BANK LINE VOYAGE CHARTER – an account of time on th M.V.CRESTBANK
6 August 1980 – 19 September 1980
Joined Birkenhead – Paid Off Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.
The privately owned Liverpool shipping company Thos & Jas Harrison, more commonly known as ‘Harrison Line’ regularly chartered vessels off the spot market to maintain their liner cargo schedules. Harrison Line personnel chosen for Supercargo duties were all ‘Pursers’ as we also did, in addition to our onboard administration function, a lot of cargo work on deck during the discharge phase of the voyage, producing cargo plans, making notes on damaged cargo, tally books for the discharge clerks in each port and of course ensuring the special cargo under lock and key went ashore to the right owner!
Obviously, there were those in Harrison Line who were regularly chosen to sail as ‘Supercargo’ in all sorts of varied general cargo ships, of all nationalities and standards and after 5 years of wondering why I wasn’t in the ‘Supercargo’ club I finally received the call. I was to join a ship in Birkenhead, the company didn’t know yet what nationality, just that the ship would be in the West Float at 0800 the following Monday. I conjured up all sorts of images, some badly maintained Greek or Monrovian tramp ships, could have been anything. I was secretly hoping for one of those immaculate white SKOU ships…
Imagine my delight and surprise when I was told it would a Bank Line ship called the CRESTBANK, and even better, it was just 2 years old. The ship itself was far better than any of the ships I’d sailed in with Harrisons’ and my cabin was to be the ‘Owner’s Suite’. Excellent.
I joined at the appointed time and made myself known to the Chief Officer – a great guy and I cannot for the life of me remember his name. He asked me if I fancied breakfast and off we went to the Duty Mess. In Harrisons our crews were mainly locals…Liverpudlians (scouse) or West Indian (Barbadian or Trinidadian) so it was a surprise to meet such a nice polite and gentle Goanese/Indian? (not sure) pantry steward. I’ll always remember, the Mate asked me what I wanted, and not to faff around looking at the menu too much, I just said the full English please. Imagine my surprise when he returned a few minutes later with a fried egg and a sausage. I looked at the mate to say ‘what’s this’ and he said…’oh yeah, Monday we have a sausage, Tuesday bacon etc…crikey I thought, Harrisons were great feeders after all.
I do remember the curry breakfasts and every Thursday we had chips as a treat with breakfast. I liked these catering ideas so much I introduced them in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary years later where I served for over 30 years. I used to call them Bank Line Breakfasts – the older hands thoroughly enjoyed them, but the younger guys brought up on CocoPops couldn’t get their heads around having curry for breakfast!
Another thing I noticed was crew members going ashore to buy ‘carpet runners’ for their cabins – to make them more homely and comfortable. I did find this very strange as Harrisons provided pretty much everything for the cabins.
At this time, revolution was happening in Poland, with Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement gaining traction, and I used to sit in the shack with the Radio Officer and listen to the World Service. It was quiet up on that deck, me, the RO and the Old Man.
I do also remember that at this time, 1980, Bank Line had drastically reduced their trip lengths in order to retain personnel and to attract new blood. I think you had come down from 2 years to 6-9 months. These trip lengths were staggering, in Harrisons we were used to 6–9-week trips to the Cape or the Caribbean. Harrison bulk carriers, operating globally tramping, were 4-month max trips. The Mate was hugely disappointed with this decision by the company, after all, he said, you hardly know where anything is after 6-9 months!
Part of the cargo was a large consignment of brand new Mk1 2 door V8 Range Rovers for discharge in Mombasa. We had a great time with those, firing them up and manoeuvring from the ships side in the tween deck of hatches 3 and 4 to the loading point, then legging it down the gangway to drive them off at full speed down the jetty to the vehicle pound. It was great sport.
When we were halfway through the Dar Es Salaam discharge, word came through that the next port for the CRESTBANK would be Durban to load a bulk cargo of maize for the Far East. Obviously, there was no need now for any of that beautiful brand new used once dunnage we had used to stow the cargo! The Mate sidled up to me and asked what were the intentions of Harrison Line for the dunnage – I kind of knew that this was a loaded question and asked what were his suggestions for it? He suggested we sell it and go ashore for a slap up meal! Rude not to, so we did.
I was sad to leave the ship, I’d made some new friends, experienced a new company with different operating methods and was very envious of their globetrotting mystery tour lifestyle – as opposed to operating a liner trade schedule.
Those few weeks in the CRESTBANK remain with me to this day and I’m very proud to have been a tiny part albeit briefly of that legendary British shipping company.
Ocean Fleets 74-75
Harrison Line 75-86
Royal Fleet Auxiliary 86-16