There are some jobs worse than what the deck crew does. The engine room has young inexperienced men who do the hardest and dirtiest work and who never get to see the daylight. The Cook needs helpers whose workdays begin earlier and end later; their conditions are hot and greasy and once again they only get to see daylight through a porthole. Which job was the angry boson going to give Ron?
There is a part of the ship which the bulk of the men on a ship never get to see and that is the officers quarters and the bridge. However there are a few non-officer type jobs: servants for the people who run the ship.
There were two women on board! They cleaned and washed for the officers. On most merchant ships women workers were a rarity. Except Norwegian shipping lines where they are able to compete and get jobs in officer country. This was pre-women’s lib and there was still a division between ‘men’s’ jobs and ‘women’s’ work. Still, we were surprised to discover these creatures in what we thought was an all-male environment. One of the women was old and we were told that she was the captain’s wife. The other was young and she became more and more beautiful the longer we were at sea. We weren’t allowed to go into officer country but once in a while we would catch sight of her on the upper decks hanging laundry. Also, there was a purser who took care of the captain’s needs. Aside from these two jobs there was only one other way an ordinary deck boy could work on the bridge.
He could steer the ship! Ron was literally kicked upstairs. His Job? He joined the night watch. The deck crew has only one set of hours and, as I described before, we would get up in the morning, do our days work then go to bed at night. All of the officers and some of the crewmembers had to work watches, which comprised of four-hour segments of work separated by four hours of rest.
Ron started on night watch. He was allowed to stand and stare for hours on the nice warm bridge; looking for danger at sea. Only once did he spot danger; he reported a ship’s light off the port bow. The second mate seemed amused and ordered Ron to describe the ‘light’. Gradually, Ron realized he was reporting the rising moon! This is a fairly common mistake but the whole crew heard of it the next day and he wasn’t allowed to forget it.
I was envious but decided against dropping my own bucket of paint on the boson. I hated the work of scraping paint and painting and began to find ways of avoiding it. An area that needed scraping was inside the air intakes; those huge pipes that look like saxophones on deck. The ones that needed repainting lay on their sides and I would crawl inside with my paint scraper where I found if I actually didn’t scrape paint and remained quiet I could get a few hours of shuteye. This disinterest in work wasn’t impressing the powers that be and I would be made to suffer for it.
The weather was beautiful and as the ship was low in the water, heavily laden, any ocean swells or waves barely affected us. Some days the water was quite active from storm disturbances elsewhere but I still wasn’t aware of what a real storm could do. I wouldn’t experience the terror that the sea can produce until after Japan.
We were just entering the waters of Japan when the captain yelled at me.