Tuesday, 4 December 2012

It's Getting Hot Here.

For anyone visiting this website for the first time, let me start with an introduction.  I have worked as an environmental engineer, and before that a marine engineer for almost forty years.  Having survived the stress and chaos of metropolitan Sydney for nearly thirty of those years, we made a small adjustment northward and for the next two years enjoyed the lifestyle of Newcastle about two hours up the coast.  But today’s contribution to the world of internet self-importance (which goes with being a compulsive blogger), is not about Newcastle – although it is without doubt, a Really Nice Place and I urge you to read more about it in my earlier contribution of that name. No, today I want to talk about something which has been close to my heart and part of my day job for many years.
I grew up in Far North Queensland in an environment which includes the Great Barrier Reef, tropical rain forests and a style of living which sadly no longer seems available in the 21st Century – even in Newcastle.  This was a time when heaven was a chocolate milkshake, served for less than 15 cents (or one shilling and sixpence in old money) in an aluminium container, and not a takeaway drink container in sight – let alone one with a kilo of crushed ice mixed with a blend of cola concentrate and water.
It was there that we learned to swim by biking to local creeks and rivers, with only the odd puncture from riding over gravel roads to worry us.  It was there also that we camped out on sparsely populated islands, or out of the way beaches now mostly owned by private corporations with architecturally flawless five star hotels that only the wealthy can afford.  Blessed with the fortune of living there for a foundational part of my life, it was consequently never hard to take up a career focused on providing solutions and preserving the good things of this world for future generations.
This is why today I want to say a few things about the planet and sustainability – something we frequently hear or read various experts and environmental evangelists banging on about.  One of the reasons why I think it might be my turn to have a go is that even when the world’s most articulate and learned educators preach, there is often no one listening except the choir.  So I might as well add to the babble and get my own thoughts out there.
Not that I am expecting my efforts to bring about any dramatic change to where this issue sits in a pecking order which includes the next episode of The Voice and discussions about Michael Clarke’s cricketing career or Adam Goodes' knee.
If I may, I would like to start by posing an hypothetical question – it won’t be hard to see where I’m going with this.  Let us imagine that about ten years ago we discovered a giant asteroid in the outer reaches of the solar system (let's name it Hades) and using sophisticated models, which predict orbit trajectories, experts have determined that we are on a collision course and that Hades will strike the planet in twenty-five years.  Specialist space engineers and scientists have been working on the models ever since the asteroid was discovered in an effort to more accurately predict the outcome, while at the same time others are developing plans to deal with this threat to humanity as we know it.
Of course there are some sceptics who believe that this is not going to happen and the whole thing is nothing more than a media beat up and a lot of scaremongering.  Some polls seemed to indicate that members of the public believe scientists are substantially disagreeing about the threat, despite the fact that fourteen thousand world experts have produced papers and evidence confirming the threat. On the other side, some twenty or thirty scientists have rejected these findings and are presenting papers and arguments which say there is no threat. Many of these papers had been produced and reproduced over a hundred times over the years since the threat was first discovered.
Another factor in this terrible menace is that it is going to cost trillions of dollars to develop and implement plans to divert the threat.  Engineers are looking at plans which include nuclear devices, gravity traction beams and a whole array of ideas and proposals. The only way to provide the resources and the knowledge to do this is to use funds which would otherwise be used by the defence industries and other big dollar corporations. It soon became evident that much of the influence and drive behind the sceptics was coming from these vested interests who wanted to see business as usual, and were seriously concerned that such efforts would only have a negative effect on profits and the economy.
But clear and determined leadership prevailed.  The threat was real and if there was even the slightest chance that something could be done to avoid a complete and utter disaster and the risk of making mankind as extinct as the dinosaurs, then the combined resources and intellect of the globe would be directed at saving the planet for future generations.
What terrifies me, is that the threat is real.  OK, it’s not an asteroid which is threatening us – in some ways its worse, because this threat is man-made.  I am of course, referring to the threat of global warming.  If you are still confused by this analogy, let me draw your attention to a most informative website recently acknowledged by TIME Magazine as one of the 25 best blogs in the world, called DeSmogBlog.com.  I’m going to refer directly from a recent post which says much more articulately than I can, “Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy. There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.”
The same website also posted a recent paper by geologist James Powell entitled Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility – In One Pie Chart. It was from this paper that I extracted the fact that of 13,950 peer-reviewed climate articles in the twenty years between 1991 and 2012, twenty-four reject global warming or endorse a cause other than CO2 emissions for observed warming. The 24 articles have been cited over 100 times over the past twenty years for an average of five citations each.  In short, less than 1 in 500 have rejected global warming which means that 99.8% of scientists in this field accept that the world is getting hotter as a result of human activities.
So what, I hear some folk say. There’s nothing we can do about it, and what’s a couple of degrees anyway, it’s just like moving to the Gold Coast, or Florida, or the South of France.
Well there is much that can be done – but just like the Hades threat, it’s going to take money, resources and a whole lot of different thinking and behaviour. It is delusional to think that global warming is a mild inconvenience and it just means putting the air-conditioner up another notch (which by the way, will make things worse).
I’m going to quote another source on the impact of global warming on humanity. However, this is not a green environmental alarmist with a passion for extremism (although, for the record – I am alarmed).  This time I would like to refer to a paper recently published by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, An Adaptability Limit to Climate Change due to Heat Stress by Steven Sherwood of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales and Matthew Huber of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center in West Lafayette, Indiana. The paper argues that although it is often assumed that humans would be able to adapt to any possible warming, heat stress imposes a robust upper limit and that peak heat stress never exceeds a wet bulb temperature of 31 degrees C. It goes on to say that anything in excess of 35 degrees C for extended periods would induce hyperthermia in humans and other mammals, as dissipation of heat becomes impossible. While this never happens now, it would begin to occur with mean global warming of about 7 degrees C, calling the habitability of some regions into question. With 11–12 degrees C warming, such regions would spread to encompass the majority of the human population as currently distributed and that eventual warmings of 12 degrees C are possible from fossil fuel burning.
What alarms me about this is that the paper states that recent estimates of the costs of unmitigated climate change are too conservative unless the range of possible warming can somehow be narrowed.
If you listen to David Roberts of grist.org these numbers are optimistic. He quotes an edition of the Royal Society Journal which states that as little as a 4 degrees C would be “hell on earth” with widespread desertification, water shortages, agricultural disruptions, rising sea levels, vanishing coral, tropical rain forest die-offs and mass species extinctions. If you are so inclined (and I really hope you are), I urge you to watch David’s excellent TEDx presentation on this topic.
Now to me one thing is absolutely clear, and that is that our present course is going to lead to catastrophe.  If we do nothing, that asteroid is surely going to hit us and there will be nothing left for our grandchildren and their grandchildren (if they should make it) to enjoy – not ever.
The International Energy Agency tells us in its report World Energy Outlook 2011 that every year of delay adds $500 billion to the investment required to start fixing the problem.
Most of my previous assaults on this topic have been around a barbecue with a cold beer in my hand, and I have to say, that I don’t think I have influenced those of my mulish and sceptical friends who deny there is a problem one iota. I will probably have less chance of doing so now that I have called them stubborn and mulish.  But if I have made just one reader think more seriously about this issue, I will feel I have achieved something. 
So to anyone who has any influence in this area (and we all have some don’t we?) - I say let’s stop rearranging deck chairs and selecting hymns.  There is an iceberg ahead of us, and Hades is coming our way. We can avoid both – but it ain’t gonna be easy and we are going to have to change – ALL OF US.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Queensland Intermission - 1968

It was late November 1967 and Viajero and the Amazon River were already a lifetime away. I had flown from an icy New York a week earlier to a cold and wet Britain where I had enjoyed a few days in the company of my dear aunt and uncle in Nottingham.  Now I was aboard a Qantas 707 for the long flight home to Sydney and then 2,500 km north to Cairns where I was going to meeting my brand new niece and enjoy a North Queensland Christmas with my family.  
It was two years since I had last seen them.  Two years since I had waved goodbye to them from the deck of Baron Jedburgh and set off to conquer the world. There was of course, much more to conquer, and we'll come to that in due course, but it was good to be going home; to settle back in my seat and listen to some classic Strine as the PA system crackled to life and a voice from somewhere up the front said, "G'darfa noon folks, sit back and relax an we'll be outer ear and on air way in a garbler mince" (and my humblest apologies to the late Professor Afferbeck Lauder).
One of the benefits of long sea voyages, and there are of course many, is that a 36 hour plane trip, including refuelling stops at Teheran, New Delhi and Singapore, a lengthy transfer at Sydney and a three hour trip to Cairns, is really quite a stroll in the park. It was just nice to be going home.
My parents had separated a couple of years earlier and my mother was now living in another town with the new man in her life. Dad was in his early fifties and still working at the local council where he was the workshop superintendent. Dad was a real artisan. When he wasn't tinkering with car engines (you could do that then), he was restoring an old clinker-built boat he had bought for a song, or building a caravan from a few drawings he copied from a 1950s edition of Popular Mechanics. Whenever I think about my father, I'm reminded of a quotation which has been incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain, "when I was a boy of seventeen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have him around. But when I got to be twenty-one I was astonished how much the old man had learned in four years".  

I enjoyed his company, and we all had a splendid Christmas in the sun. I'm quite sure I was already developing a rolling gait, and with it a penchant for telling long-winded stories - but I had an attentive audience

All things must come to an end and it wasn't long before the need to earn a living again became important.  My old friend, Ian Fraser, partner in crime from school and our apprenticeship days (see Class Reunion) had decided to move south to Brisbane and since there was plenty of work around in that part of the world, I agreed it was a good idea. So it was, that early in the New Year of 1968, at around the same time searchers were giving  up on finding the body of our missing leader Harold Holt, and the Liberal Party were electing John Gorton as their new leader and Australia's 19th Prime Minister, we said our farewells, loaded everything we owned (which in my case was very little) into the boot of Ian's FB Holden and headed south. 
For anyone not familiar with the geography of Queensland, a quick look at a map will show that it is much more than a few hours' drive.  It's about 2,000 km along the Bruce Highway and in those days, there were long stretches which had to be negotiated on poor quality roads where broken windscreens and roaming wildlife were the norm.
We shared the driving and when too tired to continue, we pulled to the side of the road with one of us sleeping on the front bench seat, the other on the back. We broke a windscreen a couple of days into the trip, somewhere between Sarina and Marlborough at about the same time that horizontal rain started falling. Fortunately, and who knows why, I had a pair of motor cycle goggles with me. The sight of Ian behind the wheel, wearing leather goggles that would have looked good on Rommel, belting down the highway avoiding potholes at 70 miles per hour will have scared a few people - it terrified me.  Late one night, too exhausted to drive further, we pulled off the road and as usual, I climbed over on to the back seat, and Ian stretched out in front. It was a desolate part of the country, maybe 100 km from the nearest settlement, and the rain had stopped. It was as quiet as a mausoleum and we both fell into a deep sleep.
An hour or so later, we were shaken out of our slumbers by bright lights and a loud whooshing noise.  The car was shaking, the rumbling turned into a roar, and blazing light began flashing from one side of the car to the other. Indiana repairman, Richard Dreyfuss's experience on a lonely stretch of road in Close Encounters of the Third Kind was probably no more than a twinkle of an idea in young Steven Spielberg's mind, but that's the image that comes to mind now as the two of us bolted upright and awake.  Ian looked around wide-eyed, "What the f..k's happening?" 
Our eyes stopped rolling and our heartbeat slowed to a dull pounding as the flashing beams resolved into the passing lights of the Brisbane to Cairns express train - The Sunlander, as it rocketed past, our vehicle shaking in its wash. Unwittingly, we had parked right next to the railway line - a few feet more and it might well have been a different story.
There were no further memorable incidents and we arrived in Brisbane a day or two later where we were soon sharing lodgings at the home of a nice landlady who took in boarders at her Camp Hill home for students and young working men. Ian had already organised employment as a design draughtsman and trainee engineer with Evans Deakin and Company in Charlotte Street. 
A day or two later I found work at the same establishment as an engineering estimator, helping to put together proposals for projects which included process refineries and power stations in Gladstone and ferry berths on the Brisbane River.  Each day Ian and I would catch the trolley bus or the tram from Camp Hill to the city and each evening we'd find our way home the same way.  We had a short diversion a few months after we arrived in Brisbane when Ian took some time out to marry his long-time girlfriend, the lovely Ellen. A pleasant affair, and one in which I had the privilege of participating as best-man. This was in itself no difficult task, but one which I was able to carry out with appropriate dignity thanks to a hasty sewing job by Ian's sister, Beryl who was more than a little concerned that in hiring me a dress suit, the local formal wear shop had neglected to provide me with cufflinks to go with the borrowed shirt. The day was memorable and has provided me with numerous opportunities to remind Ian that he still owes me $20 that I was able to find to help pay for the event.
Most days during the week, I would walk down to the river during my lunch break and usually find myself wandering past the offices of H.C Sleigh Ltd, owners of the iconic Golden Fleece petroleum brand, but also owners of Dominion Far East Line. In the window, inside a glass case, was a model of the pride of the fleet, the SS George Anson inviting passers-by to consider the merits of an ocean voyage.  As much as I was enjoying the challenges of being an estimator, the hospitality of my landlady and the company of her boarders at Camp Hill, there was something missing - and not just because Ian had gone off with Ellen to find their own accommodation elsewhere in the city.  I wasn't yet ready to give up the life of a ship's engineer and one day I didn't walk past the office during my lunch break - I went inside, and asked for a job. The timing could not have been better.  Francis Drake, sister ship to George Anson was due to depart Sydney for Brisbane and the Far East in a weeks' time - they were a man short - was I availableWas I? Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?
Thus ended my brief career at Evans Deakin and so began my career as an engineer officer aboard my first steam ship.  SS Francis Drake was 7,500 ton, 440 feet long and carried about 150 passengers and I'm looking forward to telling you about my year with H C Sleigh and passenger ships and tankers in a later blog.  

Monday, 19 November 2012

Black muddy river, roll on forever...

I don't care how deep or wide, if you've got another side,
Roll muddy river, roll muddy river, black muddy river, roll.

I was planning to make the previous posting, Take me back to my boat on the river... my last story about Viajero. But there were a couple more things I wanted to tell you, and yes, I needed an excuse to use those Grateful Dead lyrics from Black Muddy River which is playing in the background as I write these words.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been a young man in the 1960s and the 1970s with the opportunity of travelling the world at someone else's expense and for the most part being able to choose which part of it I next wanted to see. Of course, it is always easier to look back with affection on the happier moments, rather than the long periods of discomfort, occasional (but not often) danger, and days of boredom brought about by endless cycles of watch-keeping on extended sea voyages; frequently with so called "Board of Trade acquaintances" that under ideal conditions I may not have chosen to spend long periods banged up with, nor they me for that matter. 
It was generally a time of full employment, and engineers and deck officers even in the better companies, were in short supply. So I was in the position of deciding where I next wanted to go, finding which shipping company serviced that region, and giving them a call.  That's certainly what happened with Booth Line and how I got to South America. But the reason why "Maggie Booth" and her sister company Lamport and Holt were so good is that there was never a time - whether on stand-by in Liverpool during the seamen's strike, or limping into Rio de Janeiro on three cylinders on Devis (Cruising down to Rio) or doing five round trips from New York to Peru on Viajero, that I felt my shipmates and the crew were anything but the best. 
Of course we all had our moments - the second engineer on Viajero, Frank Stinchcombe (The Saint) could be a cantankerous old s.o.b. when he was woken for the 4 to 8 watch after a few too many of his special cocktails (The Perfect Cuba Libre), but I would have sailed with him anywhere on the planet, and I hope he had a long and enjoyable life after his days at sea were over.
John Needham was our skipper for almost all of the time I was on Viajero. It was his first command, but he had been with the company for many years and had travelled previously on the river as first and second mate in previous voyages.  He was a jovial, moustachioed fellow - who enjoyed life, was fond of good food (maybe a little too fond at times) and was always ready to share a cerveza or a cuba libre once the day's work was done. On one occasion when we were in one of the larger river ports, a few of the crew were caught partying with some ladies from a local cantina who had somehow found their way on board.  Unfortunately, their bacchanal coincided with a visit to the ship by one of the marine superintendents who had flown in that morning from New York. Captain Needham was on probation and could not afford to be seen as a weak disciplinarian. He had no alternative but to sack the offenders who were all discharged at Port of Spain in Trinidad a week later.  From there, the ship continued north to New York, loaded fresh cargo and headed south again.  We were back in Barbados within four or five weeks and most of them were re-hired.  I feel it's safe to tell this story now, forty five years later.
What can I tell you about big GeoffHe arrived in Brooklyn to join Viajero a few days after me and no more than an hour or two before the ship sailed. He had travelled in style from Southampton to New York on Queen Mary. I on the other hand, not knowing any better, had allowed myself to be rushed on to a BOAC VC10 from Heathrow and I was on my way from JFK Airport to Brooklyn and in my working gear while Geoff was probably sipping sherry on the Promenade Deck and enjoying shipboard life as only he knew how. Geoff was from Keighley. He was a big Yorkshire lad and had he not chosen a life at sea, I am sure would have made a great prop forward for the local rugby league team if he had been just a little more fit.  He had been with the company for a few years, but this was his first trip on the river.  He was the third engineer and I was the fourth of four. The second engineer, Frank had been on Viajero for six months when we both joined and later when he went on leave, Geoff took over his role as second engineer, and I moved up the ladder a notch and became third engineer. The small increase in pay barely made up for the impact on my social life of taking over the midnight watch, although I'm pleased to say that we did not keep sea-going watches while the ship was in port.
I've already mentioned that Geoff liked the music of our on-board Caribbean steel band. Most evenings after dinner Geoff could be found on the poop deck in his oversized white T-shirt and slightly grubby shorts, perched against the capstan, a glass of rum and coke or a Pabst beer nearby, banging away on his claves keeping time to some of the best music I've ever heard. In the year I sailed with Action (as he was somewhat ironically referred to by Skipper Needham), I don't think I ever heard him raise his voice, or say a word in anger. He was a good shipmate and I enjoyed his company.
Although I have not mentioned it so far, we did actually have a Chief Engineer on board as well. He was in his early sixties and I am not sure that I ever saw him in the engine room during my whole time on Viajero.  He spent much of his time in his cabin reading and was known by the other three engineers as Seldom Seen.  The skipper referred to him as The Guarano Kid, an unkind reference to Venezuelan berry which was regarded as a strong substitute for caffeine. Looking back, these comments are all probably most unfair; for all I know he may have had a wonderful career and we caught him at the end of it. He was certainly not an unpleasant individual and someone had to sign our overtime sheets.
As small as the ship was, we also had two or three passenger cabins, and so it was that on most trips we had a couple of supernumeraries on board.  Sometimes we might have a couple of missionaries on their way to an Amazon outpost - we took quite a few down to Brazil, but I never remember bringing any of them back. Hmm, I wonder.
On my first voyage on the river, we were accompanied by a delightful couple of retirees from Greenville, Ohio who were doing a round-trip holiday. Mac and Suzie were in their late seventies, and they were doing something, which may be common now, but was certainly not in the 1960s.  Mac was very fond of his corn-cob pipe and he would join us most evenings on deck where he would sit puffing away on his pipe and telling us tales of his war years.  He made the pipes himself, and had brought a few with him to share and it wasn't long before we were all smoking corn-cob pipes and staring out across the ship's rail like Sanders of the River. Suzie told us that they didn't have a modern car, or any fancy household gadgets, but what they did each year, was go off to some far corner of the world and do their best to learn more about the world outside their rural corner of the US. I exchanged Christmas Cards with Mac and Suzie for many years after I left the river, and they would tell me of trips to China and Nepal - what great ambassadors they were.
I'll go back their one day soon.  It won't be the same, I know - but the river is still there in all its steamy magnificence.  I would just like to see it before there are too many more roads and bridges carving their way into the rainforests.

Muito obrigado pelo seu tempo...

Monday, 12 November 2012

Take me back to my boat on the river...

… and I won't cry out any more.
We have left Manaus and are on the way to Iquitos in Peru. Now we are really on the river and its wilderness for the next two thousand kilometres. This is going to take us at least seven days or more depending on customs delays and whether the river is in flood or not.
By the way, now would be a good time for me to say that if you are visiting this site for the first time, welcome.  However, you might prefer to read my river ramble from the beginning, in which case I urge you to first visit A really big river and then read Big wheel keep on turning. I'm sure my meanderings are confusing enough without reading them in the wrong order! 
This sense of connection with the river from here on is palpable. More than any other time since we first ventured on to the river more than two weeks ago, we are aware of the need to be constantly on watch for debris coming down the river or shallow sandbanks which could leave us stranded for days. There are two times during the year when this is particularly relevant, when the river is in flood and when it is not!
During the river flood, as snow from the Andes melts and finds its way into the Amazon basin, the river is fouled by large branches and tree trunks picked up by the floodwaters. During these times there will often be three or more extra pairs of eyes on the bridge looking out for logs or any other fugitive items of floating or semi-submerged debris, which if large enough can be quite destructive. Because they are often so hard to spot in the dun-coloured waters of the river, we are frequently hit and it can be a disconcerting experience below decks when one of these fellows comes into contact with us.  The amplified clang that is heard and felt in the engine room space is like being inside an empty oil drum while someone outside is hitting it with a sledge hammer - only not quite so melodic. On one occasion we were hit by several logs in succession, and one or more of them finished up striking the propeller - this by the way is the main reason we try to avoid them. The resulting damage was serious enough to require a detour to the nearest dry-dock for major repairs, and since the nearest one was at Curacao, in the Netherlands Antilles, we spent a long time travelling at reduced speed that trip - a career-limiting exercise for a ship's master.

At the other end of the scale, when the river is at its lowest, our challenge is to navigate a safe channel without running aground.  Even with our shallow draught there were many occasions which required the presence of an able seamen (known as an AB) standing on the foc'sle swinging a lead line over the front calling out the depth as we nosed our way forward (no fancy depth sounder on board in 1966 I'm afraid).
There were horror stories of sister ships being aground on the river for weeks, another career-limiting event for a ship's master particularly if he has to start jettisoning cargo in order to get the ship floating again.  We were fortunate. Although we scraped bottom a few times, and sometimes took detours through parts of the river which didn't appear on the chart, I don't think we ever spent any time actually sitting on the river bottom.
There are three national borders which converge on the river (Tres Fronteras).  We cross into Peru, just west of the Brazilian border post of Benjamin Constant, but at the same time we must briefly travel through Colombia (at least on the North bank) where a tiny pan-handle sliver of that country branches down to the river at Leticia.
The border crossing is always an exciting experience since it involves a day of travelling around the border posts in the ship's small speedboat, while Viajero sits patiently at anchor for the day.  This involves the purser, an engineer (usually me), the First Mate and one of the ABs.  The engineer goes along for the ride in case something goes wrong with the outboard motor. I'm pleased to say it never did, since I was then (and still am) much more capable of repairing engines that you can climb inside, than I am of tinkering with a four horsepower Evinrude.
We left at dawn with our first stop being Benjamin Constant, the Brazilian customs post about a half hours' run up a small side stream of the river.  This is quite a sizeable settlement, named after one of the founders of the Brazilian Republic. The most remarkable thing about BC was its boardwalks connecting buildings and streets. I was sure that if the river rose high enough this part of the town would tear itself loose and just float down the river.  

It was a beautiful day and while John the purser and the mate headed off to the prefeitura to do whatever it was that they had to do, about two dozen children clustered around the shoreline while Hutchy, our St Vincentian AB and myself cooked breakfast – a couple of pans full of sausages over a blow-lamp.  
From BC, we headed back up the river to the military post at Tabatinga, where more formalities were dealt with and then across to Leticia to pay our respects to the Colombians. Leticia is a fascinating town in its own right.  We once visited the port to discharge cargo, and while there had the pleasure of spending an evening with a few of the local townsfolk at one of the annual religious festivals. On that occasion, a house a few streets from the cantina we were celebrating at caught fire, and we all became part of the local bucket brigade involved in putting out the fire, which if it had got out of hand may have caused quite some damage.  Leticia was also regarded as a well-known drug centre at the time, and I've since been told that the local ganja was openly sold across the counter, although it is not something any of us were aware of at the time.
Our final call of the day was to Ramon Castilla another hour up river, and at last we were in Peru.  Altogether we were away about eight hours, a most enjoyable diversion from the daily routine of watch keeping.
A day or two later and we were in Iquitos, where we would stay for at least a week. During my time on Viajero, I made four trips to Iquitos, and each time I think I enjoyed it more. It was (and I'm sure still is) a remarkable place.  A city of nearly half a million people (a few less in 1966 of course), it is only accessible by boat or by aeroplane and yet, here in the rainforest was a city which was remarkable for its Italian, Portuguese and Spanish colonial architecture and a diversity of culture, food and music that even as I write these words, I feel as though I am being transported back there and I can smell and taste the tacacho con cecina and hear the distinctive Amazonian Spanish, that I struggled to learn until one morning I woke up having spent the night dreaming in pure castellano.
Iquitos has always had an Honorary British Consul, and no visit to Iquitos was complete without a function on board ship with local folk and the consul joining us. Our skipper, John Needham would spare no expense with our albeit limited resources and it was always a great night with our Caribbean steel band under the leadership of Francis one of our Bajan stewards, big Geoff the third engineer on claves and third mate John Longford-Lewis, Sparkie and myself hard at work improving our previously mentioned Perú españoles.  This would invariably be followed a few nights later by dinner at the home of the consul. Sadly, I can't remember his name, but I have not yet met a more sociable and hospitable diplomat. He was a wonderful raconteur, and his dinners would provide a great stage for him to tell us some (in hindsight) quite incredible stories about Peruvian Amazonian social history.
A most memorable event which took place on my first trip on the river was Christmas Day.  This would be a good moment to tell you about the role of Chief Steward/Purser on a small ship like Viajero.  As well as feeding and catering for the officers and crew (and I can tell you that a more complaining bunch of individuals would be hard to find than merchant navy ships' officers), the purser also has the task of  dealing with customs and immigration, acting as the de facto ship's doctor and as I mentioned in an earlier posting - handing down cans of beetroot and the like to eager canoe children as we travel along the river.  However on Christmas Day 1966, John Cullimore excelled himself. Admittedly, at times he was inclined to describe a tin of mixed vegetables as légumes macédoniens but on this day we were treated to feast fit for royalty, complete with party hats, Christmas presents (most of which were handed over the side to the canoe kids) and late night choruses of all our favourite carols, accompanied of course by Francis and his Bajans
As I said at the introduction to this blog, "Take me back to my boat on the River!"

Time stands still as I gaze in her waters
She eases me down, touching me gently
With the waters that flow past my boat on the river
So I won't cry out anymore.