Built-in 1892 Pentaur had served Salvesen well over the years, by 1928 with an overcapacity of merchant ships, a combination of depressed world trade and too many ships having been built to replace those lost during the Great War, 1914 – 1918. Salvesen decided to sell-off many of her merchant fleet and concentrate on her whaling in Antarctica. Pentaur, was one such ship sold to the Argentine Navy as a supply vessel, she was in need of a crew to take her down to South America.
We lay alongside the coal chute with the black diamonds poured into our holds. The deck crew then battened and washed her down from stem to stern to rid us of the coal dust that had accumulated over the ship. No matter how meticulously the deck crew worked, the gleaming coal diamonds could be found for weeks after we sailed in every nook and cranny of our quarters. The cargo of good quality steam coal was cargo only, Pentaur, boilers that feed her triple expansion engine with steam having already been converted to oil burning. The coal once sold would help pay the ships way to her destination. The trip across the Atlantic was uneventful until approximately 500 nautical miles from the estuary of the River Plate, a fire was discovered in the hold. When the hatch covers were lifted, the coals hot through internal combustion, ignited into a roaring inferno with the introduction of oxygen, the fire that had smouldered away unnoticed for weeks, now engulfed the entire cargo. Orders had been given, for all crew members, not directly involved in the fighting of the fire, make ready to abandon ship, such was the situation with flames leaping 20 feet into the air and smoke billowing over the entire ship. All that day the fire-crew pumped water into the hold trying desperately to bring the fire under control and reinstate the hatch covers. The fire could not be extinguished only subdued and happily burned away even after the hatch covers were replaced and fire hose nozzles inserted into the hold to play a fine mist of water over the cargo. The Harbour Authorities at Rio was made aware of our plight, that we had the fire under control and were making best speed for Rio de Janeiro. They in returned bad us enter the harbour but ordered us to stay out in the river until a fire boat could be sent to make the ship safe to enter the harbour. With the cargo dumped into the sea and the fire boat crew happy that there was little danger of another outbreak, the authorities reluctantly allowed Pentaur enter Rio. Such was the damage by heat to the ships plates and bulkheads that she was only fit for scrap. I was ‘paid off’ in gold sovereigns I felt like a king, never to be poor again.
Britain was a country in two halves during this time; Chamberlain was telling us “We have never had it so good”. and for many in the south of England that was certainly true. New industries brought wealth and prosperity, semi-detached housing schemes were expanding out from central London and brash new Art Deco factories were springing up all over the southern counties. In contrast the old industries, coal, iron, steel and shipbuilding were all laying off men and closing their gates. Unemployment in the North of England, Wales and Scotland was severe. For these families no new semi-detached homes, they remained trapped in their rat-infested, diseased ridden, Victorian terraces, tenements and miners rows live an endless struggle of survival.
Tomorrow – Jimmy sails south to fish for whale.