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.
In May 1968 I was appointed Second Engineer of the Ellerman Lines ‘City of Durban’, one of the so called ‘Big Four’ and spent the two following happy years sailing between the UK, South Africa and Mozambique. It was a ten week round voyage followed by three weeks or so leave and I completed eight consecutive voyages before leaving her for the very best reason of all – promotion. It was normal procedure that if you kept your nose clean and did a good job, your next move would mean a light tap on the shoulder – a chief’s job. She had to have at least two chief’s tickets on board for the passenger certificate, each of the four vessels carried 107 passengers and they were very popular and always sailed with a full complement and full cargoes too.
In the Autumn of 1988, I was sailing as chief engineer on a bulk carrier which was British owned, registered in Gibraltar and managed from an office in London. I had been attached to her on and off since February 1987 and had sailed previously on two others of the same class, so you could say that I knew my way around. She was one of a group originally built for Jebsens about 1972 of 22000 tons and propelled by 18PC2V Pielstick diesels. This particular vessel had been sold and chartered back to Jebsens and was carrying Jebsen cargoes at the time.
In the Summer of 1976 I was appointed Chief Engineer of the ‘City of Liverpool’, she was built circa 1970 at the Robb – Caledon yard at Dundee and was propelled by a Doxford 76J7 engine of 17500 bhp. Both the ‘Liverpool’ and her sister the ‘Hull’ had their faults, some major and some minor. Firstly the Bridge Control system on both vessels was totally unreliable and was never used during my tenure. I believe it was a GEC system but don’t quote me on that, after all it is some thirty six years since I last sailed on them and this is all from memory – the only thing I can verify are the dates from my ‘Discharge Book’ – oh they were the days lads !. The next item which caused a little frustration was the machinery monitoring system which was a Decca Isis, it just didn’t like the Persian Gulf in the Summer season, as soon as you stuck your nose through the straits of Hormuz spurious alarms would appear but fortunately it seemed to settle down when it became accustomed to the heat. From what I remember the fault lay in the transducer cabinets which were subjected to the heat of the engine room, they were fitted with small fans which just circulated hot air. However this wee story is about a very minor fault I came across on the ‘Liverpool’, which caused some annoyance and some laughter as it turned out.
In the Spring of 1975 I was appointed Chief Engineer of the ‘City of Hull’, one of Ellerman Lines modern cargo liners. She was built in 1971 by Robb – Caledon at Dundee and was propelled by one of the loves of my life – a 17500bhp 76J7 Doxford engine. I was really looking forward to the experience as at just four years old she would be well run in and settled down. It was Ellermans first venture into the world of automation and mine too so very exciting days lay ahead. As a point of interest, there were three of the class built, two at Dundee with Doxford engines and one on the Clyde with a Sulzer engine. I sailed on all three and my favourite would have been the Clyde built vessel with a Doxford engine – just to be awkward. I had a bit of a gripe against an unknown fellow from the Dundee yard which could be the subject of another wee tale in the future.
On the Shipping Club’s recent joint outing to Windermere, myself and two other members had the good fortune to share a table for lunch with a lovely couple from the Liverpool party. I think parts of the ensuing conversation are well worth recording.
We were sitting awaiting the arrival of our friends from the Anchorage Club. As they entered; we beckoned to this lady and gentleman and invited them to join us – assuring them that all three of us were fluent in ‘Scouse’. That seemed to do the trick, they promptly sat down and introduced themselves as Joyce and Jim to which I replied that we were John…, George…, and before I could say Brian, Joyce quickly remarked ‘And you must be Ringo!’- After that there wasn’t a dull moment throughout lunch and until we departed for our trip on the lake steamer.