5 – Cadet Years : Subsequent Voyages

This will be different to the previous four chapters and shorter. They were all written several years ago while sitting in hotels waiting for ships to arrive, I was employed conducting OCIMF Sire Risk Assessments. Earlier I had worked for MOD(N) in various jobs, most of which I am not allowed to discuss and write about.

Part One was about my first trip to sea and was easy to write, it just the matter of remembering stuff. Memories came flooding in as I typed.
I cannot remember what exactly what happened on voyages 2 3 4 5 ……. even if I did, it would make really boring reading, same old route UK, Bermuda, West Indies then the West Coast of South America. This final post comprises of separate incidents which occurred on subsequent voyages. If I remember more stuff I will add to it.

One trip we carried four Salvation Army ladies going to Bermuda (nice posting!), a Captain and three minions. The latter three addressed her as “Captain”. One night in the saloon at dinner, it was too much for ‘old man’, our captain had had enough, “ladies there is one Captain on this vessel and that is me”. Once it was sorted, they enjoyed the trip, getting pissed and amorous on a horse racing night, the only time they were seen out of their uniforms.


Typical scene in the Canals of Patagonia

I thought a Top Gear TV programme about Patagonia was rubbish except for the scenery. The team drive through Patagonia to Terra del Fuego. It reminded me of the voyages I made in the late 50’s, along the fjords and canals (the channels between 100’s of islands) of Chile. These were entered after crossing the Gulf of Penas. Seriously bad weather is encountered crossing this gulf. Vessels are guided across it by albatrosses, it was fascinating watching them, skimming across the tops of the waves.

Once out of the Gulf and into the canals, it was flat water. In the summer months we had to anchor on dark nights due to icebergs, which were floating around the canals, after having broken off glaciers.

Patagonian glacier

Sometimes we had to anchor at the entrance to the English Narrows, (a narrow double hairpin pin), waiting for the tide to be with us. We had a Chilean Pilot to guide and advise the Captain. The scenery along the canals was outstanding, the most spectacular I have ever seen and I have been to most places in the world!

Our end destination was Punta Arenas, (a totally different looking Punta Arenas to the one filmed in Top Gear, (this was in 1961), the cargo being mainly duty free items. The first (Arica) and last (Punta Arenas) Chilean ports are duty free.

During a walk around Punta Arenas, I passed the cathedral, an organ was playing a tune, it was one I was very familiar with having sung it solo in my choirboy days at Upcott House, I was tempted to provide the words but didn’t.

Bach – Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring

One voyage we carried on through the Magellan Straits to Rio Gallegos in Argentina to load wool. We were amazed when we woke up the first morning to find the Sarmiento sitting on the mud, it seemed that the estuary dried out at low tide.

MV Sarmiento launched 1946, built for the war, but arrived to late to take part in it. It had radar, (rare for those days and an Asdic compartment in the wheel house.

Stevedores lived on board, they had a kitchen set up, a sheep was delivered daily for slaughtering, best mutton I have ever tasted. Argentine Mate tea is delicious, green in colour, drunk from a special mug, with drinking spout.

Mate tea

One trip we called at a port north of the Gulf of Penas, where we were the first foreign shop to visit for over thirty years. The town came on board with food and booze and partied. Impossible to work cargo, but good PR.

One voyage I made coincided with the Concepcion earthquake of 1960. Our gracious ship owner offered to carry cargo from one Chilean port to another free. The offer was accepted and we were given approximately 300 cows to carry. We were promised two herdsmen to look after them, they failed to turned up, so us four cadets were given the job. Our vessel had a limited fresh water, so the Chief Office told us to limit each cow to two buckets a day. Difficult as they all seen to be identical to us. They were delivered to us in a landing craft ‘driven’ by a young naval midshipman, he came alongside at maximum speed, slapped the engine full astern, result being most cows fell over, much to his amusement. Subsequent trips were made a bit slower, as we refused to accept ‘damaged’ cows. Car slings slung under the bellies of the cows, were used to hoist them on board. Our cook was also a butcher, so a couple of cows never made their destination Talcahuano.

Admirate Latorre

The Chileans had purchased a very old clapped out British battleship, it was a bit of a joke at the time, but the joke was on the British as the Chileans did not want it as a sea going vessel. The vessel was berthed in naval port of Talachuano south of Valparaiso. the main engines were stripped out the apace was turned into workshops and naval accommodation, her generators were used to supply the city with power.

HAVANA – I and Castro arrive.
I was in Havana January 1959. Castro arrived the same day and took over. A few days earlier we had spent Christmas passing through a hurricane, we still celebrated. The British embassy advised the Captain for some unknown, unexplained reason stop shore leave for British personnel. We had three South American passengers, they went ashore and had a great time. Castro was welcomed into Havana, there was no violence reported.

On visiting Havana the following year, we found that he had closed down the Shanghai cinema (blue movies) and the ‘casa de putas’, however the old one to one exchange rate with the US$, (I am not sure if Cuba had bank notes, in those days, I never saw one, as we only used US$ bills), had changed to one to thirty, resulting in a bottle of Bacardi and coca cola grande cost $1. On returning to the dock gates, we were searched to make sure we were not bringing back more money than we left with. It was normal to smuggle a $5 note out, it set one up for a night of enjoyment. I found the same situation in USSR Baltic states and Poland a few years later. We were buying leather jackets and Georgian ‘champagne’ (good), very cheaply.

When US trade embargo of Cuba was in force, we received orders to load sugar at Havana. Nearing the Cuban coast, we sighted US warships on patrol to enforce the embargo. Although they must have had intelligence (Lloyds List etc), that we had come from the UK, no attempt was made to contact us. As we were not bringing goods to Cuba, we were not embargo breaking. Years later on I was involved in the ‘Beira Patrol’ embargo of Rhodesia, but this time I was doing the embargoing, but that is another story, one I am not able to relate.

The purpose of our visit was to load refined sugar for ports on the West Coast South America. As we regularly loaded cane sugar at Peruvian ports, I assume they have refining plants as well and that the sacks of white granulated sugar, ‘presents’ from Castro. We also loaded a lot of chunky mail sacks for discharge at the various countries we were visiting. Shortly after leaving Cuba we received orders from the company to dump the mail sacks overboard. Us cadets were given the job. Being curious we opened the sacks and found they contained parcels of propaganda literature and boxes of the very best Cuban cigars. The latter never made it into the sea.

The American Ambassador to Cuba car was also loaded with the mail bags, bound for Cristobal in the canal, for shipment back to the USA. The rest of the tween deck was cartons of whisky. It is impossible to run a car on whisky, it just will not start, so do not try it.

I was ‘standing bye’ on the Reina in Canada No.1 Dock in Liverpool, when the Commodore’s (Senior captain, master of the Reina del Mar), wife turned up in his brand new car. He had me (the Third Officer) and the cadets pushing his car around the dock, so he could “get a feel of it” before actually switching on the engine and driving it.

We had taken on the movie, “Captains Table”. Shortly after sailing from Liverpool, we received instructions from head office, that on no account was this movie to be shown to the passengers, in case they got the idea, that scams on the movie were being carried out on board. Of course they weren’t the very idea of it.


On one voyage we were in Tocopilla a Chilean nitrate anchor port, there were two PSNC vessels in port, mine the Salamanca and another the Flamenco I think, making a total of eight cadets, definitly bad news, trouble ahead. We got a lift to the jetty, a lighter handling tug was given a carton of cigarettes as our fare. There was a kiosk on the jetty, selling beer and very little else, we wanted to go up to the town a fair distance away, the stevedores bus was on the jetty, as they were working on the two vessels, they obviously had no need of it, so we borrowed it and drove up to town. We had only been in the bar for about an hour before the police arrived, we were frogmarched down to the fire-station. The police had decided that were quite docile and did not need locking up for the night, so could spend it polishing the brass on a very ancient Dennis fire engine.

This was something we were well qualified to do. The following morning we were taken down the jetty, stinking of Brasso, put on a launch and sent back to our respective vessels. Our Chief Mate pissed himself laughing when he heard what had happened, on the other vessel they weren’t so lucky and had their shore leave stopped for the rest of the voyage,
bad news for them as they were outward bound, two months to go, we were loading nitrate for the uk.