On September the 12th 1973 I travelled to Liverpool to join the Lamport & Holt vessel Raeburn, a 6274gt general cargo ship, for a ten week trip down the east coast of South America. Lamport boats were regarded as “Chatty but Happy” and the Raeburn was no exception. And with a run like Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina they could easily get crews, even though their ships were spartan to say the least, because that part of the world was very popular with seamen, for reasons I won’t go into here!!! Back then the crews were very young too, I was one of ten Able Seaman, and the Bosun who was only 24 years old, was the oldest man on deck.
We sailed down the river Mersey on the 14th and out to a damp and dreary Irish sea, and twelve hours later with Bardsey Island’s light fading astern, we settled down for the16 day passage to our first port of call Recife, on the north east corner of Brazil. I was on the 8 to 12 watch along with another A.B. and the third Mate, and as the ship was on autopilot, two watch keepers on the Bridge was all that was required, so myself and the other A.B. worked an hour about on lookout, while the third Mate was the officer of the watch.
Four days into the passage, we were off Madera, that beautiful outcrop of Volcanic rock off the Portuguese coast. Where just about every senior citizen in Europe have been on their holidays, (It’s a bit like Ibiza, where the young go, but without the noise and the wet T shirt competitions!!!!) But in 1973, at the dawn of the “Package Holidays” and cheap flights, it was reserved for the “well heeled.”
It was my stint on the Bridge between 10 and 11pm, on a warm and moon lit night, with scattered clouds and the odd shower passing through. I first noticed a faint light, low in the sky right ahead of us, but after only a minute or two it had become a weak “Rainbow”, at the time it must have been about three miles away, but as our speed was 16 knots, it wouldn’t take long for us to reach it, I called the third Mate out to have a look, and by the time he arrived on the port Bridge wing, it was most definitely a “Rainbow”.
In 1973 I had only been at sea five years, but this was my fifteenth voyage, and in that time I’d heard tales about every thing you could think of including, u.f.o’s, ghosts, ghost ships, sea monsters, green flashes at sunset, and of course weather phenomenon, St Elmo’s Fire, Ball lightning etc etc, but “Rainbows” at night, No, no one had ever even mentioned them, and yet there right in front of me, this perfect bright silver “Rainbow”. The third Mate was equally amazed, and asked me to nip down below to call the “Old Man” which I did, without touching the steps on the way. Capt Williams, was on the Bridge in a flash, thinking that “his” ship was in imminent danger (I have that affect on people sometimes!!!!) but once he was out on the port wing, he fell silent. After what seemed like hours, he blurted out that in all his years at sea, not once had he heard or read anything about a “Rainbow” at night.
"Party night on the Raeburn"
Next day the “Leg Pulling” was at full pitch, even my choice of hard drugs for Bridge watch keeping was discussed!!! That is, until they found out the “Old Man” had seen it as well, and then the lads were satisfied that “he” would never be part of any silly prank.
(Moonbow!!!) It was a full ten years later before I found out what the “proper” name for it was. I was in Dublin on a container vessel, listening to a phone in program about weather on the radio. When a man phoned in from the west coast of Ireland, he had seen a silver “Rainbow” while fishing on a beach late one night, and the weather condition were identical to the night that I saw one, showers and a near full moon. One of the panel of experts in the studio told him that he had seen one of the rarest if not the rarest phenomena in Meteorology.
(Footnote) To this day I have only met one other person that has seen a “Moonbow” and that was spotted in the South Pacific in 1975, while on passage from New Zealand to the Panama canal.
Lamport & Holt Fleet in 1973
* I also sailed on the Raphael in 1974
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