Saturday, May 28, 2016

Humor in Uniform – Placebo for Seasickness



I do not know whether there is a “seasickness test” now for Navy aspirants – but more than 40 years ago – way back in the 1970– after you cleared the Services Selection Board (SSB) – there was a comprehensive medical examination – but I do not recall any test for “seasickness”.

The result was that you came to know of your propensity to seasickness only when you sailed out to sea – which for some terribly seasick types – was quite late in the day – and many who could not bear their “seasickness” opted out of the surface navy by “volunteering” for Submarines or Air Technical Branches.

I am sure that with advances in medical technology – there is a quantitative “seasickness test” now.

But – here is a story about how I learnt about a qualitative “seasickness test” from a hardened sailor – what they call in the navy  a tough “sea-dog”...

A Spoof

As a young Naval Officer – in the 1970’s  the first month of my “sea time” was sheer bliss.

Our ship was berthed alongside in harbour at Bombay (now called Mumbai) for a “maintenance period”.

Every evening  we would imbibe a generous amount of the best Scotch Whisky in the ship’s wardroom  and then – we would go ashore to enjoy the delights that “maximum city” Bombay had to offer.

Suddenly  the fun time was all over  and  we were off to sea.

It was monsoon time.

The sea was rough.

And  as we headed out to sea  our ship  a frigate  started rolling and pitching quite furiously.

Many individuals – Officers and Sailors – started getting sea-sick.

The Ships Doctor had hit the bunk in the sickbay in anticipation of sailing.

Yes  he had disappeared below decks to the sickbay in harbour itself  the moment “Special Sea Dutymen (SSD) had closed up for duty.

At Both Watches  after briefing the sailors regarding the exercises during the sailing programme – I told my Master Chief: “This is my first sailing on this ship. In case I get sea-sick  you take charge.”

My Master Chief Petty Officer (MCPO)  a grizzled old sea-dog  who was arguably the senior-most sailor in our branch  and certainly  the senior-most sailor on board our ship  he said to me – matter-of-factly: “Sir  you will not get sea-sick...”

“How do you know I will not get sea-sick...? You have never seen me sailing on this ship. And – you don’t know anything about me...” I said to him.

“Sir  we know everything about you. The wardroom steward tells us that you drink almost half a bottle of whisky every evening. And Sir  at last week’s party at Sailors’ Home  you drank us under the table – Sir – we saw that you drank almost a full bottle of rum  and then – you walked back all the way to the ship as if nothing had happened – and then – in the morning  you were up at 6 o’clock for your morning run and PT. Sir – we know that you are a good drinker ...” the MCPO said to me  with genuine admiration in his voice.

“But what has my drinking got to do with seasickness...?” I asked.

“I don’t know the theory, Sir  but  in my long service  I have observed that heavy drinkers never get seasick...” he said.

As we sailed  and the sea got rougher  I observed that what the old sea-dog MCPO had said was absolutely true.

The weather was stormy – the sea was very rough – and – the ship was rolling, pitching and yawing quite violently.

Those with a propensity for seasickness – they started feeling seasick.

Ours was a non-airconditioned ship in which the Officers’ Cabin Flat reeked of the awfully nauseating smell of FFO (Furnace Fuel Oil)  which made the nausea even worse  and most of the officers were terribly sea-sick.

There was a stench all over the ship as officers and sailors were retching and vomiting due to seasickness.

Only a few officers remained unaffected.

I was one of the lucky ones who did not get sea-sick.

I realized that the Sea-Dog Master Chief Petty Officer was absolutely right.

The officers who did not get sea-sick were all heavy drinkers.

A few days later the Fleet Commander – a Rear Admiral – embarked on board our ship.

The Admiral was a towering figure  he was over six feet tall  and with his impressive beard  he had an imposing personality – like Lord Neptune.

As we sailed – the sea got quite rough – and  the ship started rolling and pitching quite a bit.

I was surprised to see this grand Admiral getting sea-sick.

Yes – believe it or not – the Admiral was a seasick type.

In fact  there was a bucket kept for the Admiral on the bridge – for him to vomit into – in case he felt too seasick and wanted to throw up.

You guessed right – the Admiral was a non-drinker  a strict teetotaller. 

(I am sure that many Naval Officers would have guessed the name of the redoubtable Admiral)

Moral of the Story

So now you know why the quintessential sailor is always associated with a bottle of Rum – Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle Of Rum !!!

And – now you know how to carry out the qualitative seasickness test (at your own risk).

Whether the MCPOs theory that hard-drinkers are less vulnerable to seasickness has has some scientific basis or not – or – is it is a mere placebo – well  I do not know.

But – that is what I saw in the Navy heavy drinkers were less prone to seasickness as compared to teetotallers. 

I dug deep into my photo albums  and – I pulled out this nostalgic picture taken in the 1970’s of the Master Chief Petty Officer (MCPO) who gave me this Navy Gyan on Seasickness. 

I loved drinking with my sailors – it was the best way to assess the morale of my sailors.

So – instead of the customary boring “Divisional Officers Period” (DOP) on Wednesday afternoons on board ship – whenever we were in harbour  I conducted the “Divisional Officers Period” in the Sailors Home at Cooperage – and  during the DOP – liquor flowed freely – and – my sailors could open up and talk to me without inhibition – and – tell me their problems – if any.

In the picture below taken in the 1970 you can see me with my sailors enjoying a “Divisional Officers Period” at Sailors Home. 

As you can see from the bonhomie, casual dress and haircuts of the sailors – those were “laissez-faire” days in the Navy  especially in the Western Fleet – which was the premier sword arm of the Navy – and the emphasis was on professionalism and not on “spit and polish” ceremonials.

Have a look at the photo below.

In the picture – I am sitting at the extreme left (with my lush beard  and – with my left hand raised – probably narrating a yarn or joke).

See the happy face of the sailor standing behind me – and the rather curious smile on the face of the sailor sitting in the centre.

The Master Chief Petty Officer (MCPO) mentioned in the story is sitting to the extreme right – and – from the way he is laughing  he seems to be in a jolly mood – as we are drinking away and enjoying ourselves at the departmental booze-up session with my Sailors at Sailors Home at Cooperage in Mumbai.

“Divisional Officers Period” booze-up session with my Sailors at Sailors Home

Look at the picture above once again – and – tell me – isn’t the high morale of my sailors clearly visible...?

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1. This story is a spoof, satire, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. All Stories in this Blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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