"Capt Sam K Williams"

Away to Sea

I probably chose a seafaring career owing to childhood influences and environment. I was brought up within a stoneís throw of the sea where I practically lived throughout the summertime. I was hardly ever out of the water, and had a boat as well. It was called Ďcarry me safeí. I caught all my own fish, crab and lobster which was great fun. They were happy days in addition to these influences my whole family was seafaring. With pictures of sailing ships everywhere, conversation invariably appertained to ships and seamen, so I was destined to go to sea.

Having ignored my parents advice and more or less made the irrevocable decision to go to sea, I found almost insurmountable difficulties in getting started on my chosen career, as at that time the country was in the grips of the worst depression we have known. It was heart breaking. Good, honest and hard working men found themselves bogged down in the morass of unemployment. Such, then, were the conditions when I had to start to earn a living. I had made applications to various companies for employment as a cadet or an apprentice, but the situation was so bad that it was impossible to get a berth. I then decided to join a ship in whatever capacity I could. When captainís came home on leave I used to request an interview and ask for a job. Eventually, my fatherís friend, Captain Thomas, promised me a job as Ordinary Seaman. I was very thrilled and excited at the prospects of joining my first ship. The intention was to carry a full crew from my village, but owing to the serious unemployment on the Tyne, the Union insisted on the employing of local labour as well. In view of this half the crew lost their jobs. The captain, told me however, to travel up to the Tyne and pretend that I lived locally. It was in that surreptitious manner that joined my first ship, the SS North Anglia as an Ordinary Seaman.

I was no stranger to a ship, but on joining the old North Anglia, I was quite disillusioned. It was quite a shock. The focísle was dull, bare and depressing and we ate and we slept in the same compartment under the focísle head. Whenever she dived into a heavy sea the whole compartment was awash due to leaks in the deck-head. It was a dismal place to live in; and yet, we were happy and had a certain amount of affection for the old tub. She was a typical tramp ship with all the inconveniences. As soon as we entered the tropics we were almost driven out of the focísle by an invasion of bed bugs, which had been in hibernation. We burnt and scrubbed the bunk boards endeavouring to eliminate this scourge. This was my initiation into the sea life. I could dwell for a long time on my experiences and hardships in that old ship, telling how half the hands were washed overboard in a gale of wind in the Atlantic which she survived, as she did the shelling she endured in the Dardanelles in the First World War. She was a mangy old ship that survived the vicissitutes of her calling. After I had made a voyage in her and earned my promotion to an ABís rating, the ship was laid up and we all found ourselves out of a job.

"San Tiburcio's deck hands, in 1935"

In the comparatively short time of seven months, (for those times) I managed to get a berth as a sailor on an oil tanker, the SS San Tiburcio of the Eagle Oil Company Ė my first tanker!! The accommodation and everything was much better than in the North Anglia. I was quite impressed, and considered myself fortunate in getting a berth on such a ship. I joined her at Falmouth, and off we went to the West Indies, where, on a couple of occasions, we were caught in a hurricane. How we survived is still a mystery to me. The old ship lay helpless in gigantic seas, buffeted and sounded like an old log. From time to time, bits and pieces were torn off her superstructure by the pounding seas; all the boats were smashed and rendered useless. After the storm had passed over, she emerged from her ordeal with many a scar, but still proud and defiant. During the time I spent on this ship, I utilised all my spare time (which wasnít much) in studying for a Second Mateís certificate. It was hard going at first, but a challenge, which my defiant nature was glad to accept. Every obstacle having been overcome it would be a victory won.

The Civil War

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