At the seaward end of Dun Laoghaire’s Carlisle pier there was a large bollard. On the quay was a junk (a very large coir rope) with a thick steel wire attached to it.
At the end of the coir rope there was a very large eye splice for dropping over the bitts on the ship aft. In the eye splice there was a smaller rope (a messenger). The wire part was for putting around the bollard ashore.
You ended up with a few turns of wire rope around the shore bollard, then the coir rope with its eye splice over the ships bitts.
When ready to shift ship, we singled up to a headline and a stern line with the engines all ready. The Chief Officer usually did this manoeuvre. Then "Let go fore and aft and slow astern on the starboard engine.
As she went astern, the after crowd threw a heaving line ashore which was quickly made fast to the messenger. It was then quickly taken to the winch and hauled aboard until the eye of the junk could be put over the bitts.
"Steadily the weight would come on the junk and the ship would start to swing round the quay with the starboard engine still on slow astern.
"When nearly round, the Chief Officer would stop the engine and order let go. The shore gang would slack off on the wire. The men aft would heave on the eye until it could be thrown off. When clear, the engines would be put astern and the ship would glide into its berth on the east side. A large axe was always to hand in case the rope should jam on the bitts.
In seamanship manuals, you would find that putting an eye over the bitts would be frowned upon! However it worked in Dun Laoghaire for a great number of years.
At Holyhead the Chief Officer would usually shift the mail boats on ropes from the Mail Arrival Berth to Mail Departure Berth at about 07.30hrs.
The shore gang would wash down first, and on completion of this would call the duty officer and commence the shift. The Mail Arrival and Departure berths were at the Station Hotel end of the harbour, which was the narrowest part of the harbour. The bow would be hove out to a position midway between the berths and held in position by a head rope and check ropes whilst the stern was pulled over. Two bow ropes were left out as was the stern check rope, which was secured to a slip hook on the Arrival Berth.
The Hibernia on the arrivals berth at Holyhead. Photo: Cormac Walsh Collection
The Cambria on the arrivals berth at Holyhead. Photo: John Byrne
At sailing time the bow was first pulled out as before and held in position whilst the stern was pulled out. A member of the shore gang stood by the slip hook and on hearing a blast on the chief officer's ACME Thunderer mouth whistle would smartly strike the slip hook with a hammer to release the rope. The bow ropes being let go at the same time. The stern rope would be winched back on board as quickly as possible and the Second Officer would signal all clear on the telegraph as the eye came out of the water. During the summer when double sailings took place the rope shift took place immediately the Departure Berth was clear.