Sunday, January 15, 2012

For Three-Word Wednesday, Magpie 100 and ABC Wednesday

"A" is for "AB"

It’s sort of astonishing that Tess Kincaid came up with the above prompt, which looks like it could well be titled “drowning,” at the same time that news of a spectacular shipwreck was filling the air waves and the newsprint.

I guess everyone is aware of the freak accident of the Costa Concordia during a Mediterranean cruise. The prompt this week hit me hard. You see, years ago I was involved in a shipwreck, and the reason I’ll never forget it is that I was the one who caused it.
To tell you about it, let me take you back to the days when I was just a kid, a humble able-bodied seaman, or AB.
I should also make a couple of points. One, a sailor who is steering a ship, the helmsman, no matter how able-bodied he may be, does not, can not, make even the sliver of an independent decision.
He’s there to steer the thing. He has been given the number of a course, which means he turns the steering wheel a little from time to time so the needle on the compass is constantly on that course heading.
That’s all he does. Turning the ship, even in an emergency, is not for him; that decision is to be made by the officer of the watch. That’s not just the ancient custom of the sea; it is the law.
I remember once I was at the wheel and I could see a small collection of fishing boats, five or six of them, up ahead in the distance just off our starboard bow. They were clustered together; maybe they were all going after the same fish. I believed that if we continued as we were heading we were going to plow into them. The second officer was out on the wing of the bridge; perhaps he hadn’t noticed this.
I could easily have twirled the wheel and swung our ship over to port and avoided the boats. But of course the law was the law; I had the right to call an officer’s attention to the situation but I couldn’t do anything about it.
So I shouted out to him about the collection of boats up ahead off our starboard bow. “I’m aware of it,” he replied.
He’s aware of it, I thought. But maybe he's too dumb to do anything about it.
Turned out, though, that he was smarter than I thought. He knew that the current, and the wind, were drifting from starboard to port. So he knew that by the time our ship got to that area, the little collection of fishing boats would have drifted across our bow and have wound up to the side, well out of harm’s way. So maybe the law made some sense.
Now. Quick segue to a different story.
Having had the sea-going experience, I wanted to try sailing on the Great Lakes.

The vessels on these bodies of water, many of ‘em, are known as “ore boats,” mainly because they carry ore – you see how logical things are in that part of the country?
As you may know, to a true seaman, there’s an important difference between the word “ship” and the word “boat.” It pains him to hear a ship called a boat. Generally, and very loosely speaking, a ship is something big and a boat is something that could be carried on a ship.

But still, they call those Great Lakers, though they may be as large as any ships, “ore boats.”
What can you do?

Anyway, to get to my shipwreck. It is quite tricky to steer one of these huge vessels among the rivers that lead to the Lakes, and to bring them “alongside” to tie up at all kinds of local docks and piers.
I was at the wheel one day while the captain was on the bridge with me. As far as I could see, everything was the same as with a ship at sea. But it wasn’t, as I was to find out.
I had been given a course to steer, but I suddenly noticed that the skipper had left the bridge. At sea, this would be a no-no; there has to be an officer on the bridge when under way. Again, the law.
So I was alone on the bridge and I had the feeling that everything was going downhill: the ship, or boat, or whatever it was, was heading right toward a dock.
I knew the law. I could do nothing but shout, in a kind of piteous cry, for the captain, or somebody, to get the hell up on the bridge or we were going to smash into that dock.
Which we did.
A large quantity of shouts and curses arose from all parts of our vessel. The skipper (finally) rushed up and asked me if I was crazy.
It turned out that things were much more relaxed on the Lakes. A helmsman could maneuver the ship if there was no officer around, and avoid trouble all by hisself.
Who knew?

My shipwreck wasn’t as big a deal, thankfully, as the wreck of the Costa Concordia, but I had destroyed quite a section of a dock, and it was decided that perhaps it would be better if I left the Great Lakes and got back to being an AB on seagoing boats – er, ships.

46 comments:

Brian Miller said...

ugh on the shipwreck...and seems they would have filled you in on these things prior to turning over the wheel to you...

Suz said...

oh dear...what a life you have lived...first Marilyn...now shipwrecked....what a story

and may I ask...do you go on cruises?

jaerose said...

I have never set sail but the feeling of being ship-wrecked rings loud and clear..Jae

Berowne said...

Suz: "And may I ask...do you go on cruises?"
Depends. Are you paying? :-)

Wendy said...

I'm fascinated by jobs that place that much responsibility on one person--independent of a large group of support. My job is stressful, but I can't imagine being in charge of a boat with hundreds of passengers or an airplane, etc. So much could go wrong so quickly.

Berowne said...

Wendy: " My job is stressful, but I can't imagine being in charge of a boat with hundreds of passengers."
You DO mean ship, don't you? :-)

naturgesetz said...

Both are interesting stories. There are reasons for most rules. Seems to me that the captain of the ore boat should have made sure that you knew you could make decisions on your own in the absence of an officer. IOW, the accident was "his own darn fault, as my father used to put it.

Catfish Tales said...

Great story and, I might add, enlightening. I had no clue as to your 'laws of the sea'.
Thanks so much for sharing!

Leslie: said...

I was shocked about the cruise ship being grounded - and I heard the captain is in jail for having "jumped ship" etc. It will be interesting to see how things pan out for him and the passengers. Tragic however it happened.

Roger Owen Green said...

I'd be terrified being in charge of a vessel that, even accidentally, could wreak such havoc. And, frankly, I probably would do just that.

Donna B. said...

How interesting...I am fascinated and terrified of the sea at the same time. I think it is due to my reading far too many books about sharks, being shipwrecked and floating and bobbing in the waves with and without rafts after a shipwreck.

My husband has been trying to talk me into a Mediterranean cruise... I want to know how such an experienced Captain ran this cruise ship onto the rocks when this route was so regular and common for him!

Wander said...

I like the "tone of this entire story...
I also think you put a funny spin on something that at the time it happned must have been much more life altering. Thanks for the personal history

izzy said...

Oh my- I do love your story- and all the wonderful information! thank you.
That is nightmare material though if you are stuck like that believing you have no choice....Wow!

Tess Kincaid said...

I know...I wondered why I chose this prompt...I am psychic...just a tad...

Kathe W. said...

I just love your rambles through memories...

Trellissimo said...

Great tale. Worth a longer write-up.

Berowne said...

Kathe W: "I just love your rambles through memories..."
What a fine comment; thanks so much.

Berowne said...

Trellissimo: "Great tale. Worth a longer write-up."
Good to hear. I was afraid it was too long...

Berowne said...

"I am psychic...just a tad..."
So -- who's going to win the Republican nomination?
(Or do you care?) :-)

Sue said...

That's an interesting story. Big drag that you were trying to do the "right thing" and it all went wrong.

"/

Berowne said...

Sue: "Big drag that you were trying to do the 'right thing' and it all went wrong."
Story of my life... :-)

Linda said...

I live in Toronto and have been out on the Great Lakes and their connecting rivers in so many kinds of crafts, I was really interested in the details of your story. I liked the picture of the Thousand Island Bridge too. I was under it in September in a small tourist boat. Thank you for sharing this.

Isabel Doyle said...

What a tale you tell - sea shanties have nothing on this!

Carver said...

What an interesting story and I'm glad your shipwreck only damaged the dock.

Luna Miranda said...

my uncle was an AB...he told us stories about his job but i didn't know what AB means until i read your post.;p

glad to hear that your shipwreck was minor, and you were not arrested.:p

Gigi Ann said...

I just started reading Bill Walker's new book "Titanic 2012" and than this shipwreck happened. It is really a sad situation, and so many of the people that were aboard are still unaccounted for. I've never been on a cruise, but they always look like so much fun.

Sorry, about your shipwreck, however, you made it through, and lived to share the story with us today.

Kay L. Davies said...

Wow, I agree with Brian, you'd think they'd have given you some idea of what you were and were not to do. Duh.
Dreadful coincidence about the cruise ship. I've been on several cruises, but am now somewhat nervous about our next one, in March. NOT a Costa ship, however.
Excellent and informative and particularly interesting post, Berowne.
K

☆♥Shydub♥☆ said...

That was another incident that cruise boat needs to look into. I wonder what's the cause of that ship wreck though. sorry for those who died in that accident

Visiting from ABC Wednesday and RT

oldegg said...

What a great account of your experiences. We all probably have tales to tell of mishaps in our lives. Mine will definitely remain hidden.

Helen said...

I have sailed on many a cruise ship and honestly have never feared an accident at sea ... sea sickness yes, too many glasses of wine for sure. Your Magpie story is fascinating!!

Nicholas V. said...

Such a terrible waste the Costa Concordia... And the more we learn of the matters that resulted in the tragedy the more blameworthy the cowardly captain becomes...

Tumblewords: said...

Well told! I've been so many miles in life, I find it difficult to trust my well being to a driver of ship, plane, boat or golf cart. :) This ship driver created a true tragedy. Totally at odds with Capt Sullenberger's actions.

Berowne said...

How fine to hear from such folks as Tumblewords, Nichols V, Helen, oldegg, Shydub, Kay L D, Gigi Ann, Luna Miranda, Carver, Isabel Doyle and Linda -- mucho thanks.

Berowne said...

How fine to hear from such folks as Tumblewords, Nichols V, Helen, oldegg, Shydub, Kay L D, Gigi Ann, Luna Miranda, Carver, Isabel Doyle and Linda -- mucho thanks.

Laurie Kolp said...

You sure have led a colorful life... and if not, your storytelling is very convincing!

Sheilagh Lee said...

you always have the most interesting life stories and this one was not a disppointment thanks for sharing this.

Writer's Daybook said...

Great story. Very interesting site.

Berowne said...

Thanks, Writer's Daybook. It's always a pleasure to welcome a new visitor to the site.

Stafford Ray said...

Seems as a helmsman you make an exceptional historian, commenter and writer! On my boat I am skipper, crewman and helmsman so haev nobody to blame. Not always an advantage!

Chris said...

That is a powerful story, glad nothing major happened though. In the cruise case, I heard the captain was trying to impress a Facebook user? That was a disaster.

sush said...

interesting!

Berowne said...

Chris: "In the cruise case, I heard the captain was trying to impress a Facebook user?"
By the way, I read that young folks in Italy are now wearing T-shirts reading (in Italian): "Get back on the bleeping ship!" :-)

helenmac said...

A wonder-filled tale of the seas, Berowne! Can you tell us which dock on the Great Lakes you ploughed into?
We always search the horizon for the ore-boats when camping on Lake Superior. The docks at the Soo are amazing constructions.
HelenMac
ABC Wednesday Team

Denise Moncrief said...

What an interesting life you've lived! I loved your story about the shipwreck. I like learning new things. Great use of the prompts.

Berowne said...

helenmac: "Can you tell us which dock on the Great Lakes you ploughed into?"
Sorry, no. That was quite a while - to say the least - ago. :-)

Mel Cole said...

fascinating pictures, i would really freak out in a shipwreck like that. my late visit but still acquainting. My "A" for ABC Wednesday.

 
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