Our sea trials, fitting out, working up the ship and crew kept us so busy we had little time for anything else. I certainly don't remember many spare moments. It seemed we were always in one working party or another hauling supplies, food, ammo, or some damn thing onboard. Because we accomplished so much in such a short time, it remains hazy in my mind as to the exact sequence of events. If we weren't on a work detail we were at our duty station, on watch, or going though a training exercise. Sleep was a luxury and it was amazing that so many of us found time for a life away from the ship. As Preble was my only ship, I thought perhaps I was the only one to see it that way but others who made a career in the Navy and served on other vessels later said they felt the same.
My sea station for entering or leaving port was on the "fantail" so I had line handling duties to learn. My initial education was overseen by our first Chief Boatswain's Mate who also doubled as the ship's Chief Master-at-Arms. Eddie was almost a caricature of the barrel-chested bosun who could talk to the fantail detail while standing on the bow. I'll never forget him roaring at me to "Flemish down those lines, double up, run the bight through the chock, take a turn around the bitts, marry those lines, and keep a steady strain on that springlay." "Oh Lord," I thought, "it isn't bad enough I'm a stranger to the fleet, I'm expected to learn a foreign language too."
One of my most vivid memories of this time was the commissioning ceremony. We practiced over and over again where we were to stand, where to face and when and always - considering the warm spring sunshine we had during those practice sessions - there was the warning not to lock our knees to avoid fainting in the heat. A lot of good that advice was when the actual ceremony took place on a gray, cold, rainy day. Our commissioning berth was just down from the USS Constitution - "Old Ironsides." Quite a contrast between the Navy's oldest and newest men-o'-war.
We began working up the ship with short cruises spending much time on the
degaussing ranges, aligning gunsights, wringing out the engines, and learning the ship's
handling characteristics. In one of our operations off Boston I was on fog watch on the
bow when we spotted a boat in distress. When we reported our sighting to the bridge we
were asked how we knew they were in trouble. My watchmate grabbed the sound-powered phones
and yelled, "Well, they're jumping up and down on the foredeck waving their hands
over their heads. What do you think?!" The boat was brand-new and both outboards had
failed. The four people on board had to spend the night drifting in the channel and were
grateful for our assistance. The ship took them alongside and attempted repairs while the
Coast Guard came out to "rescue" them. As
the occupants were two males and two females - all married but not to each other - I've often wondered about the final outcome of that incident.
Our first port of call was Portland, Maine to attend a ceremony honoring Commodore Preble. There was a parade and a wreath laying but what I enjoyed was the time spent at nearby Orchard Beach Recreational Park. Four of us went together and, early in the evening, met some young ladies - all from Canada, as it turned out. Since I was older than the rest of the guys, I picked the most mature looking of the girls. We did all the usual things - roller skating, riding the Ferris wheel and roller coaster, walking along the beach, etc. - until it was time for the girls to return to their cottage. As we stood in the front yard talking, the business of everyone's age came up. I listened with satisfaction as the other girls said 17 or 18 knowing the one I was with was at least 19. When she said she was 15, the guys tell me I stepped backward over the picket fence and was GONE!
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Copyright 1997-2016 Tom Bateman
This page was last updated on 01/03/05.