I Ain’t no sailor bold – Voyage in a Collier


‘I ain’t no sailor bold, and I never was upon the sea’ I can no longer sing with truth. I am one of those newspaper fellows, and so on many occasions have I joined, ‘dinners and concerts which I have attended professionally in the chorus of this well known song.. But ‘where are you going for your holiday? Said a well-known and rightly popular captain of a cricket team–Alfred is his name–whose ground is a mile— a good way within a mile–of the grounds in West Greenwich. ‘Don’t know, myself but I think I shall spend it Spaion for once’. Just – another friend- a friend he was but I do not how that I thought so when I was being so tremendously rocked in the cradle of the deep off the Yorkshire coast – suggested that we should take a trip, a free trip, round.

Being, as timid, a newspaperman I accepted the offer, and  I made the stipulation, however; that I must be back within a week. We did not go by the boat we had intended, and therefore when we left Greenwich our destination was South Shields. It was three o’clock in this afternoon of August 22 that we went Deptford Pier, and there was shown our vessel, the Canto. Our two wardrobes were packed in one portmanteau, yet there was room for more. ‘This is Captain Kennett,’ said the old foman of the wharf, ‘and these are the two gentlemen who are anxious to accompany you back to South Shields.’ The introduction took place in the captain’s cabin, where also were seated two other passengers, relatives of the first mate. We shook hands I shall never forget the grip of the captain’s, hand shake and within the space of half an hour we were at the Naval College, Greenwich, correctly described as one of the finest buildings in London. My cabin was a little ‘for’ard. We made the acquaintance of other members of the crew -as well the pilot, who was generally admitted to be one of the best’ on the river. The first and second mates I had also spoken to, and my first impression that they were jolly good fellows was amply justified by a closer acquaintance afterwards. We were privileged to go on the foc’astle, and therefore had a good view of all; I heard the pilot say once that that was a near squeak, and the tide turned and the captain of a barge what he thought of him. He said to me that through his stubbornness- pilot used no such a word–he was nearly the cause of his own barge being run down by us as well as nearly killing us too.

We soon got to Gravesend, where our pilot left my companion, and us and myself were soon in conversation over the GAS COMPANY with Captain Kennett. How delighted I was and how at home I felt when I knew that he was a man of Kent, being myself a native of the county town. The evening shades were closing when we got to Southend, but might had overtaken us at last, it had myself-without knowing it, so pleasant had been the conversation and so informative the information as to how, amid the multitude of light vessels, a route could be safely navigated. Incidentally photography was mentioned, and the first mate, whose name I now knew to be Talbot, invited me to his cabin, where he soon convinced me that he was a past master of the art. He had taken some really pictures of relatives as well as of lovely spots he had visited. Mr. Talbot, too, is also a fine musician. But this by the way.

Again ascending the bridge, I was in time to join my friend in witnessing the lights of Clacton, Walton on the Naze, and to see the huge passenger vessels leave Harwich for Rotterdam, Hamburg, and Antwerp. Talbot then suggested forty winks, and these were about all we had that night. The captain, however, who retired with us, was soon in another world, and when the watch changed and he was informed that we were off Southwold, all he did was to inquire ‘what is today like ?’ Daylight had not then made its appearance, but the second mate, Bowman by name, who has weathered many a storm and has been in almost countless wrecks, was able to pronounce ‘Aye, sir, beautiful.’ ‘Aye,’ replied the captain, who was, in the words of Alfred, ‘soon driving his pigs again.’

Come out, you fellows, if you want to see the sun come out of as ocean,’ said Talbot in his stentorian voice. We were it ‘a just off Yarmouth, and although we did not leave our bunks immediately, we did see the sun rise out of the sea. A great sight it was too. We had not been on the bridge long before the welcome voice of as Steward said, ‘who says tea?’ and gave us each a cup which was very refreshing. Here let me pay tribute to him— I do not know when I have enjoyed my food as much as I did during as few days I spent on the Canto, so excellent cooking. Alfred says the same thing. I only missed one time.

That was breakfast the first morning aboard. We were passing Cromer and on our way to the Wash a breeze rose up, and for a long period we had had plenty of knocking about. No more need be said, with the exception that it was a little rough. Our two fellow-passengers who had been board only a day were confined to their cabin all day. Each must speak for himself–and I thoroughly enjoyed the next hours, for the most part out of sight of land, the going in to Flamborough Head, where the sea has formed caves; on to Filey, Scarborough, Whitby, Middlesborough- which is always full of smoke- thence on to Sunderland.

In the in middle 1 had a very interesting chat with Captain Kennet, who has been on the ocean more than fifty years. His experience has been very thrilling, and I only wish I had the space to chronicle it here. There was a sadness in his face when he said that he thought he had had his share. He had just sustained a severe bereavement, for seven weeks previously he had buried his wife. ‘Only those who have lost such a one as she, can realise what it means,’ he said. I immediately turned the subject.

It had been my first experience of seeing whales, but when at the mouth of the Tees they were rising and ‘blowing’ around us in all directions. It was nearly eleven o’clock when we got alongside Tyne dock, but still Captain Kennett had to pay his men, who were all anxious to get home to their wives and families living in or around Shields. Among the crew was an agile little fellow- who will forgive me for saying so, but he is only sixteen years old who filled the position of engineer’s steward. He was known as Toby. He received his money with the others, but he had scarcely got to the top of the cabin stairs when Captain Kennett discovered that he had paid him a day’s wages too much. ‘Toby,’ shouted he, but Toby was nowhere to be seen, and I understood that the money would be deducted the next time he was paid.

We knew that we left again for the ‘Creek’ at eight o’clock the next (Thursday) evening, and we retired for the” night. We were early astir – the captain, Alf and myself. The captain going to his son, who is a leading tradesman of Shields, and my companion and myself on to Newcastle by train. We spent an enjoyable day in that city, returning to Tyne dock about six o’clock, only to find our good ship away from her berth. Captain Kennet had, however, told us that this might be so, and reminded us that the funnel was streaked red and black. I spotted her a long way out in the dock, alongside other vessels. How are we to get to her?’ says Alf. ‘I do not know,’ says I. ‘The captain told us to hail her, but how I know not.’ The Canto was nearly half a mile away. Alongside the quay was a brigantine with firs, and having traversed the quay for quite half an hour; waving our hands frantically trying to attract attention I know quite a number of people concluded we were mad. I told one of the crew of the brigantine our trouble. ‘Canto ahoy!’ shouted he, and immediately one of the crew poked his face over the side of the ship and spotted us. He got into a boat and came to the quayside, and at once said that we had chosen the worst place in the dock to come aboard. ‘There is a ladder there, he added- bars of iron let into the side of the quay, which if anything sloped inwards. How I got down that ladder I know not, but I started with the knowledge that if I fell in it would not be the first time I had been in the water with my clothes on. I landed on to a barge, but Alf refused to budge. I had to get a ladder proper for him.

We got back to the Creek safely and immediately donned our sailing costume’. This I will not describe. We left Shields just before nine o’clock on Thursday night, and we were on tide at Deptford at half-past seven o’clock on Saturday morning, having made two very quick journeys; but in the words of the captain and Talbot, the Canto can outdo any of her class. We had, in my opinion, a rough journey all the way back – off Yarmouth, where we witnessed the London boat going into the Yar. The sea broke right over us and water came into our cabin, and once or twice it came down in such torrents and made such a row that we wondered whether daips were coming down as well but Captain Kennet assured us that no that that was nothing. I look back, upon the voyage and I am sure my companion does–as one of the most enjoyable times that we have had.

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