29 Sept 65 : On board with life’s runaways : Cap Finisterre, Pacific Ocean

Cap Finisterre

Pacific Ocean

Wednesday 29th September 65.

Dear family,

Well, here I am on board and under way at last. The boat was delayed several times again and we finally sailed early this morning.

Our last week in LA was very tiring – consisting of some work (obtained for us by John), a lot of hard work on our trailer, and a great social whirl with John and his wife.

They were just about the kindest people I have ever known. They just couldn’t do enough for us and were very upset when we put our foot down and refused certain offers. We had nearly all our meals there during the last week and we spent nearly every evening with them. They seemed delighted every time the boat was delayed. We had some great laughs with them and thoroughly enjoyed our stay in LA.


Tony’s postcard, captioned: A BIT OF EARLY LOS ANGELES “OLVERA STREET” LOS ANGELES CALIFORNIA Typical of the Mexican Bazaars of long ago are the quaint little shops that line the street and attract so many visitors to this colourful section where Los Angeles began.


John (who is a partner in an electrical company) has made loads of money and is obviously very well off. He made several comments about us going into business with him, and we didn’t know whether he was kidding or not. However, when we said goodbye, he made it quite clear. He said that, if, when we finished our trip, we would like to return to LA and join him in a venture to convert old houses he would be delighted. As he has the money, the tools and the know-how I think it’s a great offer. However that’s a long time ahead and a lot can happen in the meantime.

Last Saturday night they took us to the English-American Club where there was a dance. The entire gathering was English and we met some very nice people. It was just like an English social and the entertainment was a fellow from Lancashire telling a monologue. One couple invited us, and John and his wife, to their home on Sunday evening – so we went. He was a fellow from Swansea and was fantastically well off.   At the dance I also met a woman from Treorchy.

(Note: Tony’s aunt and uncle also lived in Treorchy, South Wales.)

John got us two days work last week. One was a gardening job, very hard and heavy work in boiling sun, for which we got $25 between us, and the other job was for his own company. They were putting some concealed lighting in a landscaped garden in a fabulous house in Beverly Hills, Hollywood. They needed a long trench dug to put the pipes in, so that’s what we did. For this we each got $10 plus lunch – so we did quite well.

He had plenty more work we could have done, but we were running out of time. We worked very hard on the trailer he gave us, and restored it so that it looks almost new. We painted it and greased it and it is now in good condition. We stripped it right down so that we could put the pieces inside the van. Finally we were all ready, and so was the boat – miraculously enough!


la waterfront 1960s pamphlet 2
1960s map / pamphlet on the Los Angeles Waterfront district and docks.
la waterfront 1960s pamphlet
1960s pamphlet with map and information on the Los Angeles Waterfront district and docks.


We said goodbye to John and Martha (again), but they didn’t take a great deal of notice as they were sure we would be back that evening. We packed everything into the van and screwed down all the cupboards.

We had to take off the roof rack and put everything inside. Also we had to strip the outside of the van of anything removable, as the ‘dockies’ will pinch anything. We put the main girders of the trailer inside our sleeping bags to protect the side of the van, and loaded all the rest on top of the beds. It seemed an awful lot of stuff to be taking but we are hoping it will be worth it.

When we got to the docks we couldn’t believe how small the boat looked. It seemed like a toy one alongside all the others. It was very heavily loaded and very low in the water. It’s 9000 tonnes laden and all white with a red funnel. We reported on board and were shown to our cabins.  I am really impressed. I share a cabin with a fellow (German) from the engine room, and our cabin is twice as big as the one we had on the Queen Elizabeth.

It is quite nicely furnished and has two portholes and plenty of fresh air. It is in the stern of the ship and the only snag is that it vibrates like mad. Colin is one deck down and his is even worse. However we have soon got used to it and sleep very well.


Cap Finisterre at Auckland NZ 2
Tony’s photo of the Cap Finisterre


All the crew are German but most speak English. We all eat in a very pleasant canteen and the food is very good and as much as you can eat. We even have a steward to wait on us. Apparently they had enough deck hands – so we have been given other jobs. I am 3rd Passenger Steward, which although sounds good, means nothing!!

I spend all day washing dishes, polishing, cleaning, scrubbing, waxing, etc. I have washed millions of dishes already. I am up in the Passenger Saloon and Pantry – which is considered a plum job. I get plenty of perks especially with the food. The work, although tedious, is easy and I work 8 hours a day, split into three shifts over the day.

I start at 8 and work till 11, off until 12:30, on again until 1:30 (washing the lunch dishes), off until 3:30 then work till 7:30 pm. I am glad I work these hours as the evenings are a bit of a drag with not much to do. I work with two other fellows and between us we look after 11 passengers.

The crew are a motley bunch – scruffy as anything and usually drunk, but very likeable and helpful. The first night before we sailed I found my cabin mate and his pal out cold in our cabin. I tried to rouse them but they were too far gone, so I went to bed. They stayed on the floor until the morning, and occasionally during the night they had a shouting match at each other.

There are seven ‘workaways’ including us. The five others are a mixed bunch. One is an American fellow – about 23 who is convinced that America is being taken over by Communism, and is going to Australia to find somewhere for him and his parents. He is very fat and very nervous and is always scratching!

Another is a New Zealand fellow – who hardly says a word. He came to the States on this boat to see the West Coast ports – and is going straight back!!

Another is a young fellow who is going to Australia to be a farmer – he too is very odd and comes out with the most profound statements. When I asked him what his parents thought about him leaving for good, his reply was “What are parents? – They are merely biological coincidences – and they mean nothing to me”.

The next one is even odder. He has just obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics and has decided to finish with civilisation! He has had enough of the fast American way of life and is getting off at Tahiti. There he plans to get on an inter-island supply boat and tour the islands until he finds a really primitive community – and join them. He wants to live just as they do. He told me this morning “All I want is a grass hut and a couple of ‘broads'”. Strangely enough he is deadly serious. He has brought very little money or belongings with him so he really will have to live like the natives to survive. Although we laugh and pull his leg like mad, I really admire him for actually doing what he wants to do.

Finally, the seventh was the biggest surprise of all. He is a fellow from Pembroke Road, Clifton, Bristol, and is the son of ‘Gardeners’, of Broad Plain. It’s such a coincidence I can hardly believe it. He has been in the States for six months and had to leave in a hurry as the Army was after him (he is 23). He plans to get off in Australia and somehow get to Japan. He’s a very nice fellow, and went to Clifton College.

Note: Living in Bristol, Tony’s family knew well Gardiner Sons & Co Ltd – a large DIY store in Broad Plain, Bristol, owned by the Gardiner family since 1860 (and now called Gardiner Haskins.) Meanwhile, Clifton College is a very exclusive private school in Bristol.

We then went  to see the van loaded  on board the ship.

It was swung on board by a crane and dropped into the hold (as there was no room on deck) and it is neatly tucked away in a corner where we hope it will be very safe. It won’t be moved until Auckland now – so it should be ok.  It had to be unlocked when it went on board and a docker had to get inside to steer it around the hold.

When it was in position we could see him fiddling with the dashboard and Colin thought he was taking something – so he dashed down and caught him unscrewing the knobs on the dashboard. He asked Colin if he wanted one, and, when Colin told him it was his van – he swore violently!!

To be continued… 

Note from Tony: ‘Workaways’ were fellows like us who are working their passage. We were very lucky to be doing this, as by the mid-sixties the unions were beginning to tighten up on this practice

Pacific Ocean. Credit: XEON https://www.panoramio.com/photo/29259617, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53865565


< Previous letter | Next letter >

2 thoughts on “29 Sept 65 : On board with life’s runaways : Cap Finisterre, Pacific Ocean

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s