At the age of fiteen, I decided to take charge of my own destiny and insisted I wanted to become a sailor. One misty January morning in 1949 I was delivered on board the ageing steamship “Norefjord” by my dear uncle Arne. I still remember the ice on the deck and the smell of steam and oil from the engine room.
The ship made a few calls on her way to East Africa via Tilbury docks in London and Gdynia in Poland where I got thoroughly 'pissed' on local vodka. The year was 1949 and not so long after the end of world war two and I remember clearly seeing the many huge and female military guards with machine guns slung over their shoulders and big leather boots. Any group of people exceeding 2 were promptly dispersed by these menacing guards.
In Bordeaux I lost my 'virginity' to an amused young half-caste prostitute. This was part of a standard initiating procedure set by the older and experienced seamen, who all the same kept a close watch on the procedure, ensuring a safe return of the débutante to the mother ship. I remember one of the 'greasers' playing his accordion in the communal bathroom on a passage through the North sea in a strong gale, “Gamla Nordsjoen” (the old north sea) was a popular tune.
Mombasa at night was an exciting experience for a young man. I recall streets full of small shacks made of bamboo and straw,all lit up with kerosene lamps and hardly any street lights. A very special aromatic smell was in the hot evening air and the loud sound of singing crickets and frogs. And the people appeared as if out of the pages of “Stanley and Livingston”.The ship was also equipped to carry 12 passengers in 1st class accommodation,the sleeping cabins surrounding a large,central , mahogany clad area with lounge furniture and a large dining table.
I remember we had a Norwegian missionary family of 4 on their way to Madagascar ,as well as a munch in a violet gown,wearing sandals, of unknown religion.While aground,we also encountered a storm,threatening a break-up of the ship. The passengers were transported in to Mombasa in one of our lifeboats and the crew were commanded to sleep on deck during the ravages of the storm with all the lifeboats ready for launching. I was told by one of the engineers that sea water was squirting out from the seams of the the riveted ship side. But all went well,and we survived.
My father was running a successful small engineering business where I also worked for a short while, my father hoping I would eventually take over the business. He was a strict man and told me there was no going back should I decide to go to sea. Coming from the same mould, I too could be very stubborn,and, although there were many times during the voyage I was tempted to throw in the towel, but gritted myteeth and persevered.
Time came to serve my compulsory 18 month national service in the Norwegian Royal Navy which I did on the destroyer 'Stavanger' with exercises in the winter past North Cape in waters towards Russia and in the English Channel with the British Navy. To start, I had to join a special artillery course for A.N. crew at the Navy headquarters at Horten in the Oslofjord which I passed with ´honours´. Then followed an exiting NATO exercise in the “Kolsaastoppen” bunkers,deep inside the mountain with several allied navies taking part. I also spent some time on the navy supply ship Ellida moored in Bergen until my release in January 1955.
As a young navy recruit I spent my first couple of months at the Madla training centre. During my stay in Stavanger,I met a woman,with whom I had an affair and married. Later we also had a son. Unfortunately, it did not work out, and some months later,we separated, and nally divorced. This was a dif cult time in both our lives but we did not wish to punish ourselves or my son by living a life without love,denying ourselves happiness with someone else.After 18 months duty in the Navy, I was nally free to join the navigation college in Bergen, which again was a tough time without saved up funds,and I owe my survival entirely to the 'more than' generous waitresses at the 'Hordalandstova' café on a second floor at Torvalmenningen.
The preceding ships were new and modern motor ships with single cabins contrasting vastly from the six berth cabin situated aft over the steam steering engine making the oor too hot to step on without shoes. You can imagine the condition of this cabin in the tropics.I did not have the “middle school” owing to the fact I joined the merchant fleet at 16, and therefore had to join a 3 month course to pass an exam before joining the navigation college. Passed my´middle school´ exams with flying colours,following which I took a job at a local ship breaking yard,cutting up a large French merchant ship to earn a few bucks for my survival until the start of the Navigation classes in Bergen,concluding in Stavanger in July 1956, having passed my examination with the high marks, I joined my first ship as a 3 rd navigation of cer while everyone else took a deserved holiday. I was just too broke after 2.5 years ashore with little pay.
I sailed on alltogether 11 ships : KNM Stavanger- ss Norefjord- Black Heron- Sunny Girl Panama Express-Giert Torgersen-Glomdal- Alvdal- Storesand – Skaubryn – Byfjord
For most of us who had not ever served on a 'passenger ship' and had only worn the necessary working uniforms, which for the engineer of cers meant a peak cap with the company´s badge and a sweat shirt, it became a tremendous culture clash donning a full dress uniform for dinner, white with gold buttons for the tropics. We were expected to circle in the several bars on board, conversing with our passengers. Unfortunately, for one, after a great number of in-expensive drinks, (you just signed a little chit and your salary was debited at the end of the month) the jacket came off, then the tie and he was doing the rock´n roll in a bare torso.The next morning we were all called on parade in the captain´s cabin and given a strict, one time warning about instant dismissal should this sort of behaviour ever happen again.
The homeward passage via East Australia´s Barrier Reef and the Java Sea was a peaceful affair with around 200 paying Australians going for extended holidays exploring Europe, compared to the around 2.000 emigrants carried on the outward journey.We were then chartered for a voyage from Southampton to Quebec in Canada with only a hand full of passengers,some emigrants and others tourists on holidays. We had orders from the captain to ensure that all the bars were closed by midnight and on one of my rounds I noticed suspicious behaviour from one of the bar men and asked him to open a bulkhead door behind the bar counter. Five guilty looking passengers, nishing their drinks were looking apologetically at me, especially one, a tall, good looking lady whom I immediately arrested and brought to my cabin. She told me she was on her way to a small town on the East coast of Canada to get married to an engineer she had met in London some time ago. Needless to say,her plans were changed,and having explained to her husband to be and his family,she ew over to Vancouver where she worked until 9 months later when she ew to join me at Kingston,Jamaica where we had agreed to re-join.
Having followed the Skaubryn for yet another journey to Australia, I changed ships to the small laker the Sunny Girl trading between the Great Lakes and the Caribbean/Ecuador. While we were in Kingston,Jamaica,May had arrived from Vancouver and we got married at the Melrose Hotel on March 18th,with Capt. Rugaard and Radio of cer Ragnhil Eitrheim as best man/woman. Wehad a beautiful wedding ceremony on the large upper balcony of the hotel carried out by a British reverend. The evening was spent at the local and famous Glass Bucket Club. My wife accompanied me on board for the next three months as a ´supernumerary` plying between the Great Lakes and the Caribbean.
The radio operator onboard was Ragnhild Eitrheim, a charming lady who also became ´best woman´at our marriage in Kingston, Jamaica. The reporter from Toledo Blade was very surprised to see a female ship´s radio operator as is evident from the newspaper article.
Later my wife concluded she did not cherish the thought of becoming the lonely wife of a sailor and wanted me ashore. I consented and I left the sea for good and settled in the UK as a travel clerk with Mackay Brothers and American Express in Edinburgh,the birthplace of my wife.Several jobs later, including running a large refrigerated ice-cream van from Wall´s Ice Cream delivering to hospitals and mental institutions in the Scottish countryside, we went for a summer holiday to my home town Kristiansand, compliments of Fred Olsen lines 'Blenheim' sailing from Newcastle.
This was a gratuitous trip working for American Express at the time. I was made a job offer in Kristiansand with 'Bjoerneboe Travel' and we moved to Norway after only two years in Edinburgh. Family and friends made us very welcome and we bought ourselves a new and modern at in the suburbs near a marina where we soon had our own motor boat to explore the archipelago of islands.
Tore Christiansen - Costa Verde - Brazil - 03 May 2019