|The USNS GEIGER - my ship...our ship. I was asked by the Chief Mate - Bob Husband if I was interested in Commanding a Lifeboat Racing Team. I said I was...before long, there was a team assembled...actually two teams. Overtime, "Commanding" became "Coaching"...Husband deciding he'd take the Coxswain's position when the final team was chosen.
I had joined MSTS after sailing for some years with Socony Mobil, and though I had a Second Mates License, I was but a Junior Third Mate at the time with MSTS. It made no difference to me...I enjoyed the physical, and professional aspects of the thing. I dove into this venture like an Army Drill Sergeant. As the youngest on the team - I was 29, and in good shape, Husband was going to sweat...they all were going to sweat...me included...we had three-months to get ready.
For starters, Special Services outfitted us with a couple of Rowing Machines we could practice with while at sea. Turning the enclosed Starboard Promenade Deck into a Gym, rain, or shine, heavy weather or not, we could build ourselves up with these machines...it was not easy at first.
The outside upper decks, all Teak covered, became our calistenics, and running places, having due respect for our passengers of course. After a year with Socony Mobil I was called into active duty in the Navy...three months Boot Camp in Brainbridge came in handy here. Strange, but I enjoyed Boot Camp inspite of the fact that after a year with Socony, and older seamen as shipmates giving me an "old man's" temperment, I rather quickly adapted to being a "kid" again. However, I knew enough to acquire some "Rank", becoming a Platoon Leader right off.
Marching, and calistenics became a favorite...I would have done great in an Army, or Marine Corps Boot Camp. Here, now, on the Geiger all my military "gung-ho" - "Drill Sergeant" nature came out...all I wanted to do was "train". When in port, we'd have two of the ship's Emergency Lifeboats in the water...big, clunky things...not really meant for rowing, brought out the best in us, and the blisters, and sores. Hands never healed...the "tail-bone" raw...down to the bone...muscles we never knew we had aching...it was rough.
After a month or so it was no problem to complete all the series of calistenics, and running. The Rowing Machines not a challenge anymore...the team becoming quite strong physically. At first we thought the biggest, and burliest of our volunteers would lead us to victory...we had one Cook/Baker so strong he actually broke an oar...but later on we began to realize it was endurance that mattered, and the "average" built fellows wound up in the final team.
We joked that the Baker, a great pastries chef, got his strength from filling pastries...though he was "big".
On one voyage we answered a Med Evac...the Chief Mate feeling so confident in some of us, that he asked the Skipper if he could row over to the other ship. It was a bit rough...the seas choppy...maybe ten feet in height. Using one of the metal lifeboats assigned as "Emergency Boats" was launched, and away they rowed in this big, clunky thing.
Over to the other ship about a half-mile away, picking up the subject, and returning, all went well until "hooking up" on the falls, when after both hooks were set, the sea dropped out from under the boat...boom...but the falls, and davits held.
I was the Mate On Watch at the time, and watching from the wing of the bridge way above, as was the Captain. Boom again...too much for the old skipper to watch...he left for the wheelhouse having second thoughts if all this was a good idea. Though smaller than the large hundred person lifeboats...they could hold fifty, and were built, as were the davits, and falls to handle such events with a five to one safety measure...it was all well built.
Finally the boat was brought to the boat deck, the patient brought down to the ship's hospital, and the whole evolution a success. The only outstanding difference for the day, and age was that it was rowed...the engine not used. Actually, these "bath-tub" like boats, though outfitted with oars, the oars are only there in emergency to at least get the boat to a safe distance from the ship if sinking, or on fire...they are not rowing boats.
The boats used for the International Lifeboat Races are rowing boats...designed to be rowed, and are not really "Lifeboats" as such. Lifeboats are filled with survival gear - food, water, etc. in lockers, plus air-tanks, which take up alot of the internal space. The lockers, which are tanks in themselves, are fitted under the thwarts. In the rowing monomoys this space is open...good to stretch the legs under for an advantage in rowing...there are no air-tanks under the side benches...in fact nothing other than the hull, and thwarts...no additional weight...not even "releasing gear"...just a bare boat weighing a ton, or even less.
However, they are not sculls, or shells...there's nothing "comfortable" in them...just benches, and there in are the nemesis of the tail-bone. There isn't a cushion made, we even tried Kapok Lifejackets...nothing helped. In the end it was just bone to wood...you had a sore-ass that stayed sore as long as you continued in the "sport", or whatever.
Hands were no better off...they never healed...gloves - forget it. Rowing these things in competition are just one torturous thing...bloody, bloody, bloody.
On one return trip to New York, we loaded the two wooden monomoys on board, and took them along on our trips...our rowing real lifeboats for the competition over. Wherever we went, in went the boats, and it was row, row, row...along with the calistenics, and rowing...we were becoming "Vikings".
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