Friday, August 19, 2016
By John S. Mickman
In Part III, my deck-mate Ron and I had been hauling up a giant load of shrimp off the bottom of Deadmans Bay when all of a sudden, the huge hydraulic wenches shut down and the engines of our vessel, the M/V Sogn killed. We were dead in the water!
As we looked up toward George, he strode out of the Wheelhouse toward us, and as he walked by the engine stack housing, a huge tongue of fire roared out of the open ventilation door and engulfed him. George quickly jumped through the fire and brushed off his hair and shirt - extinguishing burning embers that were all over him. In the instant Ron saw the fire he yelled out, "Fire. Fire on the boat. John, George, get all the fire extinguishers you can find and meet me at the Engine Room hatch. NOW!" Just as the words came out of his mouth, both the generator and main engine of the Sogn quit. We were dead in the water - in Deadman's Bay!
Ron was not only the engineer, and a good one at that, but he was also the boat owners son and he had every intention of saving his family's boat. As instructed, George and I met Ron at the hatchway that descended vertically into the engine room. As I looked onto the engine room through the 3' x 3' hatch, all I saw was an inferno of yellow and orange fire billowing black smoke up through the hatch and into the deckhouse. Being an old wooden boat, the planks and timbers of the engine room were all diesel fuel soaked - this fire was going to consume the boat - and maybe us with it.
Ron grabbed an extinguisher from me, pulled the trigger and sprayed the whole tank full through the hatch. The flames were still roaring, as he pulled a second extinguisher from George and sprayed it too through the hatch, although this time he kind of goose-necked it around the circumference of the hatchway opening. This made a difference. Although the engine room was still an inferno, right near the hatch area, including the latter going into the engine room was fire free.
Ron grabbed another extinguisher and dropped it through the hatch onto the engine room deck below. After grabbing yet another extinguisher he yelled to us, "I'm dropping down into the engine room. If I don't come up in one minute, lift me out with this line" - a line with a long standing end that he had tied around himself. With that, Ron jumped into the fiery inferno. I was incredulous as I saw Ron disappear into the thick black smoke and into the fiery engine room.
An order from Captain George pulled me out of my dismay. "John, get the skiff in the water and put the kicker and gas tank in it. Now!", he ordered in a 'not to be disputed' tone. "I'll take care of Ron", he said. "Go!"
I flew through the galley, onto the deck and around starboard side of the deckhouse that had latter rung's bolted to the bulkhead. Up I scrambled as fast as I could go. As I was unlashing the heavy aluminum skiff, I surveyed our predicament. The now screaming wind was pushing the Sogn, along with the submerged, yet suspended net, toward the rocky windward shore of Deadmans Bay. In a matter of minutes, we would be on the rocks and the Sogn's hull would be shattered, sinking the boat and - and crashing us all against the unforgiving, sharp teeth of the volcanic rocks of Deadmans Bay. I needed to get this heavy aluminum skiff over a rail, off the second deck of the Sogn, and into the water, right-side up, all while fighting against the wind - while our vessel was afire.
To this day I couldn't tell you how I got the skiff in the water, but I did, and then I fixed the 25 horsepower kicker to the transom and connected the gas tank to it. After double checking my lashings which secured the bow and stern of the skiff to the rail of the Sogn, I scurried back into the deckhouse to see how Ron and George were doing with the fire. When I got there, George was just going down the ladder into the engine room with a fire extinguisher. "Is the fire out?", I asked George. "Yeah, we think so, but we have to look for any places that might flare up", George replied.
As I knelt down to look into the engine room, the stench was overwhelming and smoke was still wafting through the hatch and into the deckhouse. As my burning eyes looked to see down through the hatch, I was shocked at the devastation of our once neat and tidy, gleaming engine room. Everything looked like burnt toast and the ash like residue from the fire extinguishers brushed most of the surfaces of the engines and bulkheads.
After taking it all in, I reminded George and Ron, "I know you guys want to make sure the fire is out, but we're about to go up on the rocks. Like in a minute or two. We should get back on deck". They both looked up at me with sooty faces, took one last look around, then rushed to the hatch opening and climbed out of the engine room.
By the time we all emerged on deck, we were 75 yards off the shore and lumbering toward it as each wave, and the wind, pushed us closer. "John", George asked, "See if you can get the anchor overboard. If you can, drop it until you get enough scope then set it when you feel it take a good bite. Giver 'er plenty of scope but we can't get too close to shore."
I ran alongside the portside of the deckhouse to the bow and inspected the anchor wench. I was concerned about George's order, and for good reason: The final step of raising the anchor is to 'dog' it securely to make sure it doesn't come loose in tough weather. When properly 'dogged', the only way to free the anchor is with the hydraulic motor. Without any power, we didn't have any hydraulics. When I reached the anchor wench I looked at the dogging mechanism and my heart sank; I had properly dogged and braked the anchor. There was no way we could get the dog off to let go the anchor to save the Sogn. No way.
I ran back to the deck and told Ron and George the anchor was useless. Ron got a big smile on his face. "I've got a better idea anyway guys. Our best anchor is already in the water under the boat. All we have to do is let loose the brakes on the dragging wenches and 30,000 pounds of shrimp will keep us off the rocks", Ron explained as he took his position at a wench. I scrambled to the other wench, and when Ron gave the word, we both backed off our brakes and let the cable stream off the reels. We could tell when the net hit the bottom of the bay because all of a sudden the cable stopped unreeling. "Let off another 100 feet you guys", George ordered. "That will keep us in place and off the rocks. Great idea Ron", George said with a grin.
After we felt the net reach the bottom of the bay, we reeled off another 100 feet or so of cable, Ron and I securely locked the wench brakes and watched as the Sogn swung by the stern and was suspended off the rocky shore by a scant 30 yards. Whew!
As the 3 of us surveyed our situation, George looked at the skiff in the water, all ready to go and asked, "How the hell did you get the skiff in the water John?" I looked over the rail at the skiff, neatly tied to the rail with the motor properly mounted and the gas tank all hooked up. Then I looked back at George and said, "I really couldn't tell you George. One minute I was on top of the deckhouse with it, and the next minute I was hooking up the gas tank. I don't know how it happened."
"Well, I hope we don't need the skiff 'cause in these seas it will be tough going for the three of us to reach a beach-able shore", George said as he looked over the rough water of Deadmans Bay. "Ron, let's get to the wheelhouse and see if we have any power to the radio's".
I followed them up to the smoky Wheelhouse and the three of us groaned in disappointment when we found that the CB, the VHF and the long range radios were all dead. No outside communications. We were dead in the water, hanging by the net which was holding the Sogn off shore keeping us from total destruction and there were no other boats anywhere near us. And none would be coming either. No one knew where we were and no one would even begin wondering where we were for days. The three of us looked at each other, all realizing our dilemma.
End of Part IV: Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion of Deadmans Bay.
Posted by Mickman Brothers Inc. at 9:06 AM