(Editor’s note: This is a continuation of an article, “Perry recalls 400 days under the deep blue sea,” in the May 21, 2015, issue.)
Unless you’re in military service, as Tim Perry was, or have some other job with an unusual schedule, most of us think in terms of 24-hour days.
When Perry was a submariner during the mid- to late-1970s, his time inside “the boat” (as the submarine was termed) consisted of 18-hour days: six hours on duty and 12 hours off. He and two other men did his job, rotating 18-hour days.
Perry worked in navigation, with the title Quartermaster, although he reminds readers that the term has a different meaning in the Navy than it does in the Army, where it refers to supplies.
The shifts went from midnight to 6 a.m., 6 a.m. to noon, noon to 6 p.m., and 6 p.m. to midnight. However, down in the depths of the dark sea, sunlight was not a factor, so Perry kept track of days by the meal cycle.
At 6 a.m. breakfast was served, at noon lunch was served, at 6 p.m. supper was served and at midnight leftovers and cold cuts were served. He says that submarine crews were served some of the best food in the military, however his log book notes his displeasure when liver and onions were served! And the type of food varied, depending on factors including when the boat left port and unforeseen setbacks. The crewmen enjoyed fresh foods and dairy products soon after they left for a typical 75-day patrol, but before long meals were prepared from cans, boxes and frozen items. When the boat first left port on a patrol many boxes of food were placed wherever there was any available space, sometimes creating situations where crewmen had to sit on a chair with their feet on a box.
Typically, high quality meat and frozen foods were prepared and served, and fresh eggs lasted a couple of months. Freshly baked bread and desserts were served every day. “No one lost any weight on patrols,” Perry says. He learned to bring along canned nuts, smoked oysters and clams and saved them for times when he didn’t like what was served. He also squirreled away as much dried fruit as he could and remembers one time when the galley ran out of peanut butter. “That was the fall-back,” he says.
He recalls one time when there was a flooding casualty -- the toilet paper got destroyed. “You don’t know how important toilet paper is until you don’t have it,” he says. For every patrol after that, Perry hid a personal stash of a couple of toilet paper rolls.
Constantly in limited supply was fresh water and the crewmen had to be extremely conservative in its use. Each day, four to five thousand gallons of seawater had to be distilled by boiling off the salt, but the reactor got the first priority for fresh water. Every few days the men could wash up in the showers, which were “little bitty things,” Perry says. “You’d get in, turn the water on and then turn it off. You’d lather up and then rinse off as fast as possible. He remembers one crewman who became known for taking showers too long and retaliation came in the form of cold showers.
The boat was climate controlled, with air conditioning and heating. Perry says, “Everything forward -- electronics, missile control -- had to be kept cool. During the winter in the North Atlantic it’d be cold, with frost on the hulls. Generally, the climate was decent and the atmosphere was monitored for oxygen, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. We had oxygen generators.”
When the patrol was underway the crewmen’s appearance became informal, Perry says. “A lot of protocol goes out the window,” he says. “The crewmen stopped shaving and wore whatever they wanted, but the uniform coveralls were the most practical. Your hat was your identity. We wore comfortable shoes; a lot of tennis shoes and soft-soled loafers. Quiet is the whole culture. No clanking, talking quietly. Quiet is the name of the game.” Still, Perry says, “The officers wore more correct uniforms with insignias and, when we were within a day or two of port, we had to get regulation haircuts and shave.”
After supper and after a crew got relieved at midnight, every night a 16 mm three-reel movie was shown from a Bell & Howell projector. The same film would be shown twice, at the above-mentioned times, but each day a different film was shown. Typically up to 70 movies were loaded on the boat before it left for patrol; meaning 210 separate reels. The movies ranged from top-of-the-line Hollywood productions that had not long before been shown in theaters to B-grade schlock like Japan’s “Godzilla,” that Perry refers to as “gaggers.”
Aside from the movies, typical after-meal entertainment included card games held on the mess decks, listening to music on reel-to-reel tapes, and reading one’s own books or trading with friends. Perry also brought along cassette tapes and headphones as well as a sketchbook, charcoals and watercolors. He found it ironic that acrylic paints and Elmer’s glue were not allowed, as they were considered air contaminants, when many of the crewmen chain smoked.
In any case, Perry says, there wasn’t much time for entertainment. The crew also had much in the way of collateral duties, including drills for weapons, fire, flooding, launches, engineering and casualties, although they had Sundays off from drills. There were daily and sometimes twice daily drills Monday through Saturday and Perry also had duties as the boat’s photographer and public relations person.
Despite the unusual schedule Perry often could “conk out” easily, as the berthing areas were usually quiet after lights out. His “rack” (bunk) was one of a series of three built in and stacked up, with a locker for the crewmen’s things at the end of each. Each rack had a reading light and a draw curtain at the side, which was the extent of any privacy. The crewmen had to learn how to find their way around in the dark, when they had to make a “head call” (use the restroom). Sometimes it was difficult to get more than a couple of hours sleep because drills could be called at any time and everyone had to immediately respond.
(This article will conclude in next week’s issue.)