Stories & Memories

I have created this page as a place to preserve memories and stories of life onboard a Weather Ship

Please help by sending me yours if you served on board

From Paul Cope

Your Dad and myself had a habit of wandering around the ship in the afternoons if we were not busy in our cabins, partly for exercise partly to ease the boredom and to find people to "wind up" I remember this day well, we had been down in the engine room annoying the 4th engineer ,we went to the Radar Room but no one was about, at the other end of the alleyway under the bridge was this door I think it must have been a gun platform in days gone by. Anyway I said "Fred I have not been out there for couple of years shall we take a look", your Dad said ok as he'd never been out there. As I opened the door the hinges which were rusted thru fell off, and I was left holding the door. Being a quick thinker in those days I said "Fred hold this door a minute" and whipped out a cheap and nasty kodak camera which was in my pocket, Fred entered the spirit of the occasion by posing. I took the shot and said to him "if you tell anyone I broke the door I will just say it was you and show them the foto" at that we both fell about laughing laid the door on the deck and beat a hasty retreat!
Days later due to a complaint from one of the techs about the draft in the radar room Angus Mcleod the bosun tied the door in place with rope. The next day I was passing the wardroom, the door was open, and Capt Norman Fraser was there talking to Stuart Norwell 1st mate, and I overheard the old man say, "no one knows who did it but I bet it was one of those 3 buggers Sleigh, Van Dyke or Paul Cope, my ears went red as I made a run for it!

From Ron Duguid

My name is Ron Duguid, then known as “Dougie”, and I started working in the Meteorological Office in late 1952 soon after leaving school in Aberdeen. Soon however, I became rather bored with the routine work and having to work at least two night shifts per week, all alone on some god forsaken remote outstation. One night shift, glancing through the Met Mag my eyes encountered an advert for meteorologists for Weather Ships - four weeks at sea then two weeks ashore with an additional £75.00 per annum for a so called ‘Hard Living Allowance‘.  No lonely night shifts, you would be in a team of three with FREE board and lodgings – let me sign now.  After being accepted, and with the various courses behind me, I  finally joined the Ocean Weather Service in 1955, reporting to Greenock where I joined the O.W.S. Observer. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and I left in1962 when I married. All told, I completed more or less 7 Years on Weather Ships, and must confess I enjoyed every minute of it as a youngster in my 20s.

My introduction to weather ships was a bit hairy. A deep depression was moving northeast towards northwest  Ireland, and continuing on a northeast track to the Shetlands.  Coming out of the Clyde we were sheltered by Ireland but as we proceeded into the Atlantic, the gale hit us hard with a SW’ly wind nearing 65kts and gusts to top 90kts. Overnight, a wave smashed a ventilation duct on deck, resulting in some three inches of water collecting in the alleyways below. My cabin mate shook me for breakfast with the words ‘Put on your wellies’. Going onto the Petty Officers Mess for breakfast, water was sloshing around from side to side in the swell, with the crew sitting on the table top in an effort to keep their feet dry; this was a far cry from my usual comfortable office routine at the outstations.  

As part of the work, we were in contact with trans Atlantic aircraft and were able to give them ground speed checks using our radar. I  remember on one occasion we were en-route back to Greenock when a US aircraft called for a ground speed check, which I duly gave him with help from the radar guys. The pilot thanked me and said  it was strange for him to see us doing  20kts. I told him we had finished our stint and were gheading back to Greenock Scotland. “Oh” says the pilot “we are going to Prestwick Scotland as well.”  leading to the response from me, “You’ll take the high road and well take the low road and you’ll be in Scotland afore us”. This was followed by a long silence, then “Roger and out”  my joke was wasted: even an Englishman would have appreciated it.

On another occasion we were in radio contact with a nearby cruise ship, so a great opportunity for a wind up presented itself.  I told the crew that 12 personnel had been invited on board the cruise ship for hospitality, and that Deck  Officers had decided that the lucky dozen had to be resident in the Wardroom. This resulted in mayhem, choice words and uproar from the others on board, who considered themselves as equally deserving of a little cruise ship hospitality. Even the boatswain, a die-hard matelote, was enraged and was refusing to lower the lifeboat which would have enabled the chosen few to sample a taste of luxury. Tempers frayed and things quickly started to get out of hand, and I was forced to admit to the wind up before things got too serious.

On a more sombre note, I recall one occasion as we were returning to Greenock, the chief engineer received news that his wife had just died. Living in Aberdeen, I offered to drive him back to his home in Arbroath. With time of the essence, the Captain docked early in Greenock, and me and the chief engineer were first off. After a mad drive from Greenock, we reached the chief engineers home in Arbroath just as the funeral cortege were leaving for the cemetery. A hazardous journey for me, an extremely sad journey for the chief, and a true example of the other side of the coin, during my enjoyable years in the Ocean Weather Service, now long gone as a result of modern technology,  Ah well –nostalgia.

From Bill Sibley

I recall on one occasion an experiment was taking place to collect rain water from the top of a tall pole which was attached to a Dan buoy being floated some distance from the ship, but still held in situ by a long mooring rope. In spite of there being a strict "2 cans of beer per day per man" on board there were ways and means of stockpiling the stuff, or "buying" someone else's bar account. Anyway on this particular occasion there was obviously a party taking place somewhere on board, and overnight someone unshipped the mooring rope and set the Dan buoy adrift. Capt. Morgan was rightly not pleased having to get up steam to retrieve it. He immediately ordered the Bar Stewards to lock the bars until he had done a check to see which bar was missing a quantity of drink. Strangely enough he didn't find any beer unaccounted for at all. However, if he had turned some of the cans the right way up in the boxes he would have discovered they were empty - a canny Bar Steward had replaced the gaps with "dead" ones upside down.

I recall on another occasion we were due to set sail the day after Boxing Day, so I made my way there arriving the day before Christmas Eve. Unfortunately our Chief Steward had done a deal and a runner. The turkey and other festive fare, together with a large quantity of cutlery had gone with him. Christmas lunch consisted as a couple of slices of ham and I don't know what else eaten with a dessert spoon and fork. Certainly a Christmas to remember.

On another occasion I think we were relieving the "Cumulus" or the "Cirrus" on Juliet. Just before we arrived we had a radio message from them asking if we had a certain type of lubricant for their radar as they were out of it. Apparently we had, so when the box of mail went across there was also a container of this oil. As a thankyou back came a pack containing cigarettes and bottles of a red liquor which looked like DeKuyper Cherry Brandy. Needless to say we fairly smartly opened the liquor and tried it. Shall we say it was an acquired taste. No one really liked it, and at that time we had a Chief Engineer aboard who would drink anything. He used it to flavour his gin. Undaunted we then tried the cigarettes. They were Camel - not sure if they are still made but they were not rolled terribly firmly. The first draw left your mouth full of little bits of tobacco. No disrespect to the Dutch crew. The thought was there and we must appreciate that, but let's say we didn't enjoy the gift as much as they enjoyed the lubricant.

 From Bill Sibley

We had a regular film night on the Watcher, usually the work was done by Jimmy Mac, but I began to help him and did do the projectionist's job on an occasion or two. The films used to come in 2 or 3 reels, and as each reel came to the end a small dot would appear in the top corner of the screen to warn you a change was imminent. I believe we were watching John Wayne in "The Man who Shot Liberty Valance", and the change over from Reel 1 to Reel 2 went ahead with no problem. At the end of Reel 2 I put Reel 3 into the projector and twisted the switch - and on came a section of "Tiara Tahiti"! Someone had sent the wrong reel. I escaped too much bodily injury but had to endure a goodly selection of cat calls, etc.

When we were covering Station Alpha with the Watcher on one occasion. We used to oil across in N.Ireland then head for Reykjavik in Iceland to take on fuel again as the Watcher did not have huge tanks. When we got on station the weather deteriorated and we had some very strong winds with the accompanying rough seas. We were only there a few days when it was discovered some of the ship's plates were springing and we were letting in water - not serious at that stage but obviously the more rough weather we encountered the greater the risk, so it was decided to return to Reykjavik for emergency repairs. This was at a time when Anglo-Icelandic relations were uber-cool, and it was only our international status had us accepted. I remember we tied up alongside a jetty, and while we were there a VW Beetle came along, the driver obviously engrossed in our bright yellow upperworks. Unfortunately he wasn't looking where he was driving and hit our mooring line squarely on the front of his car. I have never seen a VW Beetle do a backward jump since. We had a good few days hitting the highspots of Reykjavic and surrounding area. We found ourselves in the local cinema one night, the Gamla Bio. There was a "Carry On" film being shown in English with Icelandic subtitles along the bottom of the screen. That seemed really strange. The other interesting thing I remember is that we were visited by the Chief of Police. He returned the next day and sold us a number of sheepskins. Obviously a man with an eye for business. When the repairs were finished we went out to Alpha again and had a very normal trip.
Once again on the Watcher we went out to Juliett or India on one winter trip. On the Watcher we had twin bunk beds in the cabins. I must have been the first to grab a berth as I was in the bottom bunk. My colleague "Tub" Halls was in the top one. Neither of us could have been described as sylph-like. Out on station a very deep depression came across us, and of course the ship was steaming into the wind all the time. We both went to bed, and in spite of the violent movement of the ship I managed to go to sleep. I was awakened suddenly to find I was sitting in the middle of the cabin floor surrounded by my bedding. I had been lifted bodily out of my bunk. My first thought was "If "Tub" comes out of his bunk now, I'm a goner". Fortunately he was awake and was hanging on to the porthole dog catches. When we got sorted out we found out that the ship had suffered some damage to davits, and the forward bulkhead of the PO's Mess which was just at the rear of the foredeck and was made of half-inch steel had been bent inwards about 4 inches. Apparently the problem occurred when we went through the eye of the storm as the sea was extremely confused and the ship received a real hammer blow.

 From Tom McGuigan

 I was a radio op onboard the Weather Ship when the KLM aircraft PH-LKM crashed into the Alantic 110 miles NNW of Irish coast.The date was the 14-8-1958,we were contacted by Shannon who asked if we had any contact by voice or morse with the KLM aircraft,a few hours later we were told that wreckage had been sighted on the sea at a position about 100 miles from our station.We took part in the search along with other ships,and after about 24 hours of searching using our searchlight during the night and seeing bits of wreckage floating to the surface,we recovered lots of bits and pieces including luggage.We then went into Cork to deliver the bits that we found.

 From John Harney

Jim Knights was famous as the One Who Blew Up the Balloon Shed at Stornoway. Of course, I already knew there had been such an incident before he told me, as this meant that no balloons could be launched when it was very windy. He said that he had filled the balloon, and one of the doors was slightly open. A gust of wind blew the balloon out of the cone. He grabbed the neck of the balloon to pull it back and the next thing he knew was that he was lying on the grass some distance away. He was uninjured, but he told me that one of his socks, which was made of nylon, had disintegrated. The balloon had exploded and the balloon shed was declared a write-off and had to be rebuilt.

In those days, of course, it was considered rather wimpish not to have a macho attitude to hydrogen and other possible hazards. I recall one incident in Weather Watcher, when I was doing the 0600 PILOT ascent. I had just filled the balloon and was preparing to launch it when the door into the balloon shed swung open and a seaman entered, carrying a bucket of red-hot embers from the galley stove, ducked under the balloon with it, and emptied it over the stern. Everyone seemed to think it was funny when I told them about it, but they would probably have been less amused if it had resulted in a tragic accident.

From Laurie Lambert's Daughter Jenifer

My father, Laurence Lambert was a Radio Officer on the Weather Observer, he joined her on her second voyage. At the time we lived in Co. Durham, which meant he didn't get long at home so in the summer holidays my mum, brother Michael and myself Jenifer would stay on the ship when she was in dock. We had great fun and were thoroughly spoiled by the crew, gained numerous Aunts and Uncles. I remember at the time of the Coronation the Observer was in Govan Dry Dock and we were allowed to dress the ship overall, and at the end of the day take the flags down and put them in their lockers. When we came out of dry dock and were towed down to Greenock Great Harbour by tugs the Pilot let me steer the ship down with him giving the orders and me filling the log book as to our course and speed, I was about 10 at the time. We were lowered down in the lifeboats another time and taken across Great harbour and had to climb scramble nets at the jetty. We used to go to the Naffi for sweets and supplies, the shore Captain was there and his secretary called Betty I think. When we were on the ship I used to help Uncle Dick (Dick Gascoyne, Chief Steward) to check stores to see what had been used while they were at sea always there was a packet of Bisto which became a catch phrase with us. The ship had a dog called Lassie that went to sea with them, she had pups in the Radio Office while they were at sea. Another time we were on the Weather Observer when men from the American Weather ships came to visit, the shore Captain told my brother and I to say "Any gum chum", which Michael did. When the stewards were off duty Michael and I would dress up in their jackets and serve in the wardroom; we also played records for them if they had parties.
When the Observer went into retirement the Weather Advisor took over her duties, by that time we had moved up to Dunoon so didn't spend as much time on the ships. Our time on the ships was a wonderful experience and we made lots of friends who would come and visit us in Dunoon.

From Andy Reilly

I was stationed on the Surveyor around 64-65,I was a deckhand, I did 2 trips I was around 17 a the time young and dumb always thinking there was something better out there, I will say after I got over the seasickness! things went ok ,I remember we had boxing aft I remember the movie night, My first trip one of the older crewmen told me we could play snooker !,me being a kid I was a .sucker then. I went swimming in the Atlantic around September at the Juliet grid, my 2nd trip was to the Alpha grid, where I saw the Northern Lights and the biggest waves I have ever seen in my life. The waves came over the bridge ,I still remember the way the ship rolled when we stopped engines, I walked the bridge on the 12-4 shift, It took me 55 sec.or 61 times an hour ,there was nothing to do at night .Day shift we got an extra 4 hours overtime ,I did cleanouts one was a radio room and halls ,I learnt how to splice a rope, there are lots times I wished I had stayed ,

From Bob Reid

One afternoon, on the day before we were due to sail, myself, Bill Sibley, John (Tub) Halls, and Bob Aran arranged to meet in Glasgow for a few refreshments. After a couple of beers, (we used to frequent a bar called the Dog House, then go to the Horse Shoe, then a few more!) it was agreed that we would pay for each round in rotation, regardless of whether it be drinks, meals or whatever. We then discovered that Louis Armstrong and his jazz band, who were touring Britain, were playing that evening at Ibrox Stadium, and of course, as you do, we decided to go. As fate would have it, my next round happened to be the tram car fares to Ibrox, a trivial amount, but Bill got the short straw, and had to pay for the admission tickets to the concert. Bill, however, got the last laugh on me.
When we left Ibrox, it was so late that there were no trains or busses to Greenock, so we decided to start walking, and attempt to hitch a lift. After a bit, a car stopped, but could only offer three seats, then a motor bike pulled up behind. Bill ,Tub and Bob opted for the car ride and got back safely to Greenock. I decided to ride pillion on the motor bike, blissfully unaware that the driver was a mad potential TT speed merchant, only to arrive at base, completely dishevelled, at the cost of a brand new expensive pair of slacks totally ruined, scorched by the bike's exhaust!!

From Bob Reid

I remember one evening, when Ivor MvLean (A keen Ornithologist) was attending a cinema performance in the Wardroom, I, and the Watch Officer, Mr. Bidelle observed a Canada Goose landing on the bow of the vessel. We kept watch for some time, checking the identification in the bird books on the bridge, but, just as the film ended, the bird flew away, and we could never convince Ivor that it was a Canada Goose, as he had'nt had a chance to identify it himself! Ivor was also a fanatical cricket statitician, supporting Glamorgan, and one had to step over 'Wisden' volumes to enter the cabin. On one trip, he decided to bring (and kept in the cabin) a bucket of maggots, which he intended to use to feed any stray migrants, that happened to land on the vessel.After a couple of weeks at sea, we were alarmed to find that a potential infestation of blue-bottles were threatening the ship, and Ivor had to rapidly jettison the bucket over the side.

From Bob Reid

A Steward nicknamed 'Imchie' was a real character. I remember towards the end of a really rough weather trip to station India, we were in the PO,s Mess for morning 'smoko' when 'Imchie' asked the peggy boy to make him a cup of tea. The peggy, who had a bad stutter, duly brought him his tea, only for 'Imchie' to find that the cup was cracked. ' Break that cup, immediately, its totally unhygenic' he demanded of the boy. The lad then tried to say something, but couldn't get it out, due to his nervious stutter. 'I told you - break that cup' he shouted at the boy. The lad duly obliged 'Now make me another cup of tea' said 'Imchie' At this the lad managed to tell him that the cracked cup had been the only one left. Due to the rough weather, most of the crockery had perished. All the regulars had their own cups and mugs, which they carefully looked after in their own cabins.

From Bob Reid

A wild weather story. We were sailing back to Greenock, on the Moniter, after a trip in which we had experienced a force 8 or worse almost every day. Consequently, the crew had been unable to paint the vessel, and we were really badly streaked with rust. A RN Destroyer,in pristine condition, heading outward bound from the Clyde passed us, just as we approached the Cumbraes, when a signal was received from a fleet admiral, who was aboard. CAPTAIN, HOW DID YOU GET YOUR SHIP IN SUCH A STATE it read. Captain Wem immediately replied with one of shortest signals ever sent - AT SEA !

From Derek Ogle

The Met Office was fitted with new equipment, using the American Beukers Company's Vis Sonde for the Upper-air soundings on the balloons. This entailed new computers, though they still required the wee binary switches for responses at crucial parts of the program. Anyway, I think it was either the first or second trip on the ship, and Al Stewart and Jim Race as technicians were themselves spending a lot of time in the Met office learning the equipment. There was also a teletype attached to the system to provide a printout of the sonde flight controls, and all the output message parameters. It so happened that this day Paddy Jennings was the Met Supervisor, and though he was fortunate to have his dry Irish humour, he was still very nervous around the new equipment. That morning Al and Jim seemed to spend extra time in the office, and then they melted away, though only as far as Jim's cabin, which was about twenty meters away. Paddy continued with his 'ground controls. for the sonde ascent, and at one point he was then required to flick a particular binary switch (No.6 I think) to move to the next part of the process. As he did so the teletype behind him unexpectedly came to life, and clattered out a message. Muttering under his breath Paddy read this message, and then ran down the corridor screaming "Jim, Jim, it's going to self destruct in thirty seconds!!!" As you probably realise this phrase came from the very popular TV series 'Mission Impossible', which was on the television then. When the laughter died down, and Paddy couldn't understand why Al and Jim were rolling about the floor howling, they explained to him that they had programmed the teletype to play the tickertape message when Paddy moved the binary switch. Somehow though he never ever trusted the equipment again, even though it had been techy type mischief at work, what a gem!!

From Derek Ogle

This story was told to me by Ted Hayward our Donkeyman. It was probably 1974, and I had just come back from normal shore leave, and the ship had also just come back down from Glasgow, where it had been dry-docked for maintenance. Once out at sea Ted told me the tale, must have trusted me, whilst we were enjoying a guinness or two. Apparently the ship was being crewed by a couple of ABs, a fireman, Ted as engineer, and the deputy Shore Captain. on the bridge. Any necessary radio traffic was by VHF from the bridge. Anyway, dSC asked Ted for maximum possible revolutions on the one boiler as he wanted to do a quick passage. Now, this was a dodgy thing to do since the Shore Engineer always came aboard to check the rev-counter after a passage. However, Ted knew a bodge to disable the counter for a portion of the journey so that the additional revs were not counted, and off they went. After some time passed the engine room telegraph suddenly rang, and it went from Full Ahead to Full Astern. Given that since the boat was low in ballast, and sitting high and light, it was running at nearly 140 rpm, so the stopping and re-starting astern made for exciting stuff. Not only that, but as the ship shuddered towards a halt, the telegraph suddenly rang Full Ahead again. Ted complied, and when he had finally finishing messing about, so to speak, he lifted the phone to the bridge to inquire about whatever shennigans had occurred. Apparently they had come within a hair's breadth of running down the Erskine Ferry, which of course was a cable hauled ferry and couldn't alter course. They continued a very rapid transit to the James Watt Dock, and were met by a fuming Shore Captain and Shore Engineer, who had been on the receiving end of a somewhat irate phone call from the Erskine Ferry Management. At the end of it the words spoken were approximately "We know what you did, and what speed you were making, but we can't prove it, because the log doesn't reflect the revolutions you must have been making. However, we'll be watching you, and next time you're out!!". Methinks it's probably safe to release this story at last.

From Ken Schoch

"I have been meaning for some time to write an account of a Hurricane Force 12 storm which I experienced as a Met Assistant on Weather Reporter at station India, 59 N 19W, at the end of December 1972, during which the highest instrumentally measured wave height of 86 ft was recorded. Unfortunately I have been unable to ascertain the actual date despite examining the official observation record from Met Office Archives. According to the record the strongest winds occurred during the night but I remember the height of the storm was during the afternoon. The 1200Z Radio Sonde ascent was cancelled as the captain deemed it too dangerous for us to go out onto the welldeck to launch the balloon and instruments. I don't recall too many complaints about this! I was duty observer during that afternoon and at times the anemometer needle was sticking at its limit of 95 kts. I think I estimated the maximum gusts at 105 kts. The hourly mean wind speed measured over 10 minutes was at least 68 kts, Hurricane Force 12. The wave recorder was only switched on for about 15 minutes every 3 hours as it consumed yards and yards of chart paper. The pen actually went off the chart at 86 ft and and 'in situ' estimate put the height of the wave at well over 90 ft, however the official figure was 86 ft. It is quite possible there were higher waves than this during the storm. Most of the waves were between about 40 and 50 ft with occasional series of real biggies. This entry remained in the Guinness Book of Records for many years. Each hourly observation entailed a trip upstairs to read the thermometers which were placed either side of the bridge. However, I wasn't allowed out on the deck to read them for which I was mercifully grateful! During extreme wind and sea conditions sometimes the vessel was surprisingly steady, being hove-to in the extremely long swell. Inside the ship conditions were not too uncomfortable. It wasn't until I got onto the bridge that the full horror of what was going on outside became apparent - mountains in motion was my first thought! Captain Norman Frazer was present on the bridge, a reassuring sight despite his rather concerned countenance. An Able Seaman was at the wheel who occasionally tried to lighten the situation with some dry comments, but generally there was little conversation. I peered forward out of the bridge window to get a better look at it all, hanging on to any nearby solid object I could to avoid losing my balance on the heaving deck, and I shall never forget the scene. The waves were colossal - an absolute awesome sight. As each one slowly approached it resembled a towering, vertical wall of water as there was no perspective. I had to crane my neck to see the top of them. In the trough between the swell crests it was eerily dark. As the bow met each wave an enormous eruption of spray engulfed the bridge with a deafening thud on the windows as all went white for a second or two. Then began the long climb up the slope of the wave, seconds seeming like minutes as the ship toiled with gravity, with wind gusts well over 100 mph, and the mighty momentum of the North Atlantic Ocean. As the ship reached the crest, some welcome light returned, and with it a dramatic change of scene, a surreal 'landscape' appeared: as far as the eye could see (which wasn't very far in all the spray) huge wave ridges scarred with lines of streaming foam receded into the misty distance. Then the old vessel took a dive downwards, picked up speed as it sort of slid down the back of the wave, settling into the trough for a moment before the struggle up the next wave began - and so it went on for several hours.

Observations in these conditions were 'guestimates', well and truly. It was impossible to distinguish any precipitation from the spray. The distant reading thermometers were probably closer to the sea temperature since they were drenched in seawater. I remember reporting the cloud as something like 5/8 of Cumulonimbus at 1,500 ft, which seemed a reasonable assumption. To be honest I couldn't see very much of the sky at all as it was obscured by the spray, although the occasional vaguely blue patch could be discerned suggesting shower clouds were present. The computer at Bracknell wouldn't accept sky obscured unless fog was also reported, or heavy snow was falling - we had to report something in the sky!

I would appreciate if anyone could solve the mystery of this 'disappeared' day. Thankfully, Derek Ogle, another Met Assistant on the Reporter, has confirmed a 1200Z flight was cancelled on a day when the sea was incredibly rough, although his memory is a little unclear as far as details as he experienced three Force 12 storms during his much longer service on the weather ships."


From Ken Schoch

Christmas at Sea

I only spent one Christmas at sea on the weather ships and thoroughly enjoyed it.  If you don't like the run-up to the big event, as I don't, then the place to be is at sea where it doesn't exist.  I didn't need to send any cards and I didn't receive any.  We sailed from Greenock early December and returned when it was all over early January. The catering staff did a grand job serving up a full Christmas meal, and although duties went on as normal, a party was held in the POs Mess for all the ship's company to attend.  It worked well.  Even the captain came down to the mess, and if he was surprised at the selection of alcoholic drinks he was offered, then he certainly didn't show it.  He left the mess in a very merry mood indeed!  Officially we were not aloud to bring any alcoholic drinks aboard the ship although at Christmas this did take place.  I managed to smuggle (with a struggle!) a 5 gallon barrel of cider aboard hidden in a holdall.   Our official daily ration was 2 cans per night, but fortunately on most of the ships it worked out at more than this.  The favourite beverage amongst the real drinkers was Export Guinness which came in metallic green coloured cans.  This was powerful stuff which tasted nothing like the Guinness ashore.  It had a sickly, antiseptic taste which took some getting used to, but we all enjoyed the effects of persevering at it.  When the cider barrel was empty, which did not take long, we used it to brew some beer from a kit.  As far as I knew there was no rule against bringing the ingredients aboard!  Of course it never cleared owing to the continual motion of the ship, and tasted pretty rough, but no-one complained during the final week of the voyage when all the other booze had run out.  The effects of alcohol drunk on the weather ships seemed to be enhanced by the ship's pitching and rolling, at least it did with me!  I won't go into the details of how I became known as Boiler Room Bill on the 2nd night of my first trip.  Suffice to say that an 'incident' occurred which I blamed entirely on the effects of the contents of some of those little green cans!

From Ken Schoch

Launching radio sondes was a tricky business in stormy weather.  The sonde rig basically consisted of a thermometer, a barometer and hygrometer enclosed in an insulated can attached to a mesh covered frame serving as a radar target, the whole lot connected to a hydrogen filled rubber balloon to get everything aloft.  From following the rig on radar the wind speed and direction could be calculated.  The finished product, after the balloon had burst several miles high, was a temperature and humidiy profile of the atmosphere.  The ship had to be steaming into the wind in order for the rig to be released from inside the balloon shed on the well deck as the opening faced aft.  It took about half an hour to calibrate the sonde beforehand and if it was damaged on launch by crashing into the side of the balloon shed, another one had to be calibrated.  This process could not be done in advance.  Filling the balloon with hydrogen only took a few minutes, but on a steeply rolling deck this too could be tricky.  There was always the risk of the ship 'pooping' when the stern suddenly dropped as the bow hit the next wave.  Gallons of water would then pour over the stern on to the well deck and flood the balloon shed - you could be waist deep in seawater for a few minutes if you were unlucky and didn't manage to climb up onto a hydrogen cylinder to keep dry.  It took two of the Met staff, one to hold the huge balloon and target, and the other to hold the vulnerable sonde, in order to get the whole lot away.  The actual release time was critical: if the rig was released too early, when the vessel was between two large waves, then the sonde could easily end up in the sea - disaster!  Only once was it deemed too rough for us to launch, and that was during a Hurricane Force 12 which I have described in an earlier anecdote.  We all got a good soaking from time to time.  A Met man getting a good soaking always provided a laugh for the rest of the ship's company: "Serves 'em right - we wouldn't be stuck out here in this bloody awful weather if it wasn't for them!"  A Met man's lot was sometimes not a happy one!

From Ken Schoch

We occasionally played uckers on the weather ships.  For those who are unfamiliar with this great game, it is a form of ludo played by 2 pairs of players.  It is more complicated than ludo, usually lasts a lot longer, and is far more exciting.  Our weather ship version only used a single dice whilst I believe the Royal Navy used 2 dice, The fortune of the players could change with just one throw of the dice.  The only problem sometimes was when the ship took a violent roll, as often happened, and the counters which were stacked on top of each other forming a 'blob' were scattered all over the board.  There could be some friendly arguments over returning them to their correct positions.  I loved the game so much that I introduced it to my friends back home.  Four of us would sometimes stay up all night sustained by copious amounts of home brewed beer, playing game after game - it was infectious!  The forming of a 'blob' held up the opponents progress as they would have to throw a number of 6s in succession depending on the number of counters in the blob in order to break it hence sending the other player's counters back to base.  When this occurred there was always a riot of a celebration even though the game might be still be far from won.

From Ken Schoch

"John van Dyke, Derek Ogle and Danny Sleigh all played the Scottish bagpipes.  I think the Reporter was unique in having three pipers aboard.  They used to practise outside on the welldeck if the weather allowed, or inside the balloon shed if it was a bit dodgy with spray in the air.  As the Met Office was adjacent to the balloon shed we were often serenaded with strathspeys and reels (and even Amazing Grace!) as we worked away.  Danny also played guitar, and I played tin whistle and accordion.  On the rare occasion I attempted to compete with them using my B flat whistle but they had the advantage!  We used to have the occasional singsong accompanied by the drinking of Export Guinness in one of the cabins, usually mine as it was slightly larger than the others.  The old saying that the definition of a gentleman is a man who can play the Scottish bagpipes, but doesn't, was not strictly true in this case - but to my knowledge they never played their pipes inside the ship, making them gentlemen pipers as far as I was concerned!  Derek tells me that he has just started playing his again after a long break."

I hope the pipers send in some amusing stories about their pipes if they ever read the above.  There was one about Auld Lang Syne being played on the pipes one New Years Eve and broadcast over the emergency radio frequency, only to be heard by a wireless operator in Iceland who wanted to know where the party was!  They could tell this tale better than me.


Main Menu