By: David ‘Mac’ McAllister
I was stationed aboard a ship home ported out of Bremerton, WA while serving out a GOJ imposed exile from Japan in the early 70’s (food for another story). We were on deployment to Westpac and as a multi-product auxiliary, we had spent all of our time in Nam. The battle groups loved us for we served as one stop shopping; while the single product ships consolidated from Subic and other ports of call, kept us replenished with oil, ammo, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Since our sister ship had been unable to sail on time to relieve us, we had been extended for two months, but were now homeward bound.
“Good morning gents this is the Captain” the 1MC announcement fell upon wary ears, for we knew this was not going to be good. Seems our relief was still high and dry on all those coffee grounds that had built up under her keel in Alameda and unable to escape the vacuum created by the United States holding her fast to the pier. Unable to meet her deployment, we were altering course. We were going back!
Morale took a nose dive as we had not seen much liberty in eight months; the promise of a few days in Subic before proceeding back to the gun line helped but the crew needed to let off some steam now. The notice in the POD could very well be the ticket – Smokers.
Smokers, for those that have led a sheltered life, are sea jargon for boxing. The rules for smokers were pretty much open. Challenges could be made by fellas of equal weights, a smaller guy could challenge a bigger guy and juniors and seniors could challenge each other. This was not only going to be fun; it had profit potential.
In the First Class Mess, BM1, BT1 and I had been slushing out funds during the cruise to cover gambler’s debts and had amassed a small fortune of a few thousand dollars. We had a scheme in mind that, if we could pull it off, would double our little fund. As on most ships, deck and engineering had a strong long-running rivalry going on and we were going to make it benefit us.
Our Warrant Boatswain was tough. He was one of those individuals that you would have to kill before he realized he was hurt. I have seen him walk up and down deck while all others were taking cover in preparations for shot lines; only to be hit in the head by one. Reaching down he would pick up the baton like some pesky mosquito, hand it to a deck seaman, and never stumble or lose his stride.
Down in the fireroom lived FN. FN was from Philly, a Golden Gloves contender and a dead ringer for Mohammed Ali. Quite shy by nature, very few knew of his boxing prowess and we were going to exploit that fact of life. It took many long conversations while on watch with him by BT1 and me to convince him that he should challenge the Boatswain to a Smoker.
Finally, the challenge was made via a second on each man’s part and the match was set. BM1, BT1 and I started hyping this thing better than Don King and soon the engineering and deck departments were at each other’s throats over the outcome. The betting preceded the event by days and we lent money hand over fist, saving a reserve for fight day naturally.
Fight day arrived on one of those brilliantly, bright, blue pacific days we’ve all experienced. Not a cloud in the sky, slack breeze, and calm sea – perfect at sea boxing conditions. Mats were laid out, while the spectators serving as the ring, made for a close environment for the fighters. Our heavyweights were fighting last, giving us ample time to ramp up the crowd and cover those last minute odds bets. Suddenly, BM1 flipped his role as outraged deck ape instigating bets against FN and started covering side bets in favor of FN. This naturally outraged the deck types and the odds escalated astronomically out of control. Soon our reserve was gone and we were covering bets with money we didn’t have. Mercifully, our fight was announced and everyone settled down to watch.
The Boatswain swaggered out confident and cocky as usual, FN shyly took his place and as they met in the center of the ring for referee instructions my legs felt like rubber. I had no idea how over leveraged we were; if this didn’t work I could be swimming by daylight and FN was not exuding confidence.
At the bell they met in a flurry of punches; thrown totally by the Boatswain. FN was covering up and taking the punishment of the Boatswain’s blows to his arms and body. Boatswain was “floating like a butterfly; stinging like a bee” while our Ali clone was as lead-footed as a farmer. Finally, the first round was over; fighters to corners and more (Oh Shit!) betting as the odds soared in the Boatswains favor.
Round Two. Same shit, the Boatswain is tearing up FN; although, our “Philly Cheese Steak” is still doing a good job of covering up. Just as I was thinking “Is this what they learn in Golden Gloves”, I noticed that every punch the Boatswain threw now was being trapped and held close to his body by FN. In effect, the Boatswain, having to pull his punches free, was doing double duty. The workout in the close steamy ring environment left the Boatswain winded and slowed by the end of the round.
The last round started with a fresh looking FN still taking aggravation from a recovered Boatswain. However, more of the same tactics from FN soon had the Boatswain feeling the weight of those ten-ounce gloves. When it happened it was like unleashing bottled lightning. As the Boatswain’s arms dropped ever so slightly, FN reached out and touched him one time with the speed of a mongoose on a cobra.
“Oh, somewhere upon the deep blue sea, the sun is shining bright,
A band is playing in a bar in Subic, where the girls are a delight,
And somewhere sailors laugh, while the bargirls twist and shout;
But there is no joy in deck today — the Boatswains lights are out.”
FN stood expressionless in the ring as he was mobbed by the engineers. To the Boatswains credit, after Doc waved the smelling salts under his nose, he was up and fighting again; only to be informed that it was over and he had missed it. Deck hands were reaching into their wallets and BM1, BT1 and I spent the next week collecting on bets we could not have covered otherwise.
David “Mac” McAllister a native of California, now resides in the Ozark Mountains of Southwest Mo. Having served in Asia for the majority of his 24-year Navy career, he now divides his time as an over the road trucker, volunteer for local veteran repatriation events and as an Asia Sailor Westpac’rs Association board member and reunion coordinator. In his spare time, he enjoys writing about his experiences in Westpac and sharing them online with his Shipmates.