Half a Sea Story

Contributed by: Mark Chavez – RD2

And just what is a sea story ?? They all have one significant characteristic. As a fairy tale always begins with ‘Once upon a time’. A sea story always begins with, ‘Now this ain`t no shit’.

So all my stories are based on granite truth, with no names changed, as they are proud of the tale. Details may be fuzzy as to the exact number of opponents or drinks consumed. The dates may not be accurate, as at sea one day runs into another, and routine wears you down. However, some events are so outrageous, so superlative, that they stand alone, and cannot be shaken by facts. I present such memories for your amusement and shock of recognition.

Assab, Ethiopia was our first port of call on the homeward leg of that 66/67 Med. cruise. A grubby little town, with dirt streets, one big hotel and one bar. This local bar had four entrances, each named after a different state. I went in the one called the TEXAS Bar with about eight of my mates. Ursery, Cizio, Wilson, Brown, from the radar gang, some from Fox (the sonar gang) and some snipes. Beers were ordered, girls swept into position, and we surveyed the scene. In the light, the girls looked pretty rough. Tribal scars and tattoos, teeth filed, various blemishes and scars from infected wounds, and they smelled quite ripe. After five beers they were beautiful.

After a bit more, we decided to go up to the hotel for a look-see. When we stood up, so did everyone in the bar, and they all followed us out. Pretty strange, that. It was there I bought the saw tooth shark nose for about five dollars, I think. Some Russians were drinking there. Polite but distant. They didn’t like the Ethiopians, and the followers hanging on us had to leave the bar. After a few more beers, the strangest thing happened. A bunch of us went for a walk, and then my balance suddenly went. My feet walked away underneath me and I fell backwards to the earth with a painful thump. I was O.K. but my dignity was hurt.

It was here that Speedy Martin, the storekeeper that ran the ships stores, fell ill. Nothing would shake this infection, and the ships store was off limits for fear of contamination. We couldn’t buy soap, razor blades or any smokes for the last month of the cruise. When we got back to CONUS, he didn’t leave the ship, until he went to hospital. Very unlucky guy. Must have been something he ate.

I remember we stopped for a swim over the side, with a gunners mate and carbine watching over us. Climbed up and down that cargo net. You try that wearing frog feet. The water was great.

The red sea was beautiful at night. The bow-wake gleamed softly with phosphorescence, and the air was balmy and cool to the skin. We all heard stories of how it was impossible to drown in the Red Sea. As soon as you splashed about swimming, the sharks came and ate you.

We pulled into Jidda, Saudi Arabia, along that desolate coast. Small groups of us were invited to private homes for little parties, and we had one big bash for everyone just before we left. The big party had some flash dancers show their stuff, among them the signalmen. I remember John Wall (called Bulkhead) and Big Ski and Little Ski, brothers. Also Jake Martinez, the one who could spell. They needed him. My group was invited to the Ambassadors house (dumb luck) and he liked us so much we ended up visiting his seaside holiday house, and went snorkeling in the sea. I saw no sharks, but masses of colored coral, and thousands of tiny different colored fish that hid in the coral. So much color underwater, and so drab on the surface.

By the way, the reason for our popularity was that we brought mail sacks full of beer with us to every event. When the ex-pats working there ordered their booze, whiskey and beer weigh the same, so they only brought in hard liquor. They had no beer. We had tons of Old Milwaukee in the stores. It was rusting up anyhow.

The Suez canal was next. A big sandy ditch, shallow and filthy. Wrecked and burned ships grounded where the Israelis had destroyed them in the six day war. We had a visit by a bum boat.

Mr. Seferd, the engineering officer didn’t like their looks, and ordered the fire hoses out. Before we could wash them out of their boats, they left. Later, permission was granted for one boat to set up near the aft gun mount. Just rubbish to sell. I only bought a few things.

Beirut, Lebanon was the next port of call. Coming into the harbor was a treat. Gleaming white houses climbing up the hill sides, the bay and sky unbelievable blue, cloudless, hot sun. And behind all this, the tall mountains, snow capped and up to the edge of the sky. We arrived for New Year’s day. I wandered the city with a few mates, got cheated at a moneychangers, went shopping, had a few beers. It was a local holiday as well. I guess they used our calendar, a small surprise. Anyhow, we met a couple of Lebanese sailors, and they said (we thought) they would take us to a party run by their sweethearts. It looked odd that their girlfriends were so old, and worn looking, and then someone with better English explained that it was a whorehouse. Not all of us left. Somehow we scattered and found our own amusement. It was here that the SONARMAN tried to climb over to the ladies room in that terrific casino on the mountain, and got the whole ship banned. Well, we had to leave soon anyway.

Out to sea, and the weather closed down. Stormy and cold. We went up the Italian coast, I believe, and visited Bologna. Someone else please verify this.

Then it seemed we went to Barcelona, Spain. I recall visiting a grim city with Sweazy and some other guys. Not a cheerful place. After then, I believe we went to Gibraltar for supplies. I remember that big rock for sure.

We formed up with the U.S.S. Cone, and maybe some others, and crossed the Atlantic. Incredible storms for weeks. Everyone, from the chiefs groaning in the Foc`sle to the newest hand, was sick. I sat on that radar scope praying my relief would be five minutes early, as combat swayed sickeningly to and fro. We put up a swing chart, a sheet of maneuvering board paper and a hanging pencil. As you know, the ship can move in three directions at once. This only measured the roll, but it was enough. I have been sea sick only once in all those years, and this was the time.

The Charleston sea buoy was a great little sight. My first cruise. I was glad it was done.

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