Having arrived aboard the previous night we were all up at the crack of dawn to shift ship from the outside berth on the pier by the side of the slipway at Lamont’s Shipyard, Port Glasgow, to the fitting out basin at 7am.
I had watched paddle steamer manoeuvring on and off piers all my life pass quietly with nobody ever saying anything to anybody else, ever. All signals were given by telegraph or hand movements and such operations passed off in complete silence. I was therefore taken aback by the scenario in the shipyard. There were so many hands about on the shore each shouting at each other and with a dock foreman in charge shouting further orders to Captain Woods on the bridge. I looked at Captain Woods and asked if it was always like this in shipyards. He smiled and said “sometimes.”
Anyway, we shifted ship the couple of hundred yards into the fitting out basin and for the rest of the day work proceeded on preparing her for the voyage south. All the saloon windows forward and aft had been boarded up with wood. So had the windows to the deckhouses with those facing forwards actually plated over with steel sheets which had been welded on. I recall the pilot next day asking where we were taking the ship and on being told the Thames expressed his surprise as he thought the boarding up was more suitable for a trans-Atlantic voyage.
The day passed and I spent my time exploring every corner of the ship including the bridge and marvelling at what a grand vessel she was with all sorts of kit I had not seen before. For example the wheelhouse had a proper box for switches for the all the lights in which I noticed that there was just one switch on one circuit for both the binnacle and the emergency telegraph. And so on.
I can’t pretend that the grub was up to much. Indeed compared with my Mum’s cooking, which at fourteen was about the limit of my culinary experience, it came across to me as on the wrong side of disgusting but there we are. In the afternoon I went ashore and bought myself a bottle of Lucozade in a shop near the station which cheered me up and kept me going.
And then came the evening. What to do? How to fill up the time? In a spirit of adventure I took myself off to the railway station and caught a train to Glasgow, bought myself a bottle of cherry fizzy pop in a kiosk there and then caught the next train back. This was full of people, some the worse for drink, talking in strong Glaswegian accents that I found hard to understand. So I was pleased when I had navigated the dark streets of Port Glasgow back to Lamont’s Shipyard and the comforting security of Jeanie Deans although I did hear a bit of a party gong on in the crew accommodation in the bow that night.
Tomorrow though the adventure was really due to start. A pilot had been booked for 10am to take us out on trials.
To be continued.
This article was first published on 2nd November 2020.