When a sailor reports aboard Navy ship right out of boot camp, s/he will have four immediate concerns: (1) Not being fooled by old salts into searching the boat from stem to stern for pieces of equipment that don’t exist, (2) Getting lost, (3) Following the proper General Quarters “traffic pattern,” and (4) learning Navy phraseology.
The Navy insists upon standard phraseology in its deck logs, phone talker communications, reports and 1-MC (ship-wide public address system) announcements. 1-MC announcements are accompanied by boatswain’s pipe calls which all sound the same at first.
While I was working on a novel about the sea, I remembered what it was like being transferred to the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CVA-61) right out of boot camp. Compared to boot camp, the ship was much better duty, but there was still a lot to learn.
When I reported aboard, I was informed that I had been assigned to a floating city with an airport where the residents spoke a foreign language. Soon, I would have to learn what was supposed to happen when we “set condition zebra” (a readiness condition with certain hatches and fittings closed); and that a “shot line” didn’t refer glassware on a bar but to a small-diameter line fired over an alongside ship prior to an underway replenishment (UNREP).
Reveille throughout the city came a lot earlier than one expected even though the chief petty officers in charge of our boot camp companies at Great Lakes had brainwashed us that squared-away sailors loved getting up early. But they didn’t tell us that aboard ship a BMOW (Boatswain’s Mate of the Watch) would announce over the 1-MC to “Heave out and Trice Up.”
My first thought was that everyone aboard ship was being asked to vomit on command in the head. I was wrong. The phrase means get up. If you’re sleeping in a hammock, tie it up. If you’re sleeping in a rack (bunk) tilt it up against the bulkhead (wall). This makes it possible for the sweepers or compartment cleaners to sweep the deck (floor) underneath it. In the old days, a trice hook held the rack/hammock to the bulkhead.
Planning to join the Navy and–as we always said–let the world see you? Be ready to learn fast. When it’s time to get up, you won’t have time to study your Bluejacket’s Manual for instructions. But one way or the other, you’ll need to know the difference between heave, heave in, heave around, heave out, heave to, and heaving line.
Scuttlebutt (gossip) isn’t always “the straight skinny” (accurate facts) especially when it comes from the fabled all-knowing (and mythical) “port butter cutter.” With luck, the old salts will soon tire of sending you off to find fictional left-handed crescent wrenches, cans of relative bearing grease, buckets of prop wash, or of asking you stand “mail buoy” (huh?) watch on the bow. Then they’ll remind you (if you need reminding) that all stairs on ships are called ladders and doors are called hatches and dogs are what keep them closed.
Maybe they’ll tell you the handy general quarters acronym FUSDAP so that in the three-minute rush to get to your duty station you’re moving with traffic rather than against it. Forward and up on the starboard side, down and aft on the port side is very handy to know.I hope they don’t have to tell you not to head for the flight deck looking for a Quidditch game when the BMOW comes on the 1MC and says “sweepers sweepers man your brooms.”
On the other hand, our ship really did have a horse, fiberglass, that is, so if the chief sent you to give it a bucket of oats, it was best to disappear for a while until everyone else in the compartment was done laughing at the joke.
Update: Since this post was written, the USS Ranger was sold for scrap because in all the years it was available to be purchased by a group willing to turn it into a museum, no viable plan was submitted to the navy. Movie stars spend more on their houses than was needed to preserve this ship and all the history it contained. Screwed up priorities, I guess.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Vietnam War-era novel set on board an aircraft carrier, “At Sea.” For David Ward, going in harm’s way seems to apply more toward the people back home than life in the sailor towns and the ship.