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Friday, May 24, 2019

Most deck officers of my generation, in the final decades of conventional ships, accepted 12 hour plus working days doing normal watch-on watch-off bridge watches which were maintained 24 hours a day by just two deck officers, on ships that carried no Third Officers or Radio Officers. Masters did not perform watches.

Watchkeeping (SMSC)No one can work anywhere near their best when sleep deprived. Tiredness breeds mistakes. It was impossible to obtain anything close to eight hours sleep at any one time and especially as the Chief Officer and Second had extra non watch keeping duties to perform when they were officially off duty below decks.

The doubling of bridge watches by having cadets put on watch with bridge keeping officers on normal deep sea ships was commo0n in areas of heavy shipping or poor weather around the coast of Europe and other where extreme weather or huigh volumes of shipping could be expected. That was good safe practice.

The Union Steam Ship Company of NZ was not unusual in manning its smaller coasters and colliers with just two watch keeping officers. That was the case on the ill fated Kaitawa which sank off Pandora Bank, Northland, New Zealand in foul weather with the loss of all hands in the late 1960s. I was a very young Second Mate on the ship for a number of months, at a time when all Second Mates on these ships were also required to do a radio telephone bridge watchs using ancient valve radios of a temperamental nature, and also calculate crew wages every 14 days and act as pay master on pay day sorting out change lists in pounds shillings and pence without the aid of calculators which were not available then.

Cargo handing responsibilities and fast turn arounds in port provided no respite from work.

The Masters of these ships had pilotage exemptions for most of the ports of call and did not feel obliged to keep bridge watches. The small ships did not carry radar or gyro compasses. Nor did they have the advantages of the Loran Radio Navigation system which was in common use in the North Sea and coastal parts of Europe then. This was the way most British coasters of that time were manned and also quite a few larger ships particularly old foreign owned tramps.

I recall a British Radio Officer telling me he had applied for a Radio Officer’s job on a Scandinavian cargo ship but did not get it because he rightly refused to do a bridge watch as well because which he was not qualified to do.

Things were must worse back in the 1800s when the 847 ton sailing ship Talbot. chartered by Shaw Savill Line brought my wife’s ancestors, the Joseph Bowmar family from Gravesend to Auckland. Her master fired both the chief and second mates at sea because of bad behavour and incompetence. The Second Mate was the first to be stood down for constantly sleeping on watch, and the ship’s carpenter was promoted to take his place. The Mate had a fiery temperament and been involved in fights so he was stood down. The Carpenter then became the Mate and a Sail Maker the Second Mate.

The ship had 163 passengers women and children included from Gravesend to Auckland.

She sailed from Gravesend on 2nd Aug 1864 and arrived at Auckland on 21 December 1864 without a single port call enroute on a voyage down the coast of Spain and across the Equator to pick up the Brazilian Current, into the Roaring Forties and Screaming Sixties sailing well south of South Africa and Australia, and arrived at Auckland virtually out of food and very little water.

I was fortunate in working for shipping companies that were largely responsible like the British and Commonwealth group, Clan Line and Union Castle Line. The Union Steam Ship Company insisted on high bridge watch keeping standards but fell short in providing the latest navigational aids and accepting lower manning standards on its colliers and small coasters. The loss of a small ship may have been of less consequence to USSCO but the loss of any life a large or small ship sholuld be avoided.

It was common then to joke about British coasters with salt caked smoke stacks being manned by two men and a dog but too close to the truth for many and no joke to sleep deprived deck officers.

ROY VAUGHAN
21 Pearson St, Mangawhai 0505
Kaipara, New Zealand
E-Mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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