‘British Workman’ lived up to her name – with an average of eleven ports per month, she was a 12,000 ton tanker that was permanently ‘on the coast’ meaning that she only traded between Great Britain, Northern Europe and Scandinavia. A story that went the rounds of the Company claimed she arrived in Swansea with ‘British Workhouse’ painted on one bow. The Company was not very impressed!
However, some years before, she had sailed twice through the Suez Canal bound for Haifa, in Israel. Consequently she was banned from the Canal to spend the rest of her long life ‘coasting’, carrying mainly diesel and heavy fuel oil for ships and a lighter fuel for central heating. She had been built in 1949 by Harland and Wolff at Govan and was broken up in 1967.
On 1st November 1960, I joined her at Grangemouth in Scotland as Third Officer and was promptly assigned to the 12-4 watch. It represented more responsibility as every one else was sleeping between midnight and four in the morning, though it was a lonely watch usually assigned to the Second Officer.
The Captain was a ‘coasting man’, having spent some years on that trade, and knew most of the ports that the vessel called at. He said that if you went past Lands End you would fall off the edge of the world!
I spent eleven months on this ship and enjoyed every moment of it, including the ‘graveyard’ watch and, of course, the many ports that we called at, such as Honningsvaag, (Honey Bay) on the northern tip of Norway where we spent most of the voyage under pilotage, sailing through the fabulous Norwegian fjords. Trondheim, Tromso, Aalsund, Stamsund and Harstad were also ports of call in Norway, whilst Helsingborg in Sweden was a regular stopover where we could take the ferry four miles across the sound to Elsinore in Denmark, where Hamlet’s castle stood proudly on the headland.
Other calling points in the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia included the strangely named Lulea, Pitea, Skelleftea and Sundsvaal in northern Sweden. Further south were Gavle, Stockholm, Norrkoping, Karlshamn, Karlskrona, Trelleborg and Malmo. In Denmark we visited Copenhagen, Aalborg, and Aarhus plus, less often, Esbjerg and Fredericia.
The ship was well known at Skagen on the northern tip of Denmark where the pilot boat brought mail to the ship, as well as the pilot for the sea passage through the Kattegat minefields. Fifteen years after the war the residual mines were still considered dangerous and swept routes called NEMEDRI (North Eastern and Mediterranean Routeing Instructions) routes were buoyed for safe passage to all ships.
It was an interesting time, particularly for our old ship whose maximum speed was ten knots with a following sea and a radar we called a forty mile radar – when it was working we could see for forty miles, but mostly it only worked for forty miles so we learned to navigate without its benefits!
by Terry Took © 2016
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for over 50 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.