Mahseer And The Sport Of Kings

John Leary
6th June 2005, 21:01
I was never very interested in the sport of Kings until I experienced the Mahseer version during my voyage to Colombo on her in 1963. Somewhat confused by all the discussion amongst the officers during meal times on the outbound voyage about the prospects of successful on-board race meetings, I wondered in my naďve way, where the horses were kept particularly as I never saw anyone carrying bales of hay or straw. The prime movers to set up the races seemed to be the Chief Engineer Jack Evans the Chief Electrician Les Dow and the chippy whose name I forget.

In time after much discussion and a great deal of feverish work behind the scenes a race course was produced consisting of a metre wide strip of awning canvass about four metres long painted a shade of green very similar to the colour used on the decks. The course was divided into sections each separated by a white line. Funnily white gloss paint was used to remarkable effect.

The horses and their jockeys, which literally were works of art, were made from thin strips of ply in various racing postures all painted in different colours and showing the colours of their owners. They were held upright by being mounted on small varnished wooden plinths. If I remember correctly, blue was a fairly common colour amongst the owner’s silks.

Size and numbering constraints restricted all races to six runners. Each horse therefore had a number from one to six painted on its hindquarters. To cater for those who preferred steeple chasing to flat racing, small hurdles were also produced which could be placed across the course as required.

The selection of the horse and its progress up the field were determined by the throwing of two wooden dice made from a piece of 4by4 timber. Each was painted a different colour. From memory these were black and red with the numbers being highlighted in white. The only other piece of essential equipment was an enamelled bucket that spent most of its non-racing time in the ship’s laundry. This was used to contain and shake the die.

Due to the passage of time I cannot be certain as to the exact names given to the horses but the ones that do come to mind include Captains Fancy, Black Smoke, On-the blink, Stewards Enquiry and Navigators Folly.

The Mahseer was a very sociable ship so it would have been churlish to have kept the inaugural meeting totally in-ship. The first race meeting therefore was deferred until Mahseer reached Aden. On arrival after reconnoitring what other ships were in harbour the decision was made to invite the officers from a US naval ship and those from a RN Frigate. Each was called by Aldis lamp and the invitation given and accepted. The US ship must have had problems with its Aldis because it replied by keying one of its searchlights. Possible Aden Harbour had never been so well illuminated at night before or since.

On the evening of the race meeting the dining saloon was cleared of its tables and chairs except for those at the extreme end, which was loaded with a buffet.

To say that the evening was a great success would be an understatement although my recollections become a little hazy after the sixth race. Les Dow ran the book and he must have been happy with the result because he remained with a fixed smile on his face until we reached Colombo. Our guests eventually were persuaded to leave the ship in the early hours of the morning, in some cases poorer but wiser. The upside for the US Navy was that they had had their first skirmishes with Tennents and Alsopps beers and had survived. Before Mahseer left Aden both naval vessels reciprocated with equally generous hospitality, although in the case of the US Navy alcohol was not directly in evidence. There were further equally memorable race meetings later but the first meeting at Aden remains vividly in my memory to this day. Black smoke was always in evidence amongst the finishers.

7th June 2005, 00:16
What a fabulous tale John, thanks for sharing it

Doug Rogers
7th June 2005, 04:30
Great tale, keep em coming.

7th June 2005, 10:25
It's stories like that which makes this Site so much better than the rest. :)
More, please!!

John Leary
7th June 2005, 16:50

As far as I can remember horse racing had been a feature on some Brocklebank ships before 1963 because of the comments at the time from the people who made it happen. However it was never repeated on any of my later Brocklebank voyages. As I said the Mahseer was a very social ship.

7th June 2005, 17:16
Several of the Shell Tankers I sailed on used to have "Race Nights" to raise cash for the RNLI.

I particularly remember the one's on the "Serenia" when I was 3rd Eng. The 2nd Mate and myself used to go fishing from the fo'c's'le when we were loading at the "Brent Spar". Used to catch Coley by the ton and the Chief Cook would spirit them to the Galley to fillet them and pop them in the freezer for the race night Fish & Chips. The Brent Spar supplied the newspapers, (they thought we used to read them!). Some of the best fish & chips I've had.

7th June 2005, 20:16
Did firsts trip on Maihar with Jolly Jack Evans as 2nd. He had just joined Brocklebanks after leaving Harrisons when they gave up Calcutta run to join Brocks to get to Calcutta!
With Les Dow with two trips on Manipur, Harry Allison was 2nd Elec.

24th August 2005, 21:06
I remember those races, I joined Mahseer in October 63, deep sea, and they continued on the next trip. Jack Evans was my first chief engineer on Marwarri in 59.
Great memories,

25th August 2005, 14:33
Horse racing was a popular event on P&O passenger ships, but unlike you lads we could only watch, but luckily we had other hobbies we could divulge in being a passenger ship.