Back home in Manchester, my mother and father greeted me as though I had been on a normal voyage, but I know they were relieved that I had survived the war unscathed. By now it was accepted that the sea was to be my career, so after three weeks leave I had to look around for another ship. I approached the Shipping Pool who put me in touch with a company who were looking for a third officer to man one of their ships running to Peru, a tanker transporting crude oil from a field at Cabo Blanco.
The run appealed to me and after an interview I was accepted and joined the "El Mirlo" at Stanlow on the Manchester Ship Canal where she was discharging. It was my first trip through the Panama Canal; a great experience as anyone who has been through on a cruise liner can testify.
I went on to make three trips on her but to be honest, it started getting a little mundane, and the highlight was often the evening chess match with the Captain. I had taken my motorbike with me and when we arrived in Cabo Blanco I sought permission to go ashore for a run into the foothills of the Andes. I established a routine that I was to repeat many times. The Port Captain initially refused my request saying “not possible”. I pulled out a carton of 200 cigarettes and it changed from “no permission” to “OK Senor”. The bike had to be transported ashore by barge because we loaded offshore tied up to buoys. But once ashore I enjoyed many trips into the mountains. It was on one of our passages up to Stanlow that I got into a casual conversation with the helmsman, really an apprentice Pilot, who told me that vacancies existed in the service. At this point, I was a little disenchanted with life at sea, being away from home and eight weeks at sea with only three or four days ashore, so I decided, with tongue in cheek, to apply for the position of Apprentice Pilot, a decision which was to change my life drastically for the next thirty eight years. I signed off the ship because I had to stay close to home in case the Canal Company contacted me.
To keep in touch, I took a position as Second Mate on a coastal vessel running between Heysham and Londonderry, making three round trips a week. It was very different to deep sea sailing, very different indeed. On the first day out, having cleared Heysham and the approach channel, the Captain told me to keep her on NW and a half N until Mughold Head on the Isle of Man was sighted, at which point I was to call him. I converted the compass course into degrees, which was used on ocean passages and when we reached the Isle of Man he showed me how to take the vessel around the Point of Ayre, the northern most point of the island. From there we shaped a course to Rathlin Island, passing south of it and thence to the entrance of the River Foyle. The Captain did the pilotage up the river, and it was a real eye opener. Steady on Patrick Mullaneys cottage, until the church spire came into transit with the bridge and so on (not the actual bearings, but you get the idea). Bear in mind that this was in the days before GPS. He could even take her up there in fog, which occurred on many occasions.
One early morning, when we docked in Heysham, I found a telegram awaiting me amongst the ships mail which I picked up from the shipping office on the quayside. It asked me to ring home as soon as possible. Fearing the worst (because my Mother had a serious heart complaint) I called immediately and was surprised when my Mother answered. She told me that the Canal
Company had replied to my application, and I was to attend an interview in three days. The Captain was most co-operative when I explained the position, and he arranged for me to be relieved the same day. And that very afternoon was the end of my sea-going career when I signed off the vessel and caught a train home.