98. The Deafening Roar of Wind and Sea

I awoke to the sensation of my body rolling back and forth in my bed.  Not surprising for being out on the high seas.  Lullabye baby on the … 

Right in sync the ‘alert’ triggered by CS Phil was heard all over the decks; whether I wanted it or not, it was wake-up time!  

The unsteady movements were really getting, dare I say it, storm-tossed.  “Stay alert and steady yourself,” a calm yet stern voice commanded.  “Hold on to the railings and such as you make your way around the ship, it’s gonna be like this for a while.  Duties continue as usual.” 

Phil’s voice was elevated now as it seemed to me, the outside was audible inside. He made his steady, experienced way through the corridors. The rest of us who were not so experienced, bounced along with little glances of slight confusion (or was it uncertainty and fright?) to one another.  

With Taiwan to the west and the Mariana Trench far to the east of our position, our ship was navigated through the northernmost tip of the South China Sea.  It shouldn’t be too much longer before our boat will taste the East China Sea.  

First things first: shower, shave, well you know the rest and holding on constantly to something, railings or otherwise.  I nervously thought to myself, ‘Oh what fun I’m going to have now!’  

As I made my way up to morning duties, something else of interest was taking place.  Our speed was cutting out and it was soon revealed why exactly, that was.

The ship’s boiler busted … well, one of the boilers and that was more than enough!  Not at all in good timing (is it ever!?) and considering the agitated waters we were in, our significantly slower pace brought our vessel to a laboured crawl.  

Hopefully we’ll make it to Japan.  As I understood it, without our own full power, the ship is even more at the mercy of the turbulent seas.  

And then it happened: another boiler had busted.  It was said that we were not taking in water at this point, thankfully. ‘Wait! Does this mean we could?’  This uneasy thought was to myself.

As we were cargo-less, our vessel was tossed about like a toyship in a wild child’s bathtub!  Only in my craziest of boyhood dreams would I have ever imagined being in such a hairy, scary situation as this! I can tell you now, it ranked right up there with the Vietnamese waters experience!

I mean, what would’ve been worse? Getting blown to bits or being pulled under the ocean by a sinking ship, drowning in a raging sea??

Throughout the rest of this rough and tumble day and more than halfway through the night, we (and some other ships I barely was able to see) were subject to the mercy of Mother Nature’s whim.   

In the darkness of the early morning hours, Skip’s voice came in over the P.A. system, sharing the status report from below decks: “Between the port beam and the port bow, there is now a crack!” 

This then began to steadily weaken and the ocean was making its way into the ship at an alarming rate!  In milliseconds of panic & fear -no doubt- running through most of the crew, our Captain reassured us just as quickly of the makeshift sealing of this crack and that the hold had been sealed.

The guys have done their best to make watertight the damage.  Unfortunately we had zero propulsion; no steam power, no go!  Well, it’s a decrease in speed like from 13 knots reduced to 1 or 2 knots.  

The Trans Western is moving but at an unnoticeable pace.  I imagined myself on a paper boat just like the ones I used to make as a kid, in the middle of this tumultuous sea with no alternate course of action.

I’m not entirely certain how this next moment came about, well, other than credit to the thrilling sensations pulsing through me.  I do consider myself a curious sort of fellow and so along with the then current rate of adrenaline pumping through me, I followed the rush! 

I wanted to see for myself how our ship was reacting to all this excitement. The next thing I knew I was covering myself with my heavy hooded jacket, without thought on much else for preparations.  And so it was, with deck shoes already on (whaat? No boots or lifejacket!?), I found myself out in the storm, on the highest point of the uppermost deck! 

What felt like gale force winds, they were whipping all around me, the ship and the chilly ocean; I really couldn’t tell if it was raining or just an on-going downpour (and sideways hammering) of sea spray. 

I chose to secure myself at what was the highest point, just before climbing the ladder of the smokestack.  I hung on for dear life to an iron railing which surrounded the stack and that was my lifeline.  I noticed how everything was sealed up (that’s good) also, I quickly realized I was the only one outside … and with sopping wet legs and feet!  

The sea swelled non-stop, thrashing itself onto our ship with what had to be 40’-50’ waves, no lie!!  As I did my best to stand there in observance of my surroundings, I was mostly fascinated by the bow of the ship.  

It would dip waaaay down into the ocean.  And when it finally surfaced, it continued straight upwards lowering the stern down, down into the sea … what an adventure this turned out to be!

It was as though I was tied to the railing.  There was no time to think, no time to process the extreme situation we were in and so to report, all I thought was, ‘My God, I am witness to this explosive power!’  I must’ve been hypnotised.  

And each time the ship’s propeller was lifted out of the water, it felt to me as the entire ship would violently shake, often accompanied by an awful noise … I’ll never forget that mesmerizing, terrified feeling.  

I do not even know for how long I was out there thrilling myself by feeding my blown-up curiosity which was clearly accompanied by complete disregard to my physical safety.  

In retrospect I know I was perplexed by the magnificence of the force of the sea and the wind; such a beautiful yet deadly combination.  

Then somewhere separate from the deafening roar of wind and sea came the voice of my Skipper shouting at me over the bullhorn, “Hey Fiji! Get your ass down here, right now!!”  

I felt myself snap back into my mind and even managed to think a brief thought which was, ‘I’d better get down and back inside before Skip himself throws me into the ocean!’

Hurrying best as I could for I certainly weighed more now being waterlogged and all, back in through the steel door and into the passageway.  I remembered to spin the wheel around, re-securing the door.  

I turned to see the Captain simply staring me down from the doorway of his Bridge.  Under most any other circumstance, this guy always had a smile for me; not so much this time.  

“Your punishment Fiji …” he said with an exasperated breath.  “… know what your punishment is!?”  The frown on his face as he asked this question already spoke volumes.  I just shook my head ever so slightly.  “Go get my breakfast ready right now!”   

I hightailed it out of his presence straightaway to the Officer’s Saloon.  My heart was pounding but I was smiling.  Do I take the liberty of changing out of my drenched clothes first?  I say only a fool would not. 

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Our issue with the boiler played role in the loss of propulsion / without its own power, we had little protection against the battering waves and aggressive winds.

97. Alphabet Sea With White Paper Crests

In the wee hours of the dark sea morning, we were already on our way to France before my necessity to be awake.  

Up and at it, for Skip’s breakfast needed serving.  I tidied up the Captain’s quarters after having my breakfast.  Then priority duties and my cabin were the remainder of the morning.  

Now while it was known that I knew the ins & outs of my job like the back of my hand, Phil must always inspect everything to cover his own Chief Stewardly butt.  Did I stock the upstairs saloon with fresh everything for the normal day’s wants?  Are the Captain’s quarters exactly as it should be?  

Last post I mentioned the main bulletin board just outside the Bridge; there was a second board just outside the mess hall … posts were consistently on white paper and it wasn’t long [the days in & out] before black type-written words were like a sea of alphabet,  just floating around an ocean of white papers.

About 9:30 that morning I got a surprise … well really, we all did.  I was walking out of the mess hall towards my morning deck time when an outstanding colored piece of paper on the bb caught my attention.  

I read the words.  There was my surprise, a change of destination; France was scrapped.  Now instead of due west, a slight adjustment due northeast was already being made by the time I finished reading the notice. 

Just as this was sinking into my brain, I heard Skipper’s voice over the P.A. announcing our new destination to be …Yokohama.  Japan 35.4434°N 139.7024°E 🇯🇵

Wow!  Well considering I’d never been neither to Europe or Japan, an adventure was still in my forecast.  I went about my stroll on deck knowing I’d have to get back inside real soon.  Lunch duties were close at hand.  

I noticed the waves seemed a bit busier than they had been the past couple of days but hey, isn’t that exactly what the ocean does, keep one guessing?  I’ve always enjoyed anything I’d experienced on the open sea, so, bring it on!

The rest of the day went along as my usual routine always did.  All of us, we were rather excited to be going to Japan, so much so that we held a little party later that evening after dinner and duties were complete.  

What fun would a bunch of guys have, enclosed together on a moving ship?  Well let’s see, we’re negotiating the South China & Philippine Seas, set on to yet another voyage and this time,  just over 1700 nautical miles!  

We were most prepared with excellent meals and lots of cold beer, exchanging plans about what we would possibly do in Japan, and most importantly thankful we safely left Vietnam behind.

I turned in a little later than usual and slept solid for about 4 hours.

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95. Vinh Cam Ranh – Việt Nam

We had traveled just over 660 nautical miles, a near 2 days journey when we reached our new destination of this amazing assignment.  Because you see, in spite of some hair-raising predicaments which I had found myself in so far, I was really being amazed.

And now, to carry on about my last stop in Việt Nam, which of course at the time, I didn’t know this would be as such.  

So, in the Khánh Hòa Province of Việt Nam, Vinh Cam Ranh (the Vietnamese way to say Cam Ranh Bay) is beautifully situated on the southeastern coast.  And if I were to grab a jeep and drive north east out of Sài Gòn, I’d travel about 180 miles.

You know I gotta tell ya, I really was amazed when I learned of this extraordinary deep-water bay.  What makes it such a special place is that its waters are well, very deep as they are met, immediately off the coast.  

And then there’s the way it’s located at this particular inlet off the South China Sea; it seems to bring year-round protection from a temperamental ocean for anchored ships in the bay.

Notwithstanding there’s some protection assistance in that area from the peninsula jutting out from the northeast at the bay’s forefront as well.  And it was here we temporarily became part of the impressively expansive U.S. Naval sea and air base.  I’m pretty sure all of our Forces, some allied too I think, utilized the area.  

By now there was one thing I became accustomed to and that was listening for the sound of the heavy cable lowering anchor; that way I knew we’d arrived at our new home for however long -which at this point really seemed irrelevant- it would be.

Officially parked and dinner was served.

Early in the next morning I began feeling very, very sick; gut-wrenching stomach cramps and oh I just knew I wouldn’t be able to do the breakfast shift, to say the least.  

My co-worker/roommate Dan, quickly called upon our CS Phil, and he rushed to our room.  Taking only a couple of moments to look me over, he radioed the Captain.  Shortly thereafter, Skipper arrived at my bedside.  

He took his turn at looking me over, “Oh you don’t look so hot my friend,” he said with a slight grin, then added, “I’m gonna send you out for repairs!”  And with that he nodded to Phil who clearly knew what that meant.  

I was too busy clenching my fists and grinding my teeth to be laughing and carrying on with Skipper’s sense of serious humor as he left my room, “Now who’s gonna fix my breakfast just right and make my coffee?” he said to no one.

Phil called the radio operator and it was all arranged before I even knew what was coming; the Air Force Hospital had been notified of my arrival.  Within I’d say no more than half an hour, I was blanketed and strapped into a basket.  

I was alert enough to notice the cable (as in the only thing between my pathetic self and the chopper) only raised slightly up into the Huey and oh my goodness, if I wasn’t so distraught in pain, I quite possibly would’ve declined the ‘lift’ -no pun intended.

And there I was, dangling precariously (to me most certainly) in the sky, riding a freewind, airlifted to a waiting ambulance at the shore and they took me to the Air Force Hospital up on the hill.  And while quite simple a process this was in the eye of a professional, for me, all I can say is, what a ride, short and not so bad after all!

After I’d been loaded into the ambulance, I remember looking out of windows on both sides.  More than anything in all the surroundings, I took notice of the ever so many jeeps.  For whatever reason, this picture burned its image in my mind.

When I arrived at the hospital, staff was waiting to take me in immediately.  Ha, ha! star treatment must’ve been on the Skip’s good word?  Admitted immediately, no time was wasted sticking me with needles and drawing my blood.  Oh if I could only call Diana!

I was on an unplanned, mandatory mini-vacation of sorts …well it’s what I told myself anyway.  For whatever reason it took nearly 2 days to determine what was my ailment.  

And that, of all things, was food poisoning.  Rather interesting I thought as I hadn’t eaten for several hours before the pain began.  

Oh yes and I just want to add one more thing to this segment.  I remember at 5a each morning, if one is well enough (and able of course) to sit up, you sat up!   

A Colonel, possibly a General or the Base Commander would stop in to see the patients; a morale boost I’m thinking. 

And on the 3rd day I was well enough to surrender my mini vacation.  The hospital discharged me and I was promptly returned to my ship. Well, for nothing else, a good rest was had and there were no more Huey rides.

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