This Is Cayman Brac Traffic Control…

May 13, 2019

This is Cayman Brac Traffic Control, calling to welcome the third largest tanker in the world to Cayman Islands.  How is everything working onboard and what is your current latitude and longitude?

I’m confirming type of cargo onboard and destination port… You are carrying Iraqi crude oil, is this correct?

Roger… and is that light crude oil?

Copy that… light and ultra heavy Iraqi crude oil.  Those are stored together, correct?

And confirming you have 27,100 metric tons of oil onboard, correct?

Your crew is Greek, correct?  How many crew onboard, twenty five?

Copy that… 26 crew members… six Greek senior officers, nineteen Philippino crew plus one Romanian engineer, correct?

And your destination is Argentina, is that correct?

Is this the Captain I am speaking to or the First Mate?

By this time, Kris and I were literally rolling on the deck laughing.  In the interest of full disclosure, some of the actual data may be factually inaccurate and only represents one side of the conversation, but it conveys the spirit of the conversation rather closely.

More importantly, we were now in the know, which is what made it suddenly so damn funny.  We had just finished clearing out with Cayman Brac Customs and were underway, making for Grand Cayman when the above  conversation took place over the VHF.

*****

We had been listening to the distinct voice identified as Cayman Brac Traffic Control on the radio multiple times every day since we arrived in the Cayman Islands nearly three weeks ago.

The level of detail he seemed to know about passing ships implied that he was researching these vessels online as he spoke with them on the VHF.  At times, it appeared he had information that the person aboard the ship speaking on the radio was not aware of.  The amount of information he requested from each passing ship was amazing, more than we had ever heard before.  The interest he demonstrated went well beyond what seemed to be typical port authority depths.

For us, it was far more entertaining (not to mention far more enlightening) than any television show could have been.  We started monitoring his working channel on the VHF just to hear the next conversation.  It became the recurring source of big smiles for us when we would hear his voice break across the airwaves of Channel 16, inevitably asking the ship to change to Channel 11 so he could grill them for information and pass on his apparently vast wealth of knowledge.

We couldn’t tell if this was a security measure to verify they were who they claimed, or a government agency with an unfathomable amount of data logged regarding every passing ship, or just a passionate individual who took his job very seriously…

Sometimes the ships didn’t reply to his hails at all.  We thought this very strange.  

Sometimes the exchanges were rather short… not typically.

Sometimes it seemed the exchanges followed a pattern; sometimes the most random tidbits or the least relevant details were the focus of attention.

Sometimes it seemed the flow of information would never stop… 

This is Cayman Brac Traffic Control calling cargo ship just west of Cayman Brac.  How are you reading me?  

Reading me loud and clear… very good.  How is everything working onboard and what is your latitude and longitude?

Copy that… that places you about 25 miles west of Cayman Brac.  You may be having trouble reading me.  The VHF only has a range of twenty to twenty five miles.  It is a travesty that the United States FCC has limited the range of all VHF radios internationally.

You are currently the third largest cargo ship in the world, correct?  

Roger… what is your cargo and destination?  You are loaded with steel plates bound for Brazil, correct?

Copy that… what is quantity of cargo currently onboard?

Roger…  and what is the average size and weight of each steel plate?

Copy that… 3 meters wide, 6 meters long, 10mm thick, and each plate averaging 1200 lbs., correct?

And what is your current speed?   Copy that… eighteen knots, fully loaded… amazing.  Is that your maximum speed fully loaded?

Roger… twenty knots is maximum speed fully loaded… unbelievable.  That is incredible. 

And your previous port was China, correct?  How many days since you departed?

Copy that… after your delivery to Brazil you will be returning to China, correct?

Copy that… next destination is Australia… that would be Port Thomas, correct?

Roger… are you showing any additional target ships in your area?

Copy that… Cayman Brac has recently lost some seamen that have passed.  We would request that you sound your ship’s horn five times as you pass by your nearest point to Cayman Brac to show your respect for these great mariners.

Roger… the water is very fair and deep near the island so you can pass quite close by… 

Thank you and have a good voyage.

This is Cayman Brac Traffic Control.  I have five other ships currently traveling southbound towards Cayman Brac.  How do you read me?  

[brief pause] 

This is Cayman Brac Traffic Control calling any other ships in the area… are any of you paying attention? 

We were so fascinated by this person, we had decided we were going to hail him as we departed Cayman Brac, just so we could have a conversation with him and sound our little hand-pump air horn five times in tribute to the Brac’s fallen mariners.

******

Sitting in the protective shade of a small gazebo near the dock and boat ramp which had provided us shore access and a place to tie up our dinghy, we filled out page after page of official documents – the clearing out papers provided by the sharply dressed Customs and Border Control Officer sitting to our left.

As I completed what seemed to be page ninety-five of the clearing-out paperwork, copying line for line from the identical form which comprised our clearing-in paperwork (information which had obviously not changed during the past three weeks but needed to be re-submitted in triplicate), Kris asked the Customs and Border Control Officer who the Cayman Brac Traffic Control person was.

Completely deadpan, he looked at us and said, “That would be Mr. Raymond Scott.”

Then, with more of a wince and a bit of a strained expression, he continued.

“Mr. Scott drives me crazy.  He’s a nice enough guy, and certainly very knowledgable.  However, he asks huge tankers and cargo ships to approach very close to the island to pay their respects to sailors who have passed away.  I don’t mean any disrespect, and it’s all well and good until something goes wrong.  

His title of Cayman Brac Traffic Control is entirely self-appointed.  For years, he has been lobbying to be paid for what he does, but in actuality, he has absolutely no authority whatsoever.  Passing ships have no idea, and therefore provide him with all the information he requests and comply with his ‘recommendations’, as he represents himself in a manner that implies he is a government official.

The fact is… HE IS LITERALLY JUST A DUDE WITH A RADIO!” 

(Cue “game show loser music” here… ‘wah, wah, wah, wah’).

Seriously.  The CBC Officer actually said the words, “He is literally just a dude with a radio.”

Our bubble instantly burst.

Shortly thereafter, we departed Cayman Brac bound for Grand Cayman.  Suffice to say, we opted to maintain “radio silence”.  We were sure that at least one Customs and Border Control Officer would smile if he knew…

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