Memories & Yarns
When I was younger my father and a few other members of marine yard visited the Stena Timer berthed at salt island ramp as usual on the little harbour ferry. As we rounded the hull under the huge bow we got to see a large basking shark draped over the bulb, this had been hit by the ship during the crossing and had managed to stay where it landed until she berthed at Holyhead. Ronnie Roberts
Capt George Davey recalls 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. Andy Davey
In August 1964, Slieve More was involved in the salvage of a yacht 'Wild Venture', which had been stolen from the Menai Straits. The theft followed the escape of one of the Great Train Robbers from prison and there was speculation that the yacht was being used in the getaway. The naval destroyer sent to capture the yacht broke down. Slieve More spotted the yacht, and preparations were made to come alongside the Wild Venture, which was motoring west with no crew apparent. Chief Engineer Jack Sharp, who had yachting experience, was nominated to take charge of the boarding party, and he selected his team from the many volunteers in the crew. As the Slieve More went alongside the yacht, the lookout alerted Captain Davey to the submarine that had surfaced astern! It had apparently been monitoring the situation from periscope depth, but had been unable to board the moving yacht because of the submarine's hull shape. With careful maneuvering the boarding party from Slieve More was able to jump aboard the yacht from the cattle doors in the side of the ship. Rather than heavily armed bank robbers, they found two sleeping teenagers below deck! The Wild Venture sailed back to Holyhead under Jack Sharp’s command, and the two young men were handed over to the police. The incident caused some amusement in the national press, as can be seen from the cartoon. The crew of Slieve More eventually received a small amount in salvage from the insurers of the yacht. Andy Davey
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?
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.
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
Capt 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 & 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 "Cambria" secure alongside the east side 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 1 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
Remembering Capt Robertson
The amusing story below 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 Mrs.
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 alias 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 Welsh 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 cant 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 affect 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 affect, 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.
The Carney Arms
The entire time that I worked on the Hibernia, which was for about six years during the sixties, the ship would alternatively lie at Holyhead one day and Dun Laoghaire the next with the exception of the peak periods at the height of the summer months. For those months, extra temporary staff would be employed to make up additional crews as both vessels ran two sailings a day from both ports with 'The Princess Maud' often offering an additional back up service.
Sundays was an exception when one vessel would lie over at Dun Laoghaire all day. Working excessive hours all week the crew that was berthed at Dun Laoghaire often found it is necessary to wind down.
I recall one particular Sunday, several of us had taken a stole up the road and found our way to' The Carney Arms' where a band was setting up their instruments ready for the evenings entertainment. This involved rehearsing and tuning their instruments and so forth.
A short while later, a group of the stewardesses and other female staff meandered in. Among these was a cashier named Mildred Walmsley who had an outstanding singing voice. Joining in, casually, to what the group was rehearsing, Mildred obvious talents soon became apparent and was dragged up on the stage to sing, this brought the 'house down' so as to speak. As this particular lounge was located in the cellar part of the hotel, many of the Hotel's guests who had been enjoying lunch on the floor above, found their way down and in no time the whole lounge filled. Similarly to today's karaoke's, many of the crew got up to sing and a great time was had by all.
I cannot remember with any certainty as to the name of the manager, but I seemed to think it was a Mr Mahoney, who invited the crew back a fortnight later which was the next clear day as to when we were in Dun Laoghaire. In the course of the next couple of weeks several reminders were sent down to the ship, presumably by Mr Mahoney.
So a fortnight later we all went up to 'The Carney' and on entering we found the lounge rather full as unbeknown to us Mr Maloney had made it known locally that there was a good time awaiting. Several members of the shore staff working on the pier had brought their families and friends. There were a couple of the crew who brought their guitars and once again anyone in the audience were invited to participate. Once more a brilliant time was had by all. I recall one of the ship's quartermasters, the late Mr. Dick Parry who very seldom went ashore, turning up with a little ukulele and churning out ditties and sea shanties that seemed to mesmerise both the crew and locals alike. Of course this was like a red rag to a bull among a room full of sailors and prompted many to sing their own renditions that could only be interpreted as being on the bawdy side.
Old Mr Mahoney's face behind the bar was a scream, he was cringing and almost banging his head on the counter. Contrary to fearing that Mr. Mahoney would throw a 'blanket ban over us all, we were invited up on a regular basis as no one had taken any kind offence; and this practice went on for a couple of summer seasons. However quite often, the highlight of the afternoon was that once the 'Holy Hour' came, which was usually the time the crew retired back to the ship, several 'die hards' would venture down to the pier and board an ex motor torpedo boat that had been converted to take trips around Dublin Bay. 'The Western Lady' was skippered by an aristocratic sort of figure who wore a white Skippers hat, black blazer and a cravat; presumably this gentleman owned the vessel. The trip usually lasted about an hour, and as there was a bar aboard the singing continued. Occasionally worse for wear, they made their way back down to 'turn in' for a few hours before 'turning too'.
I have been told that 'The Western Lady' survives and is somewhere on Merseyside, but wouldn't Know with any certainty. Peter Scott Roberts
A Dun Laoghaire Tradition
A dear old gent used to come down to the Hibernia and Cambria and used to run errands for the crew whilst we used to 'lie over' at Dun Laoghaire. His name was John Merrigan and I seemed to think that he had worked there for many years as he certainly knew my old aunts who had worked as stewardesses long before I was born in 1944.
I recall John, who was probably in his seventies, was a jovial old boy and was highly thought of by both crews. He used to meet the boat in every morning and assist the Pantry Men for which they looked after him in the forms of packets of butter, bacon and bottles of sauces etc. I am told that he would immediately distribute these to the other old folk in his neighbourhood.
After completing these duties with the Pantry Men (which was all on an unofficial basis) John would proceed around the crew to make a list of errands for any of the crew. These would be delivered later on in the day, and should the crew be 'turned in', they would be left with Mick Kavanagh, who used to keep the fire watch whilst the crew were asleep. Peter Scott Roberts
Room for Two!
When I was a junior officer we had a great shipmaster, Captain Richard Roberts. On approaching Holyhead he always, after rounding the breakwater, would say to the quartermaster " South a half west". This would ensure that we were on the correct course to enter Holyhead's Inner Harbour and would put the very modern Anglesey Aluminium chimney straight ahead which would ensure a perfect swing.
One day, I was Chief Officer on the Princess Maud, Captain Richard's ship. Our Second Officer had brought his wife aboard for the trip. My cabin had a double bed, so I told the second to have my room for the trip. All well and good until the next day I had a very frosty reception from Captain Roberts.
He accused me of entertaining young ladies because he could hear everything going on in the Chief Officer's cabin!
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 and I remarked that "We won't be swinging this morning captain". "Why not " said Alex. "I believe she won't come 'round in a SE gale" said I. As we arrived at the swinging basin Alex 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.
I Should be So Lucky!
Captain Alex Robertson had a great sense of humour. Every time you'd see him, he'd remind you that if it wasn't for him, there's be no Kylie Minogue - during WW2 he'd saved Kylie's grandfather's life! John Griffiths.
Captain on the Bridge!
One story from the 60s was the he was taking one of the mail boats out from the 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!!! John Griffiths.
The mail boat Cambria. © Rupert Lewis
Scouse for Tea!
A chief steward was heard to remark when asked what was for dinner, "Where are you eating? The passengers are having Navarin of Lamb Jardinere, the Officers are having Irish Stew, and the Crew are having Scouse........ but it's all coming from the same pan!!!" Capt. Peter Lockyer.
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.
Recalling the times when pupils from
Holyhead school were able to work on the Cross Channel boats as stewards
is Ray Rowlands, son of the late Capt John Rowlands.
"I was one of the lucky few pupils at
Holyhead County School who had important family connections with the two
mail boats in the late 50s/early 60s, in that my father was able to get
me a job as a steward looking after the officers and engineers during
the summer holidays - and at that time it was good money although one
had to work 24hrs on and 12 hrs off. Helping me at the time as steward
was Trefor Jones whose father was also a Master on the boats!!
"Unfortunately, I was never a good
sailor and I knew if it was promising Force 6 or more I would be
guaranteed to be really sea-sick. I remember in particular one trip,
which was extremely rough and part of my job was to take a glass of milk
down to the Chief Engineer when we reached the Stack -which involved
going down 3 flights of stairs in the engine room. All I wanted to do
after carrying out my job was to go straight back to lie down, but the
C/E (who enjoyed his pipe) asked me to go to the First Class shop to get
him a box of matches!! This involved a lot of walking up & down flights
of stairs as well as going from the stern of the ship to the bow, and I
was really cursing him at the time - but managed somehow or other to
hold back my sickness until I had safely delivered his matches.
"Another problem during bad weather,
was trying to carry/balance a tray of cups & saucers, milk & sugar along
the outside deck to get up to the bridge, when the wind was blowing the
sugar all over the place. Also even worse at night, climbing up the
staircase in complete darkness up to the bridge, which itself was pitch
black and trying to find somewhere to put down the tray.
"It's such a big shame now that Holyhead teenagers with strong family links with the Ships are denied the opportunities that I and others were lucky to have had". Ray Rowlands
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 Bwana Swing
Captain Richard 'Bwana' Jones explains the remarkable 'Bwana Swing'.
Strong southerly gales always made departure from Holyhead's old Station Berth stern first extremely difficult. As the Stena Hibernia lacked the power of the Stena Cambria in such conditions it became apparent to me that if we on the former St Columba failed to sail then the 'Cambria' might have to wait outside the port until the weather moderated.
After studying the charts for many a long hour and visiting the Container Terminal I realised that by landing the stern of the ship and pinning it on one set of piles on the container berth there was just sufficient space to swing the ship there, allowing us to proceed out of the harbour bow first.
At the time I was sailing as Night Master with Capt Ian Farrell as the Day Master. I think I had been talking to him for some time about the possibility of this manoeuvre when one day it was blowing a strong gale from the south. The Refit Berth was occupied, the Stena Cambria was outside the port with nowhere to go and I was in bed while Ian was preparing for the afternoon sailing. The next thing I was was put on the shake as I was wanted on the bridge where I was told, "This is your bloody idea, so we'll do it together".
After a bit of a conflab we put the idea into practice and lo and behold the birth of the 'Bwana Swing'.
Over time this method was much improved upon, but it could only be performed if tidal conditions were right and as the piles on the container berth were somewhat small, landing and keeping the stern on them was quite tricky. Although the container service had finished the cranes were still in position which on a few occasions nearly caused the old adrenalin to flow!! I am not sure how many Masters used this manoeuvre - Capt Ian Farrell and I did it regularly and Capt Hugh Farrell did it at least a couple of times.
And the name 'Bwana'? Before joining the Holyhead ships I was working as a surveyor in West Africa, so I was named 'Dick Bwana' by some wag on the Slieve Donard. Actually, the title 'Bwana' is from East Africa, but what the hell - Holyhead folk have never allowed a few thousand miles of geographical error to stand in the way of a good nickname!!
Reaction from the Master!
Shortly before he passed away in 2005, Capt Len Evans, first Senior Master of the St Columba (later renamed Stena Hibernia), shared his reaction to the 'Bwana Swing'.
"Leaving Holyhead in a southerly gale could be quite hairy, and we had a grudging admiration for the B+I ships which used to do a free swing in the harbour.
"Swinging stern on the quay was commonplace with our old cargo ships which would berth bow in at the Import Berth and which would then breast over with ropes to the Export Berth. We would then swing bow out, usually stern on the quay, but bow on in northerly winds.
"We would also swing the St Columba on the quay at the Refit Berth when the needs of the refit required, but it was not done in a southerly gale!"
End of a berth!
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.
And we were singing, Hymns and Arias, Land of my fathers, Ar Hyd y Nos!
"We were in Bailey's drydock, Barry, on the St Columba. Capt Len Evans was the master but he had gone home over the period of the game. I was c/o. Maelor Jones was Engineer Supt. Alun Roberts c/e. Other engineers were Victor Williams, John (Scones) Williams, and a junior eng, David Campbell. Dave Bell was the r/o and Dewi Riley the lecky.
"We were fortunate to be staying at the Angel Hotel where the after match dinner was held. Being a crowd of jolly seafarers we were well in with the waitresses and one of them advised us that after the dinner and speeches, a certain door leading down to the function room would be left unlocked, and if we cared to make our way down individually we could join the party.
"We all crept down through the door and joined the party. The rugby crowd were so well oiled by that time that they didn't notice the gatecrashers! It was one of the best evenings I can ever recall!. I gave the programme and autographs to my son."
Later, on 13th December, the St Columba was afloat in Barry drydock when the wind picked up to SSE 10.
"There was a scramble to get more ropes out", Glynne recalls.
"This was about 6pm, after normal working hours. After a while the wind abated and about 8pm the bosun said some of the lads wanted to go ashore and could they stand down? Len said "Hang on for a bit", but finally conceded when conditions remained stable.
"Shortly after the majority of the crew had disappeared down the gangway the wind picked up again piping up to NW 10. Our moorings were now on the wrong side! and most of the crew ashore.
"Capt Len was operating one winch, I was coiling rope, John Scones and other engineers doing the same. Assorted cooks, stewards, mates throwing heaving lines and running out ropes. We managed to secure the ship.
"Len said, "I b****y knew something
like this would happen; as I left the house to walk down to the ship I
saw the new moon through the window"".
"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!!!
Running astern up the River Liffey is the Slieve Donard
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!”
Photo: The Dover leaving Dun Laoghaire in calmer conditions. Justin Merrigan Collection ©
Paranoia on the Stena Sailer!
Leaving the berth at Holyhead, routine, no problems, when the Sparks noticed that the wheelhouse light was still on. Being helpful he switched it off, causing everyone to go into alarm, "What's happened NOW"!
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!
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!"
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!!