Glasgow And Ships Of The Clyde



   It was in the 1960s when I went to sea in the British Merchant Navy.

   In 1966 I first came to Madras (now called Chennai) in India.

   One afternoon I was in my cabin when there was a knock on the door.

   It was a Nun.   She was a European, probably Dutch, in her early twenties and quite pretty.

   She was selling trinkets and explained that she went around the ships in the harbour to sell small items.  All money was for the leprosy colony at the large fort on the hillside and was used to purchase food and clothing and medicines for the inmates.

   The colony was staffed by Nuns and she had been there for two years.  She went to the markets and used the money collected to buy food and items.   Then to the colony where rattan baskets would be lowered from the wall and the goods pulled up by the Nuns.

   This Nun did not go into the fort or colony as her task was to sell to the ships and supply the food and necessities and to learn the local language, dialect and culture.

    But in another year or so, when her turn came, she would be called upon to enter the colony to tend to the lepers, and would never be able to come back out.   The probability and prospect of spreading the disease in the population was too great.

    She knew the risk and outcome and that her life would be short and had already said goodbye to her family and friends at home, knowing that she would never see them again.


 Maybe a year or so later I was back in Madras.  Again there was a knock on the door.   It was a different Nun.   I asked about the Dutch woman.   She was now inside the colony and would remain there for the rest of her life.

   That night I went to bed with a heavy heart and said a silent prayer for her and her sister Nuns.

   And now, about sixty years later, when I sit and think of things from the past, I still clearly remember the visit by the young and pretty Dutch woman and her purpose in life to care for and help the poorest, starving and most shunned, diseased and isolated people in India.


Both Nuns will be dead by now.   God bless and please take care of them.


  PIBROCH and the Submarine



   A short essay

   Before we properly begin let’s get the

pronounciation correct.  Our ship’s name is PIBROCH.

   PIBROCH is a Scottish word for a mournful variation of

a tune played on the Scottish Bagpipes.

Now we know about this melodious musical mystery it’s

time to speak it.

Pi ………. as in a “pea”, the little, round green vegetable

that we eat.

Braw ….. as in a “brawl”…. A punching and kicking fight

in a street.

Ch …… this is a bit more difficult. It’s the “ch” at the

end of the Scottish word “Loch” as in the famous Loch

Lomond.   Not as some of our English friends often

pronounce it as “Lock Lomond”.

   So let’s get on with the story.



   It was maybe 1984 or 1985 when I was a deckhand on

the small general cargo coaster PIBROCH owned by the

Glenlight Shipping Company of Glasgow.

   The ship was built in 1957, was 87 feet, 30m, long, had

one hold and was equipped with McGregor sliding steel

hatch covers. 

    She normally carried bulk cargoes of coal

from Ayr in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland or from Garston

in the river Mersey, or bulk cargoes of tarred metal

from Gardner’s Quarry at Bonawe on Loch Etive near

Oban, and carried the cargoes to various towns and villages,

hamlets and tiny isolated settlements in the West Highlands

and Islands of Scotland.


   One very early summer morning PIBROCH was sailing

southbound in the Sound of Islay (pronounced eye-la,

sounding like a lady's "eyelash" but without the "sh" at

the end) the sixteen mile long narrow stretch of water

which separates the islands of Islay and Jura in the

West of Scotland.

    We had delivered a cargo of 150 tons of coal

to the Island of Rhum (pronounced Rum, as in the

drink) and were returning to Ayr to load coal for Inverie

near Oban.

   I was on watch below and asleep in my cabin when I

 was awakened by a blast on the ship’s horn.

   Dashing up the stair to the wheelhouse I found that we

were in an extremely dense bank of fog. This was the

first time in my memory that the horn had been

sounded and that even the radar was switched on.

   We passed Port Askaig to starboard, invisible in the fog.

Our full speed was about seven knots going downhill, so

we didn’t need to slow down. Everyone listened and

kept a sharp lookout.

   Soon we came to the exit from the Sound of Islay and

the fog began to clear.

    There were four of us in the crew, three of them

were smokers and I was the only non-smoker.

   All of us were in the small wheelhouse. Two in there

would be comfortable, three is a crowd and four is


   As the fog cleared the three men got out their

cigarettes and began smoking.

   Pretty soon the wheelhouse was filled with their

thick choking smoke.

   It was almost worse than the fog. My eyes became

itchy and my throat became sore and I decided to go

out on deck for fresh and clean West Highland air.

I walked the few feet to the stern rail and looked out at

the coast of Islay, disappearing in our wake.

   And I was astonished to see a submarine Periscope

sticking out of the water about 20 metres (60 feet)

away on our starboard quarter. The Periscope looked at

me and I looked at it.

   The Periscope kept station on our starboard quarter and

followed us at our gargantuan speed of seven knots.

   After maybe about two minutes I did the only thing I

could think of and waved to the Periscope.

   It continued to be pointed at me and I then walked

back into the wheelhouse and saw that the last of the

fog was almost cleared and the sky was becoming blue

and bright.

   It was going to be a lovely and calm sunny


     A beautiful time to be in the Inner Hebridean Isles

of Scotland.

   And then I saw, maybe about three or so miles ahead

on our port bow, over towards the Isle of Gigha, was a

 Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship stationary in the water.

   I recognised the ship as a torpedo recovery vessel

which was often seen in the Clyde area, but I do not

know what her name was.

   I seem to remember that there were a number of

torpedo recovery vessels at that time. Names were


  The first three letters of their names - TOR - signifying

their "TOR-pedo" activity.  

  Perhaps someone may be able to confirm the names.

   It seemed obvious that the submarine which was

 following us was conducting an exercise with the Fleet

 Auxiliary ship.

   A few minutes later I looked over the starboard quarter

but the Periscope was not to be seen.

   The water was flat calm and as smooth as glass.   Not

even a ripple to show where our underwater friend was.

   That was my first and only encounter with a real live