Crumby Tales from the “Cookie Cutter” #4

 

 The European Vacation (Cadet Cruise 1970)  

By John Russell

 

Cadet Cruise- life was good again, a trip to England, France, Italy and Portugal. Cruise the Mediterranean with Cadets to do all the dirty work and use for entertainment purposes.

Cadet cruises were wonderful things for the crew of ships lucky enough to get them. If you didn’t want to go, in most cases you could stay behind to make room for the Cadets, and if you did go, most mundane chores like cleaning and watches were taken over by the Cadets. So, as an ET we had only two jobs to do, keep the electronics working, and hiding from any other work. By now I was “trained” and on my own as far as Duty ET and Quarterdeck watches and with a skeleton crew in the ET shack I would actually get to work on equipment without direct supervision. I was finally feeling at home on the “Cookie Cutter” and had even convinced the RMs and RDs that I was competent and sometimes knew what I was doing. I had my “crow” now as the 6 months as SN/ET had passed without any screw-ups, or, I should say without being caught in any. ETs were privileged characters in the Operations Department because unlike RMs, RDs and STs we had no watches to stand at sea and with 5 ETs only had ” Duty ET” 1 night in 5. The electronics onboard were well maintained and reliable so our main function was to look busy if any “brass” was around and mostly find a good hiding place or keep moving.  We had an E-9 Chief so we were left alone by the other Chiefs onboard. When I fist reported we did not have a ETC and we were the BMCs favorite group to draft for any  &^#* detail he could find. This came to a halt when our ETCM showed up as he was the senior Chief aboard and had so many years of service I don’t think that he could have added another “hash mark” to his sleeve. He was a great guy to work for because he trusted us to do our job, backed us up when needed and in general intimidated even the Officers. Within days of his arrival one of the ETs was going on liberty and the BMC refused to let him go because he needed a haircut. The ET went to our Chief for help. The Chief bellowed “someone get me some %^$& &^^$^% scissors!” The ET at this point was a little shook-up, as the ETCM was only sober enough to slur and drool. The scissors were found and he took a small strand of hair and cut about a 1/4 inch of hair from that strand. Then said “ you tell that SOB *&$%%# Boson that I personally cut your hair and if he has any problems with it to bring his dumb %^^$^& ass down here and I will explain to him why it is to him benefit to get the *&%& off my ETs backs”.  I don’t think the ET told the BMC those exact words because he decided to have a “talk” with the ETCM and told the ET to wait on the quarterdeck for him to return. About 5 minutes latter he came back looking somewhat shaky and told him to get off “his” ship. We never were bothered by the BMC again for any &^%$ details or haircuts.

With our “protectorate” aboard we set sail for Europe in a few weeks.  We picked up the Cadets at the Academy along with a 210’ and a 255’, as we were a 311’ the Commodore used the “Cookie Cutter’ as flagship so the Cadets were even more intimidated by the brass. After the usual period of Lifeboat and GQ drills we settled into a daily routine of slow cruising because the 210’ did not carry enough fuel for anything too fast. I was assigned a detail to supervise four Cadets in cleaning a couple of areas; I took the easy way out and put the senior Cadet of the four in charge of the detail. As they were well trained to do the best possible job those spaces were spotless and I even saw them cleaning on their own time to be sure. One of the spaces was the mess area forward used mainly by the 1st class. The Cadets even polished the aluminum bands around the tables! After the second day I don’t remember if I ever even checked on them again, one thing you could say about these Cadets was they took any work seriously and did an excellent job of it.

The trip was generally uneventful on our way to Plymouth, England and other than one storm the weather was great. That one storm was enough for me to see why a 210’ did not do Ocean Stations. The storm was more like a normal day on “Bravo” but the 210’ was thrown all over the ocean, we heard they had several injuries on her, broken bones and such. The “Cookie Cutter” just plugged along with only what were minor inconveniences for us. 

Ye Olde England- Our first port of call was Plymouth. As most good sailors do, our first stop was the nearest bar (Pub). After about an hour of listening to these “old farts” telling us how England defeated Hitler I thought we would have an international incident brewing. I held my tongue but some thoughts on the subject were bubbling in my brain. Like- why did the British Army almost have to swim home from Dunkirk? Why was Rommel kicking “ole Monty” out of North Africa until Patton showed up? And most annoying- why did so many Coasties die in the North Atlantic escorting convoys to feed and supply the Brits? Did they know “Winnie” would have been speaking German without the U.S.? Apparently not, so we made an exit to head for London. After “convincing” a rental car agency that our Government Drivers License was the same as an International Drivers License we departed for London. If you have never driven in England you should know everything is backwards, you sit on the wrong side of the car, shift with the wrong hand and drive on the wrong side of the road. Going down a straight road you got used to it pretty quickly. The trouble came when we got into the city, every time I turned a corner I ended up in the wrong lane accompanied by lots of horn blowing and yelling from my passengers. We headed for the hot clubs we had heard about in “swinging” London. My first (of many) disappointments on this cruise. At the clubs we found the men on one side of the club and the ladies on the other and the only dancing going on were girls with their girl friends. We always got shot down when we asked for a dance. The local guys said this was normal, as the girls did not usually dance with strangers. We tried at two other clubs and the story was the same. At least we could get beer as long as you didn’t mind warm beer. If you wanted cold beer they brought you a glass with ice! The only things I can say that I enjoyed about England were the Fish and Chips and watching it disappear from the fantail.

The Rock- everyone has seen pictures of the Rock of Gibraltar, or insurance commercials, right? We know it looks like a tree stump, right? Wrong! From seaside it looks like a …… rock. Nothing like the pictures. Well at least we were finally in the Med. The two smaller ships pulled into Rota, Spain for fuel while we waited for them A 311’ has an economical cruising range of over 20,000 miles (true! I looked it up) so we did not get to say we stopped in Spain. Our next stop was Nice, France. 

Ah, the French Riviera, topless beaches, COLD beer, Casinos, good food! In reality more disappointments, there were topless “beaches”, but no sand, just rocks, and the ladies were gorgeous until they got close enough to see that they could braid the hair under their arms and on their legs. We also discovered the French (and most of Europe) thought perfume was invented so they didn’t have to use deodorant. The smell of BO and cheap perfume coupled with the body hair caused a radical change of plans for my group. Next stop was the casinos, it was a short stop because when the doorman realized we were American military types we were told we weren’t welcome and when we insisted on going in he informed us there was a $50 cover charge, well, so much for the casinos. The food was excellent but expensive and the French beer was superb tasting and cold.

The last day in Nice I was assigned Duty Driver, that evening I had to put on dress uniform and drive the Commodore, CO and XO for a function with the Mayor. After dropping them off I was going back to the ship (at least the Europeans drove on the right side of the road) when a red Ferrari zoomed by me. As a long time car enthusiast I gave chase to get a better look. The 2 cars the ship had rented were Peugeot station wagons, both dark green. The Ferrari was climbing the hill that drops off to the harbor with the seductive sound of a V-12 engine resonating from the close buildings. I lost my mind, downshifted to second and floored it trying to get closer. At he top of the hill the poor 4-cylinder Peugeot engine destructed with the rattle of bits and pieces bouncing around inside the engine and a cloud of white smoke blowing out the exhaust. I put the clutch in, shut the engine off and managed to coast back to the ship at the bottom of the hill. I rolled up to the parking place next to the Quarterdeck, shut the lights off and turned the keys in while I worked on a plausible story. The next morning the 1MC spouted the words I was living in fear of, “Petty Officer Russell report to the Quarterdeck”. As I slowly made my way there I patted my freshly sewn on “crow” goodbye. As I approached the OD I noticed the guy that was on watch the night before was near the OD and the XO was also there. “Was the car running alright last night when you returned it?” asked the XO? I replied “ the engine sounded a little funny but it drove ok “. Then I turned to the PO that had been on watch and asked,” did it sound ok to you”?  “It sounded good to me, I didn’t hear any kind of noises” he honestly responded. I asked, “what was the problem” in my best innocent voice? The XO boomed a very agitated answer; “ I got in it this morning and when I started it just blew up for no apparent reason!” I had survived the disaster. I heard the rental agency told the XO he was going to bill the C.G. for the repairs but I don’t know if they ever did.

Next stop Naples, Italy- as soon as we got close enough to see the harbor I new we were in trouble, the Communist “Hammer and Sickle” were spray painted all around the port. We were cautioned of two things, one was that unlike the previous two stops where we pulled our own” Shore Patrol”, in Naples the USMC had SP duties here and they were not known for being friendly. The second was that the people here were not enamoured of US military personnel in general and we should stay in groups to avoid trouble. Naples was not the place I had seen on tourist posters, it was dirty, smelly and everyone tried to rip you off. Some of us decided to stroll around and then stopped in a local bar for a drink. When our drinks were brought I found mine to have a strange taste. I ask the others about it and they all said something was funny tasting in theirs too. We decided to make an exit with some rough looking characters staring at us as we left. They followed and were joined by several others.  We walked faster and they did too, we heard the multiple clicks of switchblades opening and started running, fast! The chase lasted about 3 blocks, which was good because we were not in shape for much more. We stayed 2 more days but most of the crew stayed close to the ship, and, like me, were glad to say goodbye to Italy.

Underway again, this time to cruise the Med. before turning for home, we saw Greece and the Greek Islands with the massive white villas and huge yachts. We traversed the Corinth Canal, which is a canal through the island of Corinth  ( as in “fine Corinthian leather”), sheer rock cliffs hundreds of feet high on both sides and I think our 311’ ship was pushing the limit because the cliffs seemed to be at arm length on both sides. It was the most amazing thing to me on the whole trip.

Lisbon, Portugal- this was the surprise of the trip. Lisbon was inexpensive and clean; they liked Americans and were the friendliest people I had met. We found a bar called the “Texas” bar that was glad to have our crew there and because Portugal produces so much beef you could get a plate size steak covered with French fries, served with fresh baked bread and a bottle of wine for about $2.00 American.

My friend and I wanted to go to a really nice restaurant and invited two beautiful “working girls” to join us. Prostitution was both legal and regulated there. The lady I was with was a schoolteacher as her main occupation and was intelligent and educated. We went out for dinner and the four of us had drinks and a great meal for a total of $20.00 including a generous tip. I loved Portugal and it is the only place we went that I would go back to see again. The last day, I stopped at a market stand and purchased a sweater and leather hat, I never did understand the “Escudos” in Portugal and most places accepted the dollar so I paid in dollars and the vendor gave me Escudos in change. I started walking away and got about a half block from the market when I heard yelling and turned to see the vendor running toward me. I got worried after my experiences in Italy but when he got to me he held out more Escudos and explained, in broken English, that he had accidentally short changed me!

We departed Lisbon and returned the Cadets to the Academy then sailed for home. All in all it was a great trip, with little work, lots of liberty in some places we even enjoyed and most of all a four-month reprieve from Ocean Stations. By the time I had 15 months in the CG I had been to 9 countries, crossed the Atlantic and Mediterranean Oceans and had seen three continents. The term “shallow water sailor” USN swabbies like to throw about became fighting words with me.   

 

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