Question 6

Jack Mainland: “So you’ve had some pretty long passages over the years. Any particular problems on a long passage?”

Bill Ballingall: “Some long passages and some shorter ones around the UK coast, Indian or perhaps the Australian coast. On one ship, we discharged in Hafnafjordur, in Iceland, and sailed to Launceston, Tasmania, picking up a cargo in Aden. That’s about as long a passage you could ever have.

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The earlier ships couldn’t make their own potable (drinking) water, and we were limited in how much the Company would allow us carry. The more fresh water we took on board, the less cargo we could carry. On some ships, on the way to Australia from the Gulf, we would run short of water, and be rationed down to ‘one bucket, per man, per day (perhaps!)’. And that bucketful was for washing and washing our boilersuits; no showering during this water rationing.

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Boilersuits had to be washed after every watch; they would be sodden with sweat after wearing them for a few hours. If we were lucky, we would have some rain on passage, and we would endeavour to run a fire-hose from the scuppers into the potable water tank. Inconceivable in this day and age, but I suppose I’m talking about the best part of half a century ago.”

Foodstuffs, especially fresh vegetables and fruit, were sometimes a problem on a long trip, and to some degree depending what might have been available from the last port of call. The ships would carry ’Board of Trade’ fortified lime juice as a supplement against scurvy, and this would be diluted with water and hopefully some sugar. Without sugar, it was vile stuff to take.

And while we’re talking about food, by Board of Trade regulation, there was a set scale of minimum food stuffs which were required to be available for every person on board. So many ounces of this, that, and the other, per day, or approved alternatives if one of the items ran out. Including meat, fish, butter, flour, and so on, and 2 eggs per week. A steak was out of the question…

On one ship, the ‘British Talent’, the Skipper’s wife decreed that she wanted a cake one Sunday, for tea. The Butler asked the Skipper if he could give the cook an egg for this cake, and the Skipper directed him to use one of the apprentice’s eggs. I was the apprentice who lost the egg in question, and cold comfort when she brought me down a slice of her bloody cake.

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