Ship’s Log: Day Twenty Five (Melbourne to Tilbury)

Twenty fifth day of the Voyage; second day of the Caribbean crossing

Kingston, Jamaica, 1000 to 1400.

A hope dashed: the seven hour stop at Kingston, Jamaica, became less than four – not enough time to go ashore, in the opinion of the captain, especially if the ship is ready to go earlier.

Earlier, a small drama, overcome by the sheer force of personality on behalf of the pilot. We had arrived early in Kingston and were told to drift until 10 am for the pilot, Then, when we told to go, we went; then, when we were at full steam, to wait and go on behind the other ship, the Vega]

The captain is absolutely furious and makes the ship do the equivalent of an ocean burnout: 40,000 tons at port 20 and full steam.

A foul mood ensues on the bridge, until the calypso pilot comes on board and overcomes the mood by sheer force of personality. A smile, a joke, a declaration that the harbourmaster is responsible for the stuff-up and therefore an idiot – he has the captain laughing in less than two minutes.

Pilots: personality types may have something to do with differences between taciturn and the garrulous, the sourpusses and the charmers, the obnoxiously rude and the gratefully polite. But each port also has its own pilot cultures. English pilots are overly officious, uniformed and officious. Australians and kiwis tend to be quiet and focused, sipping a coffee, uttering commands quietly and often saying a calm thankyou when the reply comes. They seem to prefer compass points – 231 or 067 or … – rather than the more usual port 10, starboard 20 or midships. But one never offered them any cartons of cigarettes, which we were to see soon enough. As with the Panmanians, who expected them en masse. We had five pilots in all for the canal and Montezillo and they were all given to pilot versions of machismo. A little disdain for the crew, ignoring passengers, barely acknowledging the captain’s authority and never saying a thankyou for a command carried out. By contrast, Jamaicans simply charmed the pants off you (there was but one woman present): smiles, jokes, stories, laughter, a constant chatter that made you feel like you were sitting at a pub with the best of friends. All the while, the commands were passed on in between the long narratives, calmly and in plenty of control. Only when the ship had to dock in a tight corner did he stop for a few moments, although now chattering into the walkie-talkie. He smiled widely indeed when the cartons of smokes appeared from out of the captain’s stash. As for the Americans on the east coast, they were (surprisingly) happy to accept the smokes, but they were garrulous and friendly to a superficial fault and usually full of crap – at least whenever they opened their mouths, which was almost all the time.

Later, I asked the captain about the cigarettes.

‘If their opinion is important’, he said, ‘it makes things easier. The inspector at Panama, who checked the worthiness of the ship before entering the canal, was vital. Without his OK, the pilots don’t board and we don’t proceed. And I give them, one or two cartons, if the pilot has been helpful, like the Jamaicans’.

‘What about New Zealand?’ I said. ‘No smokes there’.

‘No’, said the captain. ‘They told me they could take them, but it would create far too many problems with customs if caught. Actually, I prefer the Jamaicans and Panamanians. It is easier to get things done; no masses of paperwork; no small-minded officials who will find something if they look hard enough. You know, in Australia or the USA, a blinkered petty bureaucrat will look over all the paperwork in minute detail, looking for a slip. Waste of time’.

But after I noticed a carton slipped to one American pilot, the captain simply observed, ‘It is the way it has always been done, a way to build relationships’.

Kingston pilot sequence (note the carton in his belt):

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