A telephone call on the ship’s radio changed my plans. It was rare for a call to come for me, and usually it was bad news from home, but on this occasion, as the ship I was on was proceeding under local pilotage to Antwerp, the call was from my agent.
“When you get alongside, please transfer to ‘Advantage’ , the Captain is particularly requesting you.’”
I had been on this vessel a few times and knew the Captain very well.
“Where is she going?” I asked.
“It’s a hush-hush mission,” the agent replied mysteriously, “the Captain will let you know when you get on board.”
“We are going to Gdansk,” the Captain told me when I boarded his vessel, “but if anyone asks, it is ‘Baltic Sea for orders’”.
That could lead to a few problems, as vessels are asked by different radio stations along the coast for their destination.
However, we sailed and headed towards the Kiel Canal to enter the Baltic Sea towards Gdansk and eventually arrived safely to find, on the dockside, very large wooden crates awaiting our arrival. Loading was only to be conducted during the hours of darkness. More mystery!
I watched as the first of the crates was being loaded. It was a long, wooden box, perhaps twenty metres by three metres but for the final three metres of its length the box increased in size to about five metres square. It was not difficult to visualize what was inside the crate. Could it be a missile with its fins carefully boxed in?
Another crate was large, more or less square except for the top where an array of protuberances was also boxed in. At the time, my daughter was in the Territorial Army and she would occasionally go on exercise to Otterburn to practice with an MLRS (multi-launch rocket system). The crate was the perfect shape to hold one of those.
There were other similar crates waiting on the dockside, as I left the workers carefully loading them into the ship’s holds; I needed to sleep as we were to sail in the morning.
We left Poland and headed for the North Sea through the Great Belt; if we had returned through the Kiel Canal we would have had to declare the cargo and that would never do!
We rounded Skagen, that spur of land on the northern tip of Denmark, and proceeded down the North Sea and thence to the Dover Strait, where we also had to declare the cargo – although, as this vessel had many times loaded ammunition in Germany, the Coastguard were happy to accept our nomination as ‘Military Cargo.’
The year was 1992, just after the USSR had been dismantled, and I am sure that our cargo was some of the remnants of Soviet armaments that had been left in Poland and was destined to be pulled apart and analysed by the American military.
I left the vessel at Brixham as usual, wondering just how secret our hush-hush mission had really been.
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.