Chapter 1

His summer vacation in 1959 started out differently. Rick wondered if he would live.

It started when Rick checked out of the hotel in New York City with his sea bag over his shoulder, and took a cab to the Red Hook Terminal in Hoboken NJ. There was no problem when he arrived.

The purser on the ship was expecting Rick so it was an easy transition. In the flurry of paperwork, Rick didn't even notice the ships name. The purser had him sign the ships papers, then took his American Passport

"For its safety," he said. Rick figured it was to prevent him from jumping ship.

Rick confirmed that he was leaving at the end of July in Spain. That was fine and what he had been told. He had a hand show him where he was to bunk.

After the guy showed me his bunk, he took off. Rick heard a deep voice behind him.

"It looks like we have a new toy, guys."

The ninth grade was definitely over, and Rick's 'vacation' had started.

Rick turned quickly ready to fight for his life. Standing there were three sailors. The one in front was a scrawny little guy with the biggest muscles on his arms Rick had ever seen.

"Had you worried didn't I? Names Jim Kendrick but my friends call me Popeye." As he said this he stuck out his hand, for a shake. When Rick grasped his hand it felt like holding onto a steel bar. He didn't play any games, he just shook Rick's hand and let it go. If he had wanted, he would have Rick on his knees in no time.

Kendrick went on, "This here is Bo Grady and Steve 'Patch' Johns both able-bodied seamen. My job is to get you squared away. Let's go to the galley, and I'll fill you in."

Rick felt an enormous relief as he realized, he not only wasn't about to die, but was getting some direction in his new job. As they headed to the galley, he acknowledged to himself he had willingly walked into something that was over his head, and that he was scared. He hadn't realized it until the fear started to lift.

On the way, Popeye explained they were part of a four ship company fleet and as such had their own ways. "People think sailors have a common ranking system and keep watches all the same on every ship. That's not true. While Navies are standardized, even they differ from each other. I would much rather serve with the British where you get an issue of grog than the US Navy which is teetotal.

Here our watch system is straight forward. Each watch is four hours, first watch starts at midnight and runs until four am. There are eight bells to a watch, one every half-hour. After the first-half hour it is one bell, at the end of the four hours is eight bells. We do overtime on a full watch basis of four hours or a dog watch of two hours."

"How did you end up here anyway?" This question was asked as they arrived at the galley and poured coffee.

"I signed up at the hiring hall and the agent asked if I minded this voyage, he owed the Captain a favor of a sober physically fit crewman. Since it gets me to Spain at the end of July, I said yes. By the way, what is the name of this boat? I was just told, which berth to go to."

Popeye laughed at Rick and replied, "This is the Pride of Liberia, and you sure are a green one. This SHIP has had some pretty sad crews in the past, but we seem to be okay now."

"Uh, what is the difference between a boat and a ship?"

"A ship can carry a boat, but a boat can't carry a ship. It is a matter of size. That isn't even a one hundred percent definition. Ocean-going fishing boats can be pretty damn big, but they are still called boats, same for ore carriers on the great lakes; some are bigger than us, but they are still called boats. For most of us on the ocean, a ship can haul a boat on board, but not the other way around."

"Thanks, I see I have a lot to learn."

"As long as you learn before your ignorance kills you, it's okay."

Rick really felt comforted by that thought.

In the galley, they had a cup of coffee while Popeye explained about the ship.

Popeye explained that the Pride as he called it is a fifteen-thousand-ton general purpose cargo ship. It is four hundred and forty-one feet and six inches in length; its beam is fifty-nine feet and four inches. It is powered by two triple inverted quadruple expansion engines by two oil fired boilers. It carries ten thousand and eight hundred and fifty-six ton's deadweight with a crew of forty-eight.

What Rick learned from this, is this is a big ship. The look on his face must have shown his non-comprehension because Popeye laughed and told him it would come to him over time.

"Let's get you squared away to work. First, I will show you how to arrange your cabin, and check out the gear you brought."

Rick's cabin turned out to be about twice the size of a single bed. He could fit in it and turn around, but that was it. It had a small fold down desk, cabinets and drawers to stow his gear even a small 'head'. It was equipped with a shower. The toilet was in the shower. Rick figured he could shower and shave while doing his daily business.

Rick is still fifteen.

Popeye checked his gear out while Rick was putting it away. He approved of the work clothes that Rick had brought. His steel-toed safety boots, worn and scuffed as they were caught his eye.

"Had these for a while?"

"Yes Sir," replied Rick.

"Well they tell a good story, you are willing to work, and I work for a living so don't call me Sir."

"Yes Si," Rick started, but cut himself off. "Yes, Mr. Popeye."

Popeye flicked Rick in the back of the head with a finger that felt like an iron bar. "It's Popeye he growled."

"Got it, Popeye." Ricks head smarted.

Now that we understand who I am, let's talk about your work. I'm starting you out on our third watch, that is eight am until noon, then the fifth watch which is four pm to eight. Any overtime you are asked to put in will be on fourth watch, noon to two or four depending on how long we need you. You can turn down overtime, but most sailors need the money. I would recommend as the new guy you work when asked.

I'll work all I'm asked Popeye," responded Rick as he rubbed his sore head.

This voyage isn't long enough for you to make able seaman, but we will get some of your ticket punched. Starting tomorrow and third watch you will be chipping paint. When and if you get good at that we might let you have a paint brush. The fifth watch will be spent checking out containers in the cargo hold. Things shift all the time down there so the tie downs and chains have to be checked constantly.

It sounded pretty cushy to Rick. He had helped remove wall paper and to paint many an apartment and it was fairly easy to do.

Popeye took him to the bridge where he was introduced to Captain Jonas Grumby, First Mate Ben Cartwright, Second Mate Henry Warniment and Third Mate Tony Danza.

They were all pleasant to him, but you could see he was just another sailor to them.

Rick woke in the middle of the night to a thrumming that went completely through the ship. He realized that they had cast off and were underway. He dropped right back to sleep.

He woke up at his usual five am. The previous day he checked out the deck with the thought of running in mind. Popeye told him it was okay, but to always be cautious if it was rough weather. It would be easy to go overboard.

It would take about ten trips to go a mile so he decided that he would only do a couple of miles a day for the voyage. He would pay for it in his conditioning later, but you could only go in a small circle for so long.

The deck had a coating so that it wasn't slippery and there was good lighting all the way around. Actually, the lighting was so good he could run at any hour of the day or night. After his run he felt tightness in his legs and realized that running on steel decking was different from anything he had ever done. He would have to think about this. Maybe it wasn't a good idea to run at all.

He did get in his pushups and sit ups before running so it wasn't a total loss.

Popeye collected him for his first watch at sea. They really weren't that far at sea as the coast line was visible to their right or starboard since they were at sea. Rick wore his safety helmet, glasses, steel-toed boots and gloves as instructed. Popeye gave him a bright orange vest to wear so other workers could see him easily.

Chipping paint wasn't the same as sanding a wall in a house. This paint was layered on layers from many paintings. It was bubbled and cracked and a general pain. It took a hammer and chisel to chip away the loose flakes. Rick asked about using a power tool, but it was explained that an electric drill with a steel wire brush would weigh in at about ten pounds, and he would last about half an hour before his arms fell off.

Rick wondered if the drill weight could be reduced using a plastic housing, but forgot about it in the excitement of starting his new job. That excitement lasted all of five minutes. After that it was work. It was boring work. He tried to convince himself that he was making the ship better so it would last longer. By the end of his four-hour shift his arms felt like they were about to fall off. He was wondering if he could find any plugs to pull to sink this cursed vessel.

When Popeye collected him, he commented that Rick had done a lot of work. "Good job Rick, cleared more than I thought you would. Did you take any breaks?"

"No, am I allowed to?"

"Ten minutes is okay or if you need a trip to the head. You mean I didn't tell you that?"

"You must have forgotten it."

Popeye smirked, "I seemed to forget to tell every new guy on his first shift. I find out what they are made of really quick. You hung in there, as I said, good job."

Rick would have hit him, but he couldn't raise his arms that high.

When he returned to his tiny cabin, Rick cleaned up, took a nap then went to the galley for lunch. Lunch consisted of cold cuts set out to make your own sandwich. They were actually quite good.

After lunch, he wandered around the ship learning the layout. Some crew members were playing basketball on the main deck, but after watching for a while he moved on. His arms were feeling a lot better by the time his next watch started. He met Popeye at cargo hold one as instructed, all geared up.

Popeye handed him a large flashlight from a rack near the hatch. "When you go below always grab a flashlight in case you have to go into an enclosed space. Sailors have got into serious trouble by not being able to see what was around them."

He also handed Rick a short iron bar he called a belaying pin.

"We use this to tap on ropes and chains to check if they are tight. This isn't really a belaying pin as used in the old sailing ships, but the name has continued."

They climbed down into the cavernous hold. There were crates of every size and description stacked from the deck to the overhead. They were tied down with rope or chained into place.

"Rick, if this shifted in a storm we would be in bad trouble. We have to check these constantly. Things work lose all the time. I will show you how to tighten things up, but you never come down here alone and you never, ever work with loose cargo by yourself. It will get you dead quickly.

They worked their way around the hold, Rick pounding on ropes as he went. He found one that had some give in it, when hit. Popeye double checked and agreed that it needed tightening; using the iron bar as a turnbuckle, they refastened the wooden crate.

As they went on Rick marveled at the sheer number and sizes of the containers in the hold. He asked Popeye how they ever figured out what went where.

"That's the hardest part of my job. As bosun I am in charge of the deck, which includes bringing all the cargo on board with the derricks, and stowing it in the hold."

"It takes experience to get it right. I have to check everything on shore, they tell the longshoremen what order, I want it in. Of course, they want to do it the easiest for them, so I have had several discussions on the issue. Now days, they do as I say."

As he was making these remarks, he was holding a massive arm up and making a fist.

As they worked their way around the hold, Rick thought about all the labor that went into moving the cargo. They had to unload it from a truck or railcar then reload it on a ship. Once it arrived at its destination the process was reversed.

It dawned on him that it had to be loaded on a truck or railcar in the first place. In some cases, it was hauled from the factory on a truck to a rail station, by train to the ship, then from the ship to a truck onto another railroad, then onto another truck. Each individual container had to be handled five or six times. It was a shame they didn't have a huge container which could be loaded at the factory then opened at its destination. That would cut the amount of handling tremendously. It would also give a uniform container size which would make loading decisions easier.

He wanted to give this some serious thought.

From New York, they coasted down to the mouth of the Delaware River and turned upstream. Their next destination was Baltimore to pick up more cargo. They would save a lot of miles and fuel by using the Delaware Canal to go from the Delaware River to the top of the Chesapeake Bay. This was better than going clear down to the mouth of the Bay and coming back up.

They picked up a Delaware Canal pilot before entering the Canal. Their pilot was a guy named Noah Ireland. Popeye said the guy had been doing it as long as anyone could remember. He thought he must be a hundred or so, but that couldn't be.

They would change pilots at the Delaware, Maryland state line. The Maryland pilot would take them onto Baltimore.

While they were going through the canal, they passed a restaurant near Chesapeake City. It was Schaefer's Canal House a local land mark. It was within feet of passing ships. The restaurant would always announce the name of any passing ships and their listed cargo. They picked this up from radio communication between the ship and pilot.

This evening a young lady and her family were having dinner there. They were celebrating her Air Force General father's second star. They were seated next to the window and had an excellent view of the passing ship. Cheryl Hawthorne saw a sailor standing on deck. It looked a lot like her old boyfriend Rick Jackson, but it couldn't be. He was now a movie star in Hollywood.

She mentioned this to her parents, but the ship had passed the restaurant, by the time they looked.

Her mom Cynthia said, "You really liked him didn't you?"

"Yes I did mom; I think he was my first love."

Her dad Major General James Hawthorne asked, "Shall we tell your new boyfriend Bill about this?"

"Dad, I think we can pass, thank you."

In the meantime, Rick Jackson standing on deck of the ship was wondering if he would meet any girls this trip. Girls were more on his mind all the time.

The next day as they loaded cargo in Baltimore, and Rick chipped paint; he paid attention to the loading. Not only was it time consuming, but it could be dangerous. A cable broke while they were hoisting a crate aboard. The wooden box broke into pieces when it hit the deck and its contents, some sort of machine, smashed to bits. Luckily, no one was under it.

This gave Rick more reason to think of some sort of large container. As he was thinking these thoughts, a short trailer was pulled onto the dock. Most trailers were forty to fifty feet long; this one was only about thirty feet. The trailer doors were opened and longshoremen began unloading some fragile looking boxes by hand.

Rick thought it would be neat if they could have just hoisted the entire trailer aboard. A light bulb went off. Why not have a container which would sit on a frame. You could load the container at the factory, load it onto a special frame that the semi would pull, move the container to the railcar directly on board a ship, and not touch the contents until it arrived at its destination.

That afternoon he started making a list of the design issues. He came up with height, width and length of the box, weight which it could hold and hard points to lift from. Later, he asked Popeye how much dead weight one of the cranes on board would lift. He was told almost a hundred thousand pounds or fifty tons.

He remembered hearing that an over the road truck could take forty thousand pounds or so, so there was plenty of room to work with.

He dashed off a letter to his patent attorney with sketches of his idea. He asked him to draw up an NDA for Paul Samson the Mechanical Engineer he worked with; he listed out the idea and asked him to investigate what size and materials would be best for a container as he described.

They were in dock long enough for him to have them mailed. He didn't go off the ship, as they didn't have liberty at Baltimore but Popeye got the Purser to drop them in the mail for him. Popeye thought they were letters to girlfriends. He joshed Rick about sending two of them.

Popeye did look at the addressees as he handed them to the Purser, one letter to a lawyer and another to an Engineer. That was one strange kid they had on board.

From Baltimore, they sailed to Miami. Rick had more time to think while chipping paint. He sent a letter to his Dad explaining his thoughts. The cargo container would actually be the easy part. They needed a truck bed to hold the container. Once at the ship, there would be no problem rigging it to bring it on board or to off load.

The problem would be at the other end where they had to haul it to its destination.

With that in mind Rick asked his Dad to look into purchasing a small truck line which specialized in trans-ocean shipping. They would need one that has customers who have many small containers. To further complicate matters they would need to buy a truck line or at least make arrangements with one at the point of delivery to have the special trailers available.

There was also the matter of return loads on each container. The containers would have to be marked and sent to the correct destination, but Rick figured his Dads railroad experience would come in handy. They had to identify and track every railcar, so it had been done before.

It was two weeks before his family would fly to England so Dad would have time to set things in motion. Rick didn't have a clue where to find the truck line needed, but there must be a way. Some business brokerage or freight association would probably be able to help. He put that suggestion in the letter and hoped it would work.

After they left Miami for Havana, he mentioned his hunt for a truck line to Popeye. At that point Popeye knew the kid was strange, but took him to the Purser. The Purser dealt with the freight companies that delivered their cargo to the dock. Actually, a freight forwarder handled that, but the Purser paid the bills, so he knew what was going on.

The Purser Sam Simpson came up with a thought.

"There is one small trucking firm we used to use in Baltimore. This last trip another one was chosen, and I asked why. Apparently Narrow Freight is in financial trouble, and they were hesitant to use them."

"Thanks Mr. Simpson, you don't happen to have any contact information for them do you?"

After some rummaging around in his files, the Purser found an old invoice with the company contact information. Rick copied it down and thanked the Purser profusely.

Popeye was curious about what was going on and asked Rick directly. Rick thought for a moment and asked, "Would you mind signing a NDA?"

"What in the seven hells is an NDA?"

Rick explained it to Popeye. While he did Popeye actually looked a little popeyed. This kid was strange!

"Sure, I wouldn't have anyone to tell anything to anyway."

Later, Rick wrote up one, the best he could from memory. He certainly had seen enough of them in the last year.

Popeye signed it, and the Purser witnessed it as a Notary Public. As Simpson witnessed the document, you could tell he was bursting with curiosity, but resisted asking what was going on. There were four copies made, one for Popeye, and three for Rick. He would mail one to his patent attorney and two to his Dad.

Once that was out of the way Rick and Popeye walked the deck during the short cruise to Havana. Popeye was about dancing as the details unfolded.

"You can make this happen? This will change our entire business. What was days in port will become hours. The longshoremen will hate it at first as many will lose their jobs. At the same time, shipping costs will go down, so more will be shipped, recovering many of those jobs. To the plus side it will be a lot easier job."

"Rick, this is going to take real money to get it going, do you have access to real money?"

At this point Rick, told Popeye some of his story, about how he had money coming in from inventions and had worked in Hollywood. To say Popeye was amazed is putting it mildly. Popeye did miss a critical point when he didn't ask Rick his age.

When he heard that Rick was working his way as a deckhand while the family flew to England, he about busted a gut laughing.

"Your Mum is one tough bird; she reminds me of a girl I dated in England during the war, Sybil Newman."

"I have an Aunt Sybil Newman."

"Your Mum's name wouldn't be Peg by any chance?"

"Yes it is."

"She ended up marrying some MP Officer?"

"Yeah my Dad, Jack Jackson."

"Boy it is a small world; I came within a hairs breath of being your Uncle, but got put on the Murmansk run, then we had to make a run to the Pacific, and we never caught up again. Who did Sybil end up marrying?"

"She didn't. Word in the family is that some sailor broke her heart, and she has been alone ever since."

Popeye left rather abruptly.

When they docked in Havana Rick was informed that they would be in port for several days and that he could go ashore. He jumped at the chance. Instead of going to the bars and houses of ill repute with the others on leave, he hired a taxi to take him on a tour of the city.

His taxi driver complimented him on his Spanish. While out, Rick posted a letter to his Mum telling her about a certain sailor.

After he had been shown most of the city, he paid up and walked through the market. He bought tourist trinkets to send home to the family, but nothing significant caught his eye. He stopped in a small restaurant for lunch.

While waiting to be served, he observed the other diners. One group, in particular caught his attention. They appeared to be Cuban Army and Russian Soldiers. They were having a good time, like old comrades in arms. Several of the soldiers were involved in trading unit patches.

These looked interesting to Rick. The Russian ones had rockets on them.

While he was eating most of the soldiers left, this included all of the Russians. Remaining behind were two of the Cuban soldiers who had been trading patches. They had a stack of them in front of them and were having a low discussion.

Rick could hear scattered words. He picked up enough to realize that they were discussing selling the extra patches and were trying to decide how much to charge. He took a chance and approached the men. When they realized he was interested in the unit insignia, they named some sky-high prices. After some spirited negotiation where Rick was called a thief and worse, and he in turn cast aspersions on their manhood a deal was struck.

For twenty dollars, US Rick was now the proud owner of unit and rank insignia of the 43rd Guards Missile Division of the 43rd Rocket Army of the Soviet Union. Upon leaving the restaurant, he purchased envelopes and postage to send them to his Mum for safekeeping. He also suspected she would be interested in what was going on these days in Cuba. Relations between the US and Cuba were deteriorating ever since Castro came into power.

Before he dropped the patches in the mailbox, he had second thoughts. He would mail them from the ships next port of call, Buenos Aires. He took another taxi back to the ship. He never noticed the man who had been following him all day.

After Rick boarded the ship, his tail reported that the American sailor was just a kid out for the afternoon. The tail had elected to wait for Rick outside of the restaurant, so he wouldn't have to buy a meal. This way, he could eat cheaper elsewhere and pocket his per diem. He didn't see Rick make his purchase.

Once back at the ship Rick remained on board for the rest of the stay. Two days later, they sailed for Buenos Aires on June 16. Two day into the voyage they ran into a developing low pressure trough. It had not been forecast but according to Popeye, who kept track of news from the bridge it was building rapidly and might be a problem.

The barometer was 29.8 inches of mercury and falling. He had all hands battening hatches and checking all the cargo lashings. He had ropes put up between all open areas that would still have to be accessed under heavy seas. Rick thought this was total overkill as the skies were clear and sunny.

The next-day bands of rain kept coming over the ship, and the seas became heavier. Rick who didn't have motion sickness problems thought it was neat. The barometer readings were now 28.5 and still falling. The wind out of the east was now coming in gusts.

Rick asked Popeye what would be happening.

"We are going south as fast as we can, right now the Captain thinks we can cross the path of the storm before the main body catches us. I'm not certain about that, this one seems to be moving mighty fast."

"What can we expect if we get caught up in it?"

"I hope you don't find out. If it gets bad, we will have to turn and drive into it, so we don't get struck broadside and capsize. It is moving too fast for us to turn and run in front of it. Going south by east is the best we can do, going due south would have us on land. We need to round the northern edge of South America before we can turn completely south, that means we are running directly into the storm right now."

"How bad will it get?"

"Pretty bad, I have seen some nasty storms in my thirty some years at sea, but this might be the worst of them all."

"What should I be doing?"

"First go to your cabin and stow anything that is loose. Then come back here and help with the galley. Cookie is making a bunch of cold food because there is a good chance he won't be able to cook for a couple of days."

Rick did all that. In the meantime, the storm clutched ship started to roll and pitch in ways he hadn't experienced before. It also started to make sounds. There would be creaks and moans. They started out high pitched like the ropes and lines of the ship were thrumming under tension.

As the day progressed the sounds deepened as though the entire hull was alive and twisting. At this point all the sailors could do was stay inside the ship. Water was bursting over the prow in such waves that anyone venturing out would be swept away.

They couldn't even talk to each other over the roar of the wind, the water and groans of the ship.

At one-point Popeye leaned over to Rick and shouted into his ear. I just felt us turn; we are running directly into the storm now; the Captain must be afraid we will broach if we try to cross its path anymore.

The ship was running into the teeth of thirty foot and higher waves. It would rise as the wave came under it and then crash back down as the wave passed them. Rick was beginning to wonder if the ship would break in half.

As he thought it couldn't get any worse, it did. The ship went up on a wave and then gave a lurch as it moved sideways in a lurch. Rick thought for sure they were going to break up when they hit the bottom of the trough of the wave. They didn't.

As Rick sat there he began to realize how those guys in the first wave on D-Day felt, there was nothing they could do on what was about to happen. All choices were gone, all they could do was endure and hope to survive.

The trough was the scariest moment of the storm. It took another six hours of battering before it started to ease, but it was never as bad again as when the ship almost corkscrewed into the waves. There was a good chance that they would have gone under, but they didn't.

When things were quieter Popeye asked Rick, "Are you was still glad you've become a sailor?"

Rick replied in a shaky voice, "Sure, piece of cake."

Popeye was chuckling, "You would be more convincing if you still weren't shaking."

"My God Popeye, how close did we come from breaking up?"

"Too damn close for my liking. That was by far the worst I have been in. Now let's go up to the bridge and see what we need to do."

When they got to the bridge there was a very bleary-eyed watch crew. The Captain had been on the bridge with all the mates for the entire storm. Now things were settling down they want to restore order and get some sleep.

The biggest problem facing the ship was the radio room. The equipment was not as secure as they thought and had broken free from its brackets. Unfortunately, the radio officer, "Sparks," was in the room at the time. He had a broken collar bone, right arm and severe concussion.

The Captain and Mates were trying to figure out how to restore communication, but none of them had any real experience. Rick listened for a while and then spoke up.

"I have a ham radio license; would you like me to see if I can get anything to work?"

The Skipper shrugged his shoulders and replied, "Sounds like the best deal going, give it a try."

Rick went to the radio room behind the bridge. It looked like the place had been worked over with a sledge hammer. He returned equipment to its apparent place. The microphone was beyond salvage. The transceiver while dented came on when he powered it up. He could send and receive, but had nothing to convert the signal to voice. He checked out the antenna. By some miracle, it was intact.

He rummaged in the closed cabinets and found a varnished wooden box. In it was a Morse setup, key which must have been fifty years old. Now if he could remember what he learned in Boy Scouts he was in business.

After hooking it up he sent CQ, CQ, CQ, this is KC69ATM calling any station. His dits and dahs were slow, but he picked up as he worked at it. He would never be professional, but at eight words per minute he would be able to get the job done.

Nothing came back at once but after several attempts, he got a return. It was a land-based operator in Sao Paulo Brazil. After exchanging call signs and locations he signed off and went back to the bridge.

"Skipper we can send and receive in Morse but that is it, do you want to compose a message?"

"Hold on for a minute." As he spoke the Skipper wrote out a message for Rick to send.

It said, "Lost radio, Sparks is injured, going to Caracas VZ to replace radio, and get Sparks to a hospital. End Captain Jonas Grumby, Pride of Liberia." It was addressed to the shipping company's headquarters.

Rick's CQ was returned by an operator in Puerto Rico who said he would relay the message. He let the Skipper know the message was sent. Rick was told to take over the radio duties until further notice.

Rick continued straightening up the radio shack. Sparks was in the ships small infirmary; Rick would be bunking in the radio shack until they docked in Caracas. There was an alarm set up if a message started coming in during the night that would wake Rick.

He had been in the shack for three hours and was getting bored as he scanned the airwaves when he heard his call sign. There was an incoming message from the owners. They acknowledged their difficulties and confirmed the Skippers actions.

It took thirty hours of steaming, but they made Caracas with no further issues.

Once docked in Caracas arrangements were made for the ship to be surveyed. It had been under terrible stress during the storm and had to be structurally checked out. Breaking down and having to be towed at sea was one thing, breaking in half was another.

During this time period, the crew was allowed shore leave. Immigration officials checked out their passports, which were left with the ship. They were given temporary identity cards to allow them to go from ship to shore for their brief (hopefully) stay.

Popeye and his friends gave Rick a taxi tour of the city. Rick's conclusion at the time was that Caracas wasn't a place he would care to live. As a matter of fact, he would refer to it as a hole.

After that afternoon foray ashore he elected to stay in the dock area. It was large enough that he could run which he did twice a day. It felt good to stretch his legs. Popeye thought he was crazy.

On the second day, a replacement radio officer came aboard. He had been flown in from headquarters with several large packages containing new radio equipment. Rick helped him set it up, and then was out of the radioman's job. He was back to working as an ordinary seaman. This was okay with Rick as he wasn't hunting for a new profession.

On the third day, they were released to go back to sea.

On the morning tide, they sailed for Buenos Aires.

Rick found out that he had been promoted, instead of chipping paint he was allowed to paint the surfaces he had chipped! The only good thing about it he was able to give serious thought about the container business as he thought of it. He came to the conclusion besides owning a truck line and having arrangements with a shipping company he should also invest in a company to manufacture the containers.

He would also have to find some way to convince ports to put in special areas for the moving and storage of the containers along with special handling equipment. Then there was the question of what would be needed at a railroad yard to handle containers. Many questions had to be answered along the way. He hoped that he could call home from Buenos Aires and catch his parents before they left for England to get a progress update from his father.

When Rick finished his evening watch several days later, desperately needing a shower, he was caught at his cabin door by Bo and Patch.

"What have we here, Patch?"

"Looks like a slimy Pollywog to me, Bo,"

At that point, they roughly grabbed Rick before he could protest. They began removing his shirt and pants. He was about to start physical action when Patch said, "Now we have to dress you to appear in front of King Neptune."

That was weird to Rick for a moment, were they planning on throwing him overboard? Then it dawned on him they were crossing the equator sometime during the night. He relaxed as they stripped him down. They turned all of his clothes inside out, then let him get redressed, with everything on backwards.

He was taken to the galley/dining area. There a bearded King Neptune in a glorious robe, crown and trident, waited along with his court. Well Popeye, in a ragged robe with paper stars pinned onto it wearing a tacky false beard holding a bent homemade trident with a crown made of a hand-cut strip of aluminum awaited with a similarly clad court.

"So this slimy Polliwog who wants to become a Shellback has answered our subpoena," roared Popeye.

"Is that true, Polliwog?"

Rick stammered out, "What subpoena."

"You deny you received a subpoena?"

Rick began to realize he was in deep. "Sir, maybe I didn't recognize the subpoena."

"We must get to the bottom of this, administer the truth serum."

Patch brought forward a bottle of a foul looking concoction and said, "Open wide."

Rick thought, in for a penny in for a pound opened wide. Patch poured a generous dollop into his open mouth. Rick would've screamed if he could. His mouth puckered up and burned like the fires of hell at the same time.

He was gasping for breath when King Neptune asked again. "Did you receive a subpoena?"

"Yes, Sir," gasped Rick in a mangled voice.

"You lied to my court, whip him!"

Bo and Patch brought out cut off lengths of fire hose and pummeled him about the neck and buttocks. Actually, they didn't hit him very hard at all. By this time, Rick had enough wits about him that he screamed in mock agony and pain anyway.

"Help him with his pain," said Neptune.

Bo had Rick open his mouth, and Patch cracked a raw egg and pour it into his mouth.

Next Neptune said, "He needs to kiss the Royal Babies Belly." The Royal Baby was Third Mate Tony Banta dressed in a huge diaper. Rick wondered what the black stuff was that Tony had smeared on his belly was. He quickly found out it was axel grease as he got a mouth full.

"Introduce the Royal Court to the new Shellback. My Queen is Her Highness Amphitrite."

The Queen looked suspiciously like First Mate Ben Cartwright to Rick. Then he was introduced to First Assistant Davy Jones, who looked a lot like Skipper Grumby.

Now for the beauty contest, let the slimy Polliwog judge the contest.

Women came out, well men in drag, very poor drag. Rick recognized the ship's engineer, a deck steward, and a deck hand among the six candidates. Rick wondered how he would decide which of these "women" was the most beautiful.

"It is a hard task we have put before this slimy Polliwog, let us help him. Administer the truth potion. That way, none of these women can accuse him of being false in his reasoning."

At that point, Patch raised the loathsome concoction. He winked at Rick as Rick slowly opened his mouth. As it poured in Rick realized the contents were different. It was Coca-Cola!"

He not only swallowed it, he went for more to quench the burning.

"Ah," cried Neptune, "there is a real sailor."

After he finished drinking Rick pointed to the huge Ben Cartwright. "The winner," he croaked.

Neptune awarded a crown for the winner to wear. It looked suspiciously like one from Burger King. Then Neptune raised his trident and declared it time to dance. The portable record player in the galley had a 33LP with Tangoes playing.

Sailors danced with sailors. All doing the Tango. What really amazed Rick was that they were good! More than good, they looked like professional ball room dancers to him, and he had seen them in Hollywood on various sets. There was a controlled violence to their movements that was downright scary. It looked like blood would flow.

Neptune (Popeye) came over to Rick and asked him to dance. Rick was just plain weirded out by this.

"What is going on Popeye? What sort of people are you?"

"Aarrgh, Rick! You don't know about Buenos Aires?"

"I guess not."

"In the old days, the bawdy houses would have long lines. To kill time while waiting the customers would dance. Now since they were all men, they had to do manly dances. I think you agree that the Tango is manly. Those days are past, well in most places, but the tradition still exists. Now the Tango is performed openly by men in the rougher sort of bars."

"There are now Tango contests at these places. The men are just practicing. We don't want to shame the ship. Speaking of shaming the ship, you do dance don't you?"

"A little, but I have never done the Tango."

Popeye proceeded to teach Rick the Tango and practiced with him, two hours a day for the next week as they sailed to BA. Looking back later Rick would consider the whole voyage as a surreal experience. But that was later, now Rick was dancing the Tango with a bunch of sailors in drag, and having a good time.

After several energetic hours of dancing Neptune dismissed his court. The court seemed a bit unsteady from all the punch they had been drinking and which Rick had been warned by Popeye to avoid. This was fine with Rick as he was trying to put the fire out in his mouth with bottle after bottle of Coke. Neptune told Rick we will finish the ceremony on the morrow when you have made your crossing.

The next morning was different. The same crew assembled as the previous evening, except they were dressed in their normal wear.

Captain Grumby brought out a document and read it aloud to the assembly.

Imperium Neptuni Regis

To all Shellbacks Greetings:

This is to Certify, that Richard Jackson, SS Pride of Liberia was duly initiated into the Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep. And made a worthy Shellback in our Royal Dominion at Latitude 0000, Longitude 0040,1959

Neptunus Rex

Ruler of the Raging Main


Jonas Grumby

Captain, SS Pride of Liberia

The Skipper then took the document and dipped it into a bucket of seawater and presented it to Rick. He then presented him with another document showing him to be A Member of the Spanish Main for sailing the Caribbean.

Afterwards, Rick had a cup of coffee with Popeye, who Rick would think of forever as King Neptune. Rick expressed his surprise at the Spanish Main title.

"I had read about the Equator Crossing but not the Spanish Main,"

"Rick, I am also a member of the Spanish Main, The Realm of the Czars for crossing into the Black Sea, the Order of Magellan for circumnavigating the world, Order of the Sparrow for sailing all seven seas, The Order of the Blue Nose for the Arctic Ocean, The Order of the Red Nose for the Antarctic, The Order of the Ditch for the Panama Canal, The Magellan's Strait Jacket Club, the Order of the Rock for passing through the Strait of Gibraltar and the Safari to Suez for that canal.

I'm also a Golden Shellback for crossing the Equator at the International Dateline and A Royal Diamond Shellback for crossing at the Prime Meridian.

The only thing really left for me is the Royal Order of the Purple Porpoise, to become a member, you have to cross the Equator on the International Dateline on a Vernal Equinox. I would love to do that dearly, but I don't see how it will ever happen.

They docked in Buenos Aires five days later, on a Tuesday.

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Story tagged with:
Coming of Age / Travel / Novel-Classic /