A Plank Owners Cruise - Page 3
Bruce J. Ruckman

After a couple of months operating out of Boston it was time to head for our permanent station in San Diego. There was more than one set of wet eyes both on and off the ship when we said our farewells. I think I left my first "true love" in Dorchester. Ah, when Irish eyes are smiling. I often think of her and wonder how we might have turned out had we stayed together. Oh well, one turn of the screws cancels all debts.

On our cruise to Norfolk, Virginia the Atlantic stayed calm which was a kindness for those of us still getting our sea legs. Our time out of Norfolk was spent doing further working up. As if all the time on the degaussing range at Boston hadn't been enough we had to do it again. Round and round and round, hour after hour after hour. Boring is the kindest word you can use. It did, however, give me a greater appreciation of the dedication of those DDR and DER picket sailors on duty in the North Atlantic and Pacific. What a helluva job that must have been!

It was while we were still at Norfolk that we learned how the ship would take rough weather. A severe storm came into Hampton Roads and we had to run out to deeper water. It was my first experience in having my world doing a dance under me. If I thought I was getting "salty" that first storm was my comeuppance. I found out learning the ship meant much more than just where things were located. For instance, I learned she naturally rolled further to port than starboard, had a tendency to slide off the crests of waves to port, and shook like a dog when she buried her bow in a wave. We all became familiar with the trick of letting the ship's motion help us up or down ladders. Just a little training and you could "fly" from one deck to another. I learned how to sleep braced for the roll during that storm and still sleep like that. My bunk was the lowest, furthest aft, on the port side of a compartment that sloped up forward so, after a stormy night, my area was always full of towels, shower shoes, garbage can lids, boondockers and anything else not nailed down. Too bad I wasn't allowed to have salvage sales.

Leaving Norfolk, we sailed around the tip of Florida and headed across the Gulf to New Orleans. I felt embarrassed when we had to listen to our shipmates being warned about the "peculiar conditions" for them in the South just because they were black. Yeah, it was before civil rights struggles and the American form of apartheid was still in vogue below the Mason-Dixon line. With that major thundercloud looming in the background, I didn't enjoy the jazz and sights of Bourbon Street quite as much as I might have.

Our first foreign port of call was Tampico, Mexico. We were the first US warship to dock there in several years and we were warned to be on our best behavior. I don't know how the others were welcomed but three of us walking down a street had rocks thrown at us. For the most part, however, Tampico was a fascinating place to visit. An evening spent on the town's plaza remains one of my most pleasant memories. One of our Spanish-speaking shipmates became very popular as an interpreter between the crew and the young ladies although several of us learned that the custom of the duenna was still enforced - much to our inconvenience.

The next stop was Puerto Cortez, Honduras. We were met by this very large female line handler. She could have played linebacker for any team in the NFL. Several of us arranged a canoe trip across the bay and up the river. We paddled until we literally ran out of water and even dragged the canoes for a while further. We came on a hut by the stream and figured we would have to make do with our poor Spanish to learn where we were. Imagine our surprise when a man came out of the hut and said, "Hello boys. What are you doing clear up here?" When the ship got ready to leave, the American Fruit Company donated a truckload of bananas. With the stalks of green fruit hung up to ripen, we didn't exactly have a "military" aspect. The rumor went around that the gunners or torpedomen were using the overripe fruit to make some form of "jungle juice" but there was never any hard proof (no pun intended) of that.

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This page was last updated on 01/03/05.