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Let's Go the Nice Way Round

I always preferred General Cargo ships. I always felt you always met a nicer class of chap. Notice I didn't say better class of chap, that's a different story. No, just tramping round the world, taking your time, ensconced with a sociable set of like minded blokes was a nice way to spend half your life. Not for us the hectic schedules of Container ships, nor the 'Tanker Twitch' which is a universal symptom of all Tanker and Gas Carrier crews worldwide.

No rush, no hectic schedules, no irate agents or Charter Companies screaming and certainly no wives.

Something like this…

'I think we'll go the nice way round,' said Farmer John, through a hole in his froth covered beard.

John wasn't a farmer, although his rotund figure and very red face coupled with a natural affability made him a dead cert. He was a gourmet as well as the Captain, and the nice way round was, on this voyage, his idea of a 'Grand Tour' of bars and restaurants stretching from the north coast of Spain through the Straights of Gibraltar and all points east until we reached our destination which happened this time to be Cyprus.

The ships officers happened to be sitting in a pub, two hours after closing time in Goole, an exotic port shoved right up the Humber. The crew, Cape Verdi Islanders, were dotted around the town battened down with various girls of precarious virtue. It was pouring down outside and very dark. We looked out of the window and nodded our agreement.

We were waiting for the pilot to board the ship, a rather nice and comfortable 1,500 tonner carrying general cargo vessel christened 'M.V.George Armfield'. Who or what 'George Armfield' was remained a mystery. The owners, a shipping Company called 'Comben Longstaff Ltd' a well known Coasting outfit based in Shoreham weren't too sure either, although the Chief Superintendent ventured to suggest, a few years later, it was named after a little known Goalkeeper that once let in nine goals whilst playing for Hull City against Wolves.

Anyway, we would be summoned by a blast on the whistle, blown by the only man left on board, the Donkeyman a seventy five year old Cardiff Arab who was to infirm to negotiate the gang way.

We ordered another round and discussed the ports of call. It seemed to be a good idea to get across the Bay of Biscay first, and then by chance, have a number of surreptitious machinery break downs very near various ports on passage.

The Chief Engineer, a grizzled individual who was on his fifteenth Discharge Book grunted. He grunted at everything and made a point of finding the engine room at least once a trip.

I was Second Engineer on this voyage and to go the nice way round seemed like a very good idea after eight pints of ale. The Mate thought so as well as he indicated with a kick to the Second mate, who had slid underneath the table three hours ago, and told him to get various charts out, in readiness for the gastronomic dawdle through the Mediterranean.

The third Engineer, Denzil, a lad from Cornwall was not widely travelled. His experience of shipping was confined to the King Harry Ferry in Falmouth; a backward and forward trip of a hundred yards. In fact he'd never been further than Plymouth in his life until today, when he joined the ship. His only work so far was to get the beer in.

A knock at the back door, drew our attention. It was the pilot. He said he was unable to get on board as the gangway was now ten feet off the jetty as the tide had come in and nobody had lowered it.

He was invited to join us for a quick one and of course he agreed. Eventually we got away, dropped the pilot off and headed down channel towards Ushant and thence the Bay of Biscay.

Three days out, the Chief Engineer made his first appearance, we knew he was on board, we could hear him snoring. He sat down at the breakfast table in a three-piece suit and said he was going ashore for a haircut. (This is the seaman's equivalent of telling your wife you are taking the dog for a walk) It was gently pointed out that he would get rather wet as we were half way through the Bay of Biscay. He glanced out of the porthole and grunted.

Santander was the first port of call where we had to call in for a shaft bearing that was running hot. There we feasted on particularly good oysters sautéed in Cointreau. Next port of call was Gibraltar, where we took on fuel and the Mate took on rather a lot of his own.

Sardinia was rather a let down, we stopped there for a dodgy fuel pump but the prawns in margarita had an adverse affect on the digestive system. Sicily was memorable for crayfish with a side plate of calvados marinated in avocado. We had to stop there for urgent repairs to the gearbox. Malta where we needed repairs to an oil cooler, was memorable because the Chief Engineer appeared again in his paying off suit and announced, that he was going to visit 'The Gut' as he, 'had many old friends there from his war years'. We saw him three days later while dining in a rather nice restaurant on scallops in a very good aquavit source; he was being escorted by the police back to the ship.

We had a problem with the shaft generator next, just off Crete, and called in for a delicious meal of lobster flavoured with an exquisite retsina dressing. Denzil, the Third Engineer excelled himself on this occasion by ordering a Cornish pasty and getting rather huffy when he was shown the door.

Finally we headed for Cyprus. We missed it, and stopped a fishing boat who told us it was two days back the way we had come, but not before we exchanged three bottles of Johnny Walker for a rather nice basket of prawns which the fishing boat skipper cooked for us, while we exchanged pleasantries. They went down very well with a Riesling we had picked up on a similar voyage a few months before.

Eventually, a couple or so days later, we arrived at our port of discharge and while lying alongside the berth, we ensconced ourselves in a sea food restaurant, with a lovely view of the port 'I think, as we're loading in Palermo for Antwerp,' said Farmer John, over a plate of squid in aquavit; we'll go back via……


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