Getting groceries

10 05 2015

Life aboard a warship is pretty much the same as life ashore. We all eat (mostly it was food), we all sleep (well sometimes) and we all get to enjoy the good life of leisure  – okay the leisure is a bit of a lie. One of the really nice bits, at least when I was aboard, was going to eat. Yes I had to line up to get it, yes I had the choice of  three flavours of grease, yes I had to eat it in 10 minutes with 50 other guys in a very small room – all of these negatives could be overlooked because I didn’t have to cook it, nor did I have to worry about what there was to cook, that was someone else’s problem. The chief cook told the junior cooks to make it, the junior cook told the stores man what to get, the stores an went to the storeroom got the stuff and dinner was created. How much simpler could it be?

Simple is good. Simple is nice. The ships I have served on were generally about 300′ long. Within that 300′ shell was housed a big ass engine, a number of weapon systems, fuel tanks, a bunch of weapon control spaces, workshops, showers, bathrooms and about 200 men, all crammed into very tiny bunks with upwards to 50 in a room – except the Captain. He always had a room to himself, and his own bathroom with bathtub. Rank Has Its Privilege.

The other important thing that the ship housed was the food store rooms – usually at the very bottom of the ship, and as far away from the galley as they could make it. Would it not make sense to put the food beside the place it would be needed? Lugging a 50 lb hunk of frozen cow was a major pain in the ass. The store rooms held enough food to last the ships company about 2 weeks, with the “fresh vegetable” being the first item to be gone. To be honest, I don’t know if I ever really saw a fresh vegetable while I was at sea – but that is another story for another day. As our ship was frequently away from home port for months at a time, the food stores (and fuel, and water) would need to be restocked about every week and this weekly event would usually be when the nearest grocery stores was about 1000 miles away so we would have to do our second most favourite evolution – Replenishment At Sea aka RASing stations

RAS is a very neatly planned dance between the supple vessel and the customer.  It would start by the customer telling the supply what was required and supply saying, yeah, right, I will get right on getting you some kobe beef. Once it was decided what was going to be transferred, the dance begins

Supply ship chooses the best course and speed and steadies herself. While supply is doing that, the customer gets herself about 1/2 mile behind her and waits. When supply is ready she says come on in and the customer pulls alongside. Now, when done in a car, this manoeuvre is fairly easy, you pull up, stop and get out of the car and go inside the store. While at sea, the ship pulls up, and steadies up on the same course as supply, still doing about 18 kts (20 miles per hour). At this point the ships are about 100 yards apart so it is very important to be paying very close attention to the distance between the ships. Then lines are passed between the two ships and depending what is being transferred, there could be up to 3 different stations having people hauling on lines, getting dirty and sweaty, or if you were a signalman, just standing around waving your arms about.

I loved that part of being a signalman. Everyone else was sweating their bags off, I was up on the flag deck chatting with my winger on the other ship. It was usually pretty relaxing, a bit too relaxing as once I managed to gain a bit of notoriety for my action – that will be a different story.

Anyway, now that the ships are tied together, whatever stores that are required can be had. We would usually do our RAS with US supply ships and they were always happy to see us. You see, the US Navy is dry, that meaning they have no beer on board. The Canadian Navy is wet, meaning we do. It was not unheard of to find out that a couple of beers would be unaccounted for after the RAS was done.

Once all of the groceries, or fuel, or personnel, or whatever had been passed, supply would send over a message saying “your total comes to $20,435.34, how do you wish to pay?” The customer would give her credit card number, let go all lines and tottle off to the horizon.

Then we would have to hump all them groceries to the store rooms, the ones at the bottom of the ship, far away from the galley so that someone could hump them back up to the galley for the cooks to turn it into three flavours of grease

And then the cycle would begin again

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