THE S. S. UGANDA CRUISE - SUMMER 1977.   

 This diary was written 25 years after the events described, so inevitably, details are forgotten, and some events may happen out of sequence. Even the exact dates of sailing and arriving home were lost on me, but I got some useful information from Uganda cruise correspondents online and pinned down the dates accurately. I was on Cruise 778. My adventures occurred between 140h June 1977 and the 23rd June 1977. We had just celebrated the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in England, and the Sex Pistols were all we talked about for weeks. We even sang their Friggin’ In The Riggin’ version of The Good Ship Venus on the cruise.



In 1977 My School, Moston Brook High School For Boys in Manchester, England, gave me a golden once in a lifetime opportunity to participate in an educational cruise around the Baltic Sea.  Initially, the party of twenty from our school had been booked for a Spanish Mediterranean Cruise on the same ship, the S. S. Uganda but that had been cancelled for some reason or other. 

Such cruises were heavily subsidised by education committees and school funds to make them cheaper for educational groups.  My Father, as a leading activist in the School PTA had helped champion our school through the red tape required for getting one organised. It was to be my first trip abroad. I was fifteen years old.


10th June 1977 SAILING OFF


We travelled in the school mini bus to Sunderland, in good spirits. It was a cloudy bleak day in England. The Uganda, my home for the next fortnight, was huge and bright white with a vast black funnel.  There is a picture of her at 

I couldn’t fit the whole ship in one photograph on my little camera. . She was just too big. I couldn’t step back far enough from her to fit her into the frame.

I was disappointed that we had no individual passports.  We were on special boarding cards presented by the cruise organisers. I just had a small card with my boarding details and a photo of myself on it.

The other difference between this and more traditional tourist cruises was that educational students had a communal dormitory rather than private cabins. We were strictly banned from the main paying tourist areas, though like most students, I would ignore that rule throughout my time at sea. It was just a case of taking our student badges off and blending in, hoping that no teachers spotted us mingling with the wealthier tourists on board. 

We shared our rather dark and gloomy looking dormitory with about thirty lads from a school in Edinburgh. Girls accompanied them from their school but they understandably had a separate dormitory. Moston Brook was a School exclusively for boys, so sexual relationships seemed unlikely to me. I was mistaken. Before the cruise ended, I would be in love for the fiat time, but I was destined to mess that up badly. .

In the self-service ship restaurant there was plenty of choice, but every diner was encouraged to eat grapefruits or oranges, presumably as a traditional way of warding off scurvy.

After the meal, which we ate while the passengers were still boarding the ship, we were soon on deck to watch the ship casting off. I saw a broken hawser line snap sharply into the quayside, chipping concrete away and making two dock workers step back quickly for safety.  The amount of tension in those cables was astonishing.

For the students, there was regular evening entertainment, A disco, with soft drinks only officially allowed, ran until about ten thirty each night at sea. The DJ played virtually the same tracks every night. When Rod Stewart, sang Sailing, you knew that it was time to go to bed. Nothing more would follow that.

Initial sailing was calm, but gradually as we moved out of sight of land, the decks began to sway and stomachs churned as if we were in cars going over speed bumps.  At first, we thought it was amusing, but gradually, it became more and more unpleasant.

We had bunk beds in the Dormitory. I was on a top bunk.  It was in the night that our school bullies went on the rampage, jumping out of bed to thrash each lad in turn as we were wrapped in our blankets. I knew that my turn was coming, and the bully walked up, but the ship lurched and he punched the iron bedstead instead of me, seriously hurting his hand in the process. He gave me no more trouble after that, though he had several, often brutal fights with the main bully from the Edinburgh school group.

Occasionally a member of the crew, who was assigned to keep an eye on the dormitories, looked in on us. He often shouted like an army Sergeant Major through t the doors for everyone to quieten down. This often woke up those of us who had been asleep despite any remaining rowdiness in the dorm.

As the night wore on the North Sea was getting increasingly choppy… I went to the toilets outside the dormitory, and out of curiosity, I decided to walk up on deck to see what the sea was like. It was pitch dark outside, and I only felt the freezing wall of water pour over me as a wave rolled up the deck. I sloshed back to my bed, cold and wet. Everyone laughed. Someone asked if I had been for a swim. I groaned and got changed into some clothes that I decided were now my dry pyjamas, and went back to bed.


11th June 1977 ROUGH CROSSING


Like many of our party, I woke up feeling groggy. Breakfast came in an option of full English or Continental, which amounted to a bread roll and a glass of orange juice. It was about all I could cope with. Around me, many passengers and fellow students were being sick in the paper bags provided.  Nothing puts you off eating more than the sight of diners vomiting in the cafeteria.

I saw the rise and fall of the waves now in the daylight, mostly through portholes in the corridor around our porthole free dorm. – By the end of the day, even I had succumbed to seasickness, even though I had thought fit to escape it as it had taken so long.

We were given a lifeboat drill and talked through how to put life-vests on if required. Then it was time for school.

On an educational cruise, much of the time at sea is taken up in lecture theatres and classrooms. We were presented with large Geography workbooks, which included details of the countries and peoples we were visiting, and we were told to write down anything we found out as the cruise went by. Our parents might have seen the trip as an education, a low-key version of   the Grand Tours of old, but for us, it was a holiday. As soon as it became apparent that no one was going to mark or study our work, many of the workbooks fell overboard. Mine included.

It wasn’t all school. We were given time to watch films in the ship cinema. Logan’s Run, The Revenge Of The Pink Panther, and a Bond movie were among those that I saw. The students in the cinema room were unsupervised and many just threw things about and boasted of the sex they would have with the various attractive women who appeared ion the screens. I found the atmosphere too much akin to a zoo, and stopped bothering to go and watch films there at all.

I actually became quite reclusive. The sea itself fascinated me. I would wander round the decks staring, half mesmerised at the ocean, the horizon and the sky. I found a quiet stretch of deck that hardly anyone seemed to visit and made it very much my own. There were a few deck chairs there, and I just put my feet up, stared at the sea and sky and read my own books. I was quite happy with this. Only the choppiness of the sea made me realise that I was still uncomfortably ill. I wasn’t sick any more as I simply wasn’t going to eat anything just to end up feeding it to the fish.

By Disco time, dancing around like a lunatic took my mind off the seasickness.




I woke to more seasickness – worse than ever – even the crew were sick this time. The ship was also rocking about alarmingly. I kept thinking about films like The Poseidon Adventure. People were falling over. Plates and cups fell to the floor.  Stairways were a nightmare, with people lying on the floor, clutching their stomachs, and rivers of vomit spilling over everything where people had run out of sick bags, and failed to make it to the decks or the toilets.

Suddenly, just as I thought I was in for a whole fortnight of this living Hell, the sea went calm.  For most of the voyage, everything would run smoothly.  We had crossed over the North Sea-Baltic Border. The Sea seemed to behave differently to prove it.

The atmosphere on the ship changed instantly. One of my friends produced a can of lager. He had smuggled a great deal of alcohol on board. He told me to help myself whenever I wished. We never ran out for a week. How he had achieved this, I have no idea.

We got organised tours of the Bridge, briefly being introduced to the Captain as he rushed off, eager to be elsewhere, but polite enough to welcome all the kids on board as he went. We were also invited on a controlled tour of the engine rooms, which were defining and surprisingly deserted. We saw very few men amidst the miles of piping and hot boilers, though some areas were deemed to busy or dangerous for our attention

We also got our one and only use of the swimming pool reserved for the students. We had to book for its use, and though many schools used it throughout the weekend, our teacher only booked us all in for one session. I really liked the pool and wished I could have used it more often.  We also got only one session of deck quoits, which involved throwing hoops onto rings. I was rubbish at this, and managed to throw at least three rings overboard.

The rest of the day was unexceptional.

I realised that several of my friends now had girlfriends, having chatted them up in the disco. Efforts were made to fix me up on a blind date with a ginger haired rather thin looking girl who had more freckles than I have ever seen on anyone’s skin before or since. Though she seemed nice, I politely declined the invitation to go out with her. She eventually paired up with my lager supplier instead, though she was still friendly enough to me.

My own dancing style in the disco had managed to impress none of the ladies. I resigned myself to a sex free cruise. Everyone else seemed to have someone to hold already.

A popular, but dire TV series showing in the UK about this time was called The Love Boat, and it promoted the myth that anyone who sailed on a cruise finds love and romance. I was convinced that I was an exception to the rule. I was wrong. There were ten days to go yet.

The calm seas made for extremely pleasant sailing. Our teacher from Manchester had pretty well abandoned us as he had a cabin in the passenger section of the ship, where he was having a great time his own way. He was on holiday too. We could hardly blame him. We hardly saw him when there was nothing to organise or anyone with specific problems to attend to.

If there was something particularly interesting to watch at sea, the ship tannoy sprang to life. We were informed that a large Japanese Super Tanker would soon pass by close to our Portside. I rushed from my quiet deck area, to see it, and it was immense. I had thought our own ship the biggest I had seen, but this was a true Leviathan of the sea. The crew could be seen riding on motorbikes to get quickly from one end to the other. Soon after the cruise, I saw news footage of such a tanker sinking and I was not surprised by how much oil could spill from such a colossus.

After Rod Stewart sang the national anthem of the cruise, we were all expected to go straight to bed, but lack of Supervision meant that I was able to watch sunsets of great beauty, admire the reflection of moonlight on water, and see some of the starriest skies I would ever see. Away from the bright lights of a city like Manchester, the whole Milky Way comes out. I watched it in awe for hours nightly. I often went to bed long after all of my travelling my friends had fallen asleep.


                                                 FIRST LANDFALL. VISBY – GOSPORT SWEDEN.


We reached our first of five ports of call quite early on.  Gosport is a popular resort island off the coast of Sweden.  The ship anchored out in the bay.  I remember little of the Island itself other than how warm it was. We reached it by small-motorised boats that ferried us in clusters from the bay. I remember setting my foot on the shore and trying to think about how profound it was to be touching foreign soil for the first time in my life. I wanted to think of something profound to mark the occasion, but my friends were keen to push by me to get ashore and that rather spoilt the experience for me. We had about three hours to explore on our own before we were due back on the ship. With three of my friends, I walked around the coastline, with no set plans about what to do.  A tall buxom blonde Swedish girl who was wearing no bra under a totally transparent blouse suddenly joined us.  She chomped an apple as she walked with us, chattering away, apparently reciting facts about the island, Swedish history, etc. I took in nothing but the near nudity and sheer Goddess like beauty of her appearance. My friends later told me that I was practically drooling, but so were they. She chatted with us through the whole of our walk, and so I remembered nothing that she actually pointed out to us. I thought she might expect a tip for her services to tourism, but she didn’t ask for anything. With a friendly wave, she vanished into the sunlight and we went to get our boat ride back to the ship. I was told later that I spent the next two hours with my lower jaw almost in my lap. 

I should have been writing in my journal all about Sweden, but my journal was at the bottom of the North Sea, and anything I might have penned then would have been pornographic. I retired to my quiet deck zone and watched Sweden vanish over the horizon, before going for the evening meal, followed by the disco, and the inevitable Rod Stewart finale.


 14th June 1977 LENINGRAD - RUSSIA.


The second port of call would not involve encounters with mindless lust. It was Leningrad. Soviet Communism, under Breshnev, was not yet falling apart at the seams.

Of all the places to visit, this provoked the greatest conversation and controversy. So many people had tried to frighten me with claims about the horrors of Communism, and insisted that once there, I would never be allowed to leave. I have to say that Leningrad was one of the friendliest, most pleasant places I have known. There were dark corners, but mostly, it was lovely. 

The first thing that struck me about Leningrad, Manchester’s Twin city, was the immense size of the docks. We had begun sailing into them in the night, and we passed ship after ship over several hours.

One of the dark corners was that we were forbidden to take photographs.  Some Russian officials had in fact come aboard to watch that this rule was observed. I wondered if they were KGB. One man, a teacher in charge of another school party, took a picture and his camera was snatched from him. The film was ripped out and instantly ruined by exposure to sunlight. It was one of the ship’s crew who did it to him, not one of the Russian agents on board. . We soon saw the reason for the secrecy when we sailed by a heavily crewed sleek grey submarine. We were told that it was nuclear.

We also sailed by a series of Freightliner cargo carriers that had come from Manchester. That impressed me. My Grandfather was then employed as a driver for Freightliners in England I had often gone to work with him as a driver’s mate.

Once docked, we were taken on a coach tour of Leningrad, and saw the Winter Palace, which looks beautiful. It was hard to imagine this as the epicentre of the 1917 Revolution.

We then went shopping. It was a strange shop, in that advertising was totally mineralised. There was nothing in the windows which were greased over to stop people looking in from outside. I bought my grandmother a traditional Russian Doll, one of those that have smaller dolls inside it.  Since her death, the doll has gone to my mother.

We were ordered to surrender all Russian change and currency as the Russians were unwilling to allow their money to pass into Western Hands whenever possible.

We were supposed to be on restricted budgets anyway. The schools insisted that we carried a set income and budget for the cruise, but most of us carried as much money as we had managed to save up for the event.


                                    15th June 1977 HELSINKI. 


Our third stop was at Helsinki, capital of Finland. We sailed in with the ship tannoy blaring out the theme to a TV documentary series called World In Action. In fact Sibelius apiece composed the theme tune. And the Finns are extremely proud of him. The visit mostly amounted to a picnic in Sibelius Park, where there is a large statue of him, surrounded by ornamental Organ Pipes, which we clamoured around and through.  The only other thing I can remember from Helsinki was the sight of the Olympic Stadium and the statue of – runner Paavo Nurmi who broke two world records in the space of an hour On January 5, 1925.  I’m sure we saw lots more of Helsinki, but my memory has died on that one. Not so, with our next port of call.


                                              16th June 1977    TRAVEMUNDE, LUBECK AND LOVE.


Germany, The port at Travemunde, and the town of Lubeck were our next port of call.  – We were expected to swim here, which I was looking forward to, seeing as the pool had not been booked for us again. We were out of look. The bay was heavily infested with jellyfish – we saw them as a near continuous glutinous mass around the ship even as we sailed in; like an inshore Sargasso Sea. 

The allies did a vast amount of air raid damage to Lubeck during World War Two, but the Bavarian looking city looked utterly unspoilt. We visited a large Gothic Church and a castle.

In the castle there was a stone of good fortune, rather akin to Ireland’s Blarney Stone, As I reached to touch it, and not even being remotely superstitious, my hands tangled with those of a pretty young lady instead. She proved to be a Scottish girl, one of the Edinburgh party. She apologised nervously, and giggled. At the time, I thought nothing of it, but she had other ideas.

Back on the ship, after evening meal, as the ship sailed out of Travemunde through the jellyfish plague, I retired to my usual deck of solitude.

I wasn’t alone after the first thirty minutes. The girl I had locked hands with at the castle came up, and rummaged around claiming to look for her keys, which she claimed to have lost somewhere around where I was sitting.   I knew that this was nonsense. She had only just arrived, and I had been there for some time. I knew that she was up to something, but instead of telling her that she was not being entirely honest, I played along, and helped her search around.

As we conducted the mock search, she told me who she was, Lois Pegauson. (I would often teasingly annoy her by mispronouncing her name as Louise, but this was dangerous as she had a very fiery temperament).  She was taller than me, and quite a large girl, heavy-set without being fat. There was a look of steely determination about her. If this girl had ambitions, nothing would stand between her and their achievement. My conquest had just become one such achievement.

We both knew that the search was a farce. She suddenly took her keys out of her pocket and threw them in front of me, saying ‘Oh Look, there they are.” I picked the keys up and handed them to her, at which she hugged me, exclaiming on how grateful she was tome for finding them for her. I struggled for words, or to think about what was going on. I just stared into the deep pools that were her eyes. She seemed to expect something from me, but I wasn’t sure what it was. After a moment, she made up my mind for me. She grabbed me, and shrieking ‘Come here, you great big duck-egg’ she kissed me with extreme passion. The kiss, my first of its kind, flooded my senses to absolute overload, especially when her tongue slid into my mouth. She held me like that for several minutes, and the glory of it all only ended when I felt a walking stick strike me on my shoulder. An old man had walked by, and when he saw us, he expressed his disgust at me.

I have no idea where he came from. He looked too old to be a teacher, or a member of the crew. Ordinary passengers did not get into the areas reserved for the education cruise students, but here he was, a puritanical dinosaur.

Lois snapped at him calling him a dirty-minded old bleeder, and told him that what we were doing was none of his business. He sulked away totting to himself. . If anything, he was the one who thought of us as dirty minded, so quite how Lois had turned the accusation around at him was lost on me.

As he vanished out of sight, she grabbed me again, to take up where we had left off. – Her tongue slid back into my throat… It was the beginning of a short-lived, but very beautiful friendship.  

My secluded seating area was suddenly a buzz of attention Further embraces with Lois were watched by her friends, and soon, as word spread through our dormitories, by mine as well  - When one of the lads from her school got too close, leering at us and trying to take embarrassing pictures, she punched him and he fell down a flight of stairs, mercifully hurt only in his pride.

Lois and I danced all night at the disco.  Even her teacher, a beautiful woman herself, seemed to like us being together. She often brought us drinks and chatted with us. .


 20th June 1977 LOST


Denmark, Copenhagen, our last and longest stopping point. We entered the harbour to Danny Kaye singing Wonderful Copenhagen over the tannoy system. He played Hans Christian Anderson, Denmark’s famous Fairy Tale author, in a movie biopic. 

Initially we set off touring as a school party and saw the famous little mermaid statue on the edge of the harbour. Then, fatally we were given two or three hours to wander round by ourselves. By chance, rather than by intention, I met up with Lois, her teacher and half a dozen of their party and spent the time snogging away with Lois and buying souvenirs for my family. I didn’t realise that Lois’s teacher had zero sense of direction. She had soon got us all hopelessly lost. There was no way we were going to get back to the Uganda by the official boarding time. We ended up getting a boat taxi ride round the harbour in a desperate effort to achieve this. We were not in danger of missing the ship but rules were rules. The ship crew frowned on any late arrival from passengers or crew alike. Students were no exception.

As Lois was with her teacher, she had an excuse, but I was with a different school. I was in big trouble. My teacher waited for me at the gangway entrance to the ship. As he saw me he got very angry. He threatened to refuse me the right to take part in the rest of the tour. I snapped back that my father had paid for this and that he would not be happy if I was to be excluded from the chance of a lifetime. I added that a fellow teacher had safely supervised me while he had given his class hardly any attention all the way through the cruise, and that no harm had been done. My words took him aback. I was astonished at how assertive I was being myself. He thought for a while and compromised that I would only be confined to the dormitory for my first full night back at sea. I reluctantly decided not to push things further on that one. I agreed to his terms.

The same night I had got lost we stayed in Copenhagen and visited Tivoli Gardens, a huge colourful fun fair. We had free admission passes to all the rides. I naturally went round with Lois. After various other rides and watching the coloured fountains and the firework displays, I decided to take her on the very big roller coaster, she raised no objections to this, but once on, she clutched my hand so tightly that she drew blood. As we went round the first high drop she screamed so hysterically in blind terror that the ride was stopped in order for her to get off. When I asked why she’d got on if she was that scared she told me that she hadn’t wanted to disappoint me.




The next day, we again had free time to wonder round Copenhagen. I knew that I dared not miss the embarkation time again, as the ship would sail on time with or without me. I warned Lois that I’d best avoid meeting her teacher this time. My own teacher would freak out otherwise. I went round the museum of the Danish resistance on my own. I was impressed by the bravery of the men who had never given in when their country was conquered. The elaborate traps and bombs and photographs were very moving.

On the ship, which I reached in plenty of time, as we sailed it was my night to be cast into exile; Lois and I exchanged occasional messages through our friends. I planned to escape but for the first and only night, my tutor visited the dormitory frequently to spy on me. At 9.30 PM, he finally relented and let me go.  I spent a few hours in Lois’s company, and then it was bedtime.


                                    THE LAST FEW DAYS. 


Our next stop was Sunderland. Lois and I kissed and hugged like it was going out of fashion, as we knew that we were running out of time. 

We contemplated having sex, but we were watched too closely. We never got past heavy petting and groping one another through our clothes. We danced and chatted away the time, barely paying attention to anyone or anything else.

She insisted, on our last night, that I tell her that I loved her. I was shocked by the question. I hadn’t thought of it. I had strong feelings for her, but was it really loves? I had no idea. I was stupid and rash enough o tell her the truth – I wasn’t sure. The question was too sudden for me. She went hysterical, even threatening to leap overboard unless I declared my love for her. She clamoured up the guardrail and I told her I loved her until she came down and then actually threw her over my knee and smacked her backside hard, rather than playfully. I told her that she had scared me half to death. She cried away in my arms and went to tidy herself up.  I went to the disco and ended up dancing with her teacher, which made Lois jealous for a while, but finally we seemed reunited for our last night at sea.

When Rod Stewart sang Sailing, the night and the cruise were officially over. I danced it with both Lois and her teacher in my embrace. The DJ sensed the sorrow in the air and played it a second time. This time it was just Lois and I. Finally, it was over.

We stayed on deck in deep embrace, barely able to speak, and finally went off to our beds.

I saw her briefly at breakfast. I was already packed away. I am very organised about things like that. Lois’s friends were reminding her that she still had things to do and so our final moments were constantly interrupted. I didn’t even see our final approach to Southampton. With a final tender kiss, we parted. It hurt like Hell.

We went off to our dormitories to get our bags. We said goodbye to the Edinburgh lads who had shared the Dorm with us, and left. We boarded our mini bus and we saw the Scots getting onto their coach. Lois waved frantically to me as they followed us out of Southampton docks, but we quickly pulled away from them once on the open road. I was silent and brooding for most of the journey home.




Lois phoned me the next day, while I was still telling my parents of my many adventures.  She phoned again a few hours later, and again early the following morning. She was clearly thinking of nothing but me, just as I was suffering over her.

That was when I told her that realistically it would be a while before I could get to Edinburgh or she to visit me in Manchester. I casually suggested that I would not blame her for finding some guy closer to home rather than waiting for me. I thought I was being wise. I really hoped as I said it that she would assure me that there could only ever be me. She took it for goodbye. It was the most stupid thing I ever said to anyone. Se told me what to do to myself sexually and hung up. I never heard from her ever again. I wrote to her several times, ten, and again about ten years later, by which time she had undoubtedly married and had children to some very fortunate man, but there was never a reply.

While it lasted, she was wonderful to know, and now I know that I really was in love with her.

I sent my photos off for development, using a postal service that had been very good up to that point. Only half of my pictures came back. They sent pictures taken by and of complete strangers, who had nothing to do with the cruise instead of the rest of my pictures,  and they never found my own photos again. Many pictures of Lois had vanished forever. I was very saddened by that.

The cruise stays in my mind to this day, a precious memory of an idyllic childhood soon to be shattered by the way life can turn nasty to make you grow up more quickly.

One result of the cruise was that my parents decided that we should go soon abroad as a family, if only to give my sister a chance to see another country too. She had been offended that I had landed such a great experience when her own school had no similar arrangements on offer. The following year My Mother, Father, Sister and myself flew to Toremolinos in Spain. It would be our last holiday with my father, who would die the following year.


                                    THE S. S. UGANDA STORY


The ship herself was a true marvel of the Sea and she touched the hearts of all who ever sailed on her.  Initially she was a major luxury passenger ship in the East India Steam Navigation Company fleet, taking passengers from England to Africa throughout the 1950’s.

In 1968 She was refitted with dormitories for the educational cruise craze of the 1970’s becoming a floating hotel, college and unwittingly as a teenager’s love boat, for up to half a million kids. A sister ship, The SS Kenya served a similar purpose. In 1982 she was commissioned as a hospital ship for the British Fleet during the Falklands war against Argentina. As many as seven hundred wounded soldiers of both sides owe their lives to the work of her surgeons. Some Argentinean propaganda reports claimed that she had been sunk at the height of the conflict, which deeply upset myself and many who had sailed on her, but the reports had no foundation in truth.  Soon after the Falklands War, after a brief return to her educational cruise duties, she was hired as a ferry to take soldiers and tourists between the Falkland Isles and the Ascension Isles where the British also had a major base of operations. With improved airport facilities between the islands, the Uganda served no further purpose. In 1986, she was sold to Taiwan for scrap.

Few who had contact with her could ever forget her.


A website celebrating her work, and giving many testimonies from passengers and crew is online at my review Abstract of the site is online at


At least two of my poems were inspired by the cruise, and especially by Lois. a.marriage.of.other.peoples.convenience.htm Is about everyone trying to influence a relationship for you, and inspired by myself and Lois always being watched by our lecherous friends. Is directly about my doomed love affair with Lois.



Arthur Chappell