A Blip on the Radar (Part 3) “Sunshine “
Posted on November 8, 2008
A Blip on the Radar
Part 3: Sunshine
Of all the human beings I have encountered on this planet during the course of my little life, the proud, the humble, the kind, the selfish, the arrogant and the meek, there is one man who occupies a special place in my heart.
He was more than a buddy to me. He was my brother. He was kind, gentle, funny, and loyal. We worked together for a year, and he probably saved my life once due to his unstinting dedication, not to mention his raw courage.
In many ways, we were polar opposites. I was the Westerner, from mixed Irish-Scottish-English extract, an occasionally brooding, introspective, frustrated quasi intellectual, not long out from an unrelenting series of personal tragedies. Already a world traveler, I was fighting inner and external wars against Life, Death, the Universe, Humanity, and myself. I read widely. I was working on my second novel. I was trying to continue a fresh start in life. I was trying to find… some kind of inner peace. I hadn’t had much success on that score.
He… was an uneducated villager from a small fishing hamlet on the east coast of China.
I wrote stories, read ferociously, and spent hours at night, lying alone up on the helideck, while everybody else was asleep.
He moved quietly amongst his fellow countrymen, with whom he got on easily and cheerfully.
I would gaze up at the stars, and follow the occasional satellite on its smooth, sweeping orbit from one dark horizon to the other. The Milky Way, on a clear night in the middle of the Pacific, with no pollution, and no city lights, is an awesome band that stretches across the night sky. I discovered ‘planet beam’ existed, not just ‘moon beam’. A track of light across the water at night from the Moon, and yet others from the planets. I knew no landlubber would -ever- have a clue what I was talking about. Those pitiful, grasping, unseeing, under privileged and backward creatures. I discovered the Comet Kahoutchek, all on my own. With the naked eye. I’m sure I did so before any other bugger did. Even if they had fancy telescopes. I watched it, night after night, and finally decided it had to be a comet. It should of course be called “Moggy’s Comet “, dammit. I had no clue that the whole world was watching its arrival. Yes, you become that detached from what others regard as Reality, the Real World, the News Media, and the endless, mind numbing Rah-rah-rah of so-called Modernity.
I pondered my life, my past, my future. I wondered about the Purpose of Life, and frequently doubted that there was any. At other times, the reverse was the case, and I would devour yet more books.
He would occasionally be seen, sitting in a quiet corner, looking at photos of his little wifey and their two young boys.
The photos were dog eared, well worn, and much loved.
His real name was an un-pronounceable Chinese one, that sounded a bit like the French “Saint Saens “.
When I boarded the ship the first time in the harbor of Agana, Guam, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, he was introduced to me as my appointed “deck helper “. He immediately dazzled me with his beautiful, beaming smile. For him, his new position was a form of promotion, a new responsibility, which he was to take marvelously to heart. I instantly nicknamed him “Sunshine “. Phonetically, it sounded close to his real name, and it seemed remarkably fitting. The radio operator, Jimmy, who spoke good English, was delighted, and explained to Sunshine the actual meaning of his new nickname. Sunshine, for his part, positively cracked his face in delight. Thus began a relationship between the two of us that would see us through some harrowing moments.
The deck helper can make or break the pilot’s day. The problem was that you never knew when the ship would ‘make a set’.
You could depart on a search for the elusive tuna, and while you were away, the ship would find a school, head over there, and let the nets go. Sometimes, by the time you got back, the ship was now burdened with anything from one to three hundred tons of fish hanging off the port bow. The closer that mass was brought in towards the ship, the more the lateral imbalance would aggravate the sideways roll of the ship. With certain sea states, and wind combinations, this only got worse and worse. The hull designs of the vessels had a lot to do with it as well. The Korean ships were sleeker and faster than the Taiwanese boats, but the ‘ying’ of that ‘yang’ was the most attention getting roll rate when the catch was coming aboard. Now add in a helicopter wishing to land, with no alternative available, down to reserve fuel, and you had a few interesting and attention grabbing moments heading your way. There were many accidents. I saw one happening, on board a nearby ship, and I saw the aftermath of quite a few more. Radar domes got taken out, railings, antennas, tail rotors, main rotor blades, and sometimes complete helicopters got totaled. I watched a Bell 47 being rebuilt over a long period by an outstanding mechanic in Guam. When it went out on a boat, it looked beautiful. Remarkable job. I also saw the look on that same mechanic’s face, when, within two months, the sad remains of that same helicopter were delivered back. On a single pallet. There was not much left…
If you were lucky, you had a good captain, and he permitted your deck helper to leave his post on the working deck, where the catch was being hauled in. Then you could land, and your deck helper would quickly attach a cable to the belly hook. All he had to do then was run back to the winch, and wind in the slack. Now the boat could rock and roll, it didn’t matter. You, lucky guy, were now securely attached to the deck. And you could only feel sorry for your buddy, who was on his own. No helper if the catch was coming in. No helper, when you probably needed him the most.
We developed a routine. I would return, and faced with a badly rolling deck, I would orbit the ship. Instantly, I would be pleased to see Sunshine go haring up the stairs, and arrive up on the helideck in record time. I sure got to appreciate his outstanding willingness and dedication. And, in the situation described in the previous chapter, the poor guy I suspect waited up on the helideck for ages, being positively drenched with rain and spray. Sunshine was as solid and reliable as a man can be, and I enjoyed his helpful, cheerful company. He would help with the washing and the waxing, pumping the fuel, routine maintenance, and anything else you asked him to do. And he did so delightedly, with that wonderful, beaming smile.
Occasionally, his good intentions got us in trouble. Thus there was the day I was changing out a turbine. I was a pilot-mechanic, dual rated as both a pilot and an A+P licensed mechanic. I was not an experienced mechanic. No, I lie. I was an inexperienced mechanic, very much on the learning curve. I was also not super flexible with my fingers. There is a certain horribly inaccessible nut on the Allison C20B, which every mechanic struggles with at some stage. It’s the upper nut on the fuel control. Designed by an engineer (a mechanic would never have put together such a fiendish design), and worse than that, an engineer who probably hated mechanics, this nut was the worst son-of-an-unmarried-lady nut that you could possibly be forced to mess with, in mid-Ocean on a heaving, rolling helideck.
I got to practice all my old sailor bad language on that nut. In English and Chinese. You start making up all kinds of tools, and you grease the nut and shaft. You finally…just…get it on…and now you have to rotate it… very slowly… hold your breath….until it catches….
And then of course the ship goes “Ka-Dunk! ” at the worst possible moment, the nut falls off (somewhere), and you have to find the blessed thing and start all over again. Sunshine was an avid watcher at all these sessions, and helped in any way he could.
One day, the weather was really foul, and here I was, at that same critical stage. After a few failed attempts, my blood pressure was as elevated as my morale was down, and it seemed wise to retire to cabin and sulk for a while. After a coffee and a quiet growl or two, I headed back up to the scene of the crime again. I immediately knew something was wrong. Sunshine was sitting there with a thoughtful but also somewhat grim expression.
“Sunshine! What you do? “
He didn’t say anything, but he was looking dejectedly at the fuel control, a wrench still in his hand.
He’d had a shot at putting the nut on himself. Brave soul. Dropped it… and now he couldn’t find it. Worse was to come.
I couldn’t find it either. We searched high and low. No bloody nut. We HAD to find it. I didn’t have another spare, but even if I had robbed one off the aircraft somewhere else, I could not have left a nut in some unknown location in the engine, waiting to interfere with Lord-knows-what. Damn.
What a search. We scoured the place. It was dark before I found it, lodged mysteriously INSIDE the starter generator.
The trouble I had getting it out, I have no idea how it managed to accidentally fall in. Talk about gremlins. This particular ghoul must have really had it in for us. But at least I had the blasted thing. Sunshine looked relieved. And I really couldn’t be mad with him. He had meant so well…
Sometimes we would break down and there was no fixing it. On one occasion I needed an exciter box, I didn’t have a spare, and that meant we were grounded. Trouble was, we were way out on our own, north of Papua New Guinea somewhere.
Every day that we couldn’t fly, our company lost over one thousand dollars of much needed revenue.
Well, after a few days, we heard the part had arrived from the States in Guam. From there it was going to be flown to Manilla in the Philippines. A few days later, we heard it was on the way to Fiji. Good news. A few days after that, the part was in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Now it had to clear customs, and make its way to Wewak. Exciting stuff. The whole ship followed the latest news and the progress of our missing part. A few days later we heard, much to our excitement, that not only had our part made it to Wewak, it had already been loaded on board another boat, the Fu Kuan 606. Great news. A few days after that, we heard that the Fu Kuan 606 was making full speed towards our position, and was only three hundred miles away. The whole ship was on a high. Everybody missed the helicopter. The captain was positively dancing.
The next day dawned bright and beautiful. We were all up. Then we were told that the Fu Kuan 606 helicopter was on the way. Because I couldn’t lift off, he couldn’t land, but he would come over and drop us the box. Cool. When the bird came into view, across the distant horizon, the entire crew came pouring out on deck. All twenty eight souls were now forever a part of this achievement. This triumph of organization and planning. We had nearly licked this problem! Great team work!
The bird was now on its final approach, still really motoring. I guessed the pilot was going to give us a triumphant fly by, prior to swinging around and coming into a high hover over the helideck. Sunshine and I were the two appointed “catchers “. Conscious of our importance in this stellar event, we waited grandly up on the helideck. With the rest of the crew watching, and waiting to cheer. It was a calm day, little wind, and it was going to be pretty easy. All he had to do was come to a high hover, and his passenger would gently loft us the box… and one epic parts resupply would have been successfully completed. Still on he came, and I relaxed, knowing this was just the high speed flyby.
At the “eleventh ” hour, at three strokes to midnight, with conception a mere smidgeon away… I noticed the intent expression on the helicopter’s passenger’s face… and the box… he was holding in his hands…. and I thought….
And a split second later, due to an unfortunate lack of communication between the Canadian pilot and the Taiwanese passenger….
…a small, vitally important box exited the helicopter….
doing about 100 knots….
…coming straight at us….
like a Patriot missile!
It is hard to describe the reversal in emotion. From relief and happiness to horror.
And a frantic adoption of the receiving stance.
The “I’ve gotta catch this box ” stance.
Mingled with the “maybe I’d better NOT catch this box ” stance….
Mingled with PANIC…
It was actually a damn good shot. Got to hand that one to the observer. Damn good. It shrieked in like a sidewinder, and hit right in front of Sunshine’s feet. Trouble was that it then BOUNCED thirty feet in the air, over Sunshine’s head, past his frantically clutching fingers (Brave boy!) and sailed beautifully, cleanly, in a pristine arc…
straight over the port bow….
and Ker-Splash!… into the sea.
Sunshine and I just stared at each other. He looked ridiculous. Mouth open, eyes wide, sheer horror etched over every pore.
I came to the realization that I probably looked just the same. Ridiculous. Mouth open, eyes wide, sheer horror etched over every pore.
Yup. Quite a mess…
When I finally left that vessel, after nine months, I found myself with a lump in my throat saying goodbye to Sunshine.
Sunshine, my little Chinaman friend, was a great companion. We shared good weather and bad weather, laughs and frustrations, and I couldn’t have asked for a better shipmate.
Sometimes, these days, I read about tensions over Taiwan, and the Chinese military build up, and the possibility of US intervention in any hostilities that might break out over there. And I think of Sunshine, and his smile, and his friendship. And then the pacifist side of me, the desperately peace loving side (believe me, there is another side as well), worries about Sunshine. And good folk like him, being drafted into armies, like puppets, at the behest of arrogant politicians who think they know what’s best for us, and who have no compunction about inflicting that which they know is best for us…. upon us.
I don’t want to think of Sunshine,or any of his countrymen, ever conscripted into an army, and taught to march and hate.
I don’t think of “the Chinese ” as “them “. That yellow skinned lot of strange folk over yonder there. Enemies…
My travels around the world have taught me there are good people everywhere, real, feeling people.
With emotions, warm hearts, and big smiles.
My friend and brother…
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on July 9, 2016, 11:05 am