Diesel Weasel
Yorkie and Spud
3 O Boats
forward mess
Opportune
Taff Hartvelt and me
derelict boats

Across the Pond

My first visit to the United States came in 1981, the old whaling port of New Bedford in Massachusetts being the venue. It took us quite a while to get across the Atlantic as we were doing exercises en-route, but when we finally arrived we were met by a welcoming committee of old ladies, ex-pats hailing from Bolton. These old dears had organised a variety of recreational pursuits for the crew including bingo, beetle drives and a ram-roast at a beach house, just what we wanted after weeks at sea. The skipper took malicious pleasure in detailing some of us off to attend these diversions in uniform. We did manage to divert to a bar on the way where a waitress asked "Do you guys want a pitcher of beer?" to which some wag replied "Nah, we want the real thing", Oscar Wilde, eat your heart out!. After the ram roast, which wasn't as bad as it had sounded, we set off for downtown New Bedford. One of the locals welcomed us to America by throwing an empty beer bottle at us as he sped past in a car — special relationship or what!

As we had no clue of where we were in relation to the flesh pots, we promptly got lost, luckily a bar hove into view and in we piled. What we didn't know was that we'd wandered into a 'black' area, this became apparent as our eyes grew accustomed to the gloom of the bar which had fallen silent as we entered. "Bloody hell" Taff muttered before someone proclaimed "Hey, they're Limey's; what are you having guys?". We had a great time, one of the crowd around the bar cheerfully told us that we'd have had the crap beaten out of us if we were US navy honkies, but we British navy honkies were alright. The bar maid took a fancy to me — well it was dim lighting — and declared that I was going home with her. "No he's not" said the gigantic barman.
  "Sure he is" she rejoined.
  "No he aint!" he replied, glaring in my direction.
  "No I'm not" I gulped. After a period of negotiation it was agreed that the majority had it.

We left the bar in a happy haze and promptly got lost again. This time we spotted a police station and went in to ask for directions. "Holy shit, what are you guys doing wandering around in this district?". The nice policemen gave us a lift in two squad cars back to the safety of the town centre, they even turned on the sirens for our amusement and let us admire their arsenal of weaponry; guns and sailors again!

A nice place New BedfordNew Bedford, quite pretty with lots of clapperboard houses in the suburbs. An old whaling port where Henry Melville wrote Moby Dick, fascinating. We were billeted in a Holiday Inn motel which had a nice bar and titanic breakfasts. We even found a country and western bar complete with mechanical rodeo bull, after several cape coders (vodka and cranberry juice I think) it didn't hurt too much when I came off after a second or two. I gave a rendition of Mike Harding's Rochdale Cowboy with the backing of the house band, alas, much of it was lost in translation.

Either whilst we were there, or shortly before we arrived, I can't remember which, an attempt was made to assassinate President Reagan which put the country in something of a buzz. I had a long involved conversation with an American lawyer over the relative merits of in-bred aristocracy and b movie actors as national figureheads. I think I carried the case for the monarchy in the end. Whilst in New Bedford I had my first McDonald's, surprisingly there were no McDonald's in Plymouth 23 in those days, difficult to believe nowadays when you can't turn around without tripping over one.

After leaving New Bedford we headed north to Canada. We were to visit Halifax, Nova Scotia and then exercise with the Canadian navy. As soon as I emerged into the Canadian sun I was hailed by my old mate from Collingwood, Ronnie Bouchard. Ronnie had emigrated some years earlier to join the Canadian submarine service. Knowing that I was a singer he'd arranged for me to meet a mate of his who also sang. Clint, a genial Canadian of West Indian extraction, took me under his wing and before I knew it I was singing to a night club full of soul music aficionados. Whatever skill I have in music, it certainly can't be called soul. Yet again Rochdale Cowboy was greeted with bemusement. To make matters worse, Clint, who'd gallantly backed me on bass guitar, handed me the bass, which I don't play, and launched into a stunning Al Green song. Not one of my more memorable gigs.

One of the duties of the duty EM is to look after the shore telephone connection. I was called up to the casing whilst duty to investigate why the phone wasn't working. Spotting a connection box on the fin I pulled what I thought was the release handle, somewhat surprised that the box wouldn't open, I read the label"Fire alarm, only use in an emergency". In short order one of those marvellous open top articulated fire appliances was screaming down the jetty. By this time I'd wiped off any fingerprints with my beret and was casually making my escape. Neither the Jimmy, Duty Officer or Halifax's fire department were much amused; my part in the fiasco was, thankfully, never discovered.

The Canadians were operating Oberon submarines at the time, so we felt at home in their after messes. There was the inevitable banter between us and the Canadians. They called us Halifax, Nova Scotiakippers (two faced and spineless apparently), we of course took it in good part, even to the extent of having a kipper painted on the front of the fin in yellow, but all the while plotting a suitable revenge. As for the exercises, we turned up in the appointed area but, as the weather had cut up rough, the Canukes scurried back into Halifax. To prove a point, our skipper decided to stay out and undergo a period of evolutions. On the way back in we became the first submarine to traverse up to Halifax whilst submerged, a feat of some control and navigation. To celebrate the event we took photographs of Halifax water front through the periscope which were used to produce a photo-montage. I was asked to inscribe a legend underneath having some minor skill in calligraphy.

We were due to remain in Halifax for something like a fortnight, a breakdown in the insulation of the main generators extended this to six weeks. This meant a lot of hard work for the motor room team, stripping down the generators, thoroughly cleaning the insides and re-insulating the risers. In the end a support team from Dolphin were flown out to assist us. The extended stay in Canada had a lasting effect on some of the crew, four of them eventually emigrated to Canada, three of them joining the Canadian submarine flotilla. The fourth, a real character who gloried in the nickname Father Arse (I never did discover why) ended up marrying an ex-catholic nun. Given that he was from a staunchly protestant family from Ulster this was pretty amazing, he wasn't looking forward to telling his ma back in Ulster. Another, Polly Parrot, told me when I met him at a reunion recently that he'd got married to a Canadian girl as a result of meeting her whilst I was singing in Harry's Bar in Halifax, perhaps I should be a soul singer after all.

Harry's bar was our local when we first arrived in Halifax, it being just around the corner from the Holiday Inn where we were staying. When it became clear that the generator problem was going to detain us, we were moved to a cheaper hotel nearer the dockyard. Another favourite watering hole was the Split Crow. The Split Crow was the scene of a couple of unfortunate incidents whilst we were there. In the first a flower girl had been selling roses in the bar, a burly Canadian had bought one for his sweetheart, dead romantic your average Canadian. HIs girlfriend was amazed and not a little upset when one of Opportune's finest, I'll not point fingers, but he was Welsh, bit the head of her rose. Her boyfriend swung a punch at the miscreant who ducked with the result that I received the blow on the back of the head and sat stunned under a table whilst all hell broke loose. In the second incident I was the one throwing the punch. The skipper at the time had a habit of pulling people about by the collar when he'd had a drink, not in a nasty way you understand, just high spirits. He'd wanted me to sing for some obscure reason and grabbed hold of my collar, I fell over and, not realising who it was, grasped the offending arm and swung a haymaker in the general direction. The skipper was surprised, but not in the least damaged; I thought it best to vacate the bar and ended up in another bar drinking with yet another Canadian officer attached to Opportune. Renee was of French-Canadian extraction and English was definitely not his first language. He'd fallen foul of the skipper whilst passing an order to run the co2 absorbtion units and oxygen generators. It took him ages and several erms and ums and false starts to get out the fairly complicated order to the fore-ends. Instead of going through the same order for the after-ends he said "After-ends, do de same". The skipper wasn't having this, so made the poor man go through the whole order again. So we were good company for each other; Renee muttering away in French and broken English, and me chuntering in Yorkshire and broken english. Nothing ever came of the incident in the Split Crow, the skipper greeted me cheerily when next we met...so no hard feelings there then.

Our Jimmy, who's name must remain secret to protect the guilty, was a real one off. He was the one who had startled Captain SM2 with the cap gun. He enjoyed a drink with the lads and was often at the forefront of any japes ashore. Whilst in Halifax he was up on a table in a bar doing the Zulu warrior, the bar staff, not unreasonably, called the police who, in the person of a nervous young officer, arrived just as the Jimmy had flicked his nicks over his shoulder. He didn't want to come off his table so the officer pulled his gun to encourage his to do so. The Jimmy sucked his finger and stuck it down the barrel of the gun, "Now what are you going to do?" he asked. How he got out of it without being arrested is a mystery.

He was also a very good rugby player. Opportune's rugby team, of which I was a member, played quite a bit of rugby whilst in Canada. We got very friendly with one of the local teams and although I don't remember us ever winning a game, we often carried the 'third half' back in the club house. I played second row in a not very tall team, the Jimmy played flanker. During one game I could hear him yelling "Frank, Frank!" as I made a rare foray with the ball. After the resulting ruck he asked "Why didn't you pass to me Frank?"
  "Why are you calling me Frank Sir, my name's Andy"
  "Well you look like a Frank". I was known as Frank for quite a while thereafter.

I think the Jimmy's career suffered badly from an incident back in Devonport Dockyard where the MOD plods wanted to detain him at a gate and he resolutely resisted. He was always far too popular with the crew to succeed in the navy, happily he's gone on to make a successful career outside the Royal Navy.

When we finally left Halifax we presented the Canadians with a framed photo of the boat. The frame, specially constructed on board, had a false back with a kipper inside it to remind them of us in the months to come. There is an unofficial competition in the submarine service over a highly polished shovel. The shovel, which bears the names and plaques of those who have held it, always resides in the mess of the home base of the current holder. When we arrived in Halifax it was in the possession of the Canuks, it was our duty to get it back. The only skill involved is the ability to remove it form its display position and smuggle it away. This we succeeded in doing, but our elation was short lived. A signal arrived from the Canadians that one of our officers had left his brief case behind. They offered to helicopter it out to us in return for the shovel, the skipper reluctantly agreed. However, skilled members of the crew constructed a similarly shaped object and carefully wrapped it for its return journey; for this the Canadians fell, so we returned to Guzz in triumph with the shovel safely in our possession.

The Canadian Submariners' Association (Eastern) website has a page devoted to the shovel, it includes a list of all its recorded movements and can be viewed at the following location: The Shovel.

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