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. 



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.

5.   🙈 A Jungle Symphony Especially For Me 

I can remember a time when I was about 14-15 years of age; I was still fascinated by the big screen.  In this instance I refer to the Indian movies that played only on Thursday and Sunday evenings.

The reel-to-reel films arrived from India or England either by ship or aeroplane and these were the selected nights of showing.  Clearly we had to wait awhile for the new release to get to our little corner of the South Pacific.  Once they arrived at the cinema house, the advertising could then go up for the next week or so and I’d make my plans to attend!

I was hell-bent on going to the cinema no matter the consequences!  In this case the consequence always came afterwards, when it was time to go home.  Yes I would have to face the squishy unpaved, shadowy and extremely long path which -if I survived- would lead me home.

I’d take this dark path, the only way leading home in fact and 9 out of 10 times I was walking it alone.  A simple fact one could count on most every night was at the very least, a solid rainstorm with or without a good wind accompanying it.

I knew full well I’d have to face this night path every time I went to the cinema yet I remained a stubborn lad who faithfully followed his heart’s current desires.

In the evenings the movie always started at 8 o’clock and would end between 10:45 and 11 at night.  You could probably set your watch by the night’s rain, which started as the show was letting out.  After all when you’re sitting in the warm theatre, captivated by the big screen you don’t fret about what comes next when it’s all over and the time has come to go home.

We’d take the last bus of the night aptly named the Hospital Bus due to its routing which serviced the hospital along the way.  Mine was nearly the last stop in the residential area.  I got off near the ditch at the bush illuminated by a street lamp on the roadside.  This was it!

As the bus drove off into the dark night, I was left standing with my umbrella somewhat protecting me ☔️ and I’d quickly glance at the finely built house with its electric porch light on the other side of the street: hmmm I could be  🏡  already.  Oh never mind.

I quickly turn my attention to the muddy path over here knowing this was my way and proceed to roll up my trousers to knee length, removing my sandals before entering the field that lay before me.  I switch on my torch with its dimmed light, it was still faithful.

I was only a few moments into the dark walk when my hearing was assaulted by thousands of cricket bugs, a choir of croaking 🐸 and the sobering moos of the cows in the field.

Picture if you will, a cow is sitting down in some random pasture location minding her own business just chewing away at the cud and I unknowingly approach her position.  She suddenly stands up – equally startled as me I think- and the brush that’s touching her manages to crackle, even as it is wet with rain.  Although I cannot see the cow, as it’s so dark, I do see shadowy figures that I’d rather not see.

Add to that the sound of my own bare feet squishing through the mud, the feel of my heart pounding in my chest and then the occasional frog decides to leap across my path, sometimes ending up either on or under my bare feet… aaagh!   Squish!

This wasn’t at all helpful especially when my senses were already heightened by the thick raindrops and *flying shadows and I thought for sure this was it; the ghosts were coming for me! ^^

I dare not direct my torch light away from the path in front of me because there was no telling what I might see surrounding me; I really didn’t want to know what else was out there.  My steps increased in speed.  And while there were just a few other homes around the area (very few and far between), their house lights were off as they were already in bed or gone out; this wasn’t useful to me here at all!

I remember these fairly large trees in that field -we called them ivy trees but I’m not certain what they’re known by in English- and sitting in those trees were the **oolooos, the watchful onlookers 🦉 who couldn’t help but to hoot incessantly after darkness arrived.

Oh this was all just too much for my youthful imagination and I could hear them asking me, “Whoooo goes there?”  Of course the wind seemed to pick up and the cricket bugs were going at it.

I thought I was hearing the whoosh of flapping wings, the jungle sounds surrounded me and my steps were becoming more slippery with the deluge of rain beating the already mudded earth!  It was time for this boy to run like hell and just as fast as I could towards the safety I knew I’d find at home.

Whew!  Finally that comfort comes -once more and thankfully I might add- when I’ve reached the end of that nearly one mile stretch and I can see my mother standing at the window with the lantern in her hand, as though she were watching out.  My heart knows she definitely was waiting for me.

She opened the door as soon as she caught sight of me and as I arrive at the front of the house, she reminds me to wash and dry my feet.  There’s an outside tap next to the porch, so I wash and dry as I’m catching my breath.  I go up the porch and as I go through the door I cautiously look behind me to be certain I’ve not been followed!

“Change into warm clothes and I’ll get some hot food for you.”  These words she lovingly repeated to me every time I put myself into this situation.  She also never failed to tell me, “I told you so!”

I am proud to say that I know how much my parents loved me.  I always felt it, I always knew it.

It was around the summer 1951 when my father passed away.



*    flying shadows – 🦇

^^ Quite common in the Indian homes (speaking of the ones here in Fiji of course) are tales of spirits; ghost stories and a lot of them. Oft times these stem from tragedies, sad, scary and experienced sometimes by those known as well as unfamiliar to anyone kind of stories.

** oolooos – owls