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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Far Away Places #1

Bradford Island

California and Oregon can lay claim to having Bradford Islands within their boundaries. The one in Oregon has, perhaps, a more interesting history, as, according to one account, "On April 9, 1806, Lewis and Clark camped near Tanner Creek, on the Oregon shore opposite Bradford Island." It is a fascinating place. I suppose; you know, since Lewis and Clark stayed there. But I couldn’t say for sure, since I've not been there myself. Yet, Bradford Island is where I learned more than a few lessons and from which I took many memories.

It all started in April, 1945 with the Kaiser Company at Swan Island Shipyard in Portland, Oregon. The yard was one of four built to support the war effort by constructing T2 tankers. T2's, by the way, are 500 foot long ships that could carry almost 6 million gallons in their 9 cargo tanks. The 135th T2 tanker built by Kaiser at Swan Island was named Bradford Island. And, in the summer of 1968, I spent three months on her, hauling oil from ports in Texas and Louisiana to New Orleans, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Wilmington, North Carolina. It was quite the summer job for this, at the time, college sophomore.

My travels up until this time had been limited to family vacations, with a single solo trip, that a flight from Atlanta to Jacksonville, Florida to visit a friend from the few I years when I lived there. Now, I found myself alone in Houston, a card carrying member of the Seafarers Union, checking the job postings in the small office near the YMCA where I was staying. On the second day, I picked up the card for a spot on the Bradford Island, washing dishes in the galley. After that, it was a quick trip to Lake Charles, Louisiana, where I boarded what would be my floating home for the rest of the summer. The next day, we left for Tampa. On the way, I overheard the Steward say he was going to need to post for a waiter in the officer's mess. Being a quick-witted college student as I was, I volunteered to take on the waiter's duties if he would post for a dishwasher instead. We agreed to that plan and my hands were soon out of the water.

Working on a tanker is not exactly the best way to see the highlights of the U.S. Gulf Coast. We were at sea a lot, and the ship could load and unload fairly quickly so there wasn't too much time ashore. Add to that the fact that the docks were situated far from the big city sights, this due in large part to the disaster at Texas City, Texas in 1945. A fire on a ship in the harbor detonated 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate, leveling the city and killing 581 people. Hence, docks servicing tankers have tended to be a bit farther from population centers.

So, it wasn't the sights that made that summer memorable. Sailing as a merchant mariner was exotic, for sure. Well, if you are a sophomore at Georgia Tech. It was a summer of a boatload of new experiences and interactions with quite the variety of people.

One of those people was the ship's master, Captain Salinas. A trim man with olive skin and dark hair, looking every bit the Greek officer. He showed me the bridge, let me take the helm one day and gave me lessons in using the LORANCE unit for navigation. All-in-all, it did not appear to me that he had much real work to do.

But one night, as I was relaxing on deck while we were docked again at Lake Charles, one of the ship's engineering crew came stumbling up the gangplank, bleeding from a wound on his arm. When he got on board, he looked around and headed off, apparently hoping to make it to the refuge of his bunk. He had taken hardly a step when Captain Salinas called out to him, "You're drunk and you've been in a knife fight!" Before the man could respond, the captain continued, "I WILL NOT tolerate that from anyone in my crew. I will post your job at the union office in Tampa where you will get off of my ship." There was an attempt at a reply from the man, but he was obviously intimidated by the captain and when he was told to get to his cabin, he scuttled off without a second's hesitation.

I recalled this incident often and came to understand over the years that Captain Salinas did not have a soft, cushy job, standing on the bridge and ordering other people around. Rather he had the toughest job of all. He was responsible; for the functioning of the ship in pursuit of the company’s business; for the safety of the communities where the ship loaded and unloaded and for the crew of 35 men (34 men and a college-aged temp, at the time, actually).

I think he did not see a drunken, injured seaman. Rather it was the risk to all that the captain was responsible for that this man and his inability to follow the rules of the ship represented. And, as Captain, it was not his job to rehabilitate the man; it was to act positively and quickly for the benefit of the others who were relying on him.

It was a "watch the feet, not the lips" lesson. Captain Salinas could have just said he was responsible; he could have demanded at least the appearance of respect due simply to his position. Or, he could act quickly and decisively when such was called for, demonstrating responsibility and earning real respect. It was the latter I saw that night in Lake Charles.

I wish I would have put all of that together while I was on the ship, but it took me a while to absorb all of that summer's lessons. So it is quite likely too late, but, "Thank you, Captain Salinas."

Bradford Island
Polaroids from my scrapbook; mine was the top bunk, by the way.

In research for this post, I discovered that the Bradford Island was "jumboized" in 1970 with modifications to the cargo and forward sections, increasing her length from the original 500 feet to a whopping 619 feet. She was scrapped in 2000. I have to admit, it made me a little sad when I read this.

Next up, the first grand tour of Europe.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your story about my father Capt Julian Salinas. I remember hearing these stories. Did you ever meet his son? Sometimes his wife and son would travel with him when he was not going on a foreign trip.