Jack Mainland: “I almost wish I hadn’t asked that last question! But I would imagine you’ve also seen your share of bad weather?”
Bill Ballingall: “I’ve certainly seen some extreme weather. The eastern part of the Mediterranean can be bad, as bad as many other sea areas. The Great Australian Bight has a well-deserved reputation for atrocious sea conditions, but the worst that comes to mind was when we were en-route to Portland, Maine, with a cargo of crude oil from the Gulf. At the time we were somewhere in the middle of the North Atlantic. The wind became stronger over a couple of days, and the clouds became heavier and darker.
Ahead of us it looked really black, and when we entered this blackness we experienced torrential rain with mountainous seas. The ship was digging her bows into the waves, and ‘green water’ was romping along the length of the main deck. We saw steel plates from the flying bridge – that is, a raised walkway along the complete length of the maindeck – being ripped from their fastenings and swept over the side.
A 10” diameter porthole with 1” thick glass, on the front of the accommodation, was punched in by a wave, allowing water to tumble along the alleyway, overflowing into the engine room. The front of the accommodation was also ‘set in’ during this storm, and a nearby steel ladder got mangled and torn by being hit by green water.
When we broke through the clouds, we found ourselves in a sort of eerie calm. The sea, clouds, and what we could see of the sky, were all a sort of dirty olive green colour. The clouds were tearing around the periphery of this calm, in a big circle. I managed to secure a half-inch thick steel plate over the burst porthole, but when we re-entered the swirling weather and heavy seas, a wave got under the plate, and bent it at practically right-angles away from the bulkhead. That was a bad one. When we eventually made Portland, we required the local ship repair company to sort out some of the worst damage.
In really bad weather, a ship will be jumping around quite a bit and it is difficult to sleep. You will have a foot jammed under each side of the mattress, and similarly you’re holding on to the sides of the bunk, with your head rolling from side-to-side. Bad enough, but there is another aspect associated with a storm situation; the noise. It will be quite deafening and really very frightening.
The wind will scream though any rigging, and howl around the accommodation areas, and this noise will get to you; wear you down as much as anything else. After a few days of all this, you will be exhausted, with no respite until the weather improves. You just have to stagger down into the engine room at 4 in the morning, or whenever, to take over the watch. Not good…”