Ian Martin, volunteers for Hull Maritime and was an Able Seaman on the Wilsons Ship, Rialto a 5,000-tonne ship. Ian spent 15 years working at sea.
Here he recounts one particular trip, leaving London on Thursday 27 February 1969, which turned out to be one of the roughest trips of ships’ career.
Most of the crew were from Hull, and we were traveling from London to Bermuda on charter to Royal Mail Lines.
Captain Cook, from Walkington near Hull, had spent 30 years at sea and he said it was the worst storm he had encountered.
We were carrying a cargo of luxury items such as whisky, gin and brandy amongst other items. It should have taken five days to get to Bermuda but by the third day the weather gradually got worse, and we all began to realise this was no ordinary storm.
The winds were mountainous, and the photos were taken by one of the crew do not reflect the ferocity of the storm. The sea became angrier and angrier and even some of the deckhands who had made the crossing numerous times remarked how bad it was. The Rialto had no automatic steering, so the wheelhouse had to be manned twenty-four hours a day and we all had to take turns steering the ship, I was put on the 8-12 watch.
We were out at sea for about four days and ships were sinking all around us. One crewman was blown from the ladder and injured his leg during 60mph winds. Some of the waves were 20-30 feet high and sometimes the ship couldn’t lift itself over the waves and we crashed straight through them. When this happened the ship gave a huge shudder and tons of water came crashing over the bow and onto the foredeck which disappeared under it. When this kind of weather happens it’s just not possible to keep going at any speed because the ship would just get pounded to bits, so we had to 93 ‘Hove To’. This means slowing the engines and keep them turning to keep the ships bow pointing towards the oncoming waves. So, in fact the ship wasn’t moving forward just staying in the same spot.
Captain Cook played the violin so you can imagine being in the middle of the Atlantic during this raging storm and hearing a violin playing at midnight just above the howling wind as I went up to the bridge on lookout duty. It was just like being in one of those old horror movies we used to watch back home, how crazy is this I thought to myself and when I got back to the mess room, I told them ‘I’d heard the violin’ and said, ‘It’s him causing this storm, playing that bloody violin’ and they were all laughing.
The storm raged on and showed no signs of letting up. Just getting from our cabins across the after deck was a perilous journey in itself. You had to wait for a slight break in between the giant waves and make a run for it and if you were lucky, you made it across without getting swept off your feet and into the scuppers. Although, this did happen once or twice, and it became too dangerous. So, to get to the midships mess room we reverted to going via the propeller shaft tunnel which ran from the engine room to the propeller.
Nonetheless, the crew of 42 survived and our five-day journey took us nine days after being pounded by three separate storms and we eventually limped into Hamilton harbour looking a sorry state alongside the gleaming white American cruise ships. Of course, they knew nothing of what we had been through and some of the well-dressed passengers were taking pictures as we sailed past towards our berth. There, waiting on the quayside I saw a crowd of people and a couple of them had cameras and notebooks in their hands. I found out later that they were reporters form the local newspapers and had learnt of our predicament and had come to interview the Captain about the voyage across.
After visiting Bermuda, we went to Barbados, New Orleans, Florida and Jamaica.
Thanks to Ian for sharing his story. If you have a story send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org