Sunday, 29 January 2012

The near miss

The near miss
Early one morning, I climbed to the bridge of the ship to take my watch. Half asleep from being woken a few minutes before, and if the truth was admitted, from too much to drink the night before I looked around. It was a glorious night, one of those that people dream about when crossing the North Sea. The stars twinkled brightly in a cloudless sky and the sea was dead calm. Even though I was not mentally sharp, something alerted to my sleep deadened brain to danger. It is as though some sixth sense was working even though there was nothing to indicate that anything was wrong. My head twisted as I tried to make out what was out of place, my eyes checking all the instruments I could see and my ears straining to sense any difference in the peculiar sounds which emanate from a ship. Everything appeared in order. Then my eyes rested the second mate in the gloom of the bridge. He was standing rigid at the front of the wheelhouse, staring out at the sea ahead of the ship. Some lights were visible close to the starboard bow, and my brain suddenly registered that they were from another ship. 
I reacted instantly and automatically, my long years of training and experience taking over. Suddenly I was wide awake, the adrenaline causing any lingering sleep to vanish. Rushing to the front of the bridge, I grabbed a lever and changed the steering gear from automatic into manual. I yelled at the second mate to take over the wheel. He came out of his trance at the sound of my voice and rushed to the stand by the wheel. 
" Hard a port!" I yelled even louder as I came to terms with the true situation. The Charles Winter was only a few yards from another coaster and in a few minutes we were going to smash into it's stern. " Are we overtaking or not? " I yelled never taking my eyes of the rusty grey hull getting ever closer. 
" Overtaking, " the second mate replied in a voice which quivered with fear. 
As the bow of the Charles Winter swung away from the other ship, I yelled for the wheel to be put midships and raced out onto the bridge wing to watch our stern come round. The aft ends of the two ships were now closing each other very fast and I yelled for the wheel to be put hard to starboard, towards the other vessel. The two ships were now running parallel and water was being thrown into the air as it was squeezed between us. Looking over to the other ship, I caught a glimpse of a white face looking out of their wheel house but had no time to wave. Once the two ships were running exactly parallel, I yelled for the second mate to steer a steady course hoping all the time, the two sterns would not be pulled together. As the bow of the Charles Winter edged passed the other ship, I waited holding my breath. 
There was nothing I could do other than pray the two ships would stay apart long enough for me to take the next action. The second mate was fighting the wheel, trying to hold the Charles Winter steady while casting fearful glances out of the wheelhouse at the other ship. 
When I judged the time was right, I yelled for the second mate to steer to starboard, despite his look of horror, across the bows of the other ship. I ignored his look and concentrated on what I was trying to do. As our bow turned towards the other ship, I wondered whether I had judged things right.
Actually, thinking back there was nothing else I could have done because the sterns were starting to close. Our stern started to move away from the stern of the other ship and our speed was carrying us round his bow.  It seemed to go on for ever and I must have stood holding my breath for what was an impossible time, watching the bow of the other ship slowly pass down our side and then slip away very close astern. 
" Put her back on course," I ordered my voiced drained of all feeling. I sank down against the front of the bridge wing, my hand gripping the rail tightly in an effort to stop the shaking of my arms. My legs were like jelly and I honestly thought I was going to collapse onto the deck. Never in my whole life had I been so scared, never had I used up so much nervous energy in so short a time. I felt as though I had stood and faced death, only to be reprieved. That is not so strange because there was every chance of the Charles Winter exploding if we had hit the other ship. Still shaking almost uncontrollably, I managed to pull myself upright and somehow walked into the wheelhouse. 
The sight of the second mate standing there, his face chalky white and his hand pushing nervously back a lock of his hair from his eyes snapped my control. All the bitterness I had been feeling towards my life irrationally focused on the young man in front of me and I exploded. 
" You bloody idiot! " I shouted even though he was right next to me. I was so beside myself with rage, I could not stop myself. " What the hell were you trying to do? You could have lost us both our certificates not to mention our lives. Standing there like that staring out to sea and waiting for something to happen is the worst thing you could have done. Do you call yourself qualified!? I would make sure you never set foot on a ship again if I had the power. What the hell were the examiners thinking of when they gave you a ticket?  If I was you, I'd get out of my sight now and make sure you keep out of my way for the rest of the trip." 
I turned suddenly at the sound of a quiet voice behind me. " There is no need for you to manhandle my second mate. " The Captain was standing in the entrance to the bridge frowning. It was then I realised I was holding the second mate by the coat collar and shaking him from side to side. Sheepishly I let go and pushed him away. 
" Go down to your cabin now and I will be down shortly, " the captain said to the second mate who left the bridge as fast as his legs could carry him. 

Tennis v Football

I have just watch Jokovick play Nadal in the final of the Australian Open Tennis. After almost six hours of playing they finally got a winner. Both had played long matches a few days before. How can football club managers moan about their over paid stars having to play two matches a week? Somebody like Andy Carrol can lumber round the field for three quarters of an hour, resting between short bursts of activity and then sit in the dressing room for twenty minutes. The footballers will have to learn from the tennis players and give up all this whinging!

Friday, 27 January 2012

Banker's Bonus

Here we go again. Somebody earning over £1000000 a year needs a bonus of £1000000 to get by. Why does he merit this bonus? Because he has saved!?* RBS. On what criteria is his bonus measured? Lending money to small and medium sized businesses. Failed. Keeping the share price for the nation high. Failed. Making the bank more efficient by sacking staff. For those on high pay success, to the ordinary worker Failed. In almost every criteria he has failed. Still he thinks he is worth a bonus of over £1000000. Where is the morality in all of this? Do those who have a chance to grab an unfair share of the cake have no idea of how the rest of the people in the country think. They operate in their enclosed bubble mixing with similarly selfish people, thinking that they are worth 800X more than the average worker. It is said that they take the risks What risks? The boss of RBS should take the moral line and forgo his bonus.

Return of the Exiles

The Return Of The Exiles

Book 2 of The Rombuli Saga

The Empire is in trouble. It looks like all its administration is disintegrating. There had been no communication with the Parison for almost three years. People reported that strange creatures had been seen on the borders. Sending troops to investigate has proved futile. As soon as they cross the border of Sardonia, nothing has been heard of them again. Latask, the Covenenter, is scared which is not like one of his kind. To Edward Eastland they have always appeared in control.
A Council Meeting is called by Rulask the Governor to discuss what is happening. An idea emerges. From this the plan is to hold onto Rombuli while somebody finds out what is happening. Everybody agrees that it is a desperate measure but there appears to be no alternative.
Edward Eastland is given the task of finding the Walloonian army at a place called Bryants Ridge. There he will find two more Covenenters and will attempt to enlist their help. It means he has to leave his new wife Kitty in Nimmar. He must rely on her brother Boric and his friend Tag to get him through potentially enemy territory. In the event, they becomes cut off from Rombuli. With his friends Boric Borovic and Tag, he sets out to find his way back home by a circuitous route.
Edward wonders whether his powers, magic as Tag calls it, will help him and keep them safe. Will he learn more about the extent of his powers as he overcomes any obstacles in their way? Are there forces with greater powers than him waiting to prevent him reaching his goal? During the journey, will his friends keep following his lead no matter the dangers they encounter? 
As they set out they have to face the possibility that the Empire will no longer exist when the get back home.

The Return Of The Exiles, Book 2 of The Rombuli Saga,  is a sequel to Book 1 of The Rombuli Saga - The Teacher of the Rombuli.

The Return Of The Exiles can be downloaded from Amazon for Kindle and other platforms price $3:99.
Soon to be published as a paperback with CreateSpace.

The Teacher Of The Rombuli also can be downloaded from Amazon for Kindle and other platforms price $3:99.

Pre Pack Administrations

Once more we are confronted with the British Government looking after their own. Pre Pack Administrations allow directors of struggling companies to ditch their liabilities and rise pheonix like from the wreckage. A buyer can be found secretly for the company and the creditors are then left high and dry with no redress. Often the original owners then resume their control of the now debt free company. 
It is the small creditor who loses out. To the insolvency practitioner these debs are individually small. To the plumber, electrician and cleaning company they can be huge. In fact in many cases the non payment can be the difference between staying in business or crumbling.
These agreements must be regulated and creditors given adequate notice of their likely difficulties. The people who have run the company into insolvency must be barred from having any more part to play in the ownership or running of the company. They do not lose out but gain by having their incompetence covered up by the insolvency practitioners.
In the old saying of the public:


The Storm

The wind howled out of the northeast sending the snow horizontally across the hatchcovers. Curtains of spray and tons of solid water, forming ice on the rigging and coating everything in a white translucent sheen, crashed over the ship as it ran before the wind. Like a toy boat tossed about in a toddlers bath tub, the Arrow pitched and rolled, rushing forward on the crest of each huge wave only to crash with a shudder which vibrated along the length of the ship as the wave passed and the bow slammed into the sea. Wires once the size of a finger now started to look the size of an arm and the frozen spray formed tattered banners of some mediaeval army on the lifeboat tackles over the boat deck. The snow did not settle on anything, blown away into the dimness beyond the ship by the strength of the wind.
Standing on the bridge wing with the snow coating the backs of our fur lined coats and stiffening the leather of our hats, Captain Ross and I looked anxiously out into the murk but could see nothing beyond a few yards ahead of the bow. The ship shuddered as another wave washed across the deck, adding more ice to the equipment, the rigging and the hatch covers. The wave raced foaming white away into the gloom and the almost horizontal snow. Even the lookout on the other bridge wing was hard to distinguish against his surroundings covered in snow as he was.
“ We have to turn into the Gulf Of Finland,” the Captain remarked calmly looking back at the waves coming out of the snow from the direction he wanted to steer.
“ Do you think she will come round?” I asked trying to keep my voice as calm as that of Captain Ross but casting a nervous glance in the direction of the waves.
“ Your guess is as good as mine, Mate but we have to try.” Captain Ross grimaced. “ Go and warn everybody to hang on to something fixed. I am afraid this is going to be rough.”
Captain Ross walked purposefully into the wheelhouse and positioned himself by the engine telegraph. I followed and noted in passing that the wheelman was fighting to keep the ship on something like a steady course, the wheel spinning back and forth in his hand. Picking up the microphone, I advised all the crew to hold onto something immovable, hearing the metallic tones of my voice echoing through the corridors of the ship
Clamping his pipe firmly between his teeth, Captain Ross gave the order to the wheelman, never taking his eyes off the sea. “ Port ninety degrees!”
He turned the wheel, holding tightly to the spokes until his knuckles were white. The bow started to turn to port. The wind screamed even loader through the open door of the wheelhouse. Those on the bridge hardly noticed the sound. At the same time, the ship rolled violently. The movement of the Arrow was like a corkscrew causing the structure to grunt and groan. Soon the ship was heeling more and more to starboard as each wave swept over the decks. When almost side on to the howling wind, the bow stopped turning. The ship heeled over even further until those on the bridge were clinging onto the handrails. Then the bow fell away from its heading and the waves were battering the ship in such a way that I thought it was not going to come back upright.
With obvious reluctance, Captain Ross gave the order to turn back. At first nothing happened but then in a rush, the ship turned away from the wind. With what sounded like a sigh, the Arrow continued her ahead long rush before the raging sea, the waves once more lifting the stern and almost flinging the ship forward.
All of the time, the snow continued to rush horizontally passed across the wheelhouse door and across the bridge wing. As though with a mind of its own, the Arrow sailed through that howling wind, with spray and snow restricting visibility to a few metres. The noise of the groaning structure, the violent vibrations felt through the feet and the sickening lurches where at times the ship felt as though it was not going to come upright beat at my senses.
The wheelman stood stiff legged and fought the ship through the wheel trying to keep a steady course. My face was highlighted by the glow of the radar as I fought down the building panic as I watched the echo of the approaching land. Staring one moment out into the gloom and the next at the echo sounder, the third mate tried to keep his voice untroubled as he related the lessening depth of water under the keel. Like a statue carved out of wood, Captain Ross, gripping the rail with his fur lined mittens, stood on the bridge wing, pipe clamped to his teeth staring at the ice accumulating on the structure and rigging.
Suddenly the snow was no longer hurtling passed the wheelhouse door horizontally but was falling much closer to vertically than before. At the same time, the wind appeared to have dropped and the sea had moderated a trifle. The third mate announced that he thought he saw the beam of a lighthouse on the port bow but could not be certain. On hearing this, Captain Ross strode into the wheelhouse and consulted the chart.
“ How far do you make it to the shore?” he asked me frowning.
“ Five miles.” I replied looking up from the radar.
“ Depth?” he barked at the third mate.
“ Fifteen fathoms and shallowing.” There was a hint of hysteria in the third mates voice.
“ Now is the time to alter course,” the Captain remarked. “ We do not have much leeway. Third Mate, get everybody to hold on. I will turn to starboard this time, hopefully away from the shore.”
I had to admire the way the Captain still managed to sound calm, as though he was in complete control.
The third mate picked up the microphone, announced that they were about to turn the ship and told everybody to hold on. Like mine had before, his metallic sound echoed through the ship.
With a last look back at the raging sea, Captain Ross gave the order to turn the ship to starboard. The wheelman turned the wheel and in silence we all held tight to the rail and watched. The bow turned slowly to the right, hit a wave and came back to port. With a roar that wave passed and the bow was turning at a giddying pace to starboard only to slam into another wave and stop dead in its tracks. The bow came back a little to port but had I noted that the Arrow had turned a lot more to starboard than it was being pushed back to port.
As though to emphasise the precarious nature of their plight, the ship rolled violently as she came beam onto the wind making the watchers cling ever harder to the rails. There was the sound of breaking crockery and Captain Ross muttered something about bang goes my afternoon tea. For one horrible, breathtaking moment at which the thought that this might be the end flashed through my mind, the Arrow hung side on to the wind and waves heeled over at an impossible angle. Then with what sounded like a relieved whoosh, the bow turned, the ship came back upright with a rush and heeled over the other way.
Now the Arrow was heading into the wind and was riding the waves in a way for which she was designed. Captain Ross unclasped his pipe from his jaw and looked around as though awaking from a nightmare. Almost gently, he gave the order to steer a north easterly course, ordered the engine to be slowed so that the ship did not pound into the waves too much and looked out over the decks.
Turning to me, he said with a relieved grin, “ You had better get some of the crew turned out to chip the ice off the deck, Chief Officer. While you and the crew are down there, I will try to avoid too much water coming aboard though it might be a good idea to wear safety harnesses. When things calm down a little, join me for a drink in my cabin.”
The ship still bounced and shuddered through the waves but there was a feeling that we were once more in control.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

War Horse

Went to see the film War Horse last night. Judging by the silence of the audience it was very entertaining. I thought it was well acted and cast.
One criticism is that the start was rather like a chocolate box picture. It was like an Americans idea of what the rural English village and farm looked like in 1914. The houses were too smart, the people were two clean. Then the ending with the sun setting over the ridge and Joey coming back to the farm. A bit like a western.
Maybe it was because I saw the stage play with the puppets and missed these. If you can see the stage version I would urge you to go.
Overall an entertaining evening.

Friday, 20 January 2012

The girl in the white dress

The San Fortunato arrived in Balak Papan, Borneo, late one evening as the big red ball of the sun was setting into the dark green of the jungle. The ship’s orders from the company were to load fuel oil for Port Headland in Australia.
As soon as the ship docked, the agent boarded and informed the Chief Officer that the cargo would not be ready to load for two days. In normal circumstances, the ship would arrive in a port, load the cargo in twenty four hours and depart. The delay in getting the cargo ready had some compensation for the crew. It meant that  they had the opportunity to relax and a chance for some time ashore.
The weather was glorious the next morning after breakfast when I took over the managing of the ship from the Chief Officer. First, I had a quick stroll round the decks to make sure all was in order before returning to my cabin to enter information in the safety log. The phone rang in the middle of noting fire drills, lifeboat inspections and exercises, fire fighting equipment maintenance and lifejackets.
“ Good morning Third Mate,” It was the Captain sounding amused and cheerful. “ Mr. Bolton, the Managing Director of Eastern Operations, is visiting the ship for lunch. He will be accompanied by his aide and his daughter. She has requested to be shown round the ship. As you are the youngest officer, you will be the ideal man for that job.”
“ Do I have to?” I asked, imagining a morning spent in the company of such a girl. “ She will be impossible. Educated at some private boarding school. We will have nothing in common. Why not ask the second mate?  He mixes with people like her all the time.”
The Captain laughed. “ This is an order, Third Mate, not a request. I have asked the chief officer to look after the ship while you are entertaining Mr. Bolton's daughter. Try not to upset her with too much of your social comment!”
As I put the phone down, I had a mental picture of the Captain chuckling to himself about how I would be uncomfortable showing this teenager round the ship. I sighed, anticipating the morning was not going to be much fun for me.
Later that morning,  a sailor opened my cabin door after knocking loudly.  “ Third Mate. There are couple of official looking cars approaching the ship along the jetty.  I think it would be a good idea if you were on deck to greet whoever is in those cars when they arrive.”
Standing at the top of the gangway a few minutes later, I watched curiously as two Mercedes cars approached along the jetty. They stopped at the bottom of the gangway. Three white shirted, dark trousered  Indonesian men got out of the second car and adjusted their sun glasses. They spread out along the jetty facing away from the ship and the cars. Like the bosun who was standing by my side, I laughed out loud. It was straight out of one of those B gangster movies I showed to the crew while the ship was at sea. 
Once the bodyguards were in place, the doors of the lead black car opened and a man got out. He was tall with slicked back grey hair and glasses, dressed in an immaculately cut tropical suit and shiny shoes. As soon as he alighted out of the car, he placed a panama hat on his head. Trailing him, a younger man carrying a brief case and dressed in a short sleeved white shirt and white trousers emerged. Finally, a girl followed. From where I stood she looked about fourteen and my heart sank. Her brown hair glistened in the sunlight and like her father, she donned a hat as soon as she was out of the car. She wore a short white dress and white sandals. This was the girl I was going to have to show round the ship. The duty seaman stood politely at the foot of the gangway ready to help if needed. I noticed that like all the seamen who had stopped their work to watch, he ogled the girl.
Mr. Bolton ignored the duty seaman and climbed onto the gangway unaided. The girl and the man with the briefcase followed. When they reached the deck where I was standing, Mr. Bolton nodded to me.
“ Show me the way to the Captain's cabin, Third Mate,” he ordered without so much as a goodday. His accent was clipped and what I regarded as upper class. 
The girl looked at me with large brown eyes. Close up, she was pretty with a good figure and was older than the fourteen I had first estimated. Her expression was that adopted by the local Lady of the Manor for one of the local peasants she happened to meet. The next few hours were not going to be pleasant, I concluded
“ This way, Sir,” I answered indicating the ladder leading to the accommodation deck. As he followed me, he was looking round the ship as though checking that all was in order. The girl looked right ahead. The man with the briefcase trailed in their wake mopping his forehead with a white handkerchief.
After showing them to the Captain's cabin, I returned to the deck and walked round the ship. As everything was in order, I returned to my cabin and the safety log. I had not been there for long when the phone rang.
“ Come to my cabin and collect Mr. Bolton's daughter, Third mate.” It was the Captain and he still sounded amused. 
I grunted into the phone but dutifully climb the ladder to his cabin. Deep within myself I was cursing the Captain. How was I going to show this apparently bored, spoiled girl around the ship without saying something out of place or upsetting her? I imagined the rest of the crew laughing behind my back at their egalitarian Third Mate looking after a girl from a very privileged background.
Mr. Bolton smiled when I entered the Captain's cabin. “ Lydia is ready to be shown round the ship. I will leave her in your capable hands.”
Lydia climbed to her feet, smoothed down her white, short dress and placed her sun glasses on her small nose. She was almost as tall as me.
I led the way out onto the boat deck and waited for her. The sun was high in the sky and the jungle looked particularly green across the river from the berth. Heat haze distorted the trees and the boats drifting with the current further down the river.
“ Well Miss Bolton,” I said smiling,” What would you like to see?”
She looked at me, though I could not read her expression with her eyes hidden by dark glasses.
“ If we are to spend the next hour in each others company, you had better call me Lydia,” she said without a flicker of emotion.
“ Eddie,” I replied.
She shrugged. “ Daddy said you would show me all over the ship.  Lead on McDuff.”
Taking her instructions literally, I led on. Viciously ignoring her white dress and sandals, I started with the engine room. Well not exactly ignored the white dress but took a certain pleasure in the thought that she might learn what dirt was all about. I know now this was being petty and she most likely knew what dirt was like from mucking out her horses. She listened politely as the engineer told her about the boilers and the turbines. Followed me down to the propellor shaft and the steering engine room. Going back up on deck I climbed the ladder behind her. The dress was so short I had a good view of her sturdy legs and floral panties. Stop these lewd thoughts, I seemed to hear my mother saying.
Then to the galley to glimpse lunch being prepared and the dining room. Down the corridor to the games room. I followed this by walking along the deck to the focastle, the anchors and the chain locker. What amazed me was that despite my best efforts, when we emerged back on deck again, she appeared as clean as when we started.
Finally I led her onto the bridge. We lent over the chart table looking at the charts of the area. Rapidly I showed her the wheel and the magnetic compass on the top deck. Lastly we went to the radio office and the sparks explained the wireless system. I had reluctantly to admit that though I might have been prejudiced against her at first, by now the atmosphere between us was much friendlier.
We stood on the bridge wing looking over the deck when we had finished. “ Would you like to come to my cabin for a drink before you go back to your father?” I asked tentatively.
For the first time that morning, she smiled. “ That would be nice. What can you offer?”
“ I have beer, fruit juice, coke or gin.”
“ A beer would be fine.”
She looked curiously round my small cabin when I showed her inside and sat her down in the chair. After I had served the beer, we talked about ourselves. I found out that she had lived a sheltered, rarified life compared to mine. It sounded great but there were drawbacks. Her father and mother had moved around the world on company orders. Lydia had been deposited in various boarding schools for most of her life. Then in the holidays, if she could not join her parents, she would stay with relations. I started to feel sorry for her.
“ I take my A levels next year,” she remarked which told me she must be seventeen. “ If I get good grades I will be off to Oxford. I already have the promise of a college place.”
“ What will you study?” I asked being polite.
“ Ancient history.” She smiled. “ There is no need to to pretend interest. Daddy cannot order you to listen to me or take an interest I what I am doing.”
“ I was enjoying hearing about your life,” I remarked truthfully.
“ I did enjoy you telling me about what it is like going away to sea. I have only known one other seaman and he never said much about his life away, Besides he was older than me and treated me like a little girl. He works for the company. Vincent Burke.”
I laughed. “ We have a mutual acquaintance then. I was his cadet on the Halvid a couple of years ago.”
“ You know him then? I met him a few times at my Uncle's house for parties and weekends. What do you mean you were his cadet?”
“ On that ship each cadet was assigned to one of the officers and we had to follow them around and learn about their job. We ran errands for them and did the bits they found either boring or dirty. Actually that is not fair as far as Vince Burke was concerned. He is a gentleman and treated me like a friend. He is the only officer I have sailed with who appeared to know rich and aristocratic people in every port we went to. Sometimes he would take me ashore to exclusive clubs and I would mingle nervously with the influential men and women from that place. He taught me a great deal.”
“ I met him at weekends and balls at my Uncles House in Yorkshire. His family appear to own half the county.”
“ We have to get you back to the Captain's cabin so that you can go to lunch.”
“ Thank you for showing me round,” she said kissing me on the cheek as we entered the Captain's accommodation.
Over lunch, Mr. Bolton invited me to spend the afternoon with his daughter  at the club in the compound. The Captain concurred.
That afternoon, I rode to the company accommodation compound through the oil refinery in the car sent for me. Laid out like a village were bungalows of differing sizes surrounded by manicured lawns and flower beds. At the centre was the club house with bar, shops and a gym. Across the road from this was a nine hole golf course. A bit apart from the other buildings was the large, sprawling bungalow of the Boltons.
The car dropped me outside and the driver told me to phone the car pool when I needed a lift back to the ship. I stood at the edge of the lawn for a while looking round and then walked along the path to the bungalow. A maid met me at the door and took me around the back where Lydia was waiting. She smiled in welcome. Pulled round her body was a wrap.
“ Come on,” she said taking my hand. “ We must get to the pool.”
The pool was large surrounded by tiled terraces with sun loungers. Lydia chose a spot and waved to the other people sitting or lying on other sun beds. She pointed to a changing room back from the sun terrace and I quickly changed into my swimming trunks. When I rejoined Lydia,  there were towels on the sun bed. A white coated waiter stood waiting, a tray in his hand.
“ I have ordered my drink. What do you drink?'
“ Bacardi and coke.” I said quickly reaching for my wallet.
Lydia laughed. “ You don't have to pay. Everything goes on my father's account. In fact every member of the club pays for their guests because there is no cash used on the compound.”
It turned out to be a wonderful afternoon. Though Lydia had at first appeared superior and stuck up, by the pool we were like any young people enjoying each other's company. As we talked and swam, I came to realise that Lydia must be lonely unless other expatriates brought out their teenagers to stay. Also, when coming aboard the ship, she must have been nervous. Why she could have been apprehensive, I could not imagine. Her up bringing must have taught her to handle such situations. That afternoon, I suppose she grasped the opportunity to talk and be with somebody close to her own age.
I was invited to stay for dinner at the bungalow of the Bolton's that evening after our swim. The car took me back to the ship to dress properly. The Captain was there and some of the other higher managers and their wives. I sat close to Lydia and mostly talked to her.
After dinner, Lydia and I went for a walk around the garden. It was very pleasant with the insects chirping in the shrubs, a soft breeze  and stars twinkling in the sky. To my surprise Lydia took me to a summer house at the bottom of the garden and we made love on a bench illuminated by the moon. A perfect way to end our day, Lydia remarked, as we walked back to the house.
As the ship sailed, I was surprised to see Lydia waving goodbye from the river bank. There had been no promises of long lasting friendship or undying love. Just a pleasant day spent in each other's company.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

A Perfect Morning

As this story illustrates in the light of what happened to the cruise ship and the conduct of the Captain, the Captain must stay with his ship until he is certain everybody is safely disembarked.

A Perfect Morning

The sun, low down to the east, was shining from a clear blue sky.  Hardly a ripple disturbed the water of the bay. To the starboard of the San Fernando, lying at anchor off the small oil terminal on the island, were the golden sands of a beach. In Britain, on a day like this, such a beach would be crowded. This morning it was almost empty. Arcing around the bay, green jungle and forest climbed steeply from the sand towards the ridge of a line of hills. 
Directly shore wards from the ship, a jetty pushed incongruously out of the jungle into the clear blue water, the piles holding up the decking grey and weather beaten. Forming a tee at the end of the jetty was a berth occupied by some brightly coloured but rust streaked fishing boats and three navy patrol vessels. Hanging from a metal structure on the jetty were  a couple of black rubber pipes connected to two silver p
ipelines marching shore wards and disappearing into the jungle. In the distance, half shrouded by trees, the tops of several silver tanks shone dully in the sunshine.
All this I took in at a glance as I came out of the accommodation dressed in a pair of shorts and flip flops. In my hand, I carried a mug of coffee. Standing by the rail, I breathed deeply of the warm, fragrant air.  The almost empty golden beach invited me to spend a lazy day lying in the sun and doing nothing. Away towards one end of the beach, a few fishermen were tending their nets by their fishing canoes. 
This is, I thought, a perfect morning.
It was early and, as I stood looking out over the bay and the island, the ship’s crew were just stirring around me. The bosun, his shorts and tee shirt emphasising his wiry frame and tanned skin, waved as he hurried by on his way to the bridge to get his daily orders from the Chief Officer. The overweight chief steward staggered towards the mid ships accommodation where I stood with an armful of towels and boxes of soap. He stopped to wipe his sweaty face with a large white handkerchief, before disappearing through a door. The lookout sailor remarked what a beautiful day as he walked jauntily aft from the focastle to get his breakfast. Just a normal morning with the ship at anchor waiting for the berth to clear before docking and discharging its cargo.
While I slowly drank my coffee, I was gazing out to sea through the mouth of the bay watching the small waves break on the rocks near the headland. Abstrusely, I noticed two black dots approaching low over the water. Then, born on the slight breeze, I heard the faint sound of aircraft engines. Before long, it possible to make out the outlines of two single engined planes. Curiously, I watched as the planes rushed towards the bay wondering what they were looking for. As far as I knew there wasn’t any oil under the sea near this island. Therefore I reasoned, they could not be surveying the sea bed. Then they banked steeply left and climbed over the jungle clad hills ahead of the ship. Very soon, they disappeared from my view.
Having finished my coffee, I was just about to return to my cabin to dress properly for breakfast, when I heard the planes approaching from the landward side of the ship. Inquisitively, I strolled across the deck to the other side of the ship to take a look at what the planes were doing.
One behind the other, the two planes were diving down the slope just above the trees and heading straight for the tanker. It was just as I had seen in a dozen war movies as the Japanese planes attacked the American fleet. I wondered idly if they were filming a scene from a movie.
When it was above the beach, the lead plane levelled out and headed straight for the ship across the blue water of the bay. I watched transfixed as a black object detached itself from the underside of the plane. It fell slowly in the direction of the after deck. Suddenly I realised it was going to hit the ship. In a panic, I dived for cover behind the bulwark.
There was an almighty bang and the ship shuddered as though it had run full speed into a very big wave. The stays on the mast and the wireless arial twanged. Diesel oil spattered the accommodation from the geyser which exploded from the damaged deck. Pieces of metal splashed into the sea. Over everything was the sound of hissing as steam escaped from fractured pipes. All over the tanker, alarm bells were ringing and hooters wailing.
Nervously, I lifted my head above the bulwark and risked a look. I was  in time to see the first plane wheel away, rushing out to sea and climbing into the cloudless sky with its engine screaming. 
Turning back, I saw a black object fall from the second plane. Once more I flung myself for cover behind the oil streaked bulwark There was another ear splitting bang. The shuddering and shaking of the ship was followed by the screaming of fractured steel. The second plane headed out to sea, rushing after the first.
 Except for the ringing in my ears, all sound had gone. Then there was the grating of steel plates twisting apart, steam whistling from holes in the pipes and the splash of oil landing back onto the deck. What had happened was so fantastic, it was unbelievable. A tanker innocently anchored in a sun brushed bay being bombed in broad daylight. It could not be true but I only had to look around the deck to understood that it had taken place.
Cautiously, I climbed to my feet and looked over the bulwark. Oil was bubbling out of the holes in the deck but no longer shooting skyward. At first, I thought my eyes were playing tricks for it appeared the ship was bending in the middle. Yes, I told myself on closer inspection, the aft end is higher than the centre. The funnel looked as though it was slowly falling towards the main deck such was its angle to the vertical. At the same time, the ship was settling deeper into the water.
Shaking my head to clear the ringing in my ears, I did not have time to think too much about that had happened. Looking up, I spotted Captain Ruddock on the boat deck above my head staring aft at the buckled deck and the funnel bending towards him. His face was white which matched the knuckles of his hands gripping the rail so tightly I thought he was going to snap it away from its anchor points. As though he could not believe what he was seeing, his eyes were staring in horror at the after deck and his mouth was hanging open . Incongruously, I noticed white shaving foam still clinging to his chin.
Spotting me on the deck below, he demanded in a hoarse voice. “ What happened?”
“ Two planes came over and dropped bombs on us,” I answered bluntly still too much in shock to be diplomatic.
“ Whatever for?” he muttered more to himself than me. “ Those bloody rebels, I suppose.”
Then pulling his shoulders straight, closing his mouth and wiping the shaving foam on the towel he held in his hand, he was the Captain of the San Fernando again.
 “ Run up to the bridge and get the Chief Officer to sound boat stations. Remind him to get the radio officer to send out an SOS. After you have done that, meet me in my cabin.” His order was crisp and firm.
Other crew members were pouring out of the accommodation both amidships and aft calling out in alarm.  They were dressed in a variety of clothing, many having that minute risen from their bunks. Alarm bells started sounding the long pulses that told the crew to assemble near the lifeboats. Looking rather confused and scared, the crew started to make their way to the boat decks.
As I raced up to the bridge, Captain Ruddock was already issuing orders to organise the crew. When I arrived breathless in the wheelhouse, I found the Chief Officer and the bosun staring aft and issuing orders over the emergency phone.
“ The Old Man orders everybody to muster by the lifeboats,” I shouted as I rushed through the bridge to the stairs leading to the Captain’s cabin. “ He says to make sure that the radio officer sends out a mayday or SOS.”
“ Where are you off to?” the Chief Officer demanded harshly. “ I need you here with me.”
“ I have to help the Captain.” I replied.
“ Make sure the radio officer has sent out an SOS as you pass his office,” he shouted after me.
Stopping by the radio office, the radio officer assured me that he had sent out an SOS in answer to my question.
Leaving the radio officer waiting for a reply to his SOS, I raced down the stairs to the Captain’s accommodation. Loudly above the sound of the alarms and the noise of creaking metal plates, I knocked on the door of the Captain’s cabin. When bidden to enter, I found Captain Ruddock on his knees, dressed in his uniform and stuffing papers from the ship’s safe into two brief cases.
“ Everybody is mustering and getting into the lifeboats, sir,” I said rather breathlessly. “ The radio officer has sent out an SOS and is waiting to see if there are any replies before going to his boat station. He has the emergency radio ready for use in the lifeboat.”
Captain Ruddock smiled slightly. “ Good work, Eddie. You are to take one of these brief cases up to the bridge. I will bring the other. Try to make sure it stays with you no matter what happens. It contains copies of all the ships papers and records. I have the originals. Between us we should be able to make sure that these are taken ashore and saved.”
Taking the brief case from the Captain, I ran down the stairs to my cabin. On the way my shoulders banged painfully into a bulkhead as the ship took a lurch but I ignored the pain.  When I got to my cabin, I quickly dressed in my uniform ignoring the shuddering and bucking of the ship and the groaning of the plates. I shoved my personal effects, my discharge book, identity book, photos, letters and money into a bag I kept for this purpose. Some of the other cadets during my time at sea had scoffed at my caution but it was vindicated now. Slinging this over my shoulder, I raced back up the stairs to the bridge still clutching the briefcase with copies of the ship’s papers.
On reaching the wheelhouse, panting from running on a heaving and vibrating deck, I saw Captain Ruddock standing on the bridge wing looking aft. By the time I joined him, the water was lapping over the main deck  and when I looked forward all I could see was the focastle. Looking back aft, it was as though the engine room and the accommodation in the stern were completely cut off from the amidships. The decks were at crazy angles and the funnel looked as though it might fall into the water. The four lifeboats were now being filled with crew under the supervision of the other officers. Air and oil were bubbling up from the holes in the tanks spreading a black sheen over the waters surrounding the ship.
Out of the corner of my eyes, I looked at the captain not wanting him to feel I was staring. His face was lined and drawn. To me, he had that broken look of somebody who had  come to accept defeat. Where they gripped the rail, his hands were shaking. His shoulders slumped as though he had aged considerably in a short time.
Seeing me for the first time since I arrived on the bridge as ordered, he nodded. “ You had better get down to your lifeboat.”
“ What about you?” I asked even though I knew the answer.
“ There is a life raft at the end of the bridge. I intend to stay here until just before the bridge goes under.” He laughed sadly. “ Actually, unless the ship capsizes,. I think the ship will ground before the water reaches the bridge. There was only twenty feet below the keel when we anchored, so when it settles on the bottom, the top of the accommodation should remain above the water. Go on. Go for your lifeboat. I can see the third mate is waiting for you.”
“ If it is all right with you, I would like to stay.” I never understood what made me say that but it appeared to help the Captain.
Captain Ruddock put his arm round my shoulder and squeezed. “ Thank you. You have to have some sympathy with the ones who ordered this. Up in those hills some men are fighting the central government for some measure of autonomy.”
“ Why bomb us?” I was curious.
“ They see this ship as a part of the government machine. Again I suppose they are partly right. Some of the oil we are delivering will be used in the army’s trucks and equipment. Therefore, to them, we are helping the government suppress the rebels. In these situations, young man, there are no grey areas. To the rebels, those not helping them are their enemies and fair game for assault. I am afraid we have been caught in the middle. I must say that was some precision bombing from a small plane. The pilots must have been skilled. As far as all the reports to me have indicated, nobody on the ship was really hurt.”
He waved the last lifeboat away commanded by the Third Mate. I have to admit as the lifeboat moved away from the ship and deck under our feet bucked and shuddered, I was more frightened than I would ever admit to anybody. Despite my fear, there was no way in which I could have left this vulnerable man on his own.
The Captain and I stood and watched as the lifeboats pulled away from the sinking ship. Two patrol boats had left the jetty and were racing in our direction. Once again my heart stopped as we felt the grinding of broken plates beneath our feet. At one time, we had to cling to the bridge rail as the ship lurched and heeled over to starboard.
The water was steadily climbing up the structure, level now with the main accommodation deck. There was a groan and a long hiss as though an old lady had lowered herself painfully into a chair. The bridge rocked and swayed. The Captain and I saw the stern twist and then settle. The tanker heeled over to port. With a whoosh, the remaining air bubbled from the superstructure in a rush. Then there was silence. Even the hiss of escaping steam had ceased. With a lurch, the ship was still
The water was now level with the boat deck and the oil sheen spreading out from the ship into the clear waters of the bay look thick and ugly.
Captain Ruddock turned to me and said, “ Thank you for staying with me.”
We walked down the twisted stairs together to the boat deck below the bridge carrying the ships papers, my personal belongings and the Captain's bag. By the time we arrived, a patrol boat was alongside the boat deck waiting. I stepped aboard, helped by the crew. The Captain took one last look round his command and stepped aboard after me, leaving his ship to the mercy of the elements.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Return Of The Exiles

At last the editing is finished and here it is:-

The Return Of The Exiles

Book 2 of The Rombuli Saga
This will be published soon as a paperback on

The Return Of The Exiles, Book 2 of The Rombuli Saga,  is a sequel to Book 1 of The Rombuli Saga - The Teacher of the Rombuli.

The Return Of The Exiles can be downloaded from Amazon for Kindle and other platforms price $3:99.

This will join The Teacher of the Rombuli Book 1 of the Rombuli Saga on

The Teacher Of The Rombuli also can be downloaded from Amazon for Kindle and other platforms price $3:99.