W. Alton Jones

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The s(team) t(urbine) s(hip) W. Alton Jones, callsign ELLT, was built in the US in the port of Newport News and owned by the Grandbassa Tankers Company. It was carrying the Liberian flag and van Ommeren Rotterdam managed the ship, also providing the Dutch crew. In those days this was a very large and also fast (20 - 21 knots) ship. Oil consumption at this speed was huge, about 110 ton per day.

A picture which I took from the top of the radar mast, the highest point on the ship. The ship's call sign was ELLT. For the Philadelphia  telephone marine operator we had to use the American spelling, in this case Easy Love Love Tare instead of Echo Lima Lima Tango which is the international spelling but unknown in the US of A. The ship's cruising speed was 20-21 nautical miles per hour. Look at the very broad pattern of turbulent water at both sides of the ship's hull. I understand that more than half of the engine's power is leaking away to maintain these turbulent water masses. We still have much too learn from the creatures in the sea. Compare that to the gracious speed of dolphins who hardly create any turbulence when cleaving the water, thus avoiding heavy energy losses.

W. Alton Jones was a top executive at Cities Service Company who founded in 1944 the W. Alton Jones Foundation. In 2001, the W. Alton Jones Foundation was restructured into three separate foundations. In April 2002, foundation president and chief executive officer Diane Edgerton Miller (granddaughter of W. Alton Jones) and foundation treasurer Patricia Jones Edgerton (daughter of W. Alton Jones) together established the Blue Moon Fund. The other two newly created funds were named the Oak Hill Fund and the Edgerton Fund. The Fund really cares for the earth's well-being. The Blue Moon Fund for instance condemns the fact that the U.S. has only 5 percent of the world's population but consumes 25 percent of the earth's energy and purportedly generates one-fourth of the pollution that causes global warming and tries to improve the present unbalanced situation. Not mentioning Kyoto....   I am rather proud to have sailed on a ship carrying their father's and grandfather's name. Click on the fund's logo to enter the Blue Moon's web site for more information.

The s(team) t(urbine) s(hip) W. Alton Jones was built in the U.S. of A., in the port of Newport News to be exact, and owned by the Grandbassa Tankers Company. Together with the other two sister ships Cradle of Liberty, Liberty Bell and Statue of Liberty. I was emergency transferred from the ms Duivendrecht lying in Hamburg to the W. Alton Jones which was dry-docking in Cadiz, Spain. I had served almost 18 months continuously on board the Duivendrecht and expected to be due for some leave at the moment of transfer. I arrived from Hamburg in Rotterdam by train round noon and left from Schiphol Airport the very same afternoon. The time between arrival at the Rotterdam Central Station and my departure from Schiphol Airport  -  not more then a couple of hours   -  was spent with paperwork and a visit to the shipping company 'van Ommeren' who also owned and managed the ms Duivendrecht. I lived in Rotterdam at that time but never even saw the house that day. The late transfer was dictated by the fact that while in dry-dock for three weeks van Ommeren did not need the services of a radio officer and consequently saved money by sending the previous one home immediately after arrival in Cadiz and  ordering a replacement at the last possible moment. Economics where treasured in those days also. The W. Alton Jones was a Liberian flag ship, owned by a mailbox company in Liberia and in the end by Cities Service Company in the US. The sister ships were the Cradle of Liberty, Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty, also manned by a Dutch crew and sailing under the Liberian flag. Later the 'W. Alton Jones'  was renamed 'City Service Valley Forge' when a much bigger tanker was built which had to carry the name 'W. Alton Jones' for some reason. This ship and the 'Burl S. Watson'  were run under Antillean flag.

The Dutch shipping company van Ommeren   -   who was the owner of the ms Duivendrecht   -    took care of the management only of the ship. What was called 'cheap' flag vessels was a phenomena that already existed in those days and the Liberian flag was very popular in those days.  During my brief stay in Holland I received a Liberian certificate as my Dutch certificate was not valid on such a foreign flag ship. It was a one page document with my photo, some text showing that I was a fully licensed Liberian radio officer and a lot of important looking signatures and  Mickey mouse blue stamps at the bottom. Much to my grieve I seemed to have dumped this little document somewhere along the line. For the rest the usual Dutch conditions applied, so not to worry. I enjoyed the ride per  -   I think it was a Dutch KLM DC-8  -  to Madrid, as it made me feel kind of special.

The black dot high up and to the left in the picture is probably an UFO watching Schiphol Airport that day and overseeing our departure. From the original photograph I can read the plane's call sign on the tail: PH-DPP and just before the left wing I can read the name: 'Prinses Margriet'.  With the aid of a magnifying glass of course.

One did not usually fly in those days, except government officials and very important business people. It was my first flight ever, many were to follow later. Apart from a lot of business traveling  I and the family  traveled a lot by airplane with our then still small children to all kind of holiday destinations, usually in Spain, Canary Island, Mallorca or Italy.  A couple of years ago we went with our children and grand daughter, still in diapers, to Curacao, Netherlands Dutch Indies, so what's special about flying nowadays? The plane landed in Madrid at the scheduled time and I and the other passengers proceeded from the plane over the tarmac to the office buildings.  I and the other passengers  were photographed at least two or three times over by several gentlemen who moved along with us all the way to the entrance. I tried to smile at my best towards the camera's. I supposed that the pictures could be bought a bit later in the arrival hall, to envy the family and friends back home. One of my fellow travelers enlightened me as to the status of those  nice photographers as they seemed to be all government agents trying to identify potential enemies of the Franco-regime. Dictator Franco was still high up in his saddle those days in Spain. I was met by a representative of van Ommeren in Madrid who already had arranged the train ticket to Cadiz in the southern Atlantic part of Spain. He also took me to the very beautiful central station of Madrid and saw me off to the train, even waited till the train departed like lovers and he waved goodbye as they usually do. I suppose that it was all part of the system and that his responsibility ended at the moment the train started moving. If he refrained from seeing me off  -   I liked to think afterwards  -   and I disappeared from his radar screen, his wife and children and old mother apart from the person himself, would have been  taken into custody and probably never been heard of since. He had arranged for a comfortable sleeping cabin and along the journey my presence and my travel permit arranged for by the Madrid agency, was checked several times in a kind but consistent way during the trip to Cadiz. I was seeing a pattern now or becoming just plain paranoid. Leaving at about 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening I arrived around noon in Cadiz. I slept very well on the rhythm of the rail and next morning had a good breakfast served in the train's restaurant. Every now and then we stopped in the middle of nowhere to let out passengers and take new ones on board. Sometimes it was a small station or no station at all, just red earth. At most such stops I was dismayed to see children begging for food or money during the train's stop. Or mothers lifting their small babies to the train's windows.  I was a heart breaking sight which however, did not seem to impress any of the Spanish passengers much. Every now and then they  just tossed some coins far behind the children, laughing their heads off when they did fight amongst themselves   -   red dust flying   -   over these coins. It made me sick to watch these ugly scenes. That told me something about the Franco regime. On arrival at Cadiz I was again met by a van Ommeren's agent who transported me to the ship which was still in dry-dock. He took my travel permit which he had bring to the local police station so that they were informed about my stay in Cadiz. I imagined that they probably informed Madrid that I had arrived safely at their end. How caring and concerned they were about my well-being.

The W. Alton Jones still in dry-dock at the local ship yard in Cadiz. The crane to the right is an indication for that. Both anchors are lying at the dock's bottom. 

The whole crew had to stay on board during the dry-docking period, not a very pleasant situation. We had a shore connection to maintain the electricity on board, but no water and thus toilets. Flushing toilets in a dockyard is something to be discouraged anyway. Sleeping on board a ship in dry-dock is problematic, to say the least, due to the welding and hammering all night long. Nearing the departure time of the ship the yard worked overtime, which did not help either. We had to wash and bath ashore, also food was served ashore in some sort of primitive shed. Nowadays one can only wonder why a shipping company did not arrange for a simple hotel near the yard. Only the first best for the faithful Dutch sailors....;-(   And exception was made for the inspectors of the Rotterdam main office of van Ommeren who were set up in nice first class hotels. On other occasions they always slept on board in the Owner's cabin or in the hospital, but not during docking periods it seemed. Usually they attended the officers' mess room on board, but now they shied away from the shore table settings and ate somewhere else in a more quiet and comfortable place. Arriving on board from the hotel in the morning they looked very sharp, well slept and rested. Well, the only consolation was that this special treatment was not available for the ship's Captain also. Yes, we know why this was done of course, a matter of avoiding  spending too much money. A year later I had to go through it again but this time for the full three weeks! We sailed due to a delay at the ship yard after about three days if I remember correctly. Due to that I had the opportunity of attending the local bull fight. Contrary to the trips to the US where we did not have any money worth mentioning to spend, we were suddenly promoted to very well to do people here in Spain. Nice for a change I have to say. So we drove up to the arena in style in horse drawn carriages and were sitting at the best seats in the 'somber' or shadow site. I saw seven or eight bulls killed at a fairly high rate, no toreadors were speared much to our disappointment.

The second and  last good picture on the film roll. The toreadors are entering the arena. Since I also found time during my brief stay in Rotterdam to buy a new camera, complete with the Dutch custom papers and stamps, I forgot to wind the film back into the cartridge and opened the camera....  As one can see the picture shows already signs of fading at the right. 

I would stay  on this ship, as it turned out, for another 14 months. Adding this up to the almost 18 months of duty on the ms Duivendrecht I had a contract on those two vessels of in total more than 32 months without any leave to speak of. Looking back on it now it seems to come close to modern slavery but in those days it was quite common. A lot of us remained single as the prospects of a marriage was not very appealing under those circumstances, which was a good policy in itself as it gave one peace of mind and extra money to spend. And an opportunity to ridicule the married lot about their sorry status. But let's not dwell on that subject too long. Anyway I was a bachelor during my years at sea having seen too many distressful marital situations. 

After departure for Port Said trouble started already next day. Several Spanish stowaways were discovered or reported themselves voluntarily. Most of them came out of the lifeboats which were covered by tarpaulins, some from the engine room and the big funnel which was empty for the greater part.  All of them were people who worked on the ship yard in Cadiz and even proudly showed their for instance American welding diploma's. The yard had sent them for training to the U.S. Most of them were nice and decent people who tried to flee from Franco's system and the inherent poverty. Although we sailed understaffed in the engine room department and could have very well used there capabilities the captain, a very nervous type, did not want any part of them. He even went so far to lock them up in a store room under the amidships. His reasoning was that they all could be murderers trying to escape their country. The Chief Engineer and Chief Mate tried to convince him otherwise but to no avail. But hen on an afternoon a number of sailors paid a visit to the captain and threatened to free the stowaways themselves by force after which short palaver the captain decided that it seemed wise to release them immediately from their prison cell. After a couple of days sailing through the Mediterranean they left the ship at Port Said to be sent back, at the expenses of van Ommeren, to Spain again. As to the reception back home one can only guess..... The company was quick with blaming the captain with serious neglect as of course the ships should have been  searched for stowaways just prior to the departure from the shipyard. But of course. The next year we did and did not find a soul then! Probably the news had spread in the shipyard about last year's stowaways' fate.....

The boatmen carried the merchants aboard the ship were they install themselves on the deck between aft deckhouse and the amidships. The guardsman at the top of the gangway did not guard anything but was part of the Port Said money making machine. 

It was my first passage through the Suez Canal and therefore an exciting experience. The excitement ran down rather soon after having past the canal a number of times. Ships had to moor on buoys in Port Said or approaching from the other side in the port of Suez. Convoys were formed which steamed from Port Said to somewhere in the middle of the canal. It was a one way track only, so the convoys had to stop and moor again in the so called Ballah-loop. The convoy from the opposite direction also moored in the other leg of the loop and then both convoys continued their voyage to both end of the canal. The voyage through the canal soon became a rather boring routine, although we were always glad to leave especially Port Said where all kind of clever merchants crowded the decks and tried  -  often with success  -  to invade our quarters both aft and amidships stealing whatever they could lay their hands on. As you can see from the picture above a guardsman in full tropical outfit stood firmly at the top of the gangway but probably earned his share of the business by doing nothing at all. I still cannot see a camel saddle and such stuff without getting an uneasy feeling. Apart from merchants also characters like barbers and magicians overflowed the ship. For some reason, probably having to do with 'baksheesh'  all ships had to put up with this show over en over again. The only good thing was the magician with his baby chicken act. We were standing or some lying on the deck around him to see how he switched the chickens under the three copper jugs but never saw even a clue how they managed their act. It was only a good thing as long as you did not participate in this money devouring swindle act. Watching only was not to their liking of course but nevertheless. However, the very first time was all new and exciting, but the magic wore off in no time. In the often pressing heat we were forced to sleep with the port holes in our cabins closed and doors locked to prevent them from taking our possessions. Port Said definitely was not a seaman's delight.

This is part of the one way street from Port Said to Suez. To the right is one of the Suez Canal reporting stations. To the west of the canal it was desert all the way. To the east the desert was sometimes broken by villages and (small) towns.


That's me posing in the heat of the day on the ship's top deck while cruising on the Red Sea towards Mena-al-Ahmadi, Kuwait in the Persian Gulf. I am leaning nonchalantly on one of the two soft iron correction balls of the ship's (reserve) magnetic compass. Behind it is the emergency steering wheel beneath the cover. 


I always felt at ease climbing masts. This picture is taken from the mast on the fore deck of the ship. I had to climb the radar mast on top of the amidships many times for repair of the Decca radar. Some non-nautical designer of that radar figured it was best to put the sensitive electronics, apart from the scanner, in the worst possible position -  especially for repair and maintenance  -  high up in the mast. Changes of mishap occurring were increased by intense heat or bitter cold or extreme vibrations under stormy weather conditions when the ship plunged head on in tremendous waves. And as a rule of thumb it was then that the radar failed. Weather permitting the unit had to be lowered to the top deck and could be checked beneath to a certain limited extent. Let's just say that stupidity sometimes rules the waves.

As a Radio Officer we had to keep strict listening/communication hours while passing the Suez Canal. The instructions were as follows: 

On the arrival on board the pilot will ask for radio watch and radio contact to be established with Ismaelia Radio, call sign SUQ. Before every call, the operator must make sure that the Canal Station is not working with other ships. SUQ will reply individually to each call or collectively to several calls (CQ) according to the amount of traffic being worked at time.

Wireless Watch

After establishing radio contact, vessels must keep radio watch as follows:

Vessels from the North

* from the time of first contact until passing km 6

* from LE CAP (km 34) until given "go ahead" signal (or until passing last vessel from the South in the BALLAH LOOP, if the   Southbound Convoy is given right of way)

* from EL FERDAN (km 64) to ISMAELIA (change of pilot)

* from DEVERSOIR (km 98) or not later than 1000 or 2200 hours local time until passing KABRETT (km 121).

Vessels from the South

* from the time of first contact until passing the Canal Company's office at Port Tewfik.

* From Kabrett (km 121) or not later than:

* loaded tankers: 1030 or 2230 hours l/t

* other vessels: 1130 or 2330 hours l/t

until passing the last vessels from the North in the BALLAH LOOP (or until receiving "go ahead" signal if the South bound Convoy is given right of way).

Outside these regulations the pilot can ask for radio watch to be set whenever circumstances make it necessary.


For the very brave: I continue the episode on the W. Alton Jones on the second page.