SS Scapa Flow

Last Voyage of the Quien Sabe (Scapa Flow) Chapter 2


In wartime a merchant ship is in danger all the time it is at sea. This
is true whether your ship is traveling alone or in convoy. When
traveling alone you almost never have any warning from the enemy. When
you are in convoy your ship may be the first one attacked; the first
torpedo may hit the hull of your ship near where you are and kill you.

Notwithstanding your ever-present personal danger and the possibility of
unwarned attack, you are apt to be less apprehensive while your ship is
in convoy. One reason is that in the event the ship is sunk, survivors
have much more chance of being picked up than when the ship is traveling
alone. The prospect of facing a long and possibly fatal space of time in
a lifeboat is distinctly sour. But probably a more important reason is
the simple fact of the presence of other ships. It buoys up your morale
to see the long lines of ships filing off into the distance. True, they
are absolutely no protection to you in themselves; if your ship is hit
they will beat it away from you as fast as they can. Only the escort
provides whatever protection there is. In fact, the concentration of
ships formed by a convoy is apt to attract the enemy at some time or
other during the convoy journey whereas a lone ship often manages to
escape the attention of the enemy altogether. Nevertheless, to a
seaman's mind, it is the presence of company that is the chief virtue of
a convoy. It is the herd instinct operating in the most unlikely spaces
in the world, the great oceans.


During its journey from New York to the west coast of Africa, the Scapa
Flow traveled in convoy beyond the island of Trinidad. After that the
ship was on its own for the dash across the South Atlantic. The men on
board, both the first trippers and the old hands, had a chance to test
their feelings of apprehension while in convoy against those while the
Scapa Flow was traveling alone. 

During the convoy days each man on board began to develop certain
personal defenses to the silent threat of danger. The defenses varied,
depending upon the personalities of the seamen. It was while the Scapa
Flow was alone on the South Atlantic that these reactions became
strongest. (They will be described in detail in a later chapter.) But
even in convoy the men were far from normal. Each developed his own
method of accommodating his mind to the threat of .danger which he was
powerless to forestall. None of us could do anything about the
U-boats, and it was up to each man to defend his own mental equilibrium
in his own way.

While in convoy, a situation arose on the ship in which the men acted
together to forestall another form of personal danger. The amazing
unanimity developed eventually by the crewmen on the Scapa Flow, mixed
though they were in language and background, gives an indication of
their mass hypersensitivity in time of war.

The mass reaction in question was caused by the presence on the Scapa
Flow of Chips, the giant Egyptian carpenter.


I ran into Chips my first night aboard the Scapa Flow. The ship was at a
Brooklyn dock and the men in the deck department were on daywork, nine
to five; sea watches do not begin until the ship is ready to weigh
anchor. As spareman, my job was to fill in for any man who was
incapacitated at sea; in port I usually did some work in the steward's
department unless the work on deck was particularly heavy. The first day
I hadn't done much except some soogeing, and


in the evening I was reading a book in the fo'c'sle messroom. On the
Scapa Flow this messroom also served as a game and reading room during
the hours between meals. There were only three or four others in the
room with me, the rest of the crew being either asleep or ashore. Toward
midnight three of the crew came aboard, quite drunk. After howling
thickly on the deck outside the messroom for a few minutes, they came

They were all Egyptians, a coal passer, an oiler, and the big carpenter.
They had spent the evening in one of their racial nightspots near the
Manhattan waterfront, and during the course of a drinking bout had got
into a serious fight. The fight had been caused by Chips; he had been
broke and unable to pay for his share of the drinks. This tended to
freeze him out as the evening wore on, and he objected to being
discriminated against on such a paltry ground as an inability to buy his
share. The coal passer and the oiler were insistent: they would buy him
no more. Whereupon Chips grabbed a bottle of whisky belonging to the
other two and began to drink from it. Instantly the coal passer, a
little man who weighed less than half as much as the three hundred-pound
carpenter, pulled out a knife and slashed Chips's face in a slanting
half circle that ran from an ear across his face and down to a point
underneath his chin.

The management intervened at this point with threats of calling the
police. None of the Egyptians wanted this. Chips was already in trouble
with the Immigration authorities, and the others were afraid they might
be convicted on a charge of knifing. So the coal passer and the oiler
hustled Chips out of the den and brought him back to the Scapa Flow. The
three were still quarreling when they got on the ship, but they gave it
up, at least for the night, when they came into the messroom.

My first glimpse of Chips showed a great, splendidly constructed man,
with all of his face below his eyes covered with a bloody white shirt.
After a few moments of relatively calm palaver, the other two Egyptians
left the messroom to hit their bunks for the night. Chips stayed on,
leaning against one of the bulkheads and glaring at the three or four of
us who had been in the messroom all the time. Nobody spoke to him to ask
how he had come to be in such gory shape; we didn't get the story on
the knifing until 


the next day. Nobody even made the suggestion that he do something about
his slashed face. It seemed to me that any man would sympathize in some
way with a shipmate so badly banged up as this one. I had an impulse to
say something to him myself, though I had not seen him before. Whether
or not I would have tried to help him I don't know, for he spoke to me
as I was trying to make up my mind. He moved a couple of steps toward
me on his huge legs, asking: "What you do here?" The words were somewhat
muffled as they came through the bloody shirt, but were still
understandable. "Reading," I said, not nearly so resentfully as I felt.
The man looking menacing and I had absolutely no desire to cross him.
"He sign on today," interposed the Yugoslav, who had for some time been
reading a newspaper in the messroom. Chips stupidly looked over at the
Yugoslav, and then back at me. For a moment it seemed as if he would
leave the messroom, for he half turned to go. But then he turned back to
me once more, this time asking: "What job you sign on?" "Spareman," I
answered, beginning to wish quite earnestly that he would get the hell
out of the messroom. "What that job ?" he persisted, looking to the
Yugoslav for an answer instead of to me. "He work anywhere on ----ing
ship," said the Yugoslav. "Today he work for Franco." The Yugoslav had
used the ship's nickname for the Spanish steward. Chips didn't hesitate
a moment. He waved one of his enormous hands toward the door of the
messroom, making it quite clear that he wanted me to get out. It seemed
some sort of stand had to be made. "I bunk over there," I said, pointing
toward the starboard bunkroom, "and I read right here," slapping the
table at which I was sitting. Chips moved toward me again. "No steward's
department stay here," he said threateningly. This time I looked over at
the Yugoslav, asking: "Who is this guy, anyway ?" The Yugoslav said he
was the ship's carpenter. "That does it," I said. "I take my orders from
the bosun or the 


first mate for the time being. I've got nothing to do with the

Here the other men in the messroom chimed in for the first time. "Christ
sakes, Chips," said one, "get out of here yourself. You belong
amidships. The Professor bunks up here, and the messroom's the place
he's supposed to read at." The man raised his voice: "Chips, you're up
here only because we let you. You're drunk. Get back amidships where you
belong and get yourself fixed up. Wake up the mate and he'll take care
of your face."

The other men in the room added yeahs and grunts of assent. Chips
glowered from one of us to another for a few seconds, and then with a
snort of disgust he staggered out onto the well deck. We heard him
pounding aft down ship toward the cabin amidships which he shared with
the bosun.

Immediately the hitherto quiet reading circle flared into gossip.
"Somebody did a real job of knifing on that big c-----r," said one.
"Why didn't he finish him off?" another wanted to know. We speculated
for some time as to the cause of the knifing. Eventually the Yugoslav
turned to me and said: "Keep away from Chips, Professor. He no good." I
nodded my head in agreement to this somewhat gratuitous advice. Then a
peculiar shadow came on the face of the Yugoslav stoker. "I got my eye
on that Chips," he went on. "I t'ink he might be the man." The other men
in the messroom looked significantly at one another. "What man ?" I
prompted. "Never mind," said the Yugoslav. "I watch him just the same. I
got no use for them ----ing Gypos. I been in Cairo. All them Gypos got
liking for Hitler. They got army, ain't they?" He looked round the group
of men as if expecting someone to contest his polemic, which none did.
"They got army and British not let them fight even for Egypt. Rommel, he
in Egypt right now, and still British not let Gypos fight for Egypt.
Chips, I t'ink Chips like Hitler. I keep eye on him." The Yugoslav
stoker stopped then, and went back to his newspaper. Later it became
clear to me, as it already was to the other men, that the Yugoslav kept
a particular eye on everyone else on the ship, and possibly on everyone
he ever saw. He had a phobia about the Gestapo, 


being firmly persuaded that they would chase him for the rest of his
days. He used to say when he was drunk, which was often, that the
Gestapo would never rest until he was out of the way. He suspected us

Here the Estonian bosun came roaring into the messroom, muttering
curses. Chips had come into their cabin, waking him up and probably
frightening him badly with the spectacle of the bloody shirt. The
carpenter had fallen into his bunk and gone right to sleep, but the
bosun wasn't staying in the same cabin with him that night. He bunked
down in the fo'c'sle.

The Scapa Flow left New York during the middle of July, 1942. The week
we left was the worst for shipping losses that the United Nations had
sustained during the entire war. Our Navy was unable to deal with the
U-boats off our coast: at frequent intervals all the way down to Florida
there were patches of oil from sunken tankers, and occasionally the bow
of a destroyed ship, or one of its masts, sticking out of the water
within sight of the shore. Our Navy was unable to safeguard a convoy
lane along our own eastern seaboard, even with what occasional help the
British could spare from their other world-wide duties. So during those
days the Navy wasn't allowing Ships to run along the coast at night.
Early in the morning a convoy would form outside an east coast port and
make a day-time run along the coast. At evening, the convoy would put
into a port overnight, to reassemble outside the breakwater the next
morning for another creeping few miles during the daylight hours. And
what pathetic specimens of warcraft were the American naval escort
vessels--slow little wooden boats which would barely make enough speed
to get out of the way of their own depth charges.

Occasionally a seaplane would appear over our convoy, and sometimes a
flight of two or three land planes. A couple of times during the journey
down the coast we saw planes dive toward the water and heard gunfire,
but we could never determine whether they hit anything. From the
commotion caused by the little naval vessels it appeared that submarines
were all around


us. The escorts stayed right with the convoy, hoping to be able to deal
with the enemy if he appeared, but they were unable to fan out far
beyond the rim of the group of merchant vessels to try to locate U-boats
and attack them before the convoy itself could be attacked.

It must be admitted that the little American naval vessels took no
chances; they dropped depth charges for practically any cause, often at
great risk to the plates in the hulls of the merchant vessels. Once, in
what we took to be a really serious alarm, two or three of the little
naval boats converged at a point just ahead of the convoy, the merchant
ships meanwhile getting an emergency order to make a turn to one side.
But before the order could be executed the alarm was over. The United
States Navy had killed another whale. It floated back through the
convoy, and the Navy gunners of those merchant craft equipped with bow
guns took shots at the whale to test their guns and their aim. Not a
shot hit the dead target. The Scapa Flow had no bow gun, but our gunners
were standing by their weapon on the stern, disappointed because they
couldn't get in a shot. We chaffed them, pointing at the failure of the
Navy men on the other vessels, and saying that our gunners could have
done no better.

Even though we were traveling in daylight, within sight of our coast
most of the time, and were under the impression that we were getting
protection from the Navy, our nerves got pretty ragged from the
continual depth-charging. The tension wasn't anything compared with what
it would be later on when we were traveling alone and at night, but it
was bad enough. The second day we were running toward Baltimore, the
convoy having spent the previous night in a Delaware port. Around noon,
depth charges were booming every few minutes. Each charge was a great
shock to the merchant, vessels. It was as if some giant hand were
underneath the water, making a gong of your ship. The gunners were at
their stations, clad in their life jackets, all the time. The rest of us
didn't wear our jackets because we couldn't work in them. As a charge
would go off each of us would dash to the place he had laid his jacket,
and lace it on in a fever. Then we would stand around, looking at each
other rather shamefacedly. It was the old story of "Wolf! Wolf!" and


eventually we got so we merely quivered nervously when the charges went
off and then tried to continue on about our business.

That is, all except Chips. He was in an utter funk. Strapped in a life
jacket, he huddled against a hatch cover, gazing almost constantly at a
near-by forward life raft. About two weeks had passed since his knifing;
he had been working during the past few days although his face still
had a bandage over the worst section of the cut. As the men filed past
him on the deck in the discharge of their various duties, each would
carefully avert his head and pretend not to notice him. But from time to
time they congregated out of his earshot and proceeded to backbite him.
The gossip ran along one line: Chips was a coward. That was the way with
all these big guys: no guts. He was a great blowhard, couldn't stand
what the rest of us could stand, and, despite his size and mean look,
from now on nobody would take any from him. Significantly, however, none
of this gossiping was done in front of him. No one called him a coward
to his face.

After Chips had been at his self-selected safety spot for a couple of
hours, still huddled and still keeping a watchful eye on the life raft,
the first mate stepped into the picture. He was seen going over to talk
to Chips, apparently trying to rally him. He was unsuccessful; Chips
just shook his head. The mate gave the job up and came back amidships,
saying to the bosun that the man would undoubtedly have to be replaced
when we reached Baltimore. The bosun agreed readily. He had to room with
the carpenter.

Then Chips's countrymen took a hand. They hovered around him for a time,
gesticulating and bellowing in their own language. They were probably
appealing to his manhood and pointing out that all of them would be
judged by his conduct. This was quite true: the crew had already begun
to despise the Egyptians quite indiscriminately. Perhaps they were
warning him that if he didn't snap out of it he would be put ashore in
Baltimore, and reminding him that if he were put off the ship it would
be the end for him: he would be turned over to the British and deported
to Egypt to account to the Egyptian police for the old dope charge they
held against him. Whatever it was that the Egyptians said to Chips, they
brought about a healthy change. He got up and went to the first mate to
report for


work, although he would not take off his life jacket. He really did work
during the rest of that day, seeming to loom large as a mountain with
his giant frame made even more impressive by the life jacket around it.

The crew was intensely disappointed by Chips's renascence as a
worker--on three counts, although only two of them could be admitted. We
were sorry, in the first place, because the relish of gossiping about
him had diminished. We were also sorry because he was a good worker,
unfortunately, and reporting to the first mate in the way he had might
mean that he would be kept on the ship. But none of us could admit that
he was sorry for the third reason: that Chips and his plight had drawn
our attention away from ourselves and our own fears of the continual
depth-charging; now we were forced to take notice of, how it made us
feel, rather than how it affected Chips. Chips disappeared into his
cabin when five o'clock came round and did not come out for supper. He
had missed lunch also and the gunners' mess at which he and the bosun
ate was alive with comment at his behavior that day. The gunners had
come through remarkably well. They had not yet felt the corrosive effect
of a life of continual danger coupled with physical ease, as they would
later in the voyage, and they were loud in denunciation of the
carpenter. They already disliked him, all of them, Though most of them
were from poor families in the South, they had apparently never come
across as sloppy an eater as Chips. He hardly ever used a fork,
preferring a soup spoon. He. sometimes even cut his meat with this tool,
or ripped it apart with his fingers. He slurped every bite
uncompromisingly, to the great distress of those who had to eat in his
presence, which the gunners and the bosun did three times a day. The
gunners, though young and ingenuous, were not slow to realize that they
could capitalize Chips's behavior to get back at the crew for the
ribbing to which they had been subjected since they came on the Scapa
Flow. They accosted several of us during the day with comments to the
effect that they didn't see how the war could be won unless the crewmen
of the Merchant Marine displayed more guts. There was little we could
say: Chips was one of us, and his behavior reflected upon us all.
According to Red, the messman who served the gunners' mess
the bosun had attempted at supper to defend the big carpenter before the
gunners. "The bosun stood up for the big motherer," said Red
disappointedly. Red had to wait upon Chips, a supremely unhappy task,
and he as much as anyone yearned to have him tossed off the ship at

It was evening when we put into Baltimore. We found that we were going
to be here for some time, thus missing a number of convoys south. Our
engineers were to blame. The Egyptian fourth assistant had made one of
his frequent errors in the engine room; he had become confused in the
operation of the valves. Before his error was corrected, almost all of
our fresh water had been pumped over the side of the ship. Moreover,
through a failure to delegate properly to one engineer the
responsibility for the refrigeration system, all the engineers had
tampered with it during their watches, and it was thoroughly on the
fritz. We had to get fresh water and get shore help to fix the
refrigeration before we could go on. This meant that some of us might
get shore leave at Baltimore, a quite unexpected possibility.

The first night we sat out in the harbor, but the next day we docked.
The captain had decided that, since we were going to be delayed anyway,
we might as well do some coaling while we were here.

Before we went into dock, however, Chips pushed himself back into the
center of the scene. We were lying in the harbor, quite safe from the
torpedoes of the U-boats and the depth charges of the United States
Navy. Chips emerged from his cabin and came forward and up on the
fo'c'sle peak, where most of the crewmen off watch were sitting around,
talking, and watching the shoreline and the other ships in the harbor.
All of us were in good spirits as the result of a number of things.
First and most important, of course, was our safety: even on such an old
rustpot as the Scapa Flow we had actually made a journey of some length
down the eastern coast. True, the first legs had been only commuters'
hops compared with the balance of the trip; but we had come through, and
we had seen numerous wrecks of newer and better ships than ours which
had not-brand-new Liberty freighters and crack Norwegian tankers. Then
there was Chips and his cowardice still to talk about. Also, it was 


pleasant to sneer at the incompetents in the engine room, dummies who
couldn't keep the ice machine in order or safeguard the fresh water
which was so important to us. Finally, there was the prospect of shore
leave here in Baltimore; it is a big and important port and many of the
seamen were familiar with it. They broadcast innumerable offers to
those of us who were strangers to Baltimore to act as guides to bars and
whorehouses which they advertised as both attractive and reasonable.

Inevitably there was widespread discussion of our lack of money; even if
we were able to get ashore here in Baltimore it would do us little good
unless the captain shook loose some money. The men got exceedingly
bellicose--verbally--on this matter of a draw from the Old Man. Many of
us announced that we would draw fifty bucks or so, whether the captain
liked it or not. This was to be a long trip and each of us would make a
good deal of money. This stop in Baltimore was quite unscheduled--a
windfall--and it was up to us to impress the Old Man with our demands
for dough so we could have one more fling before we continued the long

The Portuguese stokers were outstanding dissidents in the otherwise
practically unanimous demands for a big draw in wages. They wanted
nothing from the captain, or nearly nothing --just enough for a
streetcar ride or two. One of these Portuguese, Johnny, was
collaborating with me in the composition of a letter to his English girl
in Barbados. It was a most important letter and had to be expressed with
great care, as it was a proposal of marriage. Johnny went into long and
flowery eulogies of this girl in fluent Portuguese. It was my job to get
some sense out of this and phrase a letter in English in such a way as
not to do violence to Johnny's ideas or the girl's intelligence. Occa-
sionally I would have a terribly difficult time getting the gist of one of
Johnny's ideas; my Spanish left a good deal to be desired in so exacting
a role. Obligingly, he would try to help me out by using what English
words he knew, which were few and practically all of a quite unhelpful
four-letter variety. Johnny had the idea--which he never abandoned--that
the sting of these four-letter words was greatly reduced by using them
in a series of twos. Thus, he believed that it would be improper to
write this girl that he wanted to ---- her, even if he had to marry her;


and yet he thought it proper, and counseled me to put in the letter,
that he wanted to marry her and then ---- ---- her as soon as could be
contrived thereafter.

The men were talking in the vein that I have outlined, and Johnny and I
were struggling with his love letter, when Chips suddenly appeared on
the fo'c'sle peak.

Many of the men stopped talking, guiltily, and pretended to be absorbed
in the Maryland shoreline. All gaiety ceased. Johnny and I looked at the
big carpenter who had served so often that day as an object of scorn and
derision, and then we continued with the letter, but in a much softer
conversational tone.

Chips did not look embarrassed; far from it. In fact, too far from it:
he was defiant. Considering his performance of a few hours before, this
defiance must have been an over compensation for his true feelings of

Tension spread immediately over the fo'c'sle head. This was our place, a
place for the common crew to sit about on our off-watch hours. On this
old German ship there were few accommodations for the relaxation of
the crew; other than this stretch of deck on the fo'c'sle head there was
only the messroom below, close and unbearably hot on a July evening in a
Maryland harbor.

Chips didn't belong in this section of the ship except when duty brought
him here during his working hours. He had ample space to relax amidships
where his cabin was and where he was messed. Of course, had the crew
liked him, there would have been no objection to his coming forward to
chat with his Egyptian countrymen in their own language. But Chips was
not liked.

For a time he leaned against the rail and looked boldly around at the
men, not saying or doing anything which would tell us what was on his
mind. All of us avoided his eyes, but we would look up once in a while
from What we were doing and pretend to find something of interest on the
shoreline just behind the place at the rail where he was standing.

Two Americans were Indian-wrestling, using that version of the sport in
which one man clasps the other's hand, forearms upright and parallel,
with the object of forcing the other man's arm down to a horizontal
position. The men playing this game were both oilers--one a young man of
twenty-five who had been


shipping for seven years on the Great Lakes, and the other the
thirty-five-year-old ex-convict from Pennsylvania. The Great Lakes man
was the easy victor; he was husky and of good size, a former high-school
football champ, and a boy who had once gone as far as the semifinals in
the Golden Gloves boxing championships, fighting as a light
heavyweight. The ex-convict took his defeat with rather poor grace and
refused to play any more.

The Great Lakes oiler challenged me. I took a welcome recess from my
letter-collaboration with Johnny and Indian-wrestled with the Great
Lakes oiler. He beat me, and then looked about for other opponents. I
asked him how he thought he would make out with some of the brawny
Portuguese stokers. He agreed to tackle them if they were willing. I
undertook to act as match- maker, as I could talk to these men after a
fashion in Spanish. I got the Portuguese interested, and two of them
beat the oiler, which made them pleased as children. Because of the
language bar and their miserliness, the Portuguese were usually excluded
from the fraternity of the crew, and it somehow made everyone feel good
to see them included, if only briefly. Soon the whole deck was bustling
with Indian-wrestling of several varieties, it introduced, too, a
contest in hand-walking, at which I was fairly good, and had the
satisfaction of besting the Great Lakes oiler.

My championship was brief, however, as it was soon taken from me by
Johnny. Johnny then suggested that the crew try some tumbling. There
were plenty of mattresses about which could be used as tumbling mats,
for the heat of the bunkrooms and the claustrophobia caused by them had
induced many of us to sleep on deck. The Indian-wrestling, hand-standing
and tumbling had made us less conscious, or even unconscious, of the
presence of the Egyptian carpenter, who was still leaning and looking on
at his rail position. But he soon brought himself to our attention

Chips wanted to play too. He left the rail and approached one of the 
Portuguese stokers, making arm motions as an indication of a desire to
match arms at Indian-wrestling. The stoker turned his back and walked
away. As soon as it became dear that Chips was trying to participate in
our games, all of us stopped whatever we were doing and watched him. He
attempted to interest others in a test of strength, wandering about the


deck and waving his arm. Nobody would take him on. His turndowns were
definite, although their phrasing was diplomatic: the men who were
challenged said they "didn't think" they wanted to wrestle, or they were
"tired" of this playing. As a matter of fact, none of us had a chance
against him: he knew it and we knew it.

Chips grew exasperated. His plight would have been eminently humorous
had he not been so powerful a man. I, for one, had no desire to laugh at
him. But one man did laugh. It was Flathead, the middle-aged ordinary
seaman. He certainly showed poor judgment in laughing at Chips. The big
carpenter turned on him instantly and belligerently with: "Why for you
laugh?" Flathead backed away immediately, getting a stanchion between
Chips and himself, and made no reply. He grinned weakly, and tried to
shrug the matter off. Flathead, though considered stupid, was well
enough liked, and he found a champion at this time in the Great Lakes
oiler, who had refused an invitation from Chips to Indian-wrestle. Great
Lakes's intervention in the dispute between Chips and Flathead seemed
quixotic to me, and I'm sure to the rest of the crew. Chips now shifted
his anger to Great Lakes.

"This your business?", asked Chips.

"I'm making it my business," came the answer from Great Lakes, the
age-old rebuttal of the champion to the bully.

All of us crowded around the disputants, all backing Great Lakes, but
none of us disposed to intervene. Although Chips was thoroughly
disliked, the common view, as expressed later, was that Flathead had
brought on his own embarrassment by laughing at him, and that Great
Lakes had brought on his own quarrel by volunteering as Flathead's

"You want make trouble with me?" asked Chips of Great Lakes.

"I'm not looking for trouble," was the answer. "But leave Flathead

"You give me order ?"

"He's not bothering you," Great Lakes went on. "You're bothering him.
You're bothering all of us. We don't want you up here. Why don't you get
amidships where you belong?" Great Lakes looked around at us for
confirmation and some


sort of affirmative backing, but I'm sorry to say we did not furnish it,
still making a circle which, judging from its looks and actions, had to
be considered as pragmatically neutral. "You want fight me ?" asked
Chips. "No, I don't want to fight," answered Great Lakes. "I don't want
any trouble with you. Just leave Flathead alone, and leave me alone, and
we won't have any trouble."

"You 'fraid," sneered Chips, his great scarred face contorted in an
expression of disgust. "Sure I'm afraid," was Great Lakes's rather
surprising reply, though he did not seize the good debater's point which
was so obvious: that Chips himself had been signally afraid nearly all
day. "Christ!" Great Lakes continued. "Damn near anyone would be afraid
of you!"

"You 'fraid," Chips repeated stupidly. He didn't appear to know what to
make of so frank an answer by Great Lakes. "You no want fight me?" "I
told you I don't want any trouble," said Great Lakes. "You ----ing
smart, you," said Chips. "Don't talk like that to me!" snapped Great
Lakes. "You give me order?" "Yes, goddamit, I'm giving you an order.
Don't cuss at me!" Chips started to sneer again. "You 'fraid. Fight!" He
waved a great fist threateningly at Great Lakes. The oiler backed away
slightly, not giving the impression of fear, but merely of seeking to
keep himself from being struck without time for defense. Chips suddenly
included us all as objects of his threatening demonstration. He waved
his fist around the circle of us, saying: "Fight anybody in crew." We
naturally had nothing to say to this. The big Egyptian increased his
offer. "Fight two crew." But no two of us found this offer enticing
either; It was humiliating, but this carpenter, who had been so humble a
craven during the day while at sea, was now bluffing down the very bunch
who had only recently been ridiculing him. Unfortunately, also, he very
probably could have made good his challenge to fight any two of us.
Chips turned back to Great Lakes, and launched upon a new gambit. With a
great flourish the carpenter drew a wallet from 


his pocket and pulled out a fifty.dollar bill. He put the bill on the
deck, and put one of his tremendous shoes on it. "You," he said to Great
Lakes. "Fight you fifty dollar."

We probably didn't have fifty dollars in cash among us. Certainly the
oiler wasn't holding that kind of dough. "I haven't got fifty bucks,"
said Great Lakes. "Money talk," ChiPs said irrdevantly.

Great Lakes repeated that he didn't have so much money. Chips snorted a
great "ah," and picked up the bill. "Money talk," he repeated. "Me fight
money. Strong," he said, shaking his fist. "Strong. Me fight money." He
stood for a moment glaring us all down defiantly, then turned on his
heel and went down the companionway to the well deck, and from there
made his way back amidships, striding powerfully and scornfully.

As soon as he was out of earshot, the backbiting circle began again. He
really was only a blowhard. Great Lakes could have taken him, as Great
Lakes could box, had been a Golden Glover, and Chips undoubtedly was
muscle-bound. The ex-convict oiler from Pennsylvania brandished an
enormous electric torch, which he always carried, declaring that he had
been all set to clip Chips down from behind if there had been any
trouble. Flathead announced that he would get Chips sometime when the
big carpenter wasn't looking. Asked to be more specific, he refused
further comment.

The Yugoslav stoker said he still had his eye on Chips, that all the
Gypos hated the English and liked Hitler, and that there was a great
possibility that Chips was an agent of the Gestapo.


The next day the Scapa Flow moved from her anchorage in the harbor to a
dock within range of a coal chute.

Here Chips made his next appearance on the forepeak. Nobody could
protest, even if there had been one of us with nerve enough to do so;
Chips had a duty on the forepeak whenever a ship upped or dropped
anchor. He, as the Scapa Flow's carpenter, was the usual anchor

The first mate was up on the foredeck; he got maneuvering orders from
the captain on the bridge and kept an eye on the 


hoisting anchor. Chips ran the winch levers on order from this mate.

When the anchor chain comes into a ship it is stored in what is known as
the chain locker, situated below the foredeck, just under the forepeak.
Two of the three regular deckmen on watch, an A.B. and an ordinary, must
work below in the chain locker; the third man in the watch is the
helmsman on the bridge.

The chain locker is a place of great potential danger. As the anchor
chain comes down into the locker the two men catch at it with hooks and
guide the heavy links into a neat pattern. This has to be done
accurately for two reasons: first, the chain must be stowed neatly or
there won't be room for it in the restricted space of the locker; and
second, the line of links must be ready to flow from the chain locker
without hindrance. When the anchor is being hoisted, the safety of the
two men stowing the chain depends largely on the man at the winch, just
over them, on the forepeak. If the winchman is careless, he may make a
wrong move with his levers, thus releasing the anchor from the grip of
the winch. The anchor, usually a six-ton affair, Would then plunge
violently toward the bottom. The chain would be ripped out of the locker
at great speed, and, if the men in the locker were in the way they would
be chewed to bits by the churning iron links. A mechanical failure of
the winch-on the Scapa Flow an ancient steam winch--might cause the same
tragedy. There is also a third possibility of disaster. While the chain
is flowing into the chain locker during a hoist, it is up to the two men
in the locker to call or signal by whistle to the winchman: they tell
him when they want the winch stopped, should there be some delay on
their part in the proper stowing of the chain. Naturally their signals
from the chain locker must be taken as law by the man at the winch:
their lives depend on these signals. If the chain were to come into the
locker too fast it might form a ball which would block the' entrance of
more chain. The winch then might stop and slip and lose its clutch on
the upcoming anchor, causing the chain to run out again, possibly
bloodied by the mashed bits of the men who had been in the locker.

As it happened, the anchor hoist that day in Baltimore came 


during the watches of the Latvian and English A.B.s and Flathead. The
off-watch men standing round on the foredeck were fully aware of the
sinister--though admittedly remote--potentialities of the situation.
The Latvian was at the wheel on the bridge, and the Englishman and
Flathead were below in the chain locker.

Flathead's life was now in the hands of the big Egyptian carpenter who
was at the anchor winch. There might, just possibly, be a slip. That
could mean the end of the two men below. And who would be able to prove
that the catastrophe had been anything but an accident.

For a time as the anchor came up all was well. Occasionally there was a
whistle from the men in the chain locker and Chips obligingly would stop
the winch. The onlookers on the foredeck began to feel more at ease.
The old winch seemed to be clanging along well enough, although it was
losing a good deal of pressure from leaking steam.

Then the trouble came. The first mate was over at the rail, watching the
position of the anchor chain as it came out of the water. He looked over
at Chips, giving a hand signal to indicate a desire for more speed.
Chips maneuvered a lever, but there was no change in the speed of the

Impatiently, the first mate repeated his hand signal calling for more
speed. Just as impatiently Chips jarred at the lever with his powerful
arms. The winch speeded up suddenly and greatly. The chain poured down
into the locker at a much faster rate. Soon there came a sharp whistle
from below, a signal to stop the winch. The increased rate of influx had
been too much for Flathead and the Englishman, and they needed a pause
to catch up. The onlookers on the foredeck (including the first mate,
who was way over by the rail) heard the whistle. But it seemed that
Chips--who was at an air vent which ran down into the chain locker, and
who should have been able to hear most clearly of all the signal from
below--it seemed that Chips did not hear the signal. After a few
seconds, during which the chain continued to come in at the increased
rate, a number of the men on the deck screamed at Chips to halt the
winch. He struck at his lever, and the winch increased still more in
speed instead of stopping. Several men, including the first mate, made a

[ 47 ]

toward the winch, to try to take the matter out of Chips's hands. But
before anyone could reach him, he had stopped it. 

Quite a row ensued. The first mate bawled out the big carpenter with
fearfully caustic profanity. Communication was established with the men
in the chain locker. They were all right, but they announced bluntly
that they were getting out of the chain locker immediately. The first
mate's outcry against Chips continued, and in a moment Flathead and the
Englishman came up on the foredeck. Both were trembling and covered with
sweat. The perspiration was due mostly to the great heat in the chain
locker, but possibly some of it was caused by their fright. Flathead
was mad but inarticulate. The Englishman was as wordy as could be
desired. He said that nothing would make him go back in the chain locker
if Chips was to be at the winch; he wouldn't go back, he said, even if
the boy scouts on the stern-meaning the Navy gunners were to come after
him with guns. The first mate sympathized with this hesitancy to return
below, and assured the Englishman that Chips would be watched closely
thereafter, but that it was Chips's job to run the winch, and that as
long as he remained aboard the ship he had to do his job. About this
time the captain on the bridge began to get upset over the controversy
on the foredeck; he was trying to up anchor and maneuver his ship. Not
possessing all the facts of the trouble, he began to bellow through his
megaphone. The first mate had to stop ta!king to Chips and the
Englishman in order to explain the matter to the Old Man. The instant
the attention of the first mate was directed to the bridge, the
Englishman, though only a medium-sized boy of twenty-one, developed an
exceedingly bellicose attitude toward the carpenter. On this occasion,
the men on the foredeck did not maintain a strict outward neutrality.
Several men supported the Englishman, although so far as I know none was
so thoroughly persuaded as he, that Chips's defection at the winch was
by design. The A.B. did not fail to point out that his mate in the chain
locker had been Flathead, and that the day before Flathead had had
difficulty with Chips. 

The big Egyptian was fulsomely tractable, in contrast to his belligerent
behavior of the previous day, saying over and over that he had not heard
any signal from below, and had got the


winch stopped as soon as he could after the onlookers and the first mate
had made it clear that it should be stopped.

The first mate got the situation explained to the Old Man, and then
turned his attention once again to the foredeck. He reasoned kindly with
the Englishman and finally got him to agree to return to the chain
locker. Flathead, though undoubtedly more personally concerned with
the possibly dangerous aspects of Chip's attitude, proved amenable and
returned to the chain locker without comment. Later, however, he
repeated to intimates the threat he had made the day before to get
Chips, but again refused to be more specific.

The anchor hoisting thereafter proceeded under rather unusual
circumstances. The men on the foredeck stood in a circle around Chips,
glaring at him and listening for any possible signal from below. Chips
looked definitely unhappy at this malicious kibitzing, but made no
audible protest. After the anchor was hoisted, the Scapa Flow moved to a
dock and was moored within reach of a coal chute.

As soon as Chips completed his duties he went amidships to his cabin,
thereby providing the men on the foredeck with an opportunity for free
and unlimited comment. Opinion was divided as to whether the slip-up at
the winch had been accidental or deliberate. There seemed to be good
arguments on both sides, and no one held a positive opinion except the
Yugoslav. He stated flatly that the incident had proved beyond a doubt
that Chips was pro-Nazi--hadn't one of the men in the chain locker been
an Englishman ?--and that there was now no reasonable doubt that Chips
in reality was a secret member of the Gestapo. He reaffirmed his
intention of keeping an eye on Chips. This sentiment was echoed pretty
generally by this time, although for a different reason: namely, that
Chips was not only very big, but quite probably he was also very bad.

All the men on the foredeck were buoyed by one thought, however: that
this last incident must surely be enough, taken with Chips's former
conduct, to cause the captain to put him off the ship here in Baltimore.
We speculated as to what treatment would be accorded him if he were
thrown off the ship and finally deported to Egypt. Most of us hoped that
the old dope charge against the man would be severe.


Soon after the Scapa Flow was moored the crewmen became actively
enthusiastic over the prospect of shore leave. A group of the most
uncompromising optimists, after broadcasting their intentions of
requesting immediate shore leave and a sizable draw, went to call on the
captain in his cabin. The men returned so quickly that it seemed they
must have had only time to take a brief turn on the deck. The captain
had said no to both shore leave and dough. Apparently the Old Man was
still rankling over the demonstration that had taken place earlier on
the foredeck, for he was jumpy and ironic. "You'll get shore leave in
Africa," he said, this probably being the most heartless thing he could
think of to say.

When pressed for a reason why we couldn't get ashore for a while here in
Baltimore he said, as he might have in the first place, that the coal
chute was so efficient that we probably would be at the dock only for an
hour or so. Fresh water would take only a few minutes to pump in. After
that we'd hurry out to anchor in the harbor again, so as not to burden
the dock longer than we had to. As for the bolix in the refrigeration
system, the mechanics from Baltimore could come out to the ship in a
launch; there was no need to remain at the dock for this sort of repair

This gloomy intelligence was dispensed in the fo'c'sle messroom. It
seemed logical enough at the time, but the men cursed the captain,
partly on principle and partly because of his unwarrantably undemocratic
tone of voice in his responses to what had been reasonable requests of
the crew.

Soon, however, exciting gossip began to circulate. Somebody had heard
one of the officers say that he had overheard the captain say that the
coal chute wouldn't be available to us for at least eight hours. A
couple of hours passed, which tended to confirm this rumor, as there
seemed to be no activity on the dock which would hint that we were going
to get any coal in the near future. Activity of another sort there was,
though, lots of it. The dock was aswarm with Immigration officials,
Customs offi'cials, officials who could not readily be identified, and
Coast Guard men--all delegated to see to it that the crew


of the Scapa Flow remained aboard the ship. There seemed fully as many
men on the dock guarding the ship, most of them armed, as there were men
on the ship itself. In addition, small launches overloaded with gleaming
brass and sun-tanned Coast Guard men kept patrolling along the dock
outside the Scapa Flow; presumably it was their job to see that none of
the crew of an American-owned ship tried to get a glass of beer in Mary-
land by swimming ashore. True, one unfamiliar with ship life might
assume that these myriad civilian and service guards were trying to
protect the Scapa Flow from possible sabotage. But there were sixty-one
able-bodied men aboard the ship, a dozen of them Navy men in whose
keeping were half a dozen machine guns and a four-inch cannon. It might
have been thought that we could protect our own ship.

When it became apparent that the ship would not coal immediately, a
group of men again went to the captain to ask for money and shore leave.
I was chosen as spokesman and told that I would speak for all the crew
in this new plea.

The captain was as uncooperative as ever, saying this time that he was
under the impression that we had'signed on to sail a ship to Africa and
back, and not to get drunk on shore. I countered with the statement that
it was "our" impression that the engineer officers of the ship were
signed on to run the vessel, and not to pump our fresh water over the
side and mess up the refrigeration system. It had been these blunders
which caused the delay and "we" could see no reason why the crew
couldn't go ashore for a drink so long as the ship was going to be here

"I've been working on the problem of shore leave," said the captain,
failing to see that this contradicted his earlier statement that we'd
only be here for a short time and that there would be no shore leave.
"I've been talking to one of the Immigration men, he continued, "and he
says he can't keep the American citizens on the ship if they want to go
ashore. I'll issue three dollars to each American not on watch in the
next six hours.

At the end of that time if you're not back aboard I'll report you for
jumping ship."

"Captain," I said, "the noncitizens on this ship are doing just as much
toward winning the war as the Americans. If these


alien's are good enough to risk their lives taking American war
materials abroad, they ought to be good enough to be allowed ashore in
Maryland for a few hours. All of them were ashore in New York before
they signed on the ship. You have their passports and could issue them
to the men for use here in Baltimore. All the men, citizens and
noncitizens, have Coast Guard passes to show to these guards on the

"I got my orders from Immigration," the captain answered testily.
"There's nothing I can do. Only the Americans can go ashore." 

"Then how about a bigger draw than three dollars apiece?" I asked. 

"I haven't much money aboard the ship," he said. "That's all I can spare
for each man."

The crewmen repaired to the fo'c'sle for further consultation. The
consultation rapidly degenerated into a wrangle. There seemed to be
outright unanimity on only two points: that the captain was the lowest
specimen of officership ever encountered; and that something ought to be
done about getting Chips off the ship. About this time the Egyptians
started a movement of their own. They were incensed at the captain's
orders, as were all the rest of the aliens. But the Egyptians also had
another gripe, They were an extraordinarily clannish bunch under most
circumstances, and, though they had themselves cautioned Chips once or
twice during the voyage, they so far tended to side with him against the
rest of the crew. They had come more and more to believe that they were
all being judged by Chips's conduct. They decided that, what with being
unpopular on the ship, and being oppressed as well, they might as well
quit, pay off the ship here in Baltimore, all of them. This would have
been a serious blow to the ship, as we should have had to wait for them
to be replaced by seamen in Baltimore. The Egyptians did not immedi-
ately warn the captain of their decision, but dressed themselves in
their best clothes, packed their gear, and took it out on the deck near
the rope ladder which ran down to the dock. They sat down on their gear
and patiently waited for the captain to appear and be presented with
their demands to sign off the ship. Chips looked particularly unhappy as
he joined the group of his fellow 


countrymen; he knew he would be up against rough treatment in his old
haunt of Baltimore. But there was nothing he could do but join the rest
of the Egyptians. 

The captain knew what was happening; the bosun or one of the officers
must have told him. He came out of his cabin a little later and, without
saying a word to anyone, climbed down the ladder and engaged some of the
Immigration men on the dock in conversation. I have no knowledge of what
was said there; I only know what happened afterward. The Egyptians
watched the group with particular interest, and those on the
dock--the various civilian and service guards--kept their eyes on the
shore-dressed Egyptians huddled on the deck. 

The captain came back on the ship with one of the Immigration men, and
spoke to the Egyptians. "I understand you men want to sign off," he
said. They nodded their heads. "Well," he went on, "there's nothing in
it. You signed on this ship for the full voyage, and the Immigration men
won't let you pay off in Baltimore'. As for you," pointing to Chips,
"I'd like to get your ass off my ship, but I can't do it without taking
a lot of trouble and delaying the ship to get another carpenter and I'm
not going to do it."

The Egyptian oiler spoke up. "No pay off, no give it steam," he
threatened. The others backed him up. "If you Egyptians refuse to go on
watch," said the captain, "I'll turn you over to Immigration. They'll
put you in jail, to be held for deportation." He looked to the
Immigration man for confirmation, and got it. "And as for the rest of
you," he said, turning to the other crewmen standing about, "I won't pay
off anybody in this port. I can't keep you on the ship, but if you get
off anyway I'll report you for jumping ship, and Immigration will hold
for deportation all the aliens."

The captain seemed to realize that he'd won, hands down, for he didn't
say more and went into his cabin. There were wild arguments among the
crewmen, but the back of whatever opposition had developed was broken.
None of the aliens wanted to be deported. This would mean that they
would have to go back to sailing ships of their own flags and suffer the
working conditions and wages furnished on those ships. Moreover, the act
of jumping an American-owned


ship, after signing the ship's articles for a full voyage, would make it
almost impossible for them ever again to get back to sailing in American
or American-owned bottoms. Deportation did not, of course, face these
Americans in the crew who might have jumped ship. Their reasons against
such a move were different and more numerous. First and foremost, these
American seamen had signed legal agreements with a shipping company of
their own nationality in time of war, and would break such an agreement
over at least some opposition from their consciences. In addition, the
offense of jumping ship puts an unsavory mark on a seaman's record,
and often makes it difficult for him to get another ship. If he is a
member of one of the old-line unions, he is frowned upon by his union
brothers. They will condemn him for an attitude unbecoming to a
responsible union member, and for putting the American seaman-worker
in a bad light before his union brothers and the public at large. The
N.M.U., however, will condemn a ship-jumper primarily as a man who is
evading his responsibilities as a fighter in the war against fascism.
(The National Maritime Union leaders will not draw attention to the fact
that they considered this war an imperialist war before Hitler
attacked the Soviet Union. But when Hitler drew Russia into the war, the
views of the heads of the National Maritime Union changed. Seamen who
previously had been denounced by the union as "toadies to the
warmongers" for risking and losing their lives in taking goods to
Britain were now acclaimed by the N.M.U. as great American patriots and
the forgotten men of the war services. The N.M.U. was quick to send
organizers onto the ships which had been on the Britain run, to try to
get the seamen into the N.M.U. It even started a branch for seamen who
were sailing on Panamanian ships, such as the Scapa Flow. The only
person who seemed relieved at the captain's series of orders was Chips.
He had been saved from deportation; he could continue on the ship. He
went to his cabin, looking mighty pleased. The seamen were too
dispirited to press agitation to get him thrown off. They drifted back
to the fo'c'sle, where the other Egyptians changed from their good
clothes. With the captain in his present mood, there seemed to be
nothing that could be done by or for the aliens to get shore 


leave. The Americans all drew three dollars apiece, including those who
would be on watch in the next six hours and therefore unable to get
ashore. Some of the Americans, I being one, went down the dock to a
canteen within the limits of the dockyard, and had refreshments. None of
us was stopped. As we were leaving the ship I heard one of the
Immigration officials tell the Coast Guard men that "the guys with these
cards can get off the ship." As I walked back along the dock toward the
ship I had to show my Coast Guard pass once again before the service men
would allow me to board the Scapa Flow. I went to the fo'c'sle where
the aliens were still bewailing their imprisonment on the ship. Some of
them said that they hadn't really wanted to go into Baltimore until they
were told they couldn't, but that now a trip into the city seemed the
most desirable thing in the world. I asked them if they thought they
could get some money together for the trip into town, provided they
could get off the ship. They pooled their resources and found that the
fund raised, together with what they could borrow from the bosun, would
give them enough for a fling in town. I told them simply to get dressed
and go down the ladder to the dock. They all had Coast Guard passes,
obtained in New York, and I was banking on the men on the dock being too
stupid to examine these passes closely. Each man's nationality was
written on his card, but all the cards looked alike. So the English,
Latvian and Brazilian A.B.s, the Yugoslav stoker, the bosun, and a
couple of the other aliens dressed and formed a group which went down on
the dock. They carefully avoided the Scapa Flow's captain and mates.
Just as I had thought, the aliens were passed by the Coast Guard, and
they hurried along the dock. Another showing of the cards got them out
of the dock area, and from there they had clear sailing into town. I
proposed to use our stay at this dock to write some letters, and brought
pen and paper into the messroom. Here I found two of the American
ordinaries, the boys under twenty-one, trying to get enough money
together to make the trip into town. The third ordinary, Flathead, was
spending the time in sleep. The boys had only their three dollars
apiece and hadn't yet been able to raise any more. They got my
remaining two dollars I had spent 


a dollar in the dock canteen--and then went amidships, ostensibly to hit
some of the officers for dough. It wasn't until hours later that I
learned what they had done. These boys had become particularly intrigued
by the bully, Chips. Doubtless his great strength and his action in
bluffing down the crew had impressed them favorably. No doubt also
remembering the fifty-dollar bill he had flashed on the foredeck, they
went to his cabin. Chips admitted them. He was alone, the bosun having
gone ashore. Presumably the boys buttered and flattered Chips with
considerable skill. They succeeded in borrowing a good deal of money
from him, promising to pay him back later on in the voyage. Chips drove
a usurious bargain for the use of his money. He didn't dare try to get
ashore, and he wanted something to drink. He made the boys agree to buy
him some whisky; this whisky was to serve as interest on the loan, as
they had to pay for it out of the money borrowed. The agreement was
struck and the boys went ashore.  Hours later the seamen began to
straggle back onto the ship. Most of them had gone in a bunch but, with
the exception of the two ordinary seaman, they came back singly. There
was much consternation on the dock when they began to return. The fiasco
of the myrmidons was completed; not only had they no other real purpose
than to keep alien seamen of an American-owned ship imprisoned on
board, but they hadn't even been able to do this job properly. As the
Latvian returned, one of the officials on the dock happened to notice
the alien nationality on the Latvian's Coast Guard pass. But what could
he do ? Nothing but let the Latvian back on the ship. The same
consternation was evident when each of the other aliens appeared, but
they were all allowed to come aboard without hindrance. All the men,
Americans and aliens, eventually got back within the six-hour limit set
by the,captain. So long as all had returned, the captain didn't attempt
to discipline the aliens whom he had warned not to go ashore, but he
warned the officers to watch the crew more carefully if a similar
situation should ever arise again. The captain couldn't very well
warn the bosun, whose duty it would normally be, to watch the others,
as the bosun had himself been one of the aliens who had gone ashore.
Some of the returned men went right to their bunks to sleep 


off their liquor. A number of others gathered in the messroom to talk of
their escapades. The Latvian A.B. maintained that the girl he had been
with was undoubtedly the best lay of any, but of course this statement
from a twenty-one-year-old boy was bitterly contradicted by the other
men. One of them wanted to know why, if she had been so good, the
Latvian said so much about the precautions he had taken to prevent
catching a dose. The Latvian immediately waxed eloquent on his theory
that a man couldn't take chances, and generously offered prophylactic
tubes to any of the other men who wanted them, saying that on, some
occasions they had been known to prove efficacious up to twelve hours.

The English A.B. was fighting drunk, but his belligerency was not
directed at any of the crewmen in particular, only at the United States
in general. Apparently the slow-moving people of Baltimore had got on
his nerves, and he denounced the casual attitude possessed by many
Americans toward the war which he, an Englishman, had come to think of
as a war of survival. The Yugoslav was drunk too, and in one of his
ultrasuspicious moods. He had gone ashore with his friends and
shipmates. Now that he was back on the Scapa Flow he announced that he
had tried to keep an eye on them all. According to him, he had only gone
ashore to see if any of his shipmates were going to act as finger men
for the Gestapo. The men had split up when they got into town, to go to
bars and whorehouses, and the Yugoslav took this breakup as a ruse to
prevent him from watching them all. Who, he wanted to know, had put the
finger on him? And - why, if the Gestapo meant to kill him in the end,
didn't they kill him now and get it over with? We soothed the man as
best we could and after some persuasion got him to go to his bunk to
sleep it off. One of the two boy ordinaries came into the messroom. He
was incoherently drunk and made little sense to us. He was bitter about
Chips; that was clear enough, but nothing else was. He seemed to be
trying to tell us something about Chips, and to warn us, but we could
not understand him well enough to get what it was all about. He was just
a kid, and we laughed at him for smelling the cork, and told him to bunk
down, which he did. The Brazilian A.B., meanwhile, had been wandering


in and out of the messroom. He had a look on his face that was a
combination of puzzlement and anger. The seamen asked him jovially from
time to time if he had had a good time ashore, but he didn't understand.

I translated the question into Spanish, and his reply indicated that he
had had a pretty unhappy' experience. He had walked about town by
himself, he said, looking at the sights. Eventually he had tried to
enter a bar to get a drink, and had been refused admittance. The first
time, he said, he thought it had only been a mistake, but he was refused
admittance at other bars as well. Finally he had found one at which he
could buy a drink without question. What did this all mean? I trans-
lated his remarks for the crew. His story was clear enough to us: he had
been Jim Crowed. His skin was very dark, and apparently he had been
taken for a Negro and refused admittance at several places. All of us
were indignant at such treatment, of course, but the Englishman was
furious in the extreme. He wasn't too drunk to point out what he called
the swinish attitude of Americans, who were eager to solve all the
world's problems, including the problem of India, before the slaves were
freed in the United States. The A.B. from the South, from Alabama, took
great offense at this, getting off the not wholly original theory that
the "nigger was all right when he kept his place," and adding that he
could understand and sympathize with the bartenders who had taken the
Brazilian helmsman for a Negro and refused to serve him. Alabama said he
wouldn't think of "taking a drink in the same joint with a nigger."
Alabama got plenty of opposition on this particular occasion. For the
most part, the men attacked him because they didn't like or trust him;
privately they said that he was sneaky and a dirty white--and that a
clean Negro was far superior to such a man. Moreover, there was
absolutely no comparison between Alabama and the Brazilian A.B., the
latter being the outright superior in every department of manhood and
seamanship. The Brazilian had meantime been pressing me for an ex-
planation of his treatment ashore, and I couldn't bear to tell him. I
quickly said in English to the others that I would tell him that his
treatment could be attributed only to the perversity of the people of
Baltimore, many of whom didn't like seamen, and that Baltimoreans could
recognize seamen at a glance. The crewmen 


agreed to keep the secret, and I thereupon translated these halftruths
into Spanish for the Brazilian. He accepted the explanation; although
he made a few generalities in vituperative Portuguese which could be
taken as insulting to Americans other than those of Baltimore. It was
here that the second of the boy ordinaries came into the messroom. This
ordinary was a roly-poly boy of nineteen and weighed a hundred and
seventy-five pounds although he was only about five feet six. He had
admitted to us once that he had been in the Navy; but he never would
tell us why he had been mustered out. This, of course, led to
speculation which ran all the way from a surmise that he had been
cashiered because he was overweight for his height to the guess that the
Navy had got rid of him for being a fairy. He was, it would seem,
inordinately interested in the delights of purchased love, even for a
drifting American kid of his age. One would have thought that his yen
for whores might have silenced the suspicion that he was a homosexual,
but the reasoning of the seamen could embrace this apparent
contradiction. Summed up, the argument ran like this: "He only talks
about women, doesn't he? We haven't seen him with any. And all fairies
talk about women; they talk too much while they're trying to cover up."
One would have thought, also, that the boy's sex life was his own
business so long as he didn't impose an aberration upon the others, but
a mystery to a seaman is more than normally intriguing. The confinement
of ship life causes most seamen to talk excessively about themselves,
and they leave few grounds for sinister speculation. On an important
subject in their pasts, they usually tell all or nothing. When, as in
the cases of this boy and Chips and the Yugoslav stoker, there is
something important mentioned and not explained in their pasts, the
other seamen do endless surmising. Upon his entrance into the messroom,
this ordinary, Blimp, was in a dreadfully confused state from a
combination of drink and emotion. His condition was far more pronounced
than that of his buddy who had gone to bunk down some time before. Blimp
was very near to crying, and his face showed that he had been crying
recently. "What the hell's the matter with you, Blimpy?" called one of
the men. 


Blimp rolled his eyes, which were badly bloodshot, but his answer wasn't
articulated clearly enough to be understood, We pressed him repeatedly
to tell us what the matter was, and he managed to stammer out something
about "Chips . . . that son of a bitch." "Sure he's a son of a bitch.

What's he been doing to you, Blimpy?" After some more stammering Blimp
got out that Chips had tried to make him. This caused violent cursing in
the room. "Did he get away with it, Blimpy ?" All of us, with the
exception of perhaps Alabama, were indignant at the boy's plight.

Alabama wanted to know, "Did you like it, Blimpy?" We couldn't
understand Blimp's reply. We never knew just what happened. The two boys
had gone to Chips's cabin upon their return to the ship from their time
ashore, and dutifully presented him with a quart of whisky. How long
they were in the cabin with him we didn't find out.

One of them left earlier than the other, as we had seen. And Blimp might
have stayed with Chips for an even longer time had not the bosun come
aboard and put in an appearance at the cabin, expressing a desire to
turn in. When it became plain that Blimp could tell us no more in his
addled condition, he was sent off to sleep, Of course the men were now
more anti-Chips than ever, and there was a wild resurgence of plans for
getting him thrown off the Scapa Flow. No concrete plan was agreed upon,
however; the men were too drunk for that. The Yugoslav said that he had
heard that the members of the Gestapo were all fairies, and the majority
of the crew said that they had suspected all along that Chips was fruit.

The next morning the Scapa Flow was coaled, A number of factors
prevented sentiment against Chips from crystallizing further. Perhaps
the chief reason was the behavior of Chips himself that day. 

The efficient coal chute on the dock had been put into oper- 

[ 60 ]

ation, and many of us had to go down into the Scapa Flow's bunkers to
trim the coal as it came in--undoubtedly one of the nastiest jobs in the
world. The coal bunkers are pockets built into the ship in which the
coal is stored for future use. Passageways lead from the bunkers into
the stokers' firing room. It is the job of the coal passers, while at
sea, to run coal in wheelbarrows from the bunkers to the boiler room,
thereby keeping a continuous supply of the fuel available to the stokers
for firing the boilers. During a coaling, however, the influx of the
coal into the bunkers from the dock chute is too great for the coal
passers to get it properly distributed into the bunkers. Other crewmen
have to go down to help with the trimming, which consists of shoveling
coal away from the central pile deposited by the chute, and throwing
this shoveled coal into the corners of the bunkers so that each bunker
will hold more. Chips proved to be a mighty man at this job. Perhaps he
realized that the crew had a greater hate for him than ever before,
and thought that by working hard he could show off his strength.

Undoubtedly he wanted to show off for the purpose of influencing the
officers as well, so there would be no more talk of putting him off the
ship for lying down on the job. He shoveled at least twice as much coal
that day as any other man. He was not only stronger and could keep the
shovels flying more steadily, but he also took the coal dust better. The
rest of us had. to come out of the bunkers from time to time to get a
breath of air, and, perversely, to fill our lungs with cigarette smoke.

But Chips stayed down in the bunkers all the time. We could not help but
appreciate the big carpenter's monumental job of coal heaving, and we
also paid tribute to his phenomenal ability to absorb the coal dust
while he was working below decks. This tribute was extended grudgingly,
and none of it came within Chips's earshot, but the tribute was paid
nonetheless. We admitted that his ability to withstand the coal dust
had no direct relation to his great physical strength, and that perhaps
Chips was not so much of a softy as his quailing during the
depth-charging had led us to believe. However, it was pointed out that
he undoubtedly was taking more coal dust than was necessary partly in
order to impress us, and that each 


of us could have put on a bette? show if we had been forced to.

Aside from discussion of Chips's beaverlike activity in the coal
bunkers, there was little disposition among the men to campaign for or
against anything that day. Many of them were fighting off the effects of
violent hangovers, and queasy stomachs and aching heads were made no
easier to bear by the added agonies of the coal dust.

Flathead had to help with the coal trimming, which he accepted
fatalistically enough until he found that the other two ordinaries, the
boys, were to be spared this work. Flathead protested that he ought
not to have to trim coal if the other ordinaries didn't, but he was
told to continue work and say nothing more. He subsided, but in poor
humor. The boy ordinaries were spared the trimming as an act of outright
charity by the first mate. He was sorry for them because of their youth
and their hangovers, and he ordered the bosun to furnish them with
brooms to sweep the deck. The boys spent most of the day leaning
against the broom handles and looking woeful. Blimp was questioned a
number of times about his relations with Chips on the previous night,
but the boy's defenses were up and he would say nothing against the
carpenter. He made a feeble attempt to maintain that he had been
kidding when he said that Chips had tried to make him. The other boy
said that so far as he knew Chips's behavior the night before had been
all right, and that he knew nothing about what was supposed to have hap-
pened to Blimp. There seemed nothing more to be done about Chips at that
time; his workmanlike attitude, added to our inability to make a homo
charge against him stick, were hardly negotiable points in asking the
captain for his dismissal. Fresh water was pumped aboard and, even
before we had finished trimming the coal, the captain gave orders to
unmoor the ship. Some of us were left to continue the trimming, and
Chips and a deck watch went forward. The Scapa Flow moved out into the
harbor and dropped anchor. That night mechanics completed a patchup job
on our refrigeration system and stated that it should work for the rest
of the voyage if the engineers used their heads. This was unwarranted

[ 62 ]

Chips played a prominent part in only one incident during the remainder
of the journey down the coast to Key West, Florida. This incident made
him even more awe-inspiring as a physical specimen, but it served to
mitigate slightly, though temporarily, our resentment against him. It
served also to increase the crystallizing resentment against the
captain. Fire broke out one day in the deck cargo which was sitting on
the well deck. This well deck, as the name might imply, forms an
indentation between the main deck and the foredeck on freighters of the
Scapa Flow's type. On its outgoing voyage the Scapa Flow did not have a
particularly heavy cargo, but much of it was of a bulky nature. Thus
when the holds were filled and the hatches covered, the ship would still
support additional weight in cargo, which was lashed to the well deck
and the main deck. Shore carpenters had erected wooden catwalks, so that
we could make our way fore and aft on the ship without being forced to
climb endlessly over the deck cargo. Several days out of Baltimore
someone noticed smoke coming from the cargo lashed to the well deck. The
fire came in the daytime and was quite small, and at first it did not
cause much apprehension. Tendrils of smoke no thicker than those from a
small campfire were all that could be seen. It seemed as if small hand
extinguishers should put it out easily. To be on the safe side, however,
the mate on the bridge gave the order for water on deck from the engine
room, while seamen went forward to fight the fire with extinguishers.
For a reason which was not rumored until later, the captain went into a
frenzy over this fire. He came out of his cabin, took his place on the
bridge, and bellowed at the men to hurry. He continued to exhort them to
speed despite the steady streams which were pouring into the base of the
smoke from half a dozen extinguishers. After three or four minutes it
became evident that no progress was being made; the smoke came out in
the same volume as before. Cries arose for water from the engine room,
and the captain telephoned another order to the engineer on watch to
pump water up to the well deck. I had forgotten 


which of the engineers was in the engine room at the time, but either a
lack of English or a general stupidity stymied him, for no water came on
the deck. The first mate had joined the fire fighters on the well deck,
and the men standing around to watch were quite disconcerted to see that
he too was in a wild state of excitement. He was an easy-going man, and
up to this time none of us had ever seen him excited. Although all of us
wanted to get the fire out, it was clearly quite small, and its source
was above the deck and not down in the hold. But the first mate's
excitement, added to that of the captain, soon infected us all. Most of
all it affected the giant carpenter. Up to this time Chips had not taken
any part in the actual fighting of the fire; there were only a few men
who could do that. Others would have been in the way. So Chips and some
of the rest of us had, on orders from the bosun, dragged a firehose onto
the well deck and connected it to the engine-room pipeline.

Still no water came on deck. The captain began to swear mightily, and
dispatched the deck cadet from the bridge on an errand to the engine
room. Such an errand would of necessity take at least five minutes more,
and it might be even longer before the engineer on watch could take in
the situation and start the water coming. In the meantime, the first
mate ordered us, so that we would have easier access to the fire, to
begin tearing away the wooden catwalk across the cargo on the well deck.
Dutifully, a number of us gathered together crowbars and fire axes and
began to pry and hack away rather ineffectually at the catwalk. Then,
without a word, Chips leaped into action. He swept two or three men
aside, knocking one of them over. He seized an end of a one-by-six board
on the catwalk, yanked it up with his bare hands and, still holding the
end of the board and heaving up, walked forward. He simply ripped the
catwalk apart. As each board came loose, he flung it aside without
regard to anyone who might be in the way, and started to rip loose
another. In not more than three minutes' time he had the catwalk torn
away and had exposed the deck cargo which had been underneath it.
Extinguishers were brought to bear again. The fire, probably caused by a
cigarette, was in a corner of a canvas 


tarpaulin, and once the fluid poured on it direcdy, the smoke stopped
abruptly. For a while all attention was on Chips. His physical display
had been greater than any of us could remember witnessing before, and
though the fire hadn't seemed very dangerous to us, still Chips hadn't
cowered at the thought of it, as he had during the first day of the
depth-charging. Alabama was the man who had been knocked over by Chips
during the big carpenter's assault on the catwalk. He was peeved at his
treatment, but he didn't appear vindictive. Although all of us who
commented on Chips at this time were careful to state that we still
hated his guts, there was a general disposition to believe that he might
not be a thorough coward after all, and that his behavior during the
depth-charging possibly was a temporary weakness which, we agreed
magnanimously, might happen to any man. Blimp did not say anything to
the big carpenter on this occasion, but the other boy who had helped to
buy the whisky for him was heard to exclaim, though a trifle
condescendingly, "Nice going, Chips!" None of the rest of us would go so
far as this, but some of the seamen shuffled their feet and muttered
sympathetically. Chips had not said a word during the entire time, nor
did he even smile after the fire was out. His face remained rigid
throughout; if he had any feelings in this matter he hid them
effectively. He surveyed the damaged catwalk for a moment, quite
triumphant in posture, and then turned to go aft. As we watched him, he
walked a few steps and then was caught directly in the midsection by a
spurt of water from the suddenly activated fire hose. Inevitably, water
had come from the engine room far too late. We did not laugh at Chips's
wetting, as we surely would have done had it happened to another man. He
did not deign to do anything about the whipping hose, and it was
captured by others. He shouted one violent oath (I suppose it was an
oath) in Egyptian, and continued his way aft. The captain telephoned to
the engine room, trying now to reverse previous orders, to get the water
stopped. It took just as long to get the water turned off as it had to
get it started. The hose meanwhile was held over the side, and the water
pumped overboard. The Brazilian A.B. ironically wet his hand in the flow
of the hose and tasted the water. His little charade was 

[ 65 ]

quite clear to us and didn't need to be augmented by comments which the
Brazilian couldn't make in English, He made a wry face; the water was
salty. All who saw him laughed. At least the engineer had pumped sea
water for the fire hose and had not wasted any of our precious fresh
water, as had been done once before.

Just about the time the water was turned off, and as we began to
dismantle the hose, Chips appeared again on the well deck. He was armed
with carpenter tools and, without orders, he fell to at once repairing
the catwalk. In an hour or so he had it shipshape, and the incident of
the fire seemed closed. In a few days the crew got hold of a story which
it accepted as an explanation of the great excitement the captain and
the first mate had betrayed during the fire. It was one of those round-
about pantry rumors so common on shipboard. The first mate was
understood to have said to the second mate (or was it the third mate?)
who in turn told the bosun, who let it out to one of the crewmen ....
The story was that there was a considerable quantity of high explosives
stored in Number One hold--that is, just under the well deck. The well
deck was just outside the fo'c'sle, within a few feet of the place where
we ate, slept, and sat around off watch--where, in short, we spent most
of our time. This was a terrible place to store explosives. It meant
that in case of an explosion we would all most certainly be killed,
though the officers and gunners amidships and aft would be safe at least
from the explosion. Explosives should be stowed nearer the center of the
ship; they are no safer there from a torpedo, perhaps, but they might
not be detonated by a mine or by a head-on collision with another ship,
as they almost certainly would be if stowed under the well deck. We
concluded from the story that the captain and the first mate had been
afraid the fire might ignite the explosives and blow up the entire
forepart of the ship. If the story was true, there certainly was reason
enough for their excitement. But I don't know if the story was true.
When the ship was unloaded, in West Africa, the crew was allowed ashore
during the unloading of Number One hold; sudden shore leave intrigued
us all, and no one stopped to watch the hatch being opened in an effort
to check up on the story about the explosives. 


Although we knew that we had a general cargo on the ship, and that much
of it was composed of war materials, we did not know the specific
details of the cargo, and indeed they were none of our business. When we
heard the rumor about the explosives we were upset, but there was
nothing we could do, nor did we have any desire to do anything. The
officers wouldn't tell us what was under the Number One hatch cover, and
the cargo couldn't very well be shifted in any case. So we confined
ourselves to reviling the captain and to telling each other that it was
just like him to have the explosives (it was taken for granted that
there were explosives, and of the most volatile sort) stored near us to
make for greater personal safety for himself, and to hell with what
might happen to us and the ship. As time went on we tended to forget
about this particular rumor, but there was, rightly or wrongly, a
residue of resentment against the captain which was never eliminated.
All of his subsequent actions were interpreted in the worst possible
light, a state of affairs which made for serious trouble with him
several months later. 


There was intermittent depth-charging all the way to Florida; the little
naval escort boats shook their convoyed ships with depth charges in
sudden flurries of activity which sometimes lasted for several hours.
But we never saw any submarines, and none of the ships was attacked in
the various coastal convoys in which the Scapa Flow traveled. Somewhere
during the trip down to Florida, the refrigeration system began to give
trouble again, and the efforts of the engineers to fix it only caused
it to stop altogether. This was a more serious situation than it might
seem at first glance. A trip the length of the one being undertaken by
the Scapa Flow may last six months or even longer, and provisions are
not always readily obtainable in Africa. Meat and vegetables on the ship
had to be kept cold without a break of even a few days or they would
spoil, and it might be impossible to replace them. Trouble over food can
hamper the operation of a ship as badly as, say, the break down of the
steering apparatus. The food in the refrigeration rooms was rapidly


warmer, and the cooling system was still out of order when the Scapa
Flow reached Key West, Florida. We had to wait here in any case, and the
captain decided to get shore mechanics to come out to fix up the
refrigeration again. This time there was no chance at all of shore leave
for the crew, either aliens or Americans. Along with hundreds of other
ships, flying a dozen different flags, the Scapa Flow was anchored miles
offshore. The mechanics who came out to the ship said we were miles from
Key West. We could barely see the strip of keys, which were nearer.

Because of the repair work, we had to wait more than a week. The delay
was excruciating to us all but was not untypical of ship operation in
wartime. I had read columns and articles written by war analysts
(notably those who pleaded unceasingly for a second front to save Soviet
Russia), who calculated glibly the amount of time it should take for
ships to make round trips across the Atlantic. These analysts
manufactured evidence to prove that we had plenty of shipping to make a
second European front even in 1942. The times they allowed vary
considerably, but they are inevitably far too short. Most of them
estimated that it should take between a month and six weeks for a round
trip of the Atlantic. Well, the Scapa Flow required nearly a month just
to get down the eastern coast from New York to Florida, and was delayed
only once, for a couple of days, by a mechanical breakdown. All the
rest of the delay was caused by convoy schedules and the inability of
the United States Navy to safeguard a convoy lane along the coast. There
are always delays in waiting for convoys, delays in traveling in convoy,
and finally delays because of the lack of dock facilities in the many
primitive ports which must be utilized on the other side. The Scapa Flow
would have required five months to complete her trip even had she
survived. She was less than halfway back to the States when she was
sunk, and four months already elapsed.

A few minutes after the Scapa Flow dropped anchor in Key West, a young
Navy ensign boarded the ship from one of the many Coast Guard launches
which were speeding about. The ensign asked blandly, as he came up over
the side, "Is this a tanker?" The first mate smiled and answered "No"
while the seamen 


lined at the rail roared with laughter at this Navy man who knew so
little about the sea that he needed to ask such a question. The ensign
was somewhat taken aback by the knowledge that this
twenty-eight-year-old freighter was not a tanker, but he said that he
had better see the captain anyway. What he wanted to talk to the captain
about he did not say. Perhaps he wanted to enlist the captain's aid in
preventing the crew of the Scapa Flow from howling "taxi" at the
launches of the Coast Guard, as the seamen of the ships anchored around
us were doing. During its stay in Key West, the Scapa Flow was visited
several times each day by naval officers whose questions and
instructions invariably caused the first mate to swear violently but
resignedly, as he had to leave important deck work to convoy them about
the Scapa Flow, thereby safeguarding them from the gibes of the crewmen.
Mechanics from ashore came daily to work on the refrigeration system and
were pressed into service to repack one of the ship's pumps. The Belgian
chief engineer tried to speed up the work by ordering his assistants to
dismantle the pump before the mechanics started to work on it, and in
doing this the assistants broke it. The shore mechanics waxed sarcastic,
in the American workman's way, over the engineer assistants'
mismanagement of the refrigeration system; and the breaking of the pump
only gave their sarcasm more scope. The chief engineer joined with the
mechanics in poking fun at his assistants, which caused them, the
Egyptian fourth in particular, to protest to the captain. The captain
saw fit to admonish the old Belgian, and this provoked a first-class
quarrel. Its outcome saw the chief packing his bags. When it became
evident to the men on board that the Belgian was either being fired or
quitting, the aliens started agitating immediately to pay off the ship.
This movement was particularly strong among the Egyptians, who were
going to lose one of their number in Key West anyway--a stoker who had
been licked by a tongue of flame from his furnace during the journey
down the mast. He was burned so badly that he could not possibly work
for at least a month, and the captain had to get rid of him.

It was said by the more legalistically minded seamen that if the captain
could get rid of men for his reasons, the men should be able to quit if
they wanted to. The captain handled the unrest

[ 69 ]

quite cleverly. He said that he would try to get replacements in Key
West for any men who wanted to quit, and took a list of the crewmen who
wanted to pay off the ship, a list of about a dozen names. The Coast
Guard taxied the captain to shore, accompanied by the burned stoker and
the Belgian chief engineer. The next night the captain returned with a
Norwegian chief engineer who had been flown down from New York, and an
Irish stoker who had been on the beach in the South (I think in
Louisiana) and rushed to Key West. The captain declared these were the
only men he had been able to get hold of. He promised to try to get more
men, but no other replacements were found. The carpenter had been
behaving himself pretty well, and his action during the fire on the
well deck had got him back in the favor of the officers. Chips had no
desire to leave the ship. Agitation against him had fallen off, and it
seemed he would be able to complete the trip on the Scapa Flow. The
mechanics were going to and from Key West every day during their term of
work aboard the Scapa Flow. Chips enlisted their aid in doing a bit of
bootlegging for him. Some whisky was smuggled aboard one day, and
Chips's resulting drunk got him into the worst scrape yet with the other
members of the crew. On the night of Chips's drunk, we learned that he
was drinking from several of his countrymen, who came to the fo'c'sle
thirstily denouncing him for refusing whisky to them. The bosun appeared
later to say that Chips apparently was embarking on a solitary drunk,
and seemed desirous of bothering no one. But the bosun didn't want to
sleep in the cabin with him just the same. Most of us were sleeping on
the foredeck those hot summer nights, and we went to sleep without
encountering Chips in any way. About four in the morning men began
quietly to wake one another with the whispered information that Chips
was lying between two of the men. These men were the ordinary seaman,
Blimp, and one of the South Chicago coal passers, also a boy under
twenty-one. Soon all the twenty-odd men on the foredeck were awake and
raised on elbows off their mattresses, watching the carpenter. The first
spoken words were from the coal passer, who told Chips vigorously,
"Don't ---- around!" 


"Me good friend," came thickly from Chips. "Friend my ass," said the
coal passer, who got up and started to drag his mattress away. In the
bright moonlight I could see Chips put up a restraining hand, but the
coal passer was too quick. He dragged the mattress about ten feet away.
Still none of us said or did anything. We watched Chips as he now
transferred his attentions to the luckless Blimp. He put one of his big
hands under Blimp's blanket. "Aw, come on, Chips," came the plaintive
wail from Blimp, "take your hand off my ---- ."

The crewmen started to mutter, but still no words were spoken and
nothing was done. Chips put his other arm around Blimp's shoulders and
held the boy tight. Blimp began to whimper. The Egyptian oiler called
over to Chips in his own language, and, though the big carpenter grunted
belligerently, he released Blimp temporarily. Then he began to talk, in
what he probably thought was dreamy love talk, and in English.
"Beaut'ful sky," he said. "Moon." Blimp had been squirming away, but
Chips put out a hand and held him, and with the other pointed upward,
saying again: "Moon." "Come on, Chips," said Blimp. "Go back to your
cabin." "Moon. Wind blow." Blimp struggled away and got to his feet. Up
until this time, except for occasional muttering and the few words from
the Egyptian oiler, there had been no comment or action from the other
members of the crew. Not even laughter had been proyoked by Chips's
dialogue. We were too much afraid of him. But when Blimp got to his feet
a dozen other men did also, and some of them held weapons at their
sides, mostly knives. One of the American oilers, the ex-convict from
Pennsylvania, brandished his six-battery-long flashlight. Blimp
retreated to the rail, and Chips stumbled, after him, still mumbling
about the wind, the moon, and the sky. The Egyptian oiler spoke to Chips
again. Chips turned stupidly and looked at the oiler, and then waved his
hands in a gesture designed to show that his intentions were peaceful.
The Egyptian oiler spoke up once more. Chips now ,answered
belligerently. Here the Pennsylvania ex-convict stepped in. He was a
little man, with a foppish mustache and a loud voice. The other men 


often laughed at him as being a loudmouth, but he was now doing what no
one else had offered to do. He walked over to Chips and began to talk
reasonably to him. "You're drunk, Chips," he said softly, his long
flashlight held straight down at his side. "Get back to your cabin. We
want to get some sleep."

"No do not'ing," said Chips defensively. "Let's go, Chips," Pennsylvania
went on. "Get back to your cabin." By this time there were a dozen of us
standing beside the Pennsylvania oiler, backing him up. Chips looked
along the row  of us, grumbling and waving his arms. "No do not'ing,"
he said, "Sky." But he retreated. He turned and weaved toward the
companionway which led down to the well deck. The Egyptian oiler
called after him in Egyptian, and Chips went back amidships to his
cabin, There was little more sleep on the foredeck. We discussed Chips
for several hours. We agreed that he had proved to all that he was
fruit, and that he couldn't possibly stay on the ship. We also agreed to
demand that the captain throw Chips off the ship while we were still
here at Key West. Around breakfast time several crewmen spoke to the
first mate, describing the night's incident on the foredeck, and saying
that the crew wouldn't be responsible for what might happen to Chips if
he stayed on the ship. The first mate was outraged by Chips's conduct
and said he would see the captain about the matter immediately. An hour
or so later the captain came up to the fo'c'sle to confront the crew.
"I understand Chips has been giving more trouble," he said. The crewmen
nodded. "Well," said the captain, "I'm going to log him two-for-one for
the drunk, and warn him to keep away from you men and confine himself
amidships when he isn't on watch."

"We think he should be put off the ship," said Pennsylvania. Other men
voiced agreement. "So do I," said the captain. "But I can't get him off
now. It's too late. We're sailing." 


We looked at one another and grumbled, but the captain faced us down.
There was no organized opposition. Chips would confinue as carpenter on
the ship. 


The Scapa Flow left Key West in a convoy bound for Trinidad. This was
about a ten-day journey, and the escorts for this leg were all British.
They had good detector devices, which the American naval escorts had not
had. The British method of guarding was the exact opposite of that used
by the Americans. The British corvettes went almost out of sight ahead,
abreast, and astern of the convoy, and patrolled. They attempted to
anticipate an attack on the convoy. They did occasional depth-charging,
but much less than the Americans had done, and their greater distance
from the merchant ships in the convoy made the explosions of the depth
charges less dangerous to the plates of the freighters and tankers. The
convoyed ships now had to travel during the night as well as the day;
there were no ports to duck into overnight. The run to Trinidad was made
without pause. The convoy made only about seven knots. The thirty-odd
ships could perhaps have made another three knots-even the Scapa Flow
could make ten--but we were held back by a little old Greek. It was the
last in the middle line of ships and had a terrible time making even the
seven knots. Heavy black coal smoke poured from its stack. Occasionally
the ship would put on a slight burst of speed, owing perhaps to perfect
fires in her furnaces. The Greek's captain would let her run as fast as
she could during the burst of speed, getting as much distance as he
could out of the burst, and the Greek would forge into the middle of the
convoy, getting out of line and passing other ships. The first time she
did this, the flagship of the convoy, a beautiful Dutch tanker, gave a
flag order for an increase of speed of about two knots. But by the time
the ships had all increased speed the Greek's spurt was over and she now
dropped astern almost out of sight. The commodore on the flagship
ordered a slowdown, and the Greek, after several hours, managed to catch
up to the convoy again. From time to time she would put on another


spurt and creep up on the other ships, but she was allowed to come up
into the convoy at will, and the other ships continued at about seven
knots. Each time the little Greek ship put on a burst of speed there
would be the same jokes passed about the Scapa Flow. All revolved about
the Greeks' alleged vice of sodomy, and when the Greek ship came closer
on one of its spurts the crewmen said that the convoy was about to be
buggered again, The men on the Scapa Flow were forever saying to each
other that our captain should enter negotiations with the captain of the
Greek ship, to bring about a transfer of Chips. The men said Chips would
surely be more at home on the Greek. No one, however, ventured to make
this suggestion to Chips himself, Chips rook his two-for-one logging
rather badly. His logging meant that his drunk was entered on the ship's
log, and that two days' pay would be stopped out of his wages. He
protested to his fellow countrymen, who passed his protest along to us.
We were highly satisfied. The carpenter went moodily about the ship for
the next couple of days. But during that time he behaved himself, About
three days out of Trinidad he began to make trouble again. Alabama was
helping him one day with some carpentering, and Chips seized this
opportunity to boss Alabama around. Alabama wouldn't take the bossing
and protested to the first mate. The mate considered the problem for
some time--technically Chips had the right to boss any crew member who
actually was helping on a specific job--but finally agreed to release
Alabama from this particular duty. Chips then protested, too, saying
that he had to have help. The first mate told him that no one could work
with him. "What matter," sneered Chips, "fraid?" He got no answer from
the mate except to get on about his work--alone. Chips now sneered
openly at all the members of the crew, and the crew members took it.
They would not speak to him, and tried to disregard his remarks,
refusing even to look at him. I passed him one evening while I was
carrying a book. "Read too much, 'fessor," said Chips. "Go crazy." I
didn't answer.


Whenever he would pass me after this he would repeat his contention that
I read too much and that my sanity would suffer thereby. He had a pet
line for each of a number of the men. He would tell Great Lakes that he
was a weakling because of Great Lakes's refusal to fight him. Great
Lakes was admonished constantly to "Eat food. Grow." The Pennsylvania
oiler was told that his flashlight was longer than his ---- , and that it
always would be. Chips kept this up for several days, though he never
got an answer from the men.

He stayed away from the fo'c'sle during the rest of the voyage to
Trinidad, and so escaped any direct trouble for a time with the men up
forward. But he now got into trouble with the gunners. He ate with
these Navy men, and they hated his presence.

At first they only resented him because of his table manners and his
talk, but they began to oppose him actively when he commenced to make
passes at them. He would grab hold of these boys and run his hands over
them while they struggled helplessly. Once he held two of them together,
squeezing hard with his tremendous arms and making them howl with pain.

His worst and culminating offense was when he grabbed one of the Navy
boys and planted slobbering kisses all over his face. The boys for the
first time protested to their lieutenant, and the lieutenant got into a
huddle with the captain. Chips was called on the carpet again and told
that he must continue to eat with the gunners but that he wasn't to lay
a hand on them in the future, or even to talk to them. Chips was now in
Coventry, except so far as the Egyptians were concerned: they were the
only ones who would talk to him or recognize him with so much as a nod.

Chips stopped gibing at the members of the crew, and walked about
continually with an absolutely set face. His appearance was now most
forbidding. His Egyptian hatchet face with its great scar and his
tremendous body put all of us in actual terror of what he might do.

The men now began to admit to each other that they were in great fear of
him during the night. The ship traveled absolutely blacked out, of
course, and the men had to feel their way along the deck at night during
the change of watches. Many of the men had to pass the cabin amidships
which was shared by the 


bosun and the carpenter. It was easily possible for Chips to lie in wait
for one or any number of us during the darkest part of some night, and
toss us over the side. There would be no witnesses; it would be a pretty
safe thing for him to do, as it would have been hard for any of us to
wrestle free once he got a firm grip. Whenever possible the men took
to going by Chips's cabin in convoys of twos and threes. But this was
not always possible; often a man's duties forced him to the cabin alone
during the course of the night. The plight of the bosun excited the
sympathy of all of us. He had to live with Chips. The Estonian would
laugh shortly through his bad teeth when we asked him how he was getting
along, and then would declare sarcastically that he thought he was doing
all right. He maintained that he too kept Chips in Coventry. This was
pretty risky for the bosun, but I believe that he was telling the truth.
We now agreed that we didn't see how we could stand a whole voyage with
such a man as Chips, on board. Worry over the U-boats was bad enough. To
be afraid that you might be murdered by one of your shipmates was too
much. The crew members continually exhorted one another to do
something about Chips when we got to Trinidad, but the inertia of the
men was great, and they could not get together for a protest to the cap-
tain. Chips had obeyed orders and had not repeated any of his past
offenses. He did not try to order crew members around; he kept out of
the fo'c'sle; he did not make passes at the Navy men or speak to them.
Chips needed to make only one more break to bring the crew's rebellion
to a head, and he obligingly made not one, but two, the night before we
reached Trinidad. I was involved in the first incident, which was caused
by my habit of reading at night. After we left Key West I found it
difficult to find a place to read after the day's work. The messroom,
hitherto my reading room, was not satisfactory now. On leaving Key West,
dim blue lights were placed in this room, which didn't supply enough
light for comfortable reading, although there was enough light for the
other men to play cards. In addition, the door leading from the
messroom to the well deck was equipped with a safety switch which cut
off the lights when- 


ever the door was opened, a safeguard against showing even a dim blue
light to a U-boat. No lights at all were allowed in the bunkrooms, so
finding a place to read was quite a problem. I found a cool, quiet place
at the end of the propeller shaft tunnel, many feet below the surface.
To get to this haven I descended into the engine room, then entered the
tunnel along which the propeller drive shaft ran to the stern, and
walked about seventy-five feet down to the end of the tunnel. Here there
was a light, a big naked glaring white bulb, placed there for the
guidance of the oiler, who once every couple of hours came along the
tunnel to grease the supports of the propeller shaft. Even on summer
nights near the equator it was cool at the end of this tunnel. The hot
engine room was a good distance away, and the coolness of the water at a
thirty-foot depth helped to keep my reading spot comfortable. In
addition, a ventilator from the stern part of the main deck ran down
into the ship and terminated just over me, and a continual stream of
fresh air blew down fifty feet or so onto my head. This spot was ideal
for reading, except for the danger factor, and I repaired there for a
few hours almost every evening. If a torpedo had struck the ship while I
was down there, the survivors of the sinking doubtless would have
characterized me, in the past tense, as having been not quite bright. I
realized that there Was a large measure of foolhardiness in the choice
of such a place, but apart from this spot at the end of the shaft tunnel
I had found no other place to read, and day after day of the life on the
Scapa Flow had made book nourishment so desirable as to outweigh the
risk involved. Chips knew of my habit of going below to read. Before he
stopped talking to the members of the crew he had occasionally snorted
in pretended disgust as I passed his cabin in the evening, bound for the
propeller shaft. He had suggested once that this habit showed that
reading had finally overcome my store of good sense, an opinion which,
incidentally, found Chips for once sharing an attitude with other
members of the crew. But now, as the ship approached Trinidad, Chips
wasn't speaking to anyone, and the evenings that he was outside his
cabin as I hurried past with a book we pretended not to see each other.
About ten o'clock the night before we were scheduled to reach 


Port-of-Spain in Trinidad, I was at my reading spot when approximately a
cupful of water cascaded down on my head from the end of the ventilator
above me. Instantly I suspected Chips of this practical joke. He could
have done it easily by taking a stroll down the main deck to the stern,
equipped with a cup or glass of water. He knew that I would be seated
under the vent and therefore would be an excellent target. I accused him
later of this trick, and he didn't deny it. His other actions on this
night make me realize that I was fortunate in getting only water on my
head: he might easily have pried off the wire screen on the vent and
sent, say, a wrench down on me.

After the dousing I did nothing but shift my camp stool to one side a
few feet. This deprived me of some of the cool air from the ventilator
but made me safe from anything else that Chips might drop. I struggled
inwardly about Chips for a few minutes, trying to decide what I would do
when next I saw him. I finally decided to do nothing and might easily
have dispensed with the inward struggle. I had been reading again for
about half an hour when the lights went out in the engine room and shaft
tunnel I started to my feet in the pitch blackness, my book falling off
my lap onto the floor. "This is it!" I said aloud. Convinced that we had
been torpedoed, even though I had felt no shock, I began to feel my way
along the shaft tunnel toward the engine room. It wasn't easy going. The
night was somewhat rough, and it is much harder to maintain your bal-
ance on shipboard when you can't see where you are going. I had
progressed some thirty feet or so toward the engine room when I
remembered I had matches in my pocket. I was quite cheered by this
recollection, and while feeling for them I thought how they would help
when I reached the engine room, with its labyrinth of dynamos,
batteries, pipelines and ladders. I struck a match. While the sulphur
was still flaring, I heard a terrific scream not more than a couple of
feet away. Oddly enough, I didn't drop the match. When the flame
steadied as much as my shaking hand would permit, I could see and hear
Chips roaring with laughter at my side. I have never been so frightened.
Chips had come down into 

[ 78 ]

the engine room and prevailed upon the oiler on watch, an Egyptian, to
turn off all the lights. The engineer assistant on watch was the
Portuguese. At first he didn't know what was going on, as he hadn't
understood' the Egyptians' explanation of the practical joke to be
played on me. Later he was furious, as the offense of turning off the
lights was a grave one under the wartime circumstances. Chips had
started down the tunnel as soon as the lights went out, and had made
more distance in the dark than I had by the time we met. After Chips's
scream, the oiler back in the engine room turned on the lights. Now that
the practical joke was over, my terror began to change to fury, and in a
few moments I was shaking as badly from rage as I had been from fright.
I got out into the engine room, with Chips following, and found the
third assistant bawling out the Egyptian oiler in fluent Portuguese. The
oiler turned to me, of all people, to ask me to explain to the engineer
that the whole thing had been nothing but a joke. My rage had not addled
me so badly that I was not able to see that the oiler was equally guilty
with Chips, and, as he was much the smaller man, I wisely decided to
vent my rage on him. I drew back my fist, and Chips grabbed it from
behind. He swung me round and tried laughingly to reason with me. He was
holding one of my arms, and, as I could not get it free, I foolishly
doubled up my other fist and tried to impress him with it. Chips's
laughing stopped instantly. He used his free hand to grab me by the
shirt collar and hold me at arm's length, and immediately began to
shove me toward the moving parts of the engine. It was plain that he
planned to heave me against one of the pistons. Both the engineer and
the oiler shouted in alarm, but Chips kept on. The engineer then ducked
out of eyeshot; he said afterward that he was going for a wrench with
which to hit Chips. The oiler just shouted. I tried to struggle away
from Chips but couldn't. He had me against the engine rail when I got
one foot behind his and kicked. This upset his balance slightly, and I
was able to get away. I kept at a distance from him for several seconds,
meanwhile making extremely bellicose threats, telling him that he had
now gone too far, and that someone had to try to take him down a peg,
etc. These sentiments were perhaps admirable, but even then I had no
desire to try to put them 


into practice--at least not at that moment. I told him, somewhat weakly,
that I would see him later, and started up the engine-room ladders to
the deck. It now seemed clear to me that, however great my natural
fear of the big Egyptian, his offense could not be allowed to pass
without some sort of physical remonstrance.  I was walking forward
along the dark main deck, trying to think out a plan of procedure, when
outside one of the cabins amidships I ran into a group consisting of one
of the mates and three messmen. One man wanted to know why I wasn't
reading. In a violently agitated manner I began to tell them my story.
All of them were commendably indignant. "Better keep out of his way,"
was the advice of the saloon messman. "We ought to string the mother
----er up by his ----- ," said Red, who could be expected to be unusually
sympathetic to me as he had to wait on the carpenter at table. I was
still so nervous and distracted that I shook out a cigarette, had it in
my mouth, and was looking for a match before my intention became obvious
to any of the group. The deck was nearly dark but there was still enough
light for them to see what I was doing, and Georgie, the saloon
messman, ran and put his arms around me. "Won't help nothin' to get us
all shot, Professor," he cautioned as he held my arms captive. "The
Captain's got an itchy finger." This was true: the captain had warned us
repeatedly that he would shoot anyone who showed a light on deck. I gave
up the idea of a cigarette. By now I had figured out what I would try
to do. I went to the first mate's cabin. It was empty. By asking, I
learned that he probably was playing cards with the Navy lieutenant in
the lieutenant's cabin above. This cabin was just across a corridor from
the captain's, two decks above, and I found the first mate and the
lieutenant there. I told them what had happened in the engine room, and
both were indignant, though for somewhat different reasons. Both agreed
that Chips's trick was a pretty slimy one, but the mate was particularly
outraged at the breach of discipline which had allowed the lights to be
turned off; even momentarily, in the engine room. He promised an


time for the engineer, although I smoothed him down a bit by explaining
that the Portuguese hadn't really known what was going on. As for Chips,
the mate had no advice except that which had been given often beťore,
that I should keep away from him. "None of us could stand up to him in a
fight, Skattebol," said the mate. "It doesn't do much good for you men
in the crew to tell me about what he's done. I want to get him off the
ship as much as you do. You know that." "I didn't come up here just to
squawk about Chips," I said. "You say to keep away from him. I've been
doing that, and it doesn't do any good. I want you to set out a ring on
Number Three hatch cover tomorrow, and to referee a fight between Chips
and me. The gunners have gloves on board. It can all be done properly if
you'll cooperate." "You haven't a chance against him, Skattebol," said
the mate.

"You're not making sense."

He may have been right, but at the time I thought I was making a great
deal of sense, and I outlined what I thought were the virtues of my
idea. By getting Chips into a refereed fight, I contended, I would be
able to win in some way. It might be, through some extremely remote
chance, that I could get in a couple of good socks, although I could
hardly hope to lick him.

But, more likely, he would hit me a few whacks, and the first mate and
the members of the crew would see to it that I wasn't hurt too badly.
"If they see that one man will stand up to him," I argued, "they'll gang
up on him actively and maybe he won't bother us any more." Win or lose,
I would come out of it all right.

The lieutenant was in favor of the plan. "That carpenter isn't doing my
boys any good," he said. "They're afraid he'll do something to one of
them any time. He's ruining all their meals. He's not talking to them
now, but they say this makes it even worse than before, because they
find it hard to be natural among themselves with Chips sitting at the
table. It'll do my boys good," he concluded, "to see Chips taken down."
The first mate thought for a while. "Okay," he said eventually, "I'll
talk to the Old Man and see what he thinks. Right now you go forward."


My conversations amidships had taken probably the better part of an
hour. I thought as I went forward that I would have something of
overpowering interest to tell the crew. But my tale was to prove
something of an anticlimax. The men in the fo'c'sle were already greatly
exercised about something else. Chips had attacked still another man
that night, Johnny, the love-letter-writing Portuguese fireman. Johnny
had been on deck, dumping ashes, Every watch, ashes had to be taken at
least once from the grates under the fires of the boilers. They were
first thrown onto the floor of the engine room and doused with sea water
by the coal passer. As soon as they had cooled sufficiently to be
handled conveniently, they were hoisted up on deck by means of a
windlass and buckets. The ash bucket went through a ventilator that ran
up fifty feet or so to the main deck. One of the black gang, usually a
fireman, pulled the buckets through a hole in the side of the ventilator
and emptied them into a chute which dumped them over the side. Johnny
had been leaning into the hole in the ventilator, shouting
instructions down into the engine room, when he felt himself grabbed
by the back of the neck and the crotch. It was Chips. The carpenter
tried to force him into the ventilator, which would have meant a fall to
the engine-room floor and almost certain death. I don't see how Johnny
got away, but he did. Then he brought out a knife and made an arc at
Chips with it. He didn't cut him, but Chips, possibly remembering his
knifing in New York, retreated to his cabin at the sight of the knife,
Johnny had come forward, arriving just before I did. Instead of wanting
to hear my story, the crew eagerly pressed me into translating Johnny's.
The Yugoslav, who knew some Spanish, had been doing the translating into
English thus far, but his translation was unsatisfactory as it was
freely interspersed with tangential observations about the Gestapo. So,
with my nerves in such a state that it was just barely possible for me
to think in English, and frustrated in my desire to tell my own story, I
had to translate Johnny's jittery Portuguese into English by using my
not too good Spanish. The boys who believed in the knife began to form
ranks. The Portuguese made a heretofore utopian united front with their


enemies, the Brazilians, and this group announced vigorously that they
would knife Chips to death if he came close to them. I now told, in two
languages, what had happened to me, and at last the crew agreed
unanimously that something had to be done at once about Chips. I
outlined my plan for fighting Chips the next morning. It was agreed that
this was an idea worth considering, but meanwhile the night was young,
and none of us wanted to leave the problem in abeyance for any time at
all. There were watches to be changed during the rest of the night, and
we didn't want to be wandering around the decks with Chips in an
obviously murderous mood. We were to reach Trinidad the next day, and we
wanted to tell the officers tonight that Chips had to leave the ship
there, or else. We had a long discussion about just how far we could go
in threatening the officers and the captain. It was wartime, and we
wanted to avoid any action that might be interpreted as mutiny. But
eventually we decided that even a charge of mutiny was not so bad as
having to continue to sail with a man like Chips. So we agreed, all of
us, to tell the first mate that either Chips left the ship at Trinidad
or we would refuse to stand watches and move the ship out of
Port-of-Spain, once we got there. Fourteen men formed a delegation to
call on the first mate, and I was chosen as spokesman. We decided to let
the mate relay our ultimatum to the captain. It is interesting that even
in our belligerent mood at this time we seized at a poor rationalization
which enabled us to protest to the first mate, whom we liked, rather
than to the captain, whom we didn't. The captain kept tough hours. He
was always on the bridge during the dawn and twilight hours, the most
dangerous ones for submarine attacks, or so he thought, and he took cat
naps in the daytime and late at night. We agreed that there was no use
in waking him up with our protest, that he could find out about it
through the first mate just as well. In retrospect, this consideration
for the captain's sleep is comical, but it didn't seem so at the time to
any of us. The truth is, of course, that we were still awed by the
captain; he had buffaloed us before, and though no one would admit it,
we all were secretly afraid that he would be able to do it again. A time
was to come when we were to defy him to his face, but it came much


So the delegation went to see the first mate. There were two ways to get
to the lieutenant's cabin, where the first mate was: we could go up a
gangway which was just outside Chips's cabin, or another one which was
outside the messmen's cabin, on the other side of the ship. Oddly, we
all went, without any discussion, right by Chips's cabin and up the
gangway. Chips was seated on his doorstep as we passed, and looked
amazed as he saw the number of men go by him and file up the gangway to
the higher decks. He went into the cabin and closed the door. The bosun
had been asleep all this time; he was a shaken man the next day when he
heard what his cabinmate had been doing the night before. The first mate
was more reasonable than we had expected--far more reasonable. He
didn't object to our ultimatum at all; he told us that he would add his
protest to our own when he told the Old Man what Chips had been doing,
"No one on the ship wants to sail any more with Chips," he said. "I'11
make that clear." "And you'll see the captain about the fight on the
hatch cover?" I prompted, "I will." We shuffled about hesitantly for a
few moments and then dispersed. The rest of the men went up forward to
the fo'c'sle, after agreeing wholeheartedly with the Yugoslav that
everyone would have to keep an eye on Chips for the rest of the night, I
was about to follow them when I thought of my book down in the shaft
tunnel. I had absolutely no desire to spend any more time down there
that evening, but I decided to go and get the book just the same. It
would have been safe; nobody would have stolen it. I suppose it was
merely personal bravado that sent me down after it, but at any rate I
went. I was met in the engine room by the Egyptian oiler. Through the
men in the boiler room he had heard what had happened to Johnny, and he
had also got an inkling of the protest that had formed in the fo'c'sle
over Chips. He was in terror lest he be linked with the carpenter in the
offense in the engine room. The oiler's first words were: "Me no like
Chips. Egyptians no like Chips. Make trouble." Even the racial front was
cracking, The oiler had taken my book from where it had fallen from 


my lap and brought it out into the engine room. He now got it from a
tool locker. He rubbed the cover of the book with a piece of waste, as
if to remove some oil. "Is okay," he said appealingly, as he handed the
book to me. I didn't sleep at all during the remainder of that night,
nor did many of the other crewmen. Even the Egyptians were uneasy, and
criticized Chips at every opportunity. Although the crewmen didn't
exacdy huddle together in the fo'c'sle messroom and on the foredeck,
they didn't wander far from each other. And during the change of
watches, processions of men, rather than solitary ones, went fore and
aft on the ship. Chips, however, gave no trouble at all. Doubtless he
was sleeping calmly. My own most pressing worry was over my proposal for
a fight with Chips the next day. My feelings must have been similar to
those of a man with weak eyes who is going to fight a pistol duel with a
marksman. Of course, to carry out the parallel, in my dud I could obtain
what comfort there might be from the knowledge that if Chips hit me too
dangerously my shipmates would riddle him with bullets shortly
afterward. Nevertheless, the more I thought about the fight the more
preposterous it seemed to me. I had been in fights before, and been
painfully thrashed in more than half of them. But my opponent had never
been anyone so gross as this Egyptian carpenter. I weighed a hundred and
fifty and was five feet ten. Chips weighed nearly three hundred pounds
and was six and a half feet tall. My shipmates were divided in their
advice. Some of them attempted to rally me with the thought that as soon
as I went down they would beat hell out of the carpenter with iron pipes
and marlin spikes. But many others thought the idea of the fight was
silly in the first place. Why bother to fight such a man, particularly
as we were now determined to throw him off the ship ? Why, indeed ?
Nobody was more eager than I to give up the idea. All I needed was an
honorable excuse. The captain provided it the next morning. He announced
to a small group of men that he had heard of the troubles the previous
evening, and that he was now firmly persuaded that Chips could not
continue on the Scapa Flow. We would drop anchor in the harbor of
Port-of-Spain about noon. The captain said that as soon as he went
ashore he would take Chips with 


him and throw him on the beach of Trinidad. In the meantime he wanted no
more trouble on the ship. Chips had been confined to his cabin and told
to pack. There had been some nonsense about a fight on Number Three
hatch cover. The fight would not be permitted. I was told to leave the
big carpenter alone! We reached port and dropped anchor without
incident, the bosun taking the carpenter's place at the anchor winch.
The bosun, the first mate, and the deck cadet agreed to share the work
of ship's carpenter between them, at the prevailing rates of overtime
pay for officers and crewmen. They did this for the remainder of the
Scapa Flow's journey. We never had another carpenter on the ship.

Port-of-Spain is an excellent harbor, with anchorage facilities for
hundreds of ships. We anchored near an arm of the bay but we were so far
away from the town itself that it was invisible to us. The harbor was
alive with small launches, as it had been in Key West, but the launches
were manned by barefooted auxiliary police, many of them old men,
instead of draft-age Coast Guard men. The population of Trinidad is more
than ninety per cent colored, and all of the auxiliary police are
Negroes. The launch men of the harbor had one habit in common with the
Coast Guard men in the United States: when a naval officer was brought
out to the Scapa Flow in one of the launches, the launch men besieged
the steward's department for a handout. Prices were dreadfully high in
Trinidad, as I learned later, and some of the requests made by the old
Negroes in the launches are understandable with the high prices in mind.
As their passenger was being entertained in the officers' saloon, the
men in the launch would sing out for the steward. They would beg him
for something to eat. A roast beef sandwich was the most common
request. The steward would go through his routine of telling them that a
meal had just been concluded and that there was nothing left. Thereupon
the Negroes would offer to buy lunches and pay for them with American
money, up to half a dollar for an individual lunch. They usually got
nothing, as the captain had given orders against disposing of any of
our food to men from shore. But sometimes the messmen and I would go out
into the galley and pick up the leftovers from the previous meal, which
would have been thrown out anyhow, put them into 


a big tin can, and let them down on a rope to the men in the launches.
Their gratitude was unbounded. Once the Negroes asked us how much we
wanted for this swill, and when we told them that it was free they could
hardly believe us. Many times they wanted to buy cans of food, and oddly
enough the most popular demand was for tins of creamed corn. We had very
few tinned goods on the Scapa Flow, to our later distress, and could not
spare any for these launchmen. The first mate must have impressed upon
the captain the imperative need to get something done about Chips, for
we had not been at anchor for more than a few minutes when the captain
signaled to shore for a launch to take him and Chips off. One came soon,
manned by three old Negroes of the auxiliary police wearing threadbare
blue shirts with the markings of noncommissioned officers: a first-class
private (lance corporal in their method of ranking) and two corporals.
With practically the whole ship's complement for an audience, the
captain came down from his cabin and knocked at Chips's cabin. The
carpenter was dressed in his shore clothes when he brought his gear out
on the deck. He was putting on an act. He pretended not to notice any of
the crewmen except the Egyptians, and we did not speak to him. The
Egyptians did, though sparingly. In talking to the Egyptians, Chips
swaggered about defiantly and made a pathetic attempt to convince us all
that he was leaving the ship of his own volition and that he had been
trying to get off the Scapa Flow ever since the ship left New York. We
who were not Egyptians smiled at each other over his exhibition; we knew
he was making a last-minute attempt to save face, for, though he was
talking only to Egyptians, he was talking in English. According to
Chips, the Scapa Flow was no "----ing good," and the food was the same.
The Navy men with whom he had had to eat he laughed at as boys who
should have been left at home with their mothers instead of coming to
sea with a real man, meaning himself. "Me speak to captain many time,"
he said. "Many time me speak to captain to pay off ship." The captain
talked privately with the first mate, and then the captain and Chips
went down into the waiting launch. As the


little boat swung away from the Scapa Flow, we broke into a wild flurry
of joyous comment. Most frequent were statements to this effect: "Well,
by Christ! We actually got him off the ship!" There was much shaking of

Even at the last we kept Chips in Coventry. But, although no one would
say or wave good-by to him, at least there was no jeering as we lined
the rail to watch the launch depart. That is, we all lined the rail but
the Egyptians. As soon as Chips was in the launch and it was clear that
he was going ashore, they crept away to the fo'c'sle.

For the next few hours the men on the Scapa Flow were more jovial than
at any time during the voyage. Probably because they were happy, the men
tended to be unreasonably optimistic about the possibility of shore
leave here in Port-of-Spain, though this optimism was dashed soon
enough. None of the officers had said anything which could be construed
as bolstering the hope of going ashore, but getting Chips thrown off the
ship was interpreted as a victory over the captain, and it was assumed
that another victory, the winning of shore leave, would immediately
follow his return to the ship. The only members of the crew who had ever
been ashore here were a couple of the Portuguese stokers, and we
pressed them for information about the port. They told us that there
were few diversions ashore except for drinking. Rum was particularly
cheap. Even this qualified endorsement did not dampen the crew's
spirits. The men said that the Portuguese could not be trusted to seek
and find things to do ashore, and that even if these stokers had been
ashore in Port-of-Spain they would be unlikely to know much about the
place. It was quite clear, both from common knowledge and from the
testimony of the Portuguese, that the population of the port was
overwhelmingly Negro. Crew members who had heard shipmates of former
voyages talk about the port passed along the information that white
whores were very few here, and that white chippies, who might be picked
up on the streets, were nonexistent. Nevertheless, most of the Scapa
Flow's crewmen went to their lockers and brought out their best suits,
and there was much shaving and suit brushing and shoe polishing. They
might as well have saved themselves the trouble, because the only one to
get shore leave in Trinidad was Chips. But then, his was permanent. 


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