The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A voyage of senses

When you are out to sea for any length of time, you forget. You forget what it is like to walk on solid, unmoving, ground. You forget, in a way, that land exists. You see nothing but ocean and, therefore, nothing else exists. You smell the sea, you feel the sea, you fear it and love it.

But no sea journey lasts forever and you eventually come to a destination, a port. A day or so, depending upon the prevailing wind, before you hit port you smell the scents of land. It is the vegetation you smell first. The most beautiful scent is Hawaii. The flowery perfume of the islands is intoxicating. There is no other port that comes close to rivaling it. Once in port, the scent of flowers is lost in the smell of diesel fuel, engine exhausts, and garbage. But the land around Pearl Harbor is still beautiful and the perfume returns full force once you leave the base and head for town.

In my 4 years in the Navy, I visited a number of ports: Seattle, San Francisco, Long Beach, San Diego, Acapulco, Philippines, Yokosuka, Sasebo, Vung Tau, Chi-lung, Kao-hsiung, Hong Kong, and Pearl Harbor. All had their own peculiar scents, all smelled very similar once in port. A ship has its own smell; a mixture of male sweat, salt air, diesel fuel, grease, occasionally gunpowder and fresh paint.

We spent months away from our home port of Long Beach, Ca. It takes only a week or so to forget the sights and sounds of a bustling city. The sea calms and hypnotizes the sailor into forgetting. We still remembered those we left behind; the girlfriends, wives, families, shore-bound friends. But the memories moved further and further back in one's mind. Your only link was letters delivered irregularly when we'd replenish at sea or hit port.

A WesPac cruise (a tour of the Western Pacific which, at that time, meant some time in the South China Sea and the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam) lasted 6 to 7 months for Destroyers like mine. We'd leave Long Beach and arrive in Hawaii about 8 days later. After a few brief days, we'd head for Japan which took a couple of weeks. Both these legs would take less time if we didn't have to also run some exercises along the way. A Navy ship never seems to travel in a stright line but always finds time to practice various skills. Practice makes perfect, they say.

After leaving Japan, we headed for the Philippines. Olongapo, to be exact. This was a work port; things got painted, lots of things, repairs were made, and our hull was patched. Water was seeping in. It would be patched several times during that first cruise I was on.We wouldn't learn why and it wouldn't be fixed permanently until after we returned stateside and went into drydock in the Long Beach shipyard.

Olongapo is an ugly little town full of beautiful, but mostly poor, people nestled alongside a beautiful cove called Subic Bay and surrounded by hills and mountains. The water outside of the dock area was clean and clear. Like Hawaii and other tropical ports, the perfume of exotic wild flowers was almost overpowering as you entered the Bay. By the time you reached the pier, those smells faded behind the odors of a working port.

Hong Kong smelled of garbage mostly and the smell of diesel fumes from ht ehundreds of fishing boats, garbage barges pushed by tugs, and the water taxis that criss-crossed the harbor.

Kao-Hsiung (pronounced cow shung) was also a working port on an island and had few pleasant smells even as you entered. There was an extra smell beyond the diesel fumes and paint and such; the smell of fireworks from the launching of fishing junks. As the boats were launched, fireworks went off to chase away "evil spirits" and the smell would waft across the harbor.

It was the return to the States which lingers most in my memory. You didn't see land as you approached California, you saw a brown cloud. It was the smog which envelopes just about all of southern California. As you get closer, you smell the smog first... well before you can see through it to the land. A stench of sulfur and misery. It made me want to turn around and head back to sea. But I was not in charge and the rest of the crew would have mutinied anyway. When you do finally see land, you are within a day of port.

It will be days, maybe weeks, before you are comfortable on land again. And, for some, the sea will call to you forever more.


The Jules said...

Lovely, evocative description.

I was amazed by the wobbly feeling I got walking on land after just a few days at sea. Now it takes quite a few scotches to reproduce that effect.

Douglas4517 said...

Jules, you have discovered why sailors are seen as heavy drinkers. It may
be true but it is only to maintain the "sea legs."