Chapter IV: Bermuda
When about three hundred miles off Bermuda a red buoy was reported, "sighted," as entrance to the channel. Everyone was delighted except the navigator, who figured himself over and over again as three hundred miles out. He alone of the ship's crew was happy when the red buoy turned out to be a rising star. After the Gulf Stream had been passed the weather became very balmy, and at last the green hills of Bermuda came plainly in sight. A pilot boat was met and formation changed into column, and we proceeded into the swept channel skirting the coast of the island for about ten miles. It was a wonderful sight that met our eyes as we steamed along. The bright sunlight made the water a peculiar bluish green, and then beyond stretched the yellow beach with archy caverns, and above them the fresh-looking green grass dotted with pure white houses and intersected with white paths and roads, and crowning it all, a cloudless azure sky. With this in sight we passed mile after mile. Was it a wonder we admired the view? There was something on which we could stand upright without holding on, and where we would not be worried internally eternally. We passed three chasers anchored close to shore, and they seemed almost too desirably peaceful after our continuous pitching and rolling. We reached His Majesty's Navy Yard and everything was so white that it had the appearance of just having been scrubbed. The water was clean and transparent, as the British forbid even bilge pumping in this Queen's basin, as it is called. The harbor is a sort of rectangle about one mile long by an eighth of a mile wide, and protected on the ocean side by breakwaters. Here we found tiers of chasers had preceded us. There were some French but mostly American, and numbers of English ships and boats of all kinds and sizes. There were enormous offices and supply buildings along the water front, but set back a convenient distance for yard work. After tieing up beside our sister chasers, we immediately went aboard them to get information as to liberty. About shore liberty is the first question always asked when port is reached after a cruise, and after our trip one could not well imagine a more desirable thing. Here we bathed and a few conscientious ones looked up supplies. It was learned that a chaser was sent each day to Hamilton, the only town at that end of the island. Overnight liberty was allowed, and only those on duty and those that got trampled on by the mob failed to board the next chaser to Hamilton.
There was a ten-day stay here during which time everything was overhauled and examined, for our next run was to be of twelve days. Some chasers needing it were put in dry dock. Supplies were procured, not at the navy yard but at an American base on a nearby island, where storehouses had been built and there were large caves for the storage of gasoline. The heat here was so intense that the liquid which was in the five-gallon tins would expand and break the receptacles if not protected.
The storekeepers had had experience with navy men and knew what precautions had to be taken to keep idle hands out of mischief. A working party was sent to one of these supply sheds to fill a requisition. The storekeeper read the number of the chaser and then looked at the men. "You people stay right outside there, I'll get your stuff for you," he said. This remark appeared so uncalled for, that to the last man their faces showed "hurt" at this inference of distrust. Nature assumed sway in their minds and it was determined to get even. When they returned to the ship they had the articles requisitioned but also two pelorus stands of the value of one hundred and fifty dollars, but absolutely of no use whatever to the chaser as they were, or when taken to pieces. The men were sent back with these useless though valuable articles. The storeman, never considering his monthly inventory, refused to receive them, as by so doing he would admit their putting it over on him. An officer finally had to be sent to settle the matter; then the storeman received the stands but gave a receipt for them.
On long trips the water supply was not sufficient to allow the usual consumption for scrubbing clothes and galley uses. The crew understood this and instituted what was called a "Kangaroo Court." The first mandates of this court were issued on this trip. It was ordered that no washing of clothes or persons should occur during the voyage. The orders were carried out, as infringement called down the wrath of the court which was composed of the most eminent and largest muscled men of the crew. Although this first edict was a bit stringent, the "Kangaroo Court" developed into a most worthy institution. During the early stages of its existence the anchor watch failed to keep up the forecastle fire at night, thereby causing the crew the unpleasantness of stepping from their bunks onto the cold, damp deck in the morning. After a trial before the court the offender was sentenced to the duty for one month of cleaning up after the puppy dog, the mascot and pet of the crew. His rest depended upon the dog's condition, for at the merest excuse he would be roused from nightly slumber to perform the details his sentence imposed. This court saved the officers many disagreeable duties that were for the good of the crew, such as the cleanliness of the men's mess gear, the preparation and fair distribution of coffee on night watches, timely relief from deck watch, and so forth. The officers perfected an arrangement whereby salt water could be used in their shower and wash basin, thus enabling them to conform to the general plan for conserving the fresh water.
Number 126 on leaving this island where our storehouses were ran on an uncharted rock at the edge of the channel about a week after our arrival. This occurred near high tide and at low tide she made a most pitiful sight. She was perched on her side and only her after portion was in the water. On trying to get her off, matters were made worse, for she sank until only her crow's nest and mast were visible. She remained in this condition until we left.
While we remained at Bermuda the first detachment of chasers went on to the Azores and shortly we followed them. Our convoy consisted of thirty chasers, ten ocean tugs, one submarine, one battleship, one transport, and a converted yacht. The chasers sailed in formation so as to protect the three big ships. There was a scout line of chasers flanking and astern, and behind them came the tugs. We expected to be in submarine-infested waters when we got near the Azores, and so our instructions were most explicit. We all had had plenty of liberty in Bermuda and were anxious to get at the subs, so there was much satisfaction expressed when we finally left.
This time the pitching and rolling did not affect the crews so much, and after one day out seasickness was the exception. The ground swell made things so very unstable that it was impossible to keep plates on the mess table, so only one thing was served at a time. As food was spilled frequently it became the habit to eat on deck so that the morning scrubbing down cleaned our mess table as well as topside. The variety in our menu was little changed as the volunteer cooking system was still in effect owing to the disability of our cook, for as soon as we cleared the harbor he resumed the falling sick game to our universal disgust.