Abandon Ship Drill or…
Around and Around and Around She Goes…
In 1980, I was assigned to serve aboard the USS Jason. This was the first time in US Naval history that women would officially be part of a ship’s crew. Women were not allowed to serve on combatant vessels. So, prior to our arrival, Jason had her large guns removed to qualify as a non-combatant ship. There were 45 women initially assigned to the crew, serving across all departments.
When I initially arrived, I was given a great deal of training, covering everything from the layout of the ship and a refresher on the shipboard compartment numbering system so I could find my way around to the locations of my duty assignments and emergency protocol.
Going In Circles
During the normal course of things, we were free to traverse the ship in any direction. However, for drills and emergencies we were taught to move “up and forward to the starboard (right) side, and down and aft to the port (left) side.” This protocol was used to ensure the safe, and efficient flow of traffic during emergencies.
We were taught about such things as manning the rails (standing at the rails of the ship facing out during ceremonies, arrivals and departures), shifting colors (the process of changing one display flag for another, which takes place during port arrivals and departures), and getting familiarized with the ship’s bells system of timekeeping. A complicated system based on four-hour watches, that uses one to eight bell rings to express the time of day. You can dig into the U.S Navy’s Ship’s Bells Timekeeping system here, if you are so inclined.
Each sailor was also assigned to a specific small boat in case of an emergency that required the crew to abandon ship.
Abandon. . . All Hope
During our first abandon ship drill, I headed off to my assigned small boat. Being on the port side of the ship at the time, I only had to go down and aft a short way to arrive at the location of my assignment. But, when I got there, I was told I was not on the list as assigned to that boat. I was sent to the forward deck, starboard side, to see the Bosun, who had the master list for all small boat assignments. This required another trip and a half around the ship in order to get forward and up two levels.
Once I reached my destination, I checked in. After some searching through several pages—it was 1980, the list contained almost a thousand names, and was on paper—the Bosun informed me that I was actually assigned to a different boat than what I had been told. I traveled around the ship a couple more times, having to go down several levels and midships on the port side.
To my relief, I was told I was indeed assigned to this particular boat. We were dismissed a short time later, the Abandon Ship Drill having come to an end.
I was thankful it had only been a drill, or else I likely would have ended up a water casualty.
I wondered afterward, if it was a simple hazing. In fact, I hoped it was. Because the idea of incompetence at that level made my remaining sea duty tour a frightening prospect.
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