I’ve got one that I’ve been saving up for the right occasion. I’m not sure it qualifies as humorous, because it was pretty shocking, but my shipmates and I had a chuckle or two about it after the fact. The “captain” in question was a property developer who bought a ship as a toy, and figured this entitled him to the position. He had all the psychotic tendencies needed to make it to billionaire as a penniless immigrant, and was the same guy who had the bright idea of going to Algeria to smuggle fuel with zero margnis. About a year later, he finally did run the ship out of fuel, and it went like this:
We were cruising up the West coast of Italy, having a great time as our supply of cheap African fuel was dwindling down to nothing. I kept The Man in the loop during my daily reports, but he was reluctant to do something about it, grumbling about how the local price was too high and we had to “find a solution”. We were in the Southern anchorage on Capri when I pumped the last dregs into the settling tank and reported this to upstairs. He conceded that it might be time to take a bit on board, just a couple of tons to get us down the coast a ways. Well, the fuel guy on Capri lived up to his reputation, made a big show of how difficult this was going to be, and offered us a time slot late in the afternoon.
The Man would have nothing of this, and decided to fuel up in the next fishing village down the coast. That was cutting it a bit close, but there was no arguing, so I went along. On arrival there, The Man was into his second bottle of Campari for the day, and in a fine mood. It was a very tight spot, the wind was up, and we made such a spectacular show of fucking up the mooring as to draw the attention of the whole village. After going at it for fifteen minutes, his head out of the bridge window roaring “YOU’RE ALL GAYS! GAYS AND LESBIANS!!!”, and pulling a bollard out of the dock (a nice and big one that came out with a bunch of rebar), he gave up and put back to sea, reasoning that we’d continue through the night and fuel up next morning in whichever port.
I didn’t quite know what to do, so I went up on the bridge and put down a waypoint on the ECDIS where I calculated we’d run out of fuel, and labeled it “Estimated Loss of Propulsion”. The Man’s response was to decide that I was probably not reliable, so he sent the cook down into the ER to make sure I was doing my work properly. The cook sheepishly explained his mission, so I started the transfer pump, went through all the valves on the fuel transfer manifold and pointed out the vacuum gauge dancing around, explaining that this was because the pump was drawing air. Then I topped up the emergency generator day tank and went to bed.
As it turned out, we ran out a bit earlier than I had projected, because the guy who graduated the settling tank sighting tube apparently hadn’t accounted for the sloping bottom. This led to the strangest moment of my career: Waking up from the main skipping a beat, and instead of a panicked sprint to the ER (you’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve been there), I yawned and sat on my bunk, leisurely getting into my clothes while she skipped another beat, then gradually shut down. Oh well, it was that time.
The Man was genuinely shocked, as it had somehow not entered his head until then that we might actually run dry. Always quick to think on his feet, he decided that calling for a tug would be too expensive (and perhaps a bit embarassing), so he ordered us to scrounge up all the 5 gal drums we could find and put the skiff on the water. The wind had died down, but the swell obscured the horizon as seen from the main deck when we were in the troughs, putting it somewhere north of 3 meters. If you’ve seen the Amalfi coast, you’ll understand my trepidation at the thought of making a landing in the dark with a heavy swell running.
The Mate and I set out for the coast a few miles distant, guided by the lights of a clifftop village. It would have been outright suicide if I hadn’t been familiar with that stretch of coast, but I knew the place quite well and aimed for a small beach “protected” by a line of rocks, directly below the village. As we made the final approach, nestling the skiff on a crest, fully committed, the Mate commented how happy he was that I knew what I was doing. I considered mentioning that my knowledge of surf landings was mostly theoretical, but decided to keep it to myself.
We almost made it, but as the swell started breaking the propeller drew air, and we slipped back into the trough. The outboard found a rock, and we got flipped in the surf. I will never know quite how we avoided getting ground to a paste on the rocks, or how we managed to gather most of the empty drums and miscellaneous detritus floating around in the dark. We didn’t say much, just bent our necks and used our boiling fury to fuel us for the task at hand. After walking several rounds up the steps to the gas station, lugging 60-ish gallons of fuel back down, and getting the water logged outboard running again, we were well and truly spent. We waded the skiff out a ways, did our best to time our takeoff for a small set, and made for the murky line of foam ahead in the darkness.
We just barely got across the breakers. There was a gut wrenching moment when the brave little skiff stood with the nose in the air, water coming over the transom, threatening to flip us backwards and spill everything into the sea. Then the bow came down and we were off. Ahead of us was only inky blackness where I expected to see our red over red. Perplexed but beyond caring about why, I took approximate aim at where I figured the ship must be and used the lights on land behind us to keep a stable heading. Then, ten minutes out, the lights on the ship flickered back on and guided us home.
When we arrived, it turned out that The Man had shut down the emergency generator because the noise annoyed him. The deckhand had finally armed herself with a big diving knife, turned it back on and stood guard at the door, God bless her brave heart for that.
This episode marked the beginning of the end of my time on board. It also marked the time when The Man started locking his cabin door at night. And to those of you who say that working the piratical side of yacthing sounds like fun, I say welcome to the deep end of the spectrum.