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Barrier Reef Trip

In 1948 as part of an 18-month trip, I was serving as an ordinary seaman on the SS Vergmor, a trampship owned by the London Greek company Vergottis.  She was the ex-Empiire Brutus, a wartime-built ship, as you will recognise from the original name.  We plodded around the world and in we arrived in Calcutta for a four-week stay, having lightened ship in Vizaghapatnam.  We discharged the rest of our cargo and drydocked in Keddepore then sailed with instruction to head south and await orders.  Soon we learnt that our next port would be Sydney, Australia.

Our leisurely journey (we were burning Indian steam coal which meant using the galley geyser would slow us by at least half a knot) took us through the Andaman and Malacca straits and,  in mostly good weather, through the Indies until eventually we arrived at Thursday Island where our Australian pilot came aboard.  Our transit south was uneventful but about the Whitsunday passage our victuals started to run out and food supplied were restricted.  This was probably due to the Chief Steward subsidising his next leave at our expense when we shored in Calcutta!

The original plan was to call at Newcastle for bunkers but the decision was taken to carry on and coal in Sydney.  I think all hands, including the pilot, would have been delighted to have some real food.  I’m sure he was not impressed with lifeboat biscuits!  We were delighted at last to arrive in Sydney on a Sunday afternoon and to go ashore for a decent meal.

On Monday we were due to start loading bagged flour for a return trip to Calcutta but the Aussie miners had other ideas – they started a 12-week strike so bunkering was off the menu.

Well, 3 months swinging round the Hook off Taronga Park Zoo was no hardship.  Good deliveries of fresh food, beautiful weather and a weekly delivery of coal to keep the generator running and the lights on.

Eventually the miners tired of their self-imposed leisure and returned to the pit face so our holiday was over.  With the bunkers now full and several thousand tons of flour in the holds we set off North on the return to India.  To his dismay, the pilot who brought us down from Thursday Island had obviously drawn the short straw and was allocated to take us back.  I’m sure he wasn’t very pleased but at least the food had improved.

I joined TS Vindicatrix in 1947 age seventeen and am still waiting for a letter with orders to join a ship from Headlams of Whitby and another Northeast company whose name escapes me.  Never mind, my ten years’ experience was wonderful.

John Stratford