99. Afloat, Towed and Finally Docked 🇯🇵

Our vessel was being washed with salty waves of the Philippine Sea as she pushed herself through this part of the Pacific Ocean.  I wondered how much longer till we’d reach our designated Japanese port of Yokohama.

Relief from the turbulent storm as well as from the Skip, it couldn’t come soon enough.  Our Captain has been fed and even better was that I would have my breakfast and boy did I savor the feast I requested!  The Officer’s saloon was empty save for this little brown man eating alone in a sea of white table linens.  I had what looked like a mini-banquet laid out for at least 2 or 3 but it was all mine.

CS Phil walked in, saw me tucking-in and with a grin he addressed me, “I see you’re enjoying your breakfast?  We’ve got a lot to do this morning so eat well and report to me just as soon as you’re finished in here!”  He knew, as did the Captain, they could count on me to be present and attend to my duties.  

A moment here and there to myself, they allowed me.  Ha ha! I remember one time when I slipped onto the Captain’s chair on the Bridge.  Whaat?!  I went in there to ask him a question, he wasn’t in there.  I had turned to walk out when I realised I was looking at his vacant chair.  I so wanted to see what it felt like to sit in it!  As I observed the present crew, they all had their focus out on the sea.

No further thought and I was in the chair!  Oh it felt real nice!  Truth?  I felt like a little kid playing Captain of his own ship!  I dare not stay perched too long, wouldn’t want to get caught!  

I kept a little stereo in the saloon and when no one else was around, I listened mostly to my Indian music cassette tapes.  I can fondly recall Captain occasionally coming down to the saloon to grab a coffee or something and if my music was playing, I’d see him enter the room bopping and groovin’ to the music’s beat.  

The expression on his face was as if there wasn’t a care for him in all the world … at least in that moment.  I can’t tell you how much delight this brought me.  It would be one of those feel good moments amidst such situations I found myself in!

As our ship traveled her hindered pace through the ocean, it would be just after midnight of the second night/third morning, four mighty strong towboats came out to us from Japan, to bring us the rest of the way in.  

I found myself going outside at least 3 times to watch these little (but very powerful) boats hauling us to safety!  It was about a 20 hour tow into the Yokohama Port.  Thank goodness the seas cooperated for a mainly uneventful tow.

With the patched-up holes, the busted boilers and the somewhat shakey disposition of our well-being it was good to see some excited hubbub begin to surface among a lot of the crew. 🎼 “These Boots Are Made For Walking” was once again blaring out of the father & son cabin.  Cold beers and happy conversations were passed all around.  

I took to my cabin fairly early that evening.  Dan, my cabinmate was in and out, visiting with his friends.  I just relaxed and enjoyed the calming float on the sea.

We arrived at Yokohama Harbor late that night. 

The two tugboats which were to either side had left us and the two in front brought us near to our parking spot for however long we’d have to be there.

Our ship was braced and tied in to place during the night while we slept.  Physical examination begins under the flood of lights so bright, one would mistake for daylight.

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横浜港  The port is located at a latitude of 35.27–00°N and a longitude of 139.38–46°E

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.

96. Office Furniture From France?

While I was busy vacationing at the Air Force Hospital, our remaining cargo of napalm had been unloaded.  There was of course no reason for us to be in the war zone any longer and within 24 hours of my return, we were on our way back to Subic Bay.  

I was already feeling better and looking forward to once again enjoying the beautiful people of the Philippines and possibly, just maybe someone would say, “We’re on our way back home.”  

The next morning after wrapping up breakfast, I was making my rounds about the ship when I discovered we’d just received orders to leave Subic Bay… first thing tomorrow.  Europe.  Whaat?

My ship had a bulletin board on the wall space just outside the Bridge.  The real important information would always be found here and that included our next destination.  There it was, freshly posted up on the board:   🇫🇷 France.

Guess it wasn’t in the cards for me or any of us this time … and it doesn’t look like I’ll be seeing my family anytime in the near future.   

Our now empty and -ready for whatever was next- cargo ship was in for a very long voyage.  Our ship’s mission was to retrieve remaining military equipment left behind after France withdrew themselves -formally that is- out of NATO’s integrated military structure, sending the headquarters over to Belgium.

As I understood it, France was the host country since 1952 and their President, Charles de Gaulle, gave foreign forces the ol’ dismissal letter; all were given one year to depart France.  

Based on whatever news tidbits I’d picked up here and there, de Gaulle wanted his country to be completely independent of any foreign military influences; such a sensitive issue to be sure.  

As we had a lot of American [Air Force] stuff over there, to include tons of office furniture (?) our cargo ships were empty, ready to repossess those jeeps and what-nots!  

As I stood on deck after lunch, I was looking out over the sea in gratitude, acknowledging that I was still alive and yes, in good health.  Well then, tomorrow shall bring on a new adventure and I’m ready!

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