The Quick and The Dead. Part two.

The ship was fitted with a 50 ton SWL crane on the starboard side aft that reached out over the stern and was used for recovery of diving kit, sea bed rubbish and the like. On that charter we picked up tons of maritime detritus off the sea bed that was in the way of the planned route.

Our job was to survey the route the pipeline would take. The Straits of Messina are a busy place and to minimise down time, we worked long hours with every other weekend off in port. This was the second part of the charter for us and work had increased tremendously as we neared the charter end. Whilst we were at liberty to go ashore, a lot of us tended to stay aboard to catch up on sleep, do our washing and generally chill out.

The hours we worked were 12 on and 12 off and it was all go as it was a full dive operation with surface and Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) work.  For the crew this meant constantly shifting bottom beacons (which marked the route and whose signals were picked up by the ship’s hydrophones) which meant lots of small boat work to recover the beacons and then move them to the next location. On top of this we still had the myriad of ship’s tasks to do such as basic maintenance aboard – so when the weekends came they were a welcome and well deserved chance to catch up. Continue reading “The Quick and The Dead. Part two.”

The Quick and The Dead. Part One

I’m submitting this in two parts, mainly because it is a pretty long one but also because two bites will probably be easier to swallow.

I did some time on a Dive Support Vessel for a year or so. It was a welcome break from anchor-handling which – if you know about it – can be pretty exhausting as well as seriously dangerous work. In the winter North Sea it is also no joke – especially when you have four out of eight rig anchors to do as well as a hook up to tow the rig itself – and once you have started the job, you can’t finish, no matter how bad the weather gets in the meantime.

She usually worked in the North Sea – straying over to Denmark now and again – but when a long-term charter came to an end, she landed a four-month charter out of  Messina, Sicily, mapping the route for an underwater cable from  Messina to the mainland. Back then, it was a very rare experience to leave the North Sea on a job so the opportunity to do a little ‘foreign’ run was well received aboard. Continue reading “The Quick and The Dead. Part One”

Hidden depths

On a supply ship I sailed on out of Aberdeen, we had a 6’5″. handlebar moustached cook who spoke with a lisp, always went ashore in a white tee-shirt and skin-tight leather trousers – and was known aboard as ‘Queenie’. He looked a bit like a super camp Freddy Mercury – although his moustache was far more flamboyant than that worn by Freddy. Oh and it was his idea to be called ‘Queenie’.

Cooks are a sort of housewife cum mother and in some, the feminine element comes to the fore. The nature of the job – the fussing, the meal  planning, attention to detail for an important on board function involving shore side staff, the general stewarding – leaves its mark on a man. No cook I ever sailed with did not possess a bit of femininity about him.

In his case, definitely more.

He was an excellent cook too. He’d served his time on the big passenger ships of Cunard before settling down to smaller ships as he got older. When he joined us, he was in his late 40’s – but the culinary skills he had learned aboard the ‘big ships’ had only got better with time.

Nothing was ever too much trouble for him to do for ‘his boys’. He would give each member of the crew a ‘choice meal’ during the month’s trip when he would cook whatever the individual wanted. As in my case,  Beef Wellington which was duly made and served – and as good as any restaurant ashore. He had a pride in his work – and it showed. Continue reading “Hidden depths”

Here comes summer…..

Today, possibly because they thought it was hip and the sun was a little bit on the warmer-than – normal side, the couple next door invited people around for a few bevvies  – and that ‘traditional – even-if-it-was-imported’ UK main event, a barbeque.

Now, I am a good neighbour ordinarily. I don’t know any of the people who live in my locality and I like to keep it like that. It isn’t because I have delusions of being a man of mystery, far from it. Dealing with people and a multitude of problems as I do every day in my professional capacity, I just want to pull the drawbridge up on a weekend and let the world do what it wants so long as it doesn’t want to include me. I am – as has been pointed out to me on many occasions – the world’s only anti-social social worker. Continue reading “Here comes summer…..”

O’Mara’s Epiphany

We had sailed from Holyhead with a ‘scratch’ crew as, having just returned from a deep-sea job, most of the regular crew were on leave. Even though I was one of the crew on leave, I was summoned to make up the deck crew, others more sensible than me having taken their leave and gone on holiday – far away from Holyhead. Not that I minded back then. I was single – and bored.

The job we had been given was to connect up to a coaster drifting without power in the Western Approaches. It was a ‘contract pull’ – that is, arrangements had been made between the coaster’s owner and our outfit on a fixed fee basis. We’d get a towing bonus out of it – which was pennies when compared to a decent tow deep-sea but it also meant that for those of us on leave, we’d get a ‘double banker’. The outfit would have to pay us double for forfeiting our leave. Continue reading “O’Mara’s Epiphany”

The Mary Hopkin effect

The year is 1978. The music of the time was dross – with the exception of Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ which, when I played it on the packing crate sized portable ‘compact’  stereo in my cabin, was guaranteed to get one of the music critics comparing it to a female cat in rutting season. I would turn the volume down, consoling myself with the fact that some folk just didn’t have taste. After all, how much Frank Sinatra or worse still Elvis could a man listen to without going nuts?

We had sailed free running from Holyhead to Hamburg to pick up a barge loaded with small tugs, cranes and other wreck clearance equipment for passage to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where Harms – a German salvage contractor – had been hired by the Saudi’s for wreck removal in the port. We’d been sub-contracted as their own tugs were engaged on other jobs, mostly in the then fledgling but expanding offshore game. Continue reading “The Mary Hopkin effect”

Lost cause

It is crews who make ships.  I am sure that we all remember folk who – in our pasts – have determined their place in our memories for good (or even bad) reasons. I dedicate this memory, therefore, to someone I learned a lot from but who – for want of a better explanation – fell victim to the ‘demon’ drink. A true ‘victim of circumstance’, one of life’s inevitable, self-inflicted casualties.

He was an old style AB, frequently grizzled – some would say ‘rough’ – but he was an expert seaman and knew his job. I can still see him up to his waist in water on the afterdeck of the ‘Afon Las’ as we ship handled a bulker at the deep water jetty, laughing and making comments about better ways to make a living – but loving it, knowing that was what he was born to do – and did well. Continue reading “Lost cause”

Danny’s Boy

A short story – written a few years ago but it never saw the light of day except back on my home town forum. I’ve tidied it up a fair bit but the essence is still there. It was inspired by the loss of the ferry ‘Estonia’ in the Baltic, a terrible tragedy that claimed many lives and has never really been concluded. If I stray into nauticalese too much then tell me; it’s still a learning curve!

Continue reading “Danny’s Boy”

An adventure

The crew on the ‘Afon Las’ were ‘auld hands’ who were never sent anywhere outside of the harbour as Management believed they would mostr certainly get into trouble and embarrass the outfit. Their exploits were legion – which was not bad for a bunch of near geriatric hell raisers! However, as they were part of the ship’s fittings, they went where she went. As I have said before, us ‘deep sea’ men were sometimes allocated to the smaller tugs when work was slack on the bigger ones. That was how I found myself aboard her bound for Rotterdam to pick up a tow for Dublin. Continue reading “An adventure”

The Dancing Captain

Jazz might enjoy this one – seeing as how he sailed with this particular Captain!

One of the jobs we had with the company’s ‘big’ tugs was the towing around the UK of various high end specialist marine equipment, such as a floating sheerleg type crane which had an enormous lifting capability.

Aboard the ‘Afon Goch’ in them days we had a Master and a Towing Master – I think it was a nod to the Dutch, who had some influence with the company at the time.- and they could not have been further removed from each other. One (Towing Master) was a young bloke who was well liked by the crews as he was also a Master in his own right and apart from being a superb ship handler, was also a really nice guy. The Master, on the other hand, was an ancient Scotsman who had done all of his time in towage and salvage – firstly in the Royal Navy and then later out in the Far East with Hong Kong Towage and Salvage and Selco. Knew his stuff – but was a real old curmudgeon. Continue reading “The Dancing Captain”