Never trust a bored sailor …

At one time the U.S. Navy told the world that Navy life wasn’t just a job but also an adventure. Well, lemme tells ya, the never defined ‘adventure’. To sailors with unassigned time on their hands, adventure often meant asking one’s self ‘how can I torture my shipmates for a quick laugh’.

I started my Naval career in the Nuclear Power program. I made it through the program as far as the final ‘hot plant’ phase of training. I was holding on to a 3.6 GPA but the stress of the training eventually resulted in my removal from the program. Because of this, the majority of the propulsion engineers in the conventionally powered fleet to view me as ‘nuke waste’ and considered ‘nuke waste’ as sub-par, barely trainable sea slugs. This failed to bother me since I had a high confidence level and didn’t give a rat’s a$$ what people thought of me.

My first, and only, recipient of such adventures was on my first ship (USS DAHLGREN DDG 43). The day after reporting onvoard, DAHLGREN got underway for refresher training, REFTRA, in the Caribbean Sea. My assignment, as a Machinist Mate Third Class (MM3), was to the Aft Engine-room. My job was Messenger of the watch which is a Navy-speak for mundane slug who records machinery parameters hourly and run any bull-sh!t errands for the rest of the watch team. On my first watch, the switchboard electrician called me back to ‘lend him a hand’. Now, I knew this electrician fairly well since the ship’s office misplaced my berthing assignment from the Machinists Mate berthing to the the Electricians Mate berthing for my first few weeks. I mention this because this friendship gave me a misguided trust in this young man. Anyway, … he handed me these two electrical leads and asked me to untangle them. Sounds like an innocent request dunnit? Here’s the kicker, these leads were attached to a megger and as soon as I had contact with the tips of the leads, he cranked onnthe megger and shocked the living he!! outta my dumb-ass. That, was the last time I trusted an electrician, it is also the seed that ‘sparked’ my own evil mind to effect my revenge and, of course, pay it forward. Since I had a good working knowledge of electricity and access to six-volt lantern batteries and copper wire, the plan was drawn. The switchboard electrician station had a metal folding chair for the watch-standers. I came to the engine-room just before his shift and wired up six six-volt batteries to his chair. The chair had a cushioned seat, under that cushion I placed a contact switch. When he sat down, the switch activated and shocked his silly a$$. He shocked himself at least twice before our Throttleman saw what was going on and couldn’t contain his laughter. Sparky & I called a truce and agreed that his megger trick was effectively counter-attacked.

While onboard DAHLGREN, I began to let my inner smart-ass run amok as I wandered my watch station for six to eight hour shifts with absolutely nothing to do unless it was midnight when we shifted equipment and cleaned oil and water strainers. While standing the lower-level watch, I would wait until I heard the messenger of the watch come down the ladder. As he started down the ladder, I ran a steam lance through my hair and ran back to my desk. The messenger would make come up to the desk and see me with crossed eyes, a small sledge hammer, and steam coming off of my head. The messenger, quickly turned around and went to the watch supervisor to tell him what was seen. The supervisor’s response was something to the effect of ‘didn’t anyone warn you about Deemer? Nobody knows, or is brave enough to ask what he does down there. He kinda scares us but he is good in an emergency’. A few weeks later I found out that this particular messenger was superstitious and afraid of ghosts. With this knowledge in hand, I made it a point to be totally hidden every time he toured my lower level. He reported my absence but I always replied to the interspace comms, even when the messenger was looking for me. So fast forward to the end of watch. On his final round through the lower level, when he was in a tight area, I reached up from the bilges and grabbed his ankle with a crud encrusted, steaming hand. The supervisor told me that all he saw was a blue flash flying past the observation windows. For some reason, that young sailor avoided me at all costs and asked for transfer to Deck Division. Dunno why …

Now, I didn’t limit my antics to those junior to me, in my mind everybody who chose to enter the engine-room was fair game. The ‘coolest’ of such mischief targeted my watch supervisor, a Machinist Mate First Class. He had a habit of slouching in his chair and propping his feet up on the handrail for the main engine gage board. One night, when decided to take a nap, I conspired with the throttleman and electrician to zip tie his boots to the hand rail and the depress the test button for the main engine loss of lube oil pressure alarm. Since this condition is one if the most severe casualties and requires immediate actions to prevent a loss of the engines or gear set, this is one loud-ass alarm. Well, the supervisor woke up quite suddenly and in a confused haze. When he tried to sit up, the chair pivoted (barber type chair) and his happy dumb a$$ fell to the floor. He was not a happy camper and I was more fleet of foot. The other fun I had with visitors was when I was the upper level operator. I had a habit of crawling through the overhead in the main steam piping, when someone passed beneath me I snagged their ball cap and scurried away – I got my commanding officer twice (was still a MM3 at the time). Fortunately, charlie oscar had a sense of humor and was aware of my antics.

My next tour was on the bird farm AMERICA (CVA 66). Just prior to my transfer, I somehow managed to successfully achieve promotion to MM Second Class. This put me on a faster track for qualification to the more senior watch stations and landed me the position of Work Center Supervisor (WCS) in Main Engine Room (MER) #1 and after about a year as WCS for MER #2. I also landed an assignment to the Engineering Casualty Control Training Team (ECTT) as the “initiator/instigator” for the team – in layman’s terms, I created the problem while the rest of the team waited outside the affected Engine Room for the on deck watch team to respond. However, that is a story for another time.

I quickly advanced to watch supervisor, Top Watch in Navy-speak which confined me to my assigned engine room for my entire 8 or 12 hour shift. Because I could not leave my engine room, I would wander around amongst the watch team looking for mischief to be instigated.

One of my favorite past times was finding a young, unsuspecting sailor sitting on a trash can taking a light nap. When this happened, I gathered a crowd with an invitation of ‘watch this sh!t’. Next I grabbed my trusty 16 lb sledge hammer with the 18″ handle and ‘tee up’ at said trash can and proceeded to dig in and drive the trash can out from under the sleeping lad. I would mix this up with a sneak attack when the sleepy kids on the lower level decided to nap on trash cans or the deck plates. For perspective, the average temperature in the space was between 90 – 110 F. Now, back to my tale – when I encountered these napping young’ns, I would grab a five gallon trash can and fill it with relatively cool water and released a deluge which suddenly brought the sleepyheads back to reality. This turned out to be quite the incentive for staying awake on my watch. In my defense, the ‘correct’ action that I should-oughtta have taken would have been counseling or processing for non-judicial punishment (NJP) metered out by tge Commanding Officer. But that would have ruined careers for what was in reality a minor issue. We were working mostly 12 hrs on/12 hours off while conducting casualty training every other day. My way was more effective, required no paperwork, didn’t go any further than my watch team, and was a whole helluva a ton more fun. It also formed a bond of trust when the word spread that I had left the confines of my enclosed throttle and boiler control station within the engine room. No harm, no foul.

Here too, I loved to scurry about the steam piping. That was until I irritated my Chief Engineer (CHENG) during a zone inspection by the C.O. I was out and about above the main engine when the CHENG & C.O. were going through their checklist around the high pressure turbine’s throttle block. I waited until they were just past me when I jumped down from the overhead, starling them both. The C.O. asked me what I was doing up there, I looked him straight in the eye and calmly said “just takin’ a quick nap, Sir…”. The CHENGster’s face turned bright red, while the Main Propulsion Assistant, division Master Chief, and my Division Officer were fighting back the laughter. The Captain looked me back in the eye and asked if I was suitably ‘refreshed’ and told me to carry-on. It was suggested that I not repeat this type of performance. FYI – the ‘suggestion’ failed to adequately deter me…

I also found a way to have fun with that loud-a$$ loss of oil pressure alarm. This time, we were inport steaming and I found an unsuspecting target who dared take a nap just outside my operating booth. We proceeded to zip tie his belt loops to the deck grating before testing the alarm. Imagine a fish on a hot skillet only 6′ 2″ and around 220 pounds of irritated sailor. I just wish we had digital photo technology back then – it was quite the you-tube moment.

I’ll close out this chapter with the ultimate in bored sailor fun. When returning home from deployment, passing the Rock of Gibraltar signified the beginning of the transit across the Atlantic with around two weeks to Home. In my engine room, this also signified the beginning of the water wars. The war was between the Machinist Mate and Boiler Tech Top Watches. The goal was to soak our counterparts with as much water as possible during, just before, or just after the watch turnover. My weapon of choice was my super soaker, that is until it was confiscated by the ship’s Admiral. I was lying in wait for my Chief (I was still a Second Class at the time) to come down the ladder for the alternate entrance to the engine room. When I saw the khaki pants legs, I unloaded the ole super soaker on the person attached to those legs. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my Chief, it was the Admiral. All I could say was oops. It wasn’t oops that I got the Admiral, it was oops because I knew he was going to confiscate my super soaker. Punishment never entered my mind, the Admiral frequently ditched his Marine guard detail to come down and visit with my watch team. He was a CHENG before working his way up to Admiral and really hated his ‘babysitters’. Anyway, Mr Admiral Man took my super soaker and tormented his staff with it for the remainder of the deployment. I am sad to report that I lost the war in spectacular fashion when the BT Chief arranged to have two thirty gallon trash cans full of ice water staged at the main deck access to the escape trunk I used to escape his other traps. The escape trunk was a three deck vertical climb. As soon as I dogged the hatch behind me and began my climb, sixty gallons of ice cold water cascaded upon my happy dumb a$$.

Eventually, more sea stories and misadventures at sea will follow…

Ah; good times, good times …

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