MANAAR. I Never Saw The Light.

John Leary
23rd August 2006, 20:58
I had the good fortune to visit a game reserve in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) back in the early-sixties and was lucky enough to see a wild leopard after much pointing and whispering by our game warden guide who spotted this well camouflaged animal without the aid of binoculars, way into the distance whilst it was lying down resting at the base of some bushes. Not much to do with this story but I have included it to make the point that we develop our senses differently and whilst as an R/O at sea I could read very weak signals through severe interference I never acquired the ability of the navigating officers to identify small objects or coastline features at what I thought were impossible distances.

The Marconi Lodestone direction-finding (DF) equipment was a great piece of equipment. The DF receivers on the Brocklebank ships I sailed on were installed in the radio room and the bearings taken by the R/O. The ones I used only provided relative bearings. Later equipments like the Marconi Lodestar which were capable of providing automatic bearing measurements were I believe installed in chartrooms.

I used the Lodestones many times during my sea going career to confirm where we were when the weather was bad around the coast and when we were outside of the range of the ships radar. They also had to be checked and calibrated at regular intervals in order to keep the ships wireless license up to date.

This anecdote relates to the time in 1966 when the DF was used so that we could arrive at Jeddah in the Red Sea at night in order to save time.

The navigating fraternity familiar with the port of Jeddah will know that the waters on the approach to the port can be treacherous. Itís probably still true but in the 1960ís the route into Jeddah was marked with the wrecks of ships that hadnít made it.

For reasons that I cannot remember now, the Master of the Manaar decided that he had to make his arrival at night and could not afford to delay arrival until daylight hours.

He decided to sail down the Red Sea parallel with the coast but in safe waters and at the appropriate time turn through 90 degrees and sail in. I have probably oversimplified the operation and if so I hope that any navigators reading this will forgive me.

The exact point along the coast when the ship made its turn was to be judged with the help of the ships DF equipment, taking radio bearings on an aeronautical beacon located at Jeddahís airport which was behind the port. The beacon was recorded as reliable for maritime navigation and had a range of 150 miles.

I was told that as we moved much closer to Jeddah having made the turn, the position of the ship could be checked with visual bearings taken on the light fitted at the top of the beaconís mast. All I had to do was to take radio bearing on the beacon to assist in deciding when to turn.

It was usual practice when using the DF to set the ships aerials into a predefined standard arrangement so that the same electromagnetic conditions would apply around the DF loops. It was also practice to lower any private broadcast receiving aerials that might be erected close to the loops that could affect the accuracy of the bearings.

I was confident about the accuracy of the DF equipment on Manaar that voyage as we had taken check bearings on a radio beacon when coasting around the UK before sailing deep sea. This however was the first and as it turned out the only time that I ever took bearings from an aeronautical beacon. I remember that I started to take the bearings after the last of the normal radio watch keeping periods of the day. I cannot remember exactly when but I suppose I commenced taking bearings when the beacon was midway between the bow and beam on the port side.

The radio bearings were provided to the bridge every six minutes. It helped that the beacon transmitted its long dash and identity signal continuously. Having taken the bearing and nulled the received signal with the sense aerial all that was then required was to apply the correction factor (for quadrantal and semi-circular errors) to the measured bearing. Fading of the beaconís signal that would have indicated other types of error was not experienced at any time.

As the bearings approached the turning point I believe that the ship reduced speed so as not to overshoot. On 270 degrees relative, the ship turned 90 degrees to port so that the beacon was then dead ahead. Manaar then steamed towards Jeddah with the navigational staff keeping visual and radar lookout. I imagine the echo sounding equipment was also working overtime. I continued to monitor the beacon on the DF but I cannot remember if any further bearings were requested after we turned.

After what seemed an age I was told by the bridge that it was possible to see the loom of the beacons light and that visual bearings were then possible. A little later I was informed that radio bearings were no longer required and I could stand down.

With some relief I went on deck to look forward but although I knew that the light was dead ahead I could not see what the navigating officers clearly saw. I was told that the loom was the glow around but not the direct light emitted by the beacon.

Having confirmed that I was no longer required I gratefully turned in. Although the Manaar made a successful passage to Jeddah, I never did see the light.

Tony Selman
23rd August 2006, 21:29
What an interesting story John. Like most Brock's men I went to Jeddah several times and a thoroughly miserable place it was. No shore leave of course, not that you would have wanted to have gone ashore in Saudi Arabia in those days anyway. As an aside I worked in Saudi for more than 7 years commencing in the late 70's and it was no great shakes even then but no doubt dramatically improved since the mid 60's.

There must have been a good reason to approach Jeddah at night, maybe the only chance to get a berth before a rush of pilgrims perhaps, but I will wait for one of the navigating officers to really comment. My understanding was the same as yours in that it was a hairy approach even in daylight. The OM must have had plenty of trust in you because that could have gone wrong with a duff set of bearings - another good bit of good Brock's R/O work eh?!

I was never very comfortable with the direction finders on some of the older Brock's ships. I think I lost confidence when taking check bearings round the UK coast like you and ending up with a correction chart quite different to the previous version. I felt much more comfortable with Marconi Lodestone and I was most impressed with the Lodestar when I used that. We used the the Marconi d/f's quite a lot on the Cunard cargo ships crossing the Atlantic where quite often no one got a sight from the beginning of the voyage to the end and the mates were looking for some confirmation of their dr's. There were a lot of df stations at both ends and you could usually get quite a decent set of bearings that gave us pretty good idea where we were. In my experience the mates never believed it if you got three bearings to cross exactly, they trusted a small cocked hat much more!

Unlike you I had excellent long range vison and still have for that matter but I am wearing reading specs to type this.

Ron Stringer
23rd August 2006, 23:21
For those members who were not on the bridge or in the radio room, a little explanation first.

Along some coastlines of the world, on the coast and on offshore lightships and lighthouses there were constructed maritime radiobeacons that radiated radio signals identifying a particular location. Ships were provided with special direction-finding (DF) receivers equipped with directional antennas that enabled the operator to take a bearing on the beacon site. This could be effective up to quite long distances, 100 miles or more, far beyond the 30-40 mile range of marine radars and operated in all weather conditions.

The details of these radiobeacons (geographical location, radio frequency, beacon identification signals and times of transmission) were published in Volume 2 of the Admiralty List of Radio Signals (ALRS), carried by all British ships. Changes to the details were printed and circulated along with the weekly publication of Notices to Mariners. It was one of the less popular duties of the Sparks to enter all of these corrections (and many more in other Volumes of the ALRS). Hereby hands a tale.

Also published alongside the details of the marine radiobeacons were those of so-called aeronautical beacons. These were intended to provide the same service for aircraft and tended to be located at places of interest to aircraft, such as airports. The reason for including them in Volume 2 of ALRS was to supplement the rather spa rse coverage of marine beacons in many parts of the world. If there was no marine beacon along a coastline but there was an airport close to the coast, then you might be able to use their radiobeacon as an aid to navigation.

Homeward bound from Capetown on the City of Lucknow we ran into heavy fog south of Dakar in Senegal. That part of the African coast is sandy, low and gently sloping making it a poor target for radar. We were heading for Dakar but wanted to make a controlled arrival, not run aground!

There were no marine beacons there but the airport at Dakar was very near the coast and had an aeronautical beacon sited on the seaward side. DF bearings were requested at once and every 15 minutes as we steamed North towards the coast. The town is situated on something of a peninsular running approximately East-West. The aeronautical beacon was located on the western end of the peninsular so was ideal for our purpose. We were approaching from slightly East of South but couldn't pick up the coastline on the radar and could not make visual contact because of the persistent fog. The intention was to keep the beacon slightly on the starboard bow until we were nearly abeam or until we picked up the coast on the radar, whichever was first. Sparks was called to fire up his trusty Lodestone IV DF.

DF bearing followed DF bearing as the hours went by and the signal got stronger. Suddenly there were raised voices from the Bridge. "Bloody Sparks and his bloody DF, useless." On the radar the picture was filled with echoes of the coast at a distance of less than 10 miles, running across the screen from West to East. We were about 15 miles to the East of our intended track.

I had no explanation for the error, the equipment seemed to be working well, had been fine on the East African and South African coast. Baffled, my apologies were received less than generously.

When we eventually docked in Tilbury, amongst the items delivered aboard were the past 3 months' issues of Notices to Mariners and their accompanying corrections to ALRS. I was coasting the vessel (avoiding paying off in London and so going on Marconi's East Ham pool) so set to and began to enter up the corrections. When I got onto Volume 2 I found that there was a correction to the aeronautical beacon at Dakar. For whatever reason it had been relocated from the West side of the airport to a location inland, well to the East of the city. The difference between the two locations? Would you believe 15 miles?

To save the postage involved in sending ALRS corrections out to the ship in South Africa some penny-pincher in the Ellerman office had risked the ship being put ashore. Your life in their hands?

24th August 2006, 00:13
We used to have a laugh seeing where the SatNav put the vessel whilst transiting the Suez Canal! Never in the Canal of course!


24th August 2006, 15:32
I seem to recall having to use inland beacons with caution due to the likelihood of the radiowave being bent as it passed over land, something like a lightwave passing through a prism. I suppose DFs were OK in the days when there was nothing else.

As for Jeddah, in the early '70s you could go ashore there but it was only good for pistachio nuts, jugfulls of yukky iced tea and watching Saudi princes showing off in hotel swimming pools. Or so I thought until I befriended an American nurse and discovered the delights of the ex-pats homemade hooch, Seddiki ("my friend").

When you passed through the port gate you had to leave your passport in a box on a table - risky business, but, fortunately for us, a British Seaman's Identity Card was acceptable. When you returned you just retrieved your ID from the box - what an honest lot we were in those simpler times!

Returning to the ship at about ten o'clock in the morning I discovered that my ID card was missing! When I remonstrated with one of the guards I was taken into an office and surrounded by a variety of officials. They opened up a large old fashioned safe which contained my ID card and nothing else. I got a half hour grilling about my whereabouts the previous night - it turned out that there was a midnight curfew but nobody had bothered telling us. I could hardly tell them that I'd got lost after leaving the pistachio stall in the Suq, so I told them what they wanted to know (what happened to the old "stiff upper lip", Carruthers?). Once they realised that I hadn't been rolling around, wrestling in the dust with the local lads (why do they do that all the time?) my ID card was returned and I was sent off with a warning about my future behaviour. Good job they didn't have breathalysers then, I would have been in real strife!

We stayed in Jeddah for another couple of weeks and I made sure of being back on board by 12 PM each night, but I made a meal of the last night and came back in the morning. Sure enough my ID card was gone again and I considered picking up one of the numerous passports that were available, but I did the decent thing and just walked into the port area without saying anything. Those ID cards were a dime a dozen anyway.

Salaam aleikhum,

John T.

Harry Nicholson
24th August 2006, 21:37
1960 in November we had not seen the sun since we left the US coast, storms all the way. The Marwarri was heading for Liverpool and we were using dead reckoning, I took repeated DF bearings at long range and passed them to the bridge with cautions about their accuracy at such a distance. The bridge kept rejecting them telling me they were wrong anyway.
As we got closer to Europe I passed them through with increasing confidence until the radar echoes hardened up and a firm coastline was indicated, there was a fuss on the bridge as we set a new course. We were 40 miles to the North of the Mate's dead reckoning and steaming straight for the cliffs of South West Ireland. The DF bearings had been good all along, I was chuffed.
Also the Tennants had run out long before in the Gulf of Mexico; the Budweiser we had replaced it with had also run out, in mid Atlantic, and even that poor thing was sorely missed.