My first ship was a barracks ship in the Mekong Delta. It was designed to house a lot of men. In addition to about 300 of its crew, there were about a hundred or so boat crewmen, and a combined Army and Navy staff. The bulk of the men aboard were Army troops, about six or seven hundred of them. The breakdown isn’t important, but the total number of about eleven hundred is. That is a lot of men.
ship was designed to provide water for these men. The
Army troops were slogging around in the
mud of the delta all day and some of the night. We
had fresh water for their showers when they returned
from a patrol or
operation. The ship’s crew would go
below to the troop quarters late at night after they had finished
find all the showers running. The troops
had not even bothered to turn the water off after they were finished.
was not a problem. The ship made plenty
of water. It had boilers that distilled
the polluted waters of the
One space I did visit was the radio room just above the
engineering area. Back in those days the
radios were huge things, floor to ceiling. They
put out a lot of heat. It
was hot in there, about 130 degrees or so. They
always had a “red devil” blower going in there. A
red devil blower is a fire fighting, high
volume fan with twelve-inch collapsible hoses that could fit on both
ends. In this case they were sucking out
degree air and blowing it down the passageway and then down a hatch to
engineering spaces. So much for visiting
the engine rooms.
While we had plenty of water, the one thing we didn’t have
was hot water. Since we were in the
tropics the cold water wasn’t frigid or anywhere near that, but shaving
day for a year in cold water was not fun.
My second ship was a small minesweeper, the size of a large
yacht. Funny, I don’t remember fresh
water being an issue. You think it would
have been, what with its small size and limited spaces.
We weren’t at sea for any length of time so
we must have carried our water and filled up when we got back.
I spent two weeks on a destroyer. Destroyers
are the lean, mean, fighting
machines that I described elsewhere. Back
in my active duty days, destroyers had a reputation
for being short
on water. The ship is all propulsion,
four boilers, and two turbine engines. All the fresh water was
seawater. There wasn’t much room for
like a large fresh water distilling plant. For that reason the
shower” was invented.
With a destroyer always short on fresh water, the crew would
step into a shower, turn it one for a few seconds to wet themselves
the water off, then lather up with soap. Then
the water would be turned on just long enough to
rinse off the
I can’t tell you much about a destroyer’s water making
capabilities because, again, I spent as little time down there in the
rooms as I could get away with. I went
down to spend part of a watch in front of the boilers and I thought I
pass out. Standing in front of the
boiler there is about a four-inch pipe above your head that blows fresh
the person standing watch there. Not my
idea of a place to spend much time.
My last ship was a big one, an oiler, the USS
Kawishiwi. She was 655 feet long and you
needed 40 feet of water to float her. While
the biggest part of the ship was designed to carry
fuel for other
ships, the engineering spaces are very large. From
the keel, 40 feet below the waterline to the bottom
smokestack had to have been about 80 or 90 feet, about seven stories.
The two boilers were huge. If you walked
in the hatch up there below the smokestack,
see very far. The boilers took up a lot
of space. There were very few places in
the boiler room where you could see more than a few feet.
The heat was oppressive.
While I did spend more time in the engineering spaces of the
oiler it wasn’t by choice. Every day in
port, after normal working hours I alternated with four others being
Command Duty Officer. I had to make a
tour of the ship each night and that included the engineering spaces. Of course, in port, everything was shut down
because we were on shore power.
At sea, for quite a while, as the off-going Officer of the
Deck, I had to take a complete tour of the ship. This
would take about 45 minutes or so. I would
always make the boiler room the last
stop, for a good reason. Walking in the
hatch at the top of the boiler room was like walking into an oven. The heat just seemed to consume you. It sapped all the energy out of you.
All the ladders aboard ship are really steep steps.
They were steep enough so that you had to use
the hand rails. The hand rails were
steel and they were hot, too hot to hang onto. I
had to use the flat of my hands and pull myself up the
ladders. That was an area I did not care
in. The lighting down there was dim as
it was. If you go deep enough in the
boiler room, all the way to the bilges above the keel, you can see the
shafts turning and see where they disappear through the hull of the
where the propellers are.
When I came out the hatch on the port side of the ship it
was into the berthing area of one of the engineering divisions. It was a shock as that cool air hit my
lungs. It was like my lungs had been
dowsed with ice water. I went through
this routine twice a day for months.
The ship’s captain finally made a change. Instead
of the Officer of the Deck getting
relieved and going on the inspection tour, he could send his Junior
the Deck around 45 minutes before the shift got relieved.
Boy, I was never so glad to hear anything in
all my life.
These are my excuses for not knowing what was going on in
engineering. I don’t know what the
excuses were for those who were involved in what happened next.
February of 1972 saw us headed for the
We could drink all the water we wanted. We
just couldn’t take a shower when we wanted
to and we had to use the water sparingly. The
ship’s crew could only shower for an hour in the
evening. Everyone was to take a “destroyer
help conserve water.
hours wasn’t a critical issue and we learned to live with it. The fresh water situation wasn’t even the
topic of conversations. The resolution,
however did come as a surprise.
know how many sailors work in the boiler room. There
are two or three officers who are there on a regular
basis. How the situation could have lasted
as it did was a mystery that no one had an answer to.
It was a source of embarrassment to the
engineering department. Somebody, down
in the boiler room depths eventually found a virtual “