Saturday, November 17, 2018

ss MahseerBeing able to save lives is both a privilege and a pleasure. For most people, ashore or afloat, it doesn’t happen very often. But to have it happen on your birthday, against almost impossible odds, is indeed a rare inspiration. So it was that a routine voyage to India became special.

At the time I was 2nd Mate with Thos & Jno Brocklebank – the oldest deepsea shipping company in the world. I joined the ss Mahseer at Glasgow in October 1967. With her plain blue and white houseflag flying at the foremast truck – a long company tradition – and her conspicuous 22-inch broad white band on a black hull, she was easy to pick out from other ships.

She was still discharging tea and other Eastern goods. Soon she would head for the Continent to load general cargo for the Mediterranean, Port Said, the Red Sea ports, the Indian Ocean Islands, Ceylon, and India. She would then complete loading at Tilbury before sailing deepsea It was the end of November before we finally left Tilbury.

The Mahseer, built by Hamilton, Glasgow, in 1948, was one of the older ships in the fleet. Nevertheless, she had her good points. She was a good sea ship. Her steam turbines – not beloved of pilots because of poor astern power – were quiet, reliable, and caused little vibration. She made a nice steady 14 knots. She had more than adequate cargo gear and her accommodation was better than average. As 2nd Mate, I had a fair-sized cabin directly under the bridge on the starboard side with a soot-free area of wooden deck just outside – ideal for tropical get-togethers over a few coldies. All the officers were British, with an Indian crew from Calcutta. Our total complement was 69. Gross tonnage was 8,961, dwt 12,000 tons, she was 508 feet long with a beam of 67 feet.

By then all Brocklebanker names had long begun with ‘Ma’ and were of Asiatic origin. Mahseer is the name of various large Indian freshwater fishes of the carp family; this ship was the second in the company to bear that name. A most apt name for what was to happen later that trip. That voyage we had cargo for almost every Red Sea port: Aqaba, Port Sudan, Jeddah, Assab, Massawa, Djibouti, Aden, and Mukalla. We also had cargo for Male, in the Maldives, which was just beginning to develop (if that’s the right word when such unspoiled tropical paradises open up to tourism and all that such ‘development’ brings).

The voyage was uneventful until we reached Aqaba, at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba in Jordan from where you can also see Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. We were to berth alongside. The pilot – not a Jordanian – was a flamboyant character who had driven down to the jetty in a huge flashy American convertible decorated with a couple of equally flashy peroxide blonde companions who were left in the automobile, so as to get a good view of the ship berthing. The pilot dressed in British MN masters’ uniform – illegally I presume – complete with cap and scrambled egg peak. He had the manner of one who ‘owned’ all he surveyed.

Our OM, Captain Jock Lyle, a tough no-nonsense Scot, was also a ‘character’. So perhaps with two such characters on the bridge it would be something of a battle over who was in ‘command’. I was down aft on stations, so I don’t know exactly what went wrong. The outcome was, however, that we hit the jetty bow-on and ended up with a twofoot gash in our stem above the waterline. Perhaps the pilot was showing off to his female companions and came in too fast – especially on a steam turbine ship with poor astern power – in any case, Jock made it plain he thought the pilot was to blame. As there were no repair facilities, we continued the voyage as we were and fitted our own huge cement box in the fore-peak tank.

This incident put Jock in a filthy mood which only lifted after our sea-rescue several weeks later. In that respect, our involvement in rescue was a double blessing. Meanwhile, one of Jock’s ways of venting his anger was to phone the duty engineer every time he saw a puff of black smoke from our funnel. And he wasn’t very polite about it either. After a long spell doing the round of Red Sea ports, we eventually headed for Malé, capital of the Maldives. Brocklebanks were the first ‘big’ ships to call there. Indeed, a Brocklebank officer had done some fine drawings of the approaches which were later published in the Admiralty Pilot Book to help others.

Malé is part of an atoll, and entrance to the lagoon is through a narrow gap in the ring of islands. We then used to anchor inside and discharge into small barges. At that time there was no airport or tourism. Brocklebankers were still the only big ships calling there and that was not very frequently. Being off the beaten track, the chances of coming across a ship in these waters were indeed minute. This made what happened next little short of miraculous. We sailed from Malé at first light on the 18th February – my 25th birthday. This was still the Northeast Monsoon season and the weather was remarkably fine.

I had completed noon sights and by 1330 hrs was settling down to a quiet watch not expecting to see anything other than flying fish. The sea was smooth with a low gentle swell. Visibility was excellent. It was ideal weather for doing a few chart corrections. As luck would have it, however, I felt lazy and decided to pace the bridge wing and enjoy a bit of bronzing.

The horizon was sharp: deep blue sea against paler blue of sky. We were the only thing moving. Then, as I looked ahead, from the corner of my eye I thought I saw something move. Looking round to our port beam I saw a tiny dark speck. At first I thought it might be nothing more than debris – perhaps a log or something that had washed out to sea. There was no movement. Being on the beam, this object would soon vanish again so I decided to have another look at it through my binoculars. Even magnified it still looked like a dark indefinable speck – but then something moved again.

I knew the OM (Old Man (Captain)) would be just getting his head down after a good lunch. After having his beautiful ship scarred by a show-off pilot, he would not be amused if I called him out of his bed to see some seabirds fluttering around an old log. Nevertheless, I decided to risk it.

Soon we had altered course by ninety degrees and were headed for this unidentified object. It was not long before we could see we were heading for a fishing boat with several madly waving crewmembers on board. If we had been half a mile further away, or if I had gone into the chartroom, we would have sailed blissfully past. And the chances of anyone else seeing them were zero.

As we slowed down to come alongside the stricken vessel, we could see four men on their knees with their heads to the deck in typical Muslim style thanks to Allah. The Mahseer was one ‘fish’ they would never forget catching.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - November 2013 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!

Nexus

Most Popular

  • Less (K)Notts, More Speed! +

  • Message from the Bridge - November 2018 +

  • Tragedy in Tanzania +

  • Bells Will Ring Out on 100th Anniversary of War's End +

  • New Flying Focus Calendar 2019 +

  • 1
  • 2

Top Ten Books and DVDs of 2018

Latest Products

Maritime Log

  • Clean Air Hero +

    Titus The first in a new class of four large roll-on,rolloff car and truck carriers for Wallenius Wilhelmsen, of Norway, has Read More
  • Wreck of Cook's Endeavour Found? +

    HM Bark Endeavour Replica A team of marine archaeologists believe they may have found the wreck of Captain James Cook’s famous vessel Endeavour which Read More
  • Bells Will Ring Out on 100th Anniversary of War's End +

    Lusitania This month, Remembrance Sunday is also the 100th anniversary of the ending of the First World War and various events Read More
  • Focus on Historic Photographs of Lifeboats +

    Beken Lifeboat Collection Photographs of lifeboats dating from the turn of the 20th Century are the centrepiece of a new RNLI exhibition that Read More
  • Vehicle Carrier Runs Aground +

    Makassar Highway The vehicle carrier Makassar Highway, 17,735gt, of the Japanese company K Line, ran aground off the Swedish coast on the Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Disabled Bulk Carrier Towed Into Harbour +

    GDF Suez North Sea A 55,848dwt bulk carrier had to be towed into New York harbour after she became disabled while more than 100 Read More
  • Annual Surveys of Titanic Wreck to Start +

    Island Pride A major expedition takes place next summer to explore the wreck of the White Star Line passenger liner Titanic, 46,328grt, Read More
  • USCG Respons as Ports Closed in Hurricane +

    USCG Dilligence Shipping and ports from the states of Virginia south to Georgia were seriously affected in mid-September by Hurricane Florence, which Read More
  • Forest of Giant Cranes and a New Wharf +

    Port of Houston The Port of Houston, in Texas, took delivery of three new neopanamax ship-to-shore cranes on Aug 6 and five rubber-tyred Read More
  • Garbage Patch Clean-up Set to Start +

    garb The first offshore cleaning system was to be installed last month in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch located halfway between Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • End of Line for Jewel of a Cruise Ship +

    Pacific Jewel The carnival Cruises subsidiary, P&O Cruises Australia, are to replace the cruise ship Pacific Jewel, 70,310gt, with the Star Princess, Read More
  • Cranes Lift Ferry Superstructure onto Hull +

    Express 4 The Australian shipbuilders Austal has rolled-out a new catamaran ferry for the Danish company Molslinjen at its Henderson shipyard in Read More
  • China is World's Top Shipping Nation +

    China Containers China is the world’s leading international shipping nation, according to a new report presented at a Hamburg trade fair on Read More
  • Automatic Berthing Project Test +

    Shioji Maru The proposed joint demonstration project by four Japanese organisations relating to the safety of vessels’ auto berthing and un-berthing has Read More
  • Record Voyage for Northern Sea Route LNG Cargo +

    Christophe de Margerie A new record for crossing the Northern Sea Route was set up in July by the icebreaking LNG carrier Christophe Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • Sea Trials Recall for Zumwalt-Class Destroyer +

    USS Michael Monsoor American News The Zumult class destroyer USS Michael Monsoor was in dockyard hands at Bath in Maine for the removal Read More
  • HMS Albion Proves Big in Japan +

    HMS Albion British News The assault ship HMS Albion, at time of writing, had just completed a five day visit to Tokyo Read More
  • Royal Navy Commissions New Survey Ship +

    HMS Magpie British News The latest survey vessel to join the Royal Navy was commissioned into service at her homeport of Devonport Read More
  • F-35 Stealth Fighters Land in UK +

    F-35 British News The first four of Britain’s next generation F-35 Lightning supersonic fighter jets touched down in the United Kingdom Read More
  • Upgrade Planned for Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier +

    Admiral Kuznetsov Russian News Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, will be refitted to prolong the warship’s operational life. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Seatruck Irish Sea Expansion +

    Seatruck Power Seatruck Pace At this time, when all cross-border ferry operators ex UK must be extremely apprehensive as leaving the EU approaches, Seatruck Read More
  • Tragedy in Tanzania +

    Nyerere A country well used to tragedy, saw another, on Lake Victoria in September. Read More
  • Trouble for "Loch Seaforth" +

    Loch Seaforth Ferry services between Ullapool and Stornoway were disrupted when Caledonian MacBrayne’s Loch Seaforth lost power just over an hour into Read More
  • Stena Adds Extra Freight Capacity to Liverpool Service +

    Stena Forerunner In response to growing market demand, Stena Line has upped freight capacity on the popular Belfast – Liverpool route. Read More
  • Honfleur Hull Sections Craned Into Place +

    Honfleur Brittany Ferries has celebrated the second milestone in the build of its next ship Honfleur with the keeling laying - the Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • The Temps Fête Maritime Festival +

    La Recouvrance During World War II, most of France’s traditional sailing vessels were destroyed and after the war, the emphasis was on Read More
  • Sunderland to Esbjerg Race +

    Oosterschelde On the north east coast of England, it was Sunderland’s proud claim that more ships had been built here than Read More
  • Tall Ships at Liverpool +

    Belem At the end of May, a Tall Ships fleet met at Liverpool. Read More
  • New Bridge Challenges Melissa +

    Melissa The organisers of the charter barges working from Ipswich are worried by plans to build a road bridge across the Read More
  • German Schooners +

    Thor Heyerdahl Two German schooners based at Hamburg are regularly making voyages under sail with general cargoes across the Atlantic. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • Forty Years of Sailing for Mercy Ships +

    Africa Mercy Over the years, I have been a great admirer of the vital work which Mercy Ships carries out in the Read More
  • World Class Simulator Arrives at Montrose +

    Ethos simulator Coming from the NE of Scotland myself, I have been impressed by how, in recent years, Montrose Port Authority (MPA) Read More
  • New Flying Focus Calendar 2019 +

    Flying Focus 2019 Once again, Flying Focus’ maritime aerial photographer, Herman IJsseling, has taken to the skies to brave the elements of nature Read More
  • Less (K)Notts, More Speed! +

    Sir Keith Speed A recent addition to my book collection is Sea Change, a commentary on the battle for the Falkland Islands and Read More
  • UK P&I Club Launches Interactive Video Series +

    Lessons Learned Video I am always in favour of any steps taken to improve safety of life at sea and I feel that Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Three Year Restoration for Alicia +

    Alicia The Southampton headquartered ship repairer and marine engineering services provider, SMS, has launched the classic 1930’s superyacht Alicia from its Read More
  • Latona - A Family Affair +

    Latona With her wide open-air spaces, CRN’s new superyacht Latona offers an original interpretation of timeless elegance, coupled with Italian style Read More
  • Back to Back Transatlantic on the Queen Mary 2 +

    Queen Mary 2 In the past I have been fortunate in that I have been on a cruise to a number of the Read More
  • Turnkey Explorer Yacht +

    Explorer 67 An exciting opportunity for an owner looking to build one of the finest explorer yacht projects available has presented itself. Read More
  • Great Perseverance +

    Meira Behind the construction of every great yacht there is a story and in the building of Meira, it is one Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

Maltese Maritime Museum

A Visit to Ye Olde Naval Bakery

Malta’s “Maritime Museum” is housed in the former Naval Bakery on the quay of Valletta’s urban ward Birgu. Construction of Read More
Presidente Peron

"Eva Peron"

If someone in 1939 had decided to sit out the Second World War they might well have done so in Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

MV Crestbank

A Bank Line Voyage in 1959

The Crestbank was the second of a massive 17 ship order from Harland & Wolff in Belfast commencing with the Read More
USS Liberty

The Attack on the Liberty

You can feel for the captain of USNS “Liberty” Commander William McGonagle, after he was wounded in a sneak Israeli Read More
  • 1
  • 2