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A Slab of Beer and a Body Bag

As catering assistant on Oriana back in 1973 part of my job involved checking the provisions along with the storekeeper and butcher as they arrived at the dockside and were loaded onto the ship. Oriana had five hatches that led down to the bowels of the ship. Hatch four went directly through the Carnival ballroom, part of the ballroom floor was lifted, and passenger baggage was lowered into the ship by crane. From the ballroom some if it was distributed to passenger cabins, on voyages hold baggage was lowered further down the ship into the baggage area. I seem to remember that we even carried a car on at least one occasion.

Five hatches into the bowles of ss Oriana.

Hatch three led directly into the ships refrigerated and dry stores area. For smaller quantities of stores conveyor belts would protrude from the side of the ship, once inside the ship a series of roller tracks would run the supplies down into the storeroom.

Part of the deck by the aft swimming pool lifted out to access hatch No 5.

Before leaving Southampton, the ship would be pretty loaded with provisions. Apart from fresh fruit and vegetables this was to last until the West Coast of America where a major re-stock took place in San Francisco.

My first visit to San Francisco was not quite as I had imagined. Instead of riding the cable car, shopping in Macy’s and eating on Fisherman’s Wharf, I spent most of my time in the pier shed counting cabbages and other stores needed for the onward journey across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii and onto New Zealand and Australia. Time was short and whilst most of my colleagues from the Pursers Bureau were out and about enjoying the nightlife that San Fran had to offer, I spent the afternoon, evening and night stocking the ship. Norman the storekeeper, Peter the butcher and I were busy with clipboards and lists checking off the provisions until around 5.00am ready for departure the next day. Let me tell you it was bloody cold, and we were wearing refrigerator jackets and gloves throughout the night.

Of course, this more or less lasted us until Sydney, having first taken on two freezer rooms of lamb carcases in New Zealand. These were wrapped in muslin and the weight of the animal written on the outside. These were all jotted down to make sure we were not being short changed. This lamb was to last the Aussie Cruising season when once again we would fill up with lamb for the homeward journey and would last for most of the Mediterranean cruising season. New Zealand lamb was so much cheaper than British lamb. I expect we will be seeing a lot more NZ lamb in the UK now that we have left the EU.

Although gear would disappear at most ports in the world, Sydney had got to be one of the worst. The dockers knew every trick in the book and you needed eyes in the back of your head. I remember on one occasion; I was on the quayside checking the booze as it was loaded onto the crane. A deck officer was on deck as the crane lifted the pallet and lowered it into the hatch and Norman the storekeeper was at the bottom of the hatch in the storeroom checking it off. Yes, you have guessed, from it leaving the dock to arriving in the stores slabs of beer and cases of wine had disappeared.

It eventually transpired that the crane driver stopped the decent right opposite a set of doors that opened into the hatch halfway down. Whoosh beer and wine was quickly offloaded and quickly disappeared into the bowels of the ship before the pallet continued on down. This was happening on every drop and it was a while before we trigged what was happening.

Sadly, on one of our Pacific cruises an Indian seaman had taken his own life. I was checking the provisions onto the conveyor belt leading into the belly of the ship. Supplies had been loaded and I was waiting for the next lorry to arrive, when the conveyor belt suddenly reversed and out of the ships side came a body bag containing the unfortunate seaman. Frantically trying the reach, the emergency stop button I was left balancing the poor guy on the end of the conveyor trying to stop him hitting the deck. It turned out the undertaker’s van had been delayed by customs entering the dock.

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Salty Seadog
Salty Seadog
Feb 28, 2021

That sounds about right Jim.


Jim Burt
Jim Burt
Feb 28, 2021

From memory the bond locker was at the forward end of the cold store alleyway on the port side. I was a fridge eng on Oriana and the entrance to the fridge flat was at the far end of the cold store alleyway on the starboard side.

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