Pigtails and Inkwells
Fourteen men and one woman relate their experiences as Deck Officers on U.S. flag merchant ships -cargo ships in regular service, tramps, tankers, and the fastest passenger ship ever built, the SS United States. Carrying cargoes common as manhole covers, exotic as circus animals, dangerous as aviation gasoline, and dirty as coal, they sailed to travel poster ports like Rio de Janeiro, to war zones, and to ports like Mina al Ahmadi, Kuwait, where the 8 A.M. temperature is 120 degrees.
Share an old Master's remembrance of the thrill of sighting land for the first time, in 1927 from the fore topsail yard.
Cross the Atlantic in four days with the last Master of the SS United States, responsible for a 990-foot long ship, almost 2,000 passengers, and crew of over a thousand.
Suffer the horrors of war with a Second Mate on a tanker torpedoed by a German U-Boat, and a Deck Cadet, later Second Mate, on cargo ships under German air attacks in the Mediterranean and on the fearsome run to Murmansk, Russia.
Smell the oil on supertankers. Wear the dust on coal boats. Move alternative energy sources like natural gas from Sumatra and Borneo. Tramp for ore, grain, sugar, and fertilizer.
Spend days in port handling cargo on freighters with cargo booms or sixteen hours completely discharging and loading a containership. Pilot a 500-foot long ship in flooded Brazilian jungle river. Wait in mid-Atlantic for a tow after losing the ship's propeller. Nearly capsize fighting fire in the forward holds at dock in India, or try to extinguish a fire in the open Gulf of Mexico. Feel the collision as a Greek ore carrier tears open the port bow in Kobe, Japan.
Hold on as waves carry away lifeboats, while hove to in the eye of a hurricane, steering from the raised poop deck in drenching waves, or rolling thirty-five degrees with cargo containers stacked five high on deck.
Grieve over deaths from lack of oxygen in a tank. Rescue escaping Cubans and Vietnamese Boat People. Laugh at the returning Master who kissed his dog and then shook hands with his wife.
In their own words these officers matter-of-factly tell about doing their jobs - moving cargo and people safely and speedily all over the world.