"Hello" Came a tired voice though the telephone receiver.
"Morning Rich, you've got fifteen minutes before watch" I said.
"Err ok, cheers Mike" At which the line went dead and I replaced the phone back on its holder.
I went back to the radars to check if we had new contacts on them and like it had been since four o'clock this morning there were none to speak of. Doing a transit of the Pacific Ocean is always dull as there is very little in the way of land to hit and all the vessels sailing on it are so far spread out, as a result, days will go by where all there is to see is nothing but the sea and the sky.
The ship is the Catalonian Star which is a two hundred meter long container ship, and for being fifteen years old it's looking and performing well for her age. I have been on board for just over three months now and when we reach port of Long beach, California I'll finally get to sign off from my first ship, and go back home to the U.K. At the moment I hold the rank of Deck Cadet or Trainee Officer and for only being nineteen I've been to quite a number of places L.A., South Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and Pakistan. But now it's time to head home and to be honest the cold and driving rain is looking good right now especially after having to wait for repairs to the ship in Dubai for a number of weeks. Here a tip, don't play football in temperatures around forty degrees Celsius or over. I found out the hard way.
From the other side of the bridge the Chief Officer is filling out the ships log he gives me that look that I know all too well. So I get the ships heading and course, from both the gyro and magnetic compasses. Checked the wind speed, direction and other stuff with the weather. I also get the sea temperature, air temperature and the air pressure. They all seemed ok. I relay them back to the Chief and he puts them into the log. I went onto the starboard bridge wing to do some pull ups on a bar the deck fitter made for Chief and I. I did thirty in a straight go.
I looked out at the ocean. It was a perfect day. Sunny skies with a few fluffy clouds dotted around. The wind wasn't strong, only a force four and it was warm. I stood there taking in the air. Standing in the sun a lot made me fairly tanned but it wasn't a ridiculous tan, just a light one. The wind helped keep my light brown hair in its brushed back style. My face was slightly scrunched up because of the wind. Many people tell me I look a lot like Don Johnson when he was younger, although I'm not so sure about that. I once had a broken nose which is barely noticeable and I have a scar under my left jaw. I got those during a tough fight two years ago. But that now all behind me and I'm living a new life now. The life at sea.
A few minutes down the line and Richard another cadet like myself comes onto the bridge clutching onto a can of Red Bull, desperately trying to wake himself up for his four hour watch, shortly followed by the third officer to take over the watch. We tell them our speed, course any jobs to be done, which there are none. And if there are anything to look out for, which again there isn't. We continue with our usual routine where we would stay on for roughly five minutes to have a chat about something and have a laugh, which this case is because the third officer produced from his pocket a bag with shredded tea leaves. Why he has it I honestly don't know, but then again he is a bit strange. He then pretends it's cannabis which give us all something to laugh at. But not long after, Chief and I leave the bridge with the watch now handed over.
I go through the rest of the day just how the other days have gone recently. I would go down with Chief to the officer's mess for breakfast. Which was always greasy bacon and eggs. And again Chief and I would complain.
The Bulgarian steward who cooks all the officers breakfasts simply says "What can I do" In his accent while shrugging.
Chief is Russian and he has a right go at him in Russian. I don't know much Russian but I knew it wasn't exactly a compliment. Chief and I had become good friends. I don't exactly have a good record with Russians or those from former Soviet states, the governments in particular for special reasons. But he was an exception. There would be some on board who saw me as coming along to steal their jobs. At first they gave me a hard time. Chief got to like me quick and he stood up for me exercising his power. They quickly fell in line. For that I will always have great respect for him. He also became my mentor and taught me everything I would need to know to become a good officer.
After breakfast I go out on deck and check the refrigerated containers or reefers as there known. Again they were all behaving themselves. I make a note in the reefer log 'ALL REEFERS OK'. Nearly the entire book was filled every line with that same remark. It made the electrician a happy person indeed. I got back to my cramped little four bed cabin which I share with Richard Walkers. He has been my closest friend for years. So I didn't have any problems with him. I spent the next hour writing reports on ship and cargo operations which I would use to further my studies when we would get back to the academy in January. I only do an hour because after that I get so bored I end up making mistakes.
I go down to the gym for my daily intensive workout. I do a whole array of stuff. Two hours I'm in there and I make the most of it. I've always been a fit and active person, and very muscular. But since doing this routine every day for the time I've been on board, I've never known strength like this before. I good thing as I have always had to rely on it. I come out of the gym pouring sweat like it's going out of fashion and go back to my cabin.
By now it's just gone midday and Richard has finally come off watch, him and the third handing the watch over to the second officer. He was always in the cabin waiting for me.
"How's the gym?" He asked as always.
With my exercise vest I wipe the sweat off my face. "Just how I left it. If someone ever thinks about rearranging it, I'll make them think otherwise" I said.
He laughed "And you wonder why no one else uses it apart from you and Chief?"
Chief and I were the only two who looked after our bodies, apart from me with celebratory cigars every now and then.
We were both full of muscle only I was the one who towered above everyone with my impressive six foot eight. Chief was only what I'd call short five foot eleven. Throughout Asia in the clubs while on shore leave, girls cling to me, some calling me a giant.
I have a shower and soon I'm wearing a Hawaiian shirt, beige shorts and flip flops. We go for lunch.
We take our seats in the officer's mess and set before us is the worse meal ever, boiled cow's tongue. We both just stare at it. It still looked like a tongue only it had been sliced. We continued staring at our plates.
"I know you have done many crazy things Michael but, would you say this is up there?" He asked.
"Yes Richard. Yes it is" I said flatly while nodding. We reluctantly ate it. It was disgusting. But it was that or nothing, so no choice but to eat it. The taste will forever be engrained into my mind. I wash it down with plenty of water.
Back to the cabin as there's no deck work to do. Not for cadets anyway, only menial jobs that the O/S's can do. I lie on my bed and Richard sets his laptop to play crap American rock band music. Amazing how the vocalist's all sound the same. But still shit anyway.
"Not long now" Richard said.
"Yeah" I answered slowly.
"You haven't got any chocolate left, have you?"
"Ran out five days ago. And don't bother with the slop chest, that's out as well. But it still has peanuts" I said.
"Joy. So when we get back, will you still be staying in the village? Or are you moving back in with Baines?" He asked.
"I think I might stay with Baines. I think he's calmed down now, and he's finally gotten over me not joining the Royal Navy"
"And I'm glad you didn't. The merchant navy's much better. As we say"
"We're in the merchant navy and we can do anything. I know" I said reciting our newish catch phrase.
"Well it's good, because I've rented a flat out in the bay from Steve, you remember Steve?"
"Yeah, the class clown you always got detention"
"Yeah, well he made a killing on the horses and now is in the property market. It'll be great to see you back in Cardiff. We could meet up with old friends and rampage around town. Just as we used to"
"COME ON YOU BLUEBIRDS!" We both chanted. Cardiff City Bluebirds was our team.
"Jack bastards!" Richard interrupted.
"Hopefully they will crash out of the premier league and will we stamp on them and put them back in their place, below us" I grinned.
"When we get back" Richard started sounding as if he was being serious now. "Do you think they will still come after you?"
I took a deep breath. "They'll always keep coming for me, you know that. I'm just hoping they won't know I'm back for a while so I don't have to keep low straight away"
"Well it was certainly interesting in China wasn't it?"
"Don't remind me. Every time I heard a police car I thought they were coming to arrest me. Never going on shore leave there again"
We carried on chatting the hours away talking about trivial stuff before I went back on watch at four. It was just after two and the ships general alarm rings out for all to hear. It can only mean one thing. Fire. I guessed right as through the intercom comes the captains voice "Attention all crew, Attention all crew. Fire in the second cargo hold repeat fire in the second cargo hold, this is not a drill I repeat this is not a drill"
With this I feel myself go pale as a fire is the most dangerous thing to happen at sea. But quickly our training kicks in and we scramble into our boiler suits and safety boots and bolt out of the cabin and dash down the stairway five decks to our muster point. Luckily for us we're the first in our team to get there so that's something that can noted in the report for later, which is good news for us. Quickly the team leader who is the second engineer and the rest of the team arrive and we roll call. With everyone accounted for, the leader radios the bridge to say so and to receive orders. At first we are told to wait for now while the first and second team are dealing with it, but should gear up in case. So we get started with that and a few minutes Richard and I along the rest of the team are wearing our fire suits and with our breathing apparatus referred to as BA's at the ready. The next few minutes seem to take forever but finally we are told from the bridge another fire has broken out in the cargo hold, and the other teams have their hands full. We all put on the face masks of our BA's, and then flash hoods then last but not least the yellow helmets and we all make our way forward to the cargo hold.
Once we arrive the second engineer tells Richard and I with two A/B's to go down and start a sweep of the hold. Locate the fire and report back by radio then tackle it. So one by one we are down the tight hatchway and straight into intense almost painful heat. Even with the fire suits you still feel it. The temperature is around two hundred degrees Celsius so we can't stay in there for long, we have to work fast. The four of us make our way through down the many levels of the hold though the blinding smoke, deafening noise and intense heat. We get five levels down and we lay eyes upon what looks easily like a vision of hell itself.
So straight away I'm radioing back "Second, second, Mike. We have located the fire five levels down on the port side but can't tell exactly what type of fire though"
We are told to try as dowse it with water anyway. So we do for around five minutes and it quickly becomes clear that isn't working. So we start to retreat back out of the hold we me at the rear. As we are going up the stairs however a massive explosion from somewhere in the hold knocks me of my feet. I end up on the floor and my torch broken. I'm quickly on my feet again trying to regain my bearings, but it no use in the smoke and I realise I've lost my team. I'm now lost within this hell. But there only so much training can do and now I'm starting to panic, breathing harder which only uses up precious air and time for me to get out. As I start to get myself together something dawns on me. In every direction I look I see just fire on all sides coming in for the kill. Fearing it to be the end all I can think to myself is 'And to think I would be home in few days'
As I wait for the inevitable a container just to my left explodes and all I see is white light and I horrible ringing in the ears and just as it quick as it came… came nothing.