A Ghost of Christmas Past

13th December 2004, 13:53
It is that time of year again. I regularly receive a desk diary from our insurance brokers and reminisce when writing back to say thank you. Here is one of the offerings.

MV "Luminetta" 1972: Christmas varies with circumstances and geographical location

Some years ago I joined ship at Valparaiso in Chile, and being early December south of the line, chilly it was not. When we arrived on board we learnt that stores had not been getting through from the UK and meat in particular was in short supply. From memory there was still some liver, some bacon, and some MK mutton for the crew which hailed from Bombay. The fourth engineer volunteered and went out daily in the lifeboat whenever the ship was in port and came back with a supply of fresh fish - the sea off the Chilean coast is incredibly rich in sea life. A week or so later we arrived at Antofagasta (Antofa bleeding gasta) We received and lifted on board the contents of a container fresh out from Tilbury, complete with six months frozen meat supplies including Turkey, so Christmas lunch was assured.

Also received in Antofagasta, though not in the container was a spare, or should I say replacement, anchor. At 5 tonnes it would not be carried in a container. Said anchor came out to us on the back of a large tugboat since, being a tanker we did not go alongside in most ports. I was not involved in the operations until something woke me from my afternoon kip. I looked out of the port and saw, before me, the 60 foot forward derrick - 6 tonnes safe working load canted down from the foremast to the ships side, and then down the ships side, bent through forty degrees. The wire topping lift which normally holds the derrick up had parted and the derrick, with the impetus provided by the additional 5 tonnes had come down with an almighty bang (missing everyone and everything except the ships rails!!!) The new anchor was then on the sea bed some sixty feet down - buoyed off with the broken runner wire and an empty lub-oil drum.

With the assistance of a diver and using a mooring rope we were able to raise the anchor so that the tug could manoeuvre underneath and take it back into port. Three weeks later, having broken both the flukes off our starboard anchor we lifted the new anchor straight into its working position on the end of the anchor chain - without the use of the derrick which was still ashore being straightened and reinforced. At least we'd loaded the turkeys first.

At Arica in northern Chile we loaded twenty thousand tons of their local crude - not a lot different from unleaded gasoline mixed with diesel fuel, and looked like weak coffee. Loading finished at half past twelve noon on Christmas day so a quick shower and off to the celebrations in the four hours it took for the authorities to type up the paperwork, and then sail at nightfall, suitably full of those turkey and all the bits.

New year was a little different at San Vincente, just south of Valparaiso. The ship was anchored, yours truly was on watch in the middle of the afternoon in a fog with the sea flat calm. The sea, the sky and the fog were all shades of magenta, couldn't say where one ended and the next started, and totally eerie

In the fog land features like lighthouses were invisible and position marking was accomplished using the radar. A "target" was noticed, moving steadily towards the ships position at about fifteen knots. We were ringing the anchor bell at one end and beating the fog gong at the other end as required by the Collision Regulations, and additionally, sounding the whistle - known by non seafarers as the fog horn. Still the target closed and at under half a mile away, still lost in the mist. Visibility was under 200 yards which meant we could only just see our own fo'c'sle.

And still it got closer. No fog signals heard, ships on the move in fog sound one long blast every minute or so, maybe it's a fishing boat, at least they've got the maneuverability at short range, and unprofessional urges are making themselves known. Then a large "vee" of pelicans flew out of the fog and right overhead at masthead height. Enough said perhaps.

May I wish you all the best for Christmas, and make sure you get the turkey/s in.


John Rogers
13th December 2004, 15:27
For a minute there I thought you were going to say,"out of the fog came a little fat guy dressed in a red suit shouting Ho, Ho Ho"