Sea Stories – A Break-Bulk Mate’s Bad Day

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April 3, 2009

A Break-Bulk Mate’s Bad Day
by John G. Denham

The weather was raining and windy with some fog from Cape Flattery as far south to Astoria, Oregon. The sea was running high from the northwest being pushed by a 10-20 knots westerly wind. We were heading south and picking up cargo in any port that had a pilot and berth; final port, Valpariaso, Chile. What did not fit in the holds was stored on deck. S.S. Santa Flavia was a war time C2 cargo ship, 16 knot, 5 hatch stick and boom freighter. To go forward, one could only go on the starboard side. Try as we may, we could not build a catwalk on the port side forward of number 2 hold. We waited an hour for the  Gray’s Harbor pilot as the bar was breaking but at 0430 we saw the white over red light and had the pilot on board. “Full ahead Cap, We got’ta run the seas and ride the swell. Might roll a bit, But she’ll fit.” Ordered the pilot.

“Johnny you go for’ard and stand by the anchors, Make ‘em both ready,” the Captain ordered. I could feel the throb of the propeller as it neared the surface and felt the ship plowing into the running sea. At first I was looking down on  the bridge then it was up in the sky. We rolled to starboard and hung there a bit and then, quicker, rolled back to port. Not a comfortable feeling. It was dark. The sea was alive with foam as spray passed over the foc’sle and a couple of seas rolled up the main deck. I looked aft and estimated we were nearly through the Port Chehalis Reach as I could see channel lights ahead and some lights of Westport.

My feet slipped and I grabbed for the brake on the windlass as the ship rolled to starboard. I felt I could reach out and touch the water. I heard a sound I never heard before; the cargo had shifted. As best determined we rolled 30 degree and slowly inched back to 15 degrees and settled there The phone rang and the captain yelled, “Let go Johnny, let go!”  The main engine was shut-down; the generators were off line and the emergency generator was in operations. For all purposes we were not under command and underway. It was hours before plans were complete and local officials allowed the ship with its starboard list was to berth. Existing on board with a list is more difficult than standing up in a hammock. Once alongside the damage was evaluated; over 50% of the number 4 and 5 hold, below deck, upper ‘tween deck cargo had to be re-stowed; moved ashore, inspected and reloaded.  One example of the forces involved was a 100 pound sack of granulated flour was propelled from the port side to the starboard side a distance of 64 feet was impaled on a stanchion. It took two longshoremen to free it from a stanchion. In 5 days Santa Flavia was underway  for Portland, Oregon. I remember Hoquiam, Washington.

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