The Old Man will be Ordering the Linehandlers Topside in Ten

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Remember that? You would crawl topside into a world of fresh air and salt spray. You knew how much time you had by how far you were from Thimble Shoals Light… Or the position angles on Old Point Comfort, the light on the Cavalier Hotel or the concrete emplacements that made up Fort Wool.

After the Topside Gang popped up out of fore and aft hatches, the Leading Seaman made his way along the deck, busting open the line lockers with his "T" wrench. Controlling the "T" wrench was the symbol of the first step… The first rung on the ladder leading to the level of absolute power that would someday culminate in being crowned as the Chief of the Boat. The COB was for all intents and purposes the omnipotent Kahn of the After Battery Huns and assorted Mongols berthing in other locations in his cylindrical iron kingdom.

The "T" wrench was a device that ranked on par with the scepter of ancient Babylonian kings or the power of the headsman's axe in the Tower of London.

"OK, ladies, don't take all gahdam night… Break out your lines and fake 'em down."

"Hey Conaty, knock open that pressure locker and haul some heavies up here."

"Aye, Bwana… Anything you say, boss man."

"Hey Jack, when we get in, you wanna haul your worthless but up to Bells and get a hamburger and a fast snoot load?"

"Naw… Got the damn duty. Going to stay aboard… And hang around in the maneuvering room while they toss in a charge."

"How 'bout you, Peto?"

"Yeah, if you'll spot me to a couple of pitchers till the Disbursing Officer shows up tomorrow with our blue checks."

"Knock off the bullshit, darlings… And wet down your heavies."

"Christ awmighty… It'll be damn near 45 minutes until we round NOB and head up the damn river…"

"Hey Horsefly… Toss that sonuvabitch off up near the bow planes. If that sonuvabitch gets wrapped around a shaft or caught up in a screw, you'll follow it like you were shot out of a damn catapult."

"Hey, loan me your "T" wrench so I can test the niggerhead and the after capstan."

(Wonder what they call the forward capstan now? You can bet your thirteen button blues, the term 'niggerhead' has been replaced with a far more acceptable term.)

When boats come alongside today at midnight I'll bet you don't hear,

"Look alive… Throw a couple of turns around the niggerhead and take in the slack on number one."

"Hey Stuke… That another boat forward?"

"Yeah Horsefly… Looks like either the Cutlass or Grampus."

"He's sure as hell making liberty turns."

"Okay gents, we'll be rounding carrier row shortly. Take a good look at the high-priced Navy… Look at the size of those bastards… You could blow the bottom out of one of 'em and it would probably take two weeks for the sonuvabitch to sink, like getting rid of Chicago by digging gopher tunnels."

"Naw… Those damn hanger decks are just empty space. You slap a torpedo in the elevator on one of those monsters and it would fill up like a toilet tank."

"You know for idiot E-3s, you guys sure are experts on a whole lot of crap you know absolutely nothing about."

"Stow it… Nobody ever listens to or pays attention to anybody racking aft of the mess decks."

"Hey Chief… There's your old lady standing on the pier. Anyone ever tell you what a lucky bastard you are? They didn't turn out a lot of gals as faithful as Alice… You got a real keeper."

"Put your lines over when you can…"

Heavies flew through the air and bounced across the deck of the outboard boat in the nest. Then you bent on the smaller line to your mooring hawser and watched it snake it's way across the expanse between the two boats. Upon arrival, some nameless, faceless jerk just like you dropped the spliced eye in the line over a cleat. You tossed two turns around the socially unacceptable, named hydraulic rotational device and watched the distance slowly decrease until you were home, resting tank tops to tank tops.

"Double up all lines… Secure the anchor detail."

"Attention all hands… Would the lucky ape who had 23 in the anchor pool, see the exec and collect his magic beans."

"Would the mail runner in section three muster in control. Liberty for sections one and two commences immediately. If your ID card does not have a photo of you sporting a beard, shave it off… Any gear adrift in two hours will be found in the lucky bag auction Monday… The Captain wishes to remind all hands that the speed limit through Glouster Virginia has been set to fleece the fleet. Mail call in ten minutes."

"Hey any you guys on Sirago spare a smoke for an American bluejacket home from the sea?"

Submarine sailors are among the most generous people on the planet. I never saw a lad who didn't share his smokes or deny another boatsailor access to his beer pitcher. How many times did you call it a night in some gin mill and toss what was left between you and payday in the middle of the table and say,

"Take care of the barmaid and invest the rest in a couple of pitchers."


"Hey below."


"How'bout getting a couple of non-quals run up some hot coffee."

"You got it."

How many nights? Hell, you were home… Your brow attached you to the rest of the known world… The showers were open… Fresh milk was coming aboard… Turn on the porch light and put out the cat…

You were home.