Magdapur. A Spell in Drydock

John Leary
9th November 2005, 14:21
My only deep-sea voyage on Magdapur lasted from mid December 1964 to early April 1965. When the ship returned to the UK, she discharged her cargo at Tilbury and I had a few days leave. I then signed Articles again to take her coasting that included a visit to Avonmouth. Whilst there she came adrift from her moorings in high winds and initial concerns were that she had damaged her propeller after colliding with a barge and the dockside.

After divers had given the propeller the all-clear she sailed from Avonmouth to Smiths Dock in North Shields where she spent almost a month in dry dock having major repairs and updates carried out including new equipment in the radio room. This work was preplanned before the propeller incident.

In dry dock the ships engine room was shut down with electricity and water being provided by shore side supplies. The major discomfort was that we were barred from using the ships washing and toilet facilities (for obvious reasons) and had to use a toilet block that was located about fifty yards from where the ship rested. These facilities were excellent, as they were newly built and equipped with all mod cons including showers.

The one major disadvantage to these otherwise satisfactory arrangements was that there was only one key and this sometimes went missing. The result was that if the call of nature was urgent then some very strange dances could be seen as the desperate mariner hopped from foot to foot as they went in search of the missing key. I suspect that several people had keys cut at the local hardware store. I was told and I do not admit to this, but bladder relief could be obtained by a high-speed dash into and an even quicker exit from the ship’s lavatories (until they were locked)!

The Smith’s Dock project engineer was Tommy Heron who I had sailed with earlier in Mahseer when he was third engineer. Work started about seven in the morning and went on until after six in the evening seven days a week. The noise was deafening as the dockworkers chipped and hammered, cut away plating on the decks and installed new machinery. In the radio room there was a major rewiring job carried out with new 500 kHz watch and direction finding (DF) receivers being installed.

The dockyard unions were strong in the 1960’s and could refuse to allow any of the ships crew to assist in the work in any way. However on Magdapur and especially with the electricians doing the work in the radio room this was not a problem and I was allowed to work alongside them without objection. In fact we all became very friendly over the time we worked together. Although I helped where I could, they did all of the heavy and dirty work, which involved replacing cables, switchgear and motor generators. I was allowed to do the fitting, connection and testing of the ship’s radio equipment as they came back on line.

The main source of recreation for Magdapur’s officers was a pub/night club in North Shields called “The Jungle” which we visited several times a week to settle the dust and relax for a few hours. The beer was good, you could get a respectable meal and of course the company was great. It’s true that the greater the hardship the greater the camaraderie. The jokes and stories flowed faster than the beer. The most regularly played record on the Juke box was Sandie Shaw’s “Long Live Love” and to this day whenever I hear it I am transported back in time.

Arthur Oram, one of the radio superintendents from the Liverpool Head Office, oversaw the radio room refit. Arthur was a tall well-built man, standing over six feet. A Yorkshire man, he was direct in his manner but very friendly and I got on with him extremely well. He did not stay on board but in a local hotel returning home at the weekend.

When the work was finished and on the last night before he returned home, he treated me to a meal in a restaurant in Whitley Bay as a thank you for all the hard work. Gestures like that were a feature of Brocklebank’s radio department management style.

When all of the work was done Magdapur looked fantastic. Her hull had been cleaned and repainted and her white superstructure stood out brilliantly in the sun.

As for her radio room that was a treat because apart from the re-wiring, the worktops had all been recovered in dark grey linoleum faced with varnished mahogany along the desks and cupboards. Storage drawers and cupboards had replaced an old settee and on top of the new cupboard sat a shiny new Marconi Lodestone direction finding receiver.

The installation was surveyed by a Post Office radio surveyor who passed it on the condition that the DF was fully calibrated before we left UK waters. With all of the work finished I signed articles again for a short coastal trip that included calls at Antwerp and Bremen.

On leaving the Tyne, the navigators and I spent time taking visual and radio bearings on a light ship in order to calibrate the new DF equipment. We started about seven o’clock in the morning. The sea was absolutely calm and although there was a slight mist the sun shone and the sky was clear. Absolutely perfect conditions for this work. In all we probably turned the ship 4 or 5 times. A strange thing with Magdapur was that even when all of the broadcast aerials in the vicinity of the monkey island were lowered and stowed out of the way, the semi-circular error was so great that on both the old and new DF receivers, the error correction had to be applied across the Port/Starboard coils instead of the more usual Fore/Aft arrangement.

Once all of the bearings had been taken we were on our way across the North Sea and the continental ports. I stayed with the ship until early July when she berthed at the Victoria Docks in London to continue her loading for her next deep-sea voyage. I was very sad to leave her. She was special and although I wanted to sail with her again, she departed before my leave ended. I never saw her again although I worked her many times during subsequent Brocklebank radio schedules.

I think I was paid a hard living allowance during the time in dry-dock even though I continued to enjoy all of the benefits of shipboard food and accommodation. Looking back over forty years would I have repeated that experience if given a chance? You bet! My spell in dry dock left me with some magic memories.

R58484956
9th November 2005, 15:04
A nice nostalgic story, one of the beauties of this site.

Stuart Smith
10th November 2005, 08:33
A nice comforting tale John, it leaves one with a feeling of well being.
Stuart

Cunarder
10th November 2005, 11:26
Thanks for sharing that, John. The more I scour this site the more I am impressed by my peers' ability to record events of nearly 40 years ago with such startling clarity and breathtaking detail. Sometimes I think I must have been the only one not keeping detailed journal... or maybe it's just early onset "old-timers"? Anyway, if I can't do it, then I sure appreciate reading from others who can. Keep the stories coming please....

Cheers
Alan Marsden

trotterdotpom
10th November 2005, 15:18
Nice story of happy days, John. There are several other mentions of the "Jungle" on the site - a de facto "Mission" outside Smith's Dock.

John T.