(AKA Nudge or Nudger)
H.M.Royal Dockyard, Portsmouth & Gibraltar
5-year apprenticeship & subsequent 7-years service as Marine Engine Fitter & Turner for the Royal Navy. 1972 embarked on a seafaring career.
Cast of Vessels in Order of Appearance
Southampton Pre-Sea School
Prior to being let loose on the sea going fraternity, it was customary for all aspiring engineering officers to attend Mr Broomhead’s (smashing bloke) Pre-Sea School, where garage mechanics and general engineers etc were educated on the finer points of ships engine room layouts and the sea-going life. In addition, we were instructed that as officers, the Sun, Daily Mirror & Sporting Life were strictly ’verboten’ and the Daily Telegraph was strongly recommended. Mr Broomhead encouraged lads for whom life at sea did not come up to their expectation, to come and visit the class during “Smoke-O” and sell their now unwanted uniforms at bargain basement prices. On some occasion’s Smoke-O was like the first day of the January sales and for my part I purchased the majority of my gear in this fashion.
On the last ship visit we went on, we looked around the SA Oranje, affectionately know as “The Orange Box”. I can remember the shock of seeing 2 x 5 vertically opposed pistons pumping up & down from the Harland & Wolff “Stone-Crusher” diesel generators and thinking to myself bl++dy hell I hope I never get assigned to this floating Hades – look what happened.
SA Oranje (Pretoria Castle) – Whilst on stand-by prior to signing-on this ship I was given the epithet of Nudge or Nudger by the other engineers because constant bombardment of sayings from Monty Python and “Suggestive Biscuits” say no more! On the homeward bound leg of this my very first trip at sea, a young South African lady fell over me at the Junior 2nd Engineer’s (Chris Small a.k.a. Smally Boy, who tragically died very young) Champagne & Guinness (Black Velvet) party crossing the Equator. Till this day we are still together and have been married for 37 years. Who said shipboard romances don’t last? Also, coincidentally she also worked for Cayzer Irvine’s Cape Town office.
On my first visit to Cape Town, I was introduced to a unique hostelry called “The Fireman’s Arms” which had a tradition of being a regular watering hole for British & Commonwealth sea staff and as such you had to “sign in” the Log Book before being served with a beverage. The Log Book was an excellent method of keeping tracks of fellow shipmates over a period of time. This pub is still thriving today and is virtually a national monument as it has resisted all modern developments surrounding it.
At the end of my first trip, I experienced a phenomenon called “The Channels” where one to two days before docking everyone is full bonhomie. The engineers use to celebrate this occasion by wearing all sorts of ridiculous looking “Steaming Bonnets” down on watch in the engine room.
“Nobby” - the Electrician’s Mate, who everyone loved, died whilst on leave, so at the start of the next trip, it was left to Captain to scatter his ashes whilst the ship was passing the Needles. However, the wind updraft from the ship’s side was not taken into consideration by the “Old Man” and we all ended up with a little bit of Nobby on our dress blue uniforms. Shame, the “Purserettes” were most distressed at this circumstance.
Clan Macintosh – A five-week coastal trip which terminated at Manchester Ship Canal. Discovered an excellent 5-Star Chinese Fish &Chip Shop not far from Old Trafford football ground. My partner in crime on this vessel was my namesake Nigel White, who was quite partial to G&T’s, trouble was that Customs & Excise only allowed one bottle of spirits per person per week. Luckily for Nigel he caught a terrible cold and the Purser just handed the dispensary keys to Nigel and left him to self medicate himself. Well, Nigel was like a Chameleon in a Smartie Box and secretly stashed 3-demijohns of Cough Mixture in his “house” to experiment with mixing ideal proportions of Gin & Cough Syrup to make the perfect cocktail. Of course, only a select few colleagues were ever invited to participate in sampling this weird libation and it was fortunate that no one else caught a cold during these weeks, otherwise the game would be up!
Reina del Mar – To Sea in a Sieve The hardest working and happiest ship I’ve ever worked on with NO oil, water and grocer/stamp licker separation. Everyone worked and played hard together, we also put on the majority of the entertainment as we only carried one professional entertainer per trip. This was an unwritten requisite, if you did not participate in the activities your time on this ship was limited. Evidently there was a hard-core of passengers that returned year after year who adored the ambience of slapstick amateur entertainment, cheap duty free drink and cigarettes.
The original ship’s design was for diesel engines but after a horrendous “crankcase explosion” on her sister ship, the Reina del Pacifico, when 28 men were killed at Harland & Wolff, the plans were changed to steam. This alteration gave rise to extremely uncomfortable working conditions as the two Babcock & Wilcox boilers, two Parson' double-reduction geared turbines, two turbo generators & three H&W “Stone-Crusher” diesel generators were all housed in one machinery space. Consequently it was not uncommon for the “ginger beers” to drink ±10-litres of cold water and consume a dozen or more salt tablets during a 4-hour watch.
Bilge pumping was a continuous task and on occasions we had close all the watertight doors from the propeller shaft tunnel well to the E.R so as to curb engine room flooding. One incident we scrounged a diving mask and snorkel from the Pursers, to enable us to tighten up both Propeller shaft glands underwater. The bilge pumps were just unable to keep up with the ingress of water from the combined engine/boiler room bilges and the prop shafts glands.
In addition, the "Chippy" (Carpenter) & I became quite proficient in mixing cement to fill the wooden boxes he made surrounding leaking pipes. Needless to say the CEO never but never allowed any engine room visits for passengers.
On the Caribbean Cruise, Dr. John Flower performed a tracheotomy in a force 10 storm, also he and he’s Nurses were renowned for organising fantastic “Wakes” next door to the hospital for the passengers who had such a wonderful time, they died. Hence the expression “To Die For”. The record for the first “wrinklie” to “pop their clogs” was an hour after we dropped the Southampton Pilot. The Widow of this gentleman spent one day in mourning and then went on a drinking and party binge that shocked the most hardened of engineers. At dinner she always bought wine for the engineers table and when Capt. Silliers eventually stopped her “Tap”, we all endeavoured to keep her well lubricated for the remainder of the trip whenever she visited the Coral Lounge Bar. Incidentally at that point in time, the Coral Lounge Bar was the longest bar afloat.
On regular visits to Casablanca, I was made Chief Purveyor of leather goods, Kaftans and other desirable goods due to my Arab-like haggling skills honed by working for the MOD in Pompey Dockyard for 12-years and generally dealing with Jolly Jack Tar & Dockyard Maties.
Visiting Madeira was always a pleasure; the locals were always so friendly especially at the tourist tasting halls of the Madeira Wine producers. The locals had a curious custom of when you went to purchase bottles Madeira Wine from an ordinary café, you had to partake in “tasters” of the various brands on display before you made your decision on what variety you wish to buy. This tradition could on occasion be laborious, not to mention the hazard of getting “tipsy”. One thing is for sure; you never got ripped-off due to the genuine disposition of Madeira’s population.
The food aboard this vessel was first class, but we of the 12 to 4 (Bone-Yard) watch, use to love the Saturday afternoon kids bridge visit. After finishing our watch we would shower, go to the wheelhouse and muscle-in on the kid’s tubs of Walls ice cream and then charge down to The Atlantic Dining Room, for children’s tea, which consisted of pork bangers, eggs, chips and baked beans - absolute heaven!
The RDM was a party ship full stop. I sometimes used to dread waking up at 11h:40 to see several little envelopes with invitations to another cabin party or organised function, it was a dirty job but someone had to do it. One first engineer, Pete Lovell, God rest his cotton socks, use to wake us up if you had decided to have an early night. He would demand a can of beer whilst he waited for you to get on all the dress uniform clobber muttering ‘your not on this ship for pleasure son’. I took some comfort that he had several other engineers and Lecky’s doing the same thing while he patrolled “steam alley” making sure we did not slip back into our bunks.
One of my best mate’s on the RDM was young Nelly - Nelson Ayers, who was a 4th Electrical Officer, sadly he was promoted to a Clan Boat and last I heard of him was that he died in Aden after being seriously burnt in a switch-board flash fire. He was well liked by everyone as a non assuming helpful bloke who had a good word for everybody.
One of the most charming and reliable person I’d ever had the pleasure to have been acquainted with was “Chappy”, the representative for Miller Rayner, Naval Outfitters in Southampton. His dedication to officer’s and crew’s demands for uniform requisites at the last moment was “Stella” and on more than one occasion, Chappy could be seen doing a pier-head jump as the ship was departing. And if you were on watch at the time, he would not pester you for payment at that crucial time, consequently no one ever welched on the ever-faithful Chappy!
Clan Macintyre – After taking some compulsory leave, I was called to sign-on this vessel for a coastal trip, which started in Dublin and ended up in Govern dry dock. They say ignorance is bliss and this is true for our roaming of the various quaint dockside taverns in Glasgow. We never had any problems with the locals and were tolerated as a curiosity. On future relaying this story of visiting such land marks such as The Saracens Head & Mary’s Bar, my fellow colleagues remarked I must have a screw loose and I’m crazy.
During this period of repair work to the vessel, it was observed that after every night shift, dozens of empty bottles were deposited in the propeller shaft tunnel well, the consumed contents being “Eldorado” South African fortified wine. Well, the third mate was never a person to miss a golden opportunity to make some extra cash, and we discussed the phenomenon of the “Glaswegian dockies” constant quest for alcoholic beverages and we subsequently invested in a case of this golden nectar called “Eldorado”. On our return to the ship, we decided to sample this beverage to see what 10,000 Glaswegian dockies saw in the product and to our disappointment found it diabolical. However, this did not retard our potential public’s appetite and we sold eleven and a bit bottles in a half-hour and at a handsome profit. But all good things must come to an end and we were caught by the first mate after disposing of a total of four cases. The pair of us was severely reprimanded by our department heads but in my case my Chief Engineer, a native Glaswegian, gave me an all knowing nod after my dressing down.
However, coming out of dry dock it came to my attention that all the “coastal relief’s” were getting their marching orders to other vessels. After a phone call to HO at St Mary Axe, I was casually informed that I was to sign-on for the deep-sea voyage. Well this piece of information induced a fit of panic as my tropical kit was in Portsmouth, Hampshire and the only solution was to hire a car and drive down south to retrieve it. Special permission was granted by the Master and off I went in the middle of winter to retrieve my summer clothes, not a very good start to the trip and expensive too.
On my return, pandemonium had broken out as the old crew was being replaced with a Bangladeshi crew due for repatriation when we reached our destination of Chittagong. These chaps had scoured all the second hand shops and returned the ship with an assortment of furniture, mopeds, scooters, bicycles, sewing machines and a variety of kitchen equipment. My puzzlement was allayed by my deep-sea shipmates who had done these trips may times and apparently this was par for the course for crew due for repatriation. As we settled in watch-keeping routine, these now stowed goods presented a problem for access to the Steering Flat, which had to be checked, and the logbook signed every watch. I personally felt like Sir Edmund Hilary scaling Mt Everest at the end of my watch. To be invited to eat with the “Tall-End Charlie’s” was a privilege, which I’ll never forget. However, being popular with the Bangladeshi crew had its drawback’s such as being presented with a giant Chapatie each morning which at first was flattering but eventually it became a pain as invariably they tough as old boots. The Donkey Man finally got the message when he caught me making a 10-inch pipe joint out of that morning’s offering.
To further everyone’s misery, OPEC decided to put the squeeze on the world oil supply and our service speed was reduced to 9-knots. Unbeknown at the time this was death knell for the Union Castle steam vessels, which consumed hundreds of tons of furnace fuel per day.
Christmas Day found the Clan Macintyre berthed a stone through away from the Pendennis Castle at Durban’s Ocean Terminal and since I had Xmas day off because my Jockanese Jr. Eng. colleague had opted for the day off for Hogmanay, so I decided to pay a visit at “Smoke-O” time. The timing was bad as I found the whole squad having a respite from serious boiler tube plugging. The senior engineer happened to be the infamous “Smally Boy” Chris Small from my Oranje days and naturally I offered to assist but was rejected for safety reasons since I had no proper gear with me and my Chief might object. However, an invite was given to join the lads for a post boiler plugging Xmas party which, I have say ranked with the best RDM work hard, play hard theme.
The reduced speed restriction played havoc with the fresh food supply, which had run out. In Chittagong the Purser took drastic action by swapping fruit and vegetables for cases of Tennent’s Lager with an adjacent berthed “City Line” ship and that evening there was a big stampede to the dinning saloon when the dinner chimes rang.
Movie night was always a special occasion, unlike today’s ships where staff have individual entertainment equipment in each cabin, this was the one time in a week that all the officers would come together for this social occasion. This event unfortunately precluded the 8 to 12 watch-keepers who had to set up their own showing in the quiet hours of the afternoon.
The Electrical Officer was somewhat of an amateur ornithologist and loved our feathered friends. Unfortunately, this passion came to be his undoing when he found an exhausted Albatross on his rounds one day and took the dazed creature to his cabin where he made a nest of a blanket. That night Leckie decided to have a “night in” and read a book whilst keeping an eye on his patient. Well at eight-o-clock we thought world war 3 had broken out, as we all rushed out of the lounge we came across the apparition of the Leckie chasing a 6-foot wingspan albatross down the alleyway. The linoleum floor had now become like a skating rink as the poor bird, now recovered, had deposited vast amounts of white bird-poo on the surface. After that incident, poor Leckie was never quite the same as he had sustained multiple lacerations and some bruising from his feathered friend who was finally set free.
After my over six month sojourn to the sub continent and all stations back to Blighty I was greeted with the fantastic news that B&C had granted my request to take leave in Cape Town and I was told to report to the Edinburgh Castle as a supernumerary, in 5-days time. This was typical of B&C’s philosophy of keeping staff happy and contented especially the junior members.
I had only one sadness leaving this vessel and that was the constant ribbing about Union Castle Line and how we had it easy. I can say without fear of contradiction Clan Line was like Billy Butlins Holiday Camp with so many willing Asian crew to do the main heavy work, this was in stark contrast to the heavily unionised crew of the Mail Ships who had to be begged to do some dirty work. Comparison comments by the occasional ER visit by passengers on the officers being in grubby virtually black boiler suits and the oilers in white overalls did not go unnoticed.
The 5-day wait to join “The Eddy” was purgatory, as I came down with a bad case of Clan Line-itis a.k.a. curry withdrawal syndrome which left me craving for the hottest Vindaloo I could find on a daily/hourly basis.
Edinburgh Castle – Windsor Castle - As a supernumerary engineer I was seconded to the 1st Engineering Officer’s on the Edinburgh, southbound and the Windsor Castle on the homeward leg. The First Engineer was responsible for all exterior machinery spaces including galley and hotel services and therefore entailed roaming the length and breath of the vessels checking and repairing whatever needed to be fixed. This period outside the main machinery spaces really gave me extreme insight to what went on behind the scenes as it were. Making friends with the Confection Baker was a priority as I promised the lads down below that they would have fresh “Tab-Nabs” with their tea. The Eddy as well as the Oranje Box were built in the same period post WW2 and these old ladies were really showing their age with corrosion etc. When these vessels first entered service they could keep up with stringent mail schedule easily on two of their three mail boilers. However towards the end of their life all three boilers had to be flashed-up to their maximum capacity and consequently the fuel consumption was horrendous.
As my leave in Cape Town was coming to an end, I went for an interview with a South African shipping line named Unicorn and thought no more of it. Therefore it was much my surprise that my now mother-in-law had rushed an offer of employment to the Windsor Castle just as we were sailing. I was on stand-by at the time and very perplexed when I was told to report to the gangway post haste. The funny thing is I never took the interview seriously and just went along for the experience. By the time we arrived in Madeira I made the monumental decision and handed my letter of resignation to the agent for posting to the UK. On arrival at Southampton, the personnel representative enquired that if I have no immediate plans, could I please report to the Reina del Mar when she docked first thing next morning to sign-on for a three week cruise as 4th Eng. Officer. What a pleasure and a fantastic way to end my career with this brilliant shipping company. I subsequently established British & Commonwealth were the only shipping line carrying passengers that allowed junior officers “on decks” which, in my opinion made them a cut above the rest.
I still kept in contact with old colleagues whilst on the coast with Unicorn Lines and subsequently with Safmarine when I finally swallowed the anchor and came shore-side and got married to Marilyn. The department that I joined in Safmarine was the Container Technical Unit and this was the sad time that the mail ships and the RDM went through Cape Town on their way to be broken-up and scrapped. Fortunately for me our offices were situated in the docks above Safmarine’s Engineers Store and therefore I was able to secure a couple of mementos from the Oranje.
Following the final scrapping of the SA Vaal & Windsor Castle the RMS St. Helena took over the mail run to Cape Town and of course ex Union Castle staff were part of the crew. I paid regular visits to this vessel, as the lads were very helpful in the supply of contraband Pork Pies and Farmhouse Cider.
In 2003 I retired from Safmarine, who by then had taken over by Maersk, but my services are still retained as their principal reefer surveyor in South Africa.