On 23rd October 1968 I signed off the Rangitoto. Mr. Moxley, the New Zealand Shipping Company recruitment officer asked me why I was leaving so I told him that I wanted to study for my second mate’s certificate and that there were too many distractions on the Rangitoto and I also needed my own cabin to study quietly. “Don’t worry about that”, he said, “I’ll sort you a berth on another one of our ships if you like. Go home and take your leave and I will be in touch”. Say no more.
Back in Hull on leave I met up with one of my old mates, Mick Harrison. Mick and Bob Mahoney had both married and settled down with girls from the same street off Beverley Road. The girls had been friends since childhood and Mick told me about a third girl who was also friend of his and Bob’s wives who also lived on the same street. The girl was single and Mick arranged for us to meet on a blind date. It worked. She was petite and pretty and we got on really well and soon a romance developed. Her dad, Norman (Nobby) Clark, was a trawler engineer on the St. Dominic so she was used to her dad being a away at sea for three weeks at a time but would she be happy with absences of several months? Time would tell. In the meantime, with me and hired car and every night being Saturday night while I was on leave, we just had a good time and enjoyed each other’s company enough for us to decide to get married. I was only home for three weeks leave so this seemed fairly quick, not as quick as Fred de Cosse though as a white wedding was planned for the following year depending on when I would be home again.
When my leave was up I received a call from Mr. Moxley asking me to return to London. He explained that he had found me a berth as quartermaster on the cadet training ship the RMS Otaio which, he said, would suit me down to the ground as I would have my own cabin and have access to the cadets’ tutors should I need it. However, the Otaio wasn’t sailing until December so in the meantime he wanted me to join a new ship called the MV Manapouri which was going around the land before leaving on its maiden voyage. So, leaving Madeleine to her wedding planning, I returned to London.
I joined the Manapouri on 14th November in the Royal Docks in London. The Rangitoto was still in port so I managed to link up with some of my old mates, Joe, Fred and Danny for few days before sailing on my new ship. The Manapouri was a slick new ship described as a refrigerated freighter but designed for the container trade with cranes, derricks and hatches operated by hydraulics. Containers were an up and coming thing in freight transport with the big metal containers being lifted straight from the ship onto the back of a lorry or railway wagon. They meant quick turnarounds in purpose built ports away from the main dockland areas. The container trade was in its infancy in the 1960s and no one could envisage the huge container ships that would dominate and revolutionise world trade in the 21st Century and the Manapauri built to the best specifications of the day in 1968 in Japan would, at only 9,505 gross tons (4,457 net), be tiny by comparison.
Captain Guyler, who I knew from the Rangitoto, who seemed more at home on a general freighter, skippered the Manapauri. The accommodation on the ship was quite luxurious, as you would expect on a new ship, and I quite enjoyed the month spent taking her around the land. This also meant I could continue my courtship by regular telephone calls but unfortunately didn’t get a chance to return to Hull. We paid off in Newport, Wales, on 11th December and I had to travel directly to London to join the RMS Otaio. A young AB from Deal tried to persuade me to go with him on the Houlder Brothers meat boats where you could earn a lot of money but as arrangements were being made to plan a wedding I felt it best to stay with the New Zealand Shipping Company rather than risk the unknown.
I signed on the RMS Otaio the next day, 12th December 1968. The Otaio was the company’s cadet training ship built in the John Brown yard in 1957. The ship carried refrigerated cargo and was fairly large at 13,314 gross tons (6,875 net). The Otaio carried about 40 deck and 20 engineer cadets which meant that the only deck crew were five quartermasters, a boatswain (Angus from Skye), lamp trimmer (an old seaman from Shetland who had something against Papists which he voiced at any opportunity), carpenter, and deck boy. We were called quartermasters but in fact we never had to take a watch never mind steer. Instead we were on day work with instructions to help train the cadets in practical seamanship. In addition to those mentioned above there were also a seamanship instructor and a doctor. The ship also carried a PTI (Physical Training Instructor) but was unable to recruit one for the first voyage.
Work on the Otaio meant getting back to grips with the real work of a seaman rather than the cushy life of a quartermaster on the Rangitoto. Leaving our last port for the main sea voyage meant stripping the derricks, overhauling and greasing the blocks, oiling the wires and stowing the lot down the hatches. When nearing our first port this whole procedure was reversed and being the youngest of the ABs meant that I spent a lot of this time up aloft unshackling or shackling the big top lift blocks. I never minded working up aloft, in fact I didn’t mind most of the jobs involved in the general ship maintenance that we were asked to do except chipping. I hated chipping. I hated the noise, the smell, the metallic dust that clogged your throat, and the shear monotony of the task. As promised by Mr. Moxley I had my own cabin next door to Ted the mess man so that I had the privacy and quiet needed to carry on my own studies. I was also quite comfortable and I would go on to do two voyages in the ship and, in a way, the Otaio was going to change my life.
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