MAL DE MER*

By Pat Varallo

 

We were making preparation to get underway for Ocean Station Easy with a couple of men out of boot camp who had not got their sea legs yet. On the day of departure, a severe blizzard struck Boston. As all Coasties know, this is Semper Paratus weather.

The DUANE slipped away from the dock and was in the channel. The harbor was so choppy that she was already starting to pitch and roll, so much so that one of the new men fell to the deck. By the time we cleared the sea buoy, many of the crew, including some of the older salts, were beginning to get seasick. Indeed, a good number of them didn’t answer the evening chow call.

As the mid-watch approached, fully one-half of the crew were unfit for duty because the churning water—it was that bad! A quarter of the men were not sick and the other quarter made heroic efforts to stand their watches—and those who were able had to stand extra watches. I was one of those lucky people who never got seasick.

So many of the crew was sick that the crew’s head was awash in vomit and seawater from the hoppers. When it came time for the 0400-0800 watch to be awakened, there was a low groan from a man who was lying on the foc’sle deck with his head in the large, square butt can by the double ladder leading to the mess deck above. The fellow who had the top rack nearest to the butt can had the habit of dropping straight down after awaking, landed on the disabled sailor. Except for a groan, the seasick sailor never moved.

The following day wasn’t much better. The Pharmacist’s Mate reported that three-fourths of the crew was sick in varying degrees.

On the third day many of the men were beginning to feel better and the ship was almost back to routine—the sun was bright, the wind was nil, and except for long, slow ground swells, which are usually present after a storm, the sea was calm. The DUANE was in that beautiful sapphire-colored water common to the more southerly latitudes of the North Atlantic. Swells were coming from the direction the ship was heading for, at a speed that would be most comfortable without delaying too much. I was off watch and went forward through the starboard air castle. There were some men manning the rail by the door. After a quick greeting, I made my way to the forepeak of the bow, one of my favorite places in the ship—I liked being there alone—watching porpoises play or just feeling the breeze on my face. The easy motion of the ship was soothing and pleasant. Then the ship gave a warning that something out of the ordinary was about to happen.

The bow dropped suddenly, like a rapidly descending elevator that makes your stomach seem as if it is about to come out of your eyeballs. As the bow bottomed out, it seemed to linger a second and say, “Hold on!”

At the peak of the ship is a small triangular platform upon which rests the Jack Staff where there is enough room for a man to crouch. I duck under the platform and held on for dear life. No sooner done than the elevator began to fall quickly.

“Oh, crap!” I thought. I was scared and thought the bow was going under . . . and we damned near did!

It was amazing. As I crouched in my hole, a wall of deep blue water and white froth flapped out from the ship like a couple of huge wings, rising 10 or 15 feet above me. Only a little water came aboard however, and not a drop touched me.

When I crawled out of my haven, a very authoritative voice came over the P.A. system, “Now hear this! Now hear this! All hands! The main deck forward of the air castle is off limits!”

What a rush!

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*Seasickness