After gaining my Masters Certificate in July 1962, I started to look for another job on General cargo ships, but definitely not anymore tankers. I wanted to have a better quality of life, ie a better social one, to hopefully meet the right lady etc.
The influence of my old friend from King Teddy days, Mike Theocolous, pointed me towards MacAndrew Line in Mincing Lane, and I applied for a 2nd mates job.
Fortunately for me, a job came up about a week later and I found myself joining the MS Pacheco in London Dock.
PACHECO: 1,242,GRT, about 1980 DWT cargo capacity. Built 1961 by Grangemouth Dockyard Co, Grangemouth Scotland, Speed 14 knots. Four hatches/holds, with steel wine tanks located in the holds and tween decks section of the Masthouse Midships for bulk table wines.
Trading route was; London-Bilbao, Santander or Gijon Northern Spain, Casablanca, Tangier or Ceuta, Barcelona, and several Spanish ports coastwise to load fruit, potatoes (new), bagged onions, and other general cargo according to the season with a possible final call at Algeceiras for cork cargo or Cadiz for sherry cargoes. Total round trip time 21-22 days, with four days in London to discharge and reload.
Bulk wine cargoes were always loaded at Tarragona; about 300 tons of dry and sweet white wines, followed by dry and sweet reds. It took a total of six hours to discharge using four mono pumps. That was the taste and colour spectrum procedure for the discharging order of the table wines into the PLA (Port of London Authority) wine vats in Shadwell Basin, near the famous “Prospect of Whitby” pub which overlooked the locks leading into London dock. London Dock, near Tower Bridge, was a “Bonded” dock, next door to St Katherines dock. The other berth, used by Mac’s ships, was Butlers Wharf, immediately opposite the entrance to St Katherines dock on the south bank of the River Thames.
Being a bonded dock, all the wines (dutiable) were discharged there. The wooden barrels, in particular, had leaks in them as they are stowed three high in the lower holds of the ship and on their sides, so that the heads of the barrels didn’t dry out (which would happen if stowed upright). All barrels that were noted to be leaking during loading in Cadiz were recorded on what we called “an Exceptions List”. This was the custom of the trade to avoid unnecessary claims from the receivers for losses on their wine shipments. Customs and Excise accepted this as well, so due diligence was necessary on the part of the ship’s officers during loading to pick out these particular barrel’s details.
Whilst loading in Cadiz and being discharged in London, the procedure was to use “can hooks” that were linked by a length of chain to two hooks. These hooks fitted over the lip of the barrel at each end. As the barrel was hoisted up by the Dock cranes, the sudden strain could cause them to leak. The solution to that was to have a barrel cooper with a mallet and plenty of tissue paper, tapping the barrel with his mallet after inserting strips of tissue paper into any small gaps. It worked! There was also a cooper in attendance during the loading of the barrels in Cadiz/ Puerto Santa Maria.
Another interesting fact was that on the voyage from Cadiz to London, there would be some leakage from the barrels which found its way into the bilges of the holds. Unfortunately, the liquid content of those bilges had to be pumped overboard from time to time into the sea. A trail of sherry following the ship to London... what a waste! The trade was interesting and busy. It was literally one port a day whilst on the southern Spanish coastline. Discharging and loading operations during the day then sail each evening to arrive at the next port for an 8am start the next day. Barcelona was the starting port for the coasting run.
The first couple of trips were different. After discharge at Casablanca, we were to load a deck cargo of horses (into horseboxes) on the tops of our hatches as well as on the deck. Why so many so horses? Well it was the horses used in the filming of the movie Lawrence of Arabia (starring Peter O’Toole as Lawrence) including the famous white horse, along with several extras and horse minders as passengers. We sailed to Cadiz where the horses and film extras, horse minders etc disembarked.
Apparently, the movie’s desert scenes were shot near Casablanca, and scenes of the British Army HQ in Cairo shot in Seville, that’s why they all disembarked Cadiz for further filming. The MacAndrew line ships were painted “all white” and for the fruit cargoes, they used to charge an extra sixpence per ton in the old days as shippers wanted to ship their goods in cool looking ships which also had good mechanical ventilation changes of the air in the holds. A very important selling point.
At Cadiz, we loaded a mixed cargo of cork in bales, barrels of sherry, cases of fruits, cases of sardines, bagged almonds and some general cargo and vehicles. Smallpox Scare
The 2nd trip was the traditional route, but including a call at Tarragona after Barcelona to load bulk table wines. It was quite an easy procedure, loading from road tankers and small hoses, with dust covers over the access hatches of the tanks. The tanks were all coated in epoxy resin paint, with minor maintenance between cargoes - touch up work on small pinholes of breakdown of the coating.
Fumigating of the tanks took place with sulphur buttons prior to loading. All the ships hoses in the masthouse pumproom were of plastic piping as visible sight pieces to connect to the four mono pumps. All couplings were coated with olive oil (an edible oil). After a couple of trips, Capt Mike Dunn took over as Master. He was a good Master and time and the ports passed quickly by.
Then one morning in Barcelona, tragedy struck. One of the AB’s (known only by his nickname as M) came to see me on deck. He said he had some unusual looking blisters on his neck and forearms. I examined him and noticed immediately a similarity to photographs of Smallpox pustules that were contained in the Ship Captain’s Medical Guide, which every British merchant ship had to carry in its medicine chest. I, for my sins, was the custodian of that chest etc. I took him up to see the Captain straight away, and to look at the book. Capt Dunn called the ships agent immediately to arrange hospitalization and to notify the port authority.
Within a very short time, two doctors and an ambulance were alongside the ship, with our agent. The ship’s gangway was pulled in, the cargo work stopped and all the stevedores told to remain on board whilst our crewman was examined and whisked away by ambulance. Everybody, putting it mildly, (crew and stevedores etc) were scared stiff as rumours circulated quickly. Everybody agreed that he must have picked it up in Casablanca or Tangier, etc. So did we for that matter. The book said the incubation period was about 10 days.
Within a very short time, the quayside was filled with anxious families of the stevedores wanting their relatives to come off the ship, but the police guards wouldn’t let anybody off. Later, the Port Health Authority visited the ship and all of us were examined and vaccinated, even the Spanish stevedores. They were not taking any chances, it was the sensible thing. His cabin mates were also closely examined and questioned.
After taking all the precautions, they let the stevedores off and we were all confined to ship. We were allowed to sail next morning to proceed to Valencia to load a full cargo of sweet oranges for London. Meanwhile, the ships holds were fumigated and sealed up. We arrived at Valencia later that day and anchored for a further inspection of everybody on board by the Port Heath Authority. No other persons were showing symptoms or fever etc, just lots of anxiety.
Next morning, we berthed early to start work at 0800 hours. The stevedores trooped on board and proudly showed us their vaccinations. They compared them with ours; a touch of light relief and shared humour. A fast loading was completed and we sailed direct for London. No mention of it was made in the press, it was kept very sensibly at lowkey. No further cases were noticed on board, no symptoms or fevers etc.
Arriving off London, we were ordered to go to the PLA (Port of London Authority) quarantine anchorage at Higham Bight just below Gravesend. Again, a squad of Port health officials and doctors came to examine us, take all our personal details and issued us with little yellow cards to present to our doctors at home if any symptoms were observed.
Upon berthing at London Dock, the cargo was discharged within two days and the whole ship was fumigated again (cargo holds and accommodation). It was just before Christmas, so although the oranges were sweet, our experience had been sour. I went on leave thinking that was the end of the matter and wondering what had happened to “M”?
After Christmas, I joined the Pozarica in London Dock. Capt John Rimmington was in command for the fabulous London-Lisbon-London Express service. It was very interesting and I enjoyed it. A few months had passed by and walking home on one sunny evening from London Dock to London Bridge Station I saw a familiar smiling face approaching me. It was “M” from the Pacheco. He looked well and told me he had been in hospital in Spain for several weeks, then returned to the UK. He was now back at sea again. The biggest surprise of all was that he had contracted the disease in London, not Casablanca or any other place. He had been infected by a girl from a pub in East London.
There was no doubt in his mind that the routine smallpox vaccination he had before he became infected had saved his life. I was very pleased he was okay and still alive. I recalled that the journey time to Barcelona from London was about 10 days and the penny dropped. Why didn’t we suspect, that day in Barcelona, that it might be London as the source?