105. Catch and Release of a Different Kind

I only noticed what developed next by being conveniently located when the MPs boarded our ship.  This certainly wasn’t an action to be announced especially if they were trying to be secretive or something.  

I did speculate to myself if they were to sail with us and if so, why?

Not much later I learned why the MPs had two of my fellow crew members in handcuffs and were escorted off of the ship.  It seems these two apparently couldn’t resist some of the ‘goodies’ which they’d come across from their land excursions and so, brought these illegal items on board.  

Clearly the authorities found out and suffice to say, the matter was taken under immediate control.  These two young men sadly would miss the boat.  And that was that.

The remainder of the evening and that night seemed rather quiet.

Our Captain had already left the saloon; the Officer’s promptly finished their morning meal and made way to their posts.  Breakfast -mine included- was complete.  I quickly cleared the dishes and postponed setting up for lunch. 

And I put off my normal routine of cabin tidying in lieu of making an appearance on the outside decks.  I had heard Skip and his Officers speaking of the release from drydocks and it fascinated me.  I really wanted to see this.

It was time for the braces to let loose the Trans Western and set her free into the Pacific Ocean by way of first slipping her into Tokyo Bay.  The Harbor Master was already up on the Bridge with our Skipper and his crew.

We were sliding backwards, very carefully until our ship was completely in the water.  I really couldn’t feel anything.  I don’t know but I expected a different sensation in my legs maybe?  I was told this was due to not having a load of cargo on board.  

And again, me without a camera!  Well, I definitely committed this (and so many other once-in-my-lifetime events) to memory.  Undoubtedly I’d never get to witness something like this, any of this, ever again.

I looked around for a moment at all who assembled -those who could be- on decks and we watched our own departure.  I know I was grabbing at the last eyesights of Japan that I possibly could.  

We shared our farewell with the dockyard crew … they waved us a goodbye and I’m certain I heard them cheering – perhaps for a job well done?  I certainly hoped so. 

The Trans Western was attached to two powerful tugboats by very strong, thick tow-lines on both the port and starboard.  All this time since we hit the water, our engines were idling as the ship was being pulled through the harbor waters within the bay.

I took notice of dozens if not hundreds of fishing boats lined up on either side of us and ready to go out for profitable ¥ fishing trips, I have no doubt.  Tokyo Bay being abundant in fish, I believe sea bass particularly, these boats wouldn’t have to venture too far out to fill their live-wells and purses too!  

Cormorants, some diving at the surface of the water for breakfast and a multitude of Gulls were loitering in the near distance and looking out for their fair share to be sure. 

Very slowly still, we were approaching the part of Tokyo Bay which became the Uraga Channel and that linked the bay to the mighty Pacific Ocean itself.  

It is here that I watched the Harbor Master climb down the rope ladder to board his own little boat (by comparison) for his return to Yokohama.  I intended to stay out here until the shorelines of Japan became fuzzy to my eye.

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94. Anchors Up! Onward to Subic Bay

Easy targets required a strategic move …

Our ship, along with several others were instructed to relocate immediately.  In the first place we were never in a favorable location along the Vietnamese coastline but there we were, sitting ducks just waiting to get blown out of the water.  With this sudden (?) urgency our ships made haste!  

Traveling over 1000 nautical miles and 4+ days later, we arrive at Subic Bay, an American Naval base in the Philippines.  Our ship would remain here for a few weeks; we were still loaded with the greater percentage of Napalm cargo.  

While docked here, my normal work routine continued and so did the shore visits.  I remember the first time out.  For a day trip into Manila, a bunch of us would gather to take an air-conditioned bus ride into the city.  Feeling excitement once more for a place I’d never been, I took a seat on the bus and for the most part, would quietly gaze out the window.  I looked back only for a moment to see my ship get left behind.

I admired the coconut trees (reminder of home) situated in the back and forefront of passing scenery along open spaces.  There were plenty of farm lands most of which were being toiled by beasts of burden & human labor alike.  

We passed a little village or three and the roads shaped up nicely.  Manila, she formed  gradually in the near distance.  In eager focus on what lay ahead, I noticed tall buildings rising as we drew near and before I knew it, we’d arrived.

There were these brightly painted bus-like modes of transportation driving all over the place and I tell ya, what a site to see!  At the very moment of my wonderment, I overheard someone on our bus say to another curious passenger, “…these are called Jeepney.”  Besides being colorful, there were balloons, flowerpots and toys on sticks hanging off the sides and well, so much more including people!

We get off somewhere in what felt like the middle of town and began walking around.  It didn’t take long at all to feel a bit weary in this heat.  We had been cruising in and out of shops and eventually our only focus became search for the nearest bar and frankly, that wasn’t hard to do.

I was all but soaking wet and yes, it was definitely time to have an ice cold beer.  Truth be told, one didn’t even have to walk anywhere, simply being outside was enough to do the trick!  We’d leave one bar to go into another couple of shops only to make our way to the next bar along an unplanned route.  It was just hot and I was constantly thirsty for the next cold beer.

Something else I can clearly recall is just how nice the people seemed to be.  I mean they had a relaxed feeling about them and a smile was received from nearly everyone I made eye contact with.

One week later we had to return to one of the Vietnamese ‘parking lots’ as our cargo was once again needed.

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90. Next Stop, Sài Gòn

After pulling up anchor, the Trans Western skirts Vietnamese coastline along the route towards Sài Gòn harbor and as before, we stayed away from the actual shoreline. Remember our cargo was not allowing us a near-to-the-shore ‘parking’ spot.

That first night we all stayed on board, no one left our boat.  However, the next day most of us were more than ready to get off the ship and explore this new frontier.  

Sài Gòn was a city larger than Quy Nhơn.  Streets, buildings, shops and hotels were bigger.  Some of the bars and cafés were of equal stature for the most part, perhaps with a little more flair and variety.

And hard to miss were the tanks and jeeps everywhere; a constant reminder that I was still in the middle of a war zone.  American soldiers strapped with weapons were always visible. 

Occasionally we were stopped and asked for our identification.  We carried ID cards of the Merchant Marines (seaman). Let me tell you it was a bit intimidating being questioned by a guy with a loaded gun somewhat pointing at your persons, even if they are our own soldiers, which they were.

There were people walking around all over the city and some drove from here to there in their cars.  A good percentage of these people were dressed in western-world clothing, my guess is that I was seeing the French influence from when France occupied Việt Nam.  

Although the hotels, automobiles and restaurants were modern, I couldn’t help but notice the simple folk who stuck to their culture in everything they did, from the clothing they wore to the way some kept shop and definitely down to the street food preparation.

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