A Supernumerary at Sea

A couple of posts ago (My Forever Home) I mentioned that I’d spent a bit of time living on a ship (four ships over a three year period, to be precise) – and I promised a post about it.

Back in 1980 in Sheffield, I married my first husband. Sheffield is an unlikely place to meet and marry a Merchant Navy officer! For those of you not based in the UK (and many of you aren’t: this blog had visitors from 32 different countries just in July!) Sheffield is about as far from the sea as you can get.

This isn’t the husband who just left me, this is a whole other husband. The First Husband (TFH for short).

When we married, he’d just been promoted to Third Mate, and was working for The Bank Line. They did regular runs from the European coast down to the South Pacific islands, out through Panama, home through Suez. Yup, all the way round!

As an Officer he was entitled to take his wife with him – so that’s what he did. In August 1980, aged 19, I joined my first Bank Boat, the MV Forthbank.

We joined the ship in Hull. To be honest, with all the talk about South Pacific islands, Hull wasn’t where I’d expected us to start. But if you want exotic travels, you have to start somewhere.

For a girl who’d previously only been abroad once (to France, on a school trip) it was all mightily exciting.

Ten days in Hull (waddaya mean Hull isn’t mightily exciting?!?) then across the channel to Hamburg, then Rotterdam, Antwerp, Le Havre – and finally away from the European coast and off, heading for the Panama Canal. Deep sea.

Every day a little warmer, the sky a little brighter, the sea a little bluer.

We fell into something of a routine. TFH up at 7 and on watch from 8 – 12. I would get up later, and the steward would bring me tea and toast at about 10.

Yes – we had a steward!! He cleaned the cabin, changed the sheets, brought food if we asked him to, and would have done our washing – but that was a step too far. I did that myself.

At noon TFH would come down from the bridge and we’d go to the bar for a drink, then the saloon for lunch, then he’d sleep for a couple of hours, and I would go to the pool.

Yes, there was a pool!! It was about 4m x 4m, and the water sloshed everywhere if the ship was rolling – but the water was wet and the sun was shining and I looked fabulous in a bikini back then.

Dinner at about 6, watched over by a portrait of the Queen; the guys in their uniforms, me in something smart. The stewards waited on us – I was ‘Memsahib’, the guys were ‘Sahib’. It was all everso colonial. Then TFH on watch again, 8 until midnight. I would spend the evening in the bar with the guys, playing cards or table tennis, or watching videos – then I’d wander up to the bridge at around 10 in the evening.

I’d make us a coffee and we’d watch the world go by. Sea and sky, and stars – so many stars. Nothing else – deep sea there are no sea birds, and you rarely see another ship. Every night warmer than the one before. At midnight, we’d head to the bar for a drink, then into our bunk by about 1 in the morning, ready to start all over again at 7 in the morning.

Seven days a week.

There was a lot to get used to. Our cabin was about half the size of a normal bedroom, with a bunk bed, a day bed, a desk and chair, a small bookshelf, a coffee table, a wardrobe and a porthole. And that was it – our only private space for six months. The swinging of cats was strictly prohibited.

Everything was called by a new name – the floor was the deck, the ceiling was the deckhead, the walls were bulkheads. Going ashore was ‘going up the road’, the dining room was the saloon, the bed was the bunk, a settee was a day bed, the radio operator was the sparky and the electrician was the lecky. Left was port and right was starboard, the front was ‘for’ard’ and the back was ‘aft’, the Captain was the Old Man…

And I discovered that I was now a supernumerary. Surplus to requirements.

That was the new word I had the most difficulty with. Like I said, a lot to get used to…

OMG – before I started to write this post, I wanted to just check a couple of facts about Bank Line in general and the Forthbank in particular. Google found a site called Bank Line Online, I made contact, and now I’ve been invited to do a guest blog for them!!! How cool is that!

If you’ve enjoyed this, let me know!! Comment, Like, Share, Email or Follow – the choice is yours.

I always reply to comments from nice people.

24 Comments Add yours

  1. oldhowie says:

    I so enjoyed your sea adventures I hope there is a part two And cool about the blog for Bank Line


    1. Thanks!! I think I’ll have to do a Part Two – lots more adventures to write about!! We’ve only just left the European coast, we haven’t even made it to Panama yet, let alone got to the South Pacific!!


  2. anglosvizzera says:

    Gosh, sounds very exciting compared with what I was up to at 19! Great about the invitation to the Bank Line blog too!! You’ll be a real hit, I’m sure! (Will they pay you?!)


    1. Thanks!! No, no talk of money, but at this stage it’s just nice to be asked. However, if there was anyone out there that DID want to pay me…


  3. fairwinz says:

    Shelagh. Looking back at your interesting accounts…….


  4. fairwinz says:

    Shelagh. Looking back at your interesting accounts…….


    1. Glad you’re enjoying them.


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