Being a country boy at heart, travelling on trains to London and beyond was an adventure in itself. However, I managed to get to Sheerness in the Thames estuary where I had to wait for a small boat to take me across the river to the Isle of Grain, where the ‘British Victory’ was discharging her cargo of Kuwait crude oil.
At 16 years old and it being early in the morning, I was decidedly hungry, so having some time to spare I took myself and my baggage to a nearby café for breakfast.
A young man joined me. ‘Are you joining the British Victory?’ he asked. ‘I am the Second Mate. Is this your first trip?’
He asked where I came from and I told him I was from a small village in the depths of East Yorkshire.
‘What kind of industry do they have round there?’
‘Only farming,’ I replied.
‘Can I give you a little advice? The railway station is just across the road. Get a train and go back to your farm.’
That was a good start but naturally I didn’t take his advice and so joined the ship as Junior Navigating Apprentice – the lowest form of life aboard ship.
The British Victory was the latest in the British Tanker Company’s fleet of 181 ships. She was the biggest at 32,000 tons, tonnage for tankers being measured in how much cargo they can carry. She was 665 feet long and 85 feet wide. I paced it out in my village six months later and she would have reached more than half way along the main street!
We sailed carrying passengers: Lord and Lady Jowett, their son and his wife, who were on a fact finding mission to the Persian Gulf where, of course, we were bound. These vessels had twelve staterooms so there was enough accommodation for them.
Passing through the Suez Canal for the first time was an experience for me, with the ‘bumboat’ men coming on board in Port Said to sell all kinds of Egyptian dross to the sailors.
‘You want to buy nice plate, Johnny? You like dirty postcards?’
Then sailing through the desert, which I was told is one of the few places in the world where you can see the curvature of the earth. A very long, straight stretch of the waterway seemed to curve away from us as the parallel lines joined in the distance.
After passing through the Red Sea and along the Arabian Peninsular we entered the Persian Gulf at the Quoins and thence to Kuwait.
Our passengers had enjoyed the voyage so much that they asked the Company if they could return home with us. Consequently we loaded in Kuwait and discharged in Aden three times until it was time for them to return.
When I got home six months later, one of the old men in the village asked me if I had lost sight of the nearby High Wood, and when I told him I had he said, ‘You must have been a long way then.’
by Terry Took © 2015
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.