I do like paper streamers - the little round coils of thin coloured paper that used to be thrown to and from passenger ships as they left port. The first picture I saw in the Waterline Exhibition was just such a scene, of Orcades in 1962 viewed from the quayside, and what nostalgic memories that brought back.
'Orcades' prepaing to leave an unidentified port (P89182)
Leaving a port like Southampton to sail south on a Mailship on a Friday would have been an emotional time for many passengers, and for the people seeing them off. Certainly in the 1960s every ship allowed visitors on board before sailing, with little parties being held in cabins, or in the public rooms. Just before sailing, the ship's whistle would sound and the announcement made requesting all visitors to leave the ship. That was the moment for final goodbyes as the company's representatives and VIPs went ashore, and the gangways were removed. The Union-Castle Line banners along the sides of the gangways would be taken off, ready for use again in a week's time.
Final preparations were made to sail and on the Bridge the Captain would instruct the Deck and Engineering Officers as requested by the Port Pilot on board. On the stroke of one o'clock our ship's siren would sound three times and the ship would slowly pull away from the quayside. Southampton's Guildhall clock would chime the hour, and the inhabitants of the city would know from the ship's siren that a Union-Castle Line Mailship was leaving her home port on her voyage south - they were said to set their clocks and watches by the sound! The sailaway music would start, and so would the tears in many cases, and the streamers would be hurled by the ship's passengers to their loved ones below. There would be a rainbow of colour stretching from hand to hand, until the last delicate link was gone and the voyage had truly begun. We sailed down Southampton Water, the Pilot would be taken off the ship by small boat, and our course would be set to sail south-west, passing the Isle of Wight and the famous Needles lighthouse and rocks on our port side.
I have my own coloured picture that I took leaning over the teak Promenade deck rail on board the lavender-hulled Union-Castle Line Mailship Edinburgh Castle as we prepared to leave Cape Town in 1967. Down on the quayside are crowds of people all looking up at passengers on the ship, but the whole picture is full of rainbow-coloured paper streamers being held by most of the people, just as it must have been in the Waterline photograph. Whatever the port, it was an emotional and unforgettable scene.