When he opened the hatch and stepped out the cold wind bit into his face but it was not as bad as he expected. The spray from the waves was only a fine mist. The ocean was pretty quiet compared to what it normally was, the swells were only about 3 or 4 feet and the wind was light. He noticed how everything was gray. Sometimes there was a contrast with the sky, sea and the ships in the convoy but today everything was gray. The sky had high thin clouds and the sea itself was gray, no hint of green or blue. The ship and everything afloat was gray. The crew had added a fresh coat of paint in port just before they set sail two weeks ago from Norfolk. That old adage he had heard from the salts was really true when there was nothing else to do they made them paint. If it didn’t move, it got painted. It didn’t matter if the paint was hardly dry from the last coating. Where did the Navy get that much paint? The supply seemed endless.
He locked the hatch back in place. They did that everytime they came out even if the seas were relatively calm because they could change quickly and all the outer hatches had to remain watertight at all times. He made his way along the railing toward the stern and his watch station. It was near the number one gun on the afterdeck. The watch was normal. No high alert or battle stations which was better than having to sit with the gun and break out the ammo and prepare the ready room and gun. He first went to check the gun as was his habit and job. Sure enough the trigger was caked over with ice. Albert forget to clear it from the last watch. Damn! It would get him in trouble if the Lieutenant saw that. He got out the hammer and tapped the ice free and added solvent to keep it from freezing again, at least not right away. He learned that trick himself on his first voyage from an older sailor. He looked over the gun to make sure it was secure and no loose items were in the gun pit. Then he made his way to his watch station. It would be a longer, “normal” watch, since the weather was mild–in the mid twenties. When it got much colder the watches were cut back to two hours. It was great to get out of the weather but then it just messed up the schedule for trying to get some sleep because you had to go back on duty that much sooner.
As he settled in his watch post he checked the binoculars. He wondered how much they cost. They were very large and heavy and well made. You could see all the way across the convoy in clear weather and distinquish the men on deck and what they were wearing. The convoy was in a “row” formation and stretched across several miles of sea even with the spacing of only a quarter mile between ships. On the perimeter he could see the destroyer escorts. He could only see one but assumed and hoped there were more than that. They were told only what they needed to know to do their job. Often he couldn’t see any escorts but was told they were there. As usual he didn’t even know where they were going. He assumed it was somewhere in England because they were so far north that surely they weren’t going to North Africa, at least not directly. It took almost a week to go from Norfolk up to St. John’s where they had formed up with the rest of the convoy. He had “been” to St. John’s three times now but it had never been more than a gray smudge on the horizon. He wondered what that town was like having been so close but never seeing anything. He thought it might be pretty big since so many ships went into port there.
His undershirt was chafing again on his neck. As he idly watched his quarter of the sky and sea he wondered how he could get dressed quicker and easier for his watches. It took almost fifteen minutes now to dress for watch. They started with their skivies and then an extra undershirt and extra long johns. Then came the pants and blouse as the Navy insisted on calling their shirt. Then the overalls and last the parka jacket with hood and the sailor’s wool cap–hell everything was wool, that was why it was always so itchy and chafed. Then a scarf for those who had one and goggles were provided but you never could use them because you had to constantly be using the binocs so it was pointless with having to take them off every ten seconds. Then they got the boots for outside. They reminded him of those worn by the firemen back home in the real world. He prided himself on being organized and efficient but he still hadn’t figured out how to reduce the time to dress for watch. At least this was a morning watch. Morning came about 5:30 at these latitudes in May. He beat those dog watches in the middle of the night when you more often than not couldn’t see much beyond the bow of the ship anyway. Silhouettes against a moon maybe of other ships. With a blackout in force it was darker on cloudy moonless nights than anything he could imagine. He really wondered why they had them out there on those nights because if they did see anything it would be too late to do anything.
The clouds were nice because it reduced the odds of enemy aircraft being around. On the other hand it made it very difficult to see Uboats painted gray in the gray water and a gray background. He had heard about others spotting periscopes in the seas by lookouts. He had some doubts about those stories. He found it hard to believe anyone even with the best eyesight could see one of those in the waves. But maybe it did happen on occasion. He heard one of the officers last night mention something about Iceland so he thought they must be near there and beginning to make the turn southward toward Scotland and England. The skies were beginning to break some. There was light streaming in low on the eastern horizon. You might know it was dead in the middle of his watch quadrant so he would have to be looking that way all morning. If the skies did clear then there was always the chance of planes. He heard that they had air cover sometimes for the convoy but he had never seen any friendly planes or head anyone else on any ship he had been on talk about seeing them personally. They were always reported by someone else from someone else. He wondered if they would have beans and cheese sandwiches again for lunch. He hoped for something else. They usually had that in heavy seas when cookie couldn’t prepare anything much on the galley stove.
The klaxen sounded with its ear shattering screech and pitch and then he noticed the “sub in vicinity” flag being run up. It was up most of every voyage. The PA announced double watch. So he would have company in a few minutes but at least it was not battle stations. It would be Moose joining him.
to be continued…………..www.olcranky.wordpress.com