Castle Roland

The Trader

by Charles Bird


Chapter 2

Published: 17 Dec 15


Copyright © 2012-2015 by Charles Bird

SS Alpaco

The characters, localities and happenings in this story are the products of the author's imagination or, are used fictitiously. The story is copyrighted and is the property of the author and may not be copied, reproduced or retransmitted without his express permission.

From Chapter 1; It was a relief to be in the cooler waters around Australia and speaking a language more like their own. It was in Sydney that Joe received a letter forwarded to him by his bank from his ex-wife, Melissa. The letter included a photograph of their son, Toby, who was now four years old. Joe sat at his desk and wept, not for Melissa, but for the little boy he was sure he would never know.


They loaded pallets of sacked rice, destined for Hong Kong. The British had ordered it, as there was a famine going on in the countryside of China and the people of the Crown Colony were unable to purchase rice locally. The authorities in Sydney crammed every bag of rice they could into the Camel's hold, they were, again, right down to their load limit.

They set sail first thing in the morning, headed for Papua and the Molucca Islands, where they would thread their way northward towards the Philippines.

It was typhoon season, but the weather report told of no storm in the vicinity, so they took a chance. They headed straight on, towards the Mindoro Strait.

Just as they exited the Mindoro Strait and headed into the South China Sea, their weather luck ran out. The seas started picking up and the weather report was full of Seamen's Advisories for the area between the Spratly Islands and Taiwan, an area they had to cross to get to Hong Kong.

Hoping to outrun the storm, they headed northwest, towards the coast of China. They caught the southwest quadrant of the storm as it headed northwards toward the Philippine Coast. If there was a "best" sector of the storm, that was it and they were able to escape the brunt of the storm.

The storm tossed them around for several days, but, as they approached the China Coast, the gale force winds began to drop and, as they approached Hainan Island, the seas began to calm.

They stood off the China Coast and headed north, towards Hong Kong. They had burned a lot of fuel battling the storm, so Joe had the Marconi Operator radio for a slot at the fueling pier.

They pulled into Hong Kong Harbor and tied up at the Royal Pier. The rice belonged to the British Government and they were waiting with trucks to haul it away.

The British Marine Authority had reserved the space on the Camel to take a survey team to the Spratly Islands and standby with them while they made their survey. It was a lucrative contract and gave them access to low cost fuel from the British Government.

The survey team was so pleased with the Camel as a survey platform, they spent the next two years ferrying the survey team around the South China Sea.

It was June of 1928 before they saw the last of the Survey Team and they loaded cargo for Manila in the Philippines. They were happy getting away from the China Coast, the Japanese Navy was getting increasingly belligerent and had stopped them several times demanding their cargo manifest.


They had loaded machine parts for a lumber operation on Mindanao and were stuck when they discovered the hold would have to be unloaded with manual labor, the local pier had no lifting equipment. They were able to charge wait time, but that didn't help with the heat and humidity.

They had to go on to Manila empty to catch a forwarding contract that took them to Palawan. Again, it was a primitive port and offloading was painfully slow.

James did manage to snag an outgoing cargo of copra that smelled to high heaven, but it was a paying contract and would take them back to Sydney. They made Sydney at Christmas of 1928 and Joe signed a two year contract to haul copra from Palawan and nearby islands around the Sulu Sea.

They had to use their own cargo boom to load the copra and, after a couple of runs, the whole ship reeked of sour coconut oil.

They picked up a cargo of dried fish at Bulusan and Joe had a near riot on his hands.

The smell of rotting fish stayed with them for months!

Joe and his crew thought the two years would never end and he promised himself that he would never again haul copra! OR DEAD FISH! Even though the crew members were enjoying their share of the profits, they agreed with Joe about carrying copra or dried fish.

When they returned to Sydney, the insurance company wanted a hull survey and that would require dry docking the Camel. He discussed the matter with Lee Kitto, the Chief Engineer and they decided to have the hull cleaned and painted at the same time. They could see the tropical growth streaming alongside them when they were underway.

Joe contracted with Smithson Drydock in Sydney and in February of 1931, the Camel entered dry dock for five days of cleaning, painting and hull inspection. Lee also decided he wanted the anodes replaced and the work went well.

They found no problems, the propeller had a tiny knick in one blade that they had repaired and most of the zinc anodes were gone, so they were all replaced.

They were back in the water within their five days and James had found them a cargo contract that would take them back and forth between Sydney and Port Lyttelton, New Zealand for at least eight months.

When James picked up the mail before they departed Sydney, among the letters was a letter from Joe's ex-wife via the bank and another picture of Toby, who was ten years old. James knew of the situation and told the crew to not bother Joe for a while.

Joe finally slept, after changing the sheets on his bunk for crying his sadness out.

He finally was able to compose a letter to Toby that he mailed from Christchurch. It was the beginning of a regular correspondence the two would carry on for the next several years. He later discovered the boy was spending his small allowance for stamps and his school Homeroom Teacher was giving him an envelope and writing paper for the letter.

The contract for hauling between Sydney and Port Lyttelton proved to be very profitable, they carried market pulp from a nearby papermill to Sydney to be made into newssheet. They were free to contract any other cargo from Sydney to Port Lyttelton and the contract was extended for a second eight months.

Everyone enjoyed the cool weather for a change and they carried their first passengers from Sydney to Christchurch.

They really were not set up to carry passengers, but they had several spare staterooms and they carried the paper company Chairman as a courtesy. He insisted on paying for himself and his family, they were no problem and Joe could see his own Toby in Gyles McPherson, the teenaged son of the paper company Chairman.

The Captain and the boy developed a friendship and Joe confided in Gyles about his son, Toby. The boy asked Joe's permission to write to Toby and Joe gave it, never thinking the young boy would actually write to an unknown boy in America.


Through Sir Edward McPherson, Joe negotiated a long term contract with a subsidiary of the paper company to haul high value tropical woods from Surabaya, Indonesia to Sydney.

The wood would be in sawn planks, strapped to pallets. The contract was for an initial five years and would entail eleven months per year of round trip voyages.

The outbound leg would carry machinery parts for the saw mill and any cargo that was needed by the Indonesian subsidiary.

The return trip was expected to fill the entire cargo hold of the Camel and, in good weather, also entail deck cargo.

Joe and his crew were delighted, it was a good contract and they liked Australia and the people living there.

On one trip, Sir Edward asked if he might come along and bring his son, Gyles. Joe was not about to refuse, besides, the man and his son were well liked by the entire crew. Little did Joe realize, there was an ulterior motive behind the request, perpetrated by young Gyles McPherson, who also 14 years old..

They were two days out from Sydney and Joe was in the dining room having a cup of coffee. Paul Gibson had the bridge and the weather was clear, so Joe was taking a break.

Sir Edward and Gyles came in and sat down, Gyles was carrying an envelope in his hands and a huge grin on his face.

He sat beside Joe with a glass of milk and said, "er err ah, Captain Joe, sir….."

Joe turned to the almost teen boy and replied, "Gyles, I don't bite, what can I do for you?"

Gyles answered, "Captain, sir. Ahhh oh darn, here this is for you!"

He handed Joe a letter and ran out of the room. Sir Edward remained behind and was chuckling, "Joe, I think you had better sit down and read the letter."

When Joe removed the folded page from the envelope, he nearly fell to the deck, it was a letter from his son, Toby! Sir Edward waited patiently while Joe recovered sufficiently to read the letter.

May 2, 1934

Dear Papa,

I received a letter from your friend, Gyles and I am so happy to be able to write to you. Mama would not give me your address, so I am keeping this letter secret from her. Papa, I am not happy here, my half brothers are mean and my step father has no use for me.

Please, Papa, come and get me! I am so afraid. I need you.

With all my love,
Toby Joe Turner

Joe was stricken and tears were running down his weather beaten face like twin rivers.

Sir Edward sat beside Joe until he had regained control of himself and then said, "My friend, will you allow me to help you and your son? My son has become a friend to your Toby Joe, I suspect they are two peas from the same pod and we want to help you both."

Joe looked up in his misery and asked, "But, what can you do?"

Sir Edward replied, "It will take some doing, but, if you can get your ex-wife to agree, my brother is returning from a diplomatic assignment in Washington next September. He can swing by Denver and he can bring the boy with him on the ship from San Francisco. All you would need to do is pay the child's passage from Denver to San Francisco. He can come here on my Brother's ticket as his Cadet."

Joe replied, "I will do anything to have Toby with me, I will send a Marconi off right away."

He went directly up to the radio office and dictated a message to go out immediately to Mrs. Melissa DeMarco in Denver, Colorado, USA.

Thus began a flurry radio messages back and forth over the space of several months.

The final message came from Mr. David Robert DeMarco, "A Mr. John Taylor McPherson has picked up YOUR FAGGOT SON. GOOD RIDDANCE AND DON'T SEND HIM BACK!"

Sir Edward happened to be with Joe when the Marconi Operator brought the message down. Joe buried his face in his hands, sobbing and Sir Edward picked up the message and read it. He put his arms around Joe and said, "Don't let this upset you, your son is on his way to you. I assume the term faggot means your son is a homosexual. So what? Know that Gyles is also, and his Mother and I love him dearly, it is only what he is, not WHO he is.!"

Joe could hardly believe his ears, "wha , who errr". Sir Edward held Joe's hands and said, "Yes, Gyles' Mother, Dorothy, and I know about you also, it makes no difference to us. We are glad to do this for the two of you and, if Toby and Gyles form a closer friendship, then, so be it and we will welcome them both into our families."

Paul had to stand Joe's watch that evening as Joe was in no condition to be in control of a ship at sea, he was hardly in control of himself!!


They dropped off the cargo for Surabaya and loaded the ship with Indonesian hardwoods. They had the hold completely filled and several tons of deck cargo, all high value tropical hardwoods was to be converted to fine furniture. Many homes had been renovated or built immediately after the Great War and there was a world-wide shortage of fine furniture to re-decorate them.

Joe was pushing the Camel, Toby's passenger ship, the SS Marianna, was scheduled to dock in Sydney on December 10th and it was already November 22nd.

Joe had rented a house in a suburb of Sydney and engaged a nanny-housekeeper recommended by Lady McPherson.

The entire crew knew the story and they would have been willing to get out the oars if they thought Joe was going to be late to meet his son. Joe had "come clean" about himself and was amazed to find out that nobody cared!

The Camel was due in to Cay #3 at 9 am on December 9th and the Marianna was scheduled to dock at the Circular Cay at noon the next day.

The Camel came sailing into Sydney Harbor and the Harbor Master flashed the Camel to slow down a bit.

Joe docked the Camel at her assigned berth with the skill of much practice, he backed the engine down twice before ringing down, "FINISHED WITH ENGINE"

The crew had present for Joe, but they didn't tell him about it.

Joe spent the night aboard the Camel, the stevedores had worked the cargo all night long and the ship was riding high.

They were not scheduled to sail until the day after Christmas, so the Camel went "cold iron".

Joe woke up at 6 am, jittery as a corn stalk in a high wind! He fumbled his shirt buttons so badly, the steward had to assist him.

The night before, the crew presented Joe with a shiny bright new Merchant Marine Uniform with the four wide gold rings around the sleeves of a Captain. The steward pinned all of Joe's War Medals on the uniform jacket, including his Silver Star.

All Joe could think of when he stood in front of the mirror was a peacock! He thanked any deity he could think of that he did not have to wear that uniform all the time.

It was getting close to the scheduled time of the Marianna docking over at the Circular Cay _(Author's note: pronounced "key")_, so he departed the ship and walked down the gangway.

At the foot of the gangway there stood Sir Edward and Lady McPherson, along with Gyles. They were waiting for him and they had their Bentley to take him over to the Marianna in style! Gyles had a half joyful, half frightened look on his face, something that Joe had never seen before on the boy.

The huge liner slide into its berth with grace and, as the first line went over, the great ship let out a mighty blast of the ship's steam horn, rocking the slate shingles on every building nearby.

The First Class Gangway went over first and the first person coming down the gangway could have been Sir Edward himself. He later found out they were identical twins and only two hours separated their ages.

Trailing behind the man was a gangly teen boy, the man pointed to Joe and the teen broke into a run and leaped at Joe, wrapping his arms like an octopus around his neck, screaming, "Papa, Papa" in a shout!

Both boy and man had to sit down as neither of them was ready to face others. Toby had his Papa in a neck lock, as if he would run away!

Gyles stood quietly, looking at the American boy and praying that the boy would like him, either as a friend or, hopefully, more.

Joe spotted Gyles hanging back and made a motion to him to come closer. Joe said, "Toby, this is Gyles McPherson, the young man who located you."

Toby wiped his eyes and held out his hand to Gyles.

Gyles brushed his hand away and crushed Toby to him, hugging and holding him.

Toby responded and whispered in Gyles' ear, "Come over to Papa's ship, will you?"

With that invitation, Gyles would have climbed a ladder to the moon to join Toby.

Joe turned around and found his whole crew standing there watching Joe meet his son for the first time in nearly a dozen years!

Paul Gibson had brought the entire crew over to watch their Captain met his only son, they clapped and cat-called as Toby hugged his Father.

Toby was talking a mile a minute and Joe was taking in every word. Every word the boy said that day was imprinted on Joe's memory forever.

Paul guided them all over to the Camel, where a buffet lunch had been prepared and everyone was invited. The two boys literally stuffed themselves of the goodies that cook had placed on the table.

When Joe and Toby finally got loose from all their guests, it had been a long day, fueled by high emotion. Toby could barely keep his eyes open as his Papa walked him into his stateroom and helped him get ready for bed. They were going to spend their first night together on board the ship, before heading for home in Paddington.

Tomorrow was soon enough to go out to the house, to meet the housekeeper and to talk about living arrangements while Joe was at sea.


Toby will learn Aussie customs and life and Joe will learn to be a school master on land as well as at sea.

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