|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Charts - pre metric and well out of date despite my best efforts to update them.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!