Thursday, 5 September 1985


21.08.1985 - 05.09.1985
Ordinary seaman

Having done my 1st stint on my budding seaman's career I thought jobs are going to roll in and I was sitting on my laurels at home waiting. Nothing came, nobody called so I had to start calling around again with the aid of the trusted seaman's calendar Shipping Company section. As Finnish shipping was going through a depression things were not good on the job front so I was getting the same "no have" replies as a few months earlier.


Then finally I got an offer to join a small coaster with Nord Shipping, a small one ship company run by 2 brothers. One was Captain and the other in the office handling charters I suppose. 

One has to remember that in these days there was no GSM mobiles, only telex, fax, VHF and the overtly expensive NMT (nordic mobile telephone) network that stopped working after passing Denmark. As she was a coaster she had no telex or fax facilities so only means of communication as I recall was VHF calls via coast radio stations (public patches into the phone network) so any confidential matters that you did not want the public to hear was better to go via Agents offices or by using codewords. 

This was none of my business as I signed up for one voyage to UK to replace a deckhand on sickleave. I joined ship in an obscure port on the W coast, I think it must have been in Pori and she loaded bulk for Gunness in UK, a total of 300tons in 2 holds. We left for Uk the same day or the next. Crew was minimal, Skipper, Mate, Engineer, deckhand and me. The skipper had his wife sailing with him. 

It was a big change compared to Bore Sun and I remember 1st morning I got up for breakfast and there was none. I think the deckhand told me here is no service, you make for yourself what you want, the stuffs all in the cupboard and fridge. Skippers wife prepared lunch once a day so at least something warm was gotten every day. The Engineer was ex Finnish Navy and more or less constantly drunk but kept the main engine running as long as he remembered to fill up the day tank. 

I recall the Mate trolling him once on the aft deck by saying that the Navy just cultivates drunks, god help us if there would ever be a war again. The Engineer was furious and could barely sit on the bollard and spat "I tell you that the Navy does not allow drinking", oh well, he must have been taking back the damage then. The skipper went down there every so often as well to check that everything was shipshape. I also furtively followed the Engineer doing his greasing rounds that had to be done at regular intervals as the engine was from 1958 it had hardly anything automatic. The valves were exposed on top and had oil cups on top, the propeller shaft had to have grease pressed in and the engine airbottle had to be filled. Soon enough I was doing these rounds as well, once I came up on the Engineer sleeping on the engine room floor with some rags as a pillow.

The trip progressed and we went around Denmark to save money on the Kiel Canal cost and then headed for Gunness (next to Hull). We were lucky with the weather and I had adjusted to the noise from the engine (only 2 thin metal bulkheads separated me from the engine room) and I also got used to the freezing water in the common bath room, made showers very economic. As we were just doing abt 9kts the trip took quite long compared to Bore Sun that did it in 3 days even with a pitstop in Germany we made it in abt a week. A day or two before we reached UK we ran out of fresh food so the Skippers wife pulled out frozen peasoup from the freezer and warmed that up. 

The riverpassage up to Gunness had to with the tide as we were passing Hull and Goole and going I think as far up as possible with our size of ship. There were no locks so once alongside ropes had to be watched and at low tide we sat in the mud. The discharge took a couple of days and I remember we went for the local pub and I was very impressed by a local damsel I met. The Mate got absolutely wasted and next day I had to keep him out of the way from the longshore men as he in poor English declared unsavory things he'd like to do to the British Queen. He started getting sidewise looks so I told him to shut up and get onboard before he gets black eyes or something worse. Soon enough the next day we had the holds empty and were waiting for the tide so we could return to Finland, this time in ballast. 

Also the return trip was uneventful, good weather prevailed and a week later we arrived to Rauma and the office brother came onboard to get the latest news and I suppose to give news about the next cargo. He was also going to Turku and so I also got a free ride home when I disembarked. Sadly they never had another position to offer as it was a pretty exciting way of doing business and going to small places instead of the impersonal big ports. 

As a footnote Nord Shipping sold Fortuna to another entrepreneur that one autumn in 1987 was doing the sugar beet run for the factories and in those days the loadline was on the wellingtons so to speak, as long as no water came into the wellie when standing on deck it was ok. When loading sugar beets the hatches were left open so they could take as much as possible when being paid by the ton so she must have departed fully laden and when going over an open stretch in the archipelago during bad weather waves must have splashed into her hold and subsequently she capsized and later sank. Fortunately all crew (2 adults, 2 children) survived as they managed to climb on the still floating hull and they were picked up by a passing passenger ferry, m/s Wellamo. Later she sank and is charted as a wreck. This accident followed by other similar ones made the Finnish maritime administration to have the coasters close their hatches as is supposed to.

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Saturday, 20 July 1985

Bore Sun

Having completed my General ratings school and received the relevant certificate I could not find a job from the employment centre and I was cleaning up a supermarket to earn a living from something. It was pretty tedious job as I always went in after closing hours when the mates started drinking beer and having fun as I remember. The shopkeeper was also very particular, there was to be no streaks on the floors so the machine needed changing water every so often and the pre-sweeping had to be very thorough. At least it taught me doing a proper job if nothing else.

Bore Sun (by Tommy Gjerling)

I already had a union calendar with all the shipping companies listed in them but every so often when I called to ask for a job the reply was always "no have". Then I thought (or probably my mom told me) of going to see the Personnel Managers in person and I went to those shipping companies in my home town of Turku. I can only remember the Bore Line office that was in the Rettig Palace in those days on Nunnankatu. Today it is a museum as the family donated(?) the estate to the city and when they did some works on the foundations they discovered a major archaeological find. The exhibit is really worth seeing, but I digress, back at Bore Line offices I met with the HR manager Kari Salminen and had a short chat with him, can't remember about what though. I must have made an impression as after a few weeks I received a letter from his office with "report to work" header and a date, 14th June 1985, I think it was a 2 weeks temp job replacing someone who was sick or had summer leave.

Anyway, the date came and I remember that after stepping off the bus and walking into the port I was sitting on a bollard on the jetty smoking and watching Bore Sun a few hundred meters away. I finished the smoke, picked up my bag and sauntered over to the ship, I think I met the Chief Officer on the ramp and as I explained my business he waved me to the crew staircase leading up to the weatherdeck.

"North State" was the real mans ciggie in those days, enough tar and nicotine to put an elephant down

Up on the weatherdeck I had to walk along the "cowbridge", a walkway that was used by crew to get to the engine room and holds from the accommodation that was in the forward. Once at the accommodation block I somehow ended up in the telegraphists office who did the duties of the purser onboard among things. I showed him my paper from the office and I think he already had my contract ready for signing but then he asked for my certificates and medical, I had the OS certificate but medical, huh? Sparky, Mr Helminen, huffed and swore under his breath and called HR in office (ship was connected to phone-grid when in port):
- They don't teach these kids anything in school these days, this new chap has come onboard without a medical cert!
- ...[office]...
- What? Send him to the Doctors? Where? Ok! Bye!
He slammed the phone and turned to me, wrote down the address and told me to get going there for my medical and be quick about it as the ship was leaving in a few hours. I think I got money for taxi and examination, had it done and returned maybe an hour later at the doorstep of Sparky. He was satisfied he could sign me on and I was duly signed on by the port official ("mönsträysmies-sign on man") and I was also issued a seamans book, wage book and a customs book. Where I would need these was still a mystery for me and as time went by these became obsolete and only the Customs book was needed to import goods bought abroad based on an elaborate points system. This was of course basis of always come up with as low as possible receipts for the Customs officers in order to save your import points and to avoid paying custom taxes.

Seamans discharge book with yours truly

At some point I got a cabin too, nice single room with ensuite and a porthole one deck above weather deck. On top of me were the officers cabins and then there was the Saloon and Captain's quarters with Owner's cabin. On top was of course the bridge. It would take me weeks before I was even taken to the bridge or meet the Captain. Then came evening and and I think it was around 8'ish all ropes were let go and I was looking aft as my hometown slowly disappeared behind the archipelago and sun was setting. I suddenly realized I did not even know where we were heading to. I found someone and asked where we were going and was told our next stop was Kiel canal and straight after that Cuxhaven in Germany and then it was Harwich in UK before heading back to Finland. We were doing 1 week roundtrips to Turku.

Boatswain S. Tilander mixing paint

On deck there was 6 guys and 3 of them were daymen and the other 3 watchmen. The pecking order was strict, the older chaps got the daymen duties and then after that the better watches (8-12) but as I was 16 I was not allowed watchduty before I had 1 year under my belt so I became dayman as well and worked 8-17. Of course in evenings there was many times cargo handling and mooring operations that I had to participate in. The 2 cargo lifts were always operated by crew back then, nowadays there are just ramps on ro-ro ships. 

One evening the older guys (I was 16 and the next oldest was 30 something) were drinking beers in the dayroom and of course as the youngest I got to bring beers from such and such cabin. As I was coming down the stairs with my hands full of beer an old codger climbed up the stairs and I just wondered who that was, it turned out to be Captain Nisse.

Weatherdeck of Bore Sun, on the right is the "cowbridge"

My temp contract went well, I worked hard and everyone liked me, I sort of became the mascot of the ship because of my age and I think my temp contract was extended a couple of times. Then suddenly the summer was over and so was my contract on 20th July 1985 and I remember it took me weeks before I could find my next job that was on m/s Fortuna but that's another story and thus my seafaring career began...

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Friday, 31 May 1985

School - General rating

In 1984 I was completing my basic schooling from class 9 at St. Olofsskolan i Åbo. It was the only Swedish speaking school in my hometown and all with Swedish as mother tongue was attending this school. Even some Finnish speaking parents opted to put their kids through Swedish school so they would learn the language. Anyway, towards the last semester the study coordinator started briefing us kids of where to go and start higher studies.

Åbo Navigations Institut

We were given a book with all technical schools, institutes, universities, colleges etc. In there you could see what average you needed to get in and so on. I was a disinterested student in those days and had a very poor average somewhere around 6.5 (min 4 - max 10) plus I had no idea of what I wanted to be when I grow up.

We were also sent on familiarisation trips to different learning establishments around Turku to see what they are doing and let the school tell what they are about and what they offer. I can only recall my visit to Åbo Navigations Institut, the Nautical College. I liked the miniature boats and ships in display casings as well the presentation that was given of the school. Lastly we were taken to an auditorium and asked if we had any questions. I remember asking what a Captain was earning and the reply was around 10.000 Finnish marks (around 2500USD), to my 14yr old ears it sounded like a huge amount of money and in those days it was not a bad salary but I still was not deciding on becoming a sailor.

Me & classmates at their lodgings

Some months later the last semester was coming to an end and we had to fill in the papers to apply for other schools, becoming an uneducated laborer was out of the question, we had apply somewhere. My mother wanted me to study for architecture as I was not bad in drawing stuff but I found it not appealing. I was leafing through the book and could not find one occupation that was even remotely appealing until I came to the page of Åbo Navigations Institut. Then I remembered the tour we had done and I felt there was something in it so I filled in my application for going studying to become General Rating (deck and engine).

My mother was horrified and had talks with me that if I go this route I have to go higher than rating as seamen were guys who only were interested in 2 things: booze and loose women. She made me also apply to a Christian general education Institute in the Archipelago in case I would not make it and in fact I was put on the standby list as they had a full complement of applicants already. The whole summer I was then working at a general store in Nagu selling hardware and living with my Grandmother. I still had no idea of what autumn would bring.

Autumn came and leaves were starting to turn red and yellow and finally they turned brown and were falling off trees when I got the information that I had been accepted to the General Rating course at Åbo Navigations Institut. We started early August but there were no other students as the Officers and Captain students were still out sailing so they would be coming later in the month.

Lita at Long Beach Roads 1983, photo by Raimo Mäkinen

Lita at Long Beach Roads 1983, photo by Raimo Mäkinen

We had a lot of practical works to do and at times were sent to ships to work as apprentices while in port. I remember working on Henry Nielsens m/s Lita, one of the famous ships built 1975 in Sevilla, Spain. It was a nearly 200m long bulk carrier that could load 35000DWT. We were there helping it getting ready for it's last voyage as she had been laid up off Turku. We were rostered to go there certain mornings and "ring the bell", that was a line ashore going through a pulley and attached to a big schackle on aft deck. One would pull the line and let the schackle bang on the deck and a deckhand would row ashore to pick us up. Eventually she went from Turku to load cargo in Yxpila and from there I suppose she never came back to Finnish waters or flag. Two lucky classmates were selected to follow the vessel from Turku to Yxpila, my mother said no to such a trip. It was a huge ship in my eyes. Things did not go very well for Henry Nielsen as they ended up with one ro-ro ship and later the whole Company ceased operation, their era of bulk carriers were over.

s/s Borea

The other famous ship I was working on was s/s Borea, a passenger liner between Turku and Stockholm. She was originally one of Bore Lines ships and had been acquired by a team of investors to try and restore her fame on the same route. The effort failed and she had other people trying to make money from her and today she sits at Aura river as a floating hotel. I recall how we used to do various work in the steaming hot Engine room or on deck chipping rust but the perk was that we got to use the sauna afterwards and somebody always managed to get hold of a few beers from the friendly stewardesses.

Our teachers for professional subjects was Captain Kurt Eksten and Engineer Ralf who was a good team and they instilled in me the ideas of self discipline and work ethics and it has carried me forward in my life until this day. At mathematics we had Mr Goran that had the principle that no one knew how to count so he started from the start: 1,2,3...10 and so on. He really took his job seriously and gave me a new view of maths. As this class was also preparatory for Officers school we had to study quite a lot of extra beyond practical work and exercises. I believe this was interesting for me as I graduated with remarkably better number than a year before from the basic school...

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