Arthur Jenner
24th January 2009, 08:11
by AJ

A tramp ship in port would be one of the messiest, dirtiest, most disorganized looking objects imaginable. Even from the quayside, there can be seen ropes and wires, timber, ashes, galley waste and all kinds of clutter but climb the rickety gangway and look around. The mess is even worse: the hatch beams are lying around on the deck where the dockers have left them: Hatch boards are piled in irregular heaps around the deck: tarpaulins, which have been roughly folded are lying where they were dumped; in out of the way places, covered in assorted rubbish. Mooring ropes and wires are either lying in roughly coiled heaps or, especially the wires, lying looped and tangled all over the deck, waiting to trip the unwary. Sections of removable railing; removed for their own safety during loading, loll at odd angles against fixed rails, held in place by pieces of rope yarn. Anything that can possibly be out of place, untidy, covered in dirt, or rusty, is just that.
But see the same ship transformed in a short space of time after it escapes the clutches of the wharves, the docks and the longshoremen. The despicable hulk in the dock becomes a thing of grace and beauty, moving freely with the motion of the sea; alive and in its element.
It doesn't all happen quite so magically as that though. As the loading, or unloading, of each hatch is completed, the beams are lowered into their slots (As well as supporting the hatch boards, they are an important part of the ship's structure); and are covered in hatch boards. The hatches are then clothed in two or three layers of tarpaulins; the best and newest being always put on first. The tarpaulins are stretched tight with neatly folded corners like hospital beds and are held firmly by steel battens, which in turn are kept in place by dozens of wooden wedges, inserted and firmly hammered home by the carpenter.
As soon as the mooring ropes have been cast off and winched inboard they are stowed below decks; neatly coiled. The mooring wires are reeled onto their drums and enclosed in their canvas covers. The ship begins her voyage. Slowly out of the docks, into the river and once out into the open sea the job of clearing up and washing down begins. The stinking mountains of galley rubbish and ashes are shovelled over the side; derricks are stripped of their guys and runners, which are stowed in the mast houses. Watches are set, the sea routine begins and the crew starts to become a part of the living ship.

marco nista
24th January 2009, 08:40
Arthur -

Very evocative piece - how many times times did we hear the remark 'Lets get this ship out to sea & get everything sorted out' ?

When I was on deck on coasters we also used to put locking bars over the tarps, each being bolted together where they met in the centre of the hatch.

I'll always remember the job of swinging hatchboards onto the hatch top from the pile on the deck [they used to get heavier & heavier & the coamings higher & higher or were we getting more & more knackered ?] & then standing on the boards using hooked rods [whose name I forgets] & dragging & swinging the boards onto the beams [that was'nt too bad as you could get into a rythym].

It was always important to get the wedges [they had a right-angled corner] the right way round elsewise you could split the wedge with the hammer & the Mate would be less than happy.

With the small crew on a coaster it was an 'all hands on deck' job & you were always being being chased to finish the job as the ship would be waiting to sail.

Happy days . . . .



24th January 2009, 09:49
I remember those far off days as described by Arthur amd Marco. I also remember coastal tankers where we would discharge some type of edible oil/fat and then wash tanks and prepare for loading lub oil or some other type of fossile oil and then back to edible oil or whale oil. Bloody hard graft but always seemed to be happy ships, with full British crews.

Regards Robert

24th January 2009, 10:30
hatchboard hooks,quite an art in it standing on a king beam battening down

25th January 2009, 02:12
Brings back memories of my first ship the Corfield what a introduction to a seagoing life throwing domino hatchboards around every other day on the North East coast Agreement.


John Briggs
25th January 2009, 11:33
Brings back great memories Arthur. I sailed on modern ships as well - we had slab hatches, what luxury!