Esso's Babes

13th February 2009, 10:42
Considering the size of the 70sí Esso fleet, I am somewhat surprised that there is hardly any mention in this forum of the small, hard-working vessels of 1,000 Ė 3,000 tons that plied our coastal waters serving power stations, cement factories, ocean liners and the occasional distillery in the Western Isles. I spent 2-1/2 years as 2M on several of these vessels namely Esso Inverness, Penzance, Tenby, Ipswich, Hythe and Woolston and generally had a great time exploring some of the more tongue-in-cheek glamorous venues of the Home Trade like Goole, Poole, Howden, Par, Leith, Port Jerome, Zelzate, and Old Trafford. Not to mention the really good times had down in St.Sampson, Guernsey whilst awaiting for something upon which to float or Penzance or even after bunkering the QEII and Canberra in Soton, parading through the regal halls in a manky boilersuit looking for the partying Chief Engineer who generally did NOT invite one in for a beer and an ogle at the scampily-dressed stewardesses whilst signing the chit!
The smaller Hythe-Class vessels, 50sí vintage, had a real wooden helm that would creak and groan under duress when we steered down the West Solent hurtling past Hurst Castle on an ebb-tide, imparting the feel of working a real ship. (Did hear that one of these was still in service overseas after 50 years!). I must say I preferred these oldies to the Tenby-Class with its enclosed wing-to-wing bridge and stick steering. Also, I remember, the comraderie was at a more basic, chummy level on the smaller jobs. Working these boats was nothing of which to be ashamed despite the sometimes haughty looks from Ulidia, Scotia et al!! So shipmates, donít be shy, speak-up or forever hold thy peace.(Thumb)

Vindi Phil
14th March 2009, 13:15
I couldn't agree with you more on our baby cousins. I was on the "Esso Brixham" and the "Esso Lyndhurst" in 1963 running from the Norfolk coast round to Milford Haven and all ports in between with one long run to Glasgow. We mainly refuelled power stations but the best jobs were refuelling the liners in Southampton. These were the best paid, best accommodation and best feeders I was ever on, so much so that we were scared to go on leave in case we never got back on them. Great little ships.
Vindi Phil.

15th March 2009, 10:09
I was with Esso ( 3rd Mate) for a few years in the mid 50s, but have to say that the best was going coastal for a year on the Preston and Chelsea .( I don't know whether you count Chelsea and her sisters as "babes") she was mainly on the power staion run Fawley to Thames but once in a while broke the rule and reached as far north as Jarrow!!. The Preston. (Bitumen) was Fawley to just about everywhere around the coast. Despite my request for another spell on the Preston I was sent deep sea gain....I was n't a contract man so perhaps that had something to do with it. Never the less a very enjoyable period of my life.

15th March 2009, 14:14
esso dover,she would roll on wet grass.certainly dead man shoe,s jobs.esso preston ,the lads wore wooden clogs ,because of the heat from the bitumen.esso purfleet,great accomodation for the size of ship.

15th March 2009, 14:23
I remember the ESSO coasters when I was mate on Everard tankers, I remember overtaking one in the River Thames which seemed to take sudden shears, I believe that was the Esso Chelsea an ex Canadian lake tanker. I was talking to the mate of her one day and he was explaining she was a hell of a ship to steer.

Regards Robert

15th March 2009, 18:47
I remember the ESSO coasters when I was mate on Everard tankers, I remember overtaking one in the River Thames which seemed to take sudden shears, I believe that was the Esso Chelsea an ex Canadian lake tanker. I was talking to the mate of her one day and he was explaining she was a hell of a ship to steer.

Regards Robert

Quite right Robert. I was on the Esso Lambeth, a sister ship, they were built for the Maracaibo Lakes and definitely not for the British coast. Terrible steering ships, pilots hated them as we, the ABs did.

Our accommodation was c--p, tin lockers,steel bunks, three to a cabin but she was a good feeder and there was plenty of overtime. Decent skipper and mates as well.

She was built at Duluth on the Great Lakes during the war I believe, they must have been floated down the river system to the Gulf of Mexico.

15th March 2009, 19:08
i think they nicknamed the lambeth class ships DING BATS,as to the strange handling,characteristics.flat bottomed ,etc.

16th March 2009, 10:36
I think it is astonishing that the the so called Ding Bats ended up working on the British coast, a most hostile environment for them and especially in winter time. The Chelsea had a maximum speed of about 8 or 9 knots and I l remember the interesting navigational reqiurement of having to offset the course across the Mouth of The Wash by something like 30 degrees to counteract the rapid tidal ebb.
Certainly not exactly palatial, but the standard of feeding, as throughout Esso, was superb and I know what I would rather have.
Pete 8

16th March 2009, 11:44
(MAD)I was on the Chelsea in 61, and yes there was plenty of O/T
To much as I remember, I was only on her 12 days, but it felt like
20, terrible tub to steer, there's a photo of her on
the 2rd eng signed my DB and it looks like w j mcgilling.(Cloud)

Tony Crompton
16th March 2009, 14:40
I was second mate on Esso Fulham in 1964/5. Was very upset on being moved to a Dingbat from Esso Lancashire (one of the super county class-wonderful ship), but it only took a couple of days to realise what a great life it was on the Dingbats. London River, load at Thameshaven or Purfleet,discahrge at the power stations. Occasionally to Fawley to load and a deep sea trip to Plymouth.

I left to do Masters after that and then went into Pilotage. Thank god I never had to Pilot one though!!!

Regards, Tony

16th March 2009, 21:23
I sailed on two of the dingbats in the late 1950s, the Chelsea with Capt. Shields and the Wandsworth with Capt. Petrie. I am unable to add to the comments already posted. they are true. I also sailed on one of the Babes in the same period, a different outfit, Esso Inland Distribution, the Esso Genesee, a steamer, in my time mostly employed on the east coast, a cushy number, Capt. Stoker was the master.

16th March 2009, 23:27
Quite right about the Esso Lambeth's infamously bad steering. A helmsmans nightmare! Still, a great little ship, and yes, a brilliant feeder. I was an AB on her for about 6 months in 1957. Mostly power station stuff. My shortest ever trip was from Fawley to the Marchwood Power Station, a few miles upstream. Seem to remember a little pub in the village there. Real spit and sawdust. Sold beer straight from the wooden barrel.
A bit slack at calling 'Time', a rarity in those days.
Only other Esso ship I sailed on was a T2, the Chemawa. Good company Good crews.

David E
17th March 2009, 18:41
Don't forget the little white oil "Esso Jersey". Was it this lady who had a discharging/ballasting problem in Shoreham and ended up with a 45 Degree list with only the jetty holding her up ?

David E

17th March 2009, 19:03
My first 'solo' trip as R/O were on Esso Inverness and Esso Penzance, must have been summer 1975.
One was based at Milford Haven and covered the southwest. Regular trips were to Penarth (the was a pub on the breakwater that had homebrew in a woodencask behind the bar) and up the River Shannon to Shannon airport.(we used to walk round to the airport bar for a few pints of Guiness)
The other was based at Fawley and the main run was up to Aberdeen.

Keltic Star
19th March 2009, 06:11
Was 2/0 then Mate on the Brixham and Hythe in '63/64. Best ships I ever worked on coastwise or deep sea. Run like hell during the winter supplying Poole and Plymouth power stations and also milking the Ding Bats at Plymouth and bunkering the Queens. Summer was occasional "pleasure trips" to Jersey, Cork and Rotterdam with quite a few nights at home in betweeen.

At that time, the Babies were self feeders with a per diem paid by Esso. Certain stewards and cooks on the "Queens" were our voluntary ships chandlers. We ate as well as any first class passenger.

13th August 2009, 06:38
Interesting Guys! During my few years with Esso the happiest times were on the smallest vessels or vessels on the coast with FG articles - Fawley,Milford Haven,Fulham,Purfleet,Westminster then the crunch came with Hampshire and finally Cambria which really did put the lid on an interesting job. After a few years rock dodging on other colliers,small vessels and the Esso ships I found the larger tonnages less than invigorating. After leaving Cambria I requested a return to coastal work but was offered the Mercia. That is when Esso and I said goodbye. I have very fond memories of the Fulham as 2nd Mate, trading up and down the Thames from Thameshaven Refinery to the power station. Going 'deep sea' every now and again to Fawley - 7 knots with the wind behind us and 25o of set applied, and once to Dublin - had to take extra food onboard,and once to Immingham and Tyneside. These vessels did take a special handling and more than once I was requested when tying up aft, to look over the stern and see which way the engines were running. Solent pilots would hop over the rail as the pilot boat had a larger freeboard. These were good times and although it was hard work it was also rewarding. Experience gained rock dodging and ship handling which if you were a Junior officer on larger tonnage would just never happen. These experiences were to hold me in good stead in later years in heavy traffic situations and thinking on the feet, all before separation zones . Masters on the Fulham were Capt.Jones and Capt Dai Davies, Purser was Arthur Freak whose boarding house on the South Coast was a tribute to Esso cutlery (his words). 2nd Engineer was Ernie Gulliver an old school gentleman. Sorry cannot remember any more. Good ships - good times, very rarely without a pint of draft in the evening at one of the many hostelries close to the river. Cheers all to happy days.

13th August 2009, 06:43
Esso "Dingbats" Should have mentioned in my previous post a Manchester Ship Canal Piot's description of the being 'built like a grapefruit' Very apt I thought.
Under previous employment I used to feel sorry for the crews on these strange little vessels but someone rightly told me 'don't knock it till you have tried it' and we will leave it there !!

bill connolly
16th August 2009, 17:17
I remember asking the question on how they got the nickname of "dingbat"
I beleive it was some a pilot on the Thames or Solent who remarked that thir speed was like a "digbat out of hell". Another piece of information was that the roll period was 4 seconds wether it was 2 degrees or 22 degrees.
By the way I served on all sizes of the "Deep" sea fleet from the Purfleet to Northumbria.


17th August 2009, 09:51
Hello Madbob; I remember Arthur Freak well, he was our cook/steward on the Chartsman for a while in the late 1960s or very early 1970s. He was always jolly, good company and above all, a good cook. I believe he had a guest house that he ran with his wife at Sticklepath near Okehampton. Thanks for jogging my memory.

18th August 2009, 07:16
Hi Bruce,
Arthur Freak was a great character, larger than life and always on the go. I seem to remember that Harveys Bristol Cream was his regular tipple.I also heard that he unfortunately passed away after a large heart attack.
It is amazing how some people stand out in the crowd - it would have been at least 40 years since we sailed together but I can still remember him.

18th August 2009, 11:08
Hello Madbob; Sorry to hear that Arthur had died, we had a lot of memorable runs ashore together, he was always immaculately dressed.