My First Trip

by Brian  Bird

 December 27 1951

The tension was almost unbearable, only one galley boy needed, and three applicants for the job, the other two seemed infinitely more experienced when compared to me. One even had a packet of fags from a previous trip, or maybe they were given to him by a hovel a (friend).

The office door of Charleson Smiths ships runner eventually opened, the runner came outside to look over the aspirants.   After what seemed an age, he pointed a finger at me, indicating that I was to go into his office and sign on
, and so started my sea career.  I was signed on as galley boy of the Stella Orion, at 30 shillings a week and no poundage (money from the sale of the fish) until you had completed 6 trips. But how proud I was to be going to sea in such a beautiful ship.


 I ran all the way across swing bridge in St Andrews Dock, skidding and sliding on the cobble road, which, was covered in slime and fish heads from the morning market. Over Liverpool Street bridge and home to tell my Gran, with whom I lived with at the time the great news.

Somehow, I had acquired a black oilskin seabag, and the next day was spent filling it, then emptying it, discarding items and adding items.  Until finally, it seemed I had  what was required for the needs of a “Professional Mariner”, even down to a ditty bag, no shaving gear necessary at this stage of my career.  Our sailing orders were for the early hours of the 29th of December; however, I deemed it wise to be down late on the night of the 28th.

After humping my kit bag, (I couldn’t afford a taxi) down the tunnel, which was awash with slushy water.   I arrived alongside, my ship and jumped aboard.  The night watchman didn’t seem too pleased to see me!   I had probably disturbed his kip, but he grudgingly showed  me my bunk, a coffin like cupboard with sliding polished doors, illuminated by a 25watt bulb.  Gradually, in the early hours, the crew started to arrive. Skipper J Stipetic, the mate Knifer Williams, bosun Bonzo Roberts, engineer Stevenson, deckies, Tommy Scott, Cyril Scott, Alfie (Corky) Austin, Johnny Stipetic, Dave Baines, Harry Taylor, Phil Gay, decky learner Johnny Gay, and lastly my boss, Clarry Barrows the cook.  How’s that for a list of exceptional trawlermen?  And what would you have given for a crew like that?  It’s a great pity we did not fully appreciate their skills, hard work and dedication, until, what would seem quite recently, as a colleague of mine once said “ The Salt of the Earth “.


 Once we cleared the lock pits and were headed down river, all hands were busy squaring the deck up; putting up lifelines and manropes, ensuring everything was secure. My duties, apart from getting a brew going, including, filling the spud and veg locker and helping the cook salt the meat in wooden casks on the boat deck.


For the next few days the crew fixed trawls, cleaned the fish room, and did all sorts of jobs, which gave them healthy appetites.  This wasn’t a problem for my boss Clarry, he filled them up with his wonderfully cooked  grub. I remember Clarry working amongst his pots and pans in a galley filled with heat and steam and shouting in a loud voice, “stand by your royals, lower the mainsail” every time the ship took a heavy roll. He used to frighten me to death, until, I got to realise what a lovely man he was.  Bond ( duty free cigarettes ) was issued to the crew by the skipper, from the porthole at the back of the winch.  I was allowed some fags, baccy and sweets, but unlike the rest of crew no rum.


 The trawl was shot and we commenced fishing,  somewhere, off Bear Island, at the time (1951) it was dip and fill, the decks never seemed to be empty of massive shiny silver black haddock and silvery cod. This kept the deck crew totally occupied the whole of the time, what with hauling and shooting the gear, then having to gut (and heading a percentage) the fish, washing them up all by hand, a truly backbreaking job.  There was never a free moment.  And it didn't finish there, the fish then, had to be stowed away down the fish room and packed in ice.  I would help out after tea when  I was free from my galley duties, on the deck filling needles for mending the trawl, and down the fish room chopping ice.  Before I went to bed, I would make a big pile of thick toast and a huge kettle of tea for the lads to devour whilst the gear was being hauled.  I know this was greatly appreciated by a group of very tired and hungry men, but not by Clarry who would roll out in the morning to find no bread left, and would have to hastily knock up, a batch of beautiful, mouth-watering busters (hot cakes). When Clarry made a batch of dough alongside the cabin fire, he used to sweat so much, it dripped into the mixture, but no one ever complained because, it was really was superb bread he made. Imagine what the health and safety people would say nowadays, anyway, it didn’t do us any harm!

Once the holds were full, we headed for home, and the crew, apart from those on watch, turned in, and started to catch up on all the sleep they’d missed whilst fishing, their weary bodies grateful, for this respite, between watches.  After a comparatively relaxed run home, the last 24 hours or so, we started to spring clean, and the whole of the ship from top to bottom was a hive of brooms and mops. The grease taken of the brass portholes, the brass handrails and the huge brass vents, the brass was then  made to glisten with a mixture of bath brick, brasso and thin oil. The chief engineer had his guys cleaning all the brass fittings and wiping down all his gleaming, machinery , and footplates in his engine room, of which he was enormously proud, ( heaven help anyone leaving mucky hand prints after that ).  I had cleaned the foc’sle, twice weekly, during the course of the trip, but for docking, it had to have the extra special treatment, backhander  ( a monetary treat ) time was close.

 As we approached the river, what a wonderful sight the Spurn Light-Vessle was, anchored at the mouth of the River Humber. It was then a scramble for the sit-up and beg bath, which was filled with a hand pump, the water heated by a steam hose, coming from the windlass on the  foc’sle head, and have a good soak. I jumped ashore at the lock pits, home at last, to tell the world of my homecoming.  This, I’m sorry to say, didn’t seem to create much interest, it would appear they had managed quite well without me for the last 3 weeks or so.


 Outside Charlston Smiths offices the next day, (settling day), I waited rather sheepishly, whilst the crew settled up their wages, and I received a small backhander from almost all of them, I finished up in the end with something like 9 pounds, a fantastic amount of money to me. More than enough for the blue Raleigh, dropped handle-bars racing bike, E-type.  Then two whole days to show it off on good old Hessle Road, and to freely distribute woodbines from a casually held box of fifty, and then, it was back to sea again, or in the words of John Masefield  “ to the lonely sea and the sky “.

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