Most of us are aware that the original Queen Mary rests at Long Beach, California as a tourist attraction. This is a less than glorious end for a very fine ship. However, it’s sister ship, Queen Elizabeth, put on a dramatic display, watched by countless people, before being consigned to her watery grave. In 1970, the ship was sold at auction to her final owner Mr CY Tung, a Taiwanese shipping tycoon. Renamed ‘Seawise University’, it was destined to ply the world as a sea going University. She was towed to the western side of the Kowloon Peninsula, off Yamati. I arrived at Kai Tak on Guy Fawkes Night in 1971. I was a Tac Crewman flying on the Whirlwind (later the Wessex) with 28 Sqn. On Sunday the 9th January 1972 the HKAF were on standby with their French built Allouettes. Although mid-winter it was a beautiful sunny day, just the sort of day to get out on the water. The Kai Tak Sailing Club had been defunct for some years but there was a legacy of a 31′ diesel-powered boat called Burling that chugged along at about 6 knots. I suggested that we do a longer trip than normal and go right around Hong Kong island, a trip that would take us most of the day. Also on board were Sgts FrankCartwright and Dave Moffat of 2nd Line Servicing, and Mick McCarthy, also a 28 Sqn Crewman. One of Burling’s idiosyncrasies was that there was a steady leak, requiring a regular bailing out sessions during any trip. In a Board of Enquiry this is what is known as a ‘contributing
The second contributing factor was our provisioning regime. Mick had managed to get a VC1 0 crew to get a demi-john of Cyprus brandy as our liquid intake for the day.
After breakfast we launched Burling into Kowloon Bay. It’s not without reason that Hong Kong translates as Fragrant Harbour! Chugging along at 6 knots, we sailed over to the runway, and followed it’s northern edge, through Lei Mun gap and then turned south on the for the long trip along the eastern seaboard of the island to the tip of Cape d’Aguilar. Then heading NW to Aberdeen Harbour almost at the end of the southern coast of HK Island. When we reached Aberdeen at nearly 1 pm we
dropped the anchor. Frank was below bailing out the bilge water when the affect of the brandy took over. He let go of the bucket and threw it, with its contents out of the window. We needed that bucket if we weren’t to take on too much water. I grabbed a boat hook, leant over the side and again, the brandy took over. Head first I fell into the water.
We then proceeded out of Aberdeen and rounded the western end of the island, at which point we could see a plume of smoke in the distance. We Immediately recognised the ship that was burning – the Seawise University. It would take 45 minutes to get there. By this time 28 Squadron was there, looking to do heroic deeds. Fortunately, they weren’t needed. The ship was ablaze from bow to stern and we were able to get in close, at times within 80 yards. It transpired that the single Pilots raced down to the Squadron when they heard the news and tried to raise Mick and myself to get out there. As we obviously weren’t there, it would take too long for married crewmen to make the journey to Kai Tak through the Kowloon traffic. So they got airborne with Pilots acting as a Winch Operator and a Winchman. It begs the question that instead of getting a commendation they might have been in the deep stuff had a SNAFU occurred. That is if they’d got the cable tangled up with the superstructure or injured someone that they were trying to lift off.
At the enquiry, a workman found about a dozen fires burning on a lower deck. He could not put them out, so he went up to the canteen to have his lunch without telling anyone! He obviously felt there would be a loss of face if he adm itted he couldn’t put the fires out. The enquiry found no fault with anyone. Why doesn’t that surprise me?
The old Queen Elizabeth did finally sink and remained on her side in about 50′ of water for some years. As Ratty said in Wind in the Willows “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats”. I’m inclined to agree. Note: One of those Pilots was a 20 year old Paul Luckier. The last I heard he was an A VM and young enough to serve for a few years yet.