Maritime Humor: Master's Letter of Regret


(Join our newsfeed at: The “Letter of regret” is a classic piece of dry humor that has been kicking around the maritime community for a long time. We could all use a little more humor in our lives. Consider this contribution from Dennis L. Bryant.

Letter of regret

Dear Sirs:

It is with regret and haste that I write this letter to you. Regret, that such a small misunderstanding could lead to the following circumstances, and in haste in order that you will get this report before you form your own preconceived opinions from reports in the world press. For I am sure that they will overdramatise the affair.

We had just picked up the pilot and the Apprentice had returned from changing the ‘G’ flag for the ‘H’ flag, and this being his first trip, he was having difficulties in rolling up the ‘G’ flag. I therefore proceeded to show him how it should be done. Coming to the last part I told him to "let go". The lad although willing was not too bright, necessitating my having to repeat the order in a sharper tone of voice.

At this moment the Chief Officer appeared from the chartroom where he had been plotting the ships passage, and thinking that it was the anchor that was being referred to, repeated the " let go " order to the Third Mate on the foc'sle. The port anchor, having been cleared away but not walked out, was promptly let go. The effect of letting the anchor drop from the pipe while the vessel was proceeding at full harbour speed proved too much for the windlass brake, and the entire length of the port cable was pulled out by the roots. I fear that the damage to the chain locker may be extensive. The braking effect of the anchor naturally caused the vessel to sheer in that direction and towards a swing-bridge that spans a tributary to the river up which we were proceeding.

The swing-bridge operator showed great presence of mind by opening the span for my vessel to go through. Unfortunately he had not thought of stopping the vehicular traffic. The result being that the bridge partly opened and deposited a Volkswagen, two cyclists and a cattle truck on the foredeck. My ships company are at present rounding-up the contents of the latter, which from the noise, I would say are pigs. In his effort to stop the progress of the vessel, the Third Mate dropped the starboard anchor. Too late to be of any practical use, for it fell on top of the swing-bridge operators control cabin.

After the port anchor was let go and the vessel started to sheer, I rang ‘full astern’ on the engineroom telegraph, and personally telephoned the engineroom to order maximum revolutions. I was informed that the sea temperature was 53 degrees, and was asked if there was going to be a film tonight. My reply would not contribute constructively to this report.

Up to now I have confined my report to the activities at the forward end of my vessel. Back aft they were having their own problems. At the moment the port anchor was let-go, the Second Mate was supervising the making-fast of the after tug, and was lowering the ships towing spring onto the tug. The sudden braking effect of the port anchor caused the tug to ‘run in under’ the stern of my vessel, just at the moment when the propellor was answering my double ring for ‘Full astern’. The prompt action of the Second Mate in securing the inboard end of the towing spring delayed the sinking of the tug by some minutes thereby allowing the abandonment of the tug.

It is strange, but at that very moment of letting-go the port anchor, there was a power cut ashore. The fact that we were passing over a ‘cable area’ at the moment could suggest that we may have touched something on the bottom of the riverbed. It is perhaps fortunate that the high-tension cables brought down by the foremast were not live, possibly they had been replaced by the underwater cable. But owing to the shore blackout, it is impossible to say where the pylon fell.

It never fails to amaze me, the action and behaviour of foreigners during moments of crisis. The Pilot for instance, is at the moment huddled in the corner of my day-cabin, alternately crooning to himself and crying, after having consumed a bottle of my gin in a time that is worthy of inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. The tug captain, on the other hand, acted violently and had to be forcibly restrained by the Steward, who now has him handcuffed in the ship's hospital where he keeps telling me to do impossible things with my ship and my person.

I enclose the names and addresses of the drivers and the insurance companies of the vehicles on my foredeck which the Third Officer collected after his somewhat hurried evacuation of the foc'sle. These particulars will enable you to claim for the damage that they caused to the railings at number one hold.

I am enclosing this prelimenary report, for I am finding it difficult to concentrate with the sound of the police sirens and their flashing lights. It is sad to think that had the Apprentice realised that there was no need to fly pilot flags after dark none of this would have happened. For the weekly Accountability Report I will assign the following casualty numbers : T75001 to T75100, incl.,

Yours very truly, .............. Master

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  1. Reminds me a story which I heard when I was previously working for Jardine-Matheson Company in Hong Kong. During cleaning of office they found a letter from Captain who stated that it's against his conscience to transport opium on Sundays from India to China. On every other weekday it should be okay.Obviously he was a very religious man and this was during sailing ships time.

  2. This was similar to what happened to me on one of my ship. We were loading grain in Cargill New Orleans. The OOW (as ordered by Chief Officer) called the engine room to "pump out" one ballast tank. The Oiler on duty either misheard or misunderstood the order and "pump in" (Instead of pump out) ballast water into the tank. Unfortunately, 2 of our top side tank air pipes are located on top of the mast house. A few minutes later sea water over flowed from the mast house air pies and spilled over straight into the cargo holds wetting the grain cargoes. Seeing what was happening, I was shocked and hysterically run down the engine room shouting to the Oiler on duty to stop the pump. Along the way, I slipped on the stairway, brought my foot and had to be rushed to the hospital.
    We have to be removed from wharf to give way for another vessel. It took us days to remove the wet grain by shovel and man power. The owner paid for huge damages. Our ship was off hired for the delay.

    From then the company prohibited the use of the word "pump" in our system of ballasting and deballasting operations. It was replaced by the word "ballast" and "pump out", 2 different words that cannot be mistaken.

  3. I was a junior officer when I first read this great story. You can tell it’s old as the engineer reported the sea temperature in degrees Fahrenheit!
    At the time I was sailing as Mate with a very popular Master of a blue chip British Company who never ever answered any mail he received from head office. When I asked him why, his reply was if I answer them they will send me a reply which I will have to answer again and it will never stop. He finished his long and successful career as the Company’s Commodore.

  4. @Robert - In the days of carbon and typewriters, a Master I sailed with had a very natty way of dealing with awkward company enquiries. We had been tasked by the Company to make an evaluation report of a piece of equipment supposedly on board. I could find no trace of the thing and the Boatswain said he thought it had been dumped some time ago. I reported this to the Master and a few days later he gave me a letter for my file. It was addressed to the Fleet Manager with a very large number of other office staff CC'd. It was a feint carbon copy, which had been stapled and then separated. The main text read "Dear Sir, Please find attached the evaluation report requested on the xxx equipment. If you have any queries...etc".

    "But where's the report?" I asked him, puzzled. "There is no report." he replied "There are so many people on the distribution list that everybody will initially think that someone else has it. When they finally discover that no-one has it, they'll just presume that one of them lost it. By the time they come back to the ship for a copy, we'll have long ago gone on leave!"

    Of course you cant do that with Email!

    The same Captain also had a set of various doctors stamps for updating vaccination certificates!