“Standby for Heavy Rolls”
By: Garland Davis
“Now Stand By For Heavy Rolls.” In sailor talk, this translates into… The shit is about to hit the fan, all hell is about to break loose… In seconds, the entire crew is reeling around like a bunch of drunken lumberjacks at a log-rolling contest… Stuff you have not seen for six months appears from under bunks, falls out of vent lines, or slides out of cracks and deep rat holes. The heads take on the distinct aroma of feces and gastric juices mixed with partially digested chow… And grown men start making intermittent contact with stationary objects.
It was one of the Frigates that I served in…don’t remember which one. The Supply Officer had finally tired of the XO chewing his butt about the old battered, leaky coffee maker and coughed up enough money to buy a new one. It was a beautiful compact unit with a three-gallon coffee urn on each side and a five-gallon hot water dispenser in the center, each with a clear sight glass. The hot water tank had a sensor that automatically refilled it after brewing each pot of coffee.
The Ship Repair Facility, Yokosuka installed it shortly before we deployed for Subic Bay and then on to the Indian Ocean. It was all stainless steel and mounted on four stainless legs to the drink line. Copper tubing supplied water from an under the counter manifold that also supplied water to the ice dispenser and the carbonated beverage machine. Conduits supplied electricity from a junction in the overhead.
It was shortly before the evening movie. The mess cooks had just finished cleaning the mess decks and securing the scullery. An IC Fireman was setting up the projector and threading the first reel of the movie. The duty cook had just finished making a new urn of coffee and was putting away the utensils. The night baker was in the Galley measuring flour for a run of bread dough and the engineers coming off watch were beginning to assemble, shooting the bull with the Gunner’s Mates while waiting for the movie.
The weather was rough but nothing exceptional. The ship was pitching a bit since we were meeting the oncoming seas. The Division Officers and Chiefs waited in the passageway aft of the Wardroom for the Department Heads to give them the information from Eight O’clock Reports and then fanned out to their divisions to carry out their instructions. They were descending the ladder and entering the mess decks as the word “Now Standby for Heavy Rolls” was passed.
Almost immediately, the ship heeled to starboard and rolled over at a very steep angle. The new coffee maker broke loose from the counter and swinging from the electrical conduit slammed into the Plexiglas fronting the mess line. As the ship rolled steeply to port, the urn swung on the conduit that way and breaking loose went flying across the mess deck, spraying hot coffee and scalding water in all directions. The latch on the milk dispensing machine gave way, and two six-gallon containers of milk joined the melee. The projector hit the port bulkhead where the urn crashed into it and inundated it with hot liquid. Sailors piled up along the port bulkhead, yelling. The broken water line for the coffee maker was squirting water into the overhead and shorting out the power to all the drink line equipment.
As the ship steadied on the new course, the severe rolling stopped, and the motion returned to normal. The mess decks were awash in coffee, water, and milk. Two sailors and an Ensign had broken bones, and some other crewmembers had burns from the scalding liquids. The galley was white with the flour that had spilled when the scale pan went flying.
It took half the night to clean up the mess and restore the mess decks to normal. The legs for the coffee urn were actually aluminum sheathed in stainless and could not take the strain of the sudden weight shift. We made our way to Subic Bay with the coffee urn, minus sight glasses, bent and battered, lashed to the counter but still serviceable. The shipyard in Subic Bay machined some proper stainless legs, replaced the sight glasses and remounted the coffee maker, although dented, as good as new. The movie projector was beyond resuscitation and went to wherever surveyed movie projectors and other useless items go.
The CO had it in his night orders to the OOD to “immediately prosecute any submarine contacts reported by P-3 aircraft in the area and inform me.” When the contact report came in, the OOD ordered an 180º turn. The ship was in the trough by the time the BMOW passed the word for heavy rolls. I understand the CO had many words with the young officer who had the con that evening. He had been in the shower and was flung through the door into his cabin, ending up on the deck under his desk.