Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Naples sea story

Wait a minute - where are the pictures?

So I’ve got a bunch of sea stories. That’s what they are called, sea stories. Usually told with much emphasis (hard to do when typing them) and sometimes with a few embellishments. After all, you weren’t there, so how would you know if it really happened or not? (but I would never change things. No, not me) OK, so here are two:

The sailors on most cruises can be classified into two major groups: the ones that are religious and when on shore make the tours of the churches, and the ones that drink, and on shore make the tours of the bars. Usually it was the group in the bars that were the most trouble. I don’t remember too many brawls in churches. On shore patrol duty in Majorca one fine sunny day I was posted in the middle of the ’gut’. That’s the term used for the heart of that area of town that caters to the drinker and carouser, not the average tourist. Come on, every town has one. In small towns it might be as small as the one block where the bar and package store is located. In Majorca it was one skinny street. (sorry, don’t remember the real name of the street). The gut was easy to find in each port, just follow the biggest group of sailors getting off the ship. But I was standing on this skinny strip with my partner, always do shore patrol in twos, never alone. We were posted across from a hotel that seemed to rent the rooms by ten minute periods. Yes, when sailors go out to drink there are usually ‘those women’ working in the bars. We were standing there for several hours, leaning up against the wall just hoping nothing would happen. Not nice to break up a bar full of drunken sailors fighting. One thing worse, when it was a bar half full of drunken sailors fighting a bar with the other half full of drunken Marines. Only thing worse than that was when the police tried to break it up and the sailors and Marines grouped together against the cops. But that’s why the shore patrol was there, to get in between the sailors and the local police.

Back to the street. We were standing in the warm sunshine, watching the parade of girls pulling drunken sailors down the street from the bars and into the hotel. A few minutes inside and they were back out again, usually the girl first, going back to find another customer. The two of us were commenting on the quality of the women wandering back and forth and how drunk some sailors would have to be in order to go by with some of them. Not every woman that inhabits bars and makes a living off of sailors is attractive, but when you are drunk enough almost anyone is attractive enough. It was probably about two in the afternoon. Then one really attractive woman came, pulling along a really drunk sailor. We hadn’t seen her before, not too bad looking. They went inside. After a short time the sailor came out, pulling up his pants. He drunkenly complained to us – ‘she cheated me – it’s a g.. d.. MAN!’. Very drunkenly saying this. My partner and I laughed, remembering what she looked like and trying to tell him he was too drunk. Then she came down, adjusting her clothes. She complained to us that he had not paid her. They started arguing. Then she hit him in the chest, hard, and in a very deep male voice said ‘come on, pay me!’. Then realizing what ‘she’ had just done, adjusted her voice upwards to sound feminine again, said to us highly ‘make him pay me’. Well, in that two seconds something changed, when that deep bass voice said ‘pay me’ we realized that the sailor was correct. My first experience in seeing that not all boys like to be boys. And some sailors can get really drunk and still be able to walk, and still be able to figure out what was going on, eventually.

Second sea story:

A few months later we were anchored in Naples bay. I was on board, on duty working the night shift. So I was lying in bed trying to sleep right after lunch. Then the fire bells sounded and a voice came on the PA system – “fire – fire – fire – fire in 3-240-02. All fire control parties go to 3-240-02”. That was the standard announcement when there was a fire. There were quite a few fires on board, so it was not an infrequent occurrence. Usually it was just an iron somebody left on burning some pants, or an electrical short putting out some smoke. If you were not in a fire party (the name for the fire fighters on ship) you would always listen for the location. If it were near you then you would get dressed and get out of the way, going just far enough to be of help if it got worse. Every sailor went through fire fighting school so that anyone around could help if the fire party needed it. Being in aviation we also received instructions and practice in putting out fuel fires around aircraft.

This was nowhere near my compartment. As I described earlier, I was at about 03-90-16, five floors up and several hundred feet forward of the announced location. After five minutes came fire bells again, and the same announcement. This was a little unusual, a fire that took a second call for a group to go help. Must mean the fire was a little out of control. Five minutes later came a third call for the same location. This was getting serious. Six months on the ship and there never was a fire before that required three announcements.

At sea a fire is the worse thing that can happen on a ship. Yes, there is a lot of water around, but it is supposed to be outside the ship, not inside putting out fires. Usually fires produced lots of smoke, which is the main part of a fire that kills people. And military ships did not have windows or portholes, so all the air and smoke and heat was confined inside. And there are lots of things that can explode on a war vessel.

So when the third fire call came I sat up and tried to figure out where the fire was. Level 3 – that was just under the mess hall on level 2. Frame 240 – just ahead of the aft mess hall about the middle of the ship. 02 – that was close to the center. Yes, there was a ladder there, going down to a locked door guarded by a Marine.

The Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy, even though they try to deny it. Every Navy ship in the US has Marines on board. The Marines call the Navy ‘their transportation department’. The Navy uses Marines as guards and ship and base security. That was the original division, the sailors sailed the ships and used the ship’s weapons, and the Marines did the fighting on shore. There were Marines posted in front of the captain’s quarters, and at strategic places on board the ship. So if this was a door that a Marine was in front of then it was something critical. Oh, yea. This was the armory where they kept those 100 ‘special’ weapons they loaded on the last night before we left.

Carriers were really nothing more than a big bomb. With 100 war planes that required jet fuel, huge fuel tanks for the ship’s engines, bombs and rockets and bullets for the planes. Shells for the ship’s own guns. Lots of things that can blow up. Think, if just one plane could carry nine tons of bombs, and we could launch 30 planes every ninety minutes, for days at a time between replenishing, how much explosives did that mean were on board? But these were those ‘special’ bombs. The ones the special crews practiced loading in the back of the hanger bay.

A few minutes later came another announcement. On ships each announcement was prefaced with the blowing of a ‘pipe’ – that unique Navy whistle thingy that Boatswain Mates learned to blow in their training. Kind of like the army that uses bugle calls to signal different things during a battle. There were many patterns, each indicated something different: information, commands, warnings, etc. After the whistle somebody would announce what we should do. The one we liked in port was the call every morning at 10 that liberty was now commencing, and the port or starboard group could now go ashore.

This whistle call was a new one. The announcement said to “make emergency preparations for getting under way. Prepare to cut loose the anchor”. Now this is something unusual. A carrier has two big (really big) anchors that hold the ship in place when in port. Usually only one anchor is used, and depending on direction of the tide the ship swings back and forth slowly pointing into the current. The chain holding the anchor is also big. We could only see the anchors hanging on the front of the ship, but I went up to the chain room (way forward, right under the front of the flight deck) and was able to sit on the chain. The links were each about six feet long, made of metal about two feet in diameter. I guess it takes a lot to hold a ship that size. When leaving port it usually took quite a while to pull up an anchor. So I guessed that leaving one behind was fairly expensive, and not done lightly, wanting to save the twenty minutes it would take to pull it up. I don’t even know how they could break a chain that size.

We could hear the engines starting up; they made a real rumble. There were four big propellers (those I had never seen) and an engine driving each one. I figure it takes a heck of a lot of horsepower to make a boat this big move through the water at forty miles an hour. And we would be leaving behind that half of the crew that was ashore. Guess this is why they keep half of us on board.

OK, so putting this all together, it did not seem very good. Three announcements pulling all the fire parties from all over the ship down to a room a Marine was guarding. Getting ready to leave. And getting ready to cut off the anchor. My conclusion was that we were about to make a really big hole in the water, a really really big hole, leaving a mushroom cloud behind. And the captain did not want to take Naples along with the ship. The Italian government probably would not like it if there were a big chunk taken out of their coastline. Better to try and get out a little bit first. Yea, we hear that those things are safe and can’t go off in a fire and all, but 100 bombs would leave a heck of a lot of radiation behind even if the big part of them didn’t go off. There is still quite a lot of basic explosives in every one that starts the process and would spread stuff around.

But as you can tell it worked out all right. After all, I’m here typing this. Shortly after the last announcement, as the ship was starting to move forward to put slack on the chain, we heard another announcement, to ‘stand down’ from getting under way. Sounds like they finally had the fire under control and the threat of explosion was past.

OK, so that was not a typical sea story. A typical sea story usually starts with “Now, I’m not about to sh*t you” and ends with “no sh*t”. Kind of like “once upon a time” for fairy tales. And a typical sea story is either funny or a brag. Neither one of those here, sorry. Go back and read the first story if you want funny. Well, it was funny to me, not to the guy that thought he was about to have some fun.

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