SUEVIC in the River Blackwater
By Nolan Loveridge
The Shaw Savill refrigerated cargo ship SUEVIC arrived in the River Blackwater early August 1969 from Southampton and departed September 1969.
Normal crew level was maintained but mostly made up of people coming off leave and spending time on the ship in the River Blackwater before going off to join other ships. A nucleus of mates and engineers remained on board during the whole lay-up, of which I was one.
The ship's motorboat was fitted with a makeshift canopy, renamed "African Queen" and pressed into servie doing four trips a day into the jetty at West Mersea (the Causeway at the Hard). This supplemented the frequent trips carried out by the Agent's boat. On Sunday mornings an extra trip was implemented carrying people into Bradwell-on-Sea to have lunch in the pub there.
The third trip of the day departed each evening after dinner, heading for West Mersea, carrying those of the crew who wished to imbibe a few pints at the Victory. After dropping them off the "AQ" would return to the SUEVIC before heading back in time to pick up the revellers at 2300 hrs.
On Friday and Saturday nights the boat crew after dropping off the crew, instead
of returning to the SUEVIC, would remain and tie up the "AQ" to the jetty and
join those at the pub. At 2300 everyone would march back together to return
to the ship.
Although one or other of the boat crew would check on the "AQ" during the course
of the evening, we have come back to find the "AQ"
We had on board an engineer called Ted, a kindly lovely older man who suffered
advanced Parkinson's Disease. Although largely incapacitated, he had his own
small team of engineers and greasers and was in charge of the overhaul of the
fridge gear, compressors etc. (SUEVIC was a reefer vessel). His knowledge and
experience was second to none in Shaw Savill.
Against our better judgement we did this. The first time I went back to check he was alright, the boat was afloat at the end of the jetty which was under water. The tide would soon start to ebb. The next time I checked, the boat was gone. Frantically I looked around wildly. The tide was ebbing and somehow the "AQ" had slipped her moorings and headed off.
I raced back to the pub , quietly grabbed my offsider and we tore back together
to the jetty. After a frantic search along the shoreline we spotted two guys
loading some gear into a small inflatable. After listening to our story, they
said jump in and we motored off.
Using a hand held spotlight we cruised among the moored boats. No sign of him.
The spotlight caught a flash of white outside the channel and we motored out
to investigate. There was poor old Ted, drifting out to sea at the rate of
six knots or so, and because of his condition unable to do anything about it.
He was physically incapable of starting the engine or steering the boat or even
using the hand held spotlight we always carried.
We had returned from the evening run and lifted the boat up in the falls so I could do some little repair job on the engine. At 2200 hrs or so we lowered the boat back into the water and proceeded on our way to the jetty in the dark. Not long after leaving the ship's side, the Mate complained that the tiller felt heavy and the "AQ" wasn't responding to it very well. "I never touched that" I said to him pointedly, but none-the-less tried it and agreed with him. At about the same time we became aware of a slight swishing sound which became louder and louder. Shining my torch into the bilge, I saw it was filling with water. The penny dropped for both of us at the same time. We had forgotten to put the bungs in. The noise was the engine flywheel entering the water. We quickly returned to the ship and hooked on to the falls. The guys on the ship slowly hoisted us up until the stern was clear of the water and the water drained out. That cost us each a few beers I can tell you.
While we were there, two Union Castle ships also arrived and laid up. They took the crews off them and they rode on their moorings, I think with a watchman on each only.
One night, returning at 2300 with a boatload of revellers (a polite term really, isn't it?) we suddenly saw all of the lights on the SUEVIC go out. Suffused with laughter and everyone making ribald jokes about the capabilities of the engineers on board, we continued on our merry way. Moments later, with one guy standing in the bow relieving himself and looking back at us laughing, we clanged into the side of a Union Castle ship moored in the river with us. The SUEVIC hadn't blacked out at all. The guy in the bow went into the water and we spent time rescuing him. The rest of us fell about initially but managed to pick ourselves up without injury.
I went to a dance in West Mersea and with a local girl won a bottle of gin. This girl worked as a nurse in a London Hospital and we dated a couple of times from there. I wish I could remember her name.
One night after an evening in the pub, three of us missed the last boat back. We ended up at a beach nearby, near to some boats in cradles. Looking for somewhere to sleep I persuaded them how easy it was to dig yourself into the sand to keep warm while you sleep. I assured them we do this a lot of the time in New Zealand. I was full of blarney in those days. We all awoke at some ungodly hour, freezing, with our legs soaking wet. I had forgotten about the tide coming in. Was I popular? We walked around the rest of the night trying to get warm. We contemplated at one point getting into one of the yachts nearby to borrow some blankets just so we could get out of our soaking wet trousers which were wet to the waist. Not only that, but we copped a rocket from the Ship's Master for missing the boat and not getting back on board until nearly midday on a working day.
One of the most important jobs I was asked to do was to help bring a consignment of beer out to the ship. Some of it was to come with the Agent but we were to bring the bulk of it in the "AQ". We loaded the "AQ" at the jetty until she was absolutely full to the gunwhales and was sittings so low in the water that there was hardly any freeboard. We slowly and carefully navigated our way out to the ship, ever mindful of the warning issued to us prior to leaving, a veiled threat along the lines of "if we should for any reason lose this consignment on the way then we should never ever contemplate returning to the SUEVIC, not even to collect our luggage". The mission was accomplished with no mishap.
When we finally got our orders to raise steam and sail to Rotterdam, all the relief crew left and the regular crew rejoined. The Master, Chief Engineer and other senior officers all joined at the same time. The "AQ" was used to bring them out to the SUEVIC. Unfortunately the Junior Mate in charge of the "AQ" chose to take a shortcut across the mudbanks on a falling tide. Only he knows why. They finally made it to the ship a few hours later and there wasnt't much humour evident among them while the young Junior Mate was very much chastised.
Nolan is a New Zealander and was an Engineer on the SUEVIC. When the she left the River, the SUEVIC went to Schiedam, Rotterdam for dry-docking.
Copyright Mersea Island Museum Trust 2020