The Fate of the "PEDMING"

 

By Richard Dischinger THS ‘60

First published in Snippets, March 2002 Trumpet.

   

CHAPTER I


I was helping deliver a 93 ft. tugboat from Port Newark to the Dominican Republic. It started out as new adventure and a lot of fun that almost turned into a disaster.

   

The vessel was a very old pushing type tug, very heavy front end, and the hull was not in the greatest of shape. My friend owned a shipping business in a section of  the Dominican Republic that was not very accessible for local tugs, so it proved very expensive for him not to buy his own.

 

The starting crew were a licensed captain, a retired navy captain (who proved useless and a  

detriment), an engineer who was the best I have ever seen (we nicknamed him "RAMBO" and he really was), the tug owner (who was a proficient engineer and captain), and myself (the cook missed the boat so I assumed his position).

The Owner.

The Crew in the Galley.

  

Before we started, the owner stocked the boat with enough food for a month at sea, and I'm a pretty good cook so we ate well. (He only had a small fry pan and tiny pot so I had to go home get some pots and GARLIC). On the first leg of the trip, Newark to Norfolk (sea trials), the boat developed a few minor leaks that were patched by the engineer. Then a water line broke in the engine room. RAMBO asked us to slow down while he fixed it knee deep in water (water was coming in like a fire hydrant and he was quite calm, a former recon operative.)

   

The Lock at Norfolk.

The Navy Captain and Rambo.

 

When we arrived in Norfolk, Rambo had to go back to run the business for the tug owner. (MISTAKE # 1). The retired navy captain took over the engine room and would not let anyone else help him or get in the engine room. We hired a young kid who proved very helpful but inexperienced.   

From Norfolk we proceeded down the ditch (Intracoastal Waterway, ICW) because of the weather; 3 days to Charlestown, SC. This was fun; the pilothouse was on an elevator and we had some view. In the canal locks south of Norfolk we noticed a slight fuel leak (tanks integral with hull, start of MISTAKE # 2).
The "ditch" (Intracoastal Waterway).
   

Stopping at night was another experience.  See, the transmission and reduction gear were air powered and it took a full 6 seconds to go from forward to reverse (6 seconds is a very long time, especially when you are bearing down on a 4 million dollar yacht as we were entering a marina for the night with our 93 ft. motor yacht HA! HA! No mishaps thanks to our owner captain, but it was very close).

The Bridge Watch.

  
   
After a stop at the Charleston Yacht Club (no kidding), we were off to Ft. Lauderdale via the ocean.  We had a small compass in an all-metal pilothouse that always pointed south (MISTAKE # 3).  We navigated by laptop navigator, which worked excellent along with the MOON. My watch partner and I developed a unique way of steering, while one looked at the position of the moon relative to a fixed point on the boat telling left 2 clicks, right 3, etc. along with the computer plotting the boats course we were able to steer a pretty straight course in moderate seas.

At rest.

"Ritchie Disch" at the helm.

Let me explain steering (there was no wheel; electric steering that's right a toggle switch). The hull took a further beating non stop to Ft Lauderdale. We topped with 6,000 gal of fuel (Mistake # 4) for our next leg across the stream (Gulf Stream) to Nassau Bahamas. Owner (good engineer, which is a nautical term for highly skilled mechanic), had to go back to NY on business (mistake # 5).  My watch captain and I recommended we remove some of the heavy pushing equipment from bow to the stern because the vessel was bow heavy (owner did not, mistake #6). We also recommended hiring an engineer (didn't, mistake #7). We also recommended not making trip to Nassau while the wind was high from the East (we did, mistake #8).
   
Crossing the Gulf Stream, we took some heavy waves across the bow and one wave hit the pilot house pretty hard.  The second hard wave broke the pilot house non-safety glass starboard windshield in the Captain’s face (a miracle that he only sustained minor scrapes.) At that point the captain (my watch partner) decided to turn around and return to Ft. Lauderdale with a following sea.  I turned the tug to port and at the same time the generator went out (steering locked port helm - remember, electric steering).  At the same time I noticed white smoke coming from the stack (that’s right you guessed it, water in the fuel).

Ft. Lauderdale.

   

So I called the engineer (useless navy captain), who did not bleed the fuel lines as directed by Rambo and the owner. We circled several times and the main engine stalled.  Navy captain could not start the  auxiliary generator. I tried for a long time but failed.  I had not been allowed to be instructed by Rambo.  As I said before, navy captain would not allow anyone in the engine room;  as I also said before, mistake #1. Now as it proved he was useless.
   
Then what happened is the worst thing that can in an emergency situation, "PANIC". "What are we going to do?" the others said. One said to call immediately for a rescue. Even our Captain was unsure. Myself ,having been in many emergency situations throughout my life in work etc., I said to myself, "I have to calm these guys down and take charge."  I never informed them of this because I did not want them to fear that we were in any DANGER, I just made suggestions. I just influenced the Captain and left him "in charge."
   
OK, let's calm down; we are adrift, let's quickly assess our situation and inform the Coast Guard of our position. We did this and found that the forward compartment from the engine room was taking on water as I had suspected, the fuel tank that was leaking must have opened up more and water got in the  fuel. We could not use the main pumps (no engine or generator and no one to repair them - if we only had RAMBO or someone Qualified, but we didn't).
   
There was a portable pump but that got flooded in the forward compartment.  I had them seal that compartment with a watertight door but  the bulkhead was not in too a good shape.  There were some leaks. Now I said let’s call the CG every half hour with our position, inform them the wind is out of the EAST (important later) and they will be able to plot our drift along with the speed of the Gulf Stream. Also try to call the owner on a cell phone, which did not work.
   
Now we were adrift (safely) and I asked the CG to contact the owner as to his instructions on what to do with the vessel. He made arrangements for a rescue tug out of Nassau to tow us to Nassau. I questioned this, as we were closer to Florida. I knew the oil leak was a concern; the CG would impound tug in the US and we could not contact the owner privately. As I found out later, the CG gave a wrong position. That’s right, THE UNITED STATES COAST GUARD!
  

CHAPTER II

I gave them several fixes 20 - 30 minutes apart, along with wind direction and of Gulf Steam current, to be considered.  I believe it was 6 - 8 knots, almost 10 miles an hour north. They reported our position wrong to the rescue boat that was obliged to go where the USCG sent them. The rescue tug captain knew this and said he knew where we should be by the drift of stream and wind conditions, but the Coast Guard was over 20 miles off (probably a lot more than this), and if it had not been for a passing ship relaying the position I gave them, they would never have found us. Our prior tracking was right according to him also. Maybe this is another "MYSTERY OF THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE." (That’s where we were).

  
Upon arrival, rescue tug (at this time we had drifted from about 10 am till about 6 pm, 6 knot current and wind maybe 60 miles).  They tried to pass a steel tow cable several times. After a couple of almost serious mishaps, the cable was secured to our tug, only to be informed that it was wrapped in the tow tugs port prop. We had to release the steel cable because they could not free it. I suggested to the tow captain to use a soft towline (about 3" nylon), which he did.  We were in tow about 11 pm+.
  
I told the captain that we would get some rest and turned the radio off to conserve car one (Car type marine battery that we had to power the radio and GPS).  If he needed to contact us, sound the air horn.  He agreed.

During the night our captain and I checked the engine room and about 3am we were taking on water faster than before.  We guessed that the plates were being torn apart more because of the tow pressure and the fact that we had full port helm and were being towed sideways.

  

The Pedming's bow is now under, but with the tow-line still intact!

Our captain decided to abandon ship and I had to agree with him because he had the ticket (license) and was ultimately responsible. The bow now was under and the stern up in the air. The tow shot us a line and the Capt. deployed the life raft at the stern, forgetting to remove the sea anchor. All that attached the life raft to the boat was a thin parachute cord. These guys panicked again yelling, "We’re going to die!"

Now I got pissed and took over for real. First I told them calm down and shut up and listen to me, nobody is going to die and we are all safe.

First activate the air to your life vests if you haven't already (which we already had on) .

  

Next get the ½” line used for a jack line (safety line running fore and aft which you can clip on to) from the upper deck and install on the lower deck and hook up. Next get a larger ½” line to the life raft, wrap it around a bollard and get the raft forward to where we can get in.  The Capt. was the first into life raft; had a lot of trouble getting the navy captain in (had to throw him in; he was in a complete state of panic).  During this maneuver a wave swept me over and my leg got caught.  They tried to pull me in almost tearing my leg off. I said, “Let me go, I'm tied in and I can free myself and the next wave will bring me back on,” which it did. Now we are all on the life raft, one line to tow tug and one line to our tug. Captain starts yelling, cut the line - cut the line. I say, "SHUT UP" again, "give me the knife, let’s make sure we cut the right line, as they were similar and entangled, or we could punch a hole in the life raft."  Almost LAST MISTAKE!

We were successfully retrieved and aboard.  The tow captain asked if I was the captain.  When I explained he said, "How come you were the last one to get on and off the raft and he was the first?"

About 12:30 the next afternoon our tug went down and the quick release on the tow line did not work. One of the mates came with a sharp kitchen knife and cut the line (you would be very surprised how easily it parted.) The tug sank in 2,412 ft. of water in the "BERMUDA TRIANGLE!"

The owner and "Rambo" met up in Nassau and were very happy to see the four of us.  He was informed earlier that only 3 had survived. Always remember, in any emergency, "BE PREPARED, THINK, and by all means DO NOT PANIC."
I guess we were pretty Lucky.

  
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