The Deck Crew - S.S. Lane Victory by Jan Michaelis
My name is Jan Michaelis, I am 74 years young. I began as member of the deck crew of the SS Lane Victory, a 455’ WWII cargo ship in 1989. The deck crew has many jobs to do, keeping everything on deck shipshape and ready to go to sea. Today that means a lot of maintenance, chipping, painting, repairing and replacing, but it also includes working with a really interesting group of people from all walks of life. The ships entire crew is made up of volunteers, most are seniors who work very hard to keep this ship steaming. You will meet merchant marine who ‘sailed’ in WWII and Naval Armed Guard veterans who help protect this cargo ships so that could, ‘Deliver the Goods’, those vital supplies needed to support U.S. troops wherever they were. Other volunteers come from all walks of life; all are dedicated to this historic ship.
In The Beginning
The original group of WWII Merchant Marine Vets had been trying for some years to be given a WWII cargo ship that would be restored into a fully operational seagoing memorial to the civilian merchant marine and Naval Armed Guard lost at sea in time of war. In WWII, more than 700 U.S. merchant ships were lost,
more than 7000 crew that went down with those ships. That count is still not complete...
In June of 1989 the U.S. Merchant Marine Veterans of WWII received the ship from the U.S. government.
Suddenly the ship was ours, it was here in San Pedro Harbor, and not at all welcome. The Port of LA gave us a temporary berth at a coal dock, where the restoration began. There was no electricity to speak of, no functioning heads, it was primitive, it was great! Everywhere things began to happen.
Restoration, I called them the ‘Glory Years’
We worked so hard, but it was so much fun, putting the ship back together.
As the deck crew slowly grew, some spent days in the holds sorting out a mountain of tangled deck gear for the cargo booms. Using a >come-along= to untangle and drag out runners, various blocks and topping lifts that had been >knitting together= in a huge pile. Others worked on cutting open pontoons on the forward hatches that had been welded shut since the Lane joined her sisters in lay-up, some 20 years previous at Suisun Bay Ready Reserve fleet.
Other jobs included many days of tearing down all the dunnage that had covered the decks and bulkheads of each hold, this lumber sheath to act as a buffer to the tons of munitions the ‘Lane’ would deliver during WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The dunnage was fine quality 2" by 12' lumber, pulling nails and stacking it went on for days. We saved the nails, storing them in a 3 pound coffee can, later they were straightened and reused to build stairways with that lumber.
Booms, Guns & Lifeboats
The cargo booms were down in #3 hold, along with the winches. A mobile crane was used to hoist them on deck, along with all the running gear. At a later point, the ship was towed to Todd shipyard for a movie shoot, during that time Todd’s= huge gantry crane repositioned each set of booms to lay on deck near where they would be installed; also while there we took delivery of a donated 5"38 and set of 40mm guns. Off loaded from a low-boy trailer the 5”38 was lifted onto the empty gun tub, which was a survivor from WWII. Rumor has it that at one point after the war and the gun tub it was converted for a brief time into the ships swimming pool. The 40mm, never a part of a victory ships armament was put in place just forward of the ‘tub’ between the 20mm gun mounts.
Later back at our favorite coal dock, the we installed the 14 utility cargo booms, a lot of lessons were learned during this time. When the winches were being bolted to the winch beds, one old salt commented they were going on the ‘beds’ backward, but no one paid any attention until it was found they all had to be unbolted and turned around if we want the ‘runners’ to pay out correctly
Then there were the lifeboats, sitting upright in jerry built cradles in >upper three with the booms over #3 and #4 up and running, the deck crew lifted the lifeboats, davits and associated gear out on deck. Then the ‘runners’ of the two booms on the starboard side were rigged together, we used them to >fly= the davits in to place and then the lifeboats, then a repeat using the port booms. The ‘old hands’ more than once commented that what our senior citizen crew accomplished with minimal outside assistance, rarely if ever was done outside a shipyard.
Chip, Paint & Repair
Today, it is chip, paint and repair; the hardcore deck crew is there 2 and 3 times a week keeping the Lane Victory in good shape in fact she has never looked so good, it wasn’t that long ago that her decks were rusted and littered with all the tangled gear needed to restore her to a >working= cargo ship once again.
Fun Jobs can be hard work.
Once in awhile a fun job comes along, we call it >showbiz=. The ship is hired as a location for scenes for a movie or TV shoot. The ‘fun’ for the deck crew usually begins very early in the morning with the on loading of tons of movie gear from the dock, meanwhile the parking lot looks like huge gathering of RV’s, a beehive of activity that never stops. When the ‘shoot’ requires a move to another dock, then line handling is added to the mix. What was ‘state of the art’ line handling in the 1940’s is just plain hard work when compared to modern ship’s equipment today. The off load of movie equipment at the end of a ‘shoot’ can seem endless, both our crew and the movie crew are tired and want to go home, everyone wants their stuff off first. Finally ‘showbiz’ is gone, the dock and parking lot is empty, the ship needs a complete wash down, but that’s saved for another day, the hard working deck crew has gone home too. The Lane has gone to sea under power for >Titanic=, >Outbreak=, >Thin Red Line= and once ‘cold iron’ under tow for a truck commercial, the majority of the shoots are our dock.
As a member of the deck crew I have learned a lot; snatch blocks, topping lifts and handy billy’s are no longer a mystery, a messenger or a tag line have nautical meanings, splicing an eye in ‘small stuff’ is fun and the ‘flakes’ on the deck are mooring lines ready to run. Since July of 1989, when I first boarded the Lane Victory at the old coal dock, I have evolved through many jobs related to the ship and now find myself busy year round handling the ships PR and advertising, but when its time for the ship to leave the dock I am at the windlass on the bow, a member of the S.S. Lane Victory line handling deck crew waiting to hear the commands to ‘single up’ and ‘take her to’…
Volunteers are needed in all departments to keep this ship steaming. Sign On! Call now! 310.519.9545