The name of the ship showed great promise but a less splendid vessel I had seldom seen as I leapt from the pilot boat to the ladder on her rusted side. The upper works were no better with rust staining the once white paint The bridge was old fashioned but the Chinese Captain and his officers gave me a warm welcome.
We were bound for Denmark and Norway: Esbjerg, Horton (in the Oslo fjord) and Trondheim, with a cargo of steel from Japan. I liked these trips; they made a nice change from trundling through the Dover Strait to northern Europe.
When dinner time came, I realised the food was going to reflect the state of the vessel when a bowl of egg and tomato soup was presented to me.
The first two ports were trouble free but Trondheim gave the Chief Engineer and his men a headache.
The quay was fairly short for the vessel and ended at the huge, concrete covered, ex-submarine pens left over from the German occupation in the Second World War. With the aid of four small tugs the vessel made the approach under the control of the local pilot. Going a little too fast, the stern tugs were told to act as brakes and pull strongly on their lines. With the assistance of the engines going full astern the vessel slowed visibly but one of the tug’s lines parted, the broken end being picked up by the rapidly turning propeller which swiftly turned the polypropylene rope into an entangled ‘cat’s cradle’ around the blades.
The ship stopped with its bow only a few metres from the solid concrete of the submarine pens and she was gently nudged back to her proper position by the tugs.
Eventually, divers went into the freezing fjord water with an underwater camera to assess the situation round the propeller. They cut away the offending rope from the blades but found that the rope had got into the guard which was supposed to protect the shaft from this happening. It was fascinating watching the operation on a TV screen from the safety of the quayside.
The guard had to be partly cut away to remove the rope where it had melted round the shaft.
A week later, cargo all safely discharged, we sailed, bound for Immingham in the River Humber.
On the long, clear stretch of water, between the Norwegian coast and the coast of England, I was sleeping. Suddenly, I awoke to a silence that can only be felt on a ship when the engines have stopped.
Upon arriving on the bridge with the ship wallowing gently to the swell, with Flamborough Head a smudge on the horizon, I was told that the crew had been dumping old wires from the ship into the sea and one of them had fouled the propeller.
A very irate Chief Engineer said he had been Chief for twenty years and had never had a fouled propeller. “Now,” he said, “there have been two in one voyage!”
by Terry Took © 2012
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.