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Article: Waiting in the ice

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    Waiting in the ice

    9 Comments by Jim Stevens Published on 18th May 2020 02:12 PM
    Hi everyone. My name is Jim Stevens
    I was born in Hull in 1934 and the first time I went to sea I was 14 years old and it was the Summer School holiday. I went to Iceland in a Hull Trawler, the Darthema, a side winder trawler belonging to Humber St Andrews Fishing Co.
    In those days trawler owners were allowed to take schoolboys to sea to give them experience of life in a trawler and providing they had a signed agreement from their parents.
    It was certainly an experience and on returning Hull we had to go back to school.
    However my mind had been made up.
    I loved the sea and ships and anything to do with shipping and my desire was to go to sea in the Merchant Service as soon as I left school.
    So, after training on the TS Vindicatrix I, like many friends and visitors to this website, went off tramping around the world on various ships for the next 5 years or so of my life.

    In January of 1955 the Hull trawlers Roderigo and Lorello were both sank when fishing off the coast of Greenland. The Roderigo capsized due to the weight of ice build up on the ship and the Lorello also capsized for the same reason when she was on her way to assist the stricken Roderigo.
    40 Hull fishermen lost their lives and most of them lived in the Hessle Road area of Hull where I was born and grew up.

    In January 1956 I and my Fiance Audrey decided that, after 4 years of courting the time had come for us to be married.
    The date had been set for the 31st March. I had spent the previous 8 or 9 months at sea on the S S Dago, Ellerman Wilson's regular service to London,Genoa, Naples and other Italian ports and Sicily, London, Hull.
    It was the early January and I was aching to get back to sea so I joined the United Baltic Lines ship Baltavia. United Baltic had a number of ships out of Hull and in fact the Port of Hull had developed with its trade to the Baltic ports.
    The Baltavia was due to go to out to the Kiel canal and then on to Gydnia, Poland with a general cargo. A voyage which she had done a number of times and the usual time scale was 3 to 4 weeks back to Hull.
    So, in normal circumstances I would be back in Hull in February.

    1956 was again a very cold winter when in late January the Baltavia left the Humber and headed across the North Sea in a snowstorm.
    About halfway across towards Brunsbuttel, in bitterly cold weather the handrails and other exposed parts were beginning to ice up. It is somewhat surprising to see how quickly the diameter of a ships handrail can increase in a short space of time and in no time at all we were told to get rid of the ice.
    Memories of the Roderigo/Lorello disaster were still fresh in everyone's mind
    and with whatever tools we could get hold of, scrapers, shovels, chipping hammers etc. we set to and, for some short time the ice seemed to reappear as soon as we got rid of it but fortunately, as we got nearer to land the temperature rose just a degree or two but enough to stop any icing.
    A few ships were waiting to get into the canal so we had to wait off for a few hours before it was our turn. The weather was still very cold and miserable with snow showers occasionally.

    Eventually it was our turn and we got through the canal into Kiel Bay and almost immediately we were stopped in thick ice. A number of other ships were also stuck in the ice. The Baltavia had a reinforced bow, most of the United Baltic vessels had reinforced bows, this enabled the ship to get through slush ice and thin ice but they were NOT ice breakers and any thick ice would stop the vessel.
    We waited in Keil Bay for 3 days and then a big Russian Ice Breaker came along and then all the vessels were freed from the ice. We started off into the Baltic
    in slush ice which from time to time slowed the ship down and sometimes the ship was stopped and then the Officers and crew were occupied looking for passages through the ice. This at times meant some going astern and ahead in order to get going again in the right direction.
    It was still bitterly cold and progress was slow.
    It took us more than a week to get anywhere near to the Polish border and we were now well into February.
    Eventually we got into the bay where the Port City of Gydnia was situated.
    We anchored in the Bay. There were 3 other vessels anchored also and it was still bitterly cold weather.
    I was in a Cabin for four, the norm on those days. Metal bulkheads of course, no heating and in the corner where the bulkheads met there was continuous dripping of water which by now had turned into ice and this icicle grew bigger and fatter as the voyage progressed.
    We had anchored in water but overnight the sea froze solid. It had been so cold overnight - I remember it well - you had to keep moving about to try and keep warm and in your bunk you had to try to sleep with your clothing on and as many bed clothes as you could manage to get your hands on.
    The sea had frozen so quickly it was still in the shape of the small waves.
    In the morning the Bosun and First Mate went down onto the ice and gingerly walked around the ship, I guess they were checking the hull but we were told to stay aboard.
    We could see the long jetty we would eventually go to but we had to wait and wait and two days later the same big Russian ice breaker appeared. It seemed as though the Baltic Sea had only one Ice Breaker available to cover the whole area from the Finnish/Russian border to the Kiel Bay!
    It took almost all day to get all 4 ships free of ice but eventually we were alongside this very long jetty.

    In 1956 Poland was still a Country ruled by the Russians and immediately we put the Gangway down on to the jetty a Russian armed guard appeared and an armed guard was there for the full time we were there. You could only get ashore if you had a written permission from the Chief Officer.
    This was a very long jetty and it could accommodate maybe 5 or 6 large ships and about every 80 to a 100 feet or so there was a large post with flood lamps facing down on to the jetty and these flood lights were on all night long.
    Spaced between these flood lights was another post at the top of which were large loudspeakers . The loudspeakers blasted out Russian Martial Music all the time and this was interrupted with loud Russian gabble which was assumed to be Russian propaganda telling the Poles how good it was to be Russian!!
    This music and propaganda continued all the time, day and night non stop.
    It was almost deafening and it was certainly nerve wracking and the noise was abated somewhat when you were down in the cabins but ear plugs or ear defenders would have been useful.
    The dockers worked some times for the next day and in the evening I and the Chippy (I had made friends with him) we decided to try and get ashore just to get away from the noise. So we got a pass from the 1st.Mate and off we went down the gangway and was then stopped by the armed guard. He looked at our pass and then consulted with another guard before waving us on.
    However we quickly found ourselves walking in deep hard packed snow and the snow was in places as high as upper windows of the houses we saw. The place was deserted and we could still hear the awful loudspeakers belting out the martial music.
    Within a short space of time we realised that we would not find any shops, bars or people so we slowly made or way back to the jetty and back aboard. As we were
    getting aboard the Chippy noticed the dockers still working cargo and he mentioned to me that they were strapping big fellows all well wrapped up against the weather.
    We discovered later that these big fellows were in fact all Russian Women!

    Next day we left Gydnia in slush ice which made our passage slower but the weather was very slowly improving, although the days were going by and we were now into March. I was getting a little apprehensive at times but not too worried at this stage.

    However when we finally did arrive back in Kiel Bay there were at least 20 vessels waiting to get through the Canal. So we had no choice but to wait there for another three or four days. Fortunately we did not have to go to London before returning to Hull, this often happened with the Baltic ships and also with the Wilson Line ships, and, in the 1950's the London Dockers were prone to going on strike if they felt they needed to.
    Back across the North Sea to the Humber and I paid off on the 29th. March and got home in the late afternoon.

    I understand that my future Mother-in Law was getting rather anxious and my future Father in Law was going around muttering to himself about what he would do to me if I didn't arrive.

    Nevertheless all that happened 64 years ago and we are still together.

    Jim Stevens

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Waiting in the ice

    Hello Jim
    Welcome aboard here and many thanks for the nice Article
    More of that is something we can well do with.
    Look forward to any other good Tales you have to tell us
    Cheers
    Senior Member and Friend of this Website

    R697530

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    Default Re: Waiting in the ice

    Great story there and I do recall the Trawlers that iced up and sank, there was an article about them in the Mover Tone news at the local cinema.

    As to ships being iced up, we were in Lulea in December 1964, the last ship in before the port froze over.
    Alongside one section of the wharf there was a small ship, she had been a small coastal tanker we were told.
    But to look at her she appeared almost like a wrecked ship.

    Story was she had been caught in freezing sea with no cargo and the hull had collapsed with the power of the freezing water.

    Think it was around that time that the sea froze over in Margate in Kent, bloody cold then.
    Happy daze John in Oz.

    Life is too short to blend in.

    John Strange R737787
    World Traveller

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    Default Re: Waiting in the ice

    Like the long term engagement with your beloved. Seems to be sometimes the usual with seafarers in a lot of cases , if not it is a quick one and married after a very short engagement . I met my wife in 1957 and we didn’t get married until 1962. In 1969 the Russians were still there and I used to get the small passenger ferry across the water to Gdansk , curfew was think at 2300 hrs. Think the beer in the seamans club there was made with onions . The Indian 2 Mate we had, he decided he didn’t want to accompany the ship with its cargo of coke for Karachi and decided to do a runner in the Kiel Canal , he wasn’t assisted by frozen water, but had the concrete lock wall to assist him. Cheers all the best with your writing. JWS.,,,..
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 19th May 2020 at 08:58 AM.

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    Default Re: Waiting in the ice

    Good read Jim ,my dad sailed quite a bit with Ellerman Wilson

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    Default Re: Waiting in the ice

    Nice one Jim.
    P Evans

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    Default Re: Waiting in the ice

    In a similar vein, while on a long leave from the previous trip i had met a girl who was later to become my wife, still together after 55 years. I decided that i would do the one last trip, and signed on the general cargo ship Duke of Mistra in Oct 63, we loaded grain in New Orleans for Japan, and discharged in several Japanese ports, then back over to Chile to load phosphates for Uk, or so we thought. We took on board a women and her two young daughters to bring them back to uk, don't know the reason why, so via Panama canal we headed for home. Later we learned the cargo had been sold and our destination was Rostock in Eastern Germany, so we called in for an overnight stay in Bilbao in Spain to off load the women and daughters, and continued on via Kiel to Rostock. Rostock was a miserable place as described in the first posting, women stevedores , in large coats and hats, about as sexy as a keep left sign. we could purchase from a duty free shop ashore, but there was little point as it seemed dead. We then set sail for Hamburg, where we requested to pay off, as it was close to the six moths as sign on agreement, but initially the skipper said no, we would be leaving for West Africa in four days time. Several of us went and spoke to him, and we said that several of us were ready to walk off if necessary , and at that point he agreed to break articles. So we came home by train, and that was my last trip to sea. that was then end of March 1964. I cannot claim it was foresight that i went ashore then, but really luck, as after that period the MN that i had known gradually deteriorated with a shortage of ships, so as many other things in later life was guided by a lucky star, kt
    R689823

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    Default Re: Waiting in the ice

    I was on a "Doxford" powered "Ore Carrier" leaving a port in Canada, the sea was froze. I was on the controls, we went, dead slow ahead, dead slow astern, dead slow ahead and on and on for the four hour shift, I was pleased to hand over and have a beer.

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    Default Re: Waiting in the ice

    Hi Jim,
    Great story, glad that you and Audrey are still together, I have a penchant for that name, I was engaged to a lovely blonde called Audrey.
    Cheers, Paul.

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    Default Re: Waiting in the ice

    Nice story by another 1934 baby, just like me.
    married 1957 still going strong.

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