As I stated in my last article, I left the VIKING STAR in 1928, and joined one of the best ships in the company, the flyer SULTAN STAR, This was really a very fine ship; large with eight holds all refrigerated, and with probably the most advanced cargo handling gear of any ship of her class. All holds were served by derricks at each end of the hatch and with five winches at each end, all high speed electric for light loads, she could and did load a full cargo of chilled meat in a little over two days, and took only three to discharge. Her accommodations were excellent, considering it was depression tines and the rule of the day was poor food, poor pay and worse living spaces, but she was good in both food and rooms. The cadets numbered two only and we were in charge of Boy Gangs engaged in the usual outward job of cleaning cargo holds - no outward cargo was ever carried in the Blue Star ships, the main thing was to have all holds cleaned and ready for cargo on arrival.
The SULTAN STAR was extremely fast and her trial speed was about 16 but she did over 21 and ran always at 18, On her first voyage she stripped the gearing on the port turbines and lay helpless until picked up by the German ocean tug SEEFALKE, This was a stroke of luck for her as she had been engaged on a no cure no pay basis to salvage a German ship called the DENDERAH which had run aground in Santos, and after six months of hard work while towing her off she broke in two and sank. She was on her way home when she picked up the SULTAN STAR and towed her to Liverpool, and I think she showed a profit on the voyage as the SULTAN was fully loaded and it constituted a one third salvage bid.
The SULTAN STAR broke the South Atlantic record the next voyage and was allowed to have the Golden Cook Weather Vane of the Argentine Government on her foremast. To the best of my knowledge, she never lost it in the whole of her life. She was at one time the holder of the South and North Atlantic records for cargo ships and also had the record to Australia and New Zealand, Another ship was built on similar lines, the TUSCAN STAR, but she was a Sultzer diesel and was a poor effort compared to the SULTAN. She never did more than her contract speed and her engines, of a radical design, always were troublesome.
I did only two voyages to the Plate on the SULTAN and went to the AFRIC. This was also a very large ship for those days and was a big six-boiler, coal-fired turbine ship, also seven hatches, fast loading gear almost as fast as the SULTAN, but she burned about a 100 tons of coal a day (SULTAN was oil-fired) and we had a crew of over 100, The AFRIC was one of a set - the STUART, AFRIC, NAPIER, RODNEY and the last was to have been the RALEIGH, but she was never built and the STUART was a rather messy ship. She was converted to pulverised coal fuel and I had one trip on her. The coal was ground up on the ship till it was as fine as powder and burnt like fuel oil in rotating nozzle burners. About half of it went up the funnel and descended on the ship so we were always in an atmosphere of fine coal dust -- it was a failure in every way. Finally they changed it to a coal and oil which was a mixture of coal dust and oil and was even more messy. I was delighted to see the last of that ship.
My next position was on one of the best-looking ships I have ever been on. She was the TROJAN STAR, built for the General Transatlantic, the same company that owns the FRANCE. A six-hatch ship with four masts, everything was stream-lined for those days and she was a small passenger ship built for the Far East trade. About the same size as the SULTAN, but had five boilers and twin screw quadruple expansion engines. and did about 14 knots. She was built as the LA PEROUSE and her sister ship was sold to the B. I. Company and became her cadet ship, the DEVON; however, eventually was acquired by the Federal Co. who shared her with B.I. and was a cadet ship to the end of her days. All passenger rooms were made into crew rooms. All rooms opened out onto the deck and she was a nice coal ship for the Far East service of Blue Star Line. Fully refrigerated, she mainly carried eggs, both shell and canned, from China, and fruit from the Pacific Coast, in season. She really was a lovely ship to look at but as a cadet she was a work-house for us and we had a martinet of a Captain, an old sailing ship man and the ship was his pride and joy. He had five rooms all beautifully furnished and the ship had full teakwood decks all over. As cadets our job was to clean the 93 huge brass port rings around the two houses. She also had ten skylights with brass tars across then. The "bridge was a mass of brass and it was cleaned rain or shine every day, in port or out, and it really shone, believe me!
I went out for my first trip to China in her and loved it all. Through to Port Said direct from the Clyde and on to the Malay Straits; thence to Hong Kong and up the Yang-Tse-Kiang to Nanking, then to Hangchow or Hankow. As my uncle was the boss out there, I left the ship and toured China and Japan for two months before rejoining the TROJAN STAR in Shanghai for the trip across to Vancouver and the Pacific Coast for fruit, then back to the Continent.
For a boy, it was a wonderful 7 months' trip. The CELTIC STAR was bought from the New Zealand Shipping Co. with the GAELIC and the IONIC STARS . They were rather smaller than the average Blue Star ships and were completely frozen ships so were always either on the Far East or the Pacific Coast trade. They were well-built, flush-decked with raised forecastle heads. Wooden decks throughout with quite passable accommodations, and they were very clean as they had been converted from coal to oil and were popular ships in the fleet.
After one long far eastern voyage, I left the CELTIC and went to her sister ship the GAELIC. I don't remember anything very much out of the ordinary about her on the trip to the Pacific Coast I made on her; however, after her I went to the first of the many passenger ships I have served on and this was the ARANDORA. After conversions she was renamed ARANDORA STAR and was probably the most luxurious ship of her size every built, and then converted for luxury cruising. Aptly called the "chocolate box" because of her cleanliness, white paint and vivid funnel markings, she was really something in the way of ships and was run like a man-of-war by her Staff Commander, a man who later distinguished himself and lost his life running the Malta convoys, Captain Selwyn N. Capon, OBE, DSC, George Cross and Bar. Will tell you more about that ship in the next issue.
All have now gone. Many I never knew what happened to then, but ARANDORA was lost in the North Atlantic with a very heavy loss of children's lives during, I think, the winter of 1942. It was a most tragic happening for the owners of the Company; two of the Vesty brothers were on board and the Purser was also the husband of Miss Alice Vesty who was reported the sole owner of ARANDORA but as to how far this was true I never found out. The ship was reputedly given by Lord Vesty as a present to his daughter on her marriage.
For interest, the Blue Star Line was privately owned and I don't think, even today, it has gone public, the bulk of the interests being held by the Vesty family who are the owners of probably the greatest chain of butcher shops in the world and certainly the largest owners of ranches, packing houses and retail outfits anywhere. In fact, it was once said if it has a blue and white trade mark, it's "Vesty."
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.