In our day, going to sea was an adventure. People would never
understand how cramped our world was. In movies, it always looked neat,
clean and roomy.
When we loaded stores for several weeks, we had to store it everywhere...
We had two enlisted showers. We had to keep one clear so
corpsman, cooks and messcooks could stay clean. The other got three
croaker bags of spuds.
Big cans of sugar, flour and coffee were stored two high,
outboard the engines. It was hell to crawl back there when the damn
things were hammering out
We laid down a cardboard carpet of can cases on the after
battery walking deck... Two deep... Made you feel two feet taller when
you made your way forward and also made the poor bastards in the lower
bunks have to damn near Crisco their butts to get into their racks. Once
in, you had some idea how claustrophobic a coffin must be.
When the messcooks bricked in the passageway with the cases,
they used a marking pen and a code known only to themselves and possibly
the Jolly Green Giant. This was supposed to allow them to enter the
compartment when the animals were sleeping and locate stuff the cook
At times, this became damn near impossible. Those times the
cook would turn on the white lights, bang on the bottom of an aluminum
pot and yell, "Okay ladies, rise and shine... Need six cans of
beets... Six cans of beets... Up and at it."
"Screw you and the horse you rode in on... Turn off the
gahdam lightsand get your ugly butt outta here."
"Beets, sleeping beauties... Six cans."
"You gahdam gut bandit! Everything you cook tastes like
shit anyway... Go get something you can find and turn off the f------g
sweet my little garbage mouth darlings and I slave over a hot stove just
to generate this outpouring of love and affection... Beets,
sweethearts... Beets... The sooner you find 'em, the sooner you little
ungrateful, worthless sonuvabitches can go beddie-bye again."
It was either find what he needed or shoot him,
so we usually located the stuff.
There was one
obvious benefit to living in the after battery. You were literally
surrounded by stuff to eat. This allowed you to enjoy the diesel boat
sailors equivalent of breakfast in bed. You could knock a hole in a
case, grab a can, zip the lid out, and chow down. Granted the contents
of the can had to lend itself to be eaten without preparation like
heating, cooking or mixing, which limited the menu, somewhat.
The all-time crew favorite was 'pigmy peters', known in
the surface world as Vienna sausage. You could knock the lid out of a
can of peters and pass it around... Fish the little rascals out and
enjoy a little nocturnal snack with the last man tossing the juice
filled can into the head waste bucket.
Another crowd pleaser
was crackers and peanut butter. We were a Peter Pan boat... Other boats
were Skippy boats. We killed Skippy eaters and shot their remains out
the GDU. We stored peanut butter in the portside waterway and always had
five or six boxes of saltines stored above the vent lines in the alley.
We had an unwritten code that governed life in the alley. One
of the cardinal no-nos
was using anything other than a designated eating utensil to dig peanut
butter out of the communal jar. This rule became necessary when an
engineman striker was found using his comb to spread peanut butter.
It was simple. You got a spoon, drilled a hole in the handle
and hung it on your bunk chain with twenty-one thread shot line or a
piece of dog tag chain.
All it took to launch a food fiesta, a little subsurface
luau, was to yell,
"Let's feed the roaches!"
We shared space with little brown multi-legged creatures that
thrived on cracker crumbs and God knows what else. They never looked
like they were missing meals. Periodically, the Navy would fumigate the
boat and we would return to find our little pals lying around like empty
We missed their little gentle footsteps across our faces at
night as they searched for an ear or vacant nostril to homestead and
bear their young.
Cockroaches multiply at a rate that would eclipse the
Chinese. A National Basketball League player would have envied the sex
life of an average SUBRON SIX sea-going roach. We did.
Their favorite hangout was the bread locker. We used to say,
"If you don't like raisin bread, shake your slice and all the
raisins would get up
and run away."
As a courtesy, we would knock on the bread locker before we
opened it so they could go hide. Rumor had it that sudden bright light
hurt their little eyes.
The Navy gave us spray cans of stuff that was supposed to
send them to cockroach heaven in large numbers. We read the contents and
decided the last thing a diesel boat needed was to add all that weird
crap to air that already had enough strange shit running around in it.
We had no desire to father three-headed kids or watch our toes turn
green and fall off. We deep-sixed the stuff and continued to feed the
roaches... Besides, we had gotten used to roach exploration expeditions,
discovering new worlds in our ears.
There was another delicacy known to all boat sailors that
went by the Most indelicate names... "Horsecock.'... 'Donkey
Dick'... Or Italian hard salami. It had a butcher twine loop at one end
that allowed you to thread the loop over an operating vent handle. They
would swing back and forth in a rolling sea.
Horsecock and mayonnaise sandwiches was a mid-rat staple...
And a fond memory.
Wish I had a nickel for every night I stood there dripping
wet, sharing a cup of hot coffee, wrapping myself around a two-layer
donkey dick sandwich and enjoying life with some of the finest people
I've ever known.
At battle stations when they set condition Baker, they would
call you on the XJA and tell you to open the access plates behind the
bulkhead flappers so the cooks could pass donkey dick sandwiches and
coffee thermos's in to the hungry apes in the forward room.
You had to be one of us to understand. Life on those boats did something to you... It made you appreciate the little things in life... Stuff most people took for granted. It established the common denominator that allows me to know that in writing about our life, there are men out there who will understand, appreciate and remember. I have carried these wonderful memories for years with no one to share them with. I hope I'm not boring anyone's socks off.