MARITIME BLOG – Random thoughts on Maritime History, or today’s events………………

Here you can find observations on the maritime world and all that it holds. With the globe 70% water, maritime events dominate our lives, from the essential trade patterns, to the crucial part that our watery planet plays governing and regulating climate.

Where to start? Writing articles for publication, there is a need to describe what it was like being Master of a big windjammer. A challenging task, especially that none of us have had that privilege! However, a lifetime involved with ships, boats, and maritime affairs coupled with a bit of research gives a good feeling for this huge job.

The constant need for fine judgement, especially with regard to shortening or setting sail was a paramount need. No Master got it right 100% with nature being so fickle. There are many examples of it going drastically wrong, one of the prime ones being the beautiful German 5 masted Preussen which stranded near Dover. She suffered the misfortune to collide with a cross channel vessel and the weather was also against her. The Master was a senior man and well respected by the Laeitz company, but he made a fatal decision how to proceed and made the wrong choice. After an enquiry, the company gave him another vessel. More later…..P.S. There are true first hand accounts of sailing ship travails in a book that I produced available for a modest £1.50 on this site under ‘books’. It is called appropriately enough, ” Sailing Ship Stories”.

There are articles about Bank Line history in the pipeline. Sea Breezes will carry an article entitled “Andrew Weir’s Sailing Ship losses” which outlines the fleet which was the largest under the red ensign, and the heavy losses in sail. Shipping Today and Yesterday will also publish an article entitled ” Bank Line’s Twin Screw Fleet” which sums up the amazing 30 year plus career of many of the old timers. Dates to be announced.

This site has been tidied up, hopefully to make it easier to navigate around. Any thoughts by readers are welcome.

Just posted a fine picture of the 1930’s built ‘Irisbank’ in which I served as third Mate for nearly 2 years. (see main page). It was a tough period of fairly basic living, made tougher by the Master who was a decent sort but very strict and spartan. To give an idea of conditions, any relaxation was frowned upon including a brief period when in total boredom, we started to play ‘football’ with a rolled up makeshift ball, only to be told to cease. On the bridge as a junior officer I was instructed to stay in the open wings of the bridge unless essential! We eventually paid off abroad in Bathurst in the Gambia and flew back via Gibraltar. It was heaven!

Anyone reading this who served in the Bank Line? First hand accounts are urgently needed to spice up the site a bit. You may have been a lowly engineer or mate, or even a galley boy on the European crewed Liberty ships, but all writing is welcome and not only welcome, but needed! It could be a few sentences, or half a book, but other readers would love to read about your time onboard. Nothing is too trivial because, not surprisingly, people are fascinated by detail. To start – please get in touch through the comment facility. Many thanks…

ex ‘Grace 1’ in the news, seen here at Gibraltar prior to departure under the Iranian flag…

CLICK on the link below for a very nice video of a paddle vessel on Lake Geneva and called the SIMPLON. She has horizontal engines made over 100 years ago, and the crank is open for the passengers to view. It is in immaculate condition.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kLH6-EuFj4

” First Trip Impressions” is the title of an illustrated article which will appear in the next few issues of the magazine titled ” Sea Breezes”. It is an account of a first trip away in the Bank Line starting July 1951, and which involved service on 5 vessels including a ‘ coal burner’, the passenger ship ‘ Inchanga’ and the recently built, and narrowly rescued ship, ‘Westbank’. She had just been salvaged from an encounter with an unlit island in the Indian Ocean.

The following is a page from the book called ” ANY BUDDING SAILORS?” It is a memoir of my life and career.

The title comes from the question a teacher asked the class when she was trying to find candidates for the entrance exam to a sea school.

Chesham was near the American air base at Bovingdon, and the high street always had many smart uniformed Americans. My memories of the airmen and the activity are still vivid.     In the town, the flyers couldn’t have been more generous to us scruffy lads.    They parted with gum and money, which we asked for shamelessly.    ” Got any gum, chum ? ” were  the magic words that did the trick, and I can still hear it ringing in my ears.     It never failed to work.  In later life, I read all the books on the air war I could find, fascinated by the horror and torment of the daily battle.  It gave me a slight appreciation of what those young smartly dressed American boys were going through mentally, and I could imagine what their thoughts might be as we youngsters held out our hands.  They sacrificed so much more than mere gum.       A major attraction at this time, was the display of crashed German planes In the park.  The  centre of the bandstand was used for  wrecked German planes placed on display, and linked to the ever present need for money for the war effort.  This area, with it’s swings and the lake was our playground, and I was attending the church school that lay next to the church bordering the park.   Suddenly, it was the town focus, with war bond drives, and displays of all sorts, all designed to stimulate the flow of cash.  There were endless campaigns, characterised by a huge wood and cardboard  thermometer in gaudy colours placed near the planes.  This colourful creation had a moveable column of pretend Mercury which was raised in line with the daily contributions.   Buckets were distributed around for the money, which people gave to generously.      A target was set at the top of the display, and there seemed to be yet another giant wood and cardboard  thermometer towering over us in the park, when the previous target had been met.      The downed planes were beyond fascination for young boys!      We were allowed to sit in the often battered cockpits, and the smells and sights of the instruments, together with the weird and wonderful array of knobs and levers made this an unforgettable moment.    It was heaven for lads of the right age, like me.   We fought to climb into the magic pilot’s seat.   Best of all for me was the seat in the Perspex bubble, either at the nose or on top of some of the exhibits.  There were fighters and bombers, and we eagerly awaited the next arrival, which came on the back of a trailer towed through the town centre.    At that age, there was never a thought for the poor soul who may have lived and died at the controls. ”     

Sold in paperback or as an ebook from AMAZON.

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SAIL AWAY – a Novella

A red and rust streaked hull came into view around the shed corner. It towered over the quay and everything on it, while at the same time a terrible noise hit Charlie’s eardrums. He struggled, looking upwards to see a name. Steel grabs were flailing in and out of the holds, and smashing down into bins before opening with a roar. The taxi halted. ” As far as I can go, Mate”, said the driver. Charlie handed over his voucher, and noticed a grimace on the driver’s face, before he slammed the door and started to turn. He stood there mesmerised, his kitbag held by the metal clasp and trailing behind him. There was a strong smell of coconut. There was nothing comforting about the scene, and Charlie felt, and looked, apprehensive. Nothing, but nothing had prepared him for this. He started to understand why his Mum had been so concerned!

He searched for a gangway, tripping over pipes and planks, and staggered through puddles still with broken ice from the overnight frost. Another taxi drew up in the puddles behind him, and out flew bags onto the slush covered quay followed by a cocky looking young man. Charlie, always quick to judge, saw that he was both confident and aggressive, just by the way he paid the driver and puffed out his chest. They eyed each other, and the man spoke. ” Gangway’s down there,” pointing past the mix of throbbing pipes, and a shore generator. ” Are you new?”, the newcomer said it with a subtle mix of genuine questioning and contempt, or at least that is what Charlie imagined.

Up on deck it was a tangle of ropes and wires, wooden wedges, and metal battens all lying around. Stacks of wooden hatch covers lay frozen in blocks, and ice shone on the deck. The steam winches were rattling and chugging in turn as the steel grabs were flung across the deck in a macabre game of chance. Anyone brave enough to try passing them needed some luck and immaculate timing.

Charlie followed his new companion to the foot of a steep and wobbly gangway. At the head stood a dark man in some sort of uniform looking down. The hand ropes were slack, making it useless to grab them. The wooden treads were also slippery but Charlie stepped on tentatively , dragging his green kitbag behind.

A few minutes later, and safely in his cabin he looked around. Two bunks, a table hinged to the bulkhead, a porthole, and a small settee. Dirty rags and a pile of spanners cluttered up the entrance. Charlie saw that the lower bunk had already been taken, so he threw his bag up and onto the top bunk.

to be continued……….

Nearly the year 2020 now, and the amazing story of Andrew Weir and the Bank Line becomes more in focus. Having served there is almost akin to having done time in the French foreign legion, or as a Trappist monk! At least in my imagination.

The history has been told in various accounts including in the comprehensive inside account by long serving Alistair Macnab in his gripping book “ The Shipping Wizard of Kirkcaldy”. The website here with over 1000 entries is devoted to the Bank Line at http://banklineonline.com. and this site includes links to more sources. In addition, the pages of the Ships Nostalgia site are filled with fascinating posts.

My efforts studying the saga clearly show distinct periods from the 1885 start through to the tortured demise in recent years. They are – the glorious sailing years, plus the steamer period, and the final and substantial Motorship fleet. A liking for twin screw ships between the wars also deserves its place as a stand alone period. Each of these have been the subject of articles that I have written for the shipping magazines.It might be old age, but my thoughts are never far from the hundreds of seamen who had a watery grave far from home serving on the big ocean going three and four masted sailing ships. Surviving was a lottery with poor odds. Then, two world wars often meant horrible deaths for hundreds more of innocent seafarers. We should salute them all.

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Hong Kong Dustbins of the South China Sea – A fascinating glimpse

by Geoff Walker – Master of Far Eastern based ships……

By the mid 1950’s the world’s shipping fleets were recovering after the high losses during WW 2. Europe was building new and more modern tonnage at quite a rapid pace, and the Europe to Asia shipping trade was also entering a period of renewed expansion. This gave opportunities to Asian corporations that were inclined towards ship owning, to enter the market and develop their business. This was made easier for them because of the abundance of older tonnage that was becoming available on the market at cheap prices. In most cases the ships were old and well worn, but still with a few years life remaining.

As a consequence, the 1950-1960s saw a large number of these older vessels finding their way into the hands of Far Eastern owners. Hong Kong was an attractive location for many of these fledgling ship owners to establish their business Head Quarters and develop their fleets. Hong Kong offered stability of government, a competitive commercial environment, and a vibrant shipping register that provided an air of respectability due to the fact that it was closely fashioned on that of the United Kingdom. There were those however, who registered their ships in Panama and operated their ships from Hong Kong, under the notion that Panama may be a more flexible register for the ageing ships, and there was less transparency for companies when registered in Panama. Some of the more dodgy operators looking upon this as a convenient means of avoiding liability in the eventuality of financial delinquency or mishap linked to their vessels. All said and done, and in reality, a Panamanian Company was nothing more than a brass plate on the door of an attorney’s office in Panama.

Hence, there was a “Boom” in the number of shipping enterprises and vessels being registered in Hong Kong during this period. Many of the shipping companies traded their vessels within Asia, particularly those countries that were within relatively close proximity to the South China Sea, such as Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan (aka Formosa), Philippines, Borneo, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Malaya as it was then known. These old vessels were very dominant in the waters around these areas. The term “Hong Kong Dustbin” evolved due to many of the early owners just painting their vessel’s funnels all black – somewhat resembling and upturned dust bin. Henceforth, the name stuck. It would also be true to say that there was a fair share of shady ship operators around in those early days of development that may not have been so enthusiastic in openly advertising their company insignia or identity, for reasons best known to themselves. 

The only real way of identifying these “Hong Kong Dustbins” was by the Union Flag prominently painted on each side of the vessels hull, with the ship’s name in Chinese Characters, likewise displayed. It would be true to say that this was primarily to facilitate ease of recognition as there were a number of open conflict zones about the China Seas around that era, such as China and Formosa, North Korea and Vietnam. Restrictions of trade applied between some countries, a good example of which was between Formosa (Taiwan) and China with most commodities being transshipped via Hong Kong on what were loosely defined, but not strictly correct, neutral tonnage. In the mid- to late 1950s the Formosa Straits was notorious as a conflict zone between China and Formosa (now known as Taiwan). Similarly, North Vietnam became a “War Zone” in the mid 1960s, when numerous vessels were mined or bombed.

It was only around the mid-1960’s that many of the allegedly dodgy shipping companies, threw off their shady veils, and started to take a pride in vessel ownership and display company Motifs and Logos on vessel funnels. This period was also a golden age for numerous ship management concerns that managed the various vessels on behalf of beneficial owners, another way of masking true ownership in many cases.

Sometimes, these old ladies would anchor for weeks either at Yau Ma Tei or Western Anchorages, to await the opportunity of suitable cargoes. In the event of an approaching Typhoon they often shifted to a more sheltered area of Hong Kong known as “Tolo Harbor”, which was often the scene of numerous groundings following a Typhoon.

During the first half of 1960s there were lucrative cargoes available for ships willing to trade to North Vietnam, namely; Haiphong and Port Campha, situated at the head of the Gulf of Tonkin. Port Campha was a port known for its coal exports. This was a temptation for some owners of “old ladies” of the sea. By paying ship’s crews so called “Danger Money” they were attracted to this trading area which resulted in a significant number of vessels becoming casualties, due to bombing or mining.

One of the dangers associated with remaining in Hong Kong Harbor during a typhoon was, the serious consequences of dragging anchors in Typhoon conditions. This seriously increased the danger of collisions between vessels and also the high risk of dragging anchors across the telephone cable reserves and snagging the various marine cables that linked Hong Kong with Kowloon, as well as internationally. The Hong Kong Marine Department was therefore, very actively engaged in implementing the “Typhoon Regulations” applicable to ships and raised the alert at an early stage once a pending Typhoon became imminent.

Of course, Hong Kong had its share of long established and more traditional ship owners. This included, amongst others, China Navigation Company, Indo-China SS Company (Jardines), John Manners Group and its various shipping subsidiaries, Williamsons and their Douglas SS Company, Harley Mullion and Company, 

Moller Shipping, Wallem and Company, to name but several. These entities were the backbone of Hong Kong shipping during the early and mid 1960s, prior to the advent of many newcomers which are household names in Hong Kong shipping circles nowadays.

Hong Kong was also an attractive management base for Euro-continental ship owners who had traditionally operated regionally around the Far East, such as Thoresen, Wrangell, and Bruusgaard of Norway, Jebsen of Denmark

Gallary of typical “Hong Kong Dustbins” during the 1950-60s

An American “Jeep Class”,  built in 1944  the “Taifookloy” at anchor in Hong Kong during the period. This type was used quite extensively for the various coastal trades of the Far East-easy and cheap to operate. It’s very basic construction made it easy to maintain.

Union Flag and ship’s name illustrated on ship’s side. The ship was wrecked on Lantau Island in 1962 as a result of rounding during a Typhoon..

“MV. Wishford” – Owned by a Mainland China front company based in Hong Kong. Note the Union Flag painted on ship’s side. 

The old steamer “Landspride” operated by Wheelock Marsden and Co. of Hong Kong

Another old steam ship “Inchstuart” operated by the well know Williamsons and Co. of Hong Kong

MV East Wales sold to Hong Kong owners and renamed “Universal Skipper”

An ex Australian “Dustbin” acquired by Hong Kong interests and renamed “Pacific King captioned at the end of her working life on her way for demolition at Junk Bay, in1969.

The old steam ship “Lady Isobel”. Purchased by John Manners – Hong Kong and renamed “Manly Breeze” and later changed to “San Carlos” by the same owners.

 Sold to John Manners – Hong Kong in 1957 and renamed “Wear Breeze”

 One of the smarter looking “Dustbins” – “MV Inchdouglas” of Williamsons – Hong Kong (formerly Douglas Steam Ship Company)

“Incharran” of Williamsons (formerly Douglas Steamship Company), – departing Hong Kong in 1955, renamed “Ho Sang” after her sale to Jardines, and used mainly in the Far East Logging Trade

Jardine’s “Hop Sang” sister ship to the “Ho Sang” used extensively in the Far East logging trade. The Borneo river ports were the main source of their cargoes and they operated in this trade, very successfully, for a good number of years

The handsome looking, and very trim, “Lok Sang” belonging to Indo-China SS Co. – Jardines.

The original old “Bradford City”, eventually sold to Jebshun-Hong Kong in 1968, becoming “Shun Wah”

The “Peebles” an old Gordy Tramp, sold to John Manners – Hong Kong in 1957 which became their “San Fernando” being placed under the Panamanian registry.

Perhaps the painting of the Manners Navigation’s  “San Fernando” by the renowned Maritime Artist-Tony Westmore, illustrates a more interesting venue. Depicted loading bagged rice mid-stream in the Chao Phraya River – Bangkok, during the late 1950s

The Hong Kong owned “Sinkiang” of the extensive China Navigation Company Hong Kong shipping empire. Their tonnage always looked well maintained and nicely presented.

Other Hong Kong icons of the 1960s (Right) China Navigation’s “Anking” and (below) their “Soochow”

“Soochow” the location in the photograph looks like “Jesselton” main quay

The “Soochow” of China Navigation Co. seen during one of her calls to New Zealand

                                                                                                                           The ex “Choy Sang” became the “Milford” under Hong Kong British flag and operated on behalf of Mainland Chinese shipping interests.

Another Mainland Chinese vessel under Hong Kong registry and management “Fairford” steaming eastwards through Hong Kong Harbor in 1959 

 An ex Booth Line vessel renamed “MV Hai Win” and placed under the Honduras Registry. A far distant cry from the beautifully maintained vessel she was when under the management of her previous owners. This image was taken circa mid 1970s.

 The run down   “MV An Hing” was another ex Booth Line vessel purchased by Hong Kong operators during the 1970s, also placed under the Honduras Registry. A sad sight to behold.

Various Losses and Typhoon Strandings of the 1960s

The Typhoon Season in Hong Kong usually spans the months of May to October, with July, August and September being the most prolific months for Typhoons. During the 1960s one of the most serious to hit Hong Kong was Typhoon Wanda in September 1962. Not only was substantial damage sustained to the colony’s infrastructure but some 36 ocean going vessels were either driven aground or wrecked in the devastation. 

The deep, landlocked indentation of Tolo Harbor and Plover Cove, flanked by high hills that protect the snug anchorage from Typhoons, remains a favored haven for ships in Hong Kong. Located in the N.E sector of Hong Kong’s New Territories, it is usually available for vessels drawing up to 8m draft. Unfortunately, the topography of the area did not always offer the protection sought from the weather, resulting in numerous Typhoon casualties.

The Hong Kong shipyards obtained much business over many years from ships becoming stranded by Typhoons, as well as other vessels salvaged in the South China Sea by the iconic Hong Kong Tug “Taikoo” operated by the China Navigation Company on behalf of the Group’s Taikoo Shipyard.

A busy Taikoo Shipyard showing vessels belonging to prominent Hong Kong owners, namely; Wallems, Williamsons and Bruusgaard.

The small steamship “Juno” (ex Bidelia, ex Cardross).  Although owned by Madrigal SS of Manila she was regularly seen in Hong Kong at Yau Ma Tei anchorage. Sadly she was lost in the South China Sea with all hands, in a Typhoon when on passage from Hong Kong to Brunei, during 1964 with a cargo of Cement, Bricks and General.

An interesting study of the Dutch freighter “Tjibanjet” well and truly wrecked in Hong Kong resulting from Typhoon Gloria during 1957.

Another Typhoon casualty of the 1960s. Pictured, the Wallems managed “Vincon” high and dry in Tolo Harbor

The Wallem’s managed, but Panama registered, “Ocean Venture” wrecked at Tolo Harbor as a consequence of Typhoon Wanda which struck Hong Kong in 1962

Despite being considered a safe haven, regrettably not so for “Fortune Lory”. Pictured well and truly wrecked, again as a result of Typhoon Wanda in 1962

The old Panamanian registered steam ship “Crescent” wrecked in Hong Kong at Tolo Harbor due to a Typhoon Wanda in 1962

Although a poor quality image, it depicts the “Carronpark” (later procured by John Manners – Hong Kong) and subsequently renamed    “Asia Breeze” with “Taifookloy” in the background. Both vessels are aground on the northern coast of Lantau Island as a result of Typhoon Wanda in September 1962.

A typical Hong Kong “Dustbin”, one of many casualties of Typhoon Wanda in 1962

Casualties of the Vietnam and N.Korea Conflicts during the 1960s

Not a pretty picture. The Wallem managed, “Eastern Mariner” partially submerged after being mined in the Saigon River during 1966. The Vietnam War was escalating rapidly at the time.

A very sad sight – the aged Norwegian steamship “Anita” as she lay abandoned in Saigon River. Photographed in 1971, she had obviously become a war casualty, probably another case of having contacted a floating mine during the conflict.

The WW11 built Liberty Type, “Idannis K” beached at Back Beach Vung Tau in 1968. Vung Tau is recognized as a treacherous achorage at the best of times. Going by her burned out superstructure possibly a casualty of bombing or shelling that necessitated her beaching herself.

The ill fated “USS Pueblo”, tied up alongside a jetty somewhere in North Korea after being capture in 1968. This was the cause of an international incident between North Korea and the United States

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