The Navy - A Few Months on a Ship
The Time I Spent On a Ship in the Navy
Many years ago in the latter part of the 1970s I spent some time on a ship in the navy.
Sometimes we would go to sea for three weeks at a time, then return to the naval dockyard.
I'd always wanted to go to sea on a ship, but this was no luxury cruise; to say the least it was an interesting, enjoyable experience.
When we returned from a spell at sea, many of us spent time ashore, I was fortunate enough to be able to stay with family or friends at these times.
See the book about the navy that is available further on in this article.
On the train to the Naval Base in Simonstown
In 1975 I was conscripted for compulsory military service into the South African Navy.
It was the year after I'd completed my schooling, I'd had a good holiday, but now it was time to hop on the train to go to Simonstown near Cape Town to spend 18 months in the navy.
I forget much of the train journey of approximately 800 kilometres to the city of Cape Town, where we then boarded a local train to take us to the small town of Simonstown further along the coast. Parts of the long train ride were scenic, travelling through mountainous and forest areas.
After arriving at the naval base there, we were allocated a dormitory and bunks to sleep on, and soon had our hair shaven in a short 'crew cut' style. I completed a physically strenuous basic training then did a 6 months communications course at the Signal School on a hill above Simonstown. This was an intensive course where we learned typing, morse code, radio control and communication skills. It was really cold up there on the mountain where the signal school is and to be honest the food was not that great but I enjoyed the course and got quite a few week-ends off.
After the communications course I was conscripted onto a frigate, the SAS Kruger, a South African navy ship.
I was keen to go to sea but did not realise that it wasn't all plain sailing being on a ship in the navy, it was quite tough at times.
Our quarters were down some stairs with a few bunks on the sides reserved for Able Seamen, and some lockers to keep our clobber in; on the other side of the lockers was another area where the radar recruits slept.
We were issued hammocks; at night we had to string our hammocks up and by 6am the next morning they had to be taken down and put away for the day. Sleeping conditions were cramped; our hammocks were lined up next to each other and we slept like sardines.
During the night someone would come and wake us up to go on shift; this caused discomfort for those around us, because we had to get out of our hammocks normally disturbing the person sleeping next to us. We also got disturbed when the person next to us had to somehow get out of his hammock to go on duty.
Shifts during the night were four-hourly, so If you went on shift at 8 pm then you could go to bed at 12 midnight when the next shift started. The next shift was at 4 am. If you couldn't get to sleep before 12 at night and then went on the 12 to 4 am shift, you basically got no sleep and had to be up and about the next morning.
As the few bunks in the living quarters were only for Able Seamen, I sometimes managed to find a nook on the ship to sleep for an hour or so during my daytime off-time. We had shifts during the day also, so this endeavour had to be timed well.
Sunny Days & Flying Fish
We were patrolling off the west coast of the tip of Africa and stopped once at Windhoek but were not allowed to disembark from the ship.
There were some days when we could relax and enjoy the sunshine and the view of the beautiful ocean all around us. We saw a lot of flying fish in the area, it was quite an amazing sight; how they would shoot through the air then dip back into the ocean.
The front part of the ship where there was a large open deck was my favourite area for taking it easy. The bow I believe it's called. The food on the ship was good, we ate well.
We once had to carry out an operation where we had cables running between our ship and another ship (the Tafelberg).
Most of us basic Seamen were required to man these cables (hold tightly onto them), while supplies were transported from one ship to the other. Needless to say our hands got very sore during this exercise.
While on duty in the signals office I worked a lot on tele-printers, did some radio work and also voice control, where we contacted the base in Simonstown. I can remember scrubbing the floor at 2 am sometimes as well.
At night during one of the shifts we had to shred all our documents in a shredder, then go and throw them down a shute at the back of the ship. The Stern I believe it's called.
This used to make me nervous; it was kind of creepy because there weren't many lights outside on the ship at night and I sometimes worried that I might slip into the shute while tossing the shredded papers down it.
It's not a pleasant thought to imagine yourself accidentally falling into the deep dark ocean in the middle of the night while your ship sails off into the blackness. Fortunately this never happened.
I have a great love for the sea but respect it as it can be dangerous even when swimming at a local beach, one has to watch the back-currents and know when to not venture out too far when swimming.
All things considered, I enjoyed my time on a ship in the navy.