“Being” (on a team) in the Rain

I learned to “be” in the rain on a small, beautiful, green island in the Carolines we called “Yap.”

Oh, sure, I had been “CAUGHT” in the rain, but generally, rain was something to get OUT of.

We were stationed on Guam aboard the Mallow, a 180’ multipurpose, seagoing buoy tender, ice breaker and cargo ship, and part of our mission was to handle logistics for a huge piece of the western Pacific Ocean. For reasons I never knew, there was a need on that beautiful green island for as much 145 octane aviation fuel … “Avgas” … as you could pile onto a 180’ buoy tender.

                                  The United States Coast Guard Cutter Mallow WLB 396

So we went to work.

Steel 55 gallon drums, each weighing somewhere near 500 pounds … in this case full of one of the most explosively flammable fuels in the world … are handled in sets by a steel chain device we called a “barrel chine.” The chine is devised so that it can pick up as many as four 55 gallon drums at a time, on their sides. Each drum we loaded had to be tipped from standing to lying on its side and rolled into place among three others. Then the chines were hooked over the rims of the barrels and 220 gallons (about a ton) of 145 octane Avgas was lifted, suspended, swung through the air and placed on the steel deck of the ship. Each barrel was then rolled across that steel deck and tipped back upright into its position among the growing load.

We started as far aft on the buoy deck as we could, right up against the turtleback, and we stocked 55 gallon drums of Avgas snugly against each other in a growing uniform blanket forward across the deck. We tucked as many of them on that buoy deck as we could, right up under the fo’c’sle.

Then we stacked another layer on top of that one. One hundred twenty six lifts.

Five hundred and four steel 55 gallon drums of Avgas sat strapped down on a steel deck in the tropical sun. Twenty seven thousand gallons of Avgas, in steel drums, sat either on a steel deck, or stacked on another layer of steel drums, in the sun, in Guam.

We dragged out every single fire hose and fog nozzle aboard. A fog nozzle is a fire suppression tool that turns water from a fire hose into a fog that is actually dense enough to cause difficulty breathing. It smothers flame. We lashed them to the stanchions along the aft edge of the 01 deck on the foc’sle. We lashed them to the boom, facing both directions. We lashed them to everything we could possibly lash them to and we hooked them up to the VERY high pressure VERY high capacity salt water fire fighting pumps.

… and we “set sail.”

There was “No Smoking on the weather decks.”

Clearing the sea buoy out of Apra Harbor we turned for Yap. Crossing over the Challenger Deep in the Marianna Trench, we bore south through the afternoon and the drums heated on the buoy deck as we shouldered our way across a beautiful calm Pacific Ocean under a full tropical sun. As the Avgas evaporated in the heat, pressure built in the drums and their steel ends would “reset” under that pressure, producing a loud, deep, resonant, metallic “PLANNK!”

Those drums that reset were now pressurized containers full of Avgas, each holding a head of heated vaporized aviation fuel under pressure.

After the sun set, throughout the relative cool of the deepening night, the pressure dropped in those drums and the steel ends would “reset” again, with the same resounding, loud, metallic “PLANNK.” It was audible in every corner of the ship except the engine room, where the two eight-foot-high gray Buddha engines cranked away.

We reached Yap in the afternoon of the next day.

… and as we arrived it started to rain.

Now, people who’ve lived in Florida for a while have seen this kind of rain. Water cascades from the clouds in volumes that seem to fill the air to near capacity. There is no wind … there is no lightning … just a constant, unchanging, rushing straight down pour. Distant sounds simply don’t reach through the cascade, and the location becomes very close as the rain also restricts visibility to a few dozen yards. Everything past the near distance is simply a uniform silver gray. It seems impossible that that much water could fall from the clouds that constantly for that long.

… and it does.

As a Florida native I had seen such rain … but it was something you “came in out of” unless you “didn’t have enough sense.” If it was raining like that, things didn’t happen. People didn’t go to church. Eighteen wheelers pulled off roads seeking safe shelter. You only went out there if … say … your house caught fire.

“Rain” like that was for “getting out of.”

… and we reached Yap in the afternoon, and it rained … it just … poured … and it was time to offload five hundred and four 55 gallon drums of 145 octane aviation fuel, tipping them onto their sides, rolling them into place, and hooking them up four at a time to be lifted off the steel below them, either the first layer of barrels or the steel deck itself, and swung off across the rail and onto the dock, where each load of four was set down on the concrete, and each barrel rolled into place and set back upright.

There was no “rain gear.” It would have been useless, almost like wearing a poncho in a swimming pool but not quite. We just walked outside into the rain dressed in dungarees and hardhats and shirtless except for “working” life vests … and were just about instantly soaked to the skin, almost as fast as if we’d just jumped overboard. Even our steel toed boots were full.

… and we tipped, and rolled, and hooked up, and lifted, swung, set down and rolled into storage 504 500 pound, steel 55 gallon drums of Avgas in a rain that would have drowned a catfish …

grinning like mules eating cactus.

It … was … WONDERFUL! A nice warm tropical downpour, and … you couldn’t have struck a spark out there with an arc welder.

It was almost a dance and we grinned and dripped and wrestled and tipped and clinked and swung and easily, efficiently, swiftly and expertly got that 27,000 gallon bomb OFF OUR SHIP.

Five hundred four ON … 126 lifts … five hundred four OFF … another 126 lifts… flawlessly. Two hundred and fifty two lifts. Not one … single … slip … drop … bump … not … one.

… and that was the day I learned to “be” ( on a team ) in the rain.

10 3 12

Leave a Reply