In late 1951 and after two years on the training ship HMS Worcester I joined the P&O Shipping Company as an indentured apprentice and joined my first ship, the twin screw MV Soudan of 9,079 grt on the 4th April 1952 and voyaged to Japan. At the end of that trip we arrived back at the KGV docks London on Christmas Day morning and just in time for me to sign off.
Because the car ferry was closed for Christmas I had to haul my duds through the pedestrian tunnel from North to South Woolwich which included a cage containing a green parakeet, which I had purchased for my parents in Karachi. At the south end of the tunnel my father met me in his car and took me home for a very late Christmas lunch with my family who lived about 25 miles away.
I had had an interesting experience in Karachi when I travelled by taxi with shipmates one afternoon to an exclusive swimming club located on a small river well out of town. The swimming area was enclosed with a boom and underwater nets but even so I had a bad fright when swimming upstream in the enclosed area and came face to face with a large snake swimming downstream. I never bothered to find out which species it was as I decided to get out of the water as fast as I could and it was later claimed by my companions that I actually ran across the water in my frantic efforts to get out. When I told the manager of my experience he only said, “Lordy, Lordy, we have not had a Cobra around here for many years”, and claimed that the reptile must have slithered
over the barrier which surrounded the ‘safe area’. It was then I made a vow to stick to swimming pools, but that resolution was somewhat dented years later when I was working in Florida and was told about a man who one morning had found a very live Alligator in his swimming pool.
After leaving the Soudan I had a short leave before joining my new ship the P&O cargo ship MV Cannanore in London KGV docks on the 31st January 1953 where she was loading for India and Ceylon. The Cannanore was powered by a single Doxford 6 cylinder opposed piston diesel engine of 6,800 hp driving a fixed pitch propeller which had four bolt-on blades and with this she could chug along nicely at 15 knots all day. The ship had five holds for cargo and also could carry twelve passengers.
As part of our cargo we had six horses in special stalls on the deck alongside number four hold and next to them was a large kennel in which four Afghan puppies were lodged. All were bound for Colombo. The horses had their own groom who signed on as a supernumerary and we cadets had the job of looking after the dogs. I addition we had six male passengers who were Colonial Officers going out to their new posting in Calcutta and one retired gentleman on a pleasure trip.
Everything went smoothly as we left the docks into the River Thames where we travelled downstream to the English Channel and started a SW journey before rounding Ushant into the Bay of Biscay and it was on to the Straits of Gibraltar and then it was East across the Mediterranean Sea via Genoa to load cargo and passengers and then on to Port Said. After transitting the Suez Canal we sailed down the Red Sea to Aden.
As we refuelled in Aden we loaded several hundred tons of edible dried fish in sacks that our agent, I was told, had been able to secure as an urgent cargo which had to be put into dry storage at its destination within a few weeks of it being shipped in order to miss the monsoons and with our high cruising speed we were the only ship in port who could meet that requirement. The filled hessian sacks were stacked on numbers two and four holds and as fresh air was considered good for this cargo no effort was made to cover it with tarpaulins. I understand that our Captain was very reluctant to carry this cargo but he was persuaded that all would be alright as we would arrive at our next planned destination of Colombo before the Monsoons arrived. However the ‘fickle finger of fate’ decided otherwise.
We set out for Colombo but next day as we were cruising along the Gulf of Aden we lost two and a half blades of our four bladed propeller. It was just after taking the noon sights and the beginning of my 12 to 4 watch with the Second Officer when there was this mighty thump’ from aft and looking aft we could see the stern going up and down like a yo-yo. We then had to dive for cover as the radio aerials which had been rotating like skipping ropes parted and came down on the bridge and smashed a wheelhouse window. The Captain who was climbing rapidly up one of the ladders to the starboard wing had a narrow escape when one of the aerial insulators came down next to him. How we lost the blades was never decided but it was thought that most probably we must have gone over some half submerged wreckage.
It was calm with a slight swell as later we lay stopped dead in the water with the engineers unwilling to start the engine until they knew the extent of the damage and after a meeting of the senior engineers with the Captain and Chief Officer it was decided to try and carry out a visual inspection of the propeller. This was to be done through the crystal clear water by a young and very nervous junior engineer who was dangling over the stern on a Bo’suns chair. Earlier, sharks had been seen swimming around the stopped ship and we noticed as he did his work he kept his feet well clear of the water and of course, we were ready to heave him up quickly if danger approached.
Later at another meeting with the Captain and senior engineers the brave young man reported that one and a half blades appeared to be still firmly attached to the tail shaft and it was decided to return to Aden for a proper inspection to be made. And so with two vertically spaced black balls hoisted on the foremast yardarm indicating ‘not under command’ and the flags Code D on the other we commenced a very slow return to Aden at about three and a half knots. Several passing ships kindly asked if we needed assistance and very politely we declined their offers.
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