31. My Merchant Mariner Travels Around The World (Part 4)

Not the best news to hear from the Captain when arriving in Cape Town that the ship would be going for a survey in Durban, and that all repairs related to it would be carried out in the Dry Dock there, with a layover of an estimated time of six weeks. Fuck, we Capetonians crew said, not thought, and began making plans to sign off the ship because we would be having only had two days stay in Cape Town. Not me though, been the forward one with hair on my teeth, I approach the Captain to test the waters for me at Safmarine office to see what the possibility was for Joan and Neil, who had been born while I was at sea, to be booked a berth on that ship to Durban. To be sure, to be sure it was frowned on, and was told very politely that only the officers were allowed that privilege. So my only other alternative was to book Joan and our baby son Neil a passage at the Union Castle Lines to Durban, which had passenger ships that cruised between England and South Africa. I also booked it so that I would be in Durban by the time they got there and had organized for their stay. Now you know how it’s said that you get to know who your friends really are when you’re in a bind, well without even asking, my real friends in Durban threw their doors and hearts open to my family without even knowing them. Yes the Lord does work in mysterious ways, and maybe this was another one those. On one of the ships stays there, Sam, an Indian, who on seeing me weave my way back to the ship on the dockland streets, stopped his car to pick me up in my drunken state, drove to the ship, got me to my cabin with the aid of the gangway watchman and left. We didn’t even know each other; he though had done that out of concern and sheer kindness. Two days later he came back to inquire from the gangway watchman about my well-being, which saw him been brought on board and to my cabin. It was his first time on an ocean going ship and it showed, however, after showing him around and introducing him to crew with the story, we made up a collection that saw him leave with cartons of cigarettes and a case of beer as a thank you gift. He must have been that impressed because he put his car at my disposal whenever required as a pickup and drop. He had a casual day job, and for the duration of my stay and other trips he drove me anywhere to my destinations at night, and as re-compensation, I encouraged the crew to use his car as a pirate taxi that earned him an extra income. So guess for my family’s stay in Durban who our driver was.

We were getting nicely settled in, when unfortunately Neil fell ill and we had to take him to hospital where he was diagnosed with gastroenteritis and kept there for three weeks.  I had intended to have them both stay on board ship with me at some convenient time; nevertheless, by only having Joan there with me, eventuated into us having our first honeymoon, and on a ship no less. That was also the first time ever that a non-white crewman had the balls to use a ship’s facilities for a gratis honeymoon, and the crew were amused and taken up with Joan and my audacity in the breaching of ship’s policy. Joan bloomed on board ship from all the attention received from the crew and the admiring glances from the officers because she oozed sex appeal. We were both happy, contented, so much in love and both absolutely sexually gratified. We also spent a weekend at my aunt Violet and Uncle Bill, who lived in Durban, to catch up on family gossip and reminisce about the families in Cape Town. Guess where else I took Joan to, no, not the ‘Chocolate Box’, but to my friends Club House. There was another addition then to our sea mates group of Bazil, Bill and Martin and that was Lionel, who was the new Pantry-man. Surprise, surprise when we walked in there, but not for Ann that knew that I was bringing Joan because she wanted to meet her, but the rest were pretty  impressed with Joan’s acceptance and my honesty. The two of them never got on like a house on fire but mutual respect was obvious and pleasantries abounded though. Nevertheless, I did have some worrying moments when observing the two of them chattering away like two magpies with occasional glances my way and giggling. Never asked because of not been brave enough for what the outcome might be, and what I didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me.  Again we had a braai at her brother’s friend’s sugarcane plantation, but in addition, we even did a tour of the sugar-mill to see the process of the cane into sugar. Yes, Joan also met the other Joan that was a bit awkward, at first.  She knew that I was in Durban and wanted to meet her, but not wanting to be blatant about our relationship, which could have occurred because we were best buddies, we waited for the optimum time. We didn’t actually have long to wait, because fortuitously at a dance that Joan, I and my ship-mates were invited to attend, there she was. She wasn’t brazen in her approach but rather demure, as I knew her to be, but so was my Joan, and her smiling greetings was genuine. On the other hand, the introduction of Joan meet Joan wasn’t what the gods had ordered. It must have been womanly intuition, because for a moment I saw Zeus lightning bolts flash in my Joan’s eyes, and if she had Cyclops eye, daggers would have emerged, especially as she was been towered over as Hercules by the other Joan. In any case, when push comes to shove my Joan was in the master class. When the necessity arose she could ooze charm with a decorum that would charm the rattle off a rattle snake. So with butter that wouldn’t melt in her mouth she made the comment that it was a pleasure in meeting the Joan who took such good care of her husband when he was in Durban. Now knowing my wife that wasn’t a compliment that Joan thought she was paying her, and adding insult to injury, when we were alone, she called her ‘Joan vrot arm’ (rotten arm). Now the reason for that was that her arm was bandaged that night from a burn received, and Joan received gut satisfaction through belittling her that way. Ah the mind and emotions of women.

Another thing that Joan and I really liked and appreciated when I was working during the day on the ship, crew-members would ask my permission to take Joan ashore either for lunch or to see the sights that really made her day, which also made theirs for the two of us been so gracious. Another thing done by my three shipmates, with both our permission, was to keep her company either in my cabin or theirs while I was busy working and they were not. Joan had a melodious singing voice then, and she found immense pleasure in entertaining the troops as it were, when in a get together with crew who played musical instruments on board ship. On the other hand, on my days off I took her to places that they hadn’t. Some of which included the Indian Market for Indian spices, chutney, incense sticks, saris, which I purchased one for her that she liked, face veils, fez, hot curried meals and all other Indian paraphernalia that combined in pungent aromas that penetrated the senses. We rode in the rickshaws of spectacular dressed Zulus adorned out in ostrich feathers and wild animal skins who plied their trade there with high jumps while been conveyed, but it wasn’t a mode of travel recommended if intoxicated. We also did the Golden Mile, which now reminds me so much of the Gold Coast beaches here. Tala wildlife sanctuary blew her away with its big game that included rhino, kudu, hippo, giraffe and antelope, which was her first time of sighting and been so close up to those magnificent animals. And then the rides of her life on  the ‘Green Mamba Bus’, so called council busses because of its green colour as it snaked its way through the countryside to unknown destinations. We went to places like Umhlanga Rocks, which was a peaceful relaxing beachside place to be. ‘The Bluff’, derived from the long bluff of two ancient sand dunes, and is one of the main enclosing elements of Durban Harbour from the Indian Ocean and formed the southern quayside of the Port of Durban, which too reminds me now of ‘The Bluff’ of Sydney here. Not forgetting the lively Cato Manor of small market gardens, African beer halls where the only brew served was skofaan (sogram beer) in the usual tin cans, and the vast African population that Durban relied upon for cheap labour.

With Joan feeling relieved of the cure of Neil’s ailment and out of the hospital, she moved with him back to my friend’s home for the last week of her stay. We crammed in every last spare moment together to make the most of it because for one thing it was going to be her twenty-first birthday while I was at sea, and, wait for it, Joan was pregnant again. When biding Joan bon voyage as she left Durban on a Union Castle Liner again, my thoughts that I would be doing the same to Durban on my ship the next day, didn’t, due to our ship not receiving an all clear for a sea worthy certificate, so we were stuck in port for another week. Thinking to pass that time in Ann’s safe company because of her making Joan’s acquaintance, I somehow got in touch with her to relate our further hold up. She though sounded down in the mouth, unhappy and made lame excuses, so I told her to leave it for another time when getting back from the trip. During that week while I had been hanging out with the crew, they had kept close tabs on me concerning other women. They had seen how in love Joan and I were, and if any other woman just had a slight sniff at me I was steered away, which was the quietest shore leave time of my seafaring days. On the Saturday night though before sailing, the ship’s crew gave a party as a farewell gesture at a seaman’s house ashore. While the party was in full swing with plenty of booze and women, a group arrived with Ann amongst them. We were both surprised at seeing each there; she though had sadness about her. On inquiring discreetly from her friends about the cause, they related that she was still at loggerheads with her parents. No persuasion from me either could eke out what was troubling her, and even drawing on our close friendship in relation to confidentiality couldn’t get an answer. Not wanting to provoke her I tried to make the evening as pleasant as possible by just dancing the night away with her. I sensed and felt though while dancing reciprocation from her to the silent comforting I was trying to instil by her also cuddling closer and squeezing my hand as how before when she was in a happier disposition then. It belied her former actions also when she led me quietly outside to a secluded porch out of sight of her watchful friends and then burst into tears. Her emotions really required me physically then, and even holding her close didn’t seem enough to pacify and comfort her. I waited for her to settle down thinking that she would then confide in me. She instead then held me even tighter and then kissed me long and hard. I was disconcerted for she had never done that before, and my returned kiss was of a tender caring friendly nature. She though must have misconstrued its meaning, for she then began to kiss me with a fervent passion followed by a babbling rush of loving words. I had known that she was found of me, but never expected that display and outburst.  So I countered it while holding her tightly so that it would sink in by telling her that our sort of friendship could have evolved into something more if I wasn’t married, but that my married life meant everything to me. She wasn’t in a party mood after that, and one of the crew when we sailed, approached me about her emotional outburst. It seemed that he had been in earshot when all that had transpired and he accused me of being a bastard for breaking her heart like that because he had heard that she loved me. My following letter to her via a friend was never answered, and her friend on my return to Durban conveyed that her parents had packed her off to family in England, and to an unknown address.

Without telling Joan because of wanting to surprise her I signed off the ship at Cape Town. Was she ever surprised and emotionally overwhelmed when telling her that I was going to take a sabbatical, I had really thought about it in Durban, and had come to the conclusion that the sea voyages had been fraught with too many misadventures and a hectic life style that had become deferential to Joan. The children and she also needed me at home, especially Joan who had the role of mother and father, tried hard to cope with my family, and desperately needed the assurance of my love and passion. Then as life would have it Joan’s parents moved in with her sister and we moved into their home to have peace and harmony away from my mother. It seemed that Safmarine had their staff’s best interest at heart or they wanted to keep them on standby until signing up again for other voyages, because other casual employment in shipping was offered. I worked off and on American and British naval ships that were in port so as to give their crew R and R while in port, and the same also went for passenger liners and other Safmarine ships in port. With the furniture trade still in the doldrums, I also worked in catering with my dad and at other barman duties around the traps to keep the wolf from the door, even though I found that it wasn’t as lucrative or fulfilling as a Merchant Mariner. In preference to that when it became difficult with more mouths to feed; my only solution was to sign on again.


Me, Joan, Bill and Lionel on the Poop Deck of the SS South African Merchant in Durban.


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