Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I’ve written about a South Pacific reprobate I called “Old Bill” before in my tale called Modern Piracy. He was a con man of the highest order. As a friend remarked, most con men tell a story so good you believe it without question. Bill’s problem was that he told a story so artfully that even he believed it without question. I’d thought I was done with him after that, but nothing works like that in the islands.
Most good South Pacific stories start in some Yacht Club bar, and this was no exception. Back in the 1980s, I’d just finished up a two-country, four-week consulting job for the Peace Corps that had taken me to various adventures, first in PNG and then in Tonga. So I stopped off in Fiji to see my friends on the way back home, no direct flight Tonga-USA. At the Royal Suva Yacht Club, the guys who permanently prop up the seaward end of the bar told me that my friend Ross Brodie had sunk a barge in the Lautoka Harbour, and he was going to have to raise it again, it was a hazard to navigation.
Figure 1. Northeast of the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu. The city of Lautoka is at the lower left, with the city docks sticking out into the deeper water at the bottom end of the yellow line. The city docks are where the barge sunk. The yellow line shows the final voyage towing the barge to the mooring site in Vitogo Bay.
So I set out to Lautoka to see if I might be of some use, Ross had done me favors before, and besides, raising sunken barges? I wasn’t going to miss that, I called my ex-fiancee, told her that my trip home might take a little longer than I’d planned. She wished me luck.
WARNING: More South Pacific adventures follow. There is a button below marked “Continue Reading –>”. If you choose to push it, please do not complain that what you found thereafter was not science, but instead more of my curious global peregrinations … there’s plenty more science to be enjoyed on the site for those so inclined.
Ross Brodie and his son Shane now run a business called SeaMech in Suva. They’re good folks, honest, mechanically ingenious, and hardworking. Back then, Shane and his sister were small kids, and Ross and his wife Marita and the kids and a couple Fijian crewmen lived aboard an old island cargo ship called the Coromel. I think Ross might have got it off a reef somewhere, I don’t know, but he’d fixed it up as a floating machine shop, with all his tools mounted in the main hold. And Ross could fix anything, he’s one of those mechanical geniuses that can build you a working system to do whatever you might need, out of scrap metal and bits and pieces if necessary.
So I went across to the other side of Viti Levu, and got the story from Ross and Marita, which went like this:
The Yasawa Princess needed a cyclone mooring (a cyclone is a Southern Hemisphere hurricane). It has a fairly protected cyclone hole where it anchors, not much waves, but when there’s a huge wind on that big superstructure it generates giant forces. The mooring site is in Vitogo Bay (pronounced “Vee-tong-go), at the upper right of Figure 1.. So they needed something really big to hold it in place.
The Yasawa Princess
Ross, ever inventive, decided to make a floating mooring out of a clapped out old steel barge, maybe 60 feet (18m) long and 26 feet (8m) wide, something like that. To convert it into a mooring, he welded some links of a giant anchor chain to the inside of the barge at the center of the bottom. He then held the loose end of the chain up vertically, tossed in a layer of scrap steel and wire mesh and rebar to tie it all together, and poured about three feet of concrete into the bottom of the barge. Weighted it down a long ways, it was heavy as hell, but it still floated. The last few links of chain stuck out of the center of the concrete pour, they’d be cut off once he got to Lautoka as part of the final preparation. The final visible link , half buried in the concrete, would be used to shackle up to the Yasawa Princess. There were leaks at various points, the barge was old, but it was seaworthy, you just had to pump it out every four hours or so to keep it from sinking, but he only had to go around the island, do a few last things to the barge, cut off the excess links, and sink the concrete filled hulk for the Yasawa Princess mooring.
Since it was just Ross and his wife and maybe a couple crew on board, they decided to hire someone to give them a hand … and they had the infernal bad luck to hire Old Bill as their assistant. He’d just flown into Fiji from Tonga, said he’d been fishing there, and he needed some work. He was to come along and help Ross with the barge, and keep it pumped out, and then go on with the Coromel from there for some out-of-the-country work.
The run around from Suva to the north end of the island went well. Bill and Ross alternated on the pumping job, every four hours without fail, and after a couple days slow towing they arrived and tied up at the dock in Lautoka. Ross took the first watch and pumped the barge at midnight, and then turned it over Old Bill to do the same at four AM.
Now, the barge was tied alongside the Coromel, with the Coromel’s small shore boat tied up to the barge. First sign Ross had of trouble was when he was awakened by the Coromel leaning way, way over on the side. Ross jumped out of bed and ran outside barefoot. The barge was sinking fast. He jumped onto the ship’s boat, and frantically cut it loose so it didn’t go down with the barge. Just as he got it loose, the lines tying the barge to the Coromel snapped, and the barge went straight to the bottom.
Ross paddled over and tied up the shore boat to the Coromel. He’d barely managed to save it from sinking with the barge, and he went aboard in a white-hot rage. Old Bill was still asleep in a little nest on the Coromel, he hadn’t awakened even with all of the commotion. I’m surprised Ross didn’t kill him on the spot, but I’m sure he awakened him rather rudely, and told him what had happened and what Bill had done in … um … graphic terms.
Old Bill said he was sorry, he’d fallen asleep, and he’d get dressed and get his gear and leave … Like hell you will, Ross stated, you’ll stay right here and help clean up this mess, you can leave when the barge is floating again.
So that’s how it stood when I got there. Ross already had a plan how to salvage the barge. I said I’d be glad to give him a hand.
The next morning we got ready to dive down and assess the situation. Old Bill was supposed to go, he had always claimed that he was an expert diver. Said he’d been diving for years … but when Ross and I looked at what he was doing, he was trying to put his regulator on the tank backwards, with the screw going into and plugging up the air outlet. We both looked at each other and at Bill, who was continuing to mindlessly just screw it tighter. Ross made a rule right there, no underwater work for Old Bill, Ross and I would do whatever was necessary.
The survey was pretty encouraging. The barge was sitting on the bottom, fairly level. The ground was soft, which was good because we’d have to put huge chains under the boat. Here’s my sketch of Ross’s plan:
Figure 2(A) shows the initial setup. We’d get another barge, Ross knew of one available that was fully decked over. We’d moor it right over the barge, tie it up to the Coromel. Then we’d wrap big huge chains clear around both barges in two spots.
Then came the tricky part. The problem was that the tide in Fiji is small, generally less than two metres. We needed to raise the lower barge more than that to get clear of the bottom. So the plan was, we’d pump the upper barge half full of water to sink it down. Then at low tide, tighten up the chains …
Then as soon as the chains were re-tightened, start pumping like hell on the upper barge, and hope that it got light enough fast enough to lift the bottom barge (half full of concrete) up off the bottom … before the rising tide overtops the upper barge, pours into the open hatch we’re pumping out of, and we have two barges to salvage.
So the first part of the problem was A, wrap the chains around. These chains had to be quite large, with the links made out of maybe 1-1/2″ bar (4cm). It’s heavy, even underwater, and cantankerous to handle, it’ll bite you bad. We started by diving down, and working a long piece of rebar (the deformed steel rod used to reinforce concrete) under the barge from side to side near one end. We used that to pull a piece of light cable under the barge, and sawed it back and forth until it was where we wanted it. Then we used that light cable to pull heavy steel cable under the barge, and finally using the ships winch and the “Tirfor”, a high-strength come-along, we pulled the lengths of chain under the bottom barge. We pulled them under and back up and over the top barge. That was Part A, it took maybe three or four days.
Then we pumped the upper barge half full of water. Up until then we weren’t working to a deadline. But once we had the barge full of water, we had to pick a tide, and when we did, we had six hours to get the upper barge pumped out. We’d timed it when we pumped it in, so we thought we were OK, but it was going to be tight.
The problem with Part 2(B) was, it turned out to be a real bitch to tighten up the chains. They were still as heavy and clumsy and dangerous as when we first wrapped them, and it took much longer than we’d expected. At one point my thumb got caught in between the chains, and a wave lifted the barge … I felt the chain clamp down on my thumb … squeeze it … and then release it and I yanked it out, and I realized that if the wave had been an inch or two higher I’d be missing a thumb, smashed flat by the enormous forces. You can never relax your vigilance moving heavy metal at sea.
Finally we got both of the chains tightened up, and started pumping. But we were way late by that time, the tide had already started crawling up the side of the upper barge, and nothing was lifting. We pumped and pumped, but we could see the inexorable end approaching. The water started creeping across the deck towards the hatch.
Fortunately, Ross even had a plan for this. There was only one place for the water to come inside the barge, the two foot square (60 cm) deck hatch we were pumping out of. Ross had stockpiled some sandbags, and so we started stacking them all around the deck hatch. We widened the wall of sandbags on one side so we could set the pump up there to keep it out of the water. And we just kept pumping.
And so eventually, the entire upper barge went underwater. The only thing sticking out of the water was the wall of sandbags around the deck hatch … and as the tide kept rising, we just added another layer of sandbags all around the wall, lifted up the pump and put another sandbag underneath it, and kept pumping.
I’ve often wondered what we looked like to the passing boats when the barge was completely underwater … all you could see was a low wall of sandbags, with Ross and I and a pump precariously perched on top, and from a distance apparently attempting to pump out the very ocean itself …
Finally, with a great roiling of mud, the lower barge broke loose of the suction holding it on the bottom, and the whole lot surged to the top. You’d have been hard pressed to find two happier men than Ross and I at that minute.
And after solving many problems, that got us all the way to the situation in 2(C) … and left us with one final challenge.
Remember that Ross had one last detail he had to do in Lautoka—he had to cut off the extra length of mooring chain that was cast into the concrete in the center of the barge. Only now, instead of cutting it up on the top of the ocean, we had to cut it off underwater. We couldn’t leave it, because we needed to be able to shackle to the first link, and the next link prevented that.
And the link we had to cut through was made out of about 6″ (15cm) rod, it was a section of huge ship’s chain, each link weighing hundreds of pounds, of the style that’s called “stud link” …
So Ross went off somewhere and found a “Broco” rig, which is an underwater cutting rig. It uses a thermite rod, which burns underwater if supplied with oxygen. An electric arc is used to light the rod, but is turned off after that and the rod burns by itself. Neither Ross nor I had ever used the Broco rig, so we started reading the instruction manual, and immediately started cracking up.
It started out by saying that the first thing to do was to make sure that your diving gear was of the best, no rips or tears, no open seams … we looked at each other, our wetsuits were more patches than original material.
Then it said, be sure that the intercom system between the diver below and the tender up topside was providing clear communication … our intercom system was a rope. One tug meant turn on the current so I can strike the arc, two tugs meant I’ve got it burning now, turn off the current. A bunch of tugs meant trouble, come get me.
Finally, the safety manual said, be sure that there’s no place that the gas can collect up above where you are cutting underwater, because the gas is mostly oxygen, and can possibly still be explosive. That one was the funniest of all, because we’d be cutting the chain links in the middle of the concrete floor of the lower barge, which was still slung underneath the upper barge. So there was no place for the bubbles to go, they constantly collected overhead on the bottom of the upper barge, glistening and shining.
Safety briefing over, we set up the rig, re-read the operating instructions, and gave it a try.
So how does a welding rod melt steel underwater? I’d never known until that day. Turns out the welding rod is hollow down the middle. It’s made of “thermite”, a mixture of aluminum and steel that burns hotter than Hades.
The welding rod fits in a handpiece supplied with both electricity and oxygen. To light it is like underwater electric arc welding … a scary thought in itself. So Ross takes the first shift, while I’m the tender controlling the power to the arc welder, then Ross comes up to trade off.
First time I try it, I get in the water, clear my mask, adjust my buoyancy by letting the air out of my vest, and go down into the shadowy half light in-between the two barges, one above and one below. I see the electrical wire with a clamp that grounds the workpiece, the chain link we’re cutting through. Then just like with an arc welder, I turn on the juice, or actually yank on the rope once and Ross turns on the juice, and scratch the rod across the grounded workpiece to strike an arc. I look away, there’s a bright flash.
As I strike the arc I turn on the oxygen, which flows down the middle of the thermite rod to the tip, where it keeps the thermite burning once it’s been started, inside a protective bubble of oxygen. Then when it’s lit, I yank twice on the rope to tell Ross to turn off the electricity, and crazily, almost defying belief, there I am in the rippling underwater light, holding a burning stick in my hand … truly a bizarre sensation, to strike a cold stick like a match and see the spark and to be holding fire in my hand … underwater. Very, very strange.
From there the cutting is simple, but very slow—just put the end of the thermite rod against the workpiece and start slowly melting it, driblet by driblet molten metal falls hissing and bubbling to the concrete floor below until it suddenly cools below boiling with an odd zinging noise, until the rod is consumed and flames out.
Now, one thing the Broco book had said was, keep your head away from the rod when you strike an arc, because the strong current there will affect the fillings in your teeth … and so I took a new rod, and inserted it into the handpiece, but the second time I went to strike the arc I forgot about that little pearl of information. ZOWIE, when I struck that arc I though my teeth were going to shake out of my head. I don’t know if it was the fillings or not, but when I struck that arc I thought every single tooth was going to tap dance right on out of my jaw … a strange jangling shaking sensation that went directly to the bones of my head and jaw. It was both totally unexpected and extremely disconcerting, especially underwater. Ever after that I guarantee that I struck the arc just like they’d said, a long ways away from my head, and so I give it a second try, and this time it works fine, and once the second rod is alight, I give the double tug on the rope and start cutting again.
Then it’s the old story, repeat over … and over … rod after rod, then trade off, I come up and Ross goes down again, repeat over … and over … until finally the cut is all the way through the link. But I don’t mind the time, I truly do like working underwater, it’s so much more fun than just sightseeing down there.
Of course, it does no good to just cut one side of a chain link, you need to cut through both sides to free the link, so Ross and I alternate again until the second cut is done. We use the Coromel’s winch to haul the short length of cut-off chain up on deck, there’s two and a half links and it’s immensely heavy.
So at that point, we’d finally gotten the barge ready to move to its final resting place and sink it. The Lautoka city guys are happy, we won’t be cluttering up their wharf and the underwater obstruction will be gone. We rig the barge for towing, then we all hop on the Coromel, set up the towing bridle, and start the slow trip around the point to Vitogo Bay.
Old Bill is still with us, of course, Ross has said he’s there until the barge is sunk as a mooring in its final location. It’s a beautiful clear day. Old Bill’s staring at the radar, playing with the knobs to get a better picture. Suddenly he shouts “Hard right! Turn hard right!”. I look at Ross … he looks at me … we look out, clear water ahead, a bit of a wind chop in one section up ahead, nothing dangerous. Bill says No, look here at the radar, a reef dead ahead.
I go to the radar and look, check the settings of the knobs … turns out Bill was unsatisfied with the radar picture, I guess, not enough going on. So he’d cranked the gain up to the maximum. Well, when you do that you get what’s called “sea clutter”, reflections off of the waves … so all he was seeing was the wind chop up ahead of us.
And if we had turned hard right? Well, there was a reef not far off that way, waiting for its next victim … I doubt Old Bill knew that, any more than he knew how to operate a radar. Or scuba gear. Or much at all.
So finally, after all the underwater fun a man could possibly want, and a lovely afternoon cruise in which we didn’t hit the imaginary reef, we followed the yellow line in Figure 1 and we arrived in Vitogo Bay. We’d timed it for low tide, figuring we’d cut one chain loose and one end of the lower barge would settle on the bottom, then we’d cut the other chain. Ross volunteered for the cutting, and it sure was fun to watch from a distance. The cutting of the first chain didn’t do much, one end of the upper barge jumped up a bit. But the weight was still on the other end.
When Ross cut the second chain loose, though, the whole barge kicked up vertically about four feet (1.5m), tossing Ross straight in the air. He landed safely, laughed, the Fijian crew laughed, I laughed, the job was finally done, what’s not to like? We towed the upper barge back to the Lautoka Harbour (British spelling) in triumph, and anchored up just offshore, where we didn’t have to pay the dock fees. So much for the first part, the barge was once again sunk, but this time in the right place. And most importantly, Ross could get paid for the job, he’d been running on vapor for a while, so he collected the agreed-upon bid price for the job, and that was good.
Ross still had a big problem, though. Originally, one of the reasons for hiring Old Bill was that Ross had a job in Tonga for the Coromel after dropping the mooring for the Yasawa Princess, and then another job after that in Tokelau. Here’s the geometry:
Ross could navigate a bit, but he didn’t trust it, and Old Bill said he was one of the world’s premier navigators, at least to hear him tell it, finest in the world. But after the sinking of the barge, and his tall tales about knowing how to scuba dive, and the incident with the radar … well, Ross wasn’t feeling all that optimistic about Old Bill’s ability to navigate anything but the Yacht Club Bar …
So I said, what the heck? This was before GPS, of course, it was all sextant and chronometer. Using just those, I had already navigated my way across the Pacific and along the California coast, I’m a dab hand at star sights and sun sights, I know the use of the horizontal sextant and the three armed protractor. Ross had a sextant and a copy of the HO249 tables and an almanac, I had a wristwatch, boat had a shortwave radio to get the time signal from WWV, what more do you need? I could get us to Tonga. Ross figured by then he’d be up to speed navigating, or he could find someone in Tonga to take my place. So I added my name to the ships articles, signed on as a crewman once again, this time as the navigator on a trip to Tonga.
So Ross told Old Bill the bad news, or perhaps good news from Old Bills perspective—he was free to leave the ship. He gathered his things, and grumbling as always, we took him in the skiff and deposited him on the beach, and I’ve never to seen him again to this day.
The next step, of course, was to rig the Coromel for sea. I haven’t mentioned much about Marita, Ross’s wife. As women often do, she had quietly kept the scene together and done lots of work topside and handled the business while Ross and I were working underwater, cooked the meals for everyone, taken care of the feeding and home schooling of their two kids, washed the clothes, the usual.
So for the Tonga trip she was in charge of all of the planning, purchasing, and stowing of the food. They’d been living on board for a while, so it wasn’t a big stretch, she had that well in hand. Ross and I and the ships engineer, a Fijian, and another crewman Ross had hired worked on getting all of the mechanical systems working and greased and maintained, buying and stowing spares and filters and filling the water tanks and all of the dozens of tasks to get a ship ready to keep you alive in the middle of the ocean.
Well, everything was going very well … and then we got some bombshell news. Old Bill had gone to the courts, demanding something like five thousand Fijian dollars from Ross.
Here’s how the scheme was supposed to work. Among Old Bill’s passports he had one from Samoa, and one from England.
Now, there’s a curious part of maritime law that says that a vessel can’t just abandon a crew member in some country. The logical theory is, if you brought the crewman there, you can’t just dump him, you have to get him home again. Reasonable enough. So what Bill had done is claim that:
1. He’d been lawfully signed on to the Coromel.
2. Ross had booted him off the boat in Fiji.
3. Therefore, Ross had to pay for his ticket to his ancestral home, England. Never mind that when he’d signed on to the boat he’d used his Samoan passport, and said he’d get off in Samoa along the way. Now he was an Englishman, by god, British bulldog born and bred, and he wanted his well deserved ticket back to his Merrie Olde homeland. And it’s not cheap at all to fly from Fiji to England.
I mean, the raw gall of the man, I can only shake my head.
Ross thought the court would just laugh it off, but we speeded up preparations to leave just in case. And sure enough, on Friday morning we got word that the courts had said Old Bill could put a lien on the Coromel, to stop it from sailing until the court ruled about his ticket, and he was coming to Lautoka that evening to serve the papers.
Well, that put us into overdrive. We had to leave now, right away, before he could serve the papers. The engineer was on shore, we couldn’t find him. The other Fijian crewman smelled a rat, said he’d seen the engineer drinking with Old Bill the day before, thought he was playing a delaying game so Old Bill could get there. We decided to leave the Engineer behind, so we grabbed his gear to put it on shore. When we emptied the drawers he’d been using, there was Ross’s good knife, and a shirt I’d been missing, and some other nice ships gear … damn engineer was not only a good pal of Old Bill, he was a sneak thief! We bundled up his gear, dumped it on the beach, and in the late afternoon, pulled up the anchor and left Lautoka. I’d love to say we saw Old Bill pull up to the beach cursing and shaking his fist as we were leaving … but no, in my autobiography I’m sworn not to exaggerate or make up tales but just to tell it like it happened. And what happened was, we just motored away from the small pile of the Engineer’s possessions on the beach, thankfully with nobody there to interfere with or even witness our departure.
Now that we were just motoring the Coromel and not towing a barge, boy, if she wasn’t a wallowing pig to steer. I asked Ross why. He said she’d had three rudders, but he cut off the outer two because the linkage was busted or for some other reason. I can assure you, the boat desperately needed those rudders. She’d start out on a true straight track for a while, nice and docile. Then she’d throw a shoulder fake one way, and when you went to correct that move to one side, she’d take the bit in her mouth, bolt for the opposite sidelines, and refuse to answer the reins. Ugliest boat I ever steered.
A couple hours after dark, we started out the passage through the reef by what used to be called “Sea Snake Island”. It’s now a world-class surfing resort and they call it “Tavarua”, but then it was sea snakes and not much more, it was an apt name. The night was lit only by the stars. Ross was at the wheel, I was up forward as lookout. I started calling back course corrections to Ross, but often he couldn’t hear me, and besides, he couldn’t steer Coromel much better than I could. So I’d go to the bow, see what was happening, run back to the wheelhouse and tell him, run back to the bow. At some point I race from the wheelhouse to the bow, and when the bow drops on a wave, I see the Coromel has taken a hard right turn and I’m looking straight over the bow at the navigation light on the reef, far, far too close, and I can see the waves gnashing on the coral, and my bowels turn to water … I levitate in terror to the wheelhouse, screaming Turn Left For Gods Sake, Left! and Ross does, and the ship slowly swings, she’s big and heavy with a small rudder, and finally I see we’ll clear the coral and the lighthouse start to slip by on the right side of the boat and somehow we slide out to the open sea at midnight, one step ahead of the process server and one step away from hitting the reef …
Other than the steering, the rest of that trip was magic. The Coromel always steered like a rabid sea cow, no change in that. But the sunlight on the waves, and the blue of the tropical ocean, what a world.
Plus the whole area from Fiji to Tonga is volcanic. At one point we saw a giant collection, miles square, of floating rocks, pumice from some underwater volcano. We steered clear, the pumice clogs up the engine cooling water intakes, it’s murder on ship’s engines. And at another point, we ran alongside a bubbling area of disturbed water, a sight I’d never witnessed before. The charts showed deep water there, but our depth sounder said much shallower. Another island in the making, a volcano pushing out lava somewhere below the surface … we didn’t drive over the top, just ran along in the clear water alongside.
But all good things must come to an end, and one lovely morning we crept slowly through the reefs and the coral heads to the harbour at Nuku’alofa, Tonga. I spent the morning transferring the plot from the radar to the chart, to monitor our progress through a narrow channel with coral heads on either side. Finally, we pulled up in the inner harbour, dropped anchor, hoisted the “Q” flag to signal we were awaiting customs and immigration.
Now, Ross had brought the boat to Tonga to do a job, and the Tongan authorities knew about that, so the boat was good. And there were no problems with Customs, we didn’t have booze or firearms or anything on board.
But when the Immigration man took a look at the crew list, his face darkened. “Is this man on board?” he demanded angrily, pointing at a name.
We looked to see what name he was pointing at, I’m always afraid at such moments, and I’d left Tonga only a couple of weeks before … was there something I’d forgotten? Or were the Fijian authorities looking for Ross because we’d left before the process servers? My mind was racing, which one of us was he talking about? Marita? The Fijian crew?
He turned the log book around, and he pointed to the line where Old Bill had signed on to the crew list back in Suva. “No, no, he’s not on the boat at all”, Ross said, “he’s not here. We kicked him off, Willis signed on in his place, ” and he pointed out the entries.
“Too bad,” said the Tongan Immigration man. We asked him why.
“We’ve been looking for him.” he growled. “You know those old Japanese longline boats with the high bows?” We said we did, they’re common in the South Pacific.
“Well,”, the Immigration Man grumbled, “a couple of months ago, Old Bill was out fishing, and coming back in he wasn’t paying attention, or maybe it was an insurance scam, and he sank one of those old Japanese fishing vessels right in the middle of the shipping channel here in the harbour, blocked it right up. No one was hurt, everyone got off in the skiff … but when Old Bill got to shore, he went straight to the airport and flew off to Fiji before anyone knew anything. We’ve been looking for him ever since, he’s gotta pay for removing that boat, it’s a hazard to navigation.”
Ross and Marita and the kids and the crew and I all just looked at each other when he said that, and we dissolved in laughter, it took really a long time to explain to the nice Tongan Immigration Man just what was so funny about a sunken ship clogging up the channels in the Nuku’alofa Harbour …
My best to all, the world is full of adventures, you simply have to go looking for them and not just sit in whatever has the place of the Royal Suva Yacht Club bar in your life …
PS—As a final thought, you have to credit the infernal luck of the man. If Old Bill hadn’t sunk Ross’s barge, he’d have been on the Coromel when the perhaps this time not-so-nice Tongan Immigration Man came aboard …