What’s left to relate about my time at sea – some highlights of ports of call I guess. Linden, New Jersey was a particularly good port to visit as it is so close to New York City. I can still remember the excitement of waiting, in sight of the Statue of Liberty, for the pilot to come on board and take us in. Also the enormously thick New York broadsheet newspapers brought onto the ship by the pilot. We visited this port every month and it was always scheduled that we would arrive on Friday as the docks closed so that we would be berthed all weekend, waiting for the unloading of the ship’s cargo to begin on Monday. This always gave us a long weekend ashore. This was particularly beneficial to Alan and me because the second mate had an Aunt and Uncle living in Bronxville, New York State. They had emigrated from Scotland when they were young and as soon as they heard that the Chief had his wife on board, they immediately offered us hospitality in their home for every visit. One would have to experience the basic living conditions on board the ship to appreciate what this meant to me.
As soon as we arrived at the house a beautiful bathroom was put at our disposal complete with stacks of large fluffy white towels, bath essences and lots of hot water. We certainly took our time soaking in this luxury. The food was good too, and the company. Before taking advantage of this wonderful hospitality we would spend time in New York City. A company agent would collect us from the ship in a limousine and we would be given complimentary tickets to Broadway shows. One I remember particularly was ‘My Fair Lady’ with Rex Harrison. So, having spent the day wandering around Macy’s, taking in the sights, and seeing a show, we would head out on a train to Bronxville, just south of White Plains.
On one visit to New York there was so much security and we soon found out that a ship carrying Kruchev, the Russian President, was berthed not too far from us. Another interesting visit, we took in a Broadway show at the end of our visit which meant we needed to find our own way back to the ship late at night. We trawled around Grand Central Station but were unable to get a train near enough to where we wanted to go. As it was so late at night, or possibly early morning, we decided to look for a taxi to get us back. We found one, settled in the back only later to find that the driver refused to cross the state border into New Jersey. He dropped us at a deserted bus station in the early hours of the morning. Neither Alan nor I have any recollection of how we got back to the ship. Isn’t memory strange how it leaves blanks at times. It’s probably worth mentioning our experience in shops in the town of Linden. We were quite a novelty with some people as they asked us things like, “Do you have washing machines in England, Do you have strawberries, is that right you have to be off the streets by 10 pm?” Did they think we had come from another planet!
I don’t overall have good memories of taxi rides in NYC. Many years later in 1988 while staying at the Mayfair Regent (it no longer exists), the concierge hailed me a cab to take me to Newark airport for a flight back to the UK. As I was travelling alone he negotiated a fare with the driver. I think it was $35. When I got to the drop off point at the airport the driver refused to open the boot/trunk to retrieve my luggage until I had paid him double this amount saying I had to pay his fare back to NYC. What could I do, a middle aged woman travelling alone and it was dark.
My first visit to New Orleans was exciting. The long 120 mile steam up the Mississippi River with the sea plane gas stations, coupled with scenes of swamps along the way was particularly interesting. Also the Mississippi river boats. I will always remember my first experience of being very cold in air conditioned shops and the contrast of the steamy hot air outside. It was here that I also experienced my first watermelon. When just one slice arrived, it was so large I hardly knew what to do with it. Alan just laughed his head off when he saw the expression on my face. Alan had been to New Orleans many times before so he enjoyed showing me around the French quarters. He plays the trumpet and on one previous visit he had the pleasure of sitting in with a Jazz band in one of the many Jazz clubs. He is an avid Jazz fan, owning every record that Lois Armstrong had made, even his first one so you can imagine what this meant to him. The downside was that I could not understand the separate drinking taps for whites and blacks and equally the separate toilets and restrooms. This was 1960.
Lake Charles, Louisiana was the port where I was almost detained on board. On my first visit when being asked by immigration if I had ever had contact with the Communist party, not realising how serious this was, I joked and said “Yes, I used to be a member of the party”. A deathly silence all round was broken by the immigration officer telling me he would have me detained on board. He eventually relented after I had received a lecture on how serious this was and showed that I was truly sorry and realised how naive I had been. This was the place we were stopped by the Police when out walking. They wanted to know where we were going and why we were walking. Once we explained we were walking and looking for a shop, they took us in their police car, saying it was far too hot to walk.
We became quite used to the culture in Mexico as we visited every month. We would berth in Coatzacoalcos or Minatitlan on the Gulf of Campeche. The cargo we collected in Mexico was powdered sulphur. It was a truly unpleasant cargo to be carrying. When it was being loaded, in no time at all, the whole ship would be coated in it and our eyes would be sore and streaming. Even face washing did not help very much as the powder would be washed into our eyes. The smell wasn’t nice either. However we would walk into town and be amazed at the contrast of wealth and poverty in such proximity to each other. Smart homes right next to corrugated iron shacks. The opposite side of the river was just villages of straw and mud huts..
Sunday afternoon in the town square we observed the ritual of promenading. All the young men walking around the square in one direction, and all the young ladies in the opposite direction, smiling and giggling and eyeing each other up. Very sweet. Once when visiting the office of the shipping agent I needed to use the loo/bathroom. This was situated in a cupboard with a tiny three foot high door right next to one of the occupied desks. Very embarrassing. There was a silver mine not too far away and the owner visited the ship bringing with him a gift for me, a silver and moonstone bracelet, the silver having been mined and beaten right there.
Coupled with the whole chapter on our time berthed in Nova Scotia, these are some of the highlights of the ports visited on this voyage. When we eventually sailed back across the Atlantic, much further south I might add, the ocean was like a millpond, so calm it seemed we were just on a lake. Such a blessing and relief after our voyage over.
It only remains to recall our stops over in Southern Ireland on the way home. Before berthing in Cork we encountered some sudden very severe storms and had to stay outside the harbour for a day until it was safe to make our way in. While berthed in Cork we got to visit the Blarney stone and yes we did do what everyone else did and kissed it, I have no idea why. While berthed in Dublin it was funny to see some of the locals coming out with buckets and shovels to help themselves to the coal that had been loaded on the quayside for the ships boilers. Before leaving for home we armed ourselves with the local bounty, sheepskin lined coats and mittens and Aran sweaters, Southern Ireland being renowned for these.
All that remains to be said is that it was such a wonderful feeling to be on the home stretch as we sailed away from Ireland and north through the Western Isles of Scotland before eventually berthing and disembarking on the North East coast of England. For me that was the end but even though Alan had decided to leave the sea for good he had to stay on the ship a little while longer until a new Chief Engineer was found. I had experienced a wonderful and at times traumatic adventure and was now desiring some stability in my life. Did I find it? All will be revealed as I continue with this story.