34. My Merchant Mariner World Travels (Part 7)

Bazil and I saw each other when ashore in Cape Town so as to keep in touch either at my home or meet up at the Waterford Arms or the Avenue Hotel where I worked then as a casual barman. I was also fortunate that my dad then owned a fish and chips shop in Lansdowne Road, Lansdowne, where I would work when required to. What I didn’t think was that working there would be fraught with so many distractions, especially in Cape Town that use to be my safe haven away from the opposite sex. They seemed to come out of the woodwork, with their beguiling ways, that I had to at times beat off with a big stick. They came in all shapes, sizes and ages from married, divorced, single and even older school girls that made a bee-line to our shop instead of the one further down the road in the vicinity where they lived.  My dad liked it though because he was then doing a roaring business trade that saw him able to apply for other provisions license. I would be invited to come around to their home for a cuppa, for lunch or even for a walk when locking up shop in the evening, they never missed a trick One out of those charming lot of women bears a mention because she was able to charm the skin off a snakes back. There was this nurse that took the bus from the front of the shop to her hospital job. The first time I caught her eyeing me I greeted her with a hand wave because of thinking that I had never seen her coming to buy anything in the shop and that she might become a potential customer if I waved a hand of friendship. It worked, because she began coming to the shop to purchase not only fish and chips but also other provisions; ka-ching went the till! She was a bit of a chatter-box but it was a never mind seeing how she had become one of our best customers. Nonetheless, I found it disconcerting when she waylaid me some evenings when waiting for the bus home. But my concerns seemed to be unfounded when one evening she was there again but in her nurse uniform, and I was told that she was going to visit her brother who lived in Mowbray on her way to the hospital. Now who wouldn’t believe a nurse looking all innocent and pure dressed up in a semi-starched white uniform with a little nurse’s cap perched on her head.  Yeah, do pigs fly? We just happened, with emphasis on happened, to be traveling the same way then, when she nonchalantly made the comment that she was nearing where her brother lived, and would I like to see where because he lived at Mowbray’s Cemetery and he was the caretaker there. You could have knocked me down with a feather and my surprise must have shown because she laughed at my astonished look. Being up to it because of never ever been in a graveyard at night before and also wanting to see what the setup would be at a caretaker’s cottage, I joined her up the rather long pathway to there. A light was on when knocking, but after repeated knocking and waiting, there was no response. With me reckoning that he wasn’t home, she ignored that, and by lifting up the doormat to produce a key there, she unlocked the door and invited me in. Her explanation was that he always left the key there for her to let herself in if he wasn’t home. A straight forward answer that still didn’t ring any bells that the wool was been pulled over my eyes. Asking me to wait until his arrival because he knew that she was coming and shouldn’t be any longer, and that she had told him about me and that he wanted to meet me also sounded plausible. In another of her deceptive tricks but what put the cherry on the icing for me to wait, was when she offered me a brandy to wile away the time. But because of not observing her pouring the continuous drinks that followed, which she must have had a heavy hand in the pouring of the brandy, I was soon feeling very tipsy. During our idle conversation she casually wanted to know if I too had fantasies like she would have at times, and if any of mine had ever come to fruition. Of course I said, it been right in my element for so many things achieved without wishful thinking. However, wrongly understood by this conniving sweet acting innocent looking nurse who then wanted to know if I ever fantasied about making out with a women dressed up in a school girl or a nurse’s uniform. Of course I said again, truthfully, and asked what type of men uniforms she fantasied a man to be in. I should have surmised that she would say navy, with a knowing smile on her face, knowing that I was in the Merchant Navy, but because my ‘Bacchus cup runneth over’, I didn’t comprehend where it was leading to. She did though because of proceeding to do a slow strip of her nurse uniform with me sitting there like a stunned mullet. Now I don’t know which one of us was enjoying it more, but she seemed to take great pleasure in the titillating manner she was sliding off her uniform, and the rest. Her saying that she had fulfilled my fantasy and that was her turn to have hers fulfilled set me back on my haunches even though I was still sitting down. But she was up to the task of divesting me with not much further ado as if she was on a mission of lustful determination. However, her desire to appease her sexual appetite was prevented due to her naked exposure that had been constantly too close-up in my face, and when highly intoxicated I seem to have very little control of my surges. Having a premature ejaculation without even doing the deed can be very embarrassing at any time for any man, but although she showed her disappointment, my reassurance though that the next time it would be successful seemed to satisfy her, which to me would be in her fantasied dreams for pulling the wool over my eyes like that. Then the gods smiled on me again because there was a letter from Safmarine to sign me up on the SS South African Transporter. My dad though wasn’t smiling because of thinking that my absence in the shop would reduce the customer flow, but my advising him to tell those who asked that it was only a short voyage and that I would be back, worked for him.

Joan was another one who wasn’t thrilled, especially as Harold Jnr made up our fourth child then, but she knew that I was working towards a solution for quitting the Merchant Mariner life. But in the mean time we were in the Atlantic Ocean on our way to Brazil, and our eventual sighting of the Sugar-loaf and the statue of Christ the Redeemer with its outstretched arms atop Corcovado (Hunchback) Mountain made it known to us that we were sailing into the wide spread Guanabara Bay of Rio de Janeiro. What caught my eyes too were the numerous granite outcrops of mountains that inundated the surrounding area, and it brought to mind the mountains of Cape Town when sailing into the harbour there. Then and there I made up my mind that came what may that it would be one of my excursions ashore to see if I still had the ability to scale one of them. I almost didn’t due to not knowing the other distractions that awaited me ashore in the form of music, dance, cachaca (cane spirit), which was almost similar to the type distilled and consumed in Durban from the sugar cane there, cerveja (beer), beaches and the body beautiful. Considering what I had heard of Rio, it should have come as no surprise to the pleasure pursued by the Cariocas (a native of Rio de Janeiro), and it was spelt out in their outrageous Canervala that lasted for five days. It consisted of a combination of the dressing up in imaginative South American Indian’s costumes and dancing to the African rhythms of their samba as they paraded through the streets on their decorated floats that pulsated and glittered. So too did the participants as they strutted their stuff in lavish colored costumes that sparkled with sequins right down to their rhinestone studded G-strings, and every imaginable headdress. The atmosphere was that electrical and pumped up with the waves of the percussion beat of the drums that vibrated through you with the samba beat, that there was no way I wasn’t going to join in the dancing of it with the many who were. Because of my dancing ability in the gyrating of the hips to the dance steps of the samba I found myself attracting many dance partners, and that eventuated in spending the day with a mixed group who had a lust for life and a love of romance. Although I always made an effort to acquaint myself with the basic language of the country visited, and even knowing that Portuguese was the language spoken there, it came as a surprise to me when finding that it wasn’t the same as spoken in Portugal.

It was more of a mixture of the different nationalities there, almost like the mixture language of Africans, but it did me in good stead as usual, and although they found it quite amusing at times with my pronunciation of some of it, they would encouragingly rectify it. It was a fascinating day because I was not only questioned about myself, which they found my coming from Africa fascinating too because they all had African roots, but because they not only explained about Rio and its people, they also showed and introduced me to it. I was told that because of my colouring and background I was a Moreno (a dark white), two of them were caboclo’s (European / Indian mix), another two were cabo verdes (straight-haired blacks), and one was a mulatto (light-skinned black). It wasn’t a colour distinction like made in South Africa’s apartheid system but used as a distinction of their ancestry that they were proud of. What really separated the Cariocas was poverty, and when taken to the favelas (shanty towns) where some were situated on the fringes of wealthy suburbs, it became obvious of the class distinction that blatantly existed. I could relate to the violence and crime that was rife in those areas, for in South Africa it was occurring too in the shanty towns that were springing up like mushrooms overnight due to the Afrikaner National government’s apartheid law of the Group Areas Act. The common denominators for those inconsistencies of the Cariocas that kept them free and democratically together as one people was the beaches where all of the population congregated to do whatever turned them on. I was at times turned on too but not for the same reason. Mine was due to the skimpiest show-off bathing costumes worn by the women that never even saw the water, especially the ones called flo dental (dental floss), which was the appropriate name of the tiniest bikini worn by women. There turn on was the spectator sport of futebol (soccer), which was also played on the beaches, where all walks of life fanatical supporters crammed into the stadiums. Not only to cheer on their respective teams with streamers and banners of their clubs colours, but to also pound huge samba drums, let of firecrackers, throw unrolled toilet rolls and anything else if either over excited or damn angry.

And then there was the dancing of the samba that from the very young to the oldest of old would either tap their feet or shake their booties anywhere night or day when either the music of the samba or the bossanova filled the air at any venue or celebration. Much to my amazement I also discovered that the origin of the samba was not only linked with the African rhythms brought by the slaves of Africa with them, but also the Angolan tam-tam drum and the distinctive dance steps. They also celebrated the body beautiful with a respected of if you’ve got it flaunt it, and it showed in their dress which was usually casual, colourful and at times that light that it only consisted of a bathing suit. Their mannerisms also presented it in their greetings where you kissed a woman on both cheeks when greeting, which I could never get enough of much to their amusement. The women to because of standing that close to me while looking me in the eyes while conversing and who would touch me also frequently on any part of my arm while doing that, first gave me the wrong impression, until told that there were no hidden intentions in them doing that, which I really had to get used to. They didn’t only consider body contact as an essential part of the communication process but also when expressing themselves in body language that somehow represented the signing of mute people. What really threw me though was when seeing them use a finger sign gesture that they said was a symbol of good luck derived from an African sexual charm to my argument that it was a rude sign in South Africa. My understanding of inserting the thumb between the first and second fingers of a clenched fist and to wiggle it meant to get fucked, and from then on with much laughter they would keep on doing it to whomever we met.

If inviting them on board the ship with the permission of the Chief Steward for a South African lunch in our mess room prepared by the chef and myself was enthusiastically and gratefully enjoyed, it was nothing in comparison to the following unforgettable Rio experiences they let me partake of. The first was the curved beach of Copacabana where whatever you had a hankering for, was. Although only a narrow strip of land, it had crammed into it every possible form of entertainment from bars on the beach and beachfront, to those with strip shows, and hotel roof ones too. The night was one long one of drink-waiters run off their feet to replenish the bottomless innards it seemed of thirsty customers with draught beer as we ate, drank, sang, danced to samba music or just enjoyed the time spent there of the unadulterated pleasure around us on the huge sidewalk that overlooked the beach. The clubs taken to by my new found friends were of every description that included participating in dancing and viewing at sex clubs that included strip tease to live sex acts performances. If also so inclined, which I didn’t have to be because of my luscious Brazilian bombshell companion that didn’t seem to be getting enough of me, there was glamorous beautiful prostitutes that lined the sidewalk with a persistence to make your acquaintance and to proposition you. Two of them when introduced to me by my friends, who knew them, were the most stunning women in looks and figure wise, until laughingly pointed out to me that they were actually men in convincing drag, and when I kept looking back at them for they were that believable, they would cheekily wave back at me much to the amusement of my companion. Where they took me next was a most unusual and interesting neighbourhood that consisted of hills with cobbled streets and old mansions that we reached by riding the bondinho (little tram) to Santa Teresa. The unique aspect of that area was that many artists and hippies resided in those homes, and it was depicted in their colourful psychedelic illustrations inspired by drugs such as LSD, which when partaken of again when with them brought back many pleasant memories of my other flower power moments. Even the residents of the favelas that spread out on the hillsides just below when under the influence of that hallucinogenic drug or marijuana or cocaine, was one way of looking at their miserable existence through rose tinted glasses.

My Cariocas friends knew of my burning desire to climb anyone of those compelling mountains, but made it a bit easy for me by first taking me up to the Pao de Acucar (Sugar-loaf) in the two stage cable cars, and then we all drove in a Kombi van up the mountain Corcovado on which the statue of Christ stood. The views seen from the Sugar-loaf before sunset was spectacular as it took in Guanabara Bay, a wonderful view of the city, all along the winding coastline and Corcovado Mountain, and as night fell, the brightly lit statue and sparkling city lights was almost as good as the view from Cape Town’s Table Mountain. The Hunchback that hunched over Rio when seen from the top of it took on a different perspective in its panoramic view of the city in a glorious tropical setting sandwiched between the mountain and the sea, and its surrounds that stretched as far as the eye could see reminded me again of Cape Town. And then only did I have my wish granted when they took me to a rock climbing club, which saw them rather wait for my return because they weren’t as enthused as I was, and with a group of other climbers climbed to about 300 metres above the city that not only made my day but also put the icing on the cake for my fantastic stay in Rio.

From there, back into the Atlantic Ocean and then into the Gulf of Mexico where our ports of call were Coatzacoalcos and Vera Cruz in Mexico. Going ashore into town in Coatzacoalcos was like walking into a western movie, and that was the first time I actually saw horses hitched at a rail outside a bar with swinging half doors that lead into the bar. The swarthy western dressed men had amongst them a scattering of Mexicans dressed in baggy pantaloons and loose vest like tops, with straw cowboy-come-sombrero hats hung loosely at the back of the head with leather straps, and some wore serapes. The women too were either dressed in western clothing or colourful embroidered dresses with decorative combs the held their long sleek black hair in place. Strolling Mexican troubadours were dressed in full-embroidered costume, studded buckle belt, neckerchief and authentic sombreros with music to match. Having spent a good part of Lent in Rio, the preparations for holy week festivities of Easter were a welcome sight.  Here I witnessed firsthand their unique culture activities like the Mexican hat dance and the piñata, which was a variant of the firecracker present filled paper-Mache men that were hung in the streets and exploded during fiesta time. There were four things I found that they took very seriously; fiestas and bullfights, the drinking of tequila and siesta time.

We found everything shut and closed for siesta time on our first afternoon’s shore leave, and after walking around sightseeing in the hot sweltering sun we had a huge thirst for cold beer. As all liquor outlets were closed, we knew that if we found a red light district, which never closed, we would find cold beers. The difficulty was that the few people we encountered on the deserted streets couldn’t understand English, expect one who still got it wrong when saying to him ‘Habla usted ingles?’ He pointed and said ‘engleesh’ in the direction of a large imposing building. We approached a closed high wooden gate with a pull bell, rung and waited. After we rang again, a small-screened hatch opened and we asked if English was spoken. When a female voice replied in English that she did, the crewman who had made the inquiry suddenly started asking irrelevant questions, and with a hasty gracias and adios steered us protesting away. His explanation got us to return to the ship until their siesta time was over because he hadn’t been game enough to ask a Catholic nun where the red light district was.

From siesta we went to fiesta where the sleepy population exploded into nightly celebrations, and it was unbelievable that it was the same seaport town as the afternoon. Festoons of colored lights decked the streets, trees were spun with twinkling lights, colored banners fluttered in the breeze, Mexican music emitted from everywhere, colourful dressed throngs crowed the streets with excited balloon carrying children, the food from street vendors tantalized the smell and taste buds, and Mexican bands played while moving through the crowds. We soaked up the carnival atmosphere with shots of tequila, licks of salt sprinkled in the indentation of the thumb held against the forefinger, followed by the sucking of lemon wedges, and through getting sucked in by that ritual we became well and truly soaked. Wandering through the streets from bar to bar, dancing, singing, hugging, kissing and just having a good time, we found ourselves in the back streets where a complete different environment existed. Mexican abodes were linked in continuous lines with harsh lights glaring from open doors and windows that lit up the unlit streets. The aroma of food cooking, laughter, conversation and music made us furtively approach one abode to investigate that life style, and was pleasantly surprised when invited in. They were peasant folk who had gathered together with their families to celebrate the upcoming Easter festivities at home. Tortillas, enchiladas, burritos, tacos, frijoles, tamales and a variety of other unpronounceable Mexican dishes were offered to us, and when we supplemented their drinks of mescal and beer with our own abundance of tequila and performed on their musical instruments, it was party time. The mescal when presented to us to sample was a lesser sophisticated one than tequila, and although it had a stronger taste and smell that had the same effect to my senses when over indulging, the weird thing about it was that the worm that was included in the bottle must have suffered the same deadening effects. Their neighbours who had come around to join in the fun caused the party to extend into the street that lasted till dawn, and before dragging ourselves back to the ship we requested a return the following night.

We had observed the poor conditions they were living in and their meager possessions, so we raided the ships linen room, cold storage, stores and paint locker, and that night with the aid of the gangway watchman we smuggled the lot ashore. They were overcome with emotion when we handed them our loot, and on telling them that there was more where that came from for other relatives, we were hugged and kissed to no end. What we had brought with in edibles and drink was enough for a few parties, so the relatives and friends came around again to party. Late at night, full of tequila and feeling amorous we approached the man of the house to inquire of single women in the area to join the party because we didn’t want to offend our host by encroaching on the women that were there. His directions to a local government prostitute house under health regulations made us go there to check it out to see if we could encourage a few back to the party. That house had more than prostitutes, for it was also a bordello with all the trimmings. A horse shoe shaped bar, full sized dance floor, Mexican band with all the regalia, seating coves, dim colourful lighting, private rooms at the back, and the women were all shapes, sizes and ages. Their dress ranged from the back and front of a dress held together either by three large bows strategically placed or loosely crisscrossed with leather strips. Others with voluptuous breast just wore a loose lace or silk flap over them and their short skirts were also flaps only. Others again wore either tight fitting, short off the shoulder dresses that showed off their curvaceous bodies or very short skirts and off the shoulder midriff tops that did the same. My shipmates on seeing all that flesh flaunted forgot about the village party and just wanted pussy, but it came at a price though. Even dancing cost, and although the women were encouraging an erection I though wasn’t going to pay for sex. My shipmates always found me strange in that respect; nevertheless, my belief was that sex was a two Way Street where both should be receiving pleasure, and if somebody was just going to lay there and fake it, I’d rather wank myself. Then again I had enjoyed more sex than they had breakfasted.

It was one of those nights where I was feeling a bit under the weather from all the alcohol consumed, so leaving them there I returned to the party that was still in full swing. Imbibed further from drinking a few cold Mexican beers, which was just as potent as tequila, to sober up but it had only made me feel worse, and not wanting to disgrace myself, I excused myself to leave. Of course my host thinking of my safety insisted that I sleep it off in his bedroom that also slept his four children. My persistent loud intoxicated refusal because of not wanting to disturb or inconvenience his family, brought one of his neighbours also into the argumentative discussion. His offer though for me to go and sleep it off at his place where he lived alone, and  because he did night shift work, which he was doing that night, was accepted, and I passed out on his bed in the darkened room fully clothed with shoes and all on. I stirred later all bleary eyed on feeling my shoes and socks removed, followed by my trousers and shirt, and thinking that it was the night shift worker’s thoughtfulness and consideration, I mumbled a thank you. Becoming half-awake soon after with a heavy feeling on my chest and on my queasy stomach caused me to grab for my chest and stomach so as to massage that feeling away before spewing my guts out, instead what my hands encountered was what felt like someone’s body. My very slow inebriated brain took a while to comprehend that; however, when running my hands downwards it came to rest on small firm warm buttocks, and when also only becoming aware of a warmness that firmly enclosed my firmness within a pulsating recess I concluded that it was a female. The face was of a young pretty girl who had been at both parties, and although we had been friendly, chatted and danced with all of them, we hadn’t encouraged or been over friendly to the females. That one though had been watching me shyly, and when dancing had held me a bit tight, but to me it had only seemed like childish niceness. It hadn’t been childish niceness then because I had been well and truly screwed by a hot tamale 17-year-old Mexican girl. Her lead on explanation with much more gestures than words from me, and her smiling demonstrations all punctuated with a si señor unraveled her story.  She had seen me return back alone to the party, overheard the neighbours offer, saw him leave his house for work, snuck in and it was her that had undressed me after doing the same. My shipmates when told where I was on their return to the party, without the woman, came in search of me, and they couldn’t believe that what they had to pay for hadn’t come near to what I had got for nothing.

And then there were the bullfights. What had been seen in movies had nothing what so ever to do with the real thing because all the very gory bits and bloodletting had been left out, which was what I experienced when seeing my first bull fight. The spectacle began quite colorfully and calmly with an exhibition of folk dancing that was followed by a performance by the charros (Mexican sombrero-wearing cowboys), and then five bulls went through the process of real bullfighting. It was really a spectator blood sport that was enjoyed by a packed arena of Mexicans who cheered the matadors with a thunderous ‘ Ole!’ in their endeavours, but because I came away feeling a bit queasy I made straight for the first bar where a few shots of tequila soon fixed that. Another interesting highlight was the different American Indian peoples such as Navajo, Hopi, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creed and Seminole that I came in contact with in Mexico. There were also the Mexican Indians of Aztec, Maya, Toltec, Zapotec and Totonac origin who wore their traditional dress of elaborate cloaks, headdresses in the form of an eagle or serpent, and the colourful Quetzalcoatl that was a long rainbow colored bird tail when they performed their ceremonial dances.

We docked in the lively colourful port of Veracruz at the beginning of holy week that went from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. It wasn’t something new to me as a Catholic because I was in Catholic country, but there it was celebrated completely differently. They had their sombre religious ceremonies almost nightly; however, the festivities that followed in its zócalo (plaza) featured nearly non-stop music and gaiety, and also food and craft fairs, and it was a perfect setting for watching the everyday life of the Mexicans unfold when relaxing in the numerous cafes. What assisted too was the mariachi music that was belted out by a band with guitars, violins and trumpets, and also the marimba, danzonera and norieño music that was played to the crowds congregated there. Their city market was another place that was a kaleidoscope of movement of colour that bedazzled the eyes and the mind with everything imaginable and unimaginable on display for sale. The merchandise included hand painted tiles, colorfully glazed pottery, woven blankets and serapes, embroidered dresses and sequined sombreros and every description of jewellery, plus their flora and fauna, and their expressive and impressive form of dress. What were more impressionable though were the ruins of Zempoala that was the main city of the Totonac at the time of the Spanish conquest with its four temples. It was amazing to actually see what those savages as described by the Spaniards who had nothing in comparison to their civilization and culture had accomplished in their art form, architecture, mathematics and science.

Another amazing and breath taking exhibition seen was the performance of the valadores (the flying eagle dancers) by a group of Totonacs that was of daring and skill. There were a group of them on a square-revolving platform at the top of a thirty-meter pole dressed in brightly ceremonial garments. While one of them stood in the centre of four others, who were perched on the four sides, and beating on a drum attached to a bamboo flute that was played simultaneously, the others that were perched there fell backwards attached to special ropes tied around their ankles, and to the beat of the music revolved in swinging wider circles around the post, and still swinging descended lower and lower until reaching the ground. Watching those first bungy jumpers was a unique experience, though washing down hot tortillas with tequila was a better one. What the Spanish did introduce and establish in Mexico was their Catholic influence, and it was seen in the cathedrals, churches, abbeys and monasteries that abounded everywhere I went in Veracruz. Special attention was given though to the alters that held the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who was the mother of Christ and the patroness of Mexico, that was encircled with lavishly gold leafed designs, which the same veneration was upheld in Coatzacoalcos.

Departing, we sailed across the Gulf of Mexico to Corpus Christi in Texas where we experienced a hurricane and a tornado. On our way in we passed Mustang Island with vast amounts of fishing, sailing and pleasure craft moored at marinas or sailing the smooth blue waters that lapped the miles of sandy beaches. Lush green palm fronds and vegetation surrounded the picnic areas, and varieties of birds sat like music notes on the wire that spanned the continuous line of electric standards. Holiday resorts, park-lands, recreation areas, residential homes and towns all neatly aligned along the seaway inlet were seen while sailing further inland. We berthed, loaded our cargo, hoisted the Blue Peter, which is the flag indicating leaving, and prepared to sail before midnight. The weather had other ideas though because the captain received a weather report of a hurricane pending in the Corpus Christi area. We were then ordered to batten down the hatches, to make fast, secure and stand by, and we did just that. Both anchors were lowered, and not only the hawsers but also steel cables and chains were used for mooring. Hatches, lifeboats, jib cranes and deck cargo were double secured and all portholes and storm doors were double bolted. We put on our life-jackets and waited.

Thank heavens for the captain’s extra precautions because not only did a hurricane hit Corpus Christi but also a tornado. Our ship bobbed, bounced, pitched, rolled, creaked and strained at the lease, and when daylight broke our damage was minimal compared to the destruction that lay around us. Roofs and doors of wharf loading sheds were torn off; discarded cargo lay strewn on the wharves, an overhead traveling crane had toppled, and smashed sea craft floated by. The town and homes were like flattened playing cards, electric standards and lines looked like discarded fishing gear, uprooted trees had taken on the form of giant octopuses and the cars were a panel beaters nightmare. We sailed past ships that had broken free from unsecured mooring, adrift and ashore. Unmanned, demasted, and unbridged boats drifted with the tide, and grappling hook poles was used to push them clear from our dead slow traveling ship. It was heart rendering to see the mangled mass of fishing, sailing and pleasure craft that were catapulted in, on and around moorings of the marinas. Mustang Island was a desert island recognizable only by the lighthouse beacon as we sailed back into the Gulf of Mexico and past the oil platforms offshore that fed the local refineries.

From there we sailed to Galveston, which was still in Texas, and the only excitement there was visiting ‘The Elissa,’ a square-rigger that was used for merchant marine duties a century ago. The next port of call was Houston, which was just fifty nautical miles from Galveston, with its sprawling skyscraper metropolis and incredible fly over bridges. That was the city were the crew got their denim working gear from after been picked up from the ship by a paid taxi from the company that supplied and fitted us out. The taxi drivers were pretty obliging when wanting to see more of their city, for they would always take a roundabout way back to the ship and acted as tourist guides. In that way we viewed spectacular old Southern mansions, and when requested they would stop at eateries so as to partake of the local cuisine and at bars for drinks on the way back to the ship. Beaumont in Texas was our next port of call where Texas tea flowed all day. When I first saw the oil drilling derricks I thought they were electric pylons because they were everywhere; on house properties or they stretched for miles on what looked like farmland. What changed my mind was seeing and hearing the constant thumping of the oil drilling pumps, the expensive luxurious automobiles driven by the locals and the offshore oil drilling rigs as we sailed up the Texas coast.

While there, we ‘so called non-white crews’ common sense diverted what we had to see as a minor incident that could have developed into a major one because of the apartheid white philosophy upheld by the majority of officers while in other countries. We were very aware what retaliation could be inflicted on us when back in the Afrikaner ruled South Africa if letting situations run it’s coarse. One of the crew who was really a quite giant and wouldn’t say boo to a goose had for some unknown reason incurred the wrath of one of the officers, and was given all the crappy jobs. Going ashore to relax and have a drink in a bar, he found the officer drinking there too with other officers of our ship. Because he was polite and courteous and not one to hold a grudge he offered to buy the officers a round of drinks. He though was one of those white is right Afrikaners, and he heaped abuse on him for having the audacity to even contemplating having a drink together and of drinking in the same bar. That it seemed snapped the gentle giant into a raving one and he went for him. The officer was lucky that there were five officers with him as assistance to ward off the onslaught that would have occurred against him by the crewman, and they also assisted him to escort the seaman back to the ship where they clapped him in the brig.

On arriving back at the ship and hearing of the incident, caused us to be indignant of the treatment he had received. It continued in our conversation the following evening when going ashore to a club to have a drink because of him still under lock and key. Unfortunately, two African Americans who overheard our conversation wanted to know if he was Caucasian, and when informing them that he was Coloured they told us to remain where we were and that they would be back to hear the rest of the story. They came back all right, but with about twelve other of their friends that were armed to the teeth with more guns than we had ever seen before. They wanted to storm the ship, have the crewman forcibly released, deal with the white honky officer as they called him, and keep the crewman in America. Although we were angry too at his mistreatment we also knew that he was married with a family back home and he wouldn’t want that to have occurred. Fortunately, we were able to resolve that without them going in with guns blazing; however, they were still adamant that something had to be done to teach the officer a hard earned lesson. What defused that though was in telling them that we had our own ways and means for retaliation, and without any of the officers who used their white supremacy in degrading us any the wiser. They were all ears by our explanation that it was a simple procedure whereby we would doctor the food of the officer guilty of those offenses. All crewmen knew of the castor oil seeds that were grown in Durban, and a Durban Indian third cook had first introduced it on one of the ships when verbally abused in derogatory terms by a white second steward. He loved hot curries and always wanted a second helping, and he received it doctored direct from the galley and served by the officer’s saloon steward in their mess who knew the routine and the why for. What he didn’t know was the castor oil seeds had been baked brown in the oven, grated, and then mixed in with the curry. He sat on the toilet seat off and on for two days, and every morsel of food that passed his lips didn’t stay in his stomach long enough for him to regain his sapped strength. He also looked a shadow of his former self with dark rings around his eyes, and the medical officer could only advise him to watch what he ate because something wasn’t agreeing with him. If he only knew how right he was, and those little acts of kindness that gave them the shits for giving us the shits would act as a respite for us in keeping them in sickbay. The twenty or so, because others had also joined our company, couldn’t stop their laughter on hearing that, and it also didn’t stop them under protest from us to continue plying us with drinks for such a revengeful conceived idea, and suggested that the officer receive a double amount of the beans, which he did.

Fully loaded we sailed for the Virgin Islands for bunkers and then on to Cape Town for bunkers only too, or so I thought. Two days out of Cape Town I was summoned to the Chief Stewards office for a bit of unusual news concerning further voyages for me. A captain I had sailed before with as his Captains Tiger had requested to have me again as his Tiger, but due to his ship been four days from Cape Town, which was coming down the coast to there, I would be there before him. In any case, to compensate without me losing wages, the SS South African Transvaal passenger-liner that would be arriving at the same time as we were, was to be my workplace while it was there for three days before sailing back to England. But all in all, Joan and I counted us so lucky for that really welcome period of time spent together, and so did the kids.

Image

In my cabin on board ship in my going ashore Mexican gear in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico. Double bunks at left with wardrobes at each end. Wooden seat against back bulkhead. Porthole left top of bulkhead. Draw cupboard in front with accessories hanging cupboard. World traveled places pennants and family photos against bulkheads. And not much room to swing a cat.

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