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MV Mystic final voyage

Hi, I was also on the last voyage of the Mystic and seem to remember a young officer enjoying a few nights ashore with the lads.

I was the 16 years old galley boy on my first trip after completing my training at N.S.T.S at Gravesend and as best as I can recall the voyage went something like this;

October to March/April 1974 - 1975
Flew out from Speke airport in Liverpool to join the ship in Gothenburg

Loaded with huge rolls of paper and sailed to Cadiz

Loaded with crates of aluminium pipes and sailed to Cuba

Unloaded at various ports around Cuba including Havana, Puerto Isabela and Casilda where we played a footie match against the crew of a Russian tanker.

Loaded with unrefined sugar at Cienfuegas (I can still smell it after 40 years)

Sailed through Panama, across the Pacific to Chiba, Japan.

Unloaded

As far as I can remember the ship was then sold to a company in Hong Kong to be converted into a floating resaurant so after sailing there we disembarked and flew home to Heathrow via Bangkok, Bombay, Tehran and Zurich

Quite an experience for a youngster on my first trip

Like most people I'm good with faces but not with names but some names I do recall are my cabin mate George Thomas, cook Kenneth McClelland, bosun Bob Welch and steward Hughie something (large Scotsman with curly hair who looked out for me ) and a Somali greaser Lamb Chop.

I would love to see the pic of the ship and any other names you can recall.
 

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Final? Trip of the MV mystic
WE flew out from Speke on a charter flight to Gothenburg in Sweden, on arrival the crew were muttering about hotels, meals etc. and as there were two union conveners in his crew all the ratings went for a slap-up meal and all the officers went straight the ship and a major work up. Obviously, the joining crew knew more than we did. It was autumn in Sweden and the first chills of winter were starting. None of the 3 boilers on the ship were working so there was no heat. Once the crew arrived they made a petition to the Captain and every cabin was issued with a 1 bar electric fire. Once we had repaired all the boilers and the ship had loaded 10,000 tons of newsprint we got ready to sail. The *****s on a ship across the bay kindly dropped their pants and showed us there ****s not quite sure why.
We sailed to Cadiz where I bout some tourist rapier swords and a number of lady’s tights. WE had one night ashore with traditional Spanish dancing with the Maracas and castanets. Then we sailed off to Cuba in the West Indies.
We entered Havana and the ship was fumigated, and every one had to leave the ship. We were allowed ashore in Havana, every item we had was noted on a pad, comb, wallet, watch, two shoes, etc. The 3rd mate had his Camera, they said he could either take the camera or the film; he took the camera and became a celebrity as everyone wanted their picture taking so he dutifully clicked away with an empty camera.
The main roads in the city had no tarmac and the drains were left high and dry in the air about a foot up, the cars old American cars had parts missing like no wings or boots or lights all very dirty and run down.
We sailed from Havana to a little port to the east on the north coast. Here we remained for months! Slowly the town filled up with these giant bog roll like reels of newsprint, they were everywhere in the back streets, the town square literally everywhere.
We were allowed ashore from 6to 10pm after that Curfew, if caught after Curfew it was a big fine. We would still have our belongings noted before going out and woe betide if you came back with more money than you started. This is where the lady’s tights came in. We would wear them ashore take them off in the first bar and they would pay for a few rounds of drinks.
The stevedores would give us cigars for empty beer tins or large food tins that we had cut open and flattened I forget the rate but a big beans time would get a better-quality cigar. There was an armed guard at the bottom of the gangway. We pestered him to let us go swimming. He would let one of us in the water while he stood on the top of his hut with his gun at the ready. We thought don’t be daft why would any of us try to jump ship into this hellhole. Then one day the true nature revealed its self when he spotted a shark in the water and shot at it. After that nobody wanted to go swimming.
The town used to get ice cream once a week and e quickly cottoned on that the idea was for one of the group or family to stay in the queue and take it in turns to buy the ice cream rather than all of us go up together. The ice cream was in this way quickly sold out. It was a social event with the whole town participating.

On Christmas day we walked into our local and right away you could sense something was wrong after the first beer we were refused. Then in broken Spanish we found out they had drunk the quota of beer and the bar mad had held back just a few for us. His regulars knew this and were not happy. We left.
It was the same all over town. We thought ok let’s try the army barracks, the union boys felt they would get us in no problem being good communists. Turned out only the officers among us were allowed in, as it was an officer’s club. My recollection of nervousness surrounded by Kalashnikovs and soldiers. We ended up playing chess with some kids who thrashed us. It was at this point that I dropped a tab of acid. Once back on board 30 mins later I took another as I felt nothing had happened.
Trip? Hell yes.
I found that I could not take the engine room log, I could go around the equipment but every time I opened the log book the numbers would fly past my head, I found that a walk round the main engine would allow me to write down 3 sets of figures before I had to slam the book shut. We were doing Genny watches I was the 12-4 junior but in port we had extended them so we could have more time off. I tried to sleep, first in the rag locker then on top of the Genny favourite places but no chance tonight. At breakfast I went to the cook and said I needed to be sick he eventually suggested I drink seawater, there was a seawater sluice in the galley, so I tried that, no better. Now as it was Christmas day most people were either drunk or hung over so my appearance went unnoticed. At one stage I was walking round the boat deck I though my epaulets could look sideways I would look ahead but then I realised no one was looking behind me so I ended up walking around in circles. I could not sleep another engine room watch passed somehow without mishap. And I eventually lay in bed watching the Japanese geisha girl on the candle blow out candles over and over. Finally, after about 36 hours normality returned, thank god.
We sailed and went to Cienfuegas of the south coast to load sugar.
This is where the revolution had started so we were a little unsure how we would be received. WE quickly realised not long after we would go ashore there would be a power cut and it was an excuse for the army to come round us up and take us back to the ship after less than an hour. We soon learnt to hide and many times the power would soon be restored.

There was a Russian tanker in the port and we went to see the captain to arrange a game of football. I had been on board Russian ships before so the smell of cabbage was no stranger and the obligatory bottle of vodka, which had to be drunk completely.
I don’t remember how the match went but I do remember they had baked a huge cake about 3 feet square!

While we were in Cuba we were slowly running out of provisions I remember one day we had onion soup, stewed onion, stuffed onions and onion rings and nothing else. The cook was going frantic and slowly mad.

Eventually we sailed for the Panama Canal, which was under US control. Prior to arriving the deck wallahs came out with the fact we were 18 inches below our marks, and we would be detained on arrival. Someone had the bright spark idea to dump all the fresh water. The idea was that when we entered the bitter lakes which are fresh we would be expected to sink below or marks and we would line up the boiler feed pumps to the sea and fill the fresh water tanks from the lakes.

Once we departed the canal a bumb boat came alongside with fresh veg and off we went. We soon discovered the water was undrinkable as the device like a venturi that they were going to use to purify it made it worse!

So, no more ice for the drinks and the beer had almost run out!
We were bound for Japan about 30 odd days so my case of beer would allow me to have beer every day or so I thought.
Now the engineer’s alley way had about 7 cabins in it from the 2nd across the end down the 7th and 8ther’s cabin I was in. at the very end. The ship was old, the bunks, made of wood were about 3 feet high with draws underneath on one wall was a chest high chest of craws and next to it on the right near the foot of the bed an old fashioned fold away sink. To empty it you tipped it up. Now the cook who was an alcoholic had taken to demanding drink in the morning. We had to leave a bottle of rum on the chest of draws which would be used first as a mouth wash and then to be drunk and it had to be at least half full otherwise he would pull your cabin to bits looking for more. He took it in turn working his way down the alleyway on a daily basis so you knew when it was your turn.

So as there was no beer and no mixers or ice all we had was rum. Lot and lots of rum.
Soon the breakdowns started and we would stop at sea to fix some part of the engine, an old P type if recall correctly Doxford with the rubber hoses on the top piston with a central scavenge pump in the middle of the engine between no 3 and 4 units located on the back of the engine on the middle plates or landing. She also had two turbo chargers as well.
This ship was run UMS! In that the I was on watch with the 4th between 8 and 12. At midnight we were supposed to handover to the third, but he would be on the piss with the chief, the 12-4 junior was a pot head and was scared of the engine room so he would soon leave, the 4-8 junior would come down at 4 am and wake the 2nd at about 7-30 for him to hand the watch back to the 4th and myself at 8 am.
Now with this level of watch keeping and the fact the ship was on its way to scrap with few spares things soon started to go wrong.
Doxfords had fuel injectors on both sides of the cylinder at the middle plate or landing level, they also had an air start and a relief valve on each unit. All were of a similar size and weight. Soon one by one these devices on units 1,2 & 3 started to fail. So we would remove the faulty component, shut the fuel off that unit and set off again while we overhauled the faulty item. Soon we were running out of serviceable parts. So units would be put back into service with say no air start valve or maybe no relief valve or only one injector, the phrase was perm any one from 3 and 4, 5 & 6.

Other things started to fail, we soon learnt that when the deck boy and the galley boy turned up in the cross alleyway and said we were going to stop we were.
The chief would turn up pissed with the captain and half the crew and we would start to fix something, one day I suddenly realised while we were changing a top bottle guide which was part of the sliding guide for the opposed top piston that I was the only engineer in the engine room. As the door to the emergency escape was in front of me I did a fox trot Oscar and went looking for the ginger beers only to find them all in the bar in boiler suits, normally a total no no. The second said that while the drunken chief was down there he had pulled the lads out before he killed someone. At this point there was a tremendous series of bangs and the ship shook. Turned out they had dropped the bottle guide and it had fell down and somehow pierced the tank top or engine room floor into the tank below.
This reminded me that before we had loaded sugar we had all gone down into one of the holds, while they pressed up the fuel oil tank below. We had gone round with hammers peening over the leaking rivet heads in the hold floor. Those we could not stop we dropped a rag on and stood on it while the surveyor looked down from the main deck. So I guess the condition of the steel work was not too good.
Soon the days to Japan were going up, 31, 31, 30, 29, and 30 again so my beer was now one every other day.
One time we stopped and water from the exhaust boiler up in the funnel cascaded down and poured out of the turbo chargers overflowing down onto the open DC switchboard level the 2nd Lecky was running up and down in a pair of welly’s holding up a big sheet of rubber insertion. The chief Lecky just reached over the top plate handrail and yanked him clear. At the same time the steam, steam oil fired boiler caught fire and we were left with no boilers. On another occasion I saw a scroll type lube oil pump suddenly seize up and send the coupling bolts flying round the engine room.

Now the ship was going to scrap and we had received instructions to destroy the degaussing gear. An anti-magnetic mine device from WWII. Now the crew were going round the ship cutting yard long sections out of a heavy-duty 4-inch thick electrical cable. Which formed the magnetising coil. The electricians were told to scrap the controls on the bridge.
Now true to the rest of the ship little on the bridge worked either, the giro compasses had long since failed so it was in blind panic one lunchtime the mate raced into the dinner duty mess saying what had the done with the correcting balls of the magnetic compass!!
After dinner they were able to replace them using the marks of the paint but for a while we were looking like up a creek without a paddle.

As we neared the Japanese coast the mate had figured out he could use a portable radio as a direction finder tuned into Tokyo radio and this would get us within 100 miles of Tokyo bay.

The ship continued to break down I forget how many times maybe 17? As we crossed the pacific.
Now the cook who had thrown a complete wobbler by this time was locked up in the hospital, he thought he was on the 500 bus going across Liverpool. The crew wanted the captain to divert to Hawaii to offload him but he refused.
Finally, we arrived into toko with 4 tugs in attendance. Now a Doxford needs about 600 PSI air to start if I remember unlike other marine engines, which manage on, 350 or so. Each of the 4 generators had a clutch driven air compressor on the end. So for stby we had all 4 in use and were still struggling to start due to half the bits from the front 3 cylinders missing. The air start pipe ran the length of the back of the engine it was made of copper or some non-ferrous material. As we manoeuvred and stopped and started the engine the poor old air start valves and relief valves started to fail. So the air start line as far as the distributor was glowing cherry red, all that was stopping the heat getting back to the air start bottle and a massive explosion was the distributor, to act as an isolating valve was not it main function in life and we were afraid it could fail at any moment. The relief valves meanwhile had been pushed to their limit with a repeated stop starts with only 4 out 6 units working and they were blowing sparks down the back of the engine. Their tail or outlet pipe were rapidly blowing away adding to the sparks.

Finally, we got FEW or finished with engines.
Now the japs were super efficient and discharged us in record time, we were fascinated by the little JCB’s the lowered down into the hold to push the sugar from the sides of the ship into the middle for the crane grabs to scoop it out. They were fast as lightening; we kept expecting one of they to get picked up by a grab. This was the first time I saw stevedores in high Vis vests and hard hats.
Soon the ship was empty and we went out to anchor to await orders. Now the crew bolshie as ever figured out how much fuel was in the ship and drew a circle on a chart saying that was as far as they would sail without being relived. Hong Kong was within that circle as well as northern Australia.

While we waited for orders I explored Japan. I discovered that their museums were very like ours, for example the tower of London has steel suits of armour on show, the Japanese were very similar but they were made of bamboo. They drove on the left, the school children wore something that almost resembled a navy uniform In the bars and hotels people would out do each other with bowing and scraping with geisha dressed women acting a porters. One restaurant we went to had examples of the dishes available in the window, I don’t know if they were real or wax. So we could point to the dish and stand a chance of getting something edible. Now this really posh restaurant floors me because the toilets were mediaeval with a wooden seat over a long drop to a stream below.
The trains were elevated with shops underneath, you could walk a mile or so walk up some stairs and get a train back to where you started but you had to have your wits about you. The exchange rate was 1700 yen to the pound and I bought a silk kimono and a bottle of Suntory whiskey.
On returning to the ship after about the 3rd day we found that we had dragged anchor for miles through the bay and were within a few hundred yards of the rocks with two tugs trying to make fast. The jump onto the gangway while we floated up and down 3 feet was easy but I ‘d never want to do it again
ON reporting to the engine room if found we were pulling a unit god knows why. This involved changing the cylinder liner as well as the top piston and cross head. Somehow or ever we accomplished this. But for some reason we could not get the old liner back into its stowage position at the front o of the engine room, god knows how the chief had got it out of there in the first place!
The decision was taken to leave it lashed against the engine room casing or wall resting on a little walk way about 4 foot long consisting of ¾” round bar. As soon as it was lowered down everything started to bend, the top plate floor plate it was attached to start to give way as well. So the bosun lashed to the engine room skylight.
No way was I going to walk round that side.

Soon the final destination was agreed and we set of the 1000 mile or so run to Hong Kong.
I think it was on this part of the trip I came down one evening to a clunk clunk coming from one of the top pistons. The opposed top piston had a cross head bolted to its top this in turn was connected to two side rods with con rod type split bearings on the crosshead pins. The side rods went down into the crack case and connected to the crankshaft on eccentric bearings. The top cross head connection did not really move but somehow there was about half an inch of play on the pins. How the 4-8 had never heard this is beyond me.
I’m not sure how but we got the side rod bearings apart possibly gas axing the nuts off, I can’t remember. We decided to wrap the pins with shim coming up with crane and welding the two halves of the bearing together.

As we sailed toward Hong Kong we found ourselves sailing down a line of chinees junks positioned like lampposts along an imaginary road. As we drew closer they would start to sail across our bows the 3rd mate was having a fine time as he zigzagged towards them trying to hit them shouting abuse as they sailed past the bridge. We engineer though this great fun.
Turns out the idea was that by passing close to the bow of a passing ship it would cut the tail of bad luck that might have been following it. In other words, Superstition.

We spent 3 days in Hong Kong, opposite a bowling alley, when you went out in the street you would be accosted by young men trying to sell you first drugs then prostitutes and when having been rebuffed with a series on no’s they would then say with feigned surprise, ‘ah you want smally boy’. We flew home stopping about 6 places, I had terrible sinus and was in agony every time we landed with the pressure changes and swore to never fly long distance again.
 

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What a vivid account of an event taken place 46 years ago. I'm trying to put a face to your name, I was the second Lecky. I remember there was a junior engineer who had his two front teeth knocked out, went ashore for surgery and came back with three. One of the junior engineers had a moustache and the captain called him Omar after Omar sharife a famous film star. The third mate's nickname was Niblock. I was on the bridge when the incident over the junks took place, he was trying to run one over. I remember swimming off the rudder on Xmas day in Cuba. I also remember an incident between my boss the 1st lecky on Xmas day trying to have a fight with the union convenor, he blamed him for the miserable time he was having in Cuba. The other incident on board the was when the gyro went down in the middle of the Pacific I fixed that. The captain sent both electricians a bottle for our good work. Finally, I met the chief purser at a reunion I went to back in 2019 in Liverpool, his name was can't remember Crabtree. Look forward to a reply. Regards Don Moore
 
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