Circumnavigation, Risking It All

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Note: This series is autobiographic, the events are true as I can get ’em to memory, but it’s been 22 years and a few details may have run together. It’s long and takes a while to pick up steam, hopefully not too boring ^_^

In 1996 I was active duty Navy and assigned to my first ship, a guided missile frigate home-ported in Mississippi. I was 23 years old, happily married, full of myself and from what I could tell, at the start of a successful career.

I had already completed one deployment to the Middle-East and had the obligatory “Sailor experience” under my belt of wandering from bar-to-bar, sampling food from cafes and street vendors, shopping in bazaars and boutiques in Barcelona, Haifa, Hurghada, Massawa, Djibouti, Manamah, Dubai, Muscat and Marseilles.

Through all of that I maintained my marital vows and thought myself all the better for it. I had been tempted, tested and tried numerous times and escaped with my virtue unscathed. I wore my fidelity like a crown and secretly judged my shipmates who failed the test. *Sigh* The higher the pedestal, the farther the fall.

So, some background to set the stage:

A Navy frigate is 456 feet long and 40 foot at its widest. It has four “floors” or decks of living spaces that include where we sleep, eat, relax, exercise and do the business other than operating a warship. Below those are machinery spaces, magazines, tanks and ballast. The philosophy at the time was “build the ship for war, and squeeze the crew in the space left over.”

Of particular note, at the time, the Navy was making efforts to bring women on smaller ships. Up till then they were only serving aboard “large deck” vessels like aircraft carriers.

Our ship was selected for two monumental things at the same time. One, a deployment, or cruise, around South America, circumnavigating the continent while playing war games with the various nation’s navies. And two, being the first frigate in the Navy to have women aboard.

While I had no objections to serving with women at sea, I could clearly anticipate the effect of nine women among the 96 “swingin’ dicks” of the crew. Whoever wasn’t going to try to get in their pants was going to end up overprotective father figures. I wanted no part in that drama and vowed to steer well clear of those “reefs.”

To accommodate the “split-tails,” as the fine gentlemen-ly Sailors referred to them, <--- read sarcasm, one of the three enlisted lounges was converted into a nine-bunk female berthing during the ship's yard period between deployments. You may imagine this further endeared the experiment to those not already anticipating the ladies imminent arrival. The berthing had two sets of bunks stacked three high, three separate bunks for the chiefs or officers, and a small bathroom, or "head," with two sinks, one toilet and shower. The integration had the whole hive in a frenzy; every young stud who thought themselves god’s gift to women, every salt-crusted sea dog who “knew” a warship was no place for a woman, every supervisor dreading the inevitable paperwork that would follow fist-fights and pissing contests and every wife and girlfriend ashore who “just knew those sluts” were gonna steal their man. Aside from the women coming, the South American cruise is one of the most desired deployments a Sailor can hope to get! The ship would make port in nearly every major city on the coast. That meant several days ashore for time off, or “liberty,” and only a few days at sea between ports. My biggest concern was how little money I had to spend. I was a young Sailor and married, so there wasn’t a lot of spending cash in my pocket! The ship was set to depart Mississippi and proceed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where we would pick up our female Sailors. After that, we anticipated port calls in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico; Sint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles; Curacao, Venezuela; Salvador and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Montevideo, Uruguay; Buenos Aries and Ushuaia, Argentina; Valparaiso, Chile; Lima, Peru; Panama City, Panama and Cartagena, Colombia. **** The stage is set, the players ready, on with the show! **** Chapter 1, Guantanamo As a young Sailor, few things were as exciting as leaving home-port and setting out on deployment. This cruise was even more so as we anticipated the novelty of circumnavigating South America, the luxury of numerous port calls and the mystery of operating with foreign navies. I was feeling a little guilty because I was looking forward to the next six months and this deployment was taking me away from my bride of three years. We had no kids and she worked part time and was also very independent. We had worked out the finances so I’d have some spending cash, but not nearly as much as I wanted, but hey, who’s gonna argue about paying rent! The three day transit from Mississippi to Guantanamo Bay went quickly. While the ship was underway, my duties were in the Combat Information Center, canlı bahis or CIC. I spent six hours listening to radios, watching RADARs, keeping a written log of everything happening and plotting the ship’s position. After that I’d have six “free” hours to go get some chow and try to get some sleep. As you can imagine, anything else like showering, laundry, writing letters and such, took even more time out of those six free hours. Such was the life of a “scope-dope” at sea!

While the ship was pier side in “Gitmo” we took on more fuel, provisions and the dreaded, or much anticipated, female Sailors. Our ship had the honor of being the first Navy frigate to have women serve aboard and I for one was not looking forward to the “live grenade” of these nine women represented to the 96 men in the “foxhole” of our ship. Not that I objected to the idea of women serving on warships, it’s just that the math here was obviously not in the favor for smooth sailing, so-to-speak.

I had predetermined to steer well clear of the drama that would be caused by these innocent creatures and secretly felt sorry for them being tossed into the proverbial lion’s den. Any man not trying to get into their pants would be pap bear, ready to take the head off any dude who so much as looked at them funny. Bleh!

The new additions consisted of two officers, one chief and six regular enlisted of various ranks and professions. The officers were a doctor who worked in medical and a Supply Corps officer who worked in supply. I can’t remember what the chief did, but the others were scattered about working in their respective occupations: aviation maintenance, administration, disbursing, storekeeper, boatswains and lastly operations, my own occupational specialty.

I’ll introduce her as “Elle,” a pseudonym from her first initial. Elle was the same rank as me and because I was hot shit in CIC, *seriously, not kidding LOL* I was to familiarize her with our RADAR consoles, log keeping procedures, radio circuits and the like. So from the transit from Cuba to Puerto Rico I was her battle-buddy, escorting her from the door of the female berthing to chow, up to CIC, she’d sit with me watching what I did on watch, then back to chow and back to berthing. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It would normally only take one day for the transit to Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, but we, the ship, et. al, participated in an exercise with ships from Gitmo and Rosy Roads. Meanwhile, Elle and I got along like “peas and carrots” as ole Gump would say. We thought alike, we worked alike, she was hot shit in CIC like me and frankly, we just “clicked!”

Well our obvious friendship had almost immediate consequences for me. Every dude in my chain of command was either “I hope you know what you’re doing,” or “You better not hurt her,” and even “What are you going to tell your wife?” Jeez-Louise! I spent more energy defending myself than I ever wanted to! Elle was kind and understanding and apologized for the drama that our proximity seemed to be causing, like me she really wanted to not get involved in all the drama! She had her feet under her by this point so we mutually agreed to create some space between us and things got better for me after that. She did confess later while on watch that there were ten dudes all vying for her attention once the saw some daylight between us. I just gave her the sympathetic but I knew it look which got me a good-natured, epic eye roll.


Chapter 2, Puerto Rico

When the ship arrived in Rosy Roads I ended up with “duty” where ten percent of the crew remains aboard to keep an eye on things and the rest get to leave the ship. So the first day there came and went without me seeing Elle and the next day was turning out the same way. We did duty-section turnover in the morning and I got changed a caught the bus at the end of the pier to the Base Exchange to get some lunch. The food aboard ship really isn’t that bad, but I had already been anticipating a sub sandwich from the chain-store I knew would be there. Fast forward through an uneventful day to late that night.

My favorite place to “chill” aboard ship was the “03 level,” a small deck outside and directly over the ship’s bridge. In fact, the 03 was the bridge’s roof. It was where I liked to go after watch in CIC for a while before returning to the metal warren of the ship’s passageways. I was bored but not ready for bed and hanging out up there watching folks return from liberty. I don’t guess I was really paying attention to who was returning because I was surprised when I heard steps coming up the stairs to the 03. I thought it was probably my best friend “Freddy,” but I was pleasantly mistaken when Elle came into view.

Elle is pleasant to look at, not a model and not homely. You could easily imagine her as a librarian, teacher or a nurse, you know, the ones you like, your favorites. Friendly, approachable, the ones everyone likes. She’s 5 foot 8 inches to my 5’11,” straight deep brown hair in a chin bahis siteleri length bob, large but cute glasses, her mouth in a perpetual cat-that-ate-the-canary smirk. Her body was on the plump side of average which was overshadowed by her enormous rack. I don’t know what the inches were, but they were easily Double-D! Tonight her wide hips were filling out thin blue jeans and her “ladies” were trying to lead a prison break from the t-shirt and vest combo on her top.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey yourself, you ass!” she replied with a smile. “Thanks for abandoning me to the wolves for the last two days!”

“It’s not my fault!” doing my best Han Solo impression. “I had duty yesterday and we agreed to give it some space ‘cus everybody was jealous.”

“Yeah, I guess,” looking at me over her glasses. “I was hoping for some intelligent company at least part of the time. God! They’re a bunch of fucking morons!” she spat with obvious disdain.

I wasn’t surprised by her invective, we were Sailors after all, but I felt the need to defend my shipmates.

“Ah, maybe next time, try going with a different bunch, maybe you’ll find someone you click with, give ’em a chance!” I tried as we leaned on the railing surrounding the deck, looking out at what Puerto Rican scenery we could see in the dark.

“Why?” she countered, bumping her shoulder into mine in a friendly way. “We get along fine, we click!”

I took a long moment to look into her eyes, trying to understand if she were implying anything other than what she said. Finding nothing, that I could tell, I smiled and submitted myself to the situation and said “Okay then! What now? It’s a little too late to do anything and we leave for Sint Maarten in the morning, guess we gotta wait before we can go hang out.”

“Nah!” she declared. “Let’s go now!” as she took my wrist, turned me around and pushed me towards the stairs.

We made our way off the ship, waited for the next bus that would take us anywhere, there’s nothing down by the piers, and got away from the boat for a while. An hour we were vastly disappointed as we had discovered that the last shuttle to San Juan had departed, the exchange was closed and there were no buses running.

“Whelp, at least you had intelligent company!” I declared as we began the walk back to the ship. My quip earned me a dirty look and a punch to the arm, but we were laughing and I was thinking about how easy it was to be friends with her. I’m an introvert and find getting along with people exhausting, but with Elle, it seemed to come natural.

We were beginning to wonder just how much farther it was when the lush jungle on either side of the road gave way to a clearing on our right. At the top of a low hill was “The Goat Locker,” and affectionate name for the chief’s lounge where the senior enlisted Sailors could let their hair down away from the rank and file.

“Well, shit,” I shook my head. “We’re lost, I remember a base map and the Goat Locker’s on the other side of the base from the ship! Let’s go sit for a minute before we go on.”

“Maybe we’ll find a phone!” Elle added.

Not surprisingly, it was closed and nobody was home. I tried all the doors and we were thinking of heading out when I remembered, I saw a patio. On whim I led Elle around back and with a push and a lift the sliding patio door opened. I looked around for a phone and found one with an “Ah-ha!”

Elle came running and we stood looking from the phone to each other and back when it dawned on us that wouldn’t even know what number to call! “So much for intelligent company!” we both exclaimed in chorus which devolved into eye-watering laughter.

“We may as well chill for a few minutes before heading back,” I said as I looked around at the chief’s lounge. “Look! A bar!” I scampered over and began rooting around. After a few minutes I discovered that the liquor was locked up and the soda gun was off, but I managed to find a half fifth of vodka and some orange juice bottles in a little fridge. I found Elle throwing darts and proudly showed her my hunter’s skills

“Care for a screw… driver?” I asked, making it as awkward as possible to convey the joke.

“Hmmm, more of a hammer girl myself,” she replied with a grin. “You gonna nail me?”

“Nah. Right tool for the right job, my dad always said!” I said this as I was pouring the OJ into the half empty fifth and pouring the mix back into the two bottles.

Elle pretended to be disappointed but I knew we were just playing as we “clinked” our plastic bottles together, toasting our lame adventure and witty repartee. We sat together keeping each other company while sipping our drinks until the anchor shaped clock on the wall chimed 2 a.m.

“Damn! We still gotta walk back!” getting up quickly, I found that a 50/50 screwdriver hits you hard when it’s been eight hours since you’ve eaten! I helped Elle to her feet and she discovered the same thing, half falling into my arms. I admit, face to face, body to bahis şirketleri body, I felt like I belonged there, like her arms around me were “home,” and for a moment in time we were locked in each other’s gaze.

“Let’s go tiger,” she said, breaking the spell and leaning in to peck me on the neck below my ear. She turned and lead the way back out through to back door. My neck felt like it was burning, I swore I could feel the shape of her lips as I dumbly followed her back to the street.

The spell didn’t last long, we walked in silence of only a few minutes when a car came along and slowed to a stop near us. Lo and behold, it was shore patrol, and better yet, it was guys from our ship! They offered us a ride back and as Elle and I rode in silence in the back seat I could tell the guys were quietly joking at our expense and waggling their eyebrows at each other for what they thought was going on.

Elle and I didn’t say much when we got back and went our separate ways as soon as we crossed the gangway. I had to concentrate to navigate through the ship to my bunk, down two hatches and over innumerable “knee-knockers,” the last conscious thought as I passed out fully clothed in my bunk was how nice Elle smelled tonight even though it was tropical and we’d spent much of the night walking around… heh!


Chapter 3, Sint Maarten

“Oh this looks like a disaster waiting to happen!” quipped Elle, as we made our way down the gangway to the waiting water taxi.

The taxi was designed for a dozen passengers and we were the last two, bringing the total to about 30. Water lapped at the gunwales as the boat ponderously made the mile-long journey from where our frigate was anchored out in the harbor to the pier at the eastern end of the Phillipsburg boardwalk on the island of Sint Maarten.

Our division had planned on meeting together at local pub/grill situated on the beach in the arc of the Great Bay. It was an open air arrangement with a bustling street looking out the front, and a picturesque tropical beach scene looking out the back.

We all sat together had some forgettable food and Elle and I shared a margarita. We were sitting across from one another and slowly playing footsies after kicking off our sandals. After a while our shipmates all made off to carry out whatever plans they had made for this port call while we stayed behind sipping our drink. As the charismatic wife of the American expatriate couple who owned the joint brought us a replacement for our empty glass, she favored us both with a glimpse of her prodigious tanned mammaries barely concealed by a loose white tank top.

Elle gave me a playful kick under the table for my obvious fascination with the hypnotic hangers and elicited a wounded “What was that for?” from me.

“That’s for looking,” she said, grinning.

“You were looking too!” I exclaimed.

“Well, they’re worth a look or two, aren’t they?” the matron declared.

“Indeed!” Elle and I replied in unison.

We all had a good laugh as the cheerful woman departed with our empty glass and when we’d settled down a bit Elle got a serious look on her face and said “I thought you were looking forward having a closer look at mine,” while nudging them suggestively between her upper arms, accentuating her ample cleavage.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” I vowed in exaggerated sincerity. My reply was awarded with a wide smile and happy sigh.

Reflecting on the exchange, I instinctively recalled the events that led up to this happy moment.


One of my collateral duties aboard ship was as a Surface Rescue Swimmer. There were only two of us which meant that whenever the helicopter, or “helo,” took off, landed or refueled, the swimmers were on stand-by in case it landed in the drink versus our tiny flight deck at the back of the ship. We also responded to man overboard drills. During our transit from Puerto Rico to the island of Sint Maarten we continued to play war games with ships from Gitmo and Rosy Roads and I was repeatedly called out of CIC or my bed to go dress out in my swim gear and stand by adjacent to the ship’s small craft, a ridged hulled inflatable boat, “RHIB” for short.

If it was chilly, raining or otherwise inclement I would wait in the passageway outside the main-gun magazine. At night the ship would be under “light discipline” which meant that any door or passageway that opened on the exterior of the ship is illuminated by red light, lessening the chances of our ship being spotted visually.

It was such a time that Elle found me the night after our ship departed from Puerto Rico. I was sitting on the floor in the p-way outside the magazine while the helo was doing some such and Elle came walking through. We caught sight of each other at about the same time and I guess I startled her as she cried “What the hell!?”

“Hiya, Elle!”

“I was wondering where you had got off to, I was headed to combat to see if you were on watch still after I didn’t find you on the mess deck,” she explained.

“Nope, just trying to catch a wink or two while waiting to see if the helo crashes or not,” I joked. “Whatcha looking for me for, ya need something?”

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