There were many requests for follow up stories about my father after I posted “Jumped Ship and Landed in ….Tulsa!” (on this blog). His experience in the Merchant Marines embodies everything about travel and adventure. Here’s another chapter in that story. This is what my father told me…
In 1957 in New Orleans, two ships collided at midnight. I was on duty. Everyone was alert. I remember many bats gathering all over the ship. We stayed two days until better weather came. This collision was covered in the newspaper.
“November 30, 1957, the SS Ellin and SS Claiborne collided….The Coast Guard said Friday it will investigate a ship collision on the Mississippi River and dense fog about 11:55 PM Thursday 13 miles downstream from New Orleans…No injuries were reported but both cargo vessels had deep gashes in their bows…Neither ship took on water as the damage was above the waterline….Involved were the one-year-old SS Ellin 16,000 ton freighter of Liberian registry and the Waterman 15 ship corporation SS Laybourne AC 2cargo ship…The Ellin, according to Captain Michael Worden present at the Texas Marine transport company Inc. agents Alan was anchored in the thick fog…The Claiborne ran into Ellin’s bow….” (cited in newspaper article above)
He explained the mechanics of what happens when they hit rough seas or hurricanes, too.
When a propeller comes up, we have to slow down the engine. When the ship goes down, we closed the steam…when it goes up, we opened the steam. This went on for four hours. If you miscalculate, the engine goes too fast.
Did you ever regret being in the Merchant Marines?
No. I was lucky I never got seasick. Lots of guys vomited. A couple of times, we had the icon of Agios Nikolaos (St. Nicholas) for hope to save us.
Tell me about some of the dangers and disasters.
There was a time when the captain had his family posing for a picture and a wave came up and picked up the three year old boy. He fell in the ocean. We stopped the ship, turned around in big panic and confusion. We found him but he was dead. This was on a trip from Iran to London.
Another time, the assistant cook went to dump trash and he fell in, too. We never stopped that time…nothing…just “goodbye.” The waves are so bad and you have to hit the waves a certain way. You can’t always turn back.
On another ship, (going from San Francisco to Curacao) our propeller hit a whale and damaged the propeller. It took two months to sail because the propeller was going so slow. You can’t change ships in the middle of the ocean. From San Francisco to Curacao, in the Los Angeles area, we had to go to Norfolk for repairs. We saw the whale with blood all over it.
What are the ports like? Which were the most exciting?
We found places to eat good food or buy things. The islands and the ports in the Caribbean were the best—Curacao, Colombia, Venezuela…The worst port was England I guess because there was no sunshine or good food.
Which country had the best looking women?
When you’re on a boat for a month and come out, every woman looks good. (chuckling). Brazil, I guess.
When you left the Merchant Marines and moved to Tulsa- what was your first job there?
Shortly after the ships collided in New Orleans, I left the ship and went to Tulsa to visit relatives, get married and started a new life there. I worked at the Tulsa Hotel overseeing the boilers. They had two boilers and had to run both to keep up. There was steam for laundry and the air conditioning. An engineer at Wonder Bread (where your mom was working) told me about that job at Tulsa Hotel. Around that time, immigration officers came to our house to deport me. Your mom told them I was working at the Tulsa Hotel. She called our priest (who was my uncle) and said, “Kosta’s in trouble.” The priest came to my work to intervene. The immigration officers told me to go to the immigration office in Dallas. I did and then went on to Toronto to fix my papers and entered the states legally through the Detroit office.
What would you have done if they deported you?
I would’ve gone back to Greece. But by leaving Greece in the first place to join the Merchant Marines to help support my mother, sisters and younger brother back home, I wasn’t drafted. In Greece, everyone has to go to the army at 20 years old.
Why is it called “Merchant Marines” ?
We transported merchandise. (the merchant part). A “marina” is another word for a “port” (the marines part). A better term for it is “merchant mariners.” The Merchant Marines was very educational. On some legs of the voyages, we traveled to 7 countries or so. In later years, fewer people signed up for it because they didn’t want to do that type of work. But, it was a good opportunity and a very good financial opportunity for helping support my family back in Greece.
Stories like this can be found in the book, A Magic Carpet Ride.
Link to order book below. Proceeds go to various charities.