The Loss of Bow Motor, Liberty and Other Extravagances
by SNBM A. Wes “Bull” Durham (October 1967 October 1968)
Few of us seriously calculated our chances for survival in the Antarctic without our ship the Southwind until our mission was completed and we headed for home. Although the entire crew of the Southwind was well schooled on survival in the Antarctic the calculations began in a fever for all aboard when we grounded March 21, 1968. That day‘s events over 40 years ago are somewhat hazy to me but these are the facts as I recall them. There had been a dedication ceremony for Palmer Station that day and a minor celebration of moderate proportions for those who chose to partake afterward. After a few setbacks we had assisted the CBs in completing the new research station and winter in the Antarctic was setting in. Later, with all back on board we pulled up the anchor, secured the ship for sea and headed out of the cove for the last time. This was a much anticipated event since it meant we were finally homeward bound. We also had been promised outstanding liberty on the East Coast of South America as a reward for work well done. That day‘s events had the usual results on me and other deck force shipmates. Most, like me, were tired and were asleep at about the time their head hit the pillow in the forward berthing area it had been a long day.
There were 120 people in forward berthing when everyone was ―Home‖. Enlisted E-5 and below deck force or bosons, the Gunners, the Yeomen, the Storekeepers, the stewards, the corpsmen and the navy Airedales all called forward berthing Home. Home boiled down to a single foam mattress about four inches thick. The small foam mattress lay horizontally on top of your personal locker which was about 12‖ deep. The locker opened by raising the mattress and door to access the locker. You slept on your locker which held your stuff. The locker was a real space saver. The racks were in rows three beds high and two beds across which meant your head was next to the feet of the person who slept next to you. My preference was a location directly under an air supply vent which I found a real sleep aid. The aisles were about shoulder width. This meant that if everyone got up at the same time there could be 18 people in an aisle three feet wide and twenty feet long. This makes for a very interesting situation at high traffic times like reveille, muster, liberty and of course, general quarters after lights out. Most of the time necessity dictated that you take turns getting in and out of your rack. I was later on an 82‘, the Point Brown. The berthing area on the Brown was smaller and I missed my large personal locker in case you thought I was complaining. On this particular night things were different than they ever had been or ever would be again in my experience in forward berthing.
We were underway and moving along pretty good when we hit the rocks. I woke up to the long steadily increasing grinding sound that became loud enough to let everyone know all was not well. During the noise there was a jerk strong enough to dislodge some people and then a tilt in the berthing area violent enough to eject and or partially ejected some shipmates who were vulnerable to the sudden movement. Once again I was not scared at this point but had suddenly become scared that I might get scared. A brief silence was quickly broken by expletives that I had not heard uttered together in one sentence. Mixed in with the highly creative language was just a very few cases of full on stark panic. Now I need to say the panic which can spread was dealt with very effectively and quickly by cooler heads and the idea was asserted with a touch of physical emphasis that no more of that type stuff or it would be dealt with severely. Somewhere amid all this General Quarters was sounded which underscored to all the urgency of the situation. I do not remember getting dressed or fighting the crowd but I I remember later thinking about the crowd of people moving as fast as I had ever seen anything the like in my life and getting up and out of there to a man. I was on the flight deck and at the sound powered phone plug in personal best time as most were that night. As I recall