Liberty Boats

Liberty Boats

By: Garland Davis


I have friends who have boats and love to go boating.  Not me.  I figure a sailor going for a boat ride when he doesn’t have to is like a postman going for a walk on his day off.  I lost the urge early in my Navy career.  The last boat I rode was in 1987 from the beach at Pattaya to the Reeves at anchor.

My first ship was an ammunition replenishment ship.  It seems everyone was afraid we might go “Boom” and relegated us to the furthest anchorage from the fleet landing in every liberty port.  In the two years I served in Vesuvius, I can count the ports we tied to a pier on one hand.  Our home port of Port Chicago, Seal Beach ammunition pier, The Bangor Ammunition Depot, West Loch ammunition pier in Pearl harbor and at Iwa Kuni in Japan to load special weapons that were stored there.

I often wonder how many hours of fruitful liberty I missed either waiting for, missing, or riding liberty boats.  I guess it is as well, in my younger days, I couldn’t pay for the hours of liberty I had.  I would never have been able to afford more.

During the early sixties the Auxiliary Fleet would rendezvous with the battle group and refuel, rearm, and replenish other stores and then move on to the next rendezvous.  We also, usually, entered port together.  The stores ships went to the piers and the ammo ships and the tankers went to the furthest anchorages because we were explosive and flammable.

In Yokosuka, Sasebo, and Subic, Port Control provided Mike Eight landing craft as liberty boats.  The boats would start from the furthest anchorage and pick up passengers from each ship, dropping them at the Fleet Landing.  The boats usually ran each hour, returning passengers to the ships outward bound and picking up passengers inward bound.

I don’t remember how many people could be loaded into the well deck of a Mike Eight, but I know the number was enough to have a hell of a fight when there was animosity between ships.  During the Westpac of sixty-three/sixty-four the crews of USS Vesuvius and USS Cacapon fought in just about every port in the Far East.  I am not sure anyone knew what started the feud.

I remember in later years when the ships boats were used in Singapore.  Water taxis were used in Hong Kong.  I remember lengthy rides to the landing there.  Those water taxis had one speed and it was abnormally slow.  On the return to the ship, this gave the overly intoxicated time to get into a deep state of passed out.  I have helped hump a number of drunks up the accommodation ladder.  Now that I think about it, I may have been “assisted” up that ladder myself.

As long as you were back to the ship on time and at quarters the next morning there was no harm no foul.  No longer in our kinder and gentler Navy.  These days, if you have to be carried aboard you are in for a shit storm of “drunk watch”, breathalyzer, psychiatric evaluation, counseling and alcohol rehab.  But that is another topic, let’s get back to liberty boats.

Pattaya, Thailand didn’t have a deep water pier.  All ships anchored.  It was necessary to catch a water taxi which would take you to shallow water where you transferred to a “long tailed boat” which would run straight in until it was aground.  It often became necessary to wade in from that point.  The best part of this experience was that your shoes and clothes dried quickly while you were having a few Singhas at the nearest outdoor bar.

I was in an FF.  We were anchored off Phuket.  The weather was bad and the seas in the anchorage were extremely rough.  The water taxi came along side. It was a real chore timing the surge of the boat to get aboard. They finally managed to load about twenty sailors, four or five of us Chiefs and six or seven Officers, including the XO.  Just after they cast off, a wave hit the craft from the starboard side.  That was all it took, the boat turned turtle.  Some of us managed to make it to the lower platform of the accommodation ladder and helped others.  Everyone finally made it back to the ladder and aboard the ship.  Since the weather forecast was shitty for the next few days, the Captain decided to get underway.

After twenty-five years’ afloat, liberty boats taught me that boating isn’t necessarily a pleasant experience. I’ll pass!


To follow Tales of an Asia Sailor and get e-mail notifications of new posts, click on the three white lines in the red rectangle above, then click on the follow button.  To see a menu of previously published articles, click on the three white lines in the red rectangle above.

A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.