I am not the Ancient Mariner: Ancient, maybe.
Part 1 – The Cruises
Let me start at the beginning. I was very fortunate that the Dean of Students at the State University of New York, Maritime College decided to recruit at my High School. He painted such a glorious picture of the college, also known as Fort Schuyler, that I knew it was for me.
The first year was tough. It was a military school so I should have expected the hazing, inspections and training.
I got through it. At the end of the freshman (mug) year, we all looked forward to the CRUISE! The cruise usually started at the beginning of May but not this year. The ship, a surplus WWII hospital ship, arrived in May but it was right out of mothballs. Everything on board was intact from the war and it was coated completely in red lead, a paint preservative. The school’s training ships were usually white.
It took all of May and more to empty it out of cases of C-rations, floor polishers and various WWII items. The C-rations, among other things, contained chocolate bars and cigarettes. The chocolate bars, unfortunately, were inedible. The cigarettes for the “addicted” were smokable, I guess, because they smoked them.
One major item was to paint the ship white. There wasn’t enough time so they painted just the side facing the pier. It looked good. On the day we left, the pier was loaded with parents offering a “bon voyage” to their offspring. When the ship came about (turned around) the red leaded side was presented to all.
I’m sure many parents wondered if they’d made a mistake!
CRUISE ONE: Our first port was to be Bermuda, a day away. We settled in riding a calm sea. The next morning, reality set in. We found you couldn’t get dressed without holding on. The ship was rocking. We survived. By late morning the word came that we were nearing Bermuda. Somehow I got myself up on deck and saw the blank horizon in every direction. Moments later a little green bump showed on the horizon. It got bigger and bigger – Bermuda! For someone who’d never left New York or New Jersey, it was awesome.
We usually spent 4 -5 days in each port living on the ship and getting some free time. The free time was spent sight-seeing, going to the beach and drinking Red Stripe beer. Some guys rented mopeds. You didn’t need a license.