Saturday, 6 January 2018

U.S.S.R Baltika

In my 85th year I often come across random sketches I made while working in Surrey Docks in the 1950's.The sketch below is one I made of a Russian sailor from the ship U.S.S.R. Baltika in 1958.

Of the many large passenger / cargo ships that traded in Surrey Docks this vessel in particular stood out. Apart from general cargo, she transported groups of Soviet Diplomats and other officials. From prow to stern she was painted a gleaming white which emphasized her great height equalling that of the Cunard liner which moored on the opposite quay.

I was quite surprised to see women on deck doing most of the manual work, something which would not happen on other global shipping lines. Sometimes friction would occur between the ship's officers and the dockers loading cargo. As was usually the case the dockers used their big hooks to make handling heavy bags easier. The officers objected most strongly to this practise, as quite rightly, they could see the hooks would make holes in the bags. The dockers tended to ignore these remonstrations or wait until the officers left and then carry on as before.

On the quay a small group of Russian officials waited to board ship. They did not look too happy at the prospect of returning to their home ports. With most ships, dockers and crew members usually exchanged a few friendly words and in the ships from Rotterdam it was the custom to buy Dutch and German beer from the crew but no similar contacts could be made with the Russians for this was 1958 and the cold war was at it's height.

When the Baltika sailed out of the dock, she left in grand style playing loud, martial music with all her lights blazing brightly. Everyone stopped to watch for she was an unforgettable sight.

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