15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. – Jonah 1:15 (NIV)
At sea, even on a Navy warship, when the storm is raging, you feel very small and vulnerable. In eight years, on three different ships, I have been through squalls, gales, and hurricanes. It is truly awe-inspiring – and foolhardy – to venture out on the upper weatherdeck when a destroyer is rolling 30 – 35 degrees port and starboard. The churning, foamy grey and black sea is so different from the steel blue calm water of several hours earlier. The power of the sea to bash in metal plates is also that same ocean that can leave sailboats without a breath of wind to move them. In either condition, I never want to be at the mercy of the ocean.
If one is to be stranded at sea, there are some more preferable spots than others. Shipping lanes are well-traveled and charted, like marked highways around the globe. And then there are those when outside those lanes, who if they become stranded, rely on the grace of God, or Neptune, or whales, dolphins or whatnot will send help their way. The ocean, out of sight of land is a very lonely place, even in a part of the ocean that is well-traveled.
I was aboard the TEXAS, one of the last great nuclear-powered cruisers about eight hours southwest of the Panama Canal on a bright, sunny day. I was performing some routine maintenance near the forecastle ( pronounced foc’sill”) when an announcement over the ship’s 1MC, its intercom, that we were rendering aid to a small boat off our starboard bow.
“Boat” was an approximation as I recall. It was more like a dugout, with two Panamanian men, and a couple of chickens – roosters, actually, in small cages in between the two men. In the first minutes, I was the only person on the deck who spoke Spanish and the deck officer asked me to translate some questions and directions for them to be brought aboard. Apparently, they were traveling from one of the islands off Panama to another – the birds were to be in a contest – and the motor started to have problems. In starting to work on it – the motor clamp dislodged and motor and all fell into the depths. They had been drifting with the currents for a day.
We were fortunate to be at that place and time to rescue the men and return them to Panama with only a delay in our schedule. Oh, as for schedules, sometimes they can be a pain in the neck with military precision. At the moment we had the small boat along side, and were preparing to bring them aboard, they happened to be under a bilge valve. Yes. Engineering began pumping waste overboard at that exact moment. Furious calls over the radio, straining on ropes and a few dozen choice expletives succeeded in halting the pumps, getting the men – and roosters, and their boat on board.
I wonder if those men recall the day the “americanos” rescued them. And do they tell their children, when you are going to a cock-fight, be sure to bring a lot of rope for lashing, maybe have all your shots updated, and most importantly, get a bigger boat.