I was sixteen years old when I joined the Merchant Navy as a navigating cadet. After a two-week induction course at a nautical college I received instructions to join my first ship in Göteborg, Sweden. I was to fly from London. Another first trip cadet was scheduled to fly down from Scotland to London to journey with me. He didn’t make it. Dense fog set in and nothing was moving in or out of Heathrow Airport. Eventually I received a message to carry on alone if possible, and that my fellow cadet would attempt to fly out the next day.
Mid-afternoon while still waiting for the fog to lift a Swedish man came over and introduced himself to me with the words, “you are joining your first ship, aren’t you?” I couldn’t understand how he knew. He told me that only first trip cadets travel in their uniform. The man’s name was Ragnar Sandström, and he was a former captain in the Swedish Merchant Navy. He took me under his wing, and even managed to sit with me on the aircraft when the fog finally cleared and we were able to leave.
On arrival in Göteborg I collected my baggage and then stood there in the entrance area to the airport with absolutely no idea of what to do next. No one had told me that the shipping agent would collect me. Unfortunately, the agent had been advised that the two young cadets had been delayed by a day and he had no reason to be at the airport. Fortunately, Captain Sandström was still keeping an eye on me. He came over and asked me if the agent was meeting me. Realising that something had gone wrong he left his bags with me and went to find a local newspaper. He looked in the seaport section to find where my ship was docked (I didn’t know!). Then he collected his car and he drove me, not just to the dock gates, but all the way to the gangway.
Captain Sandström gave me his business card and apologized that he could not come on board. He wished me well and said, “if you are in trouble with your captain for arriving late, get him to call me in my office in the morning.” Then he was gone and I never saw him again.
I know God watches over me. I still marvel at this incident, even though it happened thirty-nine years ago. Captain Sandström could have been an angel, I don’t know. But I do know that without him a sixteen-year old boy arriving for the first time in a foreign land probably would not have made it to his ship that night. We have an amazing God who takes care of even the smallest details in our lives. A God who deals in the unexpected as well as the undeserved.
For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. (Psalm 91:11 NLT)