Standby for Heavy Rolls

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Anybody out there who doesn't remember those lovely words?

"Standby for heavy rolls… Secure all gear adrift."

Many of us wandering through life today, narrowly missed having death certificates, reading,


For those of you who were smart enough to plan your life without spending a few years bouncing around in the North Atlantic, gear adrift is stuff not tied, bolted, welded, or otherwise firmly affixed to the ship so that it doesn't become airborne and fly around, severely upsetting the inhabitants.

"The Old Man is gonna bring her around… Sit this round-bottom bitch smack in the trough."

That translates into rolls that will knock your dental work in your colon.

Submarines aren't luxury liners… The bastards that designed the damn things didn't have crew comfort in mind. The level of interior comfort was on par with ancient primitive craft, except that no hairy bastard walked up and down with a bullwhip making you row the damn thing. Evolution had the hairy bastards wearing Chief's hats and going around saying stuff like,

"Jeezus Christ, you worthless collection of low-life, scum-sucking sonuvabitches! How'n hell can human beings become such pigs after three weeks underway?"

No, submarines weren't your most comfortable devices to transit the world's oceans in. But with incredible foresight and recognizing the inherent instability of a 'barrel-shaped' vessel, the designers put things called 'rolling chocks' down both sides of the underwater hull to act as vanes to retard rolls.

Ya, right.

Horseshit! The clown who came up with that piece of engineering brilliance, had never been north of Halifax in storm season. If you were to buy that idiot's reasoning, then glueing a couple of playing cards on the flanks of a bucking bronco should aerodynamically retard his vertical movement.

Like I said... Horseshit.

Back to 'gear adrift' in heavy seas.

Submarine sailors, the men 'who keep you safe when you sleep', store their accumulated crap anywhere they could cram it, poke it, stuff it, or jam it. Overhead ventilation lines were the all-time favorite locations.

Nothing is more lethal than overhead vent lines loaded with canisters of 16mm motion picture film… "Death by blunt instrument" comes to mind. It would have been difficult for the skipper to write,

"Dear Mrs. Jones, I regret to inform you that your son was killed by Around The World in Eighty Days.."

When movies began to fall out of the overhead, it was like being caught in a hailstorm of tractor parts.

As the hull twisted and torqued, sidelockers flew open, revealing hidden stashes of contraband or misappropriated stuff. Hidden skin book libraries. Hordes of smokes and stolen goodies… Things like piles of boxes of Grape Nuts and Sugar Crisp.

When we loaded stores, there was an advantage to being an animal in the loading party. I studied under the eminent box surgeon, Dr. Adrian Stuke. Dr. Stuke knew exactly where to make a rectangular cardboard incision to do a rapid Grape Nuts and Sugar Crisp ectomy… The removal of highly-prized underway trade goods. If you were in the line passing stores and the sonuvabitch handing you stuff passed you a box reading, 'Post assorted cereal in individual serving packs', and the words were upside down, you knew that there was a hole in the box and what had been behind that cut-out place was now in Doctor Stuke's foulweather jacket pocket. It was all part of the life of an E-3 bluejacket in the Submarine Squadron Six Jungle… Survival techniques of lads staying just ahead of Chief Petty Officers who dined regularly on large chunks of their asses.

In heavy seas, stuff appeared that had been reported as stolen ten years before…

"Hey here's a gahdam Zippo with 'FOR JIM - - ALL MY LOVE - - MARTHA'.

Anyone know Jim and Martha?"

"Nah. You think brother Jim might have been getting in Miss Martha's panties?"

"Could be, Horsefly."

"Hey… Martha might be his mom."

"Yeah, sure… Where'd you come from kid, the cabbage patch?"

It kept coming. You'd think you had a handle on it and something else would break loose and come waltzing down the passageway. Once the cooks were bringing up a box of frozen steaks that got away from them and came busting through the airlock door into the After Battery berthing compartment. That was like crawling into a giant washing machine in the middle of the rinse cycle with a loose Mack Truck engine.

I was always happy that I didn't have to live in an engineroom in heavy weather. Engineroom's had stuff roaming around in them that could take off an arm or leg, or pass directly through your head and remove the part of your brain you needed to get signed off on Trim and Drain.

I ran into a kid I graduated from high school with, at a reunion...

"Hey Dex, after I graduated, I went to Princeton and played Lacrosse. What'd you do?"

"Went to Snorkel U. and spent several years playing North Atlantic Skull Hockey."


Jeezus, you had to do it to know I'm not lying. Any man who never had a seat on the Icelandic Saltwater Roller Coaster… Who never tried to eat chow off a sliding plate or tried to pee into a urinal doing the mambo, will never understand. Anyone who did, is now turning to his wife and saying,

"Darling, this idiot bastard is not lying. I remember once…"

I remember once.

They should carve that on every submarine sailor's tombstone.