Tales of an accidental life? (1)

Copyright © 2019 Denis Scott. All rights reserved.

I got the idea for this blog from the recent tragic news of the volcano eruption on the South Island of New Zealand. I was struck by how an area of such remarkable beauty also carries such danger. It also took me back to my own trip to the Bay of Islands on the north island many years ago, and the circumstances which took me there as a young merchant seaman on his first trip to sea.  I hope you find it interesting:

September 1972; I was a seventeen year old merchant navy cadet (apprentice) training to become a seamanship and navigation officer.  A role for which I was too immature and totally unsuitable (a surprisingly common theme through my life; I’m beginning to think it must be me rather than everyone else).  I had decided that the sea was the life for me through the ambitions of an older school friend whose father had been a Merchant Navy Officer.  My father had spent his life travelling the world as an aviation engineer and my mother’s family were dispersed around the world so I had always been intoxicated with the idea of constant travel.  As soon as I was able I began applying unsuccessfully for cadet posts with a variety of shipping companies, the most prominent of which was Shell Oil.After three or four rejections I was employed by the Cunard Steam Ship Company, owners of the cruise liner, the Queen Elizabeth the Second (QE2).   Although famous for trans-Atlantic passenger liners and one of the last icons of Britain’s imperial days, Cunard by then had become a subsidiary of a large conglomerate called Trafalgar House and its fleet consisted mostly of cargo ships and oil tankers.  I had to travel to Southampton for my interview; I honestly believe that the companies personnel manager responsible for cadets, an ex-sea captain employed me purely because he noticed from my application that I had lived in the same village in Derbyshire that his wife had come from and attended the same school.  In fact, this is probably my first and last opportunity of networking in life, even though it was an inadvertent example.

The training scheme for ship’s officers at that time consisted of a sandwich course over almost four years split between college and sea time.  I was enrolled at the School of Maritime Studies in Plymouth, part of Plymouth College of Further Education at that time and now part of Plymouth University.  Our accommodation block was a converted office building in Portland Square built on the site of an air raid shelter where dozens of people were killed by German bombing in the second world war.  (see below link to local newspaper video and report).


After a two week induction course at Plymouth, I set off for my first trip to sea. a naive, over confident young man who had never been away from home on my own for more than two weeks before, and with a part Italian fairly old fashioned mother and the ultimate male chauvinist father, having absolutely no idea how to cater for myself (ignorance is bliss).

First step was a train from my nearest home town to London to collect travelling instructions and tickets from the company office at Marble Arch.  Then an overnight stay at the Cunard International Hotel in Hammersmith before catching a bus from central London to Heathrow airport.  A flight to Paris, then a connecting flight to Barcelona.  It was on this second flight where I met three of my new colleagues who were shocked to hear that I had caught a bus to the airport instead of using a taxi (expressions like ‘if the office find out they’ll expect all of us to use the bus.’).  Needless to say, from then on I always travelled short distances by taxi.

Barcelona was where my career began to go downhill, bearing in mind that I had not seen a ship yet. On arrival, we were met by the company agent to be told that our ship, the M.V. Port Chalmers had been delayed at Genoa in Italy. We were then taken to a hotel close to the city centre to wait out what became a four day delay for the ship.

A four day holiday in a city like Barcelona on full (admittedly apprentice) wages, this was wonderful. I remember sitting in a bar one night talking to a local man who couldn’t understand my English (he had learnt English in Scotland) while I couldn’t understand Spanish or Catalan. We conversed for some time in french (quite an achievement seeing that I had failed french at school). One of the U.S. Naval fleets was in port on a visit and the bars were full of U.S. sailors but there were no behavioural issues at all that I saw. The following evening I met a local bar maid and made a date with to meet under the Columbus statue near the docks at 4 p.m. the following day. Fortunately or otherwise (I’ll never know) the ship arrived and sailed from Barcelona at 3.30 p.m. I hoped at the time that the young woman never planned to keep our appointment rather than waiting for me.

The Columbus Statue, Barcelona Docks
Image by Vicens Dorse from Pixabay


Published by Denis Scott

I live in the English East Midlands and now write light hearted fantasy stories under the name E. D. Robson although I may branch out to non-fiction (possibly semi-autobiographical) and other forms of fiction. I would like to say that I write full time but I actually spend most of my time either swimming at my local pool or watching television. I have always found that I need to work in fits and starts (catching myself by surprise and getting going before I can procrastinate) although I have found this non method to be fairly successful when people allow me to apply it.

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