Nick Henderson and his Airborne Telephone Service (Dec 23)

Do ship to ship radio communication problems have you down? Are your fellow Captains just not receiving you? Need a lift in your transmission capacity and your spirits? Look no further, I give you my very own Airborne Telephone Service! That’s right, for just a bit over $13 per minute you can make all the small talk you want on the radio at 1000 feet above your own ship! The other Captains will have no choice but to hear your every word. The best part? You’ll be able to hear them too! That’s right, so step on up, sign up, and hop on in.

Now, you may be wondering what I’m going on about by now, please allow me to explain. This morning I did my usual flight with the Captain during our first set. I say “usual” because the last three mornings we’ve made early sets, and promptly the Captain and I have gone up for a flight looking for the next target. After we landed the rest of the set went like normal, catching fish and tossing by-catch back into the ocean.

Then, as they were finishing up, the Captain came off of the bridge and looked down the walkway to me, back at the control station for the booms and then pointed up at the heli-deck and spun his finger around above his head. Which we all know is universal sign language for “start the helicopter”. So I grabbed Roxy and we went and fired up the ol’ girl. The captain was hot on my heels and climbed into the seat next to mine. As we took off he gave me a heading and I thought we were back on a scouting run, looking for a school or another raft to make another set.

I watched out of the corner of my eye between scans across my instruments and watched as his fingers twitched the knobs of the radio to dial in a new frequency. I then spent the next 45 minutes flying lazy circles along a heading into nothingness while the captain and some unknown voice miles away carried on a spirited and sometimes loud and excitable conversation in an unbroken string of Korean.

I had in effect become a very expensive range booster for the radio on the bridge that was either not working or just not hitting the target. On our way back though something caught my attention on the aviation radio, which I had dialed into 123.45. In perfect, accent-less, American English I heard a guy say “We’ll do it the same as last time, for some reason that seemed to work.”

Now, because the Captain was still chatting on the radio I didn’t get a chance to radio back and say hi, and once I was on the deck I tried – but no reply. Perhaps I was experiencing the same problem as the Captain had been, I was too low to reach them. I remember that it stood out very distinctly to me, I missed the first part of the broadcast because I was surprised to have heard any English on the radio, but it sounded like a conversation in English between two people. There are Americans in these waters. I’m one of them, sure, but there are OTHERS.

Later that night we were all called to the galley, around 8 or 9 at night, for a crew meeting of sorts. Not really “of sorts” I guess, it was a crew meeting. The first officer was sitting at the officers table and all of the crew squeezed in around tables while the cook passed out ice cold sprite and orange fanta to everyone. If I get a cold beverage everytime, then sure – lets to this meeting thing regularly! What followed was me, the Filipinos, and the Indonesians sitting with blank glazed out stares on our faces as the XO went into a 30-45 minute crew meeting in straight Korean.

Occasionally an English word would get mixed into the flow, like “plug” apparently there isn’t a Korean word for plug, and my eyes would dart back toward the XO who was still speaking, maybe hoping that the briefing was about to switch into English for my sake. Other bits of English that stood out were “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” also, which came towards the end of the briefing. This was a good old fashioned weekend safety brief now, just like back in the Army. I’m serious just read on.

At the end of his briefing he raised his cold can of soda into the air, and counted to three and the crew, like a football team in a pregame huddle, shouted “CARIBE!!” and the Koreans added something to the end that actually sounded really cool, but made me think that we’d all just signed up for a Kamikaze (I know…Japanese…shut up) mission or something. I’m going to learn what it was though, because that’s how toasts and post brief chants should go!

Once the crew had finished their drinks and began to move about the galley and leave the first officer twisted around in his seat to look at my mechanic and I to give us the English version. It would seem there had been a second ship in the fleet that had caught fire (for those of you new readers, less than a month ago the Caribe responded to the Lady Marion fire. No injuries, but the LM did sink the next day) and was burning. Instantly my brain started doing math, two ships in one month isn’t exactly a glowing statistic for safety. The Universe Kim however had not sunk as far as anyone knew, and the source of the fire had been traced back to a crew room.

So new company policy, no smoking inside for all crew in all rooms. I’m so excited by this new rule! I don’t smoke, so my room is already a non-smoking room, but the officers and cook all smoke in the galley during meals, and now I get a non-smoking restaurant too! Ok, no-smoking policy doesn’t affect me any, my life goes on the same. Then he said that they didn’t know if it was a cigarette or an electrical fire yet, so they also wanted us to unplug (that’s where the word “plug” was in the Korean version of the briefing) our extension strips and limit ourselves to two outlets. Two outlets which, when we weren’t in the room, needed to be unplug-u. Now it was hitting home. How am I supposed to watch movies, charge my phone, gps, and gopro batteries all while listening to my freshly charged Bluetooth headphones. Don’t you understand – I need at least a half dozen outlets!

Then the weekend safety brief started, we were almost full and headed to the Solomon Islands to unload our tuna. He went into how it will be New Years Eve while we are there, and that we are to only go out in buddy teams (don’t leave your battle buddy behind) because it can get rowdy and dangerous because the locals can’t hold their drink and like to fight. Then, just like a good NCO in the Army, he said if you drink don’t drive and don’t drink too much, don’t get high, no beedlenut (not like I was going to take that habit up), wrap it if you tap it and even said if we needed condoms he’d float us money for the purchase.

In my head I was cracking up, the weekend safety brief is a universal thing, and it made me smile to know it. Fortunately for me Honiara has a Tropic Helicopters office and hangar and I was planning on flying onto the Island to get some work done on the helicopter while I was there. They also have bunk houses for the crew and free internet. They like to party and would probably BBQ at the hangar for NYE so it sounds like all in I’ll have a safe trip in to the Solomons. I am going to try find and book a scuba trip as soon as we get onto land for the next day. Spend a day on the water and maybe get two or three dives. The solomons is diver paradise, and I’ve wanted to dive here since I got certified in Guam back in ‘99. No chance I’m missing out on it this time.

I have a growing list of things to do while I’m on land and connected to the internet though, upload these posts, and try and upload a couple hundred photos to facebook. Download a few updates for quicktime, and a Korean translation pack for my translator. Oh and I have to file my business tax returns for Washington, since I’ll be at sea when they come due. Add in that I want to buy all my supplies for the next trip and catch up with friends and family, I think I’ll spend (other than the dive trip, shopping and a bit of near base exploration) most of my time glued to the internet. This stop is only going to be 3 days long it sounds like, which isn’t nearly enough time to decompress from a month at sea.

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