Anchor Pools

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Never won an anchor pool. Anchor pools were operated by the slush fund, a.k.a. the Saltwater Savings and Loan.

For those who never rode an anchor pool boat, I will try to explain their operation. First of all, the things are illegal… Totally and absolutely outlawed by everyone from the Chief of Naval Operations down to the squadron chaplain.

The odds are terrible. You would stand a better chance betting on a blind mule at the Kentucky Derby. What you do is contribute five bucks to the Saltwater Savings and Loan and it provides you with the opportunity to win $50, the remaining bucks going to the 'slush.'

You actually never used the term 'slush fund' because the bulkheads had ears. You said 'Saltwater Savings and Loan' or 'contributions to Mrs. Murphy's Mothers Day card.'

Let me explain how an anchor pool works… You need a pen, two sheets of white typing paper, a sheet of carbon paper (do they still make carbon paper? Xerox sure must've kicked the slats outta the carbon paper racket…), a piece of stiff cardboard and a good stapler.

You stapled two sheets of typing paper together with the carbon paper sandwiched in between. Then you laid out a grid with 60 squares. With the carbon in place, what you got were two mirror image blank grids - one exactly over the other one.

You then delicately… What a word to use in conjunction with anything done by a submarine sailor… You carefully folded back the top sheet and the carbon, and placed numbers from one to sixty in random order, in the sixty blank boxes of the lower sheet. Then you returned the folded top sheet and carbon so that you had a visible top sheet containing blank boxes.

You then circulated among your fellow inmates of your submersible septic tank and relieved each player of five frog skins. Most anchor pools were five frog skin pools. I heard rumors that on some big ships they had pools with hundred buck boxes. We didn't have any direct relatives of Bonnie and Clyde, so we kept it to one Abe Lincoln a box.

Once you had picked a box, you would write your name in it. Because the carbon paper was still in place sandwiched over the numbered boxes, your name would show up superimposed over some number between one and sixty. The pages were stapled to the cardboard so you had no way of knowing what your number was.

The corner boxes went first. Boxes in the middle went next. There were many scientific systems used… There was the 'Hand over the eyes, finger point' method, the 'Eenie-meeny-miney-moe' selection process, and the favorite 'Shit, just pick one for me' method.

I personally liked the one in the middle of the lower edge. This location had been revealed to me in a 151 proof rum-induced dream… At the time I was speaking directly with Zeus.

Old hands knew you had to get hold of an anchor pool sign up board before it passed aft of the after battery. When that board passed through the forward and after enginerooms… And throttlemen and oilers wrote on it… It got greasy snipe prints all over the cardboard and sheets. By the time it reached the guys popping the 'electric sticks,' it was a grimy mess.

This in no way places the blame on enginemen and motor macs… No sir, everyone knows these individuals had lovely cleaned and manicured hands. The root cause of all the nasty looking oily, greasy fingerprints were the 'lower flats trolls.' Those little sonuvabitches caused all kinds of problems. They could louse up a vertical drive on a Fairbanks Morse rock crusher or throw a lower crank. One thing they rarely did and that was picked a winning anchor pool number.

If you couldn't fill the card, all the blank boxes were owned by the 'Mrs. Murphy's Mothers Day card fund'… A subsidiary of the Requin branch of North Atlantic Saltwater Savings and Loan - pier 22. Fine institution… Open around the clock… Known to invest heavily in sea stores cigarettes that became available at somewhat exorbitant prices after three weeks on the snorkel.

The SS&L had a slogan,

"Someone's gonna screw you… Let it be us and keep it in the family"

The SS&L brought you beer ball games, bail money, cash to pay fines, ship's parties, and fare for unanticipated trips home. The only financial institution in North America that would bankroll visits to cathouses with no collateral required.

Each anchor pool had a prize, usually fifty bucks. When you came in to tie up, the Old Man would yell to the line handlers' topside to "Put your lines over when you can." This triggered a shower of heavies… Heaving lines thrown at the pier or the deck of some outboard boat. 'Heavie' for the uninitiated, is a line… A light line that has a big knot tied on one end to weight it. The knot is called a 'monkey fist'… You weight it so you can throw the light line across the water. A line handler is your counterpart on the pier or the boat you will tie up to. He catches your heavie and takes up the slack then pulls the heavy hawser over that will tie your boat up. It takes four hawsers to tie up a smoke boat.

You can increase the range, velocity and lethal potential of a heaving line by making your monkey fist around a large metal nut, a pool ball or a smooth river rock. Bounce a little sweetheart like that off a bosun'mate's skull and you are guaranteed instant celebrity followed by certain death.

When a line handler catches the first heavie, the Navy considers the ship moored… And the Old Man tells the duty quartermaster to mark the time in the log. No one gives a damn about the hour but the minute, of which there are sixty possibilities, determines your anchor pool winner. The quartermaster passes the word,

"Ship moored sixteen thirty-three…"

We rip open the board and look at the names inscribed in carbon ink over the numbered squares.

"Here it is… Number 33… Name's Tick Dick…'Tick Dick' Edwards… The lucky sonuvabitch… Guess who's buying at Bells tonight!"

Over the 21 MC you hear,

"Seaman first Ronald C. Edwards will mail Mrs. Murphy's Mothers Day card…"

Now every sonuvabitch on the boat knows whom the beer at Bells will be on for the better part of the first hour.

Anchor pools weren't a good thing to base your future security or retirement plan on. They were at best, a lousy percentage bet, but they were a critical leg in the illegal financial system that kept the lads who rode vintage petroleum-powered submersible iron in beer, whiskey and ragged around the edges female companionship.