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#1 Sep 23, 2018 12:52 pm

New Historian

The Ganja Express

The M/V Jamaica Producer was owned by Jamaica Banana Producers Limited and traded between Jamaica and England. Along with her sister ship the Jamaica Planter, the Producer was built at the Lithgow Shipyard in Glasgow in 1962; a refrigerated or “reefer” ship (how appropriate!), more commonly known as a banana boat. Because they carry perishable cargoes, reefer ships are fast, with sleek lines designed to slice through the water like a knife. The Producer had a cruising speed of 18 knots.

I sailed on the Producer just once, in July 1980 on a voyage from Port Antonio Jamaica to Newport Wales, under the legendary Captain Trickey. This was immediately after I’d gotten married, resigned my job at Jamaica Merchant Marine and relocated to London, armed with nothing but an old Triumph Trident, a sock full of cash and a whole lot of optimism.

My brand new wife drove me to the docks at Port Antonio, and was horrified to witness the ship’s bosun walking up the gangplank, laughing and rubbing his hands in glee, while his two prostitutes walked unsteadily ahead of him, as crew members cheered! This was in 1980, in the depths of Jamaica’s economic meltdown, where everyday supplies of life had become as scarce as good gold. I was mortified when one of the crewmen marveled: “All I’ve got to do is go to the kitchen, get a gallon of cooking oil — and I’ve got a hooker!”

The voyage from Jamaica to England, which I’d done twice before but on different vessels, took ten days. All banana boats had twelve passenger cabins, each with its own porthole. Life at sea has a certain genteel charm, we ate at the officers’ table served by uniformed orderlies in white gloves. Ten days without sight of land nor any sign of life, with only the BBC World Service, your books and the occasional whale for company.

The voyage was unremarkable, except for when one of the piston liners burnt out, causing an oil fire which took a few nervous hours to put out. The ship’s engineers were amazing, toiling away in the hot sweaty engine room for 24 hours around the clock. Becalmed in mid-Atlantic is not a pleasant experience, particularly in heavy seas which caused the ship to roll uncontrollably, side on to the waves.

At one point some bored crew members lowered a rope ladder and went jumping off the ship for a dip. I joined them, but not for long. Out there in the middle of the Atlantic, when you look down at thousands of feet of deep dark sea, it was spooky! I clambered back on board, to the amusement of the paddling crew.

The Producer was christened, by its own crew, the “Ganja Express”, and never was a nickname so earned! Being a Jamaican vessel, the Producer’s crew were all Jamaican, except the officers who were British. Officers and crew maintained an uneasy peace, each wary and distrustful of the other but bound together by the boat. The officers knew that on each and every voyage, each and every Jamaican seaman had his stash of ganja, somewhere on the boat: a 6,000 ton ship offers a gold mine of possible hiding places.

When the ship reached Newport, as soon as we crossed the three-mile limit a Customs cutter approached, and an army of uniformed officers with dog boarded the vessel, the poor thing with his tail between his legs. I don’t think they found anything on that trip.

In typical Jamaican fashion the Producer’s operations were a comedy of errors: she was forever breaking down! On one infamous voyage she caught fire two days out of Port Antonio, the crew abandoned ship and were rescued by a passing American Navy ship and taken to Guantanamo Base, then repatriated to Jamaica. A salvage tug towed the Producer back to Jamaica, costing the owner a pretty penny.

Banana Producers sold the old girl in 1981, and she continued to live a checkered life. She was converted to a livestock carrier, rechristened the M/V Cattle King and plied the lucrative trade in live animals to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. On one horrendous voyage, the ship’s ventilation system failed irrepairably at sea, and hundreds of cattle died in the holds. I’ll leave it to you, to imagine what a ship full of dead rotting cow carcasses looks, feels and smells like in the heat of the Arabian Sea! The ship never recovered and met her ignominious end, broken up at Gadani Beach in Pakistan in 1985, where ninety percent of the world’s merchant fleets meet a similar fate.

While looking for the Producer online I came across a chat room for old sailors, called, where I found that the old girl is fondly remembered, by the crews who sailed in her. Stories of life at sea — and shenanigens ashore!

Last edited by New Historian (Sep 23, 2018 12:53 pm)


#2 Sep 26, 2018 9:23 am


Re: The Ganja Express

Yesterday up north  was cold ,  damp   , rainy  , never saw the sun  . What better time to read another tall tale .
On the Ganja boat , middle of the Atlantic , New Historian jumping into the mile deep  blue sea  . Hookers .
I really needed a shot of   'white' .  A good one . Not Jack Iron.


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