Tell us about your worst day at sea

What was your worst day at sea? Tell us about it.

I know I’ve had plenty. Deaths, major fires on ammunition ships, an emergency disconnect from a live drilling well with 5.7 kts of current in 67 kts of wind in the GOM while I was Captain. These scared the sh*t out of me. But in these moments I found my best self and the ability. It’s in these moments of terror that, I have found, humble us and produce the greatest growth in ourselves.

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Ok, I will bite. The day the hurricane went ashore and came back out while towing a light 250k barge with two cadets aboard in GOM… The other bad trip going 1 mile an hour backwards with the same barge loaded off of Cape Fear/ Hatteras in a fierce Nor’easter. We wore a hole in the chart. I obviously made it to port in one piece… Was not pretty. I had a few things to say to my lord and savior during those two particular trips.

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Any day on the BELCHER PORT EVERGLADES. . . well, especially the day that we lost the tow entering Tampa, late winter/early spring 1988. . . .

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The other watch was so good at f-ing things up I got no sleep for days and finally passed out while steering and cut my head open on the throttle, which at least woke me back up. I never had a fatality or a a major fire thank God!

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I was interested to see that only a couple of people responded with recollections of their worst day at sea, and I can sort of see why. Seafarers are a pragmatic bunch, who would probably have a bit of trouble identifying their worst day, since even in the worst weather conditions, they usually have some control over the event, and take action to ensure their own safety. If they or their leaders have failed to do that, the resulting nightmare might be something they would not choose to recollect.

So, looking back, I have weathered many atrocious storms out in the North Atlantic and the Northern North Sea, but none of them compare with a day, or days, when I was second mate of a British tramp steamer, with a captain who seemed prepared to wilfully put his ship in danger. We were groping our way, light ship, up the Chinese coast during the Cultural Revolution, when there were no lighthouses working, in thick fog, with no radar. We had passed Taiwan, on which there were some aircraft beacons, but the direction finder was in front of the funnel and I was unable to persuade the captain to turn the ship round to let me get a DF position. Finally he decided to send the Sparky up the radar mast to try to fix the radar, and to give him some shelter he turned the ship around. I dashed into the chart room, and got a couple of bearings before the captain followed me and turned the set off. With a sigh of relief, I drew a cross on the chart. He drew a line from it and set course for Shanghai.

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Simply sailing into Inchon Korea at night. I came on watch, relieving the 3rd mate. He mentioned that they had sailed past a large group of fishing boats. A short while into the watch I realized what he meant, the RADAR. Came alive with contacts. I had never seen such a group of fishing boats. I searched the RADAR until finally I saw an opening and carefully maneuvered through the fleet. It was a very tense few minutes. Everything else was easier then this.

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I must say that during my sailing days I never felt a great deal of anxiety anywhere in the world nor was that a point of discussion as I remember it. I met with very bad storms in the Atlantic, also in the Gulf of Biscaye which we had to cross both ways on a regular basis. The English Channel and North Sea were more or less our home turf. It was all part of the game.

The worst as I remember was when we were shot at by the VC on the Saigon river when we were fully loaded with aircraft fuel and especially after having discharged with tons of fuel still sloshing around in the tanks and full of gas. One hull penetrating rocket would have sent us sky high.

Sailing was bloody dangerous during the ten trips we made from Singapore to an American airfield near Saigon fully loaded with kerosene. At certain bends in the river, where we were very close to the shore, we were shot at by the Vietcong, lucky for us not with heavy weapons. Vietnamese soldiers, which we picked up at the pilot station, fired back with machine guns from the bridge wings. The most dangerous part, as said before, was when after discharging and lying high on the water we sailed down the river literally as a gas filled bomb due to the many tons of kerosene slushing around in the tanks and all waiting for a little spark. Those were my ten worst days, not just one!

Some crew members wrote a letter to Shell Tankers demanding hazard pay but Shell answered cutely that there was no reason for that because the Dutch were not at war with Vietnam! Quite a ridiculous argument but it saved them a few bucks. Writing to the Union, I was not a member for good reasons, was an useless exercise as I had already anticipated.

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40-50ft seas, turkeys fly, chairs skewer the Scotsman, glass jugs of cider loose on the deck coated in grease and salt, no reliefs. Thanksgiving 1998 in the Gulf of Alaska. Not the worst but memorable.

Shell H boats?

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Shell tanker sts Kermia call sign PFIY

Shell tanker Kermia general purpose tanker 18.000 tonner. I think the equivalent of the British H tankers class.

I though Shell Eastern paid protection money to avoid attach on their ships and their installation at Nha Be, near Saigon??

I heard that also, probably later they did. I sailed there in 1955. Rather early in the game I suppose.

Yes they did, at least in the late 1960s. In 1974-78 I worked with the former Marine Superintendent for Shell Eastern in Singapore, who confirmed it.

In 1968 a tanker chartered to Shell got hit by a rocket while at Nha Be. It penetrated the forepeak, but didn’t explode. (Which was another problem).
The Master got a letter of apology from Vietcong stating that it was a mistake. The rocket was intended as a reminder to Shell that protection money for the installation. was late.(The rocket was found to be a dummy)

PS> Shell Eastern did pay “Risk money” to the crews on the small tankers that transported JP4 from Nha Be to their installations in Can Tho in the Mekong Delta.
That was on top of the War Risk Bonus of 100% on wages, paid by the Owner. (Probably reimbursed by Shell)

One of these tankers were the Angkor, blt. 1954 in France for Shell:
Later also known as CHERRY VINGA, Rainbow III. It’s gross tonnage is 901 tons.

Are you sure you got the decade right? Maybe 1965? That (1955) would have been just after the Geneva Accords when the erstwhile leader in the south had his hands full with criminal gangs and religious sects. And trying to prove to Eisenhower admin he had the right stuff to bring the country together in a national election called for by the accords. I don’t think Ho ramped up the NLF and “viet cong” until 1960. Those shooting at you in 1955 may have been viet Minh come south after their victory in the north and at the peace tables.

It is rather strange that the VC got paid for not attacking Shell tankers since the fuel transported unhindered to the American war machine was used to bomb North Korea and the VC as well, so why did they do that, makes no sense.

Much of the bombing in the north was by long ranges bombers from Guam and the Philippines, or from Aircraft carriers and a base in Thailand.

The protection money where probably more important to VC than the losses from US jet fighters looking for their guerilla fighter that was spread out thin in the jungle, hiding below ground, or walking the streets among civilian.

PS> It was not only Shell that paid for protection. Even the ships distributing rice along the coast for USAid were covered.
The French restaurateurs in Saigon and the Chinese shop owners in Cholon were well protected and well informed. If anything was going to happen in Saigon, they would stock up, or shut down in preparation.

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So which was it, a mistake or a message. Kind of difficult to be both.

A mistake that the rocket hit the ship. A message to Shell to remind them of the payment that was overdue.
PS> Their rockets were not all that sophisticated at the time.

I have been in Command for many tears therefore I had plenty.
I remember two among the worst.
Explosion and fire aboard a fully laden supertanker en route from Nigeria to St Croix and, at my first command propeller lost in the middle of heavy storm in open sea between Norway and Utsira Island where I had the most of the crew abandoning the vessel by different helicopters. I never abandoned the ship keeping on board the minimum sailors to pick up the towing rope from a supply vessel in very heavy rolling until a few cables from Utsira Island where the vessel dead been drifting.

Freudian typo?

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