The following are letters to the Editor published in the January 2015 issue.
From: Alan Arthur Rawlinson, Cornwall
The feature by Philip Cone, British Railways ‘conventional cargo and cattle services ‘ was an interesting and comprehensive summary, but maybe it could have done with some human interest stories from those who sailed on them!
In my own case I spent a year or two on the Slieve Bawn, and the Slieve Bearnagh, in the 60’s running mainly from Heysham to Belfast, but occasionally on the beautiful Fishguard to Waterford run, serving as Mate or second Mate. This latter route was quixotic with the winding river up to Waterford, and the olde worlde atmosphere on the quay with horses and cargo all over the place. The Slieve Bearnagh and the others were built like stallions, and could, and did face anything the Irish Sea could throw at them. The steam turbines were reliable and the sharp stemmed bows on the pre war built units would slice through the water easily. The worst night I ever ever experienced in 20 years at sea worldwide was on the Slieve Bearnagh. The tween decks were flooded with packets of cornflakes, sanitary towels, and sundry goods destined for the stores in Belfast, all sloshing from side to side, and water had breached the accommodation on the main deck, entering the cabins. As the practice on the bridge was to change watch at the Point of Ayre, it meant a more than double shift as we were making very slow headway. The Bearnagh had a hinged tonnage hatch on the foredeck, and this banged open and shut with the rolling all night and the following day before we made Belfast. It let in tons of water, and years later I wondered why we didn’t think to secure it. Flopping in my bunk after the long stint on the bridge, it was bliss, never mind the water inches deep, and the mattress curling over my head as she rolled!
Readers might wonder why we left Heysham in the teeth of a violent gale, but it was a point of honour it seems, for the Masters to sail, come what may.
On the bridge, a feature of the turbines was the build up of revs after ringing the telegraph. This could be quite unnerving, especially when heading for a quay or dock wall. A slow whine would build up while we all waited to get the required power.
Other memories include seeing the watch below giving up their sleep time in order to comfort the horses in their stalls. They would often hold their heads and calm them during the pitching and rolling on the return leg to Heysham. There were casualties from time to time with cattle, pigs, and horses, and these were usually put down by a vet on arrival. The mate had a humane killer gun under his bunk, but fortunately I never had to use it in anger.
Loading the cattle and pigs in Belfast was a noisy affair, and this often took place as we were eating our evening meal, accompanied by the fierce shrieks and squeals of pigs being dragged down the ramp by their tails. Could be off putting for some of us!
The services ran like clockwork in my time. After berthing, the crew would carry out a thorough wash down, and the ship would be like a morgue during the day, with only the unfortunate watch keeper waiting for the night time sailing.
I look back with fondness on these old stalwarts who served throughout the war, and who must have contributed greatly to the coffers of the railway company.
From: Paul Lambert MBE, Liverpool
I congratulate Mark Rowbotham on his excellent articles about “The Evolution and nature of the bulk carrier” (May) and his “Seabridge Consortium” (August).
Having lost my younger brother, one of the 44 persons who died in the mv Derbyshire, and having been elected to the post of Chairman of the mv Derbyshire Family Association, I have acquired a good deal of knowledge on the ship type over the years. For example I know how quickly one of these workhorses can slip below the waves. I have a video of the deliberately scuttled Gallant Dragon, fully loaded, beyond redemption and nursed back to Tubarao, Brazil in an impressive feat of seamanship. Given she was already sinking it was known she wouldn’t take long to disappear beneath the surface once the scuttling process was initiated – but six seconds! One starts to see why so many of the type simply disappear without even a distress message escaping. Once the hull is holed, the ship is consumed by the sea in one gulp.
The OBO design, at least where it was intended oil should be carried, was never really successful. For example when the Naksika M was traced to Rotterdam, Capt. Francos, her master, having dismissed the campaigners (who were so interested in this Derbyshire sister) as ‘stupid people’, then explained that his ship was different from the Derbyshire, having been substantially altered in 1982. The people considered stupid by this man could have told him the ship had to be restored to intended design, otherwise she would have remained unseaworthy – hence the restorative work in 1982. Nafsika M was also banned from carrying oil lest cuddly penguins suffered oil pollution, thus alerting a sleeping public to the dangers inherent in these ships. So, no oil, no potential problem, the ship would sink quickly, out of sight with little or no pollution and just the occasional one letting the side down by bending in two alongside.
It took the mv Derbyshire Family Association over twenty years to bring the campaign for a fair hearing of their case to a successful conclusion and, during this time, especially working with so many experts – experts whose knowledge told them what had happened as soon as they saw the wreck site, experts who empathised with the DFA and who knew from the start something was wrong.
It was to utilise and further hone our campaigning skill to the good of ship safety that we, myself, Capt. David Ramwell and Re. Peter McGrath, formed the ‘MV Derbyshire Trust Fund’.
Whenever conversation embraces the topic of ship safety within nautical circles, mv Derbyshire will be mentioned. She now has one of the most prominent profiles in global maritime history. We would like to harness the power of this profile in the shape of a permanent memorial to honour the 42 men and 2 women who died in the ship, and such memorial would, at the same time, celebrate the many hundreds of lives that, it can be statistically shown, have been preserved by the implentation of the lessons wrested from the seabed to be translated in the conclusions of the Court, and implemented by the IMO.
From: David Aris, Technical Manager, Union Castle Line, 1965-1976
The article on the fine ship Windsor Castle was of considerable interest. But it was not B & C Chairman Sir Nicholas Cayzer who visited the Mail Ships in Southampton on a regular basis.
Sir Nicholas did indeed visit all the B & C outports of Glasgow, Liverpool and Southampton annually and took lunch on a company ship with the local heads of departments but it was his cousin, Deputy Chairman Mr. Bernard Cayzer, who visited the Southampton based passenger ships every week on Friday morning, the sailing day. As Norman Middlemas states, Mr. Bernard was accompanied by a London office based Naval architect, the late Ron Baxter but his entourage, when he toured mainly the public spaces of each ship, also included the writer, as technical manager, our Harland and Wolff ship manager and often the H & W foreman painter and joiner if we had been carrying out any major refurbishments or alterations in the accommodation. H & W were our major ship repairer in the port but later were taken over by Vosper Thornycroft but the same arrangements were maintained.
The policy of the British and Commonwealth organisation was such that the Technical Dept. were responsible for the overall upkeep of the ships, hence this included all machinery and hull, cargo spaces and the complete accommodation areas, this with some very minor exceptions.
As Mr. Middlemas points out the Windsor Castle was built at Cammell Laird in 1960 and her near sister Transvaal Castle at John Brown a year later. Whilst both ships had identical steam turbines by Pamatrada and hence identical horsepowers they had some notable technical differences. Windsor had a dc electrical power supply whilst the Transvaal was ac. Windsor had Babcock and Wilcox main boilers whilst Transvaal had Forster Wheeler boilers. The hull forms were different, Transvaal having a slightly bulbous bow against the Windsor’s traditional form and whilst Windsor had four bladed propellers the Transvaal had six bladers. This latter point caused us some consternation one voyage when the Transvaal lost a blade from one propeller on the homeward leg of her round trip and was immediately drydocked in Southampton where we kept our spare propellers. As we only kept a pair of four bladed propellers for the two ships we sailed the Transvaal for one year with a six blader and a four blader with no ill effect, this until a replacement propeller was manufactured.