Aboard Ethan Allan

Thursday, November 14, 1929

The day has been interesting from the start. Eating my third piece of apple pie a la mode since noon was a good start. a very heated argument delayed us at the boat. It seems as though two of the sailors (having drunk oke) had hired a Packard taxicab and were now refusing to pay the dollar demanded. Four bits was all they would part with. Words waxed long and hot, the native cab driver finally getting nothing under the U.S. laws that say a sailor doesn’t have to pay for a goddamn thing if he doesn’t want to.

Vance left at 1:30 AM and I went up the ladder to my new home. The ship is an oil-burner and is covered with sticky, messy dirty stuff. Decks, hatches, machinery, railings, steps, cabin floors—everything. Even plates and silverware are greasy, though from another cause.

I slept—theoretically slept—in the hospital room. In it were two and a half bunks, the half falling to pieces and consisting of some broken springs. I found a dirty greasy mattress in a pile of rubbish in the fo’cas’ll or however you abbreviate it, and with a spread a man gave me, made up a bunk in which it was possible to repose.

But no sleep to be had. A small monkey in the cabin squealed when the men went near it. Three of the boys had swiped seven bottles of beer somewhere in town and were having a few rounds in the cabin. Two of the boys that signed on with me were tight and one especially so. Not being enough bunks for men, one lay down on the floor. The ship is infested with copra bugs, but in spite of these and the mosquitoes, it seemed as though we might get a little sleep. I lay down with my clothes on, a shirt thrown over my head to keep mosquitoes off and, though it was plenty hot, was making headway with sleep. The light was now off. In walked the cork-leg fellow soaked to the gills. He fell over the monkey’s box, starting that animal to squeal, and from his final landing place on the deck hurled out a stream of oaths that showed the mark of genius. His boy friend finally got him quiet on the floor and I must have dozed off.

Just as dawn was breaking, 5:30, the first mate and an army intelligence cuss shook out the cabin looking for deserters. I was hauled out with another as suspicious characters. However, Spain was on the job and came along to identify us a few minutes later. The deck was very hard to stand or walk on because of the oil, and every time the c-l fellow walked it, he found himself sprawled all through the mess from which he would arise with the usual flow of thick oaths and stagger on.

The beautiful sunrise over Diamond Head dispelled the card games, drunken brawls, etc. of the preceding evening. Jagged patches of red showed through dark gray masses and the Pali was low hung and half concealed with somber, cold clouds. As the sun came up nearer the horizon, new fragments of brilliant sky lined with gold appeared, the old ones gradually fading out.

I started to work early. At six I was busy on the ropes as we prepared to sail. The President Grant sailed in as we cut loose and slipped slowly by the Aloha Tower in the gathering light. There was not much time to bemoan the fact that Honolulu was slipping back and the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and beautiful Waikiki Beach were passing out of sight behind Diamond Head. There was a brief glimpse of the group of white buildings that are the University of Hawaii where even then Eddy was arriving for her first class, then the other side of Diamond Head came into view and I could almost see the Embree castle where no doubt John and Vance were catching up on lost sleep. Koko Head came abreast and fell astern.

Not much time for leisure though. There were ropes to be untangled and coiled in the hold, wire cables of the derricks to be coiled below, the poles to be lashed, etc. The first thing I did was to meet a boy from Shreveport who left college after his freshman year to see a bit of the world. He has been on the Ethan Allan the whole voyage. He (Slim) has the wheel from 8 to 10 and 1 to 3. I have it 10 to 12 and 3 to 5. The officer on the bridge showed me how to steer properly. The first hour I wandered about the Pacific, but once on to the knack of it, seldom strayed over 2 or 3 points off.

I changed my bunk to the proper cabin—one on the starboard side of the fo’cas’le about as far for’ard as possible, thereby taking complete advantage of all available roll of the ship. Mine is one of the six bunks, a lower, and there are small lockers for odds and ends. The cabin is pleasantly dirty, reasonably clean. Mattresses are just not to be had on this boat. The sailors take them out on the hatch to sleep on, then toss them overboard when through. I finally got what is undoubtedly the last unused mattress on board, one I found on the aft hatch, wet from rain, thoroughly dirty and greasy, and losing its cotton and sawdust stuffing through a hole in the cloth. Softer than springs, though, I hung it out to dry and the steward helped out to the extent of some covers, a pillow and towel. The copra bugs aren’t much of a bother except at mealtimes. Can’t say I care for them though as they look too much like bedbugs. These latter seem to be a minus quantity here, thank God.

The mess is in close proximity to the engine room—and therefore hot enough. The food itself is not bad and you get plenty, but then there is the question of what is food. Ants were featured at breakfast. Hundreds crawled about the boards. Eggs, coffee, and milk were all flavored with dead ants. I finally got tired of picking them out and just ate the rest. Copra bugs were much in evidence, especially so in the potatoes, hash and butter. Often they would honor your spoonful of oatmeal with their sudden arrival as it traveled on its journey to the mouth. Plates, cups, and all implements were tell-tales of what had been served at the last couple of meals. Still, food is food and a sailor’s mess is not the Marine Room at the Edgewater Beach.

The afternoon developed into a water carnival on deck. Barefooted, with dungarees rolled up, we splashed about forward and midships with the hose and brooms, sweeping down the decks. The fish oil on the decks tarred your feet nobly and after dinner all I could find was some kerosene in a paint bucket. It took the oil off, but left a thick greasy veneer that refused to leave—so it stayed. Slim dug up a bucket for me to wash in, so by dark I was more or less cleaned up again.

All afternoon we had been sailing slowly by Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and Hawaii. Oahu was below the horizon at four, and just before dark the sun painted fiery red patches through the gray clouds and Mauna Loa reared its 13,000 feet above lowly cloud banks. Darkness fell swiftly, land and clouds fading into one. Thus it is aloha to Hawaiian Islands, a damned fine place. Three weeks to the Canal now.

Turned in early to catch up on a little sleep.

Comments are closed.