Cheap Geek Tour
Tuesday, Sept 28, 2004
It is pouring rain (thank you, Jeanne), so we decide that the thing to do for today is to go on a boat. Of course, it'll have to be a BIG boat, one where we can lounge around inside...
Enter the exhibit with Robert's name all over it: Battleship Cove!
Battleship Cove is in a town called Fall River which is at the southern end of Massachusetts, right next to Rhode Island (which is, in no way shape or form, an island). Unlike Washington State, Massachusetts is an itty-bitty state, so the "other end" of the state is about 50 miles away.
Robert swings the car into a sideways skid and stomps on the brake as we spin to a stop in a local parking lot.
"Are you out of your mind?!?" says Laura.
"Latte!" replies Robert
"Oh, well, okay then."
We have finally found a latte stand, and although it's not great, it's caffeinated and helps perk us up. We do our part for the Lesser Seattle Chamber of Commerce and tell the baristas that the weather in Seattle is always like this. (For those of you not in the NW, it really is. Always rains. Miserable.)
Our impression of the East Coast is that it's pretty much all paved—this impression based on such accurate sources as TV shows and movies.
In reality, there's a heck of a lot of nothing out here. For the last half-hour, all we've seen is trees, trees, and more trees. It looks like all the people are crammed in around Boston.
We arrive in Fall River, which is "Scholarship City," for reasons that are never explained.
Battleship Cove is set near the end of Mount Hope Bay. It consists of a battleship (USS Massachusetts), a Russian spy ship, a destroyer, a submarine and a couple of PT boats.
We begin our tour by viewing the PT boats, which are set inside Quonset Huts. (Everybody knows what a Quonset Hut is, but we had no idea why they were called "Quonset" huts. Turns out they were first set up at Quonset Point, Rhode Island.) PT boats are the boats they drove around in McHale's Navy (for those of us who grew up in the 60's), except that they're much bigger in person. Also, they have lots more guns.
Stepping (briefly) outside, we look at some attack helicopters that have been restored and are sitting outside. (And, no, we're not sure how helicopters fit into Battleship Cove, either, but there they are.)
We're now aboard the USS Massachusetts and are inside away from all the rain. One thing to note is that there is no good cell phone reception inside a battleship.
A battleship is a really big boat with some really big guns. It's main purpose in war is to shoot really big bullets at the enemy. The bullets are fired from 16" guns, and each bullet is about as tall as Laura.
There are three sets of guns, and each set of guns has three barrels. So, it can hurl 9 Lauras up to 20 miles away. The bullets (shells) don't have their own explosive—that's provided separately by sacks of powder. You can use between one and six sacks of powder for each shell, depending on how far away you want it to go.
Each set of guns takes 125 guys to shoot it. This is the really amazing part. The gun goes down three or four decks, and there's an incredible infrastructure involved in getting the shells and the powder into position. The shells come from one section of the ship and the powder from another. The guy who pulls the "trigger" to shoot the gun is in the fire control room in the middle of the ship.
In the powder section, they got very very nervous about sparks. If there was one spark that set off the powder—well, it would be a Bad Thing. So, everything in the powder handling area was made from non-sparking metals like brass and aluminum (even the nails in the sailors' shoes).
A battleship is also a small city, with 2600 men on board (during WWII, it would have been just men), with a hospital, giant kitchen, various radio rooms, and a police force.
The battleship itself has been restored in certain areas. Restoration involves hunting down the original WWII fixtures (the boat was retired in the late 60's) and labeling everything and installing informative signs and video players showing interviews with original crew members at their stations. When you're at Sick Bay (for example), you can listen to a Pharmacist's Mate talk about what he did. (He says dengue fever was a real problem, because the mosquitoes could fly up to 40 miles and bite sailors. He also says that it is not a good idea to use an autoclave to sterilize shoes, because they end up about a size two.)
The guys they interviewed were all enlisted men—no officers—and they're the working stiffs, like the cooks and the engineers. The cook talks about getting a commendation for the Admiral for feeding everybody in less than an hour in the middle of a bombardment (that's the commendable part—you try feeding 2,000 guys while guns are firing, big shells are flying, and your kitchen is rocking back and forth).
We're down in one (!) of the engine rooms. There is almost no part of this ship that you can't get to. This engine drove one of the outboard propellers—there were five propellers total. These engines alone are bigger than the PT boats we saw earlier.
The engines were fueled by oil, which was used to superheat water which drove turbines that turned the propellers. When everything was running, it could get up to 125 degrees down here (and was probably noisy, too).
If you were down here, you'd have no idea what was going on elsewhere in the ship (like, if the enemy was shooting or launching torpedoes at you). One guy from Damage Control talked about being sent to the top of the conning tower during a lull in a battle—which meant that he could see what was going on. He said he couldn't wait to get back below with his shipmates.
There is also this veteran's reflection posted on a wall down here:
13:10 (this is Military for 1:10 pm)
We have lunch at the shipboard "mess." Fortunately, it's 21st century food (french fries, cole slaw, and a hamburger with an American flag stuck in it).
After lunch we peer at some fire control computers. Even back then, all the guns could be controlled by computers (or fired manually if the computer had to be rebooted).
Of course, "computer" is used in the very loosest sense of the word—our camera has more computer power than this entire battleship.
We make our way up to the bridge, which has two parts. There's the "nice" bridge, with windows so you can look out the front of the boat and watch all the nice scenery.
Then there's the "enemy is shooting at us" bridge, where the guy who steers the ship is. This is protected by 16"-thick armor and a huge armored door and looks like a safe place to be (except if the boat started sinking, in which case it would be a bad place to be).
We race through the rain back to the car. We were going to go on the other ships here, but our legs were tired. Battleships have lots and lots of stairs, and they're all steep and designed for 20-year olds, which we are not.
We decide to take the scenic route back home and drive up along the coast. The rain takes a lot of the scenic out, but it's still pretty nice.
We swap drivers near Plymouth, where those Pilgrims landed once upon a time. (And, believe it or not, one of Robert's ancestors landed there with the Pilgrims, but that's the Bad Side of the family.)
Almost the entire drive has been through teeny towns. Our guess is that during the summer, there's lots of people living here, but that once winter comes around, they find things to do someplace warmer.
We also drive along Cape Cod and see lots of Cape Cod style houses, which must be how this place got its name.
During the 60 seconds it took to get from the car to the hotel lobby, we have gotten soaked to the skin. We decide that this would a good night to stay inside and watch a movie (School of Rock).
Never abandon the duck!
Robert & Laura Cheap