Memories of the Windsor Castle

Rod Macaskill

I joined Union Castle as a junior engineer officer in '59. Not because I wanted to make a career of it but in order to avoid National Service (the draft) in the army. I actually received my call-up papers and sent them back! I sailed on the Stirling Castle and the Cape Town Castle. They were both motor ships (diesel, with huge piston engines) and absolute nightmares to work on. I clearly remember coming out of the generator room (where juniors worked, outward bound) to cool off under the blowers in the main engine room where it was only 105degF. In the generator room it sometimes touched 140deg!! Homeward bound we worked on the freezers. All Mailboats carried a large amount of chilled fruit and frozen meat back from the Cape. This was much better!

In 1960 I was one of a party of engineers and deck officers who were sent to Camell Laird at Birkenhead for the final fitting out and sea trials of the Windsor. That was really great and we all had a marvellous time. We stayed at a hotel for a couple of weeks and then on the ship. We took it out for the sea trials and the proving runs
up and down the measured mile, off the Clyde. There were lots of 'big-wigs' on board and the food was unbelievable. I was having pheasant and caviar (for the first time) every day until I got sick of it!!



The plan was to return to Mersey to pick up more knobs and then have a 'shakedown' cruise around the British Isles and finish up at Southampton. This was abandoned as there was a union dispute in the docks and they didn't want the ship to get trapped there and miss its maiden departure date. We left Southampton, as always, at 4pm on Thursday. The date escapes me, but it must have been mid '60. I do still have a passenger list somewhere, I must dig it out sometime. The maiden voyage was fantastic, especially when we reached the Cape. Partying all the way. And how!!

Everyone connected to this ship, those who built it, crewed it, were passengers on it, were so proud of it. The thought of it tied up in some Greek backwater, named after a cocktail, going rusty, is so sad. It will not be sold for cruising as it could not compete with the gin palaces they are building today. It will go for scrap, killed by the
jumbo jet, a symbol of much, much better days (IMHO).

 

I'll continue with the awful 2nd trip.

We were tied up at that long jetty in Las Palmas. I was on the 8-12 watch and was in my bunk when, around 5am, all hell broke loose. Bells were ringing, alarms were sounding, people were running in all directions.
Complete pandemonium. The Cape Town Castle, homeward bound, was manoeuvring to get in the harbour (though, as I recall it was not a harbour, more just a long jetty) when there was a catastrophic engine-room explosion followed by a massive fire. A party of engineer and deck officers and ratings were sent from our ship to the Cape Town with firefighting equipment to tackle the fire and transfer the passengers. Fortunately I was not sent with them. I had sailed on the Cape Town before, this was its second trip after I had left it and joined the Windsor. Had I not been transferred I would undoubtedly have been in the engine-room when it happened. I don't think anyone survived in the engine or generator rooms. Certainly 6 engineers and 2 ratings were killed. I can only now remember the chief engineer, Chief Logan, a terrifying Scot, about 5'6'' and 250lbs who could
knock you over with a verbal blast at 25 yards. Everyone was scared rigid by him. Despite appalling injuries and being on fire he insisted in making the engine-room safe before getting on a stretcher. He died later.
All the passengers were safely transferred to the Windsor and then to hotels while we left on time.

I will never forget us passing the stricken Cape Town, about a quarter mile off the jetty, listing at about 45 degrees with lots of its paintwork blackened. The list was caused by the amount of water pumped on board to
put out the fire and its own pumps could now not pump the water out as they had no power.

We were all under a cloud for the rest of the trip and as National Service had ended, when we returned I left the company. Once again I cannot recall the exact date of this event but I am sure it was in October 1960.

Rodney Gascoyne - rodneygascoyne@hotmail.com

As an Assistant Purser with Union-Castle in the 60s I joined the Windsor Castle in Cape Town in 1967. I transferred from the Edinburgh Castle that arrived southbound the same morning at 6am and sailed for Southampton that afternoon at 4pm - my shortest stay ever in the Cape. I then stayed on for the full round trip to Durban the next voyage before leaving to join the Reina Del Mar.

I still have some memorabilia from the ship and the Line and remember clearly trying to paint the hull of a model sailing ship, wedged in my cabin as we sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in a force 9 storm. Once I had started I had to finish, as I had mixed the paint colour with the last of my supplies. Even with stabilizers, she rolled and pitched pretty well when she wanted to. That same paint set was misused by the 3rd Officer one night to "repaint" the funnel of an east coast passenger ship entering Dar Es Salaam in a famous print used by the Line as a poster. Being from the Clan Line, he changed the funnel to black with two red hoops. I still have that poster above my bed, with its mismatched funnel. I also have many other memories of Windsor Castle and the other five of the fleet I served on before returning to shore for a proper career. Great days and great memories.


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