Hi, I would like to submit the following stories for publication on the "All at sea" website.
A Vindi boy's story
I was July 1963 and I was now 17 years old and the urge to travel the world was still strong.
applied to the Merchant Navy Training Board to attend a pre
sea training course.
This would consist
of a three month course which would culminate in being all
ocated a first ship.
I travelled into London
to attend the interview where I was shown into a large office in which several people sat at desks
My interviewer wore the uniform of a Merchant Navy Officer.
He indicated with a nod of his hea
take a seat in the chair opposite.
I made myself comfortable.
“WHO THE FUCK TOLD YOU TO SIT DOWN,” he bellowed.
His face was red with rage.
“DON’T YOU DARE SIT UNTIL I TELL YOU TO
I shot out of the chair confused and
Sir,” I mumbled.
I stood awkwardly whilst he looked me up and down.
As he grumbled and made some notes I looked
around the room. The other residents of the office hadn’t batted an eyelid at the shouting and bad
language, and I (quite rightly) guessed tha
t the screaming fit was a regular occurrence designed to
highlight any boy who couldn’t take the heat.
After all, if any lad started crying for his mum
whenever someone shouted, then he was hardly likely to be able to endure the rigors of a lifetime at
a, was he?
As soon as I realised that, then I began to relax.
“You can sit down now son,” he said quietly.
He handed me pen and paper and I was instructed to
write, in my very best handwriting, how I had travelled to the interview, what trains or b
uses I’d taken
and how long was my journey.
It was all very strange information.
No questions at all were asked
with regard to why I wanted a career at sea.
After half an hour I was handed a list of what clothes, wash gear, bath towels, and pocket mone
that I must take to the sea school.
Included was a list of the very strict rules that I would have to abide
I was also handed a rail warrant and instructed to report in one month to the training ship
Vindicatrix at Sharpness in Gloucestershire.
Onboard the train enroute to Sharpness I met up with another lad called Chris Stafford who
would also be going to the Vindicatrix.
It helped to pass the time as we played cards.
On arrival at
Berkeley railway station in Gloucestershire we linked up wi
th dozens of boys from all over the
Instructors from the training camp were there to meet us.
We were quickly herded into two
lines and told that we would be marching to the camp
just three miles away!
The camp was a collection of a dozen or s
o Nissan type dormitory huts, all of which accommodated
There was also a quartermasters store, offices, guardroom, classrooms, sick
games room, recreation hut, reading room, washrooms, and smart bungalow accommodation for the
in Superintendant and senior officers.
After being allocated a bunk
bed in a hut we were all marched through the camp to an offshoot of the
Gloucester Canal where sat the actual training ship.
The Vindicatrix was a large ex sailing ship built
e looked enormous.
As a hulk she now had her masts removed and her former cargo
holds had been reconstructed to provided messroom and classroom facilities.
She had previously
acted as accommodation ship where the Vindi Boys had slept way down in the orlo
p deck at the
bottom of the ship, but shortly before my arrival this was closed down due to serious infestations of
rats and cockroaches.
As we marched to the gangplank, boys lined the upper decks in their hundreds to greet us.
You’ll be sor
ry you ever set eyes on the Vindi. You’ll be crying for your mum
within a week. You ain’t ever going ‘ome Newboys.”
The situation didn’t look good.
What the hell had I signed up for?
There were more ribald statements
that we would starve to death withi
n a week.
We were taken onboard and at the ship’s office our general information was recorded in the camp’s
Cash that we had been instructed to bring, was taken from us and an account book started.
These funds were to cover all manner of things
including paying for uniform and pocket
money at 5
shillings (25p) per week.
Somewhere in there was also the cash for a train ticket home, just in case
the school decided that you were a liability if you stayed.
We were taken along to the messdeck and se
ated at long wooden trestle tables where catering
cadets would serve our meal as part of their training.
Our instructor, who went by the name of
Popeye, informed us that, as we’d been travelling all day and would no doubt be very hungry, we
an extra large serving of dinner.
As a catering boy put my meal on the table my worst fears were realised.
On the plate was a dried up
egg, half a chipolata sausage, a tired looking plum tomato, and a tablespoon of baked beans.
“What the hell is this
shit?” I enquired from my server.
“Well if you don’t want it Pal, then I’ll have it,” he said in a Scouse accent.
He quickly crammed the
lot into his mouth and was gone.
Things went downhill from there.
One rule that was strictly enforced was
If any boys were caught fighting,
then they were immediately sent home; which resulted in the premature ending of their Merchant
One way that any bad feeling could be overcome was to take part in an organised three
round fight in the
Every Thursday evening Vindi boys would gather in the large
recreation hut where a full sized ring was set up.
Most, but not all of the fights, were grudge matches between two lads who simply wanted to knock
seven bells of shit out of their
The fights were overseen by the PE instructor and consisted
of 3 x three minute rounds.
There were seconds on hand in your corner to give advice, together with
gloves, gum shields, towels, water, and a loud bell.
One evening I was in a quiet co
rner writing a letter home when a young lad stopped me in mid
paragraph. “Excuse me for asking, but would you care to have a fight with me in the ring?” he asked
My eyes narrowed in suspicion. “What the fuck have I done to make you wanna fight me
?” I replied
He had blonde hair with an open honest face. “Oh, absolutely nothing.
It’s just that you’re
about the same height and weight as me and we’ll be evenly matched.” Sure enough, we were about
the same size. I was 5ft 9in and 11st 3oz.
Well I dunno,” I answered cautiously. “Have you ever boxed before?”
“Yes I have
but not recently,” he replied in a broad Bolton accent.
“Hhmm, well okay then.
You go put our name on the fight list and I’ll finish off my letter.”
We were issued shorts an
d gloves and instructed to wait by the boxing ring until our names were
Meanwhile some of the fights going on were real nasty grudge affairs, the two menacing
protagonists glaring at each other with open venom.
At last our names were called and we
entered the ring.
My challenger smiled and winked as the
referee gave us our instructions.
The bell went for the opening round and I squared
up in a classic
boxer’s stance and danced around the ring
just as I’d seen Cassius Clay perform.
The boy came
within my range and I was just about to attempt a left hook when..... Doof....Doof...Doof...Doof.
was down on the canvas and totally disorientated.
I remember thinking, “Where the fuck did that
The bell went and I returned to my corner.
“Didn’t see that coming, did ya?” said my second
Round 2 didn’t start well.
My opponent was all over me and landed several good hits around my
eyes and stomach.
He danced away like a gazelle and appeared to be confident whilst I had legs l
lead and was wheezing like an old man.
He came in again and landed a haymaker around my left ear and I went down.
Next thing I knew the
bell had sounded and through my puffed eyes I saw his arm being held aloft in victory by the referee.
Half an hour later I was showered and dressed and getting some feeling back into my tired body.
opponent was nowhere to be seen.
I bumped into Gary, one of the chaps who was a regular onlooker
at the Thursday night fights. “Blimey Graham
, he made mincemeat of you, didn’t he?” he said with a
“Jeez Gary, the little bastard told me he’d hardly ever boxed before,” I moaned.
Gary threw back his head and laughed.
“You’ve been stitched
That young man is the North
of England Scho
olboy Boxing Champion.”
Every Saturday morning was hut inspection.
Our huts had 32 bunk beds with 32 steel
The flooring was red painted linoleum, and at the end of each hut were the ablutions, or
All this had to be cleaned and the
floors buffed until you could see your face in them.
toilets you should be able to drink from and each item of your clothing had to be laid out onto your
bunk in an exact square.
Your uniform must have razor sharp creases, and your belt buckle and ca
badge must be shiny.
It was all very military.
If the inspecting officer found just one speck of dust or
someone’s shirt not laid out properly for inspection, then the whole hut would be denied shore leave.
We fastidiously cleaned our hut to the high
We strapped cloths onto our feet so as to buff
up the floor as we walked.
The tiles in the toilet were cleaned with an old toothbrush, and we double
checked that everything was tickety
At 11am every boy was stood to attention by his bu
nk as the Chief Officer, Mr Poore, entered
our hut followed by his entourage.
Tension was high as we had been told stories of terrible retribution
for the smallest infraction of hygienic standards.
Without a glance towards our gleaming bunks or lockers, t
he Chief Officer ignored the polished floor
and headed for the ablutions.
There he took off his uniform jacket and handed it to his second
Rolling up his shirt
sleeve he plunged his arm down the toilet so that his hand was right
around the be
nd of the bowl.
He scraped his fingernails against the porcelain as he extracted his hand.
“That, I believe is shit,” he said as he inspected his fingers.
“It’s not good enough. This hut is denied
If one were unfortunate enough to become ill whilst at the Vindi then one would be sent to the
There, you would come under the care of the nurse, Sister Mimi Grey.
she also had another name, Codeine Annie!
One had to be very care
Her first action when you entered her 5
bay would be to thrust a
thermometer into your mouth.
If she didn’t like what she saw, which was often; she would confine
you to bed and start a course of codeine tablets.
There was a rumour that a b
oy went to visit his sick
friend and, after having a thermometer shoved into his mouth was then kept in bed until one of the
training officers found him there.
At first glance it may seem like heaven to be able to lie for days on
end in a nice warm bed.
However, one was brought back to earth when he remembered that each day
spent in the sick
bay was added on to your total time at the Vindi.
I heard of one boy who, instead of
the usual 12 weeks, did 15 weeks there.
That’s definitely not funny.
In the week before our departure one had to “stand watch” aboard the Vindicatrix.
entailed patrolling the decks in case of intruders (we were in the middle of nowhere!) and cleaning out
the onboard officers toilets.
If not doing any of the above I s
tood watch in a small cubicle amidships.
In charge of the duty watch was an officer instructor.
On this particular night it was Mr Jackson,
otherwise referred to (behind his back) as Squeezy Jackson due to his inclination to awaken us Vindi
boys with a s
hot of cold water from an old Squeezy washing
No kidding, he could hit the
end of your nose from ten paces.
He was also known for his favourite 06:30 wake
up call, “Okay
boys, hands off cocks and on with socks.
C’mon lads, it’s time to get up
I had cleaned the toilets and carried out my security rounds.
All was quiet.
No chance of a machine
Suddenly the watchman’s internal telephone rang.
It was Mr Jackson.
I was to report to
him soonest in the Officers’ Saloon.
kson sat in a tall Dickensian chair looking down at me over his half
“Don’t be alarmed boy,” he said.
“I just want to take a few details from you.”
“Yes Sir,” I said, standing to attention.
“What’s your name?”
“Graham Mcglone Sir.”
rote this information onto a large block pad.
“Have you ever been on a motorbike?” he asked.
“Yes Sir, I have.”
I was wondering where this enquiry was leading as he was asking such strange
Meanwhile he wrote this down.
“Have you ever been over
a hundred miles an hour?
Have you done a ton?”
“No Sir, I have not.”
“Hhmm, that’s a shame, isn’t it?”
He sounded almost sorry for me, but nevertheless carried on
scribbling onto paper this very important information.
He suddenly seemed to get bored wi
th talk of
“Are you hungry lad?
How would you like some fresh
baked bread with strawberry jam?”
Was he kidding?
I was starving.
However I managed to contain myself.
“That would be very nice
“Okay then boy.
Go along to the officers’ p
There, you’ll find a fresh loaf, some butter, a pot
of strawberry jam, and a bread
Bring it all back here to me on a tray, got it?”
Sure enough there were all these wonderful items.
The large loaf was so fresh that I inhaled deeply,
ing the aroma.
I carried them back to Squeezy who now appeared to be in a strange faraway
“Are you sure you’re still hungry boy?”
“Oh yes Sir I am,” I said, hoping that he hadn’t changed his mind.
He carefully cut the loaf exactly in half, buttered
both ends, and coated each side with a thick spread
of strawberry jam.
He jammed the two halves back together and handed the whole loaf down from
his lofty perch.
“There you are boy, eat that.”
“I won’t be able to eat all of it Sir,” I said with alarm.
“It’s far too much.”
“You told me you were hungry,” he said testily.
“Therefore you will eat the whole loaf.” He said it in
a manner that suggested he would tolerate no dissent.
Of course I easily managed the middle section, but was struggling by the ti
me I had eaten a third of it.
It didn’t matter.
Squeezy glared down at me until I had consumed every last morsel.
Then he said
“I’m going to sleep now. Goodnight.”
November 1963 was the end of week No. 12.
It found us older, wiser, and ab
out to be let
loose on the nautical fraternity.
I was also the proud holder of a Merchant Seaman’s discharge book
number R789181 and a red MN identity card
We were lined up outside the regulating hut or guardhouse.
Our canvas kitbags that we had hand
e ourselves lay at our feet.
My friend Chris Stafford with whom I had joined winked as he caught
We were all of us proud that, not only were we now ready to go and be merchant seaman,
but that we had somehow survived this hell
We had all e
xchanged addresses with heartfelt
promises to keep in touch.
Mr Agate, the senior deck instructing officer gave us a pep talk about putting our new
knowledge to good use. Yes, he agreed. It’s been very hard for you here because we instructors have
liberately made it so.
But if you think the past twelve weeks have been
, then God forbid that you ever serve in a ship with a rotten crew and intolerable working
You’ll think this was a walk in the park.
We were brought to attention and began to
march out the camp gates towards the railway station.
We would sho
rtly be on our way home; and
soon after that, we would be joining our first ships.
I withheld the urge to throw my beret high into
the air with a loud yippee.
A boy had done that very thing some weeks back and Agate had ordered
him straight back into cam
p for another week of hell!
That night my mum had served a large helping of home
made steak and kidney pie, roast potatoes,
buttered Swede, and fresh peas with thick gravy for dinner.
“I hope that’s good enough Graham.
I didn’t know you’d be home today.
It’s all I could knock
such short notice.”
Was she kidding me?
Hymns on Mont Royal
The Port Montreal stayed in her namesake city four just four days.
One evening I dropped into the
seamen’s mission and got chatting to a girl who was
working in the snack bar there.
Her name was
Maxine and she was very pretty with innocent brown eyes and angelic features.
Because the Mission
to Seamen was a Christian agency, one of whose roles was to offer sailors religious comfort; it was
al that any girls who frequented the place would be of a religious disposition.
always been a devout agnostic myself, but I don’t have a problem with those who dabble with the
bible and like to sing the odd hymn or two.
I had never been out with a
mission girl before, but we
got on very well, and so I asked her if she would like to come out on a date.
As I was to find out later;
her idea of a date differed wildly from mine.
“How about we meet up on the summit of Mont Royal tomorrow evening?” she s
aid. “There’s a
chalet at the top.
I could bring a picnic, and then we could spend some time up there.
Would you like
that?” she asked me with a virginal innocence.
Mont Royal is the 764 foot high mountain (a mere hill really!) which overlooks the city.
I liked the
sound of that scenario, and I could easily visualise her and I getting snuggled up in a small log cabin
chalet on the top of a mountain.
I had mental visions of us perhaps sharing a large double sleeping
bag and Maxine not trying too hard to
fight me for her virtue.
My red blood cells were running riot!
“I would like that very much,” I answered.
“How do I get to the top of the mountain?
Do I have to
climb all the way?”
“Oh no, you can get a bus or a cab most of the way, then
just a short walk to the chalet.
You can’t miss it.
I’ll see you there at about 7pm.” She had a lovely sexy French accent.
An Atlantic storm aboard the Beaverfir
The Beaverfir was four days into our transatlantic voyage back to England when the storm
It had begun its existence as just a small blip of a weather depression a thousand miles back
towards the west.
It had quickly intensified as it fed off the rising warm air currents of eastern
Canada and quickly developed into a deep depression.
Rapidly it had transformed from a benign regular weather pattern into a malevolent monster.
winds ahead of its path, which until that time had been a light to moderate breeze, increased in
strength and travelled madly into an anti
clockwise vortex t
hat covered a huge area of the ocean,
perhaps two hundred miles wide.
The isobars of the barometric pressure packed tightly together as
the storm then went active and careered easterly across the Atlantic Ocean.
The storm was travelling
at a forward spee
d of 25 knots and with the up
date weather forecasts available via radio; we
aboard the Beaverfir had known that it was headed towards us.
Up on the bridge the 3
been checking the barometer readings every half hour, and he didn’t like what h
was dropping like a brick and that could mean just one thing.
Rotten weather was coming our way
and it would catch us up within about four hours.
There was nothing at all that could be done about it
and we would simply have to ride
out the storm.
Already the sky was darkening with threatening
slate grey thick clouds on the western horizon and the waves had begun to increase in height.
Parker had already ordered the duty watch to rig rope life
lines along the decks so that,
if there was an
absolute need for men to go outside when the storm arrived, and if seas were breaking over the decks,
then they would at least have something secure to cling onto.
Captain Parker had felt the rising seas beneath his feet and came up onto th
e bridge where Jimmy
Donn was plotting an estimated position onto the navigation chart.
The captain glanced over his
shoulder and nodded in agreement at the fix.
The Beaverfir was in position latitude 52N and
longitude 37W which is roughly halfway across
the Atlantic between Newfoundland and the United
She was presently maintaining an easterly course at full cruising speed of 15 knots.
glanced at the barometer readings that had been entered into the daily log and he was frankly
The pressure had dropped by some ten millibars within the past six hours, and as he
tapped the glass on the barometer it dropped another millibar.
That was an enormous and rapid
decrease in barometric pressure and indicated that very severe weather was i
The needle on
the wind speed indicator had in the past half hour crept up from 30 knots to 45 knots, so the present
weather conditions were already categorised as a severe gale.
The wind outside was howling as it
shrieked through the ship’s rigg
ing and she was rolling from side to side.
However, this wasn’t just
an unexceptional gale, a commonplace enough event in the world of shipping the world over.
quite certain that the approaching storm would be far worse in intensity and a portent
of what was to
As the storm hurtled towards the British Isles then it would no doubt diminish in strength and
peter out, but right now it was dangerous and packing one hell of a punch.
Tom Parker made himself comfortable in a padded chair in a corne
r of the wheelhouse and waited for
the storm to strike.
It was simply a matter of time before it caught the ship up.
At 34 years of age he
had been at sea for some 18 years.
He had begun his sea
going career as a lowly deck cadet and very
slowly had mov
ed up the promotion ladder until this, the Beaverfir, was his first command.
he had held his Master Mariner’s certificate for some years he’d had to await a command vacancy and
now the coveted position was his.
He was proud that he had been appo
inted at such a young age; one
of the youngest ship’s masters within the Canadian Pacific fleet.
His mind went over and over the actions he ought to be taking before the storm arrived;
ticking off a mental check list of the orders he had already given.
He had now been the Beaverfir’s
captain for a little under three months, and although during his many years at sea he had experienced
countless storms, this was his first whilst in command.
The safety of the ship and its crew were a
paramount priority and
, apart from rigging the life
lines, he’d sent the bosun and a team of men from
stem to stern to double check that anything that could come adrift was securely stowed.
Chief Engineer Ossie Woodhouse had seen to it that his machinery spaces we
crew had been forewarned, and the chief cook especially had been advised that sea conditions may
deteriorate to a state whereby no meals could be cooked.
Of secondary importance was the ship’s
cargo and he had the chief officer tour
the cargo holds to ensure that it was all stowed securely and
that nothing could come adrift.
If anything heavy did become loose below decks then it could cause
either structural damage or perhaps affect the ship’s stability which in turn affected the saf
ety of the
The two things went hand
Satisfied that he had thought of all precautions there was just one last thing to consider.
As the storm
was chasing them, then the winds and the waves would come from a westerly direction.
that the waves would be under her stern, and if they were to be very large and heavy seas, then they
would tend to carry the ship before them in an uncontrollable roller
coaster ride which could make
steering very difficult and have dire consequences. Ther
efore the vessel would at some stage need to
be turned around so that she was facing the brutal weather, and although she would pound straight
into the storm’s waves, he would at least have a modicum of control and she would be easier to
if that happened, then the ship would make no forward speed and would remain
almost stationary and become what was known as “hove
The trick would be when to make the
turn. Captain Parker after all had a schedule to maintain.
Turn too early and the s
hip would make no
progress towards her destination in London.
Turn too late, when the seas were enormous and the
manoeuvre was fraught with danger.
It was a sticky problem.
Within the hour the seas began piling up into ugly white crested waves fully 30 f
eet to their
summit; and several waves, already the height of the foredeck, swept aboard and raced along the
decks in a wild cacophony of white spume.
Captain Parker gauged that it was time to turn the ship
around and head into the brunt of the waves.
om the bridge telephone he called all departments to
The captain scanned the seas, observing the timing and sequence between the troughs.
He needed to
get his timing absolutely spot
on to avoid any damaging seas slamming into the ship’s sid
causing her to lurch far over onto her beam ends.
He slowed the ship down to “dead slow ahead”
speed of just four knots
and watched the waves for a suitable opportunity.
By now it was
impossible to sleep below decks and other off
watch deck o
fficers had come up to the bridge to
witness the heavy weather.
“Standby” shouted the captain as he prepared to make the turn.
his chance in what seemed a succession of slightly smaller waves and made his decision.
ne full ahead please,” he ordered with a calmness that he hoped would permeate to
all those around him.
The single engine powered up to its maximum revolutions and with the rudder
now hard over, her bow begun moving to the right.
Halfway through the turn
she slid down into a
deep trough and the succeeding wave smashed into her side with the power of a thousand
uncontrollable tons and attempted to push her over onto her side.
The Beaverfir gave a lurch and
continued to roll far over onto her port side unt
il it seemed that if she went any further, then she would
roll right over and be lost.
When the ship had reached the furthest arc of her roll, she hung there for
long seconds, seemingly wanting to topple over even further onto her beam
Then she rol
violently back the opposite way, her engine racing as the propeller came clear of the water.
down below in the accommodation, those on the bridge could hear the noise as small unsecured items,
an untended stack of crockery and several coffee mugs
, smashed into hundreds of pieces.
she righted herself and lurched in the opposite direction onto her starboard side and the noise as she
did so, from the detritus rolling around below decks and from the wind whistling through the ship’s
made a hellish shrieking noise that brought a tinge of fear to everyone in the wheelhouse.
However, her bow was coming around rapidly now so as to face into the waves, and she needed to be
slowed down again, otherwise she would cause untold damage to the
forepart of the ship.
slow ahead,” ordered the captain and the Beaverfir slowed her forward speed, but with just enough
wash past her rudder to maintain steerage way.
We had safely made the turn.
I awoke in my bunk and felt the ship’s see
ing movement and the vibrations as the
propeller came out of the water and raced at high speed, before the engine governor cut in to limit the
I looked at my wristwatch.
It said 10:35.
I had just another hour to lie in my bunk
ng an early lunch and starting my duty watch at midday.
Over the course of the next few hours the wind speed had risen dramatically to gusts of 50 knots.
afternoon was a steady 68 knots with gusts of 75 knots which, by reference to the
Beaufort Scale was a full blown hurricane.
Furthermore, the wave height, which had until now had
been very large, become monstrous.
The captain remarked that they w
ere the largest seas he had ever
encountered in his sea
afternoon it was my turn at the helm and to take over from Dave Perry.
As I stepped into the
wheelhouse I looked out of the forward windows and gasped.
Roaring towards us was a
wave easily as massive as a 5
storey apartment block.
My eyes widened in fear as this unstoppable
behemoth with an ugly white
capped top to it came racing towards us.
The Beaverfir’s bow dipped
down into the trough and she took off, sliding dow
n the slope of the wave before slamming into the
underside where her stem ploughed into solid green seas.
like a terrier shaking water off
she’d shake the water free of her decks, and come back upright, her steel frames creaking in
protest as she rolled.
I looked up and the apartment block towered above us with an all
The ship’s bow, with hundreds of tons of white water smashing around her fo’castle,
dragged herself skywards as she climbed up the near vertical
As our bow reached the top, a
large crested roller smashed against the starboard plating with the force of a dozen locomotives,
causing the ship to be slapped sideways as if we were but a mere nuisance that was to be swept aside
and not hinder the
The apex of the wave swept underneath the hull and the bow
dipped yet again to begin her nightmare ride down the underside of the trough.
It felt like dropping
several floors in an out
control express elevator.
All the while I could h
ear the steel plating and metal girders that made up the ship’s structure creaking
and groaning with the stresses being put upon them by the heavy seas.
The solid expanse of those big
waves looked massive compared against the diminutive 4467 gross ton Bea
Down in the
wave’s troughs she looked so small and vulnerable and hardly able to fight against the might of the
I said, “Jeezus Dave that was a huge one. I’ve never seen waves so big.”
“They’re mostly all that size mate.
hey’re even bigger,” he said morosely.
Dave gave me
a course to steer and warned that she was difficult to keep on course.
I took over and Dave went
below to wedge himself into a corner of the messroom where he wouldn’t be tossed around and
ain Parker had jammed himself into the seat in the starboard corner of the wheelhouse. He
swivelled his head around.
“Don’t try to steer a course helmsman.
Just keep her bow headed into the
“Aye aye Sir,” I answered.
This was much easier t
han attempting to steer by compass as I could
gauge any variation in the direction of a wave and adjust my rudder accordingly.
As the Beaverfir
ploughed through wave after gigantic wave my confidence grew in our little ship and in her ability to
weather and win the battle like David and Goliath.
I knew then that we would make it
through the storm and reach home safely.
The captain must have also felt the confidence because he
rose from his chair and chatted with the 2
mate who had been simila
rly jammed into a corner
elsewhere and holding on for grim death.
The captain opened the sliding door that led out onto the
open wing of the bridge and they both stepped outside.
A blast of fresh air came into the fetid
wheelhouse that had been closed up
tight for hour after hour, and outside, fine sea
water spray spewed
onto the open decks.
I watched the animated faces of the two officers as they chatted.
The jerky and
unpredictable movements of the ship had now been overcome and I could see their conf
growing by the minute as the ship coped with the enormous waves that were thrown against her.
They made their way around to the back of the bridge where they were now out of sight and I was
alone in the wheelhouse.
Maybe they had gone to take shel
ter from the fierce winds so as to have a
Minutes later a series of waves had taken the ship’s bow off course and I was using
maximum helm so as to try to bring her back onto the required heading.
Unaccountably she wouldn’t
respond, and as the
bow dropped even further off course, the ship was in danger of broaching
sideways onto the waves.
I needed more power on the engine to enable her to be brought back on
“Captain, the ship’s off course Sir,” I shouted.
There was no reply. Perhaps
they hadn’t heard
me above the howling of the wind.
“Captain,” I screamed as the ship went even further off the
Still there was no answer.
I was at my wit’s end because I urgently needed more power.
left the wheel and ran to the door and pe
No one was in sight, but I couldn’t leave the
helm unmanned to go searching for the skipper and officer
I raced back to the wheel
and just as I did I looked up in horror as I saw a colossal wave bearing down on the ship.
waves within the past hour could be categorised as huge, but this far outweighed anything we had
seen until now. The top of the monstrous wave was a menacing overhanging crest that tumbled end
end in a cataclysmic nosedive.
It towered above m
e with an impression of immense destructive
With white roaring crests
unstoppable and impregnable
it resembled legions of fearless
Roman cavalrymen, as the wave rode headlong at the ship.
Following close behind were more
topped mountainous seas.
Like hordes of unconquerable storm
intent on their destruction, they steam
rollered towards the Beaverfir.
I estimated the biggest wave
must have been damn near 50 feet from peak to trough.
I had never been s
o afraid in all my life.
mouth was so dry I couldn’t speak and I had trouble breathing.
It towered over our small vessel like a menacing Valkyrie.
There was nothing for it.
I rang the brass
engine telegraph to “full ahead” and got an instant respon
se of clanging bells as the duty engineer
down in the bowels of the machinery space piled on the power.
The ship shuddered as the propeller
spun faster and faster and at last her bow begun to come back to the proper heading.
Just before that
e struck the ship, the captain and OOW came racing into the wheelhouse.
on,” demanded Captain Parker.
“Was it you who rang full ahead?”
I needed more power and neither of you were here.” He nodded and patted me on the
“Okay, well done, carry
Just then the mountainous wave struck the bow with a
resounding boom and hundreds of tons of white water was dumped onto the foredeck and cascaded
back over the side.
The sound of the wind had increased in strength which shri
eked around the mast
and rigging like a wailing banshee.
Time and time again Beaverfir lifted her blunt snout and crashed
down into the seas where a solid phalanx of green water and spray would come over the bow and run
aft in a raging river of white wate
Captain Parker was apprehensive.
The deck forward was filling with hundreds of tons of
water causing her to lean way over onto her port side, hanging there interminably as she continued her
roll almost onto her side.
Eventually the water would spew o
ut over the side, but the captain was
anxious with regard to the vessel’s stability.
He’d never experienced anywhere near this sort of
oceanic weather on his previous voyages.
When many tons of water are slopping about onboard a ship they cause a vast r
eduction in the vessels
centre of gravity, called the GM.
This reduction of GM can make the ship unstable and she will
theoretically, tend to tip over onto her side.
This dangerous reduction in stability is further
exacerbated by the free
of the water.
Parker equated free
surface to the slopping
motion one feels when attempting to carry a bowl full of water across a room.
No matter how much
one tries, the water gets out of equilibrium and sloshes all over the sides of the bowl due to its
stability caused by the free
surface of the overflowing water.
In this case the ship was the bowl and
the water came aboard in a never
The point at which Beaverfir would become
unstable was all subject to a complicated mathematical
formula to which Captain Parker hadn’t been
concerned with since his days at nautical college.
On the bridge they could only watch as she
eventually spewed the sea
water back out over the side through her large well
captain breathed a
sigh of relief and lifted his eyes to heaven in thanks to some unknown but very
welcome intervention. The captain’s wife Irene Parker briefly came up to the wheelhouse from the
relative comfort of the Master’s suite where she had wedged herself into a cor
ner for fear of being
thrown around in this wild weather.
She brought up a tray of tea and sandwiches for which we were
all very grateful.
She stood beside her husband, not able to do very much constructively, but simply
to let him know that she was safe
and doing her bit.
Eventually I was relieved by the next helmsman and I went below for some rest.
It had been
hard work concentrating on the wave patterns and gauging what helm to apply so as to counter her
tendency to sheer off to port.
exertion of constantly turning the wheel for an hour had
taken it out of me.
I counted myself lucky.
Our captain, even though he hadn’t slept in 24 hours,
would stay up on the bridge for hour after hour until the hurricane abated.
He was magnificent.
hroughout the night the stormy weather went on and on without any let
up and the nervous tension
was showing on my crewmates tired faces.
As the bow rose and fell and crashed into the troughs of
wave after wave, it seemed like a never ending onslaught and
our little ship seemed so tiny and
insignificant and helpless on this vast ocean
By the next afternoon we had been hove
to for 26 hours and the strain was showing amongst the crew.
The galley staff hadn’t been able to cook any hot meals because of the da
nger of using hot fat or
boiling hot water, so instead chef had knocked up some sandwiches.
But even so, everyone was tired
and just wanted to be on our way and making some progress towards London.
Within the hour our
prayers had been answered as we felt
the ship’s movement ease up and the propeller was no longer
coming clear of the water.
An hour later the Tannoy system announced that we would shortly be
turning the ship to the eastward.
We were on our way home.