RFA BAYLEAF 1963 – 1964 By Richard Walker

I joined the Bayleaf in Immingham on the 1st October 1963, this being my first ship in the RFA. I had previously served my apprenticeship with Furness Whithy and then obtained my Second Mates certificate, Foreign Going, in the summer of 1963 before joining the RFA.



Apprentice Richard Walker before he joined the RFA

The ship was in Immingham undergoing refit but by the time I joined her we were living onboard. We were in Immingham for about ten days before we sailed with many defect items outstanding, I remember that the Engineers worked very hard to try and fix things and we had several engine breakdowns in the first couple of months after refit.

The Bayleaf was a typical tanker of the period of about 12,000 tons Gross. She was built as the “London Integrity” and owned by London Overseas Freighters, a London Greek company, who Bareboat chartered her to the Admiralty in June 1959 when she was renamed “Bayleaf”. She had amidships accommodation were all the officers lived and then after accommodation where the crew were accommodated. The galley was aft on the poop so all food had to be brought along the open deck which could be hazardous in rough weather.


RFA Bayleaf

The first Captain was Arthur “Jack” Tarr Senior who was a real gentleman, I remember him showing me how to plot Decca fixes on my first watch down the North Sea as I had not used the Decca navigator before. Unfortunately he was taken ill and left when we arrived in Plymouth and was relieved by Captain E.C. Phipps who I believe was newly promoted. When he was a Chief Officer he was known as “Efficiency Phipps” and it was said that he was the only Chief Officer who could be on the Focastle and Poop at the same time! He gave me a hard time in the first couple of months on the ship, as I was a first trip Third Officer, he used to come up in the evening watch and question me about my knowledge but eventually he seemed to be satisfied and left me alone.

The Chief Office was Ken Letby, a long serving Chief Officer, who was known a “LL”. I cannot remember the name of the Second Officer when I joined but he was much older than I was. I remember him giving me a hard time one day for not doing the pre departure checks when he was on watch as he considered it the Third Officers job. He was then relived by a younger second officer who I got on well with.

The Chief Engineer was a short rotund man who seldom, if ever, left his cabin and his only contribution seemed to be to write up the fair log book. He also cooked all his own food in his cabin and never ate in the saloon, the only other thing I can remember is that he came from Falmouth. The Second Engineer was John Garrod who lived in his boiler suit, possible because the ship kept breaking down, and when not down below could be found lying on his day bed which was visible as his cabin was on the port side next to the saloon entrance. The crew were Chinese who looked after us very well though it was difficult communicating with them. If they did not understand they would still say yes so as not to lose face, so you had to keep explaining something until a look of understanding came over their face and then you knew they understood what you wanted.

Air Conditioning had been fitted to the ship in refit, the machinery being on a platform behind the bridge but it hardly worked if at all. As a freighting tanker we didn’t spent any time at Portland after refit but set off for the Middle East where we freighted FFO, Dieso and Avcat from Abadan to Aden. We used to discharge at the oil refinery outside Aden but I remember occasionally berthing in Aden, which was a peaceful place then, were we enjoyed a run ashore, to buy various goods which were duty free and so very much cheaper compared to home. I bought an Omega Sea master watch which I still have on my wrist.

I don’t think we had any abeam RAS rigs at that time so the only means of RASing was by stern rig which we did not use very often. We did some pumpovers with RAS tankers, if I remember rightly one of them was the brand new Tidespring, probably on its first trip east, who supplied the a-beam gear. The pumpover took from early in the morning to late evening.

The Chinese crew used to buy all sorts of goods and then sell them to the locals in Abadan who used to come down to the jetty on the river in considerable numbers until the police got wind of it.

We plied backwards and forwards to Aden until March 1964 when we returned to the UK getting back to Plymouth in April. After that the ship freighted to the West Indies and around the UK, some of the time to Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde. I can remember having lunch in Glasgow one day with the Chief Officer. This was a rare treat as we normally worked quite hard and did not have much time of between trips; perhaps we had finished cargo and were waiting for the tide to sail.

I remained on the ship until the 12th October 1964 when I paid off in Newcastle where the ship went in for refit.