“ I remember”, said David the old man of the sea, as I sit now in the 21st century typing on my computer. I remember 36 years ago Tuesday October 17th 1967, and the following the stormy 17 days as if it were just yesterday. On that unforgettable Tuesday a Force 9 to 10 gale was blowing westward up the English Channel, bringing with it heavy rain. It was 5am when a large group of us boarded a Coach to take us to Southampton. The atmosphere was one of excitement and trepidation.
Upon arrival at Southampton Docks around 8am, our ship the 12.615 ton M.S. Dunera an ex troop carrier was far from ready for boarding. So, from there many of us walked into Southampton and dwindled away the day returning to the ship around 3pm. We collected our luggage, and found our way to Baffin Cabin which slept 42 people. I bagged a lower bunk and Norman Day the lower bunk opposite. I don’t recall the name of the person who had the bunk above me except he used too much Old Spice body deodorant.
We put on warm clothes and went up onto the deck and walked around to get our bearings. The rain had stopped and in the lee of Southampton Harbour it appeared the wind had died down. On “B” deck a man in uniform was handing out streamers to the passengers as they assembled to get a guard rail position for the leaving of Southampton. Hundreds of family and friends assembled on the quay in the greyness of the evening. Sheltering in front of a large rusty metal building, a Brass band who struck up “Rule Britannia” and “For Those in Peril on the Sea”…….
As the first mooring lines were cast off, the Dunera’s horn blasted for the last time over Southampton Waters. The Band played a sad lament of “Old Lang Syne”, as we slipped away from the dock, just as The Dunera had done 30 years before on her Maiden Voyage. This was now her last voyage before going to a scrap yard in Spain.
Streamers were thrown over board, people cheered and waved, as a tug pulled us slowly into the Solent. When free of the tug and under her own steam the Dunera move toward the Isle of Wight, the waters were calm as the Pilot returned to his boat, and a peek of a sunset could be seen low on the horizon. Darkness fell, as we turned right toward the English Channel. The lights of Lymington on the main land were bright in the darkness and the Needles Lighthouse flashed on our port bow. Upon reaching the Needles we were full on into the gale and the bow began to rise and fall, added to this movement was a cook screw effect. Many of us congregated at the stern sheltered from the wind, and did not go below until we had passed Portland…..
Down below we obtained a drink and some crackers, prior to finding our bunks. Some people were feeling sick and could not lay in their bunks, choosing to stay in the bathroom or remain on deck. The ship was moving in her own way into the storm, laying down accentuated the movements, with a side to side cork screw motion, simultaneously the ship’s bow would rise up and free fall down hitting the waves like concrete, sending vibrations throughout the vessel.
I slept well until 3.30am when an almighty crash and rattling of metal awoke me with a start. We were not sinking nor had we had a collision. The garbage shoot ran through our cabin and all tin cans and metal objects were jettisoned via this shoot, every morning at the same time. At 6.30am the Tanoy system blasted out some awful music, and a male voice announced it was morning and gave our distance traveled and our position at that time, followed by the roster for breakfast, and exciting events for the day, like table tennis, deck quoits, a lecture on our first port of call- Tangiers in Morocco, and lifeboat drill at 4pm. This was followed by the Don’ts of the day; don’t use the swimming pool because of the unsafe conditions, don’t lean over the side, even if you are being sick! If you are sick go to the leeward side of the ship. “Enjoy your cruise” came a disgusted voice from a bunk within Baffin Cabin, another voice said, “ I am going to be sick”, then someone ran to the Bathroom…..
Our Cabin was in the bow and in order to get onto deck we had to climb 4 flights of stairs, and sitting at the base of each flight would be a small East Indian man who’s sole job was to clean. Throughout the voyage I never saw any cleaning being done. The Galley/dining room was two decks above our Cabin and a little walk toward the stern. We lined up and would hold our breath as we passed the kitchens to avoid the stale and sickly odours of old cooking fat and diesel fumes.
In general the food was reasonable, breakfast being the best meal of the day, everything fried. It was Wednesday 18th and the storm had abated somewhat but still rocking, and the swimming pool was one third full, the full motion of the ship could be monitored by watching the water splash in all directions. Very little in the way of entertainment, the library was about 15ft square and not well stocked, but we made our own entertainment.
3.30pm, the ship sounded 4 short blasts of its horn and people went running to their muster stations. A group of us remained in deck chairs; the lifeboat drill was not due until 4pm, and we waited for the right warning of the sound of 7 blasts of the horn. Total chaos reigned around us, people were confused and unsure as to where to go. The movie “A Night to Remember” sprang to mind starring Kenneth Moore, about the sinking of the Titanic…..
At 4pm the seven blasts were sounded and most people were mustered, we ambled to our station donning lifejackets and having a roll call. That was about it for that day’s excitement.
On Thursday 19th, we were making our way across the Bay of Biscay. Compared to the weather we had been through, it was not the rough seas we had heard about and expected. In fact the sun shone and it was quite a pleasant passage. I began a log of the trip, but it was boring reading just as the days were boring onboard. Got up had breakfast, Walked on deck, had lunch… etc.
Friday was a little more exciting; we crossed over the Atlantic Ridge, and were 22 chains off our first sighting of land, Cape St Vincent. Over the Tanoy system, someone explained all about the Battle of Trafalgar that took place in these very waters on October 21st 1805, then announced that due to the weather and loss of time we would be arriving in Tangiers at Noon on Saturday and instead of a day ashore we would only have 6 hours.
During the Saturday morning we sailed through the Straights of Gibraltar, and into Tangiers harbour. The quay side was lined with Arabs who proffered their wares from copper made bracelets, vases, trinkets, and flick knives, to toy Camels stuffed with camel dung. The Arabs love to barter, and the money they like to use in 1967 was the British Pounds Shillings and Pence. Soon off the ship and walking off the quay trying to ignore the traders who would all offer, “Do you good deal” we made our way into the back streets of the Casaba. The girls all had to wear long skirts as not to offend…..
The meandering labyrinth was an easy place to get lost in, narrow streets with open frontage shops, and snake charmers, on each corner. In one Moorish resultant we sampled mint tea, and then to a waiting coach which to us to the Caves of Hercules, and back to the quay. It was here I bartered for a Moroccan carpet and knocked the man down to 30 shillings prior to boarding. After nearly 4 days at sea our first Port of call was done in 6 hours, and we were once again sailing out into the Atlantic, and more bad weather, which by tea time on Sunday, was a raging hurricane.
Everything loose was lashed down, most decks were cordoned off, everyone was walking in zigzags, and once again many being sick. Waves towered over the bows and entire ship, as she pitched and rolled. By midnight we were in the eye of the Hurricane, the ship was facing into the storm with engine half ahead and the ship going backwards. No hot food or drinks were served only bread, biscuits, water and coke. Sleep was not easy; one moment lying on the mattress, as the bow rose up, the next in the air as the bows suddenly dropped like a roller coaster, then your body reacquainting to the mattress with a thud.
Cans were still jettisoned down the waste pipe at 3.30am but their sounds were muffled by the noise outside. The voice on the Tanoy in the morning was more subdued and cautioned everyone to move with great care and hang on to anything when moving around. No fried breakfast that day, just bread and cheese. Many did not come to the mess hall. That day everything was cancelled; not that there was ever much going on, it was each person for themselves. Tuesday morning brought a welcome relief from the constant battering; the weather had passed over making us now a day and a half behind schedule…..
We approached the outer island of Madera and into very calm waters, prior to docking in the capital Funchal. Brightly painted Bumboats came to greet us and would offer their wares by holding them up, then throwing a heaving line to our deck where we could pull up the merchandise for inspecting and bartering. Dolls and woodworking were the main items, and on some boats young boys would dive deep to recover coins tossed into the water.
Coaches arrived dockside and gave us a tour of the island including, the highest point overlooking the terraces of fields, it seemed no part of the mountain was uncultivated. Cameron de Lobos is a little fishing village where Winston Churchill liked to retreat to and paint. Back in Funchal we were let off to sight see. Jacaranda trees lined the streets, and in each shop one would be offered a glass of Madera wine, but after each drink the price of items would increase. In the evening we found a small café on the hillside overlooking the harbour and the Dunera illuminated, taking in the warm air the crickets chirping, and ambience of this magical Island.
Originally in order to make up lost time the ship was going to sail early, but due to dissention onboard it was decided to allow everyone all of Wednesday ashore to do as they please. We walked to the town saw the toboggan run, and purchased some papaws, and enjoyed a relaxing day. Back onboard we sailed out in the evening toward the Portugal coast and Lisbon.
Thursday and Friday were two more boring and reasonably calm days at sea. In the mess hall the latest records would be playing and people just socialising and chatting about their time ashore and souvenirs bought. Hits of October 1967 were ‘All you need is love’, the Beatles, ‘Release me’ Englebert Humperdink, and my favourite two of all time ‘Albatross’ by Fleetwood Mac and ‘Lets go to San Francisco’, Scott Mackenzie…..
Friday was Fancy dress night, whoopee! Many people just pinned sick bags to themselves and said what they though and felt of the voyage. Norman had a good idea, but was too close to the mark to win any prizes. There were so many rules and don’ts onboard he had a jacket and pinned all things not allowed on board, all of them being fake things, i.e. cigarettes packets, beer bottles, flick knives, and a breathalyser which had just been introduced that month in the UK. Norman walked up to the Judges then turned to enable them to read the sign on his back, which read. “ What’s done elsewhere ain’t Dunera” which just about summed up the entire trip and attitude of the times. Worthy of a prize in my opinion, but alas the judges had no humour.
Early on Saturday we sailed up the River Taigas under the Ponte Selane suspension bridge, the statue of Christ and Henry the Navigator’s Monument, then docked in Lisbon, having seen most of the attractions. After a Coach tour of these places, and some football stadium, we had time for ourselves, and wandered through the streets experiencing life in Portugal’s capital. The following morning Monday we were allowed ashore till noon prior to sailing back and in hope of reclaiming lost time. I could never understand the hurry, as when we embarked the ship would be sailing to a scrap yard in Spain.
Returning across the Bay of Biscay; we passed port to port with M.S. Dunrea’s sister ship the M.S. Navasa, passengers lined the decks to see the ships pass on for the last time. The weather deteriorated, we were due to land at Portland on Tuesday, but that was not to be, just as our departures was supposed to be from our homeport. It was in the early hours of Friday the 3rd of November we docked in Falmouth, M.S. Dunera flying its pay-off pennant, 30 feet long, marking her 30 years of service. The Tanoy asked that the persons responsible for removing the taps from the Female washrooms replace them, as the ladies would like to wash that morning. Too late, the taps were thrown over board the night before, along with flick knives and stuffed camels, which were stinking of camel dung.
Customs came onboard and slowly we managed to get off our ship, to join the waiting coaches ready to take us home, in time for Portland Fair. Forget the movie ‘A Night to Remember’, we had 17 nights to remember, and now 36 years later that’s how I see it.
- What did we learn on this ‘educational’ cruise?
- Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar.
- If you’re going to be sick, be sick on the leeward side.
- The sea can get pretty rough at times.
- Camel dung does stink.
- How to barter.
- You CAN make your own fun.
- 1200 teenagers, combined with gales and boredom, create their own chaos.
David’s NEW site at David the Letterman.com – Your Words Your Way!