After a winter of relative idleness, Walter returned to the Victoria, a first class sailing cutter of 131 tons, and to the North sea Hull station.
There was certainly a satisfaction to receive an appointment to a larger and more able cutter, but on a gentleman congratulating me I could only say there was nothing very thrilling about it, seeing it was a change from the sheltered waters of Bantry Bay to that of facing the coming winter in the North Sea when oilskins and sea boots would become the usual “rig of the day”.
Once again I found myself standing on the deck of the first class cutter Victoria with a crew of twenty eight all told; a vessel in which I had served as a leading seaman and petty officer and experienced many a hard day’s washing from the ever restless Atlantic Sea on the west coast of Ireland, but now as the Commanding Officer.
She was a very comfortable vessel with a fine roomy cabin, the fittings of mahogany and maple wood, with beautifully upholstered settees and easy chairs. Built on fine lines and a fast sailor, according to records on board. On one occasion when under the control of the Customs House a race was arranged by that department – to test the sailing qualities of ten of the first class cutters – from Kingstown to Holyhead and back, a distance of one hundred and twenty miles, the Victoria coming in first at an average speed of twelve knots.
She was now a tender to the coast guard ship at Hull, for pay, clothing, discipline and certain stores, but usually detached and employed under the orders of the senior North Sea fisheries officer.
On joining and taking over command it was found that the vessel was employed cruising for the protection of the herring fleet, working to the northward of the River Tyne and calling at Hartlepool for supplies.
In September, the fish now moving southward, followed by the drifters, the port of call was changed to Grimsby. With this appointment it was decided that Grimsby would be the most suitable place in which to set up a home. The first thing was to set about and find a vacant house. This having been done, arrangements were made for the removal of my family and effects. On the date due to sail for the week out, the furniture arrived. After seeing it placed in the house I hurried to the dock leaving my wife with two small children to do her best. Everything was ready for sea, but thinking of my wife, a new arrival to the town and in a strange house, even at the risk of leaving myself open to a reprimand from the senior officer, I decided to moor up for the night and go back. This I did; naturally my wife was glad to see me. The following day after settling things and making my wife comfortable, I took my departure feeling somewhat more satisfied, making my way to the dock where the tug was in readiness to tow us clear and into the river, then proceeding to sea for the week out.
The weeks at sea and the weeks in harbour came around with routine regularity with nothing exciting to record. With the crew, discipline was good, the mate and petty officers handling the men with decided tact and discretion – a satisfaction to me to have them contented and comfortable.
By the middle of October the port of call had been changed to Harwich and the cutter Rose that had been employed with the trawling fleets now joined the herring drifter patrol, with the same week at sea as the Victoria.
The herring fleet were now fishing from twenty to forty miles to the eastward of Lowestoft-ness. There was the usual assembly of drifters – Scots, Yarmouth and Lowestoft men working to the southward and eastward of Smith Knoll Lightship, the Dutchmen keeping outside or to the eastward of the British boats. This fishing ground was about ninety miles distant from our nearest port of call, Harwich. A good day’s run with favourable conditions, when relieving for the week out. The cutter returning to port would usually be nearing the harbour by the time the relieving cutter was underway, leaving a clear berth.
The officer commanding the Rose, my senior by a few months, was one of those smart dapper sort of men, very particular in his dress and appearance, his vessel also always spick and span, very ambitious, always fond of being first and foremost in all things and not averse to the limelight.
Leaving Grimsby on the morning tide in company with the cutter Rose, although she was far ahead of us, the Victoria reaching through the water faster and making more speed, very soon commenced to shorten the distance between us. The commander, who could not bear being second in anything, apparently did not relish seeing his vessel being overhauled by another cutter and in order that we should not sail past him, he hauled his fore sheet to windward thus choking the weigh on the vessel until we came abreast. Then, after exchanging a few words, altered his course to the southward and by nightfall was far astern and out of sight.
In the last dog watch the weather was rapidly changing and the wind freshening from the north east. We held our course to the westward seeking sea room outside the sand banks – discovered later – but the Rose returned to the Humber for shelter. After reaching a good offing, in order to make contact with the drifters the course was altered to the southward thus sighting the fleet at daylight.
A few days previous, a ship with a cargo of timber had grounded on the Hasboro Sand, the deck cargo having been jettisoned, the whole sea was scattered with floating planks. To attempt the salvage of this flotsam and turn the same over to the receiver of wreck was not worth our while, a sufficient quantity for a few weeks firewood satisfied our needs.
Our duties with the herring fleet were of a ding dong routine, accepting the wintry weather conditions of strong winds, fog, sleet, and storms. Frequently on the day appointed for putting to sea to relieve the inward bound cutter the conditions would be anything but inviting, but there was no grumbling. Ours was the policeman’s job – not nearly so hard and disagreeable as that of the fisherman, in the shooting and hauling of their endless train of nets and the handling of the fish, making for the harbour each morning and sailing again immediately after the landing of the catch.
In the middle of November when cruising about twenty miles off Lowestoft, the cutter Rose hove in sight. She had apparently been far away to the eastward on the fringe of the drift net fleet and was standing in to make the land. After speaking and giving him our position we gradually separated, each following their own course.
It being Saturday, the most of the fleet had returned to harbour and would remain in for the night putting to sea on the Sunday for the night fishing ready for Monday market. As the day advanced, with a falling barometer, there was a change in the appearance of the weather followed by an increasing wind from the north, north east. The anchorage in Hollesley Bay offered some shelter, it was then distant fifty miles and in the afternoon the Rose hove up.
Not caring to run away to leeward, after full consideration, in preference to riding out a gale under canvas, it was decided to go into Yarmouth Roads and trust to the anchors and cables. For safe riding under the threatening weather conditions a long scope of cable would bring less strain on the anchor, consequently we brought to with seventy fathoms on a single anchor. The Seamew had already come to an anchor in the roads.
By midnight the wind had increased to the force of a storm, with a rough sea, the vessel riding bows under. I had never before witnessed any vessel straining so heavily at her cables and questioned if it would not have been preferable to have remained at sea under canvas. As the hours passed, and the gale having apparently reached its height, although still riding heavily, with good cables there was nothing to fear.
On Monday the gale having subsided and the fishing boats putting to sea, the anchor was weighed following in their wake. The Rose found shelter in Hollesley Bay riding out the gale in company with the black diamond carriers bound for the coal ports in the north. On Wednesday the day for returning to port, our outward bound relief passed with a cheerio.
In our next week out, the fishing fleet having by this time dwindled, the fishing slowing down and – Saturday – the most of the boats were in harbour. Both the Rose and ourselves were at anchor really having a quiet day, hoping that the Sergeant would not appear around the corner.
Late in the afternoon, about an hour before lighting up time, a fishing patrol gunboat in passing, the Commander playing the part of the funny man, made the signal: ‘The senior officer is coming onto Harwich’. The Commander of the Rose responded, and not wishing to be caught dodging, or to lay himself open, immediately weighed anchor and stood away to sea. Knowing that it would be dark in an hour, it was decided to remain at anchor and take the chance.
By the 16th of December – at Harwich – the herring season now drawing to a close, orders were received from the senior fishery officer containing our dismissal from the fishery patrol to proceed to Hull, the headquarters of our parent ship.
Xmas was drawing near and with fourteen days leave awaiting the crew, no time was lost. The following morning the anchor was weighed at daybreak, and making a good days run, came to in Yarmouth Roads for the night, in anticipation that the wind would favour us for crossing the Wash the next day. The following morning weighing at an early hour, with a fresh breeze, after passing Cromer the wind veered to the north-west, increasing to a fresh gale. Although anxious to get across the Wash, the sea becoming so turbulent and high there was no alternative but to hard up and run back into Yarmouth Roads for shelter to await more favourable conditions.
The next day, with a favourable breeze, another attempt was made, and the run across to the Humber completed under favourable conditions, coming to an anchor in Grimsby Roads for the night. Weighing with the morning flood, by noon we had reached and moored up in the Queen’s Dock, Hull, the first watch immediately proceeding on Xmas leave.
January brought with it snow, ice and strong gales. We were not sorry to be in dock as a change from the North Sea.
After inspection by the district captain and everything found satisfactory, a list of necessary repairs was submitted and about six weeks labour taken in hand by a local shipbuilding firm, taking a further six weeks to complete, thus giving one the opportunity of seeing a little of my home at Grimsby.
On completion of the refit the vessel was again detached from the parent ship for fishing duties under the orders of the senior fishery officer. The first orders were ‘to sail from Hull on a specified date, proceed southward and take on the patrol with the small trawling fleets working between Orford Ness and the Texel, with Harwich as the port of call.’ This duty was by no means tedious and the weeks passed away with nothing interesting or unusual to report.
The commencement of the herring season now drawing near, the orders were changed: “Proceed to the north and join in the patrol for the protection of the drift net fleet, working between the Farne Islands and the Tyne, making Shields or Hartlepool the port of call”.
Returning to North Shields for the week in, I had the pleasure of renewing my acquaintance with my old shipmate Mr X of the Rose now settled down as a landsman, all his seagoing worries at an end.
The men after having had a few days in harbour were ready for the week out and all appeared to be happy in the duties of the fishing patrol.
The next week in was spent at Hartlepool, at least that was the port of call. Having been granted a few days leave, I made my way home to Grimsby. The next day a telegram arrived from the mate: “Ship ordered to Shields”. The first train was boarded for my return journey, leaving the dock on the next tide for passage to the Tyne.
In connection with the salmon fishing at the mouth of the Tyne, there had been a dispute between the inshore fishermen from South Shields. The orders were to investigate into the nature of the dispute and report accordingly.
The salmon fishermen had disagreed on the methods lately introduced as to the class of net used by certain of the fishermen. Those who held that the net always used – according to custom – should be adhered to, others that a new class of net lately introduced should now be used. The outcome of the dispute was that those holding the former views, taking the law into their own hands, attacked with stone those holding opposing views, ending with a free fight between the rival factions. On the arrival of a fishing cruiser and a little pacifying talk the dispute was very soon amicably settled.
During the next week at sea, although a summer month – August – when strong gales are not usually so prevalent, while in company with the drift fleet working between Hartlepool and Flamborough Head a very strong north west gale was encountered. At the time we were in company with a numerous fleet of Scotsmen. When the gale came on they were in the act of shooting their nets, no doubt thinking it was just a summer breeze that would soon blow itself out. The shooting of the nets was continued, with the result that they had to wait for the abatement of the gale which lasted thirty six hours before they could be recovered.
Standing in to the mouth of the Tyne, it was decided that if a tug could be attracted, we would pass the tow rope and return to port. The usual signal failing to entice a tug out of the river, there was no alternative – with nightfall coming on and blowing a strong gale with close reef canvas – but to stand away to sea again.
By September all the herring landings were being made at Grimsby and usually by that date our port of call would have been the same, but on account of a dispute between the owners and crews of the Grimsby trawling fleet – the whole of the fleet being stopped and in harbour the fishery cruisers were, for fear of trouble, forbidden to call there but rather return to Hartlepool.
Towards the end of September the orders were: “Return to Hull for week in”. On the date of our return to harbour, while waiting in Grimsby Roads for the morning tide to proceed to Hull, when the fish dock gates were opened, to my great pleasure the Grimsby steam trawling fleet put to sea. It was evident that the dispute had been settled. Seeing no reason why the order to proceed to Hull should not be disregarded, a tug was engaged entering the dock for our turn in.
By October the general fishing was conducted from the ports of Yarmouth and Lowestoft and the port of call for the fishery patrol transferred to Harwich.
The prime duty of the North Sea fisheries patrol was that of preventing the clashing of interests between British and foreign fishermen and between British trawlers and British drifters. That stretch of the North Sea between the latitudes of fifty two and fifty three degrees was at that date a most prolific trawling ground and constantly worked by sailing trawlers both foreign and British; those from Lowestoft, sometimes those from Brixham and Ramsgate. Also trawlers from Ymuden, Ostend and other continental ports – the Ostend men always said to be the worst offenders. In the past, with no controlling authority, there were frequent depredations caused by the trawlers coming across the drifters’ nets, causing no end of damage and loss of valuable fishing gear, leading to friction, hostile feelings, quarrelling and lawless trawling. And when the boats – as they sometimes did – came side by side there had been cases of open conflict between the opposing crews, with never-ending complaints to the government authorities from both the trawlers and drifters. The trawling could only be prosecuted with safety – to trawler and drifter gear – while the sea was clear of the drift nets.
During October, November and a part of December the great shoals of herrings were to be found in this part of the North Sea and the great fleets of British, Dutch and Belgian drifters were there in hundreds reaping the harvest of the sea, practically excluding the trawlers from fishing during the night while the drift nets were in the water, their only chance was a spot clear of drift nets, or trawling during daylight. This condition of affairs becoming so intolerable the governments of the interested countries were compelled to appoint an international convention, with the object of drawing up a set of rules for the guidance of fishermen of all nations working in the North Sea.
The recommendations put forward by the Convention and approved by their respective governments contained a considerable amount of detail, embracing every aspect of the deep sea fisheries as prosecuted in the North Sea, with rules meeting every conceivable happening between fishermen on the high seas. Rules without an authority to enforce the same were of little or no use. It was therefore agreed that a police force should be established for patrolling and enforcing the rules as drawn up by the said Convention, each country to provide a certain number of patrol vessels. The major part of the expense of the patrol fell on the British government, seeing that the Royal Navy provided by far the greatest number of patrol vessels.
At the time of which I write, the North Sea was so very well policed that it was very seldom that special action had to be taken. Occasionally a foreigner would be arrested for fishing within territorial waters, or a coper selling his tobacco within the prescribed limits. A better understanding between the fishermen of the different nationalities and between trawler and drifters, combined with the presence of a police patrol, was usually sufficient to maintain order.
During the periods at sea, weather permitting, fishing boats were boarded – British only – detailed particulars obtained and tabulated for the information of the senior fishery officer in a weekly report, keeping him fully informed and prepared to answer any question that might happen to be fired at him by the powers that be.
In the matter of small expenses, some senior officers – probably pressed by the Keeper of the
National Purse – were forever cheese-paring, cutting down expenditure by the saving of a shilling or two here and there.
With the sailing cruisers it was not always advisable to enter or leave the narrow docks and harbours under sail. Sometimes with the traffic of fishing boats and other craft it would be attended with risk of damage to your own vessel or to others. It was therefore customary in such cases to employ a tug at a charge of seven and sixpence or ten shillings to tow in or out.
It happened at this time that the Senior Officer disapproved of this usage, insisting on entering or leaving port under sail and, that if a tug was employed, to state the reason for so doing and noting the direction of the wind.
The Senior Officer had given us the option of spending the week in harbour at Lowestoft instead of Harwich and for certain reasons it was decided to spend a week at Lowestoft. This harbour, with the narrow entrance and the strong tide running across its mouth, was always a tricky place to enter, especially for a vessel of the size and tonnage of the cutter Victoria with a draught of thirteen feet. If left to my better judgment, instead of running a risk in order to save ten shillings, a tug would have been employed.
The orders were: “Sail in if possible”. As the Senior Officer was in the harbour, he would probably have said there was no difficulty in entering under sail, or reason for hiring a tug. The attempt was therefore made to enter the harbour under sail. Waiting – as far as my judgement would allow – for the most favourable moment, “high water slack” with a fresh breeze, after setting sufficient canvas to have the vessel – as I thought – under control and to give her a plenty of weigh to shoot the pier heads, the anchor was weighed and the vessel proceeded.
Fishing boats under sail were racing in one after another. Seizing what I considered to be the opportune moment, the harbour entrance was attempted. On approaching the south pier and expecting to shoot straight in, as the fishing craft were doing, the strong tide running to the northward caught the vessel by the heel and twisted her right across the harbour mouth.
What of the craft following astern? For a minute or two the question gave me a nasty sensation. I contemplated fishing craft bunching up side by side between the pier heads. There was no alternative for the smack following but to come on. It was impossible to see how he could clear. Nearing the south pier he put his helm down and shot around the pier head across our bows with barely room to clear. Fortunately – as it happened – the smack’s rigging caught the end of our bowsprit, pulling us around heading straight into the harbour and clear of the tidal influence. The smack’s rigging then skipping clear without damage. To say the least that was a relief to me. A few minutes such as one would not wish to experience every day and all to save the Chancellor of the Exchequer the sum of ten shillings, when it might easily have run up a bill for a hundred pounds.
After that experience I was very wary not to attempt leaving or entering any of the tricky harbours without a tug, let the wind be fair or foul, knowing full well that a mishap might bring about a court of inquiry and a reprimand for jeopardising the vessel.
After a few days leave – from Lowestoft – returned to duty in readiness for sailing the following day. Toward the evening the wind commenced to freshen – necessitating the use of extra mooring ropes and hawsers – increasing to a violent gale.
A vessel having grounded on one of the sands, the Caistor lifeboat was launched in a vain endeavour to rescue the stranded crew. After buffeting against wind, sea and tidal currents for a considerable time the crew undaunted in their mission of mercy; it proved to be more than the boat could contend with, eventually capsizing with the loss of the gallant crew. At the enquiry into the loss of the boat, the former coxswain, an old man, was asked if under the circumstances he would have turned back. To the everlasting honour of the men of Caistor, his reply was swift and concise: “Caistor men never turn back”.
King Edward the VII hearing of this old hero of many a storm commanded his appearance at Buckingham Palace. After the interview and the old coxswain about to be dismissed, he was reported to have ventured in his homely fashion to thank His Majesty for all his kindness and expressed the wish that he might reign in heaven.
By the following evening, although the wind had somewhat abated, there was still a very angry sea breaking on the shore. One of the fishing smacks in running for the harbour missed the entrance, going in on the beach on the back of the south pier.
There apt to be a steam cruiser in the harbour. The commander, a gentleman standing about six feet with a sharp hatchet face, a red nose and eyes with that faraway look, as if forever peering into the future. One of those ever ready to play at any game of make-believe if it would in any way appear well and exalt him in the estimation of the senior officer. Probably thinking this was a chance of gaining honours, manning the ten oared cutter, he proceeded out of the harbour. By the way, with the intention of carrying a line from a tug to the smack in order that the tug could pass his bow rope on board. Knowing the reputation of this gentleman, that of never missing a chance of appearing in the limelight, our interest being aroused, it was decided to land and watch his manoeuvre from the pier.
The line was first secured on board of the tug and the boat then backed in under oars toward the smack. So far so good; then arose a little curl on the sea, between the boat and the smack. The order to the bowman to “hold onto the line” was distinctly heard. After a long pause “slack away the line” was the next order. The sea between the boat and the smack was breaking a little. “Hold onto the line”. The heart of the would-be hero had apparently failed. The smack must be left to her fate and the smack’s men left to be rescued by the LSA. No doubt the gallant one remembering that discretion is the better part of valour, he very soon coiled in his line and returned to the sheltered and smooth water of the harbour. The next morning the sea having gone down the smack was hauled off by a tug.
The following day, going on board to wait on the Senior Officer for orders, the hero of the life-line was there before me, no doubt with the intention of getting his interview over first and presenting his written report of the gallant attempt at rescue of the previous evening. It so happened that I arrived in time for the both of us to be ushered into the Senior Officer’s cabin at the same moment. After the Senior Officer had discussed the weather conditions and given his orders, as we were about to retire, my contemporary drew from his pocket and handed to the Senior Officer a written report of the smack stranding on the beach and of his attempt to render help. The SO did not appear to show any interest whatever nor did he pass any congratulatory remarks. In fact it fell very flat indeed and I felt sure was rather disappointing. Seeing through this little bit of sham, naturally I was inwardly amused.
In this gale of which I have made mention my old ship the Flora parted her moorings in Kingstown Harbour and drove ashore becoming a total wreck, all the crew being saved.
My predecessor in command of the Fly, of whom mention has been made, commanding the cutter Active, had brought his vessel to an anchor in the Firth of Forth, taking up an inshore berth, with a short scope of cable, sufficient for a temporary anchorage in fine summer weather. With a freshening wind and an approaching storm no attempt was made to find a safer anchorage. The vessel continued to ride with the comparatively short cable. With the result that the anchor failing to hold she drove ashore becoming a total wreck, two seamen only being saved.
By the 20th of November hundreds of Scots boats had left for home. Consequently the sea off Lowestoft was not quite so congested at night. The men were now counting the days when they would finish with the herring fisheries and enjoy the privilege of a few days leave.
On the 18th of December we were dismissed by the Senior Fishery Officer and ordered to proceed to Hull and report arrival to the captain of HMS Galatea, our parent ship.
At daybreak on the 20th of December the vessel was unmoored and every preparation made for the voyage to Hull in the least possible time, in order that the first watch could partake of their Xmas dinner at home with their friends. Sails were set. The spirits of every member of the crew buoyant as we left Harwich harbour under all possible sail, with a fair wind and a fresh breeze, increasing as the day advanced. Every stitch of canvas was crowded on in order to our making a good run during daylight. At four pm, eighty miles had been covered in eight hours, a very satisfactory speed, and everyone pleased in anticipation of a good run across The Wash.
What a marked change was this day on the sea, in the matter of traffic, when compared with the days of September and October. Then it was fishing boats in endless numbers; the usual traffic to and from the Baltic ports and the ceaseless stream of black diamond carriers between London and The North. Looking in any direction there was always plenty of company, but on this dark December day, only one sail was sighted – that of a timber-laden barque from Sweden bound south, battering against a strong head wind, who attempted to speak. But the passing was so fast that there was only time to shout the bearing of Orfordness and no more. The waters off Lowestoft that had been so crowded had now taken on the appearance of a deserted ocean. The loneliness reminded one of the words of Coleridge:
The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into the silent sea.
Daylight, now rapidly giving place to twilight, to be followed by a long winter night, preparations were made for whatever might befall in the way of wind or storm. Sail was shortened, boats secured on deck, topmast housed and every movable thing secured. By midnight Cromer had been passed and the Dudgeon Light was in sight, with every prospect of making a good passage across to The Humber by daylight. With the turn of the tide against us and the wind veering to the north west for the next six hours, no ground whatever was gained. To hold our run was as much as we could do.
The days that are now recalled were those in which glass houses for the protection of the officer of the watch and the helmsman – in general use today – were unknown and impracticable with sail. There was no alternative but to face all weather and trust to a good waterproof and sea boots.
After being on my feet for sixteen hours my back had become rather tired and painful. Inside the sandbanks in somewhat narrow waters of a dark winter night one could not think of going below for sleep. Remembering that I had a plaster in my cabin which was said to relieve any pain, be it due even to toothache or corns, going below I promptly clapped it on my back, returning to my watch on deck. After a time the pain commenced to shift from my back, travelling down and down finally into my sea boot or rather my leg below the knee. That was even worse for me, as now I had only one leg on which to stand.
At four a.m., now under a double reef mainsail with a plenty of wind and sea the wind having headed us, the mate, one of those smart sort of men, completely educated, with nothing to learn, more inclined to dictate than obey, relieving the deck to keep the morning watch, on sighting the Dudgeon Light to windward, wanted to know what we had been doing all night – he had been in his bed probably asleep for seven hours. My reply to that was: “You will soon find out what we have been doing”. Then giving the necessary orders went below for a rest. With the turn of the tide and the wind again favouring us, in a few hours we were across The Wash, had entered The Humber and came to an anchor in Grimsby Roads, very glad that the short voyage from Harwich was finished with.
At the close of the herring season the fishing cruisers attached to the Harwich district were, when dismissed, at their home port whereas those belonging to the Hull and Scottish districts had a voyage to make back to the port of the parent ship and generally pinched up to the last day or two before Xmas.
The river Humber rarely free from traffic, particularly on the flood tide, was not at all times the most desirable stretch of water for the handling of a vessel under sail. Proceeding up the river on the following day, when nearing the anchorage abreast of Alexandra Dock, tugs were in the act of pulling out a large steamer and right across the fairway, the wind being right down the river and working up back and back with a strong flood tide. There was not much room to play about. The river pilot and tug skippers were not indifferent to the situation and putting forth their best efforts allowed us just enough room with a little manoeuvring to pass under the steamer’s stern.
After the rough passage everything below as well as on deck was disorderly. Wet sails, wet clothing, in fact everything wet and well-washed. It would require a full day and fair weather in order to make things presentable. The annual inspection was the last thing that one would think of, yet before the anchor was down there was a signal from the captain of HMS Galatea: “Proceed into the Queen’s Dock, the captain will inspect ship at three p.m.”
Just the one hour in the year when it was desirable that ship and men should be at their best and now the annual inspection, without any time whatever for preparation, was rather disappointing. The captain however must have reconsidered that order, probably thinking it was hardly fair. The inspection was deferred until ten a.m. the next day. That was a little better; at least it gave us the chance to shake off our sea boots and oilskins. Carrying out the inspection according to custom, the Captain, making an allowance, pronounced his satisfaction and gave an order that the first watch could proceed on Xmas leave immediately. Thus the holiday season now at hand, with the opportunity of a few days relaxation all hands appeared to be well pleased.
1902 – Two Hot Heads
The work in connection with the annual refit was placed in the hands of Earls Shipbuilding Company, it being necessary to take the vessel from the Queen’s Dock to Earls Yard and slipways, the contractor providing a tug for the purpose. The tug pulled us out of the dock and around to the yard. It was the intention of the dock foreman to place the cutter in a cradle and then heave her up on the slip clear of the water. They were however late on the tide; consequently she caught the ground at a most awkward spot close to the head of the jetty. There she stuck. The tug could not pull her off.
To what extent the responsibility now rested with the shipbuilders or to what extent I was still responsible for the safety of the vessel was not defined in the contract. I had visions of her falling over on her side and filling on the next flood so commenced hustling the dock foreman to place blocks of wood at the pier head, get out tackles to keep her from falling outward and so on. Fearing that serious damage might arise, it was for me a very anxious hour. But “all’s well that ends well”. She settled quiet as the tide receded but by no means on a satisfactory bearing. I was not sorry to see her once again afloat and removed to a safe berth.
After the repairs were completed the vessel was again placed at the disposal of the fishery officer from whom orders were received to take on the patrol with the trawling fleet working between the Outer Dowsing and Borkum making Grimsby the port of call. At this time it so happened that my chief petty officer and petty officer were from the land of bog and blarney – a land whose people are noted for their kindness, sympathetic nature, fine sense of humour and ready wit, usually unselfish and good shipmates. Unfortunately these two did not always work amicably together, the petty officer resenting any orders from the chief petty officer. Having that hot germane blood in their veins it was only the discipline ruling their daily lives that prevented them from showing it in a manner more forceful than words.
The vessel moored in Grimsby dock. Leaving the chief petty officer in charge I went ashore for the night. In the evening a messenger came to my house to say that my presence was required on board. Arriving at the dock and going on board, it was only to find that these two hot heads – to whom one had to look for the maintenance of order and discipline – had been having a hand at fisticuffs (or in plain language been fighting). There was evidence on the both of their faces that a real game had been played, the chief petty officer having a mark or two on his nose and cheek and the petty officer – quite a common outcome of a free fight – a lovely black eye. This was a grave misdemeanour and if reported would bring in its train punishment to both. Not wishing to make a case of it, it was allowed to slide. I, however, decided for their own sakes and my peace of mind, to get rid of one. The petty officer was eventually passed on but he did not reign for long and was very soon – not being fit for the Fishery and Revenue Service – discharged from general service.
For a couple of weeks the port of call was changed to Harwich. Eventually orders were received to proceed north and take up the patrol with the herring drifters, making Hartlepool the port of call. On the voyage strong northerly winds were encountered, compelling us to shelter in Yarmouth Roads for several days. Day by day the number of coasters – all bound north – was on the increase, until the company numbered about three hundred. There were three-mast schooners, brigantines, Yorkshire Billy-boys, schooners, ketches and a brig or two – now almost an obsolete rig – making up every rig of sailing craft imaginable. These miles of sailing craft – rapidly waning and giving place to steam – were a fine sight not to be forgotten and rarely if ever to be seen again. Although it was a summer month the weather was very unsettled and stormy. About one half of the coasters declining to trust their anchors in this roadstead got under weigh running back to Harwich or Hollesley Bay for a more sheltered anchorage. Although the riding was rather heavy, those who remained at anchor held on without loss or damage.
With the return of moderate weather all the wind-bounders were soon under weigh. Sailing much faster than the heavily laden coasters and reaching ahead we were very soon taking the lead and in a few hours had left them miles astern. After falling in with the herring drifters and dodging about on the fishing ground for a few days, another cruiser arrived to take over the duties.
Aimlessly cruising about as we so frequently were it was always necessary to be on the lookout for carelessly navigated tramps. On one occasion we had a very narrow escape of being run down. The night was fine, a smooth sea, clear atmosphere and a light breeze. We were just moving through the water on the starboard tack.
At eleven p.m. I had retired leaving the chief petty officer in charge of the deck. Awaking about four bells in the middle watch, I got out, went on deck and spoke to the officer of the watch who reported all correct. I returned to my cabin. After some little time, not having fallen asleep I heard an order to slacken the sheets to get weigh on the vessel, then the order ‘starboard the helm’ followed by ‘hard a starboard’. What does that mean? Now a remark by the officer of the watch that conveyed to me that another craft was approaching on the danger line. Time to move! I jump out of bed and rush on deck. An approaching steamer not keeping a good look out was at first showing his green light to our red – a danger angle. The officer of the watch not observing any indication of the steamer altering his course decided that it was time to get out of the steamer’s way and put his helm to starboard. Almost at the same instant – now very close – the steamer altered his helm to port showing his red to our green, reversing the danger angle. Seeing the position I immediately reversed our helm to port in order to show our red to his red – safely. The officer of the watch remarking: “You will hit him Sir.” My reply to that was: “I don’t care as long as he does not hit us!” Fortunately the steamer passed across our bow with nothing to spare, almost touching.
Rousing in the sheets and trimming the sails the commotion for a few minutes was rather pronounced. The watch below hearing the unusual racket on this quiet still night jumped out of their hammocks, rushing on deck, to see a steamer close enough to throw a biscuit on board. Had I not been awake and instantly on deck altering the helm, I feel sure nothing would have saved us from being run into – an experience that one would not wish to have repeated very often.
With the cramped conditions on shipboard it is the little happenings from day to day that make life merry or otherwise and a trifling matter is sometimes seized on for a little amusement or mirth even though it be at the expense of the finer feelings of another.
While in harbour it was found necessary to send one of the men to the doctor – the admiralty agent. Having diagnosed a form of skin disease rarely fund attacking ‘Blue Jackets’ and not wishing for him to be taken on shore and placed in sick quarters, he ordered that the man was to be kept on board, isolated and a certain form of treatment applied. The only isolation available was inside a canvas screen in the space outside the cabins occupied by the mate and petty officers. The mate, who was always very spruce, clean, precise and particular in his dress and appearance, resented this arrangement. Seeing the isolation order was given by the medical officer, it was unquestionable. He therefore dared not put up any definite opposition.
The petty officers – not quite so fastidious – who did not appear to care where the man was isolated and seeing the attitude of the mate in the matter, were rather amused and together decided to have a little innocent fun out of it. The chief petty officer was made responsible that the remedy was used regularly in accordance with instructions. The concoction supplied by the doctor, with which the man was directed to anoint himself twice daily first having a warm bath, was the most vile smelling stuff imaginable, penetrating into the cabins and the men’s living quarters and although the skylights were opened for the smell to escape, it was pretty pungent while in use.
When the Chief PO, who to all appearances was very particular and conscientious in the matter of carrying out his duty and to effect a cure in the least possible time – prompted by the Petty Officer grinning in his cabin – standing outside of the screen directing the man to remember the doctor’s orders and lay the stuff on freely. The Mate became simply furious, just exactly what the Petty Officers were playing for. On the second day he lodged his complaint with me, enlarging on the enormity of using this vile stuff just outside of his cabin. When asked if he had any proposal, he could only say the man should have been sent on shore. It was pretty obvious why the Medical Officer ordered the man to be treated on board. I must confess, looking at the funny side, I found myself amused at the attitude of the Petty Officers in playing up to a very exacting officer.
In June the port of call was changed to Grimsby. Arriving at that port, a communication awaited me from the Admiralty with my appointment to HMS Fanny, in command. I was at a loss to know what class of vessel this could be as none of the cruisers now bore that name. Apparently some four months earlier the Admiralty had – after their officials had inspected several vessels on the sale list – decided on the purchase of two steam yachts for conversion into fishery cruisers. The Fanny was one of these. The former owner had this vessel built according to his own design, quite apart from the usual lines followed by the yacht builder. His design combined the sea keeping qualities of the steam trawler and tug – the model favoured that of a tug, even to the heavy belt outside – with the comfort and accommodation of a yacht. She certainly was a handy and seaworthy vessel.
With my appointment, information was afforded me that certain alterations were being carried out by a shipbuilding firm at Falmouth to which port I was to proceed and take charge. Seeing that all my service had been in sailing craft – with the exception of a brief period in the Seamew – naturally I was very pleased at the thought of a change from sail to steam.
In the course of a day or two my old shipmate, the nautical expert and blustering second mate of the Seamew came to relieve me. The following day I bade goodbye to the Victoria and her crew, thus finishing with the North Sea Police Patrol once and for all.