26th October 2001
In the night I awoke to the sound of a fight outside my cabin door. There was a lot of scuffing noises and shouting in Portuguese which I couldn’t understand. It sounded as if somebody was being dragged against their will to the bridge. It was quite eerie. I went back to sleep and slept soundly until 09:30.
My first day on board. I went up to the bridge and it was a beautiful day, the sea was calm and the sun was shining. I said good morning to the Captain and looked out the aft bridge window to see what was going on on deck. To my surprise nothing was going on! The net lay stretched out on deck with nobody around to work it!
‘Why aren’t we fishing’ I said.
‘In the night we have some problem. The owner tell us navigate for the Azores.’ said the Captain.
I was confused and shocked. ‘Why, what sort of problem?’ I said.
‘The crew are very sad after the accident. One man, he get killed by the cable. The crew not want to go to work and the owner stop the pay.’ He lit a cigarette and settled himself in the chair. ‘Last night, the crew take a knife and bring here the Bosun with a knife at his throat. They demand for pay or they cut the throat.’ He finished with a resigned shrug of the shoulders which said ‘what can you do?’.
And so, just like that the crew committed mutiny. I hadn’t been on board yet a day. With the crew not taking orders, the ship’s owner instructed the Captain to sail immediately for the Azores where some of the crew could be changed and peace brokered. It would take us 4 days to reach the Azores, and a further 4 days back to the fishing grounds. I settled in for a paid ‘holiday’.
I spent the morning getting familiar with the ship’s layout. I walked up to the bow where there were a few fishermen on deck taking in the sun. ‘Hola’ I said, exhausting my Portuguese, and they replied with a full-on Portuguese speech, I understood not a word. I spent a few minutes trying to converse with a mix of Spanglish and sign language. I was relieved that any animosity between them and the Captain or owners, was not directed at me and they were keen to make me feel welcome. I noticed that they were all drinking cartons of wine. I had seen the tell-tale signs of a dog littering the foredeck, and now I met the beast along with his owner who spoke a few words of English. He told me that he was 5 months old and his father was German, but I think he meant the dog!
Lunchtime came. I was dreading being served something stomach churning. I ate with the Captain, Chief Engineer and the Electrician. We were arranged around the table with the Captain at the head and his loyal subjects along his flanks. It was very hierarchical.
A waiter brought in our food, and I was gobsmacked to see that he looked the spitting image of Basil Fawlty! I expected Manuel to come in at any minute.
The Captain was served first then down the chain of hierarchy to Chief, Sparky and then lowly old me.
Soup to start; a muddy slimy liquid with soggy pasta, the first mouthful lined my mouth with ooze and I wanted to wretch, the second mouthful was bearable and the rest was swallowed hastily. A large platter of meats, rice and chips followed. The meat was goat and pork. I took some pork and the flavour was very nice though the texture was gristly. A pudding was served for pudding but not a pudding at all. More of a savoury caramelised set mousse. It had a mild flavour and wasn’t horrible. I asked what the pudding was and I received the reply ‘pudding’ so I’m none the wiser. The table was well stocked with wine, water and bread. ‘Basil’ made sure these were in adequate supply at all times, bustling around like an old hen. Coffee to finish, not coffee as we know it though. It was a highly concentrated syrup of caffeine served in a wendy-house cup. It made my head spin more than a bottle of wine. A video played throughout lunch, ‘The Game’ it was called and was all in English with Portuguese subtitles, the sound was too low to hear properly and it hurt my neck to twist and watch it. There was no conversation other than some grunting which meant that the Captain needed more chips or a toothpick or an ashtray. Basil seemed to understand grunt.
I spent the afternoon settling into my cabin. I’m happier about the whole death and mutiny thing now, and excited about going to the Azores.
Though I get tired if I concentrate for too long, I otherwise feel healthy again and it’s such a relief. I hope it’s because I have my sea legs and not just because we have calm weather.
Dinner was a similar affair to lunch, I began to realise just how well rehearsed Basil had this waiting game; we wanted for nothing, well a nice roast beef and pint of beer would have been lovely, but that was beyond even Basil’s ability. The Captain was always served first and woe betide anybody who should interfere with this arrangement. The only difference to lunch was that we were joined by the Second Engineer. Dinner consisted of the same soup to start, followed by a really nice Tuna salad (potatoes, tuna, rice, beans etc. garnished with green olives) and the same ‘pudding’ for pudding. The wine was good, went down a treat. ‘Face Off’ was the on-board entertainment over dinner.
After dinner I went up to the bridge for the radio show and tuned the radio to the correct frequency. Santa Maria was called halfway through. I introduced myself as the new observer and chatted with the senior observer Sam for a bit. Meanwhile, the Chief Engineer sought my attention by animatedly making circles with his hands over his chest, indicating that Sam had large breasts. I was somewhat confused and distracted by this so the Chief helpfully clarified by blurting ‘big titties’ just as I pressed the transmit button to answer back. Those were the first English words I’d heard him say. Sam moved on to the next observer before I had the chance to give my hail report and notification of our exit of the fishing area. I had to wait until the end of the show to call her up and tell her that we’d be heading for the Azores.
It transpired that Sam was once an observer on the Santa Maria, and so this explains how the Chief had such a vivid mental image of her.
I read and swatted up on the observer manual for the rest of evening and went to bed listening to the world service. I couldn’t sleep for ages. What a surreal day.