A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam), Part 5

Leaving Nova Scotia, the battle group began exercises on the way to Bermuda, our other liberty port. i got my first taste of non-judicial punishment, but it was shy of a step.

The midshipmen who returned late on our last night in Sydney went to XOI. The XO meted our our punishment rather than sending us to see the captain for Captain’s Mast as required by UCMJ. Of course, i had no clue this was not proper. We were required to have 10 hours of “extra duty.” So after the evening mess, i performed duties for two hours, menial tasks that were usually not very pleasant. One was to clean the rudder equipment compartment just below the fantail. That particular task was not difficult. The space was already pretty clean, but it was terribly noisy. The big gears creaked and moaned every time the helmsman on the bridge turned the helm that changed the rudder angle. The gears drove the massive twin rudders just aft of the ship’s propellers.

So, being a 3/c middie and already established as a king nap taker, i climbed up on top of the big gear box and went to sleep in spite of the noise. i woke up before my extra duty period was over.

* * *

It is only a faint recall, but at some point in time, i wondered why the rules for midshipmen was different than the rules for the commanding officer. i do think the incident affected me throughout my Navy career. i tried, mostly if not all successfully, to not break any of the rules and regulations that i expected my subordinates to follow.

i again was learning about the Navy, but what i was learning wasn’t on the Navy’s list of learning objectives. i realized that almost the entire crew were caucasian. The two or three blacks on board were cooks. At the time, the only rating Filipinos could hold was steward. Stewards manned the wardroom, providing food services and butler type services for the officers, such as shining shoes, making racks, and collecting then returning the laundry.

* * *

i was essentially working as an enlisted man. i was transferred to my final department, Engineering; somehow i spent over six weeks in the department, a much longer time than in the other two departments.

i was first sent to main control. One of two engine rooms, main control was the brains of the propulsion system. The control board received orders for speed changes via the engine order telegraph signals from the lee helmsman on the bridge and released the proper amount of steam into the turbines, then to the reduction gears that in turn rotated the propeller shaft to the correct number of revolutions. Main control provided the power for the starboard shaft while the after engine room provided the port shaft’s power.

On my first work day in the holes (our name for the engineering spaces), i was immediately the target of a joke. i should have known, but i had’t caught on to the fun the enlisted were having. The Leading Petty Officer (LPO) stopped my while i was surface cleaning a pump. He told me the space was out of relative bearing grease and directed me to go to A gang (the auxiliary equipment work group and get some from them.

i responded aye, aye, climbed the ladder to the main deck and headed aft to the auxiliary shop. “No, we are all out. The ship fitter’s shop should have some. i acknowledge and headed forward in the main deck passageway, when it struck me: there is no such thing as “relative bearing grease.” Relative bearing is the direction in degrees to a ship or an object. i whacked myself on the forehead for not catching it early and mulled over what i should do. Being a championship napper, i turned around, headed aft, down the ladder to the midshipman berthing. i found my rack and crawled in.

About an hour later, a third class machinist mate from main control shook me awake.

“What are you doing here,” he demanded.

i explained i had been all over the ship looking for relative bearing grease and was too embarrassed when i couldn’t find any to return and face the music.

We went back to main control. All of the machinist mates were pleased i had seen through their ruse. We had a good laugh and went back to work.

* * *

To be continued…

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