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Stories on Maritime Leadership

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Recollections of an Unsuccessful Seaman (Authored by Leonard Noake, edited by David Creamer)

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This is an unusual maritime book. It’s author Leonard Noake wrote the book in the last year of his life (1929), knowing that he was terminally ill with tuberculosis. The original book was type-written, accompanied by water-colour sketches and photographs, but was lost in the attic of the author’s widow until the 1970s. It was finally edited for the modern-day audience by Captain David Creamer, the author’s great-nephew, in 2017.

The book offers the modern-day maritime professional an insight into a seafarer’s life around the First World War and the age of steam engines. The author writes from a unique perspective; he has only a few months to live and has no pretensions. Though he survived a 40 foot fall during one voyage, several tropical diseases, a mugging overseas and escaped from drowning after being torpedoed during the war, he calls himself an ‘unsuccessful seaman’, perhaps reflecting his self-depreciating sense of humour.

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I asked the editor Captain David Creamer some questions about the book and the story.

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Captain David  Creamer

Was your great-uncle an inspiration for you to embark upon a career at sea?
No, I don’t recall being aware of his existence when I joined the training ship HMS Worcester in 1964 at the age of 13 years. My inspiration for embarking upon a career at sea was the childrens’s author, Percy F. Westerman, who wrote many adventure books with a maritime background that must have influenced may a young lad, as it did with me. Joining the Sea Scouts when I was 11 years old also guided me in my career decision process.

How do you think seafaring has changed since the book was written?
For the better in terms of safety but for the worse in terms of bureaucracy and the criminalising of every minor incident – one is no longer permitted to have a genuine accident that might have resulted from a decision process that had split seconds to determine. In today’s seafaring practices, there appears to be an unhealthy reliance on all things electronic , when I was taught, as was my great-uncle, that keeping a safe navigation watch involved looking out of a bridge window or standing on the bridge wing to physically observe one’s surroundings. In terms of welfare and accommodation, etc. one has to only read of conditions on board ships being visited by inspectors to realise that seafarers are still subject to appalling treatment from their employers almost a century after the book was written.

Interestingly, some of the stories and sentiments shared in the book ring true today. What’s your take on that?
As mentioned briefly in the paragraph above, we are in a society that’s being continuously brainwashed to convince us that ‘progress’ is being made when it’s very clear that a lot of objectives in life have changed very little. The modern day research into ‘sailing ships’ convinces me that perhaps the best way forward is to take one step back!!!

Lastly, how would you describe a successful seaman?
One who hasn’t gone down with his ship! How do you describe ‘success’? The dictionary states it is ‘the achievement of a desired aim or something that turns out well’. I spent a lifetime at sea, didn’t experience any major disasters, brought up a loving family and have now happily retired. Is that a description of a successful seaman? I really don’t know.

Captain Creamer- Tell us about yourself, and the books that you have authored yourself.
Although I’ve written a two volume autobiography, ‘A Mariner’s Annals’ & ‘More Mariner’s Annals’, my career at sea has been of no particular consequence. I joined Bibby Line as a deck cadet in 1964, rose up through the ranks to become a master in their LPG tanker fleet in 1977, stayed as a master for 9 years before temporarily leaving the sea between 1977 and 1986 to manage my own business ashore. After re-validating my master’s certificate, I served as a chief officer for 2/3 years before being employed as a delivery master with Wijsmuller U.K., later to become ‘Redwise’ , one of the world’s most successful delivery companies. I thoroughly enjoyed my 16-year career delivering vessels, tugboats, dredgers, etc. all over the world before retiring in 2016 at the age of 69 years. Two of my voyages with Redwise resulted in my writing two books, both published by Whittles Publishing, ‘Rats, Rust & Two Old Ladies’ the story of delivering to old and clapped out tugboats from Bahrain to Trinidad, and ‘Oriental Endeavour’, another tugboat delivery voyage from West Africa to Singapore. ’Recollections of an Unsuccessful Seaman’ has been a project of mine for several years. I’m now working on a journal written by a lady in 1924/25 when she was a passenger on board two Bibby Line passenger ships.

The book is an interesting read. It’s amusing to read about conditions in shipping those days- though shipping has improved a lot- some of the stories ring true even today.

The book is available through the publishers Whittles Publishing

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