The Adventures of a Conway Lad on RFA Brambleleaf 1968


Pennant No. A 81                     International Callsign MQPK                  Registered LONDON


Previous Name “London Loyalty”  (Renamed 1959).                       Lloyds Identity No. 5050244


Builder Furness Shipbuilding Co Ltd, Teesside. (Yard No. 454).


Launched 16th April 1953                                                                       Completed January 1954


Displacement (Light-ship) Not Known.                               (Loaded) Not Known.


Measurement Tonnage N.R.T. 7,042                 G.R.T. 12,123                DWT 17,960


Dimensions Length O.A. 557 ft.                    Beam 71.5 ft.                     Draft 31 ft.


Main Machinery 1  x  North East Marine/Doxford  6 cylinder 2SC SA diesel engine.

Single shaft.             Speed 14 knots.


Ships Badge Not granted until 1978, to the next and 3rd Admiralty vessel of this name.  The badge depicts a golden sprig of bramble in leaf, with red thorns, on a blue background.


Remarks “BRAMBLELEAF”, and her sister-ship the “BAYLEAF”, (ex “London Integrity”), were bareboat chartered by the Admiralty, from ‘London Overseas Freighter Ltd’ on 22nd May 1959.  Other L.O.F. tankers of this class were the “London Victory”, completed in Feb.1952 and the “London Majesty”, which was completed in June 1952.


“BRAMBLELEAF” was a freighting tanker and the second RFA to bear this name.  Basic modifications were built onto this ship to enable her to replenish others with fuel oil and diesel by means of a stern hose rig.  She was also able to accept and connect to the beam rigs of Fleet Replenishment Tankers, enabling her to transfer her cargo by this method if required.


“Leaf” class tankers were all vessels that became available on the commercial market and were usually taken up on long-term bareboat charters.  Their task was to supplement and support the purpose built Fleet Replenishment Tankers, often shuttling between oil refineries or Admiralty oil storage depots and the Fleet Tankers in a Task Group.  They were also employed in bringing fuel from oil producing countries to British naval dockyards and bases around the world.  Other tankers in this class at the time were the “APPLELEAF”, “BAYLEAF”, “CHERRYLEAF”, the “ORANGELEAF”, (which was equipped with two abeam replenishment gantries, supporting four RAS derricks), and the almost identical twins “PEARLEAF” and “PLUMLEAF”, (both these two ships were later fitted with a single abeam replenishment gantry and two RAS derricks).


“BRAMBLELEAF” was returned to her owners, ‘London Overseas Freighters Ltd’, in 1970.


Sold to subsidiary ‘Mayfair Tankers’ of Monrovia, in 1972 and re-named “MAYFAIR LOYALTY”.


Laid up at Spezia, Italy 9th Sept. 1974.  Sold to Ditta Lotti, (Cantieri Navali Lotti) 27th Feb. 1976 and breaking up commenced at Spezia in July 1976.




20th June 1968 to 2nd December 1968

Singapore Chinese Crew

3rd Officer until 11th September 1968

Then promoted 2nd Officer

I joined this ship in Rosyth, after nearly four months ashore on leave and studying hard at Plymouth Polytechnic for my “Mate’s Foreign Going” ticket.  I sat the series of written exams and underwent the oral ‘grilling’ at Dock Street in London, all of which thankfully I managed to pass.


After having had a period on replenishment ships I now found myself on a freighting tanker, although it did have the ability to refuel other ships by the ‘astern method’. This involved trailing a 600 ft length of standard 6” x 30 ft sections of flexible rubber hose, the back end of which would then be picked up by the receiving ship.


Designed for commercial freighting around the world, the accommodation was comfortably and spaciously fitted out.  Even as a junior officer, my cabin was quite roomy and had an en-suite bathroom.  This was sheer luxury after the new but spartan comforts of my last ship, the M.O.D. designed “Resource”.


My duties at sea were similar to those that I had on the “Bacchus”.  When in port and loading or discharging the cargo, the 2nd Officer and myself would keep cargo watches.  This meant monitoring the loading or discharging process carefully, transferring the flow of oil from one tank to another as they became full or empty.  When loading from a refinery, the cargo came aboard very quickly; making a fearsome crackling noise as it raced through the deck manifold. You needed to keep your wits about you so as to change tanks at the precise moment when the oil in the tank reached the required height, usually just a couple of rungs on the ladder from the top of the tank.   Often we loaded two or three different products at the same time, requiring the deftness of a one armed paperhanger!  If you were not prepared and the tank overflowed, the consequences would be catastrophic.  The ship was getting on in years and some of the valves were quite stiff to turn, and especially difficult to close against a torrent of oil.


The Captain was a hard but fair man, who lived on the banks of the Clyde near Dunoon.  After a couple of freighting trips to Trinidad and to Augusta in Sicily, bringing oil cargoes back to the U.K., the ship was programmed to go to dry-dock at ‘Cammel Laird’s’ in Birkenhead for a refit.  As our last discharge port was the NATO depot at Loch Striven in the Clyde estuary, the Captain asked me to drive his car from his home, down to Birkenhead to meet the ship on arrival. He would then have the use of his car whilst we were there.  I happily agreed as it meant a couple of days off the ship and a pleasant drive south in his rather nice car.


It was always interesting to see a ship being brought into dry-dock and lined up with the keel blocks.  Cranes then lifted the side timbers into position as ship settled down when the water was pumped out of the dock.  As the water level continued to fall, the yard workers got started on cleaning the weed and growth off the ship’s side and eventually moving under the hull as the dock dried out.  Overboard discharges would be plugged or piped away from the ship and the anchors and cables laid out on the dock bottom for inspection. On going down into the dock yourself and walking under the hull, you really got to appreciate the enormous mass of your vessel.

Meanwhile, up on deck, the recently smart and orderly ship was turned into what seemed like an absolute shambles of ladders, skips, power cables, scaffolding and all sorts of repair equipment.


Usually, most of the ship’s personnel were paid off for the refit duration of two to three weeks.  Those remaining had to move ashore as there was unlikely to be any heating, power or fresh water supplied for the ships normal facilities.  Everything that could be moved had to be kept under lock and key and carefully watched, otherwise it disappeared!  All valuable and attractive items were put into locked  containers, delivered to the ship for that purpose.


I stayed with the ship throughout the refit, during which time I was promoted to 2nd Officer.  My new responsibilities meant that I was now the ships navigator and operations officer, understudying the Chief Officer as required.


During my time at sea, I think that being the navigator was the job on all ships that I enjoyed the most.  You were at the hub of all the operational information and knew all about what was going in all departments, and of the outside influences that would affect your ship, now and for the foreseeable future.  Primarily, you were responsible to the captain for the safe navigation of the ship and its’ timely arrival wherever it was meant to be.


At sea I now kept the 12-4, or “graveyard” watch, possibly so called because it was generally quiet on board the ship during that time as others slept.  The day started with a call and a cuppa at about 0900.  If the call didn’t wake you the crew with their chipping hammers did!  After a slice of toast or similar, (breakfast had long been cleared), there was possibly an operational meeting with the captain, or a bit of day-work to do such as chart correcting, or maintenance to the gyro compass and repeaters. There may even be a bit of work to do on the Chernekeef log that was playing up again.  This important piece of equipment, which projected from the hull under water, indicated the ship’s speed. It was probably located in some place that was almost inaccessible, down in the bowls of one of the pumprooms.  Lunch would be early, at 1130, before taking over the watch on the bridge at 1200.  Quite soon into the watch there would be the noon position to ascertain by measuring the sun’s altitude with the sextant.  This gave you your latitude, which was then crossed with transferred position lines of the earlier sights taken by the 3rd Officer, to give you the ship’s noon position.  All this business was not of course necessary if you were within detectable range of land.  The ‘day’s run’ would then be recorded and various reports written.  The navigation watch was handed over to the Chief Officer as he arrived on the bridge at 1600.  Time for a period of relaxation and maybe a movie, before a drink at the bar at 1730 and dinner at 1800.  After dinner there was time to see the end of the movie, or relax, before turning in at around 2100 and sleeping until going on watch again at midnight.  At 0400, the sleepy smiling face of the Chief Officer appeared in the dim lighting of the chartroom. He took over the watch again as you either went below to have a chat and a beer with the 3rd engineer who had also just come off watch, or you went straight to bed.


On sailing from the Birkenhead refit we embarked on a voyage to Trinidad to load a full cargo of FFO, (furnace fuel oil) and diesel oil.  The ‘Great Circle’ track across the Atlantic took us past the island of Flores, in the Azores group, with the next landfall being a sight of Barbados, then onwards to Trinidad.  As this was my first trip as the navigator, it was very satisfying to make a transatlantic landfall right on the button!  Approaching Trinidad, our track took us through the ‘Bocas del Dragon’, (Mouth of the Dragon), which was a channel between the north-western peninsula of Trinidad and the coast of Venezuela.  You then entered a large sheltered sea area known as the Gulf of Paria, to the west of the island of Trinidad.  Pelicans abounded in this area and could be seen diving into the sea, just like Gannets, to catch fish that ventured too near the surface.  Our usual destination in Trinidad was the Texaco oil refinery jetties at Pointe-a-Pierre.  From Trinidad we headed for the remote and tiny island group of St Paul’s Rocks, situated in the middle of the Atlantic between Brazil and West Africa.  It was off these islands that we waited for a homeward bound and rather thirsty frigate.  After filling her fuel tanks via an astern RAS, we made our way north to Gibraltar to discharge our cargo into the naval storage depot.

We next had a pleasant change from the lonely Atlantic Ocean.  Our orders took us into the warm Mediterranean Sea, to load from the oil refineries at Augusta, in Sicily. Whilst loading at Augusta, I recall seeing at night the red glow of lava running down the side of Mount Etna, which was about 35 miles away to the north.  We then sailed right across to the far north-eastern corner of the Med. and discharged our diesel cargo at the NATO oil depot at Iskenderun, in Turkey.


After Iskenderun, we headed west again, to Gibraltar and then back to the U.K. coast, where we spent a busy period shifting cargoes of oil around between the various naval bases and depots.  These included Loch Striven and Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde, plus a cargo to load at Eastham Lock, where there was a terminal facility in a shipping basin, adjacent to the entrance of the Manchester Ship Canal.


I finally paid off the “Brambleleaf” at Yonderberry Jetty, the oil berth situated across the Hamoaze from Devonport Dockyard.