Apprentice and beyond…by Donald McGhee

The writer on the tiller with the MARABANK in the distance

This is a condensed version of the short career of what could only be classified as a Bank Line failure! I started my seagoing career with Donaldson Line of Glasgow, on the western ocean run to St. John and Halifax in winter and the Great Lakes in summer. After the demise of Donaldsons I joined Bank Line to complete my apprenticeship.Donaldsons were a real family type company, where the apprentices were really taken care of and I have to admit to a huge sense of loss when they folded. They even paid us 1/9d an hour overtime on the Great Lakes run!
My first ship was Teviotbank, standing by her in Sunderland as she finished fitting out at Doxfords yard and living ashore in Roker with the other two apprentices. A.J. Whiston was the master and our maiden voyage was cut short due to ongoing engine trouble, resulting in her returning to U.K for repairs. She was a lovely ship.
My next ship was Inverbank, Joined her in Ijmuiden and called in to Bremen, Hamburg and London for outward cargo. Then the Islands, New Guinea run, sugar from Queensland to Singapore, twice and of course Calcutta and East Pakistan for a homeward cargo of jute. B.J. Peterson was the old man, Johnny Lowans the Mate, under whom it was a pleasure to work.
My final ship was Marabank, which was a chapter in my career that saw me ending up in Wellington, a VNC in my discharge book and a stop to any further seagoing. Hindsight is a great thing and all I can say is that there was fault on all sides and that Marabank was not as happy a ship as my former vessels. It turned a hitherto keen and dedicated apprentice into someone whose ideals had been crushed.
I did a brief stint as uncert. 3rd Mate, but unhappily this proved to be a bit premature, as the traffic in the English Channel required me to call for help from the 2nd Mate, Sandy Powell. Good guy. Len Thorne was Master, Mate was Geddes.On the credit side Bank Line remains in my memory as a wonderful company, with superb ships and great people. It would be unrealistic to say that everything and everyone was perfect, as that was not the case and for my part I have to take some of the flak for handling a bad situation in the wrong way! 
My nautical interests have never waned, having owned and sailed several boats, serving as an officer in the NZ Navy Cadets before retiring as a Lt. Cdr, and I am currently master of a heritage paddle steamer, which I enjoy immensely and is probably the limit of where I deserve to be given my lack of deep sea history. I envy those of you Bank Line men who persevered to become masters and were fortunate enough to stick it out.
As far as photos go I can only offer one, that being myself at the tiller of a lifeboat going ashore in Noumea, with Mike Pay the junior app and the 3/E. Taken in 1969, Marabank in the background.
I’m still in touch with several ex shipmates who actually went on to gain their Masters tickets and good on them!
Not many apps jump ship, but I was one and there are regrets, but I would not have today what I have were it not for this , possibly foolish decision made just over 50 years ago!

Donald today in his present role as senior Master on the heritage steamer based on the beautiful Whanganui river in New Zealand(see ‘Trip Advisor’ for more details of the service)

3 thoughts on “Donald McGhee story

  1. Hi, interesting to read your story, I am sure that you must have had a great life, regardless of the regrets.
    I joined Bank line 1964, first ship Speybank (sister to Marrabank) lovely vessel. Master great, 1st mate Blackney, not so great, but had 18 months of fun and hard work. Second vessel, Cloverbank joined in Hongkong good ship but a tad older, 17 month on her and a short trip to complete my time. Joined Beaver Bank as 3/O on the Copra run, to States, Aus and NZ to the Papua new Guinea area, off to Canada, Norway and finally to Birkenhead, Port Sunlight. Left Andrew Weirs, joined Shell UK local continental fleet, refined products and chemicals. Master at 27, came ashore at 40 as a Marine Super, two years in London and seconded to Shell Malaysia in KL as Marine Manager to control their vast coastal fleet for 5 years, left there to join STASCO as a marine global advisor. Unfortunately time up with a heart attack, Shell retired me with a good pension. Bank line produced great seafarers. Take care and all the best to you.


    1. Hallo Trevor
      Great summary and what a fine career you had. Appreciate your writing in with the interesting reply to Donald. Any chance you could pen a few lines about your time with Bank Line which I could then post with stock pictures – for the general interest of viewers? Cheers/Alan


    2. Hello Trevor, I was 3rd Mate with you on the Cloverbank, remember the voyage well it was a happy ship overall, I came ashore after we paid off in Apapa and subsequently spent 20 years with the PO/BT in telegraphs in London and then 22 years as a radio op with GMP before retiring in 2010. Live in the Manchester area.


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