Captain Clutterbuck’s Storm

The Captain Clutterbuck was a pre-war tramp steamer of just over 7000 tonnes in her lifetime she had carried everything and anything to everywhere and anywhere. She had been called Captain Clutterbuck after one of her early captains, No one knew his real name and he was known as the most eccentric, popular, and lucky tramp captain. Such was his fame that Crew and Brokers always wanted to work with him.


Now the Captain Clutterbuck could no longer compete with the great container liners, and she had been sold to a Japanese shipping firm who wanted her as an attraction and good luck ship. She had been passed as seaworthy and after much searching, a Captain and crew had been found who were prepared to sail her to Japan. Most seamen thought of her as a rust bucket and likely to sink in the slightest heavy sea. Hence the difficulty in finding a crew.


As she set sail from Liverpool She was given a send off fit for the greatest liner, the dockside was crowded and the sound of ships hooters filled the air in salute Two fire ships made an arch of water at the entrance to the dock and a flotilla escorted her to the mouth of the Mersey.


The Voyage was uneventful until she was about a hundred miles from Japan When two things happened, her propeller shaft ceased up, and the weather took a turn for the worse a Typhoon was on the way and all ships were advised to run for shelter. The ship’s engineer and members of the crew began to dismantle the faulty bearing in the hope of repairing it. The radio officer radioed for assistance. The Captain Knew that help was unlikely to arrive until the Typhoon had passed.


Having no seaway at all the ship was at the mercy of the storm Sea Anchors had been lowered in the hope of giving some stability but they would be useless in Typhoon waves and would be in danger of dragging the ship down. As the wind and waves increased the captain ordered safety lines strung up to assist the crew’s movement, and he reminded the crew ‘one hand for the ship and one for you. He spoke to the cook and asked him to provide hot drinks and food as long as he could to encourage the crew.


The captain made the wheel house his home and reassured the helmsman that they would have power soon and that he should try to steer into the storm The Captain knew that conditions below decks must be horrendous. He instructed the first officer to keep him informed of the moral of the men and of the progress of the repair. All The time a voice in his head screamed to let her run before


The sound of the wind was so loud that it made communications almost impossible. It was like the screaming of a thousand banshees and dark clouds and streaming rain made him think of the end of the world. The waves were Several feet above the ship and as she tried to climb out of the trough they thundered down on her burying her under the water every time this happened the Captain thought she would go to the bottom but she always broke the surface. It had become impossible to hold her into the wind now the only thing left was to turn her to run before the Typhoon.


He wished he had done this from the beginning but he had hoped for power sooner than this. He warned the crew to hold fast as they were going Broadside before running before the storm. He thought this is where we will loose her She will overturn when Broadside to the storm. He looked at the face of the terrified helmsman and gave him a pat on the back, smiled, and told him to come about.


The waves and wind drove her broadside and he felt her leaning away from the wind until she was almost turning turtle but yet again with every bolt and seam-straining she began to right herself and continued to turn. Now with the full force of the terrible storm behind her, the Captain Clutterbuck raced forward the helmsman desperately holding her course. The voice in the captain’s head seemed to say now we will see what she can do.


The Captain ordered the first officer to give each man a tot of his choice, Although on duty he felt the no drinking rule could go to hell just this once. The crew needed some Dutch courage As he and the helmsman raised their glass to their lips he heard the crew singing, he could just make out the words ‘Fifteen men on a dead mans Chest’


The ship having been given her head seemed to have a life of her own and he began to believe they would do the impossible and survive the worst typhoon in living memory. The Captain had no idea how long they had been fighting the storm until the chief engineer reported that he had done what he could and the Captain could have his engines and propeller, as he turned to go below he apologised for taking two and a half days. It was then that the Captain remembered that the Helmsman had been relieved at regular intervals.


Gradually the storm overtook them, the Sun shone and the sea was like a millpond. The crew came on deck blinking in the sunlight mole in the “Wind and the Willows” When all the crew were on deck the captain came out of the wheelhouse and led the crew in a prayer of thanks. He then ordered another Tot all round and raised his glass first in salute of the ship and then of the Crew.


The Radio Officer Radioed ahead to say they had survived the Typhoon. Now the weather was calm they made a good time and entered Harbour on the next morning tide. As they tied up at the company dock they were surprised to see a crowd of people waving and shouting ‘Banzi,’ Meaning ‘ten thousand years’ of long life. The captain rang down ‘finished with engines’, as he did so the shock of what they had come through sank in and he patted the window ledge of the wheel house.


When the crew had eaten and slept they were invited to a special meal with the directors during which The captain was presented with a very expensive gold watch engraved ‘to Captain Clutterbuck from his Crew”.