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Highlights In The Shadows: 42 - Ship Aground

…The ship had slowed down too much to take on the pilot, the customs and immigration authorities and the Hula Hula girls before entering the port. Unable to build up enough speed to negotiate a reef in the harbour the ship's prow ran aground. We were in the dining room having breakfast when we felt the bump and saw the ship develop a slight list…

Unable to get satisfactory work in Canada Owen Clement and his wife decide to return to Australia. To read earlier chapters of Owen’s life story please click on Highlights In The Shadows in the menu on this page.

Jennifer was just three months old in June when we sailed tourist class back to Vancouver on the SS Arcadia.

I spent the next six months in Vancouver trying to find work, as General Motors had terminated my position. Unemployment, a chronic condition in Vancouver at the time, was high. I did odd jobs working on a drilling rig, in a moving business and a few others not worth mentioning. Despite these casual jobs I still managed to use up my unemployment insurance that had built up during my years of employment in Canada.

Jan and I became very concerned that our savings were now almost gone. I also believed that Jan's mother's depressing letters and her continuing poor health were conspiring against me and that soon I would have no arguments left to prevent our return to Australia.

When I was offered a chance of training as a manager with Woolworths in Sydney by a family friend of Jan's, a senior executive of the company, I bitterly realized that we had no choice but to return to Australia. We sold off our few bits and pieces of second hand furniture, I cashed in my life insurance policy and we booked our passage once again on the SS Arcadia. This time we travelled first class, as these were the only berths available.

I had been coping with the prospect of leaving Canada reasonably well up to the day of our departure. This came to an end when there was a bitter scene between my parents and Jan, and when my friend David Watson broke down when we went to say goodbye.

Fortunately we travelled back on board with friends and played a lot of bridge to pass the time.

I did find it amusing and embarrassing however when Staff Captain Prowse who had taken a fancy to us and especially Jennifer on our previous voyage asked us to join him at his table. We thanked him but regrettably we told him that were travelling with our friends Barry and Coralie Shrivell. The Captain was very understanding and asked all four us to be his table guests after we left Hawaii. Here was Jan and I with only forty Australian pounds to our name invited to sit at the Second-in-command's table in the first-class dining room. By comparison the American couple sitting at the table for two next to us were wealthy enough to use one stateroom for themselves and another for her clothes alone.

The ship had slowed down too much to take on the pilot, the customs and immigration authorities and the Hula Hula girls before entering the port. Unable to build up enough speed to negotiate a reef in the harbour the ship's prow ran aground. We were in the dining room having breakfast when we felt the bump and saw the ship develop a slight list. As he walked by, the Cockney steward called out. "It's okay folks don't worry, we've just had a flat that's all." As the tide was receding at the time and to prevent causing any damage to his ship, the captain decided to wait for high tide before re-floating the vessel. A lighter ferried all the passengers wishing to embark, disembark or visit Honolulu.

Jan, Jennifer and I enjoyed a pleasant morning sightseeing and swimming in the sea in Waikiki. After lunch Jan decided to return to the ship with Jennifer while I elected to stay on and see other sights in Honolulu.

When I returned to the ship just before dinner that evening Jan was frantic with worry. "You had better call your mother straight away. She's been trying to contact you all afternoon." "Oh my God!" I said, imagining my mother with a heart attack, or some other family tragedy. Saying goodbye to my parents had been traumatic for everyone.

With Jan carrying Jennifer standing next to me I rang my parents.

"Are you all right?" Mum asked anxiously.

"We're fine. Why?"

"We've been worried sick here."

"Why for heaven's sake?"

"There was a news flash which said that the SS Arcadia had run aground on a reef in the Pacific."

The journalist's facts were technically correct but his or her actual reporting was far from the truth.

By the time Jan and Jennifer had returned to the port the ship had docked with no major damage whatsoever.

Captain Prowse, Barry and Coralie and our other friends on board made the voyage a very happy and memorable one. However, I arrived in Sydney hating Australia, Jan's mother and fate.


© Clement 2006

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