After 7 or 8 days at sea we had only seen clues that there were other people in the world; lights at night or a ship seen miles away. There was a map pinned to the dining room wall detailing our daily progress. Two days from Japan we began sighting fishing boats; first one, then groups of two and three and finally whole packs. The bridge crew had to be alert and the foghorn was blown more than once to clear the way. These tiny open boats were way out into the Pacific and more than two days sail from home. They didn’t have the speed of an ocean freighter and may have stayed out for weeks at a time.
I was fascinated by anything outside the ship and would head to the rail whenever something interesting would come into sight. And these boats were interesting! Little one or two man wooden boats with smoke coming from a small engine and a single mast and boom for sailing. These guys had seen plenty of freighters in their time and they didn’t bother to look away from their tasks as the big ship steamed by.
Our captain looked away from his task, though, and spotted me leaning over the rail enthralled. I heard angry Norwegian language coming from the loudspeakers but didn’t realize he was talking to me until the boson came running from another part of the ship hollering for me to get my ass back to work. I hadn’t learned that even if you are doing no real work you must appear to be doing work. Since then, having experienced the wisdom of the work place, I should have pretended to be labouring near the rail and everybody would have been happy. I was definitely in the captain’s bad books now.
This was it! The next morning we entered Yokohama Harbour and dropped anchor. These were the years that the west was busy rebuilding the destroyed Japanese economy and the port was full. The Belnor had to wait its turn as ship after ship was unloaded at the crowded docks. We would sit out in the harbour for ten days. The weather was sunny and there was plenty to do. It was the middle of the workweek and only a few of the crew was allowed to go ashore: all we could do was watch all the tremendous activity of perhaps the busiest port in the world.
There were small boats with the task of delivering seamen to and from the docks. The ship would put out a signal and like a taxi one would divert from its course. These boats were usually filled with a selection from all the seagoing nations of the world. When the officers realized that we were in for a long wait at anchor they began letting the men go to shore after work. The stipulation was that you had to show up the next morning for your day’s work. The crew began to look as wasted as when we first signed on. Shore leave is the curse of the seaman.
to be continued…