This operation could be time consuming due to a number of factors: Delays experienced loading the lighters and the availability of them. Adverse swell conditions and availability of towing vessels. More than one ship in port working cargo could slow dispatch due to the inadequacy of the aforementioned equipment and labour.
On this occasion with the swell conditions light, the only other ship observed in port was one of the Royal Netherlands SS Co Hermes class. This ship to our delight departed some hours after our arrival, which ensured no shortage of lighters or other requirements to facilitate our loading operation.
After a couple of hours completing port entry requirements the first of our lighters was observed coming towards the ship. The bales of cotton were stacked four high above the sides of the lighter which seemed to be the safe height limit. The lighters used were of timber construction and bow shaped at each end. Their underwater timbers were copper sheathed to protect them from marine borers and growth. More lighters were soon to follow resembling mini apartment blocks, or as some commented ‘Noah’s Ark’ minus the animals.
On Salaverry we were looking forward to spending some part of Christmas Day berthed alongside in Callao, enjoying a break over the festivities. It was usual for PSNC ships to visit Callao twice each voyage. South bound discharging enroute to Chile and then again north bound loading for the UK. The shore delights on off er in this port were well known to all on board. Our anticipation for a good time to be had over the Christmas period was eagerly awaited.
I was one of the four cadets, being in port meant we were kept busy. Our work entailed assisting in getting the hatches ready to receive cargo, setting the derricks, and positioning the coir rope springs with wire tails for the lighters to make fast with alongside the working hatches. These coir ropes had to be rigged ready on the cargo hook waiting to be lowered to the lighters, thus enabling them to secure to the ship’s side in way of their designated hatch. This operation was achieved whilst the lighter still under tow came alongside. There was little room for error or misjudgement afforded during this operation, as the towing vessel was not secured alongside the lighter, but on a long tow line.
Once loading commenced the cadets generally were overseeing cargo was stowed as required, together with the laying of dunnage and rigging cluster lighting in the cargo working spaces. It soon became apparent the shore labour also wanted to be off the ship to spend Christmas with their families and friends. They worked expeditiously even going without their usual evening meal break. As the loading progressed during the evening there was great interest shown by some of our crew not involved in the cargo operation as to how the loading was progressing. Questioning how many lighters to go, to how many slings to go, up to the last one when some of the catering staff gave a cheer to see the completion of cargo.
This enthusiasm prompted one of these kind stewards to get the cadets a pot of coff ee (Irish) and some sandwiches, which was most welcomed. It was Christmas Eve after all. We consumed our unexpected supper on the hatch top whilst waiting for the last of the cotton to be stowed into number four hatch.
The ship was made ready for sea by the bosun, carpenter, lamp trimmer, three in the watch on deck, and three cadets. This number might sound adequate, however with ship side portable railings having to be put back in place adjacent to the completed hatches, lighter ropes secured, wood slab hatch covers put in place, (which then had to be covered with two tarpaulins, cleated and wedged), derricks, guys and preventers re-positioned a number of times during the securing of the hatches. The derricks were then secured by guying them off inside the line of ship.
Of course not all the hatches completed cargo work at the same time. This in turn staggered the work load. Once the bulk of the securing was completed the bosun and lamp trimmer were stood down as soon as possible to save on the overtime bill. The three cadets not being entitled to overtime payment just carried on as normal, doing what was required to be done. The Salaverry was a happy ship and we felt part of a team taking pride in doing what was asked of us. Once all shore personal had disembarked the accommodation ladder was raised by a hand winch until it was horizontal with the main deck and then secured. Bridge gear was tested and the anchor hove up, the anchor chain having been washed down with a deck hose. No fancy anchor washing system on these ships, or individual personal radio communication as used on today’s ships. The clock turned midnight and full away was rung with Salaverry heading in a northerly direction working up to her 13.5 knots service speed.
I recall on leaving the bridge thinking Santa would have a diffi cult job climbing down our yellow chimney which was emitting excess sparks and smoke. At last we were on our way for Callao. We three day work cadets were stood down feeling tired after a long day which had commenced 18 hours earlier. The 4 to 8 watch cadet assisted our Captain Ken Thomas who had kindly off ered to do the Chief Offi cer’s watch for him. The Chief Offi cer had been on his feet for the previous 20 hours also, without much of a break. It was the way of things in those days down that coast; we just got on with it.