Seafarer News Summer 2020

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Summer 2020

THE LAST HURRAH 50 years ago the Royal Navy ended its tradition of giving sailors a daily quota of rum. We explore this much-loved ritual – and its inevitable demise

SHIPPING IN LOCKDOWN It’s bad news for the shipping industry but could be good news for whales as the world’s oceans go quiet


Navy cadets and sea cadets have been doing their bit to help others and keep their own spirits up



Welcome to the summer issue of Seafarer News, bringing you updates from the Royal Navy and maritime world. We hope this finds you well. In our feature, we mark (and some may lament) the 40th anniversary of the abolition of the navy’s rum ‘tot’. Have a go at our nautical crossword, read about being at sea during a pandemic, and find tips for keeping entertained. We hope you enjoy the issue. Let us know at


Some of the latest stories from the Royal Navy, the world of shipping and the Sea Cadet Corps

Shipping goes electric, but a virus capsizes its green future Electric-powered boats are coming

News: pages 2–3 The fallout from COVID-19, not all of it bad, plus how sea cadets have kept busy during lockdown. Corps in action: page 5 Updates from Sea Cadets units around the UK, including a cadetturned-boxer and a rise in crime hitting units. The rum tot: pages 6–7 How the tradition of the rum tot came into being, and why the Royal Navy brought it to an end 40 years ago. At ease: page 8 Working at sea during a global outbreak, our nautical-themed crossword, and some home entertainment.

Published by MSSC 202 Lambeth Road, London SE1 7JW Tel: 020 7654 7000 Fax: 020 7928 8914 Marine Society and Sea Cadets is a registered charity: England and Wales 313013 • Scotland SCO37808

Seafarer News is edited and designed by Eagle House, Colston Avenue, Bristol BS1 4ST Tel: 0117 927 9009 Managing Editors Chris Egerton, Edward Meens, Sarah Fowler (MSSC) Editor Rachael Stiles Art Editor Elaine Knight-Roberts Account Manager Katy Hewett Director Julie Williams

Cover image: Getty

Copyright MSSC 2020

Printed in the UK on FSC® certified stock. All rights reserved. Material contained in this publication may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior permission of MSSC and Immediate Media Co. Views expressed in this magazine are not necessarily those of MSSC or Immediate Media Co, which accept no responsibility for them.


Cars and buses have been using electricity for years, but this technology is finally being developed for the shipping industry. BAE Systems is using its HybriGen power and propulsion system, building on its core technology that already powers more than 12,000 buses around the world. As industry regulations tighten amid calls to reduce the environmental impact of the shipping industry, this is the latest move to cut its carbon footprint. However, European shipowners have said that the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis will make it harder to go green in the near future. They say costs incurred as a result of the global lockdown will make it impossible. A survey by the European Community Shipowners’ Association found that the shipping industry in Europe does not expect to see a recovery in activity this year.

And almost half of respondents believe they will no longer be able to invest in making their fleet more environmentally friendly. This could have repercussions for the EU’s ambition to become the world’s first carbonneutral continent, the ECSA said. The website Offshore Energy reports the sectors worst hit by the crisis are ferries, cruises, car carriers and offshore service vessels, with turnover plummeting more than 60% in March. Meanwhile, as surveyors have been unable to travel due to the lockdown, remote surveys and inspections – which do not require them to be physically present – have seen an increase. Offshore Energy reports that with digital communication and live video, surveyors can provide remote support anywhere in the world, without compromising anyone’s safety.

Naval cadets do their bit Since the UK went into lockdown, naval cadets have risen to the challenge to help those affected, from using their medical training to advising politicians. Isolated and vulnerable residents in a village in Dartmoor have been helped through the pandemic by a naval cadet, Ben Bailey, and his friend Sam. The two became an essential delivery service for residents over 70 or with health conditions, delivering provisions twice a week. Meanwhile, in Cardiff, student nurse Officer Cadet Beth Oelmann volunteered to work in the city’s University Hospital as

a healthcare support worker. “I knew that I could help make a difference to patients’ care and my URNU training has provided me with the confidence to confront any issue,” she said. Beth is one of many cadets from Royal Navy university units volunteering to help. Others have been helping to drive ambulances, treat patients and look after the vulnerable, Ellie from alongside continuing Southampton their studies online. SEAFARER NEWS

UK’s largest unaccompanied ro-ro freight terminal opens on the Thames Following a successful trial, a new The terminal has a capacity for 500,000 unaccompanied roll on-roll off terminal on units, importing and exporting containers the Thames has now opened, where cargo carrying food, drink, medicines and other ships can load and unload freight. This is vital supplies to and from Europe. expected to make the process more efficient and help lorries avoid rush hour on the M25. Two of P&O’s chartered freight ferries arrived in May to put the terminal through its paces. The port team carried out a full test of the marine facilities, including manoeuvring and tying up the ship to test the berth, lowering the ferry ramp to test the pontoon facilities, Delft Seaways, a passenger and carrying out a full and ro-ro cargo ship risk assessment.

Whales enjoy the silence From goats taking up residence in a Welsh village, to the fall in air pollution, there have been several environmental silver linings to the Coronavirus lockdown. Scientists expect this fringe benefit to extend to sea life, including whales, The Guardian reports. Because they use sound to communicate, the lockdown and subsequent drop in cruise traffic is enabling scientists to study the effects of quieter oceans on marine life. While the studies have only just begun, they are expecting to see results in line with previous times when there was a drop in the number of ferries traversing our oceans. A previous study, carried out after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, found that noise from ships was connected to levels of stress in whales. Researchers studying underwater sound signals near the port of Vancouver, British Columbia, found a significant drop in low-frequency sound associated with ships, which call there on their way to Alaska. Scientists examined sound from two sites, one inland and one farther offshore, and discovered a significant drop in noise from both. Michelle Fournet, a marine acoustician at Cornell University, who studies humpback whales in southeast Alaska, previously discovered that noisy seas can cause whales to simplify their calls. She expects whales to have been having more complex conversations recently. “We have an opportunity to listen – and that opportunity to listen will not appear again in our Sea life is expected to lifetime,” she said. benefit from lockdown SEAFARER NEWS

Climbing a mountain for charity

Royal Marine takes on lockdown challenge A Royal Marine took on a punishing commando challenge during the Covid-19 lockdown. Captain Tom Lawson, who works from 3 Commando Brigade headquarters in Plymouth, and his brother Ralph took on a lockdown version of the Ben Nevis Marathon – a race to the top of the UK’s highest mountain and down again. That’s a 26.2-mile run and 260 individual 18ft rope climbs to ascend the 4,413ft equivalent of the mountain. And they weren’t just passing time. Tom raised nearly £7,000 for the NHS, Age UK and the Royal Marines Charity. The brothers live on a farm and did the rope climb in a barn, while a 300-metre stretch of farm track became the running area for their marathon.

Cadets on VE day

Sea cadets keep their spirits up Sea cadets around the country have shown their Corps spirit by continuing to learn, connect and help others during the lockdown. They have progressed on their Sea Cadets journey by taking courses remotely, proudly worn their uniforms during the nationwide clap for key workers each Thursday evening, and even found ways to mark the anniversary of VE Day. 3

Images: Getty, BAE Systems, MOD

Editor’s welcome





Bringing you the latest stories from Marine Society, supporting seafarer development and education

A round-up of what sea cadets have been getting up to across the UK

Marine Society offers lifeline to other seafarer charities Aligning with Marine Society’s pledge to help seafarers across the world, trustees of the charity have agreed to help other seafarer charities during the Covid-19 pandemic. Marine Society’s endeavors to help the industry include providing the Fishermen’s Missions with 500 free learner credits towards

the award-winning Learn@Sea courses to support seafarers during the crisis. The Fishermen’s Mission reaches out to active and retired fishermen by providing practical, spiritual and financial support, and helps the industry in extraordinary times of need. Both charities saw an opportunity during lockdown for seafarers to improve their knowledge and skills remotely via Marine Society’s @Sea courses – some of which are available via an app and do not require internet access. Marine Society’s trustees also agreed to grant a one-off donation of £10,000 to Shipwrecked Mariners Society, to be used towards the significant rise in applications for financial support associated with the Covid-19 crisis. Shipwrecked Mariners Society works across maritime charities to support seafarers through the various difficulties they are facing. It is hoped that the donation can go some way towards sharing the burden on charities and to helping seafarers through these troubling and challenging times.

Helping the maritime industry to go digital During the pandemic, organisations have had to adjust to the change in lifestyle, and with more people working and learning from home, digital learning has become increasingly important. Marine Society has been at the forefront of digital learning since 2011, so it was eager to ensure that, as more companies moved online, they did so in the best way. Marine Society Development Manager Iffaf Khan said: “There is a mad dash to put everything online and not everything works that way. Online training in particular is very challenging, especially when you rely on specialist software. We think that we can help, that we can bring people together and get them talking about positive outcomes.” On 1 May, Iffaf organised a free online seminar for key staff in the industry, hosted by two key speakers, Steven Gosling, Quality Assurance Manager at Videotel, and Nick Chubb, founder and Director of Thetius, to talk about how to successfully plan and execute online training in a post-coronavirus maritime world.

100 years of Marine Society libraries


and loans exceeded 1,000. Within 10 years, the provision of libraries had become universal within the British merchant fleet, with 400 vessels carrying SES libraries. By the 1960s this had increased to 600. The service continues today, 100 years later – albeit in smaller numbers. Marine Society loan libraries still exist on National Oceanography and British Antarctic Survey ships, but the majority of fleets have switched to non-returnable paperbacks and the newly launched digital library app. The Marine Society digital library app is definitely the future

for on board libraries, as seafarers can now download books to read on their smartphones or tablets. They can access thousands of books in the language of their choice, to enjoy at their leisure. After 100 years, Marine Society is still at the forefront of supplying libraries to ships.


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1. Former cadet climbs into the boxing ring

2. Unit targeted by fly-tippers

3 3. Cadet takes on cycling challenge

A former Finchley Sea Cadet is set to launch a boxing career this summer, after turning professional and joining the same gym as Tyson Fury. Jonathon Kumuteo has overcome a rare skin condition to turn professional and hopes to get started once lockdown restrictions are eased. The former Able Cadet spent more than four years earning two Good Conduct badges, among other things, which will help outside of the ring in later life and encourage good sportsmanship.

Walsall Sea Cadets has had to deal with two instances of fly-tipping at their site on Eldon Street in the town. Two separate occasions during lockdown have seen volunteers having to clear rubbish away from the unit’s premises, while people use other places to put their rubbish with local tips closed due to lockdown. Waste company Biffa has launched its Flymapper App which allows logging of fly-tipping which people can automatically log with the authorities.

A Guernsey cadet is taking on a near-3,000 mile virtual cycle challenge during the course of the year. Cadet Connor is aiming to raise £1,000 for both Guernsey Sea Cadets and the Guernsey Sailing Trust as they’re the two things he’s missed most during lockdown. Connor aims to complete 2,973 miles in under 238 days on an indoor trainer. That works out at around 12.5 miles each day between now and the end of the year. BZ Connor! You can support him on his JustGiving page.

4. Heroic cadet raises money for cancer

5. Crime-fighting cadets help police

6. A piece of history

A former cadet from North Yorkshire has raised over £10,000 for cancer charities, despite suffering from leukemia himself. Cadet Tiernan, son of former Filey Sea Cadets chair Nick, was diagnosed in March and, while starting chemotherapy, raised the funds for Clic Sargent, Candlelighters, Teenage Cancer Trust, and Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group. A keen rugby player, Tiernan’s friends have arranged good luck messages from England rugby stars Sam Underhill and James Haskell.

Cadets from Whitehaven are to receive an award after helping police to trap a suspected drug dealer on a train. Ordinary Cadet James and Cadet First-Class Kristofer were travelling to Liverpool when they were approached by a man. They found a British Transport Police officer who arrested him. The pair are due to receive a Commendation from the Lord Lieutenant of Cumbria for their quick thinking.

South Shields Sea Cadets are on their way to creating a unique exhibition with a rare piece of maritime memorabilia – a figurehead from a 19th-century Royal Navy corvette, HMS Satellite. A grant of nearly £10,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund will go some way towards paying for the work needed, which was due to begin this spring. With help from Trinity House and Sea Cadets, South Shields will create an exhibition for the local community as well as learning opportunities for sea cadets in the future.

Images: iStock and Getty

On 29 May 1920, the SS Aeneas sailed for Australia with a library of 150 books on board. This was the result of a partnership between the pioneer of seafarer education, Albert Mansbridge, of the newly established Seafarer Education Service (SES), and enlightened Liverpool shipowner Lawrence Holt, of Alfred Holt and Company’s Blue Funnel Line. Libraries on ships were not necessarily new and had been present on passenger ships since the late 18th century. But this was a bold move to improve the welfare of seafarers by the person who lay the foundations of what would become the educational arm of Marine Society. It was a great success, with natural history titles proving to be very popular on board. On the following voyage, the number of books was increased to 200




‘Abolishing the tot had to be handled extremely carefully and some flag officers feared it could even trigger a mutiny’

A BLACK DAY FOR SAILORS Giving sailors a rum ration while on duty might seem ludicrous today, but the daily ‘rum tot’ was an integral part of life at sea for centuries – until it ended just 50 years ago. Richard Johnstone-Bryden explains how the tradition came about and why it was abolished The last tot is given at the Royal Naval Dockyard, Chatham. The crew wore black armbands to mourn the passing of the tradition


n 1970, the Royal Navy consigned one of its most cherished traditions to the history books, when its sailors enjoyed their final daily ration of rum, known as the ‘tot’. Sailors referred to the event as ‘Black Tot Day’, and it was seen by some as yet another sign of the significant social and technological changes sweeping through the fleet in the second half of the 20th century, and the passing of the ‘old’ navy.

A different time The Royal Navy’s links to rum date back to the days of sail. It was unofficially introduced as a substitute for beer on warships in the West Indies, after the capture of Jamaica in 1655. The idea of issuing alcohol to sailors as part of their daily provisions may seem incomprehensible to us. However, before the advent of water distillation equipment on ships, sailors had to rely on either water or beer stored in wooden casks for liquid 6

refreshment. Sailors were allowed a ration of one gallon of beer a day. The quality of the water in the casks rapidly deteriorated, while the beer often turned sour after a few weeks. During longer voyages, captains were allowed to replace beer with unfortified wine or brandy when they replenished their provisions in foreign ports. Neither option was available in the West Indies, leading to the unofficial introduction of rum, produced by Jamaican distilleries. It was officially introduced in 1687.

served from a cut down cask, known as a grogtub or scuttle-butt, traditionally embellished with the words, ‘The King God Bless Him,’ or ‘The Queen God Bless Her’. The watered down drink swiftly became known as grog. Further changes implemented during the

Our daily grog Admiral Edward Vernon, known as ‘Old Grog’ due to the grogram boat cloak he always wore, tried to reduce the drunkenness caused by this policy by giving orders in August 1740 to dilute the tot. Every sailor’s daily half pint of neat rum was to be mixed with two pints of water and distributed in two halves: at noon and at 1800. He also stated that the rum should be distributed to the tune of Nancy Dawson and

next 200 years steadily reduced the tot and the personnel allowed to partake in it. By the 1960s, ratings over the age of 20 received an eighth of a pint of rum daily. The rum issued to sailors below the rank of petty officer was diluted with two parts water. Any rating not wishing to receive their tot received three pence per day in lieu. The dilution of rum for leading rates and below took place in the presence of an officer to protect the sailors’ interests. Any surplus had to be poured into the scuppers, to prevent misuse. Each sailor’s ration was for personal consumption. They were forbidden to hoard or share it, but it was used illegally by some to secure favours, such as swapping duties or slinging a shipmate’s hammock after evening rounds when they were ashore on leave.

Beginning of the end Sailors waiting for their rum ration during WWII SEAFARER NEWS

The increasing sophistication of naval warfare after WWII ultimately led to the tot’s SEAFARER NEWS

demise. A delayed reaction or split-second miscalculation could potentially cost lives or endanger a ship itself. Therefore, allowing sailors to continue consuming alcohol during their working day posed a direct threat to the fighting efficiency and safety of those serving. Despite the practical arguments in favour of abolishing the tot, the issue had to be handled extremely carefully and some flag officers feared it could even trigger a mutiny. After several years of debate at the highest levels, the Admiralty Board finally grasped the nettle in 1969 and agreed to abolish the tot from 1 August 1970. To soften the blow, the government set up the Sailor’s Fund with a grant of £2.7m, to provide charitable support to serving and former sailors, Royal Marines and their dependents, including for amenities not funded by the defence budget. Sailors throughout the fleet handled the tot’s passing with good humour and organised a day of elaborate commemorations on 31 July 1970. In home waters, the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal secured to C buoy in Plymouth Sound to enable its sailors to fully enjoy the festivities, including a ceremony in which a coffin draped with the last tot was marched all round the ship. Further afield, HMS Fife’s sailors claimed the honour of drawing the last tot during a visit to Pearl Harbor, where the time zone is 10 hours behind GMT.

Blast from the past The Royal Navy’s sole surviving rum-related tradition is the ability of the monarch or the admiralty to mark a notable occasion, or recognise the remarkable service of an individual ship, or the fleet, via the command ‘Splice the Main Brace’. Historically, the command triggered an additional tot of rum. Today, all officers and ratings over the age of 18 are entitled to an eighth of a pint of spirits, or two cans of beer if spirits are unavailable, whenever the command is given – however, this is a very rare occurrence! Since 1979, anyone can experience the authentic taste of the rum issued to the Royal Navy’s sailors, thanks to the entrepreneur Charles Tobias. He obtained the admiralty’s original blend specification to make the well-known Pusser’s Rum, in return for an annual royalty to the Sailor’s Fund.

Three other Royal Navy traditions consigned to history… Pets at sea Virtually every Royal Navy warship had a pet as its mascot until they were banned in 1975 in response to rabies control. At the beginning of WWII, pets were identified by naval chaplains as boosting morale. It had also been observed that the presence of a pet could transform the behaviour of troublesome sailors by providing a distraction. The majority of pets were cats or dogs, but more exotic creatures included Joey the wallaby, who spent two years on board the battlecruiser HMS Hood. Other unusual pets included orangutans, parrots, geese, goats, antelopes and beavers.

Hammocks The Royal Navy’s sailors traditionally slept in hammocks. In the morning, sailors were required to lash up their hammocks and place them in large open metal cages known as hammock nettings. In the event of an emergency they could be used to plug holes in the hull until a more effective solution could be implemented. A hammock was never shared and if its owner died and had to be buried at sea it became his coffin. The Royal Yachtsmen serving on HM Yacht Britannia were the last to sleep in hammocks, which were finally replaced by bunks during its modernisation in 1972–3.

Broadside messing Broadside messing disappeared from the fleet during the early post-war years. Sailors ate, slept and relaxed in a single compartment: a mess. Depending on the ship, these were home to 100 sailors. To pass the time whilst off duty, sailors organised competitions using games, including uckers (ludo), crib, draughts and chess. In contrast, sailors on the Royal Navy’s latest warships sleep in a mess of no more than six sailors, eat in dining halls and unwind in dedicated recreational spaces.

Images: Getty





Seafaring in lockdown, a nautical crossword and our tips for marine-themed entertainment at home

Life at sea


Crossword supplied by Paul Facey-Hunter

Across 1 Primitive craft John Voss sailed around the world in 1901–04 (7) 5 Fibre commonly used in nautical ropes (5) 8 Pin on which an oar pivots (5) 9 ------- rigging is used to raise and control the sails (7) 10 Ship’s officer in charge of equipment and crew (5) 11 1 across was a dugout ----- (5) 14 What oarsmen/women use to propel a boat (6,7) 16 A ----- line is used to measure depth of water (5) 18 1 across was made from a red ----- log (5) 20 Discoloration of seawater caused by toxic plankton (3,4) 21 A drunken sailor is ----- sheets to the wind (5) 23 ----- Firth, an inlet in NE Scotland (5) 24 Time for a drink, when the sun is over the ------- (7) Down 1 Sailors’ ---- of 20 down were abolished in 1970 (4) 2 Constellation containing the star Regulus (3)

Our man at sea shares his experience of being away during an outbreak Name: Second Officer Spencer Wyles Ship: Mærsk Forza Location: About to return to work after lockdown

3 Beam forming the backbone of a wooden ship (7) 4 Seafarers’ charity formed in 1756, now part of MSSC (6,7) 5 Whales communicate using ----- pulses (5) 6 Large three-cornered sail, set forward of the mainsail (9) 7 In yacht racing, the course between two marks (3) 10 Paddle stroke for steering at the front of a canoe or kayak (3,6)

12 ---- London is a port in South Africa (4) 13 A ---- in the ocean is a very small amount (4) 15 Another name for an angler or fisherman (7) 17 Salty, like seawater (5) 19 Steering apparatus of a ship or boat (4) 20 Alcoholic spirit diluted to make grog (3) 22 Governing body for British boating (abbr.) (3)

One to read

One to watch

Around the World in a Dugout Canoe: The Untold Story of Captain John Voss and the Tilikum John MacFarlane & Lynn Salmon. £16.99 In 1901 Captain John Voss set out from Victoria, British Columbia, seeking fame and fortune by claiming the world record for the smallest vessel ever to circumnavigate the globe: in an authentic dugout cedar canoe. For three years, Voss and the Tilikum visited Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil and, finally, England, weathering heavy gales and attracting large crowds. The onboard conditions and simple navigational equipment are a testimony to his skill and the vessel’s construction. This book brings to life an enduring story of courage, adventure, luck and tragedy.

Bait Director: Mark Jenkin If you can’t go out, we recommend staying in and watching this instant classic from 2019, available on DVD and from digital providers. Cornish fisherman Martin is struggling to buy a boat while coping with family rivalry, and the impact of London money, Airbnb and stag parties on his harbour village. The summer season brings simmering tensions to boiling point, with tragic consequences. Filmed using a vintage 16mm camera on black and white film, Mark Jenkin’s film is a timely, funny, poignant film that gets to the heart of a small coastal community trying to come to terms with unwelcome change.


I don’t know where to start in conveying my thoughts on something that has had such a huge impact on all of us. I hope everyone reading this is safe and well and that your families are, too. I’ve been extremely fortunate so far, as I was among the handful able to change crews as planned. Many of my colleagues have worked several months more, but have continued to complete their watches with care and professionalism. I joined the Maersk Forza as planned in March, after my paternity leave. This was my first trip as a father so I knew it would be difficult. I wasn’t wrong. It was also strange: at sea it was business as usual, while things fell apart on land. Countries in lockdown, people stockpiling, all while I’m working my shifts like a normal day. Except now the bridge TV is left on so we don’t miss news updates, as the death toll rises. I’ll never fully appreciate how life must have been at home, or how my wife had to endure without me and still care for our baby. Halfway through my trip, my cousin caught COVID-19 and was in intensive care. There was nothing I could do but worry and keep working. She’s fine now, thankfully. I recognise how lucky I was to get home. We were in Ghana and then got work in Norway via the UK, where I could disembark. We sailed with a full crew: Filipinos, South Africans, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians and Ghanaians, none of whom have been home. When I return soon, they will still be on board and I’m apprehensive of what I will return to – many men enduring months of worry and distress. The families of seafarers should be recognised for their love and support of those stranded at sea.

SPRING 2020 ISSUE CROSSWORD SOLUTIONS Across: 1 Scilly, 4 Blades, 8 Halibut, 10 Moira, 11 Otter, 12 Puritan, 13 Mayflower, 17 Setting, 19 Lethe, 21 Ethel, 22 Tripoli, 23 Newlyn, 24 Smolts. Down: 1 School, 2 Inlet, 3 Liberty, 5 La Mer, 6 Drifter, 7 Spawns, 9 Top-flight, 13 Matthew, 14 William, 15 Astern, 16 Series, 18 Islay, 20 Troll. SEAFARER NEWS