What its like working and living on a ship
|Out to sea, we worked Monday through Saturday and only had to stand watch on Sundays. On Saturday nights while underway, if the weather was calm enough, we would project movies out on the flight deck with a big screen hanging from the hanger bay door. On most Sundays we would have a barbeque out on the fantail, where you could hang out soaking up the sun. The watches were usually on a two to four hour shifts, so everyone got a chance to relax. We had cigar days out on the weather decks where we could smoke our real Cohebas’ that were imported straight from Cuba.
We used to have bingo night on the mess decks every now and then where you could win some extra spending cash, but when we got a new captain on board he canceled bingo night because he said he didn’t want any gambling on his ship. So we started rolling dice and playing craps down in the engine rooms. One time Keith won enough money to buy himself a new pair of shoes.
The ship had a weight room in the aft end of the ship, but it was hard to lift weights or run on the treadmill even while the ship was slightly rocking. I would go to the ship store when it was open and buy snacks or something to drink. There you could buy O’Brien hats, lighters, mugs, and other ship memorability. On the ship there were a couple soda machines and a vending machine. When I first arrived on board, it was only $1.75 for a pack of Marlboros out of the machine. One time during rough seas, the bracket holding the vending machine broke and it fell over. It got looted and picked clean in no time from everyone passing by. I saw one of my friends running down the passageway with an arm full of candy and snacks.
There were computers by command central that we could send out emails and surf the internet after working hours. I bought a compact disc in Hong Kong that had every original Nintendo game on it; I could play all three Mario’s, Punch-out, Contra and other games on the computers. All the berthing had TVs and chairs in them, and they would play new movies over the network for the crew to watch. We also had a VHS hooked up and sometimes we would connect a Video Compact Disk player to watch movies (this was before DVDs). Most of the time, I would only catch the beginning or ending of a movie because I was always too busy on watch or working. The mess decks had a large TV to watch while we ate and we would hang out there and play games. I spent a lot of my time, outside on the smoke deck chatting with friends and enjoying the salty sea air.
Every month or so the chiefs and officers would cook the crew a Mongolian BBQ, where you get to choose the ingredients you wanted, and they cook it up for you on the grill. There were always some way to boost morale while underway; like being able to wear our green O’Brien ball caps, or handing out the occasional “No Shave Chit” so you didn’t have to shave for a couple days. Once we all grew out our mustaches until we were told to shave them off because we all looked like porn stars.
We had a swim call once out in the middle of the ocean, it was down by the equator and everyone was so excited. I dropped what I was doing and got into my swim shorts fast as I could. Our old captain started the swim call by diving head first off the top of the bridge that was fifty feet up. We weren’t allowed to jump from that high but we could jump off the missile deck twenty five feet up. It was a hot day and I jumped in.
The water was so warm it wasn’t even refreshing; it was like being in a heated pool. It defiantly was not a pool though; I swam out, treading in the water adrift from the security of being on a ship in the ocean. I looked back at the ship and behind it was an infinite cloudless blue sky and water around me in every direction stretching out into the horizon. I imagined what astronauts must have felt like floating out into free space, untethered from there vessel.
I saw Devore come running out of the Aft Decontamination hatch, and he dove over the side still wearing his coveralls, hat, and work boots. A cargo net was draped over the side of the ship to climb back aboard. There was someone with a rifle, watching the water, to shoot any sharks that might try and attack. They always said they would shoot the person closest to the shark to give everyone else a chance to swim away.
Every now and then we would hold gun qualifications on the ship while out to sea. Everyone would get a chance to stop by the armory on the ship and pick up a 9mm handgun, pump action twelve gauge shotgun, or an M16 assault rifle; and shoot them at floating targets out in the water. Some of my shipmates would go crazy, firing off round after round over the side of the ship. It looked like something out of a bad NRA video with everyone all standing in a line at the railing and unloading as many rounds as they could. It was hilarious to watch.
We were never out to sea for too long before pulling into a port. Some of my shipmates would get stir-crazy from being confined to the ship for so long; being out to sea never bothered me though. It defiantly was not a cruise ship; we worked hard doing our assigned maintenance on equipment, stood long sleepless nights on watch, and practiced routine emergency drills every day. When we finally pulled into a port, everyone not on restriction did get a chance to get off the ship and relax, explore, party or just unwind.
We would usually spend a couple of weeks out to sea and a five days in a port and only having to spend a couple of those days in port on duty standing watch. When the ship is secured, most of the equipment is shut down or in standby, depending what port we were in. While everyone is out on liberty, the duty section gets the whole empty ship to their selves and they still get a chance to relax. It depended what port we were pulling into but if you wanted to spend a few extra days out on liberty you could pay someone to take your duty day. Or if you wanted to make some quick cash there were plenty of people that were willing to pay you to take their duty day. I would swap duty day for duty day to get some extra liberty in my favorite ports.
Once on liberty we could come and go as we pleased, it depended what country we were in, but usually everyone under E-4 had a 0200 curfew and we had to sign off the ship with a buddy. We could submit a liberty chit to stay out over night as long as we had a hotel to stay at. At night when everyone makes it back to the ship, the berthing is alive with everyone tripping over boots, cloths, and stuff; stumbling around like drunken zombies.
In Thailand we would party so hard the night before our duty day, when I would crawl out of my rack in the morning and slither into my coveralls and boots, and I am still drunk. At the morning duty muster I have seen shipmates pass out and hit the deck from standing up too long in the hot sun. One of the “Top Siders” was standing at attention and out of nowhere he threw up all over chief’s boots. I could look down through the ranks and no one on my duty section could stand up straight, everyone was swaying and moving around. I would try and keep my balance standing up out on the flight deck, the sun beats down on us and everyone is sweating profusely, just waiting to be relieved so we could go back down to the berthing to drink some water and sit under the cool ventilation.