In several of my stories I have mentioned Hans, the second mate on
the "American Robin". We were shipmates, and sailed together for a few years in the early 1970's. I have sailed
with many people over the years I would consider to be friends, but Hans is the only one with whom I have stayed in contact.
I told him about my web site, he agreed, somewhat hesitantly, to share the following story with those interested in tales
of the sea, provided, however, that I didn't mention the names of the principal characters. It is neither his intention, or
mine, to cause pain or embarrassment to anyone we sailed with, their family, or friends.
Hans was raised on the sea, coming from a large family of seafarers on the Island
of Gotland, in the Baltic Sea, off the coast of Sweden. Like me, he is retired and married, living with his wife of many years
(a Dane) in Florida. He has two grown sons, who were youngsters when we sailed together. I remember Hans carving a beautiful
toy Sloop for them out of dunnage and material found aboard the "American Robin". He is a fine seaman and navigator.
After the incident which he records here, you may understand why he has had no aspirations to command a freighter after
his brief command of the ship in this story. It's too bad, we really could have used a man of his ability and wit instead
of the many less competent who made it to the top.
story involves, as many of mine do, the excessive use of alcohol. In addition, it involves mental illness, possibly caused
by the use of alcohol, and involves more than one person at a time. I have mentioned before that it is difficult for the crew
to cope with medical emergencies at sea. It is worse when it involves the captain. It creates trouble of epic proportions
when it involves the mental illness of the captain and a few of his fellow crew members.
Hans had recently come to U.S. ships from foreign vessels at the time of the this
incident. He was a licensed chief mate, familiar in the operation of ships, but not U.S. flag ships. This is the situation
he had to face, and is told in his own words. Before quoting from Hans' report, I will offer an excerpt from another account
of the same incident written by one of Hans' shipmates on this unfortunate voyage. It provides some insight into the captain's
personalty and character: "Before I took this relief job, I was warned by my predecessor that the captain was an unusual
character. I was told that he was extremely unsophisticated, totally unlearned in any field other than the sea, strongly opinionated
despite inadequacy of facts, and as a result, obstinate and unreasonable whenever he felt he was being criticized or corrected."
Hans feels that this description was too harsh, but I feel it was appropriate based on my reading of his report. The ship
was a 25 year old freighter, built during WWII. It was owned and operated by one company, but time chartered to another, which
contracted with the Government to carry military cargo to Vietnam. With this in mind, I will begin quoting from Hans' report
to the ship owner.
CHAPTER I - THE VOYAGE OUT
The break-bulk freighter, a West Coast C-2 that had seen it's better days
years before, sailed from San Francisco on September, 27th, for Qui Nhon, South Vietnam, with a full load, including a 600
ton deck cargo. Because of the deck cargo, she rode comfortably, being neither stiff or too tender. We were looking forward
to a pleasant voyage with a seemingly good crew. Through the first ten days out the captain kept complaining of stomach ulcer
symptoms. He hardly slept or ate. His appearance was sickly and he appeared somewhat shaky. Questioned about his stomach troubles
he told me that he did not drink (alcohol); he instructed me not to mention his condition in the medical log, even though
he experienced the same type of problem on the preceding voyage and even a while before that. I assumed that he was perhaps
his normal self except for a case of bad nerves caused by the various aggravations common to a ship master, during a busy
coastwise trip. I had joined the freighter just a few days prior to the voyage. I did not know the captain prior to that time.
The trip outbound was uneventful except for the chief steward bothering the captain at all kinds of hours, day and night,
with disciplinary matters concerning crew members.
These were things of small or no importance. The steward seemed
to have a great deal of influence over the captain. He was always ready to listen to the steward's complaints and backed up
the steward one hundred percent. The steward was no doubt in the right in some instances, but the fact remains that he was
the sole cause of a lot of friction. He was a constant aggravation to the master. He seemed to be forever prowling around
on the officer's deck, as if eavesdropping. No officer except the captain could tolerate the steward by the end of the trip.
Among the crew there was not one man who had anything good to say about the him. The steward, a burly, ruddy German from the
Bronx, treated all unlicensed men with typical Prussian arrogance. In spite of this, the steward received a fair amount of
backing from the officers in his disputes with the crew, mainly because he was alone against so many.
I found the captain to be a very stubborn man, whose course of action was unchangeable,
unless of course he could be persuaded that he initiated the change. He would often reject suggestions before he had heard
what they were. It was against this background later events have to be viewed, such as why more strenuous objections were
not made against the master's actions, which ultimately lead to the encounter with the Chinese Navy off Hong Kong. This is
illustrated by an episode on the trip to Vietnam: On the evening of October, 17th, the captain laid out a course straight
for the dangerous Bombay Reef, in the South China Sea, expecting to get there the following morning. A tropical storm was
brewing a couple of hundred miles to the South, boosting the already strong NE monsoon and causing some shower activity with
reduced visibility. Due to the threatening weather and unpredictable strong currents in the area, I suggested that we pass
twenty miles NW of Macclesfield Bank and then give Bombay Reef a 25 mile berth after that. This would not only be a safe route
in rough weather, but would also save us 4 miles in distance. As usual, the captain refused to consider the proposal. When
I asked him why he wanted to put on extra mileage to get close to a dangerous reef early in the morning, he answered that
"he just wanted to see it".
Why, I do not know. We had multi-star fixes every evening and morning up until
then, and we were not in doubt as to our position. We arrived at Qui Nhon on October, 19th. We could not enter the harbor
until the evening of the 20th, due to aforementioned tropical storm. The stay and discharge of cargo at Qui Nhon was routine
and without hitches, that is until the evening of October, 25th. We were on the last leg of discharge and with cleaning of
holds well underway. It seems as if the 2nd Mate, who had the 1600 to 2400 shift, let a bottle of booze take precedence over
the cleaning of holds, thus causing a short stoppage. At 0718 the following morning we left the pier to secure for sea at
the outer anchorage. Tugs assisted forward and aft. There was a delay in moving away from the dock, but from my station on
the bow I could not tell why.
I was told by the 2nd mate that the aft spring line was caught in the screw during undocking, and that he had cut it with
a fire axe, leaving about 40 feet of Dacron line wrapped around the propeller. I was very angry because there seemed to have
been no attempt to pull the line free of the propeller with the winch, while reversing the screw slowly. This surely should
have been tried as we had two tugs holding us in position.
I approached the captain about this and got the impression
that he considered a line in the propeller an every day affair. He shrugged it off with "She'll probably throw it off
after awhile." I assume he referred to the line, and not the propeller. The sea was running very high in the anchorage,
but no attempt was made to look at the propeller. At noon we were secured for sea and weighed anchor for the trip to Hong
Kong. To my knowledge the captain never reproached certain people on the vessel for foul-ups. It appeared rather as if he
preferred such persons to those who were on the ball and kept their noses clean. Why this was the case I'll never know.
CHAPTER II - THE GUN BOAT INCIDENT
The early morning
of October 28th, found us on course 036, heading for a point about 5 miles East of Lima Island's NE head. Being way behind
schedule for our Hong Kong ETA, the captain decided to hug the East Coast of the Lima Islands to gain time. In the past three
years service with United States Lines on their Far East run, I was used to staying at least five miles away from the Red
Chinese islands on the Hong Kong approach, and at least 10 miles from their territory elsewhere on the China coast. I did
not think much of the captain's chosen route, but drawing from past experience, considered it futile to attempt changing his
I searched the Sailing Directions for a
chart outlining the exact Hong Kong territorial waters, or anything else that could be used to discourage the captain from
his intended route, but found nothing useful. A radiogram was now received from the Hong Kong agent warning us to stay at
least five miles outside Lima Islands NE head on the Hong Kong approach. At this point the captain decided to take a further
short cut through the Lima chain, via Taitami Channel. Seeing us approach the Pei Chien Shan Island Signal Station unfurled
numerous flag signals from its mast. Distance and wind direction made the signals impossible to read. Feeling very uncomfortable
and concerned, I pointed out the flag hoists to the captain. He paid no attention to this matter, but seemed otherwise to
be his usual self. At 0800, with the vessel on a course off 013 in the Taitami Channel, I was relieved by the 2nd Mate. The
captain was now on the bridge, but made occasional trips down to his quarters.
At about 0810, while I was having my breakfast in the saloon. I heard a yell from topside, "Here come the Chinese
Gunboats!". Seconds later the captain entered the Saloon and sat down to eat. By now I heard the rumble of powerful diesels.
Looking out the forward porthole I saw two gunboats, about 40 feet off our port and starboard side. I shared my observations
with the captain. They did not seem to register with him. I repeated them, adding that he ought to go to the bridge. He reluctantly
went topside, walking as if in a trance.
up to the bridge I found the second mate busy with the Aldis signaling lamp on the port wing. Two C:A 125 foot long gunboats,
#3-651 and #3-671, were signaling us to "STOP AND ANCHOR IMMEDIATELY", with blinker light as well as semaphore.
Each boat had about 30 or more men on deck in combat gear and at battle stations. They were armed to the teeth with guns as
well as rocket launchers. Our position at that time was about one mile north of Ichow Tao Island's western end. When one of
the gunboats shot a rocket flare across our bow, it was clear they meant business.
Seeing several of our crew on the fore deck, and on the bow, I ordered everyone below decks and I went below to supervise
closing of all doors and deadlights. While I was dogging down the saloon deadlights a white faced steward kept bugging me
asking me if the Chinese are going to shoot at us. He kept repeating, "Oh My God, If I had known this I would never have
signed on!" After instructing the crew to remain below deck, on the main deck, aft end, farthest from the escorts, I
returned to the bridge.
The radio officer was
now on the blinker, but was not successful in getting the gunboats to break so he could send. They just keep repeating, "YOU
ARE INTRUDER, STOP AT ONCE, ANCHOR AT ONCE". The captain kept telling sparks, "Tell them I am within my five miles",
Sparks answered, "Don't you mean outside the five miles?" The captain answered "Yes, I am inside my five miles."
Apparently the captain was referring to the message he had received earlier that warned us to stay at least five miles away
from Lima Island NE head.
Unable to break through
the Chinese signaling, the Radio Operator returned to the Radio Shack to contact Hong Kong. The captain said, "Someone
get on that blinker!", whereupon he disappeared from sight. I grabbed the Aldis lamp and sent our name and destination.
As earlier, the gunboats kept repeating the same stop and anchor routine. We were now lined up for Hong Kong and had only
four or five miles to go in Communist waters. I then proceeded blinking something like this to the port side gunboat, "We
do not understand your signals, your signal light is poorly trained" and "Please send in English", etc., in
order to buy some time.
The Chinese now brought
a three foot long rocket from astern, slammed it into the forward rocket launcher, and aimed it at me. I took this to be a
bit of a psychological maneuver to make us lose our nerve, as I didn't think they would use a rocket at a range of 25 yards,
but I was scared of their machine gunners. I was counting on a shot across the bow before they let us have it. Had they fired
I would have engaged the auto pilot and left the bridge. We were now close to Hong Kong waters. The Chinese at this point
looked downright unfriendly, which made me decide to withdraw from the bridge wing for the time being, as if to fetch further
instructions. Returning to the wing a couple of minutes later I suddenly saw both gun boats reverse their engines and drop
back with their stern waves washing across their after decks. They turned around and disappeared toward the Pearl River at
about 40 knots. We were safely in the territorial waters of Hong Kong.
The gunboats had harassed us for about 40 minutes from beginning to end. They never fired, but they did shoot three
flares across our bow. The radio operator kept a cool head throughout the incident. Through his initiative the Hong Kong authorities
were alerted to our predicament. The watch officer and the helmsman both performed with courage under the circumstances. It
is my belief that the captain went into a state of shock when the gunboats showed up. He seemed oblivious to what was happening
around him. In his confusion he disappeared from the bridge rather than taking charge of the situation. He was unable to compose
any meaningful radio messages for sparks to send and did not know to whom to send them. Scolding the messman for not bringing
the breakfast menu to the bridge was more important than the presence of hostile warships.
For a brief moment during the encounter, he seemed to snap out of it. He had ordered
our engines on "Stop". As the ship dropped in speed, one of the gunboats edged towards our port side, as if to try
a boarding. The other one pressed closer to our port bow with the intention to force us to turn around. At this threatening
turn of events the captain had said, "Full Ahead, I'll run the bastards down! If they think I'm another PUEBLO skipper
they are wrong, dead wrong".
As we picked
up speed the forward gunboat had to scramble out of the way or get run down. This action of the captain turned out to be very
fortunate for us. How close we came to a full blown a disaster, we will probably never know. We entered Hong Kong waters west
of Potoi Island and headed ENE through Shingshi Channel to Tathong Channel. The Pilot came aboard at Cape Collins on at 1005,
and 15 minutes later we anchored at Hong Kong Quarantine Anchorage, close to Kai Tak Airport.
CHAPTER III - HONG KONG
The Hong Kong authorities seemed greatly concerned over our run in with the Chinese
Navy. This may have come as an unpleasant surprise to the poor captain, who not being very sophisticated in world politics,
probably did not comprehend the delicate situation between Red China and Hong Kong. The Hong Kong authorities collected as
much information as they could get from us about the morning's incident. At 1140, various agents, bunker people, etc., boarded
the vessel. About a half-hour later, as I was posting the sailing board, I was approached by the charterer's agent. He had
just visited the captain and was about to leave for shore. He said, "I don't think you can sail at 1600." Asked
why, he answered, "Your captain is not fit to take the vessel out." I asked him to come out of earshot of some
crew members by the gangway, where upon I requested that he explain further.
Instead he said, "How long has the captain been this way?" I said, "What way?" "Well, he
replied, "it seems the master is not fit to command a vessel. Is he drinking, or what?" answered that the
captain was perhaps a bit shook-up after the morning's affair with the gunboats, and whether he took a drink after that to
steady himself up, I didn't know. I said, "But I can't see why we should not be able to sail at 1600, especially since
there are enough capable officers aboard to help the master take the vessel to sea. From Hong Kong it is an straight shot
back to the United States. Surely the skipper can take a drink without being denied clearance to sail." Well," replied
the agent, "If the master hasn't improved a whole lot by sailing time, you will stay here until a replacement can be
found." He departed saying that he would be back before sailing time. Before going ashore the agent advised that the
captain refused to comply with the American Consul's request that he report to the Consulate. Alarmed at the prospect of the
vessel getting stuck "off-hire" in Hong Kong, I immediately went to the captain and told him everything the agent
said. He was a sorry sight. Staggering about he was incoherent. Whether his condition was due to alcohol, or other
reasons, I couldn't tell.
I said to him, "Captain,
I don't know if you are drinking or not, but if you are, please don't take another drink before we sail. Get some rest and
you will be O.K. by sailing time." He answered something like, "Mr. Mate, don't you worry, I know how to handle
these people." I responded, "Even if you do, promise not to take another drink before we get out of here."
He replied, "I'll be all right." I knew he wouldn't. The captain did not lie down, however, and his condition remained
about the same. About 1200, the captain summoned the Second Mate and myself to the chart room. Here he and the second mate
made a tape recorded statement about the gunboat incident to reporters from U.P.I., New China News Agency, and some Hong Kong
Newspaper. I thought that the captain misrepresented his case. For one thing, he kept saying that we had been within a five
mile radius of Lima Island NE head, when he obviously meant outside. Having intended to make no comments myself, I changed
my mind, thinking that the captain's statements could stand a repair job.
In my statement I stressed that:
1) We were lined up for an approach
around Lima Islands and Wang Lan which should have kept us out of trouble; that the agent sent us an extremely poorly worded
message with approach instructions that made the captain take a different route from the one originally intended.
That the captain complied with the wording of said message, although not with the intent of the people who wrote it.
Our charts and Sailing Directions for the area did not give territorial borderlines for The People's Republic of China, or
Hong Kong, nor did they warn against entering Chinese waters.
4) Being just another merchant vessel, we were used to
passing through territorial waters of many countries without being chased by gunboats. (This is called the "right of
innocent passage" under International Law). Unfortunately someone in the steward department told reporters that we were
actually fired upon; this statement to appeared in some U.S. newspapers. At about 1545 we were bunkered and ready to sail.
The charterer's agent returned with two gentlemen from the United States Consul General. One of them, a U.S. Naval Officer,
wanted information about the Chinese gunboats. He told me that when he got word about our difficulties, he ordered a U.S.
destroyer escort in harbor to get up steam while he wired Washington for instructions. He didn't get an answer before we were
out of danger. Meanwhile there was a hassle in the captain's office. The vessel was refused clearance. The Consul and agent
wanted the captain to go ashore for medical evaluation. The captain finally agreed, providing he could bring along the chief
mate, second mate, and radio operator. I could not tell if the captain was drunk, but he surely acted that way. There were
some difficulties getting aboard the launch. When the agent would board the launch, the captain would go back to his room;
when the captain would approach the gangway, the agent would board, but the captain would then head back to his room, and
the agent would come back aboard. It was a Keystone Cops routine if I ever saw one. Finally, the captain boarded, and we set
out for the Victoria shore.
We tried to relax
the captain with some neutral conversation, which was partly successful, but all of a sudden he would let out some strange
noises or start singing a ditty. His braying did not sit well with the agent, who left the cabin of the launch to sit out
on deck. The captain asked the Consul (or the Consul's representative), "How many Chinese girls have you lined up for
me?" Apparently the Consul did not relish being taken for a pimp, and he also walked out. We landed at the Star Ferry
terminal, where the Navy Liaison Officer left us. The remainder of our group proceeded to the Princess Building, where the
owner's agent joined us at the Doctor's suite of offices. There, in a
comfortable waiting room, the captain was questioned
by the two agents and the representative from the Consulate. They studied him intently as he was talking, and afterwards took
him into the Doctor's examining room for a lengthy consultation with the Doctor.
Meanwhile, in the waiting room we did our best to convince the agents and the Consul's representative that the vessel
could safely be taken to sea. After quite some time the captain and doctor returned to the waiting room. The doctor said very
little, but the gist of what he said was that the captain was in a poor, run-down condition, and he ought to get off the ship
and get some rest. He added that he was not under the influence of alcohol. The captain refused to get off the ship. The Hong
Kong doctor gave the captain some pills, which seemed to quiet him down a bit. He later discontinued them, saying they knocked
him for a loop. The charterer's agent and the gent from the consulate disappeared. The owners representative said we would
be granted a clearance to sail. He ordered a pilot, and followed us back to the ship. He was apparently anxious to get rid
of us, but also apprehensive about the captain's condition. We were doing our best to allay his fears, when out of the clear
blue sky the captain yelled (in reference to the gunboat incident), "By Jesus Christ I swear, unless I get orders not
to, I'll do the same thing all over again." At about 2000 hrs. we weighed anchor, and half an hour later the pilot said
goodbye half a mile north of Collinson Point. At 2054 we took departure off Lang Lan Island.
Three or four times on the way out the con had to be taken away from the skipper.
First, when he came left towards Jan Show Rock off Cape Collision instead of right towards Tathong Channel. Later, when he
repeatedly attempted to swing left into an outbound freighter close abeam of us, which we were overtaking.
CHAPTER IV - THE VOYAGE HOME
The first few days at sea seemed to agree with the captain, whose condition improved enough for him to take an active interest
in various repair jobs, make a slop-chest inventory, etc. The steady stream of disputes between the steward and the crew kept
on however, causing the captain much aggravation. Practically every day I saw the steward in the captain's easy chair, puffing
on a cigar, and gloating at having some crew member, "on the carpet", in the Master's office. Later, during my watch,
the captain would come up on the bridge lamenting about these troubles, often in tears. Soon the his condition started to
deteriorate, getting worse the closer we got to our destination. Although in fair condition sometimes during daytime hours,
his sickness daily grew worse, usually reaching an early morning peak. At this point he was incoherent and almost climbing
the walls from pain.
Every few minutes, between
four and six A.M., he would call me down from the bridge to his bedside, where he was throwing about and moaning with pain,
usually in his head. He wanted me to stay there, holding his head with my hands. He thought I could feel his pain with my
hands. "It's moving down the back of my neck now, are you sure you can't feel it?" he would say. He always refused
sedation that I offered. After one such attack he told me that he had an x-ray of his head in the past, and they showed, according
to him, that he had some, "white spots", behind his eyes. "But they didn't grow any bigger", he said.
He did not elaborate any further on this. Since I had a watch to stand and celestial observations to make, I could not stay
with him all morning. These morning attacks usually wound up with me summoning the steward to bringing an ice bag, which seemed
to help. He would with the captain. At first the steward was flattered to play mother hen, but that soon wore off, whereupon
he locked his door and refused to answer when called.
At times, when he had his worst attacks, I posted the deck watch standby man by his door, just in case the he would
try to jump overboard. On November, 12th, there was another rhubarb in the captain's Office. The steward was accused of having
attacked the Wiper, and attempting to stab him with a soldering iron the previous Sunday, at a Union Meeting. The captain
demanded that every crew member on the ship be present in his office. The chief engineer protested against this, as did I,
since I had the whole deck gang out on Overtime, raising the cargo gear, etc. The captain didn't care, booms flying or not.
He wanted everybody to drop what they were doing and assemble in his office. The whole show became pitiful and embarrassing
to everybody as the captain forgot what the meeting was about and went off on a tangent. Pitiful, that is, to everybody except
the steward, who seemed to enjoy any kind of ruckus that he managed to start.
To help the captain back on the right track, the engine delegate said, "Captain, I thought the game here was
to discuss the matter of a soldering iron. The captain turned to the delegate saying, "You need a soldering iron?",
and turning to the chief engineer continued, "How many soldering irons did you order, chief?" The chief replied,
"I don't discuss my tool requisitions in the presence of the crew." The engine delegate then said, "Let's break
this meeting up, we will get no satisfaction here. But steward, we are going to hang you when we get the Union Patrolman aboard."
At this point the steward jumped up shouting, "You heard that! They are going to hang me! They can't do this to me."
On this note the ludicrous meeting broke up. Gradually it became apparent that the captain had not completed any of the required
paperwork for the vessel's arrival or voyage pay-off. He always shrugged it off with, "There is plenty of time for that."
He no longer seemed to posses the necessary faculties to conduct his job as the vessel's Master.
On the morning of November, 13th, the situation became acute. By accident I found
out that the captain had sent in an ETA for 2200 on the 14th, which was about 15 hours later than our real ETA. I at once
went to see him. When I finally managed to get him awake he refused my request to send in a new ETA, adding his perennial,
"Don't worry, there's plenty of time for that."
At 1620 hrs., when on my watch on bridge, I expressed to sparks my relief over having the captain send in the corrected
arrival messages. What messages?" said sparks, "He hasn't given me any messages to send." I had the second
mate relieve me on the bridge and went looking for the captain. I found him staggering around in a near stupor and he tried
to hand me his usual reply, "There's plenty of time for that." Finally, after much trouble, he was persuaded to
dictate the arrival messages. Moaning, groaning, and incoherent in speech, he frequently made side trips to his room, possibly
for liquid inspiration. What he finally composed was in a hell of a mess, so I took it up to the chart room to unscrambled
it into legibility before it could be transmitted.
second mate was in the chart room composing a message of his own. It was to our charterer's agent, requesting a U.S. Public
Health Service doctor to board the vessel on arrival at Astoria, Oregon, to examine the captain. (The ship was to pass Astoria
on it's way up the Columbia River to Vancouver, Washington.)
I argued that the message was not necessary, we had the required arrival messages ready to send and were O.K. for
the time being. But the second mate insisted on sending his message, saying that the captain needed medical attention at the
first possible pportunity. He could not be dissuaded, so I told him to send his message to the owner's agent, not the charterer's
agent, and to add my name underneath. This he did, spelling my name
Having knowledge of this cable and being the second mate's department head, as well as the ship's medical officer,
I felt I could not do otherwise. I figured, it would not hurt to have a doctor ride the vessel from Astoria to Vancouver,
in case the captain should turn violent or raving mad. His condition seemed to be deteriorating rapidly. I then left the bridge
in his charge, and went to supper.
As I returned
topside around 1735 hrs. The radio operator was just beginning to transmit the message. I found to my disgust that the second
mate had changed the message to read "REQUIRE USPHS DOCTOR AT ASTORIA TO EXAMINE MASTER FOR TROKE", etc. I jumped
the second mate about this "STROKE" business, but he said that the captain had told him it was a stroke. Most of
the following day's troubles can be traced back to the wording of this message in its altered form. It seems that it was the
"stroke" bit that made the agent order the captain's disembarkation at Astoria. In its original form, as it was
when I told the second mate to put my name on it, the message was justified in my opinion. I should, however, have sent a
corrected message, but feeling worn out by lack of sleep and my dealing with the situation, I did not bother.
At 1800 hrs. on the 13th, the second mate was put in charge
of locking up the souvenirs in the bonded stores locker, as required by U.S. Customs. Since I was on watch on the bridge at
the time, he was the logical choice for the job. It was a bad choice, as the bonded stores locker contained the captain's
liquor supply, and the captain's whiskey disappeared from the locker at this time. Later, the boatswain found a case of cigarettes
hidden under the starboard lifeboat, so cigarettes may have also vanished under the second mate's charge. Confronted with
these facts, the second mate could give no satisfactory explanation, nor did he explain why he stayed almost constantly "under
weather" from here on until pay-off. Neither did he explain how his drinking partner in the foc'sle suddenly
came into possession of scotch whiskey after being dry since Hong Kong.
At 2000 hrs. the second mate relieved me on the bridge to stand the watch until midnight. The captain staggered up
to the bridge just as I was going below. I told both of them that a speed reduction was desirable in order to prevent making
landfall and arriving too early. They were both incoherent and did not quite understand what I was talking about. The condition
of the second mate came as an unpleasant surprise to me. On a pretext, I called the boatswain out on the bridge wing and asked
him to keep a sharp lookout the next four hours and call me immediately if needed. We were one A.B. short, which was why the
boatswain was standing the 8-12 watch. The boatswain was not only a good seaman, but also a sober and responsible person.
When I left the bridge the captain was sitting
in the radio shack, moaning and weeping, while incoherently dictating to the radio officer what seemed to be a request for
the earliest possible relief due to illness. The captain was in a horrible condition. The radio officer later told me that
the captain fell on top of him and his radio transmitter. Before turning in, I went to the chief engineer and informed him
about the state of affairs on the bridge. He was also told that a speed reduction later on was desirable. In the event the
captain did not order such a speed change I was to be called at 0200 hrs., so I could be on the bridge in time to deal with
Later the chief engineer came
to my room and informed me that the captain had come to him and accused him of "cheating on the revolutions" during
the trip. A speed reduction had been ordered however, and on hearing that I was able to lie down for some needed rest. In
the middle of the 12-4 watch (about 0200) the stand-by called me, and the chief engineer, to the captain's bedside. He was
in a bad way, raving and crying. There was a broken whiskey bottle on the floor and another one, half-empty, standing nearby.
We tried to calm him down and I went to the steward's cabin to get the keys to the ice machine in order to make an ice pack.
The steward did not answer, so I returned to the captain's quarters, where the chief and I cleaned up the mess. We searched
for more whiskey, but found no more than the half-bottle, which I removed and later deep-sixed (threw overboard). We gradually
managed to get the captain calmer, and left his room at 0300. At the chief engineer's suggestion, we posted a guard outside
the captain's quarters.
CHAPTER V - ARRIVAL
Checking in on the captain on my way to the bridge at 0355,
I found him in a fitful slumber. No sooner had I taken over the watch, the speaking tube from the captain's bed side began
whistling every couple of minutes. His delirious mind could not grasp that I was about to make landfall and could not be in
his room, listening to all his silly talk. The Deck Log Book showed that the second mate had made no entries of any kind for
his 2000 to 2400 watch the previous evening, not even the standard weather observations. This indicated that he had not straightened
out by the end of his watch at midnight. The captain's main trouble at this time seemed to be that he had lacked an audience
to listen to his unintelligible monologues, which seemed to keep him entertained. He now staggered up on the bridge.
He started to seriously interfere with the navigation of the
ship, making suggestions for course and speed changes so ridiculous that they had to be ignored. Incidentally, the captain
was always treated with respect, patience, and consideration on this and all other trying occasions by everybody on the ship,
including myself. This contrasted sharply with the way he dealt with many crew members. He showed little understanding. Whatever
compassion he had became non-existent as his illness worsened.
When I had made radar contact with the coastal mountains and entered the chart room to plot these bearings for a
fix, I found the captain leaning over the chart trying to check a course line with the parallel rulers. Every time he moved
them to the compass rose, they slipped and he gave up after trying for several minutes. I finally managed to convince him
that he was ill and should go to bed. Before leaving he made a stab at the chart with his index finger, landing it close to
the coast, somewhere between Gray's Harbor and the Columbia River. "What does it say there?" he asked. "Thirteen
fathoms" I answered. "All right," said the captain, "Call me at the 13 fathom curve." With these
words he descended to his own deck, holding himself upright by the hand rails. At about 0600 hrs. the radio operator informed
me that he had been in contact with the owner's representative by radio-phone. The owner had been informed of the captain's
condition. The owner's representative had told the radio operator that the captain was to be taken ashore at Astoria medical
care, and that the chief officer (me) was to take the ship up the river to
Vancouver. We were to call him back after
the pilot boarded.
I made efforts to insure that
only the chief engineer, second, and third mates, and the boatswain, were privy to this information. I saw no need for the
rest of the ship's company to know anything and I also wanted to spare the Captain's feelings. I wanted to speak with the
owner's representative before telling the captain anything. The steward was not informed. To tell him would be like putting
it on the P.A. system. At 0645 the second mate was called to relieve me on the bridge. I had to check out the windlass before
the anchor chains were cleared, and to have some breakfast. There had been some repair work done the previous day on the anchor
windlass, and I had to make sure the breaks were set and working.
Being in an alcoholic stupor the second mate could not be woken up. Therefore, I called the third mate. The third
mate was NOT what one would call a "high-caliber man". He started a row about being turned-to, and the riot act
had to be read in order to get co-operation from him. With anchors cleared and breakfast eaten, I got the second mate out
of his sack at 0750. He was told to stay with the captain, to keep him calm and in his room, if possible. This the second
mate accomplished successfully, at least until Astoria. I then took over the bridge watch again. At 0842 I took arrival at
Columbia River Light Vessel, and by 0854 the bar pilot was on board. The radio officer now put me in radio-phone contact
with the owner's representative. I told him that the Captain had not had a stroke, but seemed to have suffered a nervous collapse
connected with physical and mental exhaustion. I did not deem it necessary to announce on the air that it appeared the was
suffering from the D.T.s.
The owner's representative
reiterated that the captain was to be taken ashore. "The captain must get off at Astoria!," He said. I now told
the second mate to notify the captain that the owners and agent had arranged for a doctor to meet us at Astoria, and that
they would like him to disembark there for medical care. The second mate should help him get ready, if he co-operated. The
captain flatly rejected this. As far as we were concerned there was no reason why he should not ride the ship to Vancouver,
providing he kept himself under reasonable control. At this point things began to get complicated. Spurred and abetted by
his private eye, the Steward, they started prowling about the ship, creating disturbances and difficulties wherever they went.
The conniving steward had already been thrown off the bridge deck by the radio officer. He had begun to interfere with navigation
and radio traffic, claiming that he was there by the captain's orders. Being chased down below, the trouble maker claimed
that he was an officer and a "four striper", having the right to be on the bridge. He was infuriated by comments
to the contrary.
The captain had earlier been
informed about the contents of the radio phone calls from the owner's representative. He could not remember from one minute
to the next what he was told and kept incessantly requesting copies of these conversations. It was impossible to convince
him that no "copies" of these radio phone calls existed. Prodded by the steward, he became so belligerent that the
radio officer had to lock his door in order to do his work.
As the ship slowed down at Astoria for change of pilots, the chief engineer and I were asked to come to the captain's
office. The captain was at his desk with his "Counsel" (the steward) at his side. The chief engineer stalked out
almost at once, saying that he was not answering any questions in the presence of unlicensed personnel. This made the steward
jump up, snapping for air like a fish out of water and angrily yell that he was a "four striper" and had a license
(a driver's license?). The captain did not seem to take exception to the steward's ranting and raving. Although much improved
since the morning's attack, the captain's speech was still slurred and hard to understand. He started to rant about his copies"
again and wanted to know why he was not called at 0700. The reason was simply that he had not requested a called. I had not
called him at the 13 fathom curve, either, as I was talking to the owner's representative at that time. The captain called
me a contemptible liar, adding that I, "had better get a lawyer, a real good lawyer" because when he got ashore
"The law suits are going to fly!" The captain then stood up, removed his glasses, and told me to do likewise. He
said, "Come on, let's have this out right here and now!" He advanced towards me with flailing arms, but I did not
feel particularly threatened as he could just barely stand by himself.
I felt it unwise to linger any longer in his office. If he should fall down while I was present, I might be accused
of having touched him by the steward. So I said, "Sorry captain, but I can not accommodate you, I have work to do."
As I turned around to leave the steward jumped up yelling, "Are you running out?" and the captain chimed in with,
"You stay off that bridge, mate, you stay on deck and take care of your work down there, hear!" I regret that I
at this point gave the radio officer the impression that the captain took a swing at me, he never did. He only flailed his
arms a bit to maintain his balance. It is very possible that the steward had talked him into trying to provoke me into some
foolish action in order to get something on me. Especially since I had not provided these gents with any reason for complaints
either professionally, morally, or otherwise, throughout the voyage.
As things developed, I considered it wisest to anchor and call the Coast Guard aboard to authorize and endorse the
owner's orders for me to be in charge, both in the interest of the owners, and myself. For this reason, and no other, we anchored
off Astoria at 1045. Two U.S. Coast Guard officers now boarded. They were met at the gangway and the situation explained.
They interviewed the captain in private, as well as all officers. I called the key unlicensed personnel to my room. They included
the boatswain, who was a very good friend and long time shipmate of the captain; as well as the deck, engine, and steward
union delegates. I left them there with the Coast Guard men so would feel free to speak. As I left I heard the boatswain
say, "I have known the captain for many years, but I have never seen him behave like this before." Radio phone calls
were made directly to the owner, who repeated earlier orders as to the change of command. The captain reluctantly agreed,
provided he could get the orders in writing. For this purpose the owners dispatched the following message to us, "URGENT
TO CAPTAIN___ S.S.____ CALL SIGN____ ACCOUNT YOUR APPARENT DISABILITY YOU ARE RELIEVED FROM COMMAND ON RECEIPT THIS MESSAGE
AND HEREBY DIRECTED TO TURN COMMAND OVER TO CHIEF MATE STOP COAST GUARD AUTHORITIES PRESENTLY ABOARD ARE AUTHORIZED TO ENFORCE
THIS ORDER FROM VESSELS OWNERS SIGNED ___ VICE PRESIDENT ____ STEAMSHIP CORP."
Although the captain rallied amazingly fast when the Coast Guard boarded, they still found him in such sad shape
that they considered him unfit for command. They recommended to their Commanding Officer that the owner's orders be enforced
and he authorized the take-over. While this was taking place the Steward continued interfering and had to be ordered off the
captain's deck. He kept yelling that he was a "four-striper", a Mason, Shriner, officer and a member of the International
Bar Association. Earlier, in the presence of the radio officer and chief engineer the steward denied what had taken place
in the captain's office. When asked what had happened he refused to answer, under the pretext that he had a "license
CHAPTER VI - EPILOGUE
I didn't finish my narrative of this voyage until early this year (January, 2000).
I was asked by John (Capt. John McDonnell) to dig up my records of the voyage. He thought my adventure would make for interesting
reading and wanted to add the tale to his web site, "The Captain's Page". So, here is what happened so many years
ago after my first command. I had been called back in the middle of my vacation to make this trip on he S/S........ The agreement
was for me to make one trip only. But leaving the ship at the end of this voyage would have been like quitting under fire,
so I stayed on for another voyage. If you are wondering why I could not officially take over the ship in Hong Kong was because
I only had a chief mate's license, and we were short one Mate anyway.
Unlike the radio operator, I really didn't dislike the captain. I actually felt sorry for him and put up with his
B.S. Perhaps, in retrospect, I was overly careful not to make any official log entries, which would have compromised his license,
at least up to the end of the voyage when everything came to a head. I was grateful for having a first rate radio operator,
chief engineer and boatswain. They were all excellent men. Not so on the bridge. There were only two other mates, so I did
day work as well as stand the 4-8 watch. I put up with the captain's and steward's ranting s on my time off, in addition to
assuming the skipper's duties on the bridge.
second mate was O.K. when sober, which was not the case toward the end of the voyage, when I sometimes had to send him below.
I never did find his stash of whiskey. The third mate was pretty much useless. He had poor eye-sight and had thick lensed
glasses. Spotting a light on the horizon forward of the beam would cause him to immediately alter course without checking
for change in bearing, or looking for range or side-lights. In any event, after heaving anchor at Astoria we proceeded up
the Columbia River towards Vancouver, Washington, under pilot. While seated in the "captain's chair", on the starboard
wing, the steward came on the bridge to talk to me. Apparently it had finally dawned on him that I had taken the captain's
place, and he wanted to pump me for information. I told him to get off the bridge at once. I had no desire whatsoever to talk
to him, then or later.
After coming alongside
our Vancouver berth I saw our Port Captain on the dock, a welcome sight. After F.W.E. I went to my office (which had been
locked) and found all lockers open and all drawers and files dumped on the deck. Apparently either the captain or the steward
had been there searching for the Medical Log, which I had previously refused to turn over to the captain. I had placed the
log under my pillow, and the bed was the only place that had not been searched. The Port Captain told me that the captain
was in bed, passed out, and would not wake up. Whether this was from booze, drugs, or just playing possum I don't know, and
at this point I didn't give a shit.
of the trip I did not believe the captain's condition was caused by alcohol. He told me on several occasions that he didn't
drink and I was stupid enough to take his word for it. Apparently the radio officer's nose was keener than mine. On the other
hand the captain told me that X-rays had shown him to have a couple of white spots on the brain, thus I thought that he might
suffer from a brain tumor. After the incident with the broken whiskey bottle in his stateroom, it looked more like the D.T's
That evening, I brought up the overtime log to the captain's office where the Port Captain was working on the pay-roll. A
few moments later in came the steward, dressed in a grey suit and bowler hat. I had earlier given him a Master's Certificate
to see a doctor. He was waving a "Fit for Duty" slip, declaring himself fit for another trip. "That's great,"
I told him, "Now go down and pack your bags and get the hell off the ship at once after pay-off."
This apparently energized his literary nerve, as he went below
and composed some dire threats against me on the next day's menu for all to see. On top of the menu appeared: "MATE:
THE DEAL YOU WANTED TO MAKE WITH ME ITS OUT OF ORDER, NO DICE, YOU ARE A DANGEROUS MAN. CAPTAIN: YOUR MATE CERTAINLY LED AND
DOUBLE CROSSED YOU. IN AMERICA WE DON'T DO THOSE THINGS. IT IS GOING TO COST YOU MONEY MATE, AND MAYBE YOUR L---."
So ended my first voyage as a chief mate on the S.S.......It was a voyage I would never want to repeat. In Hong Kong, on the
following voyage, I received a copy of a lawsuit he'd sent to the Coast Guard, accusing me of mutiny and conspiracy. I sent
a copy of it to the Coast Guard, in case he had forgotten to mail the original. I also included a copy of the menu, along
with a statement from the remaining crew members on that voyage.
I heard nothing more about this law suit, nor did I
really expect to.
According to the scuttlebutt,
the captain got his license reduced to chief mate, after a lengthy hospital stay. The steward lost his Z-card (seaman's papers),
but of course this is just rumor.