I joined the Bayleaf in Immingham on the 1st October 1963, this being my first ship in the RFA. I had previously served my apprenticeship with Furness Whithy and then obtained my Second Mates certificate, Foreign Going, in the summer of 1963 before joining the RFA.

 

 

By Richard Walker with considerable input from John Redhead.

I joined this ship as third officer on the 20th April 1965 after having flown to Malta overnight the 18th to 19th to relieving, Neville Wright. I was promoted to Second Officer on the 1st May having taken and passed my Mates Foreign Going whilst on leave between leaving the Bayleaf and joining this ship. I remember Malta as a very pleasant place as we did not have much time at sea which was a change after my year on a freighting tanker, I began to realise what life in the RFA was really all about!

John Redhead joined as Third Officer in May and some of the other officers he remembers at that time were, Chief Officer Bob Miller, First Officer Jim Ormond who was later relived by Jasper Osbourne-Cribb when we returned to the UK. The Chief Engineer was probably Lionel Cochrane and the Second Engineer Ian Harrison. The Senior Radio Officer was George Parker and Bob Champion was another radio officer. There was also a young Radio Officer with whom I was very friendly but I can not remember his name. He lived in Stoke Sub Hamden in Somerset and left the RFA soon after this trip to become an electronics engineer on simulators at Yeovil ton.

We used to lie alongside at the head of Valetta harbour which was a good berth. At the weekend we went Horse Racing at the Massa race course which was fairly close to the ship. We have a few bets on the Tote and invariably came away having paid for the taxi and a couple of beers and if we had a lucky day had a few quid in hand. I also used to go regularly to the Casino at the Draganara Palace with one of the Third Engineers where I used to play Black Jack with a strict limit so if I lost I would get out early. I think the Third used to play Roulette but when we were both finished we used to get a taxi back together, by the time we left Malta I was about £23 in profit, not much but I had had many free nights out and have never managed to repeat this experience. We also had a few runs ashore in Valletta which I knew from my time in Furness Whithy. I don’t remember many trips to sea but we must have gone out occasionally to RAS the Fleet.

 

Wave Ruler

RFA Wave Ruler

Wave Ruler was an old ship compared to the Bayleaf I had previously been on. She was a Fast Standard Tanker and was launched in January 1946 as the “Empire Evesham” for the Ministry of War Transport. She was transferred from Eagle Oil Management to the Admiralty in March 1947 and became the Wave Ruler. She carried 11,900 tons of FFO, Dieso and Avcat and by the time I joined had four beam RAS rigs and of course a stern rig, although we did not use the after Abeam rigs very much.

The Captain was James Archibald Macaucadale Telfer who was the epitome of the extremely tight Scott. He was also extremely taciturn and not a good communicator. You can see he made an impression on me as he is the only Captain I have sailed with whose full name I can remember. As Third Officer, John Redhead tested the gear before leaving Malta shortly after joining and got a bollocking from the Captain for putting on the radar.

We had a Maltese crew who were very contented to be on Malta station as they got home regularly so they were not very pleased to leave Malta. John remembers being at anchor one day off Valetta when there was a fire in the engine room and he found some of the crew on the tank deck with lifejackets ready to abandon ships rather than concentrating on fighting the fire.

We must have left Malta some time in May as we headed East through the Suez Canal for an exercise in the Persian Gulf. We had great difficulty in getting clearance through the canal as the ship had visited Haifa in Israel earlier in the year. Ships that had visited Israel could not normally visit Arab ports as I had experienced as a cadet in Furness Whithy were there were two fleets of ships trading into the Mediterranean, one who did the Arab ports, and one that went to Israel. To get clearance through the Canal the Captain had to pay much Baksheesh which must have broken his heart as he probably did not manage to reclaim it back from MOD.

We went to Abadan to load cargo and then took part in “Exercise Midlink” with Iranian, American and other local forces. For most of the exercise we were not required and anchored in Dohat as Shima Bay just outside the Quoin Islands where it was extremely hot and airless when at anchor so we used to sleep on camp beds on the deck. We were on water rationing at this time and John remembers that it came to light, that Bob Miller used to sneak into the hospital and have a bath, as he sat on the taps one day and injured himself.

The ship returned to Plymouth in July 1965 to tank clean for refit. John remembers being sent up the main mast to look for the Lizard light, as the radar was not working, when we were trying to make a landfall in the Western Approaches before making Plymouth. One of the crew was not well during the time in the Gulf and on the passage back to the UK but I could not persuade the Captain to get a doctor to have a look at him. I was a newly promoted Second Officer so not very experienced in medical matters. He said he was just a malingerer and there was nothing wrong with him so I could not send his ashore to the Doctor until finally we arrive in Plymouth. I managed to get him to the Dockyard Surgery where he was diagnosed with a serious illness and sent back to Malta.

We were off articles from the 26th July to the 4th August whilst we were in refit in Immingham. I member staying the County Hotel in Immingham village during refit and having a trip into Grimsby neither of which place I was very impressed with. I think we left refit with plenty of outstanding defects as that seemed to be the norm in those days.

We sailed from refit on the 13th August and went straight to Portland for restore and Workup from the 14th to the 22nd.

It was on this passage south that I particularly remember Captain Telfer's dislike of using the radar. We were coming through the Dover Straits on my afternoon watch and this was in the days before traffic separation so every ship going in both directions kept up to the English side of the Strait. Visibility was about 1 mile and I suggested when I came on watch that perhaps we should have the radar on but he would not hear of it. So we proceeded through the straits, position fixing with the Decca navigator, with ships suddenly appearing close on the port or Stbd bow out of the mist and disappearing as suddenly astern. Fortunately no one else seemed to be doing what we were doing as we did not meet anyone head on but it was not a comfortable four hours. Another occasion I remember was about 10 miles of Finnistere coming from the south. The visibility had been poor for a couple of days and we had not manage to get any good sights but the Captain would not let us use the radar and I remember scrabbling around on the tank deck trying to get a decent horizon so I could get some reasonable sights to fix our position where as, if we had put on the radar we could have got a good fix off the land. He could hear if the Radar was put on as one of the motors was right above his cabin and if you put it on he would shoot up onto the bridge.

We stretched our rigs and did some RASes with the Black Ranger which was Portland Tanker.

 

Black Ranger

RFA Black Ranger

 

I remember going to see the second mate on the Black to discuss the programme only to be told by the Captain at it was none of my business so after that I showed little initiative in organising things. It was at this time that there was some agreement that the crew would not be paid overtime at sea, so the Captain had them working all hours including all weekend which did not endear him to the crew.

We sailed from Portland on the 22nd August, you did not get much of a workup in those days, and went to Trinidad to load, were we were at the beginning of September after which we took a cargo to Bermuda and then returned to Trinidad. We loaded again at Trinidad and then set sail for Simonstown on the 14th September.

We arrived at Simonstown Naval Base on the 4th October after nearly having a disaster entering Simonstown bay. There was a rock with a lighthouse on it in the centre of the bay called “Roman Rocks” and Simonstown Naval Base was on the West side of the bay which you entered from the South. The pilot had signalled that he would be picked up in position “Roman Rocks 090 x 1 nm” which was to the east of the lighthouse, and I think I had laid this position off on the chart, but in the early morning the Captain had changed it to “090 Roman Rocks x 1nm”.

As we approaching to pick up the pilot, leaving the “Roman Rocks” to stbd, less than a mile from it, the pilot cleared the harbour and saw what we were doing and said on the VHF to leave “Roman Rocks” to port. At this instruction the Captain put the helm hard to stbd and we started swinging towards the rock but he realised that we were too close to clear it so reversed the helm and the rock passed about 20 feet or less down our stbd side so it was a very close call and the seals cleared the rock with great hast when they saw us coming.

John Redhead, as the Third Officer, was on watch at the time and I was standing on the port boat deck just about to go up on the bridge for the arrival of the pilot. As I saw this happening I leapt up the port bridge wing ladder and the thought that went through my mind was that “there was going to be an awful lot of paperwork to do filling in the collision report forms”. The pilot arrived and we berthed in Simonstown naval base, which was only just big enough to take a Wave. We put our bow into the basin entrance and took shore wires which then winched us to the berth port side to on the south side of the basin.

From Simonstown, we sailed round to Cape Town on the 7th. I remember Cape Town as being very pleasant with lots of good places to eat and crayfish at very reasonable prices, so it was our favourite food whilst we were there. Some of us took a trip up Table Mountain on the cable car which was a fantastic view. The Chief Officer was relieved by Graham Rutter a Diabetic who despite his condition liked the odd glass or two.

From Cape Town we returned to Simonstown on the 12th and on the way we did a RAS with a South African frigate who took a long time to connect up but they hadn’t done a RAS for a long time.

On leaving on the 15th we swung the Magnetic compass as it has become unreliable on the passage south, this is the only time I have experienced this in my time at sea. From Simonstown we were ordered to proceed to a position 50 miles south of the Cape and then to open sealed orders we had been given in port. These orders told us to proceed up the East Coast of Africa to meet HMS Jaguar and to remain clear of other shipping.

Before UDI was declared in Southern Rhodesia, HMS Jaguar, a diesel powered frigate, was sent on a secret patrol off Beira and we were to support her.

 

HMS Jaguar

HMS Jaguar

 

The Wave Ruler was not fitted with a heavy jackstay so everything had to be transferred by light jackstay. We met up with her for the first time and I think we RASed fuel at the same time as the Jaguar sent over her light jackstay manned by her crew and we started transferring the Lub oil, which had to go over a drum at a time. All the other store we had for her were transferred on the light jackstay in bags weighing about 300 lb a time so it was a long RAS and here crew were exhausted by the end of it. She appeared to use almost as much lub oil as fuel!

After this first RAS we went to Mombasa were we arrive on the 24th and sailed again on the 25th. We loaded lub oil, lots of it, and provisions and off course the all important mail and then headed south again to meet up with her. In subsequent RASs we sent over our light jackstay and lead it to the winch which made life much easier, also being rigged to a fairly high position on the mast the loads ran down easily to the lower point on the Jaguar.

We visited Mombasa again from the 31st to the 3rd November and it was during this visit that Captain Telfer was relieved by D.G.M. (Don) Averill, who was a breath of fresh air and a very pleasant Captain with whom I got on very well. Because of the lack of use of the Radar under Captain Telfer when we turned on the radar before leaving Mombasa it was found that the scanner motor was seizes and it had to be changed before we left.

It was soon after he joined that Don Averill discovered a letter in the Captain’s cabin from MOD saying that whilst the crew were not paid overtime at sea they were only to be worked on essential duties at weekends. Captain Telfer had ignored this and had them working all hours at the weekend.

The Maltese crew were very keen on animals as lots of them had caged birds in their cabins and several of them brought monkeys in Mombasa. Most of them did not survive very long but one of them they called “Telfer” and dressed up with a blue jacket with four strips on his arm and he used to run about on the after RAS gantry. The monkey “Telfer” could be very vicious but the Bosun sorted him out by castrating him and he calmed down a bit after that.

We again met up with the Jaguar, who cannot have been far away, as we were back in Mombasa on the 6th for the day before sailing to the Persian Gulf.

I remember listening to Ian Smith, the Prime minister of Southern Rhodesia, giving his UDI broadcast on the 11th November 1965. It was broadcast on the World service and I and the Radio officer, who I was friendly with, listened to it on the bridge as we were together on the 12 to 4 watch.

I remember two things against myself at this time, one was that I got the ETA for return to Mombasa wrong, I got the number of days on passage wrong but fortunately realise it about three days before we arrive so we were able to amend the ETA. The other was that I was very mean with my cigarettes and used to bum of most of the other officers. Anyway one day a packet was left in the chartroom and John and Jasper thought they were mine so they glued the cigarettes in the packet and then put up a notice saying “Richard says help yourself” anyway it turned out the cigarettes belonged to the Captain, but I did not live it down.

We went to the Gulf to take part in “Exercise Midlink” and met up with the other ships at sea. The first day was spent doing heaving line transfers to get the exercise orders and frantically trying to catch up with what we were supposed to be doing in the exercise. There were several American ships one of which we were RASing in the afternoon when some ship was getting in the way so he spoke to us on the Bridge to Bridge telephone, something that did not always work with British ships let alone foreign ones, to carry out the Corpen November. We did one alteration of 10 °, which is the normal way of altering when connected up, but we were getting into a close quarter situation so he said to me “are you happy to put the helm over and I will follow you round” I replied yes and we put on 10° of helm to starboard and he followed us round for about 100°, we then put the helm midships and steadied up on the new course. A bit unconventional but it worked and we were all very impressed with his ship handling.

After the exercise was completed we anchored on the evening of the 18th November off Kharg Island where the Iranian naval base was. The wash up for the exercise was held on one of the American ships the following day to which the Captain and I went and then there was a reception ashore in the evening to which some of us went in our Ice Cream suits, the white tunics with the high collar and long white trousers. We met several British girls who were married to Iranian naval officers who had trained in the UK, remember that this was before the overthrow of the Shah of Iran.

After the reception everyone assembled outside for the flag lowering ceremony. The building had a flat roof with flag poles on it with all the flags of the nations taking part hoisted. The band played each national anthem as the appropriate flag was lowered and this went well for the first couple of flags which were local nations. As the third anthem struck up they started to lower the wrong flag, those manning the halyards obviously not being familiar with all the anthems, but we straight away realised the mistake. After much gesturing from someone the rating manning the halyard realised his mistake and quickly hauled up the flag again but the correct flag was still flying at the top of the pole so we waited in anticipation to see what would happen. Suddenly someone jumped forward and wrenched it down unceremoniously as the anthem came to an end. Fortunately they got it right for the rest of the anthems. We of course were all standing to attention shaking with mirth whilst this was going on and trying very hard not to burst out into laughter at this pantomime. We got back onboard very late in the evening and immediately hove up the anchor and sailed shortly after early on the 20th.

We went south out of the Gulf and met up with some British ships who we replenished on our way to Aden were we were from the 8th to the 11th, December topping up with cargo before we sailed south again to Simonstown where we spent Christmas from the 23rd to the 26th December. In Simonstown was the Jaguar and on the lunchtime of our arrived I went and had a drink on her and it was very nice to meet the officers after having supported them earlier on.

From Simonstown we steamed directly north to Plymouth were we arrived on the 13th January 1966 and this is when John Redhead left the ship. We were in Plymouth until the 16th February which was a nice visit as we had been away from the UK since August. We must have discharged the cargo, and probably tank cleaned, and loaded stores before again sailing for Trinidad. After a couple of days in Trinidad loading we went south again, this time to the Falkland Islands.

This turned out to be the first of my many visits to the Falklands but that is for later on. We anchored in the outer harbour when we arrived on the 21st March as we were too big to get into the inner harbour at Stanley. We discharged Dieso and FFO by barge, the FFO going to the OFD on the north shore of Stanley harbour and this did not take too long as it was a fairly big barge with a reasonable pumping capacity so the offload of FFO was completed in about two days. The dieso was taken to the south shore and pumped up to the power station through a small pipe so it took about 48 hours to empty the barge because of the size of the pipe. This meant that we remained in Stanley until the 28th March so we had a good time to look around, not that there was much to see.

I remember going ashore and visiting the John Biscoe or Shackleton, one of the Antarctic survey vessels which was alongside in the inner harbour, it was quite a modern and smart ship and I was impressed. I also walked around the town and viewed the pipe to the power station. At that time on the north shore of the outer harbour was the wreck of the SS Great Britain which was subsequently brought back to Bristol.

The Falkland Islands were duty free and had quite a selection of items in the Company store and I brought a pair of binoculars which I used for the rest of my career at sea as they were much lighter that the standard issue binoculars we had at the time. We also had a party onboard for the locals which they very much enjoyed as it was a break for them to meet different people. I think we also fuelled the Falkland Island Company vessel which can alongside us.

From the Falklands we went to St Helena and anchored off for a couple of days from the 7th to the 9th April. Getting ashore was bit of a procedure as there was no proper jetty and sheltered harbour and quite a swell most of the time. The boat had to get close to the steps and then you grabbed a rope and swung yourself ashore. It was an extremely pleasant sub tropical island and I remember being ashore the first day and meeting someone who worked for Cable and Wireless on the island and he took us on a tour after lunch in the only hostelry in town. Unfortunately we did not arrive early enough in the afternoon to visit the house Napoleon was exiled to when he was in St Helena but we did see the grave he was buried in before his body was taken back to France. We also visited the grounds of the Governor’s house and saw the large tortoises that were reputed to be very old and had been there at the time Napoleon was on the island. After a drink on this chaps veranda we returned to the ship and the next evening we threw a party onboard for the locals, which was enjoyed by all, especially me as I was slightly under the influence on the 12 – 4 anchor watch the next morning.

After sailing St Helena we again proceeded to Trinidad to load cargo and then sailed north to arrive in Plymouth on the 2nd May and changed articles on the 5th. Captain Averill then left the ship and was relieved by an old Captain who had been ashore for some time drying out but was now considered fit and well. I remember his wife came down to the ship and he seemed fine whilst in port.

After Plymouth, which we left on the 6th, we went to Pembroke dock for 4 days, probably to load or discharge cargo, and lay alongside “Warrior” which was then a fuelling hulk which was berthed in the river above the main dockyard. I had a run ashore in Pembroke dock, which seemed a dull place, with the 12 - 4 Radio Officer who I was friendly with and I particularly remember discussing a previous incident in which we had both been involved.

Before Captain Averill left we had been hauled before the Captain for exceeding our authority regarding a signal that came in during the night watch. The signal was something to do with a change of rendezvous for a RAS and I worked out it was possible and replied to the signal without first consulting the Captain so he was not too pleased when he got up in the morning and read his signals. The programme worked out fine but we still should have called him before sending a reply. This was a valuable lesson I took forward in my career.

From Pembroke we went off to the Londonderry Exercise Areas to fuel ships which were taking part in anti-submarine exercises off Northern Island in cooperation with helicopters based ashore which I think were training observers and this was their final exercise. After the fuelling we went and anchored in Lough Foyle for one day and then went out to fuel the ships again departing from the exercise area for Freetown on the 15th.

The Captain seemed to be alright for the first 10 days or so but once we set off south we did not see him on the bridge as he remained in his cabin. It then came to light that although he appeared not to be consuming much booze as the steward had not been taking him much he had taken the Bond key from his safe and gone down in the middle of the night to replenish his stock and was consuming considerable amounts. This went on for a couple for weeks the final result being that after Freetown the Chief Officer Graham Rutter took command of the ship and informed MOD of the situation.

We arrived in Freetown, Serria Leone, on the 26th May and stayed until the 3rd June to top up the fuel depot. I particularly remember making Freetown from the sea early in the morning after sunrise, as we had met some ships out in the Atlantic so we were not coming down the coast. I had great difficulty in picking up any land marks as the coast was vey low lying and a very poor radar target and just as I was about to turn round and head back out to sea I saw this buoy on the port bow and was able to fix our position about which I was very relieved. I remember thinking that it would have been better to have made a landfall to the north, where the coast was a better radar target, and after having fixed our position headed down for Freetown.

Freetown was a very run down place but reasonable safe to walk around in though there was a lot of robberies generally of property. One of the Embassy staff took us to his home and I think we stayed over night after a party ashore; he locked every door and window and even locked the internal doors to divide the house. He reckoned that he had never had a robbery, although the houses around had, because he had an African mask above his front door.

After Freetown we headed to Gibraltar to land the Captain to hospital and Captain John Fisher, who was at Headquarters, came out to take us back to the UK. After a day in Gibraltar we returned to Portsmouth on the 14th where we changed articles on the 15th June and sailed that day. I think the new Captain was Angus Paterson but I don’t have any signature in my discharge book when I left the ship but he was on the ship in August because I have a letter mentioning him.

From Portsmouth we went to Rosyth for one day and then sailed round the top to a rendezvous in Cardigan Bay on the 21st and then to Loch Striven the following day. We may have loaded cargo at Loch Striven as the next day we went to Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde and the following day sailed for Fishguard Bay. We spent two days at anchor in Fishguard and then sailed on the 27th to RAS HMS Bulwark before returning to Portsmouth the next day.

We then left Portsmouth on the 28th and went to Rosyth and returned to Portsmouth on the 6th July so this trip was probably freighting a cargo up to Rosyth. The next day we went to Portland were we spent the following day before heading off to Rosyth again presumably for more freighting? On the way up to Rosyth we were involved in looking for a missing fishing boat but I cannot remember any of the details.

From Rosyth we returned to Portsmouth for a day and then sailed to Plymouth where we arrived on the 16th of July and I left the ship.

A very pleasant trip though a bit of a baptism of fire as my first job as Navigator.

 

I joined the Bayleaf in Immingham on the 1st October 1963, this being my first ship in the RFA. I had previously served my apprenticeship with Furness Whithy and then obtained my Second Mates certificate, Foreign Going, in the summer of 1963 before joining the RFA.

 

Richard_Walker

Apprentice Richard Walker before he joined the RFA

The ship was in Immingham undergoing refit but by the time I joined her we were living onboard. We were in Immingham for about ten days before we sailed with many defect items outstanding, I remember that the Engineers worked very hard to try and fix things and we had several engine breakdowns in the first couple of months after refit.

The Bayleaf was a typical tanker of the period of about 12,000 tons Gross. She was built as the “London Integrity” and owned by London Overseas Freighters, a London Greek company, who Bareboat chartered her to the Admiralty in June 1959 when she was renamed “Bayleaf”. She had amidships accommodation were all the officers lived and then after accommodation where the crew were accommodated. The galley was aft on the poop so all food had to be brought along the open deck which could be hazardous in rough weather.

RFA_Bayleaf_A79

RFA Bayleaf

The first Captain was Arthur “Jack” Tarr Senior who was a real gentleman, I remember him showing me how to plot Decca fixes on my first watch down the North Sea as I had not used the Decca navigator before. Unfortunately he was taken ill and left when we arrived in Plymouth and was relieved by Captain E.C. Phipps who I believe was newly promoted. When he was a Chief Officer he was known as “Efficiency Phipps” and it was said that he was the only Chief Officer who could be on the Focastle and Poop at the same time! He gave me a hard time in the first couple of months on the ship, as I was a first trip Third Officer, he used to come up in the evening watch and question me about my knowledge but eventually he seemed to be satisfied and left me alone.

The Chief Office was Ken Letby, a long serving Chief Officer, who was known a “LL”. I cannot remember the name of the Second Officer when I joined but he was much older than I was. I remember him giving me a hard time one day for not doing the pre departure checks when he was on watch as he considered it the Third Officers job. He was then relived by a younger second officer who I got on well with.

The Chief Engineer was a short rotund man who seldom, if ever, left his cabin and his only contribution seemed to be to write up the fair log book. He also cooked all his own food in his cabin and never ate in the saloon, the only other thing I can remember is that he came from Falmouth. The Second Engineer was John Garrod who lived in his boiler suit, possible because the ship kept breaking down, and when not down below could be found lying on his day bed which was visible as his cabin was on the port side next to the saloon entrance. The crew were Chinese who looked after us very well though it was difficult communicating with them. If they did not understand they would still say yes so as not to lose face, so you had to keep explaining something until a look of understanding came over their face and then you knew they understood what you wanted.

Air Conditioning had been fitted to the ship in refit, the machinery being on a platform behind the bridge but it hardly worked if at all. As a freighting tanker we didn’t spent any time at Portland after refit but set off for the Middle East where we freighted FFO, Dieso and Avcat from Abadan to Aden. We used to discharge at the oil refinery outside Aden but I remember occasionally berthing in Aden, which was a peaceful place then, were we enjoyed a run ashore, to buy various goods which were duty free and so very much cheaper compared to home. I bought an Omega Sea master watch which I still have on my wrist.

I don’t think we had any abeam RAS rigs at that time so the only means of RASing was by stern rig which we did not use very often. We did some pumpovers with RAS tankers, if I remember rightly one of them was the brand new Tidespring, probably on its first trip east, who supplied the a-beam gear. The pumpover took from early in the morning to late evening.

The Chinese crew used to buy all sorts of goods and then sell them to the locals in Abadan who used to come down to the jetty on the river in considerable numbers until the police got wind of it.

We plied backwards and forwards to Aden until March 1964 when we returned to the UK getting back to Plymouth in April. After that the ship freighted to the West Indies and around the UK, some of the time to Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde. I can remember having lunch in Glasgow one day with the Chief Officer. This was a rare treat as we normally worked quite hard and did not have much time of between trips; perhaps we had finished cargo and were waiting for the tide to sail.

I remained on the ship until the 12th October 1964 when I paid off in Newcastle where the ship went in for refit.

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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