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Article: 16 and off to sea

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    16 and off to sea

    19 Comments by Ken Elvy Published on 19th February 2020 11:31 AM
    After 4 months pre sea training at the Prince of Wales Sea Training School, Dover in 1957, I joined SS Oronsay in Tilbury as a sixteen year old deck boy.
    This was when the Suez crises was on so we proceeded to Australia via the Canary Islands and Cape Town, South Africa. 4 ports in Australia, 2 in New Zealand then across the Pacific to the Fiji Islands, Honolulu, San Francisco and finally Vancouver. A great trip for a first timer. Coming back the Suez canal had reopened so we came via Singapore, Ceylon as it then was, Aden, Suez, Naples, Athens, Gibraltar and Lisbon then back to Tilbury. Couple of weeks at home then rejoined for a similar voyage which also incorporated a Christmas cruise around New Zealand. This time upon arriving home there was a letter waiting offering me an apprenticeship with Common Brothers, Lowland Tanker Company. What a different experience that turned out to be! Travelling up to their offices in Newcastle I signed indentures and was taken to Wallsend shipyard to join the Border Fusilier, a 15 thousand ton tanker which was in dry dock having repairs carried out.
    We eventually sailed and I soon realised that in those days Apprentice was just another word for slave! Working on deck all day, occasionally on the bridge, no study time other than in the evenings if not on watch. Down in the tanks after they had been washed out digging out the sludge then more or less washing in white spirit to get clean before putting on uniform to eat in the dining saloon. 12 hour watches when loading/off loading. One of the worst parts of this trip was a few months loading in Abadan then discharging in Aden and Djibouti. Four times in all back and forth and of course there was no air conditioning then. Eventually returned to the Tyne after an 11 month voyage and had to have a spell at home as I needed most of my teeth extracted. Joined the Border Ministrel as Shellhaven, sailed to Port Said where we spent some time having the tanks deep cleaned as we were converting to load clean oil, petrol, aviation spirit etc. This voyage lasted 14 months. I had become an acting 3rd Mate but decided I had had enough and was shall we say 'persuaded' to stay ashore. Have regretted that decision many times since but that's another story.
    Some time ago I wrote a poem, (with some poetic licence about bottoming out), which I include below. Now almost 80 really enjoy the site and the tales.

    The Open Sea
    'Single up fore and aft, let go the spring there Mr Mate, the tides a turning we can't be late, or on the bottom we shall be. 12 hours more just tied up here would rile the Company I fear. We slipped the wharf and headed off. Once more we're free, out upon the open sea.
    Our tanks are full of liquid gold, black oil pumped from the soil to keep some nation on it's feet, providing fuel and power and heat. The wind is hot as we sail on, down the Gulf to some land beyond. It feels so good, once more we're free out upon the open sea.
    Out through the coins and orders come, La Plata, that's to be our run. Down the coast of Africa. Stop at Cape Town to refuel, then we start on that long haul, across the South Atlantic Ocean, a storm brews up, just feel the motion! But it's so good to be free, out upon the open sea.
    La Plata port looms into view, a run ashore for some of the crew. Alongside then we start discharge, fresh water taken from a barge. Our tanks are emptied, ballast pumped in, some letters posted to our kin.
    Then off again, once more we're free - for we are sailormen you see, the land is alien to we, who spend our life on the open sea.
    Best wishes to all.
    Ken Elvy

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  3. #11
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    Default Re: 16 and off to sea

    Ken 9, I was the same, was a JOS on a South American Saint line ship, and was offered to skip over to apprentice with them, but it meant losing money, cannot recall the actual figures now, however don't regret not taking up the offer because i only stayed at sea for a total of 7 years, so no regrets there, kt
    R689823

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    #11... Keith that says it all. To my mind you did the right thing. What advantage would you have had becoming an apprentice. ? Being an apprentice gave you no advantage for certificates whatsoever, the old adage coming up the hard way and up the hawse pipe means nothing to me or most apprentices that I knew. In fact being an apprentice gave you disadvantages, the only advantage I can see was it either made you more aggressive to get out of the rut and get on the ladder going hopefully upwards. To others they just got out and sought better employment. An apprentice in 1952 was a serf and you were somebodies property. You even had a bond on your head. The shipowners obligations were to supply you with food and board , and your Obligations were many. You were entitled to no leave and your stipends were the lowest on the vessel. The legal obligation of the owner was to give the means to teach you the duties of a seaman/ships officer, this was usually delegated to the bosun. I still have my Indentures probably the same as Ivan, but to copy out all the clauses would be too laborious to me. However that is all of the past, I can’t see any youth of today accepting such in this present world. I was always used to ships with 4 apprentices and even among the 4 of us the ritual of seniority was a strong hold and part of someone’s idea of a learning curve amongst us. I was a strong adversity to this as paved the way for bullying in a lot of cases. However being a member of the 4 meant you had to stick together as a combined unit against outside forces. It was all part of growing up rapidly. There were also class barriers in those days and coming from a working class background you gained no favours. It took me some time to realise that talking with a plum in your gob proved absolutely nothing in fact probably the direct opposite. Cheers JWS
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 2nd March 2020 at 03:19 AM.

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    Ref. To 11 and 12. John Swan May find this of interest. The names I mentioned to him Two of them Craig Walwyn and Carl Davison and myself joined Runcimans at the.same time, the other two joining the Cragmoor. We were all in the same crowd as Ken Langton . The Cragmoor on return to Liverpool Craig’s father came to ship saw the master and told him he had permission to take him off for a few days break. He was never seen again . The whole family emigrated to Canada. I was a bit peed off when I heard the story as was very keen on Craigs sister. They lived in Chirton Village North Shields where the family had a paperr shop out here would be a deli. John Swan if he knows , Carl Davison is still alive , just, and lives in Seaton Delavel where his wife has to have carers in 2 and 3 times a day to handle him. Believe he retired a few years earlier but stayed the course as long as he could. I often wondered about Craig however or maybe it was his sister also that my thoughts often strayed to , but never did find out anything else . Ken Langton May have known as they were pretty close. Him and Craig. Cheers JWS.
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 2nd March 2020 at 07:12 AM.

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    Default Re: 16 and off to sea

    Ken Langton retired from Shell just after me in 1991, he moved down to Branscombe, Devon. He died about 3/4 years ago, his wife still lives there, their daughter lives in Exeter I think.

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    Thanks John, another of the old timers laid to rest. Have just mentioned another name in another post of an ex app. Out of Shell , a Cyril Scott, known to me as big Ci or Si. Was it Blue flu or BI that Ken was with originally.? You must of remembered Atkins a bloke with a big broken nose , his father was mate with King Line. Think he packed it in and went later as AB. His sidekick was a bloke called Atkinson, I saw him years later in one of the well known dives in North Shields , he was a bookies runner. Would all have interesting stories to recount no doubt. Cheers JWS

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    Great to read John. My father Bill Swan was Master with Commons finishing on Waziristan in 1953. In 1961 at 16 he sent me off with Commons joining the Iron Ore in Glasgow. She laid up after one trip and I moved onto Border Keep for a year. Then I had a great time on the Woodburn general cargo tramping, including running aground on Horsburgh Reef in Singapore when the mate fell asleep with 3 months in drydock there. I stayed with Commons 12 years finishing Mate on the Kuwait VLCCs and then went teaching at S.Shields ( l lived in North Shields). I then did the BSc. nautical and moved to New Zealand where I have been teaching and examiner since 1980. Now 75 I still do many of the exams and have just renewed my warrant for another five years. Now we are dealing with Covid-19 and locked down as from tomorrow. I am going to do some of the lower grade exams on Skype with suitable precautions for I.D etc. and may have to move to the senior ones later if it works. Laws may have to be modified to allow it. We live in strange times. Take care
    Regards, Roy Swan

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    Quote Originally Posted by j.sabourn View Post
    #There were also class barriers in those days and coming from a working class background you gained no favours. It took me some time to realise that talking with a plum in your gob proved absolutely nothing in fact probably the direct opposite. Cheers JWS
    There certainly were barriers, try being an apprentice in a Liner company, when you have a strang Yarksheer accent, ill fitting second hand uniforms etc, and what was all that cutlery used for? but having been on deep sea trawlers they couldn't fault my work ethic or seamanship When I found my accent irked some of them it somehow became strong. Indentures were a waste of paper and only beneficial to the owners as a cheap labour contract, but we survived.

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    #16... Roy you may have known my cousin who after lecturing in marine engineering at South Shield did the same in Launceston at the College there, he also did a bit of examining for Canberra as well , Name was Bill Sabourn. I sat masters in 1963 but didnt pick up the cert. until 1964 and was sailing on the pink slip until picked up at the Mm offices in Newcastle, started a course for extras by mail but couldn’t afford even the hire of the books as hadn’t been married that long. One of the surveyors in Glasgow put me in line for a job with the DTI on the grounds of giving me 3 years to get.However was again a drop in wages.so knocked it back. I spent over the years time on the Bisco ore carriers working for Dalglieshes and John I. Jacobs the nearest thing to a shore job at the time.If on the off chance you live near Tauranga you may know Clive Spencer , he sometimes writes for nautical publications , another old trampshipnan. Good to hear a few more of the old timers making it through the perils of modern day living .Regards John S.

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    #17.. Ivan think I mentioned somewhere, one of my biggest embarrassments was in the saloon on one of the few times managed the courage to go in. Asking the steward for a tea plate, his nose upraised he said don’t you mean a side plate. Just to be contrary I still call them to this day tea plates. JS.

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    #16.. Roy do they have a different system in NZ. I suppose they must being a much smaller country.. Here in Australia when I was working a couple of. Times came into the problem of certification.. The smaller cert. were issued by state authority and only the normal old time cents. Were federal. I had one case coming into Adelaide from Singapore where the. Second engineer had a cert.. Issued in the Northern Terroritarys , and we were in South Australia, so was not going to accept. There was quite a discussion about it at the time , however he was only there for the. Run from Singapore , so was replaced with a States certificate that was in vogue. I lived in North Shields for a brief time during the war as had an Aunt who lived in Howard street just near the square where the wooden dolly was moved to. Her son also went to sea. Cheers JS

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