View Full Version : FIRST TRIP ON THE SUGAR IMPORTER (By Mike Hall)

Doc Vernon
14th August 2016, 05:53 AM

It was Wednesday 12th August 1959, and I was at home and my leave was about to end. so I started to pack and prepare to go back to sea again.
I left home one morning bright and early and caught the bus into town, to the railway station then the train to Woolwich. From there I made my way to the Woolwich ferry, for the short crossing across the river, then onwards to the Royal Group Docks,
I reported in at the federation offices, that were in the docks and was given the ship Sugar Importer, of Silvertown Services Limited. I was to be employed as the pantry boy. My job as a pantry boy was to keep the pantry clean and tidy, do all the washing up, and some food preparation.
I also had to clean the stairs and corridors from the bridge down to our cabin deck.
So off I set, out of the gates and back the way I had just come, to the Tate and Lyle sugar factory, at Silvertown. This was not too far away, so I decided to walk.
On checking with security at the gate, I made my way through the factory complex to the ship. Which looked like an oversized coaster, berthed in the river. When the tide goes out the ship actually sits on large wooden blocks which kept her on an even keel. To enable her to do this she has a flat bottom.
My cabin was at the after end of the ship where everyone else was . The cabin consisted of two bunks a settee under the two portholes, two lockers a set of drawers and a chair. I shared this cabin with the galley boy.
When all the crew were on board, I was one of the last to arrive, we all signed on for the voyage to the Caribbean. Signing on Thursday 13th August. however we did not sail until the Saturday 15th August. It seems we all signed on early due to so many ships leaving at the same time, as they were not sure when it was our time to leave. My wages for this voyage were £16-12-6 a month.
We left the river berth, beside the factory, and with the pilot on board, we made our way down the river towards Gravesend, where we changed pilots and made our way to the lower reaches of the river and out into the English Channel.
At this point we dropped off the pilot, who was collected by pilot boat, where he was taken to the main pilot ship, for a return journey on another ship.
We then started our voyage across the channel, towards Sluis Skil in Holland, to get there the ship had to negotiate a small canal, it was just wide enough for us to get through. It was interesting watching all the swing bridges opening in front of us and then closing behind, the thing is you could not see anyone operating them. We arrived at the small dockside on Sunday 16th August, where we were to load phosphate. Several trips were made ashore to the bars and a bit of sightseeing. We left here on Tuesday 18th August, going back the way we had come through the canal and onto the port of, Flushing. Where we were to load more phosphate, arriving on Wednesday 19th August, I did not go ashore here as we were too far away from the nearest town, however some of the crew did manage it, but were complaining of the long walk. We departed on Thursday 20th August.
We were now on our way towards the Caribbean. Once we were deep sea, the walkers patent log was put to use, this was an age old device which streams a 65 fathom line astern, at the end of which is a bronze 18 inch long streamlined rotator with curved fins, so designed that its revolutions caused by the ships movement forward through the water, measured the distance travelled. This was then transferred and read on a special clock fitted to the ships rail. This would then transmit electronically to a similar clock on the bridge. It was as accurate a measure of our progress and speed through the water, as could be attained. This item was used every time the ship left port.
Sat nav was not yet available, so it was the old fashion sextant that had to be used to determine

the ships position, using the stars as guidance, at night and the suns position by day. Those details were transferred to the daily chart.
On the way to the Caribbean, I celebrated my seventeenth birthday, and was given an impromptu party by my ship mates, this party went on well into the night, also being a smallish crew many of the officers joined in as well.
On our way sometime during the day, we had a lifeboat drill. We were alerted of this, by the constant ringing of the alarm bells. We all had to gather on the boat deck at our appropriate stations, our names called from a list to make sure we were all there. We were then instructed to lower the lifeboats, to enable this to go ahead the ships speed had been slowed. We then released the clamps holding the lifeboat in place, and press a button, the lifeboat then made its own way out over the side of the ship and started to lower itself to the water below. Pressing the same button stopped this going any further, and the pressing of the other button the lifeboat returned back on the ship and into its chocks on deck, where we were able to clamp the boat back in its place. The boat drill was now over it was now the turn of the fire hoses, they were connected and the taps turned on, all was working well. And we returned to our normal duties. The ship proceeded to gain her normal speed, about 12 knots, and we were on our way to Cuba.
We arrived in Havana, Cuba on Friday 04th September. To get into the harbour we had to go past the impressive Moro castle, which sits on the Water’s edge. We were here to unload all the phosphate. Once tied up a lot of official looking people came on board, and all the crew were advised to go ashore in pairs, which we did. During our stay here an armed guard was put on gangway duty along with one of our own crew as watchman. During my visit ashore I bought a pair of maracas, which I still have. As we were here for some time, some of the trips were made to the local bars where on one occasion I stayed out all night, I was drinking in one of the local bars with another seaman, when I was given a note by one of the bar staff, it was from one of the hostesses, it said I finish at 01.00 and would I like to meet her. I spoke with my mate who suggested I should meet up with her. Sure enough at 01.00 she came over to me and asked me if I would like to go somewhere. I was a bit apprehensive, but I went anyway. She took me by taxi to an apartment block, we got out of the taxi that she would not let me pay for, and we both walked into the foyer, she spoke to the man on the desk and I was allowed to go to her apartment with her. Once inside (well you will have to imagine the rest). The next morning I returned to the ship in time to start my day of work.

After a few more days of unloading and the holds cleaned, we were ready to go. We left Havana on Thursday 10th September, and made our way out of the harbour, going past the Moro castle once more. We were now headed towards Kingston in Jamaica. We arrived here in the early hours of the morning on the Sunday 13th September and had to anchor in the bay and loaded raw sugar brought out to us in barges, this went on all day. There was not any time for trips ashore, and we left in the late evening. We were on our way again, this time to San Pedro in the Dominican Republic. Arriving there on Tuesday 15th September, to load more raw sugar, loading of the sugar was carried out using the ships own gear with grabs attached, again from barges and the dockside.
Several trips were made ashore, for sightseeing and visits to the bars. We left here on Saturday 19th September. For our home port of London.
With a uneventful voyage, we soon arrived back at the Tate and Lyle factory on Saturday 03rd October. Where we all signed off, my wages, when I paid off were £20-8-10 and I had spent £16-19-4 during the voyage. I then made my way back home, for some well-earned leave.


BUILDER.---------------Hall Russell, Aberdeen
YARD NO---------------847
YEAR BUILT.---------1955
PROPOLSION---------British Polar.
TYPE.------- ------- ----Bulk Sugar Carrier
TONNAGE.----- -- ---4024
LENGTH.----------- --330ft
BREADTH.-------- ----50ft

1955 Built for Silvertown Services, Named SUGAR IMPORTER
1962 Sold to Uskport Shipping, Renamed USKPORT
1967 Sold to Compiegne Maritime, Renamed LAROCHE
1973 Sold to Nigrita CIA Navigation Renamed MACEDONIA
1980 Sold to Sunteam Maritime Co.
1980 Scrapped T.Ward, Inverkeithing.

happy daze john in oz
15th August 2016, 06:00 AM
Mike, thanks for not allowing yourself to be intimidated by any one, good stories well told.