I enjoyed Andrew Bell’s memoir of the Eboe in the February 2018 issue of Sea Breezes and especially its very informative background to both the ship and the fortunes of Elder Dempster.
I sailed as Third Mate on the Ebani in 1965 and therefore knew something of the ship’s origins, but Andrew has filled in those gaps in my knowledge which previously existed. These two ships were certainly the best-looking vessels in the fleet, but it was always apparent to me that they never really fitted in. Two swans in a collection of fairly ugly ducklings!
They also weren’t suited to deck watch-keeping in West Africa where no working space could be left unattended for long. They had every hatch, bar two, on different levels which acted as a very efficient exercise machine. The No 3 hold was only worked in daytime because of the noise made by cargo striking the trunk-way sides, so my cabin was no place to get much sleep after permanent night shifts. The decks were relatively useless for loading logs due to too many obstructions and the denial of use of the steel hatch-covers.
Their deadweight of just over ten thousand tons was the largest in the fleet, but their length of five hundred feet meant that they were unable to negotiate the Niger creeks and so have access to those two important ports of Warri and Sapele. By comparison, the Henderson ‘K’ boats, which Andrew mentions in passing, not only could enter the creeks, but had a deadweight of well over nine thousand tons.
Of course, they were the ugliest of ducklings and also represented shipowner parsimony at its worst. No gyro compass on all but two of them and that pair were provided with open steam winches that had been recycled from the breaker’s yard at Dalmuir. It used to be said that you could look across the harbour from Lagos marina towards a crowded Apapa Quay at night and spot the ‘K’ boats in port by counting the black spaces within the row of bright lights. Deck lighting on Henderson ships was colourfully characterised by typical Glasgow humour as being like ‘glow-worms in jilly-jars’.
Memories, some fond, of these ships, but Andrew Bell’s article concluded with a very authoritative account of the end of Elder Dempster which he has thankfully now brought to a wider audience. The use of ED’s reserves to help fund Overseas Containers was probably a good investment, but the tonnage that was eventually brought to the fleet as West Africa containerised, was obsolete within a few years and totally unsuited to the conditions in that trade.
A real missed opportunity, the more so as Ocean, instead, used their investment funds to finance a white elephant gas tanker that lay for decades in Loch Striven and for several other questionable acquisitions.
55 Shanklin Road
Southampton, SO15 7RG