05 October 2006

A man's bunk is his castle

When we went into post-shakedown availability on Olympia, we all moved out of the bunks we had been occupying. After all, the boat was going to be spending five months or so in dry dock, the crew would be working out of a building, and we weren't going to have much use for those racks. As the end of PSA approached, the COB put up a list and announced that we would be choosing our new racks - PO1s first, by seniority, and then PO2s. By that time, as I recall, I had somehow become the second-senior PO2 on board, so I went looking for a rack that would be good, but not so good that some First Class would claim it.

I found what I was looking for in aft berthing, just inboard the door to the head. It was a top rack, meaning that I would be able to use all the pukas between the cable runs and the piping as extra stowage space (as long as no KCB* noticed and told me to stow things properly). It had a convenient ventilation duct in the passageway right next to it, and a second duct inside the rack, which made it easy to get into; all I had to do was grab hold of both of those, kick my feet up into the rack, and then wiggle the rest of my body in. There was an air vent right next to the head end of it, meaning I would have extra ventilation. And I'm a good, sound sleeper, so the fact that it was in a high-traffic area next to the head didn't bother me.

Sure enough, when it came my turn to choose, that rack was still unclaimed. And I kept it for my remaining three and a half years on the boat, through the homeport shift (Norfolk to Pearl) and two WestPacs.

Then came my three years on the tender, where having a top rack was a bad idea. (Nothing above one to keep out the light.) When I reported in to Jacksonville, I was assigned a rack I didn't like at all - it was a middle rack (in the aft outboard corner of aft berthing), and access to half of the bedpan was blocked. So I went looking for the FT2 who had "my" rack.

I showed him the rack I'd been given and asked if he wanted to trade. His response was "Let me think." Five minutes later, he was back to say "Yes." So I had my rack back, for the rest of my two years on the boat.

I cut my one shore tour short by four months to go back to sea. When I got to Providence I was assigned a bottom rack, just the other side of a thin partition from where the chow line formed up under way. Unfortunately, the TM2 who had "my" bunk liked it as much as I did, and wasn't interested in trading. I could have bumped him, but he had a little less than a year left on board and I decided to just wait until he transferred. However, we all had to move out of berthing during Xmas stand-down, so the space could be painted, and I figured as long as he'd already cleared all his stuff out of the rack....

I kept the rack for the remainder of my time on board, right up to when I went on terminal leave. The photo above was taken during my last deployment. The pillowcase was decorated by one of my daughters, the photos are of my wife (with a friend's new baby) and the girls, and the piece of yellow paper is a family portrait drawn by my then five-year-old. You can see one of my handholds curving through the bunk, and the air vent just outside it.

On Olympia, as I recall, that vent was a bit closer to the curtain rail, and in addition to increased ventilation it also provided "white noise" to block out the sound of passersby. It also served to block out annoying 1MC announcements. And so it came to pass one day that I was snoozing in my normal position, with my face right up against the back wall of the bunk, when one of the other RM2s came to wake me up. "Hutch [our LPO] wants you to come up to Radio and explain why you weren't at battle stations," quoth he.


I rolled over, opened the curtain, and looked out. Sure enough, all the lights were on in berthing, and people were climbing into their racks.... Surprisingly (especially since my battle station was in Control, about three feet from the XO), everyone accepted my explanation that I'd been sound asleep and just hadn't heard the general alarm when it went off.

I don't think I ever did take any pictures of the foot of my rack, so I had to borrow this one from a friend. You can see the little locker and the shelf next to it, with his shoes. For those of you who aren't familiar with 688s, personal stowage consisted of that, plus the "bedpan" - a locker the length and width of the bunk itself, and just deep enough to hold a cassette tape standing on its long edge. (The white bag hanging inside the bunk is a laundry bag.) There were also some common lockers scattered through berthing for people to stow coats in. And that was pretty much it. On deployments I kept my dress uniforms and my (empty) backpack underneath my mattress, and took full advantage of the above-mentioned pukas that a top bunk afforded. By the end of a deployment, things were generally a bit crowded, with souvenirs, new books, &c, stuffed in behind the laundry bag or under my pillow.

* Khaki-clad bozo (ie, chief or officer)


Mega Munch said...

Great pictures...especially the one of the foot of the rack. I remember when 719 pulled into Puerto Rico a bunch of guys took wild hermit carbs home with them. It was a two week trip back to Groton, so not all the crabs made it.

I kept about half a dozen small to medium sized ones in my foot locker, just thrown in there when nothing but some sand. Lucky crabs, because that was some prime real estate that I could otherwise be using for "reading material."

I used to lay there and hear them scratching around in there. It was kind of nice. They all survived and I gave all of them away except for two which I kept and raised for a few years.

bothenook said...

great post. i remember having sesame street sheets. and a small tobacco shop's worth of smokes, pipe, cigar, cigs, and loose rolling. got me a lot of free duty days in port in exchange.

SonarMan said...

My first boat was one of the "41 for Freedom", and all you got for storage was a 12"X8"x24" locker with a shelf - no bunk pan, and a common locker for hanging up your blues, if you could cram them in there with everyone else's. My other two boats were Tridents, the Missile Compartment 3rd Level bunkrooms held 9 men each - and it was heaven. Each bunk had a bunk pan, a 12"X12"x24" drawer, and a common locker big enough for everybody to stow all their dress uniforms, and more. I always felt a little guilty for not ever having that true submarine experience, but that's the lot I drew.

reddog said...

Reporting aboard the SSN 575 as an unqualified QM3 right out of A school and Sub school, I learned that we were deploying in 6 weeks for a very long time, with a very large crew. Because of the very large number of "special" crew members, certain economies were enacted. In my case this meant sailing with 2 QMS aboard. Port and starboard watches. Since the other QM was a chief, I couldn't hot rack with him. God smiles, or not.

I got my own bottom rack with pan locker in the Torpedo Room. My pan was countersunk into the decking. seventeen inches of headroom. On the deck, stores for the very long deployment. A layer of #10 cans, a layer of cardboard, repeat, repeat, repeat. To access my rack I had to dig in, then reach out and carefully replace the cans and cardboard. Cozy. Like a coffin. Never bothered me.

There were those clostrophobic nightmares where I would wake up screaming, but that was years later, and I'm better now.

Anonymous said...

I also spent my time aboard FBMs. My first patrol, just out of sub school got me the rack at the bottom of the ladder from second level ops. This rack contained the end of the vent pipe from SAN1. Every time sanitaries were blown, I got to breath the vent fumes.

Just before flyover from Groton to Holy Loch for my second patrol the COB opened the signup sheet for racks. As an E3(SU) I was pretty far down the list.

For some reason on the Stoney J, all the nucs liked to have racks in the outboard port side of bearthing. This included the 1st class nucs. When my turn came to pick a rack, I noticed that there were still several unclaimed racks in the first class bearthing, just off the crew's lounge. I asked the COB if I could have one of these first class racks. Since Chief Wellich was a great guy, he said I could have it. Several other E3s followed suit and thus the first class bearthing became the first class and under bearthing. I kept the same rack for 5 more patrols.