HEROES OF THE SEA – MY FIRST
– MY FIRST PATROL
by Bob Reding
A tale of a something that many of us won’t admit existed…….
At first, being stationed on a weather ship sounded great. All the stories of search and rescue were exciting and the imagination could run wild with the prospects ahead.
The thought of being seasick had never even occurred to me. After all I had been on just about every ride imaginable at the State Fair of Texas, Coney Island and several other amusement parks without having ever experienced the first hint of nausea. I had ridden horses, played football, basketball, ran track and gone fishing. No activity I had ever participated in made me sick of my stomach.
Now some have never had the first hint of seasickness and some wouldn’t admit it if they had. However, for myself I will admit to having been sick on my first trip to sea. My first Special Sea Detail billet was in CIC with a set of earphones and a mike with which I was to communicate to the bridge messenger targets reported by radar.
As the mooring lines were thrown off the dock and we began to get underway it happened. I was watching out of a porthole as we slowly started to back out of the mooring and the ship ever so gently began to roll back and forth. The more I watched out of that porthole the more I got the sense of that slow roll, back and forth, back and forth. I would repeat instructions to the bridge as they were given me, but then glance back out that porthole and watch as we made our way out of Boston harbor toward the open sea, the ship ever rolling back and forth, back and forth, ever so slowly, back and forth.
No sooner had we secured from Special Sea Detail, I made a quick exit from CIC and out into the fresh air. Standing there at the side rail for a moment, taking in all the wonders of being at sea for the first time, I was in awe. I was also probably a little green as one of my shipmates asked if I was o.k. “ I’m fine”, I assured him and headed to the quarterdeck for muster and instructions. On the way to the quarterdeck I made a brief stop at the head on the main deck and lost what I assumed to be my breakfast. After washing my face and feeling a little better proceeded to muster.
Being a boot, right out of basic training I was going to be a mess cook for this trip which was a seven day standby anchored off of Providence Town, Massachusetts, the farthermost tip of Cape Cod. The thought of serving food, cleaning the mess deck, washing trays and utensils etc. was not exactly what I had in mind for my sea going but everyone has to start somewhere.
That first day steaming to the anchorage and later after we anchored was uneventful, unless you count the many trips I made to the head. Even at anchor I was constantly aware of the ship’s movement, albeit ever so slight. Serving chow didn’t help the condition as the smell and sight of food brought on more trips to the head. I managed to eat from time to time but never a full meal and practically always with the same result, a trip to the head.
After a couple of days I was beginning to realize that my Coast Guard career was going to be little more than nearly four years of commode hugging. All those visions of riding out the storms at sea and numerous rescue operations I had heard about were literally going down the toilet along with my previous meal. Saltine crackers became a staple for me as they seem to calm my stomach somewhat and I was able to keep them down. Hot tea, a new experience for me also had a calming effect. I was really becoming frustrated by the third day. How long could one survive on hot tea and crackers? My future seemed glum, my dreams and aspirations dim and my very existence questionable.
After being awakened at 0400 for my duties as mess cook on the fourth day I seemed to feel a little better and after my shower, almost normal. For one thing I noticed that I was hungry, I mean REALLY hungry. Now being very much apprehensive at this point I didn’t just “pig-out” but was able to eat a decent breakfast and perform my duties without a trip to the head that morning. It was as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. My bleak outlook changed, as I was able to think clearly for the first time since that last mooring line was dropped back at Constitution Wharf in Boston. No longer was I “chained” to that disgusting metal object with which I had become so familiar, the toilet, hopper, john, crapper, whatever, I was free and on my way to recovery.
It was a wonderfully misty and overcast day as I stood on the main deck that morning. I watched as small fishing boats moved among the many marker buoys, checking the lobster traps attached. It was great to be alive! It was great to be a part of this grand spectacle. It was great to know that I was where I wanted to be, at sea with all those adventures ahead of me.
“Dear Mom and Dad,
Well your son is officially a seagoing sailor! I wish I could describe how it felt going to sea for the first time. How exciting it was moving through the water as we sailed to our anchorage off of Providence Town, Massachusetts. We will be here for seven days on standby in case we have to go on a rescue….blah, blah, blah, etc. etc.”