Stories and Memories page 2

From Ken Schoch

The weather ships were notorious for wobbling at sea. There was a saying that they would roll on wet grass. Additional superstructure in the way of a Met Office, balloon shed, and a large radar scanner made the ships a little top heavy. Most of us new boys experienced sea sickness. Invariably as the ship rounded the Mull of Kintyre and headed out into the Atlantic, it started moving in an alarming way, even when just a fresh W'ly wind blowing. A 15 to 20 ft high sea (nothing really!) would cause the ship to dance quite alarmingly to any new members. I was fortunate on my first trip as I was not not sick, but I didn't feel too well for several hours. The previous occupant of my cabin (thanks Terry!) had not secured the porthole screws tightly, so that as soon as the first wave reached the porthole level a jet of icy cold sea water spurted through the tiny cracks and soaked me in my bunk - a jolly rude awakening on my first morning at sea! After one or two more deluges I managed to secure the screws. I felt a bit sick but foolishly decided to have a quick wash in the hand basin, to warm up more than anything. The thought of tackling a journey to the shower room on a heaving ship did not appeal to me. I almost filled the wash basin with hot water when the ship pitched violently and the contents poured out drenching the lower half of my body and cabin floor - I had got my shower!

The traditional cure for sea sickness on the weather ships was a mouthful of cream crackers washed down with some Guinness. I never really found out if this worked or not! Some new members were really ill and some sick for days. Very occasionally someone would be ill for the entire four week trip and we would never see them again. This must have been so agonising for the person concerned. Being seasick on a short Channel Ferry crossing is bad enough - but when faced with possibly four weeks of it on a weather ship - that must have been so depressing. Although I escaped sickness on my initial trip, that most new people experienced, I did suffer from it once after a year on the ships, and that was after experiencing a Force 12 without any ill effects. A new Met Assistant was sick on a very rough night so I offered to do his night shift for him. Seeing him looking so ill must have affected me as I suddenly felt very queasy, then I went out on deck for some fresh air, only to see one of the Able Seamen, a seasoned sailor, being sick over the side - well, I had to follow suit, It was not a pleasant experience but most of us suffered from it at least once.

From Ken Schoch

At station India, 59N 19W , the weather ships were in the path of the deep depressions that cause so much bad weather during the winter months. In the North Atlantic there is always a swell present, maybe only a metre or so in height even when no wind is present. During Anticyclonic weather in the summer the sea can be glassy, but there are always swell waves present, either residual or caused by winds blowing round the periphery of the high pressure. Sunrises and sunsets reflected in an undulating glassy sea surface are exquisitely beautiful with the shimmering of colours - absolutely unforgetable! In winter it is a different story.

During one week at India in the winter on OWS Reporter we had to adjust the barograph (a device that produces a record of the barometric pressure on a revolving chart) three times as the pen was in danger of going below the lowest measured pressure of 950 mb. We would set the pen at 20 mb higher so we still maintained a record. I forget the actual lowest pressures we recorded, but the centre of one of these depressions actually went over the top of us. For a few hours there was no wind, but the sea remained turbulent; in fact it was in a state of great agitation and confusion as it didn't know what to do - neither did the ship as it could not find a rhythm to settle in to at all. Under normal stormy conditions, whether we were stationary when the vessel had the wind off the beam and rolled from side to side (at alarmingly steep angles) or when steaming into a heavy swell pitching as well as rolling, there was usually a pattern discernible in the ship’s movement. In the the eye of a deep depression the movement was chaotic and totally unpredictable. To have a 25 to 30 ft swell coming from every direction almost at the same time was most unnerving, and with virtually no wind blowing, there was an almost creepy atmosphere on deck as a result of the absence of the usual wind on sea sounds - just lots of silent movement of the sea and creaking from the ship.