The ship’s ETA meant that I must leave home the evening before. I saw on the weather forecast that a huge depression was in the Atlantic and heading for the English Channel.
Eight hours later, as I entered the pilot office at Brixham I was greeted with a telex message sent from the ship: “Hove to off Bishop Rock. ETA uncertain.”
The storm grew until it reached force ten from the east, the worst possible direction. This meant that the wind and waves were coming straight down the English Channel into Torbay with nothing to stop them. With waves crashing over the breakwater, there was no hope that we could get out, even if the ship arrived at the pilot station.
The ship eventually arrived in Lyme Bay but the Captain went to the eastern end of the bay and found relative shelter in the lee of Portland Bill.
Three days later we decided that, as the wind had decreased, we would try to get out and asked the ship to approach.
The boat lifted as we rounded the breakwater, as if reaching for the sky, then, with a sickening lurch, it topped the huge swell and fell into the trough, only to climb the next one.
“How,” I asked the skipper of the boat, “am I going to get on board the ship in this?”
“Your call, Captain,” he replied, “we can go back in.”
I looked at a swell towering above us.
“We’ll give it a try!” I said foolishly.
The ship came into sight, pitching and rolling only a little less that we were and we asked the Captain to turn his ship to make a lee. As he turned we made our approach to the pilot ladder hanging down the ship’s side.
As we passed the stern of the ship, I went on to the deck of the boat, grimly holding the hand rails. A huge swell rolled down the ship’s side and the boat tilted, head down, on a wall of water. The skipper took his hands from the wheel and made motions to me that he had no control.
As we passed the pilot ladder I grabbed it and jumped off the boat, which continued along the ship’s side without me. The ship rolled towards me and I found myself clinging to the ladder which was now some ten feet away from the solid side of the ship. She rolled the opposite way and the ladder banged onto the hard steel and I managed to climb about five feet up before the ship rolled back to leave me swinging in mid-air again. After three of these hair-raising moments, I managed to get to deck level, waiting until the ship rolled away from me so its impetus would swing me gratefully on to the solid deck.
On arriving at the bridge, the American Captain drawled laconically, “I didn’t reckon you were going to make it, Terry!”
‘Neither did, I Captain, neither did I!”
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.