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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Admiral's Inspection and Anchors Aweigh

When we mustered with the deck division the next morning, we found that it would be nearly two weeks before we sailed.  Before then the ship would be subjected to an admiral’s inspection.  To make the old ship ready, both Lt. Williams and Chief Larzenarski drove us unmercifully.  Paint parties went over the side to scrape the worst rust spots, coat them with red-lead, then apply a fresh coat of Navy grey.  The rest of us got very familiar with iron paint scrapers turned out by the ship’s machine shop and paint brushes.
The joking rule was, “If it moves—salute it.  If it doesn’t move—paint it!”  The rule did not apply to brass, which in peacetime was kept shined.  Unfortunately, there was a lot of brass—cofferdam ID plates, porthole rims, compartment identification plates, and many fittings.  The ship’s stores included dozens of cans of pink brass polish and we used up a lot of elbow grease and rags.
When the Friday of the admiral’s inspection came, I was amazed at the transformation of the rusty old ship.  All fuel oil hoses and hawsers had been neatly stowed.  The decks, bulkheads, and side plates were resplendent in fresh grey paint.  Every bit of brass gleamed in the sunlight.  Our quarters and all other below decks spaces had been scrubbed and painted.  The ancient brass washbasins in the head gleamed like gold.  When the inspection party was piped aboard, the entire crew had been mustered in immaculate white uniforms and shined dress shoes.  At that moment I was proud of the old Tippecanoe and did not regret the sweating hours of drudgery that had made her look like a part of Uncle Sam’s Navy.
Two days after the inspection, Tippecanoe’s engines rumbled into life and the P.A. system blared, “Now hear this—all hand, man your special sea details!”  I had been assigned to the first crow’s nest watch on the high foremast so I scrambled up the seventy feet of steel rungs welded to the foremast to the small, waist-high metal can that was the foremast lookout.
Below me the ship’s crew not assigned to sea details manned the rails in undress whites.  The mooring hawsers splashed into the water and with a “Whoop—whoop” of the ship’s horn and a blast from the siren, Tippecanoe backed away from the pier where a small contingent of wives and children waved and headed out to sea.
We did not sail directly to Hawaii.  On February 13th we put in at Long Beach to take aboard a full load of fuel oil.  The next day we sailed for San Francisco.  Our normal cruising speed fully loaded was twelve knots so it was three days before we sailed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and anchored in San Francisco Bay off Treasure Island.  We got no liberty in San Francisco and had to be content with looking at the lights of the Barbary Coast and wondering why the ship had put in there.
We weighed anchor the next morning and headed back out beneath the Golden Gate.  Once more I had the first watch in the foremast crow’s nest.  I gaped upward as the Tippecanoe slipped beneath the main span of the soaring bridge.  High over my head two men were working on a scaffolding at the endless job of keeping the big bridge painted.  As the ship slid beneath them, the painters looked down and answered my wave from the crow’s nest.
I was neglecting my lookout duties.  The voice tube to the bridge suddenly whistled.  When I answered a mild voice said, “Keep alert, sailor—we have traffic ahead.”
Abashed, I jerked my eyes to the fore.  About a mile ahead of us as we cleared the narrows there was a tug towing a large barge.  Actually, the tug and barge were laid to waiting for us.  We came to a stop and the tug transferred the tow lines of the barge to Tippecanoe.  We were to tow it to Hawaii.
The drag of the barge plus our full load of oil reduced the sedate pace of the Tippecanoe to less than ten knots at turns of the single screw for standard speed.  In fact, on a calm day the captain decided to turn up full speed ahead for a test run.  Tippecanoe refused to get above twelve knots.  It was to be a long slow passage to Hawaii.  We continued to scrape and paint deck plates and, in bare feet and rolled-up dungarees, with holystones and sand we scoured the wood of the fantail and boat decks just as sailors had done for a century.