A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam), Part 6

This is the real part 6 of my serial book. i hope i haven’t confused too many folks with my gaffe.

i was beginning to get the hang of being on a Navy ship.

i don’t recall how it happen but i befriended a petty officer, a second class cook. He was one of the few black sailors on the Lloyd Thomas — i don’t recall any names of anyone on that cruise, although if i try real hard i might come up with some of the names of the midshipmen. The cook had been in 18 years, it was tough to get promoted back then, and was looking forward to going home when he retired (sic: you “completed active duty service” was what really happened as one, even officers, didn’t really retire with the pensions back then. One had to get a new job, start a new career. He was going home. As i recall, his home was a small town in Illinois.

Another second class petty officer i met was a BT, that’s “Boiler Tender” for old hands, and “Boiler Technician” for the newer sailors. This guy also had 18 years of service. He had made it up to first class three times, had been busted a bunch of times, and sort of settled in to being a second class until he got out. i still can see him one evening. He was sitting on the bottom edge of the hatch on the starboard side of the main deck. The hatch opened a small chamber where the deck hatch to the to the after fireroom was in the forward part of the chamber. It was designed that way so the deck hatch would not be subject to waves. i was walking forward on the main deck when i spotted him. He didn’t have the watch, taking a cigarette break and getting cool on the weather deck before going back down to the fireroom heat to work on a pump.

He, the cook, and a large number of the crew were single and lived on board. He told me he didn’t go ashore much, he liked his job, had no family, and never had any luck with women. It struck me he had landed in his briar patch.

* * *

During operations, there was a plan to transfer all of the midshipmen to the USS Intrepid (CV 11). She was the flagship of the flotilla on the cruise. Early one morning, they high-lined our 21 midshipmen over to the carrier. They had set up tours through the ship. True to form, another middie (i cannot remember his name right now, but i believe he was from Ole Miss) and i wandered off from the group. Also true to form, we got lost in the vast number of compartments and ladders on the huge ship. After the noon mess, we were to be transferred back to the Thomas, again via high line. When they mustered us by the high-line station on the hangar deck, one deck below the flight deck, where aircraft are stored and maintained. The muster revealed two midshipmen were missing.

We had finally gotten our bearings and were headed to the hangar deck when they passed the word for Midshipman Jewell and whatever-his-name-was to report to the hangar deck immediately. The announcement came from the 1MC, the loudspeaker system that broadcast throughout the ship. Relieved but a bit embarrassed, we rejoined the group and fell in line, the last two in the line.

A high-line is a ship-to-ship rig used to transfer cargo and personal. For personnel being transferred, they are seated in a bosun chair. The chair hangs from a device with rollers that rides on the high-line and is pulled by the inhaul or outhaul line from one ship to the other. With a personnel transfer, the inhaul/outhaul lines are required to be manned by personnel, not using a motor winch or other mechanical source for pulling the lines. It was a safety measure, supposedly, but pulling a man or two men in a bosun chair between two ships on such a requires rigorous effort by the line handlers. Destroyers would muster an “all hands” working party, i.e. every one on board not involved in replenishment stations, to man the inhaul/outhaul lines. It still required a lot of physical effort.

i think the other late middie’s nickname was Mo, and i know he received his NROTC commission as a Marine. i later met him for a drink when he was stationed at the Naval Weapons Station in Yorktown, Virginia. We were the last of eleven personnel transfers back to the Lloyd Thomas. We were situated in a double bosun chair. For those who might remember, such a transfer would be considered a Disney Land “E” ride.The double bosun chair was used for several more years until two admirals in one double bosun chair, were dunked during a transfer. Soon after, the double chairs disappeared from Navy transfers. Hmm…wonder why?

But they were still around when Mo and i were transferred. It had been a long day, and very, very tiring for the Thomas line handlers. Our chair was lifted up, the signals were given. Mo and i glided along the 120 feet between the ship quite nicely, the two of us unaware the line handlers were exhausted. When we were about twenty feet from our landing area, our chair stopped moving. The line handlers had stopped pulling. They were worn out. Mo and i dangled there about forty feet from the swirling Atlantic between two ships.

It seemed then and has increased over the passage of time that we hung there for an hour or so. It was more likely to been five minutes, if that, before the working party regained enough strength to haul Mo and i in our chair to safety.

There are several other incidents with high-line transfers my tale of the sea.

I was glad this one was over. Mo and i vowed we would stay with tour groups on any other such events involving high line transfers.

to be continued…

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