Sunday, October 16, 2005

For Those Who Go Down To The Sea In Ships...

Its why I speak pirate so well

I have recently convinced my maternal grandfather that the internet is a wonderful thing. Granddad Len served in the British Merchant Navy during the Second World War and for a few years afterwards. I knew he had sailed on at least one liberty ship and I recently found out that Country Mouse's paternal grandfather had been a yard foreman at New England Shipbuilding Corp. in South Portland, Maine. While Granddad's liberty ship had been a Canadian rather than an American one, I thought he would find it interesting coincidence of sorts so I printed off a bunch of stuff about the Portland yard, his ship (the S.S. Fort Dease Lake) and the town in British Columbia it was named after and popped it in the mail.

Talking on the phone after my letter had arrived, Granddad asked me how on earth I had found out all that information. I explained that via google and the inevitable geek magnet of old ship websites (how could that special coterie of website builders who like the words "tonnage" and "gross displacement" avoid ferreting out information from Lloyds List and government records and posting it in one place? I counted on them and they came through, bless) it was relatively easy to unearth the salient information on the pertinent ship. Granddad seemed very interested.

Given that Granddad is not the sort of senior who is adverse to new technologies (he loves his TV "digibox" that allows him to watch approximately 42,000 soccer matches at one sitting) and that my uncle Les was in at the ground floor of the computer revolution in the 1970s I reckoned that he would be on the phone to his local ISP as soon as I had rung off, demanding that the computer in the spare bedroom he uses for mah jong be connected to the glories of the world wide web.

However, Granddad had other ideas. Or rather I should say 'idea'- namely have Weasel do all the research for him. Since my initital research, I have been ferreting out the ownership and loading histories of a variety of tramp steamers, palm oil tankers, and North Sea colliers as his requests have come in fast and furious. The searches are no longer limited to ships on which he served either; recently I unearthed a small trove of information on the S.S. Sam Key, an American built liberty ship he tied up next to in some godforsaken port in 1946 which later disappeared in the Bemuda Triangle.

Given that last Monday was a holiday and I had forgotten the full name of the latest vessel I was supposed to be researching, I called Granddad to ask and- if I am to be frank- to show off a bit by pulling up the information in seconds while I had him on the phone. Sure enough, I was able to recite the tonnage and ultimate fate of the S.S. Empire Life (captured Axis or impounded neutral ships pressed into allied service were given the prefix "Empire" but their previous history was kept secret from the crew- I never did find out the real name of the Empire Life but learned it had been scrapped in 1957).

"Find this one then" said Granddad. "The 'Ark'"

Deep in my role as super computer research man, I queried "Would that be the Empire Ark, Granddad?"

"No" he replied. "Noah's bloody Ark." Then he giggled for a good ten minutes.

See what I get for being nice? Bah.


Mondale said...

You should of course recall that the original Theta club 'Ark' was a surplus D-Day landing craft. The current 'Ark' was a reed barge but that's not the point.

weasel said...

My goodness, I forgot all about that terrible hulk, not fit for the worst excesses of the middle passage. I don't suppose either made the Albert Dock to Halifax, Nova Scotia run, did they?