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During the voyage from Gothenburg to New Orleans fellow first trip cadet George and I spent a lot of time in the hold bilges with the Sheaf Royal’s Chinese carpenter (chippy). All this was part of preparing for the grain cargo we were due to load. Unfortunately, there was a leak between one of the double bottom tanks and the port side bilge in number three hold, which required our attention on several occasions. Emerging from number three hold on Sunday 25 November 1973 for what we hoped was the final time, George and I sighted land and a pilot cutter approaching. This was the sea pilot. A river pilot would be required once we entered the Mississippi.

Mississippi pilot boarding mv Sheaf Royal. Nov 1973

The sea pilot boarded the Sheaf Royal with a greeting of “good evening, good evening, good evening.” It was mid-afternoon. Perhaps he was coming to the end of a long shift? George began a three-hour shift on the bridge entering times and events into the bridge movement book. George was also required to use visual/radar bearings and radar distances to verify the ship’s position on the chart. I relieved George at 20:30 and was on the bridge when we anchored off New Orleans. I was in bed and asleep by 22:10. An hour later I was woken and told to report to the captain’s office, where US customs and immigration officers were waiting to issue shore passes to all crew members. They were rather gruff individuals who did not provide the warmest of welcomes to the US. The officials were even less welcoming to our Chinese ratings, some of whom were refused shore passes.

We had to spend a couple of days at anchor before moving thirty miles upriver to a grain elevator. George and I managed a trip ashore with the engineer cadet and junior engineer on the Monday evening. As we got closer to the centre of New Orleans our eyes got wider and wider. We walked the length of Canal Street and made some purchases, before visiting Bourbon Street where the widening of the eyes increased even further. I still have a tankard from an establishment called ‘Your Father’s Mustache’ (where the time of your life is right under your nose).

It was all so new, so different, so amazing. And better still, the Americans we encountered even spoke English. Sort of! Those early experiences, first in Sweden and the USA, have meant that both countries have special places in my heart. I have visited both many times since, at sea and on shore, for work and for pleasure. I’d love to return to both countries, but Covid makes travel challenging. Covid has also brought retirement forward by a couple of years and the pennies now need to be watched much more carefully!

But there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace
(I Vow to Thee my Country. Sir Cecil Spring Rice, 1921)

And that’s a place where the welcome will be completely out of this world. Hope to see you there.