He left the grinning Rene, who always seemed to be cheerful, enjoying his work, at the bottom of the pilot ladder. He had brought the zed boat perfectly alongside. The heat hit Tom as he reached the top of the ladder, now quite a long climb up the black hull, with more than half the cargo transferred.
“I have to go ashore,” said Captain Rogers when Tom found him, in quite an agitated state. “You are in charge, I have to go ashore. I expect to be back before midnight.”
After what had just occurred on the Queen, followed by the conversation with Jan, Tom felt it was too much, until he told himself that it was just what he needed; others’ confidence in would restore his own.
The operation was proceeding smoothly, the two ships had their own Captains, he had Captain Jules and Juan for tanker expertise; what more did he want? He had berthed the Buron successfully and despite what he had experienced, he had not actually failed with the fires. He shook himself free of the past in order to look to the future.
With the expertise at his fingertips, he felt he could handle any emergencies.
“Fine, Captain Rogers, I will look after it for you. I hope nothing is wrong,” but the Salvage Master was silent.
He left the cabin and Tom could hear him climb the stairs to the bridge. Tom followed shortly afterwards and saw the Coselone approaching the port side. Captain Rogers had left the bridge and Tom saw him on the black foredeck, the tall figure slightly stooped as though carrying a load on his shoulders. He climbed over the rail onto the pilot ladder. A little later, he saw the black crew boat pull away and increase speed, making a big wash for her size, and head towards Sultan Shoal where, he presumed, she would clear in at immigration.
Tom felt quite comfortable with his new responsibility. He would not have to do anything unless something went wrong. It was afternoon and hazy, the skyline of Singapore barely visible. All traffic seemed to be giving their area a wide berth.
Tom went down to the air conditioned control room, where Captain Jules was talking to the chief officer, and then out on deck where he found Juan, resting with his men. They were all covered with a variety of clothing, including headgear that seemed more suitable for cold weather, but it was to protect themselves from the sun. Tom told Juan he thought it would be a good idea if they lowered the gangway. The Kinos was now high out of the water and there were going to be people boarding early next morning when the transfer was finishing.
That evening, after supper, Tom called Jan and asked if he would come over.
“Not climbing that pilot ladder, Tom, unless it is an emergency. I am strictly a tug man.”
“No worries, I have had the gangway lowered.”
“Okay, then, I will be over shortly.”
Tom met Jan at the head of the gangway, his bulk seeming to take up the whole width, masking the mess man who was behind, carrying a bag. Tom led the way to the owners’ suite where Jan immediately opened the fridge, which was empty, except for bottles of water.
“Where’s the cold coffee, Tom?”
“Dry ship,” said Tom, apologetically.
“Well, Tom, just as well I brought my own supplies,” said Jan, laughing, taking the bag from the mess man.
“Wait in the zed boat with Rene,” Jan said to him.
Jan opened a can and settled himself down onto the grey settee, pushing the Salvage Master’s papers out of the way. He put the can on the table but did not offer Tom one.
“I’m waiting,” said Jan quite coldly his mouth, although partly hidden by the moustache, a hard line.
“You said, no you told me, I must talk, and I have taken this opportunity while the Salvage Master is ashore and on neutral ground, to do just that. I have never told anyone everything, although I gave evidence at the official enquiry.”
Tom spoke non-stop for two hours.
Jan was silent, just the occasional pop as he opened another can from his dwindling resources. Tom felt utterly drained and exhausted when he finished, with his arrival as a survivor on the tanker at Bahrain, where he had the corpse to deal with. He was seventeen years of age at the time.
“Thank you, Tom, well done. You have nothing to be ashamed about, but now you have revisited the fire, the burnt corpses, the hours in the water alone, the dead man in the bottom of the lifeboat, and how you felt, there is every chance the flashbacks will go. More importantly, if involved again with a fire, you will know what to expect and forewarned is forearmed. You may never again have to deal with a fire. Most people go through their entire sea careers and never have an accident, let alone a fire, although we are more likely than most. The Queen is only the third fire I have fought. You already have two and your youthful experience,” and he guffawed, his face relaxing into the one Tom knew.
Tom felt somehow cleansed, as though talking about the events as a teenager had allowed his soul to come to terms with it all. No wonder the Catholics were so keen on confession! He felt almost renewed, the past was behind him now, not with him.
“My God!” exclaimed Jan. “Look at the time! It is well past my bedtime, and my bag is empty.”
He spoke into his radio and a little later the mess man arrived and cleared the empty blue cans into the bag and tidied the table. He led the way, Jan following, whistling a tune Tom did not recognise. Tom saw them safely into the zed boat, Rene proceeding as before at a sedate speed.
As Tom made his way to the control room, a voice on his radio asked, “Mike five, this is Mike four, why is the gangway down?”
Tom looked at his watch and saw it was nearly midnight, saying into his radio, “Jan came for a visit and I thought it easier for the surveyors in the morning.”
There was no reply and Tom thought it prudent to meet the Salvage Master, so returned to the gangway where the Coselone was just coming alongside. Captain Rogers passed Tom without a word. He followed him to the owners’ suite, where the Salvage Master sniffed the air.
“I would have guessed Jan had been here. We are running a dry ship and this place smells like a no smoking pub at closing time.” His lips curved into a thin smile.
“Everything okay?” asked Tom.
“My son had an accident and is in hospital, but will live,” was the rather curt reply.
“I am sorry,” Tom commiserated, although he did not know Captain Rogers had a son.
“Call me at 0400, we have a busy day ahead of us.”
Tom was up when the transfer was completed at 0830 and the various inspections took place. White boiler-suited men seemed to be everywhere.
Captain Jules and Juan were on the Buron, calculating how much cargo had actually been transferred and would be on carried to Japan. The Kinos was fully inverted, her tanks filled with gas, which meant there could not be an explosion, and would proceed to Sembawang once the divers had completed their survey.
Tom felt confident as he stood on the bridge of the Buron, wearing his Cosel whites, while Tanner was resplendent in his, looking very much the Master with his Captain’s cap. The Singapore was connected astern of the now light ship Kinos, while the Coselhare was connected forward to the Buron, both tugs with the ship’s mooring lines, which could be easily slipped from the tug’s towing hooks. He knew the loaded Buron would behave in a very different way when loaded than when he had berthed her light. He had been over to the Singapore, urging Rene not to get him wet, and briefed Gonzales. Captain Rogers was forward with a mooring party and Juan aft; they had singled up and were awaiting his orders. It was near noon and hot on the bridge wings, the white paint reflecting the bright light, the long, grey-coloured foredeck stretching a long way, while the figures on the forecastle were diminished by the distance.
“Let go all fore and aft.”
Captain Tanner looked surprised but did not demur.
"Singapore, this is Mike five, commence towing as we discussed.”
Tom could see the increased turbulence and the mooring line to the towing hook tighten as Gonzales steered to starboard, pulling the stern of the Kinos away from the stern of the Buron. He ordered the Coselhare to tow and pull the bow off the moored Kinos.
“Slow ahead, captain.”
“Slow ahead it is,” said Jack, moving the engine telegraph lever forward with a ‘ting’, a second ‘ting’ of the telegraph bell indicating the engine room had understood the order and put the engine on slow ahead. Tom could see the rev counter needle slide round the dial mounted on the forward bulkhead of the wheelhouse.
At first, nothing happened, except the gap at the stern increased, which Tom watched from the port bridge wing. The aft Yokohama fender floated free, revealing the black-painted hull of the Kinos. The sterns were well clear of each other.
"Singapore, tow straight.” Tom could see the tug alter course.
Looking forward, he saw the bow slowly move away from the Kinos, and the Buron inched ahead, the speed increasing, the hull well clear of the Kinos, the fenders all floating free until the bridge passed the bow, the mooring party, except the Salvage Master, waving. Tom dismissed the tugs and the mooring lines were let go, the mooring parties heaving them on board the Buron.
“Very good, Tom, very neat,” said Jack, signing Tom’s chitty, acknowledging the pilotage and the time of departure, “and the best of luck to you in the salvage world,” he continued, shaking Tom’s hand.
“Thanks, Jack, and no doubt I will read in some future Nautical Magazine of your promotion to some important shore job.”
They laughed and Tom walked off the bridge as Captain Tanner took control, looking ahead, giving a helm order and course to the helmsman, who was dressed in jeans and a rather dirty sweatshirt, in sharp contrast to his Captain.
The Coselone was now alongside the Buron, her hull tight against the grey hull of the moving ship and Tom stepped on board the firm platform of the crew boat from the pilot ladder. Much easier than the zed boat, he thought, as the skipper pulled away. Chris, Jules and a couple of surveyors he had not met were already on board, sitting in the air-conditioned cabin.
“Well done, Tom,” congratulated Chris, “that was good. In fact, the whole operation has gone well, which is as it should be. There was not too much problem with the tanks that had been on fire, we were able to put the cargo in separate tanks on the Buron.”
The Coselone headed back to the Kinos, where Tom and Chris stepped off at the gangway. The launch departed back to Singapore via Sultan Shoal immigration. Once on deck, Tom could see the Buron disappearing at speed down the deep water channel that by-passed the narrow Singapore Straits. Ships that pass in the night; he thought of his meeting with Tanner.
Tom was pleased with himself. Last night’s talk with Jan was fading into the shadows of his mind, as he made his way outside the accommodation to the bridge. The air-conditioning in the wheelhouse made his shirt stick to his sweaty body and he wiped his face with a handkerchief. It was another hot day and Tom was glad of the closed doors and cool wheelhouse.
Captain Skios, in sweatshirt and jeans, welcomed Tom.
“All yours, pilot.”
Tom felt confident and it only took three engine movements to clear the mooring buoy, slow astern, stop, half ahead and follow the Sunda through the Singapore Straits. The plate hanging down was not causing any difficulties. The divers had reported it was still connected tightly to the hull.
The passage to Sembawang was uneventful, Tom simply followed Jan. It was early evening when the Lloyds Open Form was terminated with the Kinos alongside the shipyard wharf, a very low-key affair after such momentous events. A signature and a handshake and that was it. Tom felt huge relief, knowing the salvage had been a success and Cosel would be paid. After all, it was a ‘no cure, no pay’ contract and the company had been at risk until the final signature.
Tom joined Jan on the bridge of the Sunda, now alongside the Kinos, the crew picking up the last of the salvage equipment and the towing slip hook, which had been made fast forward in case of emergencies. Jan was his old, ebullient self, congratulating Tom on his ship handling abilities, the ever-present can in his hand. They departed shortly afterwards, Jan simply pushing the engine levers to full ahead and the tug shot along the Buron, narrowly missing the overhang of the forecastle.
The passage back to Eastern Anchorage was made at full speed; the thought of fuel economy was the last thing from Jan’s mind.
“It is Cosel’s biggest salvage so far,” Jan said enthusiastically, “and we did everything. Your piloting was fantastic. Let me tell you a little secret: our esteemed Salvage Master could not put a rowing boat alongside, let alone a large tanker. If you had not been there, he would have got Chris Jules to do it or get a pilot from Singapore.”
He threw the empty blue can out of the wheelhouse door and over the side, as he opened a red can.
“Don’t like anchor beer so much,” he said, drinking. “I warned you once and I do so again. I am safe. I am a tug man, he cannot touch me, but you have shown yourself to be potentially much more, and if he thinks you are a threat, he will knife you. Enough,” he guffawed. “Life is for enjoying.”
Jan weaved his way amongst the anchored ships at a speed Tom thought reckless, but Jan had been around a long time and knew what he was doing. Suddenly, ships’ sirens started sounding, and fireworks with what looked suspiciously like distress rockets and flares, illuminated the sky.
“Has someone started a war?” asked Tom, as the anchor was let go, the engines going full astern, and the bottom mud stirred.
“No, it’s the New Year,” and Jan enfolded him in a huge bear hug. “Happy New Year, Tom.”