up as he entered the water in spite of the protection afforded by the wet suit. His daughter beside him seemed oblivious and was just excited to be making the swim. From the side of the yacht it didn’t seem very far but once in the water they could hardly see the shore. After about half an hour they suddenly saw a strange sight materialise out of the mist and then it vanished almost as quickly as it came. John was wearing divers shoes for protection against the rocky seabed and felt down with his feet but was still unable to touch the bottom.
“Look Daddy ‘ his daughter cried and the round knobbly apparition turned out not to be a stray mine but was in fact a rubber swimming hat worn by a geriatric lady. The knobbly spikes turned out to be rubber flowers.
“Good morning,” she said as though it was the most natural thing in the world to be swimming in the cold sea before six in the morning and being confronted by a bearded man and talkative young girl appearing from nowhere out of the mist and bound for the shore.
The eccentric lady was still there when, a half an hour later they returned with the partially repaired dingy in tow.
As they disappeared into the mist she was heard to say. “Good morning.”
She was obviously addressing another early riser.
It was definitely not a good morning when just before Christmas the telephone rang in a small village in the heart of the countryside in Bedford. Shillington had been cut off to the outside world for two days. The snow was the culprit or to be more accurate it was places where the farmers had grubbed up the hedges permitting snow drifts to be formed by the wind.
The Dock master in Torquay had advised the owners of the yacht that they should make their way down to assess the possible damages from the storm that battered the West Country. No further details were available. The Skipper Neville’s telephone rang and rang and as John knew that the other joint owners were away for the holiday. He decided to act.
He persuaded a farmer friend to take him by tractor to the nearest town. Fortunately the trains, though affected, were still running and he was soon on his way to London.
From Paddington he was able to catch a fast to Exeter and caught a local train to Torquay.
It was only a short walk to the pier and the mooring. There was nothing to be seen apart from masses of flotsam caused by the inclement weather. High water had just passed and it looked like the authorities had moved the boats moored to the pier. No one seemed to know anything and the offices were closed. An hour later John was delighted when Neville turned up and together they went in search of their yacht. A couple of local seamen told them that a couple of fishing boats had foundered causing all the mess.
They searched in vain and were unable to find any of the yachts that had been moored to the pier. The tide had slowly retreated revealing substantial wreckage. They were just able to make out a mast sticking out amongst the garbage.
Spellbound and silent they continued to watch the tide recede revealing several holed hulls including the ‘Salar Buccaneer,’ Meretone. A great hole exposed the empty place where the engine had once been. The spars were twisted and bent. A proud yacht had died.
They later learnt what happened. All the boats were moored with their bowlines to a buoy and their stern lines were secured to the Princess Pier. During the raging storm, thirty-foot waves caused the lines of the outer boat to part. The huge seas swung her round and propelled her like some giant battering ram, parallel to the pier and between the moored boats. Her bows sliced through the moorings and the boats, unrestrained, crashed in to one and other, eventually sinking in a tangled mass of rigging and lines.
Neville and John surveyed the wreckage in disbelief all the more dismayed to see the deep hipbath belonging to their boat some thirty feet away. John recalled that only a mere three months earlier that their youngest daughter, who had only just learnt to walk, had used the bath as a bed. Apart from being detached it was still in one piece.
The next day offered little comfort as neighbouring divers in true Cornish tradition, salvaged the wrecks but not surprisingly most of the valuables had disappeared. Torquay would never have the same feeling for John and Neville as they sadly returned to London.
Several of the local hostelries that had flagpoles flew their flags at half-mast for the rest of the year.
The ‘Lutine’ bell at Lloyds of London, tolled three times at the opening of business in the New Year, in memory of the vessels that they had insured in the Torquay tragedy, amongst which there were two fishing boats and several sea-going yachts.
They reluctantly paid out the Insurance and ‘Meretone’ was replaced with a 16 meter Camper Nicholson Ketch called St Jacut whose dignified history was about to take a turn for the worst.
15 CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lovely, thank you).
Allum Bay is still difficult to get to without the cable car lift. Hundreds of Thousands of homes around the world have a bit of the place somewhere. For almost a century, the multicoloured sands have been collected as a unique souvenir. Often purchased by tourists, the glass tubes would grace many a mantelpiece or sideboard, when the travellers returned home from their holidays.
The bay lies between Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight and the Needles, that iconic structure of rocks on the western approaches to the Island.
Troops coming from the Americas, in World War Two, were enthralled by the sight of the series of the gigantic pointed rocks sticking out of the sea. They knew they had arrived. They have the statue of Liberty. The Brit’s have the Needles and coming from the continent, the White Cliffs of Dover.
An adventurous young family of four and their dog ‘Scamp’ enjoyed trekking. They had negotiated the tricky cliff path to the east of the bay and decided to walk along the beach. The small boy delighted in throwing a bit of driftwood into the sea for his dog to retrieve. No matter how many times he brought the wood back, the dripping dog indicated by his wagging tail, that he was enjoying the entertainment.
As the family rounded the headland, they were met with a most unexpected sight. Several people were sitting together. Some were in deck chairs whilst others sat on rugs. The women were serving tea together with plates of delicious cakes and biscuits. The walkers approached the tea party and their curiosity got the better of them.
“Good afternoon!” the husband said, addressing the ladies. “You look as though your having fun. Would you mind telling me where you got the refreshments from?”
A bearded nautical looking chap replied.” Hello there. There’s a kiosk just round the corner.” He pointed to a promontory about a quarter of a mile away.
Thanking them, the family continued on their way, whilst Scamp reluctantly followed, having just been treated to the remainder of one of the young ladies biscuits.
The picnic over, the party packed up and stowed their belongings under the thwarts of their wooden dingy.
Bernard, ever helpful and sometimes put upon, heaved the crowded dingy into deeper water. Waves wetted his rolled up trousers and as he clambered aboard his peaked cap was knocked awry.
The outboard was started and the Skipper expertly avoided the breakers as they made there way back to the yacht that could be seen at anchor in the distance.
Gunilla was Swedish and hadn’t sailed with them before so was unused to their impish ways.
She said, “That wasn’t very nice of you John, getting their expectations up.”
She knew, of course, that there was no kiosk.
John wondered whether she was genuinely concerned or if she was still a bit miffed about what happened on their was down the Solent.
Earlier that morning they had anchored opposite Alum Bay nearly abeam of Hurst Point. It was just after low water and the tide was still slack, resulting in an unusual calm.
Alan, who was a regular member of their sailing group, had invited his new girlfriend, Gunilla. He had asked, somewhat ‘tongue in cheek’, if they could share a cabin.
She turned out to be a blonde bombshell! Her looks were very much in vogue and not dissimilar to ‘Twiggy” the famous model of the sixties. Fair skinned and petite, her gentle manner penetrated the hearts of even the hardest and most skeptical seaman. Alan had met her at the Swedish Church in London where she attended most weekends to take part in the service and converse with her fellow countrymen.
Out to impress, Alan came over as most gallant and gentlemanly. Even his ragged jeans had been replaced with a smart pair of corduroys.
Her accented English, charmed all the men on board, so when she asked if she could take a swim, her request met little resistance by the sailors. Their wait was rewarded with a brief glimpse of her bikini-clad body as she expertly dived into the cold deep seawater.
Gentlemanly behavior did not extend to swimming in the freezing sea so she was alone, that is until the rescue.
Bernard, forever attentive noticed that she had gone some distance. Alan called out, attempting to keep the panic out of his voice and tried to sound in control and manly.
“Swim closer to the boat.” He cried.
“Lovely, thank you, ” was Gunilla’s response.
Alan’s treaty was repeated.
“Lovely thank you, ” came the reply.
The Skipper casually told Bernard to get the dingy ready.
Gunnila was used to swimming in the Fjords, which is why the cold didn’t bother her but she was unaware of the current that due to the change in tide, had just stated to run.
Alan was well built and an accomplished swimmer, so he carefully removed his new trousers and jumper and dived over the side to go to the aid of his damsel in distress. In the meantime Bernard, following his instructions, started the outboard and took off to help Gunnila. The swimmer was no match for the outboard and Bernard soon had Gunilla aboard the tender and safely back onto the teak deck of the yacht.
Bernard returned to help Alan, who was suffering from mild exposure and exhaustion due to the cold. No matter how hard he tried, Alan was unable to hoist himself into the dingy. Eventually, he was towed alongside the yacht but the crew struggled in vane to get him aboard.
By this time Gunilla was becoming a little concerned about her boy friend but she need not have worried, as it turned out, because John, the skipper, was a competent and capable seaman.
The davits were still dangling empty in readiness to retrieve the tender, so John had conceived the idea to winch Alan aboard using a davit. A stout rope strop was placed round Alan’s ample waist and without further ado the hoisting began. The obliging Bernard, set about winding in with gusto. Fortunately, the gearing slowed the process down, so to prevent Alan being rubbed against the yacht’s side, John tightened the forestay on the davit. This resulted in Alan’s not inconsiderable weight causing the boat to heel over leaving him dangling in space rather like a large fish out of water. His fatigue took away all thought of keeping his posture so his belly protruded, somewhat obscenely, over the rope strop.
Nevertheless when they finally lowered him spluttering on deck, he was gratified to discover that he remained a hero in Gunilla’s eyes.
They clambered aboard having arrived from the beach. The Skies started to look menacing with great dark clouds building up on the western horizon. As soon as they were aboard, John left the others to stow the gear while he fiddled with the radio set to get a local forecast. He knew that they had plenty of time to reach the sheltered Harbour of Yarmouth, which was barely half an hour away. The anchorage in Allum Bay soon became deserted as the other boats returned to their homeports and berths, ahead of the imminent storm.
John eventually managed to get a meteorological report that indicated a worsening of the weather with a cold front approaching from the southwest. Storm force eight on the Beaufort scale was predicted before midnight.
Bernard was instructed to get the anchor in. They had an electric windlass so to preserve the batteries, the engines were started and put on tick over.
As John passed Alan a beer to help him ‘warm him up’ the rattle of the chain stopped.
Instantly on deck, John looked a question at Bernard.
“Seems jammed,” said Bernard, rather timidly.
John felt the cable forward of the windlass. It was bar-tight.
The next hour or so was spent circling the anchor chain in an attempt to free it, but to no avail. It seemed firmly caught on something.
The swells were steadily increasing in size and John knew that when the tide turned with wind against sea and an approaching gale, that their plight would become quite dangerous.
He decided to ditch the anchor. They motored into the wind and took the strain off the cable and paid out all of the chain. Bernard reported from the chain locker that it was all gone bar for a large rusty shackle securing the end. No amount of effort could move the pin so they heaved the chain back up to take stock. Unluckily, the activities had not freed up the cable that still remained firmly stuck.
It’s relatively easy cutting through half an inch of steel bar. That’s if you’ve got a vice and an electric angle grinder. It’s a very different matter when you’re being thrown about on the fore deck of a yacht and using a junior hacksaw.
They took decided to take turns, each at first, applying two hundred strokes and later as they grew tired, only one hundred. Care had to be taken as nobody could find spare blades but on the plus side a little used aerosol of cutting oil had been discovered.
John’s seamanship experience, though tainted by the lack of a decent saw or metal cutters, proved invaluable.
The sawing took place between the windlass and the hawse pipe and a fender was lashed on to the anchor side of the chain to facilitate later recovery.
The girls, who were feeling seasick due to the irregular motion, were advised to lie down and John deliberately left the tender on a long line, to bounce about in the water, in case it was needed.
At dusk they still had about three millimeters to go and the weather had deteriorated to a force five, gusting six. Occasional waves crashed over the stern and it became difficult to hold on and saw at the same time. The wind shrieked in the rigging.
“Eureka!” they were through.
With both engines running at half speed, the yacht was brought up head to wind.
John, who was at the helm, had primed Bernard to wait until the boat was in a trough and then pull the chain and fender, free from the windlass. Without a moment’s hesitation, both the chain and attached fender were thrown clear into the heaving sea. Plenty of rope lanyard had been provided to allow the chain to sink and the yacht engines were immediately changed to full astern to avoid the propellers from becoming entangled.
They managed to turn into the wind and head towards Castle point. Once in mid channel, the skipper brought the boat round to starboard and headed in an easterly direction, making for safety at Yarmouth harbour on the Isle of Wight.
The motion became a little easier in the shelter of the Island but their progress was slow now that the tide had turned and was against them at a rate of over three knots. Astern of them in the west, the cold front continued to build with ever darkening skies and winds increasing to a force six or seven before reaching the anticipated, gale force nine that was the revised prediction by the local weather forecaster.
The relief at being in the shelter of the harbor was almost overwhelming. Seasickness was soon forgotten and the companions
called the water taxi to take them ashore. Once ashore they decided to have dinner at the ‘Bugle,’ a well-known local Inn.
After a few drinks in the public bar, the skipper reserved a table and asked the barman what the ‘specials’ of the day were. The barman was an old friend and indicating a local fisherman playing darts, he said,
“Nelson brought quite a few fresh lobsters and crabs in today – we’ve still got some left.”
Nelson overhearing, finished his throw and came over to elaborate.
“Hi skipper. Had a good day?”
John replied that they had been picnicking in Allum Bay but had to leave the anchor and chain behind.
“That’s where the crabs and lobsters were caught just before dawn. There are a lot of uncharted rocks on the bottom. You probably snagged one,” Nelson offered.
Their meal was magnificent and they all enjoyed the liquid refreshment and the seafood, especially Gunilla who, being Swedish, was brought up to appreciate all sea food particularly the crustacean variety.
A family on a table near the fireplace kept looking over and they supposed it was envy at the sumptuous food being served. Perhaps having substantially imbibed they were also being a little noisy as sailors often are but it wasn’t until they left and Alan noticed the tethered dog. The proverbial ‘penny dropped.’ It was Scamp!
Some say it’s lucky but Bernard would not agree. They left the Bugle full of goodwill and ale, turning right to walk down the short cobbled alleyway towards the picturesque harbour. Bernard was ahead of the others, anxious to commandeer the last water taxi. Just as he passed the ferry terminal, he slipped and ended up banging into a road-crossing beacon. To his dismay, he had discovered a present left by the friendly dog; Scamp.
When returning to Allum Bay the following morning to retrieve the abandoned anchor, they were alarmed to find that there was little evidence of their presence the previous day. The only part of the chain that remained was the rusty tail end that had slipped back into the chain locker. The weather had calmed but there was no sign of the fender or the long length of the chain that had disappeared with it.
John silently thought to himself – perhaps Nelson had beaten them to it!
Abandoning their searches, they once again, turned hard to starboard and motored back towards Cowes where they altered course to port and headed up into Southampton Water before entering the river Hamble where their home berth was situated.
Bernard was the buyer for a large engineering company and several weeks later he presented the Skipper with a souvenir of the event.
He had arranged for his works manager, to carry our certain procedures and modifications and excitedly passed over the present.
He hoped it would somehow make up for the expensive anchor and chain, being lost.
John opened the box with a mixture of anticipation and curiosity.
Reclining on a maroon satin cloth, were two uneven halves of the sawn link. They had been brightly polished and beautifully silver-plated. The saw marks were still distinguishable.
John was delighted with the unusual gift, which did much to soften the dismay and expense at loosing the anchor. Even so it turned out to be the most costly Lobster he was ever to have.
On the plus side, the Swedish beauty had married her gallant sailor and they still live in England although their two sons who are now both grown up and have got homes of their own.
She was asked fifty years later what she thought of her adoptive country.
“ Lovely thank you!” She replied.
Many thanks to ” junglecat” ( see website https://junglecat.de)
14 CHAPTER FOURTEEN (The days of wine and roses).
Corner brook is in Newfoundland and is noted as the oldest inhabited colony of its size in Canada. It lies in the Gulf of St Lawrence.
A huge pulp mill and newsprint manufacturer dominated the town, which together with its fishing fleet were the major industries.
Newspapers are printed at incredible speed so its important that few breakages occur that would cause lost production and costly ‘down time.’
To avoid problems, the suppliers to the great newspaper producers of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, ensured as near as possible, problem free supplies. To achieve this it was deemed essential to own and therefore control, the whole process from tree to reel. Accordingly, from the land where the timber was grown, to the factories that produced the products, the company was the owner. In addition they owned the shipping company and leased the docks where they employed their own labour. Nothing was left to chance.
The ship had left Ellesmere Port in the UK ten days earlier and arrived shortly before Christmas to take on a full cargo of Newsprint bound for the East coast of North America.
A carpet of thick snow covered everywhere apart from a patch that had been cleared to facilitate loading. The Officers and crew did not take part in the loading that was carried out by the very experienced shore crew who only handled newsprint.
Left with little to do, the customary visit to town in search of a good time was the one of the few pastimes to be had.
The deck crew were forbidden alcohol whilst at sea, so their choice was usually a bar complete with bar girls.
Most of the Officers were less forthright though their goals may have been similar. At least they started off with good intentions and visited the sights before ending up in a club or some other cosy establishment.
The Third Officer went ashore with his Irish friend, the Radio Officer known colloquially as ‘Sparks’. Many of the community were either directly Scottish or Scottish by descent and had brought some of their cultural practices with them. Through an unplanned encounter, where serendipity played its part and the two men were invited to the first night celebrations following a local amateur dramatics performance. The whisky and wine flowed livening up the dancing. The Third Officer was having his second dance with a petite ex Scots lady who had admired his uniform. He restrained himself from telling her it was his warmest clothing but instead asked her how she spent her time in this rather remote community,
‘I’m a welfare Officer,’ she responded.
‘Sounds a bit dull,’ he rather tactlessly replied.
‘Quite to the contrary.’ She said. ‘ Last week I had to attend an incident some two hundred miles in the outback and the problem was far from dull.’
‘Some settlers regularly came into town to get supplies. In the winter they left their two youngsters of three and five with their grandfather as minder.
Unfortunately while the parents were away he died. When they arrived home, the parents found that their children had tried to skin the old boy.
Out there anything that died was skinned. Not only did I have to council the kids but their parents as well.’
Somehow this revelation diminished all thoughts of ardor and the Third Officer returned to sampling the whisky with his friend Sparks who was already happily imbibing with his Gaelic cousins.
The voyage down the East coast of America took just over a month for the round trip and often they would host Newspaper owners and their families on their return journey who had been invited to the company’s retreat. It comprised of a remote forest lodge that was fully equipped for hunting and fishing and even boasted its own chef.
The guests had to be given the utmost attention as the ship was the Commodore Ship of the fleet and was famous for its hospitality. Apart from the additional luxury accommodation the Officers and guests enjoyed six course meals complete with fine wines and cheeses. Looking back it was on one of those trips that the japes began albeit purely innocently.
Americans can appear a little naive to their European cousins but their willingness to conform when encountering unusual practices was a most endearing quality.
Confronted with a daunting amount of silver cutlery at mealtimes must have seemed strange even to the heads of the Great Corporations.
The occasion of the first dinner was always chosen. The Americans quietly observed the cutlery items being used by the Officers and followed suit. Surreptitiously, the Officers exchanged the steak knives for fish knives that would go unnoticed by the guests.
When the steak course arrived the visitors were totally frustrated.
Given the American habit of cutting the entire meal into small pieces, they had nothing to use but their fish knives.
The Officers pretended not to notice but later in private they uncharitably recounted the incidents with unabashed mirth.
To pass the time the guests strolled about the ship and were allowed unrestricted access that sometimes interfered with the carrying out of duties.
It happened one evening to the Third Officer who was preoccupied with an intensive ‘ice’ watch. He was used to his lonely vigil on the bridge and was visibly startled when a voice came from out of the darkness,
‘So this is where you work Buddy!’ The glow from the stout American’s Cigar was the only part initially visible. ‘How about showing me around?’
Thereafter it became a regular visit that at first was welcome as it helped to pass the time. Later it became a bit of a nuisance so a trick was devised to deter his visitor.
The visitor always liked to view through the radar scanner, often leaving a pile of cigar ash when he left. One night a smear of black shoe polish was applied to the rim of the viewer to brand the unsuspecting observer in the hope he would get the message and cease his nocturnal visits.
Unexpectedly that evening, the Captain accompanied the visitor as his host and guided him around the bridge. The Third Officer was on tenterhooks, noticing every gesture and movement. The Captain invited his guest to have a look at the radar but the polite American said, ‘No you first Captain.’
Next morning during the Captains regular visit at ‘Smokeho,’ he said to the Third Officer,
‘Remind me to get the Chief Officer to order a new radar viewer, the old one’s melting!’
The Third Officer grew to admire most of the laid back attributes of the Americans but was unable to take on board certain aspects of their casual manner. The use of first names seemed alien to him but other characteristics such as their simple practicability and optimism, he found very refreshing.
On one such trip they arrived in New York and happened to berth at the pier alongside the Queen Elizabeth. The guests were ecstatic taking part in all the activities including throwing the streamers to the tunes of the brass band. The Third Officer’s fiancées birthday was approaching and the teenage daughter of one of the newspaper owners bullied him to going with her to ‘Macey’s’ a huge department store that made Harrods look the size of a corner shop.
The young Officer had trouble explaining that quality was preferable to size but was beaten when the girl referred to the great Ocean liner berthed nearby.
After all day looking for a suitable present near to his budget, he settled for a dozen red roses. There were no credit cards in those days but he had permission from the Captain to bill the ship that in turn would deduct the amount from his accumulated wages at the end of the voyage.
He was suitably gratified to receive a letter bursting with thanks for all the roses which not only were displayed around her house back in England but there were enough to take some to work.
Just before Christmas they had returned to England to take their leave and on paying off he queried why his cheque seemed small.
He discovered that a dozen dozen had been sent. Oh well, he thought, everything is big that comes from America.
In January 1962 he rejoined the ship at Tilbury docks and again made the North Atlantic crossing but thankfully though very cold the weather was kind and the trans-ocean passage was uneventful.
A quiet start to what proved to be a very memorable year.
The first tragedy struck on 30th August when the shipping fleet’s owner Sir Eric died. The small fleet of ships all flew their flags at half-mast for a week out of respect. Nobody imagined that to raise the death duties a massive change was about to begin.
In October the world was brought to the brink of annihilation by the Cuban missile Crisis.
The Soviets had responded to the United States defence policy that in 1961 placed IBM’s in Turkey and Italy, by deciding to deploy their own in Cuba. The ‘Cold War’ was at its height and diplomacy between the US and the Soviet Union was almost non-existent.
At first America blockaded Cuba and eventually placed its nuclear deterrent on full alert causing consternation around the world. A euphemism came into being ‘MAD’ that meant mutually assured destruction and spawned the birth of the beginnings of nuclear disarmament but not before becoming frighteningly close to all out and totally destructive war.
The situation was eventually resolved when threats by President Kennedy prompted a solution that caused the Soviets to remove their weapons from Cuba on condition that the Turkish and Italian weapons were similarly dealt with.
At the height of the crisis all British merchant ships were ordered to take on full bunkers and sealed orders were opened instructing certain procedures during a nuclear event. Hoses were to be continuously kept playing over the decks to flush away any contamination, while remote destinations such as the Falklands were confirmed as their new destination. The orders were speedily withdrawn following the resolution of the crisis.
November brought news from England that the administration of the Ships was to be transferred to a well-known management company already looking after the interests of several fleet owners. The good news purported to be that employment could be available with shipping lines travelling all over the world. The bad news was that salaries had to come into line with those of the already managed fleets.
Many of the ships officers had previously left some of the company’s involved so were reluctant to rejoin, particularly at lower salaries. Long trips were often involved which didn’t suit family men.
At the time, two-year articles were signed which meant that a two-year contract existed between the signatory and the Ship’s Master.
The contract was only judged to be broken when foreign going vessels entered a United Kingdom port. Had that not happened after two years, they were repatriated.
The hitherto sheltered life on the east coast of America would end at the finish of the voyage, when signing off would terminate the rather cushy contract.
Ships crews, many of whom had sailed together for years, would be redistributed, a prospect that decided most of them to ‘swallow the anchor’ which in sailors jargon means giving up their careers at sea.
Leaving parties became a daily event and rumor had it that even the Captain had decided to retire.
Sir Eric’s benefactors, no doubt carrying out his perceived wishes, ensured a generous payment to the long serving crew members who had decided to leave. This naturally decided those who were unable to make up their minds, bringing the total number agreeing to redeployment to zero. As a consequence it was decided to have a final grand farewell party at the end of the voyage.
It was a very sad day when they left Cornerbrook for the last time. They had come to consider it as their homeport. The Mayor and other dignitaries assembled on the quay as a brass band played British American and Scottish classics while getting covered in snow. The heavy mooring ropes were taken in and the ship slowly departed and disappeared into the heavy snowdrifts. A single mournful blast of the ships whistle said ‘Goodbye.’
The trip south to Baltimore was uneventful but on entering the River Potomac they were held up by one of the renowned mules that plied their trade the length of Chesapeake Bay. The mules consisted of long strings of barges pushed by tugs having blunt ends to enable the controlled movement needed to cope with the current.
Their pilot was a florid Virginian and constantly complained about the Government in D.C. by which he meant Washington. Apparently he lived next door to a senator and didn’t like him.
They unloaded their complete cargo in three days and set sail without a fanfare of any kind, bound for home after loading pulp at St John’s Halifax a diversion they put down to the new management.
Fog shrouded the Thames estuary causing a reduction in speed as they arrived eight days later bound for a terminal near Gravesend called Northfleet.
The ship finally docked at eight thirty in the morning and the Party was scheduled for that evening.
The fog lifted, heated by a wintery Sun and revealed a perfect spring day that welcomed them home.
The quayside was full of activity with the arrival of stores and the comings and goings of shore personnel, as the ship was made ready for discharging the cargo. As in the US, a specialist team of stevedores dealt with the cargo freeing the ships Officers for other pursuits.
The Third Officer decided to meet his fiancée from work in London and to bring her to the party in the evening since the ship was moored in the Thames only about thirty five miles from where they lived.
He cadged a lift to the West End of London with the marine superintendent who was based in the City.
She was allowed off of work early and they went home to get ready.
As luck would have it the happy couple lived next door to one and other so there was no need to arrange a pick up.
At about six that evening they left in a large Jaguar limousine that was the Third Officers pride and joy. He had bought it cheaply because it used petrol like it had gone out of fashion.
It sat idle while he was away but had earned its keep when it was used to take him to college a couple of years earlier when swatting for his mates ticket.
The drive through the Kent countryside was exhilarating and they arrived at the wharf just before seven.
A formal dinner preceded the party and apart from the Officers and some wives there were several guests including the offspring of their late owner whom the ship was named after.
Course upon course followed accompanied by copious amounts of wine. Speeches were brief and revolved around thanking the chefs and stewards for the wonderful meal.
They adjourned to the lounge, which had its own bar, and piano that was played expertly by the second engineer to encourage singing and dancing.
The lounge had been decorated with colourful balloons and complimented the smartly dressed Officers in their best uniforms and the beautifully clad ladies.
It was not without reason that London was responsible for the swinging sixties and the dancing and music carried on well into the early hours of the next morning. Jive had become popular and energetic displays attracted appreciative applause.
The Captain had had to leave early to catch the last overnight Caledonian train from Euston to Inverness where he lived, leaving the Chief Officer in charge.
The Chief Officer, himself a seasoned drinker, knew when one of his charges had too much to drink and took the appropriate action.
At six thirty a shore siren woke the Third Officer. He glanced about him in disbelief, at first unsure of where he was. The plush luxurious surroundings were one thing. His fiancée asleep in the double berth beside him was another.
The realization that he was in the owners suit and still onboard gradually dawned on him. Judging from the headache they had had a good time but he couldn’t remember anything about how he arrived where he was.
The door had been locked from the outside and he saw an envelope that had been slipped under the door.
Good morning Margaret and John,
You car keys are with security. I have asked your steward to call you for breakfast at eight o’clock when he will unlock the door. I have to leave early to drive the three hundred miles or so to catch the ferry to the Shetlands where I will be staying with my parents.
It was a great night and you were both really good fun. Your jiving and twisting to the music Margaret enthralled quite a few of the men, particularly those who were seated.
Be seeing you,
Charles Vansittart Dryden.
It was fortunate that it was a Saturday and Margaret didn’t have to go to work. Her first thought on waking was to ring home. She was delighted that the telephone worked and after they had showered and dressed they decided to forgo breakfast. She read the note and remarked at the Chief Officers funny middle name.
‘It’s a family name I suppose,’ said John.
At eight o’clock the steward brought tea and toast and handed over the car keys.
They had their tea and toast and left the Owners Suite taking the stairs down one flight to John’s less luxurious cabin. He had already packed the bulk of his personal possessions so it didn’t take long to box up the remainder. He asked his fiancée to remain in his cabin while he said his farewells to the few shipmates that remained aboard. He explained it would be quicker but the truth was that he didn’t want her to witness any emotional lapses before they left for home.
With a last glance back at the ship they drove away from the dock, passing under a crane that was loading ‘Fullers’ earth onto a barge. John fought back his feelings and blamed the dust for causing the tear that came into the corner of his eye.
Used on the Pacific Islands Service. ( See a a passenger report on this site)
33 years old at the time and lightship. See the full story on this site…
See the book section to purchase…
13 CHAPTER THIRTEEN (Iceberg)
The voyage started at Ellesmere Port near Liverpool in the UK with the destination, St John’s in Newfoundland.
The new Third Officer had recently arrived at the local railway station by train from London’s Euston via Liverpool and was brimming with excitement at the prospect of crossing the North Atlantic.
Had he be able to see ahead just twenty-four hours after they sailed, he wouldn’t have been so buoyant.
He arrived at the gangway to discover that it was un-manned which was not normal. Rather reluctantly, he entered the Officers accommodation and eventually came across a member of the crew who, by the way he was dressed, indicated that he was about to go ashore.
‘I’m the new Third Mate,’ he advised. ‘Is there anyone about?’
‘Welcome aboard Sir. I think you’ll find a party going on in the Chief Engineer’s cabin.”
He replied, pointing to a corridor.
The new member of the ship’s company left his luggage on the wide landing. There were stairs on each side and also a corridor leading aft. He knew from experience that the engineer’s cabins were usually on the port side and the deck officers were situated on the starboard side. On most ships, the higher one’s rank the nearer the front of the main accommodation block their cabin would be situated. Accordingly he took the starboard corridor and didn’t have far to go before the noise of a party in full swing could be heard coming from a double door cabin that turned out correctly to be that of the chief engineer.
He knocked and entered. Apart from cigarette smoke the first thing he noticed was that none of the occupants were in uniform, which made it impossible to tell who was who.
A bearded man sitting on a bunk threw him a can of beer and shuffled up on the bunk to make room for the new arrival. Self-consciously because of his uniform, he merely said ‘Cheers.’ And sat down on the bunk.
A chorus of ‘Hello mate,” went round the room and the jokes and singing continued unabated.
The bearded chap next to him confided.
‘We don’t wear uniforms round here until we actually sail which as you probably know is tomorrow.’
He added kindly, ‘nobody will be bothered though.’
Soon the atmosphere and beer began to have its effect and seemingly in no time at all he felt included and relaxed.
He was able to identify the Chief engineer who was rummaging through the desk for some more cigarettes. Hearing him talk to his neighbor he noticed the Scottish accent and that he seemed to fit the stereotype of other chiefs he had met, even down to the balding head, big hands and well-developed paunch.
It was quite a shock to him to discover later, that the bearded chap, who made room for him on the bunk, was none other than the Captain.
Right on schedule at six o’clock the following morning, the ship left its berth with two tugs on standby. Progress down the River Mersey was fairly quick due to the ebbing tide.
By the time they dropped the pilot off, the wind had increased to a force five to six and veered to the West. Heavy swells were displaying the occasional white crest and causing spume to picked up by the wind and sprayed across the decks.
The ship left the mainland behind them and headed in a southwesterly direction down the Irish sea before turning to starboard on a course, parallel to, but thirty miles off of the south of the coast of Ireland. The great Atlantic waves relentlessly lifted her up and almost immediately sent her crashing down again like a toy. She was light ship, bereft of cargo
To make matters worse, a north Atlantic storm was approaching from the west.
The majority of the crew had sailed with each other before and it was the sign of a ‘ happy ship’ that they had elected to continue to sail together. One of the few exceptions was the Third Officer whose predecessor had taken leave with the imminent arrival of his first child. Getting to know people was a significant part of the process of working and living at close quarters with the rest of the crew but also having to take into account the question of rank. Until the familiarisation process had been completed, certain unease at the unknown remained.
It was this that the Third Officer was experiencing during his first relief watch since sailing. Generally, Officers keep watches on a four hours on and eight off basis, starting at midnight until four for the Second Officer, four until eight for the Chief Officer and eight until twelve for the Third Officer with the Captain available at any time but remaining free to take over a watch should any of his officers go sick or become otherwise incapacitated.
The Third Officer also did meal relief at lunch and dinner times for half an hour, an extra duty that was seldom abused.
So when the Chief Officer failed to return to the bridge on time after their first dinnertime at sea, his relief was worried that the action of his senior Officer would set an unacceptable precedent.
Dealing with this would require almost unimaginable diplomacy to avoid any acrimony during the voyage.
A further half an hour passed causing the Third Officer to wonder if the normal routine was somehow different on this ship but concluding that the matter had to be dealt with if he was to eat before his own watch began.
He considered his options. Call the Captain. Ask the duty watch to investigate. Do nothing.
He was loath to call the Captain because he did not relish any conflict involving his senior officers, besides it might be the Captain’s or Chief’s birthday. Similarly he did not want to involve a member of the crew in Officers business.
Just as he became resigned to missing dinner as his own watch was rapidly approaching, the telephone rang in the chartroom.
‘ The Captain here Third! I’ve arranged some food to be brought up to the bridge. The Chief Officer and I are seeing to the Chief Steward whose suspected of having a heart attack.’
‘Thank you Sir,’ was all the Third Officer could think to reply.
He was grateful that he had sat on the fence regarding the matter of his relief.
‘I’ll keep you posted but if you need me I’ll be in the Chief Stewards cabin.’
The weather got steadily worse with huge seas, having crossed the Atlantic, being pushed up by the Continental shelf. The wind was howling in the rigging and salt laden spray filled the air. Occasional rogue waves crashed into the bows causing a shudder to travel along the stiff welded steel plates.
Professional routines kicked in and the Officer of the watch set about instructing the crew to ensure that the hatches were well battened down. The anchor restraints secured properly and the ships ventilators were facing away from the wind.
Around mid-watch the telephone rang again.
‘Captain here. He’s taken a turn for the worse. Bring her around and head for Cork. I’ll be on the bridge at midnight when the Second takes over.’
Any alteration in course required a manual helmsman so the stand- by was notified. He arrived and took the wheel steering their original course for a little while, to get ‘the feel ‘ of the helm.
When turning one hundred and eighty degrees it has to be accomplished as quickly as possible. The skill came in choosing the right moment.
The Officer had to judge when a slight lull appeared to occur and once started there was no going back. All departments were forewarned and in the next few minutes, utter chaos broke out as the ship wallowed abeam and at mercy of the giant rolling waves.
Eventually the seas began to break over the stern as she settled on her new course experiencing a slightly corkscrew effect caused by the sea’s motion.
The entire deck crew was kept busy checking for leaks and damage and re-arranging the ventilators.
An entry of the change of course, the ship’s position, and the crew’s findings were made in the Logbook.
The change of watch at midnight saw three Officers on the bridge including the Captain who kept in the background until the routines were completed.
‘The Chief Officer and I will continue to attend to the Chief steward so I need you to share his watch. I’ll leave it to you to decide how to do it but I will need an E.T.A. (Estimated time of arrival) at the pilot, hourly and on the hour. Any questions?’
Receiving a negative answer he left the bridge and the two remaining Officers decided to extend their watches by two hours each.
It was nearer to one in the morning than midnight when the Third Officer got to his cabin. It looked as though burglars had been. He was mortified to find his mascot, a goldfish flapping in a puddle amidst broken glass in a corner. From there on until Newfoundland it lived in his washbasin.
The next half an hour was spent clearing up other debris and replacing books on shelves and clothing back into cupboards. He noticed with dismay that cherished photographs had fallen from his desk and ended up in a soggy heap amongst the broken glass, gravel and water from the goldfish.
As arranged with the Second Officer, the Third Officer reported to the bridge at six in the morning. The Second was justifiably weary from his unbroken stint of six hours.
He advised his relief that the Captain had been informed that they should arrive at the rendezvous with the pilot boat around eight thirty but would need to alter course sometime before that would bring the sea back onto the port beam.
‘Fortunately it won’t be for long, unfortunately, I’ll be trying to sleep.’
He drily volunteered before leaving the bridge for his well-earned rest.
The Third Officer went out onto the lee wing of the bridge for his first cigarette of the day. He had difficulty in lighting it due to the ferocious wind and had to shelter behind the dodger.
Between the ship and the distant land, the sea boiled with white crested waves smashing relentlessly against the South Coast of Ireland. He reflected that his next alteration of course, while undoubtedly uncomfortable, would be much less traumatic than the alteration of the previous night. In the event it turned out to be calmer than expected.
At eight o’clock, the start of his normal watch time, an assistant steward brought him a welcome pot of tea and a couple of rounds of buttered toast which helped to pass the time until he was due to make the turn into Cork bay to pick up the pilot.
He ordered the pilot ladder to be made ready on the lee side and advised the engine room of the alteration of course and the imminent reduction in speed.
Following verification of their position, the subsequent manoeuver bringing them round to enter into Cork bay, caused a short period of severe rolling but the eventual shelter of the bay provided a welcome relief.
The Chief Officer appeared on the bridge looking disheveled and very tired.
‘We lost him,’ he exclaimed. ‘The Old Man’s gone for a shower. He actually passed at three thirty in the morning but I felt it was only right to sit with him until we arrived in Cork. I had just dozed off when you altered course. His valet wasn’t aware that anything had happened so he brought in his tea as usual. The sudden lurch to starboard caused the Chief Steward to sit up and his arm flopped out as though to take his tea. I was dumbstruck and the poor valet had such a fright I thought he was going to join his boss.’
The pilot boat converged with the ship and soon the pilot had boarded and was escorted to the bridge
A radio message had been sent ahead earlier so the Pilot boat was accompanied by the health authority’s launch, whose uniformed officials, collected the body together with the personal effects and dealt with the necessary paperwork with the Captain, while the ship proceeded at slow speed.
Well before noon the pilot boat picked up the redundant pilot and the ship resumed its original course to the West bound for the Americas.
For several days the routines were carried out and nothing remarkable happened that is until they approached approximately the position where the ‘Titanic’ had foundered.
During his evening watch, the Third Officer noticed a vague shadow on the radar that would disappear only to re-appear a little later.
He decided to call the Captain and as a precaution ordered a helmsman to the bridge.
The Captain arrived and spent a few minutes peering into the radar.
‘Hard to Starboard,’ he ordered the helmsman.
He turned to the Third Officer and informed him that the image was indeed an iceberg.
‘Well done for calling me you may see several of these in these waters,’ he said.
The Officer of the watch went into the chartroom to record the position of the sighting. Chartrooms are lit with low wattage red lights to minimise the loss of night vision and from the gloom the third Officer heard the Master order ‘As you were’ to the helmsman the obstacle having been safely passed. On his was back to keep watch on the bridge he passed the Captain returning to his quarters.
‘You’d better keep the helmsman on for the time being. Goodnight.’
With ice around, regular radar observations were made, so after ten minutes or so the duty officer wandered over to the radar to check.
He was astounded to see a signal dead ahead. The clutter near the center of the screen displayed a convex shape that indicated only one thing.
‘How’s the helm?’
‘Hard to starboard Sir,’ the helmsman replied.
‘But I heard the Old man say as you were!’
Oh, I thought he said as you are.’
The ship was going round in circles.
With no time to call for help the Third Officer took evasive action and managed by the skin of his teeth, to avert collision. He was glad it was dark so he couldn’t see how close they came although he swore after that he could feel the chill of the ice. Twenty minutes later the course was resumed and he breathed a sigh of relief. The radar showed that the iceberg lay astern well out of harm’s way.
Perhaps it was the tension caused by the event, but for whatever reason, the incident went un-recorded in the logbook.
The next day dawned bright and clear without anything in sight. The occasional bird was seen indicating the approach of land. At around ten o’clock, as was his custom, the Captain joined the Third Officer on the bridge for ‘Smokeho,’ a euphemism for tea and toast. They discussed routine matters and the Radio Officer briefly appeared to pin the latest weather forecast on the notice board.
The atmosphere on the bridge was not unfriendly in anticipation of their imminent arrival in port with expectations of mail and a rest.
The Captain asked if the Third Officer had anything to report.
‘Nothing that’s not been logged Sir,’ came the reply.
‘Follow me,’ said the Captain leading the way into the chartroom. A rectangular frame, not unlike a three-dimensioned picture, graced the bulkhead. On close examination graph paper could be seen together with an electronic pen.
The graph paper moved slowly past the pen that drew a line on the paper. All that could be seen was a nominal straight line produced by the pen, varying a little either side of the line.
The Captain asked, ‘do you know what this is?’
The Third Officer conceded that he had never been on a ship with so many instruments but no doubt he would familiarize himself with them as the voyage progressed. His traditional training would suffice meanwhile, he exclaimed.
The Captain keeping a straight face and in a serious tone said ‘ ‘It’s a course recorder.’
‘Well I’m blowed – they think of everything,’ responded the duty Officer suspecting the deck head to cave in around him at any moment
The Captain reached over and rewound the graph paper to show about twelve hours earlier and the vertical straight line became a series of horizontal scribes which the Captain said were a record of course alterations.
‘See this line here? That’s when we avoided the iceberg.’
He sipped his tea and looked directly at his duty Officer who had just caught on to what was coming next.
‘Explain these other lines.’
A multitude of responses occurred to the Third Officer in barely half a second.
The machine is faulty.
The helmsman misheard.
I took evasive action because there was no time to call you.
Do you want my resignation now or when we get there.
All he said was,
‘Sorry Sir, it won’t happen again.’
Turning to hide a secret smile the Old man said,
‘It had better not,’ and he promptly left the bridge.
The Third Officer felt a little non-plussed and determined not to be caught out again. His previous ships compared to his current ship had only the basic instruments and unlike the other navigators on this ship, he relied on his sextant for working out the ship’s position rather than the ‘Decca’ that everyone else used.
He mentally listed other instruments that he was unused to and decided to own up to his ignorance and ask the Second mate for instruction.
It turned out that most of the implements were aids to navigation of some sort together with information recorders of several kinds enabling instant access to required particulars without having to wait for someone to supply the figures.
There was one exception, which consisted of a peculiar device resembling an electrical meter with multiple registers. The readings were to be taken every two hours and recorded in a dedicated book.
As he had joined the ship just before sailing, the third Officer wasn’t aware of its purpose and determined to find out but meanwhile diligently entered the series of numbers against the appropriate time.
It turned out that the Company had agreed to participate in researches by Manchester University. The engineering department was carrying out some government sponsored investigations into stresses and fatigue in metal.
While docked earlier in Ellesmere Port, sensors were welded to various deck plates and had been connected to the instrument. A continuous recording was made of the effects of the extremes of weather in the North Atlantic in winter. The records for future evaluation by the University would be examined and the resulting effects on the metal construction would be made available.
After the novelty had worn off, the routine checking by the watch- keepers became boring and the log was only periodically made up sometimes guessing at the readings.
Upon returning to England, three excited boffins were waiting on the quay in their Land rover and lost little time in boarding as soon as the gangway was lowered and formalities had been completed.
They sought out the Deck Officers who had just started to celebrate arriving back in the U.K. and were welcomed and invited to join in.
There eagerness to access their instrument’s records diminished proportionately to the quantity of beer they took and after a while as they joined in the revelry, their quest was put on the back burner.
Their secretary didn’t drink and agreed to drive them back but this had the unfortunate result of encouraging the boffins to delay their true purpose on board as they continued to enjoy the party.
Whether they managed to recover the contrived data is not known but judging by their inebriated attempts at negotiating the gangway when they came to leave, they had thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
The following day some people turned up and retrieved the sensors and the instrument from the bridge and that’s the last anyone heard of the matter.
Other instruments were invaluable especially the radar. Without it the mist and fog would have caused major delays and the ever-present growlers and icebergs would have remained unnoticed until too late. In spite of all the warnings periodically broadcast by the Canadian authorities local conditions often differed. On a sunny day the huge floating masses of ice were a splendid sight with ever changing profiles as shadows created a vast three-dimensional image. The sun’s rays were sometimes brilliantly reflected by the glittering masses that would occasionally fracture along a fault line. This is known as calving when an enormous chunk breaks away from the mother iceberg. The offshoot dramatically cascades into the sea causing a huge wave and forming a kaleidoscope of colours as spray bursts into the cold air resulting in a brief but beautiful colourful rainbow. As the rainbow diminishes, an awesome pale sapphire blue would often be witnessed from the newly revealed fissure.
An abundance of sea birds would frequently use the icebergs for resting and large congregations of seals could be seen cavorting in the naturally formed inlets.
The approaches to Newfoundland were in many ways similar to the highlands of Scotland. A rugged coastline populated by dense pine trees high up on absurdly steep hillsides and right down to the waters edge, their deep green contrasting with the azure blue wasters.
As the ship reached higher latitudes the trees became frosted with snow until eventually the whole landscape became pure white and remained that way, sometimes from November until April.
One of the benefits from this area of low population is clear skies that are free from pollution. As a consequence the stars are extremely bright and together with the blankets of reflective snow make the long nights free from complete darkness.
St John’s is the Capitol of Newfoundland and Cornerbrook on the western coast is the second largest town with a population of around twenty five thousand.
The pine forests supply the main exports of timber, pulp and newsprint, all produced locally and exported mainly to the East coast of North America.
A cargo of newsprint was loaded and bound for New York, Washington and Philadelphia, a trip that would take around two to three weeks.
Before returning to Newfoundland a special request had to be attended to.
The ashes of the late Chief Steward had been sent from England for scattering at sea from his last ship, in accordance with his families wishes.
His widow had requested an informal ceremony due to the steward having no particular religious beliefs.
It was a calm and sunny day when the ship left New York on her return journey to Newfoundland. The Captain decided to assemble the off-duty Officers and crew on the poop deck at noon for the brief ceremony.
The engines had been put on half speed for the duration of the occasion. In accordance with tradition the Captain read a short prayer as he scattered the ashes into the Ocean.
Without warning the ships engines stopped creating a lasting and eerie silence.
The vessel slowed, eventually loosing way.
The gathering was bewildered and stood around in baffled silence.
The Captain finally instructed the Chief engineer to investigate the cause of the engine failure. Ten minutes later the familiar sound of the engines starting broke the silence and normal progress was resumed.
In spite of exhaustive researches by both the electricians and engineers, no plausible reason for the stoppage came to light.
Later in the Captains Office, he and the Chief engineer discussed how to account for the incident in the official report. After a great deal of discussion, two words sufficed. ‘Cause unknown’. A cold shiver ran down the Captain’s spine.