Subtitle

MARABANK 1971: A VOYAGE

Posted by Mike Waight on January 26, 2014 at 7:20 AM

I hope this is the right place to put this account? I submitted it to the Association a couple of years ago but nothing appeared in print so I'll try this!

MARABANK 1971 - A TRIP UNIQUE FOR ONLY ONE NIGHT SHIFT IN 7 MONTHS.

 

Capt DJR Davies

Marabank hadn't been in home waters for some time before we joined.

 

Joined Philadelphia light ship - East For Orders - thence Dominican Republic (long before it became a tourist paradise(?)) for sugar for Bordeaux Marseille range. Only had one small-scale chart, which covered San Pedro De Macoris (first load port) in no detail whatsoever. In broad terms through Mona Passage and turn right, close coast and creep at snail pace towards port- sound whistle a lot and wait for pilot to come out and take ship in. Berthed on quay just astern of Dominican Republic's Navy; one aged sloop with crew lying around in a bustle of somnolence. Working hours 0800 to 1200, 1400 to 1600, (why didn't US and Aussie ports keep these hours?). Load by bleeding bags - not a comment, just the method! 2500 tons all stop, slacken off mooring lines, much yelling and shouting in a carnival like manner while decrepit barge inserted between quay and ship. Apparently below the quayside the bank slopes away gradually until deep water is reached. Repeat this evolution three times. Fourth day brings much excitement; the Navy are out to play - forming up on quayside while officer struggles ashore to inspect and take salute - then, wait for it - back to the effortless task of slumber. Finally down to predetermined draft after what seems like months, close hatches and sail for Rio Haina with US charts to help us on our way. Rio Haina has a loading gantry "a la Aussie ", fixed but nontheless a gantry. Sweetness pours into the holds in between hauling the ship up and down the quay (memories of pre-travelling gantry Bundaberg). Ask agent why not bring ship straight here. Politics senhor - if only use gantries then not enough work for people in Macoris! Fair comment. Sail for France, Marseilles is favoured option and indeed confirmed in due course.

 

Charts - pre metric and well out of date despite my best efforts to update them. Separation Zones are in vogue. Have photocopy of Chamber of Shipping publication detailing proposed zone areas. Transcribe this onto Straits of Gib chart - better than nothing.

 

Uneventful passage to Marseilles. On arrival thick fog - poor to non-existent radar. Make it to outer approaches of port. Much conversation on VHF along the lines of "OK Captain keep coming on present course". This greeted by grunts from DJR, and after a particularly fraught 20 minutes with everyone bar the Topaz gazing out into the murk we finally hear the pilot boat alongside us and then actually see it. Easy for the pilot boat with functioning radar but the exact opposite for us.

Yours truly escorts the pilot to the bridge where, upon me handing him over, DJR erupts with "You've got to be a f***ing prophet to get in here" (with DJR's Welsh accent it takes on a cadence all of its own and sounds infinitely politer). Pilot and DJR then lapse into professional exchanges only. Closing the port entrance the visibility improves dramatically and the sun breaks through, lifting the whole atmosphere on the bridge. I approach the pilot and enquire whether he would care for some refreshment in the form of tea or coffee. Before he has time to reply DJR cuts in with "he'll get what he's f***ing given". Shortly after this I proceed aft for tying up so missed the rest of the wheelhouse cabaret.

 

Great stay in Marseilles - working hours 0800 to 1200, 1300 to 1600, no weekends, no nights. Unable to start discharge due power failure on quay, so no cranes working on day one. Closely followed by a strike, about two days I recall.  Out of money very quickly indeed!

Huge shipment of stores courtesy of the Stores Dept together with complete 24 folio chart kit, all in date and new. DJR is having none of it - "don't hold with these new charts, yellow land and bloody metres, eh Second Mate?" I mumble with just the right intonation that neither supports nor disagrees with the proposition. Upshot is I have to prepare both the old and the new charts for the rest of the voyage - grey and imperial for DJR, yellow and metric for the rest of us.

 

Once the sugar bowl is empty we have orders to proceed slowly towards USofA. Working radar, working gyro and we roll our way into the Western Ocean. Eventually nominated for US Gulf to Aussie trip. We must have been out of step with most shippers as once again daywork only in all the usual haunts. One item of note: in Houston, one morning, work to open hatches has just started and I'm in the Saloon having breakfast before relieving the 3rd Mate. Saloon on main deck for'd with Master's chair for'd end of central fore and aft table, back to the port. Houston's finest are lifting the hatch pontoons in their usual safety conscious manner ie derricks not plumbed correctly. DJR is tucking into his breakfast with gusto when the rest of us, including Mrs DJR see the corner of one of the hatch pontoons hurtling toward the central port. We all dive for cover and watch helplessly as the pontoon corner smashes through the port sending fragmented reinforced glass in all directions. DJR carries on eating serenely as the glass speeds past him, beams of light scattering off the glass shards. The whole scene reminded me of those epic Renaissance paintings where a majestic man with a long beard (god?) sat on a mighty throne with brilliant light radiating in a heavenly aura from behind him. The scenario didn't last of course. I won't divulge the profanities here except to say that DJR was not best pleased. Even less so when a longshoreman stuck his head into the port and said, "ya'll OK?"

 

Pacific crossing uneventful (just how we like it) and then once again the Aussie coast with daywork only. Memorable moment No1 of the Pacific crossing - 3rd Mate designing and producing an incredibly detailed technical drawing on one of the grey and imperial chart backs of, wait for it, A Machine for Putting Hedgehogs into Easter Eggs! If it hadn't been such a convincing drawing I would have said he was mad. A work of art and very technical too, with conveyors, geared wheel drive systems etc. Memorable moment No 2 of the Pacific crossing - yours truly has a blocked cabin sink but with the impetuosity of youth decides against the rational approach of removing and clearing the trap and opts instead for the all-action fun approach (for which read, dumb!). Air hose inside funnel casing (right outside accommodation on that class) is brought into the cabin with hose pinched, end is placed in plughole and pinch is released, resulting in beautifully cleared sink. One small point - when the pinch is released followed by the satisfying rush of compressed air, an enraged howling comes from the 3rd Mate's cabin. The sink waste pipes from both cabins are connected; thus the effluvium (to be polite about it) has erupted from the 3rd Mate's sink, propelled itself across his cabin and splattered everything in it, including him. I'm forced to spend money in the bar by way of compensation.

 

Aussie coast during discharge was dayshift only bar one twilight in Brisbane although we had a couple of late evenings in Mackay where we were offloading a dragline project cargo which entailed waiting until the long-trailer trucks made the round trip to some hole in the ground in deepest Queensland. After a couple of days one of the trucks failed to appear and when the other truck arrived back at the ship the following evening we asked the driver what had happened to the other truck. "Oh he took a roller and bust an arm but he'll be right". Indeed he was - the very next day he was back with arm in a sling and a battered looking truck, making light of the whole episode. It must have been a lucrative job because driving with one arm in a sling can't have been easy, or even perhaps legal. In Geelong we wrenched the corner off the wharfies canteen roof while shifting ship during meal break - good old manila headlines then!

 

Since we had left the UK before 5 April we were looking for a tax year and DJR assured us that after discharge it would be grain to India then the usual Bay of Bengal to wherever. The agent came on board in Geelong (last discharge port) and said "sugar" at which a great cheer went up- visions of Penang or Singapore, followed perhaps by another sugar run and then the usual. Then the agent said "to Liverpool". DJR's expression said it all.

 

So we duly presented ourselves at Bundaberg for the only nightshift in port that trip and then Mackay to finish off.

 

Atlantic homeward - first the radar fails completely, a couple of days later the gyro self-destructs and finally the DF packs in. The weather became and stayed overcast and we were reduced to land falling off Ireland with a position based on sights five days old and the echo sounder. Visibility was poor and DJR quite rightly, was worried. Salvation came on the 12 to 4 (morning) when out of the murk we spied a ship. DJR yelled for me to get in contact - so a quick series of flashes on the Aldis followed by a request from us on the VHF produced a position from a German coaster heading for France. He provided us with another fix half an hour later, much to DJR’s relief. Given the lack of sights and lack of equipment we were only a few miles out on the DR.

 

Finally we made it into Liverpool at the usual ungodly hour of the night ( I have often wondered what going in and out of Liverpool in daylight was like!) and promptly grounded when within spitting distance of the berth. Much effort by the tugs eventually got us alongside.

 

These days whenever I open a bag of soft brown sugar and that familiar smell meets the senses the memories of that and other trips come flooding back!

 

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14 Comments

Reply Mike Waight
11:51 AM on November 5, 2014 
Donald Alexander McGhee says...
I too sailed on Marabank, 1968-1969, Len Thorne was the old man. She was a good sound ship and I liked her a lot. Remember the sugar run, Inisfaill/Townsville etc to Jurong in Singapoer, twice in one voyage. Got my Uncert 3rd mate endorsement in the old discharge book, also a VNC.
It was a good move, but I wnet about it the wrong way. Hindsight is a great thing and the "glamour" of having been a run away soon fades.
The end result has been good, great country, wonderful wife and home, grandkids etc, etc and I get to play on a coal fired paddle steamer as well.
Very proud to have served with BankLine, although one of the black sheep!


Hello Donald,

Although the basic ship design was OK I never liked the funnel design or the way the fumes (and soot) wafted around the wheelhouse! Her sister was the Speybank by the way. I always dreamed of jumping ship in Aus (ah the ladies there!) but never actually committed to it, settling for good old UK after all.
Reply Donald Alexander McGhee
11:03 PM on October 23, 2014 
I too sailed on Marabank, 1968-1969, Len Thorne was the old man. She was a good sound ship and I liked her a lot. Remember the sugar run, Inisfaill/Townsville etc to Jurong in Singapoer, twice in one voyage. Got my Uncert 3rd mate endorsement in the old discharge book, also a VNC.
It was a good move, but I wnet about it the wrong way. Hindsight is a great thing and the "glamour" of having been a run away soon fades.
The end result has been good, great country, wonderful wife and home, grandkids etc, etc and I get to play on a coal fired paddle steamer as well.
Very proud to have served with BankLine, although one of the black sheep!
Reply Donald Alexander McGhee
12:51 AM on September 7, 2014 
I sailed on Marabank 1968-1969 as Snr App, acting 3rd mate. I really liked her as a ship and she was unique, with her sister Shirrabank with the bipod masts.
Left her in Wellington, as one of Bank Lines least
reliable appies, ran away actually. I do have many nostalgic memories though.
Reply Dave Boy Green
6:36 AM on August 28, 2014 
While not a bank line ship the Thorseggen was a new gantry crane timber and newsprint carried for a regular Vancouver Island (Campbell River) to west coast of the USA run.
One day into the first voyage one of the apprentices informed me that the duty mess toilet was blocked. After several fruitless attempts with a plunger I told him to remove the pan, get a plate made in the engine room to fit the base with an air line connector and apply pressure (See even at C/O rank you can still be dumb) The result was a very distressed seaman whose cabin was now covered in s**t.
Later investigation lead to another hilarious incident. I traced the pipes through to the engine room via the CO2 room , where incidentally I found all the cylinders disconnected, I opened the end of the main pipe crossing the engine room and saw the blockage about 18 inches in where the pipe from the deck toilet entered the main pipe. Only thing to do was to shove my arm in to see what the problem was. I discovered a metal strap wedged in the end. At this point the Chief Engineer turned up to see what a deck man was doing in his engine room. He stood at the bottom of the ladder I was on, looking up. I was pulling at the metal and out it came along with a load of paper and lots of sewage. I was stood to one side (not daft me) and he got the benefit of a fair amount of it.
At the builders, Swan Hunters, there was a lot of disgruntled employees and daily strike action. The CO2 not connected and the metal pipe bracket were sabotage which also included a plastic screwdriver handle in the ME reversing gear that caused us to plough into the quay at the end of the berth in Campbell River arriving at our regular load port for the first time- with the owner and all the charterers and dignitaries on the quay - Nice!!
Fortunately the end of the berth was gently sloping soft ground but we did jamb under a covered disused walkway across the end of the dock breaking off the Suez canal davit. Once we managed to back out I heard a loud creaking sound and turned round the see the walkway collapse in a cloud of dust and timber.
Reply Mike Waight
9:33 AM on February 28, 2014 
Cliff Cocker says...
The story about the sink clearing reminds me of an event when with another company in the 5os. It was a modern ship and instead of all just going over the side it went into a holding tank in the engine room (I suppose all you deck types would say "the best place for all the s--t) this when full would be emptied by a blast of compressed air, the outlet being below the water line. There was on the ships side a flap valve to stop blowback. This had jammed and the pressure built up in the holding tank until the contents went back up the sewage system, the lowest outlet in the system was the Chief Stewards shower, he was not amused when he stepped into the shower tray!
We were not amused whilst trying to rectify the problem.
Such is progress, now we only had to cope with the Hamworthy sewage treatment tank!!
Cliff Cocker


Hello Cliff,

I can well imagine what that was like! Reminds me of having to clear out, remove and replace a non-return flap on a 1940s Ben Line ship when I was a first trip apprentice in 1966. Removing backed up s**t was not a great start to a seagoing career. This particular discharge was just above water level in No3 lower tween deck but the memories still remain - eeurch!
Reply Cliff Cocker
9:08 AM on February 28, 2014 
The story about the sink clearing reminds me of an event when with another company in the 5os. It was a modern ship and instead of all just going over the side it went into a holding tank in the engine room (I suppose all you deck types would say "the best place for all the s--t) this when full would be emptied by a blast of compressed air, the outlet being below the water line. There was on the ships side a flap valve to stop blowback. This had jammed and the pressure built up in the holding tank until the contents went back up the sewage system, the lowest outlet in the system was the Chief Stewards shower, he was not amused when he stepped into the shower tray!
We were not amused whilst trying to rectify the problem.
Such is progress, now we only had to cope with the Hamworthy sewage treatment tank!!
Cliff Cocker
Reply Mike Waight
7:10 AM on February 8, 2014 
Ian Coupe says...
Talk about memorable trips.
I joined Irisbank in August 1974 as 3rd Eng.
We had a good start to the trip, as the 3rd I was relieving stepped out of the cabin with his suitcases he said; by the way there is white metal hanging out of No2 aft Side rod bottom end. Thanks a lot, they had been on the coast for over a week.
Things did not improve, the second we had did not have a clue.
When we reached Cristobal I came up to my cabin during Bunkers to find a new 3rd. Eng. in my cabin.
Turned out the second had been paid off sick and yours truly was the Second Engineer.
Panama was uneventful and we headed for Tahiti.
Four days out of Panama we had a disasterous engine room fire..
After it went out we were sat on the bridge having a beer when the old man, John Sturgess, said he was going to have words with the Panama pilot Apparently as he was about to leave the pilot said; Captain do you know that this is the thirteenth ship I have taken through today, you have a thirteen day run to Tahiti, then you have thirteen discharge ports and you are sailing from here on Friday the thirteenth!
Things only got better; the Second Mate, Third Mate and the Third Engineer stole a car in New Caledonia and crashed it, breaking the Third Engs. leg.
Six on Six off until arrival Mourilyan for Sugar for Penang when a new 3rd arrived.
Next stop Penang, 4th paid off sick, six on six off around Calcutta, Chalna, Chittagong, Calcutta, Madras, Rangoon, Colombo, and Mauritius before partial crew change in Maputo.
South Africa then up the West coast of Africa where the Aussi 3rd Eng. managed to break a coupe of fingers in Dakar and was paid off.
Guess what? six on six off to finish discharge and across the Pond to Trinidad where thankfully I paid off.
Must make mention of the Chief Engineer; Jack Merrill, A grumpy and difficult old sod but he worked out how to jury rig the Electrics so that we got the ship going to get to Tahiti where there was a riding crew from Sunderland Forge with Spare cable to repair the electrics permanently.
There is a lot more to tell but that is enough for this.


Hello Ian,

Love the post - just the sort of stuff we need on this site. Doesn't matter which ship one was on there was always a tale to tell and yours on the Irisbank is up there with the best - thanks. John Sturgess was one of the good guys as skipper.

Mike
Reply Ian Coupe
1:16 PM on February 7, 2014 
Talk about memorable trips.
I joined Irisbank in August 1974 as 3rd Eng.
We had a good start to the trip, as the 3rd I was relieving stepped out of the cabin with his suitcases he said; by the way there is white metal hanging out of No2 aft Side rod bottom end. Thanks a lot, they had been on the coast for over a week.
Things did not improve, the second we had did not have a clue.
When we reached Cristobal I came up to my cabin during Bunkers to find a new 3rd. Eng. in my cabin.
Turned out the second had been paid off sick and yours truly was the Second Engineer.
Panama was uneventful and we headed for Tahiti.
Four days out of Panama we had a disasterous engine room fire..
After it went out we were sat on the bridge having a beer when the old man, John Sturgess, said he was going to have words with the Panama pilot Apparently as he was about to leave the pilot said; Captain do you know that this is the thirteenth ship I have taken through today, you have a thirteen day run to Tahiti, then you have thirteen discharge ports and you are sailing from here on Friday the thirteenth!
Things only got better; the Second Mate, Third Mate and the Third Engineer stole a car in New Caledonia and crashed it, breaking the Third Engs. leg.
Six on Six off until arrival Mourilyan for Sugar for Penang when a new 3rd arrived.
Next stop Penang, 4th paid off sick, six on six off around Calcutta, Chalna, Chittagong, Calcutta, Madras, Rangoon, Colombo, and Mauritius before partial crew change in Maputo.
South Africa then up the West coast of Africa where the Aussi 3rd Eng. managed to break a coupe of fingers in Dakar and was paid off.
Guess what? six on six off to finish discharge and across the Pond to Trinidad where thankfully I paid off.
Must make mention of the Chief Engineer; Jack Merrill, A grumpy and difficult old sod but he worked out how to jury rig the Electrics so that we got the ship going to get to Tahiti where there was a riding crew from Sunderland Forge with Spare cable to repair the electrics permanently.
There is a lot more to tell but that is enough for this.
Reply Mike Waight
6:21 AM on February 6, 2014 
Dave Lee says...
Hi Mike
Great story, takes one back to the less frenetic days of tramping, and the endless speculation of where to next. Know we sailed together, Meadowbank maybe with Ellis Rees, but I may be wrong.


Hello Dave,

Yes, I have memories of you on Meadowbank. Seem to recall we sailed out of Le Havre outbound straight into a gale, which since the previous night had seen a lot of beer consumed, caused me to feel like a first tripper all over again! Can't recall all the trip though but yes it was Ellis Rees, who I sailed with the following trip on Ruddbank!. Mike
Reply Dave Lee
2:49 AM on February 6, 2014 
Hi Mike
Great story, takes one back to the less frenetic days of tramping, and the endless speculation of where to next. Know we sailed together, Meadowbank maybe with Ellis Rees, but I may be wrong.
Reply Mike Waight
1:04 PM on January 28, 2014 
Ian Coupe says...
MIke,
Was that Dai Davies? small bespectacled Welsh man!
He was master on the Streambank for a short while (paid off early as his wife was unwell.)
He and I went ashore in Barranquila where he had a row with Port Authority, the Ship Chandler and anyone else in range. (He spoke very good Spanish).
We then had a very interesting night ashore and the next morning he blamed me for the hangover.
Fun days.
Ian.


Hello Ian,

Afraid not, DJR was a huge bear of a man who I believe served on salvage vessels in the war as a young man in the RNVR. His son was just starting at Tower Hill college just as I was leaving after getting 1st Mates in 1973 but I heard later that he committed suicide - shame. I'd known his fiance when she'd previously been engaged to the third mate on Royston Grange and of course tragically he'd died in that disaster; poor girl didn't have much luck. I don't know what became of her after that.

Not always happy days for some I'm afraid.

Mike
Reply Ian Coupe
11:51 AM on January 28, 2014 
MIke,
Was that Dai Davies? small bespectacled Welsh man!
He was master on the Streambank for a short while (paid off early as his wife was unwell.)
He and I went ashore in Barranquila where he had a row with Port Authority, the Ship Chandler and anyone else in range. (He spoke very good Spanish).
We then had a very interesting night ashore and the next morning he blamed me for the hangover.
Fun days.
Ian.
Reply Mike Waight
12:47 PM on January 27, 2014 
Kris Dunham (Marconi Sahib) says...
Excellent account, Mike.
Immediately resurrected memories.
Cheers
Kris


Hello Kris,

Glad you enjoyed it. As I said I wrote it some time ago when after a lot of thought I realised that indeed we did only one full night in the whole 7 months - not something that happened very often.
Happy days.

Mike Waight
Reply Kris Dunham (Marconi Sahib)
6:51 AM on January 27, 2014 
Excellent account, Mike.
Immediately resurrected memories.
Cheers
Kris