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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

CS Marcel Bayard - Bob Ceen 1980

Introduction: Site visitor Bob Ceen writes: “Back in the late 70s and early 80s I did side-scan sonar surveys for cables on various cableships, including Marcel Bayard, Iris / Monarch, and General Bast, joining / leaving ships in Bermuda, Dakar, Faro, New Jersey, Southampton, Vigo, and I think Dover for the Bast.”

On this page Bob shares some of his stories and photographs from that period.

—Bill Burns

I joined CS Marcel Bayard on 23 January 1980 to support the sonar survey out of Dakar for a new telephone line being laid from Recife to Dakar, and another loop which went on up to Portugal.

This is a picture of the Marcel Bayard in dry-dock in Dakar, West Africa. The vectored thruster in the rudder is clearly visible. I recall that she was in dock to get the lignum vitae prop shaft bushings repaired.

At the time I was working on a research contract for AUWE Portland, based at Bath University Department of Geophysics, and they had another contract using side-scan and sub bottom profiling which provided these services to the UK GPO. As an ex-ship’s electrical officer with extensive electronics knowledge I was tasked with supporting the side-scan systems.

I recall an interesting event which occurred about half a day out of Dakar while running the sonar line with the fish deployed. I was on deck when some French sailors pointed into the distance on the port side, where I could make out a dugout canoe awash in the long Atlantic swell. It had three Senegalese men on board, one holding their outboard motor trying to keep it above water, and another waving his paddle.

There ensued a somewhat heated discussion between a group of the the sailors who wanted to immediately break off the line to perform a rescue, and the Chef de Mission who realised how disruptive this would be, due to the need to recover the sonar fish before any manoeuvre could take place. Eventually the Chef agreed we would abort the sonar run and carry out the rescue.

Sonar Fish similar to what was deployed on Bayard, but this one was also a sub bottom profiler and a touch bigger than the plain side-scan. This photo was taken on a RN torpedo recovery ship in Portsmouth.

Fortunately, the accurate survey positioning gear on board (Hi-Fix, I recall) meant we had a good position logged to assist a return to their boat, as it took us quite a few nautical miles to recover the fish, and we all knew that spotting a few people in a big swell can be a hit and miss affair. We did find them on our return, and a few sailors went to deploy the launch from its davits on the port side (see picture). They started the engine while aloft to provide control of the boat once in the swells, and then released the boat from the davits—except only the rear one let go, leaving the launch hanging from the front hook at about 60 degrees to the horizontal with its transom smacking along in the swell.

I was an interested observer, standing at the rail just forward of the davit and watching it all play out, not noticing that the sailor just to my right had instinctively taken a loop of the mooring rope around the rail. The bosun on board the launch was hanging by the fixed seats and climbed up them to a locker in the bows and pulled out an axe. He could not reach the davit rope so started hacking away at the foredeck around the anchor point of the davit. What seemed like an age later, but was probably only five minutes, he succeeded, and with a groan and a crash the fore-deck around the lifting point broke away, freeing the launch, which dropped into the heaving sea.

In all the excitement the sailor standing next to me had failed to release his turns around the rail, and the next thing I was aware of was the whistling recoil of the parted mooring rope as it cleanly knocked my sunglasses of my face and into the sea without inflicting any damage!

The sailors did a professional job of rescuing the crew and their outboard and recovering the dug-out boat. After the dugout it and the launch were both winched aboard the Bayard, we re-deployed the fish and continued the line.

The rescued boat had been lowered intact onto the upper deck of the Marcel Bayard and the occupants were left to wander around eyeing up the launch with a degree of envy. Their dugout was typical of the local boats used to transport coconuts and other goods. It consisted of a single hollowed tree as a keel, with a couple of deep planks attached down each side of the tree trunk to provide freeboard. The outboard motor was fixed in a moon pool cut through the keel about 6 feet from the stern. The cut out was about 18" square and built up with wood planks to the same height as the side planks. The boat’s crew members were provided with food and drink, but were stuck on board for a couple of days while we completed the survey.

At the end of February 1980 we joined another cable layer, which I recall was Iris or Monarch, at Lagos and did the other leg of this survey, discharging at Vigo on 4 March 1980. There was a nasty gut bug aboard and nearly everyone went down with it. I got it just after the sonar survey and ended up wiped out in my bunk for about 36 hours. I flew back to the UK from Santiago do Compestela when it was an all grass airfield with a single wooden building. When the cable ship returned to Portsmouth a week or so later we got a dramatic call from Portsmouth public health advising us to go to the doctors immediately, as they believed we had typhoid! They phoned back a day later to withdraw the demand once the cases on board had been analysed.

On another trip I joined CS Iris (I think) in Bermuda on 7 July 1980, and recall her doing a repair on TAT-5 before going on to complete a stateside sonar survey for the upcoming TAT-7, and then ending up in Hoboken, New Jersey—hence this picture with the iconic New York skyline taken from the cable ship as she was docking.

The Moran tug in the picture was the basis of the Z-stacks in the British children’s TV series “Tugs,” a decade or so later.

Last revised: 19 January, 2022

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