I arrived in Hull at the dead of night, drizzling rain and cold. It was Monday 9th January 1967 around 8pm when I climbed up the gangway of the M/V Hollybank. Escorted by the officer of the watch, I made my way to the radio officers quarters.
Too tired to do anything else I crashed out and decided to introduce myself the next morning. The ship wasn’t due to sail until later in the day and there would be ample time to get acquainted.
The first person I bumped into the next day was Captain Webb, the master, a tall thickset New Zealander. He shook my hand firmly and said if I needed anything to just ask. We made our way down to the officers mess for breakfast after which I met the 2nd Mate John, an Australian, Owen 3rd Mate, Callum and Michael who were deck cadets.
John gave me the ships itinerary which was very impressive. Our next port would be Bremerhaven followed by Rotterdam Holland, Antwerp Belgium, Le Havre and Cherbourg in France, Puerto Cabello and Maracaibo in Venezuela, Santa Marta and Barranquilla in Colombia, then Mobile, New Orleans and Houston in USA, through the Panama Canal to Apia in Samoa, Suva in Fiji, Honiara in the Solomon Islands, Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, then round the Australian coast starting at Gladstone then Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Fremantle and back to Sydney before heading straight home to Liverpool via Panama.
My cousin David, his wife Vivian and son Richard had moved to Sydney, Australia so I rang my mother to let them know I was on my way and hoped to visit them.
The Hollybank was a much bigger ship than the Crispin at 8,500 tons and was only 4 years old. The radio room was equipped with the normal Marconi gear with which I was very familiar. Everything was in it’s usual place which was the best part of Marconi radio rooms, you could normally always find what you were looking for.
The Marconi pay for a radio officer had recently been raised to sixty five pounds per month from the forty eight pounds it was when I had joined. A big improvement but still way behind the other officers and the poor sparky was still considered to be the poor relative.
The crew were all Indians (except for the ubiquitous Chinese chippy) and it wasn’t long before my cabin steward introduced himself and proposed that although it wasn’t his job, he would clean the radio room for a tin of tobacco per month. That seemed like a good deal so we shook hands on that.
My two months leave after the twelve month Crispin trip had dried me out and I was feeling a lot more level headed. Even though I still drank and smoked our tax free allowance, I didn’t indulge as much as previously.
Besides, this ship was really quite busy as far as radio traffic was concerned and Captain Webb kept me on my toes with lots of telegrams and requests for D/F bearings etc at odd hours.
Our port stops were quite brief mostly only a few hours so there was little shore leave and the most we saw of a port would be the docks. With the Indian crew we had the choice of Western food or Indian food and I very often chose Indian.
After leaving the European coast behind we were soon heading out across the Atlantic and South America. Stops in Venezuela were brief and then it was Santa Marta Colombia. Here I met the most beautiful girl with olive skin long legs and an oval face with jet-black waist-length hair. I could have easily fallen for her in a big way but unfortunately, the life of a seaman takes them away as soon as it brings them together.
Soon we were heading across to the US Gulf coast then through the Panama Canal. It was interesting to see how the little diesel tugs were attached to the sides of the ship and towed them through the locks. Between the locks were the lakes where several ships lay at anchor. We were soon heading out across the Pacific Ocean to our next port of Apia, Western Samoa.
There was not much radio activity during the daytime in the Pacific because of the vast distances however during the night, when propagation was much better, many distant stations could be heard. Most of the US stations came booming in on MF and we could pick up many South American music stations which I patched through the speakers in the crews mess.
During our off duty time, we sat and played cards, read books or magazines, played darts or just walked up and down the decks for exercise. I also spent time on the “Monkey Island” working on my suntan.
It was a long drag across the ocean and soon we were in Suva, Fiji loading a cargo of copra. We soon found out that the ship had become completely infested with copra bugs. They showed up at breakfast time when you poured your milk on your cornflakes, they would float to the top. “Don’t worry”, said Callum. “Just spoon them off and carry on eating.” Sounded like one of those “Carry On” movies – “Carry On Eating – After You’ve Spooned The Copra Bugs Off Your Cornflakes.”
In Port Moresby Papua New Guinea a large group of school children visited the ship. They all tried to cram into the radio room and the room temperature visibly increased as I talked them through all the various pieces of equipment.
The Hollybank eventually docked in Sydney and I was met by my cousin David, Vivian and Richard who was a little toddler. I took them on a tour of the ship and they stayed for lunch before we headed to their rented flat in Maroubra Beach.
Luckily the ship stayed three days in Sydney waiting for cargo so we had a great time recounting old stories, swims at Maroubra and Bondi and a trip to Taronga Park Zoo.
David hadn’t lost any of his teasing skills though and he proceeded to put me through my paces but I managed to give him back as good as I got. It was not long before we were heading back again across the Pacific for the three week trip to Liverpool.