View Full Version : My Maiden Voyage

Mike Williamson
22nd February 2012, 07:36 AM
A few weeks ago one of my offspring said to me, “is there anything you haven’t done?” I’m not sure if this was meant as an admiring observation, or whether it was the words of someone who was sick of hearing my rambling anecdotes about my exploits on the Amazon River, or in Antarctica, or when I worked at the Brewery etc. Most probably it was the latter, since I do sometimes tend to reminisce about the past. As you dear reader, will know we always call it swinging the lantern. I’m sure everyone has heard the phrase, “the older I get, the better I was.” Well that’s me!
Sooner or later my mind is going to slow down, some will say the process has already started, and my recall won’t be what it once was. So before these tales disappear forever, I have self-indulgently begun to recount a few of these memories. The funny thing is, as I think about incidents in my past and start to write, a state of anamnesis sets in and those obscure memories crystallise and de-pixilate to a point where I can again become that 25 or that 20 year old person – and in a way it is an invigorating and inspiring exercise.

I started with a Blog - and may continue to do so, but Tony suggested the My Memoires thread. So until someone tells me to stop; or I run out of ink (or enthusiasm), I'll put them here as well. Here's the first.

After five years, as an apprentice at the local brewery I completed my “time served” on 3rd December 1965 and emerged a fully qualified fitter and turner. I wasn’t always the favourite apprentice during that final year. I was involved in a couple of union disputes and generally was regarded as a bit of a “pinko” who spent too much time with the proletariat for my own good. The brewery's chief engineer, a red-faced Irish Australian had never been my greatest admirer, and he made it clear that once my indenture was complete it would be to our mutual benefit if I started looking elsewhere for employment. In those days, there was always work for a qualified fitter, so I don’t remember being unduly concerned that I might soon be out of work - but then I was 20 years old and immortal.

As it transpired, there was no need to fire me, because a few days earlier a family friend, a manager at the local harbour board, asked my dad if young Michael was interested in a career in the Merchant Navy. There was a British ship in port which was short of a couple of hands. if I was interested there was a job for me as an engineer’s assistant, with an option of promotion to junior engineer as soon as a position became available. This sounded like what I had been looking for, so having finished my apprenticeship in that first week in December, I signed on a couple of weeks later as a crew member on the MV Baron Jedburgh as its most junior of junior assistants – my official position – “donkey-greaser".

The ship was registered in Scotland in the west coast port of Ardrossan in Ayrshire. She was 8,337 tons (11,675 tons deadweight), built in South Shields in 1958 and was one of a fleet of cargo tramp ships owned and operated by H. Hogarth and Sons of Glasgow. It was only later I found out that the company was known throughout the merchant service as “Hungry” Hogarth.

The ship’s captain was Archibald McKinley, a large forceful man, who smoked oval Passing Clouds cigarettes that looked like they had been sat on.

I had a tiny cabin in the fo’c’sle of the ship (where crew were separated from officers) and I was taken under the wing of big Dave Davies, who may have had Welsh ancestry but was a Londoner through and through. He was a generous, down to earth fellow, who used to wake me every morning with “Come on then, rise and shine, you’re not on your Daddy’s yacht now, y’know!”

There were three donkey-greasers including Dave, all of whom were watch-keepers. Dave, Yorky (who as you might guess was from the north of England) and Paddy (yes, he was an Irishman). I was a day worker – 7.30 to 5 o’clock with a half hour for lunch.

We all shared the Greasers’ Mess, a little room just across from the galley where we would eat our meals and meet for smoko during the day. It was here that I learned to put condensed milk in my tea, because it wasn’t easy to find fresh milk at sea and of course, this was before Long-Life Milk appeared on the scene. The additional advantage of condensed milk of course was that it also obviated the need for putting sugar in your tea!

There were seven engineers on board – all of them Scots, mostly Glaswegian. In charge was the Chief Engineer who seemed to spend most of his time in his cabin. I don’t think we exchanged more than two words the whole time I was on the ship.

The second engineer was a genial portly middle-aged fellow, who had been in the merchant service since the war. Always shirtless when he was working, he seemed to know everything that anyone was ever going to need to know about marine engineering. The third engineer was a sharp tongued, sandy-headed Glaswegian whose frequent expression was “och awa’ an’ keek” (which I translated as meaning you are full of ****, go away). Once I became an engineer myself later in the voyage, I spent all my watch-keeping with Gordon on the 12 to 4 watch. The fourth engineer was another tough talking little Glaswegian. He was always the first to lead the singing after a few “bevies”. His favourite song was “I’m no awa’ tae bide awa’” but there were a host of others most of which I found incomprehensible, but oddly enjoyable.

I sailed on the Jedburgh for about six months with sugar from Queensland to Japan; light ship to Canada, then timber from Canada back to OZ before taking another load of sugar back to Greenock. What an experience - what an eye opener.

---------- Post added at 06:36 PM ---------- Previous post was at 06:09 PM ----------

The “deck crew” were an interesting lot – mostly Scots plus a few Englishmen. One of the ABs, known only as Scouse (I wonder why?) arrived back on board in handcuffs about an hour before we sailed. He had jumped ship on an earlier voyage, so to make sure he didn’t do it again, Immigration came and took him away each time we entered an Australian port and there he stayed until we departed.

Thus it was that sometime in January of 1966, at about the same time that Harold Holt was taking over from Bob Menzies as the Australian Prime Minister, I made my first trip to a foreign destination. Our first port was Osaka, arriving from a hot northern Australian summer to a cold wintry Japanese city.

I made my first trip ashore with big Dave and like all sailors since the beginning of time, headed immediately for a bar.
What an eye-opener it was for a boy from a small country town in North Queensland to arrive in Japan in 1966. Osaka was a bustling, busy city with bright lights, bars and lots of distractions for young lads.
We were in Osaka for at least a week and later went from there to the city of Kobe a few hours sailing away.
One of the problems with alcohol rationing on board ship is that when the ship eventually does get to port many of the crew make gluttons of themselves. This was a problem on the Baron Jedburgh. We sailed from Osaka to Kobe with many of our crew missing, having decided that attraction of the bright lights and the bars were much more appealing than putting up with Fat Archie and his bullying bosun.
From Kobe we sailed to Yokohama, still missing a substantial number of our deck crew. We later learned that they all eventually rolled up at the agent’s office and were shipped overland (at their expense) to the next port of call. In this case they were all put on the Bullet Train, bound directly for Tokyo with just one stop, at the inland city of Kyoto. They all got off the train at Kyoto, headed for the nearest bar, and consequently missed the train’s departure for Tokyo – a unique case of desertion from a train. Although on reflection it probably wasn’t unique – I sure it happened every time a bunch of British seaman were left unescorted to find their way back to their ship.
From Japan we sailed light ship to the west coast of Canada where we loaded a cargo of lumber for Australia from excitingly named places on Vancouver Island. What a contrast these tiny logging communities were after the excitement of Japan. It was my first visit to North America and I was impressed by these friendly, resilient Canadians who were more than capable of holding their own when it came to a few drinks in the local bar. It was bitterly cold, even colder than Japan and the snow and ice lay thick on the ground making the deck a dangerous place to be when trying to negotiate one’s way back on board in the dark after a skinful of Carling Black Label in the local bar in Tahsis or Port Alberni.
It was a long trip back across the Pacific Ocean to Sydney. Four or five weeks of constant watch-keeping. Four hours of watching gauges, feeling bearings to make sure they don’t overheat, cleaning oil separators, working on fuel injectors and writing the engine room log.

The most memorable thing about all ships’ engine rooms is that they are hot and noisy. In those days we rarely had the opportunity to wear ear protection, and the consequence of standing next to a high revving gear box for hours at a time only came home to roost many years later as industrial deafness set in.

I can't finish this little memory without talking about the second mate. He was another interesting character, an archetypal grumpy old Scottish mariner in the twilight of his career. He had been twice shipwrecked during the second war, and was without a doubt the hardest man I ever had the misfortune of trying to wake up when it was my turn to call him. He would be lying on his back on his bunk, making a noise like a bull farting, fully clothed with his smelly feet hanging over the end of his bunk and he would refuse all attempts to wake him. In the end, it was only vigorous shaking, and shouting in his ear which got him to stir at all, and then I had to dive out of the way as this great claw of a hand would come around to swat me away as if I was a fly. I used to dread this job.

len mazza
24th February 2012, 08:03 AM
More please!!.

Doc Vernon
24th February 2012, 09:14 AM
Hello Mike
Like you i too have had a rather interesting life,some good some bad,but Oh to get myself to sit and write all about it is something i just cannot get down to!
But soon we all will be to old or forgetfull to do this,i wish i had the patience and actual knowhow to perform such a massive feat,as to me it would be just that!
There are just so many things that i have done!
May be one day soon i will get doen to trying my hand at a wee bit of writing!
Cheers and yes as said More! Please!

happy daze john in oz
25th February 2012, 05:59 AM
Vernon writing is something that comes and goes, have you ever considered using a tape recorder and recording that way.

Lou Barron
29th February 2012, 01:05 AM
Hi Mike a good story thats what this siteis all about to reminiscence about our sea faring days As wev get older most of us like talk about the old days .Keep the stories coming you guys

29th February 2012, 02:47 AM
It would be great to see more reminiscences of our early days as youngsters, away from home for the first time, thrust into a strange new world.
Meanwhile, here is my contribution. It was written on my second or third ship around 1952 after a few crew had sat around talking about that first trip over a few beers. I recall we were pretty sentimental at the time and some odd things were written about.
It is pretty much as I wrote it when a sixteen or seventeen year old with just a little touching up here and there.

A Lad's Initiation! 1950

I had nothing to do for an hour or two,
so I thought I'd compose a short poem.

I would write of the sailors who taught me so well
and about the big debt that I owe 'em.

I first went to sea on a rusty old tramp,
full of thoughts and big dreams of adventure.

Signed on at the pool by Bill Henke, the scamp
and away to my ship I did venture.

Many films had I seen of sailors so tough
on the screen, in my recent schooldays.

But I wasn't prepared - they were so bloody rough,
would I see any more my birthdays?

Soon we sailed away to the far shores of France -
it was far for me as a lad!

The excitement of landing made me wet my new pants,
if he knew, my dad would be mad!

Back at sea I worked hard and although I was sick,
they made me work harder and harder.

"Move it Peg," they would say - Hell, I can't take a trick,
it just made me get madder and madder!

Rough weather we struck in the Biscay Bay,
with sixty foot waves high above us.

Just two thousand tons, we hardly made way
and we wondered, "Does God really love us?"

On deck I was hit by a bloody great wave
and into the scuppers did go.

From the dark came a hand and this lad it did save,
it was Jamaican AB - big Fred Crowe!

"It's OK me lad - grab my big black ar5e!"
- and I flung my arms tight round his waist.

I owed my young life to big black Fred,
as we made it to safety in haste.

We just made it home - with a deep starboard list,
and the skipper yelled: "TO YOUR GODS PRAY!!"

We did, and ashore we all went to get pissed
and give thanks for that GLORIOUS DAY!

I signed three more times on that brave, little ship
and the sailors, they taught me so much.

Respect for the sea and the mates that you made,
in a life that most men wouldn’t touch.

But the best part of all, was it gave me some marrow,
as I grew from a boy to a man.

I learned to be tough and to face up to fear
and from terror I no longer ran.

I will never forget the little “SHEAF ARROW”
as she fought through that raging great storm.

And the skipper so strong, who stayed days awake,
to ensure we arrived safely home.

Evan Lewis
29th February 2012, 03:25 AM
Enjoyed the Poem,depicting your experiences,first voyage.

Recall rhe Sheaf Arrow and Sheaf Field.Funnel and accomodation aft. If memory serves me correctly?

1st March 2012, 12:14 AM
Hi Evan, I still owe you that email don't I?
Yes, you're right, all aft on the Sheaf Arrow. The old memory is good mate, I can see the Guinness is good brain food! We must be due for another session!
I'll not forget the accommodation, as my bottom bunk was under water and I'll never forget the stink of salt water on the steam pipes that ran through the cabin, in that storm.
I'm glad you enjoyed the poem. It lay dormant in my memorabilia trunk for around 50 years until I was looking for a ship's photo and came across it again. I read it often these days. Silly old sentimental bugger!

Colin Pook
23rd May 2012, 03:29 PM
As a mere youth about 7-8 yrs. old, my mother , her parents and several others of our family met up aat Southampton Docks to say goodbye to 3 of our family from Lightwater who were emigrating to New Zealand. As sailing time drew near, most of the women were crying and wailing, but yours truly was more interested in the ship. The year was around 1948-1950 and this was a big day out for me. Some guy shook my hand and said good-bye Colin (god knows who he was) and a woman kissed meon the cheek and said a similar thing. Then the ship was moving. An enormous thing slowly backing out from the berth. We watched and waved till the ship turned the corner, and then made our way home to Portsmouth.
In 1959, I had been in the Merchant Navy for a few years, and I was on the Dominion Monarch on passage to New Zealand. One afternoon I wes laying on my bunk, (no overtime on this one) and something kept ringing a bell about people going to New Zealand. I wrote to my aunt, ( my dear mother had died a year earlier) and I asked her why was New Zealand ringing a bell to me. I posted the letter when we reached Cape Town, and when we arrived in Melbourne there was a letter from my aunt explaining all. The people who we had said good-bye to were were my maternal grandfathers grand children. She even gave me their address which was 78 Mowbray St. Christchurch. I then penned a letter to them introducing my self and told them that my ship would be in Lyttleton on a certain date, and would they mind if I visited them. When we docked in Wellington, there was a letter from my new found relations, stating that I had to visit them at the first opportunity. Well, on a certain Sunday my ship docked in Lyttleton, I walked down the gangway in my best suit, along the jetty to the train station, and bought a return ticket to Christchurch. I boarded the train, and it was only a short ride through the tunnel. Alighting from the train, I looked for someone to ask where was Mowbray St. but the station was deserted. But as I looked around, there was a road sign saying Mowbray St. I began walking along the street counting off the house numbers. 70, 72, 74, 76, . At the next house I couldn't see the numbers as a man and a woman were leaning on the gate. As I tried to see the number, the man said 'are you Colin'. I said yes, and he said we are your aunt and uncle.Great celebrations! Although they had promised to come home for a holiday, they never did, so I was the first one they had seen since leaving Southampton. My aunt then asked the question I was dreading--how is your mother? Well, I tell you, that really chewed me up.
After tea, they took me out in the car for a tour of Christchurch, and later that night drove me back to the gang-way. I was told to miss tea each night as they would meet me at the gang-way and take me home for tea and then out in the car. I remember once we went up onto the Canterbury Plain, and drove as far as New Brighton?? I was made to feel like a king. We took loads of photos for me to take home, and enen to this day, I still have the train ticket from Lyttleton to Christchurch. Well, everything has to come to an end, and one evening was to be our last, we were sailing the next day. And just to finish the visit, as we were leaving the berth, there they were waving from the jetty. I never went back to New Zealand and in the end we lost touch. I was most upset to see on the t.v, afew years ago the terrible devastation caused to the city knowing that my relations once lived there, and I once walked the streets with them.
This, Gentlemen is my treasured memory of my time at sea

John Moxley
16th September 2014, 06:02 PM
Hi Doc
I've only recently started looking through this excellent site and, viewing some old posts, can't help feeling that so many of your members, like yourself, have a multitude of tales to tell and you really should put pen to paper...or finger to keyboard...and get them down before it is too late. I see 'Wagga' has written a great story and both an ex-shipmate and myself have written books, it is not difficult and very, very rewarding. I predict that once you start writing you won't be able to stop. My sea going career was hardly distinguished but left me with memories that never fade. My effort is 'Watford to Woolloomooloo' and my old colleague's is 'Under a Yellow Sky' by Simon Hall. You can read excerpts of it on Amazon, it's hardly Joseph Conrad but it was fun, and if I can do it then anyone can.
[QUOTE=Doc Vernon;81969]Hello Mike
Like you i too have had a rather interesting life,some good some bad,but Oh to get myself to sit and write all about it is something i just cannot get down to!
But soon we all will be to old or forgetfull to do this,i wish i had the patience and actual knowhow to perform such a massive feat,as to me it would be just that!
There are just so many things that i have done!
May be one day soon i will get doen to trying my hand at a wee bit of writing!
Cheers and yes as said More! Please.

Doc Vernon
16th September 2014, 09:16 PM
Hi John M
I suppose I may at some stage try and put my hand at writing something? Who knows!
Just posting this link once again for those of you newer Members who may like to join in on your Life's history of Work!
I am sure there must be lots more that have had some interesting Jobs !
So how about it Lads! Join in on the Link given!

NB Please post on the appropriate Link shown below (Not Here) if you join in in on the Job listings!


happy daze john in oz
17th September 2014, 05:27 AM
My maiden voyage, now was that your first trip to sea or your first voyage on a maiden, that is the question?

Ivan Cloherty
17th September 2014, 05:44 AM
My maiden voyage, now was that your first trip to sea or your first voyage on a maiden, that is the question?

Remember both, both were rough!

Rob Stafford
2nd October 2018, 02:11 AM
Especially if it was one of the maidens that came to the ships from Monty's, Ma Gleesons or the Doghouse Bar or any other of the haunts of those distressed damsels.

2nd October 2018, 02:25 AM
Mabel’s is another one that sticks in my mind, having a mental blackout as to where it was, was it one of the many on the old Dock Road in Liverpool ? JWS

happy daze john in oz
2nd October 2018, 06:24 AM
Especially if it was one of the maidens that came to the ships from Monty's, Ma Gleesons or the Doghouse Bar or any other of the haunts of those distressed damsels.

And if not damsels in distress to start with were most likely after some had finished with them.

Keith at Tregenna
2nd October 2018, 06:50 AM
Hi Mike a good story thats what this siteis all about to reminiscence about our sea faring days As wev get older most of us like talk about the old days .Keep the stories coming you guys

Great reply from Lou at the time. Respect.


david smiley
3rd April 2019, 02:12 PM
I too have enjoyed reading this thread.
I decided to write chapters of life experiences for the benefit of my children. I thought theey should know what I had been up to in life, given that I had no clear idea of my own father's escapades.
It comes quite easily and is a good therapy for the mind. Eventually - over a couple of years - I had a book, which can now be found at Amazon. ( amazon.com/author/desmiley ) The unusual career of a 20th century mariner.
If you can't find it email <marineconsultancy@hotmail.com> and I will send you the final draft.
My friends liken it to the reminiscing of a drunk sailor in the pub. That says it all!

Doc Vernon
3rd April 2019, 06:29 PM
Hello David
I found a Link to that Book but cannot see where to actually Buy it.
Is it still available and how much !