Artist Of The Month February 2021 

David James' - new book The Windward Mark

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Long term resident of Narrabeen and former Pittwater Councillor David James has at last "swallowed the anchor" and given up the sea after some 54 years of employment on the briny. But that does not mean he has stopped thinking about or savouring every part of a life that has taken him from tin canoes on Narrabeen Lagoon made out of corrugated iron, graduation to a VJ sailing craft and thence to a wide range of global shipping ranging from UK bound cargo/passenger liners to hydrofoil ferries, to Sydney Harbour tugboats and other craft like the Rainbow Warrior II, Dutch and Belgian dredges and even a 248 m German owned, Indian crewed Container Ship, the Mississauga Express. None have quenched his thirst for the sea.

Since full time retirement from seafaring at age 75 he has spent the last seven years researching and writing about events revolving around a remarkable ship; one that first set him upon his course way back in 1964. She was the SS Eros formerly built for the Jamaica-UK banana trade, but when he joined as Engineer in Sydney, re-named as the SS Trangie, converted to carry cargoes of live Australian sheep from Sydney to Mexico, via Suva, Tahiti and Honolulu.

In his recently published book The Windward Mark is a true account of the many factors that led to the dumping at sea of 7,200 dead sheep and within a year company bankruptcy and the stranding of the ship in Mexico. This sad yet unplanned event may have taken some shareholders and suppliers by surprise but David's research points to what transpired had been well and truly foreseen and predicted at high levels of government, all to no avail.

What follows is an adventure story and the uncovering of answers to questions that have remained unspoken for five decades; of hi-jinks and escapades ashore, of young men a-wandering, wide-eyed and excited in Suva, Papeete and Manzanillo; a true and live account of it all even down to a first hand account of what it took to fire the five boilers and drive the now long vanished triple expansion open crankcase main engine in six trans-Pacific Ocean crossings. The suffering of the sweltering sheep below decks in cramped, darkened pens is vividly drawn from the record and and personal experience are a salient reminder, as similar outcomes in 2016 reveal, that cruel, overcrowded sea transport of live farm animals was not confined to these past events of fifty years ago. 

This great new book, a must-have for all who love ships and history, will be Launched by Mayor Michael Regan on Wednesday March 3rd, 2021: 1500-1730, at the South Narrabeen Surf Club, Pittwater Road, Narrabeen; Dollar coin donation to the Surf and nibbles provided.

The Windward Mark, hard cover with dust cover 291 pp, is $37 plus postage, and available now by emailing here.

Some insights from the Author:

How I Came To Write The Book

In 2007 a colleague worked on short-term engagement as Chief Engineer on a foreign-flagged ship, the MV Danny F II, loaded with cattle on passage from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Lebanon. The ship, was on its fourth set of owners having been formerly a Wallenius Line car carrier. In 1995 it was sold to Rachid Fares Enterprise Proprietary of Fremantle, Western Australia after having been converted in Singapore to carry livestock. In 2005 she was detained by AMSA in Adelaide with serious defects. Like so many another livestock carrier, estimated today at 30%, MV Danny FII was old and ill equipped for the task. In fact here have been 7 stock carriers which have capsized making for a rate twice that of conventional ship casualty losses; the most recent being the Gulf Livestock 1 which capsized on September 3, 2020 with only two survivors. Many started their final voyages initially stable but as the fresh water, fodder and fuel was consumed en-route but ran into trouble if confronted by bad weather, as happened last year in the case of the Gulf Livestock I. In that case forty one crew drowned leaving only 2 survivors, demonstrating once again just how easily and very quickly safety in this trade can be so seriously compromised, with tragic results.
In 2009 MV Danny F II, had departed Uruguay bound for Syria with 77 crew, 10224 sheep and 17932 cattle but nearing its destination of Tripoli was struck by a storm in the eastern Mediterranean and quickly developed a serious 20 degrees list which rapidly was made worse as the livestock lost their footing and many slid to the low side. Abandon ship was ordered but she rapidly capsized, taking 43 crew including Captain Molloy plus all the sheep and cattle to the bottom.

This knowledge re-kindled memory of my own time in a stock carrier during 1964 aboard one of the pioneering vessels in the trade aboard the Australian owned and operated SS Trangie. Within the year the company was bankrupt, ship stranded in Mexico leaving a great many questions unanswered. So I started my own enquiry investigating all the available documentation held in the National Archives of Australia, Canberra. Although quite revealing, in some ways it raised new questions that demanded a response and so I set off on a 7 year journey of research and discovery to fill in the answers as best I could which in turn forms the backbone of my recently published book, The Windward Mark.

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Trangie entering Sydney Heads on return from voyage 2 to Mexico

The twenty eight year old ship which we used for the venture was originally built as the SS Eros in 1936 for Vaccaro Lines/ Standard Fruit and Steamship Co of New York to carry bulk shipments of green bananas on a fast six week cycle between Jamaica and the UK. The more I delved the more intrigued I became until I became really hooked when I uncovered her heroic performance in the Battle of the Atlantic; twice torpedoed by the Germans and a number of mysterious special voyages for the British Ministry of War Transport in April 1940. And then there were the distinctive characteristics of her steam-driven propulsion; five boilers providing superheated steam energy to a triple-expansion, open crankcase engine; a simply amazing piece of gear to see in operation at full sea speed, all the parts whizzing up and down (from which these engines used to be universally known as ‘up and downers’ ) and around and around in plain view, (as anyone old enough to remember peering down into the machinery of the Manly ferry SS South Steyne (as did I) may recall). And, because steam ships are now long gone from the sea and old fellers like me who worked them are now quite rare, so I thought the history of all that should retain an honest description of seafaring life, as it used to be. Even down to pseudo-bohemian, frolics ashore in exotic bars frequented by long distance deep seafarers such as we, “Blue-Fins”. And so I have put some of that down for the record.

Then there was the issue of shocking cruelty to the sheep in sweltering conditions below deck amounting to an unacceptable level of mortality, which on the worst voyage reached 19.4%; thrown overboard. And the progression of the approval process despite the strong objections of the Department of Primary Industry and severe (and correct) reservation within Treasury over compay claims to be financially viable. Even the doubtful manner in which the whole enterprise gained export approval turned out to be a hitherto unknown bureaucratic battle between the highest levels of government.

For those who may be interested as to how our Industrial Relations and Commonwealth Arbitration system used to operate for most of the 20th Century the story deals with lightning strikes and concerted black bans and as well, deception and mistruth within the Conciliation and Arbitration Court forming a part of the mosaic of the story of the SS Trangie, Sheep to Mexico saga.

And finally, I attempt to convey, in an auto-biographical sense the story of the first quarter century of my own life’s travails in negotiating the thickets and tangles of post-adolescent, self-discovery.
And so it is that I self-publish The Windward Mark.

David James 

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