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Tales of a "Vindi Boy", Part Four:
Polar Maid Adventure

Continued from Part 3


Despite his trying voyage aboard the MV Pontfield, Dennis Crosby remained in the British Merchant Navy. Up until October of 1950 he served on a total of eight more ships: the SS Empire Congo from August 1946 to February 1947, the SS Rosedale Park from February 1947 to August 1947, the SS Gurden Gates from November 1947 to December 1947, the SS Kerma from January 1948 to February 1948, the SS Pentridge Hill from March 1948 to November 1948, the SS Cargill from July 1949 to October 1949, the SS Polar Maid from December 1949 to June 1950, and the SS Bittern from August 1950 to October 1950. Also during this time Dennis and his young wife, Anneliese, whom he met and married in northern Germany, celebrated the birth of their baby daughter, Christine. Of all the vessels which Dennis served on during these post-war years, the old tanker SS Polar Maid, which was his last foreign-going ship, was the most memorable. The 5,289-ton Polar Maid had been built in Germany during World War I, and had subsequently passed through British and Rumanian hands until being seized by Britain during World War II. When Dennis joined the crew of the Polar Maid at the end of 1949, he left Anneliese and Baby Christine behind in Germany.

Polar Maid Voyage

by Dennis M. Crosby

In the middle of December of 1949 I
Polar Maid
The SS Polar Maid ex-Steaua Romana, ex-Emil Georg Van Strauss, ex Olex. Please visit the SS Polar Maid page on the Norwegian South Georgia Whaling website Paa Feltet for more information.
joined an Oil Tanker in Manchester. The vessel was owned by Christian Salvesen of Leith and had just discharged a cargo of Whale Oil. Anyone who has ever smelled whale oil, can never ever forget its pungent aroma. It is nearly strong enough to chew!! The ship was named Polar Maid. The Deck & Engine room crew all lived for'rad in the Forecastle Head and it was probably the most primitive accommodation I experienced in my six years of "Seafaring".

We eventually set sail to load a full cargo of fuel oil destined for the Whaling Fleet operating out of the island of South Georgia. Our port of loading was to be Abadan, a major oil port in the Persian Gulf.
Map of Bay of Biscay to Arabia
Whilst on passage through the Bay of Biscay, we experienced problems with the ship's engines and after repairs being carried out by the Engine room staff, we eventually limped into Gibraltar on Christmas Eve. Further repairs were carried out during the week and finally we sailed on New Years Day. Unfortunately while passing through the breakwater, the vessel struck something which required us returning into port and causing another two days delay. After finally reaching Abadan and spending three days loading, we set sail for Durban, South Africa. To anybody unfamiliar with Abadan, suffice it to say, it is a little warm there, to say the least! Temperatures of 120F and above being the norm. Any forseeing person who would open an Ice Cream Soda bar there would make his fortune.

After sailing for two weeks or so, we eventually reached Durban. During our passage "Chippie", the ships Carpenter, had been hard at work each day constructing several wooden pens in the ship's stern to accommodate several large pigs which we were to take on board for passage down to the "Island".
Map of Aden to South Africa
We arrived at Durban during the afternoon, began taking on bunkers and provisons and were informed that we would not be sailing until the next day, which allowed those that so wished, to spend an evening ashore. This worked well for me because it allowed me to make a phone call to my Parents who were at that time living in Port Elizabeth, having emigrated there in 1948, and who were to be celebrating their 25th Wedding Anniversary in several days time. We sailed again the following morning, together with our newly obtained passengers, the pigs!

Within a week we were deep into "The Roaring Forties" where the seas at times appear to be volcanoes and the wind howls and screams and the ship pitches and rolls, and one repeatedly asks ones self "What the hell am I doing here?" The vicious seas washed away several of the fittings off the Forecastle
Map of South Georgia
Although this most southerly outpost of the British Empire was hostile to man, South Georgia was surrounded by an ocean which was home to amazing numbers of fish, seabirds, seals, penguins and whales.
and water began to steadily leak into our accommodation, causing about 6-8 inches of water to slosh about the deck below our bunks with each roll of the vessel. The bulkheads were continually running with moisture and the heating eventually "gave up the ghost", not endearing any of us at all towards the ship. Large and small ice-bergs eventually began to appear -- luckily the ship was fitted with Radar and so great care was given to keeping vigilance. Not a very enticing place to visualize colliding with an Ice cube!! After suffering great discomfort for many days, we eventually arrived at South Georgia. To say that this island is a desolate spot, would be a vast exaggeration. I think that even God himself must have forgotten that he created the place!

We off-loaded our cargo in Leith Harbour, the main installation there, the other being Stromness. Several large wooden buildings contained various machinery and large pressure cookers all used in the process of extracting the whale oil from the whales brought to
View of Leith Harbour Waterfront

Dennis took this pic of the Leith Harbour waterfront after Polar Maid's arrival.
the island by a large fleet of catchers. The two factory-ships which were usually there for the fishing season, had departed for their return to the U.K. and Norway a week before our arrival. The catchers were allowed to fish for a further six weeks after the departure of the factory-ships, bringing their catches to the island. There was a large, long wooden ramp with a powerful winch situated at the top of the ramp. Each whale was hooked onto a cable and winched slowly up the ramp, while the "Flensers" men with long knives shaped like a hockey stick, quickly sliced off large hunks of the whale's meat. This was then towed to the pressure cookers for rendering down for the oil.

Dennis Crosby's South Georgia Photo Gallery
Remains of a Flensed Whale Many seabirds were attracted to the harbour by the remains of the flensed whales.
Remains of Another Whale With the demise of the whaling on South Georgia, visitors are no longer met by such appalling sights.
View of Leith Harbour This photo of Leith Harbour shows the smoke from the whaling factory where the blubber was boiled down.
Dennis Crosby With Leith Harbour Below The harbour and town of the little whaling community can be seen down the hill behind Dennis.
Dennis Crosby Enjoying the Snow on
South Georgia Dennis enjoyed the snow which is always a part of life on subarctic South Georgia, even in the summer.
View From Top of the Hill behind Leith Harbour The view from the top was spectacular and well worth the arduous climb!

A Seal on South Georgia

This friendly seal didn't mind the stench.
The inhabitants of the island were mostly British and Norwegian. However, it was very difficult to assess a persons age -- everyone had shoulder length hair and a beard reaching down to his chest. The only entertainment provided was that each night a movie was shown in the small canteen. With having only the one projector, a break of several minutes took place between reels, and not always were the reels shown in sequence! Needless to say, the movies were for the most part "ancient" to say the least. To reach the canteen one was required to walk through most of the operating installations gasping on that damned smell of whale oil.

Sir Ernest Shackleton
Sir Ernest H. Shackleton (1874-1922)

In May 1916 South Georgia played a part in one of the most incredible survival stories of the 20th Century when the famous polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton and two members of his Antarctic Expedition, Frank Worsley and Tom Crean, successfully crossed the uncharted and savage interior of the island to get help at Stromness for their stranded companions. Six months earlier the expedition's ship, Endurance, had been crushed in the polar pack-ice, but Shackleton, with the guidance of his superb navigator, Frank Worsley, had led his 27 men to the temporary safety of Elephant Island, off Antarctica's northern penninsula. Knowing that they were all doomed without outside help, Shackleton then set out with Worsley, Crean, and 3 others in a tiny 22-foot lifeboat, the James Caird, and against all odds managed to cross 800 miles of the world's most perilous ocean to the uninhabited northwest coast of South Georgia.

By completing the nearly impossible trek across South Georgia's interior to Stromness, Shackleton eventually succeeded in saving the lives of all his men. He returned to South Georgia on January 5th, 1922 determined to make another attempt on Antarctica, but suffered a fatal attack that same day. The great explorer was buried in the whalers' graveyard at Grytviken, South Georgia.

Photo Source: E.H. Shackleton: The Antarctic Challenge by Kim Heacox. National Geographic Society, Washington, 1999. For more information please see the Dulwich College's Sir Ernest Shackleton page.

After discharging our cargo of fuel oil, we were destined to sail for the River Plate in Argentina to collect a full cargo of Linseed Oil for discharge in London. To switch from Fuel oil to a cargo of Linseed oil required scrupulous cleaning of the tanks. This was our task for the next three weeks. Each day, the Deck crew were down below deep inside these massive tanks, crawling along beams and directing high pressure steam hoses over every area of the tanks, washing away all traces of the fuel oil, HOPEFULLY. This was of course back breaking work, and at the end of the work day when one emerged finally from the tank, covered in oil, soaking wet through, hot and sweaty from the steam, but quickly becoming cold upon climbing through the hatch onto the deck. Needless to say, after a hot shower, one usually slept like a child. After the thorough cleaning of each tank, we were then required to spray the insides with a white limewash. We had already sailed from South Georgia during this time and most of the above work had been carried out whilst at sea, again plagued by the foul weather of "The Roaring Forties".

Finally, the day arrived that we entered harbour in Buenos Aires. Of course everyone was now looking forward to spending time ashore in the city. Most of the crew dressed up in their "Go ashore clothes" and prepared for the bright lights. However, as we approached the "Gangway" from the ship to the quay, the Chief Mate greeted us (The Deck Crew) informing us that the Health Officials had just been on board to inspect the tanks, and had "failed" to pass them and that we were required to "Turn To" and remedy the faults.
Map of Southern Atlantic and 
South America

We were required to work through until the work was finished, inspected and passed by the Health Inspector's. After much grumbling and disappointment and extracting a promise from the First Mate that we be awarded a bonus eight hours of overtime, plus a hefty tot of rum immediately upon completion, we "Turned to" with a vengence, finally staggering exhausted from the last tank at 5 am. Filthy and sweaty, we knocked upon the door of the Mate's cabin and when he opened his door, we informed him that we had finished our part of our agreement, and now required that he do the same. He came back to his door bearing a bottle of rum and we each were given a wineglass full. At that time it tasted like nectar!! After this, the ship was very quickly loaded with Linseed oil and we sailed without incident homeward bound for London.

This voyage proved to be my last Foreign going trip to sea. I decided to quit sailing and journeyed by train to Schlutup-Lubeck, in Northern Germany to collect my German Wife Anneliese and baby Daugther Christine. I had married there a couple of years before and now decided it was way past the time for us all to be together. After bringing them back with me to England, we lived for a year there until finally emigrating to Port Elizabeth in South Africa in 1951. But, that is another story.


Tales of a "Vindi Boy" is continued in the Part 5: From Africa to Canada

Return to Tales of a Vindi Boy, Part Three, Part Two or Part One.


Dennis' pages are maintained by Maureen Venzi and are part of The Allied Merchant Navy of WWII.