The Dare

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Chapter 3

The arrival of the Pansy was an event in the history of Cosel Salvage and everyone seemed to know, from the cleaning ladies to the chairman. No one went home early that Monday evening, all stayed to watch and be part of what seemed a turning point. Cosel Salvage was entering the world stage and the Pansy was the beginning.

There was a considerable crowd on the quay, watching as the Pansy was towed by the Jurong and another small harbour tug in the fast-gathering darkness. She was big, one of the biggest tugs Tom had ever seen, more like a medium-size coaster. The accommodation was amidships and there was a derrick forward of the bridge. As she came round the corner into full view, there was a collective gasp from the crowd. Big though she was, the white paint was scarred and streaked with rust; the hull, once black, was almost devoid of paint and she was high out of the water, the waterline covered with barnacles. The coming darkness hid the worst of it from sight.

Tom’s heart sank; a floating wreck. Steve’s words come to mind, “Some junk the old man picked up on the cheap,” but he reckoned the machinery must work or she would not have been able to steam the thousands of miles from Japan. Then again, the prevailing weather was the north-east monsoon, which would have been behind her. As the huge tug slowly approached, Tom saw a large figure appear on the bridge wing, walkie-talkie to his mouth, obviously controlling the two tugs. He berthed her very neatly and there applause rang from the watching crowd when she touched the wharf and shipyard workers made fast her mooring lines. The crowd quite quickly dispersed home, DB and the old man having left earlier.

Tom climbed on board and introduced himself to Jan, who vigorously shook his hand, exclaiming. “Welcome! Heap of scrap, come below for a beer.”

Tom noticed a few empty beer cans on the table under the centre bridge windows.

The cabin needed painting and had no carpet but the air-conditioning seemed to be working. The settee was plastic-covered, a rather nasty brown colour, and there was a single chair. The fridge looked new and Jan handed Tom a beer before he flicked open his can of beer and drank deeply, his large hand almost hiding the tin, his luxuriant moustache moving as he swallowed.

“Ah, welcome to Singapore and the madhouse that is Cosel Salvage,” boomed Jan. “Still, can’t complain. It’s given me a good life and the old man is okay, but watch out for DB. What do you know about salvage?” he asked.

“Nothing about practical salvage,” Tom answered honestly, “although I have learned a lot with my year in London with the marine lawyers. I have been around small boats all my life.”

“Good, I teach you good,” he guffawed, a big man in every way.

“Well, thanks, captain,” replied Tom, slightly taken aback.

“Call me Jan. Now, to work. You are my chief officer and we have a lot of work to do to get this heap of scrap into a full salvage tug. I have been busy on the trip south,” and he opened a drawer and pulled out a pile of papers.

“This is my work list,” he said, pushing the bundle across the table. Tom saw it was all handwritten in an untidy scrawl.

“Find a typewriter and type it out, you will learn a lot from it,” Jan ordered. “I had a message from Ops, there is a big meeting in the old man’s office at 1000 tomorrow to discuss the refit, you will be with me. You will know what I want from typing that list out.”

Tom’s heart sank, then berating himself, realised it was a golden opportunity to learn quickly what a salvage tug was all about. They went through the list together, adding and subtracting pages of it and Tom quickly came to respect Jan’s knowledge, not just of equipment he wanted, but also all he knew about ship construction and how he wanted to alter and improve the tug.

“Ops will help you get this typed,” suggested Jan. “I’m going home. See you in the old man’s office at 1000 when I will sign the work list,” and with that, he got up, his large frame filling the doorway as he left, a real character.

It was now well after 2100 and Tom was hungry, but he had hours of work to complete, typing out the work list. In Ops, the duty officer set him down at a desk with a typewriter and he set to work. He finally finished some hours later, and gave his typed list to the assistant to make photocopies. He had already learnt an incredible amount and felt he would be able to justify most of what Jan wanted to do. He drove back to the hotel and had a light snack in his room before falling exhausted into bed. Mental effort could be as exhausting as physical labour.

The following morning, the old man’s office was so full, extra chairs had been brought in. Steve was there, and a contingent from the yard, DB, Daniel Bang, the superintendent - whose name Tom discovered was Barry Todd - Ishmael, the diving manager, technical manager and a few others Tom had not seen before. John Gomes was there, looking rather out of place amongst the core people of Cosel. The old man called the meeting to order and waved Jan’s work list in the air.

“I may not be a mariner, but this,” and he rattled the pages, “will ruin us. I should have bought a new tug.”

The was muffled laughter as he continued, “Captain Smit, explain and justify what you are trying to do.”

“I’m not so good with my English,” said a much subdued Jan, who looked rather cowed in the presence of all the shore people, very different from the confident man he had seen on the tug last night, thought Tom.

“I discuss with my chief officer last night, he typed the list so he can tell you what I want.”

Tom had prepared himself for this and saw DB looking at him.

“The overall concept is of a salvage tug operating independently, able to perform salvage in remote parts of the world without outside assistance. For instance, a ship aground in the South China Sea on a remote reef, our tug arrives, can conduct a diving survey, lay ground tackle, has enough personnel to man pumps, a welder and fabricator to make things, enough gear and equipment for all eventualities. On re-floating, she’s able to patch the bottom under water.”

“You are learning fast, Captain Matravers,” said Mr R. “What do you say, Mr Brown?”

“I agree.”

“But the cost,” said Mr R, sharply.

“In relation to a new tug, not so much. The survey report was good despite the outward appearance,” said Mr Brown. “We will have a good vessel, better than the competition in Singapore.”

“Do we really need such a big crew, more than twenty-five, enough almost to man two super tankers?”

“Yes,” said Jan, loudly, surprising everyone.

“The extra people, Sir, are needed to make our concept of an independent salvage unit work,” put in Tom, quickly muting what some might have thought as rudeness on Jan’s part. In their discussions last night Jan was emphatic it would not work unless they had the people. You could not always rely on the crews of the casualties and anyway, it might be an abandoned ship.

“Mr Bang?” Mr R queried.

“No problem, sir, I can find the people.”

Good for him, thought Tom.

“Two cranes seems an extravagance to me,” said Mr R. “What do you think, Mr. Brown?”

“It would certainly make working the tug more efficient and enhance her value.”

Mr R did not seem very impressed. “The more we do, the more you are pleased, Mr Dodd.”

Steve merely smiled and Tom could see his eyes sparkling mischievously. He and Jan had discussed this at length and would use it as a bargaining chip, Jan knowing the old man from past experience. The aft crane was essential for making the tow deck more efficient to work with the towing gear and equipment in the aft hold, the forward one was not so essential. The derrick was fine, except in bad weather.

After much discussion it was agreed to go ahead with most of Jan’s requirements and the concept of the independent salvage tug fitted in well with the old man’s desire for expansion. Dispensing with the lifeboats would be no problem, Barry Todd, the superintendent, said; just put on more life rafts and have a rescue boat, he would clear it with classification. The tow deck needed reconfiguring and the fitting of dolly pins and a gob line winch, the dolly pins to hold, when required, the tow wire amidships, and the winch to be able to pull and control the wire across the towing gunwale. Both the aft and forward hold to be enlarged to carry more salvage equipment, converting a ballast tank into fresh water, and other items. Jan and Tom were forced to give in on the second crane, the forward crane. The meeting broke up after two hours, with the old man exclaiming:

“Speed, gentlemen, speed. We need the Pansy to be rechristened Sunda, working, not sitting in the yard, spending money.”

Jan took Tom to the swimming club for what turned out to be rather a liquid lunch. They returned to find their tug stripped of all crew and swarming with shipyard workers.

“Good afternoon,” said Steve, “I see you and Captain Smit have enjoyed your lunch.”

He laughed, his blue eyes dancing with merriment. Tom was sweating profusely in the afternoon heat after all the beer he had drunk, and Jan’s shirt was wet through.

“I am off home,” announced Jan. “See you at 0800 tomorrow. Lock up the cabin after you.”

“Your work list is very good,” said Steve, “and the invoices will reflect the numbers on it to make it easy for you to check. I can see I will be working through you rather than Captain Smit.”

He laughed.

“Don’t worry, he will be watching you like a hawk,” smiled Tom. “It’s very much his baby and I suppose you could say he is using me as a front man.”

“Don’t worry. I know Jan, we refitted the Singapore. This refit is going to take some months and she won’t be able to move for over a month while the engine room is dealt with. She is too big for the slip, so will have to go to dry dock. You spoke well at the meeting and I’m surprised the old man agreed to so much. In general, work with the foremen and only come to me in emergencies or compete disagreements. Today is Tuesday, my wife suggests Thursday for supper, just us, you and one other.”

“That’s very kind of you, I would be delighted,” said Tom, using his already wet handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his face. “My god, it’s hot in here!”

“You will have to get used to it, no air-con for some time,” said Steve as he left the cabin.

Tom locked the cabin and made an inspection round the tug, and finding he was in the way of the shipyard men, he drove back to the Orchid Inn and enjoyed a refreshing swim.

The days started to merge into one another as Tom and Jan were kept busy, monitoring the work and sorting out problems. The superintendent left them to it, expecting a daily report before going home. Barry Todd proved to be very amenable, approachable and helpful. He already had permission to cut away the lifeboats. He and his wife lived out at Sembawang and they asked Tom out to supper on the Saturday.

Thursday’s supper was most enjoyable. Steve’s wife, Maria, some Spanish blood, thought Tom, was very good looking and a bundle of fun. The other guest was Sheila Turner, an unattached English girl in Singapore for six months, and she proved interesting and entertaining. Tom managed to arrange dinner with her the next day, which proved even more enjoyable, and Tom thought could lead to other things.

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