Alnwick Probus Club, January meeting

Club member Paul Jarvis fascinated the January meeting of the Alnwick Probus Club with a talk on his experiences as a navigator in the British Merchant Navy.

Paul joined BP as an articled trainee navigator in 1969 and his life was divided into practical time at sea interspersed with periods at South Shields Naval College.

The world for which Paul prepared no longer exists. At his time of training, navigation was carried out with a sextant and using the sun and the stars for fixing the position of the ship. Nowadays it is all done with computerised GPS systems linked to orbiting satellites.

In his time with BP he sailed on oil tankers before the days of the massive vessels which traverse the world today.

In the 1950s and 1960s, tankers were being built with accommodation located amid ships. Such is no longer the case, all modern tankers have accommodation placed at the stern.

When asked if cabins at the stern made for a more uncomfortable experience in rough seas, Paul responded that there was no noticeable difference.

The talk kept highlighting the massive changes that have taken place in the world over the last 40 years.

When Paul first went to sea, the Suez Canal was still closed after the Arab/Israeli six-day war, and tankers had to come to Europe, from the Red Sea, via the Cape of Good Hope. Vessels could negotiate the Arabian Gulf and the East African coast without fear of piracy and ballast from tanks (water) was discharged straight into the sea without a thought being given to the effect that the resultant pollution would have on beaches and wildlife.

In a career that went from trainee to first navigator, Paul sailed into the world’s two Arctic regions and visited all five continents. He once crossed the Atlantic in a storm so severe that he genuinely thought would destroy his ship and he sailed in waters so warm, calm and peaceful that he could not relate them to the more turbulent times.

In all, a glimpse of a life completely outside the experiences of most club members.