The Dare

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Chapter 27

The Lloyds Form was filled in and signed by both Captain Rogers and Captain Ings. Tom had almost forgotten Frank’s surname, but after his friend had signed, the form was taken below by the Salvage Association Surveyor for signature by the Master, who said he would hold on to it while the salvors left to connect their tugs.

“You better be quick about it if you are going to make this tide, speed is of the essence, gentlemen,” he added.

The Salvage Master held a short meeting where it was agreed that he would be in overall charge of the salvage, with his crew standing by aft to make the connections. There was no time to bring across the heavy slip hooks, and it was agreed the forerunners should be made up round the bitts, not the eye over them. The Mississippi would connect on the port side and the Sunda on the starboard side of the casualty. All the while, the tide was coming up to slack water.

“I don’t see why we can’t both connect at the same time,” Tom suggested.

“I am single screw and no bow thruster,” Frank pointed out.

“No problem,” said Tom, “I will keep out of your way. I think we should have oxyacetylene to hand, so in an emergency the Coselvenom crew can cut the forerunner as we don’t have time for the slip hooks,” he added.

The Salvage Master was silent. Tom called on his radio and told Gonzales to pick up the anchor and start heading to the starboard quarter of the casualty, then he met Juan on the deck of the Coselvenom and told him what was happening.

“I wonder, Juan,” he added, “if you could have your welder and the oxyacetylene gear ready to cut the tows in an emergency and make sure the eye of the forerunners is not put over the bitts but is made up round them, so easy to let go.”

“Okay, captain, I will do that,” Juan replied.

On his way back in the zed boat to the moving Sunda, Tom saw that the weather had completely clouded over, looking very dark and threatening, with black clouds to the north. There was quite a breeze blowing across the stern of the casualty, presaging the rain to come from the heavy cloud, and the zed boat felt the wavelets. Once back on board his tug, Tom took over from Gonzales and manoeuvred her off the starboard quarter of the Mr President. Juan, efficient as ever, threw a heaving line neatly onto the tow deck and the Sunda was quickly connected. It started to rain, quite lightly at first.

“Mike four, this is Mike five, Sunda, connected,” Tom reported on the company radio.

“Good. Get a company radio across to the Mississippi,” ordered the Salvage Master.

Tom could see the Mississippi, a blur in the rain, her almost indistinct navigation lights indicating she was heading towards to the Sunda but still close to the Mr President, whose outline was faint and the deck lights hazy in the increasing rain. This was not going to be the easy salvage Tom thought it would be; the rain was reducing the visibility, making it very difficult so see anything. If they lost sight of the casualty it would become very dangerous, especially if she re-floated.

Tom had instructed Pedro to secure the main tow wire and was steaming gently, maintaining his position easily with the wind on the port side blowing quite hard. Suddenly, nearby, there was a clap of thunder, all the more frightening because it was so unexpected. Tom’s heart sank and he felt his insides turning to jelly. He had to hold on to the bridge front while looking at the faint outline of the Mississippi out of the starboard wheelhouse door. A thunderstorm and squall were the last thing they needed during the re-floating attempt and at night, too. In fact, Tom thought, if he had his way he would abort the attempt and wait for daylight and the next tide.

“Jesus, collect a radio and spare battery from Ricky in the radio room and take it across in the zed boat to the Mississippi. Tell Rene to leave the boat in the water when you get back.”

“Okay, cap.”

The Mississippi and the casualty were in VHF communication but Tom had not heard a word from either of them. The Salvage Master had the Company radio and if Frank had one as well it would be easier to coordinate and control the operation. Tom saw the zed boat disappear into the rain, which was beginning to hiss against the wheelhouse windows, and in the light over the tow deck Tom could see the droplets bouncing off the surface of the sea like a cauldron bubbling and spitting its boiling liquid contents. The Mississippi was almost invisible in the downpour and pitch darkness, but Gonzales said he could still just see her on the radar and she did not appear to have moved. There was only half an hour to high water and Tom was worried for his friend.

"Mississippi, this is Mike four, what is your position, please?” asked Captain Rogers on the VHF.

“Just connected and paying out,” Tom was relieved to hear Frank’s reply.

"Sunda, tow at full power on your quarter, Mississippi, tow at full power on your quarter when you are ready,” ordered the Salvage Master on the VHF.

Tom, who was still watching for the Mississippi, pushed the engine control levers in front of him slowly forward, increasing to full power, relying on Pedro to warn him if anything was wrong because he could not see the wire in the rain. It was free to run across the towing gunwale, so he could manoeuvre the tug easily.

"Mississippi moving closer,” said Gonzales from the radar.

“Get the two Yokohama fenders out on the starboard side quickly, Gonzales, just in case.”

“Okay, cap,” said Gonzales, and left the bridge.

Tom was happy that the steady and dependable Pablo was on the wheel, but he was missing a third mate, and thought of Alfredo. Jesus appeared, dripping water on the deck and said, “Radio delivered, cap,” and moved over to the radar, a pool of water collecting around his feet.

"Sunda, this is Mississippi, I will secure when I am parallel with you if I can see you through this rain,” said Frank on the company radio, his Scots accent more distinct than normal. Tom realised this showed the stress he was under.

He saw the Mississippi appear in the rain close to, and remained on the same heading as the Sunda.

“Mike four, this is Mississippi, secured and towing at full power,” reported Frank, his voice now sounding less stressed.

“Thank you, Mississippi, we are going astern on the main engine and will be increasing to full astern. It’s almost high tide,” said Captain Rogers.

A great clap of thunder sounded overhead, much louder than the earlier one, and lightening lit up the two tugs, the extreme darkness making it seem even more bright. The lightening seemed to sizzle as it wriggled through the rain and hit the sea, apparently boiling with the power of the rain. The noise of the engines was completely blotted out and Tom momentarily wondered if they had stopped. The visibility was reduced to almost nil but Tom sensed something had changed. It was the wind, now blowing hard on the other side of the tug, the starboard side, and Tom was concerned it might blow the Mississippi onto the Sunda.

Gonzales came on to the bridge, completely drenched through, pouring more water onto the already wet deck, and reported, “Fenders rigged, cap.”

“Frank, wind change!” called Tom on his hand-held radio.

“I know and my dolly pins are jammed, my tow wire is held amidships and I am having difficulty holding her up into the wind,” Frank’s Scots accent more pronounced again.

“Don’t worry, you can come alongside me, my Yokohama’s are rigged.”

“Thanks.”

Tom suddenly remembered Rene and the rubber boat.

“Jesus, where is zed boat?”

“Starboard side, it was the lee side before the wind change,” he answered, lifting his head out of the radar.

Tom realised it was too late to do anything and just hoped it would not be crushed, that the fenders would hold off the other tug far enough. The Mississippi loomed out of the rain and Tom felt, the Sunda heeling slightly as she came alongside quite heavily. He ordered more starboard helm as Pablo reported she was falling off to port, and he noted the gyro clicking quite rapidly as the heading changed. The wind would keep the other tug alongside, there was no need for mooring lines.

“Mike four, this is Mike five. Mississippi is alongside the Sunda. I suggest you treat us as one unit,” reported Tom on the company radio.

“Mike five, yes. Mr President is on full power astern, no sign of movement yet and it’s high tide. Commence salvage yawing!” ordered Captain Rogers in reply.

“Commence salvage yawing,” repeated Tom. “Hard a starboard, Pablo.”

Tom sensed the wheel being spun but could not see it in the darkness.

“You copy that, Frank? I am going to starboard first to try and get upwind.”

“Understood.”

“I think we are moving slowly to starboard but the rain clutter is almost completely obscuring the casualty,” said Jesus from the radar.

Tom knew the heading had changed because Pablo had reported it, but that did not mean the two tugs were moving sideways up against the wind, they could still be being blown downwind.

“Hope you are right, Jesus,” said Tom, with a mirthless laugh.

The rain was heavier then ever, although there had been no more thunder, only the occasional bolt of lightening. Tom was so tense, he felt his nerves at breaking point. It was not being able to see anything, and the knowledge that the huge ship behind them was going full astern on her massive engine. They might not know when she actually re-floated and the Sunda’s manoeuvrability was severely hindered by the Mississippi. The wind was, if anything, blowing even stronger. Tom felt he was not in full control of events and that the tugs were in considerable danger and might even be over run by the Mr President, but there was nothing else he could do. Miguel appeared with a welcome mug of tea for those on the bridge.

“Rene says the zed boat is between the two tugs and he can’t move her.”

“I know, tell him too bad, we’ll sort it out later, Miguel. Leave the boat alone.”

“Moving,” an agitated and excited voice came over the company radio, its Australian accent very strong and Tom did not immediately recognise it as the Salvage Master. Quite suddenly, the sound of the diesels changed, speeding up, despite Tom not touching the engine controls. This suggested that the load on the engine had reduced, which could only mean they were moving ahead. The visibility was still almost nil and there was no word from Jesus, but the land was completely obscured by the rain so he would not see anything, either.

Tom opened the downwind door of the wheelhouse and walked out into the rain. He was drenched in seconds, as if he was under a waterfall with the water was running in mini rivulets along the deck and pouring in streams down the side of the wheelhouse. He could still not see the casualty, so he did not know where she was in relation to the tugs.

“I am totally reliant on the Salvage Master,” he thought.

It was becoming obvious that the speed was picking up and the heading was changing, but there was no word from the casualty. Tom stood in the wheelhouse door, partly sheltered from the rain, when he thought he saw a glimmer, a blur of light. It then increased as the rain started to reduce and quite soon, almost stopped. The President was well out on the starboard side of the tugs, the stern swinging away from them, the wind was still keeping the two tugs together.

“Hard a port, Pablo,” shouted Tom as he reached for the radio microphone, having left his portable one on the locker by his chair before walking out into the rain.

Mississippi, this is Sunda! We are going to be in trouble if you are not slipped, Frank.”

“I can see.”

“Mike four, this is Mike five, I think we should slip the Mississippi, his dolly pins are jammed and his tow wire pinioned.”

There was silence. The two tugs started to move apart, the Sunda turning to port and under control, thought Tom, but the Mississippi was being pulled around by her pinioned tow wire.

“Juan,” said Tom crisply, “this is Mike five, slip the Mississippi.”

“Can’t slip, the ship’s crew put the eye over the bitts before I could stop them,” said Juan, urgently.

“Cut, Juan, cut quickly, or she is going to be in trouble!”

“Frank, hard a port!”

“I am but she is going the wrong way,” said Frank, the concern showing in his voice.

“I’ve told Juan to cut you,” said Tom, calmly.

The President was moving fast astern and the very thing Tom had worried about, being over-run, was happening. The casualty should stop her engine and go ahead. The tow wire on the Sunda was right out on the port beam, but the stern of the casualty was beginning to go ahead of the tug. The Mississippi, however, was in a far worse state and in a very dangerous situation.

“Mike four, this is Mike five. The Mississippi has lost control and I am losing it as well. Please, go ahead on the casualty engine. You are afloat and there is plenty of water.”

“Roger that, stopping engine now. We got a bit disorientated in the rain,” said Captain Rogers, apparently quite cheerfully, not realising the imminent danger to the tugs.

Suddenly, the Mississippi shot ahead and Tom gave a huge sigh of relief; his friend and the tug were safe. He felt he had aged ten years since the rain started, which was not more than a quarter of an hour or so previously. What a difference, now he could see what was happening. The President was moving back astern of the Sunda and with the tow wire free running he was back in control.

Mississippi, cut,” said Juan on the radio.

Sunda, this is Mike four, we are going to slip you and anchor. When ready, come and anchor close by,” said Captain Rogers on the company radio.

“Understood,” said Tom.

Mississippi, this is Mike four, anchor close by The President,” ordered the Salvage Master on the VHF.

“Understood,” replied Frank.

Rene came on the bridge from the boat deck, still in his wet clothes. “You have cracked my boat,” he said, accusingly.

“Sorry about that, Rene, I am sure you can patch her up,” said Tom, trying his best to soothe him.

“Yes.”

“Go and get the radio back off the Mississippi, take a diver,” ordered Tom.

Rene left the bridge by the boat deck ladder without a word, his long hair wet and hanging ragged below his shoulders. So that’s the way it is, thought Tom; he feels it’s his own boat so takes care of her better. Got to have him on the Dover.

“Slipped,” reported Juan on the radio, and Tom moved the engine control levers to upright, the engines in neutral. Pedro and Gonzales, who had both left the bridge when they heard Juan, went aft and heaved in the towing gear. The President had anchored, her deck light still blazing, almost obliterating the anchor lights. She looked huge, thought Tom, and he shuddered with the vision of her over-running the tugs.

The zed boat disappeared into the darkness at Rene’s usual speed; not much wrong with the boat, thought Tom. As soon as the towing gear was on the tow deck, which had taken longer than usual because the mud had to be hosed off, Tom steamed slowly to the starboard side, the inshore side, because the casualty was heading away from Singapore, the tide had turned, and Gonzales let go the anchor. The diver returned the radio and battery to Ricky while Pedro lifted out the boat with, Rene in it.

“We are being terminated,” said the Salvage Master on the company radio. “You can return to your salvage station in Eastern Anchorage and stand by. Submit your report to ops as soon as possible, the lawyer is returning to Singapore tomorrow.”

Tom relayed this to Frank on the VHF and suggested he contact Captain Rogers directly for instructions. He felt tired. The session with Frank in the pier bar and the supper at the Top of the Hilton with Shelia, together with the intense activity of the last few hours, not least the drama of the re-floating in the thunder storm, had taken its toll and Tom felt utterly exhausted. The thought of running back to Eastern Anchorage was almost beyond him. He decided to steam further away from The President and anchor, hoping the Salvage Master would be too busy to notice. He was beginning to feel chilly, still in his wet clothes, and went below to have a hot shower and change.

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