The Dare

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Chapter 4

The refit continued and time passed in a whirl of activity for Tom, both work and social, both of which were much more intermingled in Singapore than in the UK, and being an attractive, unattached bachelor, Tom was much in demand.

He was getting along fine with Sheila and they met for supper a few times, mainly at the Tangle Inn, until one evening, Tom plucked up enough courage to ask her to dine with him at his hotel. The restaurant was a fairly standard, hotel-type restaurant, but pleasing enough in its way. The chairs had arm rests and the tables white tablecloths with proper napkins, the decor uninteresting, mainly pastel colours.

The dinner went well, the food was quite good and the bottle of wine acceptable. They laughed and joked, Sheila looking good in a colourful cocktail dress, quite short by Singapore standards, which drew envious glances from the usual group of men at the bar.

After dinner Tom said, “Why not come up to my room?”

A fairly obvious invitation.

Sheila hesitated only a moment, before saying, “Yes.”

They looked at each other as they travelled up in the lift to the first floor, and once inside his room, started kissing. Tom gently steered Sheila to the bed, when Tom’s pager went off.

“Sorry,” he said, as he rolled free and picked up the phone, dialling Cosel’s twenty-four-hour number.

“Van will pick you up in ten minutes, we want you to join the Singapore and tow in a ship from the Malacca Straits.”

Tom was thrilled, all thoughts of sex flew out of his mind. Just, how to get rid of Shelia without upsetting her too much? Sheila was livid.

“Treating me like some cheap tart, don’t bother calling me again!” she hissed.

He took her down in the lift and ordered a taxi, which arrived at the same time as the Cosel

van. Sheila threw off his arm as he tried to help her in.

“Don’t touch me, you bastard!” she said.

Tom was much too excited at the prospect of his first salvage and thought he would be able to make it up to her when he returned. When he reached Ops, he was given the position of the casualty anchored a hundred miles up Malacca Straits. He saw a green pin close inshore off the Malaysian coast.

"Singapore is underway now. You will go out in our high-speed launch Cosel One and meet her at port limits, Western Anchorage. She is steaming round at full speed from Eastern Anchorage. If you leave now, the boat is waiting for you at the new yard, you will arrive at the same time. Here is a Lloyds Open Form but there should be some on-board Singapore. Captain Hannibal is an experienced master but Mr Brown thinks you should go,” said the duty ops man.

“Okay, thanks,” said Tom, feeling his shirt pocket for the notebook he carried at all times. He took it out and started the notes for his first salvage. The bright neon lights in Ops affected his eyes and he stood outside to let them adjust to the darkness. He walked through the unlit new yard, using a torch he had borrowed from Ops and found the Cosel One, engine running, alongside the radio barge, the Malay skipper welcoming him on board.

“Western Anchorage, Captain?”

“Yes, to meet the Singapore."

“Okay.”

Tom stood next to him as he navigated out of the creek, the darkness almost hiding the banks into the main channel. The skipper had called up port control and obtained permission while underway. Once in the main channel he opened her up to her full speed of 15 knots, which seemed much faster in the darkness. It was not long before they were through the anchored ships and on port limits, a flashing light close by and Sultan shoal on their port quarter. There was shipping traffic south-bound from the Malacca Straits, altering course to pass through the Singapore Straits and Raffles Light, while a heavily laden tanker was keeping to the deep water channel further south.

Soon after stopping, Tom saw the lights of a small vessel passing Sultan Shoal, moving fast. That’s the tug, he thought, and was proved right as she slowed down. The Cosel One went alongside the still-moving Singapore, and Tom stepped onto the towing gunwale, two Filipino seamen helping him onto the towing deck. He could feel the tug picking up speed as he made his way up onto the bridge, much smaller than the Pansy, now christened Sunda, although the christening ceremony was still to come.

Captain Hannibal, a middle-aged, heavily-set Filipino, welcomed him onto the darkened bridge. He settled himself into his Captain’s chair, while the officer of the watch took a position. Tom could see an AB at the wheel hand, steering in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. There were lights everywhere shipping bound south, fishing boats with a single bright. He could see a tug, towing two barges on the port side of the Singapore, the white lights on the mast of the tug and a red light, and further aft, the two red lights of the barges. Captain Hannibal was keeping well inshore but far enough off to keep clear of the fish traps, the echo sounder running. Once into the Malacca Straits proper, the myriad lights settled down. Tom stayed on the bridge for an hour or so, then took up Captain Hannibal’s offer to get his head down on the settee in his cabin.

The sun was rising over Malaysia when Tom returned to the bridge, refreshed and invigorated, a fiery orb over the dark jungle. Captain Hannibal was on the bridge with the binoculars pressed to his eyes. Tom followed the binoculars and in the distance could see a ship with accommodation amidships about two miles away.

“Starboard five.”

Tom watched the bow of the tug slowly turn and just before it, pointed at the ship.

“Midships, port five, steer for the ship.”

“Steer for the ship,” repeated the helmsman, a smart Filipino wearing blue working shorts and white T-shirt, with a red baseball hat set at a jaunty angle on his head. He grinned as Tom walked past him, out onto the wing of the bridge, and joined Captain Hannibal.

“I will hold off and you can go across in the zed boat,” he said. “Slow ahead!” he called out to the mate whose watch it was, a rather dour man of medium height with a sombre face.

The engine telegraph clanged and the beat of the single engine slowed, and Tom noticed the vibration under his feet stop. The sun was high in the sky now and the day was quickly warming up with sky clear overhead, but cloud out to sea on the horizon, to the north.

Captain Hannibal circled the anchored ship, black hull and white accommodation, the derrick’s masts and ventilators painted buff, and stopped abreast the bridge, a couple of hundred yards off. Tom waited on the tow deck as the black rubber boat was launched, then climbed over the towing gunwale as it dropped back to where he was standing, the Lloyds form in an envelope, tucked into his trousers. He jumped in and the boat driver twisted the throttle to full so the rubber boat almost leapt out of the water, throwing Tom onto the bottom. The Filipino driver laughed, his long hair streaming behind his head.

“Hold on, cap!”

Tom did not know whether to be angry or not. He laughed as the Filipino bought the boat neatly alongside the pilot ladder on the casualty, hanging just forward of the bridge.

“I wait,” said the Filipino.

“No, go back to the tug,” ordered Tom.

“Okay,” and Tom stepped onto the ladder as the boat roared away attaining the plane in seconds.

“Mad bugger,” thought Tom, but at least he is alive and full of life.

Tom was met at the top by a surly-looking man who turned out to be Indonesian. He was led through the rather dirty and smelly accommodation up onto the bridge where a very fat European with a red face, which highlighted his white hair, was sitting in his captain’s chair.

“Good morning, captain,” said Tom, cheerfully.

“What’s good about it?” growled the European. “My useless chief engineer can’t fix the main engine and I will get the blame for it.”

“Very sorry to hear it,” Tom commiserated. “Just a simple signature and we can start the tow,” he suggested, producing his Lloyds Form and handing it to the captain.

“Lloyds Open Form, I don’t need salvors, I need a tow,” his well-spoken English rather out of place from both the surroundings and the person.

Tom did not know if he was right or not but said, “This is what was agreed as I understand it.”

“Okay, what the hell, in for a penny in for a pound! Where do I sign?”

Tom handed him his biro and, laying the form on the arm of the chair, the fat Captain signed where Tom indicated. Taking the form to the table at the forward end of the bridge under the centre window he quickly filled it in and signed himself. He had carefully studied it last night and felt the weight of responsibility fall on his shoulders, for it imposed considerable onus on the salvors; ultimately it was a ‘no cure, no pay’ contract and not many people operated this way. He carefully put the form back in its envelope and called up Captain Hannibal on his Motorola.

“LOF signed. Its calm enough, why not come alongside? Make the connection easier.”

“Okay, cap.”

Tom had discussed towing with Jan and in calm waters like this it was the easiest way to connect.

“The tug is coming alongside for the connection, captain, can we have your crew standing by? He will be coming on your port side.”

“Chief Officer!” barked the Captain, his jowls wobbling, clutching a glass of what looked suspiciously like beer. “You heard the Salvage man.”

A large, burly Indonesian, smoking one of their evil-smelling cigarettes, wandered into the wheelhouse from the chartroom and walked over to the port wing. He let loose a completely unintelligible barrage of Indonesian words to someone unseen, and wandered back into the chartroom.

“Bottom end of the market, this lot,” thought Tom, but no matter, it is my first salvage and first LOF.

Captain Hannibal brought the Singapore neatly alongside the casualty in the 69 position, the stern of the tug facing the bow of the ship. She was quickly made fast by the Indonesian crew who proved quite willing under Tom’s leadership. The salvage bosun came on board with a couple of men and heaved up the heavy slip hook, which was made fast to the forward bollards. They then heaved on board the wire forerunner wire and made it fast on the large slip hook.

“You stay on board the casualty, cap. I’ll give you a man to watch the tow,” said Captain Hannibal when Tom walked back to where he was watching from his bridge wing.

“OkY, I think you had better have this for safe-keeping,” said Tom, handing over the envelope containing the signed LOF.

It was all new to Tom and so utterly different from his former life as Chief Officer on a cargo liner. Joining a moving tug at port limits from a fast crew boat, racing up the Malacca Straits in the middle of the night, being carried across the open sea to the casualty in a rubber boat, signing Lloyds Open Form; it was the stuff of dreams come true!

“Okay, Captain, heave up the anchor,” instructed Tom, back on the bridge of the casualty.

“Chief Officer, you heard the Salvage man!” shouted the European, sitting in his chair, his fat cheeks shaking, while still clutching what seemed to be a permanently full glass of beer. His face streamed with sweat in the increasingly hot day, the sun a molten bowl of steel shining into the wheelhouse. There was no reply but sometime later Tom saw the man wandering up the fore deck, still smoking his foul cigarettes. The anchor was soon aweigh and Tom signalled to Captain Hannibal.

Tom watched as the Singapore started moving off and once clear, turned sharply to starboard, the tow wire sliding along the towing gunwale until halted by the stopping bollard amidships, the tug turning fast, the propeller clear of the wire. As soon as she was parallel with the ship, the tug moved ahead, the main tow wire being paid out until when well ahead, the tow wire became tight and lifted out of the water. This was the critical time of starting a tow, to make the casualty move without putting too much strain on the gear and breaking it. The salvage AB left on board was on the forecastle, grease pot in hand, signalling all was well and the tow back to Singapore began. Tom carefully filled in his note book with the times of all that had happened.

The tow picked up speed and Tom reckoned the Singapore was doing well to achieve a speed of about five knots with her loaded tow. There was a new officer on the bridge, a much younger man than the Indonesian mate, dressed in well-worn jeans and a not-too-clean sweatshirt.

“You the third officer?” asked Tom, it now being mid-morning.

“Yes, sir.”

“Okay, well it would be good if you put a position on the chart every half hour so we can monitor the situation.”

“Okay.”

“Keep him occupied, lazy sod,” growled the captain, for once not holding the glass as he heaved his great bulk out of the chair.

“Been here all night, now I have someone reliable on the bridge I am off to my bunk. Call me when we reach Singapore,” and he waddled off into the chartroom, slamming the door as he entered the accommodation. Tom was quite happy to be left in charge and be rid of a man who seemed to be almost at the end of the line. Still, nothing to do with him, and he dismissed it from his mind.

The tow proceeded well and both the third officer and later the second officer opened up a little under Tom’s gentle questioning and guidance, proving themselves reasonably competent, unused to regular position taking.

“Very difficult man,” was the only comment from the second mate.

Tom perused the log and noted she had been at anchor for three days, waiting for a tug. The nature of the engine problem was not entered.

Captain Hannibal came up on the radio later that evening, saying he had a message from base, informing them to tow the casualty to Sembawang shipyard, which meant passing through the narrow Singapore Straits. The Chief Officer, who was on watch, proved to be a surly, middle-aged man so Tom did not bother with him but worked out the tides for passing through the Straits where the tides ran strongly.

“The tide turns in our favour about 0600,” he told Captain Hannibal on the radio.

“Yes, we should catch it nicely and make Sembawang in daylight,” he replied.

“Have you sent out a TTT warning notice to Singapore radio?” asked Tom.

“Radio Officer will be doing it shortly.”

“Okay, I will be on the bridge all night and your AB is fine, he has been fed. The wire forerunner is good and well greased, I’ve been up to have a look a couple of times,” said Tom.

It was a long night and Tom cat-napped in the captain’s chair. Captain Hannibal kept well over to the eastern side of the Malacca Straits, clear of the north-bound traffic. It was a clear night and the casualty followed well with no one steering.

Just after daylight, they entered the narrow Singapore Straits, passing Raffles Lighthouse and Singapore on their port side, past eastern anchorage, full of a huge range of anchored ships with Indonesian Batam island on their starboard side, and so to the entrance of Johore Straits where the pilot met them and boarded the tug. Tom had insisted a man was on the wheel from daylight, which greatly assisted the manoeuvrability of the tow in the confined waters.

It was late afternoon when the Sembawang harbour tugs came bustling downstream to meet them. Tom joined the salvage AB on the forecastle and when given the instruction by Captain Hannibal on the radio, they slipped the tow, the AB wielding the seven pound hammer he had standing by. The wire forerunner slithered out of the fairlead and dropped into the muddy water, the Singapore turning away to starboard, recovering the towing gear.

Tom returned to the bridge and found the casualty captain ensconced in his chair, clutching a glass of beer in his hand. The pilot was instructing the tugs and put her alongside the berth without too much trouble, although the Indonesian crew were slow with the lines.

“Safe and sound now, captain,” said Tom, after the pilot had left.

“I thought we were going to Singapore,” growled the captain, his face ruddy in the fading daylight.

“Change of orders last night,” replied Tom as the Singapore came alongside to pick up the slip hook and lashing wires. He walked out onto the bridge wing to watch.

“I will bring the termination letter shortly,” said Tom, retuning to the wheel house.

“I will be in my cabin.”

A short time later Tom went into the captain’s day cabin with the letter typed up by the Singapore’s Radio Officer, to find the captain at his desk, glass in hand, talking with his agent and the shipyard personnel.

“Ah, the salvage man,” he said loudly, “let’s get rid of him.”

Tom walked up and handed over the letter and copy, which he had already signed.

“What’s this, ‘satisfactorily completed’?” the captain asked, his pudgy fingers holding his pen, raised in the air, his jowls wobbling.

“Well, nothing went wrong and you are safely alongside a safe berth in a safe place.”

“Okay, okay,” and he signed, retaining the copy.

Tom left elated and climbed aboard the Singapore.

“Well done, captain, a good job well done,” said Tom, very pleased with his first salvage as Captain Hannibal manoeuvred his tug clear of the casualty and set off down the Straits to Eastern anchorage.

“What happened to Immigration?” asked Tom.

“No bother, I have an open-dated port clearance so there was no problem leaving. Ops will have informed them of our return to Eastern anchorage via Sembawang. When you are picked up I will send the crew list ashore if the immigration don’t board. Cosel keep good relations and they are understanding of our work. If they come on board, I will put you on the crew list, if not, I won’t. Presumably you have your passport with you?”

“I see, yes, I have my passport.”

It was after midnight when the anchor was let go in the anchorage, as near to Clifford Pier as possible. Tom had not been idle and used the time to write his report, based on the evidence he had seen in salvage cases when working in London with the marine lawyers. The crew boat picked him up and took him to Clifford Pier, where he caught a taxi back to his hotel. He dropped into bed in the early hours, exhausted.

It was late morning when he arrived at the office and dropped off his paperwork with Ops, then returned to the Sunda, to be greeted by Jan.

“On holiday, are we?” Jan greeted him, laughing, beer in hand, sitting in his cabin with papers strewn all over the table.

“My first LOF,” Tom laughed. “Well, it was Captain Hannibal’s LOF really, he didn’t need me. However, I learned a lot and have done all the paperwork.”

“What’s that funny hunting word you English use? ‘Blooded’?” Jan guffawed, handing Tom a cold beer. It was a little early for him but he could hardly refuse. They discussed the progress of the refit and walked round the tug, inspecting the work.

“I will take you out to lunch at Jurong Pier to celebrate your salvage ‘blooding’,” Jan announced as there was a call on the company radio, which Jan had had transferred to his cabin.

“DB wants to see Captain Matravers.”

Tom went ashore by the smart shipyard gangway and walked through the busy yard in the morning heat; the sun was hot and the sky was clear. His shirt was soon wet through.

“Captain Matravers, your first LOF,” said DB, “sit down.”

He had the papers, including the Lloyds Form Tom had dropped off in Ops, in front of him. “This looks quite good to me, our lawyers should be happy. Well done. The old man wants a word.”

Tom went to the next office and spoke with Mr R’s secretary, an aloof and unfriendly lady, who disappeared inside his office. A short time later she opened the door and ushered him in.

“Sit,” said Mr R, pointing to the chair in front of his large desk, the tug position chart on the wall behind him.

“I have had a brief look at your paperwork. It looks good, and if all our masters did half as well, we would reduce our lawyers’ fees,” Mr R laughed. “Still, it’s no more than I expected from you. How are you getting on with Captain Smit?”

“Very well, thank you, sir. He has taught me a lot already and the refit is going well.”

The old man’s face clouded.

“The cost, the cost! You will have to find me a major salvage to pay for it,” he laughed. “Anyway, well done.” He stood up and shook Tom’s hand, “Keep up the good work and get the Sunda finished.”

Tom left the office in a slight daze, unused to praise, and went back to the Sunda where he met Jan coming down the gangway, his bulk blocking anyone coming in the opposite direction.

“Lunch,” he announced. “Need to get there early, otherwise we will have to wait for a table.”

Tom followed Jan to the car park, where getting into his car was something of an event. When he finally squeezed himself in, it had a distinct list to starboard.

Lunch was mainly prawns, squid, crab, and was a lively and liquid affair. Jan regaling Tom with salvage stories. After lunch, Jan decided to go home.

“To beat the traffic,” was his excuse, and he dropped Tom off in the car park.

Tom decided to do the same, enjoying a refreshing swim in the hotel pool. He was the only swimmer, although there were a couple of women sunning themselves, who ogled him. He rang Shelia’s number from the bar telephone only to be told she was away. So that is the end of that, thought Tom.

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