West Africian tales - Ships Nostalgia
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West Africian tales

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  #1  
Old 21st November 2005, 21:52
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West Africian tales

When sailing on "Ashanti Palm" which was an old steamer we were often loaded for "Surf" ports.
They were Cape Coast, Winneba, Accra, Lome and Cotonou.
We as deck mates did not mind that too much as we had half days. Only worked on deck for 12 hours.
On the trip down to the "coast" the deck crew got all the cargo gear in order and chippy and his mate (usually a cadet) built the west africian ensign. That was a two seater thunder box over the stern.
First stop was always Freetown to pick up our Kru Boys. (or Kroo I don't know which is correct) They were used as stevadores, winchmen, talley clerks, cooks, laundry men etc. They did not have the same accomodation as later Palm line ships where the forecastlte had toilets, sleeping areas, laundry and there own cooking facilities etc.
They sleep in a tent on top of one of the hatches.
Takoradi was usually the next port where we dicharged some cargo and got the "guest warp" ready on the starboard side. (For non nautical types this was a wire rope suspended from for'd to aft and kept just above the water line with lizards) This was for the surf boats to hold on to while being loaded.
Accra was the main stop as the port of Tema was not built then.
We anchored off and the boats came out and were loaded. These boats were two differant colours and this might be off but Palm line had red surf boats and Elder Dempster had green all with their own number. All were crewed by ten/tweleve paddlers and the boss man at the sten with the steering oar.
We would discharge a wide variety of good into the boats and one person from the crew came on board to get their ticket from the tally clerk. Each boat crew signed a contract to do so many trips and a tickets was needed for each trip.
Each day the "beachmaster" visited the ships out on the roads. They had special craft all pretted up and the crew wore a uniform. The beachmaster sat in the boat in a "manny chair" and was all in white uniform.
When an extra large load was to be sent ashore two boats were rafted together with large planks. Did that for the construction steel that we sometimes had.
Later on in the afternoon the onshore wind would pick up and the boats had quite a paddle to come out to the ships. We put up a signal "SB' whch was not in the signal book but ment send boats.
It was during the afternoon that we often lost cargo as the boats would have a tough time staying alongside and we often had to initial the talley slip with the notation LOB.(Lost over board.) That so the purser and the writers could do an accurate out turn report.
Must have been tons of cargo on the seabed over the years.
On one trip there I got a very sore elbow and it kept swelling and was very tender and painful. Should see a doctor ashore was the consensus so it was arranged that I go ashore to see the quack.
Never had any of the crew been ashore there so it was all to be a new experiance.
Got ready and when a boat was loaded with cargo I went down the line with my ticket (I was classed as cargo and had to be accounted for). No fancy seat for me but perched on top of that cargo. Was not very comfortable but I was a sailor. Off we set with the headman keeping the paddling rate with a little bell. I was extremely impressed by their skills but more was in store. A short distance from the beach I could see the surf racing in and got a little nervous. All of a sudden the headman gave an order and all stopped paddling.
Whats going on I wondered.
Seemed like ages before he shouted another command and they started paddling at double time picking up speed to go in with the surf.
Nearly at the beach they all bailed out and left the headman and I the only people on the boat as they pushed the boat as far up the beach as possible.
A couple them came back lifted me on their shoulders and carried me to the dry part of the beach.
The crew now had to offload the cargo to the warehouse. In case you are wondering there was a small jetty and crane for heavier cargo.
I was transported to a clinic and when the docor looked at my arm said "I know what that is Laddie" and proceeded to freeze it with either. When I could not feel anything a scalpel was used to cut open the swelling and with a gentle squeeze out popped dozens of little maggots. A fly had landed on me and laid its eggs under the skin and the maggots had hatched out.
No wonder West Africa was called the white mans graveyard. Hated all the jags we had to get every six months.
The trip back out to the ship was great as I knew what to expect and from that day on I never wanted to go ashore again.
My admiration for these guys that earned their living that way went up a hundred fold.
Will write more of my views on the "coast" later.
This all happened nearly 50 years ago now and lots has changed and these surf ports are only in memories of old farts like myself.

Last edited by lakercapt : 21st November 2005 at 22:02.
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  #2  
Old 21st November 2005, 22:10
John_F John_F is offline
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Great tale, Captain Bill - keep them coming.
Regards,
John_F
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  #3  
Old 22nd November 2005, 11:21
trotterdotpom trotterdotpom is offline  
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Dash me one stick!

Thanks Bill - hope you're recording that stuff somewhere for posterity. Pretty soon folk will think that the old days were just like now but with wooden containers!

I remember finishing the coastal discharge up the Nigerian creeks at Warri and Sapele. The African "pilot" came aboard at Escravos Bar - no education but tons of local knowledge. Who else could find his way, bouncing the ship off the creek banks, through those narrow winding channels and end up in the right place?

One such pilot, a 'Name" with Elder Dempster, was Samuel Gula. He brought along his 14 year old nephew, Richard, as an assistant. Richard stands out in my memory as a major parasite, always trying to cadge cigarettes and beer. He wore a beat up trilby with a sign like the "Mad Hatter's" saying "I am Richard Gula the ED Pilot".

The sign was pretty knocked about, so I offered to make him a new one. He seemed pleased with this offer as he'd worn out his welcome with most of the other "oyibos". Soon he was proudly going about with a nice new sign saying: "I am Richard Gula the Ed bumming bastard."

Sorry about that Richard - hope you're the Lagos harbourmaster now.

John T.
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  #4  
Old 22nd November 2005, 13:09
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Wonderful story, glad you put in on the site, I liked it.
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  #5  
Old 22nd November 2005, 13:15
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Capt. Bill,
I was with Palm Line in those days (1955-1957) before joining Harrison Line.
I remember the things you talk about only too well.
I made two voyages in the Gambia Palm, one in the Burutu Palm and a further two in the Kumasi Palm.
I wonder if we have any shipmates in common, or if we may have even met one another.
Would like to hear further from you.
Peter Baker.
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  #6  
Old 22nd November 2005, 15:40
mwebster56 mwebster56 is offline  
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When I did the WA run on the Shirrabank in the mid 70's we were due to discharge at Lagos but when we got there there was hundreds of ships at anchor waiting to go alongside (something to do with cement!) We were diverted to Kalabar? up the Kalabar river. As there were no up to date charts for this river the Mate, me (4th eng) and one of the deck cadets went ahead of the ship in one of the lifeboats to dip the depth of the river. It was much easier when we left as the ship was a few thousand tonnes lighter by then.
On the same trip the gears on one side of the Windlass stripped at Matadi and we had to cut the anchor chain so we could leave. We left the anchor and most of its chain on the bottom of the Congo.
They were great days but I must confess that it wasn't my favourite run.
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  #7  
Old 18th January 2006, 20:42
davidcalgary davidcalgary is offline  
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Love these stories gentlemen.
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  #8  
Old 18th January 2006, 23:19
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Memory a bit dim now but think it was Tiko where there was quite a respectable wharf to moor alongside (usually packed full of bananas on a narrow gauge railway) the fun started when it was time to leave, using moorings and engines to manouver into mid river, then full ahead and hard a starboard to lodge the bow firmly aground into the bank in order to turn round and go down stream. The C/O on the forecastle head often had all sorts of weird wild-life drop down out of the trees overhanging him whilst the ship turned and the Nigerian crew got a bit excited. All the senior deck department on Florence Holt were long term John Holt/Guinea Gulf Line men and knew the ropes, but it was a steep learning curve for a rookey 3rd mate on loan from Brocklebanks ! I enjoyed every minute on the WA coast,it was different - very different, I wanted to stay on that ship for at least a couple more trips but the powers that be said no, back to Calcutta you go !
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  #9  
Old 18th January 2006, 23:54
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Coming down the creek from Sapele the Old Man took the Fork (a notorious bend in the creek) a bit too fast. The ship brushed along the bank. Branches in the lifeboats and the African Ensign (see first post) hung up in a tree. The mate had to do a head count of the Kroo labour to make sure that no one was using the facilities and had been discharged from the ship rather abruptly.

Derek
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  #10  
Old 19th January 2006, 01:43
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Guinea Gulf

A great thing about serving with GG, was the trip duration. On average, nine week trips, with three weeks at home. One aws kept pretty busy on the WA Coast, but it was well worth it. Colin
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  #11  
Old 19th January 2006, 02:51
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An other West Africian Tale

In the late 1950's Palm Line as many other British shipping companies were on a building binge. As fast as possible ships were being built.

Palm line were no exception and the British yards could not promise delivery when required so the went to Germany to get two af a kind built.
The Akassa Palm and the Andoni Palm. (era 1958)

I was sent to Bremen to stand by on the completion of the Akassa Palm.
A great time for a young single third mate.
Alas we eventually had to sail and thats when the fun started.
Loaded in all the normal European Ports and set out for the "coast"
When the engines were thought to be run in we went to full speed.
Fireworks emitted from the funnel and it was like a volcano erupting with sparks and carbon raining down. All hand were mustered at fire stations but we were told this was just a glitch. (Lasted as long as I rember sailing on that ship.)
As was the norn on these occassions cocktail parties were arranged at the Coast ports with the local dignitories being invited.
The leckies had rigged lights on the boat deck under the awnings and tables of "small chop" and a bar set up.
As Junior officers and cadets we we at the top of the gangway to escort guests to the party area. Never had much chance to enjoy the festivities as we also had to show the guests, now well the worse for wear to the gangway.
In a different trend it was thought that the villagers of Akassa should be invited to see "their" ship (the Emir of Kano was down to see the ship named after that area, Kano Palm. Was a pleasant educated person with his retinue of bodyguards and being Muslim did not drink alcohol)
The big day was for when we were iin Port Harcourt and no cargo was worked especially for the visit.
In the morning the bus's had brought a large group of villagers all dressed in their finary.
Once again as a low guy on the totum pole I was designated as guide and the party was devided up into managable groups.
Showed them round the deck and down hatches round the galley accomodation and wheelhouse and also into the Radio room and engine room.
In the officers lounge there was an initation log fire complete with mantle etc.
Why Massa you go have dis fire as you no go use im for cook chop as place below fo dat. You no go need him to keep warm as it be hot.
It no be proper fire was my reply It white mans juju and got the questioner by the arm and had him touch it. Great consternation and then a big smile. It is white man juju was the response.
All the party had to try for themselves and it was the hit of the tour.
Food and beverages were served and a great PR job well done.
The local newspaper had been advised of the visit and interviewed some of the guests after the visit.
The thing that impressed them most.
Not the modern ship with great engines, comunications or cargo handling.
Oh no.
It was the fire that was not a fire and that was the story by line published
Seven months on the fireboat and I left to do my 1st. Mates certificate but it was a learning experiance!!!

Last edited by lakercapt : 19th January 2006 at 02:54.
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  #12  
Old 19th January 2006, 09:08
cynter cynter is offline  
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A West African tale with a difference....
1961 I was sparks on the Andoni Palm and as an extra duty for a bob or two I did cargo watch... mainly to catch pilfers who broke into the cargo. We were carrying geneal cargo from Liverpool and while we were in Lagos I observed that a carton or two of Guinness had been broken into and was being consumed by the West African wharfies... As we all know, it's bloody hot'n'humid down there and handling the cargo make you sweat just a tad... no sweat.!!!! they'd got it all sussed out. They also broke into a crate of Dr Whites sanitary pads and with the aid of the loops around their ears and the pads across their foreheads not a drop of sweat ran into their eyes... I love Guinness, but not quite as warm as that.
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Old 19th January 2006, 09:09
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McLean,
Whilst with GG did you ever sail with Capt R.A.Simpson (known as Razz), C. Smith and Eric Dunn - 1st and 2nd Mates on Florence Holt with myself ? I have not seen or heard of them since that trip.
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Old 19th January 2006, 11:37
trotterdotpom trotterdotpom is offline  
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Anywhere I hang my hammock is home....

Quote:
Originally Posted by cynter
A West African tale with a difference....
1961 I was sparks on the Andoni Palm and as an extra duty for a bob or two I did cargo watch... mainly to catch pilfers who broke into the cargo. We were carrying geneal cargo from Liverpool and while we were in Lagos I observed that a carton or two of Guinness had been broken into and was being consumed by the West African wharfies... As we all know, it's bloody hot'n'humid down there and handling the cargo make you sweat just a tad... no sweat.!!!! they'd got it all sussed out. They also broke into a crate of Dr Whites sanitary pads and with the aid of the loops around their ears and the pads across their foreheads not a drop of sweat ran into their eyes... I love Guinness, but not quite as warm as that.
I have it from a reliable source that the girls from the John Collier factory in Middlesbrough used to use them for the same reason! Take them home to mother? Maybe after a good talking to!

So, it was Unilever who got the loops taken off those articles of apparall - just to save a couple of boxes of "cargo brand". I wondered what happened to them. Must have killed the market for those belts they used to hang them on too!

John T.
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Old 23rd January 2006, 17:47
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Guinea Gulf

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Originally Posted by michael james
McLean,
Whilst with GG did you ever sail with Capt R.A.Simpson (known as Razz), C. Smith and Eric Dunn - 1st and 2nd Mates on Florence Holt with myself ? I have not seen or heard of them since that trip.
Michael, My time with GG was spent on Mary Holt (the mail run) with a couple of coastal on Elizabeth.Do recall the names Simpson and Dunn, however never them. Master on the Mary was Willie Harrison, a fine man and a great ship handler. Master on the Elisabeth (coastall), was your old friend A.Barrow. If my memory serves me right,the Mary and Elizabeth were sold to Pakistani interests on completion of the Brocklebank Management contract. A dreadfull shame. Believe W. Harrison went to Blue Funnel, so perhaphs others did also. Regards Colin
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Old 23rd January 2006, 18:54
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Thanks for that Colin. With the creek ports as they were then ship handling was second nature to the experienced Master, RAS was brilliant at it and allowed the Mate & 2nd to manouver the ship (if you didnt get it right there was only a soft mud bank to hit after all !) LOL Great fun. Only saw the Rose of Lanc and Elizabeth once each. They were good little ships MikeJ
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Old 23rd January 2006, 23:08
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Even more West African tales

On Elder Dempster's 'Deido' we had an engine room headman, John Bull. John was an excellent man who everyone thought the world of. He sustained an injury to his leg which went yucky. The old man, worried that John might have to pay off, arranged for him to receive the best medical attention in each port on the coast. On our return to UK it was arranged once more for him to see the best specialists Liverpool had to offer. Still no improvement in John's yucky leg. Next voyage on arrival at Freetown, John, fed up, goes ashore to see his local juju man and returns with a bottle of what looked like lawn cuttings steeped in p**s (and indeed could have been).
The punch line is that five days later the leg is cured with not so much as a scar!! Please explain.

On NNSL's 'Oduduwa' there was an engineer's steward, Sam (weren't they all) a young, twentyish healthy young man. He took his leave in Lagos and rejoined the ship a worried man. He told us that his family's enemies had put a juju on him and that he would die. There was no way that we could accept that, he was too full of life, a really nice guy. We left Lagos for Port Harcourt and anchored at Dawes Island waiting for a berth. Sam spent the morning giving the engineer's cabins a good going over then went and lay down in the tonnage well and died!! Please explain.

On a lighter note, the union man at Apapa wharf wanted the engine drivers to go on strike for something or other. The engine drivers were very reluctant, so the union man got the local juju man to wave some branches etc. at the engines - result, strike, until juju man is re-engaged to remove the fluence.

Derek

Last edited by eldersuk : 23rd January 2006 at 23:25.
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Old 24th January 2006, 00:58
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on one trip LAGOS PALM some of the crew boys started complaining of head aches massa, so eventually chief steward decided to cure them all depending on their standing as crew boys, what he did was selotape smarties to thier fore heads with different coloured smarties for their status, needless to say this curred the head aches and all was fine apart from us deck crew trying to keep straight faces and remain sensible.
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Old 10th February 2006, 13:11
scottie dog scottie dog is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by trotterdotpom
I have it from a reliable source that the girls from the John Collier factory in Middlesbrough used to use them for the same reason! Take them home to mother? Maybe after a good talking to!

So, it was Unilever who got the loops taken off those articles of apparall - just to save a couple of boxes of "cargo brand". I wondered what happened to them. Must have killed the market for those belts they used to hang them on too!

John T.
John
Any relation to Dave Trotter ??
Mike
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Old 11th February 2006, 11:12
trotterdotpom trotterdotpom is offline  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scottie dog
John
Any relation to Dave Trotter ??
Mike
Don't think so. Mike, but who knows - I did get a dose of clap by JuJu in Sapele (no joke), so anything can happen.

John T.
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Old 15th April 2008, 17:00
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SS Mary Holt

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Originally Posted by mclean View Post
Michael, My time with GG was spent on Mary Holt (the mail run) with a couple of coastal on Elizabeth.Do recall the names Simpson and Dunn, however never them. Master on the Mary was Willie Harrison, a fine man and a great ship handler. Master on the Elisabeth (coastall), was your old friend A.Barrow. If my memory serves me right,the Mary and Elizabeth were sold to Pakistani interests on completion of the Brocklebank Management contract. A dreadfull shame. Believe W. Harrison went to Blue Funnel, so perhaphs others did also. Regards Colin

Hello Colin,
I lived in Karachi, Pakistan in 1974. I had an occasion to buy a J. Sewill chronometer which came from the SS Mary Holt. I believe that the SS Mary Holt was scrapped in Pakistan some time before 1974. I have tried to find any information about the SS mary Holt. You comment is the only reference I have found so far. Any chance you know any details of the SS Mary Holt such as when it was built and what type of ship is was?

Thanks,
Barent
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  #22  
Old 15th April 2008, 18:31
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Hi Trotterdotpom What does juju stand for Judy or June or is it for both
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Old 15th April 2008, 20:06
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All,
Obeche,Oburia, and Mansonia are just a few of the names I remember from the Creeks, also playing football against Walman (?) Lines ships.
Ah!, sweet pass all.
Yours aye,
Slick
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Old 15th April 2008, 20:06
K urgess K urgess is offline
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Welcome to the crew, Barent.
If you follow this link you will find some information about Mary Holt.
Regards
Kris
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  #25  
Old 16th April 2008, 00:27
trotterdotpom trotterdotpom is offline  
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Hi Trotterdotpom What does juju stand for Judy or June or is it for both
Forget now Jan, maybe JUngle Bunny, but she taught me a lesson!

John T.
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