I was about to be hurled into the South Atlantic without a life jacket, in heavy seas, at night. And I was wearing black.
It was a long time ago, on an exchange cruise aboard the Argentine minesweeper ARA CHUBUT, during the height of winter in the Southern Hemisphere. We were headed up the coast in rough waters, the small ship bouncing and rolling like a bobble-head doll.
The night was cloudless and pitch black. It was cold outside, but the bridge was buttoned up and warm – which was great, except the Argentines smoked. All of them. Still, I was hanging in there.
Until the XO asked me, “Mareado (seasick)?” Of course not. OK, maybe.
I needed some fresh air. There was no way I was going to let the Argentine Navy see an American Sailor get sick on their boat. I would hold off the nausea for my country.
When the door opened, my body was jolted by a frigid blast, and that’s all it took. Without getting graphic, let’s just say I used my right hand to clamp my mouth and nose shut.
Nobody saw me. With hand over mouth I scrambled down a ladder. But suddenly the tiny ship took a huge roll and I was pivoted outward. My left hand and foot stayed attached to the ladder, but my right foot swung out over the ocean and my body followed. I couldn’t use my right hand and couldn’t yell for help even if I wanted to.
So there I was, hanging out over the stormy Atlantic, clinging to life with one hand and holding yesterday’s carne asado in my mouth with the other.
But luck was with me, and the next roll flopped me right back onto the ladder. I scrambled down, emptied my mouth, cleaned up and returned to the bridge without a word. Nobody ever said anything to me about my little stroll, or questioned why I was gone so long (I think they suspected something). Nevertheless, my skin and my country’s honor remained intact, and that’s all that mattered to me.
I learned quite a few lessons that day. Wear a life jacket. Carry a light. Stay within the skin of the ship at night.
And learn the spanish word for “seasick bag.”