The swell began in the afternoon and by evening it was extreme. We started to roll badly. We did not have enough weight to hold us steady many of our containers had already been discharged and some of the remainder were empty. Everything bounced about my cabin; nothing would stay on shelves or surfaces. It was very difficult to move around. During the night I was actually afraid for the first time on a ship. I felt we were about to tip over. In bed I had having visions of being called to the lifeboat. I lay in the dark deciding what to take with me passport, money, lipstick … yes, lipstick, a girl can’t face a lifeboat full of sailors without lipstick.
All that day and the next it remained very rough. The captain spent the entire time on the bridge; he even slept there. And he kept the crew working at inside jobs. It was too dangerous out on deck. Later I heard that this storm had been the severest in this area for years and that roofs had been blown off houses in Wellington in two hundred mile per hour winds. And that, yes, a ship had once overturned in such a storm and 165 passengers drowned.
Visit to Burma Photo Gallery
We anchored off Bluff, the port of Invercargill, our first call in NZ, and stayed there all day, the ship bouncing and tugging at the anchor. We were waiting for the pilot to take us in when the tide was right. The Buxstar was too big to sail into Bluff’s small harbour except on a full tide.
Bluff is some distance from the town of Invercargill, separated by an inlet that is crossed by a ferry. It was excruciatingly cold and dreary but I set off to go ashore anyway. A seaman went down the gangplank in front of me to catch me if I fell. There was no wharf bus here so I had to wear a yellow safety waistcoat and walk on a clearly marked yellow line among piled containers and machinery.
This is the south end of the South Island, straight down is Antarctica. It had still been dark at eight in the morning. I struggled in the bitter wind as far as the Seafarer’s Centre at the gate but went no further. The weather forecast posted here said that the next day would be a four-layer clothing day. I complied, piling on all I could find on the two days it took to off load and load at Bluff.
When the tugs came to push us out of the harbour, I watched a flock of small birds fishing, diving and swooping into the swirl of water churned up as the tugs grunted against us. The crew had been fishing too and had caught some wonderful big salmon that the cook served up later.