The Aureol

It was customary for the mate to call all the lads up to his cabin one by one during the last few days of a trip, then he would tell you if you had been a good boy or not on the voyage, and whether he wanted you back the following trip or not. On the other hand it was your chance to tell him that you didn’t wanted to come back, and this is what I did in January 1970, as we raced for home up the Channel, on my third and final trip on the Perseus. This was indeed a lottery, as many seamen would tell you, you could quite easily leap from the frying pan into the fire, especially when leaving the likes of the Perseus, which was a happy ship, many of her crew had been on her for years, because of this very fact. You see, you had the power to leave a ship, but you had no control over your destiny, it was up to the company where they would send you next, so my leave after this trip, was full of doubts as to whether I had made the right decision or not.

Aureol on the Pier Head Liverpool

In 1970 Blue Funnel was part of Ocean Fleets, which comprised of several companies Glen Line, Elder Dempster, Henderson Line, O.C.L. and Seaway Ferries, plus some other whose names escape me now. After three weeks leave I travelled to Liverpool and joined Elder Dempster’s “White Swan” well that wasn’t her proper name, but it was her given name by the people of Liverpool. The “Aureol” was as different as chalk and cheese from the Perseus. She was a passenger vessel of about 14,000 tons that had a regular run down the west coast of Africa. She could carry nearly 350 passengers and had a crew of about 150, with her yellow funnel, gleaming white hull, with its gold band around it, and a well raked bow, she looked more like a yacht than a glorified ferry. She would sail from the Pier Head, calling at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, Freetown, Monrovia, Tema, and Lagos, Nigeria, there she would stay for five days then called at Takoradi, Monrovia, Freetown, and again at Las Palmas, five days later she would be back on the landing stage on the Pier Head. Her trip was about five weeks, she would be in Liverpool for 12 days and the cycle would start all over again. She was as regular as clockwork, and would arrive at every port at exactly the same time of day every trip. Because we were a Mail boat, we would have priority at every port, Lagos Nigeria for example had over 300 ships at anchor during this time, because one of its government ministers, in his wisdom had ordered several million tons of cement at a cheap rate from Europe, and it all arrived at the same time!!! Some ships were at anchor for over a year and several sank without ever reaching their destination, others would drag their anchors and end up on the beaches, the cement had hardened in the holds of many of them, and they went straight for the breakers yard, without discharging a single shovel full, it was quite simply mayhem. But we would weave our way silently in between this huge armada, and into port without any hold ups whatsoever.

Most of the passengers we carried were British Nationals, that worked in various jobs in West Africa, with schoolteachers, oil workers and quite a few missionaries, which included many Nuns and Priests. And there was also quite a few people just cruising, and on one of my trips on her, the owner of the Gwalia Bakery in Pwllheli was doing just that.

The Aureol was twenty years old when I was there and many of her crew had been on her from new. As was always the case with this type of ship, there was a pecking order for just about every activity on board. When tying up for example, the ones that had been there the longest through the heaving lines, no one else was allowed to touch them, while the rest of us struggled with her massive mooring lines. You had to be careful where you sat at meal times as well, the longer you had been on her the further up the mess-room you could sit, and on one occasion I sat in someone's seat who had been on the ship from day one, and the looks that I got were quite frightening. Her crew bar (The Pig & Whistle) had two long benches facing each other, on one side sat the Liverpool supporters and on the other, Everton, and us nonconformists in the middle drinking schooners of export Wrexham Lager. As you can imagine, Saturday nights were very entertaining, especially if one or the other had lost. I think this is the main reason that to this day, I have very little time for that “Beautiful Game”. But all in all they were a good bunch of lads, and I must say that I enjoyed three good trips on her.

Leaving Las Palmas on her way home

When homeward bound on my final trip, it all came to a crashing end, so to speak. I was given a pot of white paint to touch-up some rust marks on the forward mast, and on the way up, the pot handle slipped out of my hand, the pot span on the way down, and the north east trade winds caught it, which resulted in her immaculately scrubbed wooden decks being covered in spots of paint, in fact her whole fore-part, windows and even the funnel was covered as well. But worst of all, was the passenger on a deck chair below me, he looked like a negative of a Dalmatian dog, and it took me quite a while to remove the paint off him with thinners, by the end of his ordeal he was red raw and covered in a nasty sort of rash. Understandably I wasn’t asked back the following trip, in fact the mate didn’t want to see me on the way up channel at all. And my stay on the “Spotty White Swan” was over.

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In under two years I was to return to the Aureol as E.D.H. (Efficient Deck Hand) and I managed to stay there for eight trips, during this time her home port was changed from Liverpool to Southampton. I finally left her on June 29th 1972.

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Elder Dempster Fleet in 1970

 

Vessel Build Tons

Akasombo

1950

7,431

Aureol

1951

14,083

Bhamo

1957

5,932

Clearway

1970

1,160

Daru

1958

6,340

Degema

1959

5,902

Deido

1961

6,109

Dixcove

1959

5,905

Donga

1960

6,565

Dumbaia

1960

6,558

Dumurra

1961

6,160

Dunkwa

1960

6,109

Ebani

1952

9,396

Eboe

1952

9,387

Egori

1957

8,586

Falaba

1962

7,704

Fian

1964

7,689

Forcados

1963

7,689

Fourah Bay*

1961

7,704

Freetown

1964

7,689

Fulani

1964

7,689

Kabala

1958

5,445

Kaduna

1956

5,599

Kumba

1958

5,439

Mano

1957

8,539

Obuasi

1952

5,883

Onitsha

1952

5,802

Oti

1956

5,485

Owerri

1955

5,798

Owerri

1958

8,504

Patani

1954

6,183

Pegu

1961

5,764

Perang

1954

6,177

Skyway **

1968

1,279

Speedway

1968

1,204

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* I also sailed on the Fourah Bay in 1972, and Skyway in 1972 ~ 73

 

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