104. Goodbye Most Enjoyable Japanese Hospitality

I didn’t return to Tokyo.  I was happy enough to visit Yokohama here and there and then, only for day & evening excursions.  The decision to spend however many remaining nights we had in Japan on board the ship, I knew would be the right call.  

Reiterating here, I wasn’t going to miss the boat.  Under normal conditions, we’d always begin our next leg of the trip in the early morning hours and so, this way there would be no unpleasant surprises for me! 

While I was waking up in my cabin every morning, Skipper and most of the officers and crew were still spending their nights somewhere out there.

Myself and a few of the other crew members (foolish enough to be aboard when we should’ve been out painting the town!) under Phil’s directive authority had been assigned to put away the last of the freshly received food and some other supplies.  

This entailed going below decks.  Needless to say, I’d done this before but never would I be one to state taking a fancy to it.  This is where I label myself as claustrophobic.  

Deep freeze and the main storehouse were of course, down there, in the underbelly of the ship as far as I was concerned and so to go there, I must.  I will clearly state, 40 minutes was way too long!

Notice of the next departure schedule is always posted 24 hours in advance via the bulletin boards around the ship.  This of course offers the chance to collect absent crew members and make final preparations, among many other important & obvious reasons.


In this instance it was in the form of direct notification from the ship repair company. 

The Trans Western’s endorsement was posted to its immediate left.

注目する すべての修理は、今後24時間以内に完了します

TAKE NOTICE: ALL REPAIRS WILL BE COMPLETE WITHIN THE NEXT 24 HOURS

The late afternoon, early evening hours would bring in the remaining crew.  I thought to myself, someone had to have gone out and sent word across the land about the Trans Western’s anticipated departure.  

I had a last moment’s thought to go out and off the ship for the final time before leaving our Japanese dry dock.  I wanted to experience the staggering scope of this ship I’d been traveling the Pacific on, for one last time.

Down the gangplank I walked.  Once again I moved several yards away from the ship herself and then turned around to look upon the magnitude of this, soon to be floating again, steel vessel.  

Awestruck at its massiveness to be sure!  I thought to myself this must be at least as high as a 5 or 6 storied building.  If only I’d taken some pictures.  

The last of the crew was returning to the ship.

Back aboard the ship, I saw the Skip at dinner in the saloon.  With a grin upon his face he asked me, “Well Fiji, did you have a good time here in Japan?”  Just as a smile was escaping my lips and before I could give reply, he answered for me, “Awe, I know you did!”

Shortly after enjoying my own dinner and clearing the saloon, I saw the bulletin which announced, all repairs had been completed.  We were heading home by way of San Francisco. 

The Trans Western would depart first thing in the morning.   

I almost completely forgot about the postcards which I picked up in Tokyo!  I really wanted them to be mailed from Japan and so, I hurried off to write them out.  There was a bittersweet feeling as I wrote them.

I guess Phil just knew it would be like this; he told us there’d be a final mail pick-up this evening.  Turns out, this wasn’t the only thing going on this evening.  

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100. Yokohama, Japan

And I finally fell asleep.  

Whatever sounds I faintly heard lulled me off into slumber. This time it wasn’t to the gentle, rocking feel of a boat afloat. However, in the early hours of the morning I involuntarily tuned into the reverberation of muffled drilling and various sounds of the many repairs our ship would undergo.  What?!  7:30 already?

There’s approximately a dozen officers entering the saloon at once. Chatter is all about the room; remaining ever-attentive to the crew’s needs, all the while I’m captivated by their tales, presented in a medley of perspectives.  

I have to admit, the earlier part of the previous 55 hours was well, so full of adrenaline the likes of which before, I had never known.  Perhaps only the shaking tree, the dark & rainy field at midnight, the near drowning and the Marines’ guns aimed at me would come close.

It was now my turn to enjoy breakfast.  By now all of you know how I ordered.  Once again, what a one man feast!  These days I can get full just thinking about how I would eat in my youth.  

Next the dining saloon was refreshed for lunchtime and that meant it was time for me to think about this evening… anticipation of what Japan might have in store for me.  

I was informed that so far, we had this 1st evening off and overnight in town was approved if we wanted it.  I wanted it!

Back home, I had heard that it was ideal to tell a taxicab driver what I wanted.  They would take us to the very best and so for whatever that was worth, I was going to give it a shot!

The cab driver took myself and a fellow crew friend whom I’ll name as ‘Bill’, to a fairly nice looking hotel. We were received warmly *(not for a single moment discounting Omotenashi) by the front desk staff.  Undeniably Americans have American dollars.  

💵 I mention this because during my months spent throughout the Pacific, American dollars were very much desired and it was a language most everybody spoke.  

Heck! I can remember how excited I was as a young lad back in Fiji when the American G.I.s would place silver dollar coins on to the palm of my hand.  In return they received my lunch; delectable rolled up rotis filled with veg curries which my sister-in-law had lovingly prepared, fresh every day.  Okay end flashback.

It was only in a moment when two lovely young Japanese ladies in bright-colored Kimonos approached the front desk clerk.  He gave them our room keys.  They briefly spoke something to one another in Japanese.  

They gently took our overnight bags and turned to face us with beautiful smiles, motioning that we follow them.  We were escorted up a flight of stairs to the 2nd floor.  They let us into our room.  We noticed quickly this was a room that was divided into 2 areas with paper walls.

At this point we both thought they’d bow their way out of our room.  Instead they went into the bathroom area and began drawing two baths.  Bill and I curiously peered in behind them to see what they were up to. They each added bath salts and scents into the bath waters.  Use your imagination for a bit here.  

I will admit to a bashful bit of part surprise and part expectation.  We glanced at one another.  One of the two girls came out and said in as few English words as possible, to undress.  She pointed over towards the bathroom and said, “Bath.”

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* Omotenashi defines Japanese hospitality; anticipation of their guests’ needs with an undeniable attention to details

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.