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Prince of Wales Sea Training School

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Royal Mail Lines
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Reserved for those who sailed with the Royal Mail Lines



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Royal Mail Line to Brazil MV Parima


In mid 1958 I joined the MV Parima in KGV London as SOS and we sailed for Antwerp, then Liverpool. We loaded general cargo before moving ship to (I think) Birkenhead where we took on a deck cargo of railway carriages, one either side of the main deck. Whilst in Liverpool it was decided to do a lifeboat drill but we couldn't free the boats from the chocks they were sitting on. Apparently they had been painted in so often we had to hit them with a heavy hammer to get them to swing free. As part of the exercise all the running gear was greased and checked out, and the emergency rations replenished with fresh stocks. The following day we re-did the exercise against a check list and we discovered the emergency ration packs had been stolen from one of the lifeboats. Whenever I hear the hymn For Those In Peril On The Sea I always recall that incident.


The carpenter built a wooden bridge over the main mast deck housing so we could get from our accomodation aft to amidships. So that's how we sailed down the Mersey headed for Brazil, a black hulled freighter with railway carriages strapped to the main deck. What a strange sight we would have made to a passing ship mid Atlantic. The other cargo we carried was a nun. We knew she was there because, weather permitting, she would walk around the foredeck and up on the focstle head looking out to sea, very similar to that scene in the movie Titanic.


The old Stornaway AB constantly forecast disaster. He claimed nuns and priests on ships were always unlucky. He was quite strange in many respects. Possibly he was deranged in some way. He was the only sailor I ever saw who always wore a trilby hat. Even when he sat in the messroom. In the tropics I'd seen him wandering around on deck completely naked, but for his trilby. Of course, as the art teacher said to the bishop, once you've seen one, you've seen them all, but what he had was accompanied by a very large square shaped scrotum, something never to be forgotten!!! It's odd how at sea you get used to the strange and unusual. I'm sure folks ashore don't believe half we tell them.


This was the only ship I sailed on that didn't have an all white British crew. The three guys in the galley were black West Indians. I don't recall they ever cooked potatoes. They gave us boiled rice with everything. We didn't have Peggys or Deck Boys to bring the food aft from the galley so I suspect we took it in turns at collecting it in trays. The West Indian guys were always cheerful and good for a laugh, but I don't think anyone questioned why we had so much rice, these guys were all over six foot and muscular.


I never saw an officer, apart from at stations, when arriving or leaving port, or when in the wheelhouse. And never saw the Captain come aft to inspect our accomodation. The mess room was like a steel box attached to the after deck, with stairs leading down to several three berth cabins. Whilst each cabin had a port hole it was so high up you had to stand on a bar to look out, essentially the cabin was below the waterline. The mess room chat was that when these P class ships were built in 1944 the regulations stipulated a minimum cubic feet per person per cabin. To comply without giving away anymore square footage the cabins were built with excessive space in what you might call the ceiling area, that is between the deck and deck head. This would have made the cabins a death trap in wartime as it would have been impossible to reach the porthole and they were all below the waterline anyway.


This ship had steel two piece hatch covers on number one hold and these were raised by the winch so they folded concertina style at the forward end of the hatch. The other hatches were covered by the standard hard wood hatch boards covered by tarps locked in place with triangular chocks on steel plates. I was once in a pub in Savannah, Georgia, USA where the entire bar top was made out of ships hatch covers that had many coats of polyurethane to make them smooth and shiny. Who needs to go to a gym when you had to handle dozens of hatch boards that took two men to lift and place over the hatch.


When this ship was built during WW2 it was fitted with a deck gun on the after deck and although long removed the welding scars showing where it was fitted to the deck were still evident.


The first Brazillian port was Recife but our assigned berth was unavailable so we anchored within the harbour for a day or so.

Within an hour of our arrival a launch appears alongside and up the gangway came a bunch of very attractive laundry girls who headed directly to the sailors cabins. When they left a couple of hours later there was no sign of any laundry. Welcome to Brazil.


Although we went to all the major ports on the Brazillian coast we also went to some very small places that perhaps larger ships couldn't get. I recall more than one place was similar to a frontier town from a Western movie, even the bars had batwing doors, inside was more like a Mexican cantina with the music, girls, ceurveza (spell ? for beer) and cubalibre (spell? for rum and coke).


It was noticeable that many of the other ships in the South American trades were either German or Scandanavian and they were newer and more efficient than the vessels we had. The officers appeared to be less hidebound with tradition and wore khaki or sand brown uniforms whereas British officers seemed to be living in some bygone colonial era with their pristine whites. It was also very noticeable that most of their crews had blonde hair and blue eyes which the Brazillian girls found very attractive.


We came back to KGV with a full cargo of bulk raw sugar for Tate & Lyle at Silvertown. This was loaded by hand. Two hatch boards were removed on either side of the holds and the tarps bent back. Sling loads of bagged sugar were lowered on the covered hatch. Two men would lift the sack to the opened hatch, another would slit the string opening the sack, the sack would be emptied direct into the hold, another man would fold the sack and collect the string. This tedious procedure went on all day and night until the ship was loaded. Labour was obviously very cheap as there was a lot of men employed and not a great sense of urgency. Occasionally you could see the weevils crawling around in the raw sugar and we had a bucket of it in our mess room. I found out later that raw sugar is one of the most corrosive cargoes to carry.


I can't remember whether it was London or Liverpool but we were raided by the Customs rummage squad. Why they picked on us I do not know. But they had found tiny fish hooks clipped over the lips of the ventilators leading down to the holds. Attached to the fish hooks was nylon fishing line, and a safe distance down the ventilator shaft was a package attached to the fishing line. My guess is it was cartons of duty free cigarettes but of course it could have been anything.


We were all assembled in the messroom and given a threatening lecture by this uniformed John Wayne like character about the evils of smuggling and how the British public were being cheated, etc etc, you've no doubt heard it all before. Throughout this tirade the Crowd were totally silent. There was not one sign of emotion but the customs character was getting more and more worked up about jail terms etc. He was getting nowhere. So he changed tack and pointed to the bulkhead running the width of the messroom. Here, he said, were freshly fitted screws holding the previously painted panels to the bulkhead. His minions undid the screws and ripped off the panels , exposing many cartons of duty free cigarettes. The Crowd gasped in total amazment, it was very theatrical. Did you see that Fred? Just think we've been sitting alongside all this stuff and never knowing it. All that sort of chat, total innocence. Must have been the Crowd before us Officer. And who's going to fix up our bulkhead, we'll get the blame for all this etc etc Well, nothing ever became of it and I don't know who fixed up the bulkhead. Nor for that matter do I know who placed the cigarettes down the ventilator shaft or behind the bulkhead.


This was a handy little ship and I would have enjoyed a second trip but she was scheduled to take pipe sections to the oilfields in Lake Maricaibo in Venezuela and by all accounts this was labourious and boring with little shore opportunities so I declined to go back and decided to take my EDH exams ashore instead.  Stu



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Enjoyed Stu!. Seems your memory bank is still up to scratch.
1958 eh?...that's a 'wow'.
I was FIVE years old..and used my calculator for that one.
But you have given me an idea!.

Bob0


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did trip on DRINA cheap barcardi rum las palmas,ship was well painted for her age.

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john tippett
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