Like ships in the night

I found the following report, from a ships master, printed in the August
1987 edition of The Log journal – its exact history is unclear but I
think you might find it amusing.

Reproduced with permission.

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
pre-conceived opinions from reports in the world press, for I am sure that
they will tend to overdramatise the affair.

We had just picked up the pilot and the apprentice had returned from
changing the G flag for the H and, it being his first trip, was having
difficulty 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

At this moment the chief officer appeared from the chart room, having been
plotting the vessels progress and, thinking that it was the anchors that
were being referred to, repeated the let go to the third officer on the
focstle. 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 the 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 vehicular
traffic, the result being that the bridge partly opened and deposited a
volkswagen, two cyclists, and a cattle truck on the foredeck. My ships
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 operators 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 sea temperature was 53 degrees and asked if there was a film 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
the 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 after tug and was lowering the ships
towing spring down onto the tug.

The sudden braking effect on the port anchor caused the tug to run in under
the stern of my vessel just at the moment when the propellers was answering my
double ring full astern. The prompt action of the second officer in securing
the inboard end of the towing spring delayed the sinking of the tug by some
minutes, and thereby 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 might suggest 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, possibly being replaced by the underwater cable, but
owing to the shore blackout, it is impossible to say where the pylon fell.

It never fails to amaze me the actions and behaviour 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 be
forcibly restrained by the steward, who has him handcuffed in the ships
hospital, where he is telling me to do impossible things with my ship and
my crew.

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 focstle. These particulars will enable
us to claim for the damage that they did to the railing of the #1 hold.

I am enclosing this preliminary report for I am finding it difficult to
concentrate with the sound of police sirens and their flashing lights.

It is sad to think that had the apprentice realised that there is no need
to fly pilot flags after dark, none of this would have happened.

For weekly accountability report I will assign the following casualty
numbers T/750101 to T750119 inclusive.

Yours truly


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