Another story from the early years of the Sea Org aboard the Apollo by Gary Reisdorf.
Stores Party Gone Wild – Sled breaking
One of the functions of being a deckhand is when the ship was at anchor, we had the privilege of running people and goods from the shore to the ship. Boat runs are normally quite fun and took us away from our usual mundane jobs of painting that bucket of rust, sanding and varnishing the railings or re-caulking the wooden decks.
We had 8 lifeboats on the ship to save the passengers and crew if the ship began to sink. The problem is, only 2 of them floated. Those were lifeboat #8 and #3. I knew the others didn’t float because either the Commodore or one of the Captains had the bright idea to do lifeboat drills one day. We lowered all of the boats into the harbor and everyone was supposed to be drilled on lowering the boats, rowing them around the harbor and then raising them back up, securing them to their davits. That drill didn’t last long as all but 2 of them began taking on water. They didn’t actually sink because they had hollow metal canisters under the wooden seats that kept them afloat but they did end up with a lot of water in them. It was quite hilarious watching 10 or so crew per boat, sitting on the benches with water up to their waists, rowing like mad but making little progress. We did manage to bail enough water out of them so we could get the boats hoisted back to the ship. had we ever had to use those boats in a life or death situation, I think life would have come in second.
The sinking lifeboat drill resulted in the deck force being assigned to re-caulk all of the seams where the wood slats overlapped on the hulls of the lifeboats. Derek Cusworth and I were given this task. We would scrape out the old caulking and then tap thin rope into the joints and squirt new caulking into them. We did complete the job but we never tested them again so when we went to sea we could have all been at risk. I think the Captain planned to test them with the next lifeboat drill, but that never occurred.
Since lifeboat #8 was one of the lifeboats that floated, it was fit with an inboard motor. This is what we used for our boat runs since none of the other 7 boats had a motor. Old lifeboat #8 was my favorite. Heck, one time the First Mate, Pat McCullough, Derek Cusworth and I plus a couple of snipes (engineers) borrowed #8 and went about 10 miles up the coast from Setubal, Portugal, hugging the beautiful, rocky, Portuguese coastline. It was a clear day and the sea was flat. The first beach we found we dropped anchor and swam into shore where we had lunch and a couple of beers, enjoyed looking at some beautiful Portuguese ladies in their bikinis and then swam back to the boat and took it back to the Apollo. One of the best liberties I ever had! It was a stunning, warm, sunny day and a great guy’s day off.
The Apollo often docked at the beautiful city of O’Porto in northern Portugal. However, it didn’t have a lot of dock space so we often ended up in the harbor, at anchor. Thus we got to do our #8 boat runs during the day which was fun, but the night runs not so much. You see, the harbor fogged in often at night. The fog was so thick we could not see the dock light until about 20 feet from the dock. During the day and at low tide one would see about 10 sunken hulls of fishing boats that no doubt didn’t see the harbor light until they hit a couple of rocks. So, we had to be extremely careful and every time we went from the ship to shore, those ghost ships were in the back of our minds. The harbor was normally calm in O’Porto, so at least we did not have that to worry about.
The procedure used to navigate our way from the ship to the shore was that as soon as we did our first boat run, during the day, the bowman would note the compass heading that took us directly from the ship to the dock. He would then take another reading from the dock to the ship. These two headings were passed on from lifeboat crew to lifeboat crew. So we would head out to the dock in complete fog on a heading of 55 degrees hoping to hit our target. On the way back we do the reverse. The bowman had a flashlight and would keep the skipper informed of our heading. Of course these headings would change every time we anchored. We had what seemed like a 50 year old, tarnished compass but it did the trick and somehow. The heading system worked and every one of the boat runs managed to find the dock, rather than the rocks and none of the returns kept going out to sea by missing the ship.
One day in mid-1972, I was assigned as the bowman and Riggs Eckelberry was the coxswain, or skipper of the boat. The main duty of the bowman was to help tie up the front of the boat when docked to the side of ship. My other duty was to help people on and off the boat, load goods and then unload them at the ship. Generally, I was sort of the gopher for the boat run doing whatever the skipper required to move goods and people back and forth. It was another beautiful day in O’Porto and we arrived at the dock to find that there was a large delivery of produce waiting for us to take back to the ship — apples, oranges, potatoes, lettuce needed by the galley to feed the crew. I think we had about 25 wooden crates full of fruit and vegetables. This was a larger than usual shipment of food.
Riggs and I loaded all of the crates into the lifeboat and took off for the ship. When we got there we called for a stores party. A stores party is where a number of crew gather to carry stores, in this case fruit and vegetables. We often would form a chain (or line) and pass the crates or boxes from one person to the next. I don’t know where they got the word party, as it certainly wasn’t any fun and no alcohol was involved.
The usual procedure was for us to pull up alongside the ship below the aft well deck and directly below the crane. The deckhands on board would attach a cargo net to the hook of the crane and lower it down to the lifeboat. We would load the wooden crates of food into the net and it was hauled on board and the stores party would deliver it to the stores room. The net would only hold about 4 crates at a time and we had at least 25 crates.
This time though another boat, called a sea sled (this was a shallow wooden, flat bottomed boat Hubbard had purchased for “Mission Into Time” to be able to sneak onto shore) was in our desired position below the crane. We had 2 sleds and they were stored on the aft well deck. At the time we pulled up someone had previously lowered one of them into the water. The entire 2 years I worked on the deck I only rode in one once and that was with Captain Starkey. He took it out for a joyride in Setubal, Portugal harbor and brought me along so he could have someone to help and yell at or comm-ev (like a court martial) if something went wrong. Or just to boss me around for his personal enjoyment.
So, with the sled in our way, someone would have to move it before we could offload our goods. Someone on the ship though, had a better idea. I didn’t hear who gave the order but I think it was my good friend, Pat McCullough, who was the ship’s 1st mate. His idea was to take all of the crates of food and load them onto the sled. Then, instead of filling the cargo net 6 or 7 times to offload the goods, we only had to raise up one sled full of fruit and vegetables.
I also wasn’t very happy with the thought of having to load the net 7 times to offload the goods but I didn’t think loading the sled up with 1,500 lbs of food was a very smart plan. Who was I to argue though. I had been on the deck force for maybe 8 months, I was only 18 years old and my bosses were much more experienced and older than me. But, I had a really bad feeling about this one.
The deckhands had a nickname on the ship. They were called deck apes. At the time, I didn’t know why but as time went on, I think it must have had something to do with most of them not having IQ’s above 100. They were normally strong, fit, athletic, tan and as dumb as a sack of hammers. But, this group of foul-mouthed guys was exactly what an 18 year old from Iowa wanted to be a part of. It sure beat growing up with 2 younger sisters.
I went onto the sled and Riggs stayed in #8 and passed over the crates of food. I stacked them onto the sled and got back onto #8. I really wanted to get out of there. I was nervous. I reminded Riggs that we had to hurry as we had another run to make to pick up people at the dock. Making sure Riggs didn’t get in some stupid conversation with anyone (Riggs loved to talk), I pushed off from the bow and we headed back to the dock.
We picked up one passenger and headed back out to the Apollo. As we rounded the bow of the ship, I positioned myself all the way to the bow of the lifeboat. And then I saw them. About 10 apples, a couple of watermelons and 2 heads of lettuce floated past the bow. When we turned towards the other side of the ship, there were hundreds of pieces of fruit and vegetables all floating along with the current, on their way out to sea. At that point, I knew there was going to be trouble.
Well, what Riggs and I missed out on must have been quite the spectacle. After we left, the 1st Mate Pat, raised the hook, lifting the sled out of the water. The Storesman, was on board the sled and went up for the ride. About halfway up, 2 of 4 bolts that held the hook pulled loose from the hull of the sled. Since the 2 bolts were on the same, port side of the sled, it tilted dumping 1,500 lbs. of vegetables into the Atlantic but stayed attached to the hook. How the Storesman wasn’t injured or killed, I don’t know. By the time Riggs and I and #8 got to that end of the ship, he was still hanging on for dear life. They managed to throw him a rope and he climbed back on board the ship, unscratched.
The fun didn’t end there. In the Sea Org whenever anything bad happens it is followed by a Committee of Evidence. Mistakes weren’t tolerated. Ignorance or inexperience or age was not an excuse. The fact that you were following an order didn’t matter. And in my case, not being at the scene at the crime, was not an excuse. Nope. And I had tried to get out of there quickly! We all got brought before the Comm Ev. It’s supposed to be a fair form of justice for Scientologists. It is anything but fair. In every Comm Evs I have been involved with, the accused are assumed guilty until proven otherwise. When I was the Interested Party, I always pled guilty to every charge so I could get lesser penalties. If you plead not guilty but are found guilty, the penalty is harsher. It was a bunch of bullshit actually.
So, I pled guilty to an array of offenses as did everyone else involved, the 1st Mate, the Storesman, Riggs, they didn’t charge lifeboat #8 though. Knowingly destroying Sea Org property, placing Scientology or Scientologists at risk, knowingly refusing to follow written policy or procedures. I don’t remember all of the probably 20 different “crimes” I had supposedly committed. Heck, I was just following orders. I just loaded the fruit onto a boat, I didn’t raise it. I didn’t run the crane or issue the order and I wasn’t even within 2 miles of the ship when they broke the boat. I was merely a lowly deckhand and didn’t know any better and had to obey an order from my senior. But, it is easier to just plead guilty and take whatever punishment they decided to dish out. I knew there was nothing I could say or do to avoid punishment. Scientology’s system of justice is the most unfair, insane system ever created.
I was assigned a condition of Treason, the lowest condition a Sea Org member could have at the time. This resulted in probably an extra 50 hours of work, over and above your normal duties. You then work your way up the conditions and ask everyone to allow you back into their group. You do not get any time off and work 7 days per week during this condition, losing out on your 1 day off every 2 weeks. But, at least I did it with my buddies, my “deck ape” friends.