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Sea Legs

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bowline_black.gif Yes, yes, yes...and they were good seamen!

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The Captain

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It's about time I addressed the ladies that sailed these ships. I only wish at the time I had taken pictures, and cataloged names, but that's not necessary.  As we all know, women have sailed ships probably as long as men have, and did just a well.  Most countries have employed women in their Merchant Marine, and possibly in their Navies in this century, but not in key positions such as Captains, and Chief Engineers...though we have all heard of "Tug Boat Anny".  Let's say that they were mostly signed on in the Steward, and Medical Departments.  As of late though, we now see females in all capacities...Deck, and Engine included.
 
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As far as the U.S. Government's Sea Transportation Services under the Army ( Army Transport Service - ATS ), and the Navy 
( Military Sea Transportation Service - MSTS, and present Military Sealift Command - MSC ) goes, I do know that ATS did have female Army Radio Operators, and female nurses, plus females in the Steward Department as Stewardesses for the Cabin Class passengers, and their children on the Troop Ships.
When the Navy took over from the Army in 1949, the female Radio Operators went, but the Stewardesses stayed, and Navy nurses came aboard. This was only on the Troop ( passenger ) ships. The other ships - cargo, etc. had no females whatsoever.
 
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If my memory serves me right, we didn't see women aboard MSTS ships until we got into the "Sponsor", or "Scientific Support" ships, whether for Surveillance, or Oceanography, and then they were in the "Medical" department.  Bonifide Registered Nurses started coming aboard - one for each ship.  No Doctors, just the Nurse...by herself, and in some cases males nurses, but at first females.
Later we started getting guys with titles like "Physician's Assistant" relieving the Nurses.  This only happened on the ships with sponsor personnel aboard, not the other strictly merchant type ships which still had no women in any capacity.  The Chief Mate was still, as Merchant Marine practice, the "Medical Officer".
 
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Of course, when we got into the ships with sponsor personnel on board, we also began to see females coming aboard, but they were with the sponsor's group, and not part of the crew.  It wouldn't be until the early seventies that we would get our first female crew member, and that was an "Academy" graduated Third Mate.  This worked out fine as far as accomodations were concerned, as officers had their own stateroom.  It wasn't until the government forced the Navy to take on other ratings regardless of accomodations, that women aboard our ships took off. Then, incredulously, we saw male, and female berthed in the same room.
Except for the officers, and some petty officers like Bosn, Carpenter, etc., most other crew members berthed two in a room.
I remember that day perfectly, even the two people. The fellow was a quiet, well mannered room-steward ( he made beds, etc ), and the lady was the same, and had experience on commercial "union" ships. Whether on the "union" ships she had to berth with a guy, I don't know, but it didn't seem to bother her. Both were in their forties, and quite mature about the whole thing. So, we had no problem there, but it really wasn't ideal in the least...we began to take another approach to satisfy these new mandates on us.
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Working closely with the Crewing, and Receiving ( Screwing, and Deceiving being more apropos ) Branch, we arranged crew replacement in twos. It was a juggling act, but we pulled it off some how...replacing two unlicensed at a time. In other words - we need two messmen ( guys ), send two messmen ( girls ).  The word was getting out to the gals ashore that finally MSTS/MSC was hiring women in all capacities.  This was happening at just the right time.
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Starting in the seventies, at least it seems to me to be around that time, many of the professional seamen trained during the Second World War began to retire from the sea.  We were beginning to get younger men not as well trained, nor as well suited for the sea.  Possibly because of the availability of jobs ashore, and new attidudes towards "sacraficing" one's self to a profession which demanded dedication above self, and family, they didn't stay long.
The Command in desparation would hire any warm body that had the documents, and we on the ships had make the most of them.
With the new Equal Employment Opportunity laws, any dead-beat, misfit, or meathead could insist on employment long enough to tie him over, and wreak havoc on those professionals stuck with him.
You knew when you got rid of such a character, that the next one would be the same or worse.  Now with women coming into the arena, we had a pool of candidates who were not spoiled, or pampered, but needing work, and a profession to prove themselves, and not only that, but with the anticipation of adventure...something lost to the younger men whose seemingly only adventure was playing with women first, career second.
I came up through the "hawse-pipe" loving the sea, with the goal of someday becoming a captain. I sailed, and learned from the old pros. I was married to the ship, and the sea, and all it had to offer - good, and bad, was my adventure.  What also made it easy for me was that I felt better at sea, than on land.  Most of the old timers felt this way, so they were never a problem. Now we had the new breed who knew more about cars, the feeding, and raising of parakeets, and sports, than they knew about ships. I once had an academy lad who after four years schooling couldn't even read the draft...the sea was a lark to him, an interim to a cushy job ashore in some shipping company.  Sadly, their Bachelor of Science degree didn't get them much ashore either if they dilly-dallied at sea too long. 
 
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The last straw for me was in Spain if I remember right.  I had a "poor me baby" young academy lad - Third Mate. A big guy too. He wanted off the ship, though his time wasn't up yet.  The only way off the ship was to walk off, which the Command termed "desertion"...an offense meaning firing.  We all knew he was desparate, but not that desparate.  We all knew he didn't belong in the job, though trained for four-years at Government expense for it.
There comes a time in every case like this when I would plead for them, calling the "base", and trying anything to get a relief.  I already had a female Third Officer - we had two on this particular ship.  She was good at her job, and loved it.  I would give anything to have another like her.  I called the base on a whim, thinking that just possibly they might have another female Third Mate sitting on the bench waiting, and that I have a cry-baby here who will get himself in trouble eventually, he is so desparate.  He was already pissin' in his bunk it was so bad, I told them.  "Yes...we do have a young lady sittin' here, and yes, we will send her.' said the voice over the phone from the States.  "Yahoo!' I yelled over the phone, and added: "From now on, when I ask for a relief for anyone...I want a female!'  "You got it!' came the answer.
 
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Over the next couple of months, I replaced one third of the crew with females - fifteen in all.  Until I got off myself many months later, we had no crew problems whatsoever.  Of course I warned the rest of the crew that anyone messin' with any of these women, are messin' with me.  It was really a pleasure having people who were thankful to have a job, and loving it.
 
Now don't think for one moment that I wound up with "super-naturals" ( angels ) here.  As a matter of fact, it was the young officers who "succumbed" first.  My male Second Mate, an academy lad, fell for one of the messmen (  a waitress ), and my first female Third Officer, and one of my engineers, a young academy lad fell for each other.  Both couples eventually married, and to my knowledge, almost thirty-years after, are still married.
Needless to say, they did abandone the sea for life ashore.
Though, that wasn't necessary, as as time went on, the Command tried to place married couples on the same ship. I knew of one Chief Mate whose wife was the Captain of the ship, though this was a Polish freighter.  Now that's got to be "true" love. Ha Ha.
 
 
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Whether with just one, or fifteen women aboard, you see a marked improvement in the men.  Guys you hardly ever saw at the movies, began showing up, even for regular meals.  Fellows who used dentures, and toupes began wearing them...even their clothes seemed cleaner, and neater.  Even their "language" became tamer.  This though, was noticed years before when the only females were those in the sponsor's group.  It was good, and it was healthy.
 
Whatever goes on ashore between the sexes, went on at sea too...don't fool yourself.  Of course, in the closeness of shipboard life, everyone knew about it right away.  As with some men ashore, the "peeping Tom" types, drill holes began appearing in bulkheads.
As with the "keyhole" graphics above, I presume their expectations were not so met, though some of these gals could fit the bill regardless of age...we did have some "beauties". 
It was funny though....There'd be two guys in room, and two gals in another...the connecting head, and shower between rooms. 
Inadvertantly one or the other would forget to unlock the adjourning door when finished.  This was ongoing, and never was solved. 
 
Love affairs came, and went...most of the time amounting to nothing, one, or the other putting in their time, and getting off.
For sure there was heart-break in some cases...men, or women returning to their spouses, and families...reality returning like a sledge hammer.  The closeness of shipboard life, and the mesmerizing effect of the sea itself has a profound effect on even the staunchest of individuals.  A ship at sea is the closest one can get to being apart from the world...the real world at least.  The ship becomes the "world"...time forgotten on an endless voyage.  For some this was their actual wish for a few days..."Please...never let it end."

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For those unlicensed crew members on watch with a female officer, I never detected any un-acceptance.  Yet later, the whole Command would be under a female "Commodore" - a Navy Captain.
Word did get around that the former "Commodore" thought it was belitteling for him to be relieved by a woman, but that was just hear-say.  During my tenure, and to this date I believe, there hasn't been a woman ship's Captain, though there has been one Chief Mate...the young women I had as Third Mate, the one I got from "off the bench".  They all performed well...as well as the men.  As time goes by, I imagine that once women get their fill of the sea, as men do, they too will become indifferent to wanting such a career. 
The money is good, but the sacrafice isn't worth it.  It's really a mispent life if one can do better ashore.

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The Third Mate flanked by an A/B, and the Bosn.

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The Officer's Messman flanked by the Second Mate, and an engineer while visiting the bridge before breakfast.

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GALLERIES