8th January 2006, 20:32
I sailed on the Rubens as 2nd mate for five trips from 1968 onwards. The master was MacNeil, known to all as 'Black Mac' originally from Barra but long time resident in the Merseyside area. No doubt some of you will remenber him.
This Rubens was a transfer from Austalasia line ( I think that is correct ) and not exactly in the first flush of youth when we joined. However as with other L&H ships I sailed on it was a good crew.
How many of you remember the fire on the Rubens, which broke out when we were a 100miles or so off Recife? Unfortunately I do not have the exact date, but I do remember the time which was just before noon, as when I heard the alarms I assumed it was noon and I had missed the midday position which would have been a fate worse than death. We were later informed by those that knew about these things , who said the probable cause was a dockers cigarette from Liverpool in a bale of smouldering material which a change in ventilation had ignited. At one stage it was quite concerning with the ship's side red hot and steaming at the waterline. The damage to the cargo was extensive, including whisky, and the usual mix, fortunately no livestock on deck.
We did all we could to contain and made best speed for Recife which was not a lot. What followed in Recife over a week or so was a complete farce with different fire brigades competing to give assisitance. When I look back on it Black Mac handled the situation very well and eventually we continued the voyage. A loss adjuster was sent out from the UK and I learnt a lot from him about general average and such. On eventual return to Liverpool the only questions I was asked, other than a snide comment on my claim for gear damaged fighting the fire was that my bar bill ( and all the others ) was unusually high.
I would be interested to hear from anyone on the Rubens at that time as it was certainly one of the more memorable voyages.


31st August 2008, 20:53
I remember "Black Mac" very well, a good skipper & fine seaman, He was master of the "Devis" in 1958/60 where I did 6 trips as a cadet. We even formed a skiffle group called the Macneil Seven (Lonnie Donegan was popular at this time) which he was quite amused by.(Thumb)

17th December 2010, 20:04
I Remember Black Mac Skippered The Romney In 73-74 Once Sailed With Never - Never Forgoten

9th June 2018, 12:13
Have just found this forum and georged's posting.

I was a supernumary (paid 1sh per month + meals and a cabin) on the SS Rubens and was at the wheel when I noticed smoke coming from one of the ventilators to the large forward hold. Alerting Captain McNeil who then took over control of the ship.
I also think it was around midday, but it was in 1967, perhaps May or June (?). The ship docked at Recife at close to midnight.

I still have a photo taken when daylight broke, of three fire engines on the dockside alongside the SS Rubens, with the fire still burning away, and with three dozy fire crews arguing over whose responsibility it was to fight the fire - I think these were the docks fire brigade, the local civil fire brigade and the local navy fire brigade.

Amongst my duties was looking after two racehorses being sent out to Brazil for stud. They were called Princely Portion and Royal ????. They were housed in two large boxes, with a centre dividing rail that enabled me to corral them aside whilst I cleaned out the other half....I mucked them out and fed them in their boxes on the aft deck. They were taken off as soon as we docked at Recife. Princely Portion was a fairly calm horse but Royal ???? was a kicker, lashing out at me all the time when I was mucking out or feeding him.

There were two passengers for the trip, a brazilian lady and her 11 yr. old son.

Captain McNeil's son was also on board in the crew, he was about my age, (then 19).

Firstly Steam smothering and then Carbon Dioxide smothering were tried to extinguish the fire, neither worked and the Lloyds agent ordered the hold to be flooded. He had been trying to save other cargo in the same hold including valuable electronic equipment for a new telephone exchange in Sao Paulo.

Eventual clearance of the hold took place in Santos, over many days, enabling me and others to go and watch the Santos football team which then included Pele.

25th June 2018, 10:37
After digging deep into my old photographs I have found these photos of the SS Rubens, from July 1967, including several showing the aftermath of the fire in the hold, and the beginning of the clear up operation.

25th June 2018, 10:42
second attempt at uploading photos