Ships Encountered, May 27


This morning we sighted a ship. David Thorpe, who was on lookout, first saw her breaking the fine circle of the horizon astern. Everyone came out on deck, and when she came nearer, we identified her as the Italian liner Luciana. Jimmy Horrocks said she must have wanted to surprise us, because although he had been in touch with several ships in our vicinity, she was not one of them. Her passengers and crew crowded onto her decks, and even onto her bridge, to have a sight of us. While I was running up the Red Duster, Alan said: “There must be at least a thousand aboard her and all of them are taking a look at us.” She came quite near and circled us twice, sounding blasts on her whistle as if she were exclaiming in wonder and delight at the ageless beauty of our sails.

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure


At four o’clock we sighted a ship creeping over the horizon astern on our starboard beam. Joe Lacey identified her through binoculars as an empty tanker. Soon she made straight towards us, flying a lot of bunting. She was the Belgian Pride, and circled us, blasting off her whistle, all her hands on deck waving and shouting. Then her master, Captain Sart, called over to us: “I’m dropping a parcel.” We put out the pram with Doc Stevens and he returned after fifteen minutes’ hard rowing with a lifebelt from the Belgian Pride to which was attached a metal box.

I took it up on the quarter-deck to Alan, who bellowed his thanks across the water, and they gave us a cheer before sailing on the course for the West Indies. The metal box contained a note from Captain Sart wishing us Godspeed, some chocolates, cigars, cigarettes, a bottle of eau de Cologne, and a bottle of brandy. Alan dished out the chocolates to the nonsmokers and the rest of us got a cigar and a packet of cigarettes. The latter, a packet of twenty-five adorned with a picture of a red-haired girl wearing a black hat and yellow feather, tasted like a mild version of an American cigarette. Alan was most generous about the brandy, splicing the main brace, but the eau de Cologne disappeared into his cabin. I suppose he was keeping it as a present for his wife.

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure


Our second visitor arrived at four in the afternoon. She came up on our weather quarter. Then, showing seamanlike consideration for a sailing ship, steamed on our lee quarter and overhauled us. She was the Olna, a Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker, bound for South America from Malta. She flew the blue ensign defaced with a horizontal device of an anchor in gold. It was the first time we had seen a ship of the Royal Navy. She spoke to us in Morse over the radio telephone and used flags to send international code and also visual Morse. Her first message was enough to make Mayflower blush: “You are very beautiful.” Fred Edwards went onto the poop to read and reply. The second message from the Olna was: “Is there anything, repeat anything, I can possibly do for you?” Alan told Fred to reply: “No, thank you very much. We are okay.” She replied by flags in international code: “WAY”, which means: “Have a good voyage.” She gave us three cheers, which we returned. But she had not finished. She semaphored: “You look like a lovely oil painting.”

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure

Two ships passed us today. The first was a French liner (about 17,000 tons) the Colombie from Le Havre. We sighted another ship at 1600. This time she was a British fleet tanker the Olna. She approached at speed, but slowed down and cruised on a parallel course for quite a while. It was good to see the blue ensign again. 

They asked if they could help us in any way, to which we replied with thanks that we were all right. Then they said ‘You look as lovely as a picture,’ to which some of us felt like replying ‘Do you say that to every pretty girl?’ It did us a lot of good to see those boys.

Jack Scarr (Journal, 28 May 1957) 

R.A.F. tanker called Olna came alongside, she put up her first signal “You look like a beautiful lady,” we thanked her, then she said, “You are wonderful, you look like an old world painting,” then her crew gave us a cheer, and we cheered back.

Edgar Mugridge (Journal, 28 May 1957) 


The next morning at first light two Italian men-of-war swooped down on us and steamed close by on both sides, their ships’ companies lining the rails in immaculate whites and cheering alternately. Aboard Mayflower all hands were on deck, and when the Italians were seen to be lowering a boat we hauled up our mainsail and put a pilot ladder over the side. Warwick danced up and down. “Isn’t this wonderful – eh-eh?”

The captain of one of the warships was first up the ladder. He cast his wide eyes around the decks and then up into the sails, flung his arms out and exclaimed “Magnifico, Captain – magnifico!” He must have been referring to Mayflower herself and not to the raggle-taggle gypsies he found aboard her. He presented us with an Italian Naval pennant and there was an exchange of gifts – vino and oranges from him and rum from Villiers – after which he departed, glittering in his white uniform, while our linguists excelled themselves. “Viva L’Italia! Viva L’Italia – bona fortuna!”

Peter Padfield (Voyage, 2 June 1957)

At six this morning I was roused by Joe Meany shaking me and shouting: “They’re here, Mr. Charlton, they’re here.” The reason for the commotion lay each side of our ship, only half a cable’s length away to port and starboard; two Italian battleships, the cruisers San Georgio and San Marco. Both ships’ companies manned the sides. We heard orders being shouted in Italian – “Off caps” – and then they gave us three mighty cheers. The San Marco lowered a launch; we put a ladder over; and as they came alongside, an officer shouted: “Permission to come aboard, sir.”  Then he stood looking up at the ship, threw wide his arms and exclaimed: “Magnifico! Magnifico!” We escorted him to Alan, together with one other officer and three ratings. The latter carried gifts of wine, and they also sent us up from the launch oranges and fresh vegetables.

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure


We were so absorbed by the destroyers, we did not notice the squat shape creeping over the horizon. Ike Marsh, who was aloft, was the first to call out the news. “It’s the Ark Royal,” he shouted. This was almost too much for John, who nearly fell over the side as he used the glasses again. “Good lord,” he exclaimed, “I do believe Ike is right. I know a few of the chaps on board. Excuse me.” He pushed the glasses into my hands and ran below and returned a few minutes later wearing his uniform and Royal Navy cap but still in shorts.

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure


This evening there was a clear moon and a calm sea and the ship rolled in a low southeast swell. Soon after dark, a launch, the Sheila Ann, hailed us and came alongside.  Joe Meany recognized the voice of Frank Kelly of the Boston Traveler, who had interviewed him before he left to join the crew. Frank Kelly gave us newspapers, fruit and milk and departed into the night.

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure

The Sheila Ann, a little, privately-owned sword fishing vessel, came along. It was painfully obvious she had press on board. They were flashing cameras and asking press questions. She did give us a stack of Cokes, milk, oranges, and apples, for which we were grateful.

John Winslow (Journal, 10 June 1957) 


A submarine surfaced near us and approached on our starboard quarter. It came fairly close and started signaling. Somebody said it was the nuclear-powered Nautilus but it turned out to be a commonplace sub like all the rest. The first signal was ‘Congratulations.’ Then the Captain asked for a tow. The reply was the affirmative signal. I quickly calculated that a tow might get us into Nantucket on time to win my bet. This would, of course, have been cheating. The sea was calm and conditions were ideal for towing. The Captain gave orders for the towlines to be prepared. We were all ready to take a tow, but the submarine took no further action and slowly circled our ship. Perhaps our signal had been misunderstood. The Captain could have asked again for a tow, but perhaps he felt it was undignified to do so. The submarine passed astern and submerged.

Jack Scarr (Journal, 10 June 1957)

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