Yes, yes, yes...and they were good seamen!
It's about time I addressed the ladies that
sailed these ships. I only wish at the time I had taken pictures, and cataloged
names, but that's not necessary. As we all know, women have sailed ships
probably as long as men have, and did just a well. Most countries have
employed women in their Merchant Marine, and possibly in their Navies in this
century, but not in key positions such as Captains, and Chief Engineers...though
we have all heard of "Tug Boat Anny". Let's say that they were
mostly signed on in the Steward, and Medical Departments. As of late
though, we now see females in all capacities...Deck, and Engine included.
far as the U.S. Government's Sea Transportation Services under the Army ( Army
Transport Service - ATS ), and the Navy
( Military Sea Transportation
Service - MSTS, and present Military Sealift Command - MSC ) goes, I do know
that ATS did have female Army Radio Operators, and female nurses, plus females
in the Steward Department as Stewardesses for the Cabin Class passengers, and
their children on the Troop Ships.
When the Navy took over from
the Army in 1949, the female Radio Operators went, but the Stewardesses stayed,
and Navy nurses came aboard. This was only on the Troop ( passenger ) ships. The
other ships - cargo, etc. had no females whatsoever.
my memory serves me right, we didn't see women aboard MSTS ships until we got
into the "Sponsor", or "Scientific Support" ships, whether
for Surveillance, or Oceanography, and then they were in the "Medical"
department. Bonifide Registered Nurses started coming aboard - one for
each ship. No Doctors, just the Nurse...by herself, and in some cases
males nurses, but at first females.
Later we started getting guys
with titles like "Physician's Assistant" relieving the Nurses.
This only happened on the ships with sponsor personnel aboard, not the other
strictly merchant type ships which still had no women in any capacity. The
Chief Mate was still, as Merchant Marine practice, the "Medical
Of course, when we got into the ships with
sponsor personnel on board, we also began to see females coming aboard, but they
were with the sponsor's group, and not part of the crew. It wouldn't be
until the early seventies that we would get our first female crew member, and
that was an "Academy" graduated Third Mate. This worked out fine
as far as accomodations were concerned, as officers had their own
stateroom. It wasn't until the government forced the Navy to take on other
ratings regardless of accomodations, that women aboard our ships took off. Then,
incredulously, we saw male, and female berthed in the same
Except for the officers, and some
petty officers like Bosn, Carpenter, etc., most other crew members berthed
two in a room.
I remember that day perfectly, even the two
people. The fellow was a quiet, well mannered room-steward ( he made beds, etc
), and the lady was the same, and had experience on commercial "union"
ships. Whether on the "union" ships she had to berth with a guy, I
don't know, but it didn't seem to bother her. Both were in their forties, and
quite mature about the whole thing. So, we had no problem there, but it really
wasn't ideal in the least...we began to take another approach to satisfy these
new mandates on us.
Working closely with the Crewing, and Receiving ( Screwing, and Deceiving
being more apropos ) Branch, we arranged crew replacement in twos. It was a
juggling act, but we pulled it off some how...replacing two unlicensed at a
time. In other words - we need two messmen ( guys ), send two messmen ( girls
). The word was getting out to the gals ashore that finally MSTS/MSC was
hiring women in all capacities. This was happening at just the right
Starting in the seventies, at least it seems to me to be around that time,
many of the professional seamen trained during the Second World War began to
retire from the sea. We were beginning to get younger men not as well
trained, nor as well suited for the sea. Possibly because of the
availability of jobs ashore, and new attidudes towards "sacraficing"
one's self to a profession which demanded dedication above self, and family,
they didn't stay long.
The Command in desparation
would hire any warm body that had the documents, and we on the ships had make
the most of them.
With the new Equal Employment
Opportunity laws, any dead-beat, misfit, or meathead could insist on employment
long enough to tie him over, and wreak havoc on those professionals stuck with
You knew when you got rid of
such a character, that the next one would be the same or worse. Now with
women coming into the arena, we had a pool of candidates who were not spoiled,
or pampered, but needing work, and a profession to prove themselves, and not
only that, but with the anticipation of adventure...something lost to the
younger men whose seemingly only adventure was playing with women first, career
I came up through the "hawse-pipe" loving the sea,
with the goal of someday becoming a captain. I sailed, and learned from the old
pros. I was married to the ship, and the sea, and all it had to offer - good,
and bad, was my adventure. What also made it easy for me was that I felt
better at sea, than on land. Most of the old timers felt this way, so they
were never a problem. Now we had the new breed who knew more about cars, the
feeding, and raising of parakeets, and sports, than they knew about ships. I
once had an academy lad who after four years schooling couldn't even read the
draft...the sea was a lark to him, an interim to a cushy job ashore in some
shipping company. Sadly, their Bachelor of Science degree didn't get them
much ashore either if they dilly-dallied at sea too long.
The last straw for me was in Spain if I
remember right. I had a "poor me baby" young academy lad - Third
Mate. A big guy too. He wanted off the ship, though his time wasn't up
yet. The only way off the ship was to walk off, which the Command termed
"desertion"...an offense meaning firing. We all knew he was
desparate, but not that desparate. We all knew he didn't belong in the
job, though trained for four-years at Government expense for
There comes a
time in every case like this when I would plead for them, calling the
"base", and trying anything to get a relief. I already had a
female Third Officer - we had two on this particular ship. She was good at
her job, and loved it. I would give anything to have another like
her. I called the base on a whim, thinking that just possibly they might
have another female Third Mate sitting on the bench waiting, and that I have a
cry-baby here who will get himself in trouble eventually, he is so
desparate. He was already pissin' in his bunk it was so bad, I told
them. "Yes...we do have a young lady sittin' here, and yes, we will
send her.' said the voice over the phone from the States. "Yahoo!' I
yelled over the phone, and added: "From now on, when I ask for a relief for
anyone...I want a female!' "You got it!' came the
Over the next couple of months, I replaced one
third of the crew with females - fifteen in all. Until I got off myself
many months later, we had no crew problems whatsoever. Of course I warned
the rest of the crew that anyone messin' with any of these women, are messin'
with me. It was really a pleasure having people who were thankful to have
a job, and loving it.
don't think for one moment that I wound up with "super-naturals" (
angels ) here. As a matter of fact, it was the young officers who
"succumbed" first. My male Second Mate, an academy lad, fell for
one of the messmen ( a waitress ), and my first female Third Officer, and
one of my engineers, a young academy lad fell for each other. Both couples
eventually married, and to my knowledge, almost thirty-years after, are still
Needless to say, they did abandone the sea for life
Though, that wasn't necessary, as as time went on,
the Command tried to place married couples on the same ship. I knew of one Chief
Mate whose wife was the Captain of the ship, though this was a Polish
freighter. Now that's got to be "true" love. Ha Ha.
Whether with just one, or fifteen women
aboard, you see a marked improvement in the men. Guys you hardly ever saw
at the movies, began showing up, even for regular meals. Fellows who used
dentures, and toupes began wearing them...even their clothes seemed cleaner, and
neater. Even their "language" became tamer. This though,
was noticed years before when the only females were those in the sponsor's
group. It was good, and it was healthy.
Whatever goes on ashore between the sexes,
went on at sea too...don't fool yourself. Of course, in the closeness of
shipboard life, everyone knew about it right away. As with some men
ashore, the "peeping Tom" types, drill holes began appearing in
As with the
"keyhole" graphics above, I presume their expectations were not so
met, though some of these gals could fit the bill regardless of age...we did
have some "beauties".
It was funny
though....There'd be two guys in room, and two gals in another...the connecting
head, and shower between rooms.
one or the other would forget to unlock the adjourning door when finished.
This was ongoing, and never was solved.
Love affairs came, and went...most of the time
amounting to nothing, one, or the other putting in their time, and getting
For sure there
was heart-break in some cases...men, or women returning to their spouses, and
families...reality returning like a sledge hammer. The closeness of
shipboard life, and the mesmerizing effect of the sea itself has a profound
effect on even the staunchest of individuals. A ship at sea is the closest
one can get to being apart from the world...the real world at least. The
ship becomes the "world"...time forgotten on an endless voyage.
For some this was their actual wish for a few days..."Please...never let it
For those unlicensed crew members on watch
with a female officer, I never detected any un-acceptance. Yet later, the
whole Command would be under a female "Commodore" - a Navy
Word did get
around that the former "Commodore" thought it was belitteling for him
to be relieved by a woman, but that was just hear-say. During my tenure,
and to this date I believe, there hasn't been a woman ship's Captain, though
there has been one Chief Mate...the young women I had as Third Mate, the one I
got from "off the bench". They all performed well...as well as
the men. As time goes by, I imagine that once women get their fill of the
sea, as men do, they too will become indifferent to wanting such a career.
The money is
good, but the sacrafice isn't worth it. It's really a mispent life if one
can do better ashore.
The Third Mate flanked by an A/B, and the Bosn.
The Officer's Messman flanked by the Second Mate, and an engineer
while visiting the bridge before breakfast.