Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I Long to Go Down to the Sea Again

To the lonely sea and the sky
And all I ask is a Tall Ship
and a star to steer her by.

From another of Dad's unfinished memoirs:

On Broadway in downtown San Diego was the Spreckles Theater. On the sidewalk was a poster of a clipper ship in full sail and an old salt with a sea bag over his shoulder.

The bold print read:


and directed recruits to an office on an upper floor.

The recuiter showed me a book of Coast Guard regulations that had "three years" crossed out and eighteen months interlineated. That was the sea time required before you could take the examination to become a third mate. No schooling was required and the rank would be Ensign in the naval reserve.

I would like to think my decision to join was cool and responsible -- one that bore in mind my parents' financial problems. The truth is, I had the Bounty Trilogy and Two Years Before the Mast in mind.

Iron Bottom Bay was full of our cruisers and destroyers. The Navy continued to conceal the true status of the war in the Pacific. The war in the Atlantic was being lost.

It would be a great adventure if your tanker was not torched or you died of hypothermia or disintegrated in a torpedoed ammunition ship, for which duty you received a ten percent bonus.

Many old timers continued to go to sea. Some who had retired as long ago as the first World War.

My first ship was the S.S. Robert Toombs, built in the fashion of Henry Kaiser's assembly line construction. Articles were signed in the Cape Fear shipyard in Wilmington North Carolina.

There were no Able Seamen, only Ordinarys. None of the deck crew had ever been to sea before. Mates were sailing above their licensed station.

We sailed around Cape Hatteras and went into dry dock in Portsmouth navy Yard. The ship was fitted with an experimental device that was accompanied by a ranking naval officer who I assumed was the inventor.

A Bos'n and a carpenter of many years experience was prone to say "I have pissed more salt water than you kids will ever see." He put himself in the way of danger for $180/month for twenty four hours duty in the North Atlantic. The combination of the ranking naval officer's animosity and the deck officers' inexperience nearly led to the loss of the ship and her cargo.

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