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Prince of Wales Sea Training School

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Esso Tankers
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Reserved for those who sailed with Esso Tankers

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MY ONE AND ONLY TRIP ON TANKER WAS THE ESSO RICHMOND ON THE USA COAST TO THE CARIBEAN AND VENESWALA ,£6 A MONTH COST OF LIVING MONEY,THE PANAMA FLAG.13 MONTHS OF HELL NEVER SAILED ANTHER TANKER.MIKE

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Esso Salisbury. - Fawley to Mina Al Mahdi, Kuwait.

 

Around September 1958 I was about to set the world on fire with a bunch of Steering Certificates, a Lifeboatmans Certicate and a freshly minted EDH Certificate after a couple of weeks training and examinations in the East End of London. However, the big shock came when, with one of my mates, I fronted up at the KGV shipping pool to find there were no jobs!!!!! The possibility of being unemployed was unthinkable. So to cut a long story short we phoned Esso at the Embankment in London and we went in for an interview. We were told that as soon as a job was available we would get a telegram, a travel warrant to where ever the ship was, and we were assured that we could learn all about tankers ön the job. So it was to Fawley, not far from Southampton, that we travelled to join the discharging Esso Salisbury destined for her next trip to Kuwait.

 

From my experience this was a very modern ship. Single berth cabins, a bunk and a settee, even a little table to write on. A cell would be a better word to describe it. What really took my attention was that all the bulkheads were lined with Formica...I'd never seen such luxury. But there was more to come. There was a pleasant messroom, more like a civilised dining room, and there was a printed menu and, surprise surprise, a steward to take our orders and bring our meals to the table. As a growing lad you tend to remember that there was virtually unlimited food, and it was good tucker.

 

In the lottery for jobs I was a dayworker so was in a small group who never did watches. We'd start work virtually at first light then after a couple of hours stop for breakfast. We'd finish the day in the early afternoon unless there was overtime. This meant we avoided having to work in the hottest part of the day.

 

Coming from dry cargo ships it was noticeable that empty tankers stick right out of the water, so tend to dance around a lot in choppy weather and on a regular run to Kuwait this meant that half the voyage the ship was empty. This was unlike dry cargo ships that took a full cargo on the outward voyage and invariably brought a full cargo on the homeward voyage.

 

So it was on this first outward voyage that I was to learn about tank diving. This obviously slipped the minds of those in the Esso London office because they failed to mention this aspect of tanker life. The exercise starts off by rigging a tubular canvas tent affair above an opening to each of the tanks. The idea is that the wind hits the vanes of this contraption and sucks out the foul air, in theory making the tank gas free. At the same time a round plate is removed from the tank top and a saddle affair is bolted in its place. A reinforced and earthed flexible tube is lowered into the tank. On the end of the tube is a brass fitting on a universal joint that enables it to swivel in virtually any direction when superheated steam is forced down the tube. This is known as the Butterworth Gear. So that's the set up, the tube is lowered to a predetermined depth, it is then locked in the saddle, and the superheated steam is turned on. The brass fitting in the universal joint spins around and forces the sludge off the tank inside walls so that it slides to the bottom of the tank. After a set time the flexible tube is lowered further into the tank, and the exercise repeated until the whole of the tank sides have been steam cleaned. The steam is then turned off and likely lads in the crew haul the long length of flexible tube back to the surface. This exercise is repeated in every tank.

 

I was told that the flexible cables are earthed because there have been instances of static electricity being generated by the fast flowing steam and causing a spark which ignites the gas and blows up the tanker. Something else they didn't tell me in the Esso London office.

 

The real fun starts when we get issued with overalls and gum boots. Gas free cluster lamps have already been lowered into the tanks on very long cables. Looking down into the tank all you can see is darkness with what appears as a white dot moving around near where you suspect the bottom to be. The white dot is the previously lowered light. Inside this tank is a ladder that reaches right down to the bottom. One after another we make our way down into the blackness. No masks, no goggles, maybe rubber gloves. First time down a tank is something I will never forget. Going down seems to take for ages, and as you go deeper the daylight from the hatch you entered gets smaller and smaller.

 

Our task once down there is to shovel up the sludge and scale that has been blasted off the tank walls and fill up the numerous buckets that were attached to lines reaching all the way up to the daylight. Oil and petrol is very corrosive and eats into steel. The scale is the product of this corrosion. This tanker carried crude oil which came straight out of the ground in Kuwait so appeared as a black sludge. This was a most unpleasant task. As we shovelled we disturbed the layers of scale and this released small blue flashes of trapped gas. This sludge and scale was about a foot deep. When the bucket of sludge and scale reached the top of the tank the lads emptied it into 44 gallon drums strapped to the ships rail.

 

I don't remember how many of us were down there nor for how long. I can remember the slow agonising climb back up the ladder. The lads at the top helped us climb over the tank top then we staggered to the ships rail and violently threw up, the classic technicoloured breakfast going over the side. I remember laying on my back on deck taking in huge breathes of clean fresh air trying to rid myself of the stench. By this time we were stripped to our underpants. The bosun appeared with a bottle of rum and we were ladled out very generous slurps into cups or glasses, in fact we drank the whole bottle between us.

 

Obviously this could only be done when the tanker was empty on the outward bound leg of the voyage. It was definitely done on each of the two voyages that I took to Kuwait but I cannot honestly recall how many tanks we dived down on each trip. I suspect it was two tanks per trip. To do any more may have been pushing the crew too far, plus there was only limited time to do this and still dispose of the sludge. They would have had a plan to cover the whole ship over a period of time.

 

At some predetermined place the 44 gallon drums were emptied over the side into the sea. Where exactly I don't know but suspect it must have been in the Mediterranean Sea somewhere off the coast of North Africa. This was in 1958, and I think at that time, there were certain places where it was legitimate to dump this stuff into the sea.

 

As you might expect, none of this was mentioned by the Esso London office, nor was I prepared for it with anything I learned at PWSTS.

 

I have found that all the crews I sailed with were mostly agreeable, there was the odd character here and there, but most readily mixed in and this ship's crowd was no exception. It was however, a voyage to nowhere. We would start at Fawley, which was basically a village and an oil refinery, and go to Mena Al Mahdi in the Kuwati desert, which was just a long jetty about a mile or two off shore. In both places we were only there for about 8 hours anyway. In fact at Mena the oil gantry was swung over and we were sucking in crude oil before we had even tied up. I was told, so this may not be true, that on a previous trip a bored or broken hearted crewmember had jumped over the stern with a noose around his neck, to be found dangling several days later. On another occasion, so I am told, two perhaps three girls had come back with the lads after a quick run ashore to Southampton but failed to get off so ended up going all the way to Kuwait and back. True or not, I don't know.

 

As all tanker folk will know when empty, tankers stand high in the water, when full they are largely submerged. When the Esso Salisbury was homeward bound with a full load of crude she had just six feet of freeboard between the flat calm sea and the decks. In rougher seas, which we encountrered on every trip, the sea washed across the decks, just like a surfacing submarine. For this reason tankers have a bridge or catwalk structure that runs fore and aft so that the crew can get about the vessel. The bigger the vessel, the longer these catwalks are. In Esso Salisbury's case we had two bus stops built in the catwalk to provide shelter when the crew member was running from the bridge amidships to the accommodation aft, sort of like half way houses.

 

In the single berth cabins the bunk ran fore and aft, in line with the length of the ship, the settee was thwartships running across the ship. This was handy because if a female spent the night in your cabin, say your mother or grandmother, they would have some where to sleep. But on a more practical level, if it became very rough, as it often did, you always had the choice in which direction to sleep. On one such occasion I took this option. We were fully laden homeward bound and had already experienced very cold weather in the Red Sea with huge hailstones in the Suez Canal. It was violent seas from almost the time we left the canal and entered the Med. That night my choice was the thwartships settee and I slept like a log. Until something woke me, a crash or something, I looked around in the pitch darkness and all I could see was sparkling stuff swirling around, like a kalidescope in some bad dream. I swung my feet around to stand up, realising instantly I was in freezing cold water. The sparkly stuff was the flourecence in the sea. The water was rising and swilling around as the ship moved around. My first thoughts were that perhaps we might be sinking, but at the same time the engines were still running and we appeared to be making headway. A glance at the porthole and it was obvious the sea was running very high as for much of the time we were under water. I also remember some of my clothes were floating around in the water. I chanced my arm and switched on the light, and opened the cabin door. By this time several other cabin doors opened and bewildered sailors mumbled something that sounded like Whats the fox going on? Which made no sense.

 

The watch on deck once alerted must have checked all the cabins along the port side. Apparently, some of the more forward cabins had been used on a previous voyage but not this one. The port holes had been left open when the occupants left and never closed. What was happening was that as this part of the ship went under water the sea poured in through the open port hole. When there was enough volume in the cabin it got behind the Formica lining the bulkhead then as the ship moved up and down and from side to side, the sea poured into each of the adjoining cabins, including of course, mine.

 

The following morning a thorough check of the ship showed little damage. The exception being a shed like structure on top of the after deck that housed some fire fighting chemicals that some how had broken loose during the night. The end result was that the entire shed was rock solid with this foam material. I don't recall what we did about it but I suspect it needed something like a jack hammer to break it all up.

 

On the homeward leg to Fawley we were nearing Christmas and if I had stayed on board it would have been the third straight Christmas I'd have been at sea, plus we had heard the next trip was to Hamburg dry dock as a home run job. But before we could go into dry dock we had to sit out in the Dogger Bank for two weeks (in winter) to become gas free and maybe also do some more tank diving.

 

As it turned out, I went home for Christmas and this was my last trip in a sea going career.

 

 



-- Edited by stuhogg at 12:37, 2008-12-11

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Once again, enjoyed Stu. Now would it of made more sense to of been working in the engine room?.(you could of even taken funnal temps!...eat ya' black heart out Colin)

As for the dumping of the sludge etc 'at a legal spot of Neptune's garden'....no. The fact being that the world turned a blind eye to such acts. Of course Tanker companies were more than happy eh?.
I mean what do you do with this horrid stuff?.

BP came up with an idea!, you burn it off in a furnace...seems fair?. It would even make Neptune happy. On certain ships, not the ones I was on, furnaces were installed, but never used after one 'blew up'.
Hence we continued to mess up Neptune's garden!. Sometimes I figure he got the 'hump' with this nasty practice & would drag afew ships down to his play area...just my thoughts.

The butterworth gear did generate static electric, this was filmed. As time has passed from my tanker days I feel that the butterworth pumps were dumped and steam hoses used?...not sure about that one. Any ideas chaps?.

Ah Mina!, what a lovely place eh? & always sunny!.
It may of changed a touch from your days Stu, but I have a feeling of 'not that much'.
Ten pounds for a pint of blood or £100-00 if one is a fan of a certain God/chap of the middle east.(see how easy it is to keep out of the Phantom Zone?).

So constant readers (including myself), what emerges from Stu's input of past memories?.
What really springs to mind?, hits you between the eyes?.
------------------------------------------------------
A very simple statement:-
"The possibility of being unemployed was unthinkable".
-------------------------------------------------------

I firmly believe that ALL PWSTS lads at THEIR time felt the same way. Perhaps they did not express it in the same words as Stu, but still the same 'feeling'.
[please do not think 'bob is cheering Stu on & maybe they are taking showers together?'. We have had words in the past on certain subjectsfurious]

Also if you note, 'he did not winge'...also oddly enough I have not come across a 'winge PWSTS Ole' chap'.

Woolworths/Bob0



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CROSSED THE BAR RIP

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Esso Edinburgh 1967 menus on the mess room tables you could get CURRY for breakfast lunch and dinner.

Esso directors probable planning for crews with different taste buds to what I had  -

 You could call it forward planning funny thing I like it now.

 

Cheers Ian.



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ECKY THUMP


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I DID 2 TRIPS ON ESSO GLASGOW BETWEEN TEXAS & HAMBURG FROM 5/3/47 AS EDH BILL BIFFEN

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Gidday Bill, Was the Esso Glasgow a T2 tanker ? If so do you have any thoughts on T2's.  An American friend (now deceased) spent his war as an engineer on a T2 to avoid being conscripted into the US Army!!!

Another question. On the trip Hamburg to Texas did you ever have to do tank diving ? On a light ship in the Atlantic it would not have been pleasant. Stu


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Hi Bill,
I too was on the Esso Glasgow but not until 1959.  To answer Stu's question, it was a T2, but by 1959 had been lengthened by putting in a new midships section with a pumphouse which I believe was not the same as the original T2. It was a clean oil ship carrying aviation fuel, the tank diving pretty much the same as you describe, but I think the fumes were even more intoxicating. Passing wind could be quite risky if someone happened to light up at the same time. It was also a happy ship to be on.

On the way to Land's End for orders fully loaded, we broke down and could not be repaired at sea, as a part was required from America. We drifted in the Carribean for almost a week refusing all assistance. We  waited for Esso Purfleet to come and tow us into Bermuda. This entailed unshipping the anchor at sea in order to use the anchor cable as a towing spring. This was another bottle of rum type job.

On reflection and to our eternal shame, we spent our spare time whilst adrift fishing for sharks, and I remember we hooked five of them using a meat hook. After hauling them aboard we just wantonly dumped them back over the side. How sad.

Glancon





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HI STU&GLAN THE ACCOMADATION ON ESSO GLASGOW WAS A LOT BETTER THAN MOST SHIPS I WAS EDH AND DID TANK CLEANING AND HAD PLENTY OF RUM AS YOU SAY A HAPPY SHIP BILL

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