by Mike Briant
‘Well! There’s a job of work for you!’ He stepped back two paces, the better to admire the beautification of the starboard bridge wing, then swung about, fixing each of us in turn with an alert, quizzical eye, seeking and finding endorsement in our ready nods. The Chinese yard foreman, all the while gazed blandly off into space, unmoved by all the approbation, harbouring thoughts of his own perhaps on such unwonted extravagance.
The effect was indeed wonderful, the work beautifully executed. The ship was nearing completion, both bridge wings had been transformed. Teak gratings now surrounded the gyro repeaters to facilitate the taking of bearings, the repeater pedestals themselves, newly encased in handsome teak, brass-bound binnacles.
All this embellishment carried out at the whim of nobody but ourselves, the mere second and third mates, appointed to stand by this new construction, latest addition to the China Navigation fleet. It could only happen in Hong Kong, and only where the ship and the yard which built her belonged to one and the same company.
For our part, uncomfortably aware that we had stepped way beyond our limited authority, the reaction of this man was now of particular interest and his approbation something of considerable relief. This rotund genial man, an almost Pickwickian character, was to be the moving influence of our lives, of the ship, and all who sailed in her. Jock Stuart, her Master, now inspecting his command for the first time, did so with infectious and unconcealed delight, wafting away all uneasiness regarding the beauty of the bridge wings.
By the time sea trials were complete and handover taken place, it had already become clear that Chefoo would be a happy ship.
Jock, a man of natural and irresistible
charm, had an unusual knack of command. He was demanding yet in the most light-handed way, so that even the most bolshy Glaswegian engineer found himself automatically inclined to do his best.
As with all good leaders, Jock’s influence percolated quickly down through the ship’s company. Some of our Chinese crew had served with Jock in other ships.These sturdy, taciturn Tientsin men, forever reliable in any case, held Jock in particular esteem.
Our entry into service was unusual. Unlike her sisters, Chefoo was given no regular schedule, no fixed run. Instead, ours was to be a wonderfully loose itinerary, sent to range over a vast area of the China Sea and Pacific in search of trade.
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