Francis Meyrick

A Blip on the Radar (Part 28) “The Immarsat Problem “

Posted on August 17, 2011

A Blip on the Radar

Part 28: The Immarsat Problem

I worked on different fishing boats, for varying periods of time. The longest straight run was one year, the shortest was a holiday relief for two. Some Fish Masters I really liked, one or two were hard to get along with. The odd one was miserable. The sort of guy who barely acknowledges your existence. If only the helicopter would fly by itself, he would be much happier. The pilot was a necessary evil.

Such a one I was sailing under, for a holiday relief, and the food was terrible. The rumor was that he spent it all on gambling (and losing), and then stole it out of the ship’s budget. I hadn’t seen a steak for weeks. The odd beer was handed out as if Christmas had come early. I was fed up with rice and chicken. We didn’t fly much, because they had never figured out how useful the helicopter was. He didn’t catch much fish either. Duh…

I was just biding my time, collecting a pay check, reading and writing, occasionally flying, when an unexpected opportunity presented itself.
All of a sudden there was a big problem:

the Immarsat had broken down.

Now that device was our main communication link. Voice, fax, all via satellite. It was an essential tool. They were trying hard to fix it, and the Fish Master was coming unglued. Both the Radio Operator and the #2 were copping it. There was a lot of screaming going on. But it couldn’t be fixed. The screen was black. Nothing doing. No life. Kaputt… Despite all the frenzied efforts.
After two or three days of this, I was sent for. All of a sudden, the Fish Master was now being really nice to me. Have a brandy.


I knew what was coming. Could I have a go at fixing the Immarsat? I pulled a thoughtful face. They all looked at me anxiously. Have another brandy.


I knew full well that if they couldn’t fix it, it was most unlikely that I could fix it. But as long as the brandy was flowing, I might as well go through some motions of looking technically competent.
“What’s the problem”, I asked.
I knew full well what the problem was: the stupid thing had quit working. The screen was black. But it bought me some time, and maybe another brandy, before I had to reveal my total ignorance. They filled me in at great length. They might as well have told me that the “swichsco filter had mish-mexed with the parallel infractor”. I had no clue what they were talking about. But I played the game, and kept my face straight. I dragged out the “looking knowledgeable” bit as long as I could. After a while though, they were looking questioningly at me. It was obvious that I was to make a show of expertise. I racked my brain. What could I say?

Ah… Brainwave…!

“Do you have a User’s Manual?”, I asked, all brisk and officious.
A User’s Manual was duly produced, and handed to me. I flicked through it importantly. It was in Chinese. I couldn’t read a word. Aware of the total absurdity, I nonetheless continued flicking through it, until I found a diagram. This might as well have been the firing mechanism for a nuclear trigger, but I pondered it -wisely – like a veteran nuclear scientist. I was now sitting at the silent machine, with the manual open, and I was surprised to find an open box of chocolate liqueurs placed beside me. Followed by an open bottle of fine brandy. Help yourself.

Oh…! Well, I don’t mind if I do…

I had been at sea for six weeks, and I hadn’t seen rum filled chocolate liqueurs for years. I duly helped myself. After a while they left me alone, while I continued my important work. Demolishing the rum filled chocolate liqueurs, and sampling the Fish Master’s brandy. Errr… I mean, fixing the Immarsat. I knew I couldn’t keep this going for very long, but it was going to be fun while it lasted.
Looking at the problem, I couldn’t even begin to think of a solution. It was dead. The power was connected, so it wasn’t that. For some bizarre reason, I pulled the machine out, and looked at the back. I don’t know what I was looking for. A loose wire, or something. To my surprise, I saw a small black switch that said, in English:


Hm. I wonder what would happen if I pressed the reset? Ho-hum. Can’t do any harm. So I, nuclear scientist extraordinaire, pressed the RESET button. Instantly, there came a loud buzzing, and the sound of a fan coming on. I jumped back in alarm. Then the screen started flickering. Within seconds, I was looking at a working, live, ready-for-action, fire-breathing Immarsat!

Wow… I fixed it!

I sat back and looked at it. Damn, that was something. They had spent three days cussing and yelling, and I’d fixed it after twenty minutes, half a dozen chocolate liqueurs, and three stiff brandies.
I looked at the brandy bottle. And the remaining chocolate liqueurs. And a ghost of an idea started to trip indelicately across the threshold of my infernal mind. The more I pondered the idea, the more it grew into a brilliant idea. And the more it grew, the more details I added in.


Hearing footsteps coming, I quickly switched the machine OFF. The sad, black screen returned. When the Radio Operator looked in, I was wearing a studied expression of serious concentration, pouring intently over the diagram. To his query, I barely looked up from my horrendously difficult task, and he got the message, and tiptoed gently out, shutting the door quietly behind him.
Seeing as they were sure to be coming in once in a while, to check on me, I thought I’d better put on a good show of trying. I fetched a screw driver, and started pulling the panels off. Now the interior gubbins were revealed. Next task was to pull some obviously very important motherboards out of their clips, and stack them in an awesome looking pile. The fan came out easily, and soon I had done a passable impression of total destruction. After that, it was easy. Lean back, enjoy my paperback, and the chocolate liqueurs, and the fine brandy. Remy Martin, if I remember…

Once in a while I would hear footsteps coming, and then it was just a case of hide-the-book, and get down on my knees, and be real busy peering-into- the- inner- workings of the Immarsat. Maybe screwdriver in hand. Or a pair of pliers. Or a soldering iron. I could see the awe in their faces. My street credibility had shot up into the stratosphere.
The next morning, when the captain was visiting, I was plenty busy stripping the insulation off the end of some wire I had brought down. Then, while he was there, I soldered some spurious pieces of wire together, and practiced crimping some electrical fittings I kept for the helicopter. He was totally awed, and made the mistake of asking me if I needed anything. I sighed, and looked tired, and told him my head was hurting with the effort. I showed him the diagram, implying it was all very difficult for a helicopter pilot turned nuclear trigger mechanic. He looked very sympathetic. However, I told him, with a straight face, my brain always worked better after a decent STEAK. His face lit up.

Meo ountie…

No problem. The Fish Master had his own personal freezer, and it was out of this there was produced a fine T-Bone steak. I nodded approvingly. Yes, that would do just fine. Thank you.
I kept it going for three days, several fine steaks, plenty of brandy, lots of tasty snacks, and until I had finished the paperback. By the evening of the third day, I reckoned it was time to finish my little mid Pacific holiday, and present “the miracle”. When the captain finally walked in, and there was his beloved Immarsat glowing away, all bright and cheerful and working, he practically kissed me.
If there had been any suspicion of my capability, or even my motivation, such unworthy doubts were now swept away in an orgy of back slapping and presents. They were thrilled with me. I walked around the ship like a conquering hero. Damn, I was good.

* * * * *

The story could have ended there, quite happily, and no one would have been any the wiser. I was only serving as a holiday relief pilot, and soon we would be in port, and I would bid my farewell to this ship, and go back to my own, which was coming out of dry dock.
But Fate has a strange way of coming back to haunt the man who gets too big for his boots. The man who tempts Destiny by getting way too clever, is asking for a slap down. For retribution from the Great Presences that watch over us. As a helicopter pilot, I should have known this.

We were on the way back, and I got an urgent call to the bridge. One of the radar installations had failed. Please, would I be so kind as to fix it! Everybody looked expectantly at me. They had even already looked out the manual for me…

Oh, oh, dear…

This time I couldn’t fix it. There was no way. I remember getting down on hands and knees, and peering around the back.

Damn, no RESET button…

I was forced to admit defeat, and everybody was very disappointed.

And, sadly, there went my street credibility…

up in smoke…

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on August 17, 2011, 3:34 pm

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2 responses to “A Blip on the Radar (Part 28) “The Immarsat Problem “”

  1. Hi Francis,

    This is a great amusing story in the form of an anecdote. Actually, I read it previously before I joined the site. I wondered what all the business about Tuna Fishing was in the Forum. I have learned a few things. I was unaware helicopters were used for the fishing, and that there would be one on the boat!

    Your style is easy and revealing, and the language I found appropriate and economic.

    You must be an accomplished fellow – I’d love to fly a helicopter and I’ve often dreamed of getting into one of those gliders.

    All the best


  2. Accomplished…


    He drank his coffee quietly, pondering the word. Accomplished…


    No. Experienced. Maybe. Worn. Jaundiced. Cynical. At least on a superficial, protective level. Like a cat, hissing, spitting, protective. Distrustful.

    What’s underneath?



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