Sorry that I have been so long in answering your request for the remainder of the voyage article of PIPAT SAMUT, but as you know I accepted the job as Marine Surveyor for the Cementation Co. of Canada to superintend their barging operation on Lake Shebandowan up here in the frozen North, and we are really living in the bush in more ways than one. We are bunked out simply for sleeping in the Forest Hill Motel, Kashabowie, but have to come 8 miles by road and another 6 miles over the lake to the mine site for meals and its a mining camp so you can get an idea of the condition. I am having a lot of fun but apart from my surveying and supervising job for the underwriters, I also am on the pay-roll of the Cementation Co. to help out in general supervising, loading of lifts, office work and what-have-you and as I would be doing nothing most of the time, another $150 a week and all expenses, isn't to be sniffed at. I am really enjoying the company of the miners and all that goes with a mining camp. However, I can tell you about that later -- the main thing is to tell you about the rest of the trip on the PIPAT SAMUT till the time I left the ship in Shimonoseki. I think I left off in Djakarta. We were there, in all, 16 days and the old trouble of too much rice and not enough space in the sheds and barges for storing it, was with us all the tine. I told you all about the general rackets and corruption in all branches of the Indonesian Civil Service, and as we were supposed to be guarded by soldiers who were paid nothing, you will realize that pilfering on a grand scale went on without stopping. However, much to my relief and to that of the Chinese crew, the end came and the final tallies proved to show that we were over 8000 bags of rice short.
As all the rice we loaded in the United States was tallied by mechanical means and the holds secured until the start of discharge, it was obvious that most of it had been pilfered or the tallies falsified so that 8000 bags could be disposed of to anyone wanting then, and the officials would benefit by it.
We finally finished late at night and I sailed right away for Singapore taking the outside passage along the Borneo Coast. It was a voyage of two days and a half to the Eastern Entrance to the Singapore Strait, and we made it at daylight in really fine weather.
The Straits are not at all wide - about a mile in places and varying to about two with very shallow water near to the coasts on both sides and plenty of shoal water extending off-shore just for the heck of it. They are just full of ships which pass you at the rate of several every minute going both ways, East to West and vice versa.
One would think a 14,000-ton ship was quite large, but I assure you with ships of over 100,000 T.D.W., I was of the opinion that I was on something of a tug. We passed many fine ships and one was so huge to me that I think the bridge was about 130 feet over the water-line. She was certainly over 1,000 feet in length and looked like a huge building moving along at a good 18 knots. However, we dodged it all, missed hitting anything, and arrived at Singapore in good time.
The Straits are roughly "V"-shaped and there are two large and several small islands at the lower end of the "V". One is Singapore Island and the town of Singapore is on the southern tip of this larger diamond-shaped island. There are two anchorages there - one for the N.E. monsoon and one for the S.W. monsoon. We were in the Eastern Anchorage as it was the N.E. monsoon, or nearly so,
First of all, one goes to the Quarantine anchorage to get papers checked as we were coming from a cholera-infected island and had to pass the doctor. Shortly afterward the pilot arrived and we moved into the working anchorage
Singapore has a very fine line of docks and go-downs on its southern side but they are far from adequate for the huge number of ships that use the port, if only for bunkering. On the western side there is a huge refinery and an anchorage for tankships only. Our anchorage had more than 50 ships, all working into barges. There was another anchorage for smaller island ships, with more than 20 ships in it not counting the great number of barges which were also discharging and loading there. There must have been a ship from every maritime nation in the world there and work goes on day and night. However, I had little cargo to land and we had a few stores, so we were only in overnight. We would have sailed early in the morning but we had to stay as one of the officers was going back to Thailand and he had to undergo all sorts of inquiries during which I had to wait until he was finally cleared, I managed to get ashore for a short while to look around the lower part of the town. It looked just the same as it did 30 years ago except that the British no longer rule the place. It was rather run-down and very dirty to what it used to be; also very, very hot and we were glad to get under way again about noon.
I took the ship out of the anchorage, as we were allowed to do this to save pilotage. We rounded the islands and started North up the Straits which were almost the same as the eastern side, still filled with shipping almost running on rails. They were so close, running in one long line, and trying to get the deepest water.
It became dark rapidly and I was on the bridge all night till we arrived at the northern tip where the channel narrows with an island right in the middle, a dog leg turn of about 30-degrees and not too much water. I was lucky in that I was not drawing too much water and could hug the side of the channel to let the larger ships get by, but with ships heading into the Indian Ocean and turning to port, and some going up to Penang or other ports, either turning slightly to port or to the north, one did not try to get too close to any of them.
It was getting light when I turned north and we went up the coast to the entrance to the Penang Channel. Penang is on an island situated a mile off the coast of Malaya, The town is called Georgetown, although it is always known as Penang, same as the island. This is on the eastern side near the N.E. corner and faces the mainland. There are no other towns of any note on the island.
The channel from the south is shallow; drafts limited to no more than 24 feet, so if one is light one comes in from the south with the pilot and leaves via the north channel, circumnavigating the island almost to get back to the Singapore Straits.
Georgetown has only two deep water berths. All the rest of the shipping stays at anchor but at Prai they are building a new port which will have three large wharves with over 35 feet alongside and will be able to handle more than ten ships. It will be enlarged later on this year after the first part is completed, Georgetown, when I went ashore, was almost the sane as it was when I was last there in 1935. It is a smallish town built on a point of land and dominated by the government buildings. Short, narrow streets with the usual deep ditches on each side of the road for drainage and sewage -- they need it, I was ashore in the rain one day and it was only a matter of minutes before the gutters were about two feet deep and were like raging torrents. When it rains in Malaysia, it really rains. The streets have decent shops but the alleys are the gutterways built over with ramshackle shacks selling mainly food. The smell is not at all good but they all seem to be well patronized. The inhabitants are very picturesque Chinese and Malays in sarongs, and they are all very pretty to look at. However, it is not a very attractive or romantic place to be in,
We anchored off the entrance to the Penang River and the barges brought the iron ore alongside. This is quite an operation. The ore is from open cast mines about 20 miles inland and comes by rail to the riverbank and is then tipped into small barges. The barges are brought to the ship's side by launch and the ore lifted to the ship in two-ton iron tubs and tipped into the ship. Thank goodness it was wet and the ore did not fill up the ship with dust as it usually does. It is just brown dirt - very, very heavy and has to be shovelled into the tubs. It is not easy work and the pay is very poor indeed. The cargo is piled into conical heaps to bring the weight up to have the C of G as high as possible. We loaded at the rate of 3,000 tons a day and the loading went on day and night.
As soon as we finished loading, we left; went round the N end of the island and made our way south back on our tracks again. Made the northern entrance at midnight and as usual got all mixed up with traffic on the dog leg as we did coming up but it sorted itself out and by 2:00 a.m. we were all fine and clear running south at 14 knots. Arrived off the entrance to Singapore just after dark -- once again it was a case of dodging ships that were trying to get into anchorage and those getting out; dodging the main stream of traffic east and west and there were some giant tankers and ore carriers on the move too. Most of these huge ships were Japanese who seen to own most of the giant carriers today -- I think they are the largest builders of these craft .
By the time we arrived at the eastern end, it was getting in the region of 2:00 a.m. and pitch dark. To me it seemed as if all the ships in creation were gathering to get through the narrows. It was a case of I'm all right, Jack, best luck to you with the giants taking up the centre of the fairway in deep water and the little 'uns getting the shoal water on the edges. It was a headache and I thought I would be all clear but it appeared all the fishing boats in the China Sea were fishing in the main ship channels. These boats are small, have very little in the way of freeboard and sometimes no lights, all of which tends to give captains a case of ulcers.
By 3:00 a.m. I went to bed. All clear for the trip to the south point of Taiwan (Formosa). Had two anxious days as currents are affected by winds in this area and we had no sights but finally got sight and found our position was about right. Finally sighted the land. Managed to get clear of the land and headed due north almost to make the western tip of the southern Japanese Island of Kyushu, Once again currents were difficult and fogs frequent. Of course the next thing that happened was the D/F packed in for good and the radar was US as well, so it was really by guess and by God.
Had engine trouble and had to stop and drift for about 5 hours but the weather cleared. We signalled a ship that was coming from Saigon and found that we were well inside our course line, I hate steaming on other master's courses but decided to be prudent and altered course to take us to the westward. The following morning at daylight we sighted the twin islands and altered course and made the mainland very nearly on time. Altered course to the east to make the entrance to the Inland Sea and the Pilot Station at Yawata which is just inside the northern or NW entrance to the Inland Sea,
I had very little information for this place but knew that I had to go to the Immigration anchorage inside the entrance and to the east of a small island which houses the official stations. It was a messy place to go but had to go in as I had asked for a pilot. There were no pilots so had to carry on as there was no way of turning around.
There were eight ships in the anchorage: three of about 60,000 and all had the choice spots so I fiddled my way, found a hold, dropped anchor, found bottom and stayed just outside the main fairway. Glad to get to bed but was up again at 6:00 a.m. to find visibility nil; however, it cleared at noon and the pilot came off to take us into Tobata. When he found I had come in at night, he had a fit -- said it was too dangerous which was why no pilots were available. Most ships stayed outside or anchored about two miles off the north coast of the island and came in at daylight.
We were to lighten 3,000 tons in all. It was a filthy place as there were berths for 9 big ships alongside, and there were four in all discharging ore with the result the dust was awful. We lay alongside as we had only one hour's work and with three 50-ton grabs working it took even less time than that. By the time we left the next day we were red from top to bottom.
Left at daylight to go to Yawata which is about a mile away but up another narrow river to the mill and the town. Both sides of this narrow creek were filled with ocean-going vessels, barges and you-name-it.... if it floated, it was there! I have never seen such a hive of activity in my life. We went alongside the mill itself with the blast furnaces only a matter of a few hundred feet from the ship. This tine smaller grabs were used and the ore was dumped into open pits served by a very complicated system of belts to the mill. The noise was awful and the dirt was something of a problem to us who were not used to it.... it got into everything, everywhere and it never stopped. Coupled to all this, it was hot and most unpleasant as far as smells go. Sulphur fumes seemed to hang in the air all day long.
As soon as we were alongside we started to discharge. I was surprised to find out that most of the quay labour were women! They drove the small supply and gear trucks, operated the grabs and did all the sweeping up. Some were even with the repair gangs on the belts and grabs. All very interesting but all very dirty and hot. After two days I was glad to complete and get going to Shimonoseki.
Shimonoseki is on Honshu, right opposite Tobata and only about two hour's run from Yawata. This time around the corner into the channel leading to the Inland Sea. The main town is on the north side of the strait which is about two miles wide. Land is hilly and there is another port on the south side of the strait, the name of which escapes me at the moment. Shimonoseki is about 5 miles distant from the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding yard where we were to dry-dock. I did go in later although I was only in for a short tine and I found it dull and uninteresting as it is mainly a Japanese navy and shipbuilding town with no historic or interesting feature at all.
The shipyard is a small one, and most of the ships built there are of the 400 to 450-foot type up to about 15,000 DW. There are four building berths and the usual sheds and offices of not too modern design or gear. They had two new ships building for Chinese owners in quite an advanced stage of construction. The sister ship of the PIPAT SAMUT, the OCEAN UNITY (PIPAT SAMUT was launched as the OCEAN UNITY) was being fitted out and is to be handed over later in September. There was a large double ended car and passenger ferry being completed; in fact she was running trials the day we arrived (18 knots, 100 cars and 900 passengers - no berths, just public rooms). She was bound for Taiwan.
We went into drydock and after a preliminary examination we were water blasted. This is a long nozzle with about a half inch bore with water under terrific pressure (it can drill a hole through a 3" plank.) One man operated it moving it up and down the hull. Paint, barnacles and dirt just fell off but it is so dangerous a job that no one is allowed near the dry dock edge while it is being operated. After that we were sand-blasted or grit-blasted to almost the look of stainless steel, with a similar gun. Right after the same men, one on each side, painted the ship. One woman filled up the tank on the quay with paint and the long rake-like spray with a head of about 6 feet long sprayed the paint on green on the bottom and pale grey upperworks. The time taken for one side of the hull complete with one nan, five hours only. The whole job of water and grit blasting and painting took less than two days with only two men and two helpers on the job. It looked very good too.
General repairs to the engine and my navigational gear went on, and the stiffening of the hull with long 2" thick doubling plates in the way of the bridge structure and also 12" box girders were welded in fore and aft to stiffen up the decking. Hatch covers of the McGregor type were modified as they were very poorly built and general repairs to the electric cargo gear and crane were put in hand.
At this time I was told I was to be transferred from PIPAT SAMUT to a bulk carrier serving Malaysia and Australia for two years. However, I had had enough and was thankful that I was not under contract, so resigned. I was not too popular but they had a relief and two day's later, after handing over the ship to my successor, I completed all paper work with the Japanese; then on the morning of the 18th of August I went to the airport at Fukuoka, about 70 miles away, to enplane for Tokyo. It was a very nice run by car. The scenery was very like the lake region north of Toronto or more like it is here where I am now in Lake Shebandowan. Small towns some clean, some not so clean, good roads, new construction for homes -- they make the landscaping and gardens first, then build the house on a fully laid out site ... looks very nice too. The airport was like any other small Canadian airport but had excellent feeding facilities and I took off for Tokyo at 3:00 p.m. Flew rather high over the Inland Sea. Saw very little. Came down at Osaka for about ten minutes and arrived at 7:00 p.m. in Tokyo; after a small snack was met by professional meeters -- you hire these men to meet your friends and they do everything for you such as hotels, customs, immigration and anything you want for a fee and expense basis. They are very, very good indeed. Flew out at 9:00 p.m. by Orient Midwestern to Seattle. Not much sleep as we were flying against the clock and two hours after we left it was daylight. Landed at Seattle around 9:00 p.m. local time and took off after one hour's processing, for Chicago arriving there at 8:00 a.m. Went to a motel for the night and boarded a plane early the next day and was back in Toronto after a very boring 24 hours by aircraft. Was delighted to get back!
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.