Doug’s Sea-Dog Tale of Scuttling of Sculduggery
‘Scuttle’. Verb. 1; sink (one’s own ship) deliberately. 2; deliberately cause (a scheme) to fail
Oxford English Dictionary
The faded name of Michelle Hamilton peers at me from the filthy cardboard flap torn off of a Yuengling beer box. Her number is written next to it. The beer was drunk in the rowdy and entertaining company of Paul Caouette, under the transom of our boat in the boatyard at Green Cove Springs. A few days later, and in the water, Michelle and Doug came over from their Tayana 42 to celebrate us ‘splashing’ Sandpiper with a ‘dram’ from our bottle of Welsh Single-Malt Whisky, and an unusual sea tale…
As we all sat down for a bit of socialising, Michelle announced in her easy west-coast drawl:
‘Doug has agreed to tell you his story’. We were alongside the quarter-mile long Pier 11 at green Cove Springs. Relatively deserted now, these twelve piers had been a hive of US naval activity during the war, when liberty ships were made, fitted-out, and sent to the aid of the beleaguered north atlantic fleet of the British Merchant Navy. There had been mention of some story which Doug had the other night, when we had gone to eat dinner somewhere, and I thought it would be interesting, although I was brimming with excitement to show off our boat and all the work we had done on her. But it was good to sit at a saloon table on the rickety dock. What evolved was somewhat reminiscent of a Joseph Conrad novel, and as I was given the mobile phone surreptitiously by Dorry, who had opened the ‘Voice Recorder’ App., I realised that this was some big privilege we were in for.
I had brought a bottle of Penderyn – in my opinion the finest Single Malt available, all the way from Wales for this launch moment. I poured another shot into peoples’ glasses, and it was duly appreciated. Doug began:
‘I wanted to tell you this story, because it meant a lot to me at an early age. I had just finished school, and it was my first job. Sailing academy, for the Merchant Marine.’
Doug is a professional sea captain, although you wouldn’t think it, given how stern that occupation sounds. Doug’s demeanour is fun-loving, open and easy-going. But he uses dynamic GPS to link pipes together in the open ocean, for oil to travel through, and is in charge of a massive responsibility. I asked him how many years ago it was that he graduated.
‘It was in 1983. You gotta understand, there weren’t many jobs around, and I didn’t seem to be able to get the experience to get a job. People wanted somebody who had done a few jobs already, as well as the paperwork I had. So after a while, I started to get desperate. It was then that thi job came up. The ship had a Captain, but they needed a second Captain for whatever reason. I didn’t ask too much, but I reckoned I could live with being second in command. So we shipped out of San Francisco, southbound for the Polynesian Islands. I should have known on the first day, or even before we got onboard, that something wasn’t right. The provisioning of the boat seemed a bit sporadic and weird, but this crew all knew eachother, and I wasn’t going to be the one to get all regulation on them. This was my chance to get on, as a Captain, and get the experience I needed for my next real job.
So we set off, and went down the coast. After a couple of days out to sea, after turning west, the crew were getting bored, and they started throwing bottles into the water and shooting at them. It was pretty weird, because I had never thought anybody would bring a gun aboard. But suddenly. Everybody seemed to have brought their gun. On a freighter!!!
It was even weirder when one night, I was woken up with a knock for dinner, and went into the Mess to find a huge feast of roast chicken and bottles of wine and beer. It was endless, and for no reason.
The next time I was to wake up, it was with the call ‘The Ship is Sinking’.
It was the next day after the unexplainable feast, and there was a thump on the door of my cabin. I rushed out, and sure enough the boat was listing badly. This was a massive ship, now, with nothing whatsoever wrong with it. I couldn’t get anybody to tell me what had happened, but as I walked around the corner, I was met by one of my ‘buddies’ with a small sailing dinghy which was somehow onboard! He had two lifejackets and some clothes.
‘Come on Doug. I got some clothes for you, a lifejacket and everything’. The shirt was my size!
This whole situation was weird, and I refused to go with him on his little boat. We deployed the two liferafts, and the ten of us got in; five in each. I was in charge of mine, and the other captain in charge of his.