M.V. Weybank - Chapter 15
The TC tracking chart is shown once again below.
In the text boxes in the southern hemisphere in the chart above the tropical cyclones are all denoted as Tropical Cyclones no matter whether they are in the southern Pacific Ocean, southern Indian Ocean or South Atlantic.
The text boxes in the northern hemisphere are labelled either as Tropical Cyclones, Hurricanes or Typhoons but Hurricanes and Typhoons are just regional monikers. They are all the same thing – Tropical Cyclones. So, are Tropical Cyclones the same whether in the northern hemisphere or in the southern hemisphere? The answer is no, mainly due the Coriolis effect, the spinning of the Earth around its own axis.
Tropical cyclones derive their energy from the warm tropical oceans and do not form unless the sea-surface temperature is above 26.5°C. They are low pressure systems and have gale force winds (sustained winds of 63 km/h or greater and gusts in excess of 90 km/h) near the centre.
A Tropical Cyclone is born when hot moist air at the surface of the sea starts to rise rapidly – (like being in a lift in a skyscaper) and in doing so also sucks in warm air from around its base. When the warm air is shooting up the elevator, after a number of „floors“ it starts cooling down on its way as
it meets the colder air above it and this produces condensation – clouds start building up around the elevator shaft ( the „eye wall“) and these clouds can soon assume massive proportions. The whole „assembly“ (elevator shaft air and cloud formation) starts to rotate due to the Coriolis effect. In the northern hemisphere it spins anti/counterclockwise; in the southern hemisphere it spins clockwise. Providing the sea surface temperature remains warm enough it feeds the cyclone with energy causing the „beast“ to grow. The cyclone also starts rotating faster and this is what causes the gale force winds.
The gale force winds can extend hundreds of kilometres from the cyclone centre. If the sustained winds around the centre reach 118 km/h (gusts in excess 165 km/h), then the system is called a severe tropical cyclone.
The circular eye or centre of a tropical cyclone is an area characterised by light winds and often by clear skies. Eye diameters are typically 40 km but can range from under 10 km to over 100 km. The eye is surrounded by a dense ring of cloud about 16 km high known as the eye wall which marks the belt of strongest winds and heaviest rainfall.
To find out not only what the Coriolis effect is but just about anything else about cyclones/anticyclones/tropical cyclones/why the world‘s deserts are all located around either 30°N or 30°S/ and many other related topics, click on the link above. The article was written by a professor but unlike so many of his ilk he writes in „easy to understand“ English and has included many very good illustrations.
If you would rather download a PDF copy instead of reading it on-line, click on the link below:
Before returning to our meeting with Helene, two photos below show the difference in spinning direction between a northern hemisphere TC (hurricane Fran spinning anti-clockwise towards Florida) and a southern hemisphere TC (severe tropical cyclone in the southern Indian Ocean spinning clockwise).
At sea even under what could be termed as „moderate“ weather conditions, when walking around it could be a little bit like a clown‘s circus act, trying to walk in a straight line. If the ship was gently rolling, your brain could usually still manage to send you the right signals to keep you on an even keel. I once went across the English Channel on one of those giant passenger/car hydrofoil ferries when the weather was comparitively mild but when the hydrofoil stepped up the tempo it was impossible to walk like a normal human being. It was like walking across an earthquake, as if the deck you were walking on kept moving in all possible directions. It wasn‘t a violent movement, it just made you look silly like Basil in Fawlty Towers or like in a breakdance version of Irish dancing.
As Helene was rapidly closing in on us the Weybank started to roll, pitch and shudder. Anything that wasn‘t well battened down took on a life of it‘s own. The chair at my operating position in the radio room had a spindle hanging from underneath the seat which could be connected to a bolt on the deck. This spindle wasn‘t a tight rigid affair and couldn‘t clamp the chair to the deck. It just prevented you and the chair from sliding away when the ship rolled. By this time the „rocking and rolling“ of the ship had become so bad that the chair would zoom in some direction until the spindle braked the zoom but the chair would then pivot on one of its legs trying to catapult you into outer space. The answer to this was to rope your chair to anything that could stand the strain and you ended up like sitting in a spider‘s web.
By midday I couldn‘t stand it (sit it) anymore and staggered into the wheelhouse to see what was going on. The captain and all the mates were standing there hanging on for dear life. I looked at what they were looking at. Through the bridge windows I could see a wall of grey/green sea ahead that kept rising in height so much that I had to bend down to see if I could see the top of it when it rose above the top edge of the bridge windows. You could also feel the movement of the ship rising when suddenly the whole forward deck of the ship disappeared under a white boiling sea that smashed into the bridge/forward superstructure. We had just gone through the crest of the wave/wall and had started our downhill trip towards the next wall which was approaching fast.
During these mountain-climbing exercises the ship was also rolling and juddering which produced some weird metalic torture sounding acoustics. This crazy roller coasting lasted for hours on end. I do not know why but I had no fear, call it „Siebter Sinn“ (7th Sense) or whatever. I just knew that we would pull through, even when for a time things got even worse. We started to roll heavily and wedged ourselves into whatever could prevent us from being shot across the wheelhouse. When a ship starts rolling more than 20°, forget about walking anywhere.We all had our eyes glued to the inclinometer. This was a very simple but effective device that showed the roll of the vessel in degrees to port or starboard. It was in the form of a brass arrow that hung downwards from a spot exactly midship above the centre bridge window and underneath it was a brass semi-circular scale calibrated in degrees from 0° midship up to 45° port and 45° starboard. The scale wasn‘t calibrated above 45° for the simple reason that if the ship rolled more than 45°, Harland & Wolff, Belfast – the ship‘s builder obviously thought that the services of an inclinometer would no longer be required, the ship would have rolled over. A „Rolls-Royce“ inclinometer version is shown below.
You may not believe this but there came a moment when I watched the arrow moving through 35° starboard and then crept slowly up to 40°, hung there for a moment and slowly moved down again where it rapidly headed to port to do the same thing there. That was the moment when I started to wonder about my 7th Sense but luckily that was the only time that she rolled that far. At the time it happened even I was praying „please don‘t let the cargo shift“.
Every vessel has its own natural syncronous rolling period which is inversely proportional to the square root of the metacentric height and directly proportional to the beam of the ship. If the vessel encounters a series of waves in such a manner that the wave period matches the rolling, the vessel will have no time righting itself before the next wave strikes.
Another thing about rolling is when your own centre of gravity starts going somewhere else. For a brief moment you get the feeling of weightlessness, like the astronauts in training who were jetted up to the stratosphere, the aircraft then abruptly headed downwards again but at the point of transition from up to down they would experience zero gravity for a short time. Years later I was aboard a big container ship doing sea trials in the North Sea when we also started to roll heavily. There were a lot of sub-contractors aboard either there to get their equipment tested or as in my case to fix the radars if they decided to breakdown. I was in the bridge ( which was not just big but wide) when we took a bad roll to starboard and I watched in horror as one of the contractors standing at the port side lost his grip and flew like Superman right across the width of the bridge and smashed into the starboard bulkhead. He only survived because he didn‘t fly head first but he broke a lot of ribs and other bones. We had to interrupt the sea trials and sail back to where we could get him ashore to a hospital – this was in the days just before helicopter evacuations or pilots boarding via chopper became almost commonplace.
Returning to Helene she slowly lost interest in us as by nightfall we were climbing hills instead of mountains and although still rolling like a pig, nowhere near as bad as what we had already gone through. Slowly we escaped but high winds, rough seas and torrential rain dogged us for days after.
For those of you reading this but have not gone to sea, below is an animation to give you an idea of how it was for us in the tropical cyclone.
I was long since well and truly in love with Weybank. It would have been perfect if she had been christened with a name like Sally or Mojiko but being a Bank Line ship I‘m sure she wasn‘t christened at all – just shoved down the slipway unceremoniously in Bank Line Owner fashion – like a whore being pushed out by her pimp – „get on with it and start earning your keep, you bitch!“
No champaigne, not even a bottle of Guiness bid her a „safe and happy …..and all who sail on her“.
Month after month she had carried us safely and uncomplaining through everything that nature could throw at her. Not once did we have to heave to in the middle of nowhere to change a piston, unlike aboard a number of other ships that I sailed on. You trust her with your life in the true sense of the word in the knowledge that she won‘t let you down. You even start talking to her like during the cyclone - „come on girl, you can do this easy“. I‘ve seen a lot of car owners who feel the same with their cars – are we all nuts? (yes).
After roughly 19 days at sea since leaving Davao, we arrived at dusk at a remote bunker terminal in Capetown‘s „boondocks“ and sailed at dawn the next day – a quick overnight „Formula 1“ pitstop – we didn‘t have to change the tyres – just fill her up. Our next waypoint is the Cape Verde Islands – 3369 sm distant, 9-10 days sailing time.
On leaving Capetown we entered into the Benguela Current, a cold water current which is 250-300 km in width and flows slowly, about 1 kt speed in a northerly direction along the south-west coast of South Africa and Namibia.
The so called Skeleton Coast is a 40 km wide and 500 km long coastal stretch in Namibia, a hostile but fascinating area. It is the northern part of the Atlantic coast of Namibia and south of Angola from the Kunene River south to the Swakop River. It is associated with shipwrecks, and stories of sailors walking through the desert in search of food and water. The name is derived from the bones that lined the beaches as a result of whaling operations and seal hunts. A few of the skeletons were human. In the days of „windjammers“, being shipwrecked on its coast would turn into a nightmare for any survivors of the actual wreck, as the photo below will attest to. Note the broad surf and the massive sand dunes rising directly from the water line.
When sailing off the coast of Namibia we experienced the Cassimbo which is the name given to fog in this area caused by the meeting of the cold ocean current and the warm winds from the desert and
is responsible for the many shipwrecks that are littered up and down the Skeleton Coast. It can also extend to the width of the Benguela current.
As to our course towards the Cape Verde waypoint and beyond to the Bay of Biscay I can remember nothing untoward occuring. We all fell into our watch keeping routines and the days passed by uneventfully – no storms or accidents aboard or breakdowns – with each sea mile left behind us, slowly getting closer to home we weren‘t even bored as we might otherwise have been.
In the interim I‘ll describe an incident which occured when we were in Yokohama which I had totally forgotten. Describing Yokohama in a previous chapter I had stated that as we stayed for only a day I couldn‘t write much about it. Well, I could, if only I had remembered…..
According to international law each ship which had a radio station installed, no matter its nationality, had to have a Ship Licence (pertaining to the radio station) issued by the government of
the nation under which flag the ship sailed. In our case the license was issued by Her Majesty‘s Postmaster-General and a copy of it had to be displayed in the radio room. The License stipulated
what frequencies and types of emissions the radio station was authorised to use and the same for the Lifeboat Station and for the Radar Station. It also contained five closely typed pages containing rules to be followed etc., etc.
To make a long story short, each Radio Station had to undergo a yearly radio survey and inspection
to ascertain that the radio equipment was functioning A1OK and that the rules etc. were being adhered to. For this reason if a ship was in British waters when its yearly survey was due, a British Post Office Telecommunications official would board the ship to carry it out. Who would do the inspection if the ship was not in home waters? An authorised government inspector of the country which the ship was visiting when its inspection was due. On inspection by such an official if any equipment defects were found, the inspection would be abruptly terminated. The faulty equipment would have to be repaired and thereafter a new inspection date arranged. The ship would not be allowed to sail until the so-called Radio Safety Certificate was issued by the inspectors i.e. the terms of the inspection had been met.
When we were still in Osaka the captain told me that the yearly inspection would take place in Yokohama. I told him not to worry, all of the radio equipment was in top condition. As soon as we arrived in Yokohama our Japanese ship‘s agent came aboard and told me how the scene would be set. First an employee of a Japanese marine radio company (not a government official) would come aboard to do the survey. If everything was found to be A1OK then he would telephone the government inspector who would then arrive for the official inspection. The agent then told me that after a successful inspection and it came time for the inspector to sign the certificate it was the norm that he expected to be offered a good few drams of premium Scotch i.e. whisky and not offered from a half empty bottle either!
As we were in port the bond locker was sealed so I ran around all the officers accomodation asking if anyone had an unopened bottle of Scotch – alas the answer was no so I went to the captain and asked for some Yen so that I could buy a bottle ashore. Off I shot ashore and at the front door of any promising looking store I mimicked taking a glass to my lips while pointing at the store‘s shelves and shouting „Whisky?“. It didn‘t take long when one kindly gentleman pointed at a shop down the street and said „Whisky!“. „Arrigato!“ and off I ran. When I ran into the shop I asked „Whisky?“ whereupon the proprietar bowed and then gestured for me to follow him, up to a shelf loaded with Japanese Suntory whisky – not a bottle of Scottish Scotch in sight. Time was of the essence so I ended up buying a one litre bottle of the most expensive of the Suntory range. It came inside a very nice looking box as well. Off I galloped back to the ship and as soon as I got aboard I took it to my cabin and placed it under my writing desk on the right hand side. I then locked my cabin door and shot up to the radio room. I just made it before the Japanese surveyor arrived to do the pre-inspection check.
The surveyor was a young, tall Japanese who appeared to be just a couple of years older than I. There was none of the usual bowing or attempts at small talk - he started off more or less ordering me to do this or that in an arrogant way. „Switch on the main transmitter!“ - that kind of thing. I played along for a bit – until he told me to switch on the emergency transmitter – as soon as I did he pressed the morse key down and started twiddling the main tuning knob. Doing something like this would destroy its main transmitting valve so I immediatly knocked his hand off the key and then gave him a piece of my mind. I told him that before he arrived all of the equipment was functioning perfectly and I was going to keep it that way.
Anything he wanted to survey, I would do the operating and he could do the watching. If he didn‘t like it, he knew where the gangway was! This must have got him thinking overtime especially of having to explain to his superiors why he was ordered to leave the ship. It is a paradox because in the Ship License it stipulates that the radio officer will not permit any other person than himself to operate the equipment. To give him some credit his attitude then immediately changed for the better and we concluded the survey. He then buzzed off to telephone the inspector „ready when you are !“
A half hour later not one but two inspectors arrived. Both of them very polite elderly gentlemen in grey suits. They both stood in the background ticking off items on their clipboards as I operated the equipment – with my Japanese survey „friend“ giving a running commentary in Japanese.
All went well and my „friend“ then said that the inspection was successful and could they sit somewhere to fill out the paper work ( a hint about a few Whisky drams). I told them that we could do it in my cabin while having a few whiskys to which their eyes lit up. Down we traipsed to my cabin. I unlocked the door and ushered them in, asking them to take a seat. Up to this point I had not mentioned that it was Japanese and not Scottish whisky which they were about to receive and I was a bit apprehensive as to how they would take it when I spilled the beans. However, I never got to that point because when I threw a glance underneath my writing table – the whisky was gone!
It didn‘t need Sherlock Holmes to deduce who had removed it. It could only have been taken by my
steward who happened also to be the „Captain‘s Boy“ (captain‘s steward). He was the steward for only the two of us. My cabin door had a Yale key type lock, not an easy lock to pick even if you were an expert. My steward however had a pass key. At sea we never locked our cabin doors, only when in port. I said „excuse me“ to my guests and had a quick look around my cabin, checking in my wardrobe, under the day-bed (couch), the drawers underneath my bunk – nothing! I then opened my cabin door and shouted down the alleyway towards the dining salon - „get the captain‘s boy up here immediately!“. After an embarrassing five minute wait in which the Japanese held a muted conversation amongst themselves , in slouched the captain‘s boy.
I had been fortunate during most of our voyage to have had good stewards – of the cheerful and efficient kind with whom one could hold normal conversations with about family life, aspirations etc., etc,. Unfortunately, each time we returned to our proxi „home port“ Calcutta, most if not all of the Indian crew were changed. With the last of our crew changes in Calcutta I ended up with our present „Captain‘s Boy“. This steward was slightly taller than me, carried a lot of overweight and slouched around in sandals while wearing a white kind of Kaftan and white trousers. Talk about slow motion! He was lazy, performing his „duties“ with a minimum of effort – I would sometimes watch him as he for instance gave the washhand basin a perfunctory wipe with an old cleaning rag
instead of running the water and giving it a bit of a scrub – that kind of thing. Sweep the floor and carpet, empty the gash can (litter basket), fill up the water caraffe, make the bed (bunk) and change the bed sheets once a week – that was all that his work entailed as far as I was concerned. He had a sly look about him and projected a kind of latent insolence. He was very light skinned and it appeared to me that he seemed to think that this gave him a kind of superiority over his fellow Indian compatriots aboard. I instinctively took a dislike to him and I am sure the feeling was mutual.
When he arrived at my cabin door I asked him what he had done with the whisky. „I threw it away, it was standing next to the gash can“. I replied that it was nowhere near the gash can, the gash can was behind the other side of the writing table. I also told him that no one in his right mind would throw such a thing away without having a good look inside it at first – in its nice illustrated box – the weight of it alone would induce a good peek inside. I told him to go and retrieve it from the rubbish (when in port the ship‘s rubbish (meal leftovers, empty bottles etc.) couldn‘t be just tipped over the side polluting the harbour. In ports, rubbish was tipped into empty oil drums which were lashed to the stern railings of the ship. Once the ship had left port and was out in the open sea, the contents of the oil drums would be tipped into the ocean). The captain‘s boy replied that he couldn‘t retrieve it as he had thrown it over the ship‘s side into the harbour instead. I accused him of being a blatant liar and to get out of my sight. My Japanese guests who had no doubt got the gist of this new kind of Kabbuki show offered their commiserations „Vely solly...“. To my relief they signed the „Safety Certificate“ without further ado and I then accompanied them to the gangway where we exchanged polite farewell greetings. I had just returned to my cabin when through the open door I saw a chain of stewards, led by the Chief Steward, passing by and then up the staircase to the captain‘s cabin. In the alleyway I heard snippets of „Marconi Sahib say...“, „bad words..“.
Shortly thereafter I saw them passing by my cabin door doing the „Congo“ in the opposite direction, minus the Chief Steward. Not long after that the captain appeared at my cabin and asked me what had happened. I told him what had happened to which he replied that he commiserated with me but that „we now have a problem, the stewards have all gone on strike and will remain on strike until you apologize in front of all the other stewards to the steward in question“. The Chief Steward had told the captain that the Captain‘s Boy had stirred up all the other stewards into supporting his demand for retribution. This was indeed a problem and it would start with our lunch which we would not receive. In the days of yore a „strike“ would have been another word for mutiny, punishable by being tied to the main mast and getting a dose of the cat, being hung from the yard arm or keel-hauled. Alas, those days were long gone. The captain had always been a good skipper and it wasn‘t right that he should end up with the problem. I myself could see no other solution (apart from beating the crap out of the CB) and so, swallowing my pride, I told the captain that I would apologize but on one condition – that the CB would cease being my steward for the rest of our trip, even if it meant me cleaning my own cabin etc. I added that the CB, due to the „bad blood“ now between us making any further daily contact „impracticable“ to say the least, would agree to this (I didn‘t mention that he would also be happy to have even less work to do, having now only to serve the captain).
The moment came when The Chief Steward, CB, all the other stewards, the Captain, First Mate and the Bosun all gathered in the dining salon to hear my mia culpa confession: „I apologize profusely for offending steward xxxxxxx on the xx/xx/1969, wrongly accusing him of dishonesty in regards to an item missing from my cabin. I sincerely regret the accusation made and hereby ask the accused for his forgiveness in the matter“. A short pow-wow followed between the chief steward and the CB whereupon the chief steward then stated: „The Captain‘s Boy accepts your apology but only on the condition that he will no longer serve as your cabin boy“. „Agreed“ - end of the Mutiny on the Weybank. The CB still had a pass key so from that moment on I took all my personal papers (letters and photos from Inge etc.) up to the radio room and locked them up there – CB didn‘t have a pass key to get in there and had no business being there in the first place if caught. Even when he was my cabin steward, he was not the one who brought my morning and afternoon coffee up to the radio room – neither was he the one who swept the radio room every day.
To be continued….