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.

7 comments:

  1. We do need reminders to carpe diem. It's a challenge not to take our days for granted.

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  2. I am a former MSC Chief Engineer. I knew Linardich (you describe his quirky personality exacttly) and Rigobello and many others. I have the entire official report on the Surf City accident if you want it. Sad story.

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    1. I'd be interested to see the accident report. Thanks. And thank you for reading the blog.

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    2. How can I get the report to you?

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    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. enjoy reading your stuff.and if you are om facebook ihave a group on there Military Sealift Command ( old salts ) .only 7 or 8 members but maybe someone you know. I spent along time on the Wac-Atack oct 87 till july 89 last crew on her bone yard in july 89.

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