After rejoining the ship in Swansea after some leave the ship was almost completely loaded for another visit to Australia this time directly to Sydney. We were carrying mainly cars in boxes and the last few were secured down on the top of the boxes. However, we were then told that we were to move on to Milford Haven to load 200 tons of TNT!!!! Which we did anchored of shore in a secure area. The 200 tons of TNT were loaded into N01 hold and thankfully the detonators were loaded separately into N0 2 hold. They assured us that it was all perfectly safe as long as the detonators were separate from the TNT but still not a pleasant feeling having that not far in front of you for the next 7 weeks or so. So off we sailed with a rather subdued ship.
As we entered the Med the weather was fine and the Captain decided on a scenic route closer to North Africa we soon came quite close to Algiers Bay which I think the Captain had forgotten that the French were still at war with the Algerians.....shells started to fly fortunately none too near and we quickly headed much further out to sea it wasn’t until much later that everyone realised that we had the TNT in N01 hold!!!! No dramas this time through the Suez Canal our next stop Aden for bunkering for the long leg to Sydney. It was evening when we left Aden with the Captain, Pilot, and third Mate plus myself and the Indian Helmsman. The Captain was a bit worse for wear to put it mildly and soon got fed up with the Pilot and tried to get him to leave which of course he wouldn’t but the arguments got worse and he then threw me off the bridge quote (What the hell are you doing here Bugger Off) The 3rd Mate said to me go down and just come up the side he won’t notice......REALLY He soon found me again but after a few more expletives turned his venom back onto the pilot. The problem was the Captain wanted to go the wrong side of the buoyed passage and the Pilot didn’t of course. He, the Captain demanded the Pilot leave the ship immediately and by this time the guy was thoroughly pissed off and now the 3rd Mate was on the wheel as the helmsman was trying to take us out of the channel on captains orders the 3rd Mate just kept Aye Aye Siring and kept the ship in the channel between the buoys.....once the pilot had gone I was once again thrown off the Bridge but into safe waters with the 200 tons of TNT. Pweee.
As we proceeded southeast from Aden we eventually passed Socotra our last sight of land for quite a while and during one early morning passed the Royal Yacht coming back from Australia with the New Queen and Prince Philip after their first tour there since her coronation....lots of flag dipping & excitement but too early in the morning to see anyone on board.
By the time we reached the halfway point we were around 1,500 nautical miles south of Ceylon and far ahead we could see a pretty large disturbance. Sparks called Colombo to see if they had any info on what it might be but they said we were too far away from anywhere for any info to be available, all they would say was that there seemed to be some disturbance that they could faintly detect which might mean at that distance that it could be a storm to be avoided!!! As we were a fully loaded ship of about 12 knots maximum that was a pretty tall order much too late. With no choice we headed into the Cyclone with the sea changing to huge waves very quickly. It was a huge Cyclone and as I said at the beginning I can’t remember the exact technical details but the 2nd Mate said later that the barometer was the 2nd lowest ever recorded at that time....The wind and waves were becoming unreal. We were lucky to enter in at and stay in the Navigable Semicircle although the wheel seemed to be hard over to port most of the time....the Indian crew fled to their bunks remaining there for 5 days!!! I was put on the wheel and remained there for a good 8 hours fastened on with rope as the only way to stay with it at the start. The sea continued to grow larger & larger and it was frightening to look out of the bridge windows to see the ship rising up up and up until you thought it would never make it & then the roller coaster down the other side this all continued for 5 days as the beast decided to re curve on us when it hit the Equator The 2nd Mate said we had long passed the maximum on the Beaufort Scale and his estimate of the wind speed sounded impossible and yet only a few hours into the storm I remember on the bridge a weird moaning sound which no one could work out what it was but only an hour or so later we discovered the lanyard to the whistle was tightening over the top of the waves and blowing it. The captain said to slack the wire back to the stern of the bridge which we did but only an hour later or so with the whistle blowing full blast it broke.( I checked the length it was slacked back much later and it was around 14 feet) We of course lost our radio aerial too and had no contact with the outside world for almost a week. I seem to remember that it was mentioned at the time in the Telegraph so I was later told. We had a small break when we passed through the eye where you could see the huge waves far ahead that we would once again have to enter, it was very difficult to breath at this time as the air was being sucked up really quickly. On re entering the storm fully (although the eye was relatively calm it was no one could go on deck for over 5 days) we were back again where we had been before the wind if anything worse that we had previously........We took a huge amount of damage......all our life boats were completely destroyed ....the ventilators on top of the Sampson post at N03 hold took off like rockets (that’s before the Americans got anything of the ground!!!!) the paint was literally blown off the accommodation and bridge down in places to bare metal as was everything else expose directly to the wind and waves. I think I can honestly say that there was no one on board that ship those days that did not pray as we were all convinced we would never survive the storm...but survive we did despite the 200 tons of TNT which we had all forgotten about. During the 5 days of the storm we had averaged around 2 knots and got absolutely no where. When we arrived in Sydney the papers all had us on the front page...I can remember one headline “MV Betwa limps into Sydney harbour” which was weird as we had just done the fastest 12 hours of the whole trip!!!! The cargo...most of the cargo being cars in boxes were ok except the ones on the top of the boxes which were all smashed to bits and of course the TNT made it too.. We were so lucky to have had the cargo of cars which couldn’t shift which most likely saved our lives........the cargo of bulk grain we carried back to the UK on our return would not have. Our journey back to the UK was in contrast peacefully calm without incidents.
My final voyage on the Betwa began once again to Australia and then to Colombo where I discovered our cargo of grain was left to rot. Then on to Calcutta where we were to load Gunney Sacks (Jute Sugar Bags) for the West Indies which was our regular trade. Before that we entered into the dry dock there for various things and I had the unnerving experience with the Mate who took me down and under the ship in to dry dock as we examined the ship which was the first opportunity since the Cyclone. We left the Dry Dock and moored up to bouys in the Hougli River in Calcutta with crossed anchor chains fore and aft which may seem strange to those who have never been there and experienced the bore tide on the Hougli River Calcutta is around 200 miles inland and yet the bore tide can be huge.....I have seen 14 to 15 ft bore tides come up the river and seen several ships anchor chains actually break. After loading our cargo of Gunny Sacks for the West Indies we went into the dock in Calcutta as we were to catch the tide around 4 am, we moored in the middle of the dock alongside our sister ship the Indus and we were warned not to party too hard which of course was pretty well ignored by all. At 4am I found myself once again on bridge duty as the pilot got us moving slowly astern towards the lock gate. We had 2 tugs one on each bow with nylon rope attached...our progress was a bit slow for our pilot who with out warning moved the telegraph from Dead Slow to Slow. He very quickly relised his mistake and returned it to Dead Slow after a bollocking from The Captain for doing it himself. There was no answering telegraph....The Captain told me to get down to the engine room pronto as they were not answering the phone or voice tube so down I went from bridge to deck through the accommodation down to the engine room to find the 4th engineer asleep over the controls. I of course quickly got him awake and he stopped the engine. Going back up to the bridge was not a pretty sight the Captain was full blast at the Pilot...the ship was still inching towards the lock gate with the 2 tugs heaving away on nylon ropes that were getting thinner & thinner and smoking away, eventually one broke and the tug set of full speed to a sloping grassy bank at the end of the dock, where I think actually it actually beached itself. In the mean time we had got some forward power on and just avoided a drained dock by literally inches. Happy days!!!!
We sailed down the east coast of India to bunker in Colombo before our journey to the Caribbean the 2nd Mate had a fever so I stood his watch. The Captain said you might pick up a lighthouse ahead toward the end of the watch but wake me if anything changes....famous last words...we hit a very strong current off the coast of India and I had to wake him as I was actually abeam of the lighthouse. He went mad saying it was utterly impossible but when he checked it out the ship which had a maximum of 12 knots on a good day had averaged over 17 knots the best run it had ever had...I was well chuffed. On reaching Colombo we found we had some cargo for Durban and Capetown which was a welcome relief from the normal 8 weeks non stop to Trinidad. We also seemed to be being checked out by customs rather thoroughly and at both Durban & Capetown the same thing happened. Our run to Trinidad was uneventful we did have Christmas Day about 200 miles of the mouth of the Amazon and even so far out that mighty rivers water was drinkable albeit only slightly salty. Arriving at Port of Spain our Captain who was I think on his last trip decided to take the ship through what’s called “Hells Mouth” which is shown on the chart as unnavigable time once again...what an experience! We did the rounds of the Caribbean unloading slowly our cargo of Gunny sacks, we eventually came to Neuvitas which had a crazy pilot who spoke no English somehow the Captain had found out that I could more or less speak some Spanish and I was enrolled to translate this guys instructions to which the Captain said ******** or something equally derogatory and virtually took no notice at all, the Pilot did have bottom bottle glasses and I don’t think he could see much out of them either, meanwhile this Pilot was going crazy. During all this I noticed that all the jetties as we approached were made of wood and most of them broken about 8 in all, I asked the 3rd mate what had happened and he told me that this guy was on a mission to destroy all the jetties as a Pilot he kept hitting them all the time and they just shrugged their shoulders and built another one....that was laid back Cuba. I became quite popular to go ashore with in Cuba as being the only one who could more or less communicate with the Cubans I was the only one who could chat the girls up!!!! We had one other odd experience in Cuba that time when we berthed at a place called Sagua la Grande on the north coast. There was one jetty and berthed on the other side was another ship also British or so the flag on the stern indicated. We never in the 3 days we were there ever saw anyone on the ship at all...very strange. We arrived on Friday late afternoon and were only to have been there half a day but being the weekend we had to wait to unload on the Monday. It was my turn to be on watch on Saturday which was really drawing the short straw, but sometimes things work out despite what you expect. Saturday afternoon a car drew up at the end of the jetty(There was no security in those days) and a guy with 2 gorgeous girls got out and wandered down the jetty, when they got to the bottom of the gangway they asked me in Spanish if they could have a look round the ship. I asked the mate if it was ok and he agreed so I gave them the round tour of the ship. In exchange when they were leaving they asked me if they could take me out to dinner that evening and if you like bring a friend with you!!!(these things don’t really happen do the...Oh yes they do) So the 2nd mate and I went out that evening and had a great evening but on returning around midnight the guy stopped at the end of the jetty to one side and said to me just wait a few minutes and you will see something very interesting!!!! Sure enough just after midnight all the deck lights came on the other ship hatches off followed by a whole convoy of cars and jeeps & trucks with camouflaged people in them, they began to unload the ship with arms amo crates of this and that and several vehicles. Finally done they left and the lights went off on the ship. I was told that that was a shipment for the rebels led by Castro as this was a few years prior to the full revolution. We unloaded the next morning but never did we see a single person on the other ship....was it a British ship maybe but there was a covering over the all identification markings, name port of registry etc. I leave it to you as to what you might think but I have a pretty shrewed feeling that the ship was British which would mean that we were helping the rebels at that Time...interesting. Incidentally the guy who took us to dinner was the then Chief Custom Officer for that area of whose side was he on? Arriving in Havana we had the customs searching the ship for drugs I was told that the ship had been monitored all the way from India. Seeing a bit of a commotion on the gangway I went to see what was happening again as I was the only Spanish speaker. There were 2 Customs/Police with guns trained on the bosun and his mate who were going ashore...they had been caught taking a large amount of drugs ashore and the police said to tell them that it was jail or a $1000 fine. As they only earned around 7-50 pounds a month I thought that was that but they both just laughed and pulled the money out of their back pockets and paid the much had they already got rid of!!!!
This really takes me to the end of my time at sea. On our return to the Uk I was on another Norse Ship the Hougli in Cardiff as it was having a 12 year survey and I was nearly due to take my 2nd Mates. The mate suggested that I could take the medical first as I could do it there in Cardiff which I duly did and found to my dismay that I had become quite short sighted and in those days glasses were not allowed and contact lenses were a bit science fiction still. End of career but of course as always new doors always open don’t they and of course they did.
Thanks to all those who have taken the time to read my post