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Friday, May 24, 2019

SA van der Stel“Stone the Crows!” was indeed my first reaction on reading the second line of Captain Fullerton’s article in the April 2014 edition of Sea Breezes.

What he wrote was; “Sometime late in 1946, Hogarth’s ss Baron Herries (Captain Hamilton McGuffie)” - and this both rang a large bell and awakened a slew of memories. I sailed with Captain Hamilton McGuffie, ex-Baron Lines and a Scot resident in Fort William, undoubtedly the same man, but very different from the one described by Captain Fullerton. The ship was the South African tanker President Brand, owned by Northern Steamships Company, the South African subsidiary of Southern Steamships, a London-Greek outfit owned by Evangelos P Nomikos. It was 1955; nine years later than Captain Fullerton’s interesting trip, and Captain McGuffie had obviously mellowed with time and circumstances.

The ship was a slightly larger version of a class built at Haverton Hill-on-Tees for Eagle Oil and London Overseas Tankers, and of 24,000 tons displacement. She had just finished her maiden voyage when my fellow apprentice, Ernest Hinterleitner, and I joined her. We found McGuffie a distant and forbidding figure, very dour and a strict disciplinarian. Having said that, I must add that he treated us two apprentices with benign indulgence and kept a beady eye on our progress. Conditions were obviously very different from those pertaining to Hogarth’s in the 40’s when Captain Fullerton served his time with them.

Southern Steamships had a fleet of seven ships which were well-run and immaculately maintained. Possibly because all the company’s apprentices were drawn from the South African Nautical College General Botha and had had two years extensive pre-sea training. We were treated as officers-in-training and not as cheap labour. We were enrolled with the Seafarers’ Education Service correspondence course and our double cabin had a bookcase stocked with textbooks supplied by the Company. We worked watches when at sea and day work in port, but being a tanker, continued with sea watches when loading or discharging, when we worked a cargo watch. At sea we worked on deck under the Irish boatswain Tom Gibbons and for the night watches we were on the bridge taking a trick on the wheel and if the ship were not on auto-pilot, keeping a look-out, taking the occasional bearing and acting as a sort of second-officer of the watch.

During this routine, Captain McGuffie would often stop and exchange a few words. Sometimes he had his wife with him. She was a charming and friendly Scotswoman and on one occasion in the Suez Canal we apprentices received a giant-sized box of chocolates “from the Captain” which the Egyptian agent had given her. Southern Steamships fed well and I can never recall going hungry, even as a growing lad. We ate with the officers and engineers in the dining saloon where we were waited on by stewards and where uniform was de rigueur. McGuffie ruled over this ritual with a rod of iron and we spent a lot of time changing from jeans to uniform and back again.

After a year with us, Captain McGuffie left to become Marine Superintendent in London and his place was taken by Captain Johnny Johnson, also ex-Hogarth’s and also of Fort William. We still saw McGuffie when we called into the UK and he would always make a point of looking us up to enquire as to our well-being. A very different attitude from that which Captain Fullerton described about his time in Hogarth’s.

Because our ships were tramping or tankers on charter, all the company’s apprentices used to be shipped out to join their assigned ship, spent their entire apprenticeship on the one ship without home leave and would then be shipped home to South Africa. None of us minded. We were young, unattached and it was an adventurous life. From Cape Town back to Cape Town Ernest and I did our first voyage of two years, 10 months and 27 days, without leave. At the end of this time we each received a glowing letter of recommendation, signed by Hamilton McGuffie as Marine Superintendent.

Two other snippets about McGuffie come to mind. Although we never met her, rumour had it that he had a very attractive daughter who, apparently, played a role in the kidnapping of the Stone of Scone, which caused a bit of a furore in the UK a few years back. In later life my fellow apprentice, Ernest Hinterleitner, happened to be Master of the Safmarine cargo liner, SA van der Stel (pictured above) and in London docks. He tracked down McGuffie, our old Chief Officer Reg Haines and the boatswain, Tom Gibbons, had them picked up by limousine and gave them a brandy and cigar luncheon aboard his ship. Almost without exception, all the Company’s apprentices did well and Ernest did us all a favour by this nice gesture of appreciation to our mentors.

CAPTAIN IVOR C LITTLE
3 Villa Rosa, 186 Jonk Avenue
0157 Centurion, South Africa
E-Mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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