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My Seven Sees

Posted May 12th, 2011 at 02:32 PM by Sylvano the Wasabus
I did not spend a large part of my life as a sailor in the Navy. I was quickly posted to an administrative position on a Naval base and did not contest the posting. And then I got discharged as quickly as I could.

The armed forces weren’t really for me. Twenty five years ago (and probably now too) being enlisted meant following orders and protocols even when they made no sense. Maybe I was too cocky. Most officers seemed like goofs.

Creativity was frowned upon, because it might make work for someone else. I am not good at living part time.

It was the peace time Canadian Navy- underfunded, neglected and in great need of repair. We had one working submarine, and three more that were for spare parts. One ship I was posted to was in dry dock for four years.

But I did see some unusual things, things that I would not normally have seen. I think it’s important to find value in everything. Here is my list of the seven interesting “sees”.

1) See of traffic

My best “boss” was a Master Warrant Officer from the air force. He had been posted to a ship, but he was in the air force. He never let anyone forget that. He was a giant of a man and no one dared cross him. Ever.

One day he told me we were going downtown. He ordered a truck and when we left he backed into a palette of bread, knocking it over and then drove through one of the base gates, breaking off the red and white striped gate arm. He didn’t swear, or shout. He was calm, just like he always was. That’s what made him terrifying.

He pulled onto the busiest street in the city, stopped in the only lane going East and put on the four way hazard lights. “I’m going to the bank- if anybody asks, its official business.” He took the keys with him.

I sat in that truck for 45 minutes, watching the traffic pile up behind me. I was terrified. No one asked me what I was doing there. When he returned he didn’t say a word to me; just hopped in and away we went.

2) Dead See

We were mostly young and there was no war so we felt invincible. But one of our ships was out on patrol, and during a live fire exercise the front turret gun exploded, killing two and blinding five.

Every sailor was in the harbour when that ship came back into port. The wounded had been evacuated by helicopter but the dead were still on board.

I will never forget seeing that silent ship slipping into harbour, the sailors standing on the bow, like statues for all to see. That was routinely done but this time was different somehow. It wasn’t just a reminder that we were all killable- the dead and wounded were our brothers. It was sudden shocking death in the family.

3) Grey See

I only did it once. It wasn’t particularly against the rules or anything- no one was watching anyway.

The sea was angry with us. It was winter. The ship was pitching and rolling. The cooks only made spaghetti because it was easy to throw up. I undid the hatch and peeked out at the grey ocean and the grey sky. All around, every side, just grey, angry grey, up and down, grey, grey, grey, not really any difference between sea and sky. I felt very small, totally insignificant and awed. And ready to throw up more spaghetti.

4) Big City see

I only went to New York City once. Some of us Canadians are unnecessarily afraid of the States- we’re like small town boys in a big city.

Well, New York was terrifying. The first thing that happened to me was a very friendly man approached offering me drugs of every kind- not into that, no problem- women- or men- or children? Not into that? No problem. Animals? Half man – half woman? Not into that? No problem. Did I want a watch or a Walkman? Not into that? No problem. Car? Apartment? Mountain climbing? - I kept walking- the friendly man still had more things to offer but I’d had enough.

I am too small town for such a city. Then I saw a huge traffic jam - and much to my surprise an armoured mounted knight was making his way through the stopped cars.... (isn’t that called tactical disengage 7?)

5) Seeing Flames

Every sailor in the Canadian Navy is trained as a firefighter. Fires on ships are deadly because there is nowhere for you to escape to safety. And the ships are filled with ammunition, fuel, and the greasiest French fries you’ve ever seen.

In fire school there was a training situation called “The Three-sided pit.” A fire crew had to go down a dirt ramp to fight a 25 foot blaze in this pit.

The day before my crew was scheduled to go in another crew had an accident. A sudden gust of wind sent a fireball at that crew as they into moved into position, and everyone was knocked off their feet. Their protective clothing, which was kept wet by a special mechanism to protect them, was dry and warm. All of their exposed hair was singed off. (we weren’t in heavy gear- we were just supposed to get in close to the blaze and extinguish it). They stood up and ran.

There were more terrifying training scenarios- ones where you were surrounded by flames and couldn’t see and had to breathe foul air out of Chemox unit, but the tales we heard from the “flamed crew” frightened us. They had felt real terror, and if you don’t know it, let me tell you terror is catchy.

The next day we made ready to fight the three-sided pit. We were all scared, but we went through the preps anyway. And then one guy broke down. He began to cry. He collapsed to the ground and emotionally fell apart. Everything he knew, everything he was, every training he’d had could not contain his fear. He flailed and wept. It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen. They took him away and he was discharged. We never saw him again.

We went on that day and fought the pit, and won. But it was a hollow victory. I can’t say I’m proud of it. It ate one of us.

6) See of loneliness

Of course there has to be a story about a girl too.

I’d had a crush for a long time on this one. She was cute as a button but seemed indifferent to me. I am painfully shy, so I’ve never known if girls just didn’t notice me or were flat out not interested. I suspect it’s the latter...

I overheard her lamenting that she couldn’t get tickets to see the Nova Scotia Tattoo- it’s sort of a performance of military stuff- pipes and drums- and a gun run- where sailors race through a huge obstacle course with pieces of a cannon, assemble it and then fire it first to win a trophy.

One of my buds was on a gun run team and I got two free tickets from him. I asked Miss Cute-as-a-Button to go with me, and she said yes.

It was all downhill from there. She was rude to me the whole evening and blew me off as quickly as she could, and then I watched as she went and hooked up with some other sailor. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I shouldn’t have been crushed....

I walked home alone and attacked parking meters, trying to relieve the pain. It didn’t help much. The parking meters didn’t care. They kept their money too.

I still think about her sometimes.

7) see of life

When I first joined up I had difficulty following stupid rules. As time went on, I still had difficulty, I just found holes in the systems and exploited them.

But once I got caught. I was posted to one ship, but was working on another one temporarily. Every sailor must stand watches so I told each ship that I was doing duty on the other ship, and in reality did none at all. A particular petty officer (an NCO) figured out my scheme and threatened to put me up on charges. In the end he sentenced me to a pile of extra duty after a nasty tongue lashing. He was known for being cranky and inflexible.

Then he retired. I then was posted to the finance office of the Naval base and who should I encounter? Yes, that miserable Petty Officer. He was not my charge thank goodness, but I still got to see something shocking. He’d been in the navy for thirty years- and he’d never had to handle his own money or look after his own financial affairs. He came in for a counseling service we offered, helping recent retirees manage their pension. He did not know how to use a cheque book or how to have a bank account. He was just a big cranky baby.

Now, thirty years later, those are the things I remember seeing when I was young and ran away to sea.
Total Comments 4


The Doctor's Avatar
Interesting story SW. I had a lot of family members in the navy. Overall, another great blog.
Posted May 12th, 2011 at 05:09 PM by The Doctor The Doctor is offline
ZBeeblebrox's Avatar
Great blog Sylvano; as usual.
Posted May 12th, 2011 at 09:56 PM by ZBeeblebrox ZBeeblebrox is offline
Bolo's Avatar
I am a retired Navy vet myself, I spent a total of 10 years out to sea on Aircraft Carriers (CV 59 USS Forrestal and CV 60 USS Saratoga) as well as a couple years on an Oiler (AOR 6 USS Kalamazoo) and saw many SEEs myself. I enjoyed reading about your experiences in the Canadian Navy but I think you left out the most important SEE.

The Navy is good at making you look at yourself and give you direction whether in or out of the military, as well as giving you the discipline to grab life by the balls and run with it.

I have been reading your blogs for quite some time and one thing I've learned about you is that you sound like a dedicated father, a hard worker and someone who just likes to have fun in life.

Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.
Posted May 13th, 2011 at 09:20 AM by Bolo Bolo is offline
chas's Avatar
I assume you were in Times Square in NYC long ago? Its all cleaned up now, although people like that are still around in other locations. The following responses would have also been acceptable at that time:

1. Snarling and flexing your muscles.

2. Attempting to bite off his nose.

3. Yelling for a cop.

4. Pulling a knife.

5. Saying "Sorry, I'm Canadian."

But I have to admit that I was swarmed near the Sphinx in Egypt by overeager cheap souvenir hawkers who kept putting things into the pockets of my Bananna Republic vest. And I had my wallet stolen in the train station in Rome, and never even felt it happen...
Posted January 29th, 2013 at 03:37 PM by chas chas is offline
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