The Portage Bill

John Campbell
29th April 2010, 18:36
Some of our ex Master's and Chief Stewards will recall one of the many dreaded documents , before the era of decriminalization and computers was "The Portage Bill" A shipping document, varying in size and content, generally defined as a statement made out by the ship master at the end of a voyage, which shows the total earnings of each member of the crew. The document debits the owners for the gross total earning of all on board, and credits them with any sums they many have advanced to any one of the officers or crew.

This document caused many Masters great anxiety and unnecessary worry as they balanced the money involved to the last halfpenny.

They had to anticipate the exact day of arrival and if fog, for example, delayed arrival their calculations had to be redone.

Crew overtime was another great source of anxiety.

We were led tobeleive that any errors such as overpayments etc were for the Master'sAccount and hence the fear of making a mistake.

JC

John Callon
29th April 2010, 22:39
Remember the Portage Bill very well. On some of the big ships we called it the Portage William. As a Pursers Writer, then Asst Purser and eventually Purser I wish I had a pound for everyone of those that I had to calculate and balance. On the passenger liners the bloody thing would run into 20 pages plus depending on the size of the crew. On ships with an Indian crew we had to calculate the account in Rupees with the final balance of wages payable in Calcutta. Great days.

John.

Binnacle
30th April 2010, 21:41
I envied masters on ships where the office calculated crew wages. For the less fortunate, on British ships, the usual drill was to fill in the master's side of the Acct of Wages Book (F1) in pencil and then adjustments could be made if insurance deductions, basic pay, leave pay, MNOPF, graduated pension etc had to be altered due to date shifts. Before decimalistion a ready reckoner was always packed in the sea bag. First time on leave after that in 1971 I bought a calculater and I could listen to Mrs Dials Dairy on the radio while the calculator did the thinking. With the old pounds/shilling and pence countless time was spent re adding up columns after interruptions from customs, agents, port health and comic singers. Easier clear of the land and the shore seated ones. Most ships I sailed on the Portage Bill was sent in monthly. If there was insufficient time to complete it before sailing after crew changes then I posted it from the next port. I never had any complaints from owners as they knew masters are not just wage clerks.

Naytikos
1st May 2010, 08:14
On Greek ships the Portage Bill is prepared monthly; an American company I worked for followed the same practice. Wages statements for everyone on board were also prepared and signed by each individual.
On my last ship the practice developed where many of the crew would expect to receive their full amount due in cash at the end of each month, regardless of where the ship might be. This meant we tended to carry anywhere between $50k - $100k at all times.
It was a source of great amusement observing how the cash was brought/delivered aboard. In Aruba half a dozen of the ship's company had to go to the bank ourselves, with the agent, to collect it; in Europoort the agent would bring it in a shopping bag; in the Turks & Caicos Islands a very seasick policeman brought it out in a 16ft fishing boat; in St. Croix a Wells-Fargo amoured van drove onto the dock.
When slow-speed voyages became common in the late 70s, it would often be necessary to prepare two Portage Bills during one passage PG - anywhere.

Keltic Star
2nd May 2010, 07:05
The worst was paying off in Manchester in the winter. No matter how many times one estimated the actual pay off time and date, weather, canal traffic or lock breakdowns always screwed up the final figures and working in pounds shillings and pence did not help matters in the pre calculator era.

But still, looking back, happy days.

John Briggs
2nd May 2010, 14:17
The worst was paying off in Manchester in the winter. No matter how many times one estimated the actual pay off time and date, weather, canal traffic or lock breakdowns always screwed up the final figures and working in pounds shillings and pence did not help matters in the pre calculator era.

But still, looking back, happy days.

That sounds like absolute hell with crew numbers back in those days around 40 plus. Luckily I was Master with a company that did the portage bill monthly. When I got my big desk top mechanical calculator with the roll of paper and the big handle on the side I thought it was Christmas!

price
2nd May 2010, 20:19
In my memory, the portage bill was one of the captains very few onerous tasks. On small coastal tankers in the 1960s, in and out of port every day and sharing a two watch system with the mate, having to complete a weekly portage bill with wages, victualling, miscellaneous expenses and nat. ins. stamps, etc. etc.( everything in cash) with the sole assistance of a ready reckoner could be difficult. The introduction of the monthly portage bill in the 1970s was an improvement but still meant the burning of a little midnight oil nearing month end.
Bruce.

Binnacle
3rd May 2010, 10:17
Those masters who served on the company’s tankers and cargo ships, who toiled over portage bills and crew accounts, were rather amused and jealous when we heard that the trawl skipper who had been appointed to the company’s first “Fairtry” fish factory ship, on being instructed regarding crew pay arrangements, had simply informed the owners that he wasn’t “a f*****g clerk”. Thereafter a company clerk met the ship on arival back in the UK and did the necessary. Unfortunately the kindly light of reason did not shine in our direction, and mindful of the little mouths to feed at home we dutifully kept our heads down.

Ron Stringer
3rd May 2010, 11:27
When Marconi started selling radiotelex systems, presentations showing the benefits (financial and practical) of such systems were made to all the major tanker companies. As we did not have a significant marketing department and were not able to create a number of presentations, of necessity the same one was shown to each of the companies in turn. As all the companies were in more or less the same business, we didn't see this as a problem.

When the orders (eventually - shipowners never leap to embrace the latest technology) started to come in we were surprised that the two largest organisations took diametrically-opposed positions.

Company A equipped all their VLCCs on the grounds that having rapid communication with the office meant that paperwork and administrative matters, such as the Portage Bill, could be handled ashore. The results of the calculations etc could then be sent to the ship by telex, relieving the Master from this workload. He, having rested adequately on the ocean passage, could then concentrate on making sure that his vessel was navigated through the congested waters of the Western Approaches/English Channel in maximum safety.

They did not fit telex on their coastal and lightering vessels because they were in port more or less every day, so any admin work could be passed ashore by hand or mail.

Company B decided not to fit their VLCCs since they generated little radio traffic and, for much of the time while on ocean passage, the Master had little else to do. They did, however, fit telex on their coastal vessels on the grounds that with so many loading/discharging operations and frequent changes of orders, it was essential that they were able to maintain contact round-the-clock and to be able to provide documentation at short notice.

Quite different approaches to such items as the Portage Bill!

alan ward
17th October 2011, 15:47
That sounds like absolute hell with crew numbers back in those days around 40 plus. Luckily I was Master with a company that did the portage bill monthly. When I got my big desk top mechanical calculator with the roll of paper and the big handle on the side I thought it was Christmas!

Whitco supplied each ship with one machine.the mate said it was his and kept pinching it from my office so every time I needed it I had to track it down from where the silly bugger had hidden it!

John Briggs
17th October 2011, 22:40
I was with a tramp outfit and they supplied us with nothing.
I had to buy my own private crank handled calculator which traveled from ship to ship with me!

alan ward
28th November 2011, 13:16
I was with a tramp outfit and they supplied us with nothing.
I had to buy my own private crank handled calculator which traveled from ship to ship with me!

John,I would have bought my own but I had no idea where such a wonderful item might be purchased,then when I first visited Japan and bought an ELECTRIC one I was fulfilled.As life enhancing as Viagra(or so I hear)

lakercapt
28th November 2011, 14:59
To help me after the conversion to decimal I bought an electronic calculator for I think about 30 pounds which was a lot of money.It could add, divide, multiply and subtract and even give the square root!! Very basic when I see what is available today a dollar stores.
I only used it to check the figures as I was prone to making mistakes with it.