A sailor’s life – 36. Monkbarns, Rio 1918
Bert Sivell marked his seventh anniversary aboard the sailing ship Monkbarns in Rio, with a big cigar and a trip up the Corcovado mountain — three years before building began on the 130ft figure of Christ the Redeemer. It was August 1918 and a postcard view marks the empty summit with an arrow.
He had been to church, he wrote to his father (as you do), and was developing quite a taste for the cheap local cigars, of which he was laying in a stock. Monkbarns was in dry dock across the bay in Nictheroy, undergoing repairs, a big grey rust-streaked hull dwarfed by her three tall masts – the main being 192ft from truck to keelson. She could set twenty-three sails, and needed twenty-four hands to work her. “Who would have thought when I joined her that I would be mate before being six years at sea,” Bert wrote. He was 23.
Rio harbour during the first world war was a magnificent sheet of water ringed with jungle-clad peaks and big city sprawl, and dotted with palm islands. There were ships of every sort, from cruisers and destroyers to Atlantic liners and little steam coasters, and between them all tall sailing ships, barques, brigs and schooners, loading or unloading cargoes, and bobbing at the farewell buoys.
Captain James Donaldson, his young officers and the four remaining apprentices had been left kicking their heels in Rio for two months since Monkbarns’ mutinous crew were convicted at a trial on HMS Armadale Castle that June, and they were to remain for one more month while the boys’ half-deck house was enlarged. The cargo of flour had been whisked north by a Lamport and Holt steamship and John Stewart & Co were sending out ten new little apprentice boys to work the ship home. Never again would Monkbarns’ fo’c’sle hands outnumber the officers.