Now to the top of our rack/list: the "Salvor II", the Emergency Transmitter.
"Salvor I" probably died fighting in battle but "Salvor II" was quick to pick up the sword and protect us further. The name "Salvor" always
brings to my mind the Salvation Army who valiantly fight to save the downtrodden. To give you an idea, this happened to me a few years later: beautiful day, early afternoon, sailing tranquilly south-westwards past the Azores - I'm on watch dozing about as usual when suddenly all the radio equipment "died". Sudden death - no pieps - no "dit dah" - silencium total! I then became aware that the "background noise", meaning the engine reverbrations and resultant ship vibrations had also died. We had really become like a spaceship moving silently through space.
The main generator had failed but even worse the "Lecky" (the Electrician Officer) could not get the emergency generator to start. This is "Dark Vader" all over again - no electricity means a light switch cannot produce a glow, a cooker cannot produce hot food, refridgerated food starts dying (our food), everything aboard run by ship's generator electricity has died a quick death or is in the process of dying fast.
"Time is money!" - we are transporting automobiles to the west coast of the USA. We are on a time charter - if we arrive on schedule, everyone aboard gets a "piece of the pie" - a monetary bonus! Every second or minute counts - "Hours? are you mad!?!"
The time has come for me to send an "XXX" message to the Azores where there is at least one (mainly Dutch) ocean-going salvage
tug waiting like a shark for just such a victim. An XXX is an Urgency message and is in the hierarchy of message priority just one step lower than an SOS. An XXX message is sent if a ship becomes unmaneuverable like we had or had damaged steering gear or to call for urgent medical help from a doctor etc. The captain must make the decision whether to send or wait. If a salvage tug is called and hooks us up it will cost the shipping company a hell of a lot of money, on the other hand we cannot float about like the "Marie Celeste" for ever.
This is also for me the "Moment of Truth" - when did I last charge the batteries? On this ship there is only one bank of batteries so there is no back-up bank to switchover to. How long would the batteries last when I started transmitting?
To end the suspension, I did not have to transmit the XXX because after floating helplessly about for six hours the Lecky managed to
get the main generator running (but not the emergency generator). On the one hand I was saying my prayers but on the other I was a bit disappointed because on my last ship (an oil tanker) we had put into Ponta Delgado in the Azores and I wouldn't have minded paying another visit (that was where we berthed just ahead of a Deep Sea Salvage tug).
I wrote the above to let the reader know how at sea danger could occur at any moment and very often when least expected. If our ship's generators failed, the only way I could get help was by transmitting with the Salvor II and receiving with the Alert Emergency Receiver.
There was one more possibility - if we had to abandon ship we had a Lifeboat Transceiver!
The Salvor II transmitted on mode A2 with a meagre 25 Watts of power. Another word for A2 was Modulated Continuous Wave or MCW.
A2 was a mode whereby a receiver which is only designed to receive telephony (speech) can receive this A2 mode of morse transmission, provided it could also be tuned to 500 kc/s and that the operator could understand the morse code. Ships equipped only with radio telephony kept a continuous watch on the telephony International Distress and Calling Frequency of 2182 kc/s. If I therefore had to transmit an SOS there was not much chance of getting help from a telephony ship unless we were for instance in the English Channel and he had been informed of our distress via a coast station. Nonetheless, for this reason (that maybe a telephony station could pick up our signals) if we had to transmit a distress signal, it had by law to be in mode A2 (which incidentally only has a quarter of the power of an A1 CW signal).
The Salvor II had its own built-in morse key and I could transmit very fast and clear morse with this key even though I had to do it standing up. I found that I could trim it like a "bug" key (a very sensitive morse key type) and many times I heard from other R/O's that they thought I was using one.
The Alert Emergency receiver comes next. This receiver could only receive on 500 kc/s and on mode A2 and that there is not much more to say about it except that it wasn't exactly the "Rolls Royce" of receivers, more like a "Morris Minor Minus". If I was operating with the Atalanta main receiver on HF, I had to keep a second ear listening to the Alert (as soon as I tuned the Atalanta to any other frequency apart from 500 kc/s I was obliged by law to listen also on 500 kc/s).
The Autokey AKD sited to the right of the Alert is a unit which was designed to enable cowardly R/O's to almost immediately vacate
the radio room and if possible the ship in the event of the vessel sinking. Well, a few of them might have been cowards but I never heard of one. R/Os like captains are the last to leave a sinking ship. They both try to prevent the unavoidable and in the case of the R/O he knows he has to morally stay until he either makes contact with a salvor or until the radio equipment fails or the ship starts breaking up and starts to go down. He knows that if he cannot contact help while aboard the vessel, the chances of survival once aboard a lifeboat are for all of them greatly reduced. I will tell you about the capabilities of the lifeboat transceiver in due course!
As a prelude to the the Autokey's function:
If a vessel is sinking, the ideal way for it to do so would be with an even keel, i.e. to sink slowly and in its normal "upright" position. If this were the case then it would mean that sea water had broken into the vessel and found its way through a number of bulkheads, filling up the vessel like filling a glass of water.
I once saw a ship go down like this. It was an old Italian freighter called the S.S.Allegro which was carrying a cargo of iron ore. There are ships called Ore Carriers which are specially built for this purpose but the Allegro wasn't one of them. It was just an old tramp ship with the main accommodation and engine room midships.
Iron ore is a very heavy cargo and because of this a ship's hold can only carry a relatively small amount compared with other bulk cargoes. Another danger was that if this type of cargo shifted in the hold due to for instance bad weather, the ship would take on a list and there was no way she was going to right herself again, the list could only get worse not better.
This was however not the case with the Allegro - she was going down on an even keel in rough weather. On our way from Aden to Bombay in the Arabian Sea our vessel picked up an SOS from the Allegro and we were the only ship close enough to help in time. We had to turn back and steam for eight hours before we reached her in the middle of the night. The crew of the Allegro had been fighting for over 12 hours trying to save her but to no avail and when we arrived they took to a single lifeboat which they managed to lower.
The sea was very rough and the crew had to try and stear and row towards us. A big ship such as ours was is very difficult to manoeuvre in such conditions and the Allegro's lifeboat whizzed passed us twice, failing to grasp the lines thrown out to her. On her third and what would surely have been their last attempt because they were all exhausted they managed to hold the line and more that then followed. We had a cargo net down over the port side where the lifeboat now alongside was rising and falling like a non-stop up/down mad hotel lift.
Each crew member had to judge the moment when the "lift" reached its apex and then spring from the lifeboat to the net and then start climbing as fast as he could to prevent the lifeboat's next "rise" from crushing him between the lifeboat and our vessel. In this way all the crew were saved except for one poor soul who misjudged his jump fell to the sea below where he rapidly disappeared aft out of sight into the night.
We stayed on station circling the Allegro at a distance - it wouldn't have been the first time that a vessel refused to sink but slowly she continued to sink on an even keel. I saw a remarkable sight which was that her midship accommodation lights were still glowing although that section of the accommodation was already underwater. Finally after an hour more she finally surrendered to the sea and
with heavy hearts we changed course and headed once again again to Bombay.
Returning to the Weybank - the boring "technical" radio stuff having been covered - we sailed through the English Channel without mishap. It is always a dangerous area with at any one time many ships sailing in both directions east to west and west to east and with cross-channel ferries traversing from Dutch, Belgian and French ports to English ports and vice versa. Add to that a large number of "weekend sailors" (yachtsmen) and a potential disaster is always looming. I sailed through the English Channel many times and in nearly all instances I can distinctly remember the XXX calls from French, English, Dutch and Belgian coast stations warning "all ships" to keep a lookout for a missing yacht . In some cases the "missing yacht" turned out to be not missing at all but was tied up at some cosy Marina while the crew were chatting up the barmaids at the local pub.
I would listen to the continental and English commercial radio stations and also to the "Pirate" radio stations such as "Caroline". As we left the English Channel behind, these broadcasts became fainter day by day but could still be heard at night. Instead the broadcasts from Portuguese commercial stations became stronger as we passed the Portuguese coastline to port and sailed closer to the Azores. The music transmitted from the Portuguese Azores was usually sad and melancholic - there is a Portuguese name for it called Fado which comes from the Latin word "fatum" meaning fate: the inexorable destiny that nothing can change. I have a link to a video in this website's Video section of Ana Moura, a famous contemporary Portuguese singer singing Fado. I listened to Fado every day until once again we had travelled too far south to pick it up. Further south we passed the island of Funchal which is Portuguese and then the Spanish Canary Islands ( from which I could listen to Spanish music until they also faded away beind us).
The sea chart shown below is a screenshot from the website "map.openseamap.org" in which I have included the approximate course of the Weybank and labelled the Azores, Funchal , the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands (zooming in on any of these islands on the OSM website shows their names and details just like Google Maps).