Irish Ships and Shipping

Irish Shipping Ltd.

Crew and Ships


Stories, Tales  and Memories from bygone days at sea


Tony Clements,
Turavuori, Finland, March 1960 

Recollections of an Irish Shipping Apprentice
©Tony Clements 2007 

Recollections of an Irish Shipping Apprentice Part 1

(Irish Poplar 1958)

Recollections of an Irish Shipping Apprentice Part 2

Irish Blackthorn 1960)


Recollections of an Irish Shipping Apprentice Part 3 
(Irish Maple-Irish Larch-
Irish poplar 1960-61)

Recollections of an Irish Shipping apprentice part 4
(Irish Pine 1961)

Reflections on my time in Irish Shipping Ltd.
©Tony Clements





 By ©Tony Clements 2007

The dictionary defines to recollect as “to recall to memory” and this is what I have tried to do. Maybe you will have sailed with me and think: ‘I can’t remember that happening, where did he get that from?’ Maybe you are right and some facts may not be as you remember them but I am writing them down as I can recall them in my memory. And memory can at times err. As Mark Twain said: “When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it happened or not”! But the voyages I have listed are accurate as I kept a record in a pocket atlas and still have it with me. So I trust that these recollections will be of interest to you who surf this site.  

This was the telegram that started me on my four years career with Irish Shipping.

IRISH POPLAR -A Summary of Voyages  

Light ship from London to the US, loaded grain in Albany and New York for the UK : Hull .
Light ship from Hull to Canada , via Leith . Loaded grain in Halifax for the UK : Cardiff and Manchester .
Light ship from Manchester to the US , broke down off the Bahamas , repairs in Fort Lauderdale , Florida , then to Houston and loaded grain for East Pakistan .
Stopped at Gibraltar for bunkers, transited the Suez Canal , and a call at Aden for bunkers before arriving at Chittagong .
From Chittagong light ship to Albany , Western Australia and loaded grain for the UK : London and Newcastle .
Bunkering stops on the way were at Cape Town and Dakar .

Light ship from Newcastle to Norfolk , Virginia and loaded grain for India .
Called at Gibraltar for bunkers, transited the Suez Canal , a bunkering stop at Aden and finally India where discharged the grain at Madras and Calcutta . From India light ship to Geelong (south-east Australia ), where we loaded grain for Ireland .
Across the Great Australian Bight to Fremantle for bunkers, then across the southern Indian Ocean with a bunkering stop at Durban , up the South Atlantic and another bunkering stop at Dakar before reaching Ireland and discharging at Dublin and Waterford then to Cobh for dry-docking.

From Cobh light ship to the US : Mobile , Alabama , where we loaded grain for Japan .
From Mobile through the Panama Canal to Honolulu for bunkers then on to our Japanese discharge port, Shimizu .
On completion of discharge light ship to Australia with, on the way south, a bunkering stop at Balikpapan , Borneo . Loaded grain at Geraldton , Western Australia , for Ireland .
Across the Indian Ocean to Aden for bunkers before transiting the Suez Canal and finally arriving at Dublin where I paid off.

I and another junior apprentice, Jimmy Coady, joined the vessel in London . She was berthed at the Tate & Lyle berth at Silvertown (?), discharging a cargo of South African sugar. Part of the cargo was being discharged into barges – Thames barges with their brown sails. When full they would let go, loosen sail and if there was no wind they would drift with the tide until a breeze sprang up. Some days after we joined, one of the firemen came back with a few pints too many, slipped off the gangway and was drowned. The next day police with grapnels fished the body out. He was frozen in the act of trying to swim.    


The four apprentices, (l to r): “Red” O’Carroll, Jimmy Coady, Wille Cummins, Tony “Clem” Clements.

My first Master was Capt. Woolfenden. He was everything I had imagined a ship’s captain to be – commanding and with a white beard. The story I was told about him was that he had previously been the Master of a crack Egyptian passenger liner but had been sacked, along with all the rest of the Brits, at the time of the Suez crisis. One grey, wet day in the North Atlantic , while I was holystoning the boat deck, he stopped and asked me “Have you got the time, Clements?” “Er, yes, sir.” I had a watch and was proud of it and while I fumbled with my oilskin sleeve to look at it he asked “And have you got a knife”. “Er, no, Sir.” “You useless object, no knife and you want to be a sailor…!” (or words to that effect). It was the last time I wore a watch at work.

At that time there existed in the States the famous “Short Arm Inspection”. It was meant to protect the women of America from hideous foreign diseases. The crew of foreign vessels arriving in the States had to line up, pull out their John Thomas, pull back the foreskin and have it inspected by a medical officer. So when we arrived in New York the ratings (I cannot remember if the officers were subject to this examination) were lined up for the inspection. “Do you want to see the apprentices” the Master asked. “No, they are too young” the medical officer replied “but one can give me a hand with the crew list.” So there I was holding the crew list and watching the medical officer carry out his inspection of Irish manhood. He stopped in front of one particularly dirty fireman, looked down, took his cigar out of his mouth and said “Goddam it, don’t you ever wash that thing!” I can never remember another such inspection so assume that 1957 was the last year.  

Once the entry formalities were completed, we steamed up the Hudson River to Albany . The scenery on the river was beautiful. Christmas in Albany and the Master invited myself and the other junior apprentice for a drink. “You need to learn to drink like gentlemen and this is the drink of gentlemen.” He handed us a gin and bitters. “Cheers and a Happy Christmas!” We had to drink it but that was the last time I ever touched the stuff – horrible taste! One evening we apprentices walked up town and the next day, mentioning this to a white docker he said “Why – you walked right through the negro part of town – that’s real dangerous for whites!” Well, they never bothered us. In Albany we loaded grain, but not a full cargo due to draft restrictions in the river. We topped up in New York where we junior apprentices were not allowed ashore as the Master said we were too young (we were seventeen).  

Mobile, Alabama, February 1959. (l to r): Andy Dunne (Apprentice), unknown, Tony “Clem” Clements, unknown.

Then back across the North Atlantic to our discharge port of Hull . While discharging in Hull, all Irish seamen went on strike and our crew paid off. Once discharge was completed, after some time at a lay-by berth, we went to anchor in the River Humber, only officers and apprentices left on board. I can’t remember who did the cooking. One foggy afternoon, as per the International Rules for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea, I was ringing the foc’sle bell when I heard the sound of an approaching engine from dead ahead. I rang the bell again then leaned over and had a look. Coming out of the fog was an Icelandic trawler, at full speed. The skipper was leaning out of the wheelhouse, chatting to a couple of hands on deck who were coiling ropes. “Oi!” I shouted. They all looked up in amazement. I took to my heels and ran towards the bridge. I heard and felt the trawler hitting our bows then it was scraping along our hull, keeping time with me as I ran down the fore deck. As it disappeared into the fog I could see it settling in the water. I ran up to the bridge and woke the 2nd. Mate who was dozing in the bridge chair. We heard later that the trawler sank but that all the crew were rescued. There was hardly any damage to the Poplar. I just had to sign a statement for a lawyer.

We eventually sailed from Hull , still with only officers and apprentices, and anchored off Leith . There the Master went ashore that evening and late at night returned with a crowd of mostly very drunken Scotsmen. As soon as they were on board we weighed anchor and sailed. The next morning a crowd of very bedraggled and hung-over sailors complained about being shanghaied but they were soon brought to order by the Master and a very efficient Herbridiean Bosun. They settled down soon enough. The Master ordered the Bosun to break the tips on their knives. We sailed at extra full speed to Halifax as we had to make it by a certain date or lose the charter. We battered our way across the North Atlantic and made it in time to load our cargo of grain. It was very cold in Halifax . Then back across to discharge at Cardiff and Manchester.

The Manchester Canal was always an interesting transit as usually the top of the funnel and anything else tall, like topmasts or radar mast, had to be removed so as to pass under the bridges. On the berth where this operation was carried out one could see what ships had already passed up by the collection of funnel tops on the quayside. After this berth one steamed under a test wire; if you snagged it was back to the berth to remove the offending piece of equipment. We were in Manchester for the Grand National. In those days bookie shops were illegal but if you knew where to go, and the dockers told us, there were plenty of very scruffy illegal bookie shops in the back streets waiting to take our money

Fort Lauderdale daily news. 2nd. April 1958

Having left Manchester and on our way to the States, we broke down off the Bahamas . After drifting round a bit and indulging in some shark fishing, a tug appeared and we were towed into Fort Lauderdale . There we spent many weeks while the boilers were cleaned. Rumour had it that salt water had been let into them. We used to swim in the late evenings, just as it got dark, off the beach at the back of the hotels. This was mainly because there was a plentiful supply of hotel towels that had been left out to dry. One evening on the way back to the ship, a police car stopped us on, I assume, the assumption that anyone walking in the States is a suspicious character. “Where are you boys from?” “We’re from the Irish ship.” “OK, what have you been doing?” “Swimming at the beach” “Swimming at the beach at night time! Don’t you know that’s when the sharks come in to the shallows!” End of our evening swims.   

Drifting off the Bahamas, (bound Houston), and waiting for a tow into Fort Lauderdale, Florida for repairs (seawater in boilers?), April 1958.  
(back row, l to r): unknown, unknown, Willie Cummins (Apprentice), unknown.
(front row, l to r): Tony “Clem” Clements (Apprentice), unknown, unknown, Jimmy Coady (Apprentice).

Were we the first Irish ship to visit Houston? It seemed so from our welcome. Irish-Americans came to visit the ship and invite us to their homes. Some even lent us a car. None of us apprentices knew how to drive, let alone have a licence, but we figured out the automatic gears and didn’t run anyone over. One evening we took the bus to go downtown. The bus was waiting at the docks, empty. We entered and settled down at the back. The driver came and when he saw us insisted we come and sit in the front. Why? We had been sitting in the “Coloureds Only” section.

When we bunkered in Gibraltar it was for fuel oil. But at this period there were still coal burners around and Gibraltar held stocks of coal for them. The coal was stocked in the hulls of old sailing ships, anchored in the bay. Most had been cut down but you could still see the fine lines of their hulls and the bows with the remains of bowsprit and figurehead. Some even had the remains of masts.

One Master’s favourite literature was the “Reader’s Digest”. Having read the latest copy from cover to cover, he would then pontificate on the articles he had read. One time we were transiting the Suez Canal , not long after it had reopened following the Suez crisis. The British pilots had all been sacked by Nasser and an international collection brought in to replace them. Our pilot was a German and the Master started discussing U-boats with him, this being no doubt the latest article he had read in the “Reader’s Digest”. “Well, of course, Pilot, that type of U-boat was never fitted with a snorkel.” “ Oh, yes captain it was”, replied the pilot. “Pilot”, said the Master, “ I am afraid you are wrong there – I know for a fact they were never fitted.” “And I, Captain, know that they were as I commanded one during the war!” Silence and exit the Master from the bridge until change of pilots!  

Chittagong, June 1958. Willie Cummins.

On arrival off Chittagong , which at that time was part of Eastern Pakistan , we had to anchor offshore to discharge half the cargo to reduce the draught so we could cross the river bar. We anchored in muddy water with no land in sight. Eventually the agent came and said the barges were on their way out. A few were towed out by ancient steam tugs, the rest came under sail. When the wind dropped they drifted to and fro with the currents and tides. But eventually they got alongside. The grain was shovelled into burlap sacks, sewn by hand, then heaved overside into the barges, which, when full, commenced their long and uncertain journey back to the port. After many weeks the draft had been sufficiently reduced and we were able to cross the bar and enter the port of Chittagong . There, one Sunday, Mass was celebrated on board by the Bishop of Chittagong (maybe he was Irish?). An altar, decorated with flags, was set up on the boat deck. Hardly any western type stores were available there. The only butter was cows’ ghee, a rancid yellow mixture made from I don’t know what. So when we sailed for Australia , there wasn’t much to eat on board.  

We eventually arrived at Albany , in Western Australia , and made fast to a lay-by berth at the end of a long wooden jetty, not in very good condition. The Master had radioed ahead for provisions to be ready on our arrival and, sure enough, a pickup from the chandler hove into sight and commenced slowly driving down the rickety jetty. But, having nearly reached us, he was stopped by loose or missing planks. When the crew saw he wasn’t advancing they ran out on the jetty and literally carried the pickup to the gangway! Notwithstanding stuffing ourselves on board, in the evenings we would go ashore to feast on huge steaks with fried eggs in the local cafés.

  Geraldton, Western Australia, April 1959.  
(l to r): Steve Dallaghan (apprentice), Paddy Crane (AB).
At Sea, bound Suez Canal from Geraldton, Western Australia, April 1959.  
The four apprentices (l to r): Andy Dunne, Tony “Clem” Clements (with ship’s cat), Steve Dallaghan and Jimmy Coady.

Cape Town was a short bunker stop but the Mate very kindly allowed the apprentices the time off so we could be taken on a tour of the Cape and surroundings by an Irish priest.

In Madras we were invited to tea at a convent run by Irish nuns. Tea was taken in a room with a high ceiling and open windows at the top. Through these open windows vegetation had come in and through this vegetation ran animals that looked like a cross between a monkey and a squirrel. We were fascinated and kept gaping upwards whereas the nuns, who had seen it all before, were trying to engage us in conversation. When the morning came to sail, some of the crew were found to be missing. The 2nd Mate was assigned by the Master to search the local brothels for our missing seamen and I was taken along as assistant. In each brothel we visited we got permission to check each room (about the size of cupboards), much to the surprise of the occupants therein - an interesting introduction to the varieties of life (or should I say positions?) for a young apprentice!

Leaving the grain berth at Geelong (a rather rickety old pier), the bridge forgot to tell the 2nd Mate to let go the last stern line. Consequently when “Ahead” was rung on the telegraph we took a portion of the rotten wooden quay with us.

  At Sea, bound from Geelong to Dublin, Christmas Day 1958.  
(from l to r): R/O?, unknown, the Master, Capt. J. Poole, 3rd Mate?, Chief Officer?, unknown, unknown. Kneeling (l to r) three apprentices: Tony “Clem” Clements, Andy Dunne, Jimmy Coady.
At Sea, bound from Geelong to Dublin, Christmas Day 1958.  
The four apprentices (l to r): Andy Dunne, unknown, Jimmy Coady, Tony “Clem” Clements.

Honolulu was only a one day bunkering stop on our long trip across the Pacific, but a very welcome one. We had chipped decks all the way across so the Mate, in the kindness of his heart, let us apprentices ashore so it was off to Waikiki beach for a swim!

Shimizu , our port of discharge, was a small port with the town consisting mainly of wooden houses and the women still in their traditional dress. Japan was so cheap in those days that even we apprentices could afford to go ashore and enjoy ourselves!

In those days radar was still something of a novelty and to be approached and used with awe. On the Poplar, with one Master, it could not be used without his permission and had to be switched on and tuned up by the Radio Officer. The Poplar was not fitted with an autopilot but was fitted with a course recorder which, on a sheet of paper like a barograph, traced the course steered. So when you finished your trick at the wheel, first thing you did was have a quick look at what kind of course you had steered. The officer of the watch also checked it and quickly let you know if you were wandering all over the ocean!

 ©Tony Clements 2007

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 By ©Tony Clements 2007

Irish Blackthorn 1960

 A Summary of Voyages

Jimmy Coady and I, together again, joined shortly after she had been handed over by the builders on the Clyde. She was very luxurious – air conditioning and a separate cabin for each apprentice (only two of us) – what opulence! For a month or so we were at anchor on the Tail of the Bank, off Greenock. A television was hired to watch the Wimbledon tennis championships. At the turn of each tide it was the apprentices’ job to slowly turn the aerial to keep the station tuned until the vessel had settled down on her new heading.

  March 1960, At Sea, bound Finland.
(l to r): Tony (“Clem”) Clements (Apprentice), 
Captain (“Gerra”) Blaney (Master), Jimmy Coady (Apprentice).
(l to r): Tony (“Clem”) Clements, unknown (an engineer?), Jimmy Gorman, 
unknown, unknown.
August 1959, Magnisi, Sicily.
(l to r): John Bird (Bosun), Peter Hynes (Pumpman), Fennely (Electrician)
October 1959, At Sea, North Atlantic, bound Curacao.

Magnisi was situated on the east coast of Sicily, between Syracuse and Catania. There was just a loading berth for tankers. The Sicilian crude we used to load was very thick and had to be constantly heated to remain liquid for pumping. We would sail for Rotterdam with enough bunkers for the main engine, auxiliaries and heating coils. On one voyage we ran into a very strong westerly gale with the typical Mediterranean short, very steep, swell. This cut down our speed considerably with the consequence that we ended up not having enough steam for the heating coils. The cargo became like tar and on arrival at Rotterdam a special steam barge had to be brought alongside to pump steam into us to help in heating up the cargo. It was several days before the cargo was liquid enough for pumping ashore. During the same gale the foc’sle store flooded, the paint drums were all smashed and we were left with all the gear (mooring ropes, etc) covered in a greyish paint.

 Curacao was then, and maybe still is, a vast refining complex. The crude came from Lake Maracaibo, transported on Eagle Oil tankers. The good Dutch burghers of Curacao, to ensure that their wives and daughters were not contaminated by the riff-raff of common seamen, only allowed officers to visit Willemstad. However the riff-raff was looked after with typical Dutch efficiency. In the middle of the island was what had all the appearances of a concentration camp – a central bar area surrounded by hundreds of little wooden huts, the lot enclosed behind barbed wire and patrolled by Dutch police. This was the famous “Happy Valley”.  

Transport there and back was provided by a free bus service, after that you had to pay! Though not much variety in drink at the bar (it was rum or beer), there certainly was a variety of girls, from everywhere in South America and all, again thanks to Dutch efficiency, regularly examined by a doctor. You could get drunk but no fighting was tolerated and the police, with their truncheons, were very quick to enforce this, as some of our crew found out when the Irish fighting spirit got inflamed by rum. 
At Curacao I met an old Irish seaman employed on the Eagle Oil tankers. He had not been back to Ireland since the civil war when he and his brother fought on opposite sides. Could I get a message back to his brother to find out if it was ok for him to return? I could and I did and his brother replied he would shoot him if he ever set foot in the country. Very sad and I often wondered what eventually happened to him.

 We loaded diesel at Curacao. On the return voyage to Sweden, we swabbed the main decks with the cargo – it was very handy for lifting the rust off the decks. It would not be thought very ecological nowadays! Tank cleaning was done with the Butterworth system. But it was not, like nowadays, a fixed system. Then we had to manhandle the hoses and rotating nozzles down through the tank hatches. Did the Blackthorn have slop tanks for the residue or was it over the side? I can’t remember.

 On winter trips to Finland we would wait in the Baltic at the edge of the ice sheet until there were sufficient vessels to form a convoy, with an icebreaker in front. One of the icebreakers was a coal burner, dating from the late 1800s. On one of our trips, it got so cold that this icebreaker, which was leading, got frozen itself in the ice and we had to wait several days before the arrival of a modern, more powerful Russian icebreaker came to extract us and the Finnish icebreaker. Once alongside, the water would quickly freeze over again and before departure an icebreaking tug would range up and down to break enough ice so that we could get off the berth.

Walport films – remember them? The Blackthorn was the first ship I sailed in with them. There were three films (each of 3 or 4 reels packed in cardboard boxes), the lot stowed in a metal box. Most British flag and quite a few Greek owned vessels were Walport ships. In port they could be exchanged via the agent but in other circumstances, such as at an anchorage, it was a case of getting the Aldis lamp out and calling a ship up ( if I remember correctly we had a booklet with the list of Walport ships) to know if a) they wanted to swap their box and b) had we already seen the contents or not. Then either of the ships would lower its jolly boat and the boxes would be swapped and signed for. The films were 16mm and each ship was provided by Walport with a projector and film splicer. Film night was a big event – would the projector work ok, would the splices hold together, etc..? 
On the Blackthorn the cinema was held (if I remember well) in a mess room aft. Everyone would bring their cans of beer and let the show begin. The electrician was the projectionist. One night the Master said too much noise was being made opening beer cans and in future they could only be opened at intermissions, i.e., changing of reels. But at the next performance, while the film was running, a “Pschttt” was heard. The electrician immediately switched on the lights and there was the culprit – the Master! On our voyage to Curacao we got caught in a hurricane but with no cargo were able to ballast ship until she was just nicely balanced for the bad weather. And the hurricane was not allowed to interfere with our film night – the show went on with the electrician and another hanging on to the projector!

16 February 1960, Port Said, Egypt, bound Bandar Ma’Shur
back row: Jimmy Coady, Tony (“Clem”) Clements, Inge Cohen, Paddy Pidgeon, Tom Finnin, Peter Hynes, George Elliot, Phil Doyle-front row: Alfie L’Estrange, Jimmy (“Bags of Brass”) Griffith, Valentino (“Teddy”) Bär, Paddy Foley.

 For reasons unknown (maybe we had been very thirsty), we were a bit short on the drinks when Christmas loomed over the horizon. So to alleviate the shortage, Jimmy Coady and I brewed a batch of “poteen” from raisins and prunes. Well, it was nothing to write home about, even when diluted with fruit juice but it had a kick and went down very well on Christmas day. But the next morning……! 

Jimmy Coady and I were very lucky to have two persons who were interested in our training - the pumpman (Peter Hynes) and the Chief Mate (Mr. Devine (?) who in addition to being an excellent officer, was also a very talented water colour artist). By the time we disembarked from the Blackthorn we had a thorough grounding in tanker practices and were capable, as we proved, of loading and discharging the vessel by ourselves. And tanker practice in those days kept you fit if nothing else. No sitting in a control room pressing buttons. You had to be out on deck or up and down the pumproom; all valves were turned by hand and ullages taken at the tank top. And as far as I can recollect, in all the time I served in the Blackthorn, we never had a spill. Loading and discharging was carried out with a minimum of fuss, unlike nowadays, when nothing can happen until you have filled in a dozen or more forms and had a visit from Port State Control to cheer you up!

©Tony Clements 2007

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©Tony Clements 2007



In Quebec I went to the dentist to have a tooth pulled and walking back to the ship was in time to join the crowd and have a close-up of General Charles de Gaulle, the French president, who was visiting the town hall. Before the arrival of the general, the principle attraction for the crowd was watching a man laying the red carpet which stretched from the pavement to the town hall steps. The pavement end kept curling up, no matter what he tried. Eventually, to cheers from the spectators, he returned with a tin of glue – problem solved!

In Newcastle we discharged the remaining grain at Ranks flour mill. It took ages, I don’t know why but it gave us the opportunity to find out and appreciate Newcastle Brown (great stuff!) and Newcastle girls (I suppose you are a grandmother now Judy..?). At that time Newcastle-upon-Tyne was one of the most seaman-friendly cities I can remember with great pubs and dance halls.

  In Le Havre we loaded Opel cars (Why load German cars in a French port? Don’t ask me!). The cars were loaded with slings and stowed in the tween decks. Once stowed by the dockers, they had to be minutely examined by the apprentices for any scratches or dents which had to be recorded and the list given to the Chief Mate. On arrival in the States the cars were in turn minutely examined by the receivers and the idea was that no scratches or dents could be blamed on the ship.

  Quebec , April 1960.  
(l to r): Apprentices Tony “Clem” Clements, Tom Byrne, Vincent Kenny.

At Sea, June 1960.  
The four apprentices, (l to r): Tony “Clem” Clements, Jack.?, Tom Byrne, Vincent Kenny

New Orleans , June 1960.  
(l to r): Jack ……..? (apprentice), Vincent Kenny (apprentice), Nick …….? (rank unknown), 
Tom Byrne (apprentice). We were on our way for a swim at
Lake Pontchartrain , hence the towels.
Liverpool , July 1960.  


We were sailing late at night from New Orleans, late because we had waited for a missing crewmember but he still hadn’t shown up. The pilot was on board, the headlines were being slipped and the ship starting to swing out, when the missing man comes running along the quayside and, the bulwark top being level with the dock, makes for the stern to jump on board. “Second Mate” hollers the Master, “Don’t let that man on board!” Then, seeing the stern line still fast and the man getting ready to jump, the Master comes storming off the bridge and down aft “Don’t any of you help him on board – let go that stern line!” and turning to the latecomer tells him “You can join us by bus in Houston!” But he managed to scramble on board and, acknowledging the inevitable and seeing as the ship was now broadside to the river, the Master decided it was time to return to the bridge. And the next day, as was usual in those times, the offender was hauled in front of the Master and logged X number of days pay for the offence.

On the second voyage there was, for reasons I cannot remember, no Chippy signed on so the Mate nominated me as acting Chippy. This suited me fine  – I was on day-work. One dark, misty and wet evening we were feeling our way up the Mersey to Liverpool . As Chippy, I was on standby at the windlass. Over to port I noticed, through the mist, a dredger with anchor chains running out in various directions. Then someone came to the foc’sle to relieve me for a smoko. As I reached the main deck I felt a jar as the ship seemed to lurch. I immediately thought that we had run over one of the dredger’s anchor chains. But then I heard a scraping sound and looking over the port side was just in time to see the stern of a sinking vessel sticking up in the air with rudder and propeller already visible. On the stern was its name and port of registration: Denby Coast , Liverpool . Next there were shouts to man one of our lifeboats to search for survivors and I found myself one of the lifeboat crew. We rowed, or rather levered (as the boat had Flemming propulsion gear) our way round in the darkness and rain until eventually we lost sight of the Maple and everything else and were lost. We could hear foghorns all around us but could see nothing until we bumped into a channel buoy and tied up to it. Just when we were wondering if we should break out the lifeboat rations, lights came through the dark and it was the pilot cutter come to our rescue. We were hauled aboard (I cannot remember what happened to the lifeboat, I suppose they towed it in) and there in the saloon we found the crew of the Denby Coast , rescued by the cutter. The Master, with a scowl on his face when he found out who we were, was sitting barefooted with, around one big toe, the remains of a duckboard. Apparently, on seeing that his ship was sinking, he took off his shoes and rang out on the bridge wing to jump overboard – and on the way got a big toe stuck in a duckboard and had to jump overboard with the whole duckboard. On the pilot cutter they could not free his toe, it would have to be done ashore, so had cut away as much as they could. He was not a happy man. From what I heard later there was no blame attached to the Maple, the Denby Coast had cut across the main channel.


A Summary of Voyages  

  When I joined the vessel in London , she was berthed at Surrey docks. She was on charter to Cunard (the funnel was painted in Cunard colours). We were loading general cargo for the States. Among the cargo were shoes. As an idea to prevent pilfering by the dockers, we loaded only the left-footed shoes. But this did not stop the dockers because, as one said to me: “My brother is working on the ship that is loading the right-footed ones.” But the loading didn’t last long as the dockers went on strike. And there we stayed in Surrey docks for nearly six weeks. Of course we quickly ran out of money and had to rely on the generosity of the Irish nurses at the nearby hospital to buy us a pint now and again.  

The ship had just returned from the States and everyone had brought US one cent coins with them. They were for use in the public phones as they were the same size as a sixpenny coin. One day the police visited the ship and all the crew were called to the saloon. There a solemn faced policeman told us he had received a complaint from the Post Office as to how all the public phones nearby, when emptied, had been found to contain mainly US one cent pieces. And we were the only ship in Surrey docks recently returned from the States. Though knowing it was the Larch crew responsible, he had no proof so ended by saying that he hoped there would be no more of this. Which the Master repeated to us afterwards but with, it seemed, a slight smile on his face as I am sure he also had his supply of one cent coins.

  New Orleans , October 1960.  
(l to r): Tony “Clem” Clements apprentice, Bob Lawlor (electrician?).

    Heavy weather in the North Atlantic , bound UK , November 1960.  
(l to r): “Scouser”, John Ryan, Bosun (name unknown) and Jimmy Tallon (outside the entrance to the apprentices’ accommodation).
Heavy weather in the North Atlantic , bound UK , November 1960. 
Checking the lashings on a deck cargo of empty bourbon barrels. They were for use by the 
Scottish whisky industry.  

Eventually Cunard ordered us to sail to Hamburg . The day after we left, the strike ended but we continued to Hamburg . In Hamburg at that time (maybe still now?) on a Sunday morning at the docks would be held a banana auction. All bananas recently unloaded and that were not fit for the shops were auctioned in public. For very little one could buy a huge bunch of bananas. As they were mostly the overripe bunches they sold, you had to eat them pretty quickly so for the next day or so it was a banana diet.

  In Glasgow we loaded Scotch whisky for the States. This being in pre-container days, the cases (cardboard cartons) were loaded direct into the holds – thousands upon thousands of cases of all different makes of whisky. The temptation was too much, of course, for the Glasgow dockers, and by the end of the day they would just be able to stagger down the gangway. We apprentices were in the holds supposedly to check that no cases were broken into but who were we to argue with big, beefy, drunken Glasgow dockers…

  One of our favourite haunts in Liverpool at that time was the Cavern. There was a band for late-night dancing when the pubs closed and we could meet Irish nurses. Many years later someone who had been with me at that time asked:

“Do you remember the members of bands that played in the Cavern at that time?”

“No - because I was looking at the nurses and not the band. Why do you ask?”

“Because some of them were the future Beatles.”  


"What a surprise to see the photos of the trip around the world on this vessel. I was 4th. eng. for 13 months and remember "Noreen Bawn" Eddie Duffy, Cadet Peter and many others. Sorry to read Jimmy was lost at sea as I remember his face quite well. The Doxford ran the 27 days without a problem from Panama to Japan, and I recall the heat aboard a ship built for the Atlantic and serving in the tropics. How ever it was a good training for my future at sea as an engineer. Where have all the crew gone? as the song goes"  

Larry Flood.-- March 2008



A Summary of Voyages  

I returned to the Poplar for two trips to the Great Lakes . Concerning the St. Lawrence Seaway I  don’t know if they still do it now (maybe it is considered an “unsafe practice”) but at that time there were no shoreside mooring gangs when one tied up for the night or while waiting one’s turn in a lock. Instead each vessel had a long-armed davit for’d with a block though which a rope passed attached to a bosun’s chair. On approaching the berth whoever was designated to take the lines ashore was swung out over the side and lowered to the quay. Great fun!

  The grain berth, Lakehead, Thunder Bay
Lake Superior , May 1961. At the berth on the other side of the elevator, the “Irish Oak” was loading!
  Welland Canal St.Lawrence Seaway, May 1961
A study in baggy trousers!
The Master Capt. Simms 
(on the right) with the two pilots.

On return to Cork after the second voyage myself and another apprentice jumped ship. We didn’t jump because we were not happy on board or fed up with the sea, no, it was just one of those impulsive actions of youth. My fellow jumper didn’t go back to sea but ended up joining the Rhodesian police. Last I heard from him was when I received a photo, showing him on horseback somewhere in the African bush! I often wonder where he is now – Greg White from Carricktoole (actually he was from Cobh , Carricktoole being part of his nickname), where are you? His father was a commander in the Irish Naval Services. I still have a book on seamanship he gave me.

©Tony Clements 2007

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© A. Clements 2007


A Summary of Voyages  

Having jumped the Poplar, and after various adventures with Greg in Killarney and Limerick, I returned home and passed my EDH and lifeboat exams. Then Irish Shipping, in the goodness of their heart (and I doubt any other company would have done likewise) took me back, this time as an AB on the Irish Pine. The first trip was up the Great Lakes and when we left Toronto we were one of the last group of ships before the seaway shut down for the winter. The weather was bitterly cold. The Pine had been converted some years previously from steam to motor but they had left the steam winches. And very glad we were to have them. You just had to open the drain cock to be enveloped in a cloud of hot steam. And another plus to warm us was that the Pine had in the crew quarters aft, two salt water baths which you could fill full of hot sea water and relax in – but only in calm weather!  

Funnel colours that have, alas, joined the long list of extinct shipping companies. Little did I know then that it was the last photo I would take with Irish Shipping. 
I paid off on our return to Ireland , went to study for my 2nd. Mates and thereafter sailed under foreign flags.

At Sea, North Atlantic , December 1961.  
All unknown except for third from right, Tony “Clem” Clements (AB).

Norfolk , Virginia , December 1961.  
(l to r): Chippy?, Jimmy Gorman (AB), Bosun?

Norfolk , Virginia , December 1961.  
(l to r): Chippy?, Tony “Clem” Clements (AB), Bosun?

Norfolk , Virginia , January 1962.

Loading hogsheads of tobacco leaf for Dublin and Cork .

Norfolk , Virginia , January 1962

When we sailed from Limerick on the second voyage, we ran into a strong storm and not long afterwards the main engine stopped. Quickly we were beam on to a huge swell, rolling our guts out. It was night-time and around us we could see the lights of French trawlers, bobbing up and down like corks on the swell. As we were still close to land the order was given to don lifejackets and then we waited. Luckily we did not have to wait too long nor make use of our lifejackets as the engineers got the main engine started again – and that must not have been easy work with the way the ship was rolling. It was the end of November and we had day after day of bad weather right across the Atlantic. The seamen were berthed aft and being light ship one moment the screw was in the water, the next out and the whole stern shook and vibrated before the engine slowed down. Sleep was very difficult in those conditions as you were either being thrown up in the air from your bunk or being shaken from side to side by the vibration.  

One job that had to be done, no matter what the weather, was preparing the holds for the grain cargo. Holds and bilges had to be swept clean and burlap placed over the bilges. Then, in the tweendecks, the feeders had to be erected. With the ship rolling and pitching all over the place, it was not an easy job getting the planks into place. And a dangerous one as well, as one slip and you fell into the hold. But we managed it with no worse accidents than splinters in our hands. This job was inevitably done by Jimmy Gorman and myself as we were the youngest and had a good head for heights. Carrying cargoes of grain there were always rats on board and the holds and bilges could be full of rats’ nests. Sometimes we would literally throw buckets of baby rats over the side (sorry about that if there are any rat lovers reading this!).  

Eventually we made Newport News and anchored in calm waters while waiting for a berth. One day an American aircraft carrier came and anchored quite close to us. During the night it snowed and the next morning we heard the tannoy on the carrier calling out “Sweepers – man your brooms fore and aft!” And, lo and behold, fore and aft on the flight deck a line of men with brooms formed up and marched, meeting in the middle and then turning to sweep the snow overboard. We thought no more of this until later when we were alongside. One evening some of the crew, visiting the various bars in Newport News, happened on one full of sailors. When they saw they were from the carrier, our crew called out “Sweepers – man your brooms fore and aft!” They were brought back to the Pine by the police in a rather battered condition!  

Having loaded grain and tobacco, we sailed for Dublin after Christmas and had the usual North Atlantic winter weather all the way home, though at least this time we were going with it. Mountainous waves coming up astern, looking as if they would poop the ship but at the last minute she would stick her stern up in the air like a duck and the wave would pass alongside, flooding the decks fore and aft. It was good to reach Dublin and there a camera crew from Telefis Eireann (RTE) joined us for the trip to Cork, to make a documentary film. But even from Dublin to Cork the weather was so atrocious that the camera crew were seasick and the only shots I eventually saw had been taken in port. I paid off in Cork to go and study for my 2nd. Mate’s ticket. And so finished my career with Irish Shipping.

© A. Clements 2007

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Reflections on my time in Irish Shipping Ltd.

© A. Clements 2007

The vast majority of British shipping companies did not pay their apprentices overtime. They were paid a bigger set wages than Irish Shipping apprentices but Irish Shipping paid their apprentices overtime so we were the winners. Especially, as on the Poplar (I cannot remember for the other vessels) the overtime book was kept by the senior apprentice! I can remember the first time I drew a sub in the UK, getting paid in big black and white English fivers – now that was real money!  

Remember “Hungry Hogarth’s” and Harrison’s (“two of fat and one of lean” - from their funnel colours)? I can never recollect the ISL ships being hungry ships In those I sailed in, feeding was always adequate though being growing lads we were always on the lookout for something extra to eat and any food left lying around was considered fair game.  

The main preoccupation of most crewmembers before arrival in port was where to hide your extra cartons of duty free fags. Many were the ingenious hiding places used but getting the best of the British Customs was not easy - they were past masters at rooting out the best hiding places. On the Poplar one of the apprentices had stuffed a carton down the ventilation trunking in the apprentices accommodation. But for some reason it slipped and could not be recovered. And for some other unknown reason the packing disintegrated with the result that unexpectedly, every now and then, a dried up cigarette would shoot out of a vent nozzle. In those days everyone smoked liked a chimney, quite happily lighting up with no sense of guilt. You light one nowadays and everyone looks at you as if you were indecently exposing yourself! Still, I suppose that’s just due to the hypocritical times we live in.  

Sunday Inspections - remember them? At sea, on Sunday mornings the Master, accompanied by the Chief Officer, Chief Engineer and Chief Steward would inspect all accommodation, stores rooms and galley. Though we apprentices were considered the lowest form of life on board, basically only good for cleaning bilges and chipping, our accommodation was expected to be the cleanest. Some Masters even wore white gloves to run their finger along some half hidden shelf to check that no dust had been forgotten. For the junior apprentice there was always the delight of cleaning the toilet bowl so you could shave in it! Though maybe not appreciated at the time, it was great training and ensured that the majority of us would not grow up to be slobs.

No names (person or ship) mentioned but just to show how things have changed over the years: we were due to sail early in the morning from a northern European port. I met the pilot when he boarded at 0600 and we went up to the Master’s cabin. Knock, knock, no answer. Knock, knock again but still no answer. So we opened the door and looked in. There on the deck was the Master, stretched out and snoring, an empty whiskey bottle beside him. “Captain” says I, shaking him, “the pilot is here.” No sign of life. “Ah, no bother”, said the pilot, “I’ll come back at noon.” You can imagine what would happen today what with Port State Control, etc….!  

As an apprentice I cannot ever remember getting instructed in the finer points of navigation and other learned subjects useful to becoming a merchant marine officer. Basically apprentices were a form of cheap labour to be used in manual tasks and not there to have their heads stuffed full of nonsense which they would not particularly appreciate learning anyway (that came later when we had to study for our first ticket). But that is not to decry the system, on the contrary, what we learnt in those four years was far more important, the hands-on stuff: seamanship and experience so that when in the future, as officers, we ordered someone to do a job, we knew what we were talking about as we had done it ourselves previously.  

And talking of studying allows me to transgress a little. It seems that the majority of Irish Shipping apprentices and officers went to Liverpool to do their tickets - bigger college, more teachers, etc. But I went to the Irish Nautical College, West Pier, Dun Laoghaire, for my 2nd. Mate’s and Master’s (I took my Mate’s in Hong Kong but that is another story) and had no regrets. Small classes, ably instructed by Capt. Walshe (God bless him – what he had to put up with!) and his assistant. In addition there was a factotum, who, for 2/6 a week, made you tea and coffee for smokos. The coffee was made with “Irel” (remember the black liquid from a bottle, – great stuff, now that put a lining on your stomach! I wonder does it still exist in this modern age of expresso machines?) One morning (this was in 1967) we heard a clatter on the waste ground outside and there lands an Irish Army helicopter. The two pilots came in and asked to use the phone as they had an engine problem. Once the call was completed they told us a car was coming to fetch them, they’d be back in the afternoon with a mechanic and would we mind keeping an eye on their machine so the kids didn’t climb all over it……!  

A slight further transgression. The examiner in 1962 at the Aston Quay shipping offices, where exams were held, was a very elderly Master Mariner who had been in sail. I can’t remember his name but he was a character. In those days (and maybe still today?) you had to pass an eyesight examination before being allowed to sit for your ticket. It was basically a colour test and for this a very ancient lantern, looking like something from a magic lantern show, was used. It projected a red, green or white dot on the wall. So one day all we candidates were waiting outside the room where it took place. Being at the head of the list alphabetically, I was the first called in. The room was in darkness and I could just make out the lantern and examiner.

“Look at the wall in front of you and tell me what colour you see” he says and with that pulls the lever on the lantern.

I could see nothing. “Er, excuse me sir, but I can’t see anything.”

“All right, we shall try again” and with that he activates the lever again.

I still couldn’t see anything “Sir, I still can’t see anything.”

“Clements, what do you mean coming here with eyesight like that to sit a ticket – out you go and send in the next candidate!”

In the room the other candidates looked at me and just at that moment in comes the shipping office secretary and seeing my face asks what was the matter. I explained the situation to him.

“Oh, he has forgotten to take the lens cover off again.” And in he goes to see the examiner.

A minute later the examiner sticks his head out and says “Come in, Clements, I’ll give you one last chance!”


Even though the ships and company have disappeared and the crews I sailed with died or scattered around the globe, I have great memories of those days and especially what a great crowd of lads were the seamen who manned the ships in those times. They were seamen in the proper sense of the word; seamen like Mick Murphy who had sailed in the Arklow schooners and there was nothing worth knowing that he couldn’t teach you on knots, splices and seamanship. Such seaman had no need for any fancy safety gear or volumes of safety manuals and other rubbish that clogs ships nowadays. They knew what they were doing and I can recall very few accidents. And if there was an accident it was dealt with on the ship by the Master such as the time one of the Masters of the Poplar reset a dislocated shoulder with no fuss or bother and a drop of the hard stuff. Well, those days are gone, forever, but at least we can keep our memories. Meanwhile the modern maritime world continues its way where a man is judged by the thickness of certificates he can produce and not by his seamanship.  

© A. Clements 2007

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