Flooding, flooding!

The practice of medicine is a thinker’s art the practice of surgery a plumber’s. Martin H. Fischer

There’s not too much concern in my neighborhood with the dangers at sea.  No real danger from collisions ( unless a Cessna on approach to the airfield makes an improbably short landing).  There is no danger of grounding.   Likewise, the chance of sinking is very slight at a few hundred feet above sealevel.   And until I attempted tonight to replace the fill valve in my toilet,  I never considered flooding.

As a homeowner, and a technically proficient electronics engineering technician,  I tackle most maintenance myself.  Unless my wife is at home, in which case,  I will opt to call someone to do maintenance.  Some tasks are a little complicated in an old house  whether replacing a dishwater fill line or tinkering with the gas water heater.    With my wife on travel visiting the kids,  I thought tonight would be a good opportunity to replace an annoying toilet fill valve.  For a “water-saving” device,  the last valve I installed has required two or three flushes routinely, and sometimes a manual intervention to the tank.

0512-0707-1115-1056Tonight,  my famous last words were “it’ll only take five minutes”.   I studied the new valve.  I even consulted YouTube.  Simple job.  But the line into the tank – at the bottom continued to drip onto the floor even as I tightened the nut.  I gave in and removed the valve with more water going on the floor,  needing to grab several towels, and getting sprayed from the line as I did not shut the valve from the main all the way.  The job called for and resulted in a few choice “Sailor” expletives after assembly and the tank still had a small leak.

The man who has experienced shipwreck shudders even at a calm sea. Ovid

I was about to resort to calling my neighbor when I noticed one small failure.  I had installed the rubber seal under, not inside, the inner (tank) seat of the fill valve!   And in my zeal, I had nicked the plastic nut which would cause leaking as well.   Fortunately, the old unit had a pristine nut that I was able to reuse.   The Damage Controlman and the Hull Technician can stand down.   Flooding in the compartment has been cleaned up.  General Quarters is secured.  All hands can get back to their Saturday evening.

I was planning to start preparing to paint the living room this week to surprise my spouse.  It would not take that long as I have all the tools, tape and drop cloths.  I have a couple days to call in some “expert” help before my wife returns.  On second thought, I shall postpone this Intermediate Maintenance Availability for another time.  I will not set a watch, but I think it prudent to check the compartment for flooding in the morning.

 

balls to four

In naval terminology, and in many other workplaces, the twenty-four hour clock is used.  The first hours of the new day are called “zero”  as in “zero-thirty” or 1230 AM,  or “zero -three hundred” for 3 AM.  Sailors have a particular term for the mid-watch, between midnight and 4 AM,  the “balls to four” watch.

Personally, I prefer the ‘balls to four’ than the ‘zero-four to eight’ watch.  Because I was often working till late into the night aboard ship,  and then getting a little rest, only to be wakened at 0315 to relieve the off-going watch by 0345.   And as you get older you appreciate sleep more – I stood most of these watches in my early Thirties.  I was just into that deep, wonderful place, seeming moments before someone roused me for my watch.

This morning,  Tuesday, is one of those mornings!  For the briefest of moments around 3 AM,  I was in my sweet spot.  And then my wife, who is boarding a flight today at “zero six” to visit the grandchild (and his parents) stirred me.  For the briefest “Inception” (the movie) -like moments,  I was in my rack with some Sailor shining his flashlight telling me it was time to relieve the watch.  ARRRGH!

My wife is mostly a light-sleeper.  I am one not by choice nor biology.    I was on standby to drive her to the airport should our son (the one who does not work the nursing Third Shift) fail to arrive at “oh-dark-thirty” to pick Mom up for the airport drop-off.

Well,  the son did make it.  Mom’s got her mother and son time this morning. I’ve had two cups of coffee and been blogging for an hour.   What the hell?   It is going to be okay.   I will get at least seven nights of solid sleep before I pick her up coming back.

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Condition Zebra

CPO_coverTwo retired Chief Petty Officers meeting over cigars one evening were only casually known to one another.  Two other veterans and two others, a high school wrestling coach and an auto mechanic were all enjoying the late afternoon absently watching a baseball game on the television.   As the cigar burned to a nub,  the two salt- and barnacle-encrusted old seafarers became fast friends.  It is the shared experience of Navy life. Deployments, wartime, and good and lousy beer five thousand miles away from home. Sharing stories of Red light districts and Shore Patrol.  Looking out for our shipmates who may have enjoyed liberty a bit much.

When did you serve?

Went to bootcamp, in San Diego, in ’77.

Oh, I went through RTC in Orlando in ’78.  I retired in ’99.   

You ?

2010.

Shellback ?  Oh yeah,  I remember those @#$# shelaylee (shillelagh)   

Went through 3 times. Wog first deployment and then Shellback for the next two crossings.

They used GREASE!  Took forever to get it out of my hair.  @#@#$@#!   

Did away with it ten years ago.  Sailors just aren’t tough anymore.

What about Chief’s initiation? They are bringing it back?  Great.

It was a great life.

Yeah. It was a great life!

Gotta be moving on.  CINCHOUSE is expecting me. 

Underway.  Shift colors.

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Our other pals looked quietly confused;  all they heard was gibberish.

 

When in little Moscow

American sailors on liberty in Pusan, South Korea before 1999 used to talk about going to Texas Street. Dive bars and cheap eats.

When I visited Pusan in 1999 while aboard USS CORONADO, I remember a Russian carrier in port. Russian bar girls. To avoid uncomfortable conversations, my shipmate and I had a line popularized by Steven Segal: “I’m just a cook!” Didn’t see any Russian sailors. But I picked up a few words in Russian.

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I don’t know what it’s like today, but I left there thinking the bar district had become “Russia Street”.

Learned a little bit about being stationed in South Korea. I learned how to order a Starbucks in Korean. “Grande Mocha”.

IMG_5618And I know not to enter any Asian establishment with a “barber pole” out front. Was told they were “massage” parlors. Wonder if they also do haircuts?

Foreign travel sure is educational.

Haze gray memories

All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.
~John F. Kennedy , Newport dinner speech before America’s Cup Races, Sept. 1962

I have never learned to sail a wind-driven vessel, nor do I recall the difference between a sloop and a ketch. That said, it does not mean I have no familiarity with ships, storms, life aboard ship, or the special bond that seafaring men (or women) have as a crew at sea.  For eight years out of a twenty-six year Navy career, I was a member of ships company, on a Virginia-class cruiser, a Spruance -class destroyer, and a converted amphibious transport dock-turned-command ship (for the U.S. THIRD Fleet).  I have spent months at sea repetitively in the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, Mediterranean,  and Caribbean Seas.  Perhaps the readers of this blog, merchantmen and military navymen (and women) have also looked upon Naples, Italy with Mount Vesuvius as a backdrop in the early morning.  As a Petty Officer on a ship that was one of the very first Navy visitors after forty years of the Cold War,  made port in Varna, Bulgaria. On deployment to enforce blockade of Saddam Hussein’s illicit oil trade after the Gulf War, transited the Suez Canal and made circles in the Red Sea. Like the apostles of Jesus two millennia ago, I walked the streets of old Jerusalem, visited Cyprus and Crete, Turkey and Greece.  Gazed upon the ruins of ancient seafaring civilizations four thousand years old.   I’ve ridden trains on a day’s liberty time as a Pacific Fleet sailor between Yokosuka and Tokyo, Japan,  and as an Atlantic Fleet one from Marseilles to Paris, France.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.
~John Masefield

A man I have known casually for years at a place I have written about many times, Liberty Tobacco, a cigar lounge in San Diego, California, is another Old Salt.  We both have long careers in the electronics industry and worked at some of the same places in San Diego.   But tonight we learned that we have been to the same places underway on ships,  and to shore stations around the country.  Twenty-five or thirty years ago is a long time in an age where, in a social media-world, memories last minutes or perhaps hours till another attention-seeker replaces them.

We shared memories of the school buildings for our respective Navy trades being across from one another on the shore of Lake Michigan.  We were assigned to electronics schools ( perhaps five years apart) at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago.  And we both have been through the fire-fighting trainer in Norfolk, Virginia. This is a large complex of buildings built to resemble shipboard compartments where fuel-oil fires are set ablaze.  Into the heat,  dense smoke, and real danger, crews are trained to combat them,  and to become familiar with all the tools and roles needed to fight and preserve a ship.  At sea, there is only your shipmates to keep your vessel afloat.

Other memories of putting to sea on your first ship get dusted off and refreshed while talking.   The times standing watch on the ship’s Quarterdeck in the middle of the night alongside the pier in Italy, you can chuckle about the garbage barge alongside – with something moving (not human) in the shadows.  Or noting wharf rats the size of cats rooting around a dumpster in the dark at the head of the pier. And realizing what “rat guards” on your mooring lines are designed to block.

Memories of winter rain in Panama that will soak you to the skin in minutes.  One of the wettest places on Earth,  the year-round rain recharges the waters in the Canal Zone powering the locks on each end of the Isthmus.  Swapping stories of liberty visits in ports ten time zones away from home that are extended to a month when a casualty occurs.   For one it was the ship’s screw (the propeller, in civilian-speak).  Without a shipyard and drydock, this enormous thing had to be replaced underwater by specially-trained teams.  For the other,  when a gas-turbine engine has to be flown from the USA and replaced in the Netherlands Antilles.  Due to a prior transit in a freshwater river in the Northeast USA, killing the built-up marine growth – and then immediate transit to the Caribbean resulted in the cooling inlets for that turbine being choked by dead organisms and engine destroyed by overheating.

The sea speaks a language polite people never repeat. It is a colossal scavenger slang and has no respect.
~Carl Sandburg

While some of my friends have experienced sea-sickness on a harbor ferry in San Diego bay, and worn the medical patches when first putting to sea on cruise ships and small frigates,  these aids may become unneeded when accustomed to life at sea for months at a time.   With merchantmen and Navymen, the camaraderie of sharing shipboard stories,  having weathered hurricanes and strong gales in the mid-Atlantic and off the western coast of Mexico transiting from the Panama Canal, the memories seem only days old instead of a quarter-century.   My shipmates and I have marveled at the  different colors of ocean water, the patterns of currents, bright sunshine and placid seas turn gray-black and stormy within hours.  I’ve been concerned for brightly color birds alighting on our ship as we leave port and then been still there twenty miles to sea.  Crossing the Equator and the International Date Line,  as a Navyman I have been both Pollywog and seasoned Shellback during the traditional ceremonies of the “Shellback Initiation”.

And some of the other ‘initiations’ like standing a first watch on the bridge – learning to always check your binoculars handed to you,  especially at night.  Some salty Bosun’ mate (Boatswains mate) may have first smeared a little shoe polish in the eyecups.   Or being especially vigilant while  manning instruments and reporting conditions during underway replenishment.  Any sailor will acknowledge the gait at sea is unique, an adaptation to simply performing your duties while the ship rolls in heavy seas.   Huge waves breaking over the bow of your ship become commonplace.  Watching a smaller vessel in your group seeming to disappear in the trough of the waves and then pop up as the waves crash by.  While performing maintenance on deck, looking out and seeing a small sailboat, manned by an individual sailor, pass alongside hundreds of miles from shore.

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. Jacques Yves Cousteau (brainyquote.com)

For the many who are serving or have served honorably in uniform, we have a bond that few understand.  For those who have spent several months, several years, or a working life,  at sea, we have another strong bond that years and decades later we recall clearly.   Perhaps it is indeed the stirring of the salt in our blood,  the sea spray on our skin,  and the experience of working together in times of routine,  in danger and in emergencies when we all realize just how we are and will always be, Sailors.

[quotes, except where noted, via writebyte.net ]

Popeye was no vegan

1395286500-2During the years I served on Navy ships underway on deployment,  one of the most anticipated days was the mid-point of the cruise when the Command authorized a barbecue for the crew.   This was known as “Steel Beach”.  We all would form long lines to have a burger, roasted chicken, hot dogs,  and potato salad, baked beans and chips.  And a beer.  But I can understand the excitement about a barbecue – even a steel beach one.  It seems to be part of the human DNA to enjoy roasted meat.  Perhaps it was the way food had to be containerized, frozen, powdered, steam-blanched for long voyages.  At least, we never had salt beef, hard-tack or meal-wormy bread of our sailing ship forebears.

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Steel Beach, USS PHILIPPINE SEA

I guess I could have fared worse.  Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs have been issued to servicemen on the battlefield – or during Chief initiations – or in SERE schools for generations.   But in our changing society, I hope that vegetarians or vegans do not come to control the food selection of a captive audience be they on a forward operating base or a deployed destroyer.  In Twenty-First Century society,  we have a number of people who choose to eat vegetarian or even more radically, make food choices as “vegans”.  The latter disdain any product that has anything to do with animal-origin; these folks condemn animal-related food industries.   Of course, prior to modern refrigeration and frequent underway replenishment,  I imagine had there been vegans onboard a ship thirty years ago, they would have been hard-pressed to determine if what was offered from the galley had been a creature at one time.   SOS and powered eggs at breakfast, or sliders at lunch hardly seemed to be animal products.

One of my childhood cartoon heroes, Popeye, certainly had a thing for spinach.  But I don’t think he would ever have turned away from barbecued steak, ribs, or a brat.  I certainly never saw any war movie where the men (and women) lined up for soy or critically read the ingredients in any of the slop they were served.    I learned as a child while watching movies about dinosaurs, aliens, and vampires,  there is an undeniable dominance of meat-eating creatures over plant-eaters.   Tyrannosaurs were definitely the hunters that preyed upon the herbivores.   Lions and other big cats, wolves, foxes, and coyotes are predators.  Barracuda, killer whales and other cetaceans are meat eaters.   I know that human beings are more omnivorous, and when times were tough, hunter-gatherers would get by on flour ground from plants.  A rabbit or lamb might do if a bison was not available.  I have heard of some Amazonian warriors eating their enemies.  The Aztecs did have a thing about human hearts, but a Sailor would have to be very hungry to eat someone you had played Spades with late nights.

Gratefully, cannibals do not seem prevalent in the military services.  Nor do I encounter any at my employer.   But I have encountered vegans.  And some of these are a little ill-tempered, particularly when you tease them why they are not joining you in savoring barbecue for lunch or the team picnics.   But inquiring further,  I learn that vegans are predisposed to feeding their cats or dogs in the same manner they have chosen for themselves.   While I can understand personal choice in the type of sustenance that humans put in their bodies,  I am at a loss to understand how we humans project the same ethos on our dogs and cats.

Then again,  I was eating some cantaloupe tonight with my dog monitoring my every slurp.   To humor him, I gave him a small chunk.  He ATE the chunk of cantaloupe.   But of course, he had also just eaten scraps of the barbecue roast I had on my dinner plate.   Omnivores.  I would think it cruel and unusual punishment to restrict him to soy proteins and vegetables.   He might decide to snack on me one night.  Vegans can be a little unpredictable.

don’t smoke that mushroom

Eat it.

Compared to the years I served in the United States Navy, robust health and nutrition of sailors in the Nineteenth Century – the “iron men and wooden ships” of lore- was less a factor of the sea air than good fortune.  Logs of ships’ surgeons from that era contain reports of men lost overboard in storms at sea, accidents, cholera, dysentery,  over- consumption of alcohol leading to death, infections, sexually-transmitted diseases, run -ins with native populations )in the then- relatively isolated foreign ports), and poor diet.

In the years just after Desert Storm,  fresh dairy products, fruit, and vegetables became available fairly regularly at sea due to underway replenishment.   Even in the early 1990s,  it was not uncommon to have powdered eggs, and ultra-pasteurized milk ( the sort the US Army Veterinary Service certified as safe for consumption) in place of fresh more than a week out of port.

It leads me to wonder aloud,  whether the new health-consciousness of many activists for varied range-fed beef and compassionately-raised chicken,  organic vegetables and gluten-free choices, have filtered down to our armed forces.

Most of my peers who retired around 2009 -2010, know that the military began a renewed campaign to fight obesity – discharging members who failed to maintain a standard that – even with body-builders  – was difficult to achieve.   But we also know that society has gotten farther and farther away from healthy diets and regular exercise.

But there are choices.   Although,  I do not expect my local Pizza Port to alter the menus just yet.   And with virtually every town having small breweries popping up,  I do not believe “lite” beer is going to be on the minds of the young men and women today.   However, for those fewer of us, where the excesses of youth are around our waistlines, in our zeal to stay off medicines and out of hospitals,  may yet find ways to exercise moderately and eat tasty, and healthy, food.

When I heard about this Portobello mushroom pizza, I was skeptical.  It is remarkably tasty!

But this also has cancer-fighting properties as well as staying off my waistline.   And I surprised my doctor last Wednesday with my complete turnaround in health.   Thirty-five pounds lighter,  blood -chemistry all in the normal range,  and much happier.   He didn’t ask me how,  but when others may,  I’ll tell them, “Pizza, fish, Chinese food, fresh vegetables.  Yogurt.  And more cooking with garlic, turmeric, mushrooms, and herbal ingredients.”

That gives me the ability to enjoy a nice craft beer.   Guilt-free.    I’m still a Sailor, after-all.