Anchors Aweigh! From Troop Ship to Luxury Liner
From Donald L. Jeka, Former Burson Marsteller International, Vice-President |
Editors Note: Don Jeka, former Vice-President of Burson Marsteller International, served two tours with the United States Marine Corps, enlisting a month after his eighteenth birthday. He spent the first tour of two years in Tsingtao, China with the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. His second tour was as an instructor at the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Va., teaching ammunition and demolition explosives. He loves boats, big and small.
The first time I travelled aboard a ship that accommodated 4000 ‘guests’ was a troop ship embarking from San Diego bound for China. My ‘cabin’ was an 18 inch berth, second from the bottom. My latest big ship was Norwegian Cruise Lines newest vessel, “Breakaway,” heading for Bermuda.
This time my cabin was a balcony suite 13 decks above the sea, and my 18 inches became a spacious cabin with shower, outside deck, totaling some 270 sq. ft. On the troop ship meals were ‘chow’ and you got them after standing in line for an hour or so. A mess hand flung a big spoonful onto your well-worn metal tray and peaches ended up sometimes in the recess of your mashed potatoes where the gravy should have been. Meals on Breakaway were served in elegant dining rooms with crystal, linen, and fine silverware. Recreation on the troop ship was chipping paint or off-duty poker. Poker aboard Breakaway was in the secure confines of a brightly lit casino, not on upturned egg crates in open gangways. Sitting next to a smelly stack was forerunner to a glamorous pool on the new ship. Mates swabbed the decks and NCL stewards made up your cabin, turned down your bed and kept you supplied with every necessity. Now, all the passengers were not wearing the same clothes. Also, there were kids of all ages as opposed to guys all close to 19 years old in green utilities. Pools on NCL vessels are all elegant, not collected rainwater on rusty decks. These newer ships resist rocking and rolling, as the ancient troop ship turned the young passengers into seasick wrecks. One year delivering a 37-ft. racing sailboat back from Bermuda gave me a new meaning to rock and roll. NCL took care of your every whim, while you took care of yourself on the troop ship. Looking back, chipping paint always had a familiar tempo and sound. That didn’t change as I heard the same sound on Breakaway, as a crew member in a cage tracked around the port wing bridge, chipping away just like old times. One reason I booked this cruise was to get closer to pure sailing from a balcony berth. I spent hours just enjoying the sensation much as I had on the troop ship. The weather was perfect, and the only fish were the flying kind. Our troop ship those decades ago was marked by accidents: killed one whale; cleaved a 7 ft. wedge into a dock in San Francisco; swept a lone boatman under the stern in Shanghai; Wiped out a string of pilings in Samar, Philippines. I’m sure we had celebrities aboard Breakaway but none aboard the troop ship. The crew hardly made a single bad move and seemed to not even need tugs. Our troop ship on the way home from China, the General Mitchell, briefly touched base on an island etched in history. It is called Chi Chi Jima, and it was the small island close to which former President George H.W. Bush ditched his crippled Avenger Navy plane into the ocean. He was later rescued by a U.S. submarine before the Japanese who held the island could capture him.
On the way home, I got up at 4:30 am so I could see us sailing up along the New Jersey coast to New York. We passed much traffic leaving the City, including big tugs pushing barges, tankers and other working craft and into the buoy system, still in the dark. These were familiar waters from our racing sailboat days. There seems a visceral emotion about entering a harbor, a sanctuary, a safe haven that resonates with your primal side. Arriving in almost total dark adds an adventurous dimension as the giant ship glides along the fairway. Harbor lights beckon as we crossed under the Verrazano just as dawn broke. Hung a slight left and entered the Hudson. Ahead, the big Celebrity liner berthed and we awaited our turn. Our captain seemed to berth us with skill and thrusters without benefit of tugs, much different than the Navy captain of our troop ships, General Breckenridge and General Mitchell, those years ago, but I will treasure the remembrances of a host of comparisons between the troop ships and the big Norwegian cruise liner. I’m sure advanced technology had a lot to do with it.