My first ship – The mess

6 05 2014

Back in the good old days of wooden ships and iron men, the men lived in their mess – they ate there, they slept there and did their drinking there. It tended to be close quarters and  the air tended to be a bit on the crunchy side but really, it was home. Jump forward to these days and we still call all of these places mess decks (at least in the Royal Canadian Navy we do), thou we have broken up what happens and where. You sleep in you mess deck, you go to the eat in another location and that is called a mess and when the drinking happens, well it is still done in a mess (after the drinking was done, it really was a mess).

With that bit of background, on with the shanty

I have just signed onboard HMCS Qu’apple. The Cox’n has decided that I am fit to be onboard and as such, I need a place to sleep. He decides that since I am a naval signalman, I belong in 8 mess, with all of the other combat trades. He points to an open hatch “8 mess, down that hatch and see MS Bloggins, you mess mommy, he will get you a rack”

I make my way down a steep ladder and end up in the sitting area of my new home. MS Bloggins is there, feet up on a table, watching 3 OS doing cleaning stations. He looks up at me and snorts (that sort of thing makes you feel all warm and fuzzy). He got to his feet and told me it was my lucky day, the delux  rack in the mess was waiting for me. He took me to the forward port end of the mess deck and pointed to an unmade “bed” up near the ceiling.

“Congratulations, there is your new home. Get your rack made, get your stuff in your locker and then get up to the galley.”

Oh goody (I think), I have a place to sleep – not that I got to use it a whole lot. Let me describe where I was going to be calling my sea home for the next couple of years. 8 mess was the living space for 54 sailors, stacked 3 deep in a wire mess shelf of a bed with supporting chains at shoulders and mid thighs. Every man had his own space – 86 inches long, 26 inches wide and if you were very lucky you got 24 inches of head room. Each man also got a locker about 72 inches by 24 inches by 18 inches wide. This was what every man had for himself.  My particular space was at the forward port end of 8 mess and I was very “lucky” and got close to 30 inches of head room. Unfortunately, as I was on an upper bunk, that 30 inches was generally taken up by wires, pipes and other assorted crap. The only nicety with that was that I had a few unofficial shelves at my disposal.

A few words about my “rack”. While the word rack conjurers up all sorts of unpleasant visions of some poor soul being tortured, my rack was a very comfortable place to lay my weary head. I sunk into the wire mess supported mattress and settled in quite snugly.  The word snugly is important here. That meant that I was wedged between a metal box that separated me and the guy beside me and a couple of chains that supported that suspended my rack from the ceiling. Yes, it was a bit like a coffin but it did mean that when the ship took a heavy roll to port or starboard, I didn’t take a very brief flight to the deck – definitely not a pleasant way to wake up.

In the world of real estate the buzz word is LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. It will make the value of your property soar. Well, in the case of my rack, the location left a little bit to be desired. In HMCS Qu’apple, 8 mess was on 4 deck, directly aft of the engine room – traditionally the loudest compartment of any warship.  With 8 mess being directly aft of the engine room and my rack was at the extreme forward end of the 8 mess, when I went to sleep (not that often let me tell you)  the only thing separating me from the engine room was a 1 inch steel plate. When ever a grimy (our word for an engineer) dropped a wrench, I heard it. I swear some days that we had the biggest bunch of butterfingers in the world.

“Sleep” was a mystical place I remembered from my younger years. I knew that it was supposed be a quiet restful thing, where you saw pictures of a better places, the faces of your loved ones. For the first three weeks aboard, I do not recall ever going to that place. Then one day, I lay down on my rack, knowing that it was futile to even close my eyes, so I picked up my favorite book (no, not the kind of book with lots of glossy airbrushed pictures) and then…..

It all went black…..

And that is a shanty for another day






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