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Monthly Archives: March 2017

Meridian Passages, Volume XIII, Number 40

Central Pacific Edition

Marshall Islands: The Little Trade

More excerpts from “My Return to Majuro”

Yesterday Cap’n Spence related his exploits in the Marshall Islands commanding USS Brunswick in the Pacific. The saga continues….

Like I said before…it was the spring of 1989. I commanded the Navy salvage ship USS Brunswick at the time based out of Sasebo, Japan. We were still savoring our good fortune: an assignment to visit the Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands was special. This was an assignment that I had experienced twice before as a junior officer, and the memories were still vivid . The big difference this time; knowing what was ahead, I was ready able and willing to apply that knowledge in some way to make a difference. I didn’t yet know what form it would take.

Our sister ship across the pier, USS Beaufort (ATS-2) was also in port with us, a rare occurrence. We were of ten scattered across the western Pacific, usually in opposite directions, but hardly ever together in our home port. Their commanding officer was a longtime friend and neighbor of mine, and we met one morning for coffee.

I detailed the itinerary of our assignment to TTPI for him. We talked about some ideas on where to stop and dive in the beautiful lagoons, and make the most of this great assignment. He said, “you know, I have a sailor from one of those countries. Let me check on that.” And sure enough, Beaufort had a young enlisted man onboard who listed his home as the Federated States of Micronesia. The idea came to me immediately: “Would you like to make a trade? I’ll take your sailor from FSM with me to TTPI, and in exchange I’ll leave a sailor of equal grade and qualifications.” This is called “cross-decking” and is done frequently. We both agreed that we would make the offer to our sailors. I was pretty sure the Micronesian sailor would agree to this. But where was I going to find a volunteer of equal grade and qualifications? There was only one way to find out . T h e executive officer posted a notice in the Plan of the Day: “Any engineering petty officer having X training and Y qualifications who chooses to stay in Sasebo aboard our sister ship, Beaufort instead of deploying to the South Pacific, please notify the executive officer.” There were probably only a few who would even qualify for this deal, let alone someone who wanted to stay behind. I was not hopeful for this. But in a few days, a sailor stepped forward. A young man with a wife and infant child at home was a volunteer for the swap. Across the pier, the Micronesian sailor was a volunteer. Let’s Make a Deal!

The configuration of the two ships was identical, the organization of the ship’s crew standardized, the general shipboard routine the same. The swap happened the day before we sailed.

Reporting aboard for duty was Engineman Third Class Reiche, (RAY-chee) USN. I did not make a big deal about where his home was. I welcomed him aboard like any other sailor, and he fit right into his new ship easily. We waved our final good byes to our families and friends, and pointed the bow East by Southeast, bound for TTPI.

Our first stop was Guam. This was headquarters for the naval administrator for TTPI. There were lengthy documents to read on the purpose of the trust territories, policies regarding ship visits, and implementing instructions on how to accomplish all of it. I understood it well. It had been four years since I was last there. While technically under the Geneva Conventions, our salvage ship was considered a warship. But if you look closer, where large naval guns would be placed, we had deck cranes. Where torpedo tubes or depth charge racks should be mounted, we had diving stations. We did not possess any offensive war making capabilities. We didn’t appear threatening. We were a small and maneuverable vessel. For that reason, we were well suited for visiting small nations, showing the flag, painting sclools o r orphanages, which we were glad to do. On the day we departed Guam, I called EN3 Reiche to the bridge. My purpose was to get a little better acquainted with him. He was polite and shy, and his answers were short. Maybe he had never been on the bridge before? After all, he was a “snipe.” That was the colloquial name we used for engineers because they work below the main deck, a place with no sunshine. And there were two kinds of snipes: The hole snipes work in The Hole, the colloquial name we have for the engine room. Hole snipes considered themselves elite among the other snipes, which we called fresh air snipes. These engineers worked anywhere outside of The Hole and took care of auxiliary machinery like boat engines, cranes, winches and compressors. Reiche was a fresh air snipe , and he was totally comfortable on the bridge. He told me that he grew up on the water.

… to be continued tomorrow

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Meridian Passages, Volume XIII, Number 39

Central Pacific Edition

Marshall Islands: The Big Trade

Excerpts from “My Return to Majuro”

It was the spring of 1989. I commanded the Navy salvage ship USS Brunswick at the time based out of Sasebo, Japan. Our assignment: SurvOps: TTPI. SurvOps was the Navy acronym for surveillance operations. TTPI was a political entity called the Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands. TTPI was a United Nations construct that established a protectorate of the far flung central and western Pacific Islands under the administration of the United States in 1947. American stewardship of this trust was accomplished through political channels and with a physical presence, often taking the form of a transiting U.S. naval vessel. We were going there to ensure that the islands were secure and not being re-militarized by any foreign government or that foreign fishing vessels had not taken up a permanent presence or infringed on the fishing resources.

Next stop … Majuro. This was the capital of the Republic. We were arriving from the nearby island of Jaluit where we had cleared a wreck from a pier, opening the way for commercial traffic. We were now in Majuro to get cleaned up, re-stow gear and get ready to return to Japan. I was greeted in Majuro by the Minister of Transportation. He was delighted with our quick work on that vessel in Jaluit, and thanked us for our efforts. I assured him that it was a pleasure on behalf of the Navy to be of service. At that point, he pulls out a folded piece of paper…it was a list. On it were 8 more projects, in or around Majuro much like the job in Jaluit. The Minister asked if we would consider doing any one of these, he would be extremely happy. I took the list. They were all vessel strandings or sinkings inside the commercial basin, all visible from our ship except one. The last job was on a neighboring island. I said that I will take the list and get as far as I could in the three days we had to re-stow our gear and get ready to return to Japan. We already knew how to clear a wreck from a pier in 10 minutes. We accomplished all 7 removal s in two days. About that last job. This one was a personal favor from the President. He asked that we send a boat to the neighboring island of Arno. These two islands are close but like two horseshoes with the open ends opposite each other. A boat channel existed in Majuro near Arno, but only a small and dangerous natural pass existed in Arno. Could we possibly lengthen and widen it to eight feet? It just so happens that we have a tool for that. So sure, tell the President we’d be pleased to open up the channel to Arno. It would only take a half a day. After the required safety briefings and some careful calculations a small team of divers departed in the ship’s boat. Maybe it was a lack of supervision or perhaps just too much safety margin, but the anticipated 8 foot boat channel turned out to be a twenty five foot super highway. When the news of our exploits reached the President, he was elated! He personally thanked me and my crew for all the work we had done in the Marshall Islands. He was most pleased with the new safer trading route between the islands. Before our departure, he asked if there was anything he could ever do for me. Well I had a list for him. I have always admired those giant clam shells which grow at great depths in these waters. A golf cart arrived at the ship 30 minutes later with the finest 150 pounds of clam shell I’ve ever seen.

I carried that shell with me for many years. It was when I last told this story to a listener, he expressed his own envy and desire to have a huge shell like that. Whenever someone admires the personal property of another, in the island culture it is good and it is right to give that property to them. I think the President would approve. And to this day I believe that shell resides in Salon, Iowa. Small world.

— Spence King

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USS Princeton (CVL-23)

Meridian Passages, Volume XIII, Number 38

Central Pacific Edition

Emily Splashed

Action over Baker Island

USS Princeton (CVL-23)
USS Princeton (CVL-23)

Baker is a small island just 37 nm south of Howland Island (where we are searching for Amelia Earhart’s Electra). In 1935, an attempt at colonization was begun on the two Islands, but the small settlements of four men each were evacuated in 1942 after Japanese air and naval attacks. Two of the colonists on Howland Island were killed in the attacks and buried there. In September of the following year, an airfield was established on Baker.

F6F Hellcat Carrier-based Fighter
F6F Hellcat Carrier-based Fighter

During construction, the Independence class light carriers USS Princeton (CVL-23) and USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) provided air cover. Built on a cruiser hulls, the vessels each could carry more than 30 aircraft including squadrons of new F6F Hellcat fighters.

On September 1, 1943 a four engine Japanese flying boat, a Kawanishi H8K (known to U.S. forces as “Emily”) approached Howland Island from the west. Four F6 Hellcats were on CAP (combat air patrol) over the Baker airfield construction operations and were vectored to the bogey by the FDO (fighter director officer) on board the radar-equipped destroyer USS Trathen (DD-530). The unsuspecting Emily was detected at a range of over 30 miles and was taken completely by surprise. Passing just south of Howland at 7,000 feet, the Japanese plane had apparently completed its reconnaissance and reversed course to head back west when a Hellcat piloted by Lt. (j.g.) Richard Loesch descended out of the sun from 10,000 feet and opened fire with its six 50-caliber machine guns. On the heels of that attack was wingman Ens. A. W. Nyquist in a second F6 who made a similar run at the enemy. Closing to within 100 yards, the fighters fired 300 rounds each into the Emily which made no defensive maneuver. Streaming gasoline, the plane was seen to descend in a slow spiral until it hit the water and exploded in flames. No survivors were observed. This was the first combat action of an F6F Hellcat, which replaced the F4F Wildcat as the primary U.S. carrier based fighter of the Pacific war.

Kawanishi H8K “Emily” Flying Boat
Kawanishi H8K “Emily” Flying Boat

The enemy plane was shot down so suddenly it failed to send a radio report. Two days later a second Emily was picked up on radar about 20 miles from Baker at 8,000 feet and the CAP aloft was dispatched, this time operating from the carrier Belleau Wood. Four F6 fighters sped to the scene. Attacks were again made from above, but this time the Japanese plane was able to take evasive action. Racing for cloud cover, the damaged aircraft was able to escape and contact was temporarily lost. However, one of the fighters flew around the clouds and spied the flying boat at a lower altitude. Two others jettisoned their belly fuel tanks to gain speed and took up the pursuit. Catching the enemy at a distance of 50 miles from Baker, the F6’s piloted by Lt. (j.g.) Coleman and Ens. E. J. Philippe pressed the attack. The Emily appeared to be making a water landing when it exploded, burned, and sank. No survivors were seen.

A third Emily was shot down by planes from Princeton on September 8. Apparently, none of them were able to get off a radio report to their base in the Gilberts owing to the quick action of the Hellcats. The carrier Princeton subsequently met her end at the Battle of Leyte Gulf on October 24, 1944 when a single bomb from a Japanese “Judy” dive bomber penetrated the flight deck and exploded in the hanger, causing fires and further explosions. Other ships rendering assistance were caught in secondary blasts causing many casualties. 108 men of the crew of over 1,400 were lost; the cruiser Birmingham got the worst of it with 233 men killed and severe damage. Three other ships suffered lesser damage. Princeton was scuttled with torpedoes that afternoon.

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Meridian Passages, Volume XIII, Number 37

Central Pacific Edition

The Mariner Ashore

How to Simulate Shipboard Life

The following are suggestions for the landlocked mariner who misses the “good old days,” or the flatlander who needs some practice. Particularly helpful for those former Navy sailors who miss the Service:

  1. Sleep on the shelf in your closet. Replace the closet door with a curtain. Six hours after you go to sleep, have your spouse whip open the curtain, shine a flashlight in your eyes, and mumble “Sorry, wrong rack.”
  2. Renovate your bathroom. Build a wall across the middle o f your bathtub and move the shower head down to chest level. When you take showers, make sure you shut off the water while soaping.
  3. Every time there’s a thunderstorm, go sit in a wobbly rocking chair and rock as hard as you can until you’re nauseous.
  4. Put lube oil in your humidifier instead of water and set it to “High.”
  5. Don’t watch TV except movies in the middle of the night. Also, have your family vote on which movie to watch, then show a different one.
  6. (Optional for engineering types) Leave lawnmower running in your living room for proper noise level.
  7. Have the paperboy give you a haircut.
  8. Once a week blow compressed air up through your chimney, making sure the wind carries the soot across and onto your neighbor’s house. Laugh at him when he curses you.
  9. Buy a trash compactor and only use it once a week. Store up garbage in the other side of your bathtub.
  10. Wake up every night at midnight and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on stale bread, if anything. (Optional: Canned ravioli or cold soup.)
  11. Make up your family menu a week ahead of time without looking in your food cabinets or refrigerator.
  12. Set your alarm clock to go off at random times during the night. When it goes off, jump out of bed and get dressed as fast as you can, then run out into your yard and break out the garden hose.
  13. Once a month take every major appliance completely apart and then put them back together.
  14. Use 18 scoops of budget coffee per pot and allow it to sit for 5 or 6 hours before drinking.
  15. Invite at least 85 people you don’t really like to come and visit for a couple of months.
  16. Have a fluorescent lamp installed on the bottom of your coffee table and lie under it to read books.
  17. Raise the thresholds and lower the top sills on your front and back doors so that you either trip over the threshold or hit your head on the sill every time you pass through one of them.
  18. Lockwire the lug nuts on your car.
  19. When making cakes, prop up one side of the pan while it is baking. Then spread icing really thick on that side to level off the top.
  20. Every so often, throw your cat into the swimming pool and shout “Man overboard!”
  21. Run into the kitchen and sweep all the pots/pans/dishes off of the counter onto the floor, then yell at your wife/husband/kids for not having the place “stowed for sea.”
  22. Put on the headphones from your stereo (don’t plug them in). Go and stand in front of your stove. Say (to nobody in particular) “Stove manned and ready.” Stand there for 3 or 4 hours. Say (once again to nobody in particular) “Stove secured.” Roll up the headphone cord and put them away.
  23. Set your alarm for 0330. Get up, put on a heavy overcoat, hang two coke bottles around your neck connected by a strap, and stand under a sprinkler in the back yard for 4 hours.

This piece first came to my attention in 1997 under the title, “Life @ Sea” by Jim Julian

– ed.

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Meridian Passages, Volume XIII, Number 36

Central Pacific Edition

Dateline, South Pacific

Life on Board Ship, When Everything is New

I am what the seamen call a flat lander. I grew up in Iowa where the land is rich and perfect for growing tall corn. It is also flat and doesn’t move. I joined the Eustace Earhart Discovery Expedition to help outfit the ship and participate in the locating of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan’s airplane lost at sea. I, however, have never been to sea. I have sailed on Iowa lakes, canoed rivers and large bodies of water, swam and dove below, so I have some knowledge of water, but these are some things I have learned since going to sea.

First there are terminologies not heard in Iowa. Many words are familiar but are used in other ways. Bridge, mess, deck, ladder, stores, splice, monkey fist, fathom, and painter are a few.

Other terms are used only at sea. Gunnel, bulwark, scupper, davit, sextant, clove hitch, belay, and rising glass, for example. And the acronyms: FRC, DP, AIS, GPS. We have sea state, swell, chop, and white caps. We have hard hats (not for your head, but for transponder floats). When we say “port,” we are not talking wine. (We had wine onboard for a few days, a gift from SauVage, but we traded it with the Machias for chocolate. It’s a “dry” ship, after all.)

There are lessons to learn every day. My official duties are to help out wherever possible, mostly by assisting the videographer Bill. The first day Bill was filming at the stern, had finished and was returning to the cabin with his gear. I gathered up two arms full, but Dave stopped me with the phrase, “one hand for the ship.” I put down half the load and continued to the ladder. I had heard the phrase from those who had been to sea, but assumed that it was really only when there were heavy seas. Regardless of the sea state the boat is always moving. You cannot climb a stair, gangway or ladder or even walk down the passageway without using the railing.

I will expand a little. The wheelhouse, or bridge is fifty four steps up the ladder from the main deck, or forty six feet above the sea. As we left port the ship would roll in the sea more than twenty degrees. If you were on the bridge the arc length could be twenty feet. You can prance a little on your toes while moving across the deck. When your weight comes down you are on the other side of the bridge. Fun. If you hop in the middle of the bridge the wall, (I mean, “bulkhead”) will come over and slap you before you come down. Lesson relearned. One hand for the ship. Use the railing when crossing the room. (I mean, the “compartment.”)

We are seven days transit from Honolulu, moving at ten knots (11.5 mph) in the middle of nowhere. If you fall overboard and no one notices, you’re not swimming home. Lesson: Always have a spotter near. If you are working at the side or back of the vessel, have a life jacket on. The sea appears endless. You can watch it near, you can watch it far. And it is blue. Not just blue, but blue BLUE blue. At home you occasionally see a nice sunset. At sea there are no objects between you and the horizon, and every sunset and sunrise is perfectly visible and awesome, declaring the Glory of the God.

The night sky has no physical distractions. At the equator night comes early. The skies are generally clear and the stars fill the entire space. The heavenly bodies are a clockwork in space, displaying time and position in a physical way. We have been at sea long enough to view a complete cycle of moon phases. Lessons: Stars whose names are vaguely familiar, constellations traced with a green laser. Sextants, lines of position, and intersects on a chart.

There are no ropes on ships as they are called lines, as in “anchor line.” The line at the bow of a dingy is a painter, the back, a stern line, to the boom on a sail, the sheet. Everything needs to be secured against motion. Often with line. A good knot is not just a pile of tangles. Lesson: different knots for different purposes. Pretty knots for decorative purposes, like gracing a fancy gift bottle of wine or a plain coffee cup handle, or improving grip on the body of binoculars.

Distances are deceiving. Another ship can be seen twelve miles away. An hour later it still looks nearly as far but is half the distance.

There are lessons to be learned everywhere. Open your eyes, be observant. Watch out for your fellow sailor. Like a dry sea sponge, soak up the new environment and be changed, growing fuller and more useful with every drop.

— Bryan McCoy

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Meridian Passages, Volume XIII, Number 35

Central Pacific Edition

Rod’s Excellent Radio

The Receiver that Heard Amelia Earhart’s Last Transmissions

The radio transmissions from Amelia Earhart heard by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Itasca were copied on a marvelous reciver designed and manufactured by RCA in about 1934. The model AR-60 was sold commercially when the Coast Guard wrote a procurement specification for a new HF receiver. RCA won the contract based on the AR-60. Their new receiver was assigned the designation CGR-32-2. It was essentially identical to the AR-60-R (commercial rack-mount version) except for the addition of a small sub-chassis containing a noise limiter circuit and front panel noise limiter control.

The CGR-32-2 (AR-60) receiver design gave performance unequaled by any other commercially available receiver at the time. One only needs to spend time examining the quality of construction, component quality, workmanship, and advanced design features to fully comprehend what was achieved by RCA in the 1930‘s. It is thought that no more than 400 of these receivers were produced. It is little wonder, as the receiver sold for $475 – a hefty sum in 1936, nearly the price of a new automobile.

After having searched for five years, I could identify only five of these receivers in existence today. Four are AR-60’s and the fifth is a true CGR-32-2, serial no. 103 owned by The Hammond Radio Museum of Guelph, Ontario. The museum has no record of where or how this receiver made its way into the extensive radio collection of Fred Hammond.

The CGR-32-2 Receiver at the Hammond Museum is identical to the Itasca’s which received the last words of Amelia Earhart as her engines sputtered to a stop over the ocean somewhere near Howland Island the morning of July 2, 1937. It was restored to operating condition on November 5, 2005 by Peter Shilton (VE3AX) and myself (Rod Blocksome, K0DAS). Significant help was given by Larry Drebert who machined replacement parts for the receiver and Art Shulman (VE3ZV) who loaned test equipment to make the performance measurements. Earlier we made the same performance tests on the AR-60 receiver owned by the Antique Wireless Museum in Bloomfield, NY.

In May 2007, Tom Vinson (NYØV) stumbled across a previously un-counted AR-60 receiver for sale at the Dayton Ham Convention. I was in Kentucky at the time, so Tom called me on the cell phone. My response was “Buy it! I’ll pay you back later.” The seller would not negotiate his asking price of $800, so my remote purchase cramped Tom’s purchasing power for the remainder of the convention. Below is a photo taken when Tom delivered the receiver to my garage.

— Rod Blocksome

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Meridian Passages, Volume XIII, Number 34

Central Pacific Edition

Re-Supply Mission

Vigilance Hooks Up with S/V Machias

Being an oceanographer is not quite the same as being a professional sailor. Oceanographers have the best of two worlds – both the sea and the land. Yet many of them, like many sailors, find it extraordinarily satisfying to be far from the nearest coast…”

— Roger Revelle (1909-1991)

Yesterday we welcomed the good ship S/V Machias built in the State of Maine and operated from Honolulu. We learned that skipper and owner, Cap’n Bill Austin, is a well known representative of both the sea and land worlds and precisely the kind of person we needed for a mission to our remote location.

His crew of three are seasoned seamen who are fiercely loyal and confident in their captain. All of which builds our confidence in the intrepid team.

Machias is an eighty-two foot Maine-built steel-hull, stay sail schooner, registered as a freight carrier and operating out of Honolulu. With a long history of educational work for the University of Hawaii and the Honolulu public schools in past decades, it has been part of the community and is still engaged in whatever venture puts her to sea.

According to Mary Crowley, the word “Machias” roughly translates in the Native American Passamaquoddy tribe language as “little bird on big water,” a reference to the Machias River in Maine. Machias is known as the site of the second naval battle in the American Revolution. In his History of the Navy of the United States of America, none other than James Fenimore Cooper dubbed this engagement “the Lexington of the Seas.” The battle, which occurred in June 1775 at Machiasport, began after townspeople refused to provide the British with lumber for barracks. This led to the capture of the armed schooner HMS Margaretta by settlers under Captain Jeremiah O’Brien and Capt. Benjamin Foster.

Aboard Machias was precious cargo important to our mission, specifically ten glass spheres used as deep sea floats for transponders, and two replacement transponders used for underwater navigation. There were also some treats for the teams living and working aboard the Mermaid Vigilance: chocolate, macadamia nuts, and a few other delights.

The re-supply mission was organized in some haste on March 6th as a rash of float failures (a very unusual occurrence) threatened to stall our expedition before it had hardly begun. With a normal inventory of eight pairs plus spares, the REMUS team was down to five operating units early on and four before the resupply arrived. Fortunately, the team managed to juggle the available units with little loss of survey time. Offered a bonus for quick response, Cap’n Austin organized a crew and took on supplies for a three-week sea voyage in just a few days. His cargo arrived from Massachusetts and was carefully packed on board with help from the University of Hawaii Marine Center. Machias got underway on March 12th for a 10-day transit. Mary Crowley of Ocean Voyages helped setup the charter.

Cap’n Joe organized the deck crew and rehearsed the event the day before. It was a busy morning as Machias came in sight around 0800, just as REMUS OPS was launching the AUV.

Cap’n Noe took charge of the ship’s launch, known as the FRC (Fast Response Craft) and fetched the cargo in three trips back to Vigilance, where it was hoisted aboard by crane. The operation went very smoothly and soon Machias reversed course and headed back home.

Our own Cap’n Joe has small acquaintance with land, but while at sea he appears to have no aversion to treats.

— Charlotte Vick

And thanks to Charlotte for a tremendous job getting this important mission off the ground in such short order!

— ed.

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Meridian Passages, Volume XIII, Number 33

Central Pacific Edition

A Sea Tale

With Pigs!

Dear Sir: It is with regret and haste that I write this letter to you; regret that such a small misunderstanding could lead to the following circumstances, and haste in order that you will get this report before you form your own preconceived opinions from reports in the World Press, for I am sure that they will tend to overdramatize the affair.

We had just picked up the pilot, and the apprentice had returned from changing the “G“ flag for the “H,“ and being his first trip was having difficulty in rolling the “G” flag up. I therefore proceeded to show him how, coming to the last part I told him to “let go.” The lad, although willing, is not too bright, necessitating my having to repeat the order in a sharper tone.

At this moment the Chief Officer appeared from the chart room, having been plotting the vessel’s progress, and thinking that it was the anchors that were being referred to, repeated the “let go” to the Third Officer on the forecastle. The port anchor, having been cleared away, but not walked out, was promptly let go. The effect of letting the anchor drop from the pipe while the vessel was proceeding at full harbour speed proved too much for the windlass brake, and the entire length of the port cable was pulled out “by the roots.” I fear that the damage to the chain locker may be extensive. The braking effect of the port anchor naturally caused the vessel to sheer in that direction, right towards the swing bridge that spans a tributary to the river up which we were proceeding.

The swing bridge operator showed great presence of mind by opening the bridge for my vessel. Unfortunately he did not think to stop the vehicular traffic. The result being that the bridge partly opened and deposited a Volkswagon, two cyclists and a cattle truck on the foredeck. My ship’s company are at present rounding up the contents of the latter, which from the noise I would say were pigs. In his efforts to stop the progress of the vessel the Third Officer dropped the starboard anchor, too late to be of practical use for it fell on the swing bridge operator’s control cabin.

After the port anchor was let go and the vessel started to sheer I gave a double ring Full Astern on the Engine Room Telegraph, and personally rang the Engine Room to order maximum astern revolutions. I was informed that the temperature was 83 degrees, and was asked if there was a movie tonight. My reply would not add constructively to this report.

Up to now I have confined my report to the activities at the forward end of my vessel. Down aft they were having their own problems. At the moment the port anchor was let go, the Second Officer was supervising the making fast of the aft tug, and was lowering the ship’s towing spring down into the tug.

The sudden braking effect of the port anchor caused the tug to “run in under” the stern of my vessel, just at the moment when the propeller was answering my double ring Full Astern. The prompt action of the Second Officer in securing the shipboard end of the towing spring delayed the sinking of the tug by some minutes thereby allowing the safe abandoning of that vessel.

It is strange, but at the very same moment of letting go the port anchor there was a power cut ashore. The fact that we were passing over a cable area at that time may suggest that we may have touched something on the river bed. It is perhaps lucky that the high tension cables brought down by the foremast were not live, but owing to the shore blackout it is impossible to say where the pylon fell.

It never fails to amaze me, the actions and behavior of foreigners during moments of minor crisis. The pilot for instance, is at this moment huddled in the corner of my day cabin, alternately crooning to himself and crying after having consumed a bottle of gin in a time that is worthy of inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. The tug captain on the other hand reacted violently and had to forcibly be restrained by the Steward, who has him handcuffed in the ship’s hospital while he is telling me to do impossible things with my ship and my person. I enclose the names and addresses of the drivers, and insurance companies of the vehicles on my foredeck, which the Third Officer collected after his somewhat hurried evacuation of the forecastle. These particulars will enable you to claim back the damage that they did to the railings of number one hold. I am closing this preliminary report for I am finding it difficult to concentrate with the sound of police sirens and the flashing lights. It is sad to think that had the apprentice realized that there is no need to fly pilot flags after dark, none of this would have happened.

The End

I first saw this story in 1996, credited to Captain Neil C. Norton, former Queen’s Harbour Master, Esquimalt, British Columbia, Canada. If it isn’t true, it should be!

— ed.

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