Wednesday, January 28, 2015

old sea dog

If you had three guesses you’d still never get Edmund’s job. Not because he looks nothing like a sailor, but because he looks so exactly like a sailor you’d think it must be something else. He has the muscled, tattooed forearms, folded across a substantial torso; he has the neatly-clipped, Newfoundland-approved, snowy-white beard and moustache; he has one eye glaring and one partly closed, like he’s on the bridge scowling as the deckhands cast-off, and he has a Roaring Forties grade of voice,  a voice so penetrating it could stop a polar bear, a bar fight, or maybe even both.
‘Ammonia. That’s your real bitch of a cargo,’ he says, pinning me to the wall with his eye. ‘Hydroscopic, you see. It’ll suck the juice right out of you.’
He snaps his fingers, to demonstrate either the speed or the sound you’d make, I’m not sure.
‘Mind you, LPG ‘ain’t such a walk in the park, neither. That was one time I was almost a letter home. There ‘ain’t any room for error when you’re loading and unloading them cargoes. We was sailing giant thermos flasks when it came down to it. You did your calculations right, though, you focused – and you’d make it through. And the living was good. Must’ve been. I did it fifty year or more.’
Edmund’s lost his sea legs today, though – not through rum or cannon shot or crashing spar, as you might think, but by other, less exotic means.
‘Damn ticker. Buckin’ useless,’ he says, struggling to maintain his weight on his arms. ‘Ask the wife, she’ll tell you. I’m not good for nothing no more but chumming overboard.’
His wife Jean oversees the whole operation, telling him to be quiet, putting his medication and other necessaries neatly into bags, making arrangements for the next few days, giving instructions.
‘Now don’t go upsetting anyone,’ she says, kissing him on the head. ‘They’re doing their best. Don’t go annoying anyone with your endless stories. And don’t forget your reading glasses.’
‘No dear,’ he says. ‘Yes, dear.’ Then: ‘I tell yer what, mate. I’ve seen a typhoon chew up a ship and spit it out again in the South China Sea, but I’d rather stand on the deck of that with nuthin’ but me thumb up me arse than get on the wrong side of Jean.’


Daniel Rutter said...

He's not wrong about gas-carriers being a bit hair-raising.

The world has never seen a bulk-gas-carrier ship properly explode. If it ever happens, the event might make it straight to the top of Wikipedia's list of biggest non-nuclear explosions. Possibly by a wide margin, given that the biggest modern gas carriers have a capacity of a hundred thousand tons or more, similar to that of oil supertankers.

As with other flammable gases, it's not possible to set a giant cryotank of LPG or LNG or whatever off by just dropping a bomb on it. No oxidiser, no explosive mixture, no explosion. It's like climbing into a zeppelin's gas-bag and lighting a match, then realising the hydrogen doesn't burn without oxygen to help it, as you pass out from hypoxia.

You could start a FIRE by bombing a gas carrier, but your plan to obliterate one of the world's great ports will not come off. Rather, you want to crack the whole huge ship open somehow - the biggest ships now have single vast tanks that I think could be torn open more easily than the multiple separate spherical containers on "normal" gas-carriers, but I still don't think a drunk pilot running the boat onto the rocks could do it. Anyway, you want to liberate most-to-all of the gas, as a heavy blanket of boiling-yet-cold fluid spreading out on the water and the docks around the vessel, casually suffocating anybody it rolls over as it slowly mixes with the air and creates an explosive mixture. Then, the easy part, you just wait for some tiny spark in your five hectares of explosive blanket to set it off.

Yes, I do think about things like this from time to time. My favourite such rumination was !

jacksofbuxton said...

I do hope you ignored Jean and asked for some old stories.

If they're true or not doesn't matter me hearty.

Spence Kennedy said...

Daniel - You're not helping me feel any less anxious about the state of the world...

I suppose the plain fact is that we enjoy our sophisticated lifestyles only because of these gigantic super-carriers hauling the raw materials around the globe. So if I'm okay about enjoying the benefits, I should be okay at tolerating the risks (which I am, of course - especially risks I have not the least idea how to quantify).

Suddenly the planet doesn't seem nearly big enough!

Jack - We had plenty of time to chat at the hospital (usual delays). Lots of colourful stories about exotic ports &c. I asked Edmund what he thought of the department. He was surprisingly circumspect in his answer, surveying the scene with that furious eye. 'Arr - you're doing your best,' he said. 'But you could tighten up on your loading procedures.'

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

Spence, your stories are the best on the subject that I've run into on the Web and I read some days for sixteen hours-not much to do on my days off but catch up with you all !~!

I love old sailors; the places they remember being are always exotic and full of adventure. I lived in Key West Florida for over a decade when the shrimp boats were still docked there. It was so fun to get to know the tars.

Spence Kennedy said...

Key West sounds like my kinda place! I can't think of anything better than living in a hut on stilts with a stove and a porch and a boat to go fishing & cross the harbour to the bar (although I expect they have condos with parking, too). I think ever since Jaws I've wanted to be like Quint.

Hope all's good with you, Lynda. Lovely to hear from you as always. x

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

I'm trying to forget the parts of your post where you talk about the explosions. I live very near Chevron loading docks in northern California. We've had two incidents in the last two years during which we have evacuated of our volition.

Spence Kennedy said...

Sounds nasty. But I have to say I've always fancied living on the coast near a big industrial facility. I love the way they're busy all the time ... the lights at night, the steam rising. The only drawback would be the polluted water - although, maybe it's not that bad where you are?