We had just picked up the pilot, and the apprentice had returned from changing the "G" flag for the "H" flag, and, it being his first trip, was having difficulty in rolling the "G" flag up. I therefore proceeded to show him. Coming to the last part I told him to "let go." The lad, although willing, is not too bright, necessitating my need to repeat the order in a sharper tone.
At this moment the Chief Officer appeared from the chartroom having been plotting the vessel's progress and, thinking it was the anchors that were being referred to, repeated the "let go" to the Third Officer on the fore-castle. The port anchor, having been cleared away but not walked out, was promptly let go. The effect of letting the anchor drop from the "pipe" while the vessel was proceeding at full harbour speed proved too much for the windlass brake, and the entire length of the port cable was pulled out "by the roots". I fear that the damage to the chain locker may be extensive. The braking effect of the port anchor naturally caused the vessel to shear in that direction, right towards the swing bridge that spans a tributary to the river up which we were proceeding.
The swing bridge operator showed great presence of mind by opening the bridge for my vessel. Unfortunately, he did not think to stop the vehicular traffic, the result being the bridge partly opened and deposited a Volkswagen, two cyclists and a cattle truck on the foredeck. My ship's company are at present rounding up the contents of the latter which, from the noise, I would say were pigs. In his efforts to stop the progress of the vessel the Third Officer dropped the starboard anchor, too late to be of practical use, for it fell on the swing bridge operator's control cabin.
After the port anchor was let go and the vessel started to sheer I gave a double ring "Full Astern" on the Engine Room telegraph and personally rang the Engine Room to order maximum astern revolutions. I was informed that the sea temperature was 53 degrees and asked if there was a film tonight; my reply would not add constructively to this report.
Up to now I have confined my report to the activities at the forward end of the vessel. Down aft they were having their own problems. At the moment the port anchor was let go, the Second Officer was supervising the making fast of the after tug and was lowering the ship's towing spring down onto the tug. The sudden braking effect of the port anchor caused the tug to "run in under" the stern of my vessel, just at the moment when the propeller was answering my double ring "Full Astern". The prompt action of the Second Officer in securing the inboard end of the towing spring delayed the sinking of the tug by some minutes, thereby allowing the safe abandoning of the vessel.
It is strange, but at the very same moment of letting go the port anchor there was a power cut ashore. The fact that we were passing over a "cable area" at that time might suggest that we may have touched something on the river bed. It is perhaps lucky that the high-power cables brought down by the foremast were not live, possibly being replaced by the underwater cable, but owing to the shore blackout it is impossible to say where the pylon fell.
It never fails to amaze me, the actions and behaviour of foreigners during moments of minor crisis. The pilot, for instance, is at this moment huddled in the corner of my day-cabin, alternately crooning to himself and crying after having consumed a bottle of gin in a time that is worthy of inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. The tug Captain, on the other hand, reacted violently and had to be forcibly restrained by the Steward, who has him handcuffed in the ship's hospital, where he is telling me to do impossible things with my ship and my person.
I enclose the names and addresses of the drivers and insurance companies of the vehicles on my foredeck, which the Third Officer collected after his somewhat hurried evacuation of the forecastle. These particulars will allow you to claim for the damage they did.
It is sad to think that had the apprentice realised there is no need to fly pilot flags after dark, none of this would have happened.
For weekly Accountability Report I will assign the casualty numbers on my next report.