Tarmac ribbons criss-crossing the landscape, dusty back roads twisting between the cool shadows of ancient pines, and less traveled pathways connecting present to past, all I wander, seeking, seeing, with my keyboard and camera capturing scenes and stories to share with you.

Now in its fifth year, this venue has become an important part of my life, a place where I can express my thoughts and feelings about the things I see and do, hoping the process brings me a bit closer to friends and family who enjoy sharing my sometimes chaotic and often nonlinear observations and ideas. A journal, I suppose, but one with which I find pleasure in thinking others are alongside me on my journey.

December 29, 2015

AT SEA ON THE JOHN BROWN

... many years ago, as a birthday gift, i believe, j-sun baily took me to boston to spend a day sailing aboard the ss john w. brown, "one of only two remaining, fully operational liberty ships that participated in world war II" ...

... i'm not quite sure why, since i think by this time in my digital history i had acquired a nikon dslr camera, but for the outing i took a little canon g7 ... for some reason i never got around to processing the image files, and, long after the event and purely the result of my absolute stupidity in not following my own advice, i assumed i had lost the images when my computer's hard drive crashed ...



... it seems, however, i was more responsible than i'd thought, and it turns out i'd saved the files to a c/d—which, of course, i'd neglected to label properly (back to the "stupidity" thing) ... how delightful, that i can now both relive that wonderful day as well as share it with you ...

... after being cleared by homeland security, america's safety requiring that we present picture id cards before cruising boston harbor, we boarded the ss brown ... my first impression was that there seemed to be many mechanisms cleverly designed to remove one's fingers ...

... before lunch was served i wandered through the engine room ... the double-acting, condensing, triple-expansion reciprocating steam engine's 2,500 horsepower can propel the ship to a maximum speed of 13 mph ... in wartime, slowed to convoy speed and u-boat avoiding zig-zagging adding to the distance, the typical providence to liverpool transit would take two weeks ...

... i was told that due to a shortage of personnel there were times  a "wiper" might work "eight on and four off" an entire voyage ... the full shift would be a non-stop routine of constantly applying lubrication to the moving parts of the huge engine ...

... don't be fooled, even during this short cruise of boston harbor the temperature in the engine room was clearly in the mid-90s ... one of the engineers informed me that during tropical crossing the working space could get up to 120°f with "steam bath" humidity ...

... there were all sorts of electrical panels, most of which had no real safety features ...

... weeks at sea, things break ... the machine shop could repair or replicate all but the major parts of the ship ...

... these were the cabins for the crew ...

... flags were still necessary because any radio communication would allow the dreaded u-boat "wolfpacks" to triangulate the convoy's position ...

... not actually a throttle, the captain must "ring the engine room" for the speed desired ...

... a "rosie the riveter" joined us ... she spoke of the 3,000,000+ women who entered the labor force during world war II, a great many of them performing industrial jobs which had been culturally (and, in many cases, legally) "male only" ... the war ended and most of the women were sent home, but, in time, the excellent example set by these female workers became foundational in the transformation of our societal values ...  

... president franklin d. roosevelt boarded the ship ... he spoke, and as had an entire generation before us, we were once again inspired ...

"There are many ways of going forward,
but only one way of standing still."



 ... an american "dogface," making the long voyage towards an unknown land and an even more unknown future ...

... general patton joined us ...

"If everyone is thinking alike,
then somebody isn't thinking."


... i've been told there were a great many reasons to go to war, but, in the middle of a arduous, dangerous, lonely voyage across a u-boat infested ocean, if asked, "what are you fighting for," i'm sure i'd find this more inspirational than even fdr's words ...

... on this day i'd make a guess that fully one-third of the guests on the ship were veterans ... many, like this gentleman, had done convoy duty during world war II ... he had made seven round-trips, including one in which his ship was torpedoed and he spent several hours on a raft wondering if he'd be found ...

... the glenn miller band performed atop a decked over hatch ...

... these two veterans shared the moment ...

... suddenly, there was a loud klaxon alarm, "general quarters, general quarters ... all hands to battle stations" ...

... we were under attack by a japanese carrier based torpedo plane and a mitsubishi zero fighter ...

... luckily, especially considering that we were thousands of miles out in the middle of the ocean and well beyond its range, a p-51d mustang arrived to save us ...

... scratch one zero ...

... the captain announced that we should all direct our attention towards the boston waterfront ...

... once a year the uss constitution, the world's oldest commissioned warship, is turned to even out the weathering effects ... on this beautiful day it was decided that she be taken under sail into the outer harbor ...

 ... the uss constitution offered up a salute from her signaling cannon as she passed the ss john brown ... the captain of the ss brown responded with a whistle salute, and then, perhaps the most spontaneous thing of which i've ever taken part, the entire assemblage on the deck of the brown broke out in a shared chorus of "america the beautiful" ...

... when it was over i doubt if mine were the only eyes filled with tears ...

... over 2,700 liberty ships were built, and, since victory in modern war is ultimately a function of logistics, it's fair to say that the uss john brown and her like changed the course of history ...

... almost 10,000 civilian mariners, acting under military orders, died in service during world war II, 1/26th of the total number who served ... this casualty ratio is significantly higher than that of either the army, navy, marines or coast guard, yet it wasn't until almost 1990 that the merchant marine was included by the veterans administration and the vfw still refuses such recognition ... (be there no doubt, that last clause is a very, very indignant political comment) ...

... towards the end of our voyage i found this "old geezer" taking a rest in one of the bunks that were used for carrying soldiers ... i wondered if he dreamed, and, if so, were his thoughts of comrades asleep in the sea ...

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

JOHN MASEFIELD