The refrigerated cargo liner Royston Grange is sadly most often remembered for the May 1972 disaster that claimed the life of all the crew and passengers onboard. But there were many good times onboard the vessel that should be celebrated as well - as these memories show. Read more about the Royston Grange in Ships of the past
Royston Grange was my first ship: joined her on 1 January 1970 and made three trips. She was beautiful and I will never forget her. I still shed a tear when I remember the great tragedy and loss of life.
On my first trip as deck cadet on the Royston, my last big job was to clean the for'd bell. This was pretty scary for me, a 16-year-old, because it was when we were crossing the North Sea, from Rotterdam to London, at the beginning of March 1970. It was a little bit wet and windy to say the least. It was probably times like that that made me the man I am today.
On that first trip I was also assigned to do the crew check before we sailed. The first mate told me I had to see the person I was checking off, and it wasn't good enough to just hear their voice. Being a dutiful cadet, I carried out his order to the letter.
It came to the second mate. I knocked on his door and shouted crew check. He answered saying he was present. I told him I had to see him. He said just go away, I'm busy. I said, sorry Sec but I have been told I have to see you. He said again just go away I'm here.
I didn't give in and insisted I see him. He came to the door with a towel around him and said, there now f off, I'm busy. I found out later he was BUSY saying bye to his wife. Haha what a fool I felt. But I followed my orders!
Joined Royston as first officer in Kiel Canal on 18 March 1971. Did a couple of orange runs from Casablanca to Soviet Baltic ports Ventspils, Riga and Klaipeda, then we went back on the River Plate run for butter and meat. Always remember Capt George Boothby coming onto the bridge in the morning in dressing gown accompanied by cuppa and tea bag to have a look at my star sights.
Time has fogged the past now, but as a 17/18 year old the ship was an experience, in a lot of good ways and the occasional not so good.
We cadets would be invited to move the horses when the passengers had a game night. Shouts such as 'feed mine a lump of sugar to make him go faster' and 'give the others peanuts to make them stop for a you know what'. We were reluctantly allowed into the officers' buffet party for the passengers. Strict rules: no more than two beers and in, eat and out. This sounds harsh, but really it suited us as we were too young to converse politely.
Galleys traditionally have bars across the portholes to prevent thievery when in a hot port and all the portholes are open. The Royston was the same except for the one by the ladder leading up to next deck, which blocked it, leaving a gap only a snake could slither through.
The ship had a great baker onboard for the benefit of the passengers. Every afternoon he would bake the treats for the next day. Jam tarts, meringues… all the luxury items we, the apprentices, never saw.
One trip some of these delicacies started disappearing overnight. Never a fixed amount. Sometimes three or half a large tart. Baker was pulling his hair out as everything was locked down at night. The suspicion fell on the engineers, as they had keys for checking the fridges at night. The locks were changed and the engineers were escorted yet it still happened.
I am pretty certain the cause was never found, but I knew. We had a fellow apprentice that could contort his body, just like a snake. MW kept us fed in the evenings. They should have guessed it was us, part of our training.
As well as our routine cadet duties such as fishing large and larger insects out of the swimming pool, keeping the bridge brass gleaming and scrubbing the Captain's Promenade deck, we were educated. I was fortunate to do a trip on the Royston in 1972 and be promoted to third officer, uncertificated. This gave invaluable experience in preparation for our exams when we had sufficient seatime.
I wore no epaulettes as I did not have the right ones. The passengers kept asking Captain Boothby who the lad was navigating the ship. Captain B came to the rescue. He suggested I take the front to back stripe off my epaulettes and put them left to right. So I did and the passengers slept better at night. Little did they know I had more experience polishing the brass on the ship. I remember George Boothby as a very fair and cheerful captain, perhaps a bit eccentric?