The Ill

Book Made By My Gran`s Husband Colin Darch. Mostly About When We Got Captured By Pirates By Somalia.

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2. Chapter 2

“Get out of that ridiculous pantomime costume, get yourself on deck with those other idle bastards, and get this vessel ready for sea! And if you Russian cretins don’t understand I’ll send you back to Outer Mongolia and hire some real seamen from Finland or Poland!”

I knew he would not catch all the words, but when words fail music speaks, and I hoped my tone would sting him into action. The boss said Russians respond well to being shouted at. Well that is not my style, this is not the army nor the royal navy. When battening down a small ship for a winter passage the old adage applies, “Take care of your ship and your ship will take care of you.” True seamen know that and do it without bullying.

That night we slept on board, expecting a morning departure.

December 14th I was up early making final checks. The plan was to move down the river Neva to a commercial wharf where port officials would board for departure formalities, and issue our Outward Clearance. Accordingly a pilot boarded Svitzer Busse at 1000. She was to leave the berth first with me following close behind. But suddenly the Busse surged back and her stern roller put a deep half round dent in my icebreaker bow. A bad start.
Then Busse was off like a frighted steed, into mid river, twisting and turning erratically, but gradually moving downstream. I was about to cast off when an anxious call came from Joe Benneton reporting his controls unreliable. Not trusting them he set everything to neutral, and drifted slowly down river while I was instructed to go to him, lash up alongside, and bring him back to the shipyard berth. This I did very cautiously, aware of the great power of the engines, and very sensitive controls.

Shipyard experts piled aboard to check the computerised controls, engine settings, monitor readings, and finally their trials Master did a short trial in the river, and pronounced everything in good working order.

So at 1630 we set out again and berthed head to stern at a commercial wharf, for the Port Officials to do their stuff. To ease the way the agent laid on bottles of vodka to supplement the ship’s beer. A jolly crowd of officials bunched up in our little tugboat messroom. Half a dozen men and one lady, who could have been Kruschev’s twin, with uniforms buttoned up to their double chins and red faces shiny with sweat. Svitzer Busse had a similar valedictory party, and we cast off at 2200.
The passage down river between rows of ships, with occasional passing traffic required all my concentration, hands on port and starboard thruster controls, eyes moving between radar, echo sounder, RPM and pitch indicators, and a patch of floodlight ahead which showed thick plates of ice. Sometimes the pilot indicated with a raised finger to pass one side or the other of these obstacles which thudded against the hull. Few words passed between us in the darkened wheelhouse, but we worked well together, until the bulk of Berezovskiy intruded, breathing like a bear. “Don’ worry Captain!” his greeting as he lurched against me reaching past to change the radar range. The pilot and I ignored him as he fumbled around in the dark and bumped me again while adjusting a dimmer switch or something. “Nikolai, I’m quite happy with the settings, if you want to help get us some coffee!”
“Don’ worry Captain,” he retorted thickly. The atmosphere was tense. The Russian pilot spoke no word to his compatriot. If he had suspected the Mate of being drunk he should have reported it to Port Control resulting in a visit from Harbour Police, involving delay and possible detention.

Soon after midnight we reached Kronshtadt where the pilot disembarked, and at 0230 I handed over to Berezovskiy, judging him fit to take charge of the ship, and went to bed.

The next three days at sea were uneventful apart from Joe reporting intermittent problems with his autopilot, and neither of us happy with the food situation. But we put this down to poor provisions supplied for the short trip to Fredericia, to be remedied once our Dutch stores came aboard. As the nominated “Commodore” of this flotilla of two I had to make daily progress reports to Holland, and found the Russian computer difficult. Nikolai Berezovskiy helped but preferred to work through his personal laptop rather than the ship’s equipment, so I arranged for the standard Satcom C in a suitcase to be supplied by the Dutch, at Fredericia.

We spent six days in Fredericia with both tugs undertaking bollard pull trials, trying to achieve the 70 tons pull required by the owners. When we had a chance we also took stores. There were many cases in a warehouse, containing food, paint, various types of oil, spare engine parts, and equipment for the owner’s depot at Singapore. A Danish forklift driver carried these crates to the ships’side for our crews to crane them aboard and stow for sea. Much time was spent sorting the boxes in the warehouse, and as Christmas approached, everyone was anxious to get us out before the holiday. To save time I ordered that so long as we got an equal number of cases we would sort it out later. “If we get all the beans and “Busse” gets all the peas, so be it!” Engine and electronic experts steadily leached away to Russia, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Lithuania, and even one to Iceland. On Christmas Eve in the morning we were cast off and Denmark went into holiday mode.

Our destination Kiel canal, to make a Christmas Day transit into the North Sea, but this was not to be. Approaching Holtenau at the Baltic end of the canal Joe Benneton reported starboard engine alarm systems malfunctioning. So we berthed at Nordhafen, just inside the canal, and there we stayed. No technical advice available on Christmas Day. Hamburger and chips for lunch. In the evening Chief Engineer Ted Burke and I walked to a Seamens’ Mission, where a little old lady in tatty slippers let us in and served coffee, there being no alcohol. Ted connected up his laptop and sent greetings home, while I found A.N.Wilson’s biography of C.S.Lewis, and read a couple chapters.
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