RFA Remembrances O Boating 2

Fourth Engineer – RFA Olwen 17.07.1968 to 12.07.1969


Having had a good time for 9 months on Olna in the Far East and Australia I was a little bit reluctant to join Olwen when I found out that she was to be the home fleet tanker based in Rosyth. Gone were the warm humid days in Singapore to be replaced by wet and cold Scotland.


Firstly I had to make my way to Wallsend near Newcastle by the 8th July where the ship was in refit in Swan Hunters yard.  As the ship was half way through the refit and had about another 2 weeks to go I had to look for somewhere to stay. All the reasonable hotels on the coast were full because of the summer season (yes even in Newcastle) and where ever I found had to be easy travelling to the ship.


In Wallsend was a hotel, if you could call it that, called Simpsons Hotel, cheap and near the dockyard. Sounded just right, so over I went to sign in and move my stuff over. To say I was surprised was an understatement. The entrance had a barred and barricaded desk behind which sat the receptionist come door person. She said I could have a room, 30 shillings a night (£1.50), no women allowed and only drink bought at the bar was allowed to be consumed on the premises.


I can only imagine the hotel started as a work house. The rooms were all off a central balcony on the first floor and were about 8ft by 6ft with a bed (clean) and a wardrobe.  The balcony over looked the ground floor which was a white tiled room about 150ft square with a bar and a food serving hatch at one end, rows of chairs with toilets at the other end. I had a beer and a sort of a meal served form the hatch wondering what I had got into.


It was about 6.30 in the evening when I decided I would go and visit my Aunt and Uncle who lived about 2 miles up the road in Walkerville. When I got there I was made very welcome and when I told them I was staying in Simpsons Hotel. Out came the car and off we went to collect my stuff as they would not let me stay there for even one night. Back at their house my Aunty had been phoning her sister who lived about 10 miles away in the country and was asking if all three of us could come and stay for a couple of weeks as my Uncle and Aunt had being going there to stay there anyway that night for the next two weeks. The answer was yes, and as my Uncle was a draughtsman in Swan Hunters I got a lift in and out to work every day.


The refit progressed and we duly signed on the 17th July and sailed for Portsmouth for fuel and stores and to Portland for work up under the watchful eye of FOST. We must have been reasonable in the Thursday war as by the 11th August we were off Lossimouth working with Cavalier and Eagle and her air group which was based at the air station there.  We were there for around 5 weeks with the occasional trip to Rosyth or Invergordon for stores and fuel. Rumours began to spread that were going to South America and or the Med or anywhere else apart from Rosyth.


Invergordon brought back memories of when I joined my fist ship – Wave Knight – back in September 1963 as an Engineer Cadet when we headed out to sea and turned north for October, November and January mainly off Iceland. The jetty in Invergordon was just off the high street with the FFO tank farm across the road and a Whisky distillery a bit further down. The locals were friendly and it was easy to go ashore.


The trip to the Mediterranean seemed to come out of nowhere, we were in Rosyth for a bit and then in Gibraltar by the 26th of October. We had had a very rough trip across the Bay and because of the weather one of our main engine lube oil pumps had burnt out and we had to stay in Gibraltar for 3 days to get it rewound. This delayed us slightly and Eagle and Cavalier had already started an exercise with the French in the Toulon area. We got into Toulon Navy Base on the 30th October. Some very good runs ashore occurred but as ever the engineers had to keep harbour watch of 6hrs on, 12 hours off.


We left Toulon on the 4th November and undertook more exercises in the Toulon area before reaching Grand Harbour in Malta on the 17th November were we stayed until 27th November before sailing for Gib, Portsmouth and then Rosyth which we reached on the 16th December and were able to shut down on shore power on the 17th December in time for Christmas.


Due to the MOT regulations for Seafarers on the UK coast we all had to sign off and sign on again on the 23 December in the presence of the Shipping Master. This had to occur every three months if the ship stayed on the UK coast to allow people to get off if they wanted to. One of the problems being no duty free smokes or drink which worried some people.


Rosyth 1968 was in the middle of a two year UK wide experiment not to put the clocks back in winter and this meant it did not get light until about 0930 in the mornings. So not only was it dismal and dreary, it was dark as well.



Dawn at 0930hrs in Rosyth


More and more information was coming to light about our trip to South America and it was likely to start in Mid January for about three months calling at Barbados, Trinidad for fuel, Rodman US Navy Base in the Panama Canal, through the canal and then exercising with most of the navies down the west coast of S America, Callao (Peru), Valpariso (Chile), through the Straits of Magellan, Falkland Islands, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janero, Trinidad and home to Rosyth via Portsmouth.


We set sail on this epic journey in high spirits on the 13th January 1969 at 1000hrs and called in our first foreign port – Portsmouth  – at 1400hrs on the 14th. We learned that we would be taking a hovercraft to demonstrate to the locals, a landrover, a ships bike and a 15 piece Marine band to play us in and out of harbour. A new deck was constructed forward on the fore deck for the hovercraft to live so it could be lifted on and off easily, the landrover was placed up on the flight deck, the bike was chained up on the boat deck midships under the watchful eye of the first officer. The marine band made themselves comfortable in the crew Pig and Whistle (crews bar) and off we went, well not quite. More news, the Captain was taking his wife and a RN helicopter pilot’s wife from HMS Hampshire.


We sailed on January 24th with Lyness, 4 Navy ships and two submarines. The idea being to exercise with the French Navy for a couple of days then across the Atlantic to Barbados arriving on the 4th February 1969.


Disaster struck very quickly to deflate us all. 12 hours out of Portsmouth we broke down when a level controller on the bottom of the condenser malfunctioned and flooded our two condenser drain tank extraction pumps. This disabled the main engines and we had to be towed into the French Navy Base at Breast by a French Navy tug. As luck would have it, our sister ship Olynthus was refitting in Falmouth, the tug Superman was dispatched from Plymouth to Falmouth, picked up the two equivalent pumps and went flat out to Breast. We fitted them the next morning (26th) and set sail after the rest of the group who were already exercising with the French.


As a point of interest, the Battleship Jean Bart was moored in the harbour, the first one any of us had seen. She was used as a training ship for new entrants to the French Navy.



The chart below gives some indication of where we went and what we did in our travels.










Newcastle, Wallsend

Sign on, ship in refit

Far east?



Work up

will be based in Rosyth and work with Eagle


off Lossimouth

Working with Eagle and air group

South America trip?


off Lossimouth

With Eagle and Cavalier

Invergordon for weekend?


off Lossimouth

With Eagle and Cavalier

may get to Toulon and Malta?



Failed lube oil pump, rewound


30.10.1968 to 04.11.1968


2 weeks exercise with French

to Malta by 17.11.1968? until 27.11.1968



Sail for Gib, Portsmouth and Rosyth

Due Rosyth 16.12.1968



Shut down,shore power for Christmas!!!!!

due to sail 13.01.1969 for Portsmouth



Sign off, sign on again

coasting regulations



Loading fuel and stores, Hovercraft, landrover, Ships bike and a 15 piece marine band.

Sail 24.01.1969 for Barbados, Trinidad, Rodman, Callao, Valpariso, Straits of Magellan and Rio de Janeiro, Trinidad, Portsmouth 24.04.1969. Then Baltic and refit on 10.07.1968



Building docking platform for Hovercraft on fore deck

should sail 24.01.1969


leaving Portsmouth

Hampshire + 3 and 2 subs and Lyness. Exercise with French in the Bay and then across the pond

Barbados 04.02.1969


Towed into Breast with flooded extraction pumps. New ones ex Olynthus (refit in Falmouth) delivered by tug Superman.

Remove defective extraction pumps and fit new ones. Underway midday 26th Jan.

due Barbados 04.02.1969


Bridgtown Bay, Barbados

At Anchor till 09.02.1969

Sail 09 to Trinidad



6 hous to Load FFO

sail 10 to Panama Canal and Rodman US Navy Base, due on 12.02.1969


Pacific Ocean

Transitted Canal, now exercises with Columbians and Peruvians

Due Callao 01.03,1969



Tide up in fish harbour

Due Valparaiso 08.03.1969



At Anchor in Harbour, Hovercraft as Liberty Boat

Depart 11.03.1969 for Cape Horn etc


Off Falkland Islands

Transited Sts of Magellan, too rough to go round Cape Horn

Due R de J about 22.03.1969, Navy to Buenos Aires, Olwen too deep for sand bar


Anchored 7 miles off Rio

Waiting Navy ships to leave BA the exercise

due back in Rio 03.04.1969



Sail tomorrow, exercise with Brazillians for 4 days the homeward bound

due back Portsmouth about 28.04.1969



landed hovercraft, band etc

due Rosyth 05.05.1969



Along side, no shore power.

Due Oslo and Copenhagen 20.05.1969



supporting minesweepers

to Copenhagen 26.05.1969, then Rosyth by 05.06.1969


Newcastle, Wallsend

Sign off, sign on again

coasting regulations



Prince of Wales investiture, all Welsh sounding ships here, Olwen, Glamorgan, Llandaff etc + Royal Yacht

due Plymouth discharge about 08.07.1969


at Plymouth

Discharging and tank clean for refit in Newcastle

due Newcastle


Newcastle, Wallsend

sign off, 3 months study leave, 176 days total

Due South Shields marine and Tech. College 01.08.1969


We duly arrived in Barbados without further mishap but the weather was poor until a day out. We did all the usual things on passage like RASing every three days – but at sensible times, Lyness providing the food and us the drink.



Bridgetown, Barbados, very 1960 English cars etc.




Yes that’s us anchored 3 miles off this lovely beach




Nelson’s dockyard, the boats were raised out of the water by all these cogs and shafts


We did manage to get to the Mount Gay rum factory and distillery and quite a few of us had sore heads the next day.


On the 9th of February we sailed the short distance to Trinidad but were only there about 4 hours to top off our cargo of FFO and Dieso. We set off again for the Panama Canal and the Rodman US Navy base which is just inside the Atlantic entrance of the canal.


Rodman Base was built in 1910 but time had moved on and it was becoming less important to the Americans as Panama became more stable and by treaty most of the land, canal structures and US military bases had to be handed over to the Panamanians progressively by 1999, just like Hong Kong. We stayed in Rodman a couple of days and then commenced our passage through the canal, and to say it was spectacular is an understatement. The engineering and labour that went into the design and construction has to be seen to be believed. Unlike the Suez canal which has no locks, the Panama has four locks up to a central lake and then three locks down to the Pacific. The water being fresh, the draft of the ship is taken on entering and leaving to make sure that you don’t pinch any.



Olwen in one lock with HMS Hampshire in the one above, tracks for the “Mules” raise up the gradient to the next level. There are 4 mules per ship at least, we had 6.



The structure on legs is a grandstand for visitors




All the locks are duel so not the problems of Sue


The Pacific at last


Having transited the Canal the work commenced in earnest with the RN exercising continuously with the Navies of Ecuador and Colombia (mainly gunboats) whilst we plodded down the coast just out of reach.


The big change came when we entered the waters of Peru. So many of their ship were ex British, cruisers and destroyers from the 1940s. It was like the set of a wartime navy film. These ships we did RAS even if it was only a token amount.


We got to Callao, which is the main Peruvian Navy Base on the 2nd March and stayed to the 5th. Our berth was non to wonderful as it was next to the fish dock where huge fish factory ships unloaded by pumping thousands of tons of anchovies into the processing area. The best fish was made into paste but the poorer quality was crushed and dried and made into fertiliser. The smell can be imagined.


Runs ashore were made to the city of Lima which was about 5 miles away. Everything cheap but nothing to buy!


Sailing on the 5th we made our way into Chilean waters and started the whole RAS process again. Lovely weather with long Pacific swells, blue skies and ships to RAS, what could be better? Many old British ships again, Peru and Chile have long been competitors of ship numbers and types. We arrived in Valparaiso harbour and berthed in the Chilean Navy Base which was quite large having been planned by the British a hundred years ago. The names of the ships were interesting – Admirals’ Pratt, O’Higgins and Williams of British origin from the 1800s during various wars with Spain (and Peru).


We used the Hovercraft as a liberty boat a few times and went right up the beach with it. I’m told the Fleet Arm Pilot was offered lots of money by the local smugglers to leave it there so they could have a year not being able to be caught smuggling before the local coastguard got delivery of an anti smuggling version in about a years time.

I missed another cocktail party on board as I was on the 1800 to 2359 harbour watch but I had a good drink after midnight and watched every one leaving. On the 11th March we sailed ever southwards for the straits of Magellan



Entrance to the straits of Magellan



Weather slightly better. Lyness following on behind.




We even did a stern RAS for the record books in the Magellan Straits



Follow my leader, the Chilean Navy pilot boat guiding us through


Same place, 20 minutes later


Then the weather closed in, which made it even harder. Only Hampshire went round the Horne

Having passed through the Straits of Magellan and met up with Hampshire we headed off to near the Falkland Islands for mail transfer via Hampshire’s helicopter. We headed north for warmer climes, passage RASing every three days or so until the navy ships peeled off for Buenos Aires. We could not follow because of our draught on the very shallow sand banks and bars on the way to BA so we went to Rio instead.




We anchored about 5 miles out alongside a Brazilian navy cruiser (Ex USN Baltimore class)

We stayed in Rio for about a week and then steamed back to meet the Navy ships from BA and then had the official entry into Rio and the proper visit with parties and invites etc.



Brazilian “Admiralty” on its own island, aircraft carrier Minas Gerais (ex HMS Vengence) on right


We stayed in Rio until 8th April and one or two exercises on the way home to Portsmouth and Rosyth. We reached Portsmouth non stop on the 28th April. The hovercraft deck was removed, landrover landed and bike put ashore and we were back in Rosyth on the 6th May.


Following  a period of self maintenance (one boiler shut down at a time) we set off again for Oslo arriving on the 20th May and tied up alongside next to Akershus castle in Oslo town, 5 minutes from the town hall. Lots of parties and visits and the time passed very quickly. We sailed again on the 25th and steamed to Copenhagen arriving on the 26th.


As well as showing the flag we were supporting mine sweepers who were enjoying their annual exercise of trying to sweep some of the 5 million mines still unaccounted for in the Baltic from the Second World War.


We were back in Rosyth on the 5th June, Newcastle on the 17th June to sign off and sign on again.


We then went to Holyhead to meet with Glamorgan, Llandaff  (all the welsh sounding ships in the Navy) and the Royal Yacht. The Prince of Wales was being invested as the Prince of Wales at Carnarvon Castle on the 1st of July. We attended lots of parties and lunches as well as RASing the Royal Yacht.



Preparing for Royal RAS




RAS with Royal Yacht




OOPs, not everything goes well all of the time, here’s one to worry the Chief Officer.


We arrived at Plymouth on the 8th July and discharged cargo and tank cleaned arriving in Newcastle for refit on the 12th July, just on a year since joining.


I left with my due leave (107 days) and also study leave (90 days). I was due at South Shields Marine and Technical College in mid September to study for my part “B” of the second class (steam) certificate which is sea time dependant – but that’s for the next part of O boating when I joined Olna (O Lord Never Again) on the 26th February 1970 on what was to be my last trip in the RFA.



Peter Maddison