Museum piece

Starting today, I am going to focus THTASS on funny observations, uplifting naval history and memories that are service-related that I find. As an old fussy Senior Chief, there’s plenty to ramble on outraged about. I’ll leave that to the Marines.

Every ship save on that I have gotten underway on, is rusting at the bottom of the ocean, or perhaps is reused as glow – in – the – dark blades. The one is the Queen Mary, a floating hotel in Long Beach California. And it, too, could use a little more upkeep.

All the electronic equipment I learned to maintain and operate is junked or in a museum. And even the uniforms I wore have been relegated to parades and retirement ceremonies. Of course, I can fit in them again.

My first voyage, not including the steamboat or submarine at Disneyland, was aboard the Cunard Lines RMS Sylvania in 1965. I was destined for the maritime life. I could swim. I never got seasick, and I could drink (sodas) like a Sailor.

But now I’m a museum piece. My stories about writing letters, 1 MB computer storage, and replacing vacuum tubes find a smaller audience these days. Maybe I can find a new audience for sea stories at the Midway maritime museum?

The call of the sea

When I was a kid, maybe younger than 8 years old, I went on my first passenger ships, the Cunard Lines SYLVANIA and QUEEN MARY. Traveling with my mom one summer from New York to England and then returning to New York City. I generally recall 3 memories of that time. Two were shipboard: being entertained with other kids by the staff while our parents were so seasick they were in their cabins, receiving a die cast model of the ship(s), and a random memory of being fascinated by men working on a pipe in the middle of the lane in front of my grandmother’s home in the Isle of Man. But the point of this all is that I don’t get seasick.

Rowboats, canoes, kayaks, harbor ferries and water taxis of various sizes and conditions, and three U.S. Navy warships have been how I went to sea in the intervening fifty years. Until this week, so many years ashore dulled my senses and passion for travel and the sea. The dining, getting to know some people, the excursions in our ports, and the shows we took in have been the highlight of cruising. The rocking even as slight as the large liner does pleasantly lulls us to restful sleep. For me it has again stirred my memory of the wind and wave.

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This ship, however, is too big. Too many people. And although I am not, well, insensitive, I really do not want to travel with large groups of some tourists. I’ve been irritated by their cultural norm of pushing through around and over, mobbing really, at the brow coming on and off, (like at our travel stop in Cozumel). I imagine if you come from a place that has 2 billion residents you push to avoid being run over. Yet this ship has travelers and staff from all parts of the world. After several days, a vessel with six thousand passengers is too much like vacationing on Southern California highways during rush hour.

Give me a smaller, more personable ship and I’ll take the adventure anywhere. Nevertheless, I know my wife and I will make new friends, see some amazing sights, and enjoy more cruises in the future.

Takes one to know one

The last time I boarded a vessel the size of the Allure of the Seas, it was gray and I was an enlisted volunteer(ed) carrying equipment. While an aircraft carrier does not deploy lounge chairs nor launch aircraft, on this voyage, my wife and I saw divers launch into a pool several decks above the waterline. This was all part of an entertaining acrobatic and sychronized diving show.

However, the most entertaining part of this trip has been having brief conversations with passengers who are fellow veterans. You see, I wore my “Retired Navy” ballcap boarding in Florida and disembarking on our first port of call. From the first greeting in the line with a retired Bo’sun while getting registered at the embarkation terminal, to the Air Force vet my wife and I sat with at a dinner, to the Navy Vietnam Nam-era airdale, there have been a lot of quick greetings and instant recognition.

” I can recognize veterans”, one Navy wife said.  I think she actually said, she could “smell ’em a mile away”, but I knew what she meant. I think people who served have an instant kinship. One of my fellow passengers, a man and his wife about half my age went snorkeling with my buddy, me and four others at our stop in Haiti. He smiled knowingly, when I remarked how cool it was to be zooming away toward our dive spot in a RHIB. Most Navy people recognize this acronym as Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat. Yet I think he or possibly his wife, was Dutch or German.

Yeah. The folks who are frequent cruise vacationing people also seem to have that camraderie. Many start around our age. I think cruise veterans and particularly Navy veterans get the best new sea stories to swap with one another from trips like this. It does “take one to know one”.

(Image) The last time I was off the coast of Haiti (USS PETERSON)

A festive deployment

shipI am looking forward to going back to sea.  But this time I will not be standing in a dress uniform, “manning the rail”, as we deploy but rather a festive cruise line.   Even the company,  Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas, sounds like a festive destination rather than a vessel to get from Point A to Point B.   The scheduled departure is still months in the future, but it is something to look forward in anticipation.   I still have some hesitation about putting to sea.   “Underway. Shift Colors!”, is a phrase all deployed U.S. Navy Sailors know as the moment the ship leaves the mooring and begins to put to sea.  While today’s Sailors may have six  or seven- or even nine- month deployments away from their home,  the routine of everyday blurs the calendar.  Menus define the day of the week –  sliders (hamburgers) Wednesday, spaghetti ( with crumbled sliders for meat sauce) Thursdays,  and so on.  unnamed

A cruise line does not operate that way.  From what I have been told,  there’s food,  drink, and entertainment twenty-four hours a day, if you pay for it.  (Well,  in the Chiefs’ Mess, we were able to fund some pretty wonderful food, snacks and even ice cream during deployment ).   But today’s cruise liners make the last cruise ship I was on,  the former Cunard Lines , Queen Mary seem tame in comparison.  As a child accompanying my mother, I sailed on the RMS Queen Mary and the  RMS Sylvania between Liverpool and New York in the 1960s.   And in 2016,  my wife and I stayed aboard the now-hotel Queen Mary in the city of Long Beach, California.    Cruise lines,  prior to the heyday of jumbo jets and routine flights to and from Europe, was a great form of travel.  Both movie star Cary Grant and the vacationing nurse traveled in style albeit at substantially different accommodations and traveling companions.

Although manning a Navy ship does not give you many opportunities to enjoy the sea air, wind or waves,  it is still something incredible when looking at the vast ocean.  That is what I will look forward to seeing again.  Along the east coast of North America, the Gulf Stream is a great conduit for whales, dolphins, game fish, and adventurous sailors in sailboats and other craft.  I also know that the sea could be like glass or the gray-black of a squall on the horizon.  But I imagine, instead of chow lines, field day, and drills, it will be cocktails, suntan lotion and enthusiastic support for my wife’s plans for ashore zip-lines and water slides.