At age 17, Andrew Eden of Savannah joined his first crude oil tanker, the Dea Maris, with National Bulk Carriers in 1966. Eden started as a messman, earning US$132 a month, but he quickly worked his way up the ladder. Taking advantage of correspondence courses, he ascended to the status of chief engineer by the age of 25.
An active member of the Cayman Islands Seafarers Association, Eden has continued to honour Cayman’s maritime legacy, serving as a past president of the organisation and current member of the council.
As part of the Cayman Compass #SaveOurStories series, he recounts tales from his days at sea. Eden takes us aboard a tanker in distress and later he shares his love of ham radio. Below are his experiences in his own words.
Sailing the world
The National Bulk Carriers were looking for a full crew to take over a ship, which was under Spanish crew up in Portland, Maine, and I was one of them that was chosen. There was 17 of us from Grand Cayman or the Cayman Islands. Some from the Brac also that went over to Portland, Maine, to assume control over that ship.
I started out as a messman, which is the guy who shovels food and makes up beds and all those kinds of things. So, I started right at the bottom of the totem pole there.
I was 17 years old at that time, and I sailed until I was 34 before I retired from the sea, but I’m 71 now.
I’m still trying to figure out how to retire.
I got to visit all over the world – a lot of ports in the US, ports all over Europe, all over the Middle East and into Asia, South America, the Caribbean.
My very first trip at sea, I was gone 26 months, and I worked my way up from a messman to a second pumpman, engine maintenance.
From my first ship, I started studying, taking correspondence courses from a Seaman’s Church Institute in New York, which was an engineering school.
At the age of 25, I had my chief engineer’s licence and was sailing as a chief engineer after that.
For me, it was truly, truly very great because at the age of 24, I was married, and my wife, Lerita, sailed with me for five years on board ship.
As officers, we could take our wives on board and sometimes she was out there nine, 10 months of the year with me.
Fire in the engine room
As far as storms are concerned, the ships were so large, to us it was fun watching the waves wash right over the ship and all that.
You’d see half the ship under the water at times, you know, and it was exciting. But my very first trip at sea, we had a very scary moment. I was still a messman at that time. And just after 6 in the morning, the fire alarm goes on. So everyone rushed to the cabin to get their life jacket. The mess hall, everywhere, is full of smoke.
What had happened in the engine room, it had a busted oil line. It caught fire, so it had the whole ship quarters full of smoke.
Luckily, we had one guy from Cayman who was an oiler at the time, and he stayed down there to eventually get the fire out because as I was going down to get my life jacket, I saw the third engineer who was on watch in the engine room, [and] he’s running out. Luckily, this Caymanian stayed down there and really saved us.
But the most scary part of that, we were all at our station up on the boat deck, you know, preparing to abandon ship if necessary. And what happened to all the heat in the engine room was, up on that deck we had a lot of empty oil drums, 55-gallon oil drums, and the heat from that, it blew the deck up and all of those empty drums popped up.
And, oh my, it scared everyone to death. You know, we thought that was the end of us. So, it was a really scary time. I’d say it was probably the most disturbing time I had out there.
We were probably about 18 hours out of France at the time and when we got to port, you know, a bunch of [the men] were gone.
They said, hey, we’re not going back out there.
Radioing home to Cayman
After sailing as a chief engineer, there was no higher to go there. And I was so used to studying, I said, well, let me study for a commercial radio operator. Because those days we carried radio operators on board the ships, and while studying for that, I found a magazine on amateur radio or ham radio. I got my amateur radio licence back in 1978 and been enjoying the hobby ever since.
Believe it or not, I had my own radio station aboard ship, and I used to talk back with Cayman every day, morning and evening, no matter what part of the worId I was in, and it was really exciting.
I had a friend on the island here who was a ham radio operator. There are a few of them actually, but one specifically. He was a manager at one of the condos on Seven Mile Beach. And I used to talk with him every morning and every evening.
I have [used] three call signs because I have a Cayman licence, I have a US licence, and at that time, I had a Liberian licence also. From aboard ship, I used the Liberian call sign, which is EL0AV. My local one here is ZF1EJ or Zulu, Fox, One, Echo, Juliet. And I also have a US licence, which is KE4LB.
Every day you get on there, there’s someone you’ve never heard before and someone who’s never heard you before. And they are always looking to talk with the rare call signs and all of that. And it is a hobby that’s growing every day. Every day there’s something new, you know. We started over spark gap back in the early 1900s and today a lot of radios, they’re linked with computers and all of that.
Where ham radio comes in great is in times that are more intense, like hurricanes or earthquakes or something like that. You know, all communications are down. We can easily get back on the air. For instance, everything I have here can operate on 12 watts DC. So, I have a bank of batteries outside, which is charged by solar power.
If all that intel has come down, we put up a piece of wire and we can still communicate with people around the world, sending traffic, health and welfare communications or whatever’s necessary.