Bill Mills' room

Bill Mills

International incident

by  Bill Mills

Out again on Taikoo on a mates training weekend in early December.  As it can happen at that time of the year, the weather was a treat.  Very cold but with only a few clouds moving slowly in the light breeze.  We were heading up the Clyde towards the Holy Loch.

          Any wind that did blow occasionally was on the nose so we had been motoring.  As we turned into Holy Loch the skipper informed us that these were ideal conditions to practise storm rigging.  Waiting until it was blowing hard was not the time to start wondering how to rig the storm sails, if indeed they could be found.   So we duly got the storm jib out and up and then the tri-sail was rigged.  Loose footed of course.  We discussed the points to watch when setting them up in adverse conditions.  With Taikoo being 73’ overall and 29 tons, light winds and only wee storm sails set didn’t do much for her forward progress.  We were ghosting along, very slowly coming abeam of the bridge of the USS Hunley, mother-ship for American nuclear submarines based in Holy Loch. 

There were two black, ominous, steel cigars lying alongside their maternal supply and repair vessel,

          As we looked up at the Hunley’s bridge we noticed some activity on the wing.  A figure with scrambled eggs on his cap looked over at us, raised binoculars and took a closer look.  He turned round and must have called to some others to look at us, because soon there were four officers up there, each with more gold braid on their cuffs than the other.

          Then one with a lot of rank below his elbow lifted a loud hailer and a nasal, metallic, twangy voice crackled over to us with typical American humour – ‘Say- do you guys know something weather wise that we don’t?’  He looked up and gestured with his arm at the blue sky.  We could see all the American gold sleeves laughing at his smart remark.

          This upset our ex-RN skipper.  He took a tremendous drag on his cigarette and as he exhaled he told us in a low, mean, angry tone – ‘Get those bloody handkerchiefs down and then get the big genoa up with the staysail, the full main, the full mizzen and the mizzen-staysail.  I want them all up as quick as you can and we will show those Yankee comedians how to sail a boat.’

          We excelled ourselves.  The main was up and set in record time.  The big genoa wasn’t far behind.  The staysail and the mizzen were about even in getting wind into them.  The awkward mizzen-staysail took a little bit longer but then she was sailing and we had some luck.  The wind lifted a little to a good force 3 and changed direction allowing us to reciprocate our course and sail back along the length of the Hunley.  Taikoo, obviously annoyed at the Americans, heeled over a bit and really started to sail nicely.

As we were abeam of the American’s bridge, we saw the loudhailer being lifted into use again.  That horrible metallic, echoing voice came over to us – ‘Now you guys are talking –nice one.’  But our skipper hadn’t finished with then.

He emphatically pointed aft to where our ensign was dipped to the Hunley.  There was no one attending their ensign.  Our skipper kept pointing to our dipped ensign.  There was a bit of a fuss on the Hunley’s bridge.  People seemed to be shouting and waving arms.  Then a seaman was seen to run to the ladder from the bridge, went to slide down the rails – and slipped off near the bottom.  He picked himself up and limped as fast as he could to the ensign.  Then he had trouble getting the halyard off the cleat.  At last the ensign of the USS Hunley was dipped in response to the courtesy dipping of our Red Ensign.

          Our skipper, with a certain amount of satisfaction, slowly breathed  ‘Cheeky bastards!.’  He told us all to keep looking forward, not even a sidelong glance at the big grey hull we were creaming past.  There were no further loudhailer comments from the USS Hunley.