In many respects, deep sea fishing was a unique occupation. On one hand, it operated under an iron discipline. It had to, considering the conditions; always working at sea level, washed by the waters summer and winter, plus the ever present dangers. If the skipper said jump, you jumped! He could see what was happening, you couldn't. On the other hand, it was remarkably democratic. There was no cadetship or officer class for instance, as in some other maritime services. Everyone had to start at the bottom, down the fo'c'sle, there to learn the rudiments of the trade: how to tie a knot, to splice, to mend a net and gut a fish. And also, how to make the tea properly during the night watches. The man on the bridge, the Boss, more than likely had gone to the same elementary school as some of the for'ard denizens. Probably still lived in the same neighbourhood and used the same pub. Yet here be was in charge of an expensive vessel, navigating it across northern oceans, responsible for many lives and the livelihood of a boat of people. Most, it seemed, started through family tradition; some even must have had aspirations.
For an ambitious young deckhand, the first step would be to establish his reputation with a skipper and also with a ship's husband and hope for a chance as Third Hand or Bo'sun. Then, save up to take a few months off to attend the Nautical School and get a Mates Ticket. Then back on deck until the chance came again. Obtain sea time as a Mate, and once again to school for the Skipper's Ticket, even the Extra Skipper's. Some of course never rose above Mate, for there was a world of difference between the two jobs. The Mate's prime function was to keep the trawl in working order and the fish in good condition. Many a Mate I met could do that, but they had not that extra ability to command. Or perhaps they had no ambition to.
But there was one aspect that I could not work out. Having got his chance as a skipper, how did the youngster know where to fish, and fish successfully. It was easy enough to navigate a vessel to any given fishing area; after a couple of years I could do it myself. But how to know the exact spot, the right depth of water in the right spot. Particularly when there were no landmarks to guide. For his previous skippers would not have told him. Most of them very jealously kept that knowledge to themselves, and very rarely even showed the actual chart to the mate. Usually, I saw it more than they. Iceland is a big place, the coastline long and the sea banks many. The Barents Sea is vast and it too has many banks but few landmarks. So how to choose? Season of the year - sometimes, for fish are migratory. South of the Westerman Islands in February for sure, as haddock appear then. Beyond the White Sea in winter time for plaice. But why go to the west coast of Iceland instead of the east, which is much nearer home, Isafjord instead of the Horns for instance. Or why go far out from the Norwegian Coast to the Skolpen Bank instead of nearer, in off the Russian Coast. This was the type of question I had posed to Harry Thompson, who muttered something about instinct and keeping a notebook while he had been further down the ladder. An alternative theory is that skippers receive Divine Guidance at first hand, for many of them undoubtedly felt that they were on an equal footing.
There was, however, one bank that no one used, the humorously termed Lousy Bank, SW of the Faeroes. Legend had it that all fish there were lousy - literally. Not altogether a joke as cod often came up covered with a form of sea louse. A neighbouring bank to this is Bailey's, presumably called after the Bill who was asked Won't you come home tonight?. There is another one in the same area with the romantic name of Rosemary. I wonder who she was? For 'tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year is the refrain of the traditional song of my home county, the Lincolnshire Poacher. Surprisingly, it was not inappropriate to the trawling game, for there was often more fish to be caught close in to a coastline than further out in deeper waters. But the penalties for being caught poaching within territorial waters were very severe, at least in most countries: heavy fines, confiscation of all nets and gear and loss of all fish found on board.
Around the coast of Iceland, where the three mile territorial waters then applied, there were many places where it was possible to go close in. Around the coast of Norway there were not so many opportunities, and in. any case a four mile limit was claimed. What the Russian coast offered was not known, for the twelve mile limit there was strictly applied, and no one was going to argue with the Russians. One or two skippers were reputed to make a habit of poaching off Iceland, and there were stories that some had connections ashore and received tip-offs about the movements of the patrolling gunboats.
Once, in the Gambri off the east coast, fishing was distinctly poor, in fact it was awful. The skipper reckoned that something had to be done about it or else he would get his cards when we got back home. Throwing caution to the winds, be decided to poach, and suitable preparations were made. All running gear was muffled with sacking, the winch well greased and all lights blacked out. In order that I could see in my cabin, as I had to keep a special watch for any indication of the presence of a gunboat, I made a lampshade out of a cocoa tin, hung it about one inch above the desk so no light would show over the bridge veranda, and covered the porthole as well. Even the binacle lamp was shaded and the poor steersman was going to have to rely on the luminous paint on the compass card. All very cloak and dagger! Around midnight, we steamed slowly into a small bay within sight and almost within sound of a little fishing village, gently paid out the trawl and towed around for an hour, almost at the end of the jetty. Naturally, the skipper remained on the bridge in charge. When hauling time came the crew came up on deck quietly, the winch was started up slowly, and with many whispers of Quiet you fool, and Not so much effing noise, they'll hear you ashore, the trawl came up. For some reason the Third Hand balanced himself on top of the swaying fore door as it was still hanging outboard and said very softly Steady now, stop the effing winch or I'll be in the drink. Unfortunately for Laddie and his carefully laid plans to make a fortune quickly, the lads had been at the bottle and were well and truly sloshed, while their idea of talking quietly was to bellow at the tops of their voices. The noise they made was enough to wake the village policeman from his sleep and we had to get out of the bay in double quick time. And yes, there was a change of skipper.
So clearly, having got his experience, the secret of continuing success for a skipper was to catch as much prime fish as possible in the shortest space of time and get it to market as soon as possible, preferably when supplies were low and prices high. The last part involved a certain amount of luck, although a helping hand would not come amiss, and maybe a little discreet skulduggery as well would help. It followed that if times were good, he was not going to let anyone else in on it, not broadcast the fact and most importantly, not give away his position. But he had to be careful. One day he could himself be grateful for a little assistance. Perhaps even tomorrow. One never knew.
Of course, he had loyalty to the owners to whom he owed his position, and thus be ought not to share his present good fortune with other companies, or at least not too much if a particular pal of his was involved. So the general rule was that only the skipper could authorise disclosure of the position and how things were going. Some had a veritable passion for secrecy; Griff the B for one. But not telling others was not quite the same as trying to find out where the others were and how they were doing. So an operator had to provide some sort of information service for his own skipper. To preserve a hoped for secrecy, particularly in the days when all communications were in morse, codes were used. Not the Company code of course - for all the rest of your own fleet could read it, but a private one between individuals. The making of a code was easy. Just write down half the letters of the alphabet in random order with the rest lined up below, and there it was, a simple substitution code. For its purpose it did provide some degree of accuracy, but with a little luck and perseverance, it could be broken.
My own practice was to record each item of information heard, plain or coded, and very often by comparing a plain message to one ship, with a coded one to another, two and two could be put together to make five. Another routine was to take a bearing on every message transmission, on the principle that there was no harm at all in knowing where your rivals were, or in the case of your friends, to see whether they had been actually lying to you or not. If one ship wished to provide guidance to another to reach her, she could send a beacon signal, but in that case, everyone else, including me, would also take bearings. So it was common for the ship wanting guidance to act as the beacon, and the other simply passed a course to steer. But even this could often be sorted out to provide a position by a little crafty logging and analysis. Sometimes an even more cunning strategy was adopted; an arrangement made in code for one to transmit anonymously at a given time, so that any casual listener would hopefully be non the wiser. Shades of MI6! However, if the air was full of plain language messages, it was a sign that things were not too good. All this, of course, meant many hours of watchkeeping, most of the time when fishing when I was not eating or sleeping. It must be emphasised that official telegrams wore not disclosed.
The advent of telephony complicated matters for operators, as some communications were by voice on separate wavelengths to the telegraphy one, and you couldn't listen to both together. Those ships that still did not carry an operator were at another disadvantage; they couldn't maintain contact with the owners due to the short range available, watchkeeping and language difficulties with foreign stations. The owners thought they were going to have their cake and eat it by getting relays by other ships. Again there were snags. We turned deaf ears.
Officially, the radio telephone was for official messages only; naturally this was quickly forgotten and the air was soon full of private conversations, not always about fishing. Some skippers wouldn't touch it, others could hardly be stopped. I did the maiden voyage on the Preston North End and the skipper, Harry Forester,told me that he wouldn't be using this newfangled contraption himself. Coming up the Scottish coast, he wondered if it was possible to get in touch with a certain Aberdeen ship, as the skipper there was a friend. Surprisingly, the ship answered my first call, and Harry said that he would just say hello and then let Jock do all the talking. Clasping the microphone in a vice-like grip and bracing his feet firmly or the cabin deck, he started, Hello hello Jock. This in Harry Forester and I do not want to say anything else as I do not like this thing what do I say next Sparks Over, all right then but ... ... and be proceeded to talk non-stop for almost an hour. At one point I fell asleep and he was still at it when I came to. After this, there was no stopping him. He would talk to anybody! Also with this telephony, there was much amusement. At one time there was the Bear Island Club, held at 1 am each day, when every ship within range had to tell a funny story or sing a song. Needless to say, most stories were more bawdy than funny, and the songs were horrible. Once I heard a homeward bound Hull ship call up an outward bound one, and the two skippers came to the microphone. Hello there Albert! said the home bound one, How are you, did you have a decent time in dock and didn't get too pissed Ha Ha! and then proceeded to give a half hour's loquacious talk on where they had been, what they had caught and what they had done, giving some sensible advice about fishing prospects for good measure. Quickly came back the other Thanks for all the griff, Jack. Yes I had a good time at home. We made so and so thousand. No, I never get pissed like you, Ha Ha, even if we went to the Tivoli and saw a good show with a very funny comedian who reminded me of you. For this isn't Albert Seasons you bloody old bastard. It's Albert Freeman who you got the sack last trip you lying old sod. That other one got the sack as well. I've got his ship now, and you're going to get sacked when you get in. If I ever meet you ashore, I'll stick a knife into you, you lying old git. And ask what your missus is up to when you're away. Jack never replied.
On another occasion during a quiet afternoon off the Murmansk, I heard the skipper of the Galvani, a non-operator ship that was on its way out, talking to the Lord Seaforth, the two skippers apparently being pals. Joe on the Lord Seaforth gave out a lot of information as to where be had been, what the living was like and admitted that at the moment he was doing quite well. Then be offered to give guidance to the others, but commented that if he transmitted a beacon signal, everyone else would take a bearing as well. So, he said, you go over to six hundred meters and make a noise like a carrot and I will take a bearing on you. Now telephony was not permitted on six hundred meters, but as the transmitter was only low powered, no real harm would be done. Naturally, I took a bearing when I heard the noise like a carrot. By comparing this with the course to steer given out by the Lord Seaforth, I could probably work out where she was. In a moment the Seaforth came up with Steer ESE Tom. There was no reply. Did you get that? Steer ESE. Still no reply. This went on for some time, much to the audible annoyance of Joe. By evening, Joe was relating the story to anyone who would listen, which meant every ship within range. I'm on a good living. I told him all about it. I gave him the course to steer. But that miserable old bastard Tom Jenkins won't even answer. I hope the sod freezes in hell. And so it went on - with embellishments! For my part, I said nothing. I had a secret! For I was apparently the only one to know that the Galvani was indeed replying, but still on six hundred meters; Tom had forgotten to change back. Joe was going berserk. I know it's working, I can see the meter moving. But after an hour or so he gave up. Occasionally I could bear the faint whistle of his transmitter, but in the end he shut up. For by this time, the story was being passed on with suitable comments to all and sundry.
In the autumn of I933 I joined the Nab Wyke in Hull, one of a small fleet, all called something Wyke, that belonged to the Robins Family who were reputed to be unusually considerate owners. I soon realised that it was going to be a friendly sort of ship. The Skipper, Charlie Whiting, had one brother-in-law as bo'sun - in that position by ability and not family connections, while there was another down the fo'c'sle. Most of the crew seemed to have been shipmates for some time and all got on well together, even to the extent of having some social contact while in dock. From conversations heard, it seemed that they had all gone to the music hall together, a most unusual occurrence, as usually one wanted a change of face after being cooped up aboard for a long trip.
We were bound for Bear Island, but I was surprised to find that we would be going through the fjords instead of taking the outer sea route, and had to send a telegram to request the services of a particular pilot, for regular skippers like to have one in whom they had real confidence. Also, it enhanced the skipper's ego - 'my personal pilot'. In consequence, there was quite a trade in pilots hitching a lift between the northern and southern stations, which was to the advantage of the ship's cooks who received a nice tip for their services. The reason for the diversion through the fjords was Charlie's theory that fish kept better in natural ice, rather than the manufactured type, and whenever possible, took this on in Tromso where ice from the mountains was stored in giant silos. This was more expensive, but Charlie seemed to have some influence with the owners. It also transpired that he worked on the principle that once having set foot ashore, why hurry. Why not make a night stop of it! As I said, the owners were quite considerate, but there was no point in chancing your arm and doing it too obviously. So there was no harm at all in wasting an hour or so picking up the pilot, or perhaps reducing the engine revs a little in order not to arrive too early in the day. Otherwise one could feel obliged to sail again in the afternoon. Consequently, a nice midday arrival would suit all concerned, that is, Charles himself and the rest of the crew who supported his sentiments most wholeheartedly. By this time, I was beginning to think that I was 'on to a good thing'. So after arriving at Tromso, a town I already knew from my Franc Tireur days, and loading ice at Holmbo's Kul Kai, most of the crew, at least the younger ones, changed into shore-going clothes and hotfooted it to the nearest cafe, the Kaffe Kremna. For cafe it was, as Norwegian law prohibited the sale of strong drink for consumption on or off the premises. But at least we could drink fresh coffee and eat cream cakes while practicing our dog Norwegian on the locals, feminine if possible. After an evening of this, it was on to Honningsvog to drop the pilot, and then to Bear Island for an otherwise uneventful first trip. The second one was again back to Tromso and thence on to the White Sea. It was on this one that I heard the Galvani making his plaintive cries on the wrong wavelength. When all this was over and we were on passage home, I recounted my secret to Charlie, whose comment was that it served him right. He should have carried an operator and don't you, Sparks, help any of them out by relaying.
Unfortunately, at the end of this trip, Marconi decided that I had to take some overdue leave, and so I signed off the Nab Wyke. Some months later, while at Iceland in the Drummer, I heard Charlie talking on the radio telephone. As we were not ourselves fitted with it, I got a friend to do an impromptu relay. I spoke to him in morse, he translated it to Charlie, while I listened to them both talking. This may seem strange, but to us it was quite normal. Taking a chance, I asked if Charlie would request that I be sent back to him in Hull; to this he agreed and so a month or two later I was back with the old crowd. As events turned out, this was my last crew; we were together for almost eighteen months, although not in the one ship. Iceland, Bear Island, White Sea - all took their turn. Nothing really serious happened, just a few memories remain and it is hard to recall when they occurred. Unfortunately, during that period, two or three ships were lost, some with all hands and one, the Edgar Wallace, actually within sight of the docks at Hull.
By the time I left them, I was accepted as a fully fledged operational member of the crew, at least as far as the bridge was concerned. However, I was careful not to become too clever. I didn't mind being a seaman, but was not too keen at all on being a complete fisherman. So I was careful not to learn how to repair nets, although I did give an occasional hand in dragging the trawl over the side at hauling time. Nor did I go down to the pound and gut. I did my liver boiling act of course, that was worth money. As it was possible to keep a cursory wireless watch from the bridge by turning up the loudspeaker, I was able to take a full turn there when required. Buoy watches usually, although often I would be left in charge while the crew stowed away or mended torn nets, and the old man had a nap. When we were reaching the end of the fishing spell, I would be sent below for a sleep so that I could take the first steaming watch of our homeward journey. This could be up to four hours, four hours keeping a lookout as well as steering. Not really in accordance with the Board of Trade regulations, but I was probably the only one who could keep awake at that particular moment. My new found ability to understand the weather forecasts from the Norwegian and Icelandic broadcasting stations also stood me in good stead. If we had been forced by bad weather to take shelter in a fjord, for example, I could listen to the 4 am broadcast, and if the weather seemed to be improving, we could make a start before the other ships who would have to wait until about 9 o'clock for the English w/t version was sent out - this gave us a competitive advantage over them.
Once, we pressed on far to the north of Bear Island, almost to Spitzbergen, and the weather became noticeably colder. It was winter of course. We knew that, because there was no daylight. When there was daylight it was summer, although the weather was still about the same. On this occasion it wasn't too bad, except for the falling temperature. We were steaming gently along when the steersman became most indignant as the Skipper told him to maintain course. Look at the wind, it's swinging round to the beam. What do you think you are doing ? Well the effing compass isn't moving. We're on course. You look. Sensing an interesting break from the monotony of keeping a sharp lookout, we all peered up at the compass and sure enough,, we were more or less on a steady course, although the wind was indeed veering rapidly. The steersman pulled the wheel hard over and the wind started to back. Unfortunately, the compass didn't follow suit and we realised that the alcohol in the bowl was starting to freeze up. The only thing to do was for someone to clamber up to the deckhead outside binnacle of the bridge and lag the binnacle, a task not welcomed by the poor soul who had actually to do the job, while the engineers improvised a brazier to stand in the wheelhouse. At least the steersman warmed up a little.
This was my Farthest North, about 800 miles from the Pole itself, not really very near, but much nearer than most people ever get. In opposite conditions, a clear night off the Russian Coast, I was standing the bow watch and finding it an easy task. Visibility was good, the sea was calm, and all I had to do was to keep the buoy light in sight - jog up to it when necessary and then lay for twenty minutes or so. After a while, I had to do a rather long jog as the buoy didn't seem to be getting closer, and so rang down for quarter speed. This went on for quite a while until the engineer came up to see what was going on. I pointed out that the light wasn't getting any nearer, and then. to our horror we realised that the light wasn't ours. It was Russian - a light on the shore. Panic! Do a 180;° turn and hope for the best. Fortunately, the real light came into sight quite quickly and all was well. What would have happened if I had lost the buoy does not bear thinking about, as we were on a particularly good living at the time. And as for putting the ship ashore on the coast of Russia!!
On another occasion in the same week, I was yarning to the Bo'sun who had the buoy watch as we idly looked out of the bridge windows. Suddenly he caught my arm, My God. What's that? That was a pair of large luminous eyes peering up at us out of the still water, dimly lit by our deck lights. Then there was a loud whoosh as a fountain of water cascaded upwards within a fathom of the ship's side, and we realised that it was only a small whale having a close look at some strange object. Somehow we had quite a job to get the others to believe our story.
The best and brightest feature of our lives was a night ashore at Tromso, once described in the Hull newspapers as the Paris of the North. Little did they know! This was a treat virtually assured each time we went to the White Sea - Charlie's favourite destination.
At the northern pilot station, we also did very well. Honningsvoeg is a small township nestling beneath high hills, and is the nearest port to the North Cape, which is not the most northerly point in Europe as is often thought. Apart from the local fishing ships, there was the arrival and departure of the daily north and south bound mail boats, although the main activity of the harbour was probably the pilot services for the trawlers, German as well as British. Sometimes local fisherman would be shipped as extra hands for the onward visit to the fishing grounds. In consequence, many of the younger ones spoke quite good English, although as they had not learned it at school; it was very colloquial - in a Yorkshire accent as well. Charlie usually found 'business' to transact ashore with the Agent, and as the ship rarely went to the jetty, for anyone else to go ashore merely meant a short wait until the arrival of some small boy in a rowing boat who could be bribed with bars of chocolate to act as ferryman.
Most ships did not wait as we did, they just dropped the pilot and didn't even drop anchor, although even for them there was the occasional diversion, such as the tale told me by a friend. On the way home, his ship dropped anchor to allow three other skippers to come on board for a social visit. Naturally they each came armed with a bottle of the Demon Rum, which they proceeded to sample. Eventually, deciding that it was time to eat, his Old Man called up to the wheelhouse above Tell that cook to fry four big plaice for four big skippers. At this, there were ructions. I don't want anybody to get my effing fish. I can get my own etcetera, etcetera, and then three very sloshed and quarrelsome skippers came up, each demanding to be rowed back to his own ship to get a Big Plaice.
So at both Tromso and Honningsvoeg we were regulars, going to the cinema, to cafe's, to Saturday night dances, and even to the local amateur revue shows. Most of the younger crew members acquired girl friends, and I had one in each place. All very innocent of course! It was too cold in the winter, and in the summer there was no darkness for anything else. The Lotharios even took to coming away in their Sunday Best suit rather than the rough old one that could be rolled up for a pillow. This apparently took a little explaining away to their wives, but they seemed to manage it by spinning the yarn that times were changing. How the Bo'sun got away with the bowler hat, the one in which he was married, we never did discover.
Once, after leaving Tromso, one of the deckhands came up to my cabin and confidentially asked if I would write a letter to the Girl He Had Left Behind. Why don't you write it yourself? You went to school. Well I have done, but I want it to be in Norwegian, and you can do that bit for me. My Norwegian was just about good enough for that and so I translated his love note, which be copied in his own hand, asking the pilot to post it at Honningsvoeg. To his great pleasure, a reply was awaiting him on our return. The whole procedure was then gone through again, and a letter posted at the southern pilot station, where hopefully hers would be waiting on our return. He was very grateful for my assistance, but what I didn't reveal to him was that I was also doing this for several of the others, both fo'c'sle and cabin crew. It was a good job that I didn't go in for a spot of blackmail, seeing that they were all married. That bit I left to one of the denizens of the fo'c'sle.
My own girl friend in Honningavoeg was Hanna, whose father kept a grocer's and ships chandler's shop in which she served. All was very respectable and I even went home to meet her mother. As time went on, Charlie was getting a little worried by all this fraternisation and declared that it had to stop. Of course, it was within his power to end it all by not calling at these places, but somehow or other he still always seemed to find ship's business to transact, and in any case, a coffee with the Agent made a nice break. If he thought that not tying up at the jetty but anchoring off-shore would stop us, he was mistaken. Once, having taken on ice at Hull, we dropped anchor off Tromso and he disappeared ashore as usual. Before leaving, he gave strict orders to Jack the Mate that no one else was to go ashore. Promptly, we arranged for a boat to come out, and while someone kept Jack in conversation, four of us clambered into it on the dark side of the ship. Getting back on board was a little trickier, as we had to do it before the Skipper returned, and we were unable to organise anyone to distract the Mate's attention. However, we managed to get back unobserved and I do not think that Charlie found out. Another time, having dropped anchor at Honningavoeg, similar orders were issued as the Old Man went ashore. Hanna had already sent her brother to row out for me, and the three of us went to the village dance, the day being Saturday. Of course, I found the Skipper already there, sitting in state alongside the Agent. Glaring at me, he demanded to know if I was the only one ashore, and seemed reassured when I told him that I was. Unfortunately, at that very moment in walked the rest of the boys, in their Sunday suits of course. We were not popular! So the next time he had occasion to give such an order, he said with great emphasis that be REALLY MEANT IT.
That of course was no hindrance, as the Bo'sun, a couple of deckies and myself had already fixed up for a boat to come out. We took the precaution of posting scouts, and when I was at Hanna's house, having coffee with Mother (and younger brothers and sisters) a small boy rushed up to say that the Kapitan was going back. The others had already received the warning, and we hurried to the jetty where I had the presence of mind to read the weather forecast displayed in the window of the harbour master's office. This time, things were more difficult, for as we were being rowed away from one side of the jetty, we could hear the Skipper at the other, and it became a race to see if our boat could reach the side of the ship before the Old Man arrived at the other. We just managed it with half a minute to spare. A quick change into fearnaughts, a ruffling of the hair to its normal state, and up to the bridge. Then, with a perfectly straight face, I pretended to read out the weather forecast from my logbook. Charlie of course never knew. Which is why, a few days later, he asked me how I had found Hanna! So maybe he had scouts out as well.
All these may seem to have been most innocent adventures, not worth recording. Indeed they were, for there was nothing to them except coffee in a cafe, strong drink not being obtainable, but anything was a relief and a change from our usual existence.
There was one amusing instance, at least amusing to the onlookers, that was maybe not quite so innocent. Bart, the Third Hand, claimed with a little modesty that he was making the grade with a girl at Tromso whose name was Gunnel. On the occasion in question, we had spent a longer time fishing than usual and so it was necessary to take on coal in order to make our home port. Naturally, we took it on at Tromso, arriving there about seven in the morning. Quick as a flash, Bart changed and disappeared down the coaling jetty. About twenty minutes later he was seen running back down it and scrambled aboard in a pretty shaken condition. Eventually we heard the story. Having climbed the steep hill to Gunnel's house, he found Father standing outside with a very large knife in his hand, splitting a cod. Er Gunnel hjemme ? asked Bart in his best Norwegian. Is Gunnel at home? Hvad ?. Er Gunnel hjemme ? Ahh! cried Father, lunging with his knife. At this, Bart turned and fled, hotly pursued by an irate Father. Bart, being the younger, was able to keep ahead, but as he reached the jetty the knife whistled by his ear and embedded itself in the gatepost. Like Queen Victoria, he was not amused ! The rest of us were.
The only other incident worth mentioning was our collision. This was during the summer time on a homeward passage through the Westfevers. Sometime during the official night time, about four am, I was sound asleep when I was awoken by an almighty crash and felt the ship heel right over. Both the cook and myself were thrown out of our bunks and then met head on as we rushed across the locker to call the others. We're ashore ! a voice cried, and all of us knew the dangers of this as the ship could quickly slide backwards into deep water. There was then an immediate rush for the companionway ladder to get topside as quickly as possible, apart from Jack the Mate who wasted a moment to stuff his money up his jersey. The first one to the ladder was the second engineer. He was a short fat man who paused a moment to bitch up his belt, so I lifted up his protruding belly, bobbed underneath and was up first. Out on deck, we expected to see towering cliffs above us. Not so. A quick glance to both port and starboard showed the coastline to be at least a quarter of a mile away. The engines had stopped and there was complete silence. Moving forward in some wonderment, even our bridge seemed to be deserted. Then we heard voices from the wheelhouse with the explanation; we had been in collision with a German trawler that was now coming slowly back towards us. How this had occurred in broad summer daylight conditions no one seemed to know, and fortunately neither vessel had sustained serious damage. For us, the possibility remained that there could be loose rivets below the waterline, which was a good enough excuse to continue through the whole length of the southern fjords, again a wonderful experience. I can truthfully claim that in my seagoing career, I have been both stranded and in collision.