Paying out the Dredgermen
in the 1960’s, whenever the South Wales dredging fleet was working in
Swansea bay, Thursday was a day that I particularly dreaded – especially if
the weather was foul, as it so often was. I was working in the Dock
Cashier’s department at the time, and there was always a chance that I would
be the unlucky one selected on the day to pay out the dredging crews.
days health and safety was not much of an issue, and the protective clothing
provided for this task was nothing more than a large black sou’wester and a
pair of one-size-fits-all wellington boots. The boots were at least three
sizes too big for me and the sou’wester would come down over my eyes but,
despite my protestations, the Dock Cashier Horace Balsdon was unrelenting in
his insistence that these items must be worn at all times.
suitably attired and carrying a battered old wooden box containing the pay
packets of the various dredging crews, I would be met outside the Harbour
Office by Capt. Peter Armstrong in his little blue BTDB van and transported
amid a cloud of blue pipe-smoke to the approach jetty at the Kings Dock
Locks, where one of the dredgers would eventually come alongside to pick us
we would go, out into the channel no matter how foul the weather, paying out
the crew of that particular dredger as we went. So far so good. But to pay
the crews of the other dredgers working in the bay involved the somewhat
hazardous activity of leaping from ship to ship which, given the encumbrance
of the over-sized wellies, sou’wester-restricted vision and a large wooden
box in one hand, was no mean feat by anyone’s standards.
occasions I must say that Capt. Armstrong was a great comfort. He would jump
effortlessly onto the next ship – as old sailors do – and stand there, pipe
in one hand, waiting for the two heaving decks to meet each other and shout
in his soft west-country burr “jump…… now!”, whilst casually
positioning himself ready to catch hold of me as I landed. However, his
overall demeanour was so laid-back that I’m sure that if I were to miss the
deck completely and plunge helplessly into the sea, he would probably just
shrug his shoulders, puff on his pipe and go down below to enjoy a nice hot
cup of tea. Happy days!