|The M/B Spurn Beach incident at Gibraltar.|
|This event is taken from the voyage of the vessel 'Spurn Beach' from Hull to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
No Barge has ever undertaken such a record breaking voyage.
No Humber Barge has ever been taken so far.
It was November, we were delayed, (another story), after struggling across the Bay of Biscay in a Barge, running down the coast of Portugal in a Northerly force seven like a Surfboard, we arrived at Gibraltar.
It was a pleasant afternoon, we were directed to berth next to the Royal Naval dockyards. We were in Gibraltar because we had ordered in advance 10 tons of bunkers, (fuel oil). from Shell.
Minutes after docking we were heading for the supermarket and the pub in any order. First I had to stop at the Port Captains office and present papers.
This simple formality turned out to be something else and if I can remember correctly it went something like this;
As we walked through the door I already sensed something was wrong and as I was saying 'good morning Captain' and without letting me finish, I was told, "You are arrested!" by the Port Capt. "Arrested for what?" I said laughing, ( at the same time thinking how the hell does he know about what we have hidden in the hold?) "Your vessel is arrested!" was all he kept saying, then some Navy guys arrived and minutes later a there was a crowd. We were marched back to the the Spurn Beach and we watched as heavy chains were placed fore and aft and sealed.
We were not personaly arrested, only our ship was arrested. (It was sad to see our poor ship chained to the dock.) We were allowed to come and go but whatever we brought from the supermarket was controlled at the gates. We were not allowed to start our engines or receive our fuel and our water supply was limited. Protest as we did, it was going to be a wait for a ruling from the Board of Trade in London, because it is illegal to take a Humber Barge in the Atlantic. I argued that we were now in the Med! "You came from the Atlantic!" was all he would say. (What we were carrying in the hold, to our good fortune, never interested them.)
Anyway the situation was going to take a long time to resolve and time we had none.
Opposite to where we were moored was the Royal Naval dock yards. During the day it was always busy but during the night it closed down and the only presence were the guards who marched up and down like guards do. Between us and the guards were the Naval fuel tanks, between us and the fuel tanks was a wire fence and 40 meters of oily dirty black sea water across the dock.
That same night we quietly swam across, climbed up the dock wall and cut the fence which was only a few feet from the tanks. The tanks of course were all chained up and sealed but on the bottom of the tank is a small tap which opens a one inch (2cm) outlet which is used to drain the sediment water from the tank. We opened it, then closed it again as a guard passed by, then opened again until all the water had drained off and fuel oil came out, we closed the tap and the fence and swam back through the black night water to our ship.
The next day was spent finding a long hose pipe and hacksaw blades. That night I swam across with the hose pipe and plugged in to the tank, I had to stay there and hold the pipe in place and spent an hour watching the legs of the guards patroling up and down from under the tank. Colin, my Engineer, was filling our tanks and drums from the hose pipe.
We did this for three nights and loaded about 11 tons of HM.fuel oil.
During each day we spent the hours by hack sawing the chains holding our ship, we used blades and wrapped cloth handles for quietness.
With sore hands and smelling and looking like walking diesel rags at around 17.10 on the fourth day, I calmly walked to the Port Captain and asked permission to start my engines to charge the batteries we needed a shower. He gave a reluctant ok but he limited the engine to an hour. Our engine runs best at a certain internal temperature and it took some 20 minutes to reach that temperature. At 17.30 we sledge hammered the last small unsawed chains and we and our ship were free.
We were full astern (reverse) and gaining speed when they saw us and blew the alarm.
Things were suddenly happening in all directions, I was being hailed from the dock by megaphone held by crazed Port Captain, who was waving,I think he was also juming up and down, I was hailed on the radio, and hailed by a dozen or so on the dock, in fact it seemed everyone was hailing me, including the sea gulls. I now turned the ship and was full ahead and heading for the Port entrance, the Minesweeper on standy was told to scramble, I put a Rod Stewart cassette, Hot Legs (It was meant to be Sailing), next to the radio and broacast on every channel. I was gaining speed and only a few minutes from the sea when the Gibraltar Pilot boat positioned itself to close the entrance and hailed me to stop. I was still gaining speed and stopped the 'Hot Legs' cassette for a moment whilst I reminded the Pilot Boat that he was made of wood and we of Barge steel, he moved out of the way at the very last moment. It was 17.37, I had left a trail of confusion which gave me enough time to get into the straits, it was dusk, visibility was low and darkness was only a few minutes away.
A Royal Navy Frigate was patroling the strait was alerted, he was going west, I east. I had no idea who or in how many would be after me so I turned west and followed the Frigate this confused them. Then I turned again east close to an eastbound ship who was faster than me, (everything was faster than me:), I the turned back west alongside a west bound ship, then again east alongside the next eastbound ship, this created confusion in whoever was following me and at times we were lost to radar.
This zig-zag in the strait whilst always moving more east and towards the south towards Mellila, Spanish Morocco.
We held up in Mellila for two days.
The locals there had heard about our 'escape' and we were given crates of oranges. We took on fresh water, then 48 hours later we sneaked out of Mellila and plotted a course to Malta.
I know that to out wit or out manouvre a Frigate, which has hundreds of guys onboard and a Billion dollars of Radar and Sonar, is a Wonderfull thing to have done as a Pirate and I did it, so it's cool and looks good in my Pirate CV. In honesty though, I have to say it's not easy for a Frigate to turn, takes time, the traffic in the strait and often the chain of command aboard, the Frigate was powerless had no chance to catch us.
But a cool Pirate ego trip to have done it anyway.
Also I learned later that after my moment blocking the radio channels with 'Hot legs' proved to have been my best move, it caused a 'confused scramble', guys were running and jumping like they didn't now where they had to go. So because of this the Minesweeper had an accident, it hit the dock doing its scramble manouvre. The biggest error was made by the Pilot boat which should have chased us immediately yet didn't because it was called into port to pick up the port Captain and others, by doing so she lost me. (What a comedy of errors that Port Captain was :)
I'd stolen 11 tons of Her Majesty's fuel from Her Royal Navy.
I was forced to do that because of a representive of Her Majesty.
Afterwhich I had outwitted her Royal Navy at Sea.
I had also caused considerable damage to one of Her Majesty's ships, escaped arrest from Her Majesty's representive and broken all kinds of rules and laws.
I was also promoted by my Peiran Peers.
This said, some 4-5 months later in Jeddah, I received a letter from His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, husband of the Queen.
The contents of the letter said that 'officially' he could not comment on what I had done but 'unofficially', (his words), he 'complimented me on a 'job well done'.
Considering what I had done to his 'wife's' Navy...'Job well done' is extremely cool.
(I was later arrested in London, the charges were extremely heavy. Prince Phillips letter turned out to be a 'get out of jail FREE' card. The Judge at Hull called me a HERO which was a headline in the Hull Times the following day.)
© 2009 captaintonz.com
|The Rock of Gibraltar.|
|Port entrance Gibraltar.|
|Humber barga at sea.|
|Port of Melilla Spanish Marocco.|
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