Michael’s tales of a very cool voyage

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A FADING era of British merchant ships criss-crossing the oceans turns out to have been recalled by those pictures I featured of Stag Line’s old vessel Ixia.

We saw her under ice, you may recall, though Bill Marshall in Shields, whose photographs they were, couldn’t remember exactly where they had been taken.

Well it was in the Aleutian Trench, where the Arctic temperatures had frozen sea spray to the very decking.

Michael Fada, who was one of Bill’s shipmates at the time, remembers it well. This is Michael, by the way, seen in another of Bill’s snaps.

Michael got in touch to say: “The picture was taken in the North Pacific. We did eight-and-a-half months in this ship. At this point we were en route from Vancouver Island to Japan. We could actually see the Aleutian Islands.

“Our cargo at this stage of the trip was paper pulp. We picked up a lot of ice off the sea spray, which made the ship top-heavy, so we had to head south a bit to get rid of it.”

And indeed what a trip it was, for I was delighted to also hear from Bill and Michael’s shipmate Derek Williamson, who kept a diary of the Ixia’s ports of call. Today, it’s a lovely, if wistful, evocation of what British maritime trade was at that time, 40 years ago.

The diary shows that the Ixia sailed in October 1973, to Sorel, Quebec, to load grain, then to Panama for bunkers, and thence to Darien, China, to discharge grain.

From there, she sailed to Eureka, California, to load pulp, voyaging on to Longview, Washington State and Crofton, Vancouver Island, thence to Kittimat, British Columbia, to load pulp and aluminium.

From there she sailed to Osaka, Japan, to discharge the latter, journeying on via Panama to New Orleans to load grain, which she eventually discharged at Valencia in May.

By the way, the other picture of the Ixia that we saw the last time was a sad one of her on her way to the breaker’s. So here she is, again thanks to Bill, at the beginning of her story, on sea trials in 1964.