The 1962 TCD Expedition to Kharg Island
and 1962 IC Expedition to Abu Dhabi
(a slightly enhanced extract from the memoirs of
Distinguished Professor Emeritus C G St C Kendall)
1959 While at TCD in the early 60's, encouraged by my good friend Jalik Kaulback, I read books by Hans Hass who in the early 50's had published "Men and Sharks" and another classic book "Under the Red Sea" where he was one of the first divers to visit this area with a camera.
Inspired by what Hans Hass had described, both Jalik and I wanted to go to the Red Sea to film the underwater life and the submarine landscapes Hans Hass had written so enthusiastically about. We started to organise an expedition and talked with our fellow students who included David Cabot, Martin Bennett and Sir Patrick Skipwith, and though we were all strong swimmers we decided to take diving lessons at the Irish Sub Aqua Club in the Iveagh Baths in Dublin, so we had training in using aqualungs to breathe underwater.
[Click here for mugshots of the three protagonists, plus Professor Gill, Godfather of these expeditions, on a TCD field trip to Wales ca 1960, in their third year of a four-year degree course.]
1960 We recognised that we would need to raise a substantial sum of money to go to the Red Sea, and then because Jalik Kaulback persuaded his father, who was a contractor in Iran connected to building of the Abadan Refinery, to talk with the National Iranian Oil Company, and since as a result they offered to house the expedition on the island of Kharg in the Persian Gulf and provide us with local marine and land transport, we changed the location of the expedition to the Persian Gulf. We were now faced with raising money to get to Iran and for the dive equipment we needed and the cameras.
1961 Sometime starting in 1961 my mother introduced me to her good friend Walter Wardlaw (William) Waddell who was running a company called Powertyping from his ground-floor apartment in Basil Mansions on Basil Street in Knightsbridge, around the corner from Harrods. He encouraged me with our fundraising and offered to use the machines he ran for creating multiple letters, for fund raising using his Robotypers (Automatic Business Machines) which he now used to help the TCD underwater expedition. When the auto typewriters were running it was deafening in the flat despite the curtains WWW had suspended from the ceilings, with pillows he had tacked there too.
1962 I, Jalik and Patrick recognised we needed to outline the objectives of our studies on Kharg. As the result of the mass mailings, we gained the extended loan of dive tanks, plus some £400 from Trinity College Trust. Having just graduated from TCD, we left Dublin on 9 July 1962. A week later we were on the Orient Express train from Victoria to Istanbul and on to Erzurum in eastern Turkey, a bus across the border to Iran, train to Tehran, and were diving in the Gulf around Kharg and Khargu Islands in the first week of August.
At Victoria we had boarded the Orient Express of Agatha Christie fame and as with the Hogswart Express of Harry Potter we were seen off in chaos amid our luggage, by our eccentric relatives and well-wishers. It seemed we had hardly come down from our euphoria when we were on the cross-channel ferry to France and then, as the sun went down, were steaming south to Paris. We crossed France in the evening and night and plunged into the railway tunnel to Italy. The train burst out into the bright morning sunshine and was steaming by the platforms of stations packed with Italians on the way to work. Seeing the schoolkids on the platform and interested in a reaction, we shouted "Spaghetti, Macaroni" and to our great pleasure they shouted back "Cup of Tea".
Next the Express wended its way along the levee across the Venetian lagoons and steamed into the Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia overlooking the western end of the Grand Canal. Since you may leave the train at the station and reboard so long as you have a ticket, we sprinted down the edge of the Canal revelling in the unexpected sunlight and blue colour of the canal. It was as though we had stepped through a portal from yesterday's gloom of London into this miracle of architecture, gondoliers and people. We were there an hour or two and then off to Yugoslavia where the farms were a hive of action, harvesting hay on horse-drawn wagons and women wrapped in peasant shawls moving slowly across the landscape. On the train, to experience sausage with garlic, Turkish students, their hostel, the Bosphorus, water skiing on the water, the Upper Class and Lower Class red light districts, the largest palace, Topkapi, with its amazing colour and architectural styles.
Three days and then off across the Bosphorus and riding in Edwardian carriages with signs warning us to avoid robbery by keeping the windows closed, and the indented pads with a small nail to hang our fob watches (!). Erzurum in eastern Turkey. Bus ride across Iranian border to Tabriz. At the border of Iran we stopped in a cafe and drank tea or chai on benches amid the other travellers on the bus. I had a small flat bread to eat and by the early evening I had diarrhea and fever but I fortunately recovered within a few hours during our train ride to Tehran.
In Tehran we shared a room in an economical hotel for two nights. Iranian friends of Jalik's parents took care of us and fed us at a lavish country club with tables and chairs set among the trees on the hillside around Tehran. The streets were lined with plane-trees, and water flowed in the drainage conduits that lay beside the pedestrian pavements that parallelled the streets. The snowcapped Erbuz Mountains lined the horizon to the north.
Patrick and I shared a room and he kept me awake reading. I discovered the range finder on my camera was stolen from a locked cupboard in the hotel room. We took the train to Abadan and a plane to the island of Kharg. We were housed in a comfortable Company bungalow and ate at the Company canteen.
We were provided with a motorised dhow and dived every day. On our first venture into the sea we were greeted by around five small sharks who moved off smartly when we followed the advice of Hans Hass and dived down on them yelling, in the required manner, like dervishes.
Each day we sailed on a series of traverses across the reefs ringing the islands. We collected sediment samples and Jalik filmed the fauna and flora of the sea floor capturing some really neat shots of small blennies sharing the excavated burrows of Callianassa-like shrimps. During my dives I managed to develop ear infections from not clearing my ears when I dived. I treated the infection with hydrocortisone drops and spent a few days by myself making land traverses along the shore of the island.
The first day I went out wearing only my swimming trunks and with no water, but only a hammer and some sample bags and note book. Within an hour, as the sun rose above me, I realised I was becoming over-heated and tried immersing myself in the nearby sea but to no avail. I retreated to the shade of a nearby rock and stood for several hours protected by the rock till the driver collected me for a late lunch.
I was immensely dehydrated and consumed copious glasses of water till my stomach was awash. This had never happened to me before and never did again but was a valuable lesson to me in desert survival. A simple precaution of a water bottle and the need for shade and never working in the midday sun in the field, were valuable reminders of how fragile our existence is without water and not being prepared. Inexperience and stupidity nearly did me in.
As we had proposed, we progressively mapped the geology of the island, examining the uplifted reefs of the rising anticline. We established there were several phases of reef development associated with this uplift that extended from the Late Paleogene and Pleistocene. We saw the uplifted captured shoaling upward cycles from the offshore lagoon into reef and tidal flat.
We submitted a report on our results to the Iranian Oil company and left Kharg some three months (mid October 1962) after we arrived – Jalik returning to London, Paddy and I continuing to Abu Dhabi to make contact with Graham Evans, with whom we would make the first field trips of our IC doctoral researches, as previously agreed with Professor Daniel Gill (further details below).
We travelled by plane from Kharg to Abadan, to Kuwait and then to Bahrain and to Dubai and by Land Rover to Abu Dhabi. In Abadan we'd run into a group of young Kuwaitis who had been making merry in Iran and in a state of inebriation invited Paddy and me to stay with them in Kuwait. Since our flight to Dubai was supposed to depart shortly after we arrived in Kuwait we declined their invitation. We all boarded the plane as night came on and flew to Kuwait.
Once on the ground Paddy and I searched for the gate for our plane and were told the plane was cancelled but next morning there would be a flight to Dubai. Paddy and I rushed after our new Kuwaiti friends and asked if we might come with them, now accepting their invitation to party with them and spend the night under their protection. They enthusiastically encouraged us to join them and off we went into Kuwait. On the way our host picked up a bottle of whisky and we ended up trudging across the beaches of North Kuwait. Around us were other inebriated Kuwaiti young men celebrating the beach with their friends. Some were staggering across the beaches with heavy crates of beer, and our new friends explained these were the poor who could not afford the more expensive Scotch whisky we were imbibing.
Some time on, our friend now invited us to come with him to his home to meet his mother. We entered the Kuwaiti home and met his mother who expressed pleasure in meeting us; she was an older lady who had a black leather mask on her face, but surprised us by being dressed in light transparent silken clothes that draped her body but we could see her bosom. She was completely relaxed and we were fulsome in our thanks to her son who had entertained us and taken us to meet her.
We left shortly after and sped on to a hotel which our host paid for and hired a taxi for the airport where the driver slept parked outside to take us to the morning plane to Dubai next day, Abu Dhabi then being reached (late October 1962) by hired Land Rover.
In July 1962, some time before Patrick and I left UK for Iran, we had talked with Professor Daniel Gill, our old Professor of Geology at TCD, and now the Professor of Petroleum Geology at Imperial College London. He had invited us to become graduate students at IC to study for a PhD.
The PhD research we were to conduct would be related the study of the carbonate sedimentology and geology of the coastal regions of the Trucial State of Abu Dhabi. This was because oil company geologists had recognised this region had similar characteristics to the depositional settings of the Bahamas, and the sediments of Abu Dhabi were potential modern analogues of the ancient limestone sections trapping oil in Saudi Arabia, the Trucial States and Iran.
Daniel Gill had arranged for us to join Graham Evans of Imperial College who had organised and coordinated the first IC expedition the previous year, 1961. We joined him and he introduced Paddy and me to Abu Dhabi with his gorgeous wife Rosemary on our first trip (his second) to Abu Dhabi in 1962 when we camped on Saadiyat Island, devoid of population.
To keep in the cool and avoid the overwhelming heat, our Imperial College field trips were scheduled from October through April. Our task was to build a map of the sediment distribution of the carbonate sands of the coast. Initially we assisted with Graham's marine survey, learning how to use the IC boat, and working from it with a grab sampler to gather the oolitic sediments that were gathering on the tidal deltas of the coast. Graham concentrated his focus on the tidal delta between Abu Dhabi Island and Saadiyat Island. We learnt to use a sextant to locate our sample collection stations and took the pH and redox potential of the sediment we collected.
We got to meet Colonel Boustead, the British Political Agent, and Bill Clarke, the Ruler Sheikh Shakhput's adviser. In addition to our sampling offshore from Abu Dhabi we took a Land Rover onto the sabkha (salt flats) south-west of Abu Dhabi and over the causeway across the tidal creek from the mainland, guarded by a small fort, the Muqta, dug trenches in the torrid and humid heat at a VERY VERY SLOW pace, collected the sediments, and anhydrite, and cored sections with plastic tubes.
Anhydrite, hawking for desert hares, and our Buraimi and Liwa adventures (late November 1962) with the Trucial Scouts, enlivened our PhD mapping project. Graham kept the boat, while Paddy and I divided the southern shore of the Khor al Bazam between us. We made land traverses to the coast, working from a Land Rover driven by Tarish, and visiting the settlements of Tarif and Mirfa.
We returned to the UK in early January 1963.