In 1984 he began a successful business partnership with Paul Leonard Arnold, trading as Durdham Garage at 12a Normanton Road, Clifton,
until his friend's early retirement in 1995. Brian then traded on his own and moved to smaller premises in 6 Quarry Road, Clifton, Bristol in April 1998 until the last day of February 2012, when he retired. His writing career began in December 1992, a year after his father's untimely death. In a very special way it allowed him to come to terms with his great loss.
Brian's mother, Vera Joyce Crabb (nèe Hunt), who died on 23 November 1995, was his inspiration to the English language. Her tragic death was preceded five years with Alzheimer's disease, leaving a beautiful, articulate and talented mother speechless and confused.
What has transpired, too date, is six books. An expanded revision of his first book, entitled Passage to Destiny, which went out of print in October 2011, is now back in print since the beginning of August 2015.
Brian is very happily married to Angela Joan Crabb (nèe Young) and they have two daughters (now Anna Marie Ford and Helen Joyce Nattress) and five grandchildren (Jack James Nattress, Thomas James Ford, Lola Marie Ford, Harry David Nattress and Ava Ann Ford).
Hurricane Inga - a seagoing experience in September 1969 by Brian Crabb
I was born on 5 March 1947. A blizzard had prevented my father visiting his expectant wife at Bristol Maternity Hospital that evening. With no other alternative, he decided to telephone the hospital to discover the latest news. Before he could do this he had to gain access to the red public telephone box at the end of Nibley Road, Shirehampton, shovelling deep drifting snow from the glass-panelled doorway. He then spoke to a ward nurse who excitedly told him that he was the father of a baby girl, born shortly before his call, and that his wife Vera was tired, but well. He was elated, telling some of his neighbours on his way home. The following night he discovered that the nurse had made a mistake and he was, in fact, the father of a son! It did not improve matters when an Irish nurse explained, that while she was weighing his newly born child, he had peed over her packet of Woodbines, which she had placed, for safe keeping, in her breast pocket. Like a true gentleman, he replaced them the following night.
Knowing my father’s love of the sea and his subsequent naval involvement throughout the Second World War, it was no surprise to my family and friends when I joined the Merchant Navy as a 5th engineer in 1969, soon after completing a five-year toolmaking apprenticeship at Bristol Aeroplane Company, Filton. Early voyages with Elders & Fyffes and Bristol City Line saw reasonable weather. However, during my second trip in the SS Bristol City luck changed, and so did my respect for the sea.
We had sailed from Quebec after loading half a dozen or more steel containers, which were secured as deck cargo on the foredeck with strong wire ropes, bottle screws and shackles. We then raced down the River St Lawrence to Baie-Comeau, a distance of some 200 miles. Another ship was apparently steaming for the same port; first to get there would be the first to be loaded – with a favourable current we succeeded in getting there first. This was the last load of the voyage; and a strange load it was. Large blocks of aluminium for Alcan, an established South Wales company that produced (and still does) aluminium foil. The blocks were 8×6×2 foot cubes and weighed nearly 10 tons each. They were loaded into the upper ‘tween decks, as most of the lower spaces were full of bagged soya beans, which had been loaded at Hamilton, Ontario. As each block was loaded it was shored up with timber to prevent movement.
We continued our voyage on 27 September and by 30 September were some way out into the Atlantic Ocean buffeted by a brisk force 8 gale. The previous day we had been overpopulated by red and green crossbills. These birds were about the size of a sparrow and took shelter on various external parts of the ship. Unknown to us at the time, they had been blown off course by a storm, while on their annual migration to warmer climes. They rested, slept and disappeared as suddenly as they had arrived. The radio officer, who was employed by Marconi, was on his first trip and informed us of a hurricane warning; he assured us that there was nothing to worry about, as the storm had already passed to the north.
During a weekly morning inspection Captain M. J. Winter knocked on my cabin door and, after careful scrutiny, reprimanded my steward for not doing his job properly. The brass porthole and deadlight were badly tarnished and he was instructed to rectify the problem immediately. Shortly after our departure from Baie-Comeau the ship had been brought up to full speed and 5th engineers Brian Williams and myself were put on day work. Our job was to remove some steel crankcase doors on the steam winches, remove the bottom halves of the phosphor-bronze bearings and adjust the clearances, as they had seen constant use since our arrival in Canada and were beginning to knock badly; greasers gave assistance. That night we were both tore off a strip by Bushy the donkeyman. We had only secured the crankcase doors with a half dozen or so bolts. In worsening weather lubricating oil had seeped from the covers onto the winch platforms. In hindsight the bollocking was perfectly justified, for he had got soaked to the skin rectifying the problem.
At around 2000 I turned in, leaving my door slightly ajar on the safety catch. The weather was getting worse by the minute. My bunk, which was positioned fore and aft, was becoming impossible to stay in due to the increasing roll of the ship. I wedged my orange Board of Trade life jacket double under the outboard edge of my mattress, forcing my body tightly against the inboard bulkhead. I was reasonably comfortable and soon dropped off to sleep. The next thing I knew I was on the deck with my cabin swamped in several inches of water. I scrambled to my feet and switched on the light only to discover that the steward had left my porthole half dogged and sea water had forced its way through the ensuing gap. I quickly screwed the dogs down tight and rescued my camera, which had just slid into the shallow edge of the water, when a women’s leg smashed through my slatted crash panel at the bottom of my door. She had fallen, almost vertically, down the stairwell from the deck above. After careful extraction the women passenger was tended to by the chief officer and I was detailed below for more urgent matters.
When I reached the manoeuvring platform I soon discovered the reason for the emergency call out. In rising seas we had sprung a leak in one of the hydraulic pipes feeding the port side of the steering gear, without which the duty watch was powerless to steer the ship. Brian and I were detailed to collect a bucketful of spanners and make our way to the aftermost part of the ship, via the main deck. The wire rope lifelines stretched from the main accommodation to the steering flat, a distance of about twenty-five yards. Powerful overhead mast lights highlighted the difficulty of our next task; to cross the deck before the next wave crashed down upon it. I watched the motion of the ship and the waves, which were now broaching the ship. The wind was howling through the rigging. Gauging the right moment, I dashed the short distance, shouting to Brian to do the same. Unfortunately, being of heavier foot, Brian got caught midstream and eventually reached me in the steering flat, soaked to the skin but still holding on to the bucket. Unfortunately, it only contained about two gallons of the Atlantic Ocean! The spanners had been washed overboard. It was the prelude to a catalogue of problems and the beginning of what was to prove to be a very long and tiring night. After contacting the bridge, all personnel were instructed not to venture on deck. We replaced the spanners and returned to the steering flat, via the vertical tunnel escape ladder.
The steering flat had a low deckhead and on the after bulkhead the elevated steering motor was running almost constantly; a fractured hydraulic pipe being the root of the problem. The leak was substantial enough to prevent any movement of the ship’s rudder. We were going slow ahead and gradually turning side on to the sea; huge waves broached the ship from the starboard side, causing Bristol City to list even further to port. Then, a huge wave started a whole chain of events.
The deck containers were crushed and eventually washed overboard. Then the worst possible scenario. The aluminium blocks started breaking loose, all sliding to the port side of the upper ‘tween deck and compounding the problem. The seas battered the ship further and further to port, never allowing the ship to regain stability. We removed the fractured pipe only to be hit by another huge wave. The force of the sea against the rudder forced the hydraulic oil in the steering gear out of the hole where the pipe had been removed; it hit the deckhead and saturated everyone in the steering flat. Everything was covered in thin, slippery oil. Even the wooden duckboards were floating in it. We slid dangerously down the vertical ladder into the tunnel and made our way into the engine room workshop. Here Bob Hort, the 3rd engineer, and myself prepared, welded the pipe and made new gaskets. We returned to the steering flat and refitted the pipe. However, we had lost so much oil that there was not enough at hand to refill and bleed the system. There was a 45-gallon drum on board the ship, but unfortunately that was down in the engine room! Every available crew member manhandled it along the tunnel, where it was pumped into smaller containers and taken up the narrow tunnel escape.
While all this was going on another problem had developed. We were loosing distilled water faster than we could make it. Three engineers traced pipes to get to the root of the problem. It was eventually discovered that a quick-release de-superheater valve had been forced open by the heavy seas. By about 0700 the next day, after transferring fuel, dumping ballast and bleeding the steering gear we regained control of the ship. The inclinometer, which was secured to the for’d bulkhead of the officers accommodation, read 47º, the maximum angle we had rolled; we reached Swansea with an eight-degree list to port.
We had experienced the might of hurricane Inga. Strangely enough there was no fear during the storm; we had far too much to do to comprehend the crisis we were in. Certainly, though, everyone on board had grown a deep respect for the awesome power of nature and all realised how lucky they had been to survive.