Life at sea

Today my Dad continues to describe life at sea including the drinks on offer, the sleeping arrangements and the operation of the anchor.

There was no fresh water on board.  All water aboard a ship as large as ours was extracted from sea water by a salination point on board.  There was a constant exhortation from the ship’s engineer to cut down the use of water as demand could otherwise exceed the capacity of the plant.

The water did not have a palatable taste.  Tea was the normal ship’s beverage but each mess tended to have a little stock of coffee grounds (instant coffee was unheard of) and coffee disguised the taste of the water.  We had no percolater and boiling water was poured on to the coffee and the grounds and the resultant coffee filtered through a silk (or nylon) stocking.

The only other source of drinks was when a small kiosk was manned by a supply rating open only in the early evening for about an hour when for a few pence you could buy a jug full of lime juice or orange juice.  Lime juice especially was recommended to combat the sweat you suffered from below decks in the heat and humidity of an enclosed mess desk.  Hence the US nickname for the English as Limies.

During the day you were required to wear normal Navy uniform or working dress at all times.  After 6pm unless you were on duty you could relax from this rule as a result o f which almost all lower deck men stripped to just a pair of shorts with maybe a cloth or a towel round the neck to soak up the sweat.

At 10pm over the Tannoy would come the order to “pipe down” which would be followed by “lights out” at 10.30pm.  This meant that you could not sling your hammock until 10pm and theoretically at least you had to be in it by 10.30pm.

hammocks

Hammocks were slung between metal rails.  Each man’s hammock was only about a foot from the next.  The hammock had a wood lathe at the head and foot the width of a man’s shoulders; in the hammock was placed a mattress and there was a blanket to cover you (all part of your kit) There was no pillow and no sheets (those were for the softies in the RAF).

To get in the hammock required an agile leap by holding onto the rail and swinging your body up and sideways into the hammock.  Once in the hammock, it was quite comfortable.  There you stayed until reveille the next morning.

It was a regulation again that mean must sleep wearing vest and underpants in case of fire but this was mainly ignored.

Lights out at 10.30pm meant that the main lights went out but there were pilot lights dotted around as of course men would be passing through the ship as part of their night duties and in harbour would be returning from evening leave.

The hammock provided a counter against the rolling motion of the ship when at sea in that the hammock retained its centre of gravity whilst the ship was leaning first to the left and then to the right.  The hammock was no counter to the pitch and toss of the ship i.e. when it first buried its bows into a wave and then lifted up to the next wave.  Being quartered up in the bows on the ship this movement was felt at its greatest.  The ship’s bow would rise to whatever the height of the approaching wave (sometimes as much as 15-20 feet) but then would descend on the other side as if the ship’s bow was coming down giant staircases with a huge shudder down every step.  All loose items would rattle in unison.

Another of the ship’s functions were apparent to us members of the 805 squadron mess deck were the raising and lowering of the anchor.  The ship’s anchor chains (there were two anchors in the bows) consisted of links maybe 18 inches x 12 inches and as thick as a man’s arm.  When the anchor was raised into its normal located position, the anchor chain was retained in the bowels of the ship.  Bear in mind that the anchor chain or cable to give it its proper title was several hundred feet in length.  When the ship dropped anchor the anchor cable paid out from below at a fast speed.  As it passed through our mess deck it was encased in a chamber on the bulkhead only a few feet from where we slept.  The noise was thunderous as the chain rocketed upwards.  Entry to this chamber was forbidden as the chain plunged from side to side as it paid out.

The reverse process was only marginally quieter.  When this took place three seamen entered the chamber with long leather straps.  They stood round the aperture through which the descending chain links would go albeit that the capstan above raised the heavy weight of the paid out chain and anchor at a slower pace, and alternately by use of the straps guided the chain through the hole in the chamber.  This was a dangerous process as each link (shackle) weighed over a hundredweight.  At the same time the mean were being sprayed with water as the cable paid in.  Up on the cable deck other men would be washing the paying in chain to remove seaweed and other debris.

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