Unlike my previous ships, the ‘British Yeoman’ was only a 12,000 tonner and hence looked very small as I walked up the gangway. The ship was in the dry dock at Falmouth for a few days and, I am saddened to say, it was the first time that I had sampled the delights of bars, of which there were plenty in Falmouth. A challenge for all BP personnel was to have one beer in every bar in the main street from the docks upwards. We only made it to the ‘Bunch of Grapes’, about half way up the street, before the barman, who had seen it all before, poured our little party into a taxi to send us back to the ship. I hadn’t realised until that time that jetties could become vertical and difficult to climb!
We had orders to load cargo in Tenerife for the Adriatic port of Falconara and this, to me, was what seafaring was all about: places to go besides the Persian Gulf.
Before sailing, the Captain, being a Yorkshire man, bought a cricket bat and spent hours oiling it. Then he gave us apprentices the job of making cricket balls! This meant finding old metal nuts, covering them in cotton waste, then wrapping the whole thing in rope yarn until it was ball size. Sewed up tight, they were then placed in a bucket of water for a few days to make them hard. The carpenter fashioned the wickets and play commenced on the main deck, the Captain involving himself in every game.
From Falconara we passed through the Suez Canal, which had opened again in 1958 after the short war of 1956. It was different again this time. Where the big guns had been emplaced on the breakwaters were big holes. De Lessop’s statue had been re-erected but the huge Johnnie Walker sign atop one of the buildings in Port Said had one leg missing. A bomb or a shell must have amputated it!
Onwards then to Bombay where we changed our Indian crew and loaded a full cargo of motor spirit for three ports in Australia.
As the refinery at Bombay didn’t have enough fuel for us to get that far, we left and went into Colombo to load bunkers. It was so hot that the cargo had expanded and the pungent aroma of petrol overhung the ship as it squeezed through the seals on the tanks and leaked on to the deck. We had no chance to get ashore as our only task was to continuously hose down the decks in a forlorn effort to cool the cargo.
From Ceylon, as it was then, we sailed via the Great Barrier Reef to Botany Bay, Melbourne and Adelaide to discharge. Then, for the next six months we sailed on the Australian coast, calling occasionally to New Zealand, each time loading in Kwinana, close to Fremantle on the west coast.
After 11 months in total away from home, orders were received to take a cargo to Aden from where, we surmised, we would return to England. Instead, we re-loaded a cargo of aviation spirit for Beirut and Larnaca and dreams of home were put on hold.
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.