MV Cedarbank one of many vessels owned at that time by Bank Line.
The vessel has five hatches, as third mate I was responsible for the forward three. Two of the hatches contained a total six deep tanks, four side by side the remaining two on top of two of the aforementioned, these were for the carriage of liquid cargoes such as edible and lubricating oils. Palm oil on the return to europe voyage. There was a manifold located on the boat deck for filling them. These tanks, were designed to carry normal cargoes when not carrying liquids, their lids extended the who width / length of the tanks.
I was fed up with the bullshit of PSNC, I want something different, where the wearing of fancy uniforms was not required and where I had someone to do my laundry, so I went to the other extreme and joined Bank Line, however after this voyage, I compromised left and joined Strick Line.
Bank Line ‘trips’ usually take you anywhere in the world, expected time onboard was anything from 12 to 18 months. However the Cedarbank was on the copra run, which took five months, longer if the Australian dockers were on strike, which they were lot in those days. The copra run, was UK and US Gulf to load cargo. Australia, Tasmania to discharge cargo, then the Pacific Islands to load copra and similar products for europe.
I joined the Cedarbank at Liverpool on 30 June 1964, can’t remember anything about it, so it must have been uneventfull.
The Cedarbank as with all Bank Line vessels, carried British Deck Officers, comprising of the Master (Captain), Chief Mate, Second Mate, Third Mate (me) and three Apprentices (deck cadets), a Chief Engineer, about four other engineering types, some Indian and an Indian Calcutta Crew, plus a Chinese carpenter, who incidentally for some a reason which we never found out, could consume and purchase liquor on board. The Captain was a recovered alcoholic, so to remove the temptation he kept a dry ship. The Chinese ‘chippy’ was the exception.
All of the deck officer except me had company contracts and were on A Articles as such they received a decent salary, I was on B Articles received a lower wage but was paid for overtime worked. The crew were also on B Articles
One of my duties on board was to calculate and fill in the B Article crew members overtime forms. This was in the days of pounds, shilling and pence. I was doing this one day with great difficulty, when McClusky (fine Indian name), the officers steward leaned over my shoulder, run his finger down a long column of figures and said that is so many pounds, shilling and pence sahib. Sometime latter, I came to the same conclusion. He was a fully qualified accountant, but could earn more money at sea being a steward.
The Indian Chief Engineer was ex BI (British India one of the Uk’s premier shipping companies at the time). When serving in BI Indian engineers could only reach the rank of 2nd Engineer. He hated Bank Line and informed us so at frequent intervals, he was slumming it, he was going to serve this one trip and then look for something better, I was fully in agreement, but had the sense not to say so,
After PSNC passenger food with its six course meals, I found Bank Line food to be very poor, not much better than the Board of Trade standard, two eggs a week etc.
Officers and the stewards food was cooked in the midships galley. The crew had two galleys on poop deck, one each for deck and engine crew, separate in order to prevent inter-departmental poisoning. If one did not like the lunch main course, one could always fall back on the curry, different for each day. Christmas Day as a special treat, we had a chicken curry, all previous ones had been rabbit, (rabbits are cheap in Australia), I provided the chickens.
I was getting fed up with the food especially the lack of eggs. On the boat deck there was a chicken coop, this was marked the ships plans as being the officers’ chicken coop. Whilst in the Pacific Islands, I kicked out the stuff stowed in it and purchased some chickens, so I could have my own private egg supply. At Christmas we were approaching the end of the voyage, so I donated my chickens for the Christmas dinner.
The Voyage Begins – Fowey
The Cedarbank sailed from Liverpool to Fowey, (I had to teach them how to pronounce the name properly), to load bulk china clay for Bell Bay and Burnie, in Northern Tasmania, in two of the lower holds.
The China Clay berth was occupied, so we had to anchor in the harbour. I was apparent that the Harbour Master had not realised how large we were, he took it for granted that we were the normal size coaster that loaded china clay at that port, we were the largest vessel ever to anchor in the harbour and probable still are.
We were using the ship’s motor lifeboat for runs ashore as Bank Line would not pay for launch hire.
The second day at anchor the master was pleased to see that the three apprentices were running tourists to the ship and showing them around, the naievely master thought it would be good for recruitment, he failed to notice that most of the tourists were female. Bank Line never employed female seagoing staff.
On the third day the Harbour Master boarded and informed the master the practice had to stop, as the apprentices were ruining the professional launch owners trade, by undercutting them and operating without a license. Formal complaints had been made. It appeared the apprentices were charging the tourist half-a-crown per head, by this time they had earned enough for several good runs ashore.
The second night I went ashore on a pub crawl to help the apprentices spend the cash received from the tourists, I decided I was within my rights as the motor lifeboat (only one of the two with a motor), was under my charge, I was responsible for its maintenance etc. The captain’s son, a university student on his summer holiday, expected to with us from Liverpool, to the time we sailed from Fowey, asked if he could come along.
In the second bar he got into a row with some local lads, concerning us doing them out of business by running illegal boat trips, nothing to do with him of course, it looked as if a fight was imminent and the captain’s son was spoiling for one. Myself and the apprentices discreetly left for another pub leaving him to it, the last we saw of him was later, when he was being led away by police, swearing in his native Scottish tongue.
He wasn’t at the lifeboat at closing time, so we left without him. The following morning the captain asked for his whereabouts, we said last we saw of him was being lead away by the police, he went ashore to find him, bail him out and put on a train for home, a deal with the police I expect. As for use, we were not allowed to use the lifeboat for the rest of the time in Fowey, Not a problem as we moved up the river on the fourth day to the china clay berth.
US Gulf Ports
Mobile – New Orleans – Beaumont – Houston – Brownsville
Of our US Gulf Ports, two Mobile and Beaumont are not worth mentioning, we were stuck up river berths a long way from the cites loading liquids into the deep tanks. It took quite a lot of preparation and worry for the Chief Mate, as we had loaded edible corn oil in the lower two tanks and lube oil in the upper two, the slightest leak from top to bottom would have resulted in the corn oil be ruined.
Of all of the Gulf Ports, New Orleans was the best, I spent most of my off time walking up and down Bourbon Street drinking Hurricanes
Although I do not like jazz and would not listen to it normally, it is different when it is heard coming from the bars of Bourbon Street. The atmosphere gets you, you cannot help not liking it.
The other gulf ports we called at did not match New Orleans. Several years later I returned to New Orleans when a banana container ship I was serving, on refitted there.
A stoll ashore in Brownsville gave me a chance to practice my South American Spanish. The stroll turned into run or I would have been in serious trouble, it seems the Mexican Spanish is much ‘cleaner’.
My observations of the USA
The US Gulf is very humid especially Houston with 1000’s of aircons pumping out moist air.
American Ice Cream, was the best I had tasted, many flavours, cheap and came in gallon tubs, US gallons but still big.
Americans loved our British accents and would entertain us, just so they could listen to us speak. I remember a party we went in Houston, put on by an English carpet salesmans, he sold 100’s on the strength of his accent.
Amazed at the variety of stuff available for sale in the Nieman Marcus store in Houston.
We found it impossible to get pissed on American beer, we tried hard enough. A great thirst quencher in a hot climate, but not a proper beer. As the Monty Python team said in their Hollywood Bowl performance, American beer is like making love in a canoe, f**k**g close to water.
Australia and Tasmania
The Panama Canal and Onward to Brisbane
I will not mention the Panama Canal as I covered this in The Cadet Years.
From the Canal we headed for Brisbane approximately 7600 miles away, plenty of time to overhaul the cargo gear and save money for some runs ashore.
In those days (1962) the Port of Brisbane did not appear to have any security, anyone could walk in stroll around, visit ships, our visitors were nurses from a local hospital looking for booze and sex in that order. We only left the ship to replenish bar stocks, not being able to buy it on board, for reasons explained earlier.
Our next port was Newcastle, a dirty coal and steel BHP port. We were strike bound due to a dockers strike. The Chief Mate decided to educate us into lifeboat handling. We rowed away from the ship, hoisted the mast and sail. He was useless had not got a clue, I asked if “I could have a go”, as a result we had a successful sail around the harbour, and the next day, and the next! He was determined to “get the hang of it”. The average merchant seaman has not got a clue as far as small boats are concerned. Robin Knox-Johnston (ex BI) excluded .
Our next port after Newcastle was Sydney. We expected and long dockers strike as we were discharging ‘carbon black’, a fine powder used in the manufacture of motor vehicle tyres, the previous voyage the dockers refused to handle it unless a bonus was paid, strike action was threatened and happened. This trip the stevedoring company was prepared, as shower barge was secured alongside. The dockers’ foreman inspected it, found the water temperature suitable. Our expected long stay ended up as a three day one, long enough to savour the delights of Kings Cross.
Melbourne was our final port on Australian mainland. In the US Gulf we had loaded Caterpillar Tractors into No.2 Lower Hold, the hold with the jumbo heavy lift derrick, needed to handle them, No.2 hatch was on the foredeck, my responsibility. All went well until i inspected the hold on completion of discharge, in the centre of the hold sat the largest Caterpillar, Caterpillar produce. I went to see the stevedore foreman, I asked why it hadn’t been discharged, I suspected there could be a problem as it was much larger than the others. I was informed it was destined for Sydney. I was responsible for the over carriage of the voyages largest cargo item. I do not how they explained it to head office, we got no feedback and I was not asked to pay for its passage back to Sydney
From Melbourne we proceeded to Bell Bay in Tasmania to discharge the china clay loaded in Fowey. We spent a few days at anchor waiting for the berth, during which a gale blew up and a shoal of cod swam into the bay. The captain had us all fishing, overtime being paid for off watch hours, a pleasant way of earning overtime much better than cleaning the six deep tanks after the discharge of the corn and lube oils. Cod was on the menu for the rest of the voyage.
The Pacific Islands
Islands visited to load copra and coconut oil , New Guinea, (several ports), New Britain and New Ireland.
Copra is the dried meat or kernel of the coconut, which is the fruit of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). Coconut oil is extracted from copra, making it an important agricultural commodity for many coconut-producing countries. It also yields de-fatted coconut cake after oil extraction, which is mainly used as feed for livestock. It also contains beetles, once a vessel enters a colder climate, the beetles leave the holds and enter the accommodation looking for warmth.
During our stay at one of the islands the Second Mate and some others (not me) took the motor lifeboat ashore to a local bar, came back pissed several hours late, missing their watches, as a result the Captain banned us from using the lifeboats, (our only means of getting ashore from anchor posts), most were. Alongside ports varied from a proper jetty rare only one that I can remember, to being secured to a the hull of sunken WW2 wreck, with mooring ropes wrapped around palm trees. We arrived at one such ‘port’ a person came onboard and introduced himself at the Pilot, the Captain questioned him as the port does not have a Pilot, it turned out he was the local taxi driver. He seemed to be under the impression this qualified him to pilot visiting vessel into the port. The Captain got rid of him promptly. He returned the next day with his teenage son, he wanted us to take him on a deck apprentice. The boy was wearing very thick glasses, it was pointed out that he would never pass the Board of Trade medical. I nearly failed the test when my eyesight was tested by the BofT at the Plymouth Customs house. One of the tests carried out using a paraffin powered magic lantern, which displayed a combination of two lights, white, red or green. The examiner lit it up, I was first of the group and could not see any lights and told him so, he changed the combination. I could still not see any lights, it was at this time we noticed the room was filling up with smoke, the wick in the lantern had been turned up too high, filling the lantern with black smoke. The test was called off and were informed that we had all passed.
Going back to being banned from using a lifeboat for getting ashore, I and the Chinese chippy purchased (my idea, his money), a dugout canoe for getting ashore. It was kept tied up below the deep-tank hose handling davit, so easy to launch and recover. The Captain was furious and I was ordered to get rid of it, I replied that I had written a letter to the ships adopted school offering it to them, the Captain later received a letter from the school thanking him for the kind donation.
After the filling up with copra we headed for home (Liverpool) via the Red Sea and Mediterranean. Approaching the sub-continent, we received orders to proceed to Colombo to exchange crews with another Bank Line vessel whose crew were nearing completion of their 18 month contract time. If this went ahead Bank Line would save repatriation charges and we could carry on until our 18 months was up. The word got around the ship, the engines stopped, ’emergency repairs’ was the explanation, the truth was that no way was the Chief Engineer going to spend 18 months with Bank Line. ‘Repairs’ were completed once the other vessel had sailed from Colombo.
The remainder was an uneventful trip to Liverpool, I ‘paid off’ with a decent sum of money, due the the fact that the Captain would not let me draw any of the overtime that I had earnt.