Monday, December 20, 2010

A Lesson Not to be Forgotten

While returning from India aboard the RMS Georgic in 1947, Captain Harry Grattidge encountered a heavy fog and encountered what he considered to be a serious case of negligence on the part of another ship. He decided, therefore, to give them a lesson that they would not soon forget. But Captain Grattidge himself would also learn something.

Yes, she was a good ship, the Georgic, sturdy and reliable, with a whistle that cut the air like a razor if you needed it. It was...making for Liverpool, that I ran into fog off Anglesey, but not until the small hours of the morning did the officer of the watch send word that a vessel grouped around by smaller vessels had been plotted close ahead on the radar screen. So I ran topside to the bridge, reducing speed and altering course, blowing our whistle but getting no reply. Suddenly, at 2:30 A.M., the craft I had sought loomed out of the fog, close to our bow, silent as a ghost ship but with all her deck lights burning. By heaven, I thought, I'll teach them not to use their whistle when there's fog around, and for two unbroken minutes I made the night hideous with the ear-splitting scream of the Georgic's whistle.

Next morning, in Liverpool, Cunard's shore staff came aboard to ask searching questions. Had I run into anything unusual during the night? I gave the facts, but ended triumphantly: "If they threw a scare on me, I certainly threw a worse one on them. I blew the whistle so loudly that everyone asleep on that ship must have jumped clean from their bunks.

They seemed to know all about that. "The ship," explained one of them kindly, "was H.M.S. Dido.They were relying on radar, not blowing their whistle, so as to give their passengers a good night's rest."

Passengers on a destroyer? I said I could scarcely credit it. But no one had warned me, after all, that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were crossing on an official visit to the Isle of Man.

Captain Grattidge would then write that his entire life had been full of mistakes like this one. But there is certainly no doubt that both parties learned a lesson from the entire experience.

References: Captain Harry Grattidge, Captain of the Queens: The Autobiography of Captain Harry Grattidge, Former Commodore of the Cunard Line as told to Richard Collier (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1956), 12-13.

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