Holland America Liner Nieuw Amsterdam 1938-1974
The article in the March 2019 edition on Great Rotterdam Liners reminded me of an incident in the Solent back in the summer of 1970. I was the Master of the passenger car ferry Free Enterprise II (4,122 gross tons) that had just transferred from Dover to the Southampton to Cherbourg service and, as it was our first season there, I was not then in possession of a Pilotage Exemption Certificate, so we were necessarily carrying Southampton Pilots to assist and advise us.
On a lovely warm day, the ship was opposite Cowes outward bound to the west via the Needles. The Nieuw Amsterdam was a mile or so ahead of us, also outward-bound and accelerating majestically away to the west. To the Pilot’s great amusement, huge waves from the wash of the 36,000 ton liner were breaking over the popular viewing area at Egypt Point by West Cowes. The problem I foresaw was that any person or vehicle soaked by the deluge and looking out, would only see our vessel. An entry of the circumstances was made in the ship’s log book in case of any subsequent claims, although none were ever received.
Having just read Norman Middlemiss’s article on train ferries (January 2019) I would point out two errors with regard to the section relating to Dover.
On page 28 he mentions the chartered Seafreight Freeway. This vessel, plus the Seafreight Highway, ran from Dover (Western Docks) to both Dunkerque and Zeebrugge (their relatively slow speed meant that two round trips to Zeebrugge in 24 hours were not possible). Both were stern loaders, with access to the weather deck being by a lift. Both were freight vessels with sufficient accommodation for the freight drivers. Neither vessel was equipped with railway lines to carry rail freight, so were not train ferries.
Missing from his article is the Anderida, chartered by British Rail, Southern Division, in 1972 as a replacement (I understand) for the Shepperton Ferry. The Anderida was a stern loader, with just two rail tracks for rail freight; with space outboard of the rail tracks for a single line of freight both sides. A lift gave access to the weather deck with (if my memory is correct) a weight restriction for the upper deck of 100 tons. Her speed was 17 knots, so slower than most of the Dover ferries at that time. She had limited accommodation for drivers. The Anderida served on several of the Sealink routes before she left Sealink in 1981.
I joined Sealink (at that time British Rail International Services Division) in October 1972 as a deck officer (Second Mate) retiring as master in 2003.
I served on the Anderida as both second and chief officer, and on the European Highway as both chief officer, and mate master.
Straits Steamship Co Ltd
Your ‘Forgotten Fleets’ feature (January 2019) on the Straits Steamship Company of Singapore brought back some happy memories. In the mid-1970s I was working in Singapore and with my wife twice went on Straits Steamship vessels to North Borneo. In August 1975 we sailed on the Rajah Brooke to Brunei and it was a delight to enjoy the 1940s feel of the ship complete with teak and polished brass decor of the cabins and passenger areas. Then in May 1977 we went on the Keningau on a voyage to Sandakan and back. One day the ship’s Master invited us to join him in his cabin to listen to the BBC World Service news from London. We wondered what to wear for the occasion but need not have worried: he was wearing a loose shirt and sarong! What I particularly remember was witnessing the cargo discharge at Sandakan – a rapidly put together stairway down into the Hold and then a never ending train of ‘Coolies’ (using language of long ago) emerging, each with an impossibly heavy sack on their back. It felt as if I had somehow become a character in a Conrad novel set eighty years before!
Port of Yangon
The article (February 2019) featuring Yangon (Rangoon) prompted memories of it in the late 1950s/early 1960s. Not a port that many UK seafarers visited unless they worked for B. I., Bibby or Henderson, and only then if they weren’t deck, engine room or catering/steward rating as Indian crews were employed.
Generally one unloaded alongside (ships gear only) then moved into the stream to load with perhaps a brief return alongside to finish off and embark passengers.
Alongside was very convenient for the town which was just the other side of the Go-dams. Not that there was much to go there for apart from local colour, the Shive Dragon pagoda and a department store. Further out one could pay one’s respects at the War Graves cemetery, passing on the way a Spitfire mounted at the entrance to the airport, or relax at the nearly moribund swimming club.
Night life was there none and, if one was on the bouys returning in the dark on the fast flowing river by oar propelled sampan was not an enticing prospect!
As for things to buy one could be measured up for shorts, shirts or even shoes in the morning and have them ready the same or next day. Burma cheroots were cheap and/or gongs or small cheap silver? Containers.
When one was loading at the bouys a seemingly permanent population of labourers took over the decks sleeping, working/eating and performing their personal ablutions when not working. The dumb barges containing the cargo would come alongside with much shouting and gesturing from, and between their own crews and the removal of the covering tarpaulins often resulting in a scampering of rats.
In the monsoon season one was forever having to stop/start loading cargo and rigging hatch tents (no sliding steel hatch covers) to keep it dry.
So, not much appealed, but an attractive sight was the daily commute of sampans across the river from the suburb of Dala ferrying their brightly dressed chattering young women to work in Rangoon. Another feature of the river was the former Irrawaddy Flotilla (and subsequent) vessels which, though I do not recollect any with “paddles clunking” were certainly of the hardworked classic appearance which would have been recognisable to Rudyard Kipling and his “British soldier.”
And so to departure, the immediate and welcome job being a thorough wash-down to get rid of the debris and filth of spilled cargo and human detritus accumulated over a couple of weeks and which could take the best part of a day.
I would however like to make a minor correction to the statement in the Memorable Ships article that “by” 1961 the only ships remaining on the Burma service were Herefordshire, Warwickshire and Leicestershire as (according to my old discharge book) Derbyshire (6,227 n.r.t., pass. 115) did two round trips to Rangoon from August 1961 to April 1962. So from 1962 perhaps.
A great magazine which I look forward to every month!
I was reading your article on “Port of Call – Stavanger”. Page 53 in relation to Piper Alpha states the platform was on lease to Conoco. This is incorrect. The Piper Alpha was operated by Occidental Petroleum.
Keep up the great work.