We may get Christmas in port! No work! The cargo was due to be completed on Christmas Eve and the Captain was given the option of staying alongside for Christmas Day. Music to our ears: we could have a nice day in port with no cargo to work and no watches to keep. We could enjoy Christmas.
Together with a Junior Engineer and another Apprentice, we went ashore to sample the delights of Western Australia. The little town of Medina was a short distance from the refinery at Kwinana and was the dormitory town for refinery personnel. A taxi had been called and we waited at the refinery gates. Fascinated, we watched a Kookaburra sitting on a telephone wire above our heads; when it gave its raucous laughing cry, we laughed with it.
Another strange spectacle was a man standing with a bow and blazing arrow beneath a high refinery tower. He lit the arrow and fired it above the tower where it came back to earth and the flames died. What was he trying to achieve? He fired another blazing arrow and a blast of flame shot out from the top of the tower. This tower, some distance from the refinery, was the waste gas pipe where excess gas was burnt off. All refineries had one but we thought it was an ingenious way of lighting it.
Exploring the town took only a little time, so we ended up in a coffee shop to while away the hours until watches on board the ship beckoned. Before we had the chance to use the free telephone to call a taxi, a car pulled up and a female voice said, ‘Are you boys going back to the ship? I’ll take you back!’
On the way she introduced herself as June Grundy and asked if we were to be in port the following day. We were, so she asked if she could come and pick us up to go to the Perth Hospital to assist the nurses singing Christmas carols for the patients.
Our eyes lit up: seamen and nurses, wonderful! Just what we needed, and of course we accepted the invitation.
We two Apprentices joined her for the drive through the bush country up to Perth, where, as the only males, we found ourselves surrounded by nurses who took us round the wards with carol sheets. It was rather strange, singing about snow and ice when the temperature was nudging ninety degrees outside and the sun was shining from a clear blue sky. I don’t know what the patients thought of our efforts but it was quite an experience to be in such beautiful company. After all, we had been at sea for some months!
On our return to the ship, Mrs Grundy invited us to her home for Christmas Day, but we found on boarding that the cargo was going to be finished slightly earlier and the Captain had chosen to sail in the early morning of Christmas Day.
What a disappointment!
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 and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.