Rock Dodging!!!

Rhiw.com
31st March 2005, 08:15
I was on coasters from June 1975 to December 1976 and again in 1978/9

One our way from Fowley (Southampton) to the Orkneys (Scapa Flow) with a cargo of gas oil, we went that close to a trawler, one of the fishermen threw a lemonade bottle, which smashed on our tank top, the language was pretty spectacular as well!!

Second mate on the bridge was bored, so he decided to polish the brass. He left the tin of Brasso next to the magnetic Iron Mike. The ship went 30 degrees off course and remained there until the old man saw a headland a bit close to the bow, from his cabin window!!!.

On another “Rock Dodger” we passed so close to Lands End you could only just about see the roof of the hotel on the cliff-top, the skipper said “it was to get maximum use of the tide” you could’ve stepped on to the rock.

New cook joined in Middlesborough, he was about seventy years old. I carried his heavy bag down a long steep ladder (low water, small ship) He wanted off in less than ten minutes, so I carried his bag up again. He muttered under his breath, £25 a week to feed you bloody lot, and staggered down the quay. We sailed that night for Belfast, and have a guess who was the cook for the next week?

Another cook of similar talents, (Different Ship) used to lock the galley fridge every night, and left nothing for the lads on nights. We found a way of getting in though, by removing the door hinges, but he reported us to the “Old Man” and he duly had a cabin search for hidden food. When the skipper walked into the mates cabin he was sitting there munching on half a cabbage!!! The game was over.

We had just arrived at Belfast from the continent, we were on a lay by berth at Harland & Wolfe’s miles from anywhere. The food had all gone, so the cook asked me if I would go ashore to the shops to get some. He gave me £5 to get a dozen eggs and some bacon. I walked for miles in the pouring rain. The next morning there was still no bacon and eggs on the menu. When I challenged him, he said “They were his own personal stores” !!!

On the Silverthorn, we left Dublin in ballast for Bayonne France for a cargo of maize. And the hatches had to be swept and washed down. She had been carrying coal for years so it was quite a job. On passage we went down the booby hatch with a torch to mop the puddles, and when we looked up at the deck-head there were that many small holes, it looked like a starry night. We spent all the next day covering the deck with small mounds of cement, and by the time we finished it looked like a garden covered in molehills. I left after that trip. (Took the photo in Glasgow four years later!!!) Regards Tony.

Rhiw.com
31st March 2005, 15:53
Kids will be Kids,
We arrived in Dublin one summers evening with a cargo of coal from Garston, tied up on the south quay on the main road next to Kelly’s Bar, a favourite haunt for seamen. To save time, and having to get up early the next day, we decided to open the hatches before we knocked off. Bad mistake. I first heard the shouting and screaming about 7am, but it could have been going on much earlier. I quickly got up and ran on deck, to be greeted by a sight that I will never forget. There were dozens of young children on the foredeck, some by the ship’s side but most of them in the hatch, filling sacks. On the quay there were even more of them, filling their makeshift carts and old prams to the brim!!!. But the funniest sight of all, the coal merchants had just arrived with their line of lorries, and some of the drivers were chasing the kids all over the place. We never found out how much coal was robed. But I can imagine that some of the houses on the south-side must have been snug and warm that following winter.

On lookout,
Another collier I was on had a regular run from Swansea to Cork. The mate on her was a very nice old block, and he loved his grog. I was on watch with him one night crossing the then busy St Georges Channel, but as always on the “Rock Dodgers” we A.B’s never kept a lookout, (only in dense fog) so the Mate or the Old Man were on the bridge alone. We had no telephone on there, only a bell in the messroom, so we had a system going, one long ring on the bell was, come to the bridge at once, two bells was make me a mug of tea, and three bells was coffee. But this night for about two hours there was silence. So I made him a tea (His favourite) and strolled up to the wheelhouse. I found him fast asleep in the pilot’s chair behind the radar, which had dozens of little yellow targets on the tiny screen, took me ages to wake him, and he stunk of booze, I never left the bridge when he was on watch again. (Not that I stayed on that one much longer anyway!!!)

That flashing buoy,
When there were gales from the west or southwest, we used to go through the Kyle of Loch Alsh, that narrow channel between Sky and the Scottish mainland, a beautiful part of the world in any weather, but at night a treacherous bit of water. On this particular trip we were on our way from Blyth to Coleraine in the North of Ireland with a load of coal. The Old Man had decided to go this way, not that the weather was very bad, but to take advantage of a strong tide, we were going to be at the narrowest part at about one in the morning, and with the skipper tucked up in his bunk, he’d left his vessel in the capable hands of the Mate. Now this chap was one of the most nervous people I have ever come across, to say that he was scared of his own shadow would be a rather misleading under statement. I was summoned to the wheel at about midnight, (Not a very common occurrence on Rock Dodgers I might add) and as we got closer and closer to the main event, his nerves were getting worse and worse, which was giving me a load of confidence in his abilities as Officer of the watch and navigator, and even less confidence in myself as a Quartermaster. He was pacing up and down in the darkened wheelhouse, sometimes looking at the chart, other times peering through his binoculars or at the radar, even lighting the occasional packet of cigarettes, and at other times he was doing all five tasks together. He started reminding me that the next flashing light would be on the starboard bow, apparently this was a buoy, and I won’t forget this, because in that first half hour he did mention it at least every time he lit up. He said that it was very very important that I kept her as close to it as possible, he didn’t explain why, but he kept reminding me of it anyway. As this, by now famous flashing light got closer, the reminders to keep close to it accelerated, up to twice with every cigarette. Closer and closer the light came, until it was just about visible over the starboard gunnel, we were that close, and still he wanted more precision on my part. But when the light disappeared down the ship’s side, there was an almighty crash and a loud grinding noise, she rolled violently over to port, and shuddered before slowly coming back again. I won’t even bother telling you what his reactions were. But instead, I’ll just tell you that the buoy he kept going on about was a beacon on a rock, I know this because the Old Man kept mentioning it for weeks, in the same conversation’s he was having about the Mate’s intelligence and pedigree. (Footnote) About two weeks later we were in Devon discharging coal at a power station, and being on a drying out berth, we went down underneath her with the new Mate to have a look. And I can honestly tell you, if it wasn’t for my poor wheelsmanship on that dark November morning, we would have made national news!!! Regards Tony.
Names of people and the ships involved, withheld to protect the guilty.