Rio Caroni/5LOP Iron Ore Carrier

My Trip to San Nicolas de Rosario, Argentina,1969

While the 1969 hurricane season was among the most severe on record, the trip from Mobile, Alabama to San Nicolas de Rosario, Argentina, was uneventful. Tropical depression Seven had developed near the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, June 7th and by the 10th, it had made landfall in Florida and dissipated shortly after, not affecting us. Until we reached the north end of Trinidad and Tobago, my positive opinion of the captain’s navigational skills continued to impress me while handling the Cruz del Sur in bad weather the previous year. However, by the time we were passing between Trinidad and Tobago, I wasn’t too sure if he had became irrational in his advanced years or just simply careless. Sometimes, we passed so close to the edge between the coral reefs in the shallow aqua green waters off the Island of Tobago and the dark green channel offshore that I expected he was about to tear out the bottom of the Rio Carnoni. Surprisingly, we did succeed in passing between the islands and proceeded southward.

But I had other plans on my mind that might develop into a lasting event. Through my friend, the Argentine electrician aboard my last ship, I had heard about the sister of his girlfriend, both living in Buenos Aires. Through them, I was able to write her several short letters over the winter and, with the Rio Caroni on its way to San Nicolas de Rosario, only a few hours by train from Buenos Aires, my prospects of meeting her were good. According to the captain, we would be discharging 15,000 tons of hot rolled steel coils for the automotive industry, that had been loaded at Mobile before I arrived. It would take more than 10 days to discharge the cargo.

The river pilot explained, with considerable patience, how to get to the train station in Rosario, where I bought a 3rd class ticket for Buenos Aires. This is the class used mostly by the peasants on their way to the Buenos Aires market, the people who interest me the most. Much like my taxi-bus trip in Peru in 1966, I understood little of the Lunfardo dialect that includes the use of the voseo. However, the gentle “th” lisp in their language, the colourful handmade clothes they wore, the variety of small animals they were bringing to market and the courtesy they showed in repeating expressions at my request that I had difficulty understanding, remains to this day, clearly in my mind.

¿Argentina, the Land of Unexpected Surprises?

For me, the size of the Buenos Aires train station was unimaginable compared to the one-man office at the rural train station near my home. I wasn’t expecting to find her waiting exactly where I stepped off the train. My first impression was that of a tall, well dressed business-woman with a calm and composed demure. That was my first surprise. Leaving the station, we took a bus for some distance. I hadn’t eaten for several hours, but I guess it was the same for her. Our first stop was a “small” restaurant. There seemed to be so many people there that I wondered if we’d have to try another place. My second surprise was that everyone knew her, and in a jiffy, they made room for both of us. Not know much about Argentine cuisine and even less what to select, she ordered up what she called a “pizza” but I couldn’t understand what else she had called for. Maybe she was talking about the “Tower of Pizza”? Well, it sure wasn’t tall, but it was really big. There must have been at least 15 people around our table, but everyone had a good sized piece of pizza. Even more surprising, it was not only delicious, but finger licking good. Along with that came a “big” bottle of 1964 Mendoza wine that set the tone for the evening. I was learning quickly that eating in Argentina wasn’t rural Canada. Instead of 20 minutes, the meal carried on for hours. Unimaginable side dishes, more wine, desserts, lots of chatting, jokes and lots of laughter, it continues to this day to be one of the most interesting parties I have ever attended.

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires in 1969

When we finally said goodbye to everyone and got onto the street, she took me to the Lancaster Hotel on avenida Corrientes, a elegant post-war construction, where I stayed on the third floor for the next 9 or 10 days. I had received a letter from my father just before our ship left Mobile, Alabama, and I hadn’t been able to answer him. I didn’t know how rapid the Argentine mail services were nor how complicated the situation was with my father, so I called the hotel desk to make the call. I was in for another surprise. Satellite telephone service was now available there, but the wait would be more than two hours. With a glass of good Scotch whiskey, the time passed quickly. Within minutes, the problem had been solved. A few minutes later, the desk called back to say it would cost me $12.00 for three minutes. Was I dreaming, or had he made a mistake? In 1969, calling Montreal, Canada, only 750km from home cost a small fortune that included regular party line interference from our neighbours.

Buenos Aires, a City of Surprises and Uncertainties.

I wasn’t expecting the weather in Buenos Aires to be so hot in late June, 1969. Aboard the Rio Caroni, we had a centralized air conditioning system but rarely used it, due to the regular ocean breezes. It certainly would have been nice if the Lancaster Hotel had the same then. That first night was definitely not my cup of tea. However, within a few day, I had gotten somewhat used to the much warmer weather.

We met at a restaurant close to both the hotel and where my friend worked. After lunch, she showed me around the foreign embassy quarter, and there were many, including even a Canadian Embassy on Tagle Avenue. I spent the afternoon walking along Corrientes Avenue, visiting several stores and commercial centers. When she finished work for the day, we had supper and she invited me to her home to meet her mother and sister. Although “Mamá” seemed a very nice person, she didn’t speak any English, and my Spanish wasn’t much better in those days. However, her sister did speak some English. The evening passed all too quickly, and it was time to take the bus back to the hotel. It wasn’t very difficult to find the place to get off, as it was the end of the bus run and close to the harbour.

During the next several days, she brought me to the Planetario Galileo Galilei where all the seats were nearly horizontal. I learned all about the Southern Cross star constellations located in the southern hemisphere that I had never seen on the Rio Caroni due to too much light pollution. Visiting numerous public distractions was interesting, but what I liked the most was passing several pleasant evenings chatting at her home. On my own, I visited several souvenir shops, where I bought a llama bedcover for my mother (later, she had it tailored by a renown designer in Montreal, Canada, into a fur coat that she wore for years), a holy cross created in onyx for my handicapped neighbour and a set of four onyx ashtrays shaped like a suit of playing cards for my father.

oynx1Set of four onyx ashtrays shaped like a suit of playing cards

Leaving was full of nagging uncertainties. I didn’t know if my ship would be back any time soon, if she would continue writing to me, or if she would even remember me if and when I got back to Buenos Aires. I hugged “Mamá”, but both her and her sister seemed a little distant, but very respectful. By the time I got back to the harbour in Rosario, the deck was bustling with seamen and officers getting ready to sail for Montevideo, Uruguay.

llama1My mother at our wedding with her fur coat in llama tailored by a renown designer in Montreal, Canada.

The Pampas, Rio de la Plata, Argentina

From Buenos Aires to Montevideo, it took about a day and a half.  The recurrent view was the Argentina pampas (from Quechua pampa, meaning “plain”) on either side of the river, as far as the eye could see. Since I had sat on the captain’s chair watching the scene most of the inbound trip, I wasn’t too interested in watching it again. However, one thing caught my eye. I first heard a strange noise from my office, a lot like an airplane, but by the time I got to the bridge, it was already abeam the ship and travelling at about 100km/h. Although hovercraft, sometimes called air-cushion vehicles, had been in operation for some years in England, it was a novelty in the Buenos-Aires Montevideo ferry service. It was also new to me. I wasn’t to see another  for  20 years  when the Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft Waban-Aki came into service. The remainder of the trip wasn’t uneventful, apart from the story of the Admiral Graf Spee.


Brush fires on the Pampas

The pilot told me, in a few words, about the search for her. She was the 10,000 ton German battleship just outside the mouth of the Rio de la Plata in December, 1939 that had sank several British warships. It was hit by a penetrating 204mm shell from the British battleship Exeter. The Graf Spee limped into the neutral port of  Montevideo, Uruguay.  Under the Hague Convention of 1907, she was not entitled to remain in port for more than 24 hours. The British also knew that fact, and promoted much propaganda that a vast fleet of British warships was waiting in the area. The Graf Spee sailed out of Montevideo and was scuttled by her crew just outside the harbour. Captain Langsdorff committed suicide three days later by shooting himself. However, in 1969, the Graf Spee was still in the same position when we passed by her, slowly rusting. More recently, I heard that the Graf Spee Project group intended to recover and preserve the ship for the following generations.

Graf Spee1

About all I can remember about Montevideo was the thousands of early 1960-vintage foreign-built vehicles sitting in a vast parking lot visible from the ship. Apparently, the government  had imposed unreasonable high taxes on imported cars and, consequently, few could afford the luxury of owning one. Since we were only loading 10,000 tons of iron ore that would take about 12 to 15 hours, I didn’t feel much like going ashore just for a very short visit. It was dark when we left, so my memories of Montevideo are few.

An unexpected vacation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

 Our ship was only partly loaded in Montevideo, Uruguay, of the 25,000 tons of iron bound to the ironworks in Morrisville, Pennsylvania. Our next destination was Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a four days to complete the loading. The weather in the South Atlantic was preparing for a stiff breeze. However, the journey continued without incident. Once docked, the pilot mentioned that the Rio Caroni was one of the largest ships that had docked at the old iron ore loading port in Rio de Janeiro.

Rio from sea

Approaching Rio de Janeiro 

The ancient and fixed conveyor belt began filling the center holds of the ship when I went ashore for the city. Hoping that the ship would be fully loaded in 17 or 18 hours, I hurried back at dusk, only to find  the ship was listing about 15 degrees from the pier, the conveyor belt stopped and a lot of people both on the dock and on the ship discussing how to fix the problem.

A very small quantity of iron ore fell regularly from the sides of the conveyor belt into the water that had accumulated over the years, forming a considerable cone. When it came to small freighters there was no problem, since the port was dredged to a depth of about 10 meters and they needed much less draft when fully loaded. However, the Rio Caroni, when loaded, took a little more than 11 meters of water. The accumulated iron ore underwater and an unusual low tide, the vessel was aground like a fish out of water. Loading could not continue until the cone was removed. On the one hand, since central holds were almost fully loaded, we could not sail until the load was distributed among the other holds.

At high tide, the vessel was pulled away from the dock by a tugboat. I never knew where they found the dredge that arrived a few days later to remove the cone of iron ore that had accumulated. But this was not the end of the problems.

As the conveyor belt had no lateral movement, the vessel had to be moved relatively often. Manoeuvring was slow as only mooring winches were used. To prevent structural damage to the ship, iron ore was loaded in stages until all the holds were filled according to the loading plan.

I had expected to stay in Rio for maybe a day, but turned out to be almost two weeks. I visited many interesting places in the city, including the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, the statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado mountain, the slums, a few street parties and probably many more sites that I no longer remember.


 A very popular beach in Rio de Janeiro 

Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain.

As a matter of principle, I rarely patronize the tourist circuits. Visiting the Corcovado Mountain in central Rio de Janeiro had not been in my plans. However, one morning after breakfast, the steward told me that the chief engineer wanted to see me. Maybe he wanted to send a telegram? This was a day of many surprises. It was the first time we had met since my arrival aboard the Rio Caroni almost a month earlier. Secondly, I did not know that his wife was on board. As he spoke no Spanish or Portuguese and very little English, he wanted me to act as interpreter during the trip to visit the Christ the Redeemer with all my expenses paid. I couldn’t refuse that offer, and besides, his wife was a very attractive woman, though she did not speak English. Other than that, the weather was perfect, not too warm, with excellent visibility, an ideal day to go there.


Christ the Redeemer is an “art deco” statue of Jesus Christ of 30 meters in height. Construction began in 1922 and nine years later opened to the public. Located in the Tijuca Corcovado National Park at more than 700m above sea level, it has one of the most spectacular views of the city that includes the beaches of Rio, the favelas, the luxury high rise apartments, Guanabara Bay and out to sea. No one seemed interested in using the popular red narrow gauge train that circulated up through the mountainside. The taxi had probably traveled many times those narrow, winding steep slopes of some four kilometers up the mountain. However, I was terrified sitting next to the driver who looked anywhere but where he should have been watching. After 15 minutes traveling with my heart beating very hard, we fully arrived intact, thank God.



I do not remember if the statue was open to the public at the time, but I remember that none of our group went up. There were several stalls selling all sorts of tourist trappings, but besides taking several photos, it was a very economical visit for me. We spent an hour there, and, after finding our waiting taxi, drove down the same winding road. At least this time, the driver was watching the road instead of looking around. The chief’s wife wanted to see a bit of the city, so the taxi drove around for an hour or so, showing us what he thought might be the main attractions. While the trip was interesting, for my taste, it seemed too geared towards tourists.

Flying fish

Perhaps Rio de Janeiro wasn’t anything like it is today, but in 1969, it had so many spectacular attractions that it would take months to visit everything. However, I never followed the conventional tourist routes, so my 13 days in Rio were more than enough vacation. When the Rio Caroni sailed for Morrisville, Pennsylvania, I was happy getting back to my daily routine.

My first job was finding out what mother nature might have in store for us. We hadn’t experienced the Carpinteiro winds along the coast of southern Brazil, an intense, sometimes brutal rapidly shifting wind from the southeast. Neither was the stormy gale-force north-westerly’s of the Caju anywhere to be seen along Brazil’s northerly coast. Only tropical storm Anna off the west coast of Africa had developed in mid-July, but by the time we would pass over the equator on our way to the American eastern seaboard, it would probably have dissipated into the North Atlantic. Instead, we had days of nearly mirror-calm weather. Hundreds of flying fish (exocoetidae) could be seen everywhere attempting to evade their numerous predators. To my surprising, they sometime flew distances of more than 50  metres, occasionally at more than 5 metres above the ocean surface. Since our ship was fully loaded, the distance between the waterline and the deck was barely a meter. When the ship rolled to starboard, dozens of flying fish landed on the deck and hatch covers.  Luckily, seamen would sweep them back into the sea from time to time on their way to their various jobs.

We passed a few hundred miles to the east of Barbados and Antigua and continued northward into Delaware Bay and up the Delaware River to Morrisville, Pennsylvania, a small non-descript iron ore discharge port. The closest town was Trenton, New Jersey, where I stocked up my reading material for the next few months, mostly novels and science magazines..If I recall correctly, if it hadn’t been for the bookstore, I would have stayed on board as, at that time, Trenton didn’t appear much more interesting than Morrisville.

Listening to the discussion around the dinner table, I learned that our main loading port would be Puerto Ordaz, some 325km up the Orinoco River, located in northeastern Venezuela. That was our next destination, to load a full cargo of iron-ore, only to return to Morrisville. You might think than an  iron-ore loading port in the middle of a jungle would be boring, but no, there was always something new to see, especially along the Orinoco River.


Macareo, the old delta channel of the Rio Orinoco.

The iron ore carrier Rio Caroni was built by the Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft in Hamburg, German in 1957. However, my story goes back to 1947, when the ore deposits at Cerro Bolívar became commercially feasible in a mountain of iron about 120km from Porto Ordaz, our loading port, situated at the confluence of the Orinoco and Caroni Rivers in Venezuela.  The unusual quantity of iron ore of Cerro Bolívar covers about 7km in length, 1.2km wide and some 800 feet deep. That mountain  contained between 250 and 400 million tons of high-grade ore consisting of more than 50 percent iron.

The Orinoco Mining Company was created in 1949, followed by the installation of a railroad and dredging of the 184-mile channel to the sea using the Macareo delta branch of the Orinoco River that emptied into the Boca de Serpientes Strait, just south of Trinidad. Next was the construction of the necessary facilities at Puerto Ordaz including wharfs, docks and ore-crushing, stockpiling and loading facilities. However, the channel depth below mean low tide of the Macareo branch was only 8 metres and entirely inadequate for the seven Rio-class ships being built in Hamburg for Hendy International between 1957 and 1959. The Barima or Boca Grande Channel, located just north of the Guyana border, was dredged in 1959 to a depth of 11 metres, allowing ocean-going ore carriers to load at Porto Ordaz.

On the trip from Morrisville, Pennsylvania  to Porto Ordaz, I continued to believe the captain had to be a little crazy.  The ship passed so close to the coral reefs clearly visible on our starboard between Trinidad and Tobago that I swear I could see the tiny sea anemones swaying with the currents that passed under our hull. I quickly learned that I was about to be even more surprised.

That same captain, the one I had sailed with aboard the Cruz del Sur, had navigated the channel ever since the Macareo delta branch was first used many years earlier. We were barely past Trinidad when he suddenly veered the ship to starboard into what looked like a virgin jungle as far as the eye could see. With no visible markers or other navigation aids available, I honestly believed he was out of his mind. Later I learned we had entered the old Macareo delta branch of the Orinoco River that the company had abandoned in 1959 due to its shallowness, removing all the channel markers.

However, he continued sailing at 14 knots, sometimes close enough to touch the trees. He seemed to know what was around every bend, as he always reduced speed to limit the ship’s wake when passing very close to the native shoreline communities of the Warao people. Interestingly, they consist of some 35,000 inhabitants  who speak an isolated language not related of any family of the current known languages.

Since the Rio Caroni operated under time charter, entering the Orinoco River via the Macareo delta branch had saved him about 8 hours, since the new Boca Grande entrance was near the southern border of Venezuela with Guyana.

Captains generally receive bonuses, fringe benefits and other perks for saving time and fuel, so it all made sense. Maybe he wasn’t so crazy, after all!


Using the Macareo branch inbound and the Boca Grande outbound make sense?

At that time, I though that our captain was totally crazy. I soon learned that he had sailed through the  Macareo branch of the Orinoco delta from 1954, when the United States Steel Corporation, then the world’s largest steel producer, began carrying iron ore from Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela to the United States. After dozens, perhaps hundreds of trips through that branch, he knew the channel and its characteristics probably better than anyone on earth. In 1958, the channel was dredged to a maximum depth of 8 meters limited only by the geomorphologic characteristics of the channel bed. However, ships were being built ever larger and with greater capacity, but displaced much more water. The company had ordered 5 “super mineral carriers” class “Río” during the period 1957 to 1959 that required 11 meters depth when they were fully loaded. By then, the Macareo was no longer profitable or a suitable channel to export iron ore to the States.


Geographic features of the Orinoco

The lower portion of the Orinoco river channel, called Barima or Boca Grande, would be the solution. However, its use was seriously restricted by a shallow bar 45 kilometers long of consolidated sand, silt and sandy clay deposits brought down from the Orinoco head waters during and after each rainy season. The company had hired two of the largest dredges in the Western Hemisphere to dredge the Macareo a few years before, and had developed considerable expertise in dredging operations. By converting a T-2 tanker, built during the Second World War as an experimental dredging machine using side-casting discharge, the entire Boca Grande channel was dredged from the initial depth of 3.4 meters, to a depth of 11 meters by 1961. Due to this fact, these large ore carriers were able to meet at several selected locations in the delta and along the river.


When the “Río” class ships sailed in ballast, they displaced only a few meters of  water.  As a result, navigating the Macareo was practical and economical, but only for the most experienced captains. All navigational aids had been removed to discourage less experienced captains from trying to navigate that branch. When fully loaded, these ore carriers used the Boca Grande, rarely touching the bottom of the canal, except at very low tides.

However, a layer of very soft mud, virtually in suspension and partially mobile, known locally as “calambrina”, occasionally accumulated in excess of a meter in depth during the summer months. Some vessels fully loaded have experienced  speed reductions,  having had to force a passage through the mud, at until the tide began to rise.

The planned city of Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela.

The responsibility of the communications officer, or what all the Spaniards called us “el telegrafista” going up the Orinoco River was simple, but long and tedious. Ever hour for the next 22 hours, we had to transmit our position along the river to Puerto Ordaz/YVM radio station, and receive the list and position of all the down bound ships. Since I always liked working with Morse code, it should have been like listening to classical music. However, the weather made the difference. All communications were carried out on the medium frequency band, where numerous active electrical storms along the Orinoco River and the jungle on either sides could turn radio signals into repetitious explosive crashes in our headphones, severely limiting our ability to transcribe the important security details. There were always electrical storms somewhere along the river, and often many during the same period. Since every operator had the same problem in varying degrees, by waiting a short period, someone would call the shore station for a partial repeat. During my numerous trips to Puerto Ordaz, I had to call several time in order to be able to give the pilot and the bridge officers the necessary information.

Rio Caroni at pier

Between these times, I was on the bridge watching the passing jungle and occasionlly a small village. Maybe the view of the river from Castillo de San Diego or Castillo de Guayana might be spectacular, but from the ship, little was visible. The first indication that the Puerto Ordaz anchorage was nearby was San Felix, a drowsy hamlet now integrated into the planned city of Guayana, that covers 40 km along the Orinoco River with a population exceeding a million. The next indication were several ore carriers at anchor in the harbour waiting their turn to be loaded. Normally, the wait didn’t exceed 2 days. During the short loading period, I would wonder into the surround village with little to see apart from a small church, a few small stores and rows of houses. Since the loading facilities were ultra modern, my visit might only be a few hours, as the ship would be loaded in 8 or 9 hours, and then we were on our return trip to the States.

Puerto Ordaz iglisaA small church in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela.

A New Destination.

My fascination had faded a little after doing the first few trips between Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela and the American east coast ports, even with the occasional trip to Vitória, Brazil to load iron ore.  However, when we arrived in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, I heard that our next discharge port would be a little unusual. Newport in South Wales, near the English boarder, our next destination. The cargo was some 20,000 tons of  hot-rolled steel coils. Since I had never been to Europe before, I was busy studying all the possible radio stations and sources for whatever weather forecasts across the big pond that I should know about.  Maybe I was a little too enthused about the trip. As I leaped from my vessel across a short distance to another ship to get more information from the radio operator, my glass case and glasses jumped out of my shirt pocket, falling into the dirty harbour and disappeared in a flash. Now what was I going to do? The Rio Caroni was about to leave with no chance of getting new glasses on time.  Luckily, sending or receiving Morse code only required my ears, a typewriter and lots of attention.


In autumn, gale and storm-force winds in the North Atlantic wasn’t unusual. Four to six meter seas washed over the deck on a regular basis. This fact didn’t affect the ship’s operations, as a passage below deck ran from the stern to amidships and onto the forecastle. However, watching the long line of lights on the roof of the long passage twisting out of line as the ship rolled and pitched in the heavy seas was unnerving at first. How often had I listened to the German officers on the bridge bragging about their incomparable ship building expertise?  From my humble experience in the passage, I sensed that they weren’t bluffing, but really had the know-how to build storm and hurricane resistant ocean-going ships, or at least, iron-ore carriers like the Rio Caroni.

Newport, South Wales.

Entering Newport, South Wales was  rather interesting, as it had one of the highest tides in the world.  Those unusual tides, sometimes as high as 15m,  created extensive intertidal wildlife habitats developed over thousands of years. I would have liked to visit some of the developing Ramsar wetland sites nearby, recognized as areas of international importance, but had more important matters to attend to. The Rio Caroni was expected to stay for seven or eight days, but my list of things I wanted to do kept getting longer.

ramsar2An example of Ramsar sites.

With poor near-vision and now without any glasses, my first visit was to the closest and hopefully the best optometrist in town. I don’t  know how old he was, but his tools probably predated the last century.  It took him  a very long time physically changing literally dozens of tiny lenses until he was satisfied that his solution to my close vision problem couldn’t be improved. For me, his price was right, as the ship’s medical insurance  paid everything. The sad news was that it would take about two weeks before my glasses would be ready.  When we got back to the States, the glasses were waiting for me. Evidently, the optometrist knew his business, as I never had the glasses adjusted, and I used them for more than 10 years.

horsesEnglandOne of many images found on the chalk hills of England.

My next stop was Stonehenge, England, some 2 hours by train. After passing across the Severn Estuary southward through Bristol, Bath and numerous tiny English hamlets, I gazed at a giant white horse carved in the chalk hills that wasn’t on my agenda. When I arrived at Stonehenge, about  50 visitors, mostly Americans, were already there. In mid-October, the air was crisp with a brisk breeze at Stonehenge. I listened to part of the aural presentation, took several photos, bought a small assortment of slides but didn’t stay very long as I really didn’t know much about Stonehenge at that time.Stonehenge0041Stonehenge, one of the earliest season and time clocks in the world.

My next stop was Salisbury Cathedral, built more than 700 years earlier. Both the exterior and interior were spectacular, but even more interesting to me was seeing one of the very few copies still in existence of the Magna Carta issued by King Henry III in 1225. With numerous security guards around, I couldn’t get any closer than about 3 metres nor take any photos. In addition, there were many other wanting to see that historical document, so my visit wasn’t very long.

SalisburySalisbury in 1969.

The H1070, a Ship full of Surprises

When I got back to my ship from Stonehenge and the Salisbury Cathedral that night, I noticed what looked like a new tanker or ore carrier of about 30,000 tons tied up just behind our ship, but it was too dark to see much detail. Next morning at breakfast, I learned that she was the H1070, built at the Saint John shipyards in Saint John, N.B.,   sailing under the Canadian flag with an all-Canadian crew. That to me was quite a surprise, as Canada had only a handful of ships registered and sailing under the Canada flag.  She was  loading refined petroleum products for the States, but could also carry ore or other bulk cargo. Later that day, I met a few of them and was invited to join the evening party onboard.

What surprised me to this day is that I was able to recall that her captain was John Harding as I rarely remember any details of the many other ships I visited during my seagoing career. She wasn’t a “dry” ship like all the ones I’d sailed on.  While some alcoholic drinks were available, the fun was singing mostly Canadian popular songs, telling tall sea tales and listening to stories and experiences of the members that had sailed on other ships. The next evening, I joined them again but in town at a restaurant, and passed another celebrative evening. If I recall correctly, the H1017 stayed another day or two, but I never saw her again.

What surprised me even more when I started researching this text was the fact that practically nothing exists on internet concerning the H1070. She must have been a trouble-free ship, as there was nothing on the newspapers nor maritime traffic circuits. One thing that I did find was that apparently she continued sailing until the mid-1980’s when she was towed to Spain, broken up and sold as scrap iron, a sad but not unusual end to so many aging ships.

Look, it’s a Honey Bucket!

After discharging our cargo of hot-rolled steel coils in Newport, South Wale, the ship took on sufficient diesel fuel for our next trip to Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela. The return trip across the Atlantic was surprisingly easy-going, so different from our previous  tempestuous crossing. However, during that time, I was listening to the bridge and dining room chatter plus the radio messages transmitted between the various ships owned by Hendy International. With a deteriorating world economical situation and a host of other sources, I sensed there was something afloat that not only strange but maybe even a  little sinister.  I couldn’t quite foresee what was about to happen or how that change might affect me or my shipboard companions.

I finally learned that our next port would be  Emden, Germany, but I couldn’t imagine why we would be going there. Emden had a shipyard since the beginning of the 20th century but it didn’t seem to have any iron ore processing plants nearly. A few days later, I learned that there would be an all-Spanish crew change.  We loaded our last cargo at Puerto Ordaz, and, to my surprise, the trip across the Atlantic was entirely uneventful. Neither tropical storm Jenny nor hurricane Kara affected our trip during those first weeks of October 1969.

As usual, I was on the bridge, watching as our ship entered the Ems Estuary on our way to Emden. The chief mate pointed to what looked like a cargo ship of about 5,000 tons, “Schauen Sie! Es ist ein honig eimer” (Look! It’s a honey bucket.) “What’s a honey bucket”? Since most of the bridge officers were German, there was lots of laughter over my utter ignorance of German polysemous humour. I learned quickly that in some  parts of Germany, and probably in other neighbouring countries, city sewage was pumped directly into these specially equipped self-discharging “honey buckets” and dumped in international waters somewhere offshore in the North Sea.    Singing off the ship was easy. I had received my salary, holiday pay and repatriation ticket to Montreal via New York. The chief mate was with the immigration officer at the bottom of the accommodation ladder. He asked me something that I didn’t understand. My friend the chief mate, told him I didn’t smoke. He simply stamped my passport, wished me a pleasant stay in Germany. I was on my way by bus to the Seaman’s Mission where I lived for a few weeks until I got tired of Hamburg.

Rio Caroni Cert

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One thought on “Rio Caroni/5LOP Iron Ore Carrier

  1. Pingback: My Maritime Travels | My Maritime Travels 1966-1972

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