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Article: MV Matco Thames

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    MV Matco Thames

    20 Comments by Andre Drew Published on 2nd September 2020 04:58 PM
    MV MATCO THAMES

    An adventure

    The Shipping Federation Office was known to us seamen as The Pool
    And the two Pool's that I used were either at Tilbury or London.
    To get to the London Pool I had to catch a train from Farningham Road to Victoria then the underground to Aldgate East station.
    I would then walk to Leaman street and into Dock Street and arrive at the Pool.
    In the pool office, there was a huge chalk board which showed which ships needed crewing, how many were needed and their ratings.
    As a steward I would look for a ship requiring my skill and hopefully one that was bound for ports in countries I hadn't so far visited.

    (please note that though the facts are correct according to my memory, if any other member of that crew can correct anything that I may of either missed out or got wrong please feel free to correct me)

    It was November1975 as I recall and I had finished my leave and now had to find my next ship out of the UK, I at the time didn't realise that this was going to be my last voyage. I had just got engaged to a local girl and it was looking like an August Wedding. Anyway here where I found myself at the London Pool scanning the board for steward positions. suddenly I noticed one of the clerks writing on the board about a ship that needed Deckhands, Stewards, cooks, engineers Bosun, and many many more. This was unusual as normally a crew member would finish a six month contract and fly home and as this was staggered throughout the ship it meant that only a small percentage of the crew would need to be replaced at any one time.
    After enquiring at the desk I was informed that this was a brand new ship being built in Fukuyama Japan which needed victualling prior to running sea trials and a launching ceremony. I immediately put my name down.

    Two days later I received a phone call to say that I was expected at the Europa Hotel London with my kit and to be ready to ship out the following day.

    As was usual with a night spent at the Europa it was a great excuse to meet up with others that you were going to ship out with and who for the next six months was going to be part off your family, and of course this was best done over a few jars in a local bar.
    Early the following morning the agent in charge of looking after the crew came knocking and tried to get us all together for our trip to Heathrow Airport.

    I don't remember much about the flight, partly I believe because of the night before and I am sure because it was uneventful. We stopped for refuelling at Anchorage in Alaska where we were allowed off the plane for over an hour and into the flight lounge. The coldness of Alaska at that time of year meant that the air was incredibly dry and I vividly remember that wherever I wandered in that lounge I was repeatedly hit by what can only be described as mini lightning strikes shooting out from any piece of furniture that you was silly enough to get within range of, the air was static and actually crackled, and when hit by one of these blue sparks it was like being injected with a very blunt needle and it really hurt.

    Finely we arrived in Tokyo and after a good rest and a meal we were taken to the train station for the onward trip to Hiroshima, What a surprise when we realised we would travel on the new and world famous super train, known as The Bullet and a what a fantastic experience for a young seaman.

    From Hiroshima we transferred to a more normal form of transport and journeyed on to Fukuyama and registered into a very nice hotel which though we didn't know it at the time, was going to be our home for the next couple of weeks. This didn't seem to us like work, this was a luxury holiday, because on top of the fact that we were being paid to stay there we were also given a very generous daily allowance on top of our wages.

    After a day or two we were picked up and taken to see our ship, and didn't she look beautiful, brand new, newly painted and extremely clean and after sailing on an old gas carrier (The Humbolt) and a bulk carrier of some age (MV London Bridge) plus others, this ship was breath taking. After the initial look round we were then summoned, when necessary to carry up the gangway deliveries of everything from bunks, mattresses, booze, baccy furniture cutlery crockery and just about everything that was required to run a huge ship, this was done on a near daily basis for between two to four hours a day so we had a lot of time for sight seeing and just having a great time.

    Karaoke was huge in Japan at this time and you couldn't enter any bar without hearing a Japanese businessman singing a Beatles song in a very Japanese accent for the entertainment of his party, and if they spotted any of us we would (as Europeans) be expected to partake in the singing. Our time in Japan was just one long party and I still remember it with pleasure.

    Once we were billeted on our ship and issued with our cabins our daily work routine became about the same as on any ship but the difference was tht we sailed out of harbour on a regular basis to carry out sea trials returning within a day or two. This was to confirm everything was in working order and ironing out any problems which arose. Once it was confirmed that we were safe to go and all the relevant documents signed we again rested in the harbour.

    After a few days the decks were cleaned, bunting was hung and a huge music band came aboard. V.I.P.s started to arrive and boxes were placed around the ship.

    With a huge amount of pomp and ceremony and the band playing loud music the launching ceremony was enacted by the wife of the owner of the Mobile Oil Company and at the same time the boxes scattered about the deck was thrown open and hundreds of white doves flew up over the ship and the flag which hid the ships name was unfurled.

    The MV Matco Thames was born.

    We sailed the following day and you would think that from that day forward things would just become routine but another news worthy thing happened during that trip.

    After visiting various ports in the south pacific we found ourselves sailing back to Europe. Leaving Australia we crossed the Indian ocean, but we didn't head straight for the Cape of Good Hope nor for that matter the Suez Canal but we headed for Madagascar the reason was that at that time the Suez was still closed but was about to open and a convoy was building up at the eastern entrance of the Canal, but it seems that there had been a few attempts to open it before and ships had been made to turn around and head south for the Cape.

    By heading towards Madagascar our captain was taking no chances, Madagascar is about halfway between the Cape and Suez and if he didn't get assurance that the Canal was open by a certain time he would head South saving the fuel cost and lost time of going all the way to Suez.

    I remember that no assurances were received and it was decided at the last minute to head south, and with that bit of news we went to bed. On waking up the following day we found ourselves heading North. The Captain had now received the relevant assurances and we were heading of to be part of the very first convoy into the Suez after many years of closure.

    In those days the Suez was only wide enough to take one ship going in one direction, it certainly wasn't wide enough to let two ships pass each other (this maybe still true today?) so about half way through the Canal there is a body of water known as the Bitter Lakes where a convoy could anchor allowing the convoy coming from the other direction to pass.

    I believe that the first convoy that sailed from west to east received some kind of recognition at Port Said but the convoy that from east to west went unnoticed as there isn't any large town or city at that end it was at that time a desert inhabited with warring tribes.

    Anyway the rest of the voyage was pretty uneventful and I paid of in Greenhock in Scotland, got married and never sailed as a merchant mariner again, that all happened between late 1975 to 1976 and I am still married to the same woman and have two lovely daughters who have given us five beautiful grandchildren, i'm not sure that would be true if I had returned to sea, but saying that I loved every part of my years as a merchant seaman.

    If there is anyone sad enough to have read this to the end and was on that voyage, I would love to hear from you. Regards and stay safe. Andy Drew

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: MV Matco Thames

    Thank you Andre
    A very nice Article ,which i know brings back memories for me ,and i am sure for many others here as well.

    Please do try and Post more, as this is the sort of thing we really want on this site.
    Cheers
    Senior Member and Friend of this Website

    R697530

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    Default Re: MV Matco Thames

    Thank you, I nearly didn't send it because I thought it might be a bit boring. So i am glad it was received well.

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    Default Re: MV Matco Thames

    Quote Originally Posted by Andre Drew View Post
    Thank you, I nearly didn't send it because I thought it might be a bit boring. So i am glad it was received well.
    All stories and experiences are welcome Andre, as a lot of us on here for years have run out of stories of lands visited and seas traversed, but then again a 'word' in another's story triggers a memory long forgotten

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    Default Re: MV Matco Thames

    Nice story Andre. Had a similar experience a few years earlier when a crew flew to Sasebo Japan to pick up a Blindfold shipping company very large tanker- the Bedford. I remember Anchorage and flying over the pole and it was spectacular. Also in Anchorage a true red Indian complete with deerskin suit and a magnificent Eagle? feather head piece that went right down his back- just like in the cowboy movies. Unlike you we couldn't use the Suez as ship was too big so around the cape to Rotterdam then due back up the gulf. I walked off and went home. V.N.C. in book of course.
    P.s. The pool you mentioned most people in those days called Prescott St.

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    Default Re: MV Matco Thames

    A lovely story Andre.An old shipmate of mine, Dick Robinson, was bosun on her in her later life when she was working on the North Sea.
    Last edited by Trader; 3rd September 2020 at 09:40 PM.

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    Default Re: MV Matco Thames

    Thanks for that. must be millions of great stories out there. I think we probably had the best years. also, of course you are right it was Prescott street (soon as I saw it, it clicked) Take care. Andy Drew

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    Default Re: MV Matco Thames

    I did three trips on her sister ship Matco Avon, joining in Coryton and Gothenburg, paying off at the Tetney mono buoy. She had been fitted with a cable ship type bow to load and discharge the oil. There were good and not so good things about the ship. Mobil supplied all our working gear including thermal socks and gloves, thermal underwear and survival suits. The pay was well above the average with guaranteed overtime and generous leave system. The not so good was the laughter and joking were gone, work eat and sleep. This was the reason I didn't stay longer.

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    Default Re: MV Matco Thames

    Thanks for a great story Andre, I was at sea 1955-60, in 56 when the Suez crisis was about to kick off, we were homeward bound from Aus and was
    one of the last to transit before the canal was closed, we called into Genoa for about three days, we were having a great time until the US sixth Fleet
    turned up, the price for everything trebled instantly, leaving us priced out of the bars, for something to do, we went on the Pedalo boats and had a
    race, the water was choppy and we came off, the water wasn't that deep, so we hit the sea bed which turned out to be nothing but rocks, we went
    back to the ship looking like we'd been in the ring with Tyson, that was our last day and in the evening we clubbed together for a cheap bottle of chianti,
    and sat in a dingy dockside bar with just a TV that spoke Italian. Unfortunately I never got to Japan always regretted that, I loved the Panama canal but always
    thought the Suez is a Godforsaken place, although Port Saids bum boats were always a laugh, I got my ships from the Shipping Federation office, that
    was situated in London's royal group, it was central to the Victoria, Albert and KG5 docks, never got the chance to fly anywhere, it's always interesting
    to read how some things changed, but for me, the fifties were the Golden Era, cheers
    Last edited by John F Collier; 6th September 2020 at 07:20 PM.

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    Default Re: MV Matco Thames

    Andre, I was amongst the first fleet to sail through the Suez after it was reopened in 1975, We were probably both struck by the images either side of the banks its one time i wish i had a camcorder with me to film all the Ordnance Tanks / Vehicles / ETC... Destroyed and abandoned. By both sides of the conflict we never realized at the time what we were experiencing it was just another day in the life, Try to get people to believe some of the things we witnessed, Not that it matters we know what we know to be true. We led very interesting lives. Regards Terry.
    {terry scouse}

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