At the tender age of 16, I went to sea and my first ship was designated a Super Tanker. She was 32,000 tons deadweight, meaning she could carry that amount of oil. Some forty years later I was sent to join a ship at Rotterdam which could carry 480,000 tons of crude oil. The difference was startling, to say the least.
I had sailed for months on 250,000 ton ships and during my pilotage career had assisted many vessels of this size through the English Channel and Dover Straits. So I was accustomed to these large vessels. These were designated Very Large Crude Carriers or VLCCs, but over the 300,000 ton mark became Ultra Large Crude Carriers or ULCCs – a far cry from the Super Tanker of the late 1950s.
A typical VLCC was about 1,000 feet long with a width of around 150 feet and in fully loaded condition had a draught (the amount under the water) of about 72 feet.
I got out of the taxi near to the ship, the ULCC ‘Esso Caribbean’, at the shipyard in Rotterdam and looked up at the gangway. The length of an ordinary gangway from the dock led to a platform, then there was another full length of gangway and a further platform followed by a third gangway which led to the deck of the ship.
Breathless, I stepped onto the deck and looked around. She was 1,240 feet long with a width of 223 feet. The deck seemed to stretch for miles towards the bow and a little less distance to the stern, where the huge, six storey tower block of bridge structure stretched far above me. I hoped the lift was working!
Like sailing on a huge island, we passed through the Dover Strait dwarfing every ship that came near to us.
Some months later I was assigned to her sister ship, the ‘Esso Pacific’, where I joined the vessel in her full loaded condition. From the pilot boat we noted the ship’s draught as we passed the stern. 86 feet!
We were to join with a lightering ship, a mere 110,000 tons, in Lyme Bay. She would take her full cargo from us to reduce the draught for a passage across the Channel to the man-made port of Antifer near to Le Havre. We manoeuvred with the lightering vessel until it was made fast alongside then dropped the anchor for the transfer to begin. Our draught decreased to 76 feet.
As our ultimate destination was Rotterdam we could not transit the Dover Straits in this condition so were lightened again at Antifer before proceeding to Rotterdam with a mere 72 feet draught.
At these draughts, we were not too worried about space around us, only what was beneath us. Dover Coastguard monitored our progress throughout the voyage to warn other vessels of our status.
Ships have now been built bigger than these, one of them weighing in at close to 750,000 tons – but the ‘Esso Pacific’ was quite big enough for me.
by Terry Took © 2012
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 and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.