Monday, October 23, 2017
Dalia

When one thinks of Railway steamers of the past, the mind is invariably drawn to smart cross-channel or short-sea packets. A glaring exception to this picture was the good ship Dalia, owned by the South African Railway Shipping Services (SAR ships).

This company had once been a large and thriving shipping company that operated a staple trade, with a few exceptions, of coal from Durban out to the Far East, then a ballast passage down to Bunberry in Australia, where they loaded Jarrah wood railway sleepers for Durban. The trade fell away when the South African Railways replaced the wooden sleepers with steel ones and the fleet slowly dwindled down to two ships name Dalia and Hangklip. The Dalia was the sole survivor of a trio of ships named Aloe, Dalia and Erica after South African flowers, the name Dalia being the Afrikaans version of the more scientifically correct Dahlia. These three ships were built in the United Kingdom in 1931 as a South African government initiative to assist in relieving the effects on the shipyards of that country of the Great Depression, as well as to update the Railways’ then existing fleet.

The Dalia was by no stretch of the imagination a pretty ship. Of only 5,162 tons, she had a bluff bow and antique counter stern and was of the old-fashioned “four island” variety, that is to say the hull was surmounted by a raised forecastle, separate bridge structure, the engine room complex and a raised poop. Painted in the same colours as all the Railways’ floating craft at that time, she had a black hull, white superstructure and a tall buff funnel with three green bands, the top and bottom bands being narrower than the broad middle one. This was supposed to represent the green and gold of South Africa.

I ended up serving in her purely by happy chance. I had just spent a nerveracking morning in the waiting room of the Examiner of Master and Mates in Cape Town. It was 1958, but I can still vividly recall the moment when my name was finally called by the Examiner – Captain Bob Kenny. In later life I came to know him as a kindly and affable man, “one of nature’s gentlemen” as the saying goes, but to a young lad just out of his apprenticeship, he was a towering ogre holding a large chunk of your professional future in his hands. The interview was short and simple. His usual stern visage was cracked into a pleasant smile as he extended his right hand. “Congratulations, laddie, you have passed.” A brief handshake; a minute or two while he proffered a “buff form” and that was that! I emerged out on the quayside in a euphoric daze. I had done it! I was now a certificated officer, but what next?

Having completed my apprenticeship with a tanker company, I had felt the need for a change of scene and, full of confidence, had offered my services to the Clan Line “on obtaining my certificate”. They had replied and had conditionally appointed me to the “Clan Malcolm” as 4th officer for passage to the UK at £45 per month. Life was suddenly good. All I had to do now was report back to the Cape Town Nautical Academy for a celebratory Friday afternoon and then wait for the Clan Malcolm to arrive. With a nice spring in my step, I set out on the short walk to the Academy. This involved traversing the old Victoria Basin, now the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, with a stop-in at the Harbour Café for a sandwich for lunch.

Next to the Harbour Café was a tall building housing a clock-tower and the Port Captain’s offices. To the side of the entrance to this building was affixed a large brass plate – “SARships”. Seized by some odd impulse – I still have no idea why I did it – I suddenly decided to enter the building and, making my way to the 3rd Floor, came across a door marked “Marine Superintendent”. I knocked, was bade to enter and found myself in the presence of a darkly handsome middle-aged man, whose name I found out was Lou Ceronie. Another very short conversation followed – basically:
“I am looking for a job.”
“Do you have a Second Mate’s Certificate?”
“Yes.”
“Good, you can join the Dalia at L Berth in the Duncan Dock as 2nd Mate, at £75 per month. She is sailing at 17h00. Don’t delay her.”

I was stunned. £75 per month versus £45 with the Clan Line. 2nd Mate with a buff form, versus 4th Mate. There was no contest. In the next four hours I had called at the Academy, rushed home, packed and, with the help of my father, arrived at L Berth just on five pm. Stepping out of the car I found myself looking a typical 1930s tramp steamer – my first ship as an officer!

Saying goodbye to my father, I picked up my suitcase and set off up the gangway. On arriving on deck and looking about me, I saw that the ship was covered in coal dust, with lumps of coal lying about everywhere, but had all her hatches battened down and was obviously ready for sea. Waiting for me at the head of the gangway was the Senior Cadet, Hans Schröder, now promoted to Uncertificated Third Officer. He welcomed me warmly, as he had been one of my junior cadets at the General Botha, and then guided me to the Officers’ accommodation in the bridge structure. There he showed me my cabin in the midships accommodation. I was surprised to find that, notwithstanding coal lying around the decks, the accommodation was spotlessly clean, other than where the coal dust had been trampled in from outside. There was no doubt as to who the ship’s owners were. My cabin had a single large brass porthole, with a large single bunk and drawers beneath it; a varnished desk and chair; a cupboard and a settee covered in green Railway seat leather. In one corner was a curious contraption found on the trains of that time and known as a “compactum”. The upper section of this was a mirror-fronted medicine chest and, on opening the middle section downwards, a stainless steel washbasin dropped down, complete with hot and cold taps. The bottom section contained the waste disposal unit. There were no other toilet facilities and the nearest bathroom was a small washroom, toilet and shower at the far end of the alleyway that I would share with the other deck officers.

Dumping my gear in the cabin, I followed Hans to the dining saloon, a period piece of polished teak furniture, brass, green Railway leather and old framed sepia photographs of South African tourist spots served by the Railways in the 1930s. There I encountered the Captain, Morgan Williams; was introduced to the Shipping Master and was ‘signed on”. Having her full complement of officers, the ship could now proceed to sea.

I also found out from Hans that the reason for this delay, and my employment, was that at the start of the previous voyage and when sailing from Cape Town, the captain at that time and all his deck officers were drunk, the ship having been taken out into the bay by the Railway pilot and the cadets, who then anchored the ship until the officers sobered up. Proof of this was a damaged engine room telegraph on the bridge, where the broken glass bore witness to the captain’s cooperation. When asked by the pilot for a “kick astern” he had promptly kicked in the glass! On the Dalia’s return to Cape Town they were all summarily dismissed and a new group hired – including me.

The new captain, Captain Williams, was a tiny little dark-haired Welshman completely devoid of any sign of that inferiority complex known as “short man’s syndrome” and one of nature’s gentlemen. I never heard him raise his voice in anger, not even when he was obviously annoyed, and he was always the soul of courtesy. He had been one of my navigation lecturers when I was a General Botha cadet and was both an excellent teacher and seaman.

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

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!

Gas Myth

Most Popular

  • 1
  • 2

Latest Products

Maritime Log

  • Test Ship Remotely Controlled From California +

    Highland Chieftain The Finnish group Wartsila has successfully tested the remote control of a ship in the North Sea from a centre Read More
  • Boost for Sail Ship Carrier +

    Quadriga Project The London-based classification society Lloyd’s Register has joined the project to build the world’s largest sailing cargo ship, a 170m Read More
  • Walk to Work Offshore Service Starts +

    Vos Start On Aug 1, what is described as a walk-to-work vessel arrived at Barrow to provide offshore logistics support during construction Read More
  • Drop In Orders For New Container Ships +

    Maersk Triple E The orderbook for container ships has fallen by 30 per cent in capacity terms since the start of 2016 and Read More
  • "Robot" Containers Tested +

    SEAtrue Smart “robot containers”, complete with cooling systems, that can sail to ports without any human interaction, have been developed by Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Hudson's Biggest +

    Steam generator The two-day, 170-mile delivery from the Port of Coeymans near Albany, New York of a new 130-foot high steam generator Read More
  • "Friendship of Salem" to Return This Winter +

    Friendship of Salem The Salem Maritime National Historic Site announced agreement on contract changes for the ongoing overhaul of the three-masted, 171-foot Friendship Read More
  • You're Fired! +

    USS John S McCain After a grounding, three collisions and multiple deaths, Vice Adm Joseph Aucoin was relieved of command of the US Navy’s Read More
  • Old Ironsides Floats Again +

    USS Constitution A two-year overhaul in dry dock for USS Constitution ended on the night of 23/24 July when the waters of Read More
  • "Berlin" Comes to New York +

    OOCL Berlin On 17 July, the 13,208 TEU OOCL Berlin became the largest ship to enter the port of New York and Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • Kidnapped Crew Killed +

    Royal 16 The Philippine military have found the bodies of three sailors who were kidnapped in two separate incidents over nine months Read More
  • Line Fined Over Cartel In Shipping Cars +

    NYK LIne The Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK), of Tokyo, was convicted at an Australian Federal Court of criminal Read More
  • Historic Second World War Wreck Discovered +

    USS Indianapolis A team of civilian researchers, led by the entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul G Allen, has located one of the most Read More
  • Bound for Australia +

    FLNG Prelude Built for Shell, one of the world’s largest offshore facilities ever constructed was due in Australian waters on July 30 Read More
  • OOCL Takeover Will Lead to Third Largest Line +

    OOCL The takeover of Orient Overseas International Lines, of Hong Kong, by the Chinese companies Cosco Shipping Holdings and the Shanghai Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • HMS Queen Elizabeth Arrives at Home Port +

    HMS Queen Elizabeth British News An event following the 2010 Defence Review many thought would never happen occurred on Wednesday 16 August when Read More
  • Work Starts on Three Warships +

    Type 25 British News After an almost unseemly wait, the Royal Navy can breathe again having held its breath waiting for the Read More
  • 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
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Excursion Woes +

    Waverley The excursion business, especially with the preserved classic vessels, has continued to have major disappointments. Read More
  • Making Points +

    Stena Superfast VIII In recent years, Remontowa at Gdansk has been the go-to yard for many European ferries needing refit and survey and Read More
  • Superfast Moves +

    Stena Superfast VIII Interesting moves at Stena Line where their Cairnryan – Belfast Superfast VII and VIII vessels, which appear to be integral to Read More
  • 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
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • Captain Tom Galloway +

    Tom Galloway and Shell Driver It is with sadness I report the loss, after a short illness, of long term Sea Breezes follower and valued Read More
  • Focus on Goole +

    Eems Sprinter A testing Yorkshire pub, West or East Riding, quiz challenge, or exam question in the armoury of a Yorkshire Education Read More
  • Dedicated Dry Dock for "Pommern" +

    Pommern After forty years in New York as a museum ship, the 4-masted barque Peking has been shipped by the heavy-lift Read More
  • 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
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • New EU Research Project To Improve Safety +

    Nordic Orion A new three-year research project, funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, has been launched to address safety and efficiency Read More
  • Flogas Partners with ABP to Bunker Ships with LNG +

    Ireland As legislation tightens to reduce ship emissions I was interested to hear that Flogas Britain has partnered with Associated British Read More
  • Red Funnel Orders Second High-Speed Ferry +

    Red Jet 6 Great news from Red Funnel in late August that it has placed an order with Wight Shipyard Ltd in East Read More
  • FS Monge: A Highly Unusual Naval Vessel +

    FS Monge I am always interested in unusual looking ships and a friend of mine, who like me, is also a fan Read More
  • HMS Queen Elizabeth Sets Out on Her Sea Trials +

    HMS Queen Elizabeth Britain's largest ever aircraft carrier left Rosyth (in the Firth of Forth, Scotland) on June 26th 2017 to carry out Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Two Unique Ships Meet In Douglas Bay +

    Sega Sapphire and Talitha When Hapag-Lloyd’s new build, the Europa (3), was delivered to the company in 1981, the vessel very quickly was awarded Read More
  • The Movie “Juggernaut “ and the Experiences of an Extra +

    Juggernaut As a contributor to Sea Breezes it is always useful to get comment from our readers. Read More
  • Hydrogen Powered Vessel to Sail Around the World +

    Energy Observer. (J Bidon) A voyage with a planned duration of six years in which 101 ports of call in 50 different countries are Read More
  • Star Attraction +

    Areti. (K Jordan) Each and every September, the Principality of Monaco plays host to a Superyacht Show. Read More
  • 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
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

John Readhead & Sons

The Role of the Yard Pilot

Anyone who has attended a ship launch will forever remember the thrill of the occasion as the vessel begins its Read More
Duke of Lancaster

TSS Duke of Lancaster

A Typical Summer Sailing From Heysham Harbour – 50 Years Ago Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

British Monarch. (Malcolm Cranfield)

Man Overboard in the Pacific

Sixty years ago this year, the 2nd officer on the British cargo ship British Monarch had an amazing rescue after Read More
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
  • 1
  • 2