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Blue Bar No 2

"...And Just When We Thought It Was Safe!!!"
Part Eight
by Gordon Sollors

Blue Bar No 2


Continued from "...And Just When We Thought It Was Safe!!!", Part Seven


NEW YORK


Leaving any port one is always in one of those “reflective” moods when, if it is from a home port, one thinks about family and so on. If it is from a foreign port, then as the port disappears over the horizon, so too, do most of the thoughts about it. One adjusts to life at sea, going on watch, and before long, the next port is being contemplated. Such is the life of a sailor. No sooner has one left port, than one is looking forward to the next port, and so it goes on.

With the war well and truly over, sealed orders were no longer the order of the day. Even before we left Halifax, we knew that we were bound for New York – about three or four days sailing. Since the ship was owned and run by Messrs Elders and Fyffes, whilst in New York, we also knew that we would come under the agency of the United Fruit Company of that City. We wondered if at last, we might be going to see the sunny Caribbean for a load of bananas. It was reassuring to hear, once again, the continual splash, splash, splash, of the blades of the propeller as they hit the water.

We finally sailed past the Statue of Liberty, and the notorious Ellis Island where countless immigrants to the USA had, over the years been “processed”, and where many Merchant Seamen had memories of spending time after deserting their ships in New York. Sailing on, and further up the Hudson River, to the Cunard Berth at Pier 90. As a somewhat small and insignificant cargo boat, we felt a little bit out of place in this part of the port where once the mighty trans Atlantic ocean liners had queued up to berth. As it happened, we had to “wait for orders” for a few days. We were more than happy about that! It was April, and the weather was fine. Going ashore was great. It was almost four years since I had been in New York, and I had never been ashore in the big City. I was quite excited at the prospect.

Unfortunately, on our first night ashore, we had a brush with the law. Three of us were walking along one of the large Avenues not too far from Times Square. We saw one of those huge (obviously) American cars that one only sees in the pictures. We had stopped to admire it. Before we knew it, two of New York’s Finest (although we didn’t think so at the time!) rounded us up against the window of the nearest brightly lit large shop, and asked us what we were doing “eying up” the auto? It didn’t take long to convince them that we were really just a couple of awestruck kids admiring a motorcar. I think our accents convinced them more than did our words. Apparently, a “sizing up” motorcar on the busy thoroughfares of New York was not, at that time, the thing to do.

However, the magic of being in such a world famous place was not lost on us, and we enjoyed many experiences of life in the big city. As it had been in Canada, eating ashore was always a pleasure. I had no worries about the quality of the food that was served up as I had in many other parts of the world. We got to quite like calling in at a Munson’s Diner not too far from the dock entrance. Munson’s diner was an old converted bus that had been fitted out as a café. I suppose it could have been among the fore runners of the “fast food” places. Most of the stuff served up was fried eggs, bacon, and other quick to serve meals. On leaving, the bill was presented in the form of a bus ticket, with numbers on each side. The cost of the meal was represented by holes punched in the appropriate numbers – quite a novel way of presenting the check!

At another bar we visited, not too far from the dock area, the wife of the Italian owner brought in the most wonderful meat balls, cooked in all sorts of spices that we hadn’t even heard of let alone tasted. Whatever the ingredients were, they were absolutely wonderful, and provided one had bought a couple of beers there, they were relatively cheap. In most of the “up town” bars, every tenth glass of beer was free! I was not a great beer drinker, but most of the blokes reckoned that the American beer was “not up to much” (or words to that effect!) Another “must see” place was Jack Dempsey’s Bar somewhere near Times Square. Apparently, the great man himself put in personal appearances every now and then, and boxing fans from all over the world just wanted to meet him, or just even say they had seen him. We did find the bar, but meeting Jack Dempsey was not one of my priorities, so I soon lost interest.

Somewhere along the line whilst we were in New York, my cabin mate, Atso Vinberg, the Finnish national, had made contact with some local Finnish nationals, and had got himself invited to a Finnish Dance in some remote part of the City. He asked me to go with him. I have no idea where we went, but we ended up in a rather large hall, full of people, most of whom spoke Finnish. Atso had not been back to Finland since some time before the war, and it was interesting to see that after having had to speak English for the past few years, he had now lost some of his ability to converse freely in his native tongue. As he conversed with his friends, his lack of Finnish was such that I could understand most of what he was saying! However, we enjoyed the evening, and the venue was so remote from where the ship was berthed, that we had to waste precious dollars on taxi fares back to the ship.

That had been Easter Saturday night, and the next day (Easter Sunday) would be a day off. Once we were up and about on the Sunday morning, word soon spread that the Queen Mary, complete with a full passenger list of British War Brides, would be docking on the other side of our pier later that morning. The record of the “Queens” during the war had been awesome. Their record runs across the Atlantic had been legendary. I had not seen either of them before, and like most seamen of the day, despite the fact that we saw large ships on many occasions, the really big ones always aroused that “special” interest. It had already been said that their collective ability to transport something like one and a half million men to the war zones of Africa and Europe had effectively shortened the length of the war by something like two years.

I was quite excited at the prospect of seeing this mighty liner at close range. What made the arrival that much more interesting was that the tug boat men were on strike, and the Captain would have to berth the ship without the aid of tugs. It was a warm, and sunny morning, and we decided to make the most of our good fortune, i.e., that of being “on the spot” to witness this largest of man made objects that was capable of moving, sailing up the Hudson River, and berthing without the aid of tugs, considered to be essential in the manoeuvring of any ships in close proximity to the docks.

From the stern of our ship, we had a good view down the Hudson River, so we would have plenty of time to be aware of the “Mary’s” approach, and so position ourselves in the most advantageous position to watch the spectacle. We had already “checked out” the shed, and found that the top deck was reserved for relatives who were beginning to fill the place up. We would have to be content with standing on the quayside, and keeping out of the way of the longshoremen who handled the mooring ropes.

We had seen the Queen Mary approaching slowly up the river. Quite a few of us had gathered on the end of the pier to watch her. In our collective wisdom we had already decided upon a strategy for the Captain to follow. He would be opposite the end of the pier at precisely high tide. This meant that there would be no current to affect the ship, one way or another as she turned head on to the berth, in which position he would be beam on to any incoming or outgoing tide which could have influenced the ship’s movement.

Well, he did in fact, wait until high tide before approaching his berth. Used as we were to watching ships of various sizes berth, this was a spectacle. We watched the ship, almost dead in the water, slowly turned ninety degrees to starboard by means of the propellers. When at last she was close enough to the pier, and in line with the berth, ropes were brought ashore, and as much as possible, the mighty ship slowly inched ahead, making as much use of the ropes that were already on the bollards as possible. When one rope had served it’s purpose in one position, it was move further up the quayside to another bollard where it would perform its steadying task, and another rope would be run out from another position on the ship. Eventually, as she moved further into her berth, we could see ropes being sent ashore from the stern. This now gave the Captain more precise control of the ship as she moved into position, almost inch by inch until finally, all the head ropes and the breast ropes were ashore and made fast, and of course, the same down aft. She had come in completely unaided by tugs, and under the control of the Captain, and we had not even heard a scrape of paint.

Oblivious to the nautical drama and the feat of seamanship that was being played out between their ship and the shore, were several thousand War Brides and relatives, all now calling out and waving to each other as the ship approached the pier. For me, and I’m sure, several other crew members, watching this spectacle was to be one of those “to remember” sights. Once the Longshoremen had finished their task and it was safe to walk along the quay without obstructing their work of tying up the ship, we took a walk along the length of the ship. She was still painted in her wartime Admiralty Grey. She towered above us, from memory, I think her forward draught was about thirty nine feet. From close up it was possible to see in detail, the huge degaussing wires that were affixed to her hull. By now, passengers had started disembarking into the sheds above, to meet up with their husbands and in many cases, their new in laws. Baggage was being offloaded into the lower part of the shed, so we had to step carefully. Down at the stern end, the design of the plates was almost as impressive as the mighty bow plates which had moments before, towered above us. Looking along the quay, here was the giant of the oceans, at rest.

THE END


Gordon Sollors
September 16th, 2001
Shipline

TO RETURN to my Introduction, "A Look at Life in The British Merchant Navy in the Forties", Please Click Here

TO RETURN to The Earlier Chapters of "”….And Just When We Thought It Was Safe!!!” please click on the links below:

Part One: SS Empire Abbey,
Part Two: Our Problems Begin,
Part Three: Our Problems Continue,
Part Four: On the Brink of Catastrophe,
Part Five: Foundation Franklin,
Part Six: The Third Attempt: Tragedy Strikes
Part Seven: Halifax at Last and
Part Eight: New York


TO RETURN to My SS St. Clear Voyage, Part 1: V for Victory, Please Click Here.

TO RETURN to my story about the SS Marvia, "My Last Wartime Voyage", Please Click Here.

TO RETURN to my story about my early days aboard the troopship SS Orion, "My First Trip to Sea", Please Click Here.

TO RETURN to my "Stories of a Merchant Sailor" trio of short stories, please click on the links below:

Part One: Peggy Boy
Part Two: Christmas in America
and
Part Three: Steering Lessons.



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