Monday is a Lucky Day
Monday is a Lucky Day by Yuri Teplyakov
from the magazine Youth
“Wind north-west, hurricane force. Vessel heavily coated with ice. Losing stability. Engines working at capacity.
Just before putting out to sea the captains of the fishing trawlers received a storm warning.
“If you run into trouble make for Russkaya Bay.”
But, there it is, in black on white, on the sea-going fishing vessel’s lienee: No limitations. That means you can sail off to any point on the oceans of the world. How are you going to get there if you spend your time waiting around for good weather? A storm? So what. After all, the heart of your ship throbs with the power of 300 horses and there are no limitations on your grazing grounds.
Signalling SOS.” (Excerpt from the logbook of the fishing trawler Semipalatinsk, sailing in the Okhotsk Sea, off Kamchatka).
Monday is often called blue, gloomy, dreary. But this one, particular Monday in February. . .
To starboard, through rifts in the fog, the outline of the cold, forbidding cliffs of Cape Krestovyi could be guessed at. The sea, by contrast, seemed warm and secure as a mother’s arms.
And suddenly, absolutely suddenly — I remember that perfectly — an icy blast shook the ship, as though the cliffs had let loose with a thousand cannons. The day was snuffed out, the bluffs disappeared and a wave, as though peppered by hail, boiled and swirled and tried to suck our tiny boat into the maelstrom.
’’Captain”, the navigator yelled, ’’it’s a nor’-wester!”
A nor’-wester! I had heard quite a lot about nor’-westers in this part of the world. I had met widows who had lost their husbands in a winter nor’-wester; I had met young fellows to whom the word ”nor-wester” sounded like a clarion call to battle: their fathers had not returned from the sea. And I, a journalist on my first trip out, had run right into a nor’-wester.
For another hour the ship tried to hold its course. But more and more often, waves slammed us amidships and more and more sluggishly the ship righted itself after every blow.
’’Lie into the wind.” The captain was in a black leather jacket, on his head a leather cap with ear-flaps. He put his hand on the wheelsman’s shoulder. ’’Watch it, Borya. We’re 15 degrees out again”.
Then he called to a sailor, ’’Send the Chief un.”
The ’’Chief” arrived, a slender boy, fresh out of training college, but already ’’Chief” as all Chief Engineers on ships are called.
’’Well, Chief, how are the engines?”
’’All right, still breathing.”
’’Take another look. We’re in f0t a long one.”
The wind howled and the sky and the sea merged into one colour black. The windows of the wheel- house were coated with a thick layer of ice. The temperature was 20 below. A small embrasure in the sheet of ice was kept open by dint of hammering so we could watch the direction of the waves. Our only chance was to head right into them. Any deviation and the masts, as though drawn by a magnet, leant down toward the water.
The direction-finder probed for the shore. We were right at the cape. For a moment we saw the point on the screen and then it went blank. The apparatus had been gripped by ice and we were blind.
By three o’clock in the afternoon, all our antenna had snapped off — weighed down by ice. Vasya, the radio-operator, tied on his glasses with string and went out on deck. He gripped the icy walls like a mountain climber. What could he do in such a hurricane? The wind whipped wires which looked like heavy chains of ice right past his head. Another minute and he would be washed overboard. He was dragged back inside and his soggy clothing pulled off him.
’’Sorry Captain, didn’t make it try on the short waves.”
’’All right. We must get through!”
The captain’s black jacket was a hunk of ice. He was pressed against the opening, watching the waves suing their commands. The vessel was squeezed in an invisible iron rip. Everything creaked and groaned, you felt as though you were spinning and tilting in a rotary and a hundred-pound hammer was methodically pounding you. One thought beat through your mind — then and how would all this end?
When Vasya finally managed to rig up a make-shift antenna, we began to comprehend the full danger that had overtaken the fishing fleet. Vasya intercepted snatches of radio messages and learnt that the Karvan, which had sailed an hour before us, had hove to and they were chipping off their coating of ice. One sailor had been lost on the Barnaul.
Vasya looked ever gloomier and searched determinedly for voices of the other ships. Suddenly he froze and then started to write frantically. The trawler Karaga was communicating with the motorship Tuloma.
Karaga: ”We are being coated with heavy ice. We need immediate help.”
Tuloma: ”On the way. Are your engines working? Suggest you try to ram on shore.”
Then Tuloma to Petropavlovsk: ’Lost contact with Karaga.”
The captain stared at me. ’’You blow what this means?”
He looked at me searchingly. ’’Afraid?”
’’Bit of bad luck.”
’’The direction-finder’s working again. We’re in the same place, at the cape, only now we’re being dragged out to sea. Our only hope is that the engine doesn’t give out. We’re going to try and crash her.”
We were silent. Both of us were far away, far from the raging storm and sea. The captain adjusted his orange life-belt.
”1 suppose my boys are also thinking of home now.” He made an abrupt movement and shifted his soaking wet cap. He smiled into the smashed mirror and said, ’’Well, let’s go and fight. Perhaps the ones that are waiting for us will see us again.”
Gripping the iron rail, I made my way outside. Snow and water knee- deep. Roar of a maniac wind. On the Beaufort scale, a 60 mile per hour wind means a severe storm. Over 80 m.p.h. registers hurricane-force winds. Our ship was being battered by winds of up to 125 miles per hour.
That night everything possible was done for us. Eleven ships changed course and sped to our rescue. Each one of them searched the black ocean for the little chunks of floating ice that were our trawlers.
’’All hands on deck!” the captain ordered. ’’The ice must be chipped off!”
In their orange life-belts, the men tied themselves together in groups of five. The picks twinkled under the searchlights. Then a wave engulfed them and I saw an orange ball skittering down the deck. People disentangled themselves and attacked the ice. In 10 minutes they returned and another group took their place.
The men dropped to the floor and sat without exchanging a word, greedily dragging on cigarettes held in frozen fingers.
So long as we didn’t lose our stability.
Not only ice flew overboard — barrels, boxes and bags went too. If the ship was lightened by only one pound, if it listed one inch less, that was a victory.
The de-icing went on for one hour. For two. For three. One man’s head was cracked, two had broken arms, the waves battered men against iron. Anyone who was still able to raise a pick and aim a blow at the cursed ice went on deck.
Twice already the ship had keeled so far over that the masts almost touched the water. There was no fear in the eyes of the men around me, only a sadness and a calm acceptance of something final. But how the finality would come, we did not know. We could not believe that any second now the ship would capsize and that icy, salty water would cascade through the passageways and rise knee-deep, chest-deep and finally we would look into each other’s eyes for the last time.
Again the ship’s masts dipped down toward the ocean waters but again, shuddering, they stretched toward the sky.
At two o’clock in the morning the Chief turned up on the bridge.
’’The way the engines are going, we’ll last about another 15 minutes. She’s at 600 degrees. All we’re managing to do is stay in the same spot, we’re not making any headway.”
’’Alyosha, Chief, you’ll just have to work something out. Stop the engines and we’ll be swamped in minutes.”
No sooner did the Chief disappear- back into his roaring, steaming hell than we were again tilted over. The captain, hanging on to an iron bar shouted to the ship, ’’Hang on, old lady!”
Andrei spoke about the ship as a person: ’’One more heel-over like that and it’s the end. She’s wrung out everything she’s got. I know. Perhaps the Semipalatinsk heard, she didn’t want to die, either.
’’You know what I thought about when the masts hit the water?” This was addressed to me.
’’Should I take off my boots or not? Silly thought, but there you are. You could be a champion swimmer, but in 20 minutes you’d freeze to death in that water anyhow If anything happens, don’t jump overboard. No point . . . Within half an hour I think we’ll be swamped.*» ’’Listen Andrei”, I say, ’’perhaps I should write a note, you know, to leave . .
’’Don’t be funny, if we don’t survive the ship will go to the bottom.” The captain spat blood. His lips were cracked, his face was frozen. And again the ship keeled over to Port.
’’How are the boys?” he asked the first mate.
’’Five are frozen, they’ve had it- Two others have broken arms, the rest —”
’’Tell the rest to get out on deck and keep on with it. And now we h send out an SOS. Perhaps somebody will hear. That’s all!”
He smeared the blood over the jcy crust of his face and went back to the embrasure.
’’Semipalatinsk calling! SOS! SOS! Semipalatinsk calling! SOS!” the radio operator frantically shouted into the mike while the frozen, played-out crew chipped at the ice and dropped with exhaustion like soldiers in battle.
And suddenly through the roar and whine, through carefree music .. the Queen of England is having a reception for . . . comes a faint voice: «Abakur calling! Abakur calling! Semipalatinsk come in! Give us your position …”
The captain grabs the mike, ’’Semipalatinsk calling! Our engines will give out any moment, they are being cooled by seawater. Last heel- over was 60 degrees. Cannot de-ice any more. If it comes to that, pick us up out of the water. How far away are you? Over.”
More roar, more whine … the Abakur is silent. But out of the abyss it emerges once more: ’’Abakur calling! Why don’t you reply? (Why don’t we reply?!) Show all lights. Approximately 15 miles away. Won’t be long, hang on!”
* * *
Excerpt from the ship’s log: ’’February 21, at 7:35 a.m. the tanker Abakur came to the rescue.” Monday was obviously our lucky day.