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 Post subject: Re: My starting to be a sailor
Unread postPosted: March 18, 2017, 5:06 pm 
Under Repair

“ As I mentioned previously, Newcastle (New South Wales, Australia) was considered our home port as we spent the most time there. We did a dry-docking there on a floating dock and once spent several weeks alongside the Newcastle State Dockyard as the main engine had a major problem with the crankshaft. It had to be removed from the ship and I don't know what was done but it was many days getting fixed.

There were two sailors missions - the Flying Angel and the Stella Maris. Both were wonderful to the crews that went there and I am sure they competed with each other. The dances they arranged were well-attended and the young ladies wonderful hostesses. I must admit that I fell in love more than once. Because of that long stay in port getting the engine repaired, there was a literal mountain of ashes along the starboard side of the ship when we sailed and it took a great deal of effort by all hands to dump them overboard. During our time on the Aussie coast Ropners had several ships doing the same as us but we were that last to depart.

On our final departure from Newcastle we got a magnificent send-off as tugs and ships in port blew salutes all the way until we cleared the port. I was quite sad in some ways, but I knew that soon we would be heading home to the UK as there was a cargo booked for us from Port Pirie to Avonmouth. That last cargo was delivered to Port Adelaide and when it was discharged we moved to a layby berth to undertake repairs and fix up any damages that were done during the long charter. It took nearly two weeks to do the work and that was the charter finished. The first thing we noticed was that the unlimited supply of fresh milk that we were used to (it was a requirement of the charterers and at their expense) stopped and it was back to 'connie onnie'. Round to Port Pirie and started to load zinc concentrate using the ships gear which had not been in service for some time so the loading was an extended period. We spent Christmas and New Year there so we did not care as all had a great time with the very friendly people of that town. When we were there the two-year ships agreement passed but as we were loading for a UK port it mattered not one iota as everyone had to stay until the voyage had been completed.

We loaded alongside to maximum draft for the channel and went out to anchor and completed loading from barges. When the cargo had been leveled out, we set off on the voyage to Avonmouth, stopping on route at Fremantle WA, Durban (the Bluff), Capetown and Las Palmas for bunkers. On this passage 'Neptune' and his entourage visited the ship and I along with another few crew were officially inducted into the fraternity of mariners. It was also on this passage that I celebrated my 19th birthday - the third birthday I had on this ship (17th,and 18th as well).

During the bunkering stop at Las Palmas I did something I had never done before. Got drunk on some weird concoction I had been given. As I was to be on the wheel leaving port it was a struggle to get me out of my bunk and I felt miserable. Fortunately it was not a difficult or long pilotage and I did not make any mistakes.

We arrived at Avonmouth 72 days after setting sail from Port Pirie. After we were secured, the crew that had been onboard - many since the start - were given 2 pounds 'channel money' and told to leave the ship and come back in two days time for the 'Pay off'. This time was needed I was told to finalize the accounts of wages. I was not included as was the other apprentice so for two days we were the only two deckhands on board and along with deck jobs that were required I had to help the cook in the galley and serve in the saloon.

Paid Off

“ We found out that the ship had been sold to Greek interests and was to be handed over to them when discharged. On Pay-off day I got my pay slip and to my disgust discovered that I was in debt to the ship. The only way I was to get any money was from the victualing allowance paid when on leave.

During the innumerable times that I had been night watchman doing a twelve hour shift I had supposed to be paid four hours overtime but this did not show on my pay slip. (I still have this). I had been leaving a small allotment which had been banked by my mother so I was not destitute. The pay-off was done in front of a Shipping master and the crew lined up to get their monies. Many were advised to take a bank draft as they had large amounts due to them but most wanted the cash. I will always remember Donald Campbell the bosun receiving a large brick sized bundle of 5 pound notes (they were those large white ones at the time) and thought it was very foolish for him to have such a sum on him taking the train to Glasgow. There were many rogues that preyed on sailors that had just paid off.

Payslip Payslip
Bill's first payslip. [2]

“ I was given leave after discharge and went home a very different person from the young lad that left home all those months ago.


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 Post subject: Re: My starting to be a sailor
Unread postPosted: March 18, 2017, 6:08 am 

Joined: July 19, 2010, 4:51 pm
Posts: 281
Continue my previos posting

Firby's Crew

“ The original crew of the ship came from all parts of the UK. As I mentioned previously the firemen and the donkeymen were Arabs from South Shields. There were many 'Geordies' and one South African. The Bosun Donald Campbell came from Barra and when he had a few scotches would revert to speaking Gaelic. 'Chippy' was a Tyneside man as were the rest of the catering department. The mates and engineers were a mixed bunch and not surprisingly the 'sparkie' came from Ireland. I say original crew as there were many changes during the two years we spent on the coast. It seemed with great regularity that some one had decided to jump ship and seek the better life in Australia. Some may have been caught by the police but we never saw any of them again.

We were on charter to the Aussie government and were paid overtime for anything pertaining to cargo work outside our regular eight hours plus the onerous rule of 8 hours day of arrival or sailing if it were the weekend. This was usually paid along with the 'dirty money' each month at our home port of Newcastle.

I never had so much money in all my life and on reflection wonder what I did with it!! That was the time that many of the crew went on a big drunk and often the time I was sent to the local bars to try and round them up so the ship could sail. Most were reluctant to return and it took some convincing to get them back. The local bars were just across the rail yard from the ship and it was a very dangerous crossing to get back dodging the rail cars and trains. Next day with sore heads there was a line up to the captain's office to be 'logged' for their misdemeanors. Only the Arab crew were never at fault.

Donald Campbell the bosun had his own secret formula for mixing up 'sugee' - and it needed to be powerful stuff to help us keep the ship semi-clean as it was a thankless task loading coal or iron ore every few days. Was I ever sick of hearing the day's work schedule was Sogee! It was always a battle getting enough pressure on the deck line to wash down and many a trip I had to go down to the engineer on watch to plead for more pressure on the deck line.

I mentioned before that the two apprentices were treated as deck hands, albeit the lowest paid, and often as a result of our deckhands spending time in the local bars we were the only two that were sober and competent to drive the winches when putting the hatch beams back in place. That and going on the wheel when sailing as some of the sailors could not be trusted. I often think that this was how to train to be an officer and the only time we spent on the bridge was steering or that dreaded Saturday morning chore - polishing the brasswork; to this day I still detest the smell of 'Brasso'. I used to envy the cadets of other ships when I was told of how well they were treated on the liner ships.

Crew Accommodation

“ The accommodation on Firby, like all else, was very basic and the two apprentices lived on the starboard side engine casing. In this section were housed three catering staff, the galley boy, cabin boy and 2nd steward in one cabin. Next to them was the second cook and baker (one person), and then the two apprentices. Next door to us was the third engineer. We all shared the one toilet and washroom.

There was a bath tub you could use with salt water and a sink with fresh water but no shower. The fresh water was supplied from a tank that was on the deck above and it was the chippy's job to pump this tank up (or the apprentices when chippy was indisposed). The little pump also pumped up the midship accommodation and poop accommodation as the fresh water tanks were in the 'tween deck at the for'd end of #4 hold. We had the pleasure of cleaning and cement washing these tanks several times under the watchful eye of the chippy.

On a little isolated house on the after end of the boat deck lived the bosun, chief cook and the chippy. Sailors and firemen lived aft on the poop deck three or four to a cabin.

As the person on the very low end of the pecking order, I was given many horrible jobs and was usually paired with an AB to be his 'gofor'. One particular AB used to give me a hard time and a clip on the ear if I was not fast enough. He was a big guy so I just waited my time to seek revenge. My time came one night when I was the night watchman in port in Newcastle when they had been given their cash. I knew there would be a few drunks coming back when the bars closed. It was at six o'clock officially but a well know bar called 'Sallies' would shut up at the proper time but carried on serving the patrons inside.

Angus came staggering back and managed to navigate crossing the rail yard and gangway but collapsed on the coil of mooring line on the poop deck. I managed to haul him inside and to the top of the stairs leading down to his cabin and tipped him down. He clattered down without stirring so I managed a few kicks in the ribs. I was mad at him. Then dragged him to his bunk and tossed him in. Next morning he was feeling rather the worse for wear. I approached him and said "If you ever try to hit me again when I am trying to get you into your bunk I will just leave you lying and to hell with the consequences". He was very contrite and apologized profusely and handed me a 10/- note for looking after him. Revenge and I got paid for it!!. He never gave me a hard time after that but a couple of months later he did a bunk and that was the last I saw of him.
to be continued


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 Post subject: Re: My starting to be a sailor
Unread postPosted: March 17, 2017, 1:03 pm 

Joined: July 19, 2010, 4:51 pm
Posts: 281
Life in the Stokehold

“ The ship was a coal burner with three scotch boilers each with three furnaces and the working pressure was 220psi - 'on the blood' as it was referred to. This ship used to burn approximately 40 tons of coal per day. The major job after we sailed was one that never varied - dumping ashes. They were piled up on deck on the starboard side beside the Fiddley. Depending on how long you had been in port this could reach massive proportions and it was all hands shoveling them overboard. I became quite a dab hand with a shovel and even to this day can wield it well and put the contents exactly where I want. This shoveling stood me in good stead later on in the trip when several of the firemen, who were Arabs from South Shields, got sick and I was volunteered to work in the stokehold. If I was under the impression that my lot on deck - I was treated as a deckhand - was miserable, I was in for a rude awakening as working in the stokehold was the most miserable job on the ship. There were three firemen and one trimmer on each watch and working in that heat and the dirty conditions were all an eye opener.

At the start of each watch you had to clean out one furnace which the previous watch had allowed to burn down. With a long iron slice and rake you broke up and removed the clinker as well as keeping the other two furnaces fired with coal. Of course the steam pressure dropped and it slowed the main engine down (a triple expansion engine). During this time the trimmer dumped the ashes. There was an ash hoist on the starboard side that worked by hoisting a bucket up to the main deck where they were flushed overboard down a chute. Just make sure the water was on and the thing did not choke or that was a big problem. This hoist worked on vacuum off the main condenser.

Shoveling the coal into the furnace required some accuracy as the fire had to be built a certain way to get the maximum burning area. As I said it was a miserable job and I was glad to get back on deck. One of the things you had to remember was to turn your belt buckle to the side as it got very hot from the radiated heat of the furnace. The trimmer when that chore was done kept the fireman supplied with coal. A fairly easy task when you had just bunkered as it ran into the stoke hold but later on he had to barrow it.


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 Post subject: Re: My starting to be a sailor
Unread postPosted: March 17, 2017, 11:59 am 

Joined: March 13, 2010, 10:51 am
Posts: 938
I thought the good captain and readers might like some more inormation on the Firby, one of thirty "Ocean" type freighters built in the United States on behalf of the British government through a consortium led by Todd Shipyards on both the east and west coasts, the first keel of which, the Ocean Liberty, was laid 24 May 1941. The Firby, as Ocean Fame, was the eleventh built.

Ocean Fame BR 169056. Steel single screw freighter launched 22 May 1942 at East Portland, Maine, by the Todd-Bath Iron Shipbuilding Corporation for the Ministry of War Transport, London. 425.1' x 57 x 34.8; 7173 gt, 4278 nt. Triple expansion reciprocating steam engine, 24.5"-37-70 x 48; three Scotch boilers, 7440 sq ft heating surface, 220 psi wp; built by the General Machinery Corporation, Hamilton, Ohio. Sold 1947 to Ropner Shipping Co., Ltd., West Hartepool, England, and renamed Firby. Sold 1955 to N. G. Kyriakides Shipping Co., Ltd., London, and renamed Irene K. Sold 1959 to Winchester Shipping Co., Ltd. Renamed 1964 Winchester Queen. Arrived at Bilbao, Spain, 29 November 1966 for demolition by Hierros Arbulu SA.

Here's a photograph of the Firby from the W. and F. Allen Collection.


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 Post subject: Re: My starting to be a sailor
Unread postPosted: March 17, 2017, 11:04 am 
Great story Capt, love coming to this site and getting knowledge and entertainment !


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 Post subject: Re: My starting to be a sailor
Unread postPosted: March 17, 2017, 9:24 am 
Keep it coming, Cap! It's great reading..


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 Post subject: My starting to be a sailor
Unread postPosted: March 17, 2017, 6:31 am 

Joined: July 19, 2010, 4:51 pm
Posts: 281
I served my apprenticeship with this renowned company. At the tender age of sixteen I flew out to Australia (a very unusual experience in 1953). It was a BOAC Argonaut which was a four engine plane. We stopped each night and stayed in a hotel. Next morning after breakfast we boarded and set off again. It took five days to complete the trip.

The ship I joined was an "ocean" built ship built in the USA for wartime service. It was a coal burner and had been working on the Aussie coast for a few years and the crew we relieved flew home. The ship was on long term charter to the Australian Government and our main trips were carrying coal and iron ore.

Main port or home port was Newcastle NSW where we loaded coal from railroad trucks that were lifted on board by crane and dumped into the holds. It took a couple of days or more to take on a full load. From there we sailed to either Melbourne or Port Adelaide and discharged. Then it was on to Whyalla to load iron ore for either Newcastle or Port Kembla and do the whole thing again. For two years with very little variariation this is what we did.

Whyalla was an ore loading port though there was a steel works too. We used to hope that we had to wait and go to anchor as the fishing was outstanding and we took full advantage of it. It supplemented the meals as, being Australia, we were fed mutton very frequently. It was cheap as the sheep were raised mostly for their wool.

Loading was done from a long jetty and a fixed chute so the ship had to be moved to load each hold. A big workup and we were either shifting ship or battening down. With beams and hatch boards, there were two sizes and as they were made of hard wood with metal bands - bloody heavy to heave up over the coamings. Certainly had to be strong to do that. Next was the tarpaulins. In the summer it was only two but winter there was an extra one. It was tuck, table tuck for the three then the battens were put in around the edges. Chippy the carpenter put the wedges in and, as his helper, on many an occasion I knew to put the wedges in correctly. It was hypotenuse against the hatch and woe betide you if they were not in correctly. Later on I was allowed to hammer the wedges up tight.

It was all go loading there but as we were on charter to the Aussies we were paid overtime. Another perk was that all the crew were paid "dirty money" and, if my memory serves me correctly, it was one pound Aussie per day paid monthly. As my apprentice wages were 7 pounds ten shilling a month at first I was well off.

On the odd occasion that we were allowed ashore because of a loading breakdown, or if we were loading an empty hatch, we could walk the length of the jetty into town. Didn't do it if the wind was in the wrong direction as the dust blew off the belts and you got coated in a red layer long before reaching the end. Not much there when you did get ashore anyway.

Ships

Firby

“ My first ship Firby was an war time built 'Ocean class' vessel and was to say it was basic would be an understatement. The navigational equipment was only what was necessary - Magnetic compass D.F., echo sounder, and not much else. There was no automatic pilot or radar. Deck watches were three per watch and, except for the 'farmer' in each watch, you did your two hour trick at the wheel steering. The 'farmer' changed each watch and, for those that have not come across the term before, it was derived from the days when he could not steer.

to be contiued


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