It Start With A Flag...

  • Dear Sirs,


    It is with deep regret and in great haste that I write this letter to you. With regret that such a small misunderstanding should lead to the circumstances I describe below, and in haste in order that you receive this report before you form any preconceived notions and opinions from reports in the British press. I am sure that the press tend to over-dramatise in their reports on such casualties.


    We had just embarked the Pilot and the Deck Cadet had returned to the Wheelhouse after changing over the G flag ("I require a Pilot") to the H flag ("I have a Pilot on board"). This being his first trip, he was having difficulty in rolling up the G flag before stowing it. I therefore proceeded to instruct him on the correct method of rolling up a signal flag. Coming to the last part of this instruction I told him to "Let go". The lad, although willing enough, was not too bright and this necessitated my having to repeat the order in a somewhat louder and sharper tone, "LET GO!".


    At this moment the Chief Officer appeared from the chartroom, having been plotting the vessel's progress and, thinking that it was the anchors that were being referred to, repeated the "Let go!" to the Third Officer, who was on the forecastle. The port anchor, having been cleared away but not walked out, was promptly let go. The effect of letting go the anchor whilst the vessel was proceeding at full harbour speed proved too much for the windlass brake. The entire length of the port cable was thus pulled out by the roots; depositing the anchor and thirteen shackles of cable on the harbour bed.


    Whilst this was happening, the braking effect of the port anchor naturally caused a sheer to port - directly towards a swing bridge which spanned a tributary to the river on which we were navigating. The swing bridge operator showed great presence of mind by promptly opening the bridge for my vessel. Unfortunately, he did not think to stop the vehicular traffic for the bridge. The result was that the bridge opened and deposited a Volkswagen, two cyclists and a cattle truck on the foredeck. My ship's company are at present rounding up the contents of the cattle truck which I gather, from the noise outside, are pigs.


    In his efforts to stop the progress of the vessel, the third mate then dropped the starboard anchor, too late to be of any use as it fell directly onto the swing bridge operator's control cabin, a poor reward, I fear, for his quick action in opening the bridge in the first place.


    After the vessel had started to sheer, through the accidental letting go of the port anchor, I gave a "Double Ring" for Full Astern on the engine-room telegraph. I also personally rang the Engine Room to verbally order maximum astern revolutions. I was then informed by the duty Engineer that the sea temperature was 53 degrees Fahrenheit, and was asked if there was to be a movie shown that night. My reply, whilst colourful, would not add constructively to this report.


    It is strange, but at exactly the same time as the port anchor was dropped there was a power cut ashore. The fact that we were passing over a cable area at the time may suggest that we might have touched something on the riverbed. It is perhaps lucky that the high tension cables which were brought down by our foremast and which landed on the foredeck and bridge were not "live", otherwise I might not be now writing this report. Possibly the cables had been replaced by an underwater cable. Owing to the blackout ashore, it is impossible to ascertain where the electric cable pylon fell. Up to now I have confined my report to the activities at the forward end of my vessel. Down aft they were having their own problems.


    At the moment the port anchor was let go, the Second Mate was supervising the making fast of the cable from the after tug. The sudden braking effect of the port anchor caused the tug to run under the stern of my vessel - just at the very moment the propeller was answering my double ring of Full Astern. The prompt action of the Second Mate in securing the inboard end of the towing spring was vital in delaying the sinking of the tug by several minutes, thereby allowing the safe abandonment of that vessel by her crew.


    It never fails to amaze me - the actions and behaviours of foreigners during a moment of crisis. The Pilot is huddled in the corner of my dayroom, crooning to himself after having drunk a bottle of whiskey in a time worthy of inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. The Tug Master, on the other hand, reacted quite violently to the loss of his vessel and had to be forcibly restrained by the steward. He is at present handcuffed in the ship's hospital where he persists in telling me to do impossible things with my ship. Enclosed with this report are the names and addresses of the drivers and the details of their insurance companies, of the vehicles and cyclists that fell onto my foredeck. These particulars will enable you to claim for the damage they caused to the railings, coamings and deck around No.1 hatch when they landed there from the swing bridge.



    To conclude this report I wish to point out that, had the Cadet not been a "First Tripper" and had more experience, he would have realised that it is not necessary to fly the Pilot Flag in the dark and none of this would have happened.


    Yours faithfully,