Ship's Carpenters

Alistair Macnab
7th January 2011, 15:43
This is a new thread started as I have thought of my apprentice days in Bank Line and the joys of being assigned to help chippy making hatch cover replacements.

The sawing of long cuts to make the 'filler' planks was a chore I never was good at. Sawing in a straight line for ten feet was a skill I never mastered and I used to wonder why the planks provided were never the correct width to make up a standard hatch board. Invariably, a hatchboard was two planks wide and a 'filler' strip of perhaps 3-4" which entailed lengthwise sawing to be placed between the wide planks. Screwing on the metal ends, scooping out the handle depressions and hammering in the metal grips, and drilling the transverse reinforcement bars were fun but Chippy always kept these 'technical' operations to himself, leaving the poor apprentices to do the donkey work!

Looking back, though, having a Ship's Carpenter was a very valuable thing. Not only was he constantly employed in building hatch boards, he even made wedges. And his twice a day bilge and tank sounding round the ship was a constant review of those hidden spaces.

Is there still a Ship's Carpenter aboard today?

surfaceblow
7th January 2011, 16:10
I never sailed on ship that had a Ship's Carpenter onboard during my tenure at sea 1972 - 2005. I should also add that American Ships did not have that much wood onboard. The soundings were taken by the Day Man until his job was eliminated than by the Bosun. Hatch Covers where made of steel. Any time there was joinery work to be done the Deck Department would demand that the Engine Department fix it.

Joe

Pat Kennedy
7th January 2011, 16:30
Long ago on another thread, I expressed my admiration of ship's carpenters, and gave my opinion that they, as time served shipwrights, were amongst the most skilled men aboard the ship, having expertise not just in woodworking but in the whole business of putting a steel built ship together.
I was shot down in flames by various members who saw chippies as a wasreful extravagance in the modern merchant ship.
Regards,
Pat

Supergoods
7th January 2011, 16:55
If I remember correctly, they dissapeared in the late '60's, I wonder if they lasted longer on ships with wooden hatches.

I dis see an Indian Ships Carpenter on an Indian Flag ship in the early '80's so may have been the cheaper wages for Indians that kept them on the job.

Probably taken off when the accountants realised ships were no longer built of wood.

Alan Rawlinson
7th January 2011, 17:35
Bankline carpenters in the 50's were a valuable part of the ships complement doing almost anything that didn't fall clearly in someone else's lap. Most of them seemed to be stoic Chinese who bore their grievances and hard times without complaint - well officially, at least. Liked to dry their fish on the poop letting them blow in the wind.

Can recall many of them still, and the amazement we apprentices had at their carpentry skills - sometimes extended to cabinet making and ornamental boxes with secret compartments etc. The most bizarre always sticks in the mind, I guess, and we had one chippie who delighted in making cigarette boxes which delivered a cigarette from a shapely female's vagina when a lever was pressed. This was very popular.

On the Maplebank we had a Maltese Chippie with a very valuable skill as a barber - he was a grumpy sod, I remember.

Winebuff
7th January 2011, 18:14
During my time in 70's early 80's the Chippy was a member of the deck crew responsible for among other things the accommodation plumbing and lighting usually under the supervision of The Mate. Never sure why it was not an ER function. He had a store room forward, next to the paint locker and was usually seen pottering about with a bag of tools.

Peter Smith

Joe C
7th January 2011, 20:46
I was always a great admirer of the skills of the Chippies I sailed with,they were tremendous craftsmen and very versatile.On our way home on the Moraybank a greenhouse mysteriously appeared.He must surely have had a set of plans for its construction but somehow I doubt it,probably a sketch on the back of an envelope.
I recall at least one of them lost his "cool"very quickly and flew into a rage one day with the cassub outside his store.When the shouting in several languages reached hysteria they both reached for weapons,the cassub a spike and chippy,believe it or not, his axe.A bunch of us disarmed them and no harm was done.
The other skill they had,particularly when we apprentices had been grovelling in carbon black or sulphur or similar and were plastered from head to foot,was to always be turned out in immaculate white boiler suits.
When we visited the Gulf Ports in the fifties we had armed Pinkerton Agents on the gangway to stop these" dangerous subversives "from setting foot on the United States,apparently they had communist passports!

jimthehat
8th January 2011, 00:23
Bankline carpenters in the 50's were a valuable part of the ships complement doing almost anything that didn't fall clearly in someone else's lap. Most of them seemed to be stoic Chinese who bore their grievances and hard times without complaint - well officially, at least. Liked to dry their fish on the poop letting them blow in the wind.

Can recall many of them still, and the amazement we apprentices had at their carpentry skills - sometimes extended to cabinet making and ornamental boxes with secret compartments etc. The most bizarre always sticks in the mind, I guess, and we had one chippie who delighted in making cigarette boxes which delivered a cigarette from a shapely female's vagina when a lever was pressed. This was very popular.

On the Maplebank we had a Maltese Chippie with a very valuable skill as a barber - he was a grumpy sod, I remember.

cant remember the white crew chippy on the maplebank,but all the Chinese lads on the other ships were all hard working and knew their job,as well as as carpentry and daily soundings the windlass was his domain.
On the isipingo we had two chippies and I can well remember one trip just prior to departing calcutta abunch of Customs suddenly appeared on board,I had been standing by the gangway,and I was instructed to show them the way to the 2nd chippys cabin,they went straight to the drawers beneath the bunk and pulled out a few large packages,they immediately grabbed the poor guy and marched him ashore.
We heard when we were next in calcutta that it had been a setup and that as the customs were happy the drug people were able to ship out much larger packages on other ships,
The young chippy was sent down,but we were informed that his family were well looked after financially for the period he was inside.

jim

John Dryden
8th January 2011, 01:06
The Chinese chippy on the ships I was on, for some reason I always got on with them(maybe the mate sent me).I do remember they could be a bit cantankerous but willing to teach the apps. and I remember the long saw Alistair mentioned re the hatch boards and fixing the metal ends on.Truth is they had to be right and tight or you ended up in the hold.That,s before the fancy carvings and tank checking.To me ,the chippy was an integral part of a Bank line ship but I did notice the difference on the next two ships I was on.

Shipbuilder
8th January 2011, 09:01
I always felt that the term carpenter (or chippy) was loosely applied and their skills had to encompass many things from wood to steel. I sailed with them on ships with very little wood apart from the accommodation decks, but they were always fully employed on all manner of things, taking soundings and hatch maintenance on steel McGregors and a whole host of other things. When I joined the bulk carrier SILVERDON in 1976, I flew out with someone who told me he was the "handyman!" explaining that was the new term for carpenter. Still preferred the name "carpenter" or "chippy" though.

woodend
8th January 2011, 10:13
What a marvellous breed they were. Chocking new cars on top of bagged cement was a job I will always remember with the 'Chippy' when an Apprentice. He taught me to open any car without the keys using the palm of your hand. Stood me in good stead when handling passenger cars on the 'mail boats' (someone always got the keys mixed up).

spongebob
8th January 2011, 12:17
Not to detract from the modern ship's carpenter I mention the skill of yesteryear when sailing vessels carried a carpenter whose skills were that of a shipwright and capable of building the ship that bore him.
In the book "Evolution's Captain" about Robert Fitzroy and his voyages on HMS Beagle with Charles Darwin. the carpenter built a ship's cutter from scratch while in the wilds of Tierra del Fuego to get them out of a spot of bother.

Bob

dennyson
8th January 2011, 12:39
I was always impressed at the speed they laid dunnage or constructed the temporary swimming pool! Chippy was always on the fo'csle operating the windlass for anchoring or berthing and lived with the Bosun and Lampy in the PO's mess. Always a delight to be invited in for a beer after a day working with him and listen to the stories the 3 of them told!

Alan Rawlinson
8th January 2011, 17:43
Not to detract from the modern ship's carpenter I mention the skill of yesteryear when sailing vessels carried a carpenter whose skills were that of a shipwright and capable of building the ship that bore him.
In the book "Evolution's Captain" about Robert Fitzroy and his voyages on HMS Beagle with Charles Darwin. the carpenter built a ship's cutter from scratch while in the wilds of Tierra del Fuego to get them out of a spot of bother.

Bob

Great comment - even in the relative modern times of the 1950's when everyone else was stuck on a solution to a particular problem - how to ---- whatever ---- the chippie would come up with something. Worth their weight in gold!

Derek Roger
8th January 2011, 18:13
Brocklebanks still carried a "Chippie " up until about 1968 . His duties included handling the windlass during anchoring ; hatch cover repairs ; daily soundings of all tanks and voids ; manufacture the temporary swimming pools on the older vessels when in the tropics . Additioinaly he was in charge of taking on fresh water and boiler water in port as well as chlorinating the potable water tanks to the correct doseage . Also if required to form "cement boxes " and pour them .

Klaatu83
8th January 2011, 21:56
I haven't been on a ship that carried a ship's carpenter, invariably known as "Chips", since they did away with the last of the old Victory cargo ships at the end of the 1970s. Among his duties was operating the anchor windlass. Chips was also tasked with securing the hatch covers which, on those old ships, involved knocking wooden wedges into place around the edge of the hatch coaming to secure the tarpaulins in place over the top of the wooden hatch boards, wooden wedges which Chips also usually fabricated himself. Those ships also had wooden weather deck doors which invariably required his attention from time to time. I believe he also did the daily bilge soundings.

It's worth noting that the crew on those ships, in those days, was 44; while the size of the crew on the last ships I sailed on was down to 20.

Cutsplice
8th January 2011, 22:56
Was in Portland Maine on a tanker in the mid seventies, we had an anti- pollution guy onboard, he was ex Esso/Exxon master. One question he asked was did we still have Chippies onboard, I replied no, then he said some years pervious whilst he was master a guy turned up from the company office and said, "These Chippies make things and people stand on them and fall off and get hurt, so we are getting rid of them". That apparently was the end of Chippies on Esso/Exxon vessels under the U.S. flag.
Our anti- pollution man then asked if we still had Bosuns, we had. he then explained the same guy from the company office returned a few years later and stated, "These Bosuns go around pointing at things, we are getting rid of them" so they went. I asked how did it work after the Bosuns went, he said ok a few seamen come on deck to top a Boom/ Derrick they stare at it for a moment and one says ok we have to lift this thing and they get stuck in and do it.
It all sounds very simple and I hope it worked out like that.

lakercapt
8th January 2011, 23:26
One of the miserable jobs he did with the assistance of the apprentices was cement wash the fresh water tanks.
Not a favourite job especially in the tropics!

spongebob
8th January 2011, 23:38
When I left NZ for the UK as Junior Engineer on RMS Rangitane there was a short notice passenger who had stepped up to take a mate's berth when he had to cancel his trip at the last moment.
The substitute came aboard with a duffle or sea bag full of clothes and his canvas tool bag covering his trade as a cabinet maker/joiner.
I wasn't long before the Purser had him lined up to do all sorts of little jobs within the passenger accommodation, loose chair legs, sticking doors and drawers etc and payment arranged by devious means such as bar credit perhaps.
A nice lad, he spent a lot of his leisure time in the Engineers smoke room
I guess that the official ship's carpenter was committed to his usual role of soundings,tankage and the like and that accommodation furnture was not on his work list.

Bob

Splinter
9th January 2011, 20:27
One of the miserable jobs he did with the assistance of the apprentices was cement wash the fresh water tanks.
Not a favourite job especially in the tropics!

Something I did just after leaving Kuwait, terrible job, that and clearing blocked heads.

I know Canberra carried five carpenters in the late eighties, I was working aboard her for a company as a chippy during refit a in Bremerhaven and later on a cruise to Isreal, I would use their work shop and it was like being one of the crew again.

Ray

jimthehat
9th January 2011, 23:42
One of the miserable jobs he did with the assistance of the apprentices was cement wash the fresh water tanks.
Not a favourite job especially in the tropics!
cant ever remember the chippy being involved with cement washing,that was purely an apps job,can always remember crawling to the tanks in No.4 t/d on the maplebank,took some getting used to.

jim

cmakin
10th January 2011, 15:44
I could be wrong, but I want to say that we had a carpenter on my first ship, the PRESIDENT EISENHOWER back in 1978. Ironically, she was already containerized. I also sailed on two break bulk ships around that time, too; but don't recall them having carpenters.

reefrat
11th January 2011, 00:07
Many years ago I was working as a diver demolishing the old Town Pier in Port Melbourne. When we got caught up with slinging out old pile stumps and so on, the boss sent me to help the old man who was doing bridge carpenter work on the remains of the jetty. "Don't try and keep up with him" said the boss. As a strapping proudly fit teenager I thought Ha ha.
First task was to rip a massive yellow box pile using a crosscut saw.after about twenty minutes of un interupted sawing I suggested it was time for a smoke, certainly said the wrinkled old bloke, I lit up and he continued to run the crosscut, he cut non stop for an hour. a very hard man, I discovered later that he had been a ships carpenter who had run from a Finnish squarerigger some time in the thirties, wooden ships and iron men for sure

Mike Agate
4th June 2012, 08:51
I had great respect for the chippy,after having to do the job,for six months on the LARCHBANK where I made some great blues. Needless to say the chief officer & I did not see eye to eye on many occasions. The skills I learnt have stood me in good stead to this day.

Alan Rawlinson
4th June 2012, 09:21
One thing not mentioned here was the usual stoicism of the older Chinese chippies. They could ' lose it ' big time, when watch out, - but usually they turned to on difficult or sometimes impossible tasks with just a shrug, quietly collect the spanners or whatever needed and get on with it. Opening/closing tank lids spring to mind! but cement boxes in very awkward spaces, repairing spar ceiling, etc etc.

Ian Harrod
4th June 2012, 10:04
Old Mr Wong on the Testbank. When Bank Line decided we could have a bar in the smokeroom (1970?) Mr Wong built it. He was made an honorary member of the bar as a reward and would come to the bar EVERY day at 1700 and have one beer, sitting in his same corner, then leave.

Perhaps he thought it was compulsory!