Captain Ken #17 - Adventures in Borneo

Captain Ken Owen had a long career at sea which included sailing as master with Overseas Containers Limited (OCL), P&O Containers and P&O Nedlloyd.   Ken is now retired and in 2020 he started writing a monthly article for publication using the pen name 'Captain Ken' in the Mellor Church Outlook magazine.

A number of articles that Ken has written are about his time at sea and he has very kindly agreed that we can share them here.  

This article is the 17th that we have reproduced on the PONLHeritage site., and it covers Captain Owen's recollections of a visit to a port in Borneo on the Blue Funnel cadet ship 'Calchas'.   

This article was first published in the church magazine in December 2021.

At most of the ports we called in the old Blue Funnel Line, English was the usual second language, so we had no difficulty organising the safe stowage of the cargo we loaded.

This was very important, as our reputation depended on the extreme care we took of all the many varieties of our cargo.  

Indonesia was an exception, as their second language was Dutch, after many years as a colony of Holland.  This was the reason that Blue Funnel Midshipmen were encouraged to become familiar with Malay, the main Indonesian language.  Indeed those who managed to speak it reasonably were awarded a small monetary bonus.

On one occasion our company cadet ship ‘Calchas’ (her deck and engine crew comprised some 35 trainees) was anchored in Bohian, a small port in Borneo.  We were loading large heavy logs, which were towed out to the ship, not long since they had been beautiful standing trees (I hate to think of my part in deforestation).


After a very busy day, it seemed bliss to dive off the logs in to the clear blue sea. and most people were doing just that.  However a local fisherman I was talking to, seemed rather alarmed and said to me ‘Ikan Yoo’.  I knew ikan meant fish but consulted my phrase book to discover that 'Ikan Yoo’, meant  SHARKS.


When I announced this to the swimmers, Every one jumped out quicker than they had dived in.

On a later voyage when I was a junior officer, we called at Surabaya, the second city of Java.  The British were very unpopular at the time , as we had just invaded Egypt to capture the Suez Canal, and the Russians were unpopular for invading Hungary.


It seemed risky to go ashore, but it was normally a friendly town with friendly bars.  So, my engineer friend and I hired a trishaw, one with those hot oil lamps on each arm rest. with a friendly driver and headed for town.


After calling at a couple of bars and were feeling no pain, we suddenly realised we were surrounded by a huge number of anti-British demonstrators.  They asked if we were British, and of course we said No, and assured them we were Norwegian (always a safe bet).  Then 'Where do you live?' they said.  Unperturbed, we said ‘Omsk’ and began to sing to the tune of ‘I belong to Glasgow’, ‘I belong to Omsk, dear old Omsk town.’  Fortunately, their geography was as bad as ours as I later discovered Omsk was in Russia.  They seemed satisfied, and we made our way safely back to our ship.


It should have been quite frightening, specially as we later learned that the same mob went on to burn down the British Embassy.

(This article was first published in the December 2021 edition of the Mellor Church Outlook Magazine).

For further articles in this series:

Captain Ken Owen has kindly provided us with a new series of articles which will be published on a regular basis here.  If you are interested in reading other articles that he has written which we haven't yet used then please feel free to go to