I was born in Kent, not far from the Thames, at Gravesend. The sound of deep-throated sirens and the occasional sight of P & O or British India liners, which used to berth at Tilbury on the opposite side of the river, may have first aroused my interest in ships, which have always seemed to me among the most fascinating and beautiful of human artefacts, if one excludes the present-day monsters, which are mostly square steel boxes piled high with other square steel boxes, or else unwieldy floating tanks of oil.
My mother died while I was still a schoolboy. My father, a civil engineer of Danish descent, became a captain of Royal Engineers and remained overseas long after the end of the First World War, dismantling Army camps he had built in Palestine. He also served as an interpreter, as he spoke seven languages. After his return with a new wife, an Army nurse, I spent some time on a farm in Suffolk and then "ran way to sea" in the traditional manner, there being nothing to keep me in England. I used what money I had to pay board at the Sailors' Home & Red Ensign Club in Dock Street, London, which catered for both officers and seamen. From there I found myself a job as deck-boy on the CORNRAKE, a small steamer trading to Amsterdam via the Ijmuiden Canal. Then, learning that the New Zealand Shipping Company manned its ships with Ordinary instead of Able Seamen as an economy measure (for the worldwide economic depression of those years was already affecting the shipping industry), I went on my first deep sea voyage in the OTAKI, bound for Australia via New York, Norfolk (Virginia) and the Panama Canal. Around the world voyage of six months calling at Brisbane, Sydney, Port Pirie and Fremantle, then home via Colombo, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean to Antwerp and Falmouth, where the ship was laid up. The outward cargo was machinery and general, returning with wheat in bags. The trip was not without hardships for a young, inexperienced man, but it introduced me to the tropics and the Pacific lands, and confirmed my taste for a seafaring 1ife.
The OTAKI, built in 1920 as one of the replacements for ships lost in the First World War, was of the type described by seamen as "built by the mile and cut off by the yard". She was strictly utilitarian with no concessions to comfort or beauty. Food was of poor quality, made worse by the Cook but we survived. Once on the books of the New Zealand Shipping Company, provided you behaved yourself, they would always give you another job, and I next joined the CORNWALL of their associate, the Federal Line, for a further six months voyage to Australia. After that, for a change of scene, I went to Danzig (Gdansk) via the Kiel Canal in the TASSO of the Ellerman's Wilson Line, returning with Polish emigrants, who disembarked at Southampton en route to America, mostly Jews who were lucky to escape Poland when they did.
Following that interlude I went back to Australia in the HURUNUI, but this time we crossed the Tasman to New Zealand, our first port being New Plymouth, then Wellington. In those days the Pacific countries were clean, bright and unpolluted, in contrast to the gloom and dirt of Europe, and I was immediately attracted to New Zealand, an attraction not wholly due to the fact that in Wellington I met the girl who eventually became my wife. She was Susan, younger daughter of Captain A. G. Gifford, a Shetland-born master mariner who had left the sea in 1895 to establish the only navigation school for masters and mates in New Zealand, which he conducted until a few years before his death in 1939. He was also the only licensed compass adjuster in the country during most of that period.
Before moving on I should mention that the days of sail were not then completely over. In the HURUNUI we were crossing the Atlantic homeward bound after a brief call at Boston; the weather was calm and sunny between banks of light fog, not enough to slow us down, though the Master remained on the bridge. I was working on the boat deck when he beckoned to me. "Come here, boy" he said. "Have you ever seen a sailing ship"? "No, sir". "Then look ahead". I did, and there fine on our starboard bow was a three-masted barque under easy sail on that calm, almost windless sea. We overtook and greeted her with a blast on the siren. She was the WINTERHUDE, a Finnish barque homeward bound with a cargo of guano from Chile. As if that were not enough, some days later as we entered the English Channel, out of it before a strong north easterly breeze came flying three more square-riggers under full canvas, one of them the big Belgian training ship L'AVENIR, manned by cadets and later to be lost with all hands somewhere in the South Atlantic. I never saw another sailing ship at sea, although I have seen others in port, working vessels, mostly in the Australian grain trade, as well as the PAMIR in Wellington Harbour. They have gone for ever, and so have the great trans-Atlantic liners. I remember watching the old MAURETANIA sweep up New York Harbour like a princess, decked with flags and surrounded by her escort of tugs, after a record-breaking passage accross the Western Ocean.
New Zealand Shipping Company and Federal Line vessels did not always include New Zealand in their itinerary, and voyages might last up to six months. It now became important to me to find a ship which would make a shorter round voyage and always call at Wellington. This meant a passenger liner, and I joined the RUAHINE. Though an old ship of 10,870 tons built in 1909, she was popular with travellers, and crew members stayed with her in spite of her somewhat primitive fo'c's'le, a wedge shaped space right up in the bows, unlined and furnished only with two tiers of bunks, a long table, and backless forms for seats. In those days all passenger and mail steamers to New Zealand had refrigerated cargo space, and besides the main ports visited the smaller ones, lying off such outports as Tokomaru and Tolaga Bays in the North Island, where wool and frozen meat came out in lighters and was loaded by gangs of Maoris, big, powerful men who spoke only their own tongue.
The RUAHINE made Wellington her first port of call and stayed there a week or ten days discharging general cargo, and returned there for a similar period to complete her loading. This suited me very well, and I stayed in her for six consecutive trips, the last two as Able Seaman. Her average round voyage occupied four months, calling at Curacao in the Dutch West lndies for fuel, passing through the Panama Canal, and lying off Pitcairn Island for an hour or so to let the passengers trade for fruit and souvenirs with the descendants of the BOUNTY mutineers.
Finding that I needed only a month or so to complete the sea service required before I could sit the examination for Second Mate, I joined the Blue Star liner NAPIER STAR for a short voyage to South America, calling at Buenos Aires, Santos, and Rio Grande do Sul, colourful ports at which we loaded chilled meat and bananas. Then I attended nautical school in London and passed for Second Mate at the first attempt. This was gratifying, but it did not seem to help my career, for the Depression of the 'thirties was at its greatest depths. Ships were being laid up wherever there was a creek or river which offered a berth without the payment of port dues; some ships had fo'c's'les manned entirely by out-of-work officers. One man staying at the Red Ensign Club had both a Master's certificate and a B.Sc. degree. If he could not find employment, what hope was there for me? Those were dismal days, but at no other time have I met with such goodwill, kindness and desire to help. People seemed to forget their differences and be drawn together as they are when faced with war or some natural disaster.
One day when I returned to the Club after the usual fruitless search the clerk in the office, with whom I was on friendly terms, called me in. "There's a ship in the East India Dock wanting a second mate urgently", he said. "Go straight down there and you'll get the job. I haven't told anybody else". The ship was the MONKSWOOD, a tramp steamer of 2,600 tons, whose Chief Officer had disappeared overboard in the Mediterranean on the way back from India. She had come home with the Master and Second Mate (promoted to Mate) keeping watches, but could not leave London to complete discharging without another certificated officer on board. I explained to the Master that I'd had no experience on the bridge, but he said that didn't matter, and signed me on. In the boom years just after the end of the First World War it was not uncommon for two or three men with connections in the shipping industry to club together and buy an old ship, then send her tramping to any part of the world where a cargo might be picked up. If they succeeded, well and good; if not, they could sell her again and no harm done. The MONKSWOOD belonged to one of these single-ship partnerships, based in Swansea. Of course they were the first to go into liquidation when the Depression struck. We sailed for Newcastle, then Boulogne, and back to Swansea, where the MONKSWOOD paid off and was laid up. I had been her Second Mate for just two weeks, but it was a start. I gained some useful experience and much needed confidence, and had a good time. Her elderly Master was due to retire. Her Mate was a cheerful young fellow without a care in the world. He kept a pet female mongoose which lived free in his cabin and slept coiled around his neck. If he left her alone too long she would pile all loose objects on his bunk and sit on top of them till he returned. The Lascar crew were terrified of her and she knew it. The Mate and Second Engineer were well known in Boulogne and took me ashore with them for a somewhat rowdy evening. We parted on good terms, with the promise of further employment if the MONKSWOOD sailed again.
I then made a voyage to New Zealand in the Federal Line's MIDDLESEX, notable for the fact that we returned home via Cape Horn, as a token protest against a sharp rise in Panama Canal dues - I think we were the only New Zealand Shipping/Federal ship to do so. My first voyage had taken me right round the world through both the Panama and Suez Canals; on the second we rounded the Cape of Good Hope, calling at Cape Town and "running the easting down" to Australia as the sailing ships used to do, so rounding Cape Horn was a fitting climax to my deep-sea voyaging. Old-time seamen maintained that, in addition to having the ability "to hand, reef and steer" and several less mentionable qualifications, a man must have rounded the Horn at least once before he was entitled to call himself "Able". We sighted a few small icebergs, and passed the Cape in calm, misty weather unusual in those latitudes. Cape Horn itself is not impressive, but the swells through Drake's Passage were enormous, having built up during an unimpeded run around the globe. We were doing it the easy way from west to east in a full-powered steamship of 8,500 tons; one can only wonder at the courage of the old-time seamen and modern yachtsmen who have fought their way round the Horn in the atrocious conditions which are normal there.
Back in London I continued searching till my money ran out. Then it was the RUAHINE's fo'c's'le as a last resort, the next time she came in. But times had changed. Most of the rough but friendly cockney crew had left, driven out by an influx of men from Stornoway in the Hebrides. I may be doing an injustice to "Stornowegians" (as they were known as) in general, but can only speak of those I encountered in the RUAHINE. There they were lazy, dirty, uncouth and thieves; worst of all they conversed in Gaelic, so you never knew who or what they were talking about. Some of them turned in "all standing", even with sea-boots on, and they broke the unspoken rules which made life in the fo'c's'1e tolerable: cleanliness and honesty. Chief Officers accepted them, for they had been used to the sea from boyhood, never stood up for themselves against authority, and worked well under supervision. They were intensely superstitious and afraid of natural phenomena such as St. Elmo' s Fire and lightning. One of them used to boast of how he and his mates had saved their village from the wrath of God by beating up a man they found working in his garden on a Sunday! I think they were quite deliberate in trying to get rid of men other than their own clan, and one voyage in their company was more than enough for me.
Steering on most ships was done by both Ordinary and Able Seamen in the course of a four-hour watch; two hours at the wheel, one on lookout in the bows, one on stand-by. This was at night. During the day the spare men would be employed on painting and washing paintwork, etc. However, on passenger ships such as the RUAHINE steering was done by quartermasters, who had a cabin to themselves and had no other duties except to keep the passenger decks in good order. In port they kept watch on the gangway and carried out otherwork. I did not want to leave the RUAHNE, so as one of the quartermasters was not going back in her I took his place.
As an East End of London seaman I led something of double life, for I had been educated at a Public School and had friends in both the City and the West End. One of these was a girl engaged to a young New Zealand lawyer working in London. They had contacts in the P & O Company, and would have helped me if they could. I thought no more about it at the time. That voyage when we arrived in Wellington, I was up aloft in a bosun's chair painting down the funnel when in mid-morning the Chief officer called me down. "Get yourself cleaned up and changed, Jensen", he said. "You're to go up town and see the Managing Director of the Union Steam Ship Company. The Union Company was then a member of the P & O Group, and a man named Falla had just been appointed managing director. He received me kindly. "We have a mutual friend in London", he said. "I've had a letter from her in which she tells me that you would like to join this company. Well, it happens that now the Depression is ending we want to take on a few more officers, so if you make a written application I will see that it is accepted". That is how I got into the Union Company.
The RUAHINE sailed for Auckland, where the Master paid me off on instructions from Wellington. I returned there as temporary Fourth Mate of the coaster WAIMARINO, and six days later reported to the Marine Superintendent, who sent me to what the Company called their "school". I stayed with the Gifford family and spent my days studying the Company's "Red Book" of dos and don'ts.
Then the MAUGANUI came in from Sydney and I joined her as Fourth Officer. The MAUNGANUI was a mail and passenger liner of 7,500 tons built in 1911, like many ships of that vintage designed to please the eye as well as provide a comfortable and profitable service. In her uniform of green hull with a gold stripe and red funnel (raked like the masts to convey an impression of speed) she was a ship to feel proud of, though I joined her with some trepidation, now for the first time really an officer, suddenly translated from the fo'c's'le to the bridge to sink or swim on my own merits. I reported to Captain Toten, a man regarded with great respect. Two years before he had been in command of the TAHITI when, five hundred miles off Rarotonga, her starboard tail shaft snapped and tore a hole in the hull. Under his energetic and seamanlike direction the crew kept her afloat until rescue ships arrived sixty hours later to take off passengers and crew. Like many of the best Masters, Toten was a mild man who got things done not by shouting but by force of character. For the first couple of days after we had sailed from Wellington for Rarotonga I kept the eight to twelve watch with the Chief Officer, till Captain Toten asked me if I felt confident to do so by myself. The Second Officer, who relieved me at twelve o'clock, was one of those men who never do more than they must, but can get away with anything. A favourite trick of his was to persuade girls to come on to the bridge near the end of my watch, so that they would be there when he came on at midnight. Then, if Toten appeared before turning in, he could say that he found the girls on the bridge when he relieved me. I soon learnt how to deal with him, aided by the Third Officer, who was a decent young fellow; he gave me all the advice and help he could.
We arrived off Rarotonga soon after dawn and lay off the island all day discharging cargo and mail and a passenger or two into boats, and taking on quantities of fresh fruit. Rarotonga is a large, round island covered, as far as we could see from the ship, in green bush to the water's edge. The weather being invariably fine and calm, we lay there till dark and then proceeded on our way. I had been on duty all day, and still had to keep my watch until midnight, and was so tired that more than once I fell asleep momentarily on my feet while pacing the bridge, and woke myself up by crashing into the engine room telegraph or the side of the wheelhouse.
Papeete, Tahiti was our next port of call, first passing the high island of Moorea with a hole right through its peak. I was on the bridge with the Captain as we headed at speed for the gap in the reef and passed through with surf breaking on the coral on either hand. Then suddenly we were in the calm lagoon, drifting towards the wharf. Papeete was fairly primitive in those days; the French had only recently ceased holding public executions in the town square. I enjoyed wandering through the streets and swimming among coloured fish in the lagoon. On that voyage we picked up two interesting passengers, Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, co-authors of the three "Mutiny on the 'Bounty"' books, then on their way to Hollywood for the first filming of the story with Charles Laughton playing the part of Captain Bligh. Nordhoff was travelling first class and kept to himself, but Hall chose to be in the second cabin class-perhaps because it was quieter for his little four year old daughter, who was with him.
All the other officers dined in the first class saloon, but as Fourth Officer I presided over the second class table and got to know Hall, who was a quiet man with a fund of tales about the Pacific and about his First World War experiences. He and Nordhoff, two young Americans, had been in France when war broke out. They joined the French Air Force, did well and were decorated, but afterwards grew disillusioned with civilisation and headed for the Pacific to get away from it all. Both were writers; they sailed about in island schooners from their base in Tahiti and visited Pitcairn Island, where they became fascinated by the Bounty story. Their three books are long out of print and now seem rather naive, but were very popular in their day and established the legend of Bligh as a tyrant who drove Fletcher Christian to mutiny. Hollywood took the story up and has made three films, I think, of which the first was the best. From Tahiti we passed close by the coral atoll of Tetiaroa and headed for San Francisco, where we berthed at the foot of Market Street. I enjoyed San Francisco with its beautiful bay and interesting sights (including the island of Alcatraz, were Al Capone was then residing). The people seemed to me friendlier and much more like Australians and New Zealanders than those of New York. There were, of course, no air services across the Pacific, and all passengers travelled by Union or Matson liners between the west coast of North America and Tahiti, New Zealand or Australia. It was common for young American businessmen in need of a holiday to spend a few weeks in Papeete swimming and fishing and living with a Tahitian girl in a hut on the reef or the beach, before they returned fit and bronzed to their offices. Tahiti was popular with film stars, too.
When the author was on her, the Union Steam Ship Company's MAUNGANUI was employed in their Union Royal Mail Line service to San Francisco. She was to become a hospital ship during the Second World War.
We completed that voyage, crossing the Tasman to Sydney, and made another. This time, among the passengers from San Francisco to Tahiti was the well-known stage and film actor Frederic March with his beautiful young actress wife, Florence Eldridge. She used to lie sun-bathing on the deck in a brassiere and the briefest of shorts- bikinis had not then yet been invented - while her husband sat nearby, chin in hand, displaying his handsome profile. Sometimes she came up on the bridge during the forenoon watch and asked me naive questions about ships and the sea. Occasionally I played deck tennis with them and the Third Officer. The MAUNGANUI was not a full ship, most Americans bound for New Zealand or Australia preferring to travel via Auckland in their own Matson Line ships, but she filled up with local passengers on the trans-Tasman leg of the voyage. I was settling down and starting to feel comfortable as Fourth Officer, when, on return from Sydney, I was paid off and sent back to the "holding pool".
At that period ships below a certain tonnage were not required to carry wireless operators. Instead, their officers had to obtain a limited WT (wireless telegraphy) certificate and to listen-in for ten minutes at the end of each watch, when Awarua WT station would transmit any signals in Morse code at slow speed. I now had to attend wireless school and obtain a certificate. There seemed to be no urgency about this; it was December and the little TAMAHINE was running daylight holiday excursions to Picton. On a couple of occasions I signed on as an extra officer and made the trip, with no duties except to walk the decks and see that none of the children fell overboard. It made a pleasant break. TAMAHINE was a smart little ship of under 2,000 tons. She had two funnels and resembled a miniature liner (or a brightly-painted toy). She made about fifteen thousand crossings of Cook Strait without mishap in her thirty seven years' service. She had a permanent slight list to port due to her fuel tanks being on that side, and was so lively in the waters of Cook Strait that she was said to make even her officers seasick in rough weather. I passed my WT examination and joined the KINI as Third Mate. Though this was promotion, it made little difference to my salary because officers were then paid according to the tonnage of the ships in which they served, and the KINI was a coaster of only 779 tons. Most shipping companies owned vessels of only one or two classes and of comparable size, but the Union Company possessed everything from the wooden hulled tug NATONE of 73 tons up to the 17,500-ton AORANGI. You might work your way up to, say, being her Third Mate, get "promoted" to Second Mate of a West Coast collier and then have to start the climb all over again. Your salary might even go down. For those who rose to be Master there were only a few "plum" jobs. Somebody had to command the colliers.
The Union Company did not tolerate competitors on its routes and either bought them up or drove them out of business, except for such larger and well established lines as the Canterbury Steam Shipping Company and the Anchor Shipping and Foundry Company of Nelson. Even with those it usually had a financial or other finger in the pie. Sydney agents R. S. Lamb and Company managed a number of single-ship firms, and Union acquired their assets during the 1920's, including the KINI. She had one long hold with her engines aft, being intended to carry such items as railway iron or telegraph poles, though the Company was using her for general cargo on the New Zealand coast. My cabin was bare and unfurnished except for a bunk, as she had been meant to have only two mates-a great come down from my comfortable, almost luxurious, quarters on the MAUNGANUI. Next to it was a kind of locker containing the WT set. I had been in her about two months when, coming off watch one noon, I put on the headphones and heard our call sign, followed by a message: "Kini.Proceed Wellington for Sydney." We were steaming down the west coast of the North Island at the time, and when I took this signal up to the bridge the Master refused to believe me. "It can't be meant for us, Jensen", he said. "You must have misread the call sign." I felt a bit humiliated but could not check it, for we were not allowed to transmit except in a dire emergency, Awarua station being always fully engaged in high-speed commercial transmission. All I could do was sulk in my cabin till the end of the next watch, when the signal was repeated and had to be believed.
We crossed the Tasman in seven days of fine weather. The flat bottomed little KINI was not the kind of vessel in which you would wish to encounter a mid-ocean storm. She paid off in Sydney and the officers were shipped home, except for me. I reported to the Marine Superintendent there, a middle-aged Scot about whom alarming tales circulated in Company circles-he was said to be particularly hard on junior officers.
The Sydney office accommodated me in a private hotel near the waterfront, kept by a man with two agreeable daughters. At eight o'clock each morning I had to board the Marine Superintendent's launch and accompany him on his daily round of Company ships, wharves, repair shops and depots, taking notes when necessary. Far from being hostile and difficult, I found him almost avuncular, explaining what was going on and even at times asking my opinion. He was a sharp, busy man and, I think, glad to have someone to talk to, though I could see he might be hard on any man who shirked his duty.
KINI a typical example of the raised quarterdecker type pf small cargo ship
About ten days later the KORANUI came in from Tasmania and I was appointed Third Mate. Of slightly less tonnage than KINI, she was a very different ship, built at Lubeck in 1914 for German owners and most inappropriately named CLEOPATRA. She was the ugliest craft you could ever see, slab-sided and high out of the water, with a tall, thin pipe-stem funnel. Union had acquired her in 1920 as part of war reparations. They used her on what was known as the "Spud Run" between northwest Tasmanian ports and Sydney, carrying general cargo outward bound, bringing back timber, woollen goods and vegetables. Her engines were somewhat unreliable and she was in constant need of repair, but they kept her till 1952. During the nine months I was in her she had a succession of elderly masters and a chief officer as round as a barrel who was seldom sober and enjoyed eating greasy mutton-birds with his fingers. She burnt her coal to a fine powdery ash which penetrated everywhere when the stokers sent it up in the hoist and dumped it overboard.
From Sydney we steamed seventy miles up the coast to replenish bunkers and load steel at Newcastle, then back again to take on general cargo at a Pyrmont wharf, sailing for Launceston in Tasmania at midnight on Sunday. The run down the N.S.W. coast (well offshore to take advantage of the South Equatorial Current) and across Bass Strait might take up to three days according to weather conditions and how the engines were behaving. Launceston lies thirty seven miles up the Tamar River, tidal and navigable for ships of about 4,000 tons up to that point. When we arrived at the mouth of the Tamar we would go straight up if it were daylight and the tide served, otherwise we would anchor in a landlocked pool inside the Hebe Reef to wait for dawn. In that case everybody except me and an A.B. of the eight to twelve watch would turn in for a good nights sleep. It was pleasant being anchored there in the silence of a starry night, surrounded by invisible trees, with nothing to do except check that the anchor was holding, and to look forward to the tea and hot buttered toast which the watchman would make in the galley and bring up to me on the bridge. At midnight I would be relieved by the Second Mate and could turn in, to be awakened by the rattle of the steering gear as we got under way at dawn. Sometimes the Old Man was impatient and started too soon, so that we stuck on mud banks at tight corners of this winding river and had to wait for the tide to float us off the mud was soft and did no harm. It was a novel experience to be sailing inland through acres of apple and pear orchards, which reminded me of the Kentish orchards I knew as a child. Whatever Launceston may be now, it was then a rather sleepy town of hospitable people very different from metropolitan Sydney, and I soon had friends there. The town lay on one side of the river, which there broadened into a pool wide and deep enough for ships to turn in. The wharf followed the shore line and was long enough to accommodate two ships besides a number of local schooners and ketches. The only other ship I saw there was the Melbourne ferry, either the NAIRANA or the new TAROONA of 4,000 tons gross. These were ships similar to the Cook Strait ferries (or interisland express steamers, as the Union Company preferred them to be called).
They belonged to Tasmanian Steamers Pty. Ltd., a company owned jointly by Union and Huddart Parker Ltd.; the lower half of their funnels was painted H. P. yellow, the upper part Union red with a black top. In spring one could stand on King's Wharf and watch these curiously-painted funnels moving through a sea of pink and white blossom. In 1883 Union started the first steamer express service in Australasia with the purpose-built TAKAPUNA of 930 tons (less than half the size of the little TAMAHINE). The North Island main trunk railway was not to be completed until 1908, and the object was to have a service which could carry mail and passengers to and from the San Francisco liners calling at Auckland. This meant a ship which could make the voyage between Lyttelton, Wellington, New Plymouth and Onehunga (for Auckland) in thirty six hours, averaging fourteen knots-the longer East Coast route would have meant higher speed and more coal consumption. Takapuna was necessarily a compromise. She had to have reliable compound engines, be able to carry up to 150 passengers in reasonable comfort, have a large mail room for sorting letters en route, yet be small and short enough to negotiate the tortuous Manukau Harbour channels. (My future father-in-law was her Second Officer 1894-5 before retiring from the sea through ill-health.)
KORANUI was built in Germany in 1914 and a reparations ship from the First World War
Leaving Launceston, the KORANUI proceeded down river past places with such names as Haystack Point, Rosevears, Swan Point and Garden Island, bound for the small ports of Devonport, Burnie, Stanley and Strahan, perhaps tying up at the wharf for half a day or longer to pick up more produce, timber or woollen goods, then back across Bass Strait and up the N.S.W. coast to Sydney, keeping close inshore to catch the north going counter current, making the best speed we could, both to be in time for the Monday morning vegetable market and to have as much of the weekend in port as possible, most of the crew having families or other commitments in Sydney. The old KORANUI rattled along with the stokers doing all they could. It was pleasant on a fine, warm summer evening to round South Head, exchange greetings with the signal station by morse lamp, and proceed up harbour among the drifting yachts which shone torches on their sails to show us where they were, then pass under the Harbour Bridge to Pyrmont, where the swing bridge opened to let us into the basin. A quarter of an hour after tying up to our wharf the ship would be deserted except for the nightwatchman and myself-I usually stayed on board to let the other officers get away to their homes. When we had discharged our cargo, the rickety old wharf would be completely covered with neat stacks of timber (the vegetables having been carted away to market). The timber was mostly small stuff, three or four by two inch; each stick had a dab of paint on the end to indicate w consignment it belonged to.
No officers drank when the ship was at sea, of course, but there were those who made up for it when ashore. The KORANUI sailed at midnight on Sunday, as I have said, and from about an hour before that the crew would drift aboard, change, and go to their stations. At about five to twelve the Old Man would appear, walking carefully and speaking to nobody. The Chief and Second Mates would have singled up the moorings fore and aft; I would be on the bridge, standing by the engine room telegraphs. The Old Man would order "Let go ! Half ahead!" and we would slide away from the wharf. Once clear, we had to swing to starboard and head for the bridge opening. I remember that on one occasion the Old Man, with slightly impaired judgment, gave the order "Starboard!" a moment too soon and we nudged the corner of the wooden wharf. Looking back, I saw it shudder on its shaky piles, and every stick of the carefully stacked timber fell down in a confusion of mixed marks. We went on our way regardless and heard no more about it, but I should like to have seen the face of the wharf foreman when he surveyed the havoc on Monday morning.
After I had been about nine months in the KORANUI we became involved in a Seamen's Union strike which lasted about a month and tied up all ships on the coast, including any of the mail steamers which came into port, the union being extremely militant at this time. The KORANUI family began to break up, most of the crew being transferred to other ships, though I remained sleeping aboard and having meals ashore or on other ships. (I use the term "family" advisedly, for having been together for so long we had learnt to tolerate one another and had even become attached to the old ship.) I was now appointed Third of the NGAKUTA, slightly larger and a much better ship than the KORANUI, although a year older. She was in dry dock at Cockatoo Island and I was returning to her one evening when I was accosted at the ferry wharf by pickets who took me for a strike-breaker. I could not convince them that I was an officer, being in civilian clothes, and they followed me aboard the ferry. I knew there was a dark and lonely lane leading to the dock gates, and as they expressed the intention of beating me up, I stayed aboard with the ferry boat skipper's permission and went back to the previous stop, where there was a police station. There had been many acts of violence against potential strike-breakers, some being beaten and thrown into the harbour, so a large sergeant and an even larger constable escorted me by car to the NGAKUTA and went looking for the pickets.
The strike petered out, with much ill-will on both sides, and the ships were manned again by non-unionists, many of them landlubbers who had to be taught their work. The NGAKUTA, also engaged in the Tasmanian trade, moved to Druitt's Wharf where she was presently joined by the KORANUI. Of course I went aboard, and was surprised by the warmth of my welcome. Everybody seemed to want me back-the Old Man said he would ask the Marine Superintendent to transfer me, but nothing came of this. The Cook even walked me back to the NGAKUTA with a couple of kippers for my supper! In any case I was content to stay where I was for the time being, though long overdue for annual leave and not having seen my girl in Wellington for twelve months.
NGAKUTA built in 1913 and technically under time charter from Blackball Coal Company to the Union Company for twenty years until they acquired formal ownership of her in 1942, hence the Blackball funnel.
The Chief Officer of the NGAKUTA was Frank Gibson, one of the two finest officers and best shipmates I ever sailed with-the other being Richard Blampied. Frank was married to the daughter of a retired Sydney pilot and lived with her and their baby, Joanie, at Rose Bay, where I was sometimes invited for meals or parties and was always sure of a welcome-especially from two-year-old Joanie, a little minx who made up to any man her father brought home. After four and a half months in the NGAKUTA I transferred to the KALINGO, of 2,057 tons gross, in the intercolonial trade, and so got back to New Zealand at last. Our first trans-Tasman voyage with a non-union crew was somewhat hair raising. I had to take the wheel myself in one watch, the helmsman being too sick to carry on. Having now accumulated enough time as a watch-keeping officer to qualify for the First Mate (Foreign-going) Certificate, I applied to the Company for permission to stay ashore and take the examination. Their reply was to put me back in the KALINGO for another three months.
We had the interesting experience of towing the oil barge ROSAMOND from Wellington to Auckland. She was built in 1884 as a Dutch steamer of 721 tons and chartered to the Brunner Coal Company, which Union acquired in 1888. A shore gang prepared her for the tow, and the tug TERAWHITI brought her out to us as we lay in the stream, then accompanied us as far as the Heads. All went well till we reached Cape Runaway, where a nasty sea got up, and during my night watch the tow-rope parted. We lost sight of her side-lights and thought she had sunk, but after standing by with engines stopped while we hauled the tow-rope in, there she was at dawn, wallowing in the trough of the sea. For another day and a night we drifted near her, sometimes chatting about our predicament with passing Union coasters, until the seas moderated, when we were able to lower a boat and get a line aboard. By this time "Rosie", as we called her, was within a mile of the shore (fortunately here steep-to), and we towed her round into Hicks Bay. There we brought her alongside, boarded her, relit her side lights, and made a bridle of her two cables and connected this up to a lengthened tow rope. Had this been done in the first place there would have been no trouble. We got her safely to Auckland, received a congratulatory signal from Union headquarters, and eventually a bonus. We deserved it! After "Rosie" broke away we more or less abandoned watch-keeping and normal ship's routine, snatching meals and sleep when we could. I kept the bridge most of the time, while the others worked on the gear. Captain Ostenfeld, who had commanded the ship for her previous owners, was no ordinary Union Company master. KALINGO had belonged to one of the single-ship companies managed by R. S. Lamb and Co. Ltd. of Sydney, whose assets Union acquired in 1930. (Gaining a ship in this manner, they usually retained her Master and left her colours unaltered until her next survey; thus when I was in her she still had a yellow funnel.) Ostenfeld knew the coast like the back of his hand and was too old a dog to learn new tricks. He took all the short cuts and inside passages prohibited in the Union Company's "Red Book". Once, going north about from Auckland to Newcastle, we got so far ahead of schedule that he anchored in Spirits Bay and we spent half a day fishing. During the "Rosie" incident any regular Union master would have been on the bridge day and night, perhaps catnapping in the chartroom from time to time. Not Ostenfeld. "I'm going below to turn in", he said to me. "You're in charge, Third. Don't get too close inshore or too far out. Call me at dawn". And away he went. (Mention of yellow funnels reminds me that the OPIHI always retained one, perhaps because the Company was reluctant to claim her as one of theirs. Among junior officers she was known as the "punishment ship", it being alleged that if you offended the Marine Superintendent you would find yourself transferred to her. She had been built in 1886 as the German sailing vessel LILLA, converted to a coal hulk at Wellington in 1914, and later engined and put into service towards the end of the First World War when tonnage was at a premium. With her fine lined hull and clipper bow, lack of ballast tanks and with her engine aft, she was said to draw more water empty than when full, and then became almost unmanageable in a strong wind, sometimes even having to be manoeuvred stern first.)
When finally paid off the KALINGO I went to Captain Richmond's nautical school in Auckland, Captain Gifford having retired on account of age and ill health. I passed the examination for First Mate without difficulty, and when I reported back to the Company they appointed me Third Officer of the RANGITIRA,the Master being Captain B. B. Irwin and Second Officer Richard Blampied. RANGITIRA was the finest ship in which I ever served, perfectly designed for the inter-island service. She had quiet, efficient turbo-electric engines, comfortable accommodation, and was beautiful to see. Of course this was before the advent of roll-on, roll-off vessels, and cars had to be swung aboard in trays for stowage in the after hold. It was my job to park them, and I became familiar with all makes from Ford to Rolls-Royce. Blampied was married and had his home in Christchurch, and I was courting my future wife in Wellington, so with Captain lrwin's permission I did Richard's duties in Lyttelton and he did mine in Wellington, which meant that the one not on duty could slip ashore as soon as the ship berthed, and need not return until half an hour before sailing time-usually 7.45p.m., although in Lyttelton we had to wait for the arrival of the boat train from the South, which was often late. This did not matter because the ship had plenty of reserve power. Arrival time in either port was about 6.30a.m., so that those of the passengers who needed to could get in a full day's work. It must be remembered that these ships (WAHINE, built 1913, was the other one) were the only means of transporting mail and passengers between the North and South Islands before the advent of air travel other than the TAMAHINE to Picton and the Anchor Line steamers which served Nelson. It was essential, for political and business reasons, that a strict and reliable timetable was observed, and though masters were forbidden to take risks, they had to do so in fog and thick weather, or would soon find themselves back in the West Coast colliers. Getting into port on time became a matter of pride. Minor accidents and occasional strandings were accepted by the Company as inevitable and masters were not disciplined provided there was no loss of life or serious damage. Captain Irwin had commanded Wellington/Lyttelton express steamers since 1918. He was one of the Company's most successful and best-liked masters, a small, mild man who never had to raise his voice. He had nerves of steel and never "lost his cool" whatever the emergency. Determined always to berth on time, he was involved in not a few accidents, on one occasion putting the WAHINE's bows halfway through the concrete Pipitea Wharf when Wellington Harbour was shrouded in fog, on another stranding the RANGITIRA at the mouth of Port Levy while trying to find Lyttelton Harbour in similar conditions. (There was no radar in those days.) I have described elsewhere (Vol. 43, No.3) how we entered Wellington Harbour "blind" one morning, missing Steeple Rock beacon by a hair's breadth.
Leaving Wellington Heads, his practice was to set a course to pass ten miles off Cape Campbell, working this out in his head according to the time of high water at Wanganui. He showed complete confidence in his officers which, of course, boosted their own self-confidence. Once clear of port, he used to mingle with the passengers, select some lady who took his fancy, and invite her to his cabin for supper. If she bored him he would lead her up to the bridge and hand her over to me to get rid of, while he went down to try his luck again. Arriving in either port, he lined the ship up with the wharf and, using the bow rudder, brought her astern into her berth like a railway train pulling into a station, stopping her opposite the permanent gangways with perfect judgment. I was in the RANGATIRA for exactly six months. Time spent in coastal or home trade ships did not count towards the twelve months' watch-keeping time I needed before I could sit the examination for Master, so that was a wasted six months. This I could never understand, for coasting is far more hazardous and demanding than deep-sea voyaging, besides which it involves berthing, manoeuvring in narrow and sometimes crowded waters, constantly taking bearings, discharging and stowing cargo, dealing with stevedores, taking on stores and water-in short, doing the thousand and one things you leave behind with a sigh of relief when your ship goes to sea. At sea, once you have mastered the art of navigation and finding your position, it is merely a matter of doing the same thing over and over again, day after day. The time I spent watch-keeping on the N.S.W. coast and in Tasmanian waters did count as sea time, perhaps because we had to cross Bass Strait, but crossing Cook Strait did not. I conclude that Government agencies being notoriously resistant to change, this was a hang-over from the days of sail, when handling canvas to take advantage of the wind was all-important and sailing vessels were towed in and out of port by tugs, usually with a pilot in charge.
Having wasted an enjoyable six months in the RANGATIRA, I was promoted to Second Officer of the KALINGO, then trading on the New Zealand coast. I had been thinking that in these circumstances it might take me another two or possibly three years to acquire the necessary sea time, and I could not afford that length of time if ever I were to marry, have a proper home, and raise a family. I had made a late start, owing to the depression and my personal situation, progressing from deck boy to second officer solely by my own efforts. The Second World War was clearly approaching, when anything might happen; the economic depression was now definitely over and jobs were becoming available ashore, and now, if ever, seemed to be the time to leave the sea. The N.Z. Public Service had for many years been allowed to run down, but now, with a mass of new legislation introduced by the first Labour government, was hurriedly recruiting staff. I applied and was accepted. My connection with the Union Company ended when I paid off the KALINGO at New Plymouth. I had enjoyed every moment of it. Never again was I to be associated with a group of men who did their duty willingly and responsibly without "over the shoulder" supervision, who displayed true comradeship and could be trusted implicitly. The sea required nothing less.
On the declaration of war with Germany I volunteered for the Royal Naval Reserve. My application was acknowledged but I was not called up. By now we were married and had a little daughter. After Pearl Harbour I again applied but heard nothing more. Years later I learned that Navy Office had twice asked for my release, but this had been refused by the Public Service on the grounds that my services were indispensable which was nonsense. In due course we had a son; only when married men with two children were due to be called up was I released to join the Naval Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant. Enquiry into my medical history had disclosed that I was allergic to cat dandruff and suffered from asthma in the presence of a feline, so the Naval authorities deemed me unfit for sea service, presumably on the theory that I would be incapacitated if a cat walked across the bridge-another piece of nonsense.
Though I was fully capable as a watch-keeping officer in the Merchant Navy, the Royal New Zealand Naval Reserve, as it had become by then would not allow me to go to sea on these wholly insufficient grounds; yet they put the son of the Wellington Harbourmaster in command of a minesweeping fishing trawler in spite of the fact that his defective eye sight prevented him from having a career at sea. Another R.N.Z.N.V.R. Lieutenant with some experience as a yachtsman only, commanded the mine sweeper trawler SOUTH SEA when she was cut in half by the WAHINE in Wellington Harbour. Richard Blampied and I under the presidency of a retired R. N. Captain formed a court of enquiry into this accident, and found the Lieutenant wholly to blame for failing to give way. He was dismissed from the Service, and went to Britain, where he joined the R.N.V.R.again, and was killed in a clash with German forces.
Somewhat belatedly the three services set up a Combined Headquarters in the Dominion Museum building situated on a hill behind the Basin Reserve in Wellington, and highly vulnerable to any raid from sea or air. Fortunately we had none, though a Japanese submarine did send its seaplane to survey Wellington Harbour. When the threat of invasion had receded I transferred to Navy Office in Stout Street, where I was pleased to find myself again associated with Richard Blampied, the executive Lieutenant-Commander R.N.R. in charge of the Naval Operations Room. Since I have dealt with this period previously (Vol. 43, No. 3 of Marine News ) I shall not repeat myself.
As the war progressed and some of my chair borne colleagues were drafted to more active duties, I made a further attempt to persuade the authorities that I was fit for service at sea. The naval doctor at Shelly Bay said that he could treat my allergy. He was a friendly young Englishman. "Nothing easier, oldboy", he said. "Come and see me twice a week and I'll give you a course of injections." (On one occasion, after searching around, he told me, "Sorry, I can't find the officers' hypo. Mind if I use the ratings' needle on you?" This was about twice the size of the other-ratings apparently having thicker skins!) After having completed the course of injections he clapped me on the back, saying, "Right, you're cured. Go and show yourself to a cat." So I visited friends who had a Persian-and suffered worse than before.
One morning I was in uniform, about to leave home for Navy Office, when a policeman knocked at the door. "You G. D. G. Jensen?" he asked, consulting his notebook. "I've come to arrest you for failing to report to the Air Force for duty, as ordered." "All right," I said, "But you'll have to explain to the Navy. I'm due to on duty in half an hour." "Sorry mate", he apologised. "Another mistake-happens all the time."
Some years after the war had ended I was transferred to Britain for two and a half years as a Migration Selection Officer together with my whole family, all expenses paid. Though stationed in London I travelled the whole country, from Shetland to the Channel Islands and from East Anglia to Northern Ireland, interviewing prospective migrants.