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Bill Mills

 The Second Mate of the KOBENHAVEN.

by  Bill Mills

One skipper stands out in my memory.  Kai Johanson

was Danish and had served on sailing ships, notably as Second Mate in charge of Sail Training on the mighty KOBENHAVEN  when she was a Cadet Ship.  She was a five-masted barque built in Leith, Scotland in 1921 and was 420 feet over all and weighed 3,965 tonnes gross. 

 This huge vessel was operated by a total of only 65 men

and boys.  She went missing in 1930 beween Capetown and Australia.  Kai and I had long talks about sailing.

 One winter’s night I had finished working on his ship and Kai suggested going for a pint as they couldn’t sail until 2200.

  Typical of this old sailing-ship man, he emphatically told his crew of five, in his heavy Danish accent that if they were not back by 2200 he would sail without them-and they knew he was a man of his word- if anyone was not back – he would sail without them.

We went ashore and had a couple of pints and became engrossed in our conversation about sailing in days gone by and in modern yachts.  It was a surprise to both of us when the call ‘ Time – Time’ was shouted out at 2300.  Kai swore heavily both in Danish and in English and the two of us ran back to the Puffer.  She wasn’t there.

It was a very dark night and it had started raining.  No doubt about it - the boat wasn’t at the quay.  Then Kai swore again and said “ There she is –out there- in the middle of the harbour.” He started shouting into the night at a dark outline just discernible through the wet darkness of the small inner harbour.

“Bring my ship back – do you hear?” His accent got heavier all the time.  From out of the rain we heard an inebriated voice call back –“You told us that if anyone wasn’t here at 2200 you would sail.  Well you weren’t back and we have sailed.”

It took about an hour of shouting back and forward through the rain before the crew decided to give Kai back his ship.  I went aboard to grab my tools and test equipment before they left the quay again .

I stood in the rain and listened to the angry voices getting fainter but one voice was always louder than the others- Kai Johanson was back in command.

Sadly, several years after that incident Kai drowned ignominiously  with his beloved puffer tied up alongside at Greenock. For many years he had put up with an alcohol dependant wife who eventually left him with a sheaf of unpaid bills – he lost his house. That night in Greenock he had picked up a woman in a bar and took her back to the puffer. Unsteady on her legs she slipped on the deck and went overboard.  Kai jumped in after her. She surfaced and was pulled on board. It was days later that Kai’s body was recovered.

I’m sure he preferred that ending to being knocked down by a car.

Bill Mills