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Like all the best fiction, this is a true story

You could have been forgiven for wondering who or what the “Caister Nostra” was, but everyone on board the ship was quite clear regarding the current situation.

Mal was just saying “ You go up Fullers hill and.......”, when the Chief , a Geordie, broke in. “ What do you mean hill!,  hills in Yarmouth?. It’s as flat as a pancake!  I do wish you lot would just shut the heck up about Yarmouth”!

Well there it was. What else could you do but have a bit of a chat as the ship hurtled up and down in the bad weather making it impossible to do much else.

Unfortunately a substantial proportion of this crew were indeed from Great Yarmouth.  The remaining few getting so fed up with the constant references to the town, that they had dubbed them the “ Caister Nostra”, so the name had stuck.

It was a reference to that small but once famous seafaring village just north of the town. “Caister men never turn back”, it’s said”.

On this trip, way up north and a long way from home, there was little prospect of that happening. In any event, all the crew knew each other from way back. There were few secrets.

The company’s manager had just the previous couple of trips ago complained about the time it had taken the ship to reach a platform well north of “Sixty One”. The mate, looking long and hard, had retorted that the wind had been blowing sixty knots all the way, right on the bow. To which the Super, never having been much at sea had said,” Oh come on that’s a full blown hurricane, it couldn’t have been that bad!”

That was the way things were.

The very next trip “Cyanide Sid”, the cook, had been thrown across his cabin, breaking his shoulder blade. This had been much to the crews’ relief, for while it was possible to consider “Cyanide” a member of the “Caister Nostra”, they had rejected him in favour of “Two pan”, a cheery Scott who made the most excellent breakfast. Everyone was pleased when the old cook was taxied up to Casualty. The super of course had muttered about the ship trying to go too fast!

That had been a while back and winter still held its iron grip on the ship.

The idle talk continued and the smoke room lived up to its name by slowly losing much of its visibility to a dense haze of tobacco smoke.

Nobody had the slightest intention of taking a peek outside and “Big Foot” the second mate was only too welcome to his bridge watch. Daylight would be gone soon enough and the lookouts would be up there with the Mate with the thankless task of trying to see anything in that blackest of things, a stormy winter’s night in a high latitude.

The subject turned away from Yarmouth and Bill said “ Do you remember Hogmanay in Peterhead and the Cafe Rio ?”  “Yer right”, Tom retorted, “ You remember that crazy local bunch, dancing on the table tops, I remember the wind coming around to the east at two in the morning, having to let the ropes go and heading up to Aberdour bay to drop anchor”.

Conversations usually unfolded this way onboard, an almost imperceptible wish to avoid the current uncomfortable situation by not talking about it.

Anyone who knew much about seafarers would understand that they were a homely inward looking bunch. Not quite how the Mate described them, but just as the Captain was, “The Old Man” so the Mate might, by a brave man, be called” The Old Woman”. Such was his job like a mother’s, always looking after the welfare of the ship or its crew.

To an outsider the whole shooting match would have seemed very bizarre! Flying up and down as they were, like an express lift, while acting as if they were just down at the local pub.

With the Caister Nostra , that would have been the good old “Dolphin” . Either that or the “Ferryboat Inn”

To the boys of the northeast it might have been the “Jungle” (now pulled down) or the “Steamboat”. The lads from the “Blue Toon” were as like as not to be found in the “Palace”.

The conversation carried on. The old stories again being retold.

There had been the business of how the Polar bear came to be in the little museum above the Peterhead town library. Myth had it that years ago  “The Boys” had wanted to get one back alive so had embarked from some distant lonely arctic spot on their somewhat small fishing boat, having spent ages capturing the elusive beast only to have the thing escape captivity just short of Muckle Flugger! The skipper eventually managed (after being chased around his own decks) to shoot it!

Then there had been the incredible story of the starling’s wings. Seems like there had been, not too long ago, a trade in starlings’ wings.

Out on the Smiths Knoll lightship the Caister Nostra lads of Trinity House had been able to pick up dead starlings that had flown smack into the lightships dazzling glare. Their wings were then collected and sold down to old Reg’s fishing tackle emporium in Yarmouth. He sold them on to be used in the making of fly fishing “flies”.

Another favourite had always been the Monkey story.

Not only was there the world famous “Hartlepool Monkey” that got hung, now it seems news had got through regarding a “Bodham Monkey”. This despite the facts that these legends, which seemed similar, went way back to the Napoleonic Wars!

Bodham of course was up by the Blue Toon so I suppose the Scots needed something to rival Hartlepool. Or maybe it was the other way around.

The ship roared down yet another huge wave and again came to a shuddering stop.  Bill said “come on Big Foot” learn to drive!  Followed by a complaint that all his stuff had shot off his cabin desk last night and now his radio was broken.

Brian who had been sitting quietly at the mess room table said, in his soft Suffolk lilt,” Funny that, nothing moved in my cabin “. However his simple words were missed by Bill who carried on about the absent second mate’s driving abilities as if there was anything anyone could do about the sheer size of those waves out there.  He failed to realise that Brian was trying to tell him something about the importance of lashing things down.

A ship is like clockwork. Everything goes tick-tock ,so long as you remember to wind it up.  The next “tick” was teatime, which, depending on your watch was from half past five to half past six.

John, the present cook had already been busy.  Tonight was pizza night, one whacking great hand crafted job (very appropriate for the likes of the Caister Nostra) enough for all and with a half an hour to go he now had enough time to come through from the galley and put in his penny’s worth towards the conversation.

Now John had no nickname for very good reason.  In his younger days he had been a bit of a hard man and nobody was prepared to cross him.  So unlike most other seagoing cooks, John was just John.  Nowadays a quiet man with the likeable habit of talking to himself whilst working in the galley.  In a loud voice you could hear him lambasting the Captain or the Chief, anyone on board in fact.  This would of course all related to current events on board.

John was not fussy and his words were always just loud enough for the person concerned and everyone else to hear. Something, most people would have kept to themselves. This, in the past, had resulted in stifled laughter and embarrassed silences.  However nobody but nobody, including Captains had ever challenged John as to his behaviour. He was after all the finest cook in the company.

The Ship took another enormous shuddering heave as yet another story got underway.

The mate was relating how back in L.O.F. deep-sea days he had been on an old SD14 where the electrician and second officer had hatched a plan for a “first tripper”, due to join at the next port.  An “electricity meter” had been installed under the daybed of the cadet’s cabin, using an old control box and some electric cables.  Strict instructions had been given to the existing senior cadet, who was in on the plan. He was not to mention the meter directly, but was always to switch out the cabin lights each time he left and occasionally “check” the meter while the new lad was there.  This duly happened and eventually the boys’ curiosity got the better of him and he asked what it was all about.  It was then explained to him that cadets got charged for their electricity and that he could expect the bill at the end of the month.  The following couple of weeks saw the lowly paid cadet virtually living in the dark and eventually the lad received the meter reading from the radio operator who had also been drawn into the plan. The amount used had cleverly been made up using company headed paper and looked authentic.  Of course the lad had asked who worked out the bill and Sparks had quickly retorted that he had to take it up to the Old Man to sort out,

In due course a knock on the Captains door heralded the arrival of the cadet.  The Captain managed to hide his surprise being unaware of the electrician’s scheme.  He told the cadet to leave the account for him to sort out.  He would let him know in due course how much he owed.

The perpetrators by this time had retired to the ships bar congratulating themselves on the smooth running of the plan when first the cadet came in, so the conversation had to change quickly. A short time later the Captain came flying into the bar and demanded angrily what the devil was going on, this bill business was outrageous.  He started ranting at the poor old electrician, not letting him get a word in edgeways, he was now regretting ever having thought up the idea.  It was at this point that the Captain finally announced to a shocked and now silent group that the bill was indeed outrageous and that he would be reducing it by half!  The look of relief on the cadet’s face changed to utter confusion as the whole bar went from stunned silence to uproarious laughter.  First at the confused cadet, still not understanding there was no bill to pay but also at a now very relieved and still shaky electrician who realised far too late he had been well and truly ”got” by the Captain. 

The ship took another enormous roll.

An angry exclamation came from the galley, John had gone through to check the huge pizza and now evidently something was very very wrong!

He burst back in “All right you lot what’s happened to my pizza? Who’s got it?”

 Mal looked at Brian, Bill looked at Tom.

“What’s happened?” said the mate “what are you saying?”

“I’ve just checked the oven and there’s nothing there, absolutely nothing”  “You don’t believe me do you?  Come on see for yourself”. The mate strode through and John triumphantly opened the oven door.  “There you are, no pizza”

There was indeed no pizza!  The pizza had vanished!

The mate was realising by this time he had a crisis on his hands.  It was also starting to dawn on him that everyone apart from the Old Man, Big Foot and the Second, who were on watch, had just been in the Smoke Room for the last hour, this accounted for the entire crew.

So who was this phantom pizza thief who operated on a winters eve in the Northern North Sea?

Everyone had jumped to their feet trying to placate the now very angry cook.  To get the wrong side of John was probably not such a clever idea.

The situation was starting to look a bit bleak when the cook who had gone back into the galley came back half laughing, half sheepish.  “Come and have a look at this guys!”  Everyone trooped through and John proudly opened the oven door.  The huge pizza was back!  Now suspended from the roof of the oven where it had been hurled out of sight by the sheer force of the sea, suspended by countless strands of melted cheese, it was very slowly in the process, aided by gravity, of returning to it’s baking tray and was once again visible. 

“Should have lashed it down, “ said Brian quietly from the mess room table but nobody was listening.

Barley Pickle



Deepwater Horizon -The President's Report
Deepwater Horizon - The Progess of the Event

The KULLUK Grounding
The Costa Concordia Report
The Costa Concordia Grounding
The Elgin Gas Leak
The Loss of the Normand Rough
The Bourbon Dolphin Accident
The Loss of the Stevns Power
Another Marine Disaster
Something About the P36
The Cormorant Alpha Accident
The Ocean Ranger Disaster
The Loss of the Ocean Express

The Life of the Oil Mariner
Offshore Technology and the Kursk
The Sovereign Explorer and the Black Marlin

Safety Case and SEMS
Practical Safety Case Development
Preventing Fires and Explosions Offshore
The ALARP Demonstration
PFEER, DCR and Verification
PFEER and the Dacon Scoop
Human Error and Heavy Weather Damage
Lifeboats & Offshore Installations
More about PFEER
The Offshore Safety Regime - Fit for the Next Decade
The Safety Case and its Future
Collision Risk Management
Shuttle Tanker Collisions
A Good Prospect of Recovery

The History of the UT 704
The Peterhead Connection
Goodbye Kiss
Uses for New Ships
Supporting Deepwater Drilling
Jack-up Moving - An Overview
Seismic Surveying
Breaking the Ice
Tank Cleaning and the Environment
More about Mud Tank Cleaning
Tank Cleaning in 2004
Glossary of Terms

An Unusual Investigation
Gaia and Oil Pollution
The True Price of Oil
Icebergs and Anchor-Handlers
Atlantic SOS
The Greatest Influence
How It Used to Be
Homemade Pizza
Goodbye Far Turbot
The Ship Manager
Running Aground
A Cook's Tale
Navigating the Channel
The Captain's Letter

The Sealaunch Project
Ghost Ships of Hartlepool
Beam Him Up Scotty
The Bilbao OSV Conference