The other Bahia Castillo affair

Posted on 19 July, 2012


The ship that took us from Auckland to Melbourne was the MV Bahia Costello.  She was much better behaved then her namesake, a 9959 tonne lady circa 1913. That first Bahia was a shit storm on water.

Like most voyages, the first Bahia Costello started out badly.  Filthy and under stocked, she halfheartedly welcomed on 2000 Aussie munitions workers and their families up the gangway. They boarded, settled in and began to full heartedly complain.

There were no tablecloths or bread-and-butter plates for the first few days, and the stewards were as sick of the war as was everyone else. The baker struggled with poor yeast and an unfamiliar oven to make bread that didn’t bounce when dropped, and the cooks did their best with potatoes somewhat past their prime. Passengers took such long baths and showers that fresh water supplies had to be rationed, a move that saw stewards threatened with being thrown overboard. War broke out between passengers and crew. Some foods, such as jam, that could have continued in use over many meals, was spoiled with cigarette butts. Toilets were blocked with tealeaves. Taps were left running. Undoubtedly the stewards retaliated within the limits of maritime discipline.

Tony Griffiths ‘The Bahia Castillo affair – 1919’, Military History and Heritage Victoria Inc

When the tea leaf terrorism turned to real threats the ship made an emergency stop in Durban and the Australian army boarded to attempt control, only to be abused by the passengers. When the Bahia Costello hit the Fremantle shores on a storm and with a blocked sewage system, passengers still with 3,295 kilometers to go, got off and stood on the shore watching their luggage and the disgruntled Bahia Costello sail away. A Royal Commission ensued.

What horrors did I commit as a passenger aboard the Bahia Costello #2? Was it when I pissed in the salt water pool and the entire thing was hurriedly emptied and refilled (I imagine a bright, loud alarm going off in the engine room – ‘Lady-piss! Lady-piss! All hands to the rec room!’). Was it when we left our cabin window open in the briny north Tasman breeze and shut down the aircon? (See entry ‘Portrait of a captain as god‘) When we ran around the deck in a dolphin suit? (Vimeo) Or (and I suspect that this is it) just the very presence of the passenger on a working ship – both a welcome distraction and a tiresome presence.

‘The questions!’ One sailor answered cheerfully when I asked what it was like to have passengers onboard. ‘Always the same questions!’

Artwork by Tom Doig

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