January 3, 2014
During my time at sea in the merchant navy and also working as a ship surveyor for the last 18 months, I have been fortunate enough to travel through 3 of the worlds greatest man-made canals. Panama, Suez and the Welland canal.
I have been through Panama about 35 times and never get bored with that trip which usually takes about 12 hours.
Starting from the Atlantic side, the ship goes through the Gatun locks, three massive locks to the Gatun Lake 26.5 meters above sea level. Then a trip through the Gatun lake down to the Galliard cut. This was quite an engineering achievement to blast down through the continental divide to a depth of 40′. All the rubble was transported away in a specially made railway and used to make a dam which is seen at the Gatun locks. This dam stopped the flow of the Chagres’s river and flooded the area which is now Gatun lake. When the ship arrives at the Pacific side it enters the Pedro Miguel Lock. This is just one chamber and this leads to Miraflores lake which like Gatun lake is man made. At the end of this small lake is the Miraflores locks. Two locks which lead to the Pacific ocean. Panama is very lush and green what ever time of year you go through it is 47.9 miles long.
I have been through the Suez Canal three times. This canal which starts at Suez at the top of the Red sea and goes to Port Said on the Mediterranean is all at sea level so no need for locks.
There is not so much to see traveling through this canal except a lot of sand on either side of the canal. Though there has been more greenification of the land near the canal over the last 20 years of so. The canal is 100.8 miles long and the trip takes about 12 hours.
Welland canal in summer.
The Welland Canal which joins Lake Ontario and Lake Erie is quite an amazing place to visit and not so many passenger ships go here if any. This starts at Port Weller on the edge of Lake Ontario and goes to Port Colbourne on the edge of Lake Erie. The Welland Canal has eight locks to raise the ships up to the level of Lake Erie which is 100 meters higher than Lake Ontario. The canal is 27 miles long and the trip takes about 11 hours. In summer time there is much lush greenery here but in winter it is rather desolate.
Of the three canals. I would have to say my favourite and the greatest engineering achievement of them all, is the Panama canal. If you are going for a cruise try and get one that goes though Panama. Its amazing.
October 17, 2010
I visited Houston many times in the 70s, first as cadet then as Third Mate. A few times in LOF, but mainly in Bank Line on the US Gulf to Aussie and NZ service. (Great run!)
The docks in Houston are a long way from town and when you get into the centre there was not that much to do. I have two abiding memories of my visits to Houston.
A nice memory:
The seaman’s club in Houston is very close to the port and was one of the best I have visited in my time at sea. There was a nice swimming pool and a lovely football pitch, which could be floodlit if seaman wanted to play at night-time. The restaurant served great food and I remember enjoying a perfectly cooked succulent steak there. A real treat as the food was not so clever on board (Bank Line).
One night I was recruited into a football team. A Norwegian ship was one man short, so I offered to make up the numbers. Our opponents? A Yugoslav ship!!! There were some serious footballers amongst the Yugoslavs’. They went into tackles like there were in the last-minute winning 1-0 in the world cup final. A bruising encounter and it’s lucky no one was injured. Anyway although the Yugoslavs’ won 8-2 in the end, it was still great to participate and play on such a nice pitch.
Not such a nice memory :
Another time in Houston whilst on a ship called the Meadow bank around eight of us decided to go ashore and visit some bars just outside the dock gate. It was about ten o’clock at night and as we walked along a brightly lit road close to the port all chatting away merrily, no one noticed that a beat up car had stopped close by.
The next thing I knew, I was staring down the barrel of a gun. This small scrawny Negro stood in front of me and threatened to shoot unless I handed over my cash. His hand was shaking so I did not argue and duly handed over thirty dollars, which I had only got from the captain an hour previously. He then went down the line and took money off everybody. The whole encounter lasted just a few minutes, then he was back in the car and roared off with his accomplice.
We were all quite traumatized by the event. But the really worrying factor was we had no money left for beer. Fortunately the Third Eng had kept some money in his shoe so when we reached the bars at least we could have a couple of beers each.
October 14, 2010
Despite a large navy presence in the Gulf of Aden pirates still abound and attack ships daily. Below is an account of my experience of the problem in June 2009.
During a voyage on a multi-purpose vessel, we had to transit the Gulf of Aden on our way from Singapore to Suez. This was a particularly worrying time for all on board, especially as our sister ship had been attacked the previous month and narrowly avoided being hi-jacked. Another problem which served to further compound our worries was the fact that only one of our two engines was working properly. We would only be able to use the other in an emergency and even then at reduced power. Our maximum speed would then only be 14.0 Kts, instead of 17.5 and only 11.0 if the second engine gave up the ghost.
Long before we arrived at the danger zone (a corridor 450 miles long) we started on our anti piracy measures which included tying many floating objects at the break of the focsle. These were to drop into the water to discourage pirates from approaching, which was a measure successfully applied previously by our sister ship We also rigged many hoses along the deck pointing down to potential boarding places. A good supply of rocket parachute flares were on hand as the first line of defence. Drills were held and every one made familiar with the signals and what to do in case of an attack.
Tension mounted on the ship as we approached the area and anti piracy watches were started. Daily we were getting reports of one or two ships being attacked so the threat was very real. Unlike pirates of yesteryear content to rob ships and make off with the booty (The big prize in recent years had been the cash from the masters safe) these people would be hi-jacking the ship and holding the crew hostage for months till a ransom was paid.
Anyway lady luck was smiling on us… As we had some sensitive high value cargo on board and our slow speed, the powers that be arranged for a naval escort for us. This was great news and a navy ship escorted us the whole way and into the Red Sea, well clear of the pirate area. During the two days we were in the Gulf of Aden more ships were attacked one only 12 miles from our position. We also saw a collection of the dreaded skiffs waiting near Bab El Mendep (Entrance to the Red Sea) and one passed quite close ahead.
Piracy in that area is on going with no end in sight, despite the strong navy presence. A depressing and worrying thought for seafarers that have to transit that area in slow vulnerable vessels. I had previous experiences of piracy in West Africa in the 1980s and this forms the basis of my novel “Shadow on the Moon” www.piracybooks.co.uk
October 5, 2010
I am here in Beirut on a small survey ship at the moment and interesting thing happened a few months ago. A large Ro-Ro vessel managed by Andrew Weir berthed astern of us. As I was in that company recently, I went to the ramp to see if there was anyone on board that I knew. I talked to the Chief Mate and he told me who was on the ship, but there was no one I recognised.
I was just about to leave, when I noticed the name on his hard hat. C. Archer.
I said. “Hold on a minute, I sailed with a Colin Archer in shipping company called LOF in 1974.”
He said “That was me, who are you?”
What a co-incidence to meet him just like that after 36 years! When I sailed with him it was my first trip as Third Mate on 34,000 ton tanker called the ‘London Confidence’ and he was cadet at the time.
September 28, 2010
Well that’s me into the world of blogging!! Quite simple to get started here on Word Press and free as well!
On my blog I will be writing mainly about merchant navy and shipping based articles, story’s and anecdotes. But I will be posting travel articles and other topics as they come to mind.
With regard to my life at sea over the last 40 years, this has always been very interesting. A million different things have happened to me that people ashore find hard to believe when I tell them. One person overhearing a story that I was telling to a friend in a restaurant , leaned over and said: “Give over mate. You never did that” But I did. Story’s I tell are all true. I don’t have to make any up.
Anyway watch this space! I promise some very interesting and amusing articles .