Mayday - Tugs of War - Europe

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Mayday Tugs of War - Europe




Every old sailor will have fond memories of some good runs ashore, but most of us can probably recall at least one that went disastrously wrong! Looking back on my misspent youth, this is an account of my WORST EVER RUN ASHORE!

It was April 1951, the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Superb had tied up in Valparaíso and I went ashore to explore the delights of that fabled seaport. After sampling the local brew in a few bars, I found myself (purely by accident you understand) in a very interesting establishment in the old town. This was a colonial style building in a narrow cobbled street. The upstairs bar contained a surprising number of pleasant young women and there were several doors leading off - to sleeping quarters I gathered - presumably in case any of the patrons felt tired and needed to lie down!

Several of my shipmates had got there before me and there were at least a dozen tough looking Chilean marines, each with a long bayonet hanging from his belt, chatting to the girls. I joined the matelots at the bar, to survey the scene. I had almost decided which of the ladies I wanted to consult about local cultural activities, when I found myself listening to a burly three badger (Stripey), who was boasting to his oppo, of how he had just stolen a Bermudan pound note from a scrapbook he had been shown in another bar. I scarcely knew the guy but I stuck my oar in to tell him that I thought "that was a dirty mean stroke and nothing to brag about". It was not what he wanted to hear!


I never saw what hit me but it was full force and bang on target, because the next thing I knew, I was flat on my back with blood gushing out of my broken nose! I think I was out for a few seconds but with consciousness came berserk rage and I was up and into Stripey like a terrier after a rat! I hammered him into a corner and might have done serious damage, if one of my shipmates hadn't grabbed me from behind and swung me away. I struggled to break free to continue my attack, but I had tunnel vision from the blow I had taken and could only see what was immediately in front of me. As we swung round the room, I instinctively lashed out at any face that flashed before my eyes. Eventually my shipmates pinned me against the bar and I began to calm down. Stripey was out for the count, they told me, and the girls wanted to know if my energy was transposable? My fury subsided and I offered to buy a round.


Suddenly there was a tap on my shoulder. I turned to face the biggest and ugliest of the Chilean marines, who was towering over me with an unusual red moustache! This was caused by the blood that was flowing copiously from his flattened nose, as it still was from mine. He was a man of few words. "YOU HIT ME" he said. "Did I?" I replied, trying to recall the faces I had briefly seen through a red haze. " If I did I am sorry, have a drink". "NO" he said "WE FIGHT". Unwisely abandoning diplomacy, I accepted the challenge. "Right - Let's step outside” I said, before, even more unwisely, leading the way down the stairs, closely followed by the Chilean Marine Corps.


Within seconds the door had slammed shut behind us and I found myself in the dark deserted street, squaring up to a large and angry marine, encircled by ten of his mates, and painfully aware that my shipmates, who I had assumed were right behind me, had chosen, to a man, to stay upstairs with the girls! I soon discovered that my opponent knew how to handle himself, but my main problem was that his enthusiastic supporters could not restrain themselves from giving me an encouraging thump in the back as I circled past them! It began to dawn on me that my chances of walking away were slim. My bacon was saved by the timely arrival of a Chilean Naval Patrol, at the top of the street. The marines fled and so did I, to take refuge in another bar where the sight of my battered face and bloodstained uniform, provoked comments that quickly led me into another fist-fight. You will appreciate that I was not my usual good-humoured self by then.


Several drinks and altercations later, the worse for wear and brooding darkly on the disloyalty of my comrades, I made my way unsteadily back to the house of ill-fame, where I hammered on the door demanding admittance and challenging all inside to mortal combat. The only response was loud jeers from the balcony accompanied by a deluge of evil smelling slops, which left me with an even fouler temper and a stench to match.


What happened next is a mystery to me, but at some point I obviously tried to make my way back to the ship, because I flaked out in the dockyard within sight of it. I regained consciousness with daylight, in the worst state I can remember: Stiff as a board, battered and bruised, covered in mud and caked blood, with a nose like a ripe tomato; and, to my bewilderment, criss-crossed from head-to-toe, even across my face, with sticky white stripes! These, I later figured out, were caused by the nocturnal perambulations of the huge snails that inhabit Valparaíso 's dockland. Fortunately for me there was no officer on deck when I crawled up the gangway, but it took me a week to recover and my number one suit never did!


The aftermath of this salutary story, is that in 1993, when my son Steve and his Chilean wife, Silvia, paid a visit to her home town of Valparaíso, they were able to ask Silvia's father (a former gunner in the Chilean Marines himself), to help find the place where these events occurred. From my translated description, he was able to identify the notorious establishment (which I now know was called the 'Seven Mirrors') in which Silvia's (hopefully now more mature and sensible) father-in-law had learnt about the dangers of strong drink and uncontrolled aggression, some forty-two years earlier.

In 2006, fifty-five years after these events, I was again in Valparaíso, this time as a guest of my daughter-in-law’s family. Silvia took me to the very street, in the city’s El Puerto district, where I had faced the Chilean marines. The building itself is no longer a house of ill-repute (although the older generation of locals still remember the ‘Seven Mirrors’ well) but the balconies from which my shipmates had jeered at me look much the same and apart from some earthquake damage the street looks eerily familiar – an echo from my wild and reckless youth.

Jim Radford, Deep Sea Rescue Tugman, UK


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