The Art of 'Jury Rig' at Sea

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

When diesel boats came sliding into the nest after weeks at sea, it was not uncommon to see that missing deck locker lids had been replaced with a canvas square, cut out of the side of a seabag and wired over the hole… You could see a lad with orange nylon shot line replacing a broken boot lace and dungaree shirt buttons attached with dental floss.

You see at sea, it was a little difficult to run out to the store every time you busted something or equipment broke down.

Submariners were selected because they could 'Think on their feet'. They weren't so bound by conventional thinking and traditional prescribed technique that they couldn't come up with unconventional, off-the-wall, perfectly workable solutions that could meet the immediate need. It was known by the navy as 'jury rigging'… It was known by E-3s as 'comin' up with some gahdam make-do hootenanny'.

God invented the number ten bean can for submariners. You could punch two holes in one, attach a piece of wire and you had a:

(1) Bunk chain butt kit (ash tray),

(2) A place to toss your watch, wallet, spare change and dogtag chain when you crawled into your rack, and

(3) A universally adaptable drip-catcher to hang under leaky pipes and condensate pans.

I once lost the heel of my boot the second week out. I tried to glue it back on, but the hole I whittled out in the heel to countersink the bolt head gave me a blister the size of a fried egg. So, being the innovative boatsailor I was, I pried the other heel off so I could correct the starboard list created by the missing heel. I spent four more of the weirdest weeks in my life walking around in them sonuvabitches.

Try going around with no heels on your shoes. You spend a lot of time with your toes pointing up like Aladdin's shoes and wondering if your boots are going to slip through ladder rungs.

I can remember a radio antenna that we refastened after a storm ripped it loose, with one of those metal strips that winds around the key when you open a canned ham.

All of us have those memories… Things we did to get by… Stuff that allowed us to make it from day to day.

The elevation leg on the motion picture projector stripped its gears. So, we elevated it with two Pyrex cereal bowls. The cook cut breakfast biscuits with a tuna can with both ends cut out. The tuning knob on the RBO broke and somebody substituted a Jim Beam bottle cork.

This was just another example of the memories we all have. We all smile when we remember things like cutting up a hot water bottle for gasket material, or straining oil through some gal's pantyhose, looking for telltale metal shavings that would indicate a Shot-to-Hell bearing.

It was just part of what made up the life we lived… Part of what made us what we were.