I was in New Orleans not too long ago. My best friend and I had just left a wedding and decided to stop into a nearby bar to have a drink and catch up. Somehow, we landed on the topic of being on a small boat in the middle of the ocean. Of course, I had a sea story.
Six days after returning home from my first 6-month deployment, I received a call from one of my higher ups. It was to inform me that even though I JUST returned home, somehow my name was volunteered to go back out to sea for six to ten days. I had barely unpacked and now had to leave my then fiancée to go drag a ship back into port? This did not fall gently on my fiancée’s ears. Fortunately, this was an emergent job and my saving grace was that the boat we were dragging in was the HMCS Protecteur, a Canadian vessel which had been sitting cold iron in the pacific a couple hundred miles off the coast of Hawaii. My wife is a Vancouverite born and raised and when I looked at her and said, “I’m doing this for your country,” her anger melted away and she said, “Hurry up and stay safe.”
No one was exactly thrilled about this job. We had just visited eight of the most exotic countries in the world. We had completed almost every qualification we could achieve. The last thing any of us wanted was to sleep in a rack on a boat in the ocean. So, we made the best of it, with 6 seasons of Game of Thrones! Our berthing (sleeping arrangement) was set up with nine racks (beds) stacked 3 high with a big flat screen TV on the opposite wall and a table with six chairs in the middle. For 3 days straight from breakfast to dinner we literally binged out on Game of Thrones and took turns grabbing ice cream sandwiches for one another. It was one of the weirdest times of my life. I remember falling in and out of sleep so I really didn’t keep up with the story, but every time I would pay attention there was either violence or nudity, which was enough to keep me entertained in between meals.
When we arrived at the HMCS Protecteur, the seas were at about 30 ft. We were instructed to wear helmets and life vests any time we were outside the skin of the ship. No one argued. The first civilian tug boat had failed to drag the crippled vessel by parting a towing hawser. Now it was our turn. Being on the back deck of the tug in those conditions was treacherous, but we had some sad Canadians to bring home. I say sad because they had just left Hawaii on a trip in which they had invited family members! The Canadian sailors had their spouses and children onboard with them for a fun Hawaiian vacation! I have never heard of this practice but as we drew closer to the boat, we could see food and supplies being dropped off by helicopter. The families had already been brought back to Hawaii to fly home commercial.
So, we had a ship filled with Canadian sailors sitting in super shitty seas with no lights or power, and only one hope to get back into port. Us. We had two Ikaros line thrower guns. We failed to get the first shot over the bow of the targeted vessel. On the second attempt, success! The Canadians were able to tie a 2 inch line to the pilot line we had launched over their bow which we drug over and very cautiously. We were able to secure it to the towing hawser. The towing hawser was about 8 inches in diameter. This ship was down so hard that even their captains were inoperable. From 200 meters away, we watched every Canadian sailor on board emerge to the weather deck to hand drag a waterlogged towing hawser to get it around one of their tow points. The sense of urgency was very apparent in the efficiency of their teamwork.
On our way home, we all had an unforgettable sense of accomplishment. The trip back took six days since we now had to slowly tow the Protecteur. Game of Thrones and ice cream sandwich party resumed, now with the welcomed task of intermittently checking on our Canadian neighbors roughly 300 meters behind us. As we pulled past the last 2 buoys in the channel leading back into the harbor, we walked onto the back deck and some of the Canadians had made it to the bow. There were a few waves back and fourth. They didn’t look very happy, as they had been on a ship with no lights or power for about 10 days and we had been eating ice cream sandwiches and watching GOT the entire time. But we could tell the appreciation was unspoken.
As I told this story to my friend in New Orleans, he googled the ship we were on when we towed the Protecteur. There it was! That job was right there on Wikipedia! Our trusty ship was Wikipedia famous for towing our Canadian friends back to harbor. Little does Wikipedia know, that the majority of that job was us laying in our racks, eating ice cream sandwiches, and watching Game of Thrones.
I love reading your stories!