The Sheaf Royal berthed in Mobile, Alabama on Saturday 12 January 1974. Workload meant that fellow cadet George and I didn’t make it ashore. After discharging iron ore in Mobile, we were due to load a grain cargo in Beaumont, Texas, just two days steaming time from Mobile. Two days left very little time to clean holds and bilges.
We sailed for Beaumont on Monday 14 January with two third engineers and the fourth engineer adrift. The agent, despite his best efforts, had been unable to locate them. He should have contacted the police as they had the three missing engineers locked in a cell. The two third engineers, it transpired, were arrested after taking a taxi back to the ship. The driver requested a fare that was ten times what it should have been. They refused to pay. He called the police, who may or may not have been in on the scam. It didn’t help that the police officers did not understand the British attempts at humour, some of which originated from the James Bond movie ‘Live and Let Die,’ which we had all watched several times since sailing from Gothenburg. There appears to have been a problem with the use of the term ‘ten fingers on the fender, boy’ by a police officer. One of the third engineers responded with, “oh, have you seen that James Bond movie too, officer?” Well, that’s the story they told us.
The fourth engineer managed to get himself mugged a short distance from the police station where his colleagues were already making friends with an assortment of fellow criminals in a communal cell. Finding himself in a gutter sans wallet and money the fourth did what any sensible Brit would do. He went to the police. They invited him to admit that he was drunk and disorderly and reunited him with the two third engineers in the communal cell. It was the next day when contact was made with the agent. By now the Sheaf Royal was halfway to Beaumont with engine room watches being covered by the chief engineer (who was not amused by this turn of events), the second engineer, and the junior engineer under the supervision of the electrician.
The agent arranged for the engineers to be bailed and sent them to Beaumont to await the arrival of the Sheaf Royal. They were accommodated in a hotel and set about exploring Beaumont. They had a couple of days to do so. By the time the ship arrived off the port two of them had found lady friends.
We arrived off the entrance channel at 14:30 on Wednesday 16 January but had to anchor due to dense fog. A pilot eventually boarded the Sheaf Royal at 18:00 and although it was still foggy, we entered the Sabine-Neches Waterway, which leads to the Port of Beaumont. We anchored in the River Neches a short distance from Beaumont just after midnight.
It was now three days since we had sailed from Mobile. Three days without our three watchkeeping engineers. Three days in which the chief engineer had had to carry out watchkeeping duties, something he had not done for several years, and something he was very, very unhappy about. I found him waiting by the accommodation ladder mid-morning as he had been advised that the three missing engineers were about to return to the ship. A launch eventually came alongside, and a missing third engineer slowly ascended towards the waiting wrath of his superior officer. He was greeted with the words, “I’ll see you bonny lad and the other two in my office immediately!” The third engineer shrugged and replied, “you can see me chief, but you’ll have to wait for the other two as they are still ashore with a couple of women.” I was getting used to verbal explosions on the Sheaf Royal, although I hadn’t witnessed the chief engineer exploding before. It wasn’t pretty. I watched his face get larger and turn a strange shade of purple. I couldn’t see steam coming out of his nostrils or ears but fully expected it. In his rage he lost the ability to speak and stomped off, presumably to prevent him from placing his hands around the neck of the one engineer who had managed to find his way back to the ship.
We berthed at 14:00. At some point during the afternoon the other two engineers managed to find their way back to the ship with stories to tell a plenty! That was after they had reported to the chief engineer. Their experiences in Mobile didn’t seem to have caused any lasting damage.
What can we learn from this? I think the main lesson is that you just can’t trust humans! The chief engineer trusted his watchkeepers to return to the ship. The two third engineers trusted a bad taxi driver and thought that they could trust the police to sort out their problem. The fourth engineer also trusted the police. When it comes to trust there is only One who we can trust completely. A reminder of that (‘In God We Trust’) appears on all US currency. Who do you trust?
You, Lord, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you. (Isaiah 26:3 GNT)