I certainly dont want to dish out blame like a five course dinner, however, on this particular occasion I feel that the truth must be allowed to free itself. I need to rid myself from the swamp that I was innocently sucked into - perhaps erected unwittingly by some of my fellow officers - the results of which I have silently lived with until today.
Oh, yes my friend, another wee dram to wet the whistle would be fine, only one mind you.
This particular disaster occurred before I could react to prevent it. In hindsight I may have been able to alter the outcome or prevent subsequent events piling-up on each other faster than snow falling on the ground in a blizzard. I mean, if I had taken greater interest in the cooks affairs events may not have been so cataclysmic. He had after-all managed to run out of the usual and varied breakfast ingredients before we were even half-way through the voyage. There we were, half-way across the Atlantic Ocean and it was baked beans for breakfast, pork sausages in baked beans, even ravioli in baked beans and more recently just baked beans with baked beans. We had run out of eggs, the bacon shelf was empty and there were no black puddings or even some plain old cereals to munch on, for a change from the fried just hundreds of tins of baked beans with enough variety to ensure a different type for each day of the month.
I could also blame my chief officer for not having checked the cooks storerooms and orders and for the unusually empty shelves. Or I could blame the ships chandler for providing us with the brands of beans that he did. The manufacturers of the baked beans could also be a suitable candidate for investigation: decaffeinated coffee is easily available and cheap so why could we not have had the option to buy 'de-farted' beans?
I could even go so far as to blame the Venezuelan patrol boat captain whose skills did not rise to his position and rank, but this is all in hindsight and as I said before it is not my aim to tell this story to blame others. I simply want to put my side of the story forwards, to clear my own name.
Anyway, when this particular incident arose, it was baked beans for breakfast or nothing at all!
In order to tell the story correctly I must start right back at the beginning, when the little events collided, building up momentum like a steam train rolling downhill without working brakes and until it is too fast to stay on the rails. In this case, the derailment would equate to my sitting in a Venezuelan jail cell surrounded by the most villainous looking bunch of potential drug pushers and lice breeders imaginable.
Anyway, lets start at the beginning. A whisky you say? Why thank you, I wouldnt normally but this is a long story and so yes I will, just the one mind you, thanks so much.
One fine day of many we were seventeen souls sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from England to Venezuela: chugging along through fine seas to meet the horizon that always managed to keep the same distance away from us - always there yet never close enough to touch. Happy Bob was doing the early morning watch, the four to eight. I was doing the eight to twelve watch and Erdengo was doing the twelve to four, the hot sun watch. And the trip was nearly over. By last nights reckoning I had calculated that we would be in port by three the next afternoon, all tied up alongside the jetty in Caracas and with half the crew drunk by six in the evening, with the rest of the evening still to go.
I got up that particular morning with a slight sore head, the reason for which fails me. No dear chap, I only had a couple of drinks before retiring to bed although the party did continue for the others. I had taken only a couple of drinks out of politeness. Anyway, not to worry about such things. That morning I followed my usual routine of shower, coffee and the now dreaded plate of baked beans before heading up to the bridge for the start of my eight oclock watch.
I arrived in sufferance at the bridge door, holding my head with my eyes half-closed and my brain pounding away like a jack-hammer at every slight noise made. What greeted me was akin to falling into a sewerage collection facility, never in a million years could I have imagined what hit me. As I pushed open the bridge door the foulest smell attacked, straight up my nose and down, right into the pit of my stomach. It was a smell so putrid and sickly, so potent and nauseating that it took all of my courage to step further into the wheelhouse rather than turning tail and running for the fresh air behind me. My responsibilities took over and with a pounding head and my arm now across my nose, in poor attempt at restricting the smell reaching me, I proceeded forth into the unknown.
As I got further inside the bridge I held my breath, with apparent little choice to do much else to survive. I was desperately scanning the area for a sighting of a three week old dead kipper or a bunch of kids with stink bombs but instead all I could see was Happy Bob outside on the port bridge wing.
Squashing my nostrils together I rushed across to the exit door and I piled hurriedly out. As I closed the door behind me I shouted at him quickly, "Bob, what the hell is that foul smell inside the bridge?"
Bob turned around and I could see that he was sucking furiously on a cigarette and standing as far as possible from the offending area without falling over the ships side. He said to me with an embarrassed grin, "Just a slight stomach problem Captain. Im sure will clear up a bit later, I hope."
I was at a complete loss for words. The flammable situation inside that wheelhouse behind me was nowhere near being a slight problem. It was far worse than that and would appear to require a professional fumigation team with the appropriate equipment to clear and a long stint in the hospital for poor Bob. However, duty calls and I could see that a sensible approach was necessary. Taking this in my stride, as I did after-all have a ship to get to port that day, I said to Bob, "Well then, open up all the doors and windows as you leave, please and BOB ," I continued through lack of anything else to say, dont light a cigarette up in your cabin, not with that amount of methane hanging around."
Bob soon departed the offending area, opening up all of the doors and windows as he went and within twenty minutes and after frequent re-checking I deemed it safe enough to re-enter the space.
Once back inside I looked at the forward view of my vessel and I could see that the endless line of the horizon was now seriously disturbed with the indistinguishable blobs of solid land getting closer. Hills were by this time starting to take shape and other vessels were now drawing pretty lines on our radar. It was time to contact the authorities ashore for our port clearance and for us to begin preparations for all that the customs and immigration would require. I had already delayed this enough with Bobs issues and therefore, putting aside a constant feeling of nausea, I began the necessary preparations for arrival. I remained busy for the next hour or so, constantly keeping my eye out as we drew closer to land and as the buildings and a port began to take shape.
A bit later-on, I was busy trying to communicate by VHF radio to a grey patrol boat that appeared to be using the whole ocean as a training field for the blind pilots association. All of a sudden I heard a massive gurgling sound, potentially one caused by the remaining water draining out of the Pacific Ocean though a twenty foot drain pipe.
Along with this previously unheard and frightening gurgling sound, one that could easily have drowned out an intercity train at full speed, came a very long and uninterrupted fart that had the results been contained could have provided enough methane to light-up downtown New York for a week.
I am not saying that I have never farted before. But what manifested itself on this occasion was well beyond normal output and well outside the boundaries of known records for depth, volume, intensity and upset. Of course, every person is subject to slight pollution of the atmosphere whether they admit to such or not but what came out of my rear end on that particular occasion, apart from its size and voracity, was a smell that any skunk would have been extremely proud of.
The smell that hit my nostrils could have had the potential to cut short Hitler's advance through Europe and would have made Saddam Hussein welcome the Americans with open arms to his country. Had I managed to capture that smell in a bottle stink bomb manufacturers would have gone out of business and my name would have been entered into the Guinness Book of Records. It was though impossible to even consider such thoughts at the time as the only possible reaction available was an immediate rush for the port bridge wing door and the fresh air that beckoned outside. Had I been a smoker I would have followed in Bobs footsteps and lit one up.
That smell was so bad that I was outside and sucking in fresh air before I remembered that I had n uncompleted task, a duty that certainly did not brook any delay on its completion. I certainly admit, that it never really sank in that I should be doing something else until I saw the whites of the eyes of a Venezuelan skipper who most certainly should not have been onboard my own vessel at that precise moment in time.
There I was, one moment sucking in fresh air, the next staring at what appeared to be an angry man on my very own bow! Not that I could see him that well, he was after-all nearly the whole length of my ship away, but his dancing actions and the fists that he was waving in the air were a dead giveaway.
To cut a long story short and to rid myself of these upsetting memories, I had at the time of the foul smell release rushed away mid-sentence from a radio conversation regarding intended sailing directions. I had charged away, dropping the radio mike on a necessary dialogue with the Captain of the Venezuelan Navy Patrol Boat. He told me later, that it was due to the unsure direction that he should take to avoid a collision that he chose to take the wrong one or I think he said that as his English was awful. Anyway, the unfortunate end result was that he chose to run across my bow instead of going the other way and he thus neatly wedged his boat into the side of my vessel. He struck just under his bridge wing on which he had been standing.
Perhaps just one more barman, its been a long story and it is only the second glass this fine afternoon, after-all.
I had in retrospect actually managed to drop two tasks that I had been in the process of doing. The first was of plotting courses with the navy boat and the second was turning over the autopilot to hand steering. Which perhaps I had managed although I cannot be certain.
I came to realize all of this just after our bows hit with a large smash and as the stricken vessels captain flew head-over-heels off his bridge wing, from where he had been waving hysterically, to land with a thump on my bow. He was lucky of course. Lucky that whilst the ships collided with quite a jerk that he was not injured or hurt.
It was suggested by many that my abrupt departure from the radio and the steering console caused my vessel to swing wildly off-course. The Venezuelan judge, who apparently did not possess a sprinkling of maritime knowledge, suggested that my vessel was still at full speed and that it ended up pointing directly towards the Naval Boat. The Naval Boat then had insufficient time to react and my boat hit his rather than the other way around. In my defence though which was conveniently ignored at the time of the enquiry - I still strongly question why the Naval Captain was standing waving his arms on the bridge wing of his boat when he should have been inside navigating his vessel safely. Maybe if he had been inside doing his job then I would not have found myself inside of a Venezuelan prison cell eating baked beans with my fingers and drinking suspiciously yellow-coloured water.
Somehow, having grasped the essentials of the accident, my captors found it hilarious to feed me a diet of baked beans for the duration of my enforced stay. Baked beans with bread, baked beans with water and so on: but strangely and to their chagrin I never managed to produce a fart, not even a little squeak. Perhaps my system had shut down in fright or this South American Nation had managed to invent 'de-farted beans', I know not. Thankfully, I escaped some torment by not releasing such.
They gave me a lawyer after three months, perhaps after they realised that a fart was not forthcoming. The lawyer spoke no English and my Spanish extended to ordering a beer or two it went no further. So my imprisonment lasted for endless months and I never really knew what was happening outside or if anybody was in fact doing something to help me. I never even heard from my wife, Betty, who I knew must have been distraught. Week upon week without even a little dram to dull the mind, days of living in the filth of a damp cell with only my drug-addicted and well-supplied cell mates for company. One amigo who spoke a mangled form of English informed me that they had found an empty bottle of whisky in my cabin after the event and I suppose this find did not go towards helping my situation any. Oh no dear sir, that bottle must have been left over from a previous Captain, not I.
After what I thought to be four months of incarceration my hippie lawyer suddenly appeared with some guy who said he was the British consul in Caracas. He spoke to me in a squeaky voice "sorry old chap, we didn't know you were here," and a week after that I found myself on a plane home to England.
Immediately after I was released, with no visible show of sadness from my doped-up cell-buddies, the consul informed me that they had decided not to press charges. Apparently, the somersaulting Naval Captain, the whole of the Venezuelan Navy and the whole government soon found the situation hilarious. The first appointed judge was reportedly in hysterics when events were laid out in front of him and he was unable to continue with the case without bursting out in fits of giggles. The consul also informed me that I had been very lucky that they had managed to salvage the Naval Boat without much effort - supposedly the patrol boats bow was so tightly wedged that it had prevented it from promptly sinking and both vessels were then safely brought into port for repair, without much effort or salvage cost.
I am not upset that they found the whole situation funny and that they were obviously blind to the truth. I just hope that the Venezuelan captain learns to navigate his boat before he causes further damage. However, the owners of my vessel and my previous employers did not see any humour in the situation at all. In fact they fired me soon after I landed at London Heathrow Airport. I had of course expected such an outcome. It is usual to find a scapegoat when things go pear-shaped, and despite receiving a huge whack of insurance return for loss of time and repairs I was that goat. I thus found myself out on the streets without a job and with hardly enough money to buy a can of baked beans........ Not that I would have bought one if I could have.
So yes, most people would have blamed the cook, the chandler, the chief officer or the Venezuelan Captain for his lack of attention to proper navigation. Some may even have blamed the Venezuelan Justice system or the beans themselves. But it is all water under the bridge and I never wish to discredit others or to portion out blame like a teacher with homework but instead to dust-off my side of the story. I wish only to present my side of events for the first time, for all to see that it was not my fault after-all.
Of course, having now told you of what actually occurred, you will see that I cannot in anyway be blamed for the events as they occurred and that the company was fully unjustified in releasing me from their services.
Yes folks. That was what happened on that particular day! Oh, if you insist, definitely the last one my dear chap, no, no, keep pouring, right to the top.