Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Another Salty HMCS Grilse Story

Here is another tale about life on board HMCS Grilse, Canada's first submarine in many years. It would have taken place in th 1960's, and is courtesy of retired Chief ERA Hal Zerbin. The daily rum issue was then a fact of life in Canadian navy ships and submarines. The "tot", as it was known, was highly prized by the seamen, some of whom would go to great lengths to get a little extra. 

“TOT” time on HMCS Grilse_-
It was a beautiful Sunday morning and the crew was enjoying a break from their demanding schedule, in their home port of Esquimalt. With only a reduced crew on board, and the rum now packaged in clean glass bottles, un-adulterated with the old wax and camel hair of Royal Navy days, it was not really much of a task to bring up a couple of bottles, with their measures and a little water for dilution purposes. This last being hardly necessary as the crew was now allowed to bring their mug  to the table already pre-filled with coke to enable them to enjoy their “Tot” in a much more civilized manner than in the past.
“Up-spirits" had been piped and myself, as the Duty Chief, and Lt. (Later Admiral), Jim Wood were guarding the rum, ready for issue. As luck would have it, the crew-member approaching the issue table was a well-known “shit-disturber” in navalese, who was always planning and preparing for another try at squeezing some additional rum from the issuing officer. He was never nasty about his efforts, but it was easy enough to see he ‘had a plan’ as his body language was a dead give-a-way.
*A word here about the construction of the Grilse. Built as the USS BURRFISH, one of the many USN ‘Fleet’ boats of the last war, she carried a large amount of diesel fuel when fully loaded, and her external Fuel Ballast tanks were the main storage place. To enable a closer watch on fuel consumption, these Fuel Ballast tanks had been fitted with pads of  small square-spindled valves, arranged in groups of 10, I believe, on the inboard side of the pressure hull, at approximately the centre point of each of the fuel tanks, both port and st’b’d. On the outboard side, inside each tank, small-gauge copper lines were fitted to each valve and led off to a different vertical location in the tank and fastened in place. Thus, if the tank was half full you could open the appropriate  valve inboard and if the tank was indeed at that level, fuel would come out, and, if not, water would come out, giving you a pretty accurate estimate of how much fuel was in that tank. It worked! Now every submariner knows how hard it is to stop diesel fuel from ‘weeping’ from any valve stems, and these little valves were no different and a constant source of diesel drips regardless of how tight you kept the little packing nuts. All submariners also know how short of storage space every submarine is, and the Grilse was no exception. The crew had found that if they kept their rum mugs stored close to the pressure hull they were quite conveniently situated, but, they had not counted on the diesel fuel weeping thru the valve stem packing and dripping into their carefully stowed rum mugs, thereby contaminating the mug, and making any contents, even rum, almost unfit to drink!
Back to the rum table-
Dan approached the issue table, fairly quivering with the thought that he was about to put one over on us, but we were ready for him. I poured him a good tot and poured it into his coke-ready mug and waited. Dan stepped back with his mug, then raised it for a tentative sip, then another, and another as a look of disgust appeared on his face. "It’s contaminated, Chief," he proclaimed loudly, "you try it and see," as he offered me his mug. I took his mug and managed to turn my back on Dan while I caught Lt. Woods’ eye and winked at him, then I raised the mug and had a good sip. Then I tuned to Dan and said, “Tastes all right to me, Dan”. Then I turned to Lt. Wood and passed the mug to him as I said, "You try it, sir!” Which he did, and had a second sip for good measure, then passed it back to me saying, "Tastes fine to me too Chief! You better try it again”. As I reached for the mug, Dan realized he had been caught out and  tore his mug out of my hand, saying “Gimme the G—Da—thing!” as he retired to a safe place to enjoy his contaminated and depleted tot, to the utter enjoyment of  the few onboard duty watch.
A little later , while I was enjoying my own tot in the Goat locker, I sent for Dan and poured him a drink in compensation for his loss! He was, after all, a good shipmate!!

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