Salt Water and Cheese Sandwiches
by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
Everyone reading this stuff may not have experienced the absolute joy of
riding a fleet boat on the surface in a sea state above state four. I'm an old
coot so if I repeat myself chalk it up to the onset of senility.
There is no amusement park ride that can come anywhere close to riding a smoke boat with green water coming over the bridge. If you like giration insane motion, God gives it to you big time in the North Atlantic... Unlike thrill rides at amusement parks, it didn't cost anything and could last a couple of days.
It came with foam-capped swells the size of small town office building that bounced a boat around like a tick on hula dancers butt. The pleasure of being damn near beat to death by pinballing off bulkheads and valve stems is one that current members of the Silver Dolphin society may never know.
Modern submersible craft, as I understand it, operate at extreme depths where there is absolutely no turbulence and crewmembers can stand a dime on edge on a mess table and it will remain undisturbed for days at a time.
Not so smoke-belching boats.
We spent a good portion of our boat service enlistments doing the northern latitude two-step, dodging gear adrift and zinging off a multitude of inanimate objects. We didn't know you could get Dolphins any other way.
There is a majesty to heavy seas. It would be damn near impossible for a man to witness the raw power of heavy seas and remain an atheist. Only God could unleash that kind of unrestrained wildness.
One minute our bow is pointed skyward... The next, it is buried in a forty-foot swell and water is pounding through your limber holes, crashing up through the slots in your forward deck and smashing up and over the bridge. "Rid'em cowboy"... It repeats and repeats. Accompanied by 14-degree lateral motions.... Figure eight stern gyrations and little unexpected Cha-Cha dances thrown in by the Devil just to make life interesting.
Inside the boat, grown men are tossed around, Illicit storage falls out of vent lines and the meals become an endless succession of gahdam cheese sandwiches, coffee or bug juice... And it becomes damn clear why Uncle Sam forks over sea pay.
Imagine Arnold Palmer teeing off and driving a golf ball in a tile shower stall and you will have some idea what the inside of a diesel boat felt like being pounded by ton after ton of raging salt water.
"Roll you rust bucket, roll"
"Pitch you sonuvabitch, pitch"
Over one and under one... Your gahdam fillings get loose... Your pocket watch hops out... Your smokes take wing… Guys shoot their lunch... Roaches do flips for no sea pay… Cooks cuss… Guys in racks who are dying to take a whiz ask themselves,
"Do I rally want to work my way to the head and watch a guy toss his cookies while I attempt to pee in a moving target?"
Over the 21MC comes "Stand by for heavy rolls to port!"
What the hell, do we have a choice? Are heavy rolls to port different from whatever has been going on for the past six hours? Have I been missing something? Is there anything left in the overhead vent lines that need to hit me in the head?
Will the cold air tornado coming through the ship from forward every time the conning tower hatch is opened become a tropical breeze?
Will the guys coming down off the bridge quit dripping ice water on sleeping guys as they take their soaked foul weather gear to the engine room to dry it out on the Fairbanks covers?
Will the Goddess of the Main Induction show up and park her warm fanny under this freshly stolen blanket with me?
Will Hyman Rickover come get me and save me?
No. All what "Stand by for heavy rolls to port" means is that all the shit that flew by you heading in one direction will be reversing course and putting knots on your head from the other side.
"The evening meal will now be served in the crews mess."
"Hey Johnson... You know why they don't send donkeys to school? 'Cause nobody likes a wiseass!"
"Dex... Do you think it's cheese sandwiches?"
"Does a hobby horse have a hickory dick?"
"Hey you guys, you ought to go back to the after room and listen to the rudder rams... Sonuvabitches are going nuts... Who's got the helm?"
"Don't know, glad it ain't me."
"Will be, next watch."
"Not me, I going to strike for corpsman and sit in the messdecks the rest of my career and eat cheese sandwiches."
"How in the hell did I end up in the gahdam submarine navy? Nobody said anything about seagoing vomit barge."
"Hell...you know you love it...where else could a hayseed from the hillbilly hills with the I.Q. of a fly get rich throwing trash in the ocean for a living?"
"Hey Stuke... You know why they don't send donkeys to school?"
"Hey ladies knock it off... So grown folks can sleep."
And so it went...stuff banging around in side lockers, ceramic dishes rattling... The acrid smell of gastric dissolved cheese sandwiches mixed with what had been last nights coffee.
People stumbling around zinging off bulkheads, watertight doorsills, piping and each other and being eighteen years old and finding out the guy at the recruiting office who promised a thrilling life of wonder and adventure was a lying, shore duty sonuvabitch.