The next day the ship was moved to the unloading dock. Here was where the labour of every able-bodied man was necessary. As the ship neared the dock the crew tossed small ropes to the waiting longshoremen. The ends of the ropes were weighted with intricately woven balls of rope called Monkey’s Fists. These heavy balls were the results of hours of spare time work by some of the crew, a kind of knitting exercise.
These small lines were attached to ropes, which in turn were attached to the large Hawsers. As we scurried around on deck the longshoremen on the dock attached the mooring lines and slowly the ship was winched into berth.
The unloading began. The Belnor was a large ship. It had no cargo rigging as such. A couple of onboard booms served to launch or hoist the ship’s boats. Other than that the loading and unloading of coal was entirely up the shore facilities. The five hatch covers were removed and giant conveyor belts descended into the depths. A small tracked machine moved around on top of the coal loading into the conveyor.
Other than the hustlers aboard the ‘bumboats’ that had come out to meet the ship when we dropped anchor I hadn’t seen a native up close. Now they were all over the ship. We were told to lock the cabins and watch our valuables amidst stories of how whole radio sets could go missing. We met a longshoreman working the night shift whose day job was teaching. He wanted to practice his English and we learned that his pay per night (about three dollars!) equaled a whole month’s salary as a teacher.
Our pay wasn’t much better. $45 per month!! But it was enough to have a good time for as long as we were on shore.
The Belnor’s superstructure was right at the stern with the five hatches in front stretching up to the bow. This was forbidden territory for the crew during unloading; we would have gotten in the way of a very efficient and messy operation. Plastic sheets were draped at the ends of the gangways in a vain attempt to keep the coal dust outside. After the first day all of the results of our fussy cleaning at sea disappeared under clouds of drifting soot. It took about a week to unload. The dock crew moved from hatch to hatch with their conveyor. The loader was hoisted out leaving two or three men way down at the bottom shoveling out the corners. The ship rose higher and got lighter as it emptied. A condition that would make it particularly vulnerable on the return trip.
—————————-To be continued———————————-