Pina Coladas Leaving Moin
We sailed from Moin, Costa Rica, fully laden with bananas, pineapple and some exotic fruits bound for Dover thirteen days away. As it turned out it wasn’t just as simple as that. We moved away from the quay in the late evening, and the following morning as was our custom before breakfast we went onto the bridge to read the coordinates to see how far we had travelled overnight. Before we had a chance to consult the chart, Jevgeijs, the officer on watch with a broad fatalistic smile said: ‘We’re on the way back to Moin.’ We had sailed for ten hours when the refrigeration unit began to malfunction. Without efficient refrigeration thousands of kilos of fruit would be rotten by the time they arrived at the shops in Europe. In twelve or fourteen hours after we arrived back in Moin with refrigeration working again, we sailed for Dover. The Caribbean was still. It was hot. Even at night it could be in the eighties Farenheit
A Barbecue at Sea
During the day we sat on deck and read.
Relaxing on Deck
We had passed Jamaica, through the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti, then through the Mouchoir Passage east of the Turks and Caicos Islands; we were a day’s sailing out of the Caribbean into the Atlantic. We had just returned from lunch to our cabin to collect our books to go to the shaded spot on deck to sit and probably snooze in the warmth of the early afternoon sun, when the bell outside our cabin door sounded seven times followed by a single ring, and then it was continuous.
In The Caribbean
‘That’s muster stations,’ Hilary said. She had listened more carefully than I had when we were instructed on safety procedures on the outward voyage.
‘Take your time,’ I said, ‘it’s just a drill.’ Hilary opened the cabin door. There was a strong acrid smell of smoke, like burning paint, outside. We grabbed our life-jackets and wet suits and made for our muster station. Had we been on deck when the alarm went, not having been told otherwise, we would have gone down to our cabins to collect life-jackets and wet suits. The correct safety procedure is that there should be a supply of lifejackets at muster stations and passengers elsewhere on board than in cabins should go straight there. We learned later that many passengers who were on deck on the Lusitania when she was hit by a torpedo, lost their lives because they returned to their cabins to collect their lifejackets.
Hilary went first. Along the alleyway the thought came to me that everything I had left behind in the cabin I could happily abandon except one item. It was all easily replaceable except the work I had done on my laptop. I remembered my computer backup stick, turned around and went back to the cabin. I found it and set out again. There were crew members rushing in all directions. Hilary realised that I wasn’t behind her. She shouted. I didn’t hear. She pushed her way back and found me on my following.
‘That was a stupid thing to do.’ she said. I knew she was right, so I didn’t respond. We saw Ivan, the ship’s cook, with life-jacket, wet suit and hard hat on the way to his muster station. Passing the second deck alleyway there was smoke. When we arrived at our muster station on deck Andreas, in boiler suit and hard hat, Helmuth and Martin were already there. ‘Fire in machine,’ meaning engine, Andreas told us and he left quickly to find Herbert and Joachim. When he came back he pointed out the lifeboat that we would use. We waited. As the only woman on board, Hilary would be first into the lifeboat.
At Muster Station
As we stood there not knowing what to expect I had a mental picture of emerging from the arrivals door of an airport somewhere, facing the world’s press and giving an account of how having abandoned ship, we watched the burned out hull of Horncap disappear beneath the waves. How we were buffeted around like corks on the ocean until we were finally rescued dramatically by a ship that had picked up our SOS signal.
No marks for tumbling to the fact that nothing of the sort happened. After about half an hour Andreas on his walkie talkie got the ‘all clear.’ They had extinguished the fire. No drama, no lifeboats, no burned out hull, no airport , no heroics. We trooped back to our cabins, put back our lifejackets and wetsuits, collected our books and went up on deck. Martin thought it had all been an exercise, but it hadn’t, it had been the real thing, and if they had not been able to bring the fire under control some of the fantasy would have become reality.
The sea had been relatively smooth during the day, but that night it changed. We were in the worst weather we had on the voyage; the ship was rolling and pitching badly, there were waves 20 or 30 feet high, our speed was down from 19 to 10 or 11 knots. When some powerful waves hit the ship it shuddered and felt as if it would stop. Lashing rain made for poor visibility. It was certainly gale force 8, and possibly storm force 9. The rain battered the windows of the bridge. Virtually every dip of the bow into a trough sent spray over the containers on deck and as far back as the wheelhouse.
We had to be very careful moving about our cabin not to be thrown around. Putting toothpaste on my toothbrush I ended up in a heap in the shower. It was undoubtedly the heaviest weather we had had. If we had had to attend muster stations that night we would have been very frightened indeed and if we had had to abandon ship I cannot see how we could have survived.
Four or five days into the Atlantic the refrigeration unit gave up the ghost altogether and we had to change course to the nearest landfall which was the Azores. Before we arrived at the Azores there was a message from Head Office that rather than wait for repairs to be completed, the company was flying passengers home from there rather than allowing us to complete the journey to Dover.
The evening we docked in Ponte Delgada, Martin, Hilary and I went ashore, found a good restaurant and had an excellent meal served by two beautiful waitresses, a welcome change from the grumpy messman that served us at sea.
Our Grumpy Messman
Before we went back to ‘Horncap’ we asked the taxi driver to bring us on a tour of the town, and although he hadn’t a word of English and we hadn’t a word of Porugese we arrived back to the ship with a good impression of a large town of the Azores.
Next morning early, taxis brought us to the airport at Ponte Delgada where we said our farewells to our shipmates and flew home via Lisbon to Dublin. All in all it was an excellent trip.
Our Waitresses, The Azores