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  • Life on the ship had become increasingly intolerable for me. The Captain was the worst leader I have ever encountered, before or since. He fit right into the mold of infamous ship captains, like Captain Bligh. He was diabolically evil, as far as I was concerned, and he had a hard-on for the Chief of our Engine Room, so we knew we were screwed the day he walked on the ship. Our Chief told us we were screwed, that day. He’d served with him before on another ship, where the Captain had been the “XO”. “He’s a vindictive SOB, and he has it in for me. We’re (our Engine Room) all screwed”. And, we truly were.

    The Captain lived up (more like down) to his advance billing. He was absolutely murder on us. He rode us especially hard throughout the second half of the 7 month-long Mediterranean Cruise. Anger boiled to rage – finally, one morning, I just snapped, and went down into the Engine Room looking to do some serious damage. I was simply out of my mind. I’d never been pushed to such a state before, and at that particular moment, really did not care about any consequences. I was in the moment, and I only saw red. Thankfully, a good friend and crew mate saw me head over to the big toolbox, and saw me pull out the biggest goddamned wrench in it, and knew me well enough to know that something wasn’t right with me. He was able to talk me down from whatever it was that I was getting ready to do with that big-assed wrench. He calmly talked me down from that ledge. He suggested a more subtle way to vent my rage in a way that the Captain would feel the impact of my action, but would never know who did it. I chose the wiser course of action, and felt a lot better, afterwards.

    But, I became increasingly paranoid, to add to my anger and rage towards the captain, for the remainder of the cruise, and for the first couple of months back in port. I had gained 30 pounds on the 7 month long cruise. Within a month of our return, I had lost 40. I was running on the beach everyday, and pretty much on a liquid diet. I was wound pretty tightly. I wanted to get transferred off the ship, but was told, unofficially by the ship’s legal officer, that the only way I could do that was by going AWOL for at least 30 days, and then I would get reassigned to another ship. He didn’t recommend this – it was just my only way of getting around having to deal directly with the captain. I had a good enough record that my AWOL wouldn’t do too much damage. I just filed that information away, and went about my daily duties in the Engineroom.

    One morning, something was done or said, I don’t even remember what it was, that threw me into another rage, like the one I’d been in that fateful morning at sea. I was way beyond rational thought. As I descended the ladders into the Engineroom, my only thought was on that toolbox, that big wrench, and that idiot Ensign who had pissed me off. Nothing was going to stand in my way of doing some considerable damage on his face. Fortunately, a rational thought did enter my brain before I got anywhere near the toolbox. “It’s time to go, Pete. It’s not worth this. Just go. Turn around. Go back up that ladder. Walk away.” And, so I did.

    Back in the berthing compartment, a couple of guys asked what I was doing. “I’m out of here.” Where will you go? I told one guy I was planning to go to New England. I told another guy I was planning to head down to Florida. I knew that both of them would tell everyone my “plans”. Instead, I just went to my apartment on the beach, and chilled there for a couple of days. I knew I’d have to leave soon, but I needed to get my head on straight before I hit the road. I knew they wouldn’t come looking for me for awhile, so I wasn’t too worried about the Shore Patrol or any of that.

    In fact, being off the ship, out of the whole paranoid situation, the anger and the rage I’d been experiencing there for months, was an incredible relief. I hadn’t felt this relaxed and calm in a long time. I was feeling a burst of creativity. I began writing up a storm. My plan was to document the whole thing.

    My only real plan was to eventually start heading west, make my way across the country, where I would eventually turn myself in at Treasure Island, in the San Francisco Bay. The legal officer had told me that was the place to turn yourself in if you were AWOL. Word was, the captain there was the most lenient, and he would give you a fair shake, especially if you had a good record prior to going AWOL, which I did. I had been considered one of the leaders in my Engineroom, and along with one other guy, was considered to be next in line for a First Class Petty Officer stripe. I’d worked hard for it, but at this point, I really didn’t care. I knew that one of the penalties for going AWOL would be getting busted down a rank or two. I was currently an E-5, Second Class Petty Officer – I would probably wind up being an E-3 Fireman. I was o.k. with it, though. Anything to get off that ship, and away from that Captain.
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