t2 tankers and the “polar bear/pineapple run”

There has been quite a bit of interest in my earlier post about the World-War-II era T2 tankers I worked on in the 1960s and 1970s. So I’ve added more technical information about the T2 tankers to that post, which can be found under the category ships in this blog.

But I would also like to add a few general comments, here, about the experience of working on those ships, and of being the father of a young son at the time. It seems like I was barely out of childhood myself when I worked on those ships: 20 years old when I first signed on as third mate. This was during the Vietnam War, when boys/young men were making great sacrifices on the battlefield — so I can’t complain too much. I was not in Vietnam, and nobody was shooting at me. The worst I suffered was the pain of separation from my family, but that was bad enough. I stood many night watches at sea, far from land, heading from one obscure place to another — and it seems at such times that my thoughts invariably turned to my son at home in California — wondering how he was doing, what he was thinking, and was he OK?

During the weeks since I wrote the previous post about T2 tankers, I did some research and discovered something interesting: my dad, Phil Marton, was himself on a T2 in 1944. I found a crew list on Ancestry.com listing him as first assistant engineer on board the SS Quebec, a T2 tanker, in 1944. He was 23 years old at the time.

In 1944, Tommy's grandpa Phil Marton sailed as first assistant engineer on the T2 tanker SS Quebec, which was later renamed the Maria Cristina.

In 1944, Tommy’s grandpa Phil Marton sailed as first assistant engineer on the T2 tanker SS Quebec, which was later renamed the Maria Cristina.

 

So my dad and I worked on the same kind of ship in at least one case. Also, we were both about the same age, early twenties — but by the time I worked on the T2s they were old ships. So that’s the difference; when my dad worked on the Quebec, she was a brand new ship. Also, in 1944 he was being hunted by enemy submarines, not that comfortable of a situation when you’re carrying a wartime cargo — for example, 17,000 tons of gasoline.

As I indicate in the earlier post, I worked on quite a few tankers, many of them T2s. One of these, for example, was the Nevada Standard. She was owned and operated by Chevron, and our ports of call were almost always American ports on the west coast. Also, we made trips to Hawaii and Wake Island — and many trips to Alaska. One of the runs we made on the Nevada Standard was something we called the “Polar Bear/Pineapple” run, from Barber’s Point Hawaii to Nikiski Alaska and back. We would carry heavy fuel oil that we loaded at the Chevron facility in Cook Inlet, in Nikiski, which is located south of Anchorage. After steaming south toward Hawaii for a week or so, we would moor at an offshore mooring at Barber’s Point, west of Honolulu, where we would discharge our cargo via a submarine hose. Then we would load the ship with salt water ballast and return to Alaska.

The trip north from Hawaii to Alaska went something like this. From Barber’s Point we would round Kaena Point on the western end of Oahu, and then set a northerly course for a position off Chirikof Island far to the north in Alaska. From the position off Chirikof Island, we would make our way through Shelikof Straight west of Kodiak Island, then enter Cook Inlet and make our way to Nikiski. So, for a long period of each voyage we would be heading almost due north (or due south on the return trip to Hawaii).

I remember those night watches on the bridge, heading north for Alaska, with the North Star, Polaris, virtually dead ahead. Each night, as we made our way north, Polaris got a bit higher in the sky. Rule of thumb: the altitude of Polaris above the horizon is approximately equal to your latitude. So, at the beginning of the voyage (latitude 21 degrees near Honolulu), Polaris was low in the sky. By the time we reached Nikiski, it was high above us (latitude 60 degrees).

The North Star (Polaris) was almost dead ahead each night as we headed north for Alaska. At the beginning of the voyage from Hawaii, Polaris was low in the northern sky. By the time we reached Alaska, it was high overhead.

The North Star (Polaris) was almost dead ahead each night as we headed north for Alaska. At the beginning of the voyage from Hawaii, Polaris was low in the northern sky. By the time we reached Alaska, it was high overhead.

Of course, we reversed this process on the way south to Hawaii, and Polaris was nearly dead astern, getting lower and lower in the sky each night. Also, as we cut through the latitudes quickly on our north-south run, we got to observe the  weather patterns change accordingly. In the northern latitudes, for example, we experienced prevailing westerly winds. In the more southerly part of the trip, in latitudes 21-29 for example, we experienced easterly trade winds. And in between those extremes, in the “horse latitudes” we often experienced a day or so of perfectly calm weather with no wind.

We also experienced dramatic changes in weather/climate as our latitude changed so quickly. On the northbound run during the winter, for example, the mild tropical temperatures in Hawaii soon gave way to the brisk breezes of the temperate latitudes and, soon thereafter, to the ice and snow of Cook Inlet.

The nights at sea are something I remember most intensely: the trade winds, the north star ahead, the anticipation of the next port… and the thoughts of my son. I can feel those same emotions now, at this moment, as I write this. And just as I felt then, I wish I could see him — someday I hope I will!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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