Learning Leadership

From Whale's Tales, by Bruce Schick (Louisa, VA, 2006), pp. 40–41

Our captain was the senior skipper on the river. As such, he did pretty much what he wanted. We called him the Great White Bellowing Whale-behind his back, of course. He had been around awhile and knew how to look after his crew. As offlcers, we had been taught that responsibility for the troops, well-being was our jirst responsibility. The skipper had done some planning along those lines before we ever left port.

Freshwater was always at a premium on a diesel boat. We carried a couple thousand gallons, which we took on from shore. But after we were at sea we had to make our freshwater from seawater, a laborious process. Freshwater was needed primarily for the engines and batteries, and only secondarily for cooking and washing. We had a huge, specialized ballast tank called Safety Tank. Unlike the other ballast tanks, it was nonnally full of water whether on the surface or submerged. If the boat started to sink due to some emergency, it could be blown dry with compressed air, helping to get us back up on the surface. Now, here comes the leadership lesson.

Before we left port, the skipper had some rudimentary plumbing connected to Safety Tank. It involved installing a shower head up in the sail. Then he blew Safety Tank dry of saltwater and refilled it with freshwater from the pier. Voila! A 4,000-gallon freshwater tank for the crew's showers. While sailors on other submarines were jumping over the side, lathering up with saltwater soap, and jumping back in the ocean to rinse off (a less than optimum way to bathe), our guys were luxuriating in the freshwater shower from Safety Tank. Washing the salt off, even with cold water, made a big difference.

Meals at sea can get monotonous, particularly after the fresh food gives way to frozen, canned, and dried. A salad or a glass of fresh milk becomes only a distant dream.

A week or so after we had been at sea we were made aware of the reason we had “wasted” storage space for bags of charcoal. The skipper had caused a barbecue pit to be installed topside. On the forward deck, one could lift a hinged section of decking, and there was a gleaming, new, stainless steel BBQ pit, ready to be fired up.

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