Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Lost in the Pacific (VII)

This is just one of a series of around fifty old newspaper articles that I have been reading. I have been researching from old newspapers and magazines. Covering the last 200 years or so of life on the inland waterways. With particular interest in the major issues of the day that were effecting the canals. The most active periods for evaluation and change, has always been just prior, during and shortly after the two world wars. It should be remembered that between the wars the ownership of some of the canals changed hands as the railway companies bought up the waterways to get reduce competition. What is not clear is the effect this early form of asset stripping had on the viability of the inland waterways. Its good to take a look back at what people were saying and doing in the past. Most surprising of all are some of the problems that beset the canals back then - are still prevalent today. Reading old newspapers can throw up some rather interesting stories. Here is what we would call today a public interest story.

Caveat: Some of the articles are difficult to read and even using modern electronic  scanning and text conversion methods. The odd punctuation, word or character may have been transcribed in error. 



I could not under understand his demeanour at all, it seemed so heartless, and yet from the kindness he had already shown me. I could not believe him to to be so callous. He's either a queer lot I mused to myself or he is an odd type of British temperament, I've never had any experience with heretofore. 

For the next four days I paced the decks of the Oranasia like a wild beast in a zoo. I could think of nothing save my wife and the expected infant at home and of what an eternity it was taking this old slow boat to plough across the Pacific to new Zealand. Then I would get to calculating how long it would take a Pacific liner tog et from Wellington to San Francisco and how long a southern pacific train would take from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  No matter how I figured it the days would drag in to weeks and the weeks into fortnights and the fortnights into months before I would be home again. If only I could get word to my wife I thought it would not seem so bad. She would understand and give me credit for having done the best I could.

With these thoughts in mind I haunted the captains whereabouts and got a word with him occasionally. Only to receive his curt and now stereotyped reply. Our wireless is not yet in order. I'll tell you when it fixed. I was never of a worrying disposition, but as the time passed  I began to fret and chafe more and more over my inability to get the desired radio message ashore. 

By the third day I had recovered almost completely from the effects of my journey in the open boat. I had begun to grow suspicious that Captain Fentress for some unaccountable reason was not treating me fairly. These suspicions were confirmed late during my third evening aboard the vessel when I I fell into to conversation with the man by the name of Handley who claimed, to be the ship's wireless operator. What is the trouble with your radio equipment I asked him. Nothing whatever sir he replied, in a surprised tone. "We've been sending and receiving messages every day since you came aboard.'' 

As soon as I could get away from the radio operator without exciting someone. I strode up to the door of the captains cabin. A light burning inside indicated that the master was within. I knocked at the door and a voice called 'come in'. I entered and looking at the master directly in the eye.  I demanded to know when he was going to let me get word to my family, as to where I am.  You have told me everyday that your radio outfit is under repair. But I am informed by men on the ship that that it has not been out of order for one minute since I came on board. I realise that I owe my life to you, I am grateful for that. But I feel that some explanation of your conduct towards me is in order.

The captain looked at me for a moment in silence. Then he replied you are very wrong, sir. The entire matter will be explained at daylight tomorrow at which time yon will be privileged to get as many messages ashore as you like. Does that that satisfy you? It does sir, I replied. 

But I assure you that tomorrow morning I shall insist on you fulfilling your promise With that I bid the captain goodnight and left the room. I felt somewhat indignant and I don't believe I was entirely successful in hiding the fact. For some reason I did not sleep well that night. I felt worried and to make matters worse the sea became quite rough the Oranasia was loaded with machinery quite a heavy cargo which caused her to develop a violent pendulum like roll. I woke up frequently and when I found myself unable to get to sleep again. I got up to determine the hour.

In that instant the ships bells sounded twice, indicating the hour as 5am. I noticed that the ship seemed to be absolutely stationary. I could not feel any engine vibration, and an instant later I heard an a harsh metallic noise that sounded much like an anchor chain. unable to account for the evidence of my senses I dressed hurriedly and went out on deck. The first rays of daylight were just breaking. I think my eyes could figuratively have been knocked off with a stick. As I looked over the starboard rail to discover that we were at anchor in the lovely bay of what appeared to be a large seaport. 'Good Heavens' I exclaimed aloud that confounded captain has played a trick on me. It may be funny but he has a weird idea of humour. At that moment the captain himself appeared on deck. 'Good morning Captain Fentress' I said endeavouring to appear as unconcerned as possible. Do you mind telling me what port this is? Guayaquil Ecuador sir, he responded the Captain. We will be here three days, you may go ashore as soon as the Ecuadorian officials come aboard he said. I don't think you will have any trouble getting a ship from here to Panama to connect with your steamer to the United States at Balboa.

Haw haw, Haw haw haw he roared. this is the best joke I have played on anybody for years he said. 'Haw haw, Haw haw haw' he threw back his head literally convulsed with laughter. He has got the craziest idea of what constitutes a joke that I ever heard of I thought. 'But I may as well talk to him good naturedly and let him have his fun over it.'  With that I forced myself to laugh with the captain. 'Well captain Fentress you have had your little fun with me and I hope you've enjoyed it' I told him. 'I'm so delighted to learn the outcome of it' So I am willing to forgive you the suspense you have kept me in. And I haven't forgotten that you saved my life. lets shake hands and be friends as long as we live. 

We shook hands with the captain still chuckling to himself and him wishing me good luck on my journey back to the United States. Two hours later after the Ecuadorian doctor had pronounced me free from contagious disease.  My boat was lowered over the side of the Oranasia and I put putted across the bay to the shore. Six days later I stepped ashore at Balboa Panama. To late to catch the steamer on which I  expected to return to the United States. But in good time to go aboard the battle ship California which was sailing next day for Los Angeles and due to arrive there two days in front of the schedule I had planned in the Pearl Islands.  Twelve days at sea in this man-o-war with all the privilege of a navel officer but with some of the restrictions. i was home again two full weeks ahead as it turned out, of the event that had caused me heartbreak over some six thousand miles of ocean!

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