Monday, August 21, 2017
The Maplebank

In 1954, the Liberty ship Maplebank set off around the world in an unforgettable trip of somewhat drunken revelry, punctuated by routine calm at sea between ports. In port where drink was available, there were crises after crises as the crew went missing or appeared on deck drunk and unable to work.

The Maplebank was one of a dozen so called Sam Boats or Liberty ships bought into Andrew Weir’s Bank Line after WW2. Previously named Samwash, she was in the fleet for 10 years to 1957 before being sold on to Liberian registry and named African Lord where she had another 12 years before going to the breakers. She had also been at the Sicily landings in WW2.

The author joined her as a 19 year old senior apprentice, in 1954, one of four, later to be three, as one, a Geordie Apprentice, deserted in New Zealand.

The previous trip had also been an eventful one, with the Master sadly disappearing at sea. Also, a fire whilst in the Mississippi River delta was extinguished after she had been beached to enable firefighters to put out the the blaze.

On board, it was quickly realised that standards on the American built war time ships was higher than we were used to. There were no frills, but there was a solid feel to everything, and the most noticeable difference to our usual ships, was in the accommodation. Bunks were wider and better furnished, and the heating was heavy duty. On the bridge, it was functional and a bit spartan, but again, all fittings seemed clunkier. The Maplebank still had the gun bays on the bridge front to remind of the real purpose of their existence. Down below, a three cylinder steam engine seemed simple and robust, as indeed, they were. It is probably true to say that those who sailed on Liberty’s enjoyed the experience, and the memory of these ships is regarded fondly by many.

It was to be an interesting round the world voyage that would end in Bremen with only one of the original deck crew remaining. Signing off with a bad discharge, a DR (decline to report) he was the Bosun, but had started the trip as an EDH (efficient deck hand) and found rapid promotion as his shipmates deserted around the Australian and New Zealand ports that we visited. It was a bit rough that he was made a scapegoat for the misdeeds of his colleagues, but the Master had been frustrated for 15 months by the antics of them all, and probably felt justified. To my mind it was ironic, and a bit unfair, as he was the only member of the deck crew that had stayed loyal.

We joined on a cold snowy January day in Bromboro dock, where the Maplebank was discharging Copra and heated coconut oil into road tankers, and the pungent and distinctive smell permeated everything. Steam winches were clattering away. To the author it was like home, with a welcoming and familiar smell, but once on board it was immediately apparent that this was no ordinary Bank Boat. In the apprentices cabin a weighted rubber cosh dangled on the radiator, and the companionway up to the officer’s accommodation had a hinged thick steel door which set us all wondering. However, we soon settled in, and started to meet our shipmates. It was mid-winter in Birkenhead and the heating was off due to repairs below, so we trooped ashore to eat in the Lever Bros canteen.

Unlike the Asian crews on most of company’s ships, the Liberty’s had so called ‘white’ crews from the Seaman’s pool, and they were Liverpudlians on this voyage with a rich sense of humour. Many were great seamen. We were to discover that their brand of humour sustained them through all situations, good or bad. They were irreverent fun to work with, tipsy or not, although the fun wore a bit thin when we apprentices had to cover for them, either steering, or covering hatches and working long hours.

We loaded in the Gulf Ports of Texas and Louisiana after a ballast voyage from Liverpool. Bulk rock sulphur went into the lower holds, and after levelling, heavy plant like tractors and harvesters were lashed down on top. General cargo of all sorts, barrels, cartons, and bundles filled the tweendecks. It was long before containerisation hid nearly all cargo inside ubiquitous steel boxes. On deck we carried a refinery pressure tank loaded from a floating barge and associated heavy lift crane. The big thick steel tube took up all of the starboard side of the afterdeck and the deck crew quickly decorated it with painted slogans, Kon Tiki, being the most prominent. No thought was given to any views the consignees might have! Amazingly, there was yet no major signs of the boozy mayhem ahead in New Zealand.

We sailed for the Panama Canal, and arriving at Cristobal in the evening, anchored to complete formalities before an early transit the next day. It was magical with coloured lights twinkling ashore, and the cooler air after a tropical day. The crew then disappeared unnoticed after hitching a ride on one of the launches alongside. In the morning, with no sign of the crew, a decision had to be made how to proceed and it was decided that with four apprentices, a transit could be made without the majority of the deck and engine room staff. The author spent a few hours at the wheel, spelled by one of the other apprentices, and the pilot, strolling up and down the bridge wing kept up a running commentary with the police ashore as they attempted to find and round up the missing crew members. One of the engineers has also had a night in Cristobal and unfortunately had been stabbed in a fracas, ending up in hospital.

The Liberty ships had an upper wheelhouse, a glorified box on stilts which contained a steering console, with a compass, telegraph, whistle lanyard, and a clock. As it was a small area, it was possible for a nimble helmsman to control all three devices, and the author took a great delight in steering, ringing the telegraph, and blowing the whistle when required by the Canal pilot. It was shades of Para Handy on his Clyde Puffer but on a larger scale! The crackly walky talky radio kept us informed as we transited through the Lakes whenever another member of the crew had been located. After we exited we anchored in Balboa Bay, awaiting developments. Finally, the rounded up members were sent out on a police launch. Still feisty, they were handcuffed and released one by one to climb the Pilot ladder on to the deck, where they flung wedges and anything lying around back down on the police boat, which sped away. The police had had enough. Fined by the Master the next day, they claimed triumphantly to us apprentices to have nominated the “Destitute Master Mariners Fund” as their choice for the deducted wages.

Our deck crew were good seamen, often from families of seafarers, and skills had been learnt which included the sewing of working suits from duck canvas, complete with cap. The young deck boys had trouble reading however, so the apprentices sometimes read out their letters when asked to do so. Crossing the line with this Liverpool crew was quite an elaborate affair, a pool being assembled on one of the hatches, and the court of King Neptune suitably dressed in crown and with a gold trident, presiding over the prisoners.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - July 2017 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!

Hong Kong Express

Most Popular

  • 1
  • 2

Latest Products

Maritime Log

  • Replacement Cranes Giving Humber a Lift +

    Gottwald Cranes Unloading Two new Gottwald 820 cranes were delivered in June to the Humber International Terminal of Associated British Ports (ABP) at Read More
  • Unified Ship Design Rolls Off the Drawing Board +

    Unified Ship Design The UK-based engineering company Rolls-Royce has radically overhauled its vessel design philosophy in a bid to optimise construction and operations Read More
  • World's Largest in Felixstowe +

    OOCL Hong Kong The world’s largest container ship, the OOCL Hong Kong, of 210,890gt and 21,413teu, made her maiden call at Felixstowe on Read More
  • Southampton's Record in a Weekend +

    Southampton Port Southampton welcomed 15 cruise ships in three days making it the busiest cruise weekend on record. Read More
  • Cleaning up Plastic from the Oceans +

    Cleaning up Plastic from the Oceans The marine geophysical company Petroleum Geo-Services (PG-S), of Oslo, has developed a concept for the largescale collection of plastic in Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Battleship Texas "Sinks" +

    USS Texas Having survived two world wars and now a museum ship, New York-class battleship USS Texas (BB-35), began to sink at Read More
  • Third Ice Class Ocean Tug for Foss +

    Nicole Foss On 6 June Foss Maritime christened their third Arctic-class ocean tug, Nicole Foss, at the Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma, Read More
  • "You may fire when ready, Gridley" +

    McCulloch On 1 May 1898, when US Admiral George Dewey gave this order to the Captain of his 344-foot Flagship, USS Read More
  • ‘Perfect Storm’ Star’s New Role +

    Tamora Decommissioned 74 year-old, US Coast Guard cutter, Tamaroa, famous for her role in the book The Perfect Storm and the Read More
  • Another Sign Summer’s Almost Here +

    MS Mount Washington Classed by the American Bureau of Shipping, MS Mount Washington, the 129-year-old, 220- foot flagship of the Winnipesaukee Flagship Corporation Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • Trans-Shipment Hub for Coal Cargo +

    Coal Hub A coal imports trans-shipment hub centred on a floating platform is being established in Vietnamese waters by three partners. Read More
  • Court Stops Demolition Over Radioactive Claim +

    North Sea Producer The breaking up of the former floating oil production and storage tanker (FPSO) North Sea Producer was halted by the Read More
  • Two Crewmen Died Of 'Foul Play At The Hands Of Others' +

    Sage Sagittarius The inquest into the deaths of two crew members of the bulk carrier Sage Sagittarius, 73,427dwt, when the ship was Read More
  • Seven Die in Destroyer Collision +

    USS Fitzgerald Seven sailors died when the US, Navy destroyer Fitzgerald was in a collision with the Philippine-flag container ship ACX Crystal, Read More
  • Alert Over Gas Cylinder Safety Checks +

    Emerald Princess A gas cylinder that had just passed a mandatory detailed safety inspection exploded while being refilled and killed a member Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • Los Angeles Class Decommissioning +

    USS Dallas American News The end of May saw a lot of submarine news within the US Navy with the decommissioning of Read More
  • HMS Westminster Returns to Service +

    HMS Westminster British News After two years out of service undergoing a major reconstruction and refit, the Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster Read More
  • USS Tripoli Launched Ahead of Schedule +

    USS Tripoli American News Ingalls Shipbuilding achieved a remarkable achievement when they launched the latest America class amphibious assault ship, USS Tripoli, Read More
  • New Voyages for USS Enterprise +

    USS Enterprise American News Huntington Ingalls Industries was awarded a $25.5 million contract to essentially start the advanced fabrication of the third Read More
  • Naval Update - April 2017 +

    USS Antietam American News On Tuesday 31 January, the Ticonderoga class cruiser USS Antietam ran aground off the coast of Yokosuka in Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority +

    Iyanough The Isle of Wight has always been associated in my mind with the “Southampton, Isle of Wight and South of Read More
  • CalMac's Isle of Lewis +

    Isle of Lewis This fine study of the Isle of Lewis in the dramatic environs of Castlebay, Barra, is a reminder she has Read More
  • Rotor Sails +

    Viking Grace If you thought the ungainly looking rotor sail system, an invention from the early 20th Century, was gone forever, you Read More
  • New Fast Ferry Deliveries +

    Express 3 News of Fast ferry investment; Express 3 has sailed from Tasmania on her delivery voyage to Denmark via the Panama Read More
  • Ferry Implications of Brexit +

    Cote des Dunes It must be a uniquely worrying time for operators of UK Ro-Ro Ferry ports with an uncertain future entirely out Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • Oil Downturn Continues +

    Ocean Seeker The offshore oil downturn has been taking its toll around the North Sea amongst many rig boat operators and also Read More
  • Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta +

    Artemis On April 6 Dutch sailing vessels took part in the Race of the Classics from Holland across the North Sea Read More
  • Pioneering Spirit For Teeside +

    Pioneering Spirit Teesside has lost most of its steel manufacturing and much of the shipping traffic it brought, but at the other Read More
  • Troubles for Ahlmarks' Skagern +

    Skagern Ahlmark is Sweden’s oldest shipping company, founded by 1847, and still going strong, if not as strong as they used Read More
  • The Dawn +

    Dawn The 81ft Dawn, a ‘heritage’ sailing barge with an open hold and tiller-steered, took out trips last summer for people Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • Captain Fryatt, The Martyr Of Bruges +

    SS Brussels and Captain Charles Fryatt At the end of the Great War, the bodies of only three heroes were ever brought back to England and Read More
  • Brahminy Kites in Port Sweetenham +

    Brahminy Kite Recently, I have been back in touch with Captain John Anderson; he now lives in Canada, but we sailed together Read More
  • Peel Ports Appoints New Port Director +

    Jouke Schaap Never a dull moment at Peel Ports which owns and operates six of the UK's major ports – Liverpool, Heysham, Manchester Read More
  • Exhibition on HQS Wellington +

    HQS Wellington News of a really interesting free exhibition on board HQS Wellington entitled "Abandon Ship! – Surviving the Wartime Atlantic". Read More
  • MOL Triumph +

    MOL Triumph Gary Davies of Maritime Photographic sent me this "jaw dropping" photograph of the MOL Triumph which dramatically conveys the sheer Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Gliding up the Thames +

    Glider SS18 It's been eight years in the making but finally the first Glider was unveiled in London last month. Read More
  • Yacht With a Pinch of Porsche +

    Dynamiq GTT 115 Taking the spirit of highperformance sports car styling to the high seas, the Dynamiq GTT 115 is designed to appeal Read More
  • The “Celebrity Edge” +

    Celebrity Edge You have to admire the innovative mindset that is evident within the creative corridors of a modern cruise line. Read More
  • The Mailship vs The Corsair +

    Windsor Castle and Corsair Before the Internet, Websites, Blogs and eNewsletters presented themselves to an unsuspecting world, the arrival of the monthly passenger shipping Read More
  • Cloud 9 Launched in Italy +

    Cloud 9 Nine different colours of cloudlike smoke were used as a backdrop when Cloud 9, the brand new 74 metre superyacht Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

TSS Awatea

Secrets of the "Awatea"

Somewhere off the North African port of Béjaïa, deep on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea, lie the remains of Read More
Dalia

A Different Type of Railway Steamer

When one thinks of Railway steamers of the past, the mind is invariably drawn to smart cross-channel or short-sea packets. Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

Painting of Venus

A Quartet for the North Sea

The chain of events that led to the Bergen Line building the Venus started in the head office of Swedish Read More
MS Pacheco

Happy Seagoing Days - MacAndrew Line

After gaining my Masters Certificate in July 1962, I started to look for another job on General cargo ships, but Read More
  • 1
  • 2