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Tramp Steamers

Discussion in 'The Golden Era' started by Tiki Tom, May 10, 2016.

  1. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

    Marcus Goodrich produced an exceptional singular yarn, Delilah, an ancient destroyer assigned pre WWI Sulu Sea patrol; which surprisingly never made it to film.:(
  2. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

    Also not tramp steamers but once upon a time, people used to travel on coastal steamers and riverboats. They traveled by rail, too, but they don't do that so much anymore either. Any form of boat travel has a romantic feel to it and so do seaports and river towns. You can still travel by rail but it's nothing like it used to be. Same with coastal steamers and riverboats. There are still riverboats, which are basically pleasure cruisers but I think coastal steamers are history. The Chesapeake used to have several, with stops in Washington, Baltimore, Norfolk & Newport News and probably even Philadelphia. One man, now deceased I believe, used to work as a musician on one before the war, when he was in college.
  3. They still have coastal cruises here on the west coast of the U.S.. They're generally referred to as a "booze cruise" because you board the ship in, say, San Diego, then cruise up the coast to Washington or Canada for three or four days, during which time there's not much more to do than sit and drink while you watch the scenery slide past. Any number of vessels will charter such a cruise, but I don't think steamers are among them these days.

    As for trains, I haven't been on one myself for several years but a good friend travels from the Los Angeles area (where we live) to northern California to visit friends two or three times a year, and he takes trains. The trip takes longer than driving because of all of the stops the trains make, but he prefers it for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the opportunity to just relax and read for several hours.
  4. Inkstainedwretch

    Inkstainedwretch Practically Family

    Again not tramp steamer but involving merchant seamen of the early 20th century, "Voyage" by Sterling Hayden (yes, THAT Sterling Hayden) is a rip-snortin' account of a merchant voyage, not in a steamer, but in a Cape Horner: a sailing ship made of steel instead of wood. He gets too ambitious and tries to weld too many stories together, including one of the early labor movement, but as a tale of ships and the men who drove them, it is wonderful. Hayden always considered himself a lifelong sailor and an actor second. Definitely worth a read.
  5. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

    Sterling Hayden. Now there's a name I haven't heard in a while. He was a rogue character of the type you found in the golden era, but don't much see anymore. Hollywood star. Decorated OSS agent during the war. Sailed his schooner "wanderer" to the South Pacific. Investigated by the House committee on un-American activities during the red scare. Wrote books. Jeez, what a character.
  6. Asian Intrigue.........
    Shanghai ladies wandering the docks bumping into all the differently dressed young men and some of the older men also......looking for a little action and some needy money.
    The Docks that afternoon were unusually busy with Steamers of various origin both loading and unloading their cargos.
    Several Shanghai Customs officers in street clothing were gathering around the Tramp Steamer "Port of Borneo", talking and gesturing towards the Steamers deck and the weary looking Captain looking over the deck rails and at the several, not inconspicuous, guys in suits.................meanwhile,
    I was in a hurry and slammed into my old and dirty Off White Tropical suit, checked my Beretta 32 Auto, to be sure it was loaded, (why wouldn't it be) stuck it into my jacket pocket, grabbed my Panama and was out the door.
    I had a meeting that morning with two sisters from the mainland, young ladies of wealth, prestige and mystery, seems they wanted to book passage on the "Port of Borneo" but not in a public way. It was known around the docks that the Steamer was headed for Luzon in 2 days time...
    Well I walked to the "Inn of Good times" on Wang Lo street, Two blocks from the Dock Harbor side areas.
    I spotted the two good looking, well dressed, very conspicuous looking ladies sitting at a bar table with the standard slow moving 3 bladed overhead fan slowly turning above them, they were definitely Out of Place.
    I walked over and introduced myself, I'm known around the docks as a very efficient Fixer of all things that do not want publicity...
    After several minutes of cordial chit chat we got down to the What and Why's of their needs and Wants of their paticular situation.
    I just happened to be a close friend of the Captain of the "Port of Borneo", as he and I were Lieut. JG's serving together in the 1920's US Navy in the Coastal waters off Shanghai to Hong Kong.....we were known to shuttle various individuals around the China Coast...
    Well it seems the two young ladies are..........................
  7. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

    Nice post. You travel under better circumstances than I would (and do). Me? I'd be travelling up river by a small boat which was conveniently available for hire at the port where I disembarked. A young Chinese man made himself available for heavy lifting as well as serving as a translator. We have important papers to deliver to a friend's father who is searching for lost treasure somewhere "up country." The jumping off point for our journey on foot through the jungle (who knew China had jungles?) was a riverside version of a port city peopled by busy and energetic men carrying boxes containing who knows what to and fro as well as a surprising number of foreigners lounging about in disreputable formerly off-white linen suits worn over a stripped t-shirt, invariably worn with a tattered Panama hat, also formerly off-white. All were in need of a shave. Nevertheless, they were all happy to direct me to the nearest (and only) hotel in town where we rested for the night. Aside from an attempt in the middle of the night to relieve us of our map, the stay was without incident. However, dire warnings were received from all that we should be in peril of our lives should we attempt our journey any farther. However, the advice to turn back now was rejected and our small party of myself and my travelling companion, together with our young Chinese interpreter, without whom we would have got nowhere, we set off the next morning, confident that we could overcome any mishap that should befall us.

    The first problem we encountered was one of the rare eruptions of a little known volcano scarcely a mile up the road.....
  8. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    Land locked Switzerland has a number of steamers in regular passenger service. Here's a very San Pablo-like vessel I recently shot on Lake Lucerne ...

    P1010453 copy.jpg



    The Swiss countryside seems sparsely populated but there still seemed to be plenty of non-tourist passengers taking these boats to work or on shopping trips the towns around the lake.

    For some true golden era Tramp Steamer material check out the "Around the World with Louis L'Amour section of ... http://www.louislamourgreatadventure.com/
    Zombie_61 likes this.
  9. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

    Ah, but the world is always changing. All you can do is catch a fleeting glimpse of the present. Go someplace and come back and it will be different. The longer you're gone, the more it will have changed.

    On the other hand, there is some truth of what was mentioned on the Louis L'amour link. What was once possible may not be possible now and what is possible now may not be possible in the future. Still, we think we know it all now and there are no worlds left to explore. Mt. Everest has become a dump--so they say. I've never been there but I've been to Oklahoma. One of the losses of the information age, in a manner of speaking, is the death of the travelogue film of the sort made famous in the past by the likes of Lowell Thomas and Martin and Osa Johnson. Oh, we have Rick Steves but it just isn't the same. He's too much like your brother-in-law and he never wears a pith helmet.

    The most interesting travelogue I recall seeing was about someone who traveled from London to India in a motor caravan of three or vehicles. They left in 1939 and war was breaking out behind them as they traveled along. India of 1939 obviously no longer exists and it probably isn't even possible to replicate the same feat today. But crossing the Panama Isthmus, a trans-Saharan expedition by Citroën half-track, that's more like it.
  10. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

    Great photos, Mike. Those are classic steamers... and still in service.

    Blue Train: once upon a time, I read most of the books by Lowell Thomas. Probably partly responsible for all the travels I've been fortunate enough to experience. As I recall, he said something like "if you lived in a house, wouldn't you explore all the rooms? The world is your house."
    Zombie_61 likes this.
  11. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

  12. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

  13. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

    I enjoyed that Rudyard Kipling story. Thanks for directing us to it. I liked the way he called the Haliotis "the ship of many names" and painted her as being just a step above a pirate ship, but with a loyal crew who wouldn't dream of signing up to work on another vessel. The port that the Haliotis was towed to was a true Kiplingesque south Asian backwater; a pretty little harbor fringed by palms and white houses and ruled by a stupid, unimaginative governor, a hundred miles from the nearest civilization. At the end, i can't quite figure out the skippers motive for running the Haliotis to Pygang-Watai instead of Singapore, but it makes for a colorful ending. I think the message of the story is found in the line where Kipling states that living 5 months beyond the faintest pretenses of civilization made the men truly independent and happy --"natural men." Nice story from another age. (My only criticism would be that maybe too much space was devoted to technical descriptions of repairing a badly damaged steam engine.)
  14. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

    The captain of the Haliotis had a grudge against the captain of the gunboat that fired on him and captured his ship. His revenge was to lay an ambush at the mouth of the harbor at Pygang-Watai and sink his gunboat. The ambush was to sink his own ship where the other ship could not help running into it. He and his crew of pirates then escaped in the proa they hijacked from the other pirates. I expect they attacked the gunboat and cut the throats of the captain and crew first.

    To a technically minded person like myself the part about repairing the engines was the most interesting part. I could sympathize with the engineer trying to repair a badly damaged engine with primitive tools and a few semi skilled helpers. I can understand his pride in completing a repair job that would challenge a fully equipped machine shop, and his desire to escape to Singapore and show his work to his fellow engineers.
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2017
    Tiki Tom likes this.
  15. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

    It occurs to me that by that time the Haliotis had very little value to its captain. It was 10 years old, had been damaged and repaired in 2 incidents previously, and now the engines were reduced to scrap iron, its boilers shot, the main shaft and propeller wonky, and the ship stripped of everything of value by the governor. Rather than spend thousands of pounds on repairs it was better to write it off and collect the insurance. It was on record that the ship had been stopped by a foreign navy while engaged in robbing the pearl beds. I'm sure no insurance company would pay off on damages that happened as a result. But if the ship sank 8 months later due to an unfortunate accident they would.
  16. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

    Researching a completely separate subject, I came across this. Reading the first paragraph, a person could be forgiven for thinking that tramp freighters are by no means a thing of the past... And that many of them aren't too concerned about occasionally straying a little bit outside the law.

    "The Orion Star has lived at least three lives. From 2009 to 2013, it was called the Rich Ocean and flew the flag of Tuvalu, a tiny Polynesian nation. In its next incarnation the following year, it switched flags, first to Kiribati — another Pacific island nation — and then to Mongolia, and took on the name the Orion Star. It was then that the container ship’s activities caught the eye of international regulators."​


    Piratical scallywags! Hollywood: give ma a call and I will whip up a screenplay in a couple of weeks time.
  17. AdeeC

    AdeeC Practically Family

    A lot of Somerset Maugham's short stories and books relate to voyages on tramp steamers based on his own travels and observations in the Far East early in the 20th century. Read them many years ago and perhaps some of the most evocative exotic travel romantic writings ever.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2017
  18. fireman

    fireman Familiar Face

    Great idea for a thread....I will have to check out some of those books.
    I did not know this was still a thing. I wonder how legit it all is.

    I plan to mostly retire early this year. Hmmm.........
  19. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

    Honduran freighter capsizes off Taiwan in rough weather. Fortunately, it sounds like everyone was rescued.


    Nothing worse than being in a storm at sea. Did that once, and was as sick as a dog. Now that I fly a desk, I need to keep that in mind in order to fight the tendency to romanticize life at sea. No illusions, but sometimes I can’t help but dream of foreign ports. Important to be mindful of the downside at the same time.

    I wonder what became of the vessel? Something haunting about the image of a capsized ship, especially if she doesn’t quickly sink.
  20. During one of the two Caribbean cruises my wife and I have taken with family and friends we hit some rough seas for a period of eight to ten hours. Not quite storm-like, but rough enough that the ship's stabilizers weren't sufficient to keep it from rocking and rolling to such a degree that people were losing their balance and using the railings in the passageways to support themselves as if their lives depended on them. Neither my wife nor I got ill, but a number of passengers did regardless of their anti-seasickness medications (including a close friend) and it didn't look pleasant. I can only imagine it would have been much worse without those stabilizers.

    Probably because I didn't get ill, I took it as part of the adventure of being on the ocean and actually liked it a little, but I'm sure those passengers who felt the effects wouldn't have shared my enthusiasm. :D
    ChiTownScion likes this.

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