ALL AT SEA……
I was re-reading Lois Haime’s fine article on her journey to Russia. Like all
travel stories, one starts to remember the personal journeys and the enormous
good luck that counters enormous stupidity. How must of us survive
excusrions to foreigh countries still mystifies me.
My travel story started in late 1972 when I had an urge to go back to the old
country. I had been actively urged to do so by many people since arriving in
Australia in 1966. I was never sure of their motives. This is the story of how I
got on the wrong ship going to the wrong country.
My first act of stupidity was to think that making my own way to Perth from
Sydney would save me money. After all, wasn’t Perth closer to London by
4,000 km? Five days of hitchhiking and a near death experience in a runaway
truck found me in Perth. I stayed with some old mates who had mastered
time travel, making Sunday sessions last for a fortnight. During this time travel
experience, I had managed to register my name at the Department of Shipping
and Transport as a workaway on a ship. This allowed practicing idiots like
myself to travel on a cargo ship being paid one shipping per week in exchange
Within a few days, a bulk carrier at Fremantle needed me to replace men who
had jumped ship. This should have been my second wake up call but my mind
was still focused on a cheap trip to London. I signed the ”Articles” assuming it
was just a technical legality for this trip only. Mistake number three.
As the 60,000 ton bulk carrier thumped its way out of Fremantle into the night, I
asked Mick, the Irish steward, how long it would take us to get back to London.
He looked at me as if I had been on a fortnight of Sunday sessions and said
with a malicious smile – “We’re not going to the UK”. I suspected that Mick
had lied to me purely because he could but as we headed across the South
Atlantic for the eastern seaboard of the US, it became apparent that London
was getting further away by the day. The bright news was that I was being
paid a wage and not a shilling a week! In addition, I was even allowed to play
with the steering wheel for ten hours and get my steeing certificate. The crew
also treated me to hours of maritime horror stories eager to scare the village
idiot on his first voyage out. I hid in my cabin when we crossed the equator.
Our first cargo of mica sands was unloaded in Baltimore, Maryland and I
headed straight for a shore ‘phone to ring the British Consulate in Washington.
I explained that I was a workaway and if I wasn’t repatriated to the UK, then the
crew would go on strike because I wasn’t a union member. I indignantly
maintained that I was being detained against my will!
The consulate official was diplomatically patient with my description of my
personal shipping disaster and then explained the implications of the “Articles”
that I had signed. I had signed on for two years, had been paid full wages
been automically enrolled in the seamens’ union. That, to me, was the true
meaning of being sunk.
Nevertheless, by the time we had unloaded our last cargo in Mobile, Alabama,
our crew were informed of our impending rotation back to the UK.
Unfortunately we were also involved in the biggest British seamens’ strike in
recent history and the company had arranged a multi-airline exit designed to
deceive the union bosses in London. The union had dictated that any British
ship rotating crews during the worldwide strike would be blacklisted when
returning to home waters. I have never boarded so many different aircraft in
48 hours and I was petrified they would route us through a Botswana Airlines
DC3. We passed our incoming crew at O’Hare in Chicago and they looked
decidedly wild eyed. Eventually we arrived at Heathrow where a smiling West
Indian born immigration man surveyed my passport, questioned my entry and
asked me why I didn’t have a suntan. It seemed that everyone wanted to be a
This is a two-part story about my maritime career on another ship but it is even
more embarrassing than this one. Some people say that if you were never
young, you were never stupid. However, good luck still favours the stupid.
Keith Crane (WA Buicks)
ALL AT SEA……