A Day on a Tug Boat It was during the school holidays in the 1950s that my dad took me to work with him so I could spend a day on a Liverpool Tug Boat.

We were up early, it was still quite dark as we cleaned our teeth and washed our faces and stepped out into the dawn. "What about breakfast?", I enquired. Dad replied, "I'll get us some at the dockside when the sun comes up". We boarded an 82 bus at Eastern Avenue terminus and sat upstairs in a haze of tobacco smoke. I was surprised at how many people were up and about at that time of day. I don't know why but I thought my dad was the only one who went to work at dawn. We got off the bus at Bootle Station and got on the famous Liverpool overhead railway train. As it rattled along high above the cities historic docks I looked in wonder at small boats, large ships and huge ocean liners with lights twinkling like stars through the mist as sunrays started to appear.

We got off the train and dad handed our tickets to the station porter who said, "Ta! gonna be a nice day today its not often you see the sun showing his face at this time of year". My dad answered him with a smile saying "Your right there lad, I'm takin the young fella to spend the day with me on the tugs". The porter turned around and said: "Wait a mo, I'll get youse a rat stick; you'll need it this time of day". With that, he handed my dad a stout stick from his little station room. Dad could see the worried look on my face and reassured me when he said, "It's to scare the dock rats away son there's millions of them around here".

We walked along a narrow stone walled ally with fog creeping around our feet and the sound of ships horns blowing eerily all about. Dad banged the stick against the ally walls as we walked along saying, "This is what you do to scare away the dock rats son, we don't want to accidentally corner one of them or they'll jump right up at our throats, swine's of things they are, big as cats and small dogs". By now I was scared stiff and started looking left and right and behind. Dad realised my plight and said with a grin on his face, "Don't worry too much son its really all talk, I've never actually met anyone who's been attacked..... but you never know".

The ally opened out into a great expanse of cobbled dockland and there with smoke billowing from its chimneystack was a tugboat. We jumped aboard, dad introduced me to the skipper, and two other crewmembers, with a toot on the tugboats whistle we cast off and went out onto the mighty River Mersey. I stood right up at the front, between all the towing ropes, which were as thick as I was around my waist and smelled of oil and salt. We dodged huge ships as we made our way through the channel shipping lanes. On some of the ships, crewmembers would look over the side and wave yelling out "Mornin lad". I waved back but was too shy to yell an answer back.

Dad came along side me and said, "See that ship ahead of us with the bright blue funnel belching black smoke, that's an Alfred Holt Blue Funnel Line Ship bound for Sydney in Australia where your Auntie Lillie and Uncle Harry live. We're going to turn her around and push her into the channel so she can set sail now the tide is reaching high".

Dad took me by the hand, led me to the bridge, and asked the skipper, "Where should I put me son while we work around the ships?" "Put the lad in the crows nest and haul him to the top of the mast", he shouted out. "He'll be out of harms way up there", he continued. Dad put me in a little tin container, closed its door, and locked the latch so I wouldn't fall out. "What are you going to do?" I asked a little worried. "Sending you to the top of the mast son, its called a crows nest, from up there you'll see every ship upon the Mersey and be out of harms way while we throw these big ropes about" was his reply. What a view it was from up there on high I watched spellbound as the ropes were thrown from tug to ship then we pulled the ship around. The ropes were thrown back to us then we bumped right into the ships behind and shoved her along. A crewman appeared at the ships rail I was so high up he was almost level with me he shouted something and gave a wave but I couldn't hear his words the ship was blasting away on its horn to tell the tug she was underway.

Dad brought me down from on high and we sat upon the ropes neatly wound up now and said, "Damn it I forgot about breakfast and to get us lunch, I'll bet your starving son". He was right. The skipper came to our rescue and brought a smile of relief to our hungry faces when he said, "There's bread and drippin in the bridge house and some SAOs and strawberry jam as well tuck into that". We did. Never had a lunch been so good. Sitting on a heap of ropes stinking of salt and oil, with the tug boat lurching up and down on the high tide surrounded by great trading ships dressed up with all their flags flying against a blue sky with seagulls flying through smoke trails drifting by.

A huge white ship pulled along by two tug boats passed alongside us and on its side in letters of gold its name shone out Empress of Australia and I said to my dad, "We might go to Australia one day hey dad". "It's on the cards son; it's on the cards, who knows what the future will bring", he replied. We pulled and pushed some more ships and sent them on their way then the tide started to fall it was time to call it a day. The sun was going down and casting long shadows as we walked back along the ally. Dad held the rat stick but didn't rap it against the brick walls, dock rats were only a problem in the misty dawn it seemed. At the railway station dad gave the ticket porter the rat stick to put away until tomorrow for some dockworker or tugboat man to borrow.

The journey home was somewhat hazy I dozed on the train, slept on the bus, and dreamed of ships, sunshine, and relatives in Australia. It had been a great day sailing up and down the River Mersey on a tugboat.


Danny Windever



By Danny Windever Danny Windever

This story was added on 2nd November 2010

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