The Dare

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Chapter 10

Tom wondered what on earth Jan could mean, but he was so tired, he was out like a light as soon as he hit his bunk. He woke early the next morning, before the sun had risen, and started on his report, having forgotten all thoughts of a talk with Jan. He was in the wheelhouse when the sun rose over Singapore, feeling ready for the coming day, and he had an early breakfast, eating it on the bridge wing. Captain Rogers had told him to report on the Kinos at 0800.

“Thought a good sleep would do you good, especially as you will pilot the lightening tanker Buron alongside the Kinos for the transfer.”

Tom felt he had been kicked in the stomach, and glad he had only eaten a comparatively light breakfast.

“No problem is there, Tom? You look as though you have seen a ghost?”

The Salvage Master was testing him, Tom thought; rise to the occasion, this is your opportunity. He had a Master’s certificate, so was even qualified to do it; always a first time for everything.

“No, Captain Rogers, it’s nice and calm, should be no problem. Do we have any assisting tugs?” he asked.

The Salvage Master smiled, his thin lips pressed together, his long face crinkling a little.

“Two small harbour tugs and the Coselhare. I am sure you have noticed but the Singapore has a towing hook. Get Jan or do it yourself. Connect the Singapore in place of the Hare, using the Kinos mooring lines. All she has to do is a straight tow to stop the tanker swinging while you are docking the Buron. The chief officer should be able to look after that.”

“Gonzales is OK. What time is the Buron arriving?”

“About noon. Inspection will take a couple of hours, then bring her alongside. Why don’t I tell the captain our pilot will board and you bring her to the anchorage? Give you a chance to see how she handles. I don’t expect you have handled a ship that size before.”

“No,” said Tom tightly, “it will have been helpful to bring her to the anchorage.”

“Good. I will arrange that and you can use the Sunda zed boat as the pilot boat,” he chuckled. “All good experience for the future.”

Tom spoke to Jan on his radio, who agreed to connect the Singapore and send across his clean clothes.

“Harbour tugs are towing three Yokohama fenders and a barge with hoses and transfer equipment and will be here shortly. The barge is to be made fast on the port side and the fenders on the starboard. I will lead the forward mooring party and Juan the aft, made up from the Kinos crew, who are cooperating, and the salvage crew from my salvage vessel, the Coselvenom. The tanker specialist on our behalf for safety and the transfer is Captain Chris Jules. He is still in bed, having arrived from London last night,” reported the Salvage Master on the company radio.

“All sounds good to me,” said Tom, pretending nothing out of the ordinary was happening. “I’ll go and pick the anchorage with a view to the docking afterwards and prepare myself.”

Tom watched from the bridge, Jan connecting the Singapore and it seemed he only had three speeds full ahead, full astern and stop but if was very effective and quite spectacular in its way. He used two mooring lines to the towing hook. He noted the long-haired boat driver, returning Jan to his own tug, drove at a very sedate speed, with Jan sitting bolt upright. A metal ladder was produced by Pedro for him to climb on board, which Tom had not seen before.

Later in the morning the harbour tugs delivered the loaded barge, which Juan made fast amidships and immediately set his men to work. The Yokohama fenders towed in a single stream were made fast on the starboard side, one at each end and one in the middle. Juan seemed to be everywhere and Captain Jules and the Kinos’ chief officer were ullaging, measuring the cargo in the tanks.

An hour before the Buron was due, Tom left the work on deck and went up to the owners’ suite, where he found Captain Rogers busily writing. He changed into the whites his tailor had made for him, with the Cosel logo embroidered on the left breast, feeling somewhat embarrassed and self-conscious.

“Thought I would look the part and give confidence to the master,” he said, as Captain Rogers looked at him.

“Very smart, maybe it’s time we put our people into boiler suits.”

Tom felt relieved and made his way down to the barge on the port side where the Sunda zed boat was waiting.

“Very smart, cap,” laughed the long-haired Filipino, whose name Tom had discovered was Rene, and who was dressed in jeans a long-sleeved shirt and baseball cap.

“Don’t get me wet, Rene, I am the pilot.”

“I know,” said Rene, “no problem,” as he increased to full speed and the zed boat sped across the calm, sparkling water, occasionally jumping over the residual washes of passing ships heading towards Raffles Light. Tom felt refreshed by the hot, noontime air rushing past his face. The tanker seemed a long way off at first, but it was not long before they saw the pilot ladder on the starboard side, the bottom wooden step close to the water and Tom rather dreaded the long climb to the deck of the tanker in ballast. She was still moving ahead as Rene neatly put the zed boat alongside, with two rubber fenders over the side to protect the boat, and Tom stepped onto the ladder.

It was a long climb up the vertical wall of the ship’s side, the red boot topping first, then the grey painted side flaked with rust, facing him. He was met at the top by the chief officer, who took him up to the bridge and was glad of his whites, the Captain of the Buron was resplendent in starched whites and white cap.

“Tanner is my name, Jack Tanner,” he said, in a well-modulated English voice, holding out his hand. Tom shook it and then showed the captain where he proposed to anchor and that he would be doing the docking after the inspection.

“Very good,” said Tanner, “all yours,” and Tom gave his first order on someone else’s ship, feeling the weight of responsibility.

“Half ahead.”

It was not long before Tom felt confident and started to feel the ship, adjusting to the time it took for anything to happen after giving an order. She responded quite quickly for her size being in ballast, and he was no longer daunted by the foredeck, which had at first seemed to stretch out to infinity. He steamed past the Kinos, watching for other traffic and when well clear, ordered hard a starboard. It took time but she started to turn and he judged correctly when to stop the swing. Once turned and heading in the same direction, he anchored astern and to the south of the moored Kinos. The tide would not turn until evening so all he had to do was pick up the anchor and steer alongside.

Rene brought a party over in the zed boat, which included the Salvage Master, Captain Jules and Juan, who proceeded to make a tank inspection with a couple of other men, dressed in white boiler suits. They were checking to make sure the tanks were empty. Tom remained on the bridge, despite Captain Tanner’s invitation to his cabin and a drink. He was tensed up, tormenting himself with all the things that could go wrong in the coming docking, until he pulled himself together and wrote up his notes. The Salvage Master signed the delivery certificate when the inspection party came up to the bridge.

“I will let you know when we are ready to receive you,” said Captain Rogers, Juan smiling at Tom and giving him a thumbs up. The party departed, leaving Chris Jules, who would supervise the hose connection on the Buron.

Tom ordered the anchor to be heaved up and proceeded at dead slow. It was not long before the all clear was given by Captain Rogers.

"Singapore, this is Mike five, increase to half power. I am coming alongside now.”

“Increase to half power,” replied Gonzales on the portable radio, and Tom could see through his binoculars the increase in turbulence at the stern of the tug. He had studied the Yokohama fenders, huge, black oblongs covered in motor car tyres, and saw that unless he made a complete hash of it, they would keep him well off the Kinos. There was almost no wind and what little current was ahead. Although it was hot on the bridge with the wheelhouse doors open, Tom was too tense to notice.

The biggest ship he had ever been on was a 15,000 deadweight cargo ship and the Buron was more than ten times her size. The time he had spent on board had allowed him to become familiar with the size and he felt quite confident he had the feel of her. He saw the company yacht dwarfed by the Kinos, with Mr R and DB on board, emphasising the importance they placed on this operation, which he knew was the largest so far undertaken by Cosel.

He approached the Kinos at an angle, the Coselhare standing by forward and the two harbour tugs aft, ready to push or pull, having been connected by mooring lines. Tom achieved the right angle and when the bow was half-way along the Kinos, he went astern on the engine, which caused the bow to swing slowly to starboard. By the time the bow was opposite the bow of the Kinos, the Buron was stopped and parallel to the Kinos. The mooring parties were efficient and quick, and the Buron was made fast fore and aft, the springs run with just a gentle push from the Hare, which Tom had moved amidships.

“Very good, captain,” said Captain Tanner. “You did not really need the tugs. I am impressed,” and he walked forward and shook Tom’s hand.

Tom felt elated and allowed himself to feel a little proud that he had made a success of his first large tanker berthing, albeit in ideal conditions; he decided not to tell Tanner it was his first. He thanked the tugs for their assistance and told Gonzales on the Singapore to reduce power and then swap over with the Coselhare.

“Have a quick beer in the comfort of my air-conditioned cabin,” offered Captain Tanner, a tall, dark-haired Englishman who looked fit and trim and very smart in his whites, quite unlike Captain Skios on the Kinos. He led the way to his day room, which stretched most of the width across the whole accommodation, and the portholes gave a good view of the foredeck. He could see Juan and his men with the crew of the two ships and Captain Jules connecting up the cargo transfer hoses. A pilot ladder led over the side of the Buron and another one on the Kinos and someone crossing the Yokohama fender using it as a bridge between the two vessels.

“Here’s to us,” said Captain Tanner. “Call me Jack,” and he raised his glass. Tom responded, looking away from the portholes as they drank. Tom sat down in one of the comfortable easy chairs. The day-room was well appointed, with a clean blue carpet and matching curtains and covers on the chairs.

“I expect this lot to take about thirty hours, no point rushing it. There shouldn’t be any problems, your Captain Jules knows his stuff,” said Jack, looking at Tom, and then said, “I know you. I was two years ahead of you at school. You sailed, very young to be in the team.”

“Well, well,” said Tom, somehow pleased to be recognised. “Small world, but in those days, you were so far ahead that you were some sort of god,” and he laughed. “What are you doing in, how should I say, an outfit like this?” He waved his hand around as though encompassing the whole ship.

“Command, one word, command, my friend. Do you think I would have got command at my age in a UK company? Shipping is dying, there is no future in British shipping. As far as I am concerned, any command is better than no command.”

“I agree,” said Tom, thinking of the thrill when he took over the Singapore, “even a tug!” He laughed “And at school, all we thought about was passenger ships.”

“Mike five, this is Mike four, where are you?” The voice of the Salvage Master crackled over the portable radio around Tom’s neck.

“Mike four, this is Mike five, am still on the Buron with the Captain.”

“I want you here, please,” the voice emphasised the word ‘please’.

“Got to go,” said Tom, finishing his beer and rising from his comfortable chair.

“Come over any time for a beer and a chat,” said Jack as Tom left the cabin and made his way back to the Kinos via the Yokohama fender. It felt extremely odd to be clambering over a fender, albeit a large, floating one between two large tankers, one high out of the water.

Juan waved and shouted, “Almost ready.”

He found Captain Rogers in the control room with Captain Jules, the Kinos’ Chief Officer and Captain Skios.

“We are about to start, just waiting the word from Juan,” said Captain Rogers, giving Tom a look that suggested he did not approve of Tom’s dilatoriness in returning.

Tom found the complexities of the piping system and operation of the tanker daunting and tried to concentrate, but was still buoyed up by his berthing. It was so alien to him. When dealing with dry cargo, you could see what was happening, the cargo was visible. Here, it was in pipes or sealed but vented tanks, and one could see nothing. If, however, a mistake was made and there was a spill or burst pipe, then it became an environmental problem, although in the tropics crude oil dispersed quite quickly, but certainly a real and potential hazard of fire and explosion. Tom gave up trying to concentrate and decided he would have a session with Chris Jules when the transfer had settled down.

“1700, commenced cargo transfer,” intoned Captain Jules and Tom entered the time in his notebook, as did the Salvage Master.

“I suggest you stick with Chris,” said Captain Rogers, as he left the control room.

“Your doggy, Chris,” laughed Tom.

It was an interesting evening with Chris. He missed the setting sun being in the control room, but he learned a lot, although he did not think he would ever like tankers, the smell of crude and, for him, the perceived, ever-present danger, and his recent experience of what could happen if things went wrong. The exploding tanker was still very fresh in his mind and Tom shuddered when he thought about it, vigorously thrusting the images from his mind; he did not want another flashback.

“Tom,” said Chris sharply, “you were away with the birds. Look, this is what...” and he gave an explanation of some point of tanker practice. It was after supper and Tom had had a long day.

“The Chief Officer and Pump Man know their work. Juan is good, so we should not have any problems and his party will deal with the mooring lines as necessary, and the weather is set fine. I am off to bed.”

Tom found Captain Rogers in the owners’ suite. “John has gone to bed.”

“Yes. However, one of us should be around and go out on deck to keep the men alert. I will take the first watch you get your head down.”

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