Memories & Yarns
The late Capt George Davey recalled being in charge of the Slieve Bloom on leaving Holyhead, when the ship inexplicably stopped responding to the helm. He managed to take the ship out of the harbour under the engines alone. The ship was anchored in the outer harbour to investigate. It became apparent that the rudder had fallen off, probably as a result of metal fatigue in the shaft! The missing rudder was recovered some years later during dredging operations in the harbour and can now be seen at Holyhead's Maritime Museum.
The late Capt John Bakewell remembered one of his first trips out as Master
"One of my first trips as Master on Slieve Donard was with Glynne Pritchard as Chief Officer. We arrived at night in the Boathouse berth with a heavier landing than I would have liked! So we went down the gangway to see if any damage had been done. We couldn't see any damage to the ship but there was a strong smell of burning. I thought that we couldn't have slid along the piles that much for them to burn. The smell got stronger when suddenly I found that my coat pocket was on fire from my pipe!!!.
The St David berthing on west side of Carlisle Pier. Capt Owen Wyn-Jones, normal landing, no major bump, when there was a screech of metal on metal as the 'coming and going BR logo' detached itself from the port side funnel and disappeared into the dock!
Capt. Glynne Pritchard.
Prayer on the Dover
The late Capt Len Evans recalls a voyage in the turbine steamer Dover in September 1974.
"We left Holyhead in flat calm conditions, but it was a good Force 12 Northerly in Dun Laoghaire. I was able to berth, but the sea in the harbour was such that she was pitching and rolling alongside the berth.
“Clearly she was going to suffer major damage, and so I sailed back out into Dublin Bay where I turned circles for the next twelve hours until conditions improved slightly and I was able to go back alongside, discharge cars and passengers and reload.
“At about 2300 hrs I had a message from Valley that the wind was now 83 mph. Coming into Holyhead was not funny; at one stage it seemed inevitable that she would smash into the Refit Berth. However, she came around, and I was delighted to berth in the Station Berth.
“After we got alongside, the Carpenter came up to my room, which he never did usually and said, “Captain, if I was to die, I prayed for you, and she came around” with tears rolling down his cheeks.”
“He left me a very chastened man, that one of my crew had thought so much!”
Marking the Corner!
Turkeyshore corner was once marked with two large, white painted, wooden dolphins.
Wouldn't have done much good if you were destined to hit it, but they did mark the shallow bit. They can be seen on the photo of the old Hibernia bow up on the corner in fog.
A rather pompous head of personnel named Mr Shaw is reputed to have gone to se the spectacle and was invited by the Master, peering over the bridge wing to, "Push us off with your umbrella Mr Shaw"
The Evening Papers
As a young boy I crossed over to Dublin Bay several times on the old steamboats when my father was C/O.
I can remember being on the bridge at night, and the Q/M's face illuminated by the binnacle light, and being allowed to 'steer' the ship.
Passing close to the Kish Lightship on the way home we would throw the evening papers overboard in a waterproof canvas bag for the keepers to pick up in a small boat.
Capt. Glynne Pritchard.
I do look back to the Halcyon days of Stena Sea Lynx and Stena Sea Lynx II and the fun and characters! Those classic moments such as a transit from Dun Laoghaire to Rosslare to assist when the Stena Felicity had bow door trouble. Night time, Strong Southerly Gales and Capt Hugh Farrell asking about a Flashing Light to which I mumbled something "Rock" to which Hugh cried "Rock, what Rock.....?!"
Capt. Simon Mills
Captain Bakewell remembers!
I joined the Holyhead ships on April 14th 1958. It was a beautiful evening when I stepped aboard Slieve Bloom. The Officer of the Watch was the late Alan Thomas and the first thing he said to me was "This is a soul destroying job!!
Needless to say I stayed another 33 years and retired as Senior Master of the St Columba.
The Harrogate was my first ship in British Rail. I am convinced she was fitted with some kind of primitive bridge control which I know was never used at Holyhead, perhaps a Sealink-Holyhead.com viewer might confirm?
I recall that the masters of the day were not too keen on her as she was single screw. We used to berth port side to (the easiest side with RH single prop) at the coal crane to discharge/ load our containers. How many ? 20 odd?. Getting bow to seaward for departure was accomplished by running a rope from the bow, outboard to a bollard astern, then after heaving the stern in as much as possible with a stern rope, heaving on this rope to pull her around. That was the accepted manoeuvre until tone day - a particular master joined for the first time. He decided to do it properly. Cant the bow out as far as possible by heaving on the stern rope and then bring her round using hard to starboard and ahead and when making headway, midships and astern on the engine to keep the starboard momentum. We got there in the end but it was not easy!! Was she the first ever single screw ship at Holyhead?
Arriving at north Wall it was a different story, starboard side to, and the 'fresh' in the Liffey to contend with.
We used to sail from Holyhead about 7 or 8am. Arrive Dublin about noon or 1pm. In the summer the office girls would be sunbathing on the narrow quayside between shed and river, totally private and isolated from the dock road. Skirts up to their waists, blouses unfastened, they would lie on their backs soaking up the sunshine. Then a shadow would fall over them. Annoyed at the cloud, the girls would look up to discover it was not a cloud, but the Harrogate approaching the berth with an appreciative crew enjoying the 'scenery'!
Capt. Glynne Pritchard.
Captain on the bridge
One story from the 60s was Capt Alec Robertson taking one of the mail boats out from Holyhead station and the ship was going astern, In those days the Marine Superintendent (Captain Lord) had his Office overlooking the harbour from close to the sheerlegs. When the ship passed by his window, Capt Robertson got everyone except the Quatermaster to duck, so Captain Lord only saw one man on the aft bridge. Cue wobbler!!!
The mail boat Cambria. © Rupert Lewis
Why we don't Swing in a SE Gale!
I had not been at Holyhead long and was mate of the Slieve Bawn. It was blowing a SE gale as we approached Dublin with Capt Alec Robertson.
I remarked that "We won't be swinging this morning captain".
"Why not?" asked Alec.
"I believe she won't come 'round in a SE gale" said I.
As we arrived at the swinging basin Alec said to the QM, "Hard a port" and to me, "I'll show you why we don't swing in a SE gale".
Of course the ship would not come round and we crabbed up the Liffey until we reached some shelter near the Dodder buoy when we let go an anchor and eventually got her stern up river to back on to the berth.
Safely tied up he said to me "Did you see the trouble I had?, That is why we never ever swing in a SE gale".
Capt. Glynne Pritchard.
Captain Freddie Tunstall
I remember Freddie Tunstall very well. He was what we used to call a real gentleman. I sailed with him a few times when he was Master of the Hibernia or the Cambria.
After retiring, he came back as an officer on our container ships. Our role was reversed with me as Captain and Freddie as 2nd Officer!!
He was great fun with an ideal personality.
Capt. John Bakewell
Remembering Captain Robertson
The amusing story about Captain Robertson's exploits whilst bringing the vessel past the shear legs certainly brings back memories about the Captain and typifies the tremendous sense of humour that he processed. Doubtless there are a wealth of stories out there awaiting to be told about the Captain.
As a child I used to run errands for his ageing parents who lived a few houses down from us in Wian Street and quite often the Captain would turn up and slip a threepenny bit into my hand and if I was lucky, and the captain had no change, it would be a sixpence. It was only when the Captain came around that I was rewarded as I had been warned by my parents not to take any money from old people for running errands!
So when I went to work aboard the boats some years later, the Captain would often reminisce with me about his parents and Wian Street. One particular incident always seemed to tickle him. His father used to wait for me in the window when coming home from school and with his finger in an upright position over his lips, would beckon me to the back gate. Thinking he was actually whispering, the old boy was somewhat hard of hearing, would quite loudly ask me to sneak to the shop for a half an ounce of ‘Amlwch Shag’, which was a very strong local tobacco. He would wait in the lane for my return and always made me promise not to tell his Missus.
Unbeknown to him, quite often Mrs Robertson would be behind the old boy shaking her head from side to side and laughing but occasionally she would confront him, presumably if she thought he was smoked too much.
I recall another humorous little story that I was told of when the ship was lying over at Dun Laoghaire, a crew member had gone up town that particular morning with the intentions of coming back down after having a couple of drinks. But as they say, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’ , and with his love of the hard stuff, after a couple of drinks his intentions ‘went by the board’ so as to speak. By the time he was ready to return to the ship later that afternoon, he was three sheets to the wind and was only able to squeeze a couple of hours in bed before ‘turning to’ to serve the officers, engineers and of course the ‘old man’ who was Captain Robertson, their evening meal.
Although he performed is duties reasonably well, the Captain had obviously ‘sussed’ the situation out regarding his slightly inebriated condition. Towards the end of the meal and after obviously discussing it with the Chief engineer, who was sitting close at hand, he called the steward over and asked if he had had a drink, who in turn replied that he had.
It should be pointed out that when this chap had a drop too much, he became extremely emotional and dramatic. Well aware of this the Captain obviously knew how to touch a nerve, and turning to the Welsh language asked him what his mother, who was a widow, would think. By now he was almost in tears as the old man laid it on thick. ‘What am I going to do with you?’ asked the Captain, ‘this kind of behaviour can't go on’.
‘I don’t know sir’ he replied.
‘Bring me my coffee while I have a think about it’, winking at the chief engineer at the same time.
As the steward began to clear the tables, the Captain said ‘I have decided that there isn’t room for both of us on this ship and tomorrow morning I want you to go to the office and tell that to Mr. Emrys Hughes (who was responsible for the manning of the ships). And ask him to decide which one of us must go’.
There can be no doubt whatsoever that the Captain knew perfectly well what kind of effect this would have had on the steward over the next few hours, so ‘he let him stew’ until we reached Holyhead.
His course action certainly achieved the desired effect, as the steward was a nervous wreck by the time the vessel reached ‘the Stacks’. It was at this point that he was told not to bother going to the office as the Captain had thought he may have learnt his lesson.
Peter Scott Roberts.
One thing at a time!
I was Chief Officer on Hibernia and Captain John Rowlands was Master. We were approaching Carlisle Pier and suddenly I noticed a steward coming up the ladder to the Bridge. He had a gun in his hand which was pointing at us!
I said "Captain, a steward is coming up to the Bridge with a gun in his hand".
"Don't bother me now" said Captain Rowlands, "Let me get this thing alongside first"!!!
It turned out that the steward had found a replica gun in one of the lounges and had quite rightly commandeered it!!
Capt John Bakewell
Captain John Peters
The late Capt John Peters was an officer in P.S.N.C. prior to joining the Holyhead ships. He was a quiet and unassuming man, and a legendary ship handler. He was also an expert in photography, and had a penchant for O.P. cigarettes ! .
I can recall one example of his legendary ship handling. I was Duty Officer and was with Capt Cyril Powell on the bridge of the Cambria secure alongside the east of the Carlisle Pier at Dun Laoghaire with a westerly gale blowing right on to the west side of the Pier. The tide was middle to high water. The Holyhead Ferry I had been outside for some time with Capt Peters in command.
To the astonishment of Capt Powell and I, the ship approached the west side at some speed. When she was almost in her berth position, but approx 50 yards off, John dropped his starboard anchor and went full astern on his port engine & slow ahead on his S.engine, & put the rudder hard a port. As the operation developed he adjusted engines and rudder to suit. She came alongside beautifully and, as we would say, wouldn't have cracked a nut!
Capt Powell looked at me and said," John, you're a bloody hero" !!
Capt Neville Lester
End of a berth!
One evening whilst sat in the mess room of either the Brian Boroime or the Rhodri Mawr, there was a rumble and a roar. We ran out to see the water 'boiling' where the Special berth should have been. It had collapsed into the dock.
Minutes later an ashen faced steward, Eric Hughes I think it was, reported aboard and said he was walking across the berth when he felt the ground tremble and got to firm ground just in time!
An ancient stream, the Afon Trip, which ran into the original creek and had been diverted through a culvert which drained into the harbour beneath the Special berth must have worn away the foundations until -WHOOMPH SPLASH!
There had been a problem there for years. Divers were forever supporting the foundations with sand bags.
Capt. Glynne Pritchard
We were sailing from Holyhead to Dublin on the Slieve Bloom and due to arrive there at around 0800.
Before sailing and after cargo had been loaded, a list of the cargo was put aboard the ship in the safe keeping of the Captain.
On the passage, all panic was let loose from the Captain's room. Somehow the ship's papers had caught fire. I cannot remember how this happened as Captain Butterworth was a non-smoker.
However we called up Dublin and told them that the cargo papers were on fire. We hoped that Dublin would contact Holyhead for a copies.
On approaching the berth at North Wall we could see many people milling around plus fire engines and ambulances. Apparently they thought we had said "Cargo of paper on fire!"
Capt John Bakewell