It Could Have Been an Ill-Wind!

We thank TASC Member Brian Smith for this short recollection that occurred during his sea-going years.

Here we are in April 2020 almost confined to barracks because of C-19, not the ‘Happy New Year’ I wished for so recently. Being in lockdown is an ideal time for a little reminiscence into the past when I was a rufty tufty sailor. The wee tale I am about to tell is a true story and I will give it the title ‘It Could Have Been An Ill Wind’.


It was in August 1976 that I joined the good ship ‘City of Liverpool’ in the port of Liverpool, not surprisingly I can’t remember which dock!. After a few days loading there we sailed coast-wise to London to complete for a voyage on the Strick-Ellerman service to the Arabian Gulf. Once again I’m not sure of the dock, but probably Millwall;  and on completion duly sailed for foreign parts. Whilst we were crossing the Bay of Biscay, the ‘Old Man’ came to see me with the news that we had on board the ashes of an Ellerman Line master who’s wish was that they were scattered at sea off  Cape Finisterre or thereabouts.

Came the day for the good deed to be carried out, barely round the Cape and a fine sunny morning it was too. Available officers were assembled in full uniform on the Port side abaft  No.5 hatch and the urn was secured to a board suitably draped with a flag. The order was given to stop the main engine then the ‘Old Man’ said a few words from the good book, you can picture the scene the officers (including myself) were facing aft tucked in near the aft end of the accommodation block, then was the urn and aft of that was the old man’s wife complete with camera, a couple of snaps to send to the family of the deceased was a kind thought. It was at this point that Janet as she was called remarked that it would be better if we  were aft of the urn because of the light for the camera so we changed places with her and carried on with the service. A few more words then the cap was removed from the urn and the board was tilted to discharge the ashes to the deep a lot of which were blown back on board but forward fortunately to where we had been standing minutes earlier, how lucky was that?.

I hadn’t met the deceased gentleman before and was pleased I didn’t meet him on that particular morning. By the way I think Janet needed a shower and a change of clothes after the ceremony.


Brian Smith

April 2020.

Don’t Panic- Write A Report

The following report from a ship’s Master is reproduced here by kind permission of the anonymous author who appears to be gifted with remarkable ‘sang froid’

It is with regret and haste that I write this letter to you, regret that such a small misunderstanding could lead to the following circumstances, and haste in order that you will get this report before you form your own preconceived opinions from reports in the world press, for I am sure they will tend to over-dramatise the affair.

We had just picked up the pilot and the apprentice had returned from changing the ‘G’ flag for the ‘H’ and,it being his first trip, was having difficulty in rolling the ‘G’ flag up, I therefore proceeded to show him how. Coming to the last part, I told him to let go. The lad, although willing is not too bright, necessitating my having to repeat the order in a sharper tone.

At this moment the Chief Officer appeared from the chart room, having been plotting the vessel’s progress and, thinking that it was the anchors that were being referred to, repeated the ‘let go’  to the Third Officer on the forecastle. The port anchor, having been cleared away but not walked out, was promptly let go. The effect of letting the anchor drop from the ‘pipe’ while the vessel was proceeding at full harbour speed proved too much for the windlass brake, and the entire length of the port cable was ‘pulled out by the roots’  I fear that damage to the chain locker may be extensive . The braking effect of the port anchor naturally caused the vessel to sheer in that direction, right towards the swing bridge that spans a tributary to the river up which we were proceeding.

The swing bridge operator showed great presence of mind by opening the bridge for my vessel. Unfortunately, he did not think to stop  vehicular traffic , the result  being that the bridge partly opened and deposited a ‘Volkswagen’, two cyclists and a cattle truck on the foredeck. My ship’s company are at present rounding up the contents of the latter, which from the noise  I would say were pigs. In his efforts to stop the progress of the vessel, the Third Officer dropped the starboard anchor, too late to be of practical use for it fell on the swing bridge operators control cabin.

After the port anchor was let go and the vessel started to sheer. I gave a double ring Full Astern on the Engine Room Telegraph and personally rang the Engine Room to order maximum astern revolutions. I was informed that the sea temperature was 53+ and asked if there was a film tonight : my reply would not add constructively to this report.

Up to now I have confined my report to the activities at the forward  end of the vessel. Down aft they were having their own problems.

At the moment the port anchor was let go, the Second Officer was supervising the making fast of the after tug and was lowering the ship’s towing spring down onto the tug.

The sudden braking effect on the port anchor caused the tug to ‘run under’ the stern of my vessel, just at the moment when the propeller was answering my double ring ‘Full Astern’ . The prompt action of the Second Officer in securing the inboard end of the towing spring delayed the sinking of the tug by some minutes, thereby allowing the safe abandoning of the of that vessel.

It is strange, but at the very same moment of letting go the port anchor, there was a power cut ashore, the fact that we were passing over a ‘cable’ area at the time might suggest that we may have touched something on the river bed. It is perhaps lucky that the high-tension cables brought down by the foremast  were not live, possibly being replaced by the underwater cable, but owing to the shore black-out , it is impossible to say when the pylon fell.

It never fails to amaze me , the actions and behaviours of foreigners during moments of minor crisis. The pilot for instances at this moment is huddled in the corner of my day cabin, alternately crooning to himself and crying after having consumed a bottle of gin in a time that is worthy of inclusion in the Guiness Book of Records. The tug captain on the other hand, reacted violently and had to forcibly be restrained by the Steward, who has him handcuffed in the ship’s hospital, where he is telling me do impossible things with my ship and my crew.

I enclose the names and addresses of the drivers and insurance companies of the vehicles on my foredeck, which the Third Officer collected after his somewhat hurried evacuation of the forecastle . These particulars will enable you to claim for the damage that they did to the railings of No.1 hold.

I am closing this preliminary report , for I am finding it difficult to concentrate with the sound of police sirens  and their flashing lights.

It is sad to think that had the apprentice realised that there is no need to fly pilot flags after dark, none of this would have happened.

For weekly accountability Report I will assign the following :

Casualty Numbers TE 750101 to TE 750199

Yours Truly,


On A Lighter Note:

Sir Winston Churchill – (with help from TASC Member Dennis Stidolf)


By avoiding going there, especially with friends; When this war is over, We’ll find time to make amends.


By slowing the invasion,

Social distancing and diligence,

Will help us save our Nation.


By exercising in open spaces and keeping on the go, AND IN THE STREETS, By keeping your distance, Don’t stand toe to toe.


By not going there if you need a car,

Travel there by Shanks Pony, or,

Don’t go, just stay local if it’s too far.


We shall never give in,

We shall fight Coronavirus,

And with common sense we’ll win

Sir Winston Churchill and Ordinary Dennis Stidolph