One has to wonder how Charlie Lorains ever came to be in Union-Castle Line for a more unlikely man to want to be on a passenger ship it is difficult to imagine. From Robin Hoods Bay, a small village overlooking the North Sea and home to generations of sea captains Charlie would have been your typical tramp ship master. His meanness was legendary, sailing from Cape Town he bellowed from the bridge “so and so can knock off Mr. Mate, he’s done his eight hours!”
Charlie was a very lonely man; he spent much of his evening on the bridge regaling me with tales of his financial acumen, not in pounds but pennies. He told me one evening how one frequently found the odd penny in the binnacle, just how such a coin could get there was a mystery to me. One evening we had run into a steep swell, the ship was pitching heavily and after one bounce heavier than most the helmsman told me that the compass was broken. We did not have a gyro, steering was by magnetic compass and on the old ‘Rochester Castle’ it was dry card, the card had jumped off the needle. Charlie found me scrabbling in the chartroom locker for the spare compass. After explaining the circumstances to Charlie his face brightened, “E’ lad, now’s the chance to clean out the binnacle”
Without more ado Charlie was scooping out handfuls of dog-ends, smoking on the bridge was strictly forbidden and the binnacle made a handy ashtray, when with a cry of triumph Charlie produced a dirty penny piece. “E, what did I tell you lad?” I had to listen all the way back to England how lucky that evening was!
Another proud boast of Charlie’s which if true was remarkable, was that during the entire war he had never seen a shot fired in anger. I find that very hard to believe but Charlie told it to me a number of times.
Charlie was held to ridicule by all in the Company, but to be honest I was sorry for him because he had found himself in the company of people alien to him, unable to understand him and he them. He simply could not understand why he was always passed over for promotion to a passenger ship, Captain Hort, the very antithesis to Charlie had been given command of a mail ship. Poor Charlie all he could say was “that b…….d ’Ort, ’es junior to me!”