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Thread: Sea stories in SPACE

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    Sea stories in SPACE

    I'm sure I covered some of this ground before, but not well.

    In trying to build a fictional space fleet, IE a military organization, I'm writing outside of my experience.

    Now, we have a thread set aside for colorful stories; the stuff that happened that is noteworthy or entertaining. To folks who served in a fleet, I'd like to ask; what's the day-to-day experience like? What things would a civilian like me not consider or know much about? I'd like to fill in some blanks, and be able to write about realistic things a space military would have to deal with. Navy life at sea is the closest equivalent I can come up with.

    I know submarines, for instance, have Qual cards to make sailors learn the boat's systems for damage control. And that's all I know about the subject.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    ...Thinking back, I really should have called this thread "Hello, Sailor!" It might have attracted more attention. Ah well...
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Most of my experience is on submarines, but I did a six month stint on a surface ship, too.

    - Sleep. You become a master at catching sleep whenever you can because of all the drills and off-watch work that happens.
    - Personal space. Especially on submarines, it shrinks considerably. You learn to move about in close contact with others. For example, when two people pass in a corridor, where there's really only a bit more than shoulder width space, you learn to turn sideways at the last moment without stopping, brushing each other's chest.
    - Most people on a submarine are on an 18-hour day when underway, not 24. Six hours on watch, twelve off, during which you do whatever work you're assigned. The concept of time-of-day becomes meaningless, except for which meal is being served when you get out of your rack (breakfast, lunch, dinner, mid-rats).
    - Field day, the bane of all sailors. Field day is the weekly, mandatory 2-3 hours spent cleaning the ship/boat. Doesn't matter if you've been up 36 hours working to fix the [fill in the blank on a cranky piece of equipment] plus standing watch, when the 1MC calls out 'now Field Day', everybody not on watch cleans.

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    Thanks!

    You learn to move about in close contact with others. For example, when two people pass in a corridor, where there's really only a bit more than shoulder width space, you learn to turn sideways at the last moment without stopping, brushing each other's chest.
    Maybe that's why subs have all male crews....

    ADDED: Correction, used to have. I really should research before I post.
    Last edited by Noclevername; 2016-Apr-24 at 09:57 AM.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Thanks!



    Maybe that's why subs have all male crews....

    ADDED: Correction, used to have. I really should research before I post.
    Um, yeah. Well, you can do it back to back as well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by geonuc View Post
    - Personal space. Especially on submarines, it shrinks considerably. You learn to move about in close contact with others. For example, when two people pass in a corridor, where there's really only a bit more than shoulder width space, you learn to turn sideways at the last moment without stopping, brushing each other's chest.
    I was stationed on shore at San Diego back in the late '80s. We had two sailors who were due to give birth about two weeks apart. By the time they were eight months along they could completely block a passageway ("hall" to your lubbers) by standing face-to-face and talking. It presented something of a quandary for us with regard to navigating that shoal water. Finally I just growled at them "can you stagger that line up or both get on the same side of the passage?" They looked down simultaneously and saw less than a foot between their navels and broke out laughing.

    For perspective, just a few years earlier a woman who got pregnant was automatically discharged.

    And to return to the OP, bathing was something we stressed, especially folks in my rating, Machinist Mate. The enginerooms can get very hot and stink can accumulate rapidly if you don't tend to personal hygiene. Heinlein commented on this in Starship Troopers. Rico says "I learned to answer roll call with 'Bathed!' to indicate I'll showered at least once since last roll call." (From memory.) Stinky sailors used to get special (and highly informal) attention to encourage them to be better citizens.

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    Showers will be available in a ship under spin; in vessels not so equipped, sponge baths will have to do. I'm sure spacers coming back to a personnel transport with a spin section from a mission involving extended weightlessness will find showering, even brief Navy-type showers, a great luxury.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Since my story involves a rapid transition to space military, most of the Space Force crew will be directly transferred from existing forces, and submariners will feature prominently in that group. Astronauts, of course, and engineers especially from nuclear aircraft carriers, will also be strongly represented. Since it's all brand new experience, intensive training and education will be a constant part of every crewmember's routine no matter what rank.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    I know from friends that the number of hours worked on deployed naval ships is insane, as in typically 100+ hours/week. I was also told, by a friend who served on USN frigates and destroyers, that ships were delivered with all the brasswork well-finished with clear enamel, which the navy would promptly remove so that sailors could enjoy the therapeutic activity of polishing brass.

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    In keeping with the personal hygiene thing, it should be emphasized that the ship's equipment had priority when water or air conditioning was limited due to equipment failure. If the water plant went down, no showers for anyone. If one of the chillers went down, the sensitive electronic equipment was kept cool and the berthing spaces got hot real fast.

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    If your fleet requires long travel times - months and years - you may want to look at some of the stories from the age of sail such as the Hornblower or Aubrey-Maturin books. Or even read Men-of-War: Life in Nelson's Navy by patrick O'Brian.

    Some concepts are timeless, such as how hundreds of men (and sometimes women) managed to live in tight quarters, eating dubious food and dealing with weeks and months of tedium.

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    I would try to find some military handbooks/manuals online. They have a wealth of knowledge.

    One area I had to research was company shipping to APO/FPO's. It was very interesting. I want to say every ship has it's own "zip code", so to speak. Some of those ships actually have webpages/newsletter which details "public ready events", history, and topics of shipboard and crew life.

    It's not very hard hitting stuff, more like a corporate news letter. Sometimes, I read them for fun. Here is the USS Ronald Reagan's website news page.
    Solfe

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    Anybody who wants to write about the military should read:

    Bill the Galactic Hero and Catch 22

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noisy Rhysling View Post
    I was stationed on shore at San Diego back in the late '80s. We had two sailors who were due to give birth about two weeks apart. By the time they were eight months along they could completely block a passageway ("hall" to your lubbers) by standing face-to-face and talking. It presented something of a quandary for us with regard to navigating that shoal water. Finally I just growled at them "can you stagger that line up or both get on the same side of the passage?" They looked down simultaneously and saw less than a foot between their navels and broke out laughing.

    For perspective, just a few years earlier a woman who got pregnant was automatically discharged.

    And to return to the OP, bathing was something we stressed, especially folks in my rating, Machinist Mate. The enginerooms can get very hot and stink can accumulate rapidly if you don't tend to personal hygiene. Heinlein commented on this in Starship Troopers. Rico says "I learned to answer roll call with 'Bathed!' to indicate I'll showered at least once since last roll call." (From memory.) Stinky sailors used to get special (and highly informal) attention to encourage them to be better citizens.
    My father told a story of his basic training (which he went through in 1942) about a hygienically-challenged classmate. One day the PO said something like "I'm going on the town with some other POs, so I won't be here to make sure you don't throw him in a shower." My father said that the hygienically-challenged one was soon squeaky clean, having been worked on with floor soap and scrub brushes. Is that the sort of attention that you may have been hinting at?

    Information about American English usage here and here. Floating point issues? Please read this before posting.

    How do things fly? This explains it all.

    Actually they can't: "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." - Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.



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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    My father told a story of his basic training (which he went through in 1942) about a hygienically-challenged classmate. One day the PO said something like "I'm going on the town with some other POs, so I won't be here to make sure you don't throw him in a shower." My father said that the hygienically-challenged one was soon squeaky clean, having been worked on with floor soap and scrub brushes. Is that the sort of attention that you may have been hinting at?
    My attorney told me to shut up.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noisy Rhysling View Post
    My attorney told me to shut up.
    My father told me long after the statute of limitations had run out

    Information about American English usage here and here. Floating point issues? Please read this before posting.

    How do things fly? This explains it all.

    Actually they can't: "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." - Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.



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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    My father told me long after the statute of limitations had run out
    Assault with a bristle scrub brush and intent to create hygiene?

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    First degree germslaughter?
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    My father told a story of his basic training (which he went through in 1942) about a hygienically-challenged classmate. One day the PO said something like "I'm going on the town with some other POs, so I won't be here to make sure you don't throw him in a shower." My father said that the hygienically-challenged one was soon squeaky clean, having been worked on with floor soap and scrub brushes. Is that the sort of attention that you may have been hinting at?
    That kind of stuff isn't limited to the Navy...neither are the 100+ hr. work weeks. For your stories, don't forget the 'hurry up and wait' stuff either, that's common to all the armed services as well.

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    "Work week" implies that there are scheduled waking hours when you aren't expected to be working. A spacer is always on duty! Free time is what happens after you are all caught up on work, study, and sleep, there are no emergency drills happening, everything's clean, and nothing else has come up. IE, a few hours per week. With luck.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by geonuc View Post
    . For example, when two people pass in a corridor, where there's really only a bit more than shoulder width space, you learn to turn sideways at the last moment without stopping, brushing each other's chest.
    I learned that skill too, but in Tokyo train stations.
    As above, so below

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    Quote Originally Posted by schlaugh View Post
    Assault with a bristle scrub brush and intent to create hygiene?
    Well, having about a half-dozen guys get together, grab a guy, strip him, and hold him down while he's being scrubbed with brushes and floor soap could be considered assault.

    On the other hand, so could smelling so bad that no one can stand downwind.

    Information about American English usage here and here. Floating point issues? Please read this before posting.

    How do things fly? This explains it all.

    Actually they can't: "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." - Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.



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    Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's The Mote in God's Eye has the sort of naval background you may be looking for. I found it pretty reminiscent of Hornblower at times.
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
    Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's The Mote in God's Eye has the sort of naval background you may be looking for. I found it pretty reminiscent of Hornblower at times.
    In my story, there's no experienced space combat officers and enlisted, so at first the Space Force transfers personnel directly from space programs like NASA. But lacking the numbers to carry out a strategy of "first with the most*", we need to supplement those numbers. The deep space patrol craft are in a similar situation to long-mission submarines (isolation, reliant on technology to breathe), so we tap the nuclear Submarine fleets for those who already passed the psych exams and have already proven they can stand isolation in metal tubes. We also use other branches and specialties, nuclear Carrier engineers being common, but that's where the bulk of our founding corps come from. They bring a lot of their traditions and culture with them.

    The training of the US Navy Sub School is adapted and combined with NASA astronaut training to prepare recruits of the US Space Force for duty, including Qualification Cards. Other nations make similar training programs for their own spacers, but many foreign nationals join the US SF directly as it's the first and best-organized, with the most ships (we have the only working launch laser when the story starts)




    * The Mad Fleet has far greater mobility than we do, but limited propellant. Their stated goal is to put down roots everywhere, and to build up the infrastructure and population of a society that hates Earth. They are currently mostly around Phobos, but they can easily scatter across the Solar System if we spook them. So our long term strategic goals are, to rapidly build up our space fleet strength, secure Earth's orbital space first, and then place strong forces in strategic locations all over, so that if they do split, we have something in the areas they split to. Then we can wear them down by long range hit and run attacks, overheating them and/or making them use up those precious nukes. Planets and moons, major asteroids, comets, long Solar orbits with access to other places.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Just remember the rule "99% boredom, 1% shear terror". It usually worked out that way for me. (Fighting a fire while standing on steel deck plates and you notice your shoe soles are starting to melt, for example.)

    If you want to know what a sailor's life was like in WWII, find a copy of James J. Fahey's Pacific War Diary. I can attest to the over-all accuracy with regard to shipboard life.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noisy Rhysling View Post
    (Fighting a fire while standing on steel deck plates and you notice your shoe soles are starting to melt, for example.)
    Yikes.

    That gives me an idea for an action scene. If the deck heats up too much on one of my spaceships, your freefall boots can de-magnetize. Complications...
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Yikes.

    That gives me an idea for an action scene. If the deck heats up too much on one of my spaceships, your freefall boots can de-magnetize. Complications...
    Be sure to add a line, "Hey! There's still somebody alive down here!"

    Just sayin'.

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    We had a couple of bad fires on the Connie. In the engineering spaces. Engineering steam is a very evil genie when it gets out of the bottle. I've seen that done more than once. The steam is so hot the spaces around the room the breach is in catch fire.

    Chief, once some of the guys in my shop were fighting a fire on the Ranger and had to retreat down a section of passage way that was flooded to the knee knockers and the water was boiling. It's just what they were retreating from was worse. They made it surprisingly unburned. They were relieved and on their way back to the shop they noticed the soles of their shoes were missing, and none of them had any idea as to when this happened.


    On the Connie our Four main machinery room had a steam turbine violently give up the ghost under a load. That was a bad day. Took more than eight hours to get the fires out. If I recall the story correctly one of the downstream effects was it cut off the oil supply to #4 engine which was running hard and one of the losses was the guy who manually cranked oil into the engine as it was shutting down so it wouldn't seize. The Connie's main machinery rooms were large enough that the steam didn't displace all the air like it does in smaller spaces.

    Still, it was leaking out to places it didn't belong. My berthing was just aft of the main mess decks and the steam was leaking in up around some piping. The tiniest little whiff is hot enough to completely freak out the survival centers of your brain. (Yay training!)

    That puts a little hitch in your get along when it comes to going to your General Quarters station.

    We had two E-6's who didn't like each other a lot and one was in a middle rack and was giving grief to an airman trying to wake him up when the other one, who's rack was a lot closer to where the steam was coming in ran past, yelled, "We gotta go NOW!" and grabbed the other E-6's ankle and yanked him clean out of his rack like a table cloth trick. He hit the floor like a sack of meat. But as he sat up he got his own whiff of this stuff and you saw the look in his eye completely change.

    I remember it was hectic after that.
    Time wasted having fun is not time wasted - Lennon
    (John, not the other one.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Yikes.

    That gives me an idea for an action scene. If the deck heats up too much on one of my spaceships, your freefall boots can de-magnetize. Complications...
    Couldn't fighting fire in space be as simple as opening a window?

    Information about American English usage here and here. Floating point issues? Please read this before posting.

    How do things fly? This explains it all.

    Actually they can't: "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." - Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.



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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    Couldn't fighting fire in space be as simple as opening a window?
    On a sub, fires can sometimes put themselves out just from consuming the oxygen in the compartment. Exciting while it's happening, tho.

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