Oct 11 2012
© Frits Olinga

Twenty five years ago, on the 12th October 1987, which was also a Friday, I joined MV 'Apapa Palm' in Huskison Dock, Liverpool at the age of 16 after 7 weeks of pre-sea training at Glasgow College of Nautical Studies.

The 'Apapa Palm' was one of the four Japanese 'M' Class ships built by Ocean Fleets of Liverpool between 1976-78. Originally named 'Menestheus', her 3 Japanese-built sisters were 'Memnon', 'Menelaus' and 'Melampus'.

The ships were owned by Airlease International. During the voyage I learned that BP had purchased the steel for a ULCC through their financing vehicle (Airlease) but during the 1970s oil crisis had to sell the build option on. Ocean Fleets built four of the finest general cargo ships from the steel that had been allocated for BP's ULCC.

When the four Japanese Ms came into service, Ocean built a further 3 'M' Class ships at the Scott Lithgow yard, during 1978 – 81. These were the 'Myrmidon', 'Maron' and 'Mentor'. Even at 16, I could not help but recognise the superiority of the Japanese Ms over the Scottish Ms but, ultimately, as they were all sold over the following years, I would never know ultimately if those Ms built in Scotland would prove better in the long run.

'Apapa Palm' was on the UK – West Africa Line (UKWAL) liner trade and, unbeknownst to me, as we sailed from Liverpool the following week, the BBC's weatherman was delivering the line he will always be remembered for "... and to the lady who has written in asking is there a hurricane coming? Don't worry, there is nothing to worry about!" The UK was promptly hit by hurricane force winds in what is still referred to as 'The Great Storm'.

We had a very short call into Falmouth and then set course for Monrovia, Liberia. As a 16 year old, I recall the Chief Steward and a number of officers advising me to "batten down my cabin" as it could get a bit rough in the Bay of Biscay. The 2/O, Mr Whittaker, referred to it as the 'Bay of Broken Biscuits'.

As we stuck our nose into Biscay, I couldn't believe the storm we hit. As everyone had talked up Biscay I assumed that it was always this bad. I didn't know it was compounded by 'The Great Storm' that was moving across NW Europe. As I looked out of the bridge window the foc'sle and No 1 hatch would disappear under green water, because we were literally pitching through about 15°. All I could think was "You guys are out of your minds!!! This is absolutely crazy!!!" Perhaps this sea life was not for me. If I'd wanted to work on a rollercoaster I'd have chosen a job at the fairground. Of course, it was February 1988 before I actually realised what a storm we'd gone through!!

However, after that inauspicious start, and as a young ship's officer in the later part of the 20th Century, I came to realise what a privilege it was to have sailed in the company that Alfred Holt started, on a ship that had been built in the Blue Funnel way and named after a God of Greek mythology. As a 16 year old boy on a ship with 5 hatches and tween decks, cranes swinging everywhere carrying Land Rovers from Live Aid, railway iron, police speedboats, salt and Guinness barley to West Africa, cotton, cocoa beans, coffee, sawn timber and logs back to the UK, I was in my element.

After preparing this blog entry, I checked what had happened to the 'Apapa Palm' after she was sold in 1989 and, in doing so, received quite a surprise. Johan Machtelinckx, (Witherby's IT Director) has been my good friend and colleague since 2001. He studied at the University of Antwerp while I was studying in Glasgow and had a similar career to me in that and both spent a large part of our seagoing careers on LPG Carriers, after initially going to sea on general cargo vessels. While looking for a name for a software product last year, I asked him what the first ship he went to sea with CMB was called, as it might perhaps provide a good name. His answer was 'Esprit'. To my amazement, when I checked what had happened to the 'Apapa Palm' after being sold – she had become Johan's first ship, but in the guise of 'CMB Esprit'!!!

Strange things happen at sea!!