The Beginning of a Love of the Sea, part II

Shortly after the chief petty officer’s sea sick bag trick, sea detail was secured and the regular underway forenoon watch (0800-1200) watch was set. Mostly green-faced midshipmen filed into the wardroom.

The midshipman coordinator explained a bunch of basics about life at sea for enlisted and officers, specific rules and expectations, and of course, possible punishment for not behaving like good midshipmen. We were assigned departments and given a schedule for rotating to other departments. i was to begin in operations, rotate to the weapons department after just over two weeks, and finally be assigned to engineering after another three weeks. Before we were escorted to our berthing, which was on the first deck below the fantail near the stern, i was informed my seabag had been delivered to a ship that departed about an hour after us, and the seabag would be transferred at first opportunity.

Thinking that surely would be a day or two, i felt okay. Little did i realize it would be more than three weeks before the seabag was high-lined from the recipient ship to the oiler escorting the carrier force and then high-lined from the oiler to the Lloyd Thomas. i was given the essential of toothpaste, toothbrush, soap to get through the first day while someone was supposed to be considering what they could do for my uniform.

All i knew was i smelled pretty badly and it wasn’t good for someone’s first day at sea. We settled into our berthing and they pretty much gave us the afternoon off except for watch standers. Our new beds, “racks” in Navy jargon consisted of a canvas cloth tied to aluminum frames stacked three deep above three 3×3 foot lockers. If you had the middle or bottom rack (being one of the shorter midshipmen i was elected to have a bottom rack — if the guy above you was in, the sag in the canvas would not allow you to roll over to a new position: you would have to get out of the rack and enter in the position you wanted. i have always been able to take a nap…anywhere, anytime, and this small obstacle did not deter me. After all, i had had a few pretty rough days and little sleep.

But i did get up for the evening mess. i took my place in line on the main deck port side and in due time passed through the mess line. The crew was intent on initiating the midshipmen to being at sea and the cooks were very much into that. The first evening meal was greasy pork chops, beans, and gravy. There may have been some potatoes and white bread, but i don’t recall. When i sat down at one of the mess deck tables, i was not enthusiastic in eating the fare on the compartmentalized metal tray in front of me, but i knew eating was necessary to keep my condition the way it was rather than reaching the condition of nearly all the other midshipmen in the mess. When all of the midshipmen were settled, the sailors had another delight in store. About a half dozen of them took turns walking among  the tables. When they reached where a midshipman was sitting, the sailor would take a sardine he had tied to a string out of a sardine can. Then making sure the sailor was watching, he would swallow the sardine whole. pause, pose, and the draw the sardine back out of his throat and mouth, letting it dangle before repeating the process. We lost everyone again except for two of us.

After the mess, they opened “C-Stores” for cigarettes. i could not believe it. Out at sea, supply sold a carton of cigarettes for one dollar. i stood in line for mine and when the storekeeper informed me they didn’t have Chesterfield Kings, i asked for a carton of Winstons. i got a bad carton and on my next time to C-stores, i went to Pell-Mell’s (another story). But that night, i just wanted to smoke. i needed it…i thought.

My division assignment was radar. That meant i would be working for the radarmen in Combat Information Center (CIC), then quartermasters, and then signalmen. My first watch was the evening watch (2000-2400). The radarmen were smart and nice guys. But i was a midshipman, and their goal was to get all midshipmen seasick that first day. The fact that i smelled like a wet sock that had been in the gym for about two weeks didn’t help.

When i reported to combat, they immediately put me on a radar scope, showed me how to watch the display and report any surface contacts. The watch coordinator put me on a scope where i was facing athwartship (for the landlubbers, it is more difficult for balance, i.e. imbalance induces seasickness, to adjust to the rolling of the ship when facing athwartship rather than fore or aft). The supervisor promised to check on me. They did. About every five to ten minutes, one of the watch standers would come by my radar repeater to check. Each one was smoking a cheap, foul-smelling cigar and ensured, while they were checking on me, their smoke was blowing into my face as much as possible.

So there i was and would be for almost four hours, certain to be sitting in the wrong position, holding on the radar repeater in a dark room with only a few red lights, staring at the cathode ray tube with green sweeps across a black circular screen while the ship rolled back and forth and cigar smoke completely surrounded me after a day of sailor tactics to get me to join my midshipmen buddies hugging the toilets while i smelled like a small goat herd after a rain in my now four-day old clothes. i felt if i was turning green. i could feel clumps in my stomach rising up. i began looking about for a barf bag. i felt a lump in my throat. i wondered how long it would be before, as they say in the Navy i “upchucked.”

Then, sitting there, i told myself i was not going to let these yahoos get pleasure out of seeing me seasick. i swallowed whatever it was coming up, and it went back down. i certainly wasn’t in the best of shape, but i made it through the watch, drank a lot of water from the nearest scuttlebutt when i was relieved by the mid-watch.  And with the nonparallel capability to sleep anywhere, anytime, i hit my rack and was asleep within seconds.

From that moment on the radar watch until as i write right now, i have never been seasick. i have cleaned up from shipmates on numerous occasions. i have been in seas only slightly less hazardous than those in a perfect storm. My biggest problem with motion is getting my landlubber legs back when i hit shore after long periods at sea, not the other way around.

The second morning underway, things began to get a bit better, thanks to the very sailors who were trying to get me sick the night before.

It was better but i certainly wasn’t in love with the sea yet.

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