98. The Deafening Roar of Wind and Sea

I awoke to the sensation of my body rolling back and forth in my bed.  Not surprising for being out on the high seas.  Lullabye baby on the … 

Right in sync the ‘alert’ triggered by CS Phil was heard all over the decks; whether I wanted it or not, it was wake-up time!  

The unsteady movements were really getting, dare I say it, storm-tossed.  “Stay alert and steady yourself,” a calm yet stern voice commanded.  “Hold on to the railings and such as you make your way around the ship, it’s gonna be like this for a while.  Duties continue as usual.” 

Phil’s voice was elevated now as it seemed to me, the outside was audible inside. He made his steady, experienced way through the corridors. The rest of us who were not so experienced, bounced along with little glances of slight confusion (or was it uncertainty and fright?) to one another.  

With Taiwan to the west and the Mariana Trench far to the east of our position, our ship was navigated through the northernmost tip of the South China Sea.  It shouldn’t be too much longer before our boat will taste the East China Sea.  

First things first: shower, shave, well you know the rest and holding on constantly to something, railings or otherwise.  I nervously thought to myself, ‘Oh what fun I’m going to have now!’  

As I made my way up to morning duties, something else of interest was taking place.  Our speed was cutting out and it was soon revealed why exactly, that was.

The ship’s boiler busted … well, one of the boilers and that was more than enough!  Not at all in good timing (is it ever!?) and considering the agitated waters we were in, our significantly slower pace brought our vessel to a laboured crawl.  

Hopefully we’ll make it to Japan.  As I understood it, without our own full power, the ship is even more at the mercy of the turbulent seas.  

And then it happened: another boiler had busted.  It was said that we were not taking in water at this point, thankfully. ‘Wait! Does this mean we could?’  This uneasy thought was to myself.

As we were cargo-less, our vessel was tossed about like a toyship in a wild child’s bathtub!  Only in my craziest of boyhood dreams would I have ever imagined being in such a hairy, scary situation as this! I can tell you now, it ranked right up there with the Vietnamese waters experience!

I mean, what would’ve been worse? Getting blown to bits or being pulled under the ocean by a sinking ship, drowning in a raging sea??

Throughout the rest of this rough and tumble day and more than halfway through the night, we (and some other ships I barely was able to see) were subject to the mercy of Mother Nature’s whim.   

In the darkness of the early morning hours, Skip’s voice came in over the P.A. system, sharing the status report from below decks: “Between the port beam and the port bow, there is now a crack!” 

This then began to steadily weaken and the ocean was making its way into the ship at an alarming rate!  In milliseconds of panic & fear -no doubt- running through most of the crew, our Captain reassured us just as quickly of the makeshift sealing of this crack and that the hold had been sealed.

The guys have done their best to make watertight the damage.  Unfortunately we had zero propulsion; no steam power, no go!  Well, it’s a decrease in speed like from 13 knots reduced to 1 or 2 knots.  

The Trans Western is moving but at an unnoticeable pace.  I imagined myself on a paper boat just like the ones I used to make as a kid, in the middle of this tumultuous sea with no alternate course of action.

I’m not entirely certain how this next moment came about, well, other than credit to the thrilling sensations pulsing through me.  I do consider myself a curious sort of fellow and so along with the then current rate of adrenaline pumping through me, I followed the rush! 

I wanted to see for myself how our ship was reacting to all this excitement. The next thing I knew I was covering myself with my heavy hooded jacket, without thought on much else for preparations.  And so it was, with deck shoes already on (whaat? No boots or lifejacket!?), I found myself out in the storm, on the highest point of the uppermost deck! 

What felt like gale force winds, they were whipping all around me, the ship and the chilly ocean; I really couldn’t tell if it was raining or just an on-going downpour (and sideways hammering) of sea spray. 

I chose to secure myself at what was the highest point, just before climbing the ladder of the smokestack.  I hung on for dear life to an iron railing which surrounded the stack and that was my lifeline.  I noticed how everything was sealed up (that’s good) also, I quickly realized I was the only one outside … and with sopping wet legs and feet!  

The sea swelled non-stop, thrashing itself onto our ship with what had to be 40’-50’ waves, no lie!!  As I did my best to stand there in observance of my surroundings, I was mostly fascinated by the bow of the ship.  

It would dip waaaay down into the ocean.  And when it finally surfaced, it continued straight upwards lowering the stern down, down into the sea … what an adventure this turned out to be!

It was as though I was tied to the railing.  There was no time to think, no time to process the extreme situation we were in and so to report, all I thought was, ‘My God, I am witness to this explosive power!’  I must’ve been hypnotised.  

And each time the ship’s propeller was lifted out of the water, it felt to me as the entire ship would violently shake, often accompanied by an awful noise … I’ll never forget that mesmerizing, terrified feeling.  

I do not even know for how long I was out there thrilling myself by feeding my blown-up curiosity which was clearly accompanied by complete disregard to my physical safety.  

In retrospect I know I was perplexed by the magnificence of the force of the sea and the wind; such a beautiful yet deadly combination.  

Then somewhere separate from the deafening roar of wind and sea came the voice of my Skipper shouting at me over the bullhorn, “Hey Fiji! Get your ass down here, right now!!”  

I felt myself snap back into my mind and even managed to think a brief thought which was, ‘I’d better get down and back inside before Skip himself throws me into the ocean!’

Hurrying best as I could for I certainly weighed more now being waterlogged and all, back in through the steel door and into the passageway.  I remembered to spin the wheel around, re-securing the door.  

I turned to see the Captain simply staring me down from the doorway of his Bridge.  Under most any other circumstance, this guy always had a smile for me; not so much this time.  

“Your punishment Fiji …” he said with an exasperated breath.  “… know what your punishment is!?”  The frown on his face as he asked this question already spoke volumes.  I just shook my head ever so slightly.  “Go get my breakfast ready right now!”   

I hightailed it out of his presence straightaway to the Officer’s Saloon.  My heart was pounding but I was smiling.  Do I take the liberty of changing out of my drenched clothes first?  I say only a fool would not. 

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Our issue with the boiler played role in the loss of propulsion / without its own power, we had little protection against the battering waves and aggressive winds.

50. An Unexpected Yet Benevolent Layover in Honolulu

🛳 My ship ticket was booked through only to Hawaii and then

The ship arrived in Honolulu and I was at the thrilling roundabout in my life; time to redeem my sealed envelope which carried the efforts I had been working on most of my life.  Standing in the immigration line still on board the ship, my adrenaline was certainly raised a bit more.

There was just a few of us and now it was my turn to come forward.  The sealed envelope was opened and along with my passport, I was recognized, stamped and received.  “Welcome to the United States.” the immigration officer said to me pleasantly.

I was given my golden ticket (legal resident-green card) and now I could leave the SS Orsova.  As I disembarked the ship, there was a line of island girls dressed in their grass skirts ready to greet us.  Aloha!  they warmly said to each one of us along with a few extra Hawaiian words I cannot recall exactly.  

Perhaps loaa i kou makaikai as they placed fresh and fragrant flower leis around our necks, each with a sweet and lovely smile.  Aloha indeed!  🌸

Going into the Customs Building I found a big locker to store my suitcase.  My flight was not until the night time so first thing on my to-do list, food!  

I called a cab and asked the driver to take me to a decent and nearby Chinese restaurant.  The man’s attitude was pleasantly laid back and he was more than willing to help.  He promptly delivered me to a street where there were a few eateries; I didn’t miss the Chinese writing on many of the business signs.  

I began to look into the windows hoping one would call to me quickly.  As I was looking into the window of this one restaurant, I saw how quickly the seats were filling – it was lunch time and now I am even more hungry because I’m smelling the food too.  

Remember I just disembarked a ship where I was constantly being fed!

As though breaking into my thoughts of a delicious lunch, the front door opened and a caucasian man stepped right up to me.  He said, “ I see you there and I think you were hoping to come in and have some lunch, am I right?”

I replied without thinking twice, ‘Yes I’d love to but I see there are no open tables.’  He smiled and said “Don’t worry about that, if you want you can join me as there’s no one else at my table.”  

I didn’t have to mull anything over when it came to the increasing sounds in my tummy and so with a gracious smile I went in with him, following him to his table.  We sat down and he handed me a menu.  He mentioned his order was already placed.  Right away I saw a couple of items I desired and ordered them.  My food came shortly after his hit the table.

He introduced himself as a basically retired U.S. Marine, having served during WWII and a few years after that; beyond Pearl Harbor, he loved the islands and decided to plant himself in Honolulu.  

This kind-hearted American man, James, would’ve been my dad, by age I mean to say.  He was at least 25 years my senior.  We enjoyed a wonderful conversation over lunch, and yes the food was good too.

James asking me where I was from, where I was going ….I told him I was from Fiji and he said, “Oh I know Fiji!”  and I told him San Francisco is where that evening’s flight would take me.  

Seeming slightly alarmed James said, “Oh Blue you’re gonna freeze over there, especially coming in from Fiji.”  I had to laugh at his unexpected concern for me.  

He thought to tell me that San Francisco is definitely into winter now and it’s very cold there.  He then made suggestion that I consider remaining in Hawaii, “…at least through the winter and let the western U.S. warm up a bit!” he said with a chuckle.

I thought that a marvelous plan but then I had to say, ‘I think that’s a great idea but I haven’t anywhere to stay, I mean to say I hadn’t planned on a detour.”

James didn’t miss a beat. “You should stay with me.  I have a big house and it’s only my wife and our dog.”  Say, that’s a fabulous idea I thought and said as much with a grateful smile.  I think he would read my face.

I agreed and we talked more about what he wanted to do to help me; he seemed to enjoy this very much.  James said he could take me to the office of employment and that he’d help me get on my feet in no time.  “At least we can try, right?” he offered.

James wouldn’t let me buy my lunch treating me as his guest.  That was such a nice thing and I was feeling comfortable.  We left the restaurant together and as we walked towards the parking lot, we stopped at a phone booth to ring up his wife.  He told her he was bringing home a friend for a couple of nights.

We first went to recover my suitcase and then he took me straightway to the Employment Office.  “Might as well get you registered right away.  We wouldn’t want you to miss any opportunities.”  Thankfully that was a fairly quick and easy process.

James drove me around the town, pointing out this and that and Pearl Harbor too as we went by it.  James told me he was grateful to have survived it but was deeply saddened by the losses, some very personal.  

After leaving the town area we began ascending the hills towards his home.  It was such a beautiful neighborhood, lots of green of course and spacious lots with large ranch-style homes neatly placed upon them.

I turned to look in the direction from where we came and the view was sprawled out clear down to the Pacific Ocean, truly a brilliant blue from that vantage point!

We approached a driveway which he turned the car into.  As we pulled in a car was pulling out.  “That would be my wife.  She’s gone to visit her family.”  He stopped in the driveway up by the front door.  

I’m sure you can picture this in your mind’s eye;  the circular drive, the small flower garden in the center and the relaxed laid out home, glorious in its day, fantastic today too I’m sure!  We got out and walked into the house.

James warmly welcomed me into his home, “Well here’s the house.  I’ll first take you to your room so you can leave your suitcase there and I’ll show you around.”  

As I am experiencing an American’s home for the first time in my life, I was wowed to say the least.  It was something like a palace of sorts to me; so spacious and well, just beautiful.  He showed me the bathroom, the kitchen, the den … do you remember dens?

He then walked over to his telephone and I took a seat nearby; at this point we were taking care of changing my flight.  He called Pan Am and after a few words like calling on behalf of his friend who’s feeling under the weather and needs to cancel his flight, it was done.

I remember thinking to myself about who this man James really is when I heard him say to the person on the other end of the line something about his military status, it somehow reassured me in a calm way; it was like he was well known or something.

While we sat in the kitchen I had a soft drink although he had offered me the run of his entire liquor cupboard.  “We had a fabulous dinner last night, are you interested or should we go out?”  James asked me.  

My honest thoughts; I didn’t have a lot of money in my pocket, he had already treated me so kindly and anyway I was feeling tired, I said whatever he had would be perfect.

He attacked the refrigerator breaking out all the goodies.  There was a large, neatly wrapped in aluminum foil package he opened up.  It contained several delicious looking pork chops.  All the trimmings were there and we feasted.  

🇺🇸 Good choice to stay in – first American dinner in an American’s home.

All in all it was a nice night.  I enjoyed it very much including an evening stroll around his property.  And this time I enjoyed looking at the island lights from the opposite end of where I had seen them before, for the very first time; I’ll never forget that feeling, that sight.

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James:  fictitious name for the real mcCoy!  What a sincere, caring human being and what a perfect welcome into American life!  

Sometimes we just cannot help but to say with a twinkle in our eye and a fondness in our heart, “Ah, the good ‘ol days!