Once upon a time...
I had been in the Navy for maybe 9 months. We were headed to port at Keelung, Taiwan for some repairs and R&R. That would be Rest and Recreation. I don't recall feeling all rested after these stopovers but...
The approach to Taiwan back in 1967 was interesting, like approaching a fortress. The cliff-like hills bracketing the port bristled with armament. Mostly anti-aircraft guns but I am sure a number of guns were aimed at any ships that were deemed to possibly be unfriendly. It was a beautiful, clear and sunny, day. The seas were calm but dotted with boats of all sizes. Most were fishing junks but there were a couple of freighters about.
I was standing watch as bridge talker. The bridge talker stands at the back of the bridge and listens in on the sound powered phones. He relays the reports of the port, starboard, and after lookouts. He may also relay what others, such as the Combat Information Center (aka CIC or, in ship lingo, "combat") or SONAR or anyone else that happens to have something to report and is connected to the sound powered phone system.
The talker relays these reports to the OOD (Officer of the Deck), the guy in charge of the ship at the time.
And so I said:
"Sir! Starboard lookout reports civilian freighter bearing 060."
"Sir! Combat reports civilian freighter is on collision course."
The Lieutenant JG who was the OOD scans the horizon, noting the approaching freighter which was moving a tad more rapidly than we seemed to be. We were moving along at what seemed to me to be a leisurely pace. And I, like most of my shipmates (especially those who knew they would be allowed liberty soon after tying up), were a bit impatient to get into port. We had been out to sea for some time.
"Sir! Combat reports civilian ship still on collision course."
It was becoming clear to everyone that this was a rather large freighter. And, while we weren't small, running into the freighter wouldn't be very pleasant.
The OOD sounds the horn. Two blasts. To warn the freighter that we are approaching. The freighter does not reduce speed or alter course. The OOD does not order a reduction in speed nor a course change.
The freighter is getting larger.
"Sir! Combat reports civilian ship is still on collision course."
The OOD blows the horn again. Twice.
At this point, the ship is closing quickly with the freighter who appears to be insistent about entering port ahead of us. And appears to be blithely ignoring our warning horn blasts.
At this point the captain, having been roused from his nap in his sea cabin just behind the bridge, storms in and looks around.
"Sir! Combat reports collision imminent."
"Sir! The captain is on the bridge."
And the captain shouts:
"This is the captain and I have the con!"
"All back full!"
And we immediately slow. The OOD stammers:
"But captain, as a 'man o' war' we have the right of way!"
And the captain replies:
"I don't think he cares. And neither do I."
And I breathed, along with my mates, a sigh of relief (quietly, of course).
The moral to this story is simple:
It does not matter if you have the right of way if your ship ends up sinking.
It is a lesson I found useful to recall a number of times in my life.
A Night Unremembered
6 years ago