The stereo doesn’t work?

Sometimes, one thing leads to another.

After having left GOLDEN EYE in Gothenburg while I returned to the US on business, I returned to find that the ship’s stereo, which we use frequently - e.g. a little opera at breakfast; a little salsa in the saloon towards the end of cocktail hour; classical guitar at dinner; and finally a little Happy Dishwasher music – had given up after almost 20 years of faithful service. Why, when we weren’t even on board?

We had crossed into Norway by the time the stereo repair reached the top of my list.

I took down the radio panel and, with multimeter in hand, was able to determine that the stereo wasn’t getting its 12 volts. When I improvised a 12 volt supply, it came to life. Progress, but a mystery remained behind the dead 12 volt supply line, which disappeared in the direction of the breaker panel.

Behind the breaker panel, I found a wire neatly labeled “stereo” by some dedicated electrician in the past but was initially perplexed to find that it led to a breaker for the bilge pump. That breaker was tripped and immediately tripped again when I tried to reset it. So, the stereo mystery led to the bilge pump. (I later realized that the bilge pump is wired directly to the batteries, which the stereo needs, too, to keep its clock running even when the main battery switch is off, so that made sense.)

Inspecting the bilge pump led to a conclusion that it had packed up – likely due to a stuck float switch, running the pump dry and overheating - and was therefore tripping the breaker. The pump is a rusty old beast, long out of production (see photo) with an electric motor, an oscillating pump and a belt connecting the two. It lives in a confined space and has short hoses so I was eager to repair it rather than trying to replace it, which would undoubtedly require carpentry, plumbing and electrical work beyond my patience and pay grade. Speaking of which, in trying to remove the belt, I broke it and failed to find a spare aboard, so that added one more challenge.

I found that the problem was the motor, took it apart and – miraculously - was able to unfreeze it and reassemble it, so now all I needed was a new belt and I would once again have a functioning - albeit 20-year-old and rusty - bilge pump.

These things always happen on Saturday. At our first port of call, three helpful Norwegian gentlemen were able to determine that boat yards there are closed on Saturdays. But I had the number of a boat yard a few miles away so called them. A recording in Norwegian and English said that the number was no longer in service but calls were being taken by another number. I called that one and received an answer from a man who said he was at home but would meet me at the yard and see about ordering a new pump.

It took us an hour of wandering around town to find the yard, which was clearly closed and abandoned. But, having talked to a live person, I persisted. We ducked around some derelict boats on the hard and found what appeared to be a car repair garage with a man looking into a car’s engine. We inquired about the boat yard and, pointing to the ground, he said, “Right here!” One of two other men came forward and introduced himself as the person to whom I had spoken earlier.

I showed him the photo I had taken of my pump. He whistled, as if seeing something rare and old, and exclaimed that he had NEVER seen anything like THAT before. He surmised that perhaps it was on an American boat and mentioned that the only American boat in Oslofjord was on the hard close by and that the other of the two men was its owner. He was a friendly, portly, bewhiskered gentlemen; he looked at my photo and said, “I have one just like it on my boat and you are welcome to have it!” His boat turned out to be a 35 foot express cruiser that he had bought five years earlier in Chicago online from “Donate Your Boat”, at “a very good price”, and had shipped to Norway. He had been working on it ever since and hoped to get it into the water, “Perhaps next year” – I had my doubts. He escorted me aboard, raised the hatches under the aft cockpit and we both peered in. (See photo by Ann, who refers to him as “Low Rise Jeans.”) There was an exact copy of my pump, including rust. He again offered to give it to me, as he had no use for it. I declined but asked if he would be willing to sell me the belt. He said, “It is a gift”, and, with my new expertise, I showed him how to remove it intact.

Back aboard GOLDEN EYE, I successfully installed the belt and got the bilge pump working but, in the process, dislodged the wires to the fresh water pump. Replacing them incorrectly and thereby bypassing the pressure shutoff, I ran the pump until, just before it stalled from overpressure, it blew a hose off – behind the stove, which was another hour project. In repairing that, I pulled a wire to the sump pump out of its crimp connector, which led to additional repairs.

Ann asked me not to repair anything else.

But - the stereo works great!


The site of Colonel Eriksen’s Decision

In the very early hours of 9 April 1940, Colonel Birger Eriksen stood next to one of his fortress’s German-made 28 cm guns, peering south towards the Skagerrak and the open sea. It was long before dawn; the waxing crescent moon had set hours before and the dark was impenetrable.

Col. Eriksen was commander of Norway’s Oscarsborg fortress on the island of Kaholmen in the Oslofjord, 15 nautical miles south of Oslo. The fortress is strategically situated at the narrowest point in the Oslofjord, where the channel is only 0.3 miles wide. Therefore, every vessel transiting the Oslofjord must pass within less than 1000 feet of Oscarsborg’s guns.

Col. Eriksen, six months from retirement from the military, was on alert. Germany had invaded most of her neighbors in Europe and persuaded Sweden to remain neutral. Norway had long ties with Germany but also with Scotland and the UK; while not allied with either of the combatants, Norway had hoped to stay out of the conflict and had been sending mixed messages. Col. Eriksen had attended school in Germany so perhaps he, too, was ambivalent. Only hours earlier, a Norwegian patrol boat in the Skagerrak had been fired upon by an unknown vessel and managed to make a report. By radio, Norway had ordered all lighthouses and navigational lights to be extinguished. Col. Eriksen may have known that a Norwegian battery farther south had fired on ships proceeding north. He likely feared the worst: a German naval show of force or even an invasion. His king and government were in Oslo. His standing orders were to fire warning shots before attacking an approaching vessel; he did not receive any new orders as a result of developments in the hours preceding his vigil.

Blücher's view of fort

At 0420, searchlights from the fortress illuminated what turned out to be the new German heavy cruiser, Blücher, flying the swastika: 206 m (676 feet) long; armed with eight 20 cm guns, torpedoes and seaplanes; complement of almost 1400 officers and men. Col. Eriksen likely could see other ships, which included another heavy cruiser, astern of the Blücher.

As the Blücher emerged from the darkness, Col. Eriksen may have considered that he did not have time to fire a warning shot before the ship would pass. He likely had seconds to make a decision: allow the convoy, or least the Blücher, to pass and be off of Oslo in an hour, intentions unknown; or give the order that would draw a ferocious response and plunge Norway into war with the mightiest power on earth.

On a warm, sunny day in July 2015, I stood where Col. Eriksen had stood that cold, dark night 75 years earlier, next to one of the 28 cm guns. GOLDEN EYE was in the excellent Kaholmen Marina. Kaholmen is now a public park, meticulously kept, with an interesting museum. Especially in the morning, before the tourist boats start to arrive, residents of the marina have the delightful island to themselves. Standing at that spot, it is hard not to contemplate Eriksen’s dilemma and also imagine what was in the mind of Konteradmiral Oskar Kummetz, commander of the Blücher, flagship of the German flotilla, as he approached the guns of Oscarsborg, under orders not to fire unless fired upon. Golden Eye subsequently followed the Blücher’s route from the south, looking down the barrels of Oscarsborg’s guns.

Eriksen's gun

Eriksen's gun

Saying, “Either I will be decorated, or I will be court-martialed”, he made his decision: “Fire!”

Col. Eriksen could not have known that the mission of the German fleet was to capture Oslo; that the Blücher also carried 700 landing troops and huge quantities of munitions; and that attacks on other Norwegian ports – the invasion of Norway – were being conducted at the same time.

One of Oscarsborg’s shots ignited the fuel for the seaplanes and started a massive fire. The Blücher accelerated to get out of the firing sector of the guns but, 13 minutes after the first shot, was struck by two torpedoes from the fortress. An ammunition magazine exploded. The Blücher sank in 210 feet/64 m of water; she still lay there in 2015 as I stood at Col. Eriksen’s vantage point.

The remaining German ships, some of which had also been hit, regrouped, landed troops, called in aerial bombardments and took the fortress and, in concert with airborne troops, went on to capture Oslo the following day. However, the delay afforded by Col. Eriksen’s decision allowed the Norwegian government and royal family to escape the city and eventually to reach safety in Scotland.

After the war, Col. Eriksen commented, “It’s not really hard to fire guns, but it’s immensely hard to make the decision to fire.”

Inevitably, there was second-guessing of Col. Eriksen’s decision and surrender of the fortress. However, he received Norway’s highest-ranking gallantry decoration and, from France, the Croix de guerre and Légion d’honneur. An investigative commission in 1946 cleared his name. Twenty years after his death, his ashes were moved to Norway’s main honorary burial ground and, more recently, King Harald V unveiled a statue of Col. Eriksen at Oscarsborg’s main fort in recognition of his place as a national hero.