Alan Morris, Aran’s son, went to sea as an apprentice officer with the British Petroleum Company. On the 6th of November 1968, after playing golf on Borth beach with friends, on one of those unusually sunny days in late autumn, he went home to Bel-air. After lunch with his parents, Alan put on his uniform and walked over to Gleanor to say farewell to his grandparents. This must have been quite a poignant moment for them as three decades earlier they had farewelled their son Aran, also on his way to sea. Perhaps the ghosts of Captain Richard Edwards of the sloop Gleanor and that of Captain David Jones of the schooner Gleanor looked on, as it was they who had built and named the house. Alan remembers walking down to the station with his father in the company of Nick Brown and ex-mariner Gethin Evans. As Nick and his father were giving him serious advice, Gethin, trying to lighten the occasion, kept interspersing the conversation with lurid tales of life as a sailor.
There was no training school course so he went straight to Sinnart, West Scotland, to join the tanker British Destiny. His introduction to life at sea was to haul up a gyrocompass all the way from the dock to the bridge. The ship left that night and ran into a fierce storm where upon he became as sick as a dog. As he passed roughly where he thought Borth was he mused that a lifeboat rescue from there would do just fine at this time. This first trip was from the U.K. to the Persian Gulf and on to Australia; back to the Persian Gulf then Australia again and finally back to North Shields. He then managed three days at home as the vessel was in dry dock for her fifteen year survey.
The next ship was the tanker British Poplar, where each trip was of six months duration, and carried three apprentices, whose duties included cleaning sludge from the bilges, obviously as Alan said tongue in cheek, “to build moral fibre in future officers”. At this time the tanker crews numbered 42 in total and carried a third mate who was usually closest in age to the apprentices, and often helped with the correspondent courses set by their company on each trip.
Alan remembers having to take his steering ticket after innumerable hours at the wheel, initially of course far out to sea, to cope with yawing and the like. After a while he was good enough to be allowed to take the vessel in and out of port. The first time he did this he remembered being a gibbering wreck when he completed the arrival. During his time with B.P., he was on the British Argosy, British Flag and British Valour. Later on, after joining the Scottish Management Company, Glasgow, he sailed on the Cape Leeuwin, Temple Bar, Cape Wrath and the Baron Dunmore.
During his first years there were new systems of training as sea times alternated with college time. He successfully sat for his second mates’ ticket in Glasgow and later as first mate, with an opportunity to take his masters as well. He actually completed the written test, but had to go back to sea before taking the oral. All this meant that he would have to return to take his oral and then he would be certified as master.
Fate, however, intervened and Alan had a serious accident, involving that most frightening of phenomena; a singing wire, at Mt Maunganui in New Zealand in 1975. He was on the Baron Dunmore and they were tied up unloading cargo, and although they had most of the cargo unloaded, they had to move the ship forward slightly so as to facilitate the cranes. The ship was tied fore and aft, and two tugs came alongside, and as regulations dictated there was even a pilot aboard.
After the tugs made fast, the procedure was to let go fore and aft, but for some reason, the tug at the stern decided to take matters into its own hands and began moving before the lines had been let go. With all the noise going on it was difficult to communicate, but Alan realized that the ship was moving away from the dockside causing the still tied line to be put under immense pressure. He noticed one of the Somali seamen going to release the line totally unaware of what was happening. Alan came off the bridge and ran towards him shouting, “Get away from the bollard”. The Somali’s English was non-existent, but even he sensed that something was wrong as Alan ran towards him, and he dived for cover. The next thing Alan knew was being hit with a terrific force and hurtled headlong almost over the side. Most of his left foot was badly cut and the big toe of his right foot was severed. He also landed on some piping and air vents and sustained head injuries as well as losing some of his teeth. He spent three months in hospital in New Zealand, and was flown back to the U.K. where he was hospitalized for a further eight months.
Alan had to rethink his future after this accident as he realized that many European companies were increasingly employing overseas officers and crews. On the advice of his father, he was encouraged to return to sea, if only to get over the trauma of the accident. As a gifted mathematician, navigation came easy to him, so prior to rejoining a ship he decided to take a science degree in London, whose subjects were navigational systems, naval architecture, marine law and marine economics. He returned to sea with Sea Containers Company, Hamilton Bermuda, and stayed with them until 1980 and sailed on the Opal Bounty and Sapphire Bounty. By 1983 he began a new career as European cargo superintendent for the American company Lykes Lines, based in Antwerp. A year later he joined the London-based firm South African European Container Services. A young Australian lady called Leesa, who became his wife, lured him away from Europe for the next seven years.
From that time he has been involved with the land-based perspectives of maritime activities. This did not preclude him from sailing as he often voyaged from port to port organizing matters to do with loading and unloading of cargo. On shorter stops he was flown from port to port, and a couple of times even went by helicopter. Essentially his sea going time lasted for thirteen years.
Alan was involved in developing one of the world’s first automated container terminals. Currently, even with the new fully automated unloading facilities at Brisbane, Australia, there are still certain types of stevedoring jobs. New skills being developed give lie to the term fully automated, and as he says “some aspects of stevedoring are nowadays totally obsolete, but others are quite new and therefore they create a job market”. Alan has sailed as cargo superintendent on twenty or so ships. Nowadays he still manages the odd trip in that capacity, although his current position means that he is at the port of Brisbane for most of the time. During the many conversations I have had with him whilst compiling these notes, it is noticeable how deeply affected he still is by hiraeth for his home place Borth.
One tends to think of storms at sea as only dangerous and romantic in the context of their occurrence in the days of sail, but the following story related by Alan, demonstrates the relentless power of the sea, even now in the days of super-ships and technological wizardry. This story unfolded when he was on the cargo container Opal Bounty in May, 1978.
The vessel departed from Port Chalmers in the late afternoon in lovely weather and indeed the situation stayed like this until well after midnight, but the barometer was dropping at an ominous rate. At 6 o’clock the next morning Alan was awoken by being thrown out of his bunk by a tremendous crashing noise and buckling of steel. The ship had been hit square on by a rogue wave. Quickly getting dressed, Alan somewhat shakily made his way up to the bridge, where the captain, mate, chief engineer and electrician had already arrived. His first impression of the situation was one of total wreckage on the bridge - chart drawers scattered everywhere, smashed cups, flags rolling around and other various pieces of equipment lying amongst the chaotic mess. Not a word was spoken for, indeed, none was needed as outside the wind was screaming. Being dark, the crew couldn’t actually see the state of the sea, but by the violent motions of the ship it was obvious that they had been caught by a real roller coaster of a storm. The wind speed was increasing all the time.
The captain, still half asleep a few moments earlier, was now fully alert and alive to the situation. There was no way the ship could turn around in the dark without severe risk of broaching, so it was obvious that they would have to ride it out and meet it face to face. With its engine at slow ahead, the ship violently rolled its own uncertain way into the first hint of daylight. It was then that the first element of fear crept into the crews thoughts as they saw the severity of the seas that confronted them. No words in Alan’s vocabulary could possibly explain or describe the awesome sight - it was like looking at a series of grey valleys rolling towards the ship. This ship was built to trade in the relatively peaceful waters of the equatorial regions and not to do battle with the worst that the elements can offer. Ashen faced, the captain, one hand on the telegraph, the other held firm against the wheelhouse front, turned to the crew all of whom had by now gathered on the bridge and quietly said “It’s going to be a long day, but if I’ve got anything to say or do about the situation, we’ll get through”. They could all detect the hint of doubt that even he had, but what followed in the next 47 hours was the finest exhibition of ship handling and seamanship that Alan ever saw.
Amazing powers of concentration and seemingly endless physical strength kept all the crew from a very early grave. Each individual wave stretched the captain’s capabilities to the full and he more than proved a worthy opponent as he operated the telegraph and calmly gave helm orders to the somewhat bewildered and frightened Filipino wheelmen. Each wave had to be met on its own terms and more than once when Alan was on watch he turned to him and said “Hold on for all you’re worth, this is a big one”. The ship seemed to lean back on to her stern as she climbed and the bows reached for the grey and murky skies. The frightening bit was still to come as the foc’sle stopped and then with alarming speed fell away to starboard and down, down, down. As the crest of the wave passed the stern, the whole ship pivoted violently, on what seemed like thin air, and went lurching to port with acceleration that defied all theory. The transit through the vertical was at speed that could really be felt and she just kept going over – 20’, 30’, 40’, 45’, 48’ (the theoretical limit before capsize), 50’, 51’, 511/2’ - stop
That was just one wave, there were to be many more in the following 47 hours. The physical strain was really something else altogether - body braced first this way and then that, but all the time fighting to keep some semblance of motor co-ordination. Mentally for Alan at least, it was a shattering experience, not really knowing whether or not the next wave would prove to be his last. Lifeboats and life-rafts were out of the question and there were times during the second watch when he had some very bitter thoughts of the whole incident as fearing the worst, Alan just could not accept that such a catastrophe could happen 33 miles from the New Zealand coast.
However, apart from a few nasty moments at night (the captain fell asleep on his feet), they made it. There was a great feeling of relief when dawn broke two days later to find what was now, a relatively agreeable sea. Yet the drawn and tired faces told without words the real story behind the momentous two days; no sleep, no comfort and no food. It was pretty evident from the outset that the entire crew knew they were up against a tough one, but by pulling together they got the ship through the storm.