Yearly Christmas warning to former seagoing grandparents

Found this old letter in the attic while looking for old toys to recycle as Christmas presents for the grandkids. It marked the end of my seagoing career. Don’t let your kids go to sea.

To the Board of Directors
Atlantis Steamship Lines
Bimini, Bahamas

Dear Sirs;

It is with deep regret and in haste that I write this letter to you. Regret that such a small misunderstanding could lead to the ensuing circumstances and haste in order that you may receive my account of events before you hear any reports from the news media.

It was right after sunset. We had just picked up the pilot and the academy cadet was on the bridge wing. He was hoisting a “G” flag to replace the “H” flag and was having difficulty with a fouled halyard. I proceeded to show him how to clear the flag and told him to “Let go.” The boy means well but he’s a bit slow. I was compelled to repeat the order more forcefully. At that moment, the 3rd mate appeared from the chart room, having plotted the vessel’s progress up the channel. Thinking I was referring to the anchor, he repeated the order “Let Go!” to the chief mate on the bow. The port anchor, having been cleared away, but not walked out, was promptly let go. The effect of letting go the anchor while the vessel was proceeding at harbor speed proved to be too much for the windlass brake. The entire length of chain bolted out of the anchor locker and unfortunately struck various pieces of deck equipment before disappearing over the side. Please see attached damage reports.

In any case, the release of the port anchor caused the bow of the vessel to sheer in that direction towards a swing bridge that spans a tributary to the river up which we were proceeding. The swing bridge operator showed great presence of mind by opening the bridge to my vessel. In his panic however, he forgot to stop the vehicular traffic. The immediate result was the dumping of a Volkswagen camper, two cyclists, and a cattle truck on the foredeck. My ship’s company are at present rounding up the contents of the latter which judging from the all the squealing are pigs. In his efforts to stop the progress of the vessel, the chief mate then dropped the starboard anchor, too late to be of any practical use as it fell on the swing bridge operator’s control cab.

When the port anchor was let go and the vessel started to sheer, I gave a double ring Full Astern on the engine room telegraph, and I personally rang the engine room to order maximum astern revolutions. I was politely informed that the sea temperature was 53 degrees, and was asked if there was a film tonight. My reply was unprofessional so I will not repeat it here.

Up to now, I have confined my report to the forward end of my vessel; back aft there was another situation. At that same moment when the port anchor was being let go, the 2nd mate was supervising the making fast of the wire to the after tug. The sudden braking effect of the port anchor caused the stern to swing to starboard and the tug to run under the counter at the very moment when the propeller was answering my double Full Astern ring. The prompt action of the 2nd mate in securing the inboard end of the wire delayed the sinking of the tug by at least a half a minute, thus allowing the crew enough time to don lifejackets.

To confound matters, at the very same moment of the letting go of that port anchor, there was a power outage ashore; the AB at the wheel suggested we may have snagged a cable as we had just passed a sign on the bank warning of “Underwater Cables”. Comments from AB’s are generally ignored although in retrospect, he may have had a point.

In any case, it is lucky that the high tension cables over the bridge brought down by our foremast were not live. Presumably the current was cutoff when the underwater cable was severed. Owing to the shore power blackout, it is difficult to pinpoint at which precise moment the towers supporting the cables came down.

What never fails to amaze me though are the actions and behavior of foreigners. I found the pilot in my day cabin guzzling from a bottle of my most expensive Scotch and muttering in his native gibberish. The tug captain on the other hand came bounding up to the bridge, soaking wet and in a foul mood. When he swung at my head with a heavy shackle, my physically imposing Samoan 3rd mate sat on him while we waited for the authorities to arrive.

I enclose the names and addresses of the cyclists as well as the drivers of the vehicles deposited on my foredeck and their insurance company contacts. I commend my chief mate with being able to collect this information while beating a hasty retreat from the mayhem on the foredeck.

These particulars should enable you to claim for the damage that they did to the railings around the hatchway of #1 hold. I am closing this preliminary report early for I am finding it difficult to concentrate amid the influx of functionaries demanding my attention.

To prevent further intrusions, I have locked the door to my cabin while I polish off the rest of the bottle that the pilot tried to commandeer for himself.

In closing, I don’t blame anyone but myself for this incident. Had I informed the cadet that there was no need to display a pilot flag after dark, none of this would have happened.

Please see the following casualty numbers in my weekly report: 701 to 749 inclusive.

Yours faithfully,

Captain Raoul Fortunado
Master, MV Atlantis Moon

Currently under police detention,
Port of Rio Negro, Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil