This included mathematics, navigation, seamanship, English, cargo work, chart work and signals, which I would, together with my classmates, be examined on by the Board of Trade at the end of the course. There was also an Orals examination on Rules of the Road for Preventing Collisions at Sea: basic seamanship and ship knowledge and everyone dreaded this. All this would be taken in the space of one week, a daunting task. The overall pass mark was 70%.
Signals was a separate examination which included Morse code, semaphore, and knowledge of the International Code of Signals, with a pass mark of 98%! The latter subject was a system of sending messages by flags, the first part involving single flag ‘hoists,’ each flag alphabetical and with a meaning. For example, ‘B’, which was a red burgee meant ‘I am carrying explosives’ and the ‘X’ flag, a white flag with a blue St Andrew’s cross meant ‘Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals’.
There was not a great deal of time for frivolities and from day one we were immersed in the various subjects, rapidly filling our notebooks with knowledge to study at home and revise nearer to the examination date.
I lodged with a wonderful family in Julian Avenue, South Shields, for £3-10s (£3.50) per week but, as the Company only paid for two months of the course, money was rather tight throughout – another good reason for not indulging in student pastimes!
Unfortunately, my savings were rapidly dwindling towards Christmas so I booked the examinations for the week beginning 21st December, with the Orals hanging over until the New Year; a costly mistake because I failed the lot!
I am forever in my landlady’s debt for she let me have free lodgings until I had obtained the Certificate, which I repaid when I returned after a five month voyage.
In January 1960, I became a qualified Second Officer but would sail as a Third Officer until I was promoted in July 1962.
My first ship as Third Officer was on ‘British Commander’, 12,000 tons deadweight, and ‘coasted’ from the United Kingdom to Scandinavia. I left that vessel in July 1960 to have some well-earned leave, but due to a seamen’s strike I was asked if I would join the ‘British Sailor’, 28,000 tons, on the Tyne, and sail it, along with another ten Third Mates, to the anchorage at the Nore in the River Thames. Essentially, although signed on as Third Mates, we were there as crew.
As the ship sailed down the Tyne we were called all kinds of nasty names and had potatoes thrown at us as various points but we managed to get past unscathed to return home some three days later.
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.