Category Archives: Sparks

Uplifting Natives

Some of the adventures I had whilst working as a Radio Officer and Purser on various oil tankers didn’t always end like the Cuban Trader. I well remember a much more pleasant trip while working on the S.S IRVINGDALE a small Canadian oil tanker delivering to various oil ports in the Maritime Provinces, but once in a while we sailed off to the former fleshpots of the infamous Pirates of Caribbean.

We were not in search of the gold in treasure ships, but the black gold stored in the smaller oil ports, many of them too small to accommodate the giant oil tankers. Often there were no modern loading facilities, just a couple of flexible pipes from the oil storage tanks into the middle of a small bay, where we dropped anchor and dragged the pipes from the sea bed and connected them to the ship. A quick blast on the ship’s siren signalled the shore crew to open the valves and start filling up the ship.

It was a slow process filling the tanks, but it gave the crew plenty time to relax, enjoy the sunshine and swim in the cool waters of the bay. Usually we were surrounded by native rafts and young boys selling fresh fruit and vegetables while their fathers were clearing away a path through the jungle for more oil pipes. Some of the native boys actually used the scrambling net to climb on board.

I remember one young lad named Pedro who spoke very good English and begged me for some of colourful magazines to take home to his Mom. In the evening the beach was alive with native girls dancing the hula hula and plying the willing crew with native moonshine and jungle juice. Alas I had to stay sober and make sure all the seamen were accounted for the next morning.

Pedro, the young lad, insisted I meet his mother, a jovial woman of about fifty. Being the mother of about ten kids, she no longer had the energy to join the dancing girls on the beach but had a whale of time checking out the advertisements in the magazine, especially a full page color picture of a slender young blonde modelling the latest brassiere. “You can bring back for my mother?” questioned Pedro, grinning. He tore out the page and handed it to me.

I thought about Pedro’s request when we returned to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Since we would be returning to the island again I decided to check out what was available in the local lingerie store. When I showed the assistants the now tattered pictures of the blonde modelling the uplifting brassiere, the gals behind the counter started sniggering.

“It’s for a native woman in Colombia,” I explained, gesturing with my hands about the size she would require. When they were finally convinced I was for real and not some wandering pervert, they decided a Double D Cup would be the size and as an added favour, they gift wrapped it with a pink ribbon.

Back in Cartagena, Pedro was the first one to scramble aboard. His eyes were as big as saucers, when I showed him the package. He thanked me again and again and begged me to accompany him on his bamboo raft back to shore. I remember the crew lining the deck rail watching me hanging on for dear life as the little raft bobbed up and down until it finally scraped onto the beach.

Pedro lived in the middle of the village where most of the huts were made from bamboo poles and banana leaves on the roof. His mother was cooking some kind of stew in a large iron pot on an ancient wood burning stove when we entered. For a few seconds she stared at me holding out the colourful gift wrapped present, then began to wail with excitement, finally hugging me to her monstrous bosom. Suddenly her large family of youngsters came running into the hut from every direction and joined in the celebrations. At first she was reluctant to tear open the pretty package and carefully undid the wrapping, finally holding up the pink silky bra like some movie star clutching an Oscar. Her family cheered and laughed as their mother coaxed her enormous breasts into the cups, and strapped on the bra. Minutes later she marched outside where a crowd of bare breasted native women had gathered to join in the parade through the village.

Pedro looked at me and grinned. “Gracias, Senor Sparks,” he said. “My mother is mucho pleased. What they call it in America?”
“It’s called a Cowboy Bra…”
“A cowboy bra,” repeated Pedro. “Why cowboy bra?”
“Because, my dear friend, it rounds ‘em up and heads ‘em out.”

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My First Ships – The Assorted and the Sordid

British Scientist

British Scientist

I’ve written of my experiences as a Radio Officer on the Cuban Trader in my book, but I had sailed on a series of ships before that. The BRITISH SCIENTIST was my first ship, she was an oil tanker plying between Scotland and Stockholm, Sweden – also sailing the Mediterranian to Sicily where we could see the volcanic Mount Etna smouldering.  The ship would traverse through the Suez Canal to Mina Al Ahmadi in Kuwait many times until our last trip through the desert after the Egyptians under Colonel Nasser nationalized the canal … The Egyptians took over control from the Brits and the French, but really and had no idea how to run it…so it silted up and ships had to go around the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town) as they had done before the canal was built.

I was also Chief Radio Officer on the RMS HINEMOA – a New Zealand Overnight ferry between the North and South Island)  I also worked on the original QUEEN ELIZABETH ocean liner of Cunard.  I was about the 14th Radio Officer on this ship as she was aging. When her passenger days were done she was sold to a Chinese entrepreneur who turned her into a floating a college campus until she mysteriously caught fire and sank in Hong Kong Harbor.

I was on the SS IRVINGDALE (a ship of Irving Oil in Canada trading between various oil ports in the Caribbean and then unloading in Nova Scotia or Rimouski in Quebec.  On the IRVINGDALE the Captain’s wife often came along on voyages with us. She was a prudish bible punching bitch who almost demanded the crew attend prayers on deck before I was allowed to pay them their shore money. We docked once in in Cartagena, Columbia,  right next to the port whore house where a red neon sign showed a naked women lifting her leg up and down and showing her black bushy money maker. This drove the captain’s wife nearly insane … And for one of his birthday presents she bought the captain a Cadillac which was loaded on board as deck cargo…but when we arrived at foreign ports there were rarely any cranes capable of lifting it onto the dock.  It was sheer madness.

Empress of Scotland in WWII

Empress of Scotland in WWII

I was on the EMPRESS OF SCOTLAND, the second one. The original was first launched in 1906 as one of the great transatlantic liners before the Titanic. My Empress was the second, built for the Canadian Pacific Steamships (CP) launched in 1930. She was originally named the Empress of Japan, but World War II put an end to that and she was rechristened as the 2nd Empress of Scotland. She carried troops in the war. In 1958, after I signed on the Trader the old Empress was bought by the Hamburg-Atlantic  Line and renamed again, the Hanseatic carrying passengers until the 1960s. These huge transatlantic passenger ocean liners were fun, but it turned out one spent all one’s wages in the bars, having a good time. And I needed to make some $$$$. The Cuban Trader was paying triple the wages, but who would have  thought I’d only have to put up with the smell of molasses…

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