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My own puny effort at writing in this vein will fortunately never be available on Amazon but I have just been given an incredible book written by a man who went to sea as an apprentice in 1954, so very much a contemporary of mine, that seems the synthesis of every good 'yarn' ever shared by seamen back through the ages to Noah.

After the fifth or sixth fight he gets involved in (and wins) and the tenth attempted murder of one or other of his shipmates, I entered into the spirit of the book and had a good laugh not believing one more word. What actually tipped the balance for me was his account of a fellow officer being hit fair and square in the stomach by a lead block that let go while a 100 ton heavy lift was being loaded and living to see another day with little or no discomfort!

The account of my own time at sea (13 years) is sleep inducing so ordinary are the things I have recalled, which makes me wonder why so many other writers in this genre get a touch of the old Walter Mitty to the point when the reader soon decides he is reading fiction not fact.


PS I have purposely omitted the author's name but I am sure some will recognize him from what I have written above.

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Memoir writing is interesting, we seem to have mere fragments of image at first, but sitting with those scraps of recall for long enough seems to draw in stuff from deeper places. eventually a story assembles itself. Here's a snip from my own memoir 'Best of Days'. We are on a loaded collier, the 2,000 ton MV Corburn, out of Barry for the glue factory at Plymouth. It's 1956 and we have a storm:

Seven hours later we struggle, at eight knots, to break into the Western Approaches, the sea area that begins at the lower extremity of the Irish Sea. Our speed is much reduced with the gale raging full onto the bows. The ship, with its innards crammed with coal, plunges like an enraged leviathan. I've secured my wireless room chair with a storm chain that screws from the seat's base into a socket in the deck; my chair now slides only an inch or two with each heave and pitch of the deck. I'm at the receiver listening to weather reports in Morse. I copy the storm warnings and pass them through the hatch into the wheelhouse. There are identical warnings for sea areas: Sole; Shannon; Rockall; Malin; Fastnet; and Lundy (we are in Lundy now). Gale force 8, westerly. Increasing severe gale force 9 westerly. Storm force 10 later. Visibility half-a-mile reducing to less than 100 yards in rain.
I cling to the equipment bench and keep the obligatory watch on the distress and calling frequency of 500 kc/s. I retune whenever a coast station issues a weather report. The eight-inch face of the bulkhead clock is marked with two red zones of three minutes each. All shipping must observe radio silence for three minutes twice an hour, at fifteen and forty-five past. Operators then listen for distress signals in the static-sparkled hush. In my voyages, I've heard SOS calls but they've always been faint and hundreds of miles away. I've not interrupted but listened soberly as ships in attendance replied with their own positions.
I lift off one headphone earpiece to listen to raised voices that spill through from the chartroom:
It's the mate. He seems to make a plea: 'Captain Hedley, we are deep laden. I'm in charge of cargo stowage and I'm saying we are at risk. We need to shelter behind Lundy Island and ride this one out.'
'Are you telling me the cargo is badly stowed, Mr Beswick?'
'No, I'm not! But I've had years on colliers and I've known the best-stowed coal to shift in seas like this. After Lundy we turn south; we'll be on a lee shore with the sea and wind on our beam, and rolling bad. I urge you to shelter behind Lundy Island. It's what coastal masters do in force 10, hereabouts.'
'Mr Mate, I'll remind you I'm not your average coastal master. I've ridden out worse in mid-Atlantic, trailing two-thousand fathoms of valuable submarine cable. Keep Lundy to port and make for open water. I'll be on my day bed. Call me, once we clear the island. Then we'll set course for Land's End.'
I experience a twinge of doubt; this is a diminutive ship, a third the size of Hughli and a sixth of Dunera, and we are solid with coal. I'll snuggle into my bunk when my watch ends; I'll be no safer, but I might feel more secure.

In breaks between squalls of rain, the cliffs of Lundy Island look vast, threatening, and black. The sea is a heaving mass of marching steel blue, with broken crests and blown skeins of white spume. There are no seabirds, except for a flock of delicate storm petrels that flit around our wake. Hardly bigger than a sparrow, these brown birds with white rumps flutter over the water with wings held up in a 'V' and with feet pattering across the waves. They seem to be picking up morsels of food. Superstitious, old-time seafarers knew them as Mother Carey's Chickens; as the souls of drowned sailors escorted by Mother Carey, the witch-wife of Davy Jones (he of the Locker). They were dreaded portents of storm. But today, I recall from my study of Arthur Mee's Children's Encyclopaedia that they nest in burrows on Lundy Island and will now be gathering food for their babies. They'll return to their nests in the dead of night when they're safe from marauding gulls.
I feel queasy gazing over the pitching stern; I don't care for the sight of Corburn's propeller lifting free of the water and thrashing the waves. I hurry back to the warmth of the wireless room; although I'm not on official watch at present, the bridge needs radio bearings off the direction finder.
The ship heels and we take a huge sea. We've altered course from west to south-west. The rollers no longer bury our bow as we pitch and plunge. Instead, the seas hit the starboard quarter and pour across the deck, many feet deep.
'Why didn't you call me?' That was the captain. 'It rolled me out of the bunk! What have you done, Mr Beswick?'
'This is the new course you ordered, sir. I thought to let you sleep while you can. There'll be no more rest for any of us.'
Another sickening, screwing pitch and roll. Water floods the deck and buries the hatches. Down below, there are foul oaths and the faint clatter of pans from the galley.
The man on the helm gives a yelp as he loses grip of the wheel. He fights to recover the course.
'This is no good, Mr Mate. This is no bloody good at all.' The captain's words are a trifle slurred. He has a job to keep his feet, but not necessarily due to the motion of the deck. He grabs hold of the compass binnacle and sways there.
'This is the course you asked for, Captain. What do you want now? Too late to get into the lee of Lundy.'
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