This piece was written by Ron for our local Writers’ Circle Christmas competition. We hope you enjoy it!
Arrest a WHAT? A true story
Lucky for me, my office never say “no” when someone calls to say, “can you….?” On my return to base there was a message for me to contact a law firm from London over an Admiralty Court Case. Probably tracking another yacht whose owners haven’t paid the mooring bill, I thought.
So I called the number. “How can I help,” said I, in my best telephone voice.
“We need you to arrest a ship,” came the reply.
“Can you help us by arresting a ship due to refuel at Falmouth harbour tomorrow?”
“Of course,” I said, trying to sound as if it’s something I do every day. “Do I need to be a Bailiff or hold any particular authorisation?” I asked. Whilst not getting a definite answer, I was assured that the Court Papers would be sufficient. All I needed to do, I was informed, was be at the harbour when the ship came in (some time between 1am and 6am, they expected), meet the Captain on board and advise him of the Arrest Order. Thinking back to some of my legal training over 40 years ago I asked, “Does the Order need to be fastened to the main mast?” I did not add “me hearties”. I am sure I sensed a smile at the other end of the phone, but the response came, “No; just fixing to the bridge will do.”
Then came the bombshell – the ship is a huge tanker and will not be coming into port and will therefore be refuelling out in the bay. “We will make arrangements for you to be transported out so that you can try and board her. You do understand that if the boarding steps are not down you might have to use the rope ladder……you don’t have a problem with that do you.” Note this was a statement not question!!!
Only the day before I had been reading news reports about pirates taking control of ships, and others disappearing in the Channel. This should be fun; I need a change of scene.
I turned to my computer and looked up the ship’s name to see what information I could find. My research revealed yes, she certainly exists. Nice photo of a really big ship cutting through the seas. Four large cranes on the deck, a six floor “bridge” and Bahamas registered.
What if the crew don’t speak English? What if they won’t let me board? What if I get on board and they lock me in the engine room? Why didn’t I think about these “what if’s” before I agreed to take on the job? Well, too late now.
After receiving the Order etc. off I trundled with an armful of papers and duck tape to a meet with a weather-beaten looking marine surveyor who was to accompany me and assess the ship etc. Being an ‘old sea dog’, he had made contact with the Port Authorities who had confirmed that the ship would not be arriving until after dawn. So at least I would be able to see my watery grave in daylight when I missed my footing, or when the ‘striped-shirted, sword in mouth’ crew threw me overboard!
Early breakfast sounded like a good idea! Well, what would you do in my place?
With a good full English breakfast inside me and several cups of strong coffee later, I was sure I’d be awake before I hit the water (so to speak). The Papers and tape were safely secured in a satchel, or as my wife prefers to call it, ‘shoulder bag’, but would it keep them dry if I ended up in the water? Was I really thinking that was possible?
During breakfast my companion brought out his laptop and showed me a website. He typed in the ship’s name and a few seconds later a map of the bay came up with a light green boat shape and our vessel’s name attached to it. She was here! Gulp.
What a surprise; whilst typing this I have just revisited the website with the ship’s name and discovered she is off Portland Bill heading back towards me; will this be another callout?
On the way to the dock we used some really high tech equipment, a tourist telescope on the quay. 20p in the slot to add to the coffers of the Local Authority and a good view around the bay was obtained. The Surveyor took charge and soon found our ship and confirmed she was moored out in the middle of the bay. I used the remainder of the time bird watching. Well there was nothing else worth searching for at 6am – and being Cornish I was not going to waste the remainder of the 20p, especially as I had no receipt and would not be able to claim it on expenses.
At the dock all I could see were locked gates, dockside cranes and lots of water. The experienced Surveyor found the way around the locked gates. How did I miss that ten foot gap in the fence behind the Port Master’s office? Down the slippery gangplank we carefully trod (sounds like a good first line for a poem that) on to the floating pontoon beside a tender. The majority of the boat was covered – I do not swim well and …. Well, yes, OK do not like getting wet. On the tender we were told by the ‘man at the wheel’ he had just returned from our ship after taking the Ship’s Agent out, and that (to my relief) the boarding steps were down ….. at that time.
Before we went, the ‘man at the wheel’ gave us basic safety instructions and showed us a ‘locker’ with what he said were life jackets. Now I am 6’4” and weigh … well ‘around’ 18 stones, so I looked for the biggest. For the life of me (and it could well be so) I could not see how that tiny strip of cloth-covered-whatever was going to help my mass float, but what the hey, I’ve come this far.
So out into the bay, life jacket on, we travelled. Fifteen minutes out into really deep water (which is just what I thought I had got myself into) we reached the ‘gangplank’.
“Not too much swell” the ‘man at the wheel’ told us. “Just a few feet. So watch your step when you jump from the deck.” That was a disappointment, it was not going to be a boarding like in the films.
The ‘man at the wheel’ radioed ahead and asked for permission of the ship’s Captain for us to come aboard, giving a partly true reason.
Looking up from the tender I could see the rope ladder falling over the huge curve of the ship then dangling above me out over the water. It’s difficult to describe how it looked, or my feelings; perhaps – ‘There is no way I would have gone up that!’ would sum it up.
The jump from deck to landing stage was managed by the excellent ‘man at the wheel’ manoeuvrings and a quality tender deck hand who said, “Go now.” No looking back down or up – just at my feet and the moving landing stage. A safe landing, with wobbly knees.
At the top of the steps we were met by a member of the crew who seemed to understand that we needed to see the Captain.
Now I am not sure what image you may have of international tankers but I was very surprised by how clean, tidy and well painted everything was. Up the five decks to the bridge house, over carpeted steps with pot plants in the corners!
The Captain arrived and I explained the Arrest Order, but I am not sure how much he understood. He called the Ship’s Agent and all was again explained, at which time I was advised that they knew all about the dispute and were expecting something like this. Just a minor dispute over $1.5 million worth of steel shipped from Korea to Brazil. So I taped the Order to the window of the bridge and all was concluded very amicably!
Why did they keep calling me “Sheriff” and “Marshall” … not a shiny star in sight.
Oh well…… a change is as good as a rest.
Copyright 2012 Ron C. Dickerson