A sample from the autobiography, ‘72 Yeas On The Slippery, Slippery Gangway Called Life: The Ups and Downs of Working 45 years in the Shipping Industry.’
Chapter 9. Back to the Sea
And so began a new chapter for me, back at sea. On 3rd December 1985, I started a stint of almost a year on the C.M.V. “Windward” which travelled between Australia and Japan. We only had one port in Australia and six or seven ports in the Far East. One round trip was six weeks, from Australia to Australia. The start and end of the route was Freemantle on the West Coast of Australia. That’s where we changed and discharged all the cargo and then the ship went to Japan. We always had a week there every six weeks, and that’s how I came to put down roots in Australia eventually. In spite of the start and end of the route being Freemantle, we normally actually changed crew in Hong Kong, as the visa regulations were less stringent than in Australia.
During this time, the Ops Manager from New York became my captain. He had actually asked for me to be part of his crew because he thought we had a great relationship, but in fact I hated him. He hadn’t had the first clue about loading container ships when I worked for him in New York, so I had no respect for him as a manager. Then I had to sail with him on the “Windward”. I expected it to be bad working under him, especially as I’d been ashore for 3 ½ years, and it was: it was difficult, difficult, difficult. During my time on the “Windward”, I’d have six weeks with my old boss as captain, followed by six weeks with another captain from Hamburg, who I got along with a lot better. Strangely, the ‘Hamburg’ captain was hated by everyone else. But I think because he’d done the same job in London that I’d done in New York, he trusted me completely. By contrast, although my old boss had wanted to work on the same ship as me, having trusted me to do my job in New York, he didn’t trust me on board the Windward. It was very difficult: for one lot of six weeks I was treated as a person by the Hamburg Captain and for the next six weeks I was treated like an asshole by my old boss. He thought he was better than everyone else.
In any case, the “Windward” stopped at all the ports in Japan: Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya. I’d not been to Japan like that before. The people were very efficient. You asked them to do something and it was done, which was totally different to the States. If you specified how to do a task, the Japanese did it exactly as you’d asked. I was impressed. During my time in Japan I had a look around Kobe and Nagoya – often with the Hamburg Captain and his wife, leaving the Chief Mate on the ship. I had a great time and we saw lots of Japan.
By the end of my time on the “Windward”, I’d lost interest in everything on board, because I’d met my later wife Rachel during our weeks spent ashore in Freemantle, Australia. Freemantle became like a home port, and I started family life in Australia. This made me even less keen on sailing with the bad captain who made me feel like an idiot even though I knew what I was doing. Then, as luck would have it, the company offered voluntary redundancy, early retirement. I was 41. And I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. In New York I had been doing my own thing. I was effectively my own boss. Being treated like an idiot on the “Windward” by the bad captain made me think I didn’t want to sail anymore. It was a feeling that kept growing stronger. I turned more and more to drink at this time. And I didn’t take my job seriously anymore. All of this led me to think more of a new future in Freemantle with Rachel.
I met Rachel in a bar in Freemantle when I was out for the evening with the good captain during our very first stop-off there. Rachel was a British girl by background, and she had a gypsy heritage. When we were in the bar, the captain and I got chatting to Rachel and her friend. And I said to him ‘Let’s take these two girls on the ship but can you pretend to be the Steward today, not the Captain?’ He said ‘Okay. No problem, Hans’. I asked him to pretend to be the Steward so that Rachel didn’t feel that she was only with the Second Officer and not the Captain. So the Captain agreed to my plan to make us seem more equal to the girls. The Captain totally got it. When we went on board the ship together the Captain said ‘I think I have the Captain’s Cabin key in my pocket’, and I said ‘Great!’ He said ‘The old man isn’t coming home tonight so we can sit and have a bit of a party in his cabin’. And I said ‘Oh that sounds good. Why not?’ And these two girls were so impressed that they were getting to sit in the Captain’s cabin. We got on so well.
I also got on well with the Chief Mate of the “Windward”. We just worked really well together. The Chief Mate would say ‘Are you going to Rachel tonight?’ and I’d say ‘Yes. I think so.’ He’d say ‘Don’t worry about being back before 10 o’ clock in the morning. I’ll take over here. It’s not a problem. I’ll be on the ship anyway. You come at 10 a.m. and everything will be okay.’ We had each other’s backs. And the Hamburg Captain didn’t mind. The other captain got really upset when I wasn’t back on board at 6 a.m. And the Chief Mate explained the situation to him. But in spite of this he didn’t allow me the same flexibility. It was difficult.
Rachel was a great girl – a truly fantastic, lively girl. Put a lively British girl and a boring German together and you see what you get! Rachel was also a very good saleswoman. She could sell fridges to Eskimos, in contrast to myself who has no idea about how to sell anything. Ten years younger than me, Rachel had been through a messy divorce and had two children, Helen and Ben. I got along okay with Helen but the Ben was still in love with his father, despite the fact that his father was a very difficult man. Nonetheless, my relationship with Rachel was great at the beginning. And that’s when I decided that I wanted to settle down with her in Freemantle. That’s also when I decided that I definitely didn’t want to be based in Germany any more. I knew New York and I had a job offer there to work for one of the port operators. But I had decided, even before I met Rachel, to look for a future in Australia. I still had a girlfriend in America who I saw when I signed off the ship on 20th November 1986, but I had decided to pack up my American life and start an Australian one.