Innocent on the run. Parts 6, 7 +8.
The Llanerin ploughed on through the night and the weather got steadily worse. She was out into the Atlantic now, heading South South West for the Gulf of Mexico, to pick up a cargo of grain to take to Russia. The swells were coming from the Southwest and hitting her on her Starboard Bow, with waves between ten and twelve feet high. The wind was also from the Southwest, blowing 25 knots, but increasing hourly, by the anemometer in the bridge. The ship behaved quite well with the weather as it was, but if the wind shifted around further to the West as it was forecast to do, then things could get very uncomfortable, as the sea would build up with the force of the wind behind it and hit the ship on the beam.
At around Three o'clock in the morning the wind swung more to the West! It gradually increased to 40 knots, and the ship started ploughing in to the seas, and rolling heavily. As the bows crashed down into the troughs, the stern came out of the water with the propeller racing, and she slid down the backs of the huge waves, before digging herself in to the seas at the bottom of the troughs. The propeller then drove her forward again and she'd come corkscrewing back, the bows reaching upwards, clawing herself out of the trough, as the wind on the beam forced her over to Port and tried to dip her rails under the seas. Seawater came cascading off the forecastle, racing down the length of the decks before bursting out through the scuppers and back over the side. During the next four hours, the wind increased to 50 knots, occasionally gusting to 60.
When Doc came to call Ricky at six o'clock, he couldn't keep himself upright. He hung on to the door jamb as he shook Ricky awake. When Ricky tried to put his trousers on, he hopped around on one leg for a while until he learned how to time the rolls, while bracing himself against his locker. He made his way up to the galley, feeling dreadful. His mouth was dry and it felt as if it was full of fur. Although he had been in bed for eleven hours, he didn't feel at all rested. He had been awake for a lot of the night, sliding about in his bunk. There was a bit of damage in the galley as one of the cupboard doors had sprung open, and some sauces had flown out and smashed on the floor. Doc gave him a cup of milk to drink and it tasted like nectar. He cleaned up the mess and started on his jobs. Doc still had to prepare the same breakfast, even though the weather was so bad and he clattered about, cursing the wind, the sea, the ship, and anything else he could think of.
Nigel came in at his usual time and tried to cheer Doc up with his banter, but all he got was a glare.
'Be like that if you like you old crosspatch, he said. 'I'm sure Ricky will talk to me, won't you Ricky?'
Ricky nodded at him.
'He hasn't got time to talk,' Doc shouted. 'There's work to be done.' Nigel flounced out, his feelings hurt.
'Bloody stewards,' Doc muttered.
A big sea hit the side of the ship and she gave an almighty roll.
Ricky heard water slosh in the mess room and he looked through the hatchway to see what had caused it. He was just in time to see Pete disappearing through the mess room door carrying a bucket of steaming water. There was a puddle on the deck under the tea boiler.
Suddenly the frying pan on the cooker slid off under the bars and landed on the deck with a crash spilling fat on the galley floor.
'Keep the bloody thing steady up there will you,' Doc shouted at the deckhead. He bent over and wiped up the mess with a rag before throwing the pan in the sink for Ricky to wash.
'Why do I do it,' Doc asked the cooker. 'Why do I keep sailing on these bloody death
traps, cooking food for people who don't appreciate it, and most of the time don't want it. Because you don't know how to do anything else, you silly old sod,' he answered himself.
'You wouldn't last a month ashore, Doc.' A voice said, and Ricky turned to see the Bosun bracing himself in the doorway. 'Morning Bosun,' Doc replied 'what's the weather forecast like?'
'Not good ,' he replied. 'Now then, boy,' he said to Ricky. ‘What’s the most important job in the mess room?’
Ricky grinned. This was easy. ‘To keep the tea boiler topped up, Bosun.’
The Bosun scowled and shouted, ‘Then why haven’t you done it?’
Ricky was stunned! ‘But I did do it. It was full.’
‘Don’t lie to me,’ he bellowed. ‘I can forgive a genuine mistake if you forget, but I can’t stand a liar.’
Ricky suddenly remembered seeing Pete carrying a bucket of water out of the mess room. He must have done it on purpose to get Ricky into trouble.
Ricky mumbled, ‘Sorry, Bosun.’
The Bosun glared at him. ‘Get in there and fill it up now.’
The lad did as he was ordered, fuming to himself. So that was the way Pete wanted to play, was it?
When he got back to the galley the Bosun said, 'As it's too rough to go on deck unless there's an emergency, we'll work inside today. There's plenty of washing down to be done.’ Ricky didn't really care if he worked or not, and he was getting to the stage where he didn't care if he lived or died. He washed up the cups and plates as the men used them and balanced them on the draining board before wiping them up. The ship gave a terrific lurch to Starboard, and the last two cups and plates that he'd washed jumped off the drainer and smashed to bits on the deck.
'Don't smash them after you've washed them,' Doc shouted. 'Do it before.'
After breakfast, they started washing down the bulkheads around the Port and Starboard alleyways, on the mess deck level. Ricky hadn't realised that there was an alleyway on the Port side, the same as on the starboard. A doorway at the far end of the mess room opened on to the Port alleyway. But he didn't know very much about the ship yet, and in this bad weather, he didn't want to know. If he could have stretched out on the deck where he was, never to get up again, it wouldn't have bothered him at all. How he got through that morning, he would never know. The ship heaved and crashed through the weather, she rolled and pitched, scattering anything that was not firmly tied down or wedged in. One man had to hold the bucket, wedging himself in somewhere, while another man washed down the
bulkhead. Water was slopped everywhere, and it became slippery and dangerous underfoot. At 1130, the Bosun called a halt and they stowed the gear away and knocked off for lunch. Doc looked at Ricky's ckalky white face and sweaty brow and told him to go and lie down for a while. He staggered to his bunk and lay on it, fully clothed. He was instantly asleep, and some time later, feeling chilly, he got under the blankets. He was awakened by Doc shaking his shoulder.
Ricky crawled out of his bunk. Still fully clothed, he just had to put his shoes on. The ship was not rolling and pitching so badly now, and he thought that the weather must have got better during the hour or so's sleep he'd had. When he got to the messroom he was amazed to see that the clock said 5.48. He'd been asleep for 17 hours! The weather had improved overnight, and Llanerin was rolling steadily, but she wasn't corkscrewing or crashing back and forth, as she had been doing the day before. Ricky could actually stand upright and just lean, as she rolled.
'How d'you feel today?' Doc asked.
'A lot better than I did yesterday.' 'Don't worry, there were a few more on here who felt the same as you did. I had hardly anyone in for dinner last night. Now get some milk and toast before you start.' Ricky did as he was told and afterwards felt a lot better.
At breakfast, Charlie came in. 'You alright kid?' he asked. 'Last night you were sweating streams in your bunk.'
'I'm fine now.'
'Good. The smell of the fuel doesn't help. I felt a bit queasy myself,' he added.
'Wasn't the fuel at all,' Doc piped up. 'It was the ship. These old boats are enough to make anyone sick.'
'Not like the old coal burners, eh Doc?' Charlie smiled.
'I could tell you some tales that would make your hair curl,' Doc replied. In the war I was on coal burners on the Russian convoys. If you thought yesterday was bad weather, you should have been on the Murmansk run. We were chipping the ice off the handrails, so that we wouldn't get top heavy and sink.'
'Why didn't you get the engineers to put the steam on the handrails,' Charlie said , 'it's all connected up, all you have to do is turn on the valve.'
Doc swiped him with his tea towel. 'Give over you daft sod, D'you think I'm as green as Ricky.'
Charlie sniggered, and dodged the next swing. 'Bloody grease monkey,' Doc laughed. 'Get back down your hole, will you. You're like moles in that engine room, you blink when you come up into daylight.'
Charlie made his way down the passageway, chortling away to himself.
Copyright Deric Barry 2005.
Innocent on the run Part 7.
After breakfast, the Bosun, Dave and another seaman called Fred went out on deck to work. Ricky joined them after he'd finished his jobs.The sea was calmer now with just a long swell, moving the ship in a gentle, rolling motion. They were able to work on deck again and the Bosun got them painting the outside of the accommodation. First they had to wash down the salt that had dried out after the bad weather, and they took until tea break, or smoko, as the seamen called it, to wash down both sides of the accommodation. When it was dry, they started painting, firstly dabbing red lead on the bare patches of metal, and then painting everything white, when it was dry enough. They spent all day on that job. There was a lot more to be painted, and good weather would give them a chance to do the whole of the accommodation. Fred was not a very communicative sort of man, and as he was working on the same side of the ship, as Ricky, the day was spent very quietly, with breaks for lunch, coffee in the afternoon, and dinner.
Ricky was able to eat a bit more now that he was getting used to the ship's motion, but he still couldn't eat the heavy meals that Doc cooked for the crew. Lunch was from 1130 to 1230 and was generally soup, a roast of some kind, with all the vegetables followed by a sweet. The evening meal was a little lighter. Cold meat left over from lunch, and salad, or fish and chips, toad in the hole, fried potatoes, baked beans, or rice. Ricky could eat the salads, but his stomach still heaved at the thought of roast meats and gravy.
The ship ploughed on towards the Gulf of Mexico, and life onboard settled down to the usual routine at sea. Seamen and Mates kept watches on the Bridge. The Third mate had the Twelve to four watch, the Second Mate had the Four to eight, and the First Mate the Eight to Twelve, although the Mate sometimes handed over to the apprentice so that he could gain experience of watchkeeping. The Mate would then do his rounds and decide on the work that needed to be done on deck and in the accommodation. The Officers worked four hours on watch and eight hours off. During their eight hours off they also attended to the dozens of other little jobs that always need to be done on a ship at sea.
Pete kept playing dirty tricks on Ricky. He would do anything to get the lad into trouble with the Bosun and the Officers. Ricky was nervous that he would get such a bad name on the ship that eventually it would get back to the Captain. The Captain had the power to issue him with a temporary Seaman’s book, but if his performance was not exemplary he would give him a D.R. or ‘decline to report’ stamp on his paperwork. This would make other Captains reluctant to employ him as D.R. was considered to be a very bad recommendation. Ricky realised that if he were to retaliate against Pet’s childish behaviour and do what he really wanted to do, punch his head, he would find himself in serious trouble.
He remembered the Captain telling him that violence was not to be tolerated on the ship.
The painting of the ship continued and Ricky was working with the Bosun and Dave, painting the handrails on the Port side. The crew had been busy for days painting the whole foredeck a deep red and the hatch coamings black. She was looking really good and now they were putting the finishing touches to her by smartening up the handrails with white paint.
Ricky hummed to himself, his half gallon of paint on the deck near his feet. He sensed someone behind him and turned to see who it was. Suddenly his tin of paint crashed over and the contents spewed out, covering the newly painted deck and splashing up the coaming. Pete was behind him and shouted for all to hear, ‘ You stupid sod Rick, look at what you’ve done!’
Ricky stared in horror at the white paint forming an ever- widening pool on the red deck, and the streaks of white running down the black hatch coaming.
The Bosun had turned at Pete’s shout and his face contorted in fury.
‘You bloody imbecile,’ he bellowed.
Ricky recoiled and felt the blood rushing to his face. ‘It wasn’t….’ he started to say, but the Bosun furiously waved his words away.
‘Don’t give me any excuses, you clumsy idiot. Get some cotton waste and thinners and clean this mess up, and if you so much as scratch that new paint you’ll re-paint the whole deck yourself.’ He glared at Ricky and, as he turned away, inwardly fuming to make his way to the paint locker for cleaning materials, the Bosun shook his head sadly.
‘Damned if I know what to do with him,’ he muttered. ‘he’s only been on the ship a dog watch and he’s driving me crazy already. I think he has to practice these accidents to make sure he gets them right.’
Pete grinned to himself. That night Ricky lay in his bunk furiously thinking how he could get back at Pete. Ideas came but he rejected each of them in turn, steal something of the Captain’s and put it under Pete’s pillow….. no, he would probably get caught in the act of stealing, then he would really be in trouble. Trip Pete up when he was carrying the filthy oily waste after mopping up under the bilge pump for'ard, making sure that the filth went over the Bosun…..no Pete would turn it around so that Ricky got the blame.
He turned over in his bunk and drifted off to sleep, promising himself that he would get even. He tossed and turned in troubled sleep and dreamed that he saw Pete in the paint locker, pouring thinners over the deck. Pete stepped back and looked at Ricky whose feet seemed to be welded to the deck. He grinned maliciously and took a box of matches out of his pocket. Slowly sliding the matchbox open, he slowly selected a match. Ricky shouted, ‘NO, NO,’ but no sound came out of his mouth. He watched in horror as the arsonist struck the match and waved it in his face, grinning all the while before backing out of the paint locker and tossing the match on to the thinners. Now Ricky was outside the paint locker and the flames leaped and roared among the drums of paint. Cans exploded and showered burning paint on to the newly painted deck. Ricky shielded his face from the burning heat and turned to see the Captain and the Bosun pointing accusingly at him. Sweat poured from his brow and he shouted out in anguish as the heat seared him He awoke suddenly, startled to find that he was bathed in sweat. Relieved that it was just a nightmare, he realised that the bunk light above his head was still lit and the heat from the bulb in the confines of the bunk was nearly burning him. He calmed himself, thanking God that it was only a dream. Switching off the light and turning over, he drifted off to sleep again.
Nigel entered the galley before Ricky the next morning.
‘Doc,’ he said. Ricky is taking the blame for something he didn’t do’ Doc looked at him. Sometimes the effeminate steward talked sense. ‘What’s going on?’ he asked.
‘Well, I was looking out of a for'ard porthole in the Captain’s cabin yesterday.’
‘Slacking again when you should have been working?’ Doc grinned. ‘Watching the men when you should have been going about your business?’
‘Oh, stop it, Doc. He pouted. ‘This is serious. I saw that deck boy, Pete, kick over Ricky’s tin of paint. It went all over the newly painted deck and the Bosun was furious. Pete blamed Rick for it and he got a roasting from the Bosun. That creep, Pete, was grinning all over his face.’
‘Probably just fooling around,’ Doc said, turning to the stove.
‘No, I think its more serious than that, Doc. Ricky’s been a bit down lately.’
‘Yes, I’ve noticed he’s not his usual chirpy self. I’ll have a word with him.’
‘Good, he’ll listen to you Doc. He wouldn’t take me seriously.’
‘None of us do, Nigel, none of us do.’
Nigel said, ‘Hmmph,’ stuck his nose in the air and departed.
Ricky came into the galley a few minutes later and Doc called out his usual cheerful, ‘Mornin’ Rick.’
Ricky mumbled, ‘Mornin.’ He wasn’t feeling too bright after his disturbed sleep, and he went to the sink and started running hot water onto the dirty dishes left by the night watches. He poured washing up liquid on them and started washing up.
‘Cat got your tongue?’ Doc asked. ‘What’s up?’
‘Nothing. I’m OK.’
Doc came across the galley to the sink. ‘I hear you’ve been getting blamed for something Pete did.’
Ricky looked sharply at him, startled. He’d told no-one of his problems with Pete. ‘Well, its nothing I can’t handle.’
‘You can’t handle that lad. He’s a head taller than you and a stone heavier.’
‘I’ve been boxing since I was ten years old. I can handle myself.’
Doc grunted. ‘Maybe so, but watch him, he’s a mean one.’
Ricky nodded glumly. The injustice of taking the blame for problems caused by Pete was making him feel dispirited.
‘I heard he kicked over your tin of paint on deck,’ Doc continued.
‘Yes, the Bosun gave me a right roasting. Everything I do seems to go wrong, especially when the Bosun’s around.’
‘Like the boiling water in the tea urn?’ Doc asked.
‘Yes, I saw Pete taking it out in a bucket.’
Doc’s lips tightened. ‘The rotten little devil,’ he snarled. ‘I’ve a good mind to teach him a lesson.’
‘No, Doc. Don’t do anything, please. I really can handle it.’
Doc turned and walked back to the stove, his face set in a scowl. Ricky followed him across the galley. He looked up into Doc’s rigid face.
‘Please, Doc. Let me do it my way,’ he urged.
Doc looked down at the young lad, so eager to sort his own problems out and admired him for it. He nodded. ‘OK, Rick, I won’t say a word to him.’
Ricky relaxed and went back to the sink and Doc mouthed silently to himself, ‘But I might just do something.’ He grinned!
Copyright Deric Barry 2005.
Innocent on the run Part 8.
When breakfast was over, Ricky reported to the Bosun on deck. The Bosun scowled
at him. ‘I’m going to give you a job to do on your own. Try not to mess it up this time.’
Ricky nodded dumbly.
‘Right,’ the Bosun continued. ‘Go to the Mate’s cabin. Last trip I sent the deck boy up there to paint the bathroom out and he painted everything in sight, including the brass portholes.’ He pointed at Ricky. ‘I was hoping that you would be more intelligent than him, but I’m having doubts.’
The lad flushed and looked down at the deck.
‘Scrape all the paint off the two portholes and polish the brass until you can see your face in it. Then polish it again.’
Ricky didn’t move.
The Bosun waited, then put his hands on his hips and shouted, ‘Go on, then. Get on with it! Or do you want me to find the cleaning materials for you?’
‘No, Bosun.’ He turned away and went for'ard to the paint locker. He picked up a scraper, some steel wool, rags and a tin of metal polish. He was about to leave the paint locker when he spied a piece of canvas folded up on top of a drum. Remembering how his Mum had shouted when his Dad had scraped off the old paint on the windows in their living room, and the paint chippings covering the carpet, he took the canvas to cover the floor to catch the chippings as they fell. He muttered to himself, ‘I’ll show the old sod I can do a good job.’
When he knocked on the Mate’s door a voice called, ‘Come.’
‘The Bosun told me to scrape and paint the portholes in your bathroom, Mr. Mate,’ Ricky said as he entered the cabin.
‘That’s good,’ the Mate said, pointing with the book he was reading. ‘Through that door. You all right on your own? I’ve got to do my rounds.’
‘Yes, I’ll be fine, Mr. Mate.’
Laying the canvas on the deck, Ricky started chipping paint off the brass ports. It was a slow job as the paint had set hard, and he chipped and scraped with fury to get the first one fairly clean of paint. He had just started on the second one when the Mate came back in, ‘Smoko, go and get a cuppa.’
Ricky was surprised that the time had gone so quickly and he put down the scraper and went back to the mess. He took his tea into the galley where Doc was pouring a chocolate pudding into a tray.
‘Hiya, Rick. What have they got you doing today?’
‘Scraping the paint off the Mate’s portholes. The last boy painted all the brass.’
‘I’m not surprised at anything that idiot did. It’s a wonder he didn’t paint the glass as well.’
Ricky laughed. He wasn’t that bad, was he?’
‘I kid you not.’ Doc bent over to put the tray of chocolate pudding in the oven. ‘If you didn’t lead him by the nose and spell out what you wanted in words of one syllable, he got it wrong.’
‘Where was he from, Doc?’
‘Up North somewhere. Manchester I think. He was always going on about Manchester United. Tell you how thick he was. I sent him down the engine room with a bucket one day and told him to get me a bucket of steam. When he came back there was a little wisp of steam coming out of the bucket and a little drop of water in the bottom.
‘That’s no good,’ I told him. ‘How am I going to get my Yorkshire puddings to rise with that much steam? Go and get another bucketful.’ Doc grinned and Ricky sniggered.
‘I had him going all morning on that one.’
The crew were filing out of the mess to start work again, and Ricky quickly cleared the messroom tables and put the crockery in the sink.
‘See you later, Doc,’ he called as he went through the door.
‘OK,’ Doc replied. ‘Special treat today, Rick. Chocolate pudding.’
Ricky grinned. ‘Great,’ he enthused, rubbing his stomach.
The two portholes were looking good with most of the paint off them and he started with the steel wool. He rubbed and scrubbed at the brass until there was not a speck of paint left on either of them. When they were ready for polishing, he picked up the canvas on the deck by the corners and tipped the chippings into the centre. He bundled up the canvas and carried it out of the cabin, taking care not to spill anything on the Mate’s carpet. He took it to the guardrail and emptied it into the sea, giving it a good shake to get the last bits out. Replacing the clean canvas on the deck of the bathroom, he poured metal polish onto some steel wool and started polishing the first brass porthole and the brass clips for tightening it down, until his arm ached. He rested for a minute before starting on the second one. When he had finished, both portholes were coated in black metal polish. He rested again before going back to the first one and rubbing the dry polish off with a rag. The brass gleamed and shone like new. He really could see his face in nit. He was finishing off the second one when the Mate came in to see how he was getting on.
‘Wow!’ he exclaimed. ‘You have done a good job.’ He inspected both portholes. ‘Marvellous,’ he said. ‘Well done, son. That’s a great job.’
Ricky picked up his cleaning materials and went out grinning like a Cheshire cat. He felt better than he had done in days.
At lunch, Doc was pushing the chocolate pudding and custard. He insisted that everybody had at least one helping and tried his best to get them to have seconds.
‘Get it down you,’ he said to Charlie as he handed him a large slice covered in custard.
‘Why don’t you make this more often?’ Charlie asked. ‘What, and spoil you bunch of ingrates.’
Pete came to the hatch for a second helping and Doc turned to the cooker where the pudding was balanced on the flap down door of the oven. He bent over the tray and placed a huge slice in Pete’s bowl
‘I’m glad someone appreciates my duff,’ he said as he ladled custard over the bowl.
‘It’s great, Doc,’ Pete grinned. He took it back to his place at the table and wolfed it down. In the galley, Doc watched Pete making a pig of himself and smiled.
The Bosun took Ricky aside at the start of the afternoon’s work and he was smiling. ‘The Mate asked me to take a look at his portholes,’ he said. ‘I agreed with him, they look marvellous and you did a great job.’
Ricky flushed with pleasure.
‘You see, you can do a good job when you want to, can’t you?’
‘Good, keep it up and we’ll get along just fine. You can help Fred this afternoon, splicing some wire.’
Fred showed him how to splice an eye in the end of a steel hawser. First he bent the end of the steel hawser around in a loop and held the loop clamped in a vice. He then used a sharp pointed spike which he called a marlin spike to force open the strands of the main body of the steel wire, above where the loop would be formed. Then he separated a single strand of wire from the end of the loop and forced it through the gap he’d made in the main wire, with the spike. He wore strong leather gloves to protect his hands from the sharp strands of wire and worked his way around the hawser, threading the loose ends through the gaps he made, alternating over and under the strands of the main hawser. It was hard work and they made up three wire strops with an eye in each end from the coil of steel hawser that afternoon.
‘What do you use the strops for?’ Ricky asked.
‘We pass them around machinery or anything very heavy, then we can lift it on or off the ship using the ship’s derrick.’
Ricky turned in and slept like a baby that night. The hard work and the praise he’d had from the Mate and the Bosun made him forget all about his troubles with Pete.