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A baptism by fire ... and scotch

Scotch for the Great Captain

Now, for those who don’t know about the lifeboats in England, they are manned by volunteers who risk their lives to save mariners from some of the most dangerous waters in the world. The leak was conquered, and the lifeboat took us in tow. We were administered hot soup and tea until the boat was safely brought to St. Peter Port, where a crane lifted our wounded vessel onto the dock.

The island population extended invitations to stay in their homes, and the exhausted trio was taken under the wing of these most hospitable islanders for a long, long sleep. Three days later, we were fully recovered when the passenger liner St. Julien, commuting between St. Peter Port and Southampton, returned. Our first thought was to thank the Great Captain for standing by and saving us. And so, depleting his meager finances, John bought a bottle of fine Scotch whisky to present to the Great Captain, and he and I repaired to the ship at the dock.

A guardian seaman at the gangway, when asked if we could see the captain, refused and said that boarding was not until 3 p.m. But on explaining we were the people from the boat they had rescued three days before, the seaman scurried up many stairs to the bridge and returned with the information that the captain would be delighted for us to join him.

We were ushered into one of the most beautiful captain’s staterooms I had ever seen, not that I had seen any before. The room was sumptuously appointed in rich mahogany paneling and Persian carpets. Three men in immaculate white with glistening gold braid on their shoulders sat in rosewood armchairs at the table. A man in his early 50s with graying hair stood and, smiling, extended his hand as we were ushered in. With the greatest profusion of gratitude — after all, it is not everybody who goes through life owing their existence to another — John stuttered his thanks and offered the bottle of scotch as a token of appreciation for our lives.

The captain replied, “You owe me no thanks. I was delighted to be able to save you and that beautiful little boat of yours.”

And with a gracious acceptance of the scotch, he opened a cupboard and put it away among many other bottles. Then, without asking, he poured two large scotches for John and me, repeating how pleased he was to have been able to help us, and the fact that his 600 passengers missed their connections was of no importance compared to saving people at sea.

And pulling back two of the lovely rosewood chairs, the captain motioned us to join him and his fellow officers at the table. I was 21 and had never drank scotch or sat in such beautiful surroundings or met a great captain. And after the second scotch, I became quite what in England is called “tiddly as a newt.” It is somewhat interesting to look back over 50 years and recall that in those days it was almost a required prerequisite to continue a centuries-old tradition of consuming an assigned quota of spirits daily, both in the Royal Navy and the Merchant Marine.

A gentle tap at the door, and one of the crew came to remind the captain that they sail in half an hour. At this the captain, who appeared to be enjoying our company, suggested that as he had some first class staterooms vacant, John and I should do the run back to England with him so we could enjoy each other’s convivial company over more scotch and we would be back in three days.

This was a tempting offer, indeed, but having left Joyce with her island hosts, we regretfully declined. We parted with a warm handshake and rather unsteadily descended down through the decks to the dock, still glowing from the friendship and scotch.

 

See related article: "A captain's irresistable tales"

This article originally appeared in the March 2009 issue.

 




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