It was the winter of '77 sailing the China Sea
In a rust bucket christened Kopaa for the shipping company
We sailors were on the fantail drinking a Formosan brew
With the oiler, fireman and the rest of the blackgang crew
It was then the wind picked up and the sea began to foam
She was typhoon Delilah and we were so far away from home
Dead ahead she lay, black as blackest night
Angry as all hell's devils and screeching with a fright
"Should we steer around her or push this bucket through?"
The helmsman asked the captain wondering what to do
The skipper in a trance sounded strange as he said
" Keep your course sailor, dead ahead, dead ahead "
The helmsman paled and swallowed hard, steering as was bid
In his desperate mind he bade farewell to his wife and only kid
Just then the mate ran up and called, " Captain, sir,
That's typhoon Delilah, we can't possibly sail through her "
" Mind your place, sailor, I'm skipper of this ship,
I've met Delilah before, this time I'll give her the slip "
The seas picked up crashing over the bridge
The wind howled like a freight train out of control on a mountain ridge
The Kopaa was tossed like a cork in rolling keg of beer
When the Chief rang up and cried, " we can't give you steam to steer "
The captain just repeated, " Dead ahead, dead ahead "
The Engineer cried, " You're crazy, it’s nonsense what you've said "
The bell of the ship rang frantically fore and aft
It was rung by Delilah and it said to man the life raft
The tie core had broken, she'd taken control of the bell
And turned a peaceful voyage into a living hell
The crew in dread heard the bidding of that bell
And dutifully ran to their stations in answer to its knell
The captain shouted, "Come back, I never gave the word "
But his speech was wasted in the wind and never heard
Every man was drowned trying to clear the ship
Every man save the captain, only he would give her the slip
He was condemned by the fates that rule heaven and earth
To forever sail into Delilah for all that he was worth
And to command with these few words, more honored were never said
" Keep your course, Kopaa, dead ahead, dead ahead "
Helmsman: sailor who steers the ship; usually an A.B., able-bodied seaman or Bos’n, Boatswain
who is the highest ranking non-officer in the deck department
Chief: head of the engine department; he is a licensed engineering officer equivalent to Captain
Blackgang: engine room personnel; historical reference to coal powered days and coal dust
when engine room personnel were often covered in black coal dust while working
Formosa: contemporary Taiwan
Mate: the Chief Mate, second in command after Captain
Kopaa; pronounced ko-PAH; pre-WWII built bulk carrier of grain to Far East; sugar from Hawaii
Nearly as worn-out as the Transchamplain in ’77 when yours truly sailed aboard her
Dead ahead: nautical term of direction meaning straight ahead
The events of the poem: based on a captain who in 1977 literally commanded the helmsman to
“Keep your course, sailor. Dead ahead”, when faced with a typhoon, though he preceded the
command with a common vulgarity generally summarized with “F’ it”. The result was
disastrous, nearly catastrophic. Resulted in disciplinary action by U.S. Coast Guard
rescinding the Master’s (Captain) license of the individual responsible.