85. Open Sea Routine

First full day out on the ocean and with the Golden Gate’s disappearance into the now east, so to had to go my thoughts of what’s to come.  Well, at least on hold in the back of my mind.

It was time to go full steam ahead in the expected routine of my job which has only slightly varied from when we were at docks.  The transition was smooth enough as far as I was concerned, demonstrating to the CS I knew my assignments very well.

After breakfast our Chief Steward calls a meeting of kitchen staff, chef included.  “Things change a little now that we’re out to sea, you’ll find the law is different than when we were at dock.  Trash of any kind and especially cigarette butts will never be disposed overboard, is that clear?  There is a proper place for everything and I do mean everything!”

He went on, “It’s now time to get dressed up real warm ’cause we’re gonna stock the deep freeze and the main refrigerators.”  Coats, beanies and gloves were provided and we quickly bundled up.

The supplies that were loaded prior now had to be put away in orderly fashion; items must be readily available.  Bottled water, juices, milk, meats, veggies, etc., no hassles and wasted time trying to locate anything.

“Consider one of the engine room guys coming into the kitchen for a drink or snack, they shouldn’t have to waste time searching for anything in the refrigerators, so organization is always priority,” the CS spoke as he pointed out where to place the various items.

The boxes were opened, the large freezer and fridge shelves were stocked and the empties were broke down flat, bundled and placed in the holding spot.  At the next port they’d be removed.  The dry pantry was handled the same way minus the coats, gloves and beanies of course!

3rd day – our Chief Steward calls everybody to gather.  We would now receive instructions for handling a case of emergency.  An alarm was sounded. “Line up on deck and wait for the 1st or 2nd Officer’s instructions.”  

In each of our cabins there was a life jacket for every individual.  “Do not stop to put it on.  Grab it and get topside asap!  You can put it on as you go or once you are up on deck.   We will do this drill every third day.”  

I realized quick enough we’d be eating real good on this ship.  You say you feel like having a pork chop, the kitchen obliged by sending out a hot plate with about a half a dozen of ‘em!  There was no chance of anyone dining alone because someone would catch a whiff and be beside you in no time flat, sharing in the delights.

Away from the kitchen CS had the linen closet key so I always had to ask for that; seems like we had greater concerns than to worry about linens disappearing – oh well.  At least three times a week I’d change out the sheets and towels I used, all of us being responsible for our own.

Making certain the Skipper’s quarters were always clean and amply stocked with the necessities for his comfort was another factor of my duties; remember he was my personal assignment.

Daily routine breakfasts, lunches and dinners.  Once in a while the Skipper would make casual conversation with me.  I was the only Hindu person on board his ship and he asked me if I was actually from India.  I shared with him the short version of being born and raised in the Fiji Islands.  He was kind enough and for his liking, our Captain soon nicknamed me ‘Fiji’.

Coming out from one of the cabins, Nancy Sinatra’s hit single, “These Boots Are Made For Walking” sounded throughout the corridor -other tunes too but that one several times a day.  

Two of the deckhands, a middle-aged man and his son from the southeastern U.S. were the occupants of that cabin and this seemed be their favorite song.  It didn’t take long for that tune to stick like flypaper in my brain and to this day, it surfaces at the funniest of times.

My break after the lunch service was always a breeze, kickin’ it on the aft deck.  Often I’d get to see various fish leaping from the water and capturing my attention.  Otherwise I gave in to a sea of thoughts.  And in the evenings I anticipated with great pleasure, the sunset.

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These Boots Are Made For Walkingreleased in November of 1965 and was written by Lee Hazelwood.  By the end of January, 1966 it had topped the charts taking over the  #1 spot in both the U.S. and the U.K.  Cinema utilized the song in Full Metal Jacket, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and most recently in Ocean’s 8, just to name a few.

 

83. Still Tied Up at Dock …Fire in the Hold! 🔥 Fire in the Hold!

Next day.

I awoke and went to find Phil, the Chief Steward you’ll remember.  He showed me our Captain’s quarters, the rest of the quarterdeck, some basic supply areas and at last the private dining area.  

If I’m remembering correctly we were on the top deck now where this dining room was situated.  Phil told me it’s where the Skipper, First Mates, Engineers, etc., would have their meals.  “You’ll give them the menu after they’re seated and take their orders.  Well, you know what to do,” he said to me with confidence.  

“They’ll be coming up in about an hour,” he pointed out the coffee machine as he spoke along with the table linens, sink, refrigerator, dishes & silverware, you know all that stuff to lay a neat table for the officers in their exclusive dining room.  

I’d always have my right hand man to assist me in the dining room.  I would utilize the dumbwaiter system for the food to come up from the kitchen below.  At the end of the meals we’d make use of it again for the return of the meal dishes.  I would also wear a starched white waiter’s jacket and those were kept aside on a few hooks… always at least three or four clean ones.

At this time the ship wasn’t fully staffed so only a few crew I would tend to.  As they took their seats they introduced themselves to me and were kind.  When the Skipper came into the room Phil pointed him out.  

And when the diners departed the room, my assistant and I had our breakfast and then cleaned up, changing the table linens,  making sure the floor was cleaned up and putting everything put away.

Phil arrived in time to see that all was done.  “You’re off for the next three and a half hours till lunch duty so have your time.  Go ashore if you like or rest or whatever.  And yes, Masala you have an appointment with the Skipper at 2:30 this afternoon.  You’ll be done with the lunch well before that.  He’ll be expecting you in his quarters.”

I left the ship to walk around Concord and most important to call Diana myself.  I walked up to a pay phone, pick one, any one, there were many scattered about here and there.  I deposited my coins and made the call.

Yesterday Phil had provided much useful information to me of which now I would share with my wife.  After asking after Alok’s health, I asked about Amar and Asha (I was missing my children even more now that I realized I wouldn’t be seeing my family anytime soon … maybe even never again).

‘How are you doing?’  I gingerly asked her knowing what I was about to lay on her.  It didn’t sound as though she was suspicious so I began to let it roll out.  ‘I didn’t get the opportunity to sail in the direction of Fiji.’

“Oh no, why not?” she asked rather casually.  In the quiet moment that followed she then of course wanted to know, “When are you coming home?”  My heart began to beat a little faster as I replied, ‘I don’t know.’  Diana plainly put it forward, “What do you mean you don’t know?”

‘I’ve been assigned to one of many ships belonging to Hudson Waterways which has been contracted by the U. S. Government during this war.  This is what the Chief Steward has explained to me dear.’

I listened for a few moments for her feedback but all I would hear was her deep breathing and so I continued, ‘I’m headed for Vietnam at the end of this week and the return date is unknown.’  Heavy silence remained on her side for a moment longer. “Did I hear you say you’re sailing to Vietnam?”

I told her she heard right and I begin speaking quicker.  I fed her all the information I had.  Diana just listened … or fainted, I don’t know.  I added that I was now technically employed by the United States Merchant Marines.  I also said that I couldn’t get back to Los Angeles before we departed and that we would be sailing under the American flag as a division of the United States Coast Guard.  

For added comfort I added the fact that the U. S. Marines would always be protecting us.  We were after all transporting vital supplies for the war effort. “I don’t believe this is happening!”  Okay she was still with me on the phone.

I told her about the pay, how it would be administered and that when we were within the border of the war zone (hazard pay), it meant double pay.  I don’t know what comfort that really brought her at the moment but there, I put it all on the table.  I think harder than the fact of my destination was the realization that we couldn’t see each other before I left.

Vietnam would have plenty of time to sink in.  What else did we have?  I know I didn’t need to remind her but I did; Susan and Lisa being there really was such a huge advantage.  Diana told me the kids were playing with their cousin (Lisa’s son) having a happy time and so I chose not to speak to them on this call.  

Unless I said something to them about what was happening they wouldn’t know but hearing their voices I expected, would devastate me and so I did not speak to them.  To be sure I would on the next call.

Conversation about the rest of everything transpired, I gave her an address to where she’d be able to write to me (everything went through New York) and so it came to pass and I sensed Diana was attempting to project strength on her part, for my sake and that didn’t occur to me till after I hung up the phone and opened the glass door, stepping outside of the phone booth.

The meeting with the Captain went well and why wouldn’t it.  He seemed a nice man speaking plainly with me and also with decency.  We finalized my employment that afternoon.  The Skipper had asked me questions mainly in regards with pay distribution to my family and final wishes should the need arise.

“And if you choose to go ashore at any port, be it known it’s your own discretion.  Also you’ll be given a ‘shore allowance’ from your own pay if you require it, you need only ask.”  

I smiled when the Skipper mentioned all the ports we may encounter.  “Oh yes and if you choose to go ashore in the not-so-favorable parts of the world and get your ass blown off, know it’s your call.”

One day as the last of the supplies and bombs were being loaded, there happened a fire in the hold, the bay if you will.  A few of the guys (not your everyday warship crew) and myself panicked, having never been in such a situation before … ever, decided to run off the ship and were stopped at the gangway.  “Where you running off to?” we were questioned.

Blank looks on our face, wondering why we were stopped and told straight up, “If this ship blows the whole town goes up!”  It was clear we couldn’t outrun the explosion should one occur.  We remained on the ship.

The fire was quickly handled by the crew who (thank God) knew what to do and in the end well, in the back of my mind this fear would stay with me every night …day time too actually.

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49. Sailing,​ ​Sailing​ ​Upon​ ​the​ ​Ocean​ ​Blue

And once the P&O Liner Orsova has got herself directional, we look back to barely see specks of people at the docks and really only the coastline is in view.

The haunting Isa Lei is but a faded hum joining in the ever so faint lull of the engines as my mind and the ship tap into the Koro Sea – we have left Viti Levu and all those I love so dearly in the Fiji Islands.

I stood on deck awhile longer taking in the deep ocean blue; I know this was allowing all my thoughts and actions to settle in.  After a little while and a lot of sea spray in the face –love that! I went back inside, slowly walking to my cabin.

Sitting on my bed -one of 2- I look across to the other one taking notice of a suitcase, a coat I think and another bag.  Smiling to myself I hoped my cabin mate would be of the female species.  It’s all really very silly I know – this was not a coed dormitory after all, ha ha!

What? Okay enough daydreaming. I take a moment to unpack my suitcase.  No one showed yet so I thought it wise to find the dining room and I may as well get busy checking out the local scene.

I approached the purser’s desk for the evening’s schedule.  She naturally was only too glad to share all the lovely details about the SS Orsova. “Our dining room is one deck below.  I would recommend that you go down now, if you’re not doing anything else and familiarise yourself with your mealtime accommodations.”

The lady then asked if I was comfortable in my cabin and if I had met my cabin mate.  ‘Not yet!’  Thinking again about my earlier thoughts with a slight smirk, she must’ve caught it; she looked up my cabin mate’s name in her book and told me.

This time without another thought I laughed out loud for she gave me the name of a man; a man with a given-Christian first name and an Indian surname.  🔱 My daydream balloon was popped!

I found the dining room. Right away I was able to connect with the dining room captain who briefed me politely on how it all worked.  There was always two seatings early/later for meals and my table would remain the same throughout my time on board.

There were four chairs and only two of us assigned to this table although free to move about if invited to another.  I see how this works, two available seats if we should find someone to invite to our table.  Us?  The other dining chair being my cabin mate … okay, makes sense.

It was probably a bit past six in the evening and I thought it good to stroll about for a little while, not that I needed to work up an appetite or anything.  I explored my surroundings some more and of course still had hopes of seeing where the ladies might mingle.

Yes, what can I say?  This was a semi-important quest for me; can’t help it, I enjoy their company.  I know what you’re thinking … don’t worry, Noori is still sitting heavy on my heart and will be there for a very long time.  One in a million no doubt about it.

Goodness! It’s 7 o’clock and I should return to the dining room; 1st seating it will be.  All this questing was making me hungry.  The dining room’s aroma led me right to my table.

I am the only one and I take a seat.  A larger-than-life menu is handed to me and my drink request taken.  A young man approaches with a beaming smile.

I return the smile and he states, “You must be my cabin mate.”  I reached out to introduce myself, we shook hands and he tells me his name which I already knew, “Joseph.” and after seating himself, “I sure am hungry!”  Already something in common, nice.

And this is one of the many things I love about shipboard dining, there’s no wasting time on the waitstaff part.  It wasn’t long before we two young lads were enjoying an excellent meal and mutual conversation.

Joseph and I parted company after dinner.  I wanted to see if I’d find something of interest.  Truthfully I cannot recall neither what I had for that first dinner or what I chose to do that night.

I do know I enjoyed breathing in fresh salty air and sort of slipping into a peaceful, half-conscious state.  ✨ Are the stars out above the sea going to keep me aligned?

What I really wanted was to stroll the deck with someone, catch a movie, a show or dance a little, you know what I’m saying.  It sure would’ve been nice if that someone was Noori.

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You know back then a ship was my transportation -prior to that, my employment- not a leisurely cruise for the sake of a vacation.  🌏 I’ve been on a few extensive and leisurely cruises in my life since and apart from how the times and services have changed, being on board a luxury liner or freighter, yacht or speedboat, ferry or any boat really, the joy for me remains the same;​ ​it’s​ ​the open​ ​sea​.

It’s the endless horizon, some of the freshest possible air to fill my lungs with, the constant spray of the salt water, 🐬 the giants of the sea 🐳 occasionally accompanying our vessel, the starry sky of night and the twilight of a new morning.  I feel the cobwebs of my mind clearing out and if even momentarily, like I can do anything.