With a cargo of bananas partly discharged in Newport Docks, the sleek white ship waited for the tide to sail to her next destination, Antwerp.
Eventually, and a little later than planned, the moorings were let go and she entered the locks with two tugs assisting. Whilst waiting for the locks to fill and the outer gate to open thick fog came down and visibility was reduced to almost zero.
The local pilot, who would take the vessel outwards from the port and through the Bristol Channel to Ilfracombe, reluctantly decided to continue the voyage. Proceeding cautiously through the fog, the ship entered the very narrow channel, more restricted than usual by the now rapidly falling tide, with a tug attached to both ends.
Coming to a bend in the channel, the pilot asked the lead tug to let him know by VHF radio when the tug had rounded the buoy marking the corner.
The tug eventually responded by saying, “I’m aground” which the pilot heard on the bridge as “I’m around!” and acted accordingly by altering course to navigate the bend.
I felt the ship going aground, then the vibrations of the engines going full astern and I looked out of my window to see, very close, a tug passing by. The engines stopped and everything fell silent.
On arriving on the bridge I found the pilot shaking his head.
“I should have listened to myself,” he told me, “and stayed in the locks.”
The fog suddenly cleared and I could see vast mud flats with a line of seagulls foraging in the tide line; within an hour, they were very close to the ship on one side. A little later, I looked over the other side and found them still foraging in the tide line but on that side of the vessel.
We were high and dry, the channel a muddy looking narrow stream trickling past some fifty yards or so away from the ship. Two ‘V’ shaped indentations in the mud were visible on the opposite side, one large and one small, where both tug and ship had run into the mud.
The ship was going nowhere until the tide rose again in six hours time and the Japanese captain was worrying about his cargo as there was no water to keep the refrigeration plant going for the bananas in the holds.
As the tide rose around us, the ship refloated and we proceeded down the channel and, with sighs of relief all round, we entered the deep waters of the Bristol Channel.
Luckily, at Antwerp, divers who were employed in looking underneath the vessel found no signs of damage and the cargo remained in good condition.
Just before I left the ship at Brixham the Captain said his bosun had a little present for me. It was a full case of bananas.
To take a case of bananas on the train was impossible but I did manage to carry three or four full plastic bags home and ate bananas for the next three weeks!
by Terry Took © 2011
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for 49 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.