Chapter III: The Atlantic Ocean
At last, at six o'clock on the evening of March 31, 1918, the convoy got under way, and started out of the harbor.
The following is a letter from a commanding officer describing this departure:
"When we left the States we were under the protection of a battleship, and the Senior Officer was under the impression that before the trip came to an end he would have to hoist us to the deck of his ship to keep us from straying from under his wing. He explained very fully the awful consequences of not doing exactly as ordered; and directed that at the least trouble to call on his mighty war vessel for assistance. He said that of course he knew we were inexperienced and he did not look for us to come up to the mark of efficiency that was expected of his fleet, but he was very glad of this opportunity to take the group of chasers to their destination. Sort of doing his bit for the U. S. However, we all knew he secretly cursed the Navy Department for giving him a bunch of kids with their motor boats to keep track of.
"We finally shoved off from State pier with the usual delay of twenty-four hours, and outside the harbor took our formation in column, distance of one hundred yards between boats. There were twenty boats in all, and after the air in our whistles had been exhausted blowing to one another, we got under way. As the battleship was passing the small island about seven miles from port, the captain bethought himself to look and see how things were. It must have been an inspiring sight! Efficiency personified! The chasers made a most symmetrical series of S's, only a couple of breaks now and then as all beginners must have, and all boats out of the harbor except one which was disentangling itself from an argument with a harbor tug which had not recognized the self-asserted right of way of this newly made man of war. A pretty good start, we all thought. The column was only eight miles long. However, we later found our captain did not share our opinion. We all were very 'salty' and 'rolled' fore and aft along the deck instead of walking. We were pretty much at home on the seas, and talked of the seaworthiness of our boats, how we would like to try them out, and such other stuff of a like sort, until we struck the Gulf Stream the next day.
"In this area a big sea was running and the waves seemed to be as high as our mast. The directions as taught in school ashore, when the ocean is merely a conception of the imagination to most of the students, are to run down the side of the wave and with a sort of scenic railway effect shoot up the next. We found the chasers were just like corks in the sea, and corks can't be steered down one side; they just drop, and so did we. The fact that they were small and light with a flaring buoyant bow kept them from sticking their noses too far under. Plenty of green water was taken over decks for us beginners, however.
"Do you know the Gulf Stream is different from any other stream? Instead of flowing on a horizontal plane, it flows vertically up in some places and then nearly always comes down again. It often goes straight up and then straight down, a most disturbing sensation, because the boat invariably follows it. She rolls first to one side to clean off the starboard deck (of dirt or people), then to the other side to catch those who have crossed over. This motion would be fine for reducing. The crew, would you believe it, really forgot meals, and it was the only time ever heard of when they seemed more interested in sea views than having 'chow.'"
During the run to Bermuda the paint burning on the outside of the engines gave forth a most unsavory odor. It penetrated the water-tight bulkheads and was most evident everywhere on the boat except in the galley. In the galley this smell had to contend with that more pungent one of burning food, caused by a cook who, in the midst of keeping a pot of stew in its conventional position, became suddenly interested in gazing fixedly over the ship's side; although it was said that he was seen at this particular time often with his eyes tightly shut. Later on, we found the cook was not at all dependable. He took to lying around anywhere he happened to drop. t was not discovered who started this little sick game, but all the deck force except four and two of the engine room gang played it for some time at least during that trip. All the men, however, though each time they thought and often hoped, it would be their last hour alive, stood their watch. The culinary results were very unsettled, and it was a case of charity, if those who could not cook for themselves ate at all. However, the quartermaster, gunner's mate, and two seamen proved to know something of cooking, and mainly through their efforts such delicacies as fried eggs or burned sausages were added to the bread, coffee, and "canned bill" diet. Is it a wonder the interest in keeping position in the convoy waned until brusquely revived by unsympathetic reminders signaled from the senior ship?
One night when personal attention to the ship's position was diverted owing to seasickness, it was discovered at sunrise that the rest of the chasers had disappeared over the horizon towards Bermuda. After a somewhat heated interview with the chief of the engine room, it was found that the water had risen above the floor plates in that compartment and seriously endangered any further move. How it got there, where it came from (though that was evident enough--the ocean), or what to do, had made no apparent impression on anyone supposedly responsible. It seemed of little consequence to them that the entire convoy should turn and come back for this one chaser, or worse, not come back at all. It was suggested by someone in authority that pumps be used. This met the approval of all. The water was pumped out and the engines started again just as the mother ship showed up on the horizon looking for her lost chick.
The system of signaling at sea between ships is generally by flag hoists. A ship wishing to send a message will hoist flags designating the desired ship's call number. When the call is seen the designated ship runs up the answering pennant. The message is then sent either by flags whose meaning alone or in combination is gotten from code books, or by semaphore method, angles of flags or arms standing for letters, or by dot and dash code, a combination of left and right dips, also alphabetical designations. If the signal is understood the answering pennant is hauled down. If the pennant is not lowered the message must be repeated. It is distinctly to both ships' discredit to require repetition. At night messages are transmitted by blinker system, a combination of long and short flashes of light according to the code used.
Each noon the latitude, longitude, and fuel reports were signaled the mother ship. During the first few days the greatest diversity of opinion existed between chasers only two hundred yards apart in regard to their position. It was noticeable that some of the chasers in giving their latitude and longitude always agreed with one of the leading sea-going tugs, which tug generally, in fact always, got its hoists up before these chasers.
One night the 127 had a fire in her forepeak and the 128 stayed close by her at fire quarters, giving her the aid of another searchlight. The fire proved of no importance except as illustrating the fact that damp rubbers and waste make a dangerous combination when in a confined space.