After loading coconut oil in the Philippines, the Stolt Sheaf sailed to Yokohama to load Ethylene Glycol. I don’t remember much about Yokohama from that visit. I was there again on the Dunstanburgh Castle for two weeks in drydock during January 1978, when I experienced an earthquake and several runs ashore. I don’t recall going ashore in Yokohama in 1975. After sailing from Yokohama on 21 June the Stolt Sheaf crossed the North Pacific Ocean, arriving in Portland, Oregon on 3 July. I still remember the beauty of the Columbia River as we headed from the ocean to Portland, a pilotage of roughly 100 miles.

mt Stolt Sheaf in the Columbia River, July 1975

We were due to discharge some of our palm oil in Portland. I was on cargo watch with one of our second mates. We had two second mates so that the chief officer did not have to keep watches, being permanently assigned to day work. This was particularly important in port with the complexity of loading and/or discharging more than one product at the same time.

The procedure before we started pumping cargo was for one person, usually the cadet, to remain at the manifold after hoses had been connected just in case something went wrong. Something did go wrong in Portland. For some reason the second mate, who was in the pump room (cargo control room), started two pumps simultaneously and took the pumps up to full speed immediately. He was supposed to start with one pump and gradually increase the speed of the pumps. The four-inch rubber cargo hose split, and a fountain of palm oil erupted through the gash in the hose covering me from head to foot. Although I quickly shut the valve at the manifold while radioing the second mate to shut the pumps down, it was too late and some of the palm oil ended up in the Columbia River. That resulted in the ship being fined for polluting the river. The US Coastguard watched us very carefully at every port thereafter.

mt Stolt Sheaf – starboard side manifold – the scene of my baptism in palm oil.

It is a strange feeling being baptised in palm oil. I’m glad it was only palm oil not something unpleasant. It never happened to me again, although I was baptised in water at a Baptist Church in South Shields six weeks before I joined the Stolt Sheaf. That was a profession of faith. The palm oil baptism was a challenge to my faith in the second mate, who had obviously been distracted.

Two baptisms in six weeks. One in water, one in palm oil. One left me glowing with joy, the other left me orange. But there is another baptism that beats water and palm oil. It transformed a rag tag bunch of fishermen, tax collectors and the like from ordinary followers of Jesus into extraordinary individuals who were instrumental in establishing the early church. When I think about that baptism I find myself asking why it is that so much of the church today appears to think it acceptable to operate without it. Then I read about what is happening in Asbury in the USA and I long to see the same thing happen in the church I attend.

On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. (Acts 2:1-4 NLT)