Having come to anchor off Stranraer at the end of the previous day the crew were up at first light to steam Jeanie Deans into Stranraer on Saturday 6th November 1965 to take on water and to drop off the Lamont’s engineer. A highly experienced man he looked very old to my young eyes as he sat on the platform in the engine room wearing an old and rather battered tweed suit topped off with a trilby hat which seemed permanently glued to his head. He had sailed with us from Greenock just for this first leg of the trip to provide initial help and guidance to our new Chief Engineer Arthur Blue who had joined us at a moment’s notice to take charge minutes before we sailed from Greenock.
As we sailed up Loch Ryan to Stranraer the port officials were not expecting to see us. Remember that the world in 1965 was a very different place from what it is today. Now VHF radio and mobile ‘phones have revolutionised communications. Back then mobile ‘phones didn’t exist and the Jeanie Deans wasn’t fitted with VHF. So our early morning arrival alongside the western side of the railway berth at Stranraer took the staff there by surprise. “You can’t berth here. That’s the mail boat berth” was shouted up from the shore so we backed off and came in again this time on the eastern side of the jetty to berth starboard side to.
A gangway was put out. An official came aboard to see what we wanted. Water was the answer but as it turned out there wasn’t a suitable hydrant on this side of the jetty. “You’ll have to back off and come in on the other side for that”. he said. So we backed off and came back in where we had originally berthed on the western side port to.
The issue with losing the boiler water the previous night had been a concern so a decision was taken to fill up every available container with water at Stranraer including the lifeboats just in case.
It was now Saturday. I was due back in school on Monday so with the very greatest reluctance I signed off at Stranraer and started the process of getting my fourteen year old self back home to Weymouth.
When my parents had given me permission to go on this adventure it had been on the basis that I would be travelling with Captain Woods, Ken Moore and Alfie Le Page. None of us had envisaged that I would have to return alone from Scotland. But I was used to taking trains on my own so I bought my ticket from Stranraer to Paisley Gilmour Street and from there took a taxi to Glasgow Airport. I wasn’t used to buying airline tickets on my own, or indeed in any other form either, but I marched up to the desk asked for a single journey on the next flight to London, got out my money and the ticket was duly issued with nobody asking me how old I was.
What amazes me now in this world where everything is bought by card, is that I had enough cash on me to do that. But I did. To their great credit my parents had provided me with sufficient funds to dig myself out of any hole into which I might fall and for that I was very grateful.
There was a couple of hours to spare before the flight so I booked into the restaurant and tucked into my first proper meal in a week. The flight went well. I took the airport bus back into London being much cheered by the flashing Lucozade sign on the side of a building on the outskirts of London and then on to Waterloo and train to Weymouth where I arrived at 6am the next morning.
I hadn’t twigged that the 10.30pm train took a very circuitous route including going in and out of Southampton docks on its way to Dorset so I was disconcerted to wake up half way through the journey to find the train moving in the opposite direction to that it had been going when I fell asleep.
On arriving home I went straight to bed and slept all day waking up briefly in the evening for a dose of my Mum’s delicious beef stew before going back to bed again. All this revived me after my adventure, doubtless helped to start the process for healing my lips which by that stage were quite sore, and I was back at my desk in Weymouth Grammar School first thing on the Monday morning for double physics followed by Latin and maths. That all seemed just a little bit flat after such an exciting week living aboard a paddle steamer.
Meanwhile Jeanie Deans herself had been caught out in a storm in the Irish sea on the Sunday and was seeking shelter in the lee of the Isle of Man.
To be continued.
This article was first published on 6th November 2020.