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Article: 16 and off to sea

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    16 and off to sea

    20 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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    Default Re: 16 and off to sea

    It's really strange that whilst I was with Commons I was never queried about my name, that is if I was related to another Swan in the company. I joined the Waziristan 16th June 1955 and left 12th. May 1956.Capt. Hood was master. Mate, Cliff. Southcombe. 2nd Mate, F. Hockstrasser. 3rd. Mate, Charlie Lowson. Apprentices. Self, Groom, & Mitchell. I believe Commons sold the ship after I left, it was a constant source of trouble, always breaking down. It took two attempts to leave Hawthorn Leslie when I joined, got as far as Flamborough Head 1st time. Broke down N. Atlantic 2days, then spent 3 weeks in Baltimore being repaired. I have 4 copies of the house magazine Common Crier, the only ones that have survived, 54, 55, & 2 from 56 they are reall interesting to look back on.

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