Where Is the Ship?
One of the real embarrassing low points in my life occurred I believe in Punta Arenas. We had run there to take on fuel. I was out on the town with a bunch of the crew drinking. This time I must have drank too much and when I woke up and stepped out the door it was daylight. Somebody had blackened the windows on the club. I had that sudden fear that I was late for the early muster that had been set. I ran all the way back to the fuel pier. As I rounded the corner and looked down the pier the ship was not there. My God! I thought, I have missed ships movement. I ran all the way to the end of the pier and out on the horizon I could see a white blob.
My watch said it was just now 0700 the muster time but I was the only one there. My heart sank and I could imagine all sorts of things happening. There goes my good conduct, my whole career. I don‘t have any money how will I survive here. This can‘t be happening. It was the single emptiest feeling that I have ever experienced. On top of that I was feeling really hung-over and sick. The only other people on the pier were two soldiers.
There was a Chilean Naval vessel there. They would not let me board the vessel to talk with them but with hand signals and pointing at the Southwind I was able to get them to try and call the ship and tell them I was there. I was thinking the ship must have fueled during the night and was already on the way back to Palmer Station. One of the Chilean Navy crew members spoke broken English and he told me a boat was coming in for me.
The boat was not actually returning for me. As the boat neared I could see the Captain on it. They threw a mooring line up to me. Captain Dolber was in a dress uniform and handed me his brief case as he climbed onto the dock. I handed the briefcase back to him and his only words to me were
Henderson, you had best take my boat back.‖ I was so relieved I didn‘t care if they put me in the
brig. The boat approached the ship and they had dropped a Jacob‘s ladder for me to climb aboard. The boat returned to the dock to wait on the Captain. This was an embarrassing and humiliating ladder to climb. As I was climbing up one of the young officers leaned over the rail and yelled down
Henderson you are on report‖ and I snapped back something stupid like ―No Crap‖. (Not quite what
I said) He then told me that would get me another report.
I may not have this accurate: Turns out there had been an incident that was considered an act of war. It was January 23, 1968 and the USS Pueblo and crew had been seized by North Korea and our ship was ordered out to sea early. The Captain had come back in to negotiate with the Chilean government to get the necessary fuel we needed. The Chilean government was I believe leaning communist and there was a reported Russian sub off the coast.
The ship had got underway as soon as they had the majority of the crew (minus one) on board.