A Veteran at the Helm
Reprinted from the Bergen, N. J., "Evening Record"
Bergenís Captain R. H. Day, With 26 Years At Sea, Can Recite Many An Adventure
By Fred Seifer
The ship was starting to crack. From the number three hatch to the engine room, the deck of the Mormacmoon was splitting in
two. Seconds before, the sound of snapping boards had sent the sailors scurrying to the life boats.
"Slow 'er down and head into the wind," bellowed the captain from the bridge. "Weíre taking her into port." But the captainís
voice was lost in the rain and the roar of the waves washing against the ship.
Again the command was given ó this time louder and with a sharpness that penetrated the storm's fury. For a moment the men
hesitated; then, slowly, they stopped lowering the boats.
"Man your emergency stations," barked the first mate. "You heard the captainís order. Now letís get going!"
In a flash the men were scrambling to their posts. The navigator ordered a half rudder turn
and the ship veered sharply into the wind. Cracked deck and all, the Mormacmoon was fighting its way through the choppy seas.
Four days later, listing but still in one piece, the Mormacmoon entered New York Harbor. At the helm was the man who had
saved the ship and his crew, Captain R. H. Day of West Englewood. For Captain Day, this was but one of many exciting adventures in 26 years at sea. Perhaps his most memorable experience was as a gunnerís mate 3/c in a Malta convoy
during World War II. It was during this voyage that he was under fire for the first time in his life.
Voyage to Malta
"We were heading towards Malta carrying strategic war materials," recalls Captain Day, "and I was aboard one of the four merchant
ships in the convoy which was protected by 20 British destroyers and eight cruisers.
"When we reached Mohammed Gulf in the Red Sea, we hid for 10 days to avoid detection by German aircraft. A few days later,
however, we experienced our first air attack. "I had always thought of myself as courageous as the next guy, but when those German planes came at us, my knees just started to buckle. I opened fire with my 30 cal. machine gun,
but I didnít hit a thing ó the planes were about 10,000 feet out of range.
"When I got back to my bunk after the battle, I found my glasses had been painted with crosshairs. It was then that I became known
aboard ship as Sharpshooter Day."
Sharpshooter Day never fired his machine gun again, but he saw plenty of action. For 40 straight hours the Germans pounded the
"How we got through I'll never know," says Captain Day. "They threw everything at us, but we escaped without the loss of a single
merchant ship. We were the first and the last Malta convoy to be that lucky.
"Soon afterwards we got our first glimpse of Valletta, the capital of Malta. There was nothing left to see, just charred buildings
and ashes. It was the heaviest bombed city of the war.
"They were short of everything on Malta except ingenuity. One day I was invited by a Danish friend of mine to have dinner at his
home. When I arrived, he offered me a glass of beer. I asked him how he managed to make the beer when there were no ingredients on the island and he replied that he simply squeezed cabbage leaves."
Up the Amazon
After the war, Captain Day was chosen to navigate the longest and most treacherous body of water in the world, the Amazon River ó
986 miles of jungle and swamp.
"There are places in the Amazon where it is so narrow that you can't even turn around," says Captain Day, "and where one mistake
could be your last one. This is true especially in the Straits of Breves where the width of the river narrows down to about 100 yards."
Along the coast of the Amazon live some of the deadliest animals in the world. Perhaps the most ferocious are the piranha fish.
"Not more than a foot long, but with teeth like razors, they have been known to attack with such force and ferocity as to completely devour a live cow within seconds after it has hit the water," the Captain reports.
"Once I saw an American sailor slip off a floating dock and fall into piranha infested waters. He never came up again. The
natives say he was slashed to bits by the killer fish," the Captain adds.
He will never forget the primitive tribes along the coast. "These people were completely cut off from civilization," he says.
"For them the modern world simply did not exist. They lived the way their ancestors had hundreds and perhaps thousands of years before. Fortunately for us they were not head hunters."
In striking contrast to the primitive societies was the city of Manaus, the terminal point of the Amazon River. Here 165,000
Brasilians carved out of the wilderness a modern city with one of the finest opera houses to be found anywhere in the world.
In all his years at sea, Captain Day has been involved in only one collision. This occurred at Hampton Roads, Va., when the ship
he was piloting smacked into a Navy transport in a heavy fog. Fortunately, the damage to both vessels was slight.
Seadog or Landlubber
Captain Day is presently employed by a New York steamship line as a stevedore superintendent. When asked whether he prefers life
ashore to the sea, he says with a smile, "At times there are days when I wish I were back at sea, but I also remember days at sea when I wished I were back on land."
His has been a life full of adventure. He didnít look for it, but it found him just the same. He has given to the sea a part of
himself and in return she has given him the experiences only the sea can give and only a sailor can understand.