This is the story of the trip with the “Endeavour”. This is a ship to be used for dredging work. This ship can be filled with sand and stones from the waterbed (this is done in combination with another dredging vessel), that are loaded into its open hold. The vessel then sails to the required location where the entire hull can be split open, thereby allowing the sand or stone to be dumped back into the sea. This is why this type of vessel is also known as a split hopper barge.
This boat belonged to an English shipping company and spent its whole life in Europe working on various projects. It dates from 1985, which is quite old for a boat. But nevertheless still quite young bearing in mind that I also date from that vintage year. The vessel was then called Afon Cadnant, which is Welsh for ·river Cadnant·. The boat had been purchased by the Nigeria Port Authority and Lagos Channel Management for the purpose of cleaning up the harbour in Lagos. So the boat had to be taken from its home country England to Nigeria. The original plan was as follows:
- one week in Hull: carrying out surveys.
- two weeks in Rotterdam: loading poles for another dredging vessel, installation of air-conditioning system.
- six weeks sailing (including stops to bunker) to Lagos.
Together with Ronald and Jan from TOS and the shipbroker, I left for Hull by ferry. The Afon Cadnant was already waiting in Hull with a couple of the old crew still aboard. After taking a look at the boat, all the paperwork was dealt with to complete the sale.
Ronald asked the old engineer what he considered to be the worst part of the ship. His answer was the deck which had seen a tough life. However, we were soon to discover that this was by no means the worst part of the ship.
The final preparations
The old chief engineer, Roy, stayed another day to give a brief hand-over with a tour of the boat. When that was completed, he also went off home to Scotland and I was left all by myself. I had, however, been assigned a number of tasks:
- clean and clear up the boat.
- make an inventory of the items on board, check charts and books and buy a few new items.
- receive and take round various survey people including Lloyds (classification office) and for the radio.
The survey for the radio would ultimately cause the most problems. On first inspection a number of aspects appeared not to be right. The real survey could be carried out after the new ship’s name, call sign and MMSI number had been entered in our equipment. This was soon done, but the technician did mention that it was not possible to send with the MF/HF and DSC. Nor could he see any antenna for the equipment, which was of course the logical reason why he couldn’t send anything. It was therefore a mystery to me how the ship had previously been able to work with this communication instrument. When the real radio survey began, it was immediately clear that the ship could not receive a radio certificate.
In the meantime, a message had been received from Westerkade in Rotterdam that the ship would remain at least another extra week in Hull. This was in part due to the issue of new certificates for the ship. This meant that I would have to stay there longer alone and that we would ultimately spend a shorter time in Rotterdam. The remaining crew came aboard a week later. On a beautiful Tuesday morning, the great moment eventually arrived and I was relieved of my loneliness.
Fortunato, Uncle Ton: chief engineer
I had cleared up, dusted and vacuumed the ship from top to bottom. I wanted to present them with a neat and tidy ship. Once they were all on board, the four of them walked all over the place in their dirty shoes, smoking and rolling cigarettes. Immediately with their grubby paws on the bridge console lighting up another fag. And a bit later said: “What a pigsty it is here!” What a cheek! They had just made all that mess themselves 15 minutes earlier! I can better keep my mouth shut…
While I was alone on the boat, I had taken a look at the splitting system and tried it out. It worked brilliantly. With great pride I wanted to show this to the others, but this did not go entirely as planned. The boat did split open, but then refused to close again. A hydraulic pipe had burst, which then also caused oil to leak all over the deck. We quickly soaked up the oil with cloths and absorbent granules. Not much oil got into the water, but we were left with a filthy deck. “Fortunately” this happened when everyone was there. If it had happened when I was sitting there alone, the mess would have been far greater. After fumbling around for a bit and crawling under the accommodation (every respect for Tonny who despite his age managed to wriggle his way through the crawl space like some young god), the leak was found and fixed. A number of pipes from the hydraulic valves had also started to leak. It was clear that the entire hydraulic system was antiquated and starting to play up. So the deck was not the worst part of the boat, as the engineer Roy had led us to believe.
In the meantime the surveys simply continued. Since we now had more people, the comments noted by the surveyors could now be remedied a lot faster. The batteries were refilled with water, a number of old ones were replaced by new and a new antenna was installed. We at last received the certificates. We could now finally set sail. By now it was already Friday again, Friday 13th no less, when we untied the ship and set off for the briny deep.
The crossing to Rotterdam
The crossing went successfully. The stretch Hull/Rotterdam took just over a day, nothing went wrong and therefore there is nothing special to write about. We moored on Parkkade, not far from TOS.
Here they came to install the air-conditioning. They got on with it themselves and didn’t need us to help. People also came to check out the hydraulic system. These mechanics replaced a number of pipes that were on the point of bursting. The air-conditioning was also fully installed and worked fine. It was pretty chilly weather, so we took them at their word and didn’t test it any further. In the warmer regions of the globe, we discovered that the air-conditioning on the bridge didn’t cool the temperature at all, but merely blew out a bit of air. Really an awful pity. A few adjustments were also made to the main engines which according to uncle Ton were not operating optimally. After a few days and a few experts later, this was also remedied and the wheels were turning again as they should.
In between, the boat made brief visits to Hardinxveld and Stellendam to take on the spud poles that were intended for another boat. All these poles were lashed down to make sure that they wouldn’t shift during the voyage. Extra beams were also lashed against the hold as an additional precaution to ensure that the boat couldn’t split open in the middle of the ocean. After sealing a leaky valve, the ship was ready for the voyage. Unfortunately a storm was blowing at sea with wind force 7 or 8 and waves up to three metres. And that is not ideal for a boat like this. So we waited a few more days.
Single ticket to Nigeria
On 1 November, the great day finally arrived and we set sail. The weather was still rather rough out on the open sea, but nothing that a seasoned sailor couldn’t cope with! Well, we had only just got out onto the sea when the boat started rocking up and down. This was too much for Bassie and along with the drinks of the previous evening the inevitable occurred. I spent the rest of the day either hanging over the rail or lying in bed. I had fortunately found my sea-legs by the evening and felt fully fit and well again. I wasn’t sick again for the rest of the trip, or at least not from the waves. The ship sailed well, even better than expected. Our speed was around 9 to 10 knots, which meant that we would still be able to complete the journey within 6 weeks.
But bad weather was again on the way. In the Gulf of Biscay there was once again stormy weather with waves too high for us to continue. The captain therefore decided to shelter in the neighbourhood of Brest, just before you turn the corner into the gulf. The French traffic control centre then sent us in the direction of the Bay of Douarnenez, where we dropped anchor. Another Dutch ship, the ·Claudia B, with precisely the same in mind, came alongside us for a while for a cup of coffee and a chat on the Saturday afternoon. The Claudia B, a small workboat 20 metres long, was on its way to a job in Italy to help another large ship. René and Hans knew the boat and also its skipper. Quite a coincidence. On the Sunday afternoon, René, Lex and I took the lifeboat over to the picturesque French village Douarnenez to buy a drink and go for a stroll.
By Monday the weather had improved again, so we could continue further in the direction of Las Palmas: the first stop for bunkering. And the further we came, the better the weather got, so that put a smile on my face. On to the Canary Islands. In Las Palmas we went ashore again to take a look in the village. There was by chance a festival on with music from all over the world. There was also a market with all kinds of hippy stuff for sale. We hung around on the square for a while, and visited the local pub and a discotheque. The discotheque wasn’t anything to write home about. When the four of us arrived, we doubled the number of visitors. The next day was quiet: looked around the village, walked along the beach, that sort of thing. In the evening, the four of us (uncle Ton stayed on board) went for a bite to eat in a Spanish joint and then returned to the boat. The next day we set out to sea again. But it was really nice to have spent these two days on an island where many people pay a lot of money to go and stay.
Back at sea everything went well. The weather would only get better and better from now on. We had made a barbecue and a table to sit outside. Every evening we enjoyed our meal out in the fresh air, with or without the barbecue. There were also lots of dolphins around that sometimes swam alongside our boat for a short distance. Sailing is very enjoyable like this.
The next stop to bunker drinking water and fuel was Dakar where all kinds of people came begging. Lex observed sarcastically: “It’s a good thing that not too many people are coming on board here!” No indeed, then you would really go crazy. By this time around 15 people had sprung on our boat. While with just five of us on the boat we often feel deprived of our privacy. What chaos. The policewoman said she would speak to all those men and ask them not to request too many cigarettes and so on. But just half an hour later she stood puffing with her head bowed, supporting herself on the deck and sighing. And she kept that up the whole day long. What a help!
A number of people stood politely waiting on the quay. These were the hawkers. But whenever they thought we were not looking, they tried to get aboard, but they were immediately sent off again.
Out on the open sea again, everything was going very well once more. We were now heading straight for Nigeria with no stops. Everyone just got on with his work and took his turn on duty. In our leisure time it was really enjoyable to sit in the sun or watch the dolphins if they were nearby. And in the evenings it was once again pleasant to eat outside or barbecue and later we also lit the incinerator to burn rubbish.
It was uncle Ton’s birthday this week. The oldest person on board became even older. Congratulations uncle Ton. There was a cake and in the evening once again an enjoyable barbecue.
And before we knew it, we were suddenly close to Lagos. We had even arrived too early, so Frank decided to stop the ship for a moment. This was a great opportunity to enjoy a swim in the sea. When we set off again and arrived at the port of Lagos, we were allowed through immediately. An escort boat from the shipyard came to greet us and take us to the berth. We didn’t have to do anything with the port authorities and pilot service. Just follow the boat. In the port itself, the “Sea Lion” also came towards us loudly tooting its horn. It was just on its way to its dredging work in the port. After sailing up the river for an hour, we arrived at the shipyard where we would moor. Amongst all kinds of other boats, the one even older than the other, even the Endeavour with its rusty deck looked like an elegant lady.
Once moored, the ship was overrun by people from the shipyard, Dutch, Israelis and Nigerians. The ship was stripped ‘preventively’ in order to ensure that nothing got stolen. All the food, drink, old shoes and in fact everything that was not screwed down and could be carried ashore by one person was taken ashore. Even the washing powder was not safe. The only item they clearly did not wish to take was René’s fat hippo. They obviously couldn’t see any advantage in taking that. We still had to wait the whole afternoon on board before being taken to the airport. That was quite a problem because there was almost nothing left to drink on board. This was our final farewell to the Endeavour.
The journey from the port to the airport was one great chaos. People walking all over the road, driving against the traffic flow, and they were still knocking on the windows to sell you Rolex and Adidas watches even on the so-called motorway. It took over an hour to get to the airport, but this was mainly because we were going no faster than a tortoise with a walking stick on a Sunday afternoon.
A couple of hours later we were actually sitting in the plane. And approximately 6 hours later we landed on Dutch soil once again, very early in the morning. Here we went our separate ways, each quietly to his own home. To enjoy a well-earned rest. And that’s how I came to be sitting here typing out this story and thinking what a lot happened in the last three months.
Job: Maroff (Maritime Officer)
Assignment: Sail ship to client in Lagos, Nigeria