Ken goes to Chernobyl and other pranks at sea

Things in Syria are so screwed up just now that, even with a scorecard, it’d be impossible to decipher the situation (and our “policy” towards it) over there.

Thus, it’s time to take in all lines and head out to sea. Out there, there was always something going on that could coax a smile out of you.

For the record, I miss going to sea. Not, however, for the reasons you’re probably thinking.

Sunsets on the ocean were great, but you paid for them with more storms and gales than you’d care to remember.

Far away places with strange sounding names were mostly just that. Far away and strange. The people were mostly friendly, but they weren’t family and family was usually several time zones over the horizon.

Seeing whales, dolphins and other creatures in their native habitat was interesting too, until the 120th day of the project. By then the only “fish” you wanted to see was something on the menu.

No. I miss is the people. “Characters,” though, would be a better term because some of the things they did to drive away the boredom could get really inventive.

There was this one night when we were in the middle of the Pacific and about two hours into the midnight to 4 a.m. watch. We were just “steaming and dreaming.” Basically, boring holes in the ocean. There was nothing on radar, nothing on radio (not even static), and no other ships visible.

I was staring out of the bridge window when someone lowered “Ken” (of Ken and Barbie fame) from the flying bridge. Ken was suspended from a line and was glowing bright green. Someone had taken a chemical light wand (aka “green weenie”) cut it open, and doused Ken with the luminescent chemicals. Tied around Ken’s neck was a sign that read “Ken Goes to Chernobyl.”

We were no longer bored.

Needless to say, that incident led to Ken starring in quite a few other adventures such as “Ken Visits The Trash Compactor,” “Ken Rides The Radar Dish,” and the truly unpleasant “Ken Checks The Sanitation Tank.”

The best, though, was when we tied Ken to an instrument package that was going to the bottom of the ocean near Hawaii. “Ken Goes to 13,000 Feet” was his last trip because, when he got back, it was obvious that the pressure at that depth had made him a candidate for lead munchkin in the next remake of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Barbie would have nothing more to do with him after that trip.

Yet another example occurred off the coast of Virginia. There, we were conducting round-the-clock charting operations. Late one very boring night, one of our survey techs, we’ll call him “Frank,” was working in the plotting room with me. Frank was known to be extremely superstitious and the word had gotten out. This is not a good thing at sea.

That night, Frank had the underwater headphones on and was listening to the sounds of the ocean. Generally, all you’d hear was the sonar pinging and a lot of background noise but, sometimes, you’d get the occasional whale or what have you.

I didn’t know it at the time, but several of the electronics technicians had wired a microphone into the listening circuit. They’d waited until Frank had had the headphones on for a while and, then, one of them whispered “Frank, it’s cold down here” into the microphone.

Frank jumped up, ripped the headphones off, and stood there staring at them. I remember he looked a little pale when I asked what was the matter. “Nothing,” he said and, after a while, he sat down and put the headphones back on.

Things were quiet for about 15 minutes and then the ET’s got back into the act. This time with: “We neeeeed you down here, Frank.”

That tore it. Frank was a blur leaving the plot room.

I still didn’t know what was going on, but I could hear the ET’s in another compartment trying not to split a gut. After they explained, they swore me to secrecy.

Frank never again touched the headphones and wouldn’t go out on deck after dark unless someone was with him. I sometimes wonder if, to this day, he gets into anything deeper than a bathtub.

Listen to any sea story. Nine times out of 10, that story will revolve around people.

How could anyone not miss them?

Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to:

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