For the Freedom of the Seas/Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

THE U. S. S. "GYANDOTTE"

WHAT'S the land over there?" asked Nelson, nodding westward toward the low, faint line of shore.

"North Carolina," replied the tall youth whose sleeve bore the crossed quills of a yeoman. "That's Cape Hatteras, further along."

Nelson craned his neck. The shore-line stretched out as though to meet them, a distant angle of sand-reefs, slightly more distinct than the land abeam.

"Is it?" he asked interestedly. "I've heard of Hatteras."

"You're in luck only to have heard of it," grumbled the other. "Mostly you feel it! We're getting into it now. This is the roughest stretch between Cape Cod and the Florida Keys. You want to try it when there's a good off-shore gale if you want some real fun! This your first voyage?"

"My first in the Navy, except knocking around for a month or so on a patrol boat up north. I've never been south before. I suppose you've been in the service a long time."

"Three years," answered the yeoman nonchalantly yet proudly. "This is my fourth ship. I was on the old Missouri first. Then the Montana, and after that the Tacoma. Now it's this old tub."

"Oh, is the Gyandotte a tub?" asked Nelson with a smile.

"Sure she is. She's sixteen years old and was out of commission until the war started. They've tinkered her up so she'll hold together for a year or so, maybe. They say she's got new engines, but I don't know if it's so. Reckon the Old Man's keeping her close to shore in case she falls apart."

Nelson looked through the port and across the leagues of tumbling muddy-gray water. "At that it would be a long swim," he said with a smile. "Do you know where we're going?"

The yeoman nodded above his folded arms. "Bahamas and around there. Anyway, that's what I heard. The papers had a piece about a German raider off Great Abaco last week and I reckon we're sent down to have a look-see. But, shucks, there isn't a German ship this side of the Azores, unless it's a sub that's missed her way. We'll go down there and, cruise around for a month without getting foot on shore and then waddle home again and go into dry dock for repairs. It's sure punk luck, getting stuck on this old spile-driver."

"You don't think, then, that they'll send the Gyandotte across to the other side?"

"Her? She couldn't do it, not unless they towed her," was the contemptuous reply. "If you wanted to get across you'd better have stuck to your patrol boat. They're sending those over all the time. Well, I've got to be stirring."

The youth sighed and moved off along the spotless deck, his wide trousers flapping around his long, thin shanks. Left to himself Nelson watched the far, thin, low-lying streak of sand that was Cape Hatteras and wondered if what the yeoman had told him as to the ship's destination was true. It was nearly a week since he had said good-by to the Wanderer and taken train for Norfolk. There he had reported at the Navy Yard, according to orders, and been assigned to the third class cruiser Gyandotte, at the time loading supplies and taking on the final coat of gray war paint. The Gyandotte, after the Wanderer, had seemed a truly majestic ship and that she was headed straight for France or England had seemed quite within the probabilities, until Nelson had mentioned the idea to others. After that his hopes had dwindled, for his notion produced laughter or sarcasm. He was assured that when the Gyandotte saw the coast of France the bilge-pump would be spouting gold dollars. And now this other fellow, he of the crossed quills and long legs, had corroborated previous pronouncements. It was rather discouraging, thought Nelson.

The cruiser was behaving very flippantly now, rolling and pitching at a great rate, and he had to steady himself to keep on his feet. The Gyandotte was only a little over three thousand tonnage and was, as the yeoman had said, an old ship. Her length was 305 feet. She was schooner rigged, with two very tall funnels. For armament she carried ten five-inch breech-loading rifles and six six-pounder rapid fire guns. She had been credited with something under seventeen knots when built, but there was a rumor current about the ship today that she had been newly equipped with "kettles" that could drive her close to twenty. Nelson was one of several hundred capable-looking young men in blue flannel who had been gathered from many sources. Some, like Nelson himself, were green hands, and some few were Reserves, but most had seen more or less service on other ships. Nelson had been assigned to the port watch and to the crew of Number Four gun of the main battery as second shellman. That was interesting, although after the first drill his arms ached from lifting the shells, and had the little Gyandotte been headed across the Atlantic instead of southward along the coast he would have been more than contented.

They had steamed out of Norfolk early that morning in a heavy rain and a flat green sea. Now, mid-afternoon, the rain had ceased and the sea was no longer flat nor green. It was decidedly boisterous and looked heavy with sand. Mist had taken the place of rain, a mist almost too fine to be seen but which lay in globules and little pools on every flat surface. There was a softness in the air that was new to Nelson, a mildness that seemed to presage the southern latitudes toward which the little gray cruiser was plowing her way.

So far, in spite of the fact that he had been aboard three days, Nelson bad made few acquaintances and no friends. This, however, need not be wondered at, for it was almost equally true of all others on the ship. It requires more than three days for officers and men to find themselves and to get shaken down. The process of evolving order out of the confusion resultant on gathering several hundred men of all branches together on a ship quite new to them is a slow one. The process begins at once and moves steadily, but a deal of training and instruction is necessary, and the machinery of a modern warship is complex indeed. Officers must learn to know each other and their men, and the men, in the same way, must learn to know their officers and each other. Every soul on board has a particular and personal duty, or set of duties, to perform. When a member of the crew goes aboard he receives his station billet which tells him his rating, his watch number, his part of the ship, his mess, his boat and his station at quarters and fire quarters. He finds himself immediately under the authority of a leader who is, in turn, subordinate to a higher authority. A battleship has six departments: Gunnery, Navigation, Engineering, Construction, Medical and Pay. These, in turn, are subdivided into seventeen divisions, as, in the Engineering Department, Main Engines Division, Boilers Division and Auxiliaries Division. Each division is a government itself responsible to the Executive Officer.

Smaller ships follow the same plan of organization, but have fewer divisions, the chief difference being in the Gunnery Department owing to fewer guns and, frequently, absence of torpedo tubes. The ship is divided into sections from bow to stem, sometimes by bulkheads and sometimes by imaginary lines, and each section includes all space between keel and main deck, or the top of gun turrets above the main deck. These sections correspond in number to the gun divisions of the main battery and each is in charge of the senior officer of that gun division, who is responsible for the cleanliness, orderliness and upkeep of his section. A certain number of men of the proper ratings are assigned to each of the divisions. As nearly as possible the men of a division are kept together in the ship's routine and as close to their battle stations as may be practicable. Each division is divided into four sections for duties, for keeping watch and for liberty, which is navy parlance for shore leave.

Perfect discipline is the foundation upon which the organization is built, and the recruit must learn discipline and subordination to authority first of all. But he must learn those things without losing his self-reliance, for he will be constantly called on to act on his own responsibility. He is one of hundreds of other units. These units are formed into small groups under a subleader. The small groups are again formed into larger groups under other subleaders. The larger groups in turn form the whole, and above the whole stands the captain. Each man must know not only his own particular specialty, whether that of seaman, gunnery expert, boiler maker, carpenter, mess attendant or stoker, but must learn to so coöperate with his fellow workers that the many separate units will be welded into one coordinating whole. The ship must be navigated and controlled, the guns kept in condition and fired, the engines and boilers operated, all parts of the ship kept in repair, the officers and men fed, and a dozen other duties performed, and all these activities must be so unified that they will come under the control of one mind, that of the captain.

Drills form a large part of the instruction method and are provided to prepare the officers and men for any emergency. They include battle drills such as Strip Ship, General Quarters and Torpedo Defense Quarters, emergency drills such as Fire, Collision, Abandon Ship and Watertight Integrity, and gun drills. There are, besides these, the ship manuals, guard mounting, general muster and inspection. There was on the Gyandotte, however, no need for the Strip Ship drill, for everything not necessary in war time had been removed at the navy yard before sailing; wooden doors and lockers, unnecessary boats, spars, booms, ladders, davits, stanchions, ventilators and inflammables. In short, everything not absolutely needed for the moderate comfort of the personnel and the conduct of war had been left behind. In battle, articles of wood, whether fixtures or furnishings, have an unpleasant way of splintering under shell fire and, besides, may become ignited. Prior to an actual engagement the call of Clear Ship for Action frequently consigns still other things to a watery grave.

Nelson stood first watch that night and turned into his hammock at midnight. The Gyandotte was riding on a more even keel now and the sway of his swinging bed was only enough to help him pass quickly into a sound slumber.