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To Help and assist all on line

Some stories from the Past

  • Now where do I start?
  • Bombs were falling on London and it’s suburbs, so the company my Father worked for, (Sperry Gyroscope Company) as a necessary company for the war effort, was moved holus bolus into the country. Accordingly My Mother and Father, from here on in I shall call them Mum and Dad, were required to move also.Therefore on a summer’s day 22nd June 1943, came screeching into this world, Leslie John Stevens. Place of birth, Stonehouse, Stroud, Gloucester, England.I caused both my Mum and Dad quite a bit of pain that day, Mum from the natural birthing moment and dear old Dad, rushing home to see his newborn, tripped over the chain link fence and broke his ankle. Been a bit of a pain to a lot of people ever since.Anyway, that is when and how I came to be.I had a wonderfully happy childhood, my parents were far from wealthy and for most of their lives scrimped and saved as much as they could to look after us. My brother Roger arrived roughly 3 years later and by this time the war had ended and we had moved back to near London. Place called Southall in Middlesex. The main Factory was reinstated at Brentford for Sperry.My very first school was Lady Margaret school and I still remember the very first day quite clearly. Classrooms with the windows high up so that pupils could not be distracted by the outside world. Imagine that today. And commencing to learn the times table almost straight away.I supposed I could be considered a strange child by today’s standards as I absolutely loved school. It was fun to learn new things and to engage in sports, of which, there were plenty.Time passed and in 1951 my next brother Christopher turned up. Lord knows where from. Bit of a surprise to all and sundry. Especially Mum.Things were pretty tough though as rationing was still in vogue and it was a real struggle to keep the family fed. But we had each other and were loved so that was the most important thing.More Later
    • Start of the 50’s

      At about this time my Grandmother on my Mum’s side became ill. So it was decided to join forces and move into a larger home. This was in Twickenham and I am sure all followers of Rugby will be aware of that name. So move we did and boy was that a treat. Nice big house opposite a magic Park where boys could get into all sorts of mischief. And I was enrolled at Heathfield Junior school.

      Crane Park became our complete playground and we were quite often told to get the heck out of the back garden. At that time I was passionate about football (soccer) and used to drive my Mum insane kicking a ball off the back wall of the house.

      There was stream in Crane park and we thought it was a huge river and one day Roger fell in. Now we had always been told not to go near the stream under threat of very severe consequences. So to mitigate the offence Mum was informed that some big boys had attacked us and threw Roger in the stream. Whew what a fib, but we got away with it. Many, many years later I owned up and got a right talking to even then. I think I was in my 40’s when I confessed. Chuckle.

      So, still no Television, Computers were a thing of the future and the trip to the local cinema on a Saturday morning was the only entertainment of it’s time.

      They had a strange system in England, regarding education and one had to sit an exam called the 11 plus. Even if one passed the exam only the very top boys and girls were sent to the various grammar schools. I was destined for Kneller secondary school for boys.

      This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it was a very good school. And their main sport was Soccer.

      There was also a Kneller Secondary School for girls and this was attached right next door. However, never the twain shall meet LOL. The grounds were separated by a huge wire fence topped with barbed wire and any adjoining doors were bolted, barred and padlocked.

      Nobody was ever quite sure if it was to stop the boys getting to the girls. At that time we rather thought it was to stop the girls getting to us.

      My Grandfather, he was always called Dangar, (that was how I called him when first learning to talk, and the name stuck with everyone). Anyway, he was a signwriter by trade and used to teach me how to use the tools he used. Fascinating man and I loved him to bits, always regaling us with tales of his childhood. One I remember well was that he was a flag boy.

      In his early years cars were prohibited from exceeding 4 miles per hour, so he was employed to walk in front of the cars waving a red flag. Probably scared away some of the horse traffic.

      My Nan was mainly confined to her bed and we boys used to go and visit her everyday, she was adorable and always had something special to give us, a fancy biscuit or a sweet of some kind.

      Then came a day when Mum told me that I had to take Roger and Chris over to the park and not to come home until Mum or Dad came to fetch us. We trotted off quite happily, but taking Chris was a pain coz he was so little.

      However, we were duly picked up and brought home to a house with no Nan in it.

      Now I did promise to ease up on the pathos so I shall leave it there for the day and continue later.

      The Teens

    • Ahh the teen years.

      The usual stupidity of youth, however, being a goody two shoes, I  never caused any one or anything any harm.

      Except perhaps when Roger and I, constructed a banger bomb and let it off under a road bridge. This caused a passing Policeman on his push bike to have palpitations and to immediately set off in pursuit of the offenders, who, by this time were legging it as if their lives depended on it.

      We managed to evade the wrath of the law on that day and never tried that one again.

      One magic Christmas when I was about 12 or 13, I got a bike. Hooray, no more 3 mile walk to school. Boy was I proud of that bike and I knew what it cost Mum and Dad to get it.

      I did rather well at school and if I now blow my own trumpet please forgive me.

      Made the school football team (soccer remember), Cricket Team and Swimming team was even recommended for the OTS scheme. OTS being Olympic training scheme. At that time I swam 100 metres in the allotted time. Amusing now, as it is way behind the time being swum by the modern Olympiad Ladies.

      I loved sport and received great support from the teachers at school. Was the only pupil to receive, what they called, school colours in all three sports. Pretty nifty eh?

      One is not supposed to talk about it now, but I always managed to place in the top three in the class. Strange child, actually enjoyed maths and the like, this was to hold me in good stead in later years.

      Now 14 and I fell in love. Good lord whatever next, taking an interest in girls.

      Any how Kay was the Captain of the girls team at Isleworth pools  and I the Captain of the boys team so we just naturally worked together and became involved, shall I say. I hasten to add, not totally involved as that was a no no in those days. However, we dated and each met our families.

      It was from Kay’s Mum and Dad that I learned totally human understanding and compassion. Kay’s older sister was Spastic, I believe the term now used is cerebral palsy. She was 21 and needed attention 24/7. Her whole family, Kay her two brothers and her Mum and Dad, loved her completely

      I will never forget the dedication and patience that that family showed, and was probably one of my lessons in life.

      Now Dad and I had a disagreement. I wanted to be a professional football player and had already been picked up by the Brentford football club. As an apprentice I was basically the dogsbody with a few other boys in the same boat. Involving such important matters as cleaning all the rubbish from the grounds after the fans had left, and arranging the washing of the players strip.

      However, dear old Dad decided that, whilst he thought I was pretty good, he did not believe I could make the England team. Pointing out that injury could completely scupper any hopes and with no trade to fall back on where would I be. (This did actually happen to a very good friend of mine later}. However, after lots of, I think tears, and time, I decided to become a Pilot in the Fleet Air Arm. That would be a bit of all right, I thought………


    • Decision Made

    • To say I was in for a bit of a shock is putting it mildly. Dad brought home the qualification details for the fleet air arm and they were almost prohibitive. Gazillions of qualifications required and they preferred a grammar school education. This put us into rethink mode.

      This was to take a while and in the meantime dear old Dangar had presented us with a TV.

      I remember it was a Bush TV, 12 inches, black and white and hidden inside a cute box like thing with doors on the front. It had, at that time, 1 channel but it became the evening’s entertainment for the adults with occasionally the boys being allowed to intrude.

      Additionally, finally rationing had come to an end, there had been a Coronation and things appeared to be improving for most people.

      Not so for the Stevens family I’m afraid, as the big house had now become rather a burden financially. Reluctantly it was sold and we moved to a smaller house in Hanworth.

      Dad and Dangar thought it was pretty neat because, right across the road almost was a pub, which they thought was very handy. Not sure Mum was of the same mind though.

      It wasn’t too bad for us either as there was a recreation ground not too far away and we could always get a game of cricket or soccer depending on the time of year and if we got sent to the shops for some forgotten item, they too were only a hop skip and a jump from home.

      It was a bit of a surprise as well as when I was a little kid I had seen a bus with the number 111 on the front. Much to Mum and Dad’s amusement I had called this bus the eleventy one.

      Now, if you wanted to catch the bus in Hanworth to go to the big smoke of Hounslow, guess what, you had to travel on the good old eleventy one.

      Every year, Dangar went to his firm’s Christmas party and part of his retirement deal was to receive a turkey. So I think it was the first Christmas at Hanworth, that I heard Mum giggling out in the front garden, going to investigate I was to witness a well inebriated gentleman walking home holding a turkey in one hand and what looked like a bottle of something in the other. The giggling part was because the turkey was upside down and its head was bouncing along the footpath. Mum tried very had to be stern of course but failed as Dangar had such a fabulous sense of humour he had the pair of them, including me, roaring with laughter as we all staggeredinto the house. Plus the fact that the bottle of something turned out to be something special for Mum.

      I do not know when I decided that to go to sea would be a heartedly adventuresome thing to do. Maybe it was because my love of reading books had put the idea in to my head, I can’t be sure now. But Dad with all his contacts, decreed that he would investigate and see the best way to go about it.

      It did not take him long and told me that if I was to go then I would have to attend a Pre-sea Training school. This would then enable me to enter an apprenticeship to learn how to become a ship’s Officer. OK so now we are in business.

    • END OF THE 50’s

    •  I told you I was a strange child. Well this will exacerbate that impression.

      One of my favourite pastimes about now, was to travel to South Kensington by tube train (It was very inexpensive in those days), and spend pretty much the whole day browsing around the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum.

      Mum would pack me a lunch so that I did not have to buy it. This, quite often, consisted of sardine sandwiches and whilst most people would throw their arms up in disgust, to this very day I still love sardine sandwiches. HeeHee.

      Both museums were very impressive even then, and I am sure they would be even better today. But did a great deal to further my curiosity into what we were about and what laid in store for the future.

      My report cards from school, whilst good, generally had a comment on them that I “tended to be argumentative”. This was mainly because I never accepted a teaching to be considered as true, I rather tended to query things and, I think asked questions that some teachers did not know the answer to. However, then I had done sufficiently well to be accepted at King Edward the 7th Nautical College. Sounds very posh does it not?

      King Edward 7th Nautical College London. It was here I did my pre-sea training in 1959 and subsequently obtaiined my Second Mate's Certificate at the end of 1963
      King Edward 7th Nautical College London. It was here I did my pre-sea training in 1959 and subsequently obtained my Second Mate’s Certificate at the end of 1963








 Here is a picture of the school. As it was.

So at the age of 15 and a half I commenced the schooling that was going to shape my life forever.

The only problem was where the school was situated. It was in East London and I had to catch the eleventy one bus to Hounslow East Station then have roughly an hour’s train ride to Aldgate East then foot it or bus it to the school. It was a bit of a pain but I made the most of the journey there and back doing whatever homework had been set.

In the coming year of 1959, I was to start in January 1959, It would be necessary for me to board at the school for a 3 month term. This apparently, was so to learn the etiquette of being an Officer and and a gentleman.. Being aware also that it takes an act of Parliament to make you an Officer, but, an act of God to make you a Gentleman.

King Teds.

So it was schooling as usual, English, Maths, Trig, Algebra, Calculus etc but on top of that I suddenly became involved with a whole new terminology. Navigation, Seamanship, meteorology, Ship Construction, Engineering, Stability, Nories Nautical Tables and countless other strange terms which would be for me to learn and assimilate over the coming months.

My new school chums were from all ranges of society within the English Class system. From the Hooray Henry’s to the Joe Blog of Stepney. The range of dialects was quite unique also, being from many varied parts of the UK. It actually took some time before any one in my particular class could understand what each was saying.

The teachers also had problems at times not least being trying to quell youthful exuberance. However, most of the time is was a very studious lot as they were aware of the consequences should they not succeed.

Thus it is welcome to King Ted’s, the abbreviated name for our esteemed place of learning.

Once each term we would be rostered to serve on the Training Ship Wendorian, where the cadets would act as the crew, under the supervision of the Captain, Engineer, Mate, Bosun etc. She used to be berthed at Wapping Basin, I think it was from memory, and we used to steam down the Thames to Southend, anchor there for a while, then steam back up the river. That meant that we all got a turn at all the different jobs on a ship, such as steering, Bridge & Engine Room watch keeping, peeling spuds, lookout duties, rowing the lifeboats while at anchor, polishing brass, splicing ropes, and a whole host of navigation instruction, chartwork, tides, etc.

Interestingly enough, the Wendorian was originally built for the Spanish Royal Family so she had some rather sumptuous fittings in some areas. She (sorry Ladies, but most ships are referred to as she), was also capable of being sailed so we got a crack at that aspect of ship handling.

We all really enjoyed our stays on Wendorian, except that I was never too keen on the brass polishing bit.

A visit to the docks was also part of the training, visiting various different ships and noting down their type and construction details. Learning to recognize the international flags and the ports in which the ships were registered..

Another little bit, was to actually sail a dingy around the docks. This was fraught with danger as the dock waters of London were not known for their purity. A couple did actually endure having their stomachs being pumped, due to a back wind flipping the boat and dumping them into the morass. I shall refrain from declaring who.

One of the most confusing details of a ship is their Tonnage. Now I am not going into huge detail over that which we had to learn, but I do invite you to Google Gross tonnage to see what I mean.

Nowadays, when I am asked how big was my last ship, I invariably quote the ship’s displacement tonnage which is calculated on Archimedes principle of flotation. Basically the weight of everything on the ship including it’s cargo.

I have include a couple of pictures here below. One is of the Wendorian and the other is of Captain Griffiths who commanded the vessel. Both of these photos are courtesy of John Firmin.

Training Ship I was on in my youth. TS Wendorian

Training Ship I was on in my youth. TS Wendorian


Captain Griffiths, Wendorian2
















During the mid tem from about June 1959 to September 1959, I commenced the mandatory period of boarding at King Teds. We had to stay for the whole time and were only allowed home at weekends in the event of a family emergency or similar.

It was a dormitory type arrangement and was to get us accustomed to being away from home plus the etiquette teaching. This included things like, which knife and fork to use, how to butter toast correctly, only taking sufficient marmalade for your needs and to place on the plate with the correct implement, etc, etc.

Learning to make your own bed, and get yourself all spruced up ready to go to school.

The weekends were arranged for us with those interested in sports such as cricket, as it was summer time, this was my choice of course. But others could go to the Planetarium or Art galleries, museums and a whole host of other entertaining destinations. Quite often I would go with the museum group seeing as it was one of my favourite places to go.

The learning was now extended as after dinner we were required to do a further two hours of study, so at the end of this period we were all well advanced into that which was required for completion of our schooling.

Two things happened during this period.

1/ In the June, I turned 16

2/ My romance with Kay was over. This was mainly due to the separation thing and also my decision to go to sea did not meet with approval. I was most upset by this at the time, but it was something that was to dog me later in life also.

Anyhow, it was soon September, then a short holiday followed by a further three months of commuting back and forth.

Then came the important part of choosing a Shipping Company for which to work.

Back in those day the Companies of the British Merchant Service made up the bulk of the world’s shipping fleet. (Sadly this is not the case today). There were so many back then, and some were, of course, more prestigious than others.

Dad decided to step in and lend a helping hand at this point.

And accordingly, I was invited to an interview with Hudson Steamship Company of London.

Needless to say this was not one of the more prestigious companies, having only two ships that carried apprentices and they were basically tramp ships.

For the information of readers, many of the companies served what is known as a liner service, that is, ships on a regular service visiting the same ports and countries every trip.

Others were tankers and naturally they always went to the Oil countries and returned.

Tramp ships were ships that went anywhere and everywhere where ever cargoes became available.

As it turns out, Hudsons gave me one of the best training paths that I could have wished for.

For any Canadian readers Hudsons did have quite a large involvement with the Hudson Bay Company. Indeed one of their ships was called Hudson Bay.

Getting a little ahead of myself here. But giving you a peek of the future.

Just before finishing up at school we all had to apply for Seaman’s books and have medicals, eye sight tests and a plethora of forms and applications.

To give you a chuckle, I have included a copy of the first Seaman’s book.

Seaman's Book

Seaman’s Book



I mentioned in my last post about the requirement to pass a medical examination.
Have you ever suffered a highly embarrassing moment in your lifetime? I shall recount one of mine, and, I might mention, there are very few people to whom this story has been told. Please, also bear in mind that I am 16 at this time.
I turned up to a Seamen’s medical centre in Dock Street London and after the usual wait was escorted into a Doctor’s surgery area where to my somewhat surprise, was greeted by a not unattractive Lady Doctor.
Everything started off well enough, i.e., Pulse, temperature, weight, height, stethoscope checks, eye sight tests etc.
However, when I was then asked to lower my trousers things got a little disconcerting.
Even more disconcerting, when a hand cupped a certain lower region and I was asked to cough.

Now this was, where things got out of hand. I coughed and also spluttered somewhat, as an unwanted reaction was occurring. This caused four other reactions.

Reaction one, was an amused “steady boy” from our Doctor Friend.
Reaction two, was a firm smack on a certain part of my anatomy with a ruler.
Reaction three, was a very pronounced “Ouch”, on my part.
Reaction four, was a complete subsidence of the original unwanted reaction.

In fact there was a definite further reaction to this whole performance, as I finally left the area with a face as red as a beetroot and firmly believing that my life as I knew it, was changing.

Christmas 1959 was to be the last Christmas with my family for four years, although none of us appreciated that at the time. It was a bit leaner that year, if I recall, as Mum and Dad had been required to fork out quite a large sum of money in order to purchase the uniform which Hudson Steamship required for their new entrant apprentices. Also I had been given a rather large parchment document which was called Apprentice’s Indenture.

I still have this document but I’m afraid it has suffered over the years and is somewhat illegible in parts. However, it has lots of words like Witnesseth, covenants, hereunto and has seals and signatures etc. basically means I am indentured to the Company for a period of three years and six months and they in turn will board and feed me and for the first year, pay me the princely sum of 6 pounds 9 shilling and 8 pence per month.. Three pounds a month was then allotted to my parents to help pay for said uniform purchase, leaving approximately 3 pounds a month for me to spend with gay abandon. The remainder was used up in Taxes and National health stamps.

So it was on a cold day early in January 1960 that I was driven up to Kings Cross Railway Station and with a few tears and lots of hugs from Mum especially, and plonked on a train to Newcastle upon Tyne. Somehow, I arrived at a dockyard in Jarrow near South Shields where I was to join a ship, the Hudson Deep, which was currently ensconced in a dry dock.

Ah! The Hudson Deep, latterly called the Rust and Creep, by some callous individuals. This was to be my virtual home for the next three and a half years. So I had better give you a picture of it.

She was built in 1952 and was of raised quarter deck design, with a Doxford Engine. She was, at that time, the largest collier of this design and carried a crew of approximately 36. The winches and heating systems were steam and the winches in particular, made quite a loud hissing and clattering noise which was especially designed to disturb the sleep of any in the vicinity.

At he bottom I have included a photo of the ship, at this stage of her life looking fairly spruced up.

Hudson Deep. My very first ship on which, I served my apprenticeship and also as uncertificated 3rd Mate. Jan 1960 to July 1963

Hudson Deep. My very first ship on which, I served my apprenticeship and also as uncertificated 3rd Mate. Jan 1960 to July 1963


The accommodation block at about amidships (Middle of Ship) housed the Captain, Chief Officer, 2nd Officer, 3rd Officer and the Radio Officer. There was also a spare cabin for the use of pilots. The Aft, or rear accommodation housed the Engineer Officers, Apprentices and all the remainder of the crew. Below, this area was, of course, the Engine room as seen by funnel smoke in photo. The ship is listed as having a Gross Tonnage of 6198 tons and as explained before this is rather misleading for some, but she could carry approx 5000 tons of cargo.


Before boarding the ship I was taken to a Shipping Office and there signed articles in the presence of the Captain and shipping Master and was Accompanied by Geoff, who hailed from Liverpool, and was to start his apprenticeship at the same time as me. The Captain appeared one of the old school Captains, spoke little and did not seem to appreciate the presence of very young persons going anywhere near his ship.

Never the less, we finally walked up the gangway where we were met by the Chief Mate (Chief Officer) who escorted us over a scene of what appeared to be, utter chaos, to where our cabin was located.

Informed us that the ship was sailing the next day, get out our working gear and report on deck immediately as we were needed.

Both Geoff and I were a bit dumbstruck, to say the least. However, we did as told and were placed in the hands of the Bosun. To be honest the next few hours is a bit of a haze in the memory bank. The decks of the ship were covered with equipment, cables, timber, paraphernalia and what looked like junk, but probably was not.

We also met the two senior apprentices who were instructed to show us the ropes as regard keeping watches, work times, our place in the society of the ship. This, we were to discover, was at the bottom of the pile.

The immediate problem was communication, which I had better explain.

Just about all the Engineer Officers were Scots and mainly from Glasgow. The crew including the Bosun were Geordies and mostly from Newcastle or South Shields. Catering staff were a bit more varied, but again mainly from Northern England. The Captain and Chief Mate, from Yorkshire. 2nd Mate from Scotland also. 3rd Mate from Southern England.

So when you are told “Aye laddie goun fesh me a bookit” it needed a certain amount of translation to determine that I was being asked to fetch a bucket.

Over a period of time we were to learn the dialects quite well, but I can assure you we earned a few clips over the ear for not comprehending at the start. Mind you Geoff wasn’t much help because if you have ever heard pure scouse (the language of Liverpool} you will know what I mean.

The next day much to our complete amazement the decks were cleared, the dry dock flooded and we were about to embark on our very first voyage. Being at the bottom of the information chain neither Geoff nor I had a clue as to our destination but we did manage to find out that our first port was to be Nordenham in Germany.

I was assigned to the 12-4 watch, Geoff to the 8-12 watch and one of the senior apprentices to the 4-8 watch The most senior of the apprentices was on day watch, which was considered the best as you got a night in bed undisturbed most of the time.

So I had my very first watch at sea, for the short crossing of the channel. I was totally exhilarated by the experience even though getting called at 15 minutes to midnight, quick wash, don uniform and be on bridge before midnight took some getting used to.

But I remember that first watch as being quite magic, by good fortune the sea was relatively calm and it was a clear night. One of the Captain’s orders was that we had to maintain our watch on the wing of the bridge and not in the warmth and comfort of the wheelhouse. And, we were to only enter that hallowed ground if we had something to report to the Officer of the watch. This was to become a rather stupid instruction later on but I had better not digress.

And so we arrived in Germany.

The First Cargo

We were to berth in Nordenham which is just up past Bremerhaven on the River Weser.

Our cargo was to be a full load of Coke, this is the coal derivative of course and not to be confused with later meanings. And so they commenced pouring this very black and dusty material into our nice newly painted holds.

Approximately, ten days we were to remain in Nordenham and in those days they worked sensible hours from about 7 am to 5pm. So I did get some time to go and explore what was to me a totally foreign country. Now by saying explore, that was pretty much all Geoff and I could do, as we went ashore with empty pockets and utilized shank’s pony. Also we were unable to understand what the locals were saying when we did try to engage in conversation. In addition to that it was freezing cold with constant snow falls making life pretty uncomfortable, as we were ill equipped to deal with such weather.

During this time we were taught the intricacies of raising and lowering derricks, opening and closing hatches and our first introduction into the protection of bilges and sumps.

Derricks for those who are in the dark, are the crane like structures on the deck of older ships, and were usually mounted on a high deckhouse which also housed the controlling winches and supplied protection for the equipment, and the men driving them.

Hatches or hatch covers are the protection for the top of the hold and maintain a fairly watertight seal.

Bilges and sumps, contained strums or filters, if you like, and from there any water finding it’s way into the hold could be pumped through piping from pumps contained within the Engine room.

These bilges had to be further protected by sack like material place over the intakes and taped firmly down. This was to become one of our most regular jobs over the coming months, as the crew disliked this work and so it was passed down to the lowest common denominator, which was the apprentices.

I also discovered that our newly earned etiquette lessons were somewhat superfluous on board the Hudson Deep. This was a toughened bunch of seamen for whom fancy manners were very much namby pamby stuff. So it was more like “chuck a bit of toast laddo so I ken slap some jam on it”.

The Captain was a very hard man and came down on us boys like a ton of bricks sometimes. But he was very much of a loner, and did not appear all that often, so we were mainly under the control of the Chief Mate, who as we were to find out, was a bit of a sadist, but did treat us reasonably well. More about that later.

Now where was this cargo bound for? Goodness, Noumea, New Caledonia in the South Pacific. Whoop-de-doo.

So the holds were filled and the hatches closed and secured but, as coke is a very light material, the ship was by no means fully laden, therefore we were to continue loading on deck. So on came a pile of carpenters and labourers who commenced constructing very large cages on deck.

This was achieved with huge wooden uprights along the sides of the ship to which was attached a heavy chicken wire type mesh and the whole was lashed (tied) together with wires. Then they started to pour the cargo into these areas so the ship resembled an open cast mine with bits sticking up from it.

At the final completion of loading they then built wooden catwalks or walkways in order that the crew could safely navigate from one end of the ship to the other, although how safe walking on top of 14 feet of coke, piled in flimsy looking cages was to be, only time would tell.

I was to then learn my really first lesson in ship stability first hand.



Here I will just give you a basic idea of a ship’s stability as some of the terms I use today and later will be repeated, and it will help my readers if they understand a little of what I am talking about.

It is not terribly complicated but does rely on mathematical equations which I am sure will be unfamiliar to you. I might add, this is where my early school years came in to its own.






Ship Stability diagram showing center of gravity (G), center of buoyancy (B), and metacentre (M) with ship upright and heeled over to one side. Note that for small angles, G and M are fixed, while B moves as the ship heels, and for big angles – B and M are moving
The metacentric height (GM) is the distance between the center of gravity of a ship and its metacentre. The GM is used to calculate the stability of a ship and this must be done before it proceeds to sea. The GM must equal or exceed the minimum required GM for that ship for the duration of the forthcoming voyage. This is to ensure that the ship has adequate stability.

Now, as long as G (centre of gravity) remains below M the vessel is regarded to be stable.

If GM is a large figure ie. 3 metres The ship is regarded to be “stiff”, in other words it takes a fairly large force to make the ship heel over but when it does there is an equally large force trying to bring it back upright. Rather like one of those old fashioned toys for kids with a rounded bottom and a big weight also at the bottom. When pushed this would cause the toy to rock back and forth for quite some time before coming to rest.

Conversely if GM is a low figure ie, 0.3 metres then very little force is required to heel the ship over and also the is very little force trying to bring the ship back. The ship is then described as being “tender”. Somewhat similar to a metronome with the weight placed close to the top which causes the metronome to have a very slow aural pulse or tick.

I do hope you have been able to follow this explanation and hope you can also see that if GM is negative then the ship is unstable and will turn upside down. This does depend on the degree of negativity but basically is a very undesirable condition. Mostly because ship owners do not like their ships being upside down and additionally, the crew are even less keen on the idea.

The responsibility for making the calculations of stability rest with the Chief Officer but of course ultimately the Captain is responsible as a whole so the calculations are usually presented to him prior to the Ship sailing for his approval.


Now back to the story.

Came the time for Hudson Deep to sail from Nordenham and it was a very cold snowy type of day. I remember being assigned to assist the forward crew on the focsle (forecastle) to let go the mooring lines. This was a mission in itself as, when the linesmen released them from shore, we found the rope lines were frozen solid and resembled iron bars more than ropes. Getting them back on board was a very slow process and included dowsing them with water from fire hoses to aid their thawing. However, eventually we were free from the dock and the tugs attending commenced turning us around in the river to proceed downstream.

Horror of horrors, as we turned the ship developed a rather uncomfortable list to starboard (Right) and even when totally turned about the list remained. So we, on the focsle, were told to ready the anchors for letting go. The ship proceeded a small distance to a nearby anchorage and we let go and secured. I was then called to the bridge and upon arrival entered an area of what I shall call controlled panic.

The old Man (Captain) and Pilot were in fairly heated discussion and the Chief mate was scratching his head wondering what the heck had gone wrong with his calculations. After calm was restored the Pilot disembarked and promised to return in about six hours when the problem should have been resolved. Then we apprentices were sent out with the Bosun’s mate to sound all the ballast tanks. This was to ensure that they were either full or empty depending on the condition that had been calculated.

The best way to ensure that ballast tanks are actually full is to overflow them on deck. This sometimes is not possible due to the type of cargo or by ship design as overflowing low tanks can also put undesirable pressures on the ship structure. The latter was not the case with Hudson Deep as she was of very strong construction and rated as Ice Class by Lloyds.

From memory, it was decided not to overflow some of the tanks due to the fear of washing the light coke cargo off the decks.

If you are wondering why, if a tank is not completely full, this should affect the stability so badly, then I suggest you half fill a frying pan with water and then try to carry it by the handle and keep it completely level and without spilling any of the water. I am sure you will discover this is hard to do.

OK, hope you are all still with me.

The tanks were duly all sounded and the results presented to the Chief Mate who took a quick look, sighed with what looked like relief and decreed we were to standbye for further instructions. Without dragging this story out too long, the end result was the correcting of our ballast tank situation to agree with the original calculations and this took a few hours of pumping and checking until to all and sundries complete relief, the Hudson Deep was again upright and now in all respects ready to sail.

I am a first trip apprentice, aged 16 and this event was to place an indelible imprint on my mind for the rest of my sea going career. In that, I became a bit of a stickler when it came to ensuring that ballast tanks were correct and that stability data was checked and checked again if deemed necessary.

And so we finally departed and set courses for the Panama Canal.


It is just over 5000 miles from Nordenham to Cristobal at the entrance to the Panama Canal, for there is where we were scheduled to bunker, or take on fuel. At the speed the Hudson Deep sailed it would take us about 18 days, weather permitting.

The first ten or so days this was not to be the case. The weather was decidedly nasty. So traversing the English Channel in quite stormy conditions, accompanied by heavy rain or even snow at times.

This is when the keeping of a watch outside on the bridge wing became very uncomfortable. Wearing a cap and wet weather gear, one was constantly ducking below the bridge front to avoid heavy spray and the constant battering of rain, this made it almost impossible to see anything at all, and yet in the wheelhouse were two very excellent clear view screens through which one could see reasonably clearly. However, the Captains word was law and so we endured the discomfort. No doubt this outmoded instruction stemmed from the way he was treated as a youngster himself.

Another added discomfort for us was that poor old Jeff, my room mate, was horribly sea sick.

I rather enjoyed the elements in a way, and the ship crashing into waves and tossing all over the place was exciting if not a little scary at times, and I was fortunate that I was not affected by seasickness then or ever actually.

Anyway Jeff was so ill that he later confided that if the trip had only lasted 3 weeks or so he would have given up going to sea altogether. After a couple of days the Chief Mate called into our cabin to see how Jeff was, as he was totally unable to get out of bed or do anything, and the Senior apprentice had to cover his watch for him. Any way, as you can imagine the cabin had a very strong distinct aroma which was fairly overpowering and the Mate took pity on me and told me to get some gear and follow him. He then took me to the spare Officer’s cabin amidships and told me to bunk down there until Jeff had finally recovered.

This was to last about ten days when eventually the rough weather subsided and we sailed into calmer waters.

Marvellous, tropical waters, blue, blue sky wonderfully clear deep blue water and calm. The sighting of our first flying fish. It was magic for the first timers, and to this very day love the sheer beauty of sunrise and sunsets in conditions such as described.

Now, we started to learn our trade properly, being taught to steer and maintain a course so that the ship’s wake was as straight as an arrow. Learning how to splice rope, sew canvas, point railings with canvas strips and a myriad of other similar skills which the older seamen knew by heart and were more than willing to pass on that knowledge. Today, I’m afraid, some of those seamanship skills are known to only a few as modern technology has done away with the need to know.

We had to also present ourselves on the bridge each day at actual noon, this is when the sun is at its highest peak in the sky each day, and has to be calculated to get the time at which the Noon sights were to be taken. This became quite an amusing ritual as there would be the 3rd Mate, 2nd.Mate, Captain, and we two junior apprentices, all with sextants in hand watching and measuring very closely to when the Sun reached its Zenith.

Once reached, the Captain would then ask each of us what angle did we get. Mostly it would be very close say something like 48 degrees 15.5 minutes and he would then say well I get 48 degrees 16 minutes so we shall call it that OK? Thus decreed that would be the angle used to calculate the noon latitude and then ultimately our position.

The four of us tended to wonder why it was that we all had to bother taking future noon readings, but that was the way it was to be, so we all had to grin and bear it.

So time passed and we berthed in Cristobal for about 5 hours while fuel was poured into our tanks. To us it all looked quite exotic but we were not permitted to go ashore, even to wander, in case our innocence was prematurely removed.

Then we joined in a group of ships which was to pass through the Panama Canal.

Back in those days the canal authority was primarily Americans and the canal sides, locks, housing and authority buildings, plus the tractors at the locks, all were kept in pristine condition and transiting the canal was a pleasure. It was extremely busy of course, as all the crew were constantly tying up and letting go as we passed through each stage of locks. However, it was soon over and we were then into the Pacific Ocean and on our next leg to Noumea.

Crossing the Equator

Noumea, New Caledonia lay some 7000 miles away and was to take us 25 days to reach. But shortly after leaving the Panama Canal we were to cross the equator. I believe that there were about five of us who had never before performed this feat so it was with some trepidation when we were summoned before the court of King Neptune. Fortunately for us, the Captain frowned on some of the extreme measures meted out to previous crossers, so our initiation was quite mild, and full of fun. I believe being dowsed with a fire hose was about as bad as it got, and as the waters were tropical this even, was not at all unpleasant.

Also it gave the older hands a chance to have a bit of a party, not that they ever needed too much of an excuse to indulge in that entertainment. We were allowed to partake of some lemonade if I recall correctly. As an ever watchful eye of a strict Capitano, was forever upon us.

The weather to start was blissful, completely calm seas and very warm temperatures. The Hudson Deep was not endowed with air conditioning so in order to gain some cooler air into our cabins we had scoops which were placed into the portholes, (round windows) and this diverted some of the air movement into a stifling room. Had to be a bit careful with this though, as overnight the wind and seas could get up and you would be awakened by a howling gale roaring through the area and, in the case of the lower cabins, accompanied by varying amounts of water.

Then there would be a frantic effort to get the port closed up and dogged down before major flooding occurred.

Towards the latter part of the voyage we were to encounter a quite nasty storm the resulting damage being a bit drastic. Being as part of our cargo forward was washed overboard. Some of the uprights were smashed the wire mesh split which then allowed our coke cargo to escape to the sea. Fortunately it was restricted to the forward part of the ship but it also damaged the cat walk access which took our crew some time to resurrect.

But all was well otherwise and we duly arrived and berthed in Noumea. At the end I will include a picture of the main street in Noumea as it was in 1960. No doubt it will have changed somewhat since, especially the cars.

There is also a picture of the Port in more recent times, but you can see it was only a short walk from the port to the town. I mention this, as we were to be in Noumea every three weeks for the next 13 months.

For we were now time chartered to carry iron Ore from New Caledonia to Australia and to return with coal for a minimum of 12 months with possible extensions. Now this did not worry the majority on board but I do remember one poor AB (Able Seaman) being very upset as he had only got married about 2 weeks before he joined the ship in England. All had signed two year articles but he had not truly expected to be away from home for as long as it turned out.. I’m rather afraid it was one of the rigours of life at sea in those days and was to cause a great deal of marital stress for many. Also remember the only means of communication was by letter and this was at best irregular.

Nowadays, with the advent of email and Mobile phones etc. Communication at least is regular and relatively inexpensive.

Now if I was to note every voyage and all the places this saga would take approximately 48 years to complete so I had better précis it somewhat in order that I live long enough to complete it.


Noumea Today


Add a Comment
  1. Hiya Les 🙂

    I’m Lovin’ It!!
    I’m thinking you were Born to tell stories, you have such an entertaining way of writing them 🙂
    Now i’m hoping you find time to write some more 😉

  2. Hi Les,

    Great stories, I would like I could write stories like you, it’s not only that English is my second language I can’t even write it in German as you do.

  3. Captain, I must say I’ve massively enjoyed reading about your life, I can’t wait for the new chapter. It is now only that you have an interesting life and there are a lot of things for the youngsters to learn and consider, but also the manner in which you presented is very catchy and entertaining, fantastic sense of humor and sarcastic self criticism. Thank you for sharing all these with us!:) Deepest respect, Corina.

  4. I have to do my mea culpa. It’s the first time I really took the time to read your story. But you can be sure I will follow what is coming next.

    You have a natural talent for telling story. Always amusing anecdote. I sure would love to be able to write like you.

    The photos are great.

    Now, I’m impatient to read what is coming 🙂

  5. Woah this blog is great i enjoy looking at your content regularly. Keep up to date the good artwork! You are aware of, lots of people are seeking around just for this data, you could potentially aid these individuals enormously.

  6. Les, you’re not going to believe this but five minutes ago we were watching a programme on sharks featuring New Caledonia. I idly put in your name and Noumea, into Google remembering that was where you told me you wanted to live after only a year or two in the Merchant Navy. Imaging my surprise when, having noticed details of “Les Stevens” and “Noumea” in a google entry associated with a blog I opened it and started to read………didn’t recognise you from the photo at the start (well it has been 50 years !!!)but as I progressed…..Hanworth, Twickenham, Merchant Navy, then a photograph of you in your pass book (?)which certainly was the old Les I remembered !!!! Glad to see you seem happy with your choice of homeland. It’s pretty wet and cold here.I spent 38 years with BOAC, BEA then BA and retired at 54 in 1997.I now live in Corfe Mullen, about 2 miles north of Poole harbour. How do I get to New Caledonia?

  7. I need to to thank you for this fantastic read!! I absolutely enjoyed every
    bit of it. I’ve got you bookmarked to look at new stuff you post…

  8. I’m very intrigued as to the next phase of this story. Please don’t stop. I’d like to see how it all panned out. Please continue the story.

  9. Have just logged in and, whilst I am delighted you have found this blog and I approved your comment, would have really appreciated a more positive comment.
    However, it is good to hear from you again.

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