Life on the high seas aboard a can wrecker during the Cold War (2023)

In my previous article, I described two intensedays frantically chasing a Soviet submarinein the Straits of Gibraltar in 1967. I was a junior seaman serving aboard the USSSteinaker-the era of World War IIGearclass destroyer I sailed on for two years.Now I would like to describe some of our other adventures on the high seas and what life was like aboard a destroyer at that time.

Like a living thing that breathes

A warship likeSteinakerit is never left unattended or completely turned off. Walking around the ship, you would always be aware of the noise of the engines and the powerful exhaust fans that expelled hot air from deep within the ship's engineering spaces. You could always feel small vibrations, as if the ship was alive, and in a way it was. The ship was powered by superheated, high-pressure steam produced by two large boilers that were heated with a thick, foul-smelling type of oil called bunker fuel.

The boilers were housed in their own space. When I was a new crew member I took a tour of the boiler room. I remember a crewman leaning close to a steam line and lighting his cigarette by touching the line. The heat was intense in that compartment – ​​in some areas up to 150 degrees. The inlet end of the exhaust fans was in the boiler room and you could stand under them to try and keep cool. The steam was piped to the engine room, where two turbines and probably other equipment such as generators turned. It would then be returned to the boiler room to be reheated.

What we normally think of as steam is actually water vapor suspended in steam. Steam is a dry, colorless gas. When you heat water to the boiling point, it changes state from liquid to gas and you produce steam, but it doesn't contain much energy. If you lower the temperature even slightly, the state will change from dry gas to liquid again. To make steam useful, the energy needs to be greatly increased by increasing the temperature and pressure. In this way, it can release tremendous energy as it spins the turbine and still remain a dry gas.

USSSteinaker,your soggy bow – a normal occurrence.,USN

The ship produced 60,000 horsepower from two steam lines about six inches in diameter. It is difficult to understand the power of superheated high pressure steam. You cannot see the steam. This makes a leak extremely dangerous. A leak would create a huge white cloud of steam in the compartment, but the actual steam leak could be many meters away because the white cloud would only form when the steam cools and the water starts changing from a gas state to microscopic liquid droplets. .

When looking for a steam leak, boiler room personnel were taught to wave a broom in front of them as they slowly approached a possible source. When they waved the broom in front of the leak, it cut all the bristles, leaving a stump at the end of the pole.

These days, US Navy destroyers are powered by large gas turbine engines – just like the engines you might see on a large passenger jet, but designed to turn a shaft rather than produce thrust. Gas turbines take up much less space, and the ship should be able to start from a cold start faster than a ship that has to run its boilers and produce steam slowly. The cost of running a gas turbine powered vessel must be staggering. Bunker fuel is cheap, but jet fuel is not.

Clearly, over the last five decades almost everything has changed on a destroyer – propulsion, weapons systems, sensors, navigation and communications. But some things don't. The mission to project power and protect the shipping lanes remains the same, and destroyers continue to cruise to the same destinations as we did.

The ocean remains the same, and the Navy still faces the same design problem – how do you cram a lot of sailors onto a relatively small ship?

Challenging living conditions

In the photo above,Steinakeris sailing at moderate speed in calm seas. I spent half of my two yearsSteinakerliving in the forward berthing compartment, located near where you see “863” painted on the bow. In strong weather, the bow constantly rose (as pictured) and then dipped into the next wave and was often completely submerged. Tons of water rolled across the deck, hitting the gun's forward mount, and were hurled into the air, where they landed on top of level 03, where the bridge and Combat Information Center (CIC) were located.

More on that later…

Sea states are described using the Beaufort Scale, which goes from zero to 12. In the image, I'd say maybe it was a three on the scale, and that's probably an exaggeration. Here are the descriptions of Maritime States Three and Twelve, for comparison:


My point is that destroyers can be aggressive ships even in calm conditions, but why do I mention sea state 12? WhySteinakerI went through a hurricane while on board. Ships do not normally sail in the middle of a hurricane, but the hurricane's trajectory is difficult to predict andSteinakerit was not the first ship to move to avoid a hurricane, only for the storm to change course and destroy it.

In our case, I remember being tied up on a small dock in Key West when we got word that a hurricane was increasing in intensity and heading straight for us. Ships don't want to get caught in shallow or restricted water when a big storm approaches, so we head east to get some sea room, only to have the storm unexpectedly turn east and run us over.

I remember the anemometer in Combat (Combat Information Center, or CIC) hovering around 75 knots and occasionally peaking around 100 knots. Honestly, I don't remember it being a big deal. Of course, that was over 50 years ago, and I remember the definition of “the good old days” – a good imagination and a bad memory. Maybe I was terrified while trapped in a windowless compartment, listening to tons of water pouring down on us and holding on for dear life.

All CIC chairs had seat belts for a reason!

We had a speaker system on the ship called the 1MC. I just Googled it and found that “MC” is short for “Main Circuit”. Anyway, it was common to hear: “Now listen to this. All crew stay clear of weather decks while maneuvering at high speed in rough seas.” I took this photo with my little Minox camera showing why you should heed this warning:

A view of the ocean from theSteinakerin difficult time.,Courtesy of the Author

This image was typical of what I remember – the sea was always a dull gray and so was the sky. The only time in two years that I saw blue water was on a short trip to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The water in the bay was beautiful and the bottom was white sand — that visit is for another time. …

There were 21 of us accommodated in the front compartment, which was the size of an ordinary living room in an apartment. Each person had a rack that consisted of a tubular aluminum frame with a tarp stretched tightly inside it. On top of the tarp was a thin mattress encased in a “fart bag” that looked like a large pillowcase.

The shelves were stacked three high and lined up in rows. Some rows were independent and others were fixed to the bulkheads. I was in the middle between the bottom and top shelves. This was an advantage as I was less likely to break my neck when thrown off the rack and fall onto the deck during a storm.

My row of shelves was attached to the bulkhead with hinges, and the outer part was held in place with a chain at each end. When I lay on my back, with my elbows at my sides, I could touch the top guy's mattress with my fingers.

Between me and the bulkhead was a high-pressure steam line that ran from the boiler room to the engine room. It was insulated with asbestos and was about six inches in diameter. At my feet was a small fan. At night, when I managed to sleep, I would stretch occasionally and stick my thumb in the fan.

Enlisted docking racks similar to those found inGearclass destroyers,NHHC

Below the lower shelves were small cupboards where we kept all our belongings. If the bottom rack was occupied, you wouldn't be able to get to your closet. This happened frequently because we weren't all in the same lookout sections – half were on guard while the other half slept. Then, out of necessity, you can stand guard, leaving your little “asshole kit” or paperback book on the shelf. Our boss made regular visits to our compartment and collected all the loose items he found and locked them in a cupboard he had confiscated. Every week there was a reckoning and we were given two extra hours of work for each item he collected.

We soon realized the boss's schedule – the reckoning always took place on a Friday, so every Thursday we simply pulled the hinge pin out of his locker, redistributed the confiscated items, then replaced the hinge pin. The boss was no fool. He soon discovered our scheme and added a second lock. He insisted that the lights in the compartment be always on during the day and that no towels or other items could be hung on the shelves above to block the light. He was loved by everyone and we all enjoyed his little torments. Eventually it came to the attention of the officers that some of us seemed to have a bad attitude, but I digress...

Imagine yourself utterly exhausted after long waking hours and desperately trying to get some sleep. In wet weather, the bow would rise and fall about 15 feet as the ship plowed through the waves. One second you were pressed into your cradle as the bow climbed the side of a wave, and the next you were floating weightlessly as the bow dropped into a dip. The only way to not get thrown off the rack and onto the deck was to sleep on your stomach and wrap your arms and legs around the rack frame like a spider.

Each rack had a few straps you could use to tie yourself together, but nobody seemed to like them. You could also ask a shipmate to tilt your rack up and shorten the chains so that you are trapped but not able to get out on your own, and that could be a big problem.

To these many layers of misery must be added the constant sound of the entire submerged compartment and the noise of the sonar, which was not far below us. In fact, after a while I found the sonar quiet. About once every five seconds, it made the sound you hear in every submarine war movie you've ever seen. Since my rack was right up against the bulkhead, I could hear the sonar pulse and the echoes reverberating.

Sometime during my two years I was also assigned to live in the aft docking bay. This was infinitely better, without constant movement up and down, and on the edge of the ship relative to the sonar dome.

Uma enorme tempestade

So far, I have only complained about the misery and normal physical discomfort of everyday life. Now I want to talk about onestorm! You might be wondering: what is he going to complain about now? I'm sure destroyers are completely safe in all weather conditions, right?


For example, on December 18, 1944, Task Force 38 was hit by Typhoon Cobra – sometimes called “Typhoon Halsey” – off the Philippines. The USS Destroyerscasco(DD-350),Spence(DD-512), eMonaghan(DD-354) capsized and sank. Seven hundred and ninety men were killed and 80 wounded.

A destroyer can only roll so far before capsizing. I think we've come pretty close in the story I'm going to tell you now.

During my first Mediterranean cruise, we were tied up alongside this magnificent cruise ship - theMiguel Angelo. I took this photo while we were on the pier in Genoa, Italy. That day I had the opportunity to climb up to the surface search radar platform on the mainmast with a shipmate to do some maintenance. I remember looking atMiguel Angeloand commenting that it was so big that the main deck was taller than us!

the cruise shipMiguel Angeloin Genoa, Italy, in 1966.,Courtesy of the Author
To give you an idea of ​​the height of the cruise ship's hull, this is how it looked from where the author was viewing the ship.Courtesy of the Author

On April 7, 1966, we both left Genoa and headed for the Atlantic.Steinakerwas going home. Five days later, on the morning of April 12th, we were both out in the middle of the Atlantic and caught in a monster storm. The waves were huge – the size of large buildings.Steinakerit had 60,000 shaft horsepower, twin screws, and twin rudders. Normally this would result in a very capable and manoeuvrable ship. But that day we were completely helpless. One minute we'd be pointed north, the next east - totally out of control. The strangest thing was that there was no wind worth mentioning and the sky was blue.

Whatever caused these huge waves is gone.

When we were on top of a wave, we could see for miles. There was a large merchant ship about a kilometer away. I remember seeing it with the bow buried in a wave and the bronze propeller completely out of the water, turning slowly and with the sun shining on the blades. Then we would slip into a depression and lose sight of the ship. The next time we went up, that ship would be pointed in a completely different direction. We were both in trouble.

The small destroyer, seen here before the update, wasn't the smoothest ride when waves were

Above the bridge windows, in the center, was an inclinometer, which consisted of a curved glass tube filled with an amber liquid. Inside the tube was a black marble that could roll freely to the lowest point of the tube. The inclinometer was marked in degrees. When sliding sideways through a wave, we rotated to starboard 56 degrees. We were told that we would turn somewhere around 65 degrees. Time seemed to freeze. Would we straighten up or turn around? I can still see the little bubbles in the inclinometer tube in my head.

With a 56-degree rotation, it's easier to walk on the bulkhead than on the deck. These extreme rolls caused everything to fly in all directions. I ended up on my ass, leaning against the starboard bridge wing door, at the lowest point formed by the sloping deck and the starboard bulkhead, with a pile of loose items in my lap. I remember craning my neck to look out the bridge wing window. All I could see was a huge, malevolent wall of gray water stretching above us, disappearing from view. We never practiced abandoning ship and I don't recall ever seeing a life jacket. We had some lifeboats that had to be lowered by pulleys. Totally useless in rough seas.

It was clear that we would all go down with the ship or make it out alive. It was just a matter of physics.

Meanwhile, inMiguel Angelo, a huge wave broke through the main deck and crushed much of the ship. Four passengers died and 50 were injured. The damage was extensive. The ship managed to limp into New York Harbor.Miguel Angeloestimated the height of the wave at 18 meters, or 60 feet. Sebastian Junger described this storm in his bookthe perfect storm.

This photo was taken from the bridge inMiguel Angeloduring the storm. Remember thisMiguel AngeloThe main deck was higher than the top of theSteinakermain mast!Courtesy of the Author

Fine dining, Destroyer style

food onSteinakerit was... different from my mom's cooking. Sometimes cooks got bored and used food coloring to dye our scrambled eggs bright green. They also had a habit of serving greasy, slimy food when the weather was exceptionally bad. This leads directly to another topic – seasickness. But first, a little more reminiscence.

I remember the mashed potato very fondly. Potatoes were stored on the main deck in large cupboards with many holes for air circulation. When the weather was bad, they were drenched in seawater, but the potatoes didn't seem to mind. Mashed potatoes were universally good. I don't think the cooks bothered to peel them, so there were little pieces of peel mixed in. I have to say, my favorite ingredient for dinner was that mashed potato.

In my previous article about the encounter with the Russian submarine Foxtrot, I described two very intense days, but there were also times when we were simply cruising independently through the night. At times like this, things were very relaxed. Most of the crew would be asleep, and my world would consist of the three lookouts, the bridge announcer, and whoever was in combat with me. We were all on the same sound-powered voice circuit. I remember spending time asking everyone a puzzle, like “I have ten coins in my pocket. They add up to sixty-four cents. What are they?"

I would also try to keep the watchmen company, as I had already been one of them in my short career. If there was a surface contact on the radar that I thought was visible, I would give the lookout facing that direction the bearing. The horizon visible from her height above the sea was about 13 miles to the top of another ship's mast lights. If you had very good eyesight, you might catch a glimpse of them momentarily. In any case, occasionally, around three in the morning, the smell of baking bread would find its way to the upper deck of the ship. One of us would go down and get a hot loaf of bread from the cook, along with a block of butter and a pot of jam.

Man, that hot bun was yummy! I remember rare moments like that fondly.

In general, food – especially perishables – is loaded at the last minute before travel. As a low-ranking crew member, I was assigned to all workgroups, and carrying provisions was commonplace. I remember bringing a big box of frozen meat on board. On the box was written: “USDA Good”. Not sure if you can find this note at the supermarket. Must be a special order item.

Milk deserves a special category all to itself. I think the Navy made sure that the freshest milk was always delivered to the ship at the last minute. Once underway, one of two possibilities would happen: either we would run out or the milk would start to go bad. In the latter case, cooks would try to avoid the inevitable through a series of clever measures. At first adding a little canned milk can mask the taste and slightly brown color. Eventually this would no longer pass the gag test and they would have to add sugar and maybe some powdered milk. Finally, it became a lost cause.

When the milk ran out, other substitutes were called for. We used to have those little cereal packs with ten options in a box. For the Navy, they were packaged for shipping by sea, covering them with some kind of tar paper and then vacuum sealing them in aluminum foil. We must have bought a batch that had been in storage since the Korean War, because the tar paper flavor was ingrained in the corn flakes. One morning I remember eating a bowl of tar-flavored corn flakes and purple Kool Aid instead of milk.

Steinaker some time after its fleet modernization revitalization and upgrade in 1965.,NHHC

Usually, the new lookout section can go to the front of the food line, eat, and then go to the CIC to replace the lookouts, who then have to run downstairs to get what's left. I remember arriving one day at the end of the food line very hungry. The evening meal was supposed to be chicken stew. When I got to the front of the pot, I looked inside. It looked like dirty dishes with a few small flakes of meat floating in it. But at the bottom I could see a big, juicy piece of meat. I told the cook I wanted that piece. An argument ensued, in which he wanted to know why I should be given special treatment. I insisted and eventually he relented and granted my request.

I soon joined my companions and began trying to cut my big, juicy piece of meat. I remember my knife was serrated and felt like scraping off crumbs. I tried to reorient the knife to cut the meat with the grains, but it didn't seem to have grains. Eventually I turned it over and there was a print on it.

I was trying to eat part of the cardboard box the chicken came in.

The largest compartment on the ship was where we ate and was directly above the central docking compartment. There were long tables running across the room from one side to the other. Food was served on metal trays, as schoolchildren probably use. The edges of the table were lined with a small edge to help keep the trays from slipping in bad weather. This happened so often that we had a name for it – Chow Course.

One night spaghetti was the main course and I was hungry. I stacked my tray and found a seat at the end of a table. I placed my tray on the floor, judged the ship to be fairly stable, and headed for thebug juicedistributor. Just as I was returning to my seat, the ship took a sickening turn that tilted the table down from my side. The tray began to slide – slowly at first. As it picked up speed, each person simply lifted the tray off the table to let it pass. By the time he got to the other side of the table, he was already moving! It hit that little lip like a ski jump and was catapulted into the air. As if in slow motion, he floated through the air without missing a single noodle and dropped straight through the hatch leading to the central docking bay. Time has stopped. … Imagine the surprise of the quartermaster's mate when a fully loaded tray of spaghetti came straight down the hatch and landed right on his head!

That wasn't the only unexpected move, and before long, people were slipping and sliding all over the place. Pasta and spaghetti covered the deck. It started to look like a mud wrestling competition with noodles instead of mud.

Just another Navy day at sea on a destroyer.


How about that for a sequel? When I got to the ship, they were already preparing for my first Mediterranean cruise. One of the most common forms of entertainment on any ship is to mess with newcomers. I was almost immediately sent looking for a pot of “Relative bearing grease.

I was learning to fly before joining the Navy and I knew what relative orientation was, so they switched to plan B: constantly talking about how rough the ocean would be when we left. The goal was to get inside the rookie's head and get him worried. Once you get that, nature will do the rest.

I didn't fall for that either. I had experience. When I was a kid, my parents moved us to New York for a few years and I had ridden the Staten Island Ferry several times. I was never nauseous.

I was confident.

The waterway from Naval Base Norfolk to the Atlantic Ocean is long and complicated. This entire complex set of waterways is called the Hampton Roads. It takes a while to reach the ocean. Once underway, I spent time convincing myself that the ship was no different from the Staten Island Ferry. Eventually we reached the ocean and I realized I was in trouble.

It wasn't long before I leaned to one side and prayed to the god of seasick sailors, O'Roark. That was the only time I missed lunch, but I spent most of the remaining two years with a headache.

There's a reason for that. Fear of the unknown and lack of experience are huge problems, but easily overcome. Once you've been through bad weather a few times, you'll know what to expect.

You can also take precautions. We used to eat a whole box of saltines before heading out after spending time in port. The theory was that having a big lump of cookie dough in your stomach, rather than stomach contents spilling out with regular food, would help.

Comparison of two US NaviesGearWorld War II class destroyers and after Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM) I refit in the early 1960s. USSSarsfield(DD-837) was shown on 23 August 1945, about three weeks after its commissioning. She has three 12.7 cm/38 twin mounts, 16 40 mm Bofors AA guns and 5 53.3 cm torpedo tubes between the funnels. ussRowan(DD-782) is shown around early 1965, after her FRAM I refurbishment: she has two 12.7 cm mounts, Mk 32 torpedo launchers, SPS-37 radar, ASROC launcher between the funnels, and a helicopter anti-submarine Drone (DASH ) hangar and cockpit aft,Wikimedia Commons

The next story takes place somewhere in the middle of the ocean at night and in bad weather. It makes no difference where it happened, and I tell this not to show that I had an iron stomach or that I was tougher than everyone else, but to prove that there is a very strong mind-over-matter aspect to motion sickness.

It was a miserable night. The motion of the ship was extremely nauseating. There is a better course to navigate for a smoother ride, but that might not be the direction you need to go. As seems to be the case in my stories, I was on the surface search radar and responsible for avoiding collisions with other ships. I don't remember, but if we were operating with an aircraft carrier task force, a lot would have happened. Everything conspired to make us all want to die. Water was probably being dumped over our compartment, the wind was probably howling, and the smell of vomit was strong. Everyone at CIC was sick but me. This included our divisional officer, who was lying face down on the deck with his head near the entrance to the CIC. Anyone who entered would slam the door on his head. He was lying next to a garbage can and every now and then he would lift his head to vomit into the can. I had a terrible headache, but I wasn't incapacitated for the simple reason that I couldn't afford it. The safety of the ship depended on me.

If someone else were in that position, they wouldn't have the luxury of getting sick either.

Mind over matter.

More random memories...

When we were in a foreign port, the crew could disembark after completing their tasks for the day, but we all had to return by midnight. The average age of the young enlisted man was probably around 20, and most had never left home before joining the Navy. His favorite activity seemed to be finding the nearest bar and getting as drunk as possible.

Some thought starting a big bar fight would only add to the fun. I didn't drink, but wandering around the harbor area of ​​a strange foreign port alone in the middle of the night was a bad idea. There were a lot of people who didn't like American sailors. So a lot of times I ended up in a bar anyway. I could act as the designated sober guy for some of my mates.

In addition to the small individual lockers we each had, there was a communal closet where we kept our big pea coats. Each was stored in a zip-lock plastic bag. I mention this because, one morning after waking up after we had all disembarked the night before, I mentioned that I had a vivid dream. I dreamed that someone had pissed in the pea coat closet. It was such a vivid dream that I felt compelled to look.

Guess it wasn't a dream after all.

The bottom of one bag was swollen with what looked like a gallon of urine. The bottom of the coat was immersed and acted as a wick, so that the entire bottom of the coat was saturated.

No problem. It wasn't my purse!

Another sea story. This also takes place in our docking bay. The aisle between the rows of shelves was narrow. On the top shelf of a row lived a temperamental sailor. Next to him was a sailor who was snoring loudly. I dreamed that they were fighting in the middle of the night. In the morning, the snoring sailor complained that he had been attacked by bedbugs during the night because his face was covered with welts. I looked at the grumpy guy's hanger and there was a metal hanger bent like a pretzel.

I was the only one who knew what had happened while the two slept. I kept it to myself.

OK …Anothersea ​​history. At some point, a first-class electronics technician climbed aboard. First class is a fairly high rating – an E-6. It takes years to reach that rank, but he has served his entire career in the Navy up until that point working ashore. This would be his first experience on a ship. He was a genuinely nice guy and wanted to start off on the right foot with the rest of the team, so he asked if there was anything he could do.

Big mistake!

a hand paintedSteinakervillage.,NHHC

One of the first things you learn is never to volunteer unless you are extremely bored and want to roll the dice. In any case, it was suggested that he could stand guard on the bow, which would be much appreciated. Of course, having never served on a ship, he didn't know how we got our mail at sea. It was explained that the Navy always knew where we were and what direction we were headed, so they could pack our mail in a waterproof bag attached to a bright red buoy with a flashing light attached and drop it off a plane directly in our path. It was such a masterful load of bullshit I almost believed it!

Standing at the bow, looking for the mail buoy, you are visible to everyone on the bridge. Nobody stays in the bow because it's cold and windy and you're going to get splashed even on a good day.

I think he lasted at least an hour.

That might have been a record!

Second cruise to the Mediterranean and then the Gulf

My aforementioned encounter with a Russian submarine Foxtrot occurred as we were heading out to the Mediterranean Sea through the Straits of Gibraltar. Once in the Mediterranean, we made several port calls – probably Italy, France, Greece and Spain. Then we cross the Suez Canal to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. If you've never been to that part of the world in summer, you don't know what the word “hot” means.

The ship had a seawater inlet near the bottom, from which water could be drawn in to feed the evaporators and produce fresh water. I think it was probably about ten feet below the surface. I remember being told that the seawater injection temp was 96 degrees. Fortunately, during a fleet rehabilitation and modernization upgrade, the ship's berthing compartments, critical machinery spaces and CIC were climate-controlled.

One of the favorite dispensers in the cafeteria area was an ice cream machine that produced an ice cream-like frozen vanilla concoction. The prepackaged mix came in a five-gallon bladder inside a cardboard box. It had to be kept refrigerated. As the saying goes, bread tends to land butter-side down, so of course the fridge broke and those soft bladders started to ferment. As the mixture began to rot, gas was created and the plastic bags began to expand and rupture the cartons. It was only a matter of time before those bags exploded, flooding the area with unimaginable putrefaction.

So, as a young enlisted man, I was among the lucky sailors tasked with dropping the bags overboard. The refrigerator path, or “reefer”, involved climbing a vertical ladder to the main deck. There was no way two sailors could share the load, so each of us had to shoulder a 50-pound bulbous bag and try to climb the ladder with one hand on the bag and the other on the ladder.

One of two things usually happened: either the sailor lost control of the bag and it fell to the deck, where it exploded, flooding the area, or, even worse, the bag burst near the head of the hapless sailor hanging by one hand in the middle of the boat. path. the ladder.

Even using a thesaurus, I can't find words to describe the stench. The phrase “muzzle a worm” comes to mind.

Operating in the Gulf

Fifty-three years ago, we were the only US Navy ship in the entire Persian Gulf. Currently, I believe there are often two full carrier task forces in the area. In terms of manpower, the Navy went from a few hundred sailors in the region to many thousands.

A map showing the eastern Mediterranean, the Red and Arabian Seas, with the Persian Gulf just right of center.,Google Maps

A naval vessel is unique. There is a diplomatic component to any visit to a foreign port. Often the captain would have foreign dignitaries on board and have them for tea in the wardroom while we were busy in the electronic countermeasures room collecting all their military radar signatures. The collected information would be sent to the nearest electronic intelligence center (ELINT) for analysis. The collected data helped determine a potential adversary's order of battle. This may sound cynical, but history shows that it is necessary. Charles de Gaulle is responsible for the observation that nations have no friends, only interests.

After transiting through the Suez Canal, we head south into the Red Sea towards our first scheduled visit to the port of Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. When we arrived at the harbor entrance, we were sailing using a British Admiralty chart that had last been updated.not end of 1800. The bottom was shallow and didn't match the chart, so the captain turned us around and we were off, leaving the local poobah standing on the dock with his entourage and wondering what happened. It turned out that it took a lot of diplomatic effort to organize that little meeting, and the State Department was not satisfied.

Next, we stop to refuel in Yemen at the Port of Aden, where the USSColeit was attacked in 2000. It was considered a dangerous port in 1967, and it was the first time that we posted armed sentries. After refueling, we head east towards the Arabian Sea and our next port call.

O USSCole(DDG-67) is towed from the port city of Aden, Yemen, out to sea by the ocean tug USNS of the Military Maritime Transport Command.Catawba(T-ATF-168) on October 29, 2000.,Department of Defense/Sgt. Don L. Maes, USMC

Salala in Oman

If you look at a map that shows the extent of the British Empire in the early 1900s, it looks like a map of the world. They seemed to be everywhere, including in the Persian Gulf.

In 1967, the British were still active in the region and had small bases throughout the southern Arabian Peninsula. Our next stop was Salalah, a tiny dot on the map and home to a small isolated Royal Air Force (RAF) base and an adjacent village that has been completely cordoned off with a huge access gate. It looked like a set from the movie King Kong.

Once we were tied up at the small jetty, we were met by a wild-looking group of Britons, wearing some RAF uniforms, local clothing and red and white checkered scarves. They definitely had a relaxed uniform pattern! They picked us up in a big truck and we took off at high speed towards their base. When we finally arrived I asked why they drove so fast. The answer was that it was more difficult to throw a grenade at the truck at that speed, and if they hit a mine it could only blow up the back of the truck.

The guy who told me this wasn't smiling.

At the entrance to the base, we were greeted by ceremonial guards provided by the sheikh who governed the village. Here's a photo my partner Bob White took:

Courtesy of the author

You thought I was exaggerating, didn't you? The land there was flat as a pancake, with mountains in the distance. We spent the night with the British. They had a piano and enjoyed getting drunk and singing together. I think I was told that, unlike us, when you were assigned somewhere you usually stayed there until you got out of the military, and some of these guys had been there for 10 years or more.

As I mentioned, the village was run by a sheikh, an educated man who loved Elvis Presley. Every night, some of the officers and a private would climb into their Land Rover and drive to the village, where the enlisted man acted as a projectionist and showed a film.

From time to time, Marxist rebels would come down from the mountains and shoot the place, and then take off on their camels. The British would set up a patrol and give chase. It seemed harmless until they mentioned that the RAF base to the west had been destroyed in a recent attack. I forgot to mention that the villagers didn't have running water and didn't know what electricity was. Every morning the villagers would open that huge gate and drag a big longboat out into the water and go fishing.

This is what Salalah looks like now:

The Port of Salalah, Oman.,Imagens Getty

To put this in perspective, its deepwater general cargo terminal can handle 20 million tons annually, and its liquid bulk terminal can handle another six million tons.

After Salalah, we visited Cochin, India and Karachi, Pakistan. In Cochin, I remember a beggar with no legs sitting on the side of a dirt road with his beggar's cup as a Mercedes with tinted windows thundered by. One of my shipmates and I spent the night on the roof of a local hotel talking to a Peace Corps volunteer who was just giving up and heading home.

Karachi was the most hostile place I've ever been. I think they had just held an election and there were red hammer and sickle flags hanging everywhere. As we walked through the streets in our sailor outfits, locals stared at us from every direction.

After leaving these two garden sites, we head out into the Persian Gulf, through the Strait of Hormuz, and northwards to the island country of Bahrain. Bahrain's fame seemed to be that Saudi Arabia's huge pipeline ended there, where ships could be loaded. We were able to visit an oil refinery for lunch. I remember there were huts outside the main gate with a pitiful looking camel tethered, but inside it looked like a scene fromLeave it to the beaver— rows of small houses with white picket fences and a flower box in each. As we quickly discovered, British, German and American engineers were at the top of the food chain, and so-called OFNs – other foreign nationals – did most of the work. OFNs were usually Indian, Filipino, or sometimes qualified Bangladeshi.

Lunch was the best steak I've ever had. I found out that the chef was lured to some three Michelin star restaurant in Europe to keep the big bosses happy. Food was shipped from all over the world for your dining pleasure.

Later, we took the strangest bus ride I've ever taken. We drove to the middle of the island and saw nothing but pipes going in different directions. Finally, we stopped beside an exceptionally large pipe with a large valve. Our guide got us all off the bus and then he pointed to the valve and I think he said something like, “This is the valve!” Then we boarded the bus again and headed back.

I think it may have been the valve that controlled the world's oil supply.

The things that seem to stand out after all these years include the few intense experiences, but mostly the funny ones. Looking back, I think grabbing a freshly baked loaf of bread from the cook in the middle of the night and eating it with my friends is worthwhile. It was while sailing late at night, when most of the crew was asleep, that I enjoyed my time on board.Steinakerthe majority. It was then that all the petty stresses and annoyances of being at the bottom of a rigidly hierarchical organization disappeared and I was free to simply do my job as best I could.

I helped keep my teammates safe while they slept. Maybe that was enough.

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What were Sundays like for the men on the naval ships? ›

In the days of the old Navy, a ropeyarn Sunday was a half-day off to sew and perform personal tasks. Today, it simply refers to a half-holiday. Field day is a phrase that means a day for cleaning up all parts of the ship, or a day of general cleaning.

How were the ships in the war mainly used? ›

Warships protect the movement over water of military forces to coastal areas where they may be landed and used against enemy forces; warships protect merchant shipping against enemy attack; they prevent the enemy from using the sea to transport military forces; and they attack the enemy's merchant shipping.

How are shipwrecks raised? ›

Methods used include jacking, pontoons, helicopters, and cranes or sheer legs. Hydraulic jacks are used to temporarily lift stranded ships to allow them to be refloated by pulling or to permit slipways to be constructed under them.

What do sailors do on a ship for fun? ›


Mess decks provide a place for recreation and meals. Crew lounges serve as a place for Sailors to kick back and watch TV or play games. Many vessels have ATMs, internet connectivity, and postal services so those aboard the ship can keep in contact with friends and family back home.

How many lashes did Sailors get? ›

Usually a dozen lashes for any one crime was given by the boatswain or his mate with enough force to break the skin. The blood and flesh were cleaned from the 'cat's tail' by the mate running his fingers through them after each stroke.

How did ships sink other ships in sea battles? ›

Throughout antiquity, through the Middle Ages until the 16th century, the weapons relied on were the ship itself, used as a battering ram or to sink the opponent with naval rams, the melee weapons of the crew, missile weapons such as bolts from heavy crossbows fixed on the bulwarks, bows and arrows, weights dropped ...

How long did ship battles last? ›

Battles could take all day - as in The St James's Day fight or even four days - as in the Four Days' Battle. Ships would be moving at around 4 knots at Trafalgar which could take ages. By contrast Quiberon Bay (1759) was fought in a gale.

How many people can a warship hold? ›

The eight US Navy Nimitz class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers each carry around 5,680 personnel when battle-ready, of which 3,200 are ship's company and 2,280 belong to the Air Wing. The carriers are the largest warships afloat and each carries around 80 aircraft.

How long do bodies last in shipwrecks? ›

Putrefaction and scavenging creatures will dismember the corpse in a week or two and the bones will sink to the seabed. There they may be slowly buried by marine silt or broken down further over months or years, depending on the acidity of the water.

Why don't we remove shipwrecks? ›

Disturbing the wreck or removing pieces can ruin its research historical value for archaeologists. If uncovered improperly, exposure to air may cause materials that have been protected from the elements for hundreds of years to quickly decompose.

Why are sunken ships not recovered? ›

Ultimately, most shipwrecks will remain underwater. Bringing a ship to the surface is expensive, so the few that are recovered have a unique combination of historic importance; protection from the ravages of sea creatures; currents and time; and obtainability. Sadly, that means Endurance will never be recovered.

What did sailors do at night? ›

At night, seamen sleep in hammocks slung between beams or at least, half of them do. The crew is divided into two “watches” (teams). One watch sails the ship from 8pm to midnight, then sleeps for four hours while the other watch works. Tomorrow, the two watches swap over their duties.

What do sailors call their friends? ›

Brush up on your “Pirate Talk” with these helpful pirate phrases.
HandsCrew members or sailors of a ship
HeartiesFriends, fellow comrades or sailors
Heave HoPut your weight and muscle into it
Heave ToStop!!
Hempen HalterA rope hanging noose
4 more rows

What did sailors do in their free time? ›

These downtimes varied based on the preferences of the individual sailor. Some sailors enjoyed writing, drawing, singing, smoking, playing games, reading, or making carvings.

What do sailors do on Sunday? ›

On Sundays and during dogwatch, a two-hour period of “watch” that varied each day, sailors could explore hobbies. These downtimes varied based on the preferences of the individual sailor. Some sailors enjoyed writing, drawing, singing, smoking, playing games, reading, or making carvings.

What is the meaning of Sunday routine in the Navy? ›

Definition: A day off in harbour, or a quiet day of rest at sea. Can be held on days other than Sunday.

What did sailors do all day? ›

Typical jobs on board included cook, parson, surgeon, master gunner, boatswain (in charge of the sails), carpenter and quartermaster. Other members of the crew would, of course, carry out all the duties, including keeping watch, handling sails, and cleaning decks.

Do sailors work on weekends? ›

Cruise ships, the military, boating tour companies, fishing charter companies, and cargo companies hire sailors to work full-time hours during all shifts, including nights, weekends, and holidays.


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