Tuesday, December 6, 2016

'Stinky Kapok Capers'

To all my fellow practitioners of the nautical arts and skills of the seagoing fighting man… Any of you ol’ Salts remember how to Don a Kapok?!? You remember… the Kapok life jacket all personnel must wear during Unreps as well as other ship to ship operations?!? It was an ugly ‘International Construction Worker Orange’ contraption made to slice your gonads in half if you fell overboard and didn’t land quite right in the water…

Yeah, I remember getting dressed out in a neon orange life saver with rain gear soaked in salt water & DFM look'n like a giant used 'Stayfree Maxi-pad!!!'

As many of you already know in my younger years as a Crackerjack it was well known that I was a misguided deviant! And growing up in this ol’ Canoe Club, someone once told me that life is about that ass… you’re either covering it, laughing it off, kicking it, busting it or trying to get a piece of it!! I guess that’s why I’ve got so many good stories to tell!!!

Every Unrep we stood by on deck in a dirty Kapok, and a hard hat while standing in  parade rest, facing outboard waiting to pull alongside! The problem was trying to maintain your footing on a slippery deck pulling in a ton of heaving line!! In short, we embraced the suck… and we had a great bottom-up view of how shit got done!!!

Unreps are common and routine, but dangerous evolutions nonetheless! Sometimes you get used to it and forget just how dangerous the job really is!! Between gearing up and waiting for the other ship to come alongside there sometimes was a lot of grab-ass!! You know what they say…

“I pretend to work and they pretend to pay me!”

When the word was passed to station the ‘Underway Replenishment Detail,’ all the line handlers and such headed to their Kapok locker to gear up and get ready! There was plenty of time to goof off and get staged up… and the mighty Kapok made for a hell of a pillow when taking a quick nooner if you could get past the caked on salt and distinct smell of arm pits!! They also made great weapons for pillow fights… got a buckle on my wrist bone once… hurt like the dickens!!! 

How the hell those Kapoks caked with salt and full of dry rot ever passed INSURV inspections I’ll never know!!!

When it was hotter than a sweaty ball sack in the Arizona desert we’d slather sunscreen on ourselves until you felt like a Vienna sausage covered in mayonnaise! Anybody remember trying to open those Kapok lockers?!? I’m a short man… and it must’ve been mightily comical watching me hopping up and down try’n to unlock that crazy contraption!! Those things were a son-of-a-bitch to pop open!!!

And watching a new Boot try to put the gauddamned contraption on… now that was the prize in the bottom of the Cracker Jack box...!!!

As we’d get outfitted for the upcoming evolution we’d have these straps that looped around tight in the crotch to help keep your head from ripping off if you had to jump in the drink… and did I mention those bastards stink?!?  We’d joke how the ‘How To Don’ instructions showed a squid holding his snot locker shut before going overboard was just masking the smell of his life jacket!!!

The Kapok was dirty & smelly and already had enough strange shit growing in it to pass as a petri dish!  The stuff never got washed or sent anywhere to be cleaned!! It took a real man to don the son-of-a-bitch… that’s why it was a good idea to be the first to grab the cleanest one!!!

Once you put it on it made you feel like the Pillsbury Dough Boy! It was like playing dress up in an organ grinder’s monkey suit!! Have you ever put on one of them Sumo Wrestling Suits?!? We’d take turns making a running jump into each other and falling back on the nonskid just for fun!!!

Yeah, then the evolution would start… we were nasty and salty all over while it was hotter than the hubs of hell jackassing fuel hoses across the abyss between two ships…

“Heave… Ho… Heave… Ho… Heave… Ho…!”

We bobbed up and down tethered to each other with the line pulling the probe across all the while getting our balls pinched by those God-for-Saken straps!! One thing you could do without was a big orange floaty flopping around all over hell, attached to your testicles and giving you road choad rash!!!

Other times it could be ‘brass monkey balls’ kind of weather! Anyone remember standing in the cold sopping wet trying to unsnap your gear with half frozen prune fingers?!? They could just soak us with DFM and light us off… we wouldn’t burn, it was too gauddamned cold!! And it’s no laughing matter when you take a better part of a gallon of salt water down the neck soaked to your skivvies!! Your genitals turn to ice cycles real quick!!!

But we made memories… and we had fun! If you really wanted to piss off the ‘Rig Captain’ just start sing’n the ‘99’ Bottles of Beer’ song… Not sure why but that shit would piss him off every time!!

“I’ll kick your butts so hard, you'll have to unbutton your shirt collars to use the shitter!”

… yeah, the rate of bullshit reached epic proportions!!!

Anybody remember stuffing one of the little guys up into the Kapok locker when the UNREP detail was secured?!? It took everything we had to get a fella up in that box!! I remember on the ol’ Rainier stuffing Heupel and Rayos both in a Kapok overhead bin!! They’d just hang out like a bum in a cardboard box until someone came along and finally let them out!!!

We didn’t’ just pick on anybody… no, if we didn't like you then we’d just ignored you and left you alone! After a couple of months out at sea forming that ‘Pack Mentality’ a thousand miles from civilization, you want that extra attention… you ‘NEED’ that extra love!! That’s what being a shipmate all is about!!!

And then you repeated the whole fun and games procedure two or three days later! Hell, even some of the Chiefs and Zeros got in on it!! We just Hooted & Hollered & pounded each other on the back!! We were out there smelling weird and having a good time!! We looked like idiots… but we were idiots so it didn’t bother us much!!!

‘Oh Damned it All’... Unrep flashbacks... the Kapok smell... the salt spray ... green glowing chem lights everywhere... does anyone else smell diesel fuel?!?

I’d like to say we’re vindicated for pulling such bullshit nonsense off… got away with it! But years later when your bones ache and you can’t bend like you used too… you kind of wish you would’ve taken better care of things!!!

It was all long ago… we were young, and it took a lot to get our feathers ruffled! That’s just how it was in those days!! You know what they say…

“What doesn’t kill ya’ makes you stronger!”

… There’s a lot to be said about that!!!


  1. Yes Kapok had them for the canoe my dad was a bosunmate before his Seabee career. For me it was the old green canvass chem warfare suit at GQ on the USS Midway that brings back awful memories to my nostril's. The smell of old canvass coated in some waxy petroleum substance mixed with stale sweat and farts. You would loose 10lbs in the Indian Ocean just from sweating. Than during unreps it was the tinman fire suit (flying squad) for taking on JP-5.

  2. Great story!!! And the picture is outstanding, even though the girls aren't actually wearing Kapok life preserves, but rather inflatable rubberized vests known as the "Mae West" worn primarily by aviators.

    1. Yeah, unfortunately I couldn't find a good Kapok picture to use... so I had to settle for this!

  3. On Kalamazoo's 77 med cruise we "celebrated" our 200th ship alongside with two months left in the cruise, and ended the cruise with 280. We replenished one hell of a lot of ships and still had some time for great liberty. Spent way too much time wearing those smelly kapoks. Made first on that cruise and chief three years later.