Marine Observer

12th February 2008, 14:52
As the title in the picture suggests, marine observations were a daily chore usually delegated to the Apprentices, or, in lieu of, carried-out by the Officer of the Watch. In addition, we were encouraged to supply firsthand written reports of events, sightings etc. that may have had marine, ecological/environmental interest. As 2/M aboard the British Destiny from May-October '73 I dutifully sent off all sorts of stuff penned in my rather rakish and humourous style.
A year later and up for a ticket in Plymouth, one of the lecturers approached me and asked if I was really the gentleman who'd been published in a recent edition of the 'Marine Observer', a blue-backed booklet that appeared monthly(?). Rather taken aback I was directed to the library where, indeed, one of my amusing discourses was to be sighted. It had been censored which pee-ed me off some as the text now reflected the bland thinking of some office clerk. I left the booklet in the archives, which, in retrospect was a cardinal mistake as I would now love to have a copy.
So, Gents, does the Marine Observer still exist? Probably not, as I find in Google little reference to this once enthralling read (*)) but should anyone know where I could get a copy (my copy) I would be most obliged.

Keith Adams
16th April 2008, 07:29
Hello Paul, Just getting back on line and see that nobody has responded to your request ... I can't help you but will add that an article (with black and white illustrations) of mine concerning both radar and visual sightings of water spouts in the Malacca Straits was published in said publication in the late 1950s ... sadly, the ships Weather Officer who submitted it on my behalf was named as the observer/reporter of the article ... the next issue printed a one line correction but who will ever link me with the original ? The only consolation was that the Oldman gave him a right bollocking and made him send in the disclaimer. Good luck on finding a back copy of your effort. Keith

16th April 2008, 18:09
The Marine Observer carried on right up until 2003, whereupon it was binned by the Met Office on cost grounds. Sadly missed by many.
The best people to contact would either be the Met Office themselves in Bracknell, or perhaps one of the secondhand books/magazines sites - Abebooks is an excellent source.

26th June 2008, 07:11
I used to find the whole observatiopn business a bit of a chore and frankly a pain in the butt.

I particularly resented the fact that I would be doing all the work and the old man got the Barometer. Did anyone who was not old man and filled the books in for years get one?

I do realise how important the obs are, of course, and diligently applied myself but boy o boy..................

26th June 2008, 09:00
Luckily for me, my last contribution to the 'Marine Observer' regarding the sighting of some false killer whales in the med happened to be in a copy left in the pilots cabin of a vessel I was berthing/loading at Zafiro.

Needless to say, the edition in question now resides in a book case at home!

26th June 2008, 11:50
A Master I'd sailed with on a previous trip asked me if the ship had been a weather observing ship. I told him that all the company's ships were. "Oh good," he said, "Captain So-and-so has just been awarded a Barograph and I'm just totting my time on observing ships up."

And there's me getting tennis elbow sending those things - I'm with you Vasco.

John T

PS There was some good stuff written in the Marine Observer and it was always good for looking up familiar names.

26th June 2008, 12:12
There was a story in Ellermans that a Second Mate wrote observations of some kind in every week. His argument was, it seems, that if he wrote in enough he might end up with a gong of some kind. Who knows, perhaps he did.

My sympathies for your contributions being edited by the faceless bureaucrats at Bracknell, Paul0510, they probably assumed in their humourless and patronising way that we seafarers are incapable of writing intelligible english, despite yours clearly being so, and thus felt the need to rewrite it into their own inimitable house style.

I can remember them insisting, within the pages of that book, in that same humourless patronising tone, that it was patently impossible to have seen a meteorite hitting the sea, despite the observer clearly having seen it happen. As have I, and as did my wife who was on watch with me at the time.


4th July 2008, 17:18
......... So, Gents, does the Marine Observer still exist? Probably not, as I find in Google little reference to this once enthralling read (*)) but should anyone know where I could get a copy (my copy) I would be most obliged.

Have you tried the British Library, maybe the Newspaper Library at Colindale (in NW London) or perhaps the Guildhall Library, might have them.

Just had a look at eBay, and what did I find : THE MARINE OBSERVER ,VOL 37 NO 215,1967 Item number: 200235341215

4th July 2008, 19:34
I heard of, sometime ago that a Port Line ship who was Red Leader at the Weather Reports was in fact doing them whilst alongside on the NZ Coast, and they have based Global Warming predictions on some of our Sea Temperature data??!!
Yours aye,

Global Warming? = The weathers getting better!

9th July 2008, 18:03
For nostalgia's sake, the cover and map from the Marine Observer mag of Oct 1972

5th August 2008, 20:39
A belated addition to all the above. I was 3/0 in P&O's Canton which, like many other ships, sent in dutiful reports - some true, some fanciful. I was rewarded, not with a barometer or whatever but a state visit to the Observatory in Hong Kong.

It was actually very interesting and towards the end of the tour I was shown their latest acquisition - remember this was 1962 - a new fangled fax machine. I had never seen one before. They explained how it enabled them to send and receive met. charts with other similarly equipped stations or rarely ships. Almost on cue the fax came to life, it was an incoming transmission from a major US warship (46 years have removed the memory of the name together with most of my hair).

We waited to see the synoptic chart but embarassingly it gradually (fax was very slow in those days) printed a picture of one Mickey Mouse! Technology was never really safe in the hands of sailors was it?


Ron Stringer
5th August 2008, 22:23
I was shown their latest acquisition - remember this was 1962 - a new fangled fax machine. I had never seen one before.

I sailed with weatherfax in the 60s but can't for the life of me remember on which ship or ships. The machines were receive-only and came in two chart widths - 18-inch and 9-inch. The chart was attached to a drum by the operator, when the receiver synchronised with the transmitted signal, the machine started, drum whirled round and the chart was marked by a stylus which tracked along the length of the drum. The machines that I was familiar with were excellent devides, made by a British company, Muirheads, which seemed to be pioneers of the technique. MIMCo marketed them to shipping for many years but eventually the Japanese manufacturers, producing a good product at a much lower price, took over.

6th August 2008, 13:52
.... We waited to see the synoptic chart but embarassingly it gradually (fax was very slow in those days) printed a picture of one Mickey Mouse!

Did any one ever take down the 5 figure groups from GKA, decode and plot a synoptic chart ?

I did it once and with a rather bored 3/O took about 2 hours to get a weather map for somewhere I can't remember at this distance - not something I'd like to do with any regularity !

8th August 2008, 09:38
Did any one ever take down the 5 figure groups from GKA, decode and plot a synoptic chart ?


My first two trips as 2 R/O were on Booker Line's "Booker Vanguard". We copied GKA's synoptic broadcast every day and passed the result to the unfortunate 3rd Mate whose task it was to decode and plot the chart. I came across weatherfax receivers on the "Columbia Star" and the "Arctic Troll". Receive frequencies were selected by buttons on the front panel - behind each button was effectively a pre-tuned receiver front end module. Pushing the button physically and electrically connected the selected module in circuit. The map was drawn on special paper by passing an electric current from a stylus connected to a revolving arm. The process produced a distinctive and, to some, unpleasant smell. Main maintenance tasks were replacing the drawing stylii and paper, and repairing the spring contacts on the receiver modules which kept breaking with monotonous regularity. I believe the receivers were made by the Japanese company Koden.


8th August 2008, 10:30
I never had the fortune, or otherwise, to sail with fax receivers, everything was still being done by hand !

When I joined IMRC ashore, only then was I subjected to the more modern technologies, fax, telex - ASR32 and ITT 2300 machines (Microtor anybody ?) and various other bits & pieces.

K urgess
8th August 2008, 11:09
I used to copy the weather chart when I could find it and decode it myself.
Gave me a great sense of satisfaction as it took form.
My MEC notes have turned black where the weather map from a Muirhead/Forecaster has been inserted. The 'orrible smell was ammonia that turned dark brown/black when a charge was passed through it.
I seem to remember that the receiver was Marconi but the chart recorder was made by Muirhead.
The only one I sailed with was a Koden and that was electrostatic giving off clouds of ozone rather than ammonia. Much healthier.
I have pages of MED notes covering the theory but no longer understand a word of it. [=P]
I also seem to remember that the earlier Marconi Seagraph echo-sounders used wet paper as well.


8th August 2008, 12:00
..... a great sense of satisfaction as it took form .....

Agreed, but still a bit boring after the first few !

8th August 2008, 13:23
Of course, all you need now is a receiver, a PC with soundcard the appropriate software and a printer. No more messing about with noxious fumes!

9th August 2008, 08:42
Barometers as prizes for wx obs.

I was at sea between early 1961 & late 1992, (radio officer) but never in all that time did any captain of a ship in which I served get a barometer as a prize. I got my first book (an atlas) aboard the SAGAMORE in 1965. The captain & 3rd officer also got books. Then followed a number of years in Union-Castle ships where none of us got prizes at all. They started coming again shortly after I joined the ST. HELENA in 1979 & shortly after that, I got a book every year from about 1982 to 1992 without exception. It was noted (with some annoyance) that captain and observing officers seldom got anything at all during that time. Although I didn't like OBS, I rarely missed sending any, but feel my yearly awards were more from long service than anything else!

When my wife travelled, she sent out numerous messages in bottles offering a photograph of the ship, bottle route map & ship brochure as appreciation for replies received. A surprising number of these messages were replied to & duly sent to MARINE OBSERVER & always brought a letter of thanks from them. The longest bottle trip was two years from West Africa to Turks & Caicos. Several reached South America, West Africa & Ireland. One was picked up by a South American fisherman & he sent it back to us with the "bloody" impression of a fish on it that he had used to hold it down until he had time to read it. Another was picked up by a schoolboy in a war-torn African state asking if we could send a pair of shoes. We sent a handful of US dollars instead & hope he managed to get the shoes.

I really think they discontinued barometers for captains a long time ago.


9th August 2008, 11:08
One thing's for sure, Bob, as far as I know, nobody but Masters ever received a Barograph. I imagine they look nice on display with all the AMVER awards that they never earned. No wonder the world's full of Commies!

I too was an avid Message in a Bottle merchant and received replies from several interesting places. It never occurred to me to send them to the Observer - good idea.

I diligently sent 25 years worth of OBS messages and never received anything. However, I heard on the radio yesterday that scientists are going back through meteorological data in ships logs from the year dot, so when they get up to the 20th Century and read our stuff it will all have been worth while.

John T.

9th August 2008, 12:40
Hi John,

I also heard that master's got barographs, but I never ever came across one in all those years. The prizes of the masters I sailed with were no different than those received by observing officer & R/O.

I suppose it is possible that I got prize every year because I was on the same ship for 11 years & my last two years were spent on the new ship of the same name, so I was easier to keep track of. Also, maybe it helped that although the old ship was a very small, ugly & ramshackle affair, it was relatively well-known. Princess Margaret named it ST. HELENA in 1978 & enjoyed later visits & Prince Andrew launched the new one. But it does not explain why the observing officer & the master never, to my knowledge, got anyhing on the ST. HELENA. (The other R/O also got them every year).
The final year, we never even sent any as they put a weather satellite sender on the bridge & the OOWs did it all themselves!

John Briggs
9th August 2008, 22:33
I hated doing them but at least I got a prize.

Skye Sierra
20th April 2009, 13:11
In addition, we were encouraged to supply firsthand written reports of events, sightings etc. that may have had marine, ecological/environmental interest.

Clearing boxes in the loft over the weekend I came across the following report sent to the Marine Observer in 1981 which may or may not be of interest!!

"Dear Sir,
Whilst on passage from the Arabian Gulf to Europe on 4th October 1981, the following was observed by the crew on board SS Nordic Clansman (138702 GRT).

Loaded, Crude Oil Draft 67' 09" Speed 7.5 kts
Time: from 0800Z to 1400Z (ship's time = GMT+3)
Posn: @0900Z - 06 59N 52 49E
@1442Z - 06 21N 52 33E
{approx 250 miles SE of the Somalian Coast - rb}

Conditions: Blue skye with 3/8 Cumulus Cloud
Long, moderate SE'ly swell
Visibility 12+ miles
Air Temp 33C
Sea Temp 28C
Barometer 1013.0

During the above period the sea was flat calm and a metallic grey in colour, broken at frequent intervals by large areas of disturbed and highly agitated water, several of which were brown in colour. Almost all these areas were surrounded by a broad band of brown/white foam. There was a strong smell of seaweed at times.

Whilst encountering these conditions the steering of the ship was seriously affected in all modes of operation. The ship's head fell off by as much as 30 degrees (predominantly to port) and required full, opposite helm to correct the swing. (see enclosed course recorder trace)
{which I don't now have a copy of - rb}

The Gyro and Standard compasses compared favourably at all times. The ATLAS ECHOGRAPH 470 with a maximum depth of 730m gave no indication of a trace at any time throughout the period during which the charted depth of water was 5000m+.

A great deal of marine life was observed at the time including porpoises, swordfish, and schools of whale only one of which came close enough for positive identification. This was a group of some 15 killer whale.

As none of the observers had seen this phenonema before I would be grateful if you could shed some light on what was happening at the time.

Yours sincerely, RB 2/M"

The report was acknowledged and two quite different replies came in - bits of which I quote.
The first was from the Marine Science Branch of the Hydrographic Office at Taunton

"I was interested to receive your letter on disturbed water in the Indian Ocean.......................We are not certain of the cause of this phenonenom, but think it might be due to seismic activity associated with the submarine ridges in the Indian Ocean rather than strictly oceanographic factors; I have written to appropriate authorities for their comments...............................etc"

The second reply came from the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences in Surrey;

"Thank you...............................I think that what they encountered was the northern edge of the strong clockwise eddy which develops in summer between 5 deg N and 10 deg N off that coast. The eddy is generated by the SW monsoon winds, it is typically 500km in diameter, and has surface speeds of up to 7 knots in it's northern and western sectors. To the south and east it's surface currents are generally weaker, only 1 to 3 knots. It has been noticed before in October, running down like a flywheel after the end of the SW monsoon. It's northern boundary can be quite sharp, with a sudden change of current across the boundary. In this case there must have been a change of surface current of at least 4 knots towards ESE, within half the ships length, to deflect the heading by 30 degrees as described. What I find particularly interesting is the evidence of so much marine life there. Nearer the coast, where the Somali current turns offshore in the northwest sector of the eddy, there is strong upwelling bringing high concentrations of nutrients to the surface and consequently high biological productivity, but this did not appear to develop far because the upwelled water was quickly overrun by warmer lighter water from the north. In the present case, it seems possible that large patches of upwelled water may have been carried round in the eddy, perhaps several times, long enough to develop a rich and varied population of marine animals. I would like to know more about it................................I think it's most unlikely to have been a seismic disturbance. Yours.........etc"

I left the Clansman shortly after these replies and don't know how far the conclusions reached or what in fact caused the disturbance but I believe the Marine Observer did include an article on it.

Has anyone else come across that activity in that area before?



ray bloomfield
20th April 2009, 14:01
Dont know about the tropics or any other like place but I remember once in the middle of the fiercest electrical storm Ive ever seen in the Thames approaches I had to stop because I couldn't see to steer, no autopilot and no vision.
Again while in the Thames off the Blacktail a solid mass of jellyfish which promptly blocked all sea intakes, a mine dead ahead near Sizewell power station and the outline of an aeroplane passing in front of a large full moon.

20th April 2009, 16:34
This puts me in mind of a survey ship I was on, the old USNS Bowditch (the converted Victory ship, not the present one), the movements of which were classified "top secret". We had to record and transmit detailed weather obsevations every six hours GMT, with "In Oparea" in the space on the form reserved for the ship's position! When I asked the captain why we should continue such an obviously useless practice, I was told to shut up and do as I was told!

Nick Balls
20th April 2009, 17:05
Go to :
Still a few British Ships doing the Met Obs !

20th April 2009, 20:24
Just after ww2 I was 2nd mate on tankers of the Anglo A.american Oil Co on theh western ocean run. As a "chosen ship" sending met reports every 6 hours I used to get the sparks to take down all the reports, decode them and make a synoptic chart. After making several I could accurately forecast the weather ahead. Being on the wide ocean made the forecasts much more accurate then when land mass intervenes.
When crossing the Pacific under sail in the 1980's from Panama to Tahiti we were suprised one day to hear a helicpoter's whishing sound. We were many, many miles from land. A two-man helicopter appeared with two men in it - baseball caps and smoking cigars. On contacting them on the VHF it turned out they were from a tuna fishing boat from San Diego. They received charts showing sea temperature and apparently tuna stick to a particular sea temerature band. The helicopter looks for disturbed water where the tuna swarm and radio the ship which makes for the shoal. They then launch a big motro boat from a stern ramp and surround the shoal with nets and drag them in. They have to be careful not to drown the fish as they then bevcome a dead weight and could drag the ship under. They told us that they could sometimes take 300 tons of fish in one take. I saw such vessels on the W Coast of S. America - Arica and places like that.

21st April 2009, 02:58
Seems an awful lot of fish in one hour. No wonder fish stocks are diminishing

30th April 2009, 16:40
On trips from the west coast of the N. America to Australia we had a computer on board placed there by some American university/hydrological society.
We used to throw something called a "bathythermoscope"sp? over the side. I guess it was a sensor (weight) attached to an extemely long piece of wire. The sensor would send back the sea temperature to the PC on the way down, until inevitably the line came to an end and it broke off.
I am certain my readings were the crucial evidence to show whether there would be an El Nino effect each year.
Sure they were also used as evidence in the global warming debate.
All in all I am disapointed a noble prize was not forthcoming. (Jester)

K urgess
30th April 2009, 17:49
All in all I am disapointed a noble prize was not forthcoming. (Jester)

Couldn't agree more, all those years spent sending OBS messages to CQ and not a single acknowledgement let alone barometer. (Sad)

1st May 2009, 10:28
A radio surveyor who at one time in his career had been stationed at Wick GKR told me that he used to curse some of the Salvesen ships on the Norwegian trade which would call up during the quiet hours to send off a weather report to Bracknel. This would invariably happen when he was under some piece of radio equipment attemping to service it.

Paul Braxton
7th May 2009, 04:50
Hi, Andysk.

Just noticed your thread of 6th Aug. '08 about the GKA wx chart. I remember all that very well. It was sent out at 1130 GMT, all five figure groups sent at a higher morse speed than the normal 20 wpm and you had to concentrate to write it all down accurately.

I was on my first trip in '69 on 'Serenia', of Shell Tankers UK and the 3/0 on that trip had been 'instructed' to decode and draw up the synoptic chart from my figures in what I then deemed to be some kind of miraculous form of magic, me being very new and green. It didn't take me long to realise that I ought to have a go at doing the whole thing myself and used to take great delight and get some satisfaction out of it all. A kind of magic, indeed...

Seems very strange to think of all that now when everything is done at the touch of a button without any real thought. Crikey! I think doing the wx chart was probably my introduction to what went on on the bridge and gave me a bit of confidence at such a young age. Hard to think that i was always the youngest and greenest on ships at that time and took a fair bit of stick as a result until I figured out how to rebel!