M.V. Port Fairy - a blast from the past !

Roy  Massicks

Bay of Islands., New Zealand

Artist's Description

The other day I was sorting through some old photographs and came across this old warrior.
I will have to put this write-up in three parts: Pre-war, WW 2 and post war.
She was my favourite ship in the years I was with the British Merchant Navy. I spent some time restoring the photograph which was stained, creased and had a tear in it.
The Port Fairy was named after the small port of the same name in Victoria, Australia.
Pre war:
The Port Fairy was built by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson at Wallsend in the UK. and launched on the 18th July 1928. At that time she had a speed of 15knots (28 km/h). In 1930 her refrigeration equipment was modified and she carried the first cargo of chilled meat (instead of frozen meat) from Australia. She later worked the same cargo from New Zealand.

World war 2:
The Port Fairy had an eventful war employed as an ammunition ship. Sailing in fast convoy LO8 from Liverpool to Canada. On the 22nd Oct 1940 the Port Fairy collided with the Canadian destroyer ’ HMCS Margaree ’ in rough seas about 300 mls west of Ireland. The Margaree sank quickly ; her captain, four officers and 136 crew were lost. Port Fairy rescued 34 survivors.
On 9th July 1943, a small convoy comprising the troop ships, Duchess of York and California plus the Port Fairy were escorted by three naval vessels bound from Greenock to Freetown, Sierra Leone in West Africa. Two days later the convoy was attacked by three Focke – Wulf Fw200 German bombers. The California and the Duchess of York were left blazing – Port Fairy picked up some RAF survivors from the Duchess of York. The following day, the remnants of the convoy was again attacked by aircraft west of Gibraltar. Port Fairy was hit on the port quarter by a 50kg bomb which breached the hull and set the ship on fire. Ammunition in the adjacent cargo space was quickly jettisoned and compartment flooded to minimise the risk of explosion. She managed to limp into Casablanca. She also survived two Malta convoys.

Post war:
On 25th December 1953 while operating between Australia, New Zealand and Canada both engines failed and the ship drifted in mid-Pacific for three days towards the rocks of Fatu Hira atoll. Plans were set in motion to rig temporary sails on the masts and derricks but as this was nearing completion one of the engines was repaired and the ship made port at 5 knots.

My association with this vessel started in 1960 through to late 1961 – even then she seemed to have her troubles. The first trip was to Bone in Algeria to load bulk phosphate for Bluff in NZ. This was during the period of the Algerian’s fight for independence from France. Trips ashore became exciting but that is another story. When loaded it was off to Egypt and through the Suez Canal, Aden to re-fuel and then the Indian Ocean, and Pacific to Bluff, the southernmost port in NZ then everything cleaned out spotlessly for a cargo of chilled meat to Europe via the Panama Canal and Curasao in the West Indies. So, if your NZ lamb tasted a bit different during that period it could have been that phosphate !
My second trip on her was a straight run out to NZ via Curacao and the Panama Canal. Again a full cargo of general goods off-loaded and a cargo of chilled meat, butter and cheese plus a deck cargo of wool bales bound for the UK. But first, part of the cargo was discharged in Peru and Panama then to the Caribbean Islands of Trinidad and Jamaica. We spent four or five days in each of these places. From Trinidad it was off to Philadelphia, right past Cuba and this was at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. An American destroyer radioed ’ what ship, what cargo and where bound?’ Obviously not satisfied with our answer they wanted to have a look at what was under those rather long, large canvas wrapped bundles we had on deck fore and aft. I think they were a bit disappointed when they discovered it was only wool ! The grey colour of our hull didn’t help either as Russian cargo ships were quite often the same colour.
By 1965 she was the oldest ship in the Port Line fleet and was sold for 126,000 sterling to a Greek company and re-named ’Taishikan. ’ She made one more commercial voyage to Hong Kong where she was broken up. If you have a look at the photograph – at the bow and just aft of the anchor, that was my cabin – in fact the hawsepipe which the anchor cable ran through was in the middle of the cabin and ran at an angle across the top of my bunk. If I was off watch and the anchor was let go, the light bulbs used to jump out of their sockets and my locker used to fall over plus it made a terrific din.
The oldest person in the deck crowd was aged 28 and that was the Bosun, old ships had young crews, I was 18.

Info from Wikipedia.

Photo taken in Port Chalmers, South Island, New Zealand in the year 1960.

Artwork Comments

  • Jamie  Green
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