Category Archives: Shipping

Ships, ferries, harbours and rivers

Port Hedland winter holiday

With my annual visit to family in the UK trip being earlier this year, a space was left for a short winter break. Seeking somewhere warm, I decided on Port Hedland. Half my Australian friends looked blank when I told them of my plans: “where?”; a few in the know responded with “why would you want to go there? The only things to see are ships and trains”. Quite so, and that’s why I went there! In August the temperature gets up to about 30C, falling to the mid-teens overnight. The record summer high is 49C!

Winning Universe ore carrier

Winning Universe ore carrier

Port Hedland is up on the north coast of Western Australia, almost as far from Melbourne as you can go on the Australian mainland – about 2,000mi/3,200km as the crow flies. To get there took me a four-hour flight to Perth, then a further two-hour flight to Port Hedland. Port Hedland is the port from which most of Australia’s iron ore is exported, currently around 1.5m tonnes a day.

On day one (Sunday) I was made very welcome at St Matthew’s Church, then spent the rest of the day getting my bearings. I stayed at the Hospitality Inn motel, just across the road from the beach where I enjoyed peaceful early morning and evening strolls.

Mariners waiting for the launch

Waiting for the Mission’s launch

Day two was taken up with the first two of four tours. If you’re visiting Port Hedland do take these tours or you’ll miss out on a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise see.

In morning I joined the Mission to Seafarers harbour tour. After a talk on the port and the work of the mission we all went aboard the Mission’s launch for its trip round the harbour collecting seafarers who had been given shore leave – in most cases their berths don’t allow landside access. Back at the Seafarers Centre they have access to food, recreational activities, a shuttle bus to the local shops and, most prized of all, free wi-fi.

Port Hedland salt stacks

Port Hedland salt stacks

After lunch I was back on another minibus for the Eco Salt tour – the giant salt stacks on the outskirts of Port Hedland are the final stage of the salt production process. It starts with seawater being drawn into the first of eight concentration ponds, 7800ha in total. As the water evaporates under the hot sun, the remaining water is moved from pond to pond as it gets saltier and saltier.

For day three, realising that I wasn’t going to see much without a car, I went back to the airport to hire one. In contrast to some of the ‘phantom damage’ car hire ripoffs seen in UK, Avis’s policy shows a refreshing appreciation of driving in the Pilbara:
Please note our Fair Wear and Tear Guidelines are below. If there is damage to the vehicle that falls within these guidelines, we do not consider this chargeable damage.
– Stone Chips 25mm diameter without denting
– Scratches less than 25mm that have not penetrated the paint
– Dents less than 25mm in diameter and 2mm deep without paint cracking or flaking
– Wheel scuffs without cracking or gouging
– Minor scruffs that can be polished out
– Scuff/scrape marks under lower bumper

Day four, Wednesday, was largely filled with my last two tours. The first, run by the Seafarers Centre took us into Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) facility. Kudos to FMG for allowing the Centre to operate this tour as a way of raising funds. It was a enthralling experience to drive past the massive trains, loaders, conveyors and then along the quayside next to a ship about to be loaded.

Sunset

Sunset from Finucane Island

After lunch, taken in a 1930s US stainless steel dining railway carriage, my last tour: the Twilight Industry tour. This tour looked in on all the mining company sites from public roads finishing up with a drink watching the sun go down – which it does very quickly in the tropics. This and the Eco Salt tour only started this year, so I chose the right time to visit.

My trip to Port Hedland was all but over. I wish I’d stayed a little longer, but I went not knowing what to expect. Perhaps at some point I’ll go back, but there’s a lot of Australia I’ve yet to visit once.

Singapore Stopover Part 2

Singapore Maritime Gallery

Singapore Maritime Gallery

After a good sleep and late start I headed off on the Red Line to Marina South Pier so as to visit the Maritime Gallery, a small museum telling Singapore’s maritime story from the 13th century to today. There was lots to hold my attention so I ended up spending the rest of the morning there.

Singapore Flyer

The Singapore Flyer

Then back one stop for a second, daytime, trip to Marina Bay for lunch, much less interesting than day one’s hawker stalls. I didn’t have enough time to visit the adjacent Science Museum and Gardens by the Bay – next year perhaps.
Instead I took a leisurely stroll (too hot to rush!) to the Singapore Flyer, and a chance to see Singapore from above – it was the world’s highest ferris wheel when opened (2008: 165m/541ft). Needless to say I enjoyed this very much.
It’s interesting to note how ferris wheels fell out of favour – the Wiener Riesenrad, Vienna, was the world’s tallest from 1920-1985 – only to be rediscovered in recent years: I can see the (poorly situated) Melbourne Star from my window.

Pasir Ris Park

Pasir Ris Park

Back at the hotel I took a needed shower and change and headed east to Pasir Ris to meet up with Kate and see where she lives. Pre-visit my expectation was that Singapore would be wall to wall high-rises, but not here. The norm seemed to be blocks of around twelve storeys set in secure compounds containing various resort-style amenties  – pools, picnic areas, tennis courts etc – as compensation for a very small (by my standards) apartment. And, again not what I expected, a large park nearby.

Dinner over, we went our separate ways. The next morning I was back on a plane, looking forward (not) to the Melbourne winter. It was my first stopover, but won’t be my last. I enjoyed the change of scene and had none of the usual jetlag on my return home.

Queen Elizabeth mini cruise 2019

Main staircase

Main staircase

This year I went somewhere new (to me), Brisbane, getting there in style on Cunard’s MS Queen Elizabeth. She’s one of eleven Vista-class ships, built by Fincantieri in 2010 and accommodates 2000+ passengers .
On the outside QE may look like many other cruise ships, but inside her decor reflects her Cunard ownership: top class Art Deco throughout the main public areas – I’m not known for my life of fine art, but I couldn’t help but enjoy such wonderful design and craftsmanship.

Queen Elizabeth at Circular Quay

Queen Elizabeth at Circular Quay

The cruise was just four nights: we left a cold wet Melbourne on Saturday afternoon, then spent Sunday at sea, docking at Circular Quay, Sydney on Monday.
After a good relaxing day with a friend – riding Sydney Harbour ferries! – it was back on board for another two nights and a day at sea before arriving at Brisbane on Wednesday morning.

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

This was only my second Cunard cruise and again I was upgraded to a suite! This meant dining in the more exclusive Princess Grill restaurant instead of the main dining hall. In my younger days I would have been scared stiff at having to dine with a group of ‘strangers’ but now I see it as something to look forward to – the chance to meet up with people I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered, meeting them over several evenings. My dining companions were very good company.
I did sample the famed afternoon white glove tea once, but you can only eat so much!

Music for our pleasure

Music for our pleasure

Filling the two sea days was no problem. As is the tradition, the captain conducted a well-attended Sunday morning service. An ad-hoc Christian Fellowship meeting was held on Tuesday morning which gave me a chance to meet another group of people. The QE has a large theatre used for stage shows in the evening; during the day it hosted a series of lectures. I went to two on whales and dolphins, and one on Captain Cook’s voyage mapping Australia’s east coast. Various types of music were offered around the ship. Much else to do as well, but not enough time. In no time we’d arrived in Brisbane and it was time to say goodbye … until next year’s cruise!

The Blue Lake

David Sornig

David Sornig, author

Ten days ago I had the pleasure of attending the official launch of David Sornig’s new book, Blue Lake. The lake, also known less flatteringly as the West Melbourne Swamp, was situated just north of where I live in Melbourne’s Docklands. In pre-settlement times it was a meeting place and rich hunting ground for Aboriginals, but over time it became a dumping ground and a place to situate noxious trades, then between the wars it then became the home of the notorious Dudley Flats, a shanty town where the lowest of the the low lived. It’s now been taken over by the dockland and urban freeways.

David Sornig tells the story through three residents: Elsie Williams, a singer of Afro-Caribbean descent, once billed as “the Coloured Nightingale”; Lauder Rogge, a German-born sailor who, though a naturalised Australian, was interned during World War I; and Jack Peacock, a stunt rider, horse trader and scrap dealer who made a good living on Dudley Flats.

I’m currently about one third through the book and it’s proving an interesting read.

Random memories of living in Mexico City

Not many people know that I spent two years living in Mexico City, 1957-59. I was three when I went and five when I returned so my memories of this period are very vague. Looking back I now wish I’d pumped my parents for information but it’s now too late. Here’s a summary of the little that that I do know and remember:

  • We went to Mexico because my dad was posted to the British Embassy as Labour Attache, one of six diplomats working under Sir Andrew Noble, Ambassador.
  • We went as a family (dad, mum, my younger sister and me) on the Cunard RMS Media, sailing from Liverpool to New York, then getting the train from NYC to Mexico. The Media (not that I remember it) was an interesting ship, the first built for Cunard after WWII. She entered service in 1947 and was a combination 250-passenger/cargo ship.
  • My dad was not a total stranger to diplomatic life as he’d worked in the British Embassy in Venezula in the late 1940s (he and my mum met through a penpal club – the immediate postwar version of internet dating!), but for my mum, coming from a working class background, it was an enormous challenge, but one she rose to. Not only was she expected to accompany my dad to diplomatic functions, but was expected to host them too.
  • Our home in Mexico City

    Our home in Mexico City

    We lived in two embassy-provided houses. I don’t remember the first, but would instantly recognise the second if taken there – looking from the road, at the right hand size there was a steeply dropping drive down to a double garage. To the left of this was the house, entered from the street by walking across a ‘bridge’ – the principal entertaining rooms were at first floor level. At the bottom of the garden, over the fence, was some sort of stream or small river.

  • We also had an embassy car (a Ford Consul or Zephyr Mk.1) and driver, Augustus. It was in Mexico that  my mum learned to drive.
  • My sister and me with our maids

    My sister and me with our maids

    We were assigned two Mexican maids, Dolores and Mercedes. Apparently I quickly became a fluent Spanish speaker but lost this just as quickly on returning to UK.

  • I went to an English-speaking nursery school run by one Mrs Bone. I remember nothing of it unfortunately.
  • Our best friends were the Wade family: David Wade was a Shell executive so presumably met my dad via the embassy. We and their two (at the time) children were good friends and maintained contact for years after we returned to Twickenham and Sidcup respectively.
  • Dad was awarded an MBE in the 1957 birthday honours list. He was presented with it when Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent visited Mexico in 1959.
  • We returned to UK in 1959. To get my dad back to work in London asap, they put him on a plane (then the more expensive option), leaving my mum to cope with two small children on the long train journey back to NYC, then the transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary – not half as enjoyable as it might have been for her with two small children to look after and no spouse to share the load.

Postcript

  • Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

    Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

    In July 2010 after visiting Dallas for a software conference I took a stopover in LA so I could finally achieve one of my great ambitions, revisiting the Queen Mary. I booked a three night stay and in special requests put ‘returning passenger’. When I checked in, I was given a room upgrade! See Two Queens and me

Golden Princess mini cruise March 2018

Year by year my calendar seems to get fuller. When I came to Australia in 2008 the one fixed point was my promise to go back and see family and friends once a year – always, for obvious reasons, during the British summer so as to escape a few weeks of our winter. An annual visit to Thailand to catch up with my brother and family was added in 2014, then a post-Christmas mini-break to somewhere new in Australia, and from 2017 a short cruise.

The Golden Princess at Port Melbourne

The Golden Princess at Port Melbourne

This year’s cruise couldn’t have been more mini – just two nights/one day sailing from Melbourne to Adelaide on the Golden Princess. At 109,000 tons she is a large ship, though not the largest by a long way.

Thursday – embarcation

Boarding took a little while with 800 new passengers joining the ship. Once on board I made for the Horizon Court buffet restaurant for a late lunch and was then on deck for our 4.00p.m. departure (most cruise ships leave at 6.00). At that point I realised that we’d be sailing through Port Phillip Heads (the narrow gap that separates the Southern Ocean from the bay) in daylight … but I’d opted for early dining so would probably be eating when we passed through the Heads.

Port Lonsdale lighthouse

Port Lonsdale lighthouse

I made my excuses to my table companions, skipped dessert, and made it on deck as we just passed through the heads, passing Point Lonsdale lighthouse, somewhere I’d visited on land a number of times. Being tired I didn’t stay up for the late night entertainment.

Friday – at sea

Before breakfast I joined an informal Bible Study group – six of us, three from Melbourne, one each from UK, Sweden and Switzerland. As with a number of other affinity group meetings, the crew has no part in this – a venue is nominated and it’s up to those who turn up to decide what they do. Then – putting diet aside – a full cooked breakfast in the Horizon Court. In my defence I always used the lifts and on Friday, according to my phone, smashed my 6,000 steps a day target, managing 11,046 steps. A good talk by a retired Federal police officer on scams, then lunch, then afternoon tea.

Music
Starlight string trio

Starlight string trio

Before dinner I enjoyed listening to the Starlight Trio. Tonight’s excellent dinner was unhurried, then into a packed theatre for the production show.

More music
Colin Salter, entertainer

Colin Salter, entertainer

My intention was to have another early night but I was attracted by one Colin Salter singing while accompanying himself on the piano. “Just one more,” I told myself, then another and another.

Saturday – back on land

I was awake at six to see us docking at Adelaide’s Outer Harbour. Time for another Horizon Court breakfast, then off the ship for my weekend in Adelaide.

View from my balcony

Victoria Harbour is 125!

Since 2008 I’ve lived in Melbourne Docklands, moving in July 2017 to an apartment looking over Victoria Harbour, formerly Victoria Dock. Just my sort of place.

It wasn’t always like this. Where I now live was once a marshy area to the north of a meandering Yarra river, then passable only by the smallest ships. The native Aboriginal occupants viewed this as a rich hunting ground, but not the colonists.

After the 1850s Gold Rush it was obvious to all that something must be done to facilitate maritime traffic. As often now, good intentions didn’t translate into early action. Finally in 1877 the Melbourne Harbor [sic] Trust was formed. One of its first actions was to appoint Sir John Coode, the leading harbour engineer of his day, to advise them. He came up with a twofold plan: widening and straightening the river, then constructing docks to the immediate west of the city centre and next to the railway.

Sir John Coode's plan

Sir John Coode’s plan

Work on the Coode Canal, as it was named, began in 1880 and it finally opened in 1886. Work on the dock (redesigned as one large basin) began in 1889 and in 1892 the massive excavation (three million cubic yards) was filled with water.

West Melbourne Dock under construction

West Melbourne Dock under construction 1892

Then on 20th February 1893 – 125 years ago – the West Melbourne Dock, as it was initially known, received its first visitor, the SS Hubbuck, newly arrived from London.

SS Hubbuck

SS Hubbuck, built 1886, scrapped 1926

By 1908, Victoria Dock, as it was now named, was handling ninety per cent of Victoria’s imports. To increase the dock’s capacity, Central Pier was added in 1916-17. By the 1950s Melbourne was able to boast that its port was the most mechanised in the Commonwealth. But containerisation was on its way and the new down-river Swanson Dock with its massive container cranes opened in the late 1960s.

View from my balcony across Victoria Harbour

View from my balcony across Victoria Harbour

By the 1990s Victoria Dock was all but disused and the whole area in decay. The building of Etihad Stadium (opened 2000) kickstarted the redevelopment of the area and Docklands is now home to thousands of people and the workplace of thousands more.

* * *

Original uncut pictures (State Library of Victoria): Coode plan, dock under construction, SS Hubbuck

Queen Mary 2 at Port Melbourne Feb 2018

Two Queens and me

As I write this, the magnificent Cunard flagship RMS Queen Mary 2 is docked at Port Melbourne giving her 2,500+ passengers a chance to sample our wonderful city and surroundings. Her time as the world’s largest passenger ship was short (being overtaken by Freedom of the Seas in 2006), but she still has a special place in my heart.

1959

Between 1957 and 1959 my father worked in the British Embassy in Mexico City – it was a good life in a fine embassy house, two native maids (with whom I could apparently communicate in native Spanish) and a driver. On the outward trip we crossed the Atlantic on the Cunard RMS Media, a 250-passenger/cargo ship, then on by train from New York.

On the Queen Mary with my sister, 1959

On the Queen Mary with my sister, 1959

Two years later dad’s contract was over. Back then there were no ‘family friendly’ policies so for the homeward trip the British government put him on a plane so as to get him back to work asap, leaving my mum to cope with two small children for the four day train trip to NYC, then a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary.

This is a picture of me with my sister enjoying the crossing. Not so much fun for my mum though: with two small children and no husband to hand she had next no chance to enjoy the ship’s amenities. 1959 was notable as being the last year when more people crossed the Atlantic by sea than by air. By the mid 1960s the writing was on the wall and in 1967 the Queen Mary with withdrawn from service and sold to the city of Long Beach for use as a floating hotel and tourist attraction.

2004

The end of the twentieth century saw cruise ships becoming more and more popular. In 1998 Carnival Corporation acquired Cunard with a view to re-establishing it as a premium brand. In 2000 they placed the order for what would become the  Queen Mary 2, a true ocean liner, not just a cruise ship. For several years she held the distinction of being the longest (1,132ft) and largest (148,528 GT) passenger ship ever built. The QM2 entered service in 2004.

Queen Mary 2 2004 shareholder tour brochure

Queen Mary 2 2004 shareholder tour brochure

At this time I was still living in the UK. My mother held a few shares in Carnival and received an invitation to visit the new ship and I was thrilled to be able to accompany her on a special shareholder open day at Southampton, 24 May 2004. The programme (cover above) is one of my treasured possessions.

2010

By now I was living in Melbourne. I decided to turn my annual trip to visit family into the UK into a round-the-world trip, going on to the Software Industry Conference in Dallas, followed by a stopover in LA so I could finally achieve one of my great ambitions, revisiting the Queen Mary. I booked a three night stay and in special requests put ‘returning passenger’. When I checked in, I was given a room upgrade!

Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

It was a wonderful experience, especially being able to explore parts of the ship that would have never been open to passengers during her revenue-earning days.

2017

We get an ever-increasing number of cruise ships visiting Melbourne and I have taken many Sunday afternoon trips down to Port Melbourne (a short tram ride away) to see them sail out. I was thrilled when Queen Mary 2 made her first visit here in 2014. I was even more thrilled to see that her 2017 itinerary included a 4-night cruise from Melbourne to Kangaroo Island and back to Melbourne, both affordable and compatible with work. Needless to say, I booked immediately.

Queen Mary 2 at Port Melbourne Feb 2018

Queen Mary 2 at Port Melbourne Feb 2018

And even better, I got upgraded from a balcony cabin to a suite! At first I wondered why since I wasn’t a long-standing customer but I now think that it’s because they were short of single men.  Apart from the suite itself, this meant that I was now dining in the more exclusive Princes Grill restaurant. On my table of six my dining partner was a very pleasant retired woman …. from Twickenham, living not a mile from where I’d spent my first 50+ years! The cruise was a wonderful experience: the ship, the staff, the food and table companions who might have been chosen just for me.