I suppose it's because I have so much time on my hands these days, that all these memories come flooding back to me.
The Tug Incident
I was on my favourite ex-service web site recently, talking to my mates of days gone by, when this story came back to my mind. I suppose the reason for remembering it so clearly was the fact that it was one of those incidents that you would not believe could happen, unless you were there.
Every time a Royal Navy ship comes into port they have a set routine where all the water tight doors are closed and the ship is basically closed down. On every level throughout the ship, where the main watertight doors are, they have sailors posted to make sure that the doors stay shut. These sailors are called Special Sea Duty Men, and the usual pipe to call them into place was called Close Up.
Once you were in position with your hand-held radio, the doors in your sector had to remain closed! Without exception, this caused friction with your crew mates who would turn nasty after you had refused them passage. In fact, being a Special Sea Duty man was one of the worst jobs I ever had in the navy. The fact that they closed us up hours before we even entered the harbour meant that we missed out on meals as well as sleep, especially if we had the middle watch the night before. So, basically, the job was not a very popular one to have as it even meant going without a smoke for the duration. Ventilation was also cut off to prevent any fires that started from spreading throughout the ship; this meant that the air was sticky and clammy.
Anyway, there I was in my position, sat in a corner reading a book just to pass the time away and looking forward to a run ashore in a few hours time after being at sea for two months on patrol. Then, suddenly, I heard a loud thump! I felt the ship, which was only a small frigate, lunge to port side. Traffic on the radio went from the usual routine reports to the bridge to what sounded like chaos as the bridge tried to contact everyone at the same time as everyone was trying to contact the bridge!
I didn't waited for the bridge to tell me to check my area as I knew what had happened was close to my position. So, very carefully I opened up the clips of the first water tight door. Just as I was in the process of doing this my radio burst into sound which startled me - I was nervous as it was. It was the bridge telling me to scan my area and report back to them.
After going through the first main door and clipping it closed behind me, I started looking in all the smaller side doors, opening them very slowly in case a rush of water would come crashing through. This would have been perfectly normal as my position was just below the water line. Imagine my surprise when I opened the door to the junior rates shower room to find the bow of a tug actually inside the room with me. I knew straight away that it was the bow as I could see all the rope fenders that they usually have as well as a very bemused-looking Arab gentleman staring down at me! I reported my observations immediately to the bridge who then asked me for clarification! After repeating my message to them I got the feeling that they still did not actually believe me, so I handed my radio to the chap who was staring down at me and asked him to say something in Arabic to them.
I think that must have done the trick as they then told me to stand by as they were going to send an officer down to check my story out. I then had to prepare to open the water tight door to allow him access as, if I didn't do this, a warning would sound in the bridge. So, as soon as I heard the order to open I had twenty seconds to open the door for him and then close it right after he was in. After his arrival I took him to the shower room and opened the door. The look on his face made me laugh as he had exactly the same expression on his face as the poor chap staring down at us both. Slowly he lifted the radio to his gaping mouth and informed them on the bridge that there was, indeed, a tug in the junior ratings shower room.
The reason I laughed was that, despite all the training they had given me over the years, they still needed an officer to give a second opinion on something as blatantly obvious as a tug sticking inside the hull of our ship.
I must admit, though, that the incident did put a bit more excitement into what would have been just another routine day and there was the bonus of another few days in port while the repairs were undertaken. Alas it was not for long and we were soon back at sea with a large section of the hull still unpainted just on the waterline.