by Willie Lagarde
The practice of putting up sailing boards on merchant ship gangways resumed sometime after WW2. Times posted were seldom accurate except for only one time in my memory.
As you can imagine any talk of ship sailings during the war was taboo and treason.
This story starts when we were in San Francisco after the war making magic carpet runs.
I had met a girl a couple of days after our arrival from Okinawa in Oct '45 and dated her until I left the ship for discharge. She was a midwestern farm girl working in the defense industry and sharing an apartment with two other girls. Meeting her was one of the most delightful experiences of my nineteen years. I'm talking about you Dee if you're listening.
We spent a lot of time at her apartment where we always felt welcome.
I corresponded with her for a time after discharge then stopped writing when I didn't have a permanent home address.
Fast forward two years and I'm now aboard a merchant ship pulling into SF for one day and night. I couldn't get off the ship until midnight but decided to take a chance. I didn't have a phone number so sometime after midnight I got a cab and though I didn't remember the address of the apartment building I was sure I could find my way out there.
It was almost 1 AM when I knocked on the door not having any idea who if anybody would answer or what kind of mood they would be in.
A female voice said "who is it", I said: "it's Willie", "it can't be!" she opened the door and sure as hell it was me. It was like I never left.
She made a pot of coffee and we sat around and talked about old times until it was time for me to leave if I was to make the posted 6AM sailing time. She gave me a little radio as a parting gift then called a cab. When it arrived at about 5:45AM I figured I had plenty of time to get the dock even if the ship sailed on time which it never did.
Wrong! When we got there the ship was out in the ship channel and heading out.
The skipper of the tug that had pulled her out and turned her leaned out of a wheelhouse window when he returned to the dock and asked if I was the third mate.
"Get aboard I might be able to catch her before she gets out of the bay".
I asked the captain how fast his boat was and when he replied about twelve knots I thought we had a chance.
The ship could do a little better if the pilot rang up full speed but he said he will stay with the chase until we passed Alcatraz. We slowly gained on the ship and nearing his cut off point the captain saw me from the bridge and refused to slow down or order a Jacob's ladder over the side for me to climb aboard. He just yelled down; "I hope you have enough money to get to Portland" one of our next stops. The old sunnavagun was going to leave me even though it meant he would have to stand my 8-12 watches until I was back aboard. One of the seamen on my watch lowered a ladder and a heaving line for the radio. I scrambled aboard and went straight to the bridge where I was supposed to be at that time.
The captain was spitting and fuming until I finally told him I didn't want to hear another word. "you'll hear a lot of words when we get to Portland"
I knew he was bluffing because in spite of his hard nose exterior I always got good vibes from him and had drank with him ashore. Anyway, he forgot he was talking to an ex Yorktown sailor. That was the last time I ever saw Dee and whatever she had at out first meeting on Market St in San Francisco she still had when I left after that last meeting.
Not quite the end of story. My room was next to the radio shack and the lead in from the ship’s main antenna strung between the masts passed through the bulkhead a few feet from my port hole. I fashioned an antenna wire with a hook to hang on the ship's antenna and was getting i downtown reception. I told Sparks to either remove the hook or let me know before he transmitted but he forgot one time and the first touch of his key finished the radio.
When we got to Newport Oregon to start loading lumber a fishing boat captain came aboard trying to recruit seaman for his boat. The money he was talking about sounded fabulous and after looking over his boat which was brand new I was tempted. I almost made a move that would have changed my life forever.