Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Friends and Enemies

The freighter Victoria lay quietly alongside Pier Q in North Charleston, South Carolina. It was late in an October evening in 1981, and most of the crew had gone ashore. No work, except for routine watch keeping, was being done. All was peaceful and quiet. A few of us were watching the TV news in the lounge. After a while, the chief mate came along and sat down, too. With no cargo to carry, the Victoria was spending the latter half of October in port, and the extended inactivity was starting to get tiresome.

Suddenly, one of the deck seamen burst through the door. Clearly agitated and panting heavily, he gasped out, “Mate! Mate! You gotta come right away! There’s a big fight down below and someone’s gonna get killed!!” In an instant the chief mate jumped up and ran after him into the unlicensed crew’s quarters.

By the time the mate reached the scene, the intensity of the altercation had lessened. A few other men had already intervened and disarmed the principal assailant, but the arrival of an authority figure brought the entire incident to an immediate conclusion. The combatants, both reeking of alcohol, were packed off to bed, and peace was restored. In the quiet aftermath, the mate wanted to know what exactly had happened.

It was really quite simple. The two men involved in the brawl had gone ashore to have a good time, and they returned to the ship after several hours and too many drinks. They had always been good friends, but some small disagreement had escalated to the point of violence. One of them grabbed a fire axe from an emergency station, and swinging it wildly, chased the other all around the ship. His aim being poor, the fire axe never met its intended target and clanged against doorways, bulkheads, and handrails instead. This racket woke up the few men on board who were sleeping. Rushing out into the passageway, three or four of them subdued the axe-wielder while one went for the chief mate.

After a sound night’s sleep and nothing more to drink, the two fellows who had gone to war against each other were friends again. Neither one of them remembered very much of the previous evening’s combat; in fact, neither remembered the initial point of disagreement that had started the battle. A fresh new day had dawned upon them. They ate their breakfast, did their work, and got along just fine. All was forgiven and forgotten.

A popular song by the rock group War bears the title and asks the rhetorical question, “Why can’t we be friends?” A lot of food for thought resides in this simple inquiry. If two men can still be friends after a potentially fatal axe fight, why can’t the rest of us be friends? Or if we can’t actually be friends, can we at least not be mortal enemies? In a world whose history has too often been saturated with bloody violence, these questions suggest far preferable alternatives. I think most people would readily agree to a program for peace. Unfortunately, there are always some who refuse to control their mouths or their actions, and then the trouble starts. Heads of governments through the millennia have had this problem, and brutal wars causing millions of innocents to suffer have resulted. There must be a better way!

In the first of the two brutal wars between Germany and the Western Allies, one Captain and his crew proved that there is a better way. This was Kapitan Felix Graf von Luckner,1 who held both a Master’s license in the German Merchant Marine and a commission in the Imperial German Navy. During the war he commanded the sailing ship Seeadler,2 a naval vessel disguised as a neutral merchant ship. Her mission was to seek out and destroy Allied merchant shipping without inflicting casualties.3

To this end the Seeadler was fitted out with extensive dormitory and dining accommodations. The German Navy provided these facilities for the housing and feeding of Allied merchant seamen captured by Captain von Luckner and his crew. The strategy called for the Seeadler to break through the British blockade of the North Sea by presenting herself as a Norwegian cargo ship. Once out on the open Atlantic, she would carry out her attacks on enemy ships through a combination of disguise, deception, and the threat of force.

This plan worked well. From January to July of 1917, the Seeadler prevailed against fifteen Allied ships, twelve in the Atlantic and three in the Pacific. Fourteen of these vessels were sunk; one was used to transport prisoners to a Brazilian port when the Seeadler’s dormitory had reached capacity.4 In each attack, the Germans took the enemy crew aboard and then sunk their ship when they were certain that no one was left on board. Once on the Seeadler, the Allied prisoners were treated as and called guests. They enjoyed fine dining and recreational activities with their German hosts, and they were not restricted to their quarters but could roam the ship at will. In this atmosphere wartime enemies became friends.

Eventually, one thing did go wrong, however. During an attack on the British freighter Horngarth in the South Atlantic on March 11, 1917, the Seeadler fired a shot at the Harngath’s radio shack. The objective was to prevent the transmission of a message calling for help by destroying the apparatus. At the time the shot was fired, the radio shack was empty, and therefore no casualties were expected. The shell which was fired did the intended damage to the radio equipment, but also ruptured a steam line. The resulting discharge of high pressure steam and hot water injured four British seamen. All of them were subsequently taken aboard the Seeadler and given medical treatment. One, unfortunately, died from his injuries.5

This sole fatality in the Seeadler’s entire campaign was Douglas Page, age 16. The Germans held a funeral service for him at sea with full military honors, his body reposing under the Union Jack prior to burial. Afterwards, Captain von Luckner wrote to the boy’s family in Great Britain, telling them in English that:

It is an old German custom to honour the dead of our enemies, & we are now standing on the pall of this young knight.  He is not our enemy any more, he is now our friend & is at present where our forefathers are gathered, where all are brothers.  God has his future destined.  God has called him to his side, he is now happy because he is looking into the face of Jesus Christ.6

To this day, Douglas’ family believes that he was “treated very well by the Germans.”7

Several months later, in August of 1917, the Germans reached the end of their mission when the Seeadler was shipwrecked in the South Pacific.8 Subsequently, they were obliged to surrender to the British. The Captain and most of his crew spent the remainder of the war as prisoners in New Zealand; the rest were interned in Chile. Repatriated to Germany after the armistice, Captain von Luckner became an international hero because of the peaceful manner in which he conducted his wartime campaign at sea. Among other laudations, he was called to the Vatican where he received a decoration from the Pope, who described him as “a great humanitarian.”9

Captain von Luckner’s military campaign aboard the Seeadler demonstrated that the citizens of belligerent nations can become friends instead of remaining enemies even in the midst of a major world conflict. In a postwar memoir directed primarily to an American audience, he wrote from practical experience of a lofty vision:

As a sailor who has sailed under many flags and whose friends and pals are the citizens of many countries and many climes, it is my dream that one day we shall all speak the same language and have so many common interests that terrible wars will no longer occur.10

These wars, and for that matter all forms of human conflict, will become obsolete when all the governments and all the peoples of the world consistently heed the scriptural instruction, “Cease to contend one with another; cease to speak evil one of another” (D&C 136:23). When instead of speaking evil, all nations and individuals greet each other with the Lord’s gentle valediction, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you” (John 14:27), the time will have arrived when “terrible wars will no longer occur.”

The two men aboard the Victoria who became friends again the morning after a midnight fire axe fight and the wartime captors and prisoners who became friends aboard the Seeadler demonstrate that it is possible to overcome both personal and political enmity. Once enmity is removed and replaced with a less hostile and more positive outlook on others, there should be no reason why we can’t all be friends.

1 The hereditary title Graf, meaning “Count” in English, identifies Captain von Luckner as a member of the old German aristocracy. Since he was also a career merchant seaman who held a Master’s license and commanded a ship, and for the sake of simplicity, I will refer to him here by the respectful English language Merchant Marine title “Captain.”
2 In English, Sea Eagle.
3 The information in the narrative is drawn from two sources: Lowell Thomas, Count Luckner, the Sea Devil, Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1927; and Oliver E. Allen, The Windjammers, Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, Inc., 1978. Specific points are cited below.
4 Allen, op. cit., p. 133-134.
5 Allen, op. cit. p. 133.
6 Images of Captain von Luckner’s correspondence and other memorabilia located at http://luckner-society.com. This is the website of the Felix Graf von Luckner Gesellschaft (Felix Count von Luckner Society) of Halle, Germany, established to preserve his history and legacy.
7 Ibid.
8 Allen, op. cit., p. 134.
9 Thomas, op. cit., p. 4.
10 Thomas, op. cit., p. 308.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Memory of a Man

While my voyage aboard the cruise liner Nieuw Amsterdam brought back many happy memories for me, it also rekindled the very sad memory of one former shipmate in particular. He was a very bright and ambitious young man who seemed to have a good future and a good career ahead of him. Seeming to have a good future and actually having it are two different things, however. As the future is unknown to all but God, we humans cannot take it for granted. With little or even no advance notice, anything can take everything away from us. Such was the case with my former colleague.

Captain Derric F. Linardich joined the Waccamaw as relief Master in Norfolk, Virginia, during the first week of January, 1983. He came aboard to relieve Captain Rigobello, who was going on vacation until about mid-March. Captain Linardich was in his early thirties and recently married. He stood almost six feet tall with medium brown hair and inquisitive brown eyes. He came from Riverhead, Long Island, and was a graduate of the State University of New York Maritime College at Fort Schuyler in the Bronx. After receiving his original license as third mate, he remained aboard ship for long periods with minimal vacations in order to accumulate the sea time required for each upgrade. In this way he worked his way up through the licensed ranks quickly. He passed the exams for Master before he turned thirty. After a few more stints as chief mate, he was selected for relief jobs as Master. I believe his assignment to the Waccamaw was the second of these.

With Captain Linardich in command, the Waccamaw sailed from Norfolk for points south at noon on Sunday, January 9, 1983. It was a fairly routine voyage; the ship carried out her customary duties of refueling Navy vessels at sea. Enroute to one such rendezvous, she sailed westward past San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, January 14, but did not stop there. She visited Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday, January 18, and again a week later on January 25 and 26. Aside from these brief port visits, the Waccamaw spent most of her time sailing from one rendezvous point to another and delivering fuel and supplies to military vessels at each rendezvous. Among others, she serviced the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and the guided missile frigate Oliver Hazard Perry.1 At the time, these were both new and well-known vessels. The meetings with all these ships took place in various locations quite distant from land, but in the general areas north and south of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. On several occasions the Waccamaw transited the Virgin Passage, the waterway separating Puerto Rico and the Virgins. Captain Linardich always called this “Hole in the Wall.” He would typically say to me, “I need you to lay out a course to Hole in the Wall,” and away we would go.

Captain Linardich used some memorable turns of speech. Often when someone told him something business-related that he needed to know, he would incline his head slightly and respond, “Interesting.” This was his way of acknowledging even the most unexpected or bizarre information; everything was “interesting.” Another stock phrase of his was “It’s easy money.” Every task, even the most involved and unusual, was “easy money.” One night when the Waccamaw was proceeding along on station waiting for a Navy ship to come alongside for replenishment, Captain Linardich stood on the port bridge wing tossing glow sticks overboard at about one minute intervals. These would serve as a floating guideline for the approaching ship. Turning to me with a shrug he said, “People think I’m nuts, but it really is easy money. Sometimes I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this!”

Some people did in fact think Captain Linardich was nuts. He had a reputation among some for being unreasonable and difficult to work with. Admittedly, he expected a high level of competence and professionalism from the mates and engineers. From the unlicensed crew he exacted less, but then, they carried less responsibility. I had no real difficulty with him. On a few occasions I did not completely agree with some things that he said and did, but he was the boss, and I figured that it was up to me to get along with him. I made it my business to do so, and we got along all right. More important in a shipmaster, though, his professional capabilities were excellent.

On Thursday, January 20, while underway in the Caribbean the Waccamaw experienced a mechanical malfunction with her steering motors. These were corrected by the engine room personnel, and the ship was able to continue on her voyage and meet all of her commitments for refueling the military vessels in the area. On the completion of all these assignments, then, she returned to Norfolk on Saturday, February 5.

On Monday morning, February 7, the Waccamaw again sailed from Norfolk. She did not go far, though. The problem in the steering motors reasserted itself, and the ship returned to port that afternoon. The next two days were spent making repairs to the steering gear. Finally on Friday, February 11, the Waccamaw once again left Norfolk and was scheduled to conduct several at sea refuelings of military vessels in the following week. After that, she would prepare for her annual shipyard overhaul.

As she left Norfolk that morning, the Waccamaw headed eastward into the teeth of the winter storm which that night would cause the loss of the coal carrier Marine Electric and most of her crew. Because of the weather, Captain Linardich had been authorized by his superiors to proceed or not at his discretion. Accordingly, when the Waccamaw reached the pilot station at the Chesapeake Bay entrance and he saw the maelstrom in front of us, he decided that the ship would immediately return to port. On hearing the terrible news about the Marine Electric the next day, the entire crew came to fully appreciate the wisdom of Captain Linardich’s decision and respect the soundness of his judgment.

That was the last time I went to sea with Captain Linardich. In the month that followed, the Waccamaw remained in Norfolk. In preparation for the shipyard overhaul, she pumped all her oil ashore, unloaded her dry cargo, underwent two weeks of tank cleaning followed by tank inspections, and took on water ballast for stability purposes. Also, several of her crew, including both Captain Linardich and myself, participated in two days of basic small arms training at the Norfolk Naval Base. This was done periodically for the purpose of training merchant crews to protect themselves and their military cargos in the event of a terrorist attack. Finally, the powers that be decided that the Waccamaw would be sent to the Old Dominion Metro Machine yard across the Elizabeth River from downtown Norfolk for her overhaul.

On Monday morning, March 14, Captain Rigobello returned from vacation. He rejoined the Waccamaw at the supply piers, and that afternoon rode the ship up the river to the yard. On Tuesday, March 15, he officially took over as Master. Captain Linardich then departed the Waccamaw and returned to the company headquarters in Bayonne, New Jersey. On Wednesday he was scheduled to relieve Captain Viera aboard the freighter Sirius there so that he could take his vacation.

While I never sailed with Captain Linardich again, I did see him briefly once in the Bayonne headquarters in the spring of 1986. He was working in an administrative capacity there for a few months. Knowing that I had been seriously sick, he inquired about my health. We had little time to talk, though, as he was heading off to a meeting. That was the last time that I ever saw him. Later on aboard the Hayes, I learned that he had holed up in a low-rent apartment in Bayonne while he worked in the office, and that he had subsequently resigned from the company and gone on to greener pastures. At that point, I did not expect to see him or hear about him any further.

A year later, I also left for greener pastures. The employment situation for American merchant seamen had been deteriorating for some time, and by the spring of 1987 there was little to nothing left. I eventually took up a second career as a college librarian. In this capacity my contact with the Merchant Marine became nearly nil. I heard from a couple of former shipmates for a while; otherwise, most of my information came from the newspapers. It was from these two sources that I finally heard about Captain Linardich again, and the news was not good.

Captain Linardich accepted a seagoing position with the Kuwait Oil Tanker Company. An opportunity for American seamen had opened up there because of a political turn of events. During the war between Iran and Iraq, Kuwaiti merchant ships became endangered. Iran intended to target the Kuwaiti fleet because it supported Iraq in the war. In order to prevent attacks on these ships, the United States “reflagged” them in 1987, so that they would sail as American vessels with American crews. The thinking was that no one would attack a neutral American ship, and no one did. The war ended in August of 1988, but the eleven Kuwaiti merchant ships continued to sail under the American flag.2

In 1990, Captain Linardich was sailing as Master of the tanker Surf City. She was a petroleum transporter of 80,000 tons, 760 feet long and 144 feet wide, and she had been built in 1981 by Mitsubishi in Nagasaki, Japan. She carried a crew of 25 and a cargo of diesel fuel and naptha.3 On Thursday, February 22, 1990, the Surf City was passing between the United Arab Emirates and the Iranian Island of Abu Musa while on a voyage from Kuwait to Italy. Some repair work was in progress on one of the starboard cargo tanks. The Captain and his chief mate, Steven McHugh of East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, were on deck in the vicinity of this tank. Suddenly an internal explosion took place, and the ship was engulfed in flames and smoke. Captain Linardich and the chief mate were both killed by the explosion. The other 23 crewmen were rescued by the USS Simpson, a guided missile frigate which had been patrolling the shipping lanes.4

The Surf City did not sink. She remained afloat and was repaired and returned to service. In 1991 she was sold to a new owner and operator and renamed.5 There would be no such second chance at life for Derric Linardich and Steven McHugh. They had finished all their worldly voyages before reaching the age of 40.

My voyage aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam took place long after I had passed age 40. As this magnificent vessel approached San Juan, I recalled a dinner conversation I’d had with Captain Linardich aboard the more earthy Waccamaw 29 years earlier. Sailing westward past San Juan in the late afternoon of Friday, January 14, 1983, the Waccamaw offered a beautiful view of the north coast of Puerto Rico, including both the old and new cities of San Juan. As I had spent a long night meandering through the fabled streets of this grand colonial city the preceding November, I facetiously suggested that the Waccamaw make an unscheduled stop there so that we could all go sightseeing.

To my surprise, this innocuous remark elicited an a scornful response. “What do you want to go there for?” Captain Linardich asked. “It’s nothing but a ghetto! There’s nothing to see there. The whole place is all ghettos and slums. There are no sights to see there.” And that was the end of the conversation.

The Nieuw Amsterdam afforded nearly the same view when she arrived and afterwards departed from San Juan on Wednesday, February 8, 2012. The sight of the famous fortress of El Morro, the brightly painted pastel buildings basking in the Caribbean sun, the storied blue cobblestone streets of the old city, the magnificent cathedral named in honor of Saint John the Baptist—all of these and the breathtaking beauty they held made me think again of my former shipmate. Admittedly, there is poverty in San Juan and elsewhere in Puerto Rico. To casually dismiss the whole place as “ghettos and slums,” though, was drastically erroneous. But perhaps it was just another of his memorable turns of speech.

These turns of speech hold in them the memory of a man, as do the ships he sailed on and the places he visited. Captain Linardich was a career merchant seaman who, like many of us, was more comfortable aboard a ship at sea than in some pedestrian employment ashore. His sudden demise should stand as a warning to all of us: “Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is” (Mark 13:33). Whether we are at sea or ashore on leave, our time will inevitably come, and we will not want to be found unprepared for the final grand voyage.

As I gazed upon the great waters of the Atlantic and Caribbean from the Nieuw Amsterdam, I thought of the late Captain Derric F. Linardich and silently prayed, in pace requiescat.

1 When I was in my late teens, I had the privilege of watching the launching of the USS Oliver Hazard Perry at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, on Saturday, September 25, 1976.
2 Associated Press, “Tanker Explodes and Burns,” The Los Angeles Times, February 23, 1990, available at http://articles.latimes.com.
3 Particulars from www.shipspotting.com.
4 Associated Press, op. cit., and Boston Globe, Feb 23, 1990, p. 1-2.
5 Information from www.shipspotting.com.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Three Honored Guests

Few points of etiquette exist aboard ship, but those that do are taken seriously. A breach of them by a well intentioned but unknowing visitor from shoreside would lead to a polite and friendly word to the wise. The same breach from someone associated with ships and the sea who should know better would be met with less friendly and possibly more vicious corrective action. On these matters merchant seamen are generally quite plainspoken and straightforward.

Three basic items of shipboard etiquette come to mind. First, no one is addressed as “Captain” except the man embarked in that capacity. Even if one or more of the mates holds a Master’s license, he is not addressed as “Captain,” even if he has sailed as such before. The same holds true among the engineers. Only the Chief Engineer is addressed as “Chief.” None of the other engineers, even if they hold the big license, is called “Chief.”

Second, the bridge and chartroom area of a ship is generally held as sacrosanct. No one who does not normally belong there enters without permission. Anyone else who may have business there requests permission to enter; he does not simply walk in unannounced. If, say, the steward or the purser came up to the bridge about some matter, he would poke his head through the door and ask the mate or the helmsman for “permission to come on the bridge.” This would be readily granted, of course, unless some critical situation necessitated that he wait. The asking is mostly a gesture of respect, and it is always appreciated.

Finally, there is a chair on the bridge for the Captain’s use, and he is the only one permitted to sit in it. Everyone else stands up. Some ships have a Captain’s chair on each bridge wing as well as on the bridge itself, but this is unusual. This chair is not a desk chair or a dining room chair, but a high-level cushioned seat, a throne of sorts, large enough to serve as a status symbol and high enough so that the Captain is at the same eye level that he would be at if he were standing. This way he can see clearly out the windows and be at the same height as the mate, pilot, and helmsman. It would not do if he had to look up at his subordinates.

The only exception to the rule that no one else occupies the Captain’s chair is the Captain’s wife when she visits the ship. I have seen this twice. Captain Aspiotis’ wife sat in her husband’s chair when she visited the Waccamaw in Napoli, Italy, and Captain Giaccardo’s wife did likewise on the Bartlett in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Otherwise, no one, not even the president of the company that owns the ship, may ever sit in the Captain’s chair.

The tanker Waccamaw sailed in and out of Norfolk, Virginia, for several months in 1982 and 1983. She carried oil for the Navy; therefore, the Navy dictated the ship’s movements. In Norfolk, she often docked at the Naval Supply Center piers. Frequently, personnel from the Navy came aboard to conduct business involving supply, engineering, and petroleum issues. A few times, though, high-level administrative officers visited the Waccamaw. Two of them even went to sea with the ship. These were not pleasant occasions.

Captain B proudly strode up the gangway one morning in a pristine dress blue uniform that glittered with gold braid, brass buttons, and multicolored ribbons. Once on board, he was met by a disheveled gangway watchman who welcomed him in the customary manner: “Who are you, man?”

Taken aback by this greeting from a unlicensed seaman in his torn and dirty dungarees, his untucked and unbuttoned oil-stained shirt, his filthy blackened hands, his long, dirty, and tangled hair, and his several-days unshaven face with a tobacco-stained grin, Captain B stood speechless. Evidently, this was not what he had expected. The disdainful expression on his face with the nose up in the air clearly indicated that Captain B was disgusted. At this happy moment, I emerged from an adjacent passageway and met Captain B.

On seeing the mate of the watch, Captain B recovered his composure. Greeting me with undisguised wrath, he voiced his extreme displeasure at the situation and demanded to be escorted up to Captain Rigobello’s quarters. His complaints included the appearance of the gangway watch, the absence of an officer there to meet him, the insulting manner in which he was asked to show identification, and the complete lack of spit-and-polish that would be found aboard a military ship. As he spewed this venom, I noticed that his linguistic style was not as immaculate as his dress uniform. I had work to do, but I had interrupted it and come to the gangway for the sole purpose of bringing this gentleman up to Captain Rigobello’s office. I knew that once there, his attitude would change.

And up to a point, it did. In his firm but polite way, Captain Rigobello explained what life in the Merchant Marine was like to Captain B. In other words, once Captain B stepped aboard the Waccamaw, he wasn’t in the Navy anymore. This calmed him down considerably, but enough vestiges of his military haughtiness remained, and these did not go unnoticed by the crew.

Following the completion of some repairs in the engine room, the Waccamaw put to sea for a day to conduct tests of the equipment, and also to hold emergency drills for crew training. Captain B came along for the ride. Exactly what work he had to do was never made clear. Most of the time he seemed to be doing nothing. At least he changed out of his dress uniform and into a less conspicuous but still amply decorated set of khakis. Still, while his interactions with the Captain and the Chief Engineer became cordial, they remained considerably less so with everyone else.

Merchant crews do not take kindly toward military arrogance, pomposity, and rank consciousness. Many of the Waccamaw’s crewmen resented Captain B’s attitude and behavior toward them, and a lot of ill-tempered grumbling ensued. “Who does this guy think he is? What right does he have to come on here and give orders? He’s not the boss!! Why’s he telling us to call him ‘Captain?’ He ain’t the Captain!! He ain’t got no Master’s license!! Man, we oughtta kick him over the side!! Let him swim back to Norfolk!!”

Well, Captain B did not swim back to Norfolk. After the sea trials of the engineering equipment were finished, I went up to the bridge to take the watch at 4:00pm. The Waccamaw was by this time in the traffic lanes and heading back to the pilot station at the Chesapeake Bay entrance. As I came on the bridge, I found Captain Rigobello, the third mate, and the helmsman all inside doing their work—and Captain B ensconced in the Captain’s chair on the starboard bridge wing! He was alone, and the very picture of relaxation with his feet up on the wooden bridge rail.

“Excuse me,” I said quietly to Captain Rigobello, “but what is he doing in that chair?”

“He is doing us a big favor,” came the reply. “He is staying out of our way!”

I found this response surprising. Captain Rigobello went on to explain: “I know, he is a nuisance. And he does not belong in that chair. But it is a small point. It makes him feel important to sit there, and it keeps him out of the way. So he is happy because he feels like a big shot, and we are happy because we are left alone to do our work. And when we gat back to Norfolk, he will leave us, and we will never have to see him again. Until then, let us leave him where he is, and it will keep the peace.”

Words of wisdom from a man who had spent 25 years at sea. Compared to commanding a large tanker in busy traffic lanes, someone sitting in a chair was indeed a “small point,” and conceding the chair did in fact “keep the peace.” Captain B stayed very quietly out of everyone’s way as the Waccamaw returned to Norfolk. On arrival, he departed the ship without any hostilities. We never saw him again, but the memory of this ill mannered man has remained.

Captain B stands as an unwitting example of one “puffed up in the vain things of the world” (Alma 5:37), one of those who “lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel” (Morm. 8:35). His resplendent military uniform was as ridiculously out of place aboard a grimy civilian oil tanker as the gangway watchman’s dirty rags would have been at a Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting. His high handed arrogance—“the proud man’s contumely,”1 as Shakespeare artfully expressed it—endeared him to no one. Even his host, the Master of the vessel, wanted ultimately to get him out of the way. This he did graciously, returning good for evil by giving Captain B a front row seat as the Waccamaw returned to port.

On another occasion, Captain K joined the Waccamaw for an overnight jaunt from Norfolk. This time the ship would participate in the at sea refueling of several military vessels, and Captain K would observe. Not participate, though. Once again, it was very unclear what, if any, work he was there to do. Fortunately, I had little to do with him, although I heard several others of the crew complain viciously about him. My turn came early in the morning when the Waccamaw was at sea and preparing to rendezvous with the other vessels for the refueling.

As second mate, I stood the four to eight watch underway. Three unlicensed seamen were on duty with me. One steered the ship while the other two did chores on deck. About 6:00am, I was in the chartroom plotting the ship’s position on the navigational chart and calculating the distance and time to go to the rendezvous point. Additionally, as the mate of the watch, I had to monitor the traffic and make course and speed changes as needed. As I was thus engaged at the chart table, the door from the passageway opened and Captain K entered the chartroom. I turned and looked, and was startled speechless by what appeared before me.

Uninvited and without requesting permission, Captain K walked into the chartroom as if he owned the place and strode silently across to the coffee table. He was dressed in spit-shined black shoes, black socks, and a knee-length dark blue bathrobe. As he reached for the coffee pot, I could only stare and think, this guy must be joking! He picked up the coffee pot and a cup. On discovering that the pot was empty and that there was no coffee anywhere, he finally he turned to me and spoke. He acknowledged my presence not with a cheerful greeting but by emitting a crude stream of invective concerning the “failure of the watch to make the coffee.” Slamming the empty pot back down with a bang, Captain K stormed out of the chartroom and stomped down the passageway.

This episode lasted less than a minute, but it left a lasting impression. Focused as I was on my work, Captain K’s unwarranted intrusion and subsequent temper tantrum caught me completely by surprise. With more important matters on my mind, though, I went about my business not quite believing what I had just seen and heard.

On the bridge, the helmsman had heard it all, even if he had not actually seen it, and he felt no reluctance in speaking his mind on the incident. “What’s up wit dat guy, mate? He tink we be here to wait on him? Don’t he know we all got work to do? Dis ain’t no luxury liner! He be on da wrong ship if he wanna be waited on!”

I agreed with him, and so did the boss. In a quiet moment a little while later, Captain Rigobello mentioned to me that Captain K had complained to him about the “failure of the watch to make the coffee.” In response, he explained to our guest that of the four men on the deck watch, one was the second mate, who was in charge, only two were on the bridge, and all four had work to do and were busy doing it. They simply had no time to make coffee for someone else, and it wasn’t their job anyway. Furthermore, he continued, as a point of protocol, the man at the helm did not drink coffee while he was steering the ship, and the second mate was simply not a coffee drinker at all. So there was absolutely no reason for there to be any coffee in the chartroom at that hour. If Captain K wanted a cup of coffee, he could get one aft in the chow hall. Looking out at the sea, Captain Rigobello shook his head, heaved a sigh, and asked quietly, “What next?”

The Waccamaw successfully carried out her part in the underway refueling exercise and returned to Norfolk with no additional trouble. At the pier, Captain K, like Captain B before him, left the ship peacefully. Also like Captain B, we never saw Captain K again, but the memory of his trespass and temper tantrum has remained.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “he is proud, knowing nothing” (1 Tim. 6:4). Captain K certainly knew nothing about the duties of the deck watch aboard a merchant ship and it showed. Proudly expecting busy crewmen to cater to his whims and then complaining when they could not, he proved that “whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased” (Matt. 23:12), although Captain Rigobello would handle the abasing in a tactful way. Less politely, someone might have told him that “small things make base men proud.”2 A pot of coffee seemed pretty small compared to the safe navigation of the ship.

Then there was Captain Dietz. He was also a Navy man, but that’s where the resemblance ended. Captain Dietz held an important administrative post at the Norfolk Naval Base, and he had extensive experience with the ships of our fleet. He understood the differences between the Navy and the Merchant Marine, and he maintained a high level of respect for the merchant crews and the work they did. He visited the ships periodically for meetings with the Captains and Chief Engineers, and one morning in Norfolk he came aboard the Waccamaw.

Captain Dietz’ official business lay almost entirely in meetings with Captain Rigobello, and to a lesser extent with the Chief Engineer. But as a seaman, he was interested in the whole ship and the crew who manned her, not just in the paperwork part of the job. An upbeat and cheerful man by nature, he roamed about the ship looking things over and stopping to chat with everyone on board. He had a bright smile, a warm handshake, and a friendly greeting for everyone in the crew, regardless of their rank or the condition of their clothing. In this way, Captain Dietz made friends wherever he went on the Waccamaw. Everyone liked him.

At lunchtime, Captain Rigobello and Captain Dietz came into the chow hall together. Several other officers including myself were already present and eating. A group of us regularly sat at a long table with assigned seats. The Captain and Chief Engineer always occupied the seats at the head and foot of the table; the chief mate, second mate, cargo mate, and first assistant engineer occupied the remaining seats. Today there were one or two vacancies, though.

Captain Rigobello led the way with Captain Dietz behind him. When they reached the table, Captain Rigobello motioned for Captain Dietz to sit in the chair at the head of the table, and then he started to take the empty chief mate’s chair for himself. Captain Dietz immediately realized what his host was doing and protested, “Oh, no. I can’t take your place here. You’re the Captain, not me. I can sit in another seat.”

Captain Rigobello insisted, “But you are our guest today, so you take the best seat. I’ll sit here next to you”

Captain Dietz replied, “But it’s still your ship, so you should sit here. I can take the other seat.”

Captain Rigobello responded, “This is a special occasion. You are not with us every day, so you sit there. I’ll be all right here.”

And then he sat down, leaving Captain Dietz with no option but to take the seat at the head of the table. He did this under protest, though: “You are too kind to me, but thank you all the same.”

An exceptionally enjoyable luncheon followed. Captain Dietz engaged all the mates and engineers in conversation and shared jokes and sea stories. While these pleasantries were going on, I thought of the chair debate between the two Captains and was reminded of the scriptural injunction to take the lowest place: “But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher” (Luke 13:10). A gracious and humble guest, Captain Dietz did indeed seek the lower place, and Captain Rigobello, a gracious and humble host, called him up higher. In this way both men showed respect for the other’s professional standing.

For that matter, Captain Dietz showed respect for everyone aboard the Waccamaw. Throughout his visit to the ship he spoke politely and courteously with all on board, both licensed and unlicensed. He treated them as his equals. When the messman in the dining room brought his lunch, Captain Dietz looked up at him, smiled broadly, and thanked him warmly. A simple courtesy, but one that revealed a true officer and gentleman.

An old proverb holds that comparisons can be odious; still, we cannot help but make them. Unlike his predecessors, Captain Dietz did not show up flamboyantly overdressed, did not spew a stream of invective about the condition of the gangway watch, did not barge uninvited and in his bathrobe into the chartroom, did not throw a hissy fit over something as trivial as an empty coffee pot, and did not so alienate the crew that he had to put into a corner to keep him out of the way. Arrogance was simply not his style; civility was. He had no delusions of superior importance; he viewed everyone, regardless of rank, as important. All three visitors’ behavior and attitude and the resultant feelings which the crew held toward them proved the point that “whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23: 12).

The Waccamaw’s crew appreciated the professional respect, courtesy, and friendliness which Captain Dietz displayed toward them. No one complained about calling him “Captain,” even though he did not hold a Master’s license and was not the Captain of a merchant ship. It was simply recognized as his military title, and that was all. By extending the hospitality of the ship and the honor of the best seat in the dining room to him, Captain Rigobello led the mates and engineers in exalting Captain Dietz to the level of a Master in the Merchant Marine, a very high honor indeed from a group of merchant seamen.

1 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, III:i:71.
2 William Shakespeare, King Henry VI, Part 2, IV:i:106