A Personal account of the October 18, 1949 sailing of SS Steel Recorder from New York Harbor to
Bombay India including ports of call of: Beirut, Lebanon, Alexandria and Port Said, Egypt and Jedda, Saudi Arabia.
Original, hand written account by Sister Mary Martin Heires. Transcribed and edited by Mark Donald Heires.
All Rights Reserved by the authors.
Sister Mary Martin was born Helen Heires on March 24, 1917. She was the second of
eight children, three of which were girls. The family lived and worked on a large farm on a
hill overlooking the German Catholic town of Carroll Iowa. Helen studied to become a R.N. in the local hospital.
She graduated in time to enroll and participate in the US Army Medical corps, 76th Field Hospital Unit. The unit was
deployed to the South Pacific and served in MASH-style operations in Okinawa and a tiny island called le Shima
located northwest of Okinawa in the East China Sea. This was after being deployed initially to Saipan.
Coincidentally, the USS Knox was stationed in Saipan during the time that Second Lieutenant Helen Heires was there.
After the war Helen joined the Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries. After the required
theological training as a Novice, Sister Mary Martin professed her first vows of poverty, chastity and
obedience in August of 1949. Two months later she and two of her fellow sisters, Sister Frances Webster, M.D. and
Sister William Dougherty, R.N., found themselves waiting to board a freighter bound for Bombay with the
ultimate destination of Rawalpindi, West Pakistan.
The three were assigned to Stateroom 2. The cost of passage was $500 each. Coincidentally, the
other eight passengers were also missionaries, they included: a catholic priest and brother, a
protestant minister with wife and young son, and two other protestant women missionaries, one a young teacher.
What follows in Sister Martin’s first-person account of the adventures of her passage. The
handwritten entries, made on airmail-thin paper, found their way to her parents’ home addressed
quite unassumingly as: RR2, Carroll, Iowa USA.
Sister Mary Martin Heires onboard the SS Steel Recorder
[Day 1, Tuesday October 18, 1949]
Boarded SS Steel Recorder about 1:30 p.m. having been told to board at noon! I was Pleasantly
surprised beyond wildest expectation with a lovely, roomy, impeccable, comfortable cabin
just for three (two lowers and one upper berths) with our own shower, washroom and two
portholes. All eleven passengers and Captain’s suite are on the same open boat deck, like first class.
Watched the crew loading cargo from the warehouse into all five of the large hatches on the ship. Finally dropping into place, the tremendous steel planks. These ships are all steel from stem to stern hence the “steel” title. They don’t creak in their joints like the wooden ships I’ve observed! These “planks” closed the holds openings thus forming part of the decks fore and aft of the central part of the ship. Finally, all was secured at about 11 p.m. that night and what sounded like a referee’s whistle from our ship was the signal to the little tug boat to take us away from the pier and out into the harbor. It dutifully nudged and nosed by turns “bunting” us out of the port.
Not wanting to miss seeing ourselves off, we stayed dressed after completing our night prayers idly wondering when the “office” might be said in Stateroom 2 and watched till the little tug boat had left us out in the harbor on our own. About midnight we took a last long look at Lady Liberty, said our prayer for a safe journey and went off to bed feeling we had done the honors properly of embarking from one’s homeland shores. We solemnly swallowed a Dramamine pill each and dozed off into oblivion.
[Day 2, Wednesday October 19, 1949]
Next morning, what should meet our amazed and disconcerting gaze, but the same harbor as last night, the same statue of Liberty still holding her torch. It was grey and rainy.
Well, we just checked it off our list till after Mass. At breakfast word got around that the reason we stayed in the harbor overnight was our gyro compass had broken! A while later a tug boat brought out the new part. Feeling a little sleepy and slightly foolish about having stayed up to wave ourselves off the night before and slightly cheated because we thought we might have one night of weaving and tossing behind us. We once more stared out at the brave-faced young gal with the east blowing rain gleefully in our faces as we faced the open ocean. It was about 10 a.m. and the slate-gray waves were wearing lots of white ruffles.
Dinner was scheduled for 11:30 a.m., so the three of us started noon prayers, with the ship careening and pitching in fairly rough style. I got as far as the Litany of St Joseph and then made a hurried exit to the bathroom. So, Frances got this the prayer for vocations. Then she quietly tumbled onto her bunk leaving Sr. Williams to appraise the dinner table as gaunt and starved as usual downstairs.
Well, crackers became the order of the day for the “lay” Sisters, with Dramamine to fill in – and things were pretty quiet and horizontal in our cabin for a day or two. Sr. William became “infirmarian” cabin mate and boy scout all wrapped in one, never missing a meal herself and faithfully ushering the weak sisters around the deck for the good sea air. And like a faithful St Bernard kept the indisposed members from utter starvation and lethargy.
Enjoyed Sr. Sarah’s drawing in our “mail.” And the wonderful little visit with each day from one of those friendly novices via their daily “mailing.” Sr. Ralph’s clever cartoons, Sr. Girard’s tremendous verses and Sr. Maura’s sly quips. These were among the sealed parcels for each day at sea which were packed by the Sister’s back home.
[Day 3, Thursday October 20, 1949]
Sr. William and I attempted Mass next a.m. but only Sr. William persevered. Dinner for one! Supper for 2! But the fishes were one to
the good. More crackers!! Completely flat on our backs we got word that the ship had been sailing south along Virginia to avert two storms. The ship pitching forward then back then one side and then the other – oof!
We heard noises of whole trayfuls of dishes crashing to the floor and at intervals freight sliding below decks. We made mental notes that they must use an open stock design for dishes what with all the breakage which topped even our own novitiate days! Their little trick of wetting the table cloth helped cut down on dish sliding during mealtime. We began enjoying the trip and passengers and crew despite the storms. We set clocks ahead an hour for the first time.
[Day 4, Friday October 21, 1949]
Saw the sun out and much warmer too and all three of us attempted Mass. This time two persevered and three came to breakfast, hurrah! Studied a bit of Urdu, the Indian language, on deck and two pairs of sea legs arrived. Saw our first flying fish. Could ‘Friday’ have anything to do with it? Captain announced that any of the passengers could use the dinning salon for evening recreation such as checkers, cards or other games. And feel free to raid the icebox. We had “fire” and “abandon ship” drills (just standing-by in a certain area with life belts on). We lost another hour on Friday. Saw lights on horizon. Another ship sent a blinker light message of identification. We passed the ship parallel to us going in the opposite direction. This made me think of an arithmetic problem. If ship X is traveling at Z speed and takes 20 minutes to pass ship A, how fast is ship A going and “Y?” [the answer is India!]
A little later the chief engineer took us all thru the engine room, the huge machinery space in the center of the ship. Going down what seemed like endless flights of extremely steep stairs down to twenty feet below water level. There were no ceilings separating the flight levels, just a metal catwalk. You could see between stairs and walks to the bottom floor level and all between a maze of pipes, cables, gauges and gadgets like a huge Goldberg invention, as Sr. Martha would say. There were four huge furnaces. When we get to the Red Sea they tell us the engine room temperature goes above 130
degrees. Two generators for all the lighting aboard and we followed along the lowest level a crouching walk beside a long, long revolving drive shaft which is a two-foot diameter solid steel cylinder. It is all greasy making about seventy turns a minute and at each turn the propeller pushes the ship about 22 feet. The first day out we passed a drifting ship that had the misfortune to break a propeller. We said a little prayer for them and proceeded. On the way back to the topside we made a detour to the huge food deepfreeze and locker sections which held frozen duck, turkey and pork chops!! The ship carried food for both the trip out and also the return. On top it was so good to get into the cooler fresh air.
The men below work four hours on and eight hours off around the clock.
We were almost ready for bed when Sr. Frances very painfully stubbed her thumb climbing into her bunk. Our combined nursing skills were used to splint it in the morning. Without x-ray we were not sure if it was a very painful sprain or chipped or broken. It seemed to be improving.
[Day 5, Saturday October 22, 1949]
The weather was lovely. Storms were over our sixth day out. Father Simon said Mass every morning in the stateroom set aside as a chapel. Elsie, Borden’s contented cow, greeted us from her corner of the square carton of fresh milk on the table. We decided to open our bumbling home laundry. It was so sunshiny and balmy we did some sacristy linens since the Captain arranged for an iron and board to be brought up to our deck for the passengers use. Certainly, are enjoying the daily “mailbag.” We very diligently and honestly opened only the one letter marked for that day. Saw a few flying fish again today. They must have been 1st graders in today’s school; yesterdays were kindergarteners to be sure, they were so tiny. Were delighted with some phosphorescent flicks in the water at night as if the Lord in his bounty wanted to give us stars both above and below!!! We’ve seen and identified the big dipper, north star, Orion, Cassiopeia’s chair (we decided she has a deck chair with extra-long foot pieces), and the
bright milky way makes a gay splashy path all across our sky every evening.
We are eleven passengers, all missionaries! Among the others are: a nurse, a teacher (girls in their late 20s) a minister, his wife and 14-year-old son, another lady about 40ish, Father Simon, and Brother Adam; all going to India. Some to Bombay, some near Darjeeling, some to Calcutta. All rather quiet and pleasant company. Saturday there was a lone butterfly on deck which must have come along from below deck also a small bird like a sparrow. We figure we are 200 miles from Bermuda which is our nearest land according to the map on the ship’s wall. Enjoyed a pleasant little note from Sr. Carolyn in today’s “mail.”
After the first day at sea we’ve been seeing a good deal of floating patches of copper-colored seaweed. The captain tells us it is from the Gulf Stream. The patches stay more or less in a continuous line like a path that you can follow with your eye on a clear day, many miles going off at a diagonal, from both sides of the ship. Each line several rods apart from its neighbor keeping an amazingly stable line despite heavy rolling and breaking waves and the churning of the ship’s wash. Some of the larger patches of seaweed remind you of a great, large welcome mat floating along oblivious of ships or undertow, with smaller patches looking like so many foot tracks across the sea to the horizon as if a giant had clomped across the face of the water with muddy shoes!
[Day 6, Sunday October 23, 1949] – one week at sea
Had Mass for the feast of the Propagation of the Faith. Father’s fresh laundry looked so nice. About six of the crew came to Mass too. The day is sunny and clear and water sparkling and blue. Large, easy rolling waves wearing dainty, white lace caps – a day to sing on, as they used to say. One I’m sure the Lord saved especially for Sunday. The protestant observers had their services in the dining room, one crew member attended.
We had chicken for Sunday dinner, with candied yams, Birdseye green beans, apple pie and coffee, delish! Said an extra rosary for the missionaries aboard and had a private holy hour in our cabin,
including singing! Sr. Frances conducted us. We opened Pauline’s (our novice mistress) letter. She wrote to each of us and it was like a visit in person. We sang evening prayer then off to the land of Nod! But what a rough night! Chairs and waste basket fell over three times and the last time we didn’t even bother to set them up again! Noises all over the ship with various hard rolls. Chairs sliding crashing things off table tops, doors banging and the clattering and breaking of dishes!
[Day 7, Monday October 7, 1949]
Cold! Slate colored waves again and very rough. Pandemonium! The breakfast bell rang as we were dressing to go to Mass! Puzzled glances round the room. “What goes, Mr. Duff?” They had set the clocks one hour ahead without telling us! Father said it was much too rough for Mass anyway. Stairs are tricky these days as you modestly recover your veil just before the wind whoops out your skirt, and just at the moment you gingerly replace the skirt with the other hand the ship has lurched very sharply and the steepness of the steps has increased about 50% and you are plummeted headlong. The moral is, hang onto the banister for dear life! Sr. William lost a perfectly good heel of her shoe and got it all nailed back on luckily. Oh, the pale green feeling came back again today. Sr. Frances, with splinted thumb, didn’t even attempt any of the meals downstairs. She was heard to moan softly from her hunk, “Oh, why wasn’t I satisfied to be a home missionary?” I put up a Spartan fight till noon, then made like a doormat for the rest of the day. Just when the day was waning and things were really low-low in Cabin 2 (that’s us) we opened Sr. Ana Marie’s little letters from the novitiate – nicest visits and chat, bless her! Then had some thought provoking reading from “Seeds of Contemplation,” and things began to take on a better outlook. We heard we will pass the first of the Azores Island at 2 a.m. tonight (shades of Columbus 1492). Still rough seas. I tipped up both sides of mattress to keep from being thrown out of bed.
[Day 8, Tuesday, October 25, 1949]
Sun is out. Lost the gulf stream so no more seaweed. Ocean still pretty rough, no Mass. Had good intentions to wash but that old rough-
sea lethargy got the better of us. Then land! A dim outline of low mountains off to the south. A beautiful complete rainbow to the northwest ending almost at our feet. We didn’t venture out to capture the pot of gold. I guess our faith wasn’t as good as St Maurice’s. Sr. Frances got up today and out into the good sunshine. Rough winds a blowin’ though. Tremendous skies in cottony, brush-work designs.
The island Graciosa (Azores) large and mountainous to our south at noon. Sea gulls flying lazily accompanying the ship along the island. We are due in Gibraltar in two more days. I think often of poor, brave Columbus and all the sea. St Francis Xavier too and early voyagers and missionaries and how mighty and driving their motives must have been to compel them to put themselves through such tremendous hardship as sailing must have been in those days. When we can feel so MISERABLE even with all the wonderful conveniences of today: fresh food and water, comfortable beds, plus Dramamine. These last two days we are receiving backwash of a big storm 200 miles from us, we heard. Haven’t yet heard what our loss was on dish breakage. We had a very rough tumbling at supper tonight. Had to just hold our plate and cup in our hands as we ate. But I think we are upholding the spirit of community. Persevering through our voyage so far by laughing. It was funny to see the catsup bottle flying off the table but the officer at the next table caught it in midair, a perfect underhanded catch. He twisted around then caught the sugar bowl making a flying slide to the edge. Next, he caught the coffee cup on the next swing back and set up the tall salt and peppers on the next tilt up. Its so funny to see liquids slant up and up. And you just sit fascinated watching, but not believing it actually will spill, but there it goes! And then eases back and does the very same on the other side at the opposite roll. On one of the heavy rolls during that night I counted a series of 20 good hard ‘tippings’ from side to side before it settled down to that calm lull. Then we’d get in the trough of a wave again and the swinging began all over again. Several times in the dark night we’d hear chairs crashing and small tables overturning. I wondered what there would be to eat during the trip back.
Our ship had a crew of only 45 men. Most do double duty. Our two dining room stewards are also our cabin stewards. We get complete change of linens every Friday! Had a chuckling good time reading Sr. Andrea’s note! And Sr. Maureen’s letter to cheer us all with her twinkling Irish wit.
[Day 9, Wednesday October 26, 1949]
It’s still too rough for Mass. Did a big wash, three sinks full. Strung a line in our cabin and opened both portholes then spent the day on the deck since there was no room inside. Beautiful and sunny. We read quite a bit and made it for all three meals, hurray! Sea is still like a rough merry-go-round ride, almost to “Loop-a-plane” proportions. We all felt a bit queer about 4 p.m. Sr. William weakly from her top bunk was heard to ask, quite seriously, “Do you think we’ll ever feel really well again?” Then we would think how funny it was and go of into giggles and giggles again.
The Captain loaned us his book on Beirut and Alexandria but it told mostly how to know where the water was shallow and where dangerous old wrecks of ships had sunk and port regulations etc. Just a wee bit about it being built on a series of hills and red rock and a few of the buildings that could be used as landmarks to bring the ship into port. It would have been nice instead to have a church history along for Alexandria and Palestine. St Augustine teaching at Alexandria? And the important leaders of the early church.
We lost another hour tonight. I just don’t know where the time goes! Now we are even with the Greenwich Meridian.
[Day 10, Thursday October 27, 1949]
Still no Mass. Father Simon is growing a beard. He is blond, young and very boyish. So, we three made up a little comic feast day card for him with the Psalm, “oil ran down the beard of Abraham.” He chuckled. We saw Cape Vincent lights about 7 p.m. which is on the mainland of Portugal! We remembered Fatima coming into the Cape with sea so calm like a placid lake!
[Day 10, Friday October 27, 1949] – What no Gibraltar!!
At 7 p.m. there it was, just like the Prudential Life Insurance signs and letterheads. Green hills on all sides of it, with one side
all slanted to catch the rains for that is its only source of fresh water there in the fort. The strait is only seven miles wide here. Africa clearly seen on our right, mountains too.
We are in the Mediterranean Sea. Today we had Mass, and every day after that. We saw the Spanish foothills all day to our left. The Mediterranean is just as blue as the Atlantic. It is a little choppy on the surface because of the strong Easterly wind, but the ship steady as can be. Sr. Frances beginning to enjoy sailing finally. We enjoyed the novices’ big envelope surprise for our 11th day at sea, crossword puzzles!
[Day 11, Saturday October 29, 1949]
We saw Algiers at 7 a.m. close by, with good sized cities. We could actually make out buildings with the Captain’s spy glass. Morocco! Saw bits of the coast along the horizon all day.
The officers took all passengers on a tour of the “bridge” of the ship. We saw the steering wheel and the automatic steering device that could be set for a certain degree in calm seas and no one had to even be around. And there was a machine that recorded the course sailed latitude and longitude with red ink recording on a graph each jog the ship made. We saw the radar unit too. And a sounding machine to record the depth. The ship has two drums on its bottom, one sends out an electronic beam and when it strikes bottom it bounces back and is picked up by the other drum. The distance is determined by the seconds between leaving and returning. (The speed of sound, shades of high school arithmetic!) Another interesting apparatus was the fire detector. Each compartment of the ship has a number and is connected to a flue or something so that they can smell and see the smoke from any department of the ship right there in the pilot house. Out on deck we had fun testing flares and rocket distress signals. The Navigator’s sextant was interesting too. A three-angled scope you sight on the sun or a star, screw the adjuster till it looks like it’s on the horizon, get the reading on the gauge, do some more arithmetic and presto you can find out exactly where you are!
[Day 13, Sunday October 30, 1949] – Feast of Christ the King
Beautiful sunrise. Our tiny chapel was filled to the doors for Mass, nine of the crew joined us. We passed south of Rome at noon. In the p.m. we passed several isles, passed Malta to our south. We didn’t see the Knights nor the home of malted milks. Then Sicily’s lovely green hills to our north. We thought about St Paul’s early journeying in church history.
Several ships, tankers, passing us all day. We saw a school of porpoises at a distance, a Sunday school maybe. Late afternoon was a “study in blues,” with clouds, sky and water. Then a beautiful moonlight evening. We set our clocks ahead one hour once again.
[Day 14, Monday October 31, 1949]
The sun sets at 5:30 p.m. and during the supper hour they turn the clocks ahead an hour. So that coming up on deck our clock says ten till seven and the moon is out already. We thought coming off daylight savings time was hard to adjust to but here it has become the order of the day – eight times now in twelve days. Breezy. Our wool habits still feel good. Just can’t believe we’re in the Roman, Grecian, African, Middle Eastern part of the world! Ulysses and the Cyclops – Caesar – Homer – Cicero – St. Paul – the Pharaohs! Imagine! No land or ships seen today. We will pass by Crete during the night.
[Day 15, Tuesday November 1, 1949] – All Saints Day
A beautiful sunrise before Mass. We planned a little post-Halloween party, since we couldn’t use the galley yesterday. Sr. William cut out paper anchors for pinning on the map instead of pinning the tale on the donkey. We wrapped a few little prizes and Sr. Frances made “taffy-apples” and popcorn. We held the party on deck and pinning the anchors on the map blind folded. All were jolly good friends together. Tremendous sunset over the Mediterranean. We’re all set to dock at Beirut Lebanon tomorrow at 6 a.m.
[Day 16, Wednesday November 2, 1949] – All Souls Day
We had the traditional three at Mass starting at 6 a.m. Two crew members came. We are already in the harbor and starting to unload cargo by the time we got to breakfast at 7:45. Beautiful City and hills. The beginning of the East. Quite warm. Houses so clean about 4 to 5 stories high. Lovely green hills, the Lebanon Hills! People are a
mixture of Arabians, French, Persians, Grecians, Lebanese and Syrians. Some Americans too in port industries, oil companies, engineering etc.
Officials who came onboard checked our passports and we were allowed ashore! It is the first time in over two weeks that our feet are on solid ground. The bazar of local street vendors is colorful and noisy.
We visited several convents. We’d see a sister supervising recess so stop and ask whether they spoke English and if we could visit their chapel. The orders of nuns we see here are Holy Family, Holy Rosary and Vincent de Paul’s Charity. These are all French so we filled in with sign language. Oh, and it seemed so very wonderful to visit the Blessed Sacrament. I can’t tell you how much we miss having a special “spot” to go to pray for “in between” moments. Churches are “home,” especially to me no matter how “queer” the outside world looks or acts or speaks.
Visited a Greek Orthodox Hospital there. They served us tiny cups of hot, sweet, very black Turkish coffee.
[Day 20, Sunday November 6, 1949]
We left Beirut on Sunday after the ship unloaded cargo and picked up new for Alexandria, Egypt. It was a very smooth trip.
[Day 21, Monday November 7, 1949]
The City of Alexandria is very large, lots of ships at various harbors and docks.
[Day 22, Tuesday November 8, 1949]
We’re allowed ashore on Tuesday. All our other passengers went to Cairo for the day then by camel out to the pyramids and sphinx, amazing! Then back to the ship by way of the Sahara Desert by 10 that night. Oh, we’d like to have gone so badly we could almost taste it but hadn’t figured on it before we started. Our rules state that we must have previous permission so decided rather than be short of funds at the other end we’d best forego it. They did have a grand time and got pictures on their camels. The others suggested maybe they could have “made our way” selling pictures of me on a camel, if only we had known. Oh, but the thrill of a lifetime! I got your and Aunt Frances’
letters from Alexandria! Bless you both a thousand times, and Dad! And John! It was certainly the best gift anyone could have thought of.
The three of us, since we couldn’t go to Cairo, went into the city to see what we could see. We visited the museum and met a Jesuit Father North there who was traveling also. Guess where he was from, Iowa City! He was visiting the Holy Lands on his way back to Rome!
We visited a huge Italian church, Sacred Heart at Father’s suggestion and contacted some Franciscan school Sisters who had us to dinner and tea. They mailed some letters and card for us and took us to visit all their children’s classes. It was really delightful. They knew some of our Sisters and also some of the Sisters we visited in Beirut. These sisters were all from Ireland! They were a merry group of 15. They teach Arabic, French and English in their school and the pupils come in all ages not knowing a word of English. Some are Egyptians, African, English and some Italian, and the sisters only speak English, what a problem. They had to use lay teachers for languages from kindergarten to pre-university, with only girls in school after first communion age. They also teach shorthand and typing.
Back to the ship before 5 p.m. because the streets are not too safe.
[Day 23, Wednesday November 9, 1949]
Sailed again on Wednesday after three days in port. We had hoped they would pick up cargo such as cotton for Karachi so it would be worthwhile for the ship to dock there for a time, but no go. Got to Port Said and the entrance to the Suez Canal, my that’s interesting.
[Day 24, Thursday November 10, 1949]
It is not a lock, just a very narrow canal, privately owned. Only one place where two ships can pass. Hench each ship has to pick up a pilot at the entrance who goes all the way through. Can only start through at 12:00 or 6:00 as it takes ten hours or more. They have to go only about one knot and go in convoys. There are two lakes where ships stop and pass along the canal. Bet the engineers were happy when they get to a lake! At the “sider” place one had to tie up to a capstan on the side so some other ships coming through for the other
end could pass us. Land is flat on both sides, a very Egyptian scene, with palms etc. Railroad and roads along one side and desert, bleak and brown beyond. Some life along the upper part, and farther down very sparse vegetation, a few oases and sand dunes and camels. We had started thru about 1:00 a.m. Thursday and got to the city of Suez at the south side of the canal by about 7:00 p.m. that night which was too dark to see much. But it must have been a good sized little city. We let the pilot off and later set out south towards the Red Sea.
[Day 25, Friday November 11, 1949]
Next morning at 6:00 a.m. there were mountains on the east side. And farther they pointed out Mt Sinai. Imagine, the country of the ten commandments! Moses crossing the Red Sea, Pharaoh’s chariots etc. We can’t either, even after pinching! Mt Sinai was rather flat on top, less high than its near neighbors and less rugged, like a saddle so to speak. Still cool in the water, nice breeze, we’re still wearing our wool habits and not too uncomfortable. Started into the Red Sea about mid-morning.
[Day 26, Saturday November 12, 1949]
Arrived at Jedda, Arabia early next morning. Night skies are super lovely, clear and bright, like jewels on a black velvet show case and the milky way is a definite double path; she must be carrying two buckets of milk!
This port is just about 75 miles from Mecca and is the port of all pilgrims to Mecca. All good Muslims try to come to Mecca once a year or at least once in a lifetime. And there are lots of Muslims the world over.
It is very shallow with lots of coral reefs, so we are at anchor about three miles from the city, just sitting. The water is very clear. There are large fish that leap out of the water. Also, schools of tiny fish glistening in the sun a yard or so under the surface and you can follow their course almost the length of the ship. Absolutely no one is allowed ashore. So, we’re all aboard just watching the unloading by the natives and passing the time doing a washing, writing or studying.
Wish you could see this because there is just no describing it. There are barges to receive the cargo including Ford cars, boxed and off their wheels. These little boats are made from crude timbers into sailboats. Well, they each balance about four of these crated Fords crossways on one of the sailboats, unfurl the sails and make for port. The wind was strong Saturday and once out here at the ship the sail had to be rolled up and tied so it wouldn’t start off while being loaded. What a scramble. A few crates slid off and sank in the ocean! Onlookers just sail off like a three-ring circus.
One native fellow shimmied up the sail-pole, which pivots on a center mast at its tip like a windmill arm, which would be terrible if a strong wind hit. He crawls up to this point and pulls in the sail, tying it in a running slip knot all the way to the level of the boat deck. So, when they start out for shore one tug at the mooring rope will unfurl the sail.
[Day 27, Sunday November 13, 1949]
The ship scoots around to different positions even if we are at anchor. The coral floor isn’t solid but as long as the wind isn’t too high we don’t drift far. We put on our white habits today. The captain gave us a mat so we don’t get dirty ‘kneeling for Mecca,’ which is teasing about getting our prayer rugs. The captain and crew have been awfully good to us in so many ways, as close as a real family.
Some workers come on the ship at each port to do the unloading. The ship’s crew go on shore leave or at least are not on-duty in port. The stevedores take over completely and run the big booms and cranes of our ship. Some are Muslims who all pray five times a day facing Mecca. The Captain told us about one who started out on his prayer facing Mecca, but in the course of his intent prayer the ship had maneuvered into a much different direction so someone poked the fellow and pointed the correct direction and he said he really got up and faced the correct way.
[Day 28, Monday November 14, 1949]
We left Jedda on Monday and surprisingly we have enjoyed cool weather. Even those who have made the trip several times are amazed at the comfort we enjoy.
[Day 32, Friday November 18, 1949]
A month ago, today we first boarded ship. It’s a tremendous, glorious day. Just like a perfect day in October in Iowa. Breeze is cool, the sky is blue as infinity itself, loveliest clouds, quiet, water is deep, deep blue with enough ripples to stir up white wisps just often enough to keep the view from being monotonous. Life is very good. We’re in the Indian ocean now.
There will only be four passengers after Bombay by this Sunday which will be November 20th! That’s not too bad timing, only 33 days en route.
Set clocks ahead twice since Jedda, and still have one or two to lose. They always said, “when you kill time it has no resurrection.” But you don’t even have to kill it here, they just take it away from you. But they promised to give it back on the way home!
We will dock in Bombay, God willing, on Sunday but can’t disembark till Monday which is the Feast of Our Lady’s Presentation. We, too will start on a new life of schooling, not in a formal temple but a training here in India or Pakistan soon. We plan to send an air-mail from Bombay so this will be cold news, but you can reminisce with us.
They tell us it takes almost $2000 a day to run this ship whether sailing or not and one trip through the Suez Canal costs $12,000! Our little fares of $500 each seem rather insignificant. Really this is a wonderful way to travel, by freighter: privacy, wonderful accommodations, clean, good food, port stops. The only disadvantage is a little leeway in schedules or stopping points and sailing dates. Of course, if the time element is the important it is better to fly.