Ships Nostalgia - View Single Post - The Sandheads Lament
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Old 30th December 2018, 12:28
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Harry Nicholson Harry Nicholson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by japottinger View Post
On SS Maihar we lay at Sandheads 14 August 1957 until 31st August, having had to shift ship twice due to other ships dragging anchor down on us. I think the Mahanada would have just gone in before us as when we arrived at Calcutta my pal Rankin Sinclair, he was either 4th or 5th engineer on her, was already in. His brother was 2nd Eng. in the malakand at same time. At the time we lay at sandheads the Nourse Marjata was close by, I only found out later that al lad from my home village in Shetland was R/O on her.
Last I heard Rankin was in New Zealand - but that was a few years ago. Rankin did weight lifting, I recall, and was partial to glasses of hot water as part of his fitness regime. I wonder how he is faring?

Due to a broken arm (fractured humerus) I contrived ten weeks since, I'm making laboured progress with vol2 of my sea memoir. Here is a fragment where I try to capture the atmosphere on Mahanada once we docked in Kidderpore after the long sojourn at Sandheads. It may not be exact factually but is what floats back out of the mists of memory:

Now that our secunnies (Lascar sailors) have unshipped the steel securing bars from the centre hatch, the carpenter nips his cigarette and drops it into his boiler suit pocket (he has a collection of nipped Woodbines in there, nicely maturing for some future time of deprivation). Hefting a mallet, he works his way along the hatch coaming to knock out hardwood wedges that secure the sides of the three layers of tarpaulin that cover the hatch boards. Without such tight, snug coverings a heavy sea might disturb the hatch boards beneath, bounce them out of position, so that the next wave could smash through to breach the hold -- many ship losses begin with hatches stove in. Chips, our carpenter from Middlesbrough, gathers the the wedges into gunny sacks and staggers away to his workshop accompanied by an intelligent young secunny he's chosen to be his assistant. The three-inch-thick wooden hatch boards are lifted and set to one side. The cargo is now visible: crates of machine tools and electrical equipment fill the lower hold. Above them, the secure chambers in the tween-deck reveal boxes of radios, record-players, crates of whisky, gin, expensive liqueurs, and wines -- highly-taxed luxuries for the expatriate Europeans and the influential rich Indians of Bengal.
That evening, after a sumptuous dinner of Mulligatawny soup followed by guinea-fowl curry served on white rice, with a poppadom to crush in the hands and sprinkle over, and a strip of Bombay duck on the side, we mop our brows and dab our lips with white linen napkins. Despite the stink and peculiar taste of Bombay duck, I've developed a craving for it. We each get one four-inch piece of the salted and air-dried bummalo fish from Bombay. I've given up asking why it's called duck after being referred to the long-gone Robert Clive of India who considered the pungency reminiscent of London newspapers after their long sea voyage to India, or being told it is a corruption of the Bombay Daak, the fast mail train that brings the cured fish to Calcutta -- at high speed because of the stench, they say. But Clive of India lived years before the railway came, and he called it duck, so I give up. After what I've seen of food preparation ashore, I have fleeting images of flies sucking at the juices of the fish as they dry in the sun, but . . .**No matter -- it is glorious.

We'd had a few gin and tonics before dinner and are in an expansive mood for what is to come. There's to be a party on Mahanada to celebrate release from Sandheads. The first lot to arrive are a boisterous gaggle from the SS Maihar; they lug cardboard crates of Tennent's lager. These fellows are off Brocklebank's oldest vessel, built in 1917 on the Clyde. At forty years of age she's a rarity on the seas; cargo ships are usually worn out at twenty-five and ready for the breaker's yard. The venerable lady has a tall 'woodbine' funnel (called so after the thin cigarette of that name) and old-fashioned tropical cabins that open directly onto the deck, rather than into internal, weather-protected passageways like Mahanada's. Maihar is famous for being the first ship to be cut in two so that an extra cargo hold could be inserted in the middle. Her officers have the reputation of being a mad lot.

Next to troop up the gangway are a crowd off the Malakand, another Brocklebank steamer. Like Maihar's chaps, they make for the cabins of their opposite numbers. The laughter soon begins, accompanied by gaseous hisses as cans of lager are pierced. I've soon got two junior radio officers ensconced on my day bed, fellows I've never met except by Morse, but they seem good sorts. Then a sparks from a Bank boat sticks his head around my door curtain. He's brought a few bottles of Tuborg, so he's made welcome. I don't know who invited him, unless my boss did so by signal at Sandheads. If that's the case, I wonder how many more will turn up. The Mahanada is fast filling with strangers. We four from my cabin begin to wander around the accommodation with empty glasses on the hunt for sounds of jocularity.
In cabins along the engineer's alleyway there's much back-slapping, ribald yarns and the reliving of old adventures. Soon the songs begin. We are outnumbered by Glaswegian and Liverpool engineers, fellows who served their apprenticeship in the shipyards. Accompanied by the squeaks and wails of a mouth organ, they sing at full strength, determined to have a fine night. I'm used to the competitive good nature of the Glasgow chaps. They are a mixture of Catholic and Protestant, not that they are religious -- far from it. However, they support rival Clydeside football teams; the Catholics are devotees of Celtic, whilst the Protestants follow Rangers. One Rangers fan is festive enough to sing The Sash:

It was old and it was beautiful
And the colours they were fine
My father wore it long ago
At Enniskillen and the Boyne.
It was there we slew those Fenian men
In sixteen eighty four
And on the twelfth I love to wear
The sash my father wore.

I wince. Despite the good humour of the gathering, that song can bring trouble. It's to do with the Glorious Revolution of 1688. It celebrates victory in Ireland for William of Orange and the English Protestant Crown against the deposed Catholic King James II.
A Celtic fan pours out scorn: 'Typical Ranger's gob-shite, that is! The battle of Enniskillen wor 1689, and the Boyne wor 1690!'


.... I'm open to suggestions - so please comment if it prompts any thoughts.
regards
Harry
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