Regent Pembroke

Ron Stringer
29th September 2005, 23:09
The "Regent Pembroke" was built at Vickers 'Walker Naval Yard' on the Tyne in 1964 and handed over to the owners, Regent Petroleum Tankship Co. Ltd., London (a Texaco subsidiary) in January 1965, following sea trials in December 1964 and January 1965.

There were problems on the sea trials. On the first trials in December the weather was not of the best. When it came to the point of checking speed and fuel consumption at loaded draft, it was snowing and blowing quite hard off the Newbiggin measured mile. The ship was to be ballasted down to her loaded marks. This was done by opening gate valves between the tanks, and then opening the seacocks to flood the appropriate tanks.

All went well until the fuel feed was changed over. The feed tank selected had been filled with water. The boilers were unable to cope with this and power was lost. The main generators (all steam driven) gave up the ghost and came off the board. Unfortunately the hydraulic pumps for the cargo handling system, including the gate valves and seacocks, were all electrically powered and there was no manual back up. The emergency generator and switchboard could not supply the cargo pumps and gate valve systems. We were filling with seawater, going down by the head and developing a severe list. It was dark, snowing and there were over 180 people aboard with only one 60-man lifeboat on each side of the ship. It was amazing how many people found jobs that needed doing (by torchlight) out on the boat deck, checking boats, fittings, wiring and even measuring paint thickness.

Eventually the problem was identified and things were brought back under control. However further problems with the rudder meant that we had to be towed back into the Tyne. Because of these problems and since she had not achieved the contracted design speed, new trials were arranged for the New Year and we got to go home for Christmas. Things went better on the second trials in the New Year, although she never made the design speed, and the vessel was handed over early in January and she sailed for the Gulf.

Although not particularly big by the VLCC standards of the day (Length 790’ 03”, Beam 106’ 05”, Draught 56’ 06”, Tonnage 36,778.83 gross, 23,526.92 net, 63,003 dwt), the "Regent Pembroke" was something of a landmark vessel but one which was out of its time. A single-screw, steam turbine vessel, she had a number of advanced features, including some adopted from shore-based power station practice, that were intended to save construction and operating costs. However the concentration of so many novel, untried, features in a single vessel was perhaps too ambitious.

Amongst these features was bridge control of the engines - reputedly a first for such a large steam turbine vessel. Swinging the telegraph on the Bridge from 'Stop' to 100% Ahead caused increasing numbers of fires to be lit in the boilers and operated the valves controlling the turbines. Similarly, reducing the speed caused fires to be extinguished as appropriate to the position selected. The automation electronics controlling the engines and boilers resided in a console in the hot and humid engine room, not in a special air-conditioned room as became later practice. Semiconductor technology of the early 1960s was just not up to the environmental conditions present in the console. Once we got into warmer weather in the Eastern Med. on the maiden voyage in ballast to Ras Tanura via the Suez Canal it was interesting to discover that when the system failed, it usually put the engines into full astern! Being "put on the shake" was never meant to describe what happened when this occurred on the 4 to 8. Being slammed full astern from 15 knots in the middle of the night was guaranteed to shake you out of your bunk double-quick. We went through the Canal with more than fingers crossed, praying that the system would not go astern and jam us across the waterway.

A second area that proved a little too much for the technology of the day was the use of solid state (SCR) exciters on the generators. These had been recently introduced in power station generating sets but were less than happy in the conditions in a ship's engine room and collapsed when subjected to the sort of load surges that large cargo pumps can produce. Failures were common and the engineers soon ran short of spare parts, rarely being able to put more than 2 of the 3 generators on the board.

Another innovation was the fitting of a skegless rudder, saving the cost and drag of a lower pintle bearing at the bottom of the rudder. It may have looked good on the drawings (although there was little other resemblance to a racing yacht) but in the metal it was a near disaster. Unfortunately the proximity of the rudder, suspended only from its upper end, to a single propeller driven by 21,500 shp turbines, was rather more than the structure could withstand. The whole rudder was swung from side to side by the forces acting on it. This acted like a 'tommy bar' through the stern of the ship, twisting the hull to and fro. The vibration, especially in the after accommodation block had to be seen to be believed. Doors could not be locked - the bulkheads were moving so much that the doorframes did not stay square but twisted through a lozenge shape and back to square. The entire deckhead of the engineers' changing room fell down in one piece. It fell as far as the top of the large table that filled the centre of the room, and sat there. Unfortunately the doors to the room opened inwards, but only until they met the edge of what had been a suspended ceiling, now 2' 6" or so above the deck. Eventually the ship went into Naples to have over 160 tons of additional steelwork fitted to strengthen the stern and stiffen it against the motion of the rudder. Even then the vibration was worse than on any other ship I sailed on.

An early victim was the 12-foot radar scanner, which suffered vibration-induced fatigue failure of the fixing bolts. Passing through the Bab el Mandab the 2nd Mate reported a noise from the scanner and just as I arrived on the Bridge to check it out, the entire 12-foot slotted waveguide antenna sailed off, over the bridge wing into the Red Sea. All the bolts had sheared and a replacement scanner unit had to be flown out to Rio de Janeiro to meet the ship there.

The rudder design was blamed (by those on board) for the problems of steering her a low speed. Below about 4 knots she just ignored the helm. In a 36,000 grt ship, 4 knots involves a hell of a lot of momentum. On our first fully loaded visit to Pointe a Pierre in Trinidad we managed to virtually demolish the jetty, carrying straight on whilst the rudder was hard over. Tugs were a must everywhere. Going through the Suez canal in ballast was an absolute nightmare for the bridge crowd. Would she steer? Would she go full astern at the wrong time?

When it came to cargo handling, this again had been automated, with all valves remotely controlled from a single cargo-handling room in the mid-ships accommodation block, above the pumproom and centrecastle. Operating the switches there opened and closed the various cargo valves; indicators on a Mimic diagram located above the controls showed the operating status of each valve.

Unusually for such a large vessel there were only 5 cargo tanks (each divided into 3, one Centre and two wing tanks). Only 3 of these tanks were provided with pipelines i.e. tanks 1, 3 (or 4) and 5, and then only in the centre tanks. In the bulkheads separating the tanks, fore and aft and thwartships, were gate valves that could be operated remotely, to allow the cargo to flow from one tank to another. Discharging involved opening the valves between wing tanks and centre tanks, pumping initially from the suction in No.1 centre, to trim the vessel by the stern, and then pumping from all three suctions. As the level fell, the gate valves between Nos. 1 and 2, 2 and 3, and so on were opened to allow oil to flow towards No. 5 tank. As No. 1 tank became empty, the gate valves there would be closed and the suction turned off. This was repeated as the other tanks emptied, until only No.5 tank had any cargo remaining. Eventually there would be too little depth in the tank to allow the main cargo pumps to continue; they would be turned off and the final small amount of oil remaining would be removed with the stripping pumps.

The idea was that only one tank would need stripping, allowing the cargo pumps to continue discharging at full capacity (about 6,000 tons/hour) until almost all the cargo had been discharged. As a result she was regularly able to discharge 63,000 tons or so in 15 hours. Nothing special today but pretty good for 40 years ago.

The many problems meant that for the first 6 months of its life, the vessel was pursued around the world by various experts on specific bits of kit. They would come out to meet us in the Gulf or in Trinidad and replace parts, reconfigure or adjust the necessary items and leave as fast as they could. On poor guy flew into Damman at midnight, was driven across the desert in a car driven by a large black man who spoke no English and was delivered to the ship (much to his relief) at Ras Tanura around 4 a.m. He was told to get his head down until breakfast, but when he awoke we were part way down the Gulf bound round the Cape for Trinidad. He was somewhat upset since he was moving house later that week, but got to work and fixed things in a day or so, with the promise that he would be landed at the first possible port. What no one told him was that at fully loaded draught, we could not get into any of the ports that we would pass en route to the discharge port. Twenty-eight days later we landed him at Pointe-a-Pierre in Trinidad.

Once the various troubleshooters had left us, we were a small but happy team. Old Man and 3 mates, Chief and 3 engineers and me (the Sparks). Only 9 Europeans plus 65 Indian crewmembers. You couldn't afford to fall out with anyone or else there would be no one to talk to. Having stood by the vessel prior to the sea trials, I sailed with her until April of 1966. At first it was hard work for everyone, but once things eventually settled down, she was a very happy ship. This was in spite of the run - 28 days each way from Trinidad around the Cape to the Gulf and 28 days back. No shore leave in the Gulf and only 15 - 20 hours in port at the discharge end. Substituting Brazil (Rio or Santos) for Trinidad, or going into the Eastern Med. to Sidon or Ras Lanuf instead of to the Gulf occasionally varied things but it made little difference. The money was good - there was no opportunity to spend anything - but the lifestyle was less than exciting. My time on her convinced me that I should swallow the anchor and get a job ashore.

Although we found her a happy ship, she could not have been very successful. In 1968 she was transferred to Texaco Petroleum and renamed “Texaco Pembroke”, still under the Red Ensign. In 1971 management passed to Texaco Norway A/S and she changed to Norwegian registry. Finally in March 1978, only 12 years after she left the builder's yard, she was sold & delivered to Taiwan shipbreakers Shyeh Shen Huat Steel, Kaohsiung.

Ron Stringer

12th September 2006, 19:49
Worked Regent Pembroke Vicker Armstrong Naval Yard Walker as plant elec.remember her well i think we moved her to dry dock Swans.she was turned at Jarrow and being so long we tore up a mooring bouy at Jarrow Slakes.ithink at the time she was one of the bigest vessels built on the tyne i might be wrong,R.S.Gilroy.those were the days on the Tyne'

13th November 2006, 15:52
Don't know whether you're still around Ron, but I just missed you there. I joined in July 1966, Ras Tanura, as Chief Officer. Robbie Armstrong was Old Man and Denis Paul-Clark was C/E. We were all old Regent hands. The automated cargo-handling system was a nightmare. It was a one-off cheap offer job lot and you could never trust it! Sprinting 200m in under world record time was commonplace! Only stayed a couple of months as pregnant wife was having problems and I was needed. Regent was a good company that way.

Ron Stringer
13th November 2006, 20:54
Hi Cessna,

I stood by her towards the end of 1964, joined her for the sea trials at the end of 1964, sailed with her from the Tyne on her maiden voyage and left her in March '66 when she drydocked at Palmers, Hebburn. We were only a small crowd on board but a very happy one. Capt Armstrong (from Findhorn) was the second master aboard the 'Pembroke. He was reputed to have a Jaguar car which he put up on blocks (with the wheels removed) whenever he went back to sea after being on leave. That was to prevent his wife or daughters driving it while he was away. He had succeeded Capt Petersen from Bridge o' Weir.

Denis was there from the maiden voyage and was a really great guy to sail with. Took the job very seriously and tended to take everything you said at face value, so was pretty easy to get a rise from, but he was pure gold and a good friend. He and the other engineers certainly had their hands full during the time I was on her. Just about everything possible went wrong in the engine room and with the cargo handling system. (See my post of 11 December last.) Before the emergency/guarantee drydock to stiffen up the stern and rudder, the vibration throughout the ship but especially in the after accommodation, was something that just had to be seen to be believed.

The Regent marine superintendant Tim Allan (or Allen) from Billericay in Essex, would have made a fortune in air miles (if there were such things in 1964) from all the trips out to visit the ship in Naples, Palermo, Ras Tanura, Trinidad and so on. I don't know how the ship was when you sailed on her and I hope that things had settled down, but I think that when I was there all aboard believed that she was a sign of the times - the end of British shipbuilding was fast approaching. It couldn't come fast enough for those of us aboard, working 16 hours a day to deal with the problems.

17th November 2006, 14:17
Really pleased you came back Ron. Robbie A. and Denis P-C were great guys and I sailed with them both, many times. In fact Denis is my son's godfather. We lived very near to each other in Cleadon, in fact we bought our first house to be near his family. Denis was never home and Regent owed him years of leave! Lost touch when I came ashore. Can remember Robbie receiving a cryptic radio message the same time as me. Mine was "Have had accident but am OK now!" His was "Mice in the Jag!"
Uncle Tim wasn't a bad sort, if you kept on his right side. He was i/c of the "Westminster" build at Swan Hunters, Denis and I were there from keel laying.
The "Liverpool" was my cross! Was 2/O when we left Harlands and then was C/O on her quite a few times after. Jimmy P. was Master there one trip.
My dying memories of the "Pembroke" were of the auto ullage gauges in the cargo control room spitting water in your face, sprinting from the same place to the fore deck in 1 minute flat when a remote controlled valve failed to close and you then had to do it by hand. It was the only ship where we smoked in the saloon once the tables had been cleared and tried to take the Mickey out of Robbie by saying that, according to the BBC , an elephant had been washed up on the beach at Findhorn! Jack, the other Mate (with wife) was in trouble because he had run over and killed a New Forest pony. It was a happy ship and a pity I hadn't stayed longer. Later that year, Denis and I flew out to Oslo to bring back the "Eagle" for drydock taking over from a mutinous bunch of Officers, would you believe!
Best wishes

Ron Stringer
17th November 2006, 21:20

Didn't realise that Dennis hung out in Cleadon, I was up there just a few weeks back visiting friends in East Boldon. Is Dennis still around? Next time that you see him, ask him about the accident involving the desk drawer in his dayroom. Lovely guy, would love to meet him again.

I agree with you that she was a very happy ship, which was amazing considering that there were so few of us on board. At any one time at sea there were probably only 3 people off watch at the same time as you. It would have been terrible if one or more of them had been difficult to get along with. The crowd was great but the run was less attractive. Ras Tanura to Trinidad in 28 days, 15 hours discharging [once we had got all the bugs out of the various systems] and then back to Ras Tanura. We were not allowed ashore in Ras Tanura so in effect we had a maximum possible shore time of 15 hours every 2 months. All work and no play. We made the most of it though.

I found Tim Allen a good guy to work with and although he could get a little worked up under pressure, in the early days the many problems aboard the Pembroke really put him under pressure. We all got a little blase about the many failures and breakdowns. I must confess that, with the sole exception of Tim, we all took a pretty pragmatic approach - OK, here's the latest one, that'll be easy so let's get it fixed so that we can get back to the really difficult ones that are still outstanding. Tim wanted a blitz approach, trying to fix everything, but with only 4 engineers on board that was never going to be possible. Tim of course, was the only one that had to answer to the head honchos at Texaco HQ.

Speaking of which, on the 1st or 2nd visit to Trinidad a whole posse of Texaco big wigs flew down from New York to view their new possession and meet us all. The saloon was set up for a special lunch and the table was laid so that we alternated, visitor, member of the crew, visitor, member of the crew and so on round the table. The only thing was that on the maiden voyage we had all [except Dennis] decided to grow full beards, including Jimmy Petersen. Later on a beard seemed pretty commonplace so most of us who had grown our beards [except Jimmy P] shaved our heads and kept them that way. When the poor Americans came aboard for lunch they were introduced to this very motley crowd looking like something that the Marx Brothers might have dreamed up. The visitors were all from the very clean-cut, US Executive mould; freshly shaven in smart suits, Brooks Bros shirts and ties. We were in uniform shorts and shirts but nearly all had bald heads and all except one [Dennis] had big bushy beards. "Looked as if you have your heads on upside down" as one pilot put it. Poor Tim, who had arrived with the guys from HQ looked poleaxed.

Happy days


K urgess
17th November 2006, 22:12

Forgive a small intrusion.

Did the Robbie Armstrong you mention go on to command the Texaco Norway?

Ron Stringer
18th November 2006, 20:17
Did the Robbie Armstrong you mention go on to command the Texaco Norway?
Sorry Fubar, I left when we returned to the Tyne in April 1966 and went to work ashore with MIMCo in South Shields. Lost touch with the ship and the Company, but management of her was taken over by Texaco Norway. It was probably very likely but you would need to check it out with Cessna, he stayed with the organisation.

Her history was:

1968. Transferred to Texaco Petroleum and renamed “Texaco Pembroke”
1971. Management passed to Texaco Norway A/S, Norwegian reg.
March 1978. Sold & delivered to Taiwan shipbreakers Shyeh Shen Huat Steel, Kaohsiung



K urgess
18th November 2006, 20:30
Thanks, Ron

I sailed on the VLCC Texaco Norway twice and on both occasions the master was Robbie Armstrong. I'm sure he came from somewhere near Buckie.

I built a gyro for a bit of fun out of some earthing strip and an old equipment fan motor. It used to precess quite well and Robbie was much taken with it. So it got presented to him before I left. There were remarks in certain quarters that he was going to mount it on the bonnet of his car when he got home.


Ron Stringer
18th November 2006, 21:08
That sounds like the man himself. He was very proud of Findhorn (on the Moray Firth, about halfway between Buckie and Inverness) and apart from his Jaguar, his other pride and joy was some sort of lightweight racing yacht/dinghy. Not a Laser but something of the sort. Possibly a catamaran.

21st November 2006, 19:31
Hello again Ron and Marconi Sahib. Sorry but can't help on where Robbie A. went next. Can remember him telling me about the "Flying Fifteen" class boat he impulsively bought at the Boat Show. Getting it back to Findhorn was a saga worthy of Hollywood! The Duke of Edinburgh had a similar boat.
Robbie's wife was charming. I left the Pembroke with her at M.Haven. I'd been on my feet(as C/O) for 3 days and 2 nights (usual troubles) and was dead on my feet. I fell asleep in the taxi and woke up pulling into York. She wasn't on my train, so I never found out how I got there or thanked her for her trouble.
Lost track of Denis many many years ago and would think all have passed on by now.
Always got on well with Tim, he came from Croft originally I seem to remember, and knew my former hometown, Barnard Castle well. I'm only a few miles from both now and Tim retired to Hamsterley, Rowlands Gill way.
Since my days as a BP Apprentice journal writer, I've always kept a diary which is handy in these days of dwindling recall!
Best wishes

14th April 2008, 11:27
Regent Pembroke mmmm. Went to the launch, as a schoolboy, with Mum and Dad (Dad worked in the yard at the time).

Have a hazy recollection that it might have been the biggest ship / tanker / whatever built at that time on the Tyne. For whatever reason, the BBC made a film of it all (just found mention of it recently doing a Google search for the ship).

Ron Stringer
14th April 2008, 20:27

You may be aware that Regent were owned by Texaco who eventually took over running the ship as part of their Texaco Overseas Tankships (TOTA) operation. You can find some more about her on their website Click on 'ships' below the photo on the title page and then select the ship that you need from the list of ships presented.

Good luck

15th April 2008, 08:22

Thanks for that. Much appreciated.



15th April 2008, 09:38
Hi Ron and Cessna,

The Regent Pembroke awakes some old nightmares! I sailed as Chief Officer on her in 1969 when she had become the Texaco Pembroke. The same old problems which you describe were still alive and well, particularly with the cargo system. At that time the cargo valves could only be operated from the underdeck pipe tunnel and communications were not walkie talkie then. So a series of knocks on the deck was the way, one knock for stand by, two knocks for close half way and 3 knocks for open the next pre-arranged valve and close that one. It all went belly up if someone dropped a hammer on deck!

Trying to change and load clean ballast was also a nightmare but at that time an additional suction had been installed in 4 centre so it was probably easier than when the ship was new.

Discharging was not too bad and stripping was negligible. I seem to recall some sort of vac-strip system fitted to the cargo pumps which entailed water being pumped through a vacuum tank at the top of the pumproom. If the level controls failed, which they often did, you could easily put a slug of oil over the side. Another reason to hate going into port.

The Norwegians took over the vessel in Singapore and before the ship had left the port they had experienced a boiler explosion, accidently let go the anchor while manoevering off Pulo Bukom and ripped up the main power cable to the island, blacking it out for some time. I don't think they were happy bunnies!

I think we all came off the ship thinking that we had served our sentence and looking forward to the next appointment to some old wreck of a T2 instead of this "inovation". Ron Hawkins was the Master during my time there and Denis PC was Chief. I can't remember any of the others except that the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Engineers were all really big guys and had a combined weight of about 55 stones. She must have been a good feeder! She was still a very happy ship though, I suspect that plenty of challenges and work promoted the good team spirit and we certainly never had a dull moment on her.

Robbie Armstrong was on the Norway after the Pembroke and remained there until he retired. He was a great guy and I sailed with him on several occasions. He commanded great respect from everyone, especially the British crews. It was said that in his younger days he didn't bother with the logbook for disciplinary measures, it was round the back of the funnel for a good beating!!! Imagine that these days.