During my time in the United States Navy, I visited many different ports. One of those ports was Venice, Italy. For a single 22 year old, this was great fun. I had disposable income to sample as many bars, bistros, and pizzerias as I desired. Before I could experience the town, though, I had to perform my naval duties. Specifically, I had to service the visual homing beacon atop the tallest part of the ship, the main mast.
I was one of only about three people aboard ship who thought they were immortal and invulnerable and therefore had no problem climbing this six inch diameter piece of pipe way up into the sky. It wasn’t hard work. I only had to open up the shield, clean it, lube the rubber gasket, ensure the mechanical connections were still in good working order, and sign and date the dollar bill we mast monkeys kept in the shield as proof of our exploits. Five minutes, max.
By this time in my life I could actually think a little farther ahead than my next meal. If I was going to have a bird’s eye view of Venice, I wanted to ensure I remembered it, so I took my camera up with me, a bulky (by today’s standards) 35mm Vivitar received as a high school graduation present from Daddy. So with my camera around my neck and the tools I needed to perform the maintenance in my back pocket, I attached my safety harness to the mast and began my ascent, leaving my safety watch, Glen K., behind to record the time I bounced off the deck should I fall.
Once up there, I performed the maintenance and took my pictures. I was an early adopter of the panorama shot, so I took a lot of pictures of as much of the skyline as I could. I figured someday I would tape all of the pictures together and have a nice wide picture. Little did I know I would eventually scan those pictures in and use software to create that panorama.
It was a beautiful day. I kicked back on the spar, rested my feet on the cross bar, sat back against the antenna, and smoked a cigarette. For some reason I always enjoyed being up on that mast. I always volunteered for it. That dollar bill had signatures on it from when the ship was first commissioned, and four of them were mine. My five minute job turned into ten minutes and then twenty minutes and then half an hour. My safety watch didn’t mind. It was a pretty day, and he was standing on the deck keeping one eye on me and one on the shore. Suddenly, I heard someone scream, “Why can’t I make a call back stateside? Who am I not paying out here?” It was the skipper. He may have used different words, but that is what I remember hearing.
Before you can “go aloft,” you have to ensure all radar, radio, and any other emitting electronic device is turned off. Otherwise, I would be cooked like an egg in a microwave. Since the radio was off, the captain couldn’t communicate with anyone he couldn’t scream at. I didn’t realize I had been up there that long.
“Coming down now, Skipper!” I relayed.
When I got down he was about to chew my ass out, but once he saw the camera he did a double take, pointed at the camera, and said, “I want a copy of the prints.” He then turned around and walked off.
I eventually got him the prints once we arrived back in Little Creek. I just slid the pictures under the door to his stateroom one evening. I never heard anything from him, which was fine with me. See, Navy Skippers don’t just sail across the water, they walk across it. Most sailors would be happy if they had never had to talk to the skipper their entire career.
See the accompanied picture. It looks better when fully zoomed in, but I think you get the idea. I hope you enjoy it.