The next morning, Tom called ops to cancel the van, and dressed in a white shirt, dark tie and grey flannels. He drove himself to the office in the borrowed mini. The evening spent with Tony had been enlightening and interesting, giving him more of an insight into Cosel and Mr R. He felt he had made a good friend and they both seemed to work on the same wavelength. He called in at Ops and found Ishmael sitting at his desk, the same as yesterday, and presumed he been home the previous night. No-one had told him to call in at Ops, but it seemed the sensible thing to do.
“Good morning, driving in Singapore traffic okay?” greeted Ishmael. and Tom nodded his head, smiling. “All ready for the trials? I see you have the trial schedule.”
“Yes, thank you, Ishmael, I have studied it and made my plans. I forgot yesterday I need a chart.”
“Of course, all ready for you here, together with a temporary log,” and he handed Tom the large-scale chart of Jurong and Singapore Western Anchorage.
“We are on good terms with the port authority and in general obey their rules,” he smiled. “No vessel is allowed to move in Singapore waters without calling the port authority and obtaining their permission. If you try it and they find out, it is a one-way trip to Changi jail. So call them up, tell them you are going for sea trials and they will give permission. I have already told them on the phone. When you have returned and made fast, don’t forget to call and tell them and base on the company radio.”
“Okay, thanks, Ishmael.”
Tom left the office and walked down to the Jurong. Although it was only just after eight o’clock, the yard was a hive of activity and the chipping had started on the barge. It was already hot. He climbed on board and entered the wheel house, confident of himself and his abilities, still feeling he was on the cusp of something important.
The sun had already heated the almost still air and the light was bright at nine when the trials started, although Tom did not really notice, he was too busy with his command. The tug seemed full of people and he was quite sure there were more people on board than her safety equipment allowed; still, no matter, he was certain all would be well. He was introduced to the superintendent who seemed pleasant enough, but did not catch his name.
Quite a crowd had gathered on the quay to watch the departure of the new tug, including DB, who was talking with a much older, shorter man who Tom thought might be Mr R. Tony, dressed in a colourful shirt as though out for a picnic, was on the tow-deck, talking with Steve. The yard engineer was below in the engine room and his assistant was in the wheelhouse with Tom and the surveyor. The three of them filled the small space. Tom had planned his manoeuvre carefully and it went off smoothly. The Jurong steamed out of the yard at slow speed, and into the main channel, turning to starboard, heading for Western Anchorage and slowly increasing the speed.
Tom felt elated in the afternoon after putting the Jurong neatly alongside her berth. The trials had been a success, everything had worked well, the tug manoeuvred satisfactorily. She had achieved slightly over the design speed on the measured mile, the surveyor had approved all the classification requirements and the certificates would be delivered the next day. All was ready for the tug to be handed over to Cosel Salvage.
“In my office,” said Steve. “You coming, Tony?”
“Well, of course,” replied Tony who seemed in ebullient mood after his day out on the tug.
Steve’s desk had been cleared and covered with a white tablecloth. Small eats and bottles of champagne covered it instead of the usual papers.
On a separate small table under the river window lay the handing-over papers and two chairs. Steve’s secretary was hovering near the chairs and Steve gestured to Tom, who sat down. There were a few yard foremen and those who had built the tug watching as Steve signed the papers, passing them to Tom sitting next to him, who checked that all was in order and then signed them on behalf of Cosel Salvage. Everyone clapped and Tony gave the toast simply saying, “To the Jurong. Success to her and all who sail on her.”
It was a jolly gathering and Daniel Bang, whom Tom had not noticed in the general excitement, approached him.
“Well done. Mr R wants to see you in his office at 1800 sharp.”
“Okay, thank you,” Tom’s effervescence taking a hit, automatically assuming he had done something wrong, something like being summoned to the headmaster. Better lay off the champagne, he thought.
“Successful day, well done,” said Tony as he left the party, still wearing his picnic shirt. It was now about 1700 and people were beginning to go home. Tom stayed on as it seemed as good a place as any to wait for his 1800 interview, but the party evaporated quite quickly. Rather than be the last person to leave, he walked over to the main office and waited in reception where there was a comfortable settee. He made his number with the receptionist. At 1800 he knocked on the chairman’s door. The secretary had gone, and Tom heard a voice command:
Full of apprehension, Tom took a deep breath and opened the door. It was a big office with a large desk at the back wall, behind which the chairman sat, facing the door. To the left was a settee with a small table on which was an ice bucket and in this, an opened bottle of champagne. Two empty glasses were close by. The windows were curtained and there the floor was carpeted.
“Welcome to Singapore and Cosel Salvage,” said Mr R, waving Tom to the settee.
“Sit and pour the champagne, you don’t think I’m going to allow my yard manager to drink at my expense and I not participate!” he chuckled, brushing his almost non-existent hair from his eyes, a gesture Tom would soon learn meant he was in a good mood and relaxed.
Tom poured the champagne and Mr R joined him on the settee, a much smaller man that he had imagined, but full of energy despite his advancing years.
“I invited you to meet me and I wanted to get to know you a little better. I know a lot about you.” There was a trace of some sort of mid-European accent. Tom looked surprised but said nothing.
“I watched you depart and return with the Jurong and if all our Captains could handle their tugs as well as you, our maintenance costs would be a lot less.”
Tom felt quite embarrassed and unused to such praise. He still said nothing.
“Yes, you were obviously in charge of the vessel rather than the other way round and I’m not a seafaring person. Congratulations on the successful sea trials! Tell me, did you read the handover document before you signed it?”
“Yes, of course,” replied Tom, surprised.
“And what did it say?”
“Basically, the tug had completed the sea trials satisfactorily and complied with all classification requirements and was built in accordance with the building contract.”
“And did you read the building contract?”
“No, I was not asked to because the yard manager’s signature covered that.”
“Very good, not many other masters would have even read the documents. Those lawyers in London must have taught you something.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Tom formally.
“Call me Mr R, everyone else does.”
“Right, now to business. Cosel Salvage is going to expand and we are going to be the pre-eminent Salvor in Southeast Asia within a few years. To do that I need not just good but top notch people, who will act independently without supervision and they are difficult to find. I think you are one such person. The only problem is that you know nothing about salvage except what your lawyers taught you, which, however, may prove very useful. To be any use to me, you have to learn the trade, and the faster you learn the better. There is an element of luck because you never know when the next salvage is going to occur. I am a businessman, but I find the business of salvage fascinating. My biggest worry is where the next dollar is coming from. There’s no secure cash flow, it appears to be either feast or famine.”
He paused and drank his champagne, rather absentmindedly refilling his glass. Tom took a cautious sip.
“Our first big tug is arriving on Monday.”
Tom glanced at the chart on the wall behind the desk and saw a red pin in the South China Sea. The chart was the same as he had seen in Ops and the radio rooms.
“So, together with the Singapore they will form the basis of our expanding salvage fleet. We have the heavy lift barge, the salvage and mooring vessel, the harbour tugs and barges together with various equipment ashore. We have enough small tugs and barges now to create the cash flow I need to support our salvage fleet when the tugs are on standby and not working. That’s my plan and I need the people to make it work. Captain Smit is an excellent tug master but that is all he will ever be. You, however, I expect to be much more and I will be watching your progress with much interest. The reason I am telling you this at the beginning of your career is so you know if you perform well you will rise as the company expands. Don’t forget, I’m on the last lap of life, you are at the beginning. I am giving you a potential opportunity.”
“I don’t know what to say except, thank you, and I hope to fulfil the promise you see in me. I must say, in the last two days I almost feel reborn, it is so utterly different from UK, where it’s all ‘them and us’, but here, it seems it is us together for the future,” said Tom, overcoming his embarrassment at talking about himself.
“Just what I like to hear. I hear Tony House has lent you his car.”
“His wife’s car actually, very good of him,” replied Tom, surprised the chairman would know such an unimportant detail.
“Well, explore Singapore while you can, the car will make it easy. You will be busy with Captain Smit refitting the new, well new second-hand tug. She’ll be called Sunda. The big tugs are all going to be named after Straits: Singapore Straits, Malacca Straits, Messina Straits and so on. Drink up, I must be on my way,” said Mr R.
Tom left the office in a slight daze and sat for a while in the Mini, before driving back to the Orchid Inn and a refreshing swim. He was being given the opportunity of a lifetime, he thought, as he swam vigorously up and down the pool, the only swimmer in the dark.
It was all up to him and somehow he felt sure he had it in him to accept the challenge. Who knows, he thought, streaming into fantasyland, take over when the old man retired.
He went to bed, happy that coming to Singapore had been the right decision.