Sleep Deprivation…the solutions.
When under training in the navy it seems to be that officers and non-comms alike, all of which have ‘seniority’ to you take on a masochistic nature and attempt to drive you insane, or into a fully fledged leader, whichever comes first.
One such way was in sleeping. For the life of me I cannot remember a full night’s sleep during my time in the navy, from go to woe. From the early days where we were tipped out of our ‘pits’ in the middle of the night to go for a run, to carrying out watches on deck or in engineering spaces while at sea…or alongside for that matter.
But they didn’t count on me…the man that could be the marketing face for bed manufacturers. If there was a place and a time, I could literally sleep anywhere.
Only a few months after joining, my class was lucky enough to be posted to HMNZS Wellington (F69) while she was stationed in SE Asia for Exercise Starfish – a five-nation defence exercise involving forces of NZ, Aussie, Singapore, UK, and Malaysia. As 1st Year Midshipmen we were basically the ‘low of the low’ and it was an unwritten rule that while we were Officers and still commanded the respect that our rank afforded us, we were pretty much the lap dogs of anyone we were working with, and as there would never be such a chance again for a lot of the crew, it was an opportunity not to be missed.
Part of our training required us to serve in every department of a ship which would better prepare us for the tasks we were ultimately aiming for as Officers – Command of our own ship. But while serving in those departments we were to carry out any and every meaningless task they were able to throw at us, much as you would expect an apprentice mechanic faces.
Needless to say it also gave the opportunity for those officers only just senior to us to be able to get their own back – one such way was to have us assigned to as many of their night watches as possible on the bridge affording them the chance of a night’s sleep, and when coupled with requirements to carry out night watches in engineering spaces, galleys, weaponry and the Ops Room, even getting four hours kip seemed a luxury, remembering that it is expected that all crew are expected (not necessarily required) to be awake during daylight hours…and in the middle of war exercises, even those times scheduled for sleep could be rudely taken away for a call to Action Stations.
Other than the watches on the bridge which were obviously most important so as not to run into anything – land, ships, whales and the such – catching 40 winks wasn’t so hard through the 24 hour day. And bearing in mind that the Leander-class frigate was only 113m in length, 4000t, and held about 300 other men onboard, finding a spare moment and hideaway was easier said than done.
When on watch in the engine room I was often asked to go on rounds and check the gauges every hour. No issues there, could be awake for them and it was important. But in between I might be told to clean the walkways between the engine shafts, or scrub down some other nondescript piece of machinery, or polish some brass somewhere. This was my opportunity to sneak in some “gleeps” (a slang term for sneaky sleep). I found a place, behind some machinery, tucked in a corner that was hidden and dark. There was one fault with it; being part of the bilge it also required me to be waist-deep in a water-oil mix of sludge. But it had redeeming qualities; it kept me warm when it was cold, cool when it was hot, and gave the impression to the Chief of the Watch (CoW) that I was mucking in! I did have one concern, and those who remember the era will understand. I feared that I may ‘fall’ through when resting back against the bulkhead…I swear this to the day, my broom went through it once!
The boiler room, adjacent to the engine room was not such a place to enjoy some sleep. In stark contrast to its neighbour, the boiler room had no air conditioning (or at least none that was effective) and ranged at somewhere about 40-50° while up in the China Sea! There was a plus to this (if one can find such a silver lining), we got ‘adverse working conditions’ pay every time the mercury exceeded a certain range. In this God-forsaken place I managed to find some sleeping time on top of one of the boilers, and area that had to be inspected irregularly, but one I volunteered for. Hot as hell, akin to lying on black sand in the peak of summer, but sleep is sleep.
The place in which junior officers slept was called the Gunroom, so named for its proximity to the turret on the frigate. Whenever there was a gunnery shoot on the noise and vibration would wake the dead…except me. I remember being asleep after a Morning Watch (0400-0800) and not even aware that for the next two hours we were at Action Stations and the twin 4.5″ guns were firing!
During the day seemed to prove trickier with the crew up and about and either working at the stations or also trying to find sneaky sleeping spots. My favourite was on the upper decks inside the lookout pods – these were seats partially enclosed which rotated through about 195° and when not in use had a tarp placed over it. Crawling in under the tarp and into the confines wasn’t easy, but oh so worth it!
Behind these (there was one on both sides of the ship just aft of the bridge) was the foremast. A hatch leads into a cavity inside the mast which is cosy warm due to the proximity of the funnel and generator exhausts, in fact it possibly would be considered the naval equivalent to gassing yourself in your home garage with a hose from the exhaust. But it was also used as storage for the signalmen onboard, i.e. all of their pennants and flags, perfect to curl up in!
During a stormy trip across the Great Australian Bight I once slept for an hour in a bridge-wing. This is the ship equivalent to a balcony which comes off each side of the bridge and is generally used for navigating alongside or in RAS (Replenishment at Sea) by the CO or senior officers. It was not warm, and I did get a lot of spray, but no one knew I was there and wouldn’t venture out due to the rough nature of the sea!
I have slept in the heads (toilets), and showers, as well as on top of the bridge itself. But the coup de grace was a senior officer’s cabin while he was on watch. Ahhhh, a bed! I don’t feel the least bit bad about it…he was a fuckwit.