Friday, November 21

Tale of a Gunner's Mate

Today's post written by Matthew Cullen, Acasta crew member and real life member of the United States Navy:

My grandfather was in the United States Navy as a Boiler Technician in the fifties during the Korean War, and would regale me with stories of his experiences while he served aboard an Allen M. Sumner class destroyer the USS Stormes (DD-780).

I was about 14 when I decided that being a sailor was a career that I could enjoy. I was set on the idea that I wanted to be submarine sailor, after watching some choice movies and documentaries; I knew that the submarine life was for me. As time wore on and my interests and aspirations changed with my age, the majesty and mystery of the navy faded from my teenage mind. I took on the opinion that my adolescent dreams were more like children wanting to be Astronauts or Super Hero’s then an actual career path.

The Plunge
I graduated from high school in June of 2007, after which I got a job as a security guard for a low income housing sight in downtown Los Angeles. After a falling out with my mother and the inability to support myself in southern California with $9/hour job with no real marketable skills, I had to stop and ask myself what was my next move. I needed to get into an organization which will take damn near anyone and offer a decent pay check with little experience. The answer was clear, and I walked to the local recruiting office and talked to a recruiter. Two weeks later I went to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) San Diego for my screening. In MEPS I was required to perform basic exercises such as a “duck walk” and various movements to ensure I was physically sound to perform my  Group of Males during screeningduties. I also had to provide blood/urine samples to test for diseases and illegal drugs (the USN has a zero tolerance to drugs). After I completed my screening I received my enlistment package and a plane ticket to Recruit Training Command (RTC) Great Lakes for boot camp.

Night of Arrival
It was a bitterly cold Chicagoan winter that 12th of March in 2008. I stepped onto a bus that was shuttling recruits from O’Hare airport to base. We were singing songs, telling stories of home and what boot camp would be like, but when the bus arrived and the doors opened the mood wasn’t very light anymore. The first words I heard after the doors opened were “GET THE F%#K OF THIS BUS RIGHT F%#KING NOW”! He was a large and deep voiced man and not just a little intimidating. We scattered off the bus and were told to go inside the processing building. The Recruit Division Commanders (RDC’s) were yelling and giving orders, some of the other recruits were taking it badly. This is the moment were I silently thanked my mother for enrolling me into a youth program called the Sea Cadets, which is like JROTC but geared around the navy, so I was prepared for what was happening. First thing we did was call home and tell our parents we made and that we loved them, we were given 60 seconds. 

After that we went to a gear issue to get our ditty bags (a ditty bag is an old term used to describe a bag to hold your toiletries) and to change into a “navy” sweat suit, they are blue so they are affectionately known as “smurfs” they are not a very good looking outfit. Once I had all of these items, it was time to ship all civilian items I had home to my parents, save my wallet, watch and religious medallion(as per navy regulations). 

Night of arrival lasted all night and into the morning. The bus had arrived around 1730 the evening of the 11th and once everything was said and done I had classed up with my division and was being marched to my barracks at around 0430 on the 12th. I was placed into division 925 out Ship 06 the USS Constitution (All the buildings at RTC have ship names and are referred to as ships). Because I played the tuba in high school I was placed into a “Triple threat” 900 division. The triple threat means that our division was responsible for performing in the Band, Choir, and Rifle Drill team during our eventual graduation 8 weeks later. 

I am a United States Sailor
“Attention to the Creed! I am a United States Sailor I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of American, and I will obey the orders of those appointed over me. I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who have gone before me to defend freedom and democracy around the world. I proudly serve my country’s Navy combat team with Honor, Courage, and Commitment. I am committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all”. I cannot tell you how many times I recited that creed during my stay at RTC, but I know that I cannot forget it. It would take probably 5 pages to explain all that I did and learned throughout boot camp so I am going to summarize. We received instruction on everything from folding our underwear to how to get a ship underway, from fighting fires to marksmanship, and all of this training takes place in two months. It’s mostly a mental game than and intellectual one. Many a time I lay in my rack at night and listen to some poor kid sob into his pillow because he misses home. In the end it just turned into a routine and the routine safeguards your feelings and puts them hold until graduation. By the way it’s worth mentioning that I still have 10 more months of training before I get to a ship.

Recruit Division Commanders Parade your Divisions
May 2008, I finally made it, I’m now getting to graduate and continue my journey to become a real sailor. The ceremony was full of speeches, music and saluting batteries and made for quite the spectacle. The attending parent’s favorite part is when the RDC’s parade the divisions down the drill hall for all the families to see.

         After the ceremony we were allowed our first liberty with our parents. Graduation is always on a Friday, weather permitting and liberty expires 2000 the same night. You must be back on base in your ship by 2000 or there will be hell to pay. Liberty starts again at 0700 the next morning and the process is repeated for sun as well.

“A” School
In the navy your “job” is referred as a rating, such as my rating is a Gunners mate (GM). In order to be rated you must attend and graduate A school. GM A school is held right across the street from RTC at Naval Service Training Center (NSTC) great lakes. With all the preliminary and technical schools it took me 6 months to finish A school. It is mostly Computer Based Training (CBT) and I found that kind of disappointing. During my stay at NSTC I was assigned to the USS Porter (more buildings referred to as ships) where I made a few friends that I currently work with today. A school was kind of a blur, it was the same stuff day in and day out, and so it’s hard to remember any good details other than it’s was the first time I saw a torpedo in real life.  

Virginia is for lovers

To further complicate my job description, in addition to my rate I can have a Naval Enlistment Code (NEC) which is a four digit number that will classify what my technical skills are. To earn the NEC I attended C school. I went to Training Support Center Dam Neck Virginia for the NEC 0979, Mk41 Vertical Launching Systems (VLS). My occupational standard can be described as an operator and maintenance person for VLS. The school was not difficult, for if you know how to read and navigate the Technical Publications (Tech Pubs) you can trouble shoot and repair almost anything on VSL. I would like to point out that I am very lucky to be a VLS tech because this system has few moving parts, and being that it is static results in a very low failure rate.  I rarely left based because I didn’t have a car or know anyone who did so I would cruise around base trying not to die of boredom.  After I graduated from C school I received my orders to my first ship the Guided Missile Destroyer USS Barry (DDG-52) out of Norfolk Virginia. Only one problem the ship was on deployment in the Mediterranean while I was in Virginia.

Underway Shift Colors
Since I couldn’t report to my command immediately, I spent a brief period in the Transient Personnel Unit (TPU) while the navy figured out what to do. They decided to fly me and several other crew members to Rota Spain and meet up with our ship. We departed Norfolk International Airport to New Jersey for our transatlantic flight. We landed in Juarez Spain and was picked up by a duty driver to shuttle us to the base were our ship was moored. The first time I climbed up the brow I was so excited to see what it looks on the inside of a ship, and let me tell you what its nothing but functional. The Bulkheads (walls) were lined with firefighting equipment and valves, the Overhead (ceiling) had pipes and electrical cables running through it, it was awesome. I was taken to my berthing (where we sleep) and assigned a rack (bunks). These racks are sometimes referred to as “Coffin Lockers” for obvious reasons, I had a bottom rack.

They look too small to be comfortable but I can assure you that 6’ by 2’ by 2’ box we sailors call home fells like a palace after a hard day’s work. Then next morning we prepared to get underway. I ate breakfast with my shipmates and went to my sea and anchor station. As the last line was being cast off the Boatswain mate of the watch called out of the 1MC (ships PA system) “Under way shift colors” and then the ensign was shifted from the Fantail to the port yardarm. I was finally underway with my ship.

Up and forward, Starboard. Down and Aft, Port
What followed next was probably the most grueling porting of my training. Boot camp, A school, and C school had barely scratched the surface of how to be a good sailor. The real training began with On the Job Training (OJT). We had a General Quarters (GQ) drill every week, on top of all the other drill packages we were to perform. In between that I was required to perform my preventative maintenance and complete my Personnel Qualification Standards so as to get qualified in my job. And if that wasn’t enough I was expected to stand 8 hours of watch every day. Once I got the time management portion down that job became way more rewarding and enjoyable. I can remember one surprise GQ at 2300, I was dead asleep when what seemed like world was ending I jerked awake to “Bong, Bong, Bong, Bong General quarters, general quarters, all hands man your battle stations, up and forward starboard, down and aft port. Reason for general quarters: Drill. On a destroyer we are expected to go from a dead sleep in t-shirts and underwear to our battle stations and full battle dress in 13 minutes. It took some practice for me to get it right. That was in 2009 when I made my first appearance on my ship. After we got home we started out work ups repairing damage sustained on deployment, and offloading the missile canisters from VLS.

Deployment 2011
This deployment was to be much like that last. We had our stores on load and our weapons on load and began our deployment. We reached the Mediterranean without delay and made our way through the Suez Canal to gain access to the Arabian Gulf. It is here where I can elaborate on the highlight of my naval career. One day out of the blue my division is mustered in our shop by my Leading Chief Petty Officer (LCPO) as we gather in despair that our work list is about to be lengthened again Chief tells us that the next we are put in strike condition 1 don’t play around and get our a$$es to our stations. We were confused at first because every previous strike drill we endured we performed like rock stars. Then my Leading Petty Officer (LPO) at the time clued us in on the fact that we had been steaming toward the Libyan coast for the past 6 hours. Then it was all clear, chief meant the next time we go to strike condition 1 it was for real and he needed us to keep performing like rock stars. The next evening at approximately 1800, I heard the 1MC put us in strike condition one. I spit my food back onto my tray through into the scullery and broke the sound barrier on my way to my station which was aft VLS. Once inside the security station I locked myself inside and dialed into the net, I reported aft VLS manned and ready, and then waited. Not 15 minutes later I heard one of the cell hatches bang open and then what sounded like a freight train running though VLS. It was short, maybe 3 seconds and after it left I could hear it fly away towards its target.

My ship the USS Barry fired 55 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya after reloading 3 separate times in Sicily. We fired the 1000th T-Hawk in the history of the navy, and we were all proud of it. After deployment we went into a yard period for a much needed overhaul. We maneuvered the ship onto a Titan (barge used to take ships out of the water) and her in dry dock. Being in the yards was awful everything must be taken off the ship and I mean everything. We put all of our gear in boxes and physically moved off the ship. That took me late 2011 and into early 2012.

Back to the Mid-West
I choose orders back to RTC as an instructor and May 10th of 2012 reported onboard and have stuck here ever since. I am currently a Small Arms Marksmanship Instructor (SAMI) and teach recruits the basic fundamentals of marksmanship and weapons safety. I am negotiating for orders now to be a plank owner of a new destroyer that is still being built in Maine, USS Rafael Peralta (DDG-115). I owe everything I have today to the Navy. It is a great experience and am thankful to have made to decision to enlist.

GM1 (SW) Cullen, Matthew USN    

Wednesday, November 19


Welcome aboard HMS Acasta! 

The purpose of the HMS ACASTA and the ROYAL TARS of OLD ENGLAND is to accurately portray a crew of His Majesty's Royal Navy circa 1800-1810 for the educational benefit of the public and for the mutual research and enjoyment of the individual members.

Our organization will educate via a series of first person activities designed to demonstrate the real lives of sailors as they go about their business and live their lives. Landing Parties, Surveying Crews, Recruitment Drives, Press Gangs, Shore Leave... these are but a few of the activities that our crew will undertake whilst encamped at an event. During duty hours, we follow proper Navy protocols and sailors are expected to live a sailor's life.

The eclectic band of historical reenactors and interpreters that makes up the 'CREW' of HMS Acasta spans a wide spectrum of real life occupations.

We are made up of students, educators, academics (a surprising number of us are teachers) even a Ph.D., present and former Coast Guard and U.S. Naval men, artists & artisans, tailors, musicians, professionals & executives. We even have a freelance copywriter, farrier & presidential presenter thrown into the mix for good measure! (hint: look for the fellow that looks like Jackson from the twenty dollar bill!)

What does this odd lot all have in common? A love for the history of the Royal Navy and passing it on in a unique way to the public.

If you enjoy reading the adventures of the HMS Acasta, be certain to become an honorary member of the crew. This is a easy way to show us that you're out there and paying attention. It is a simple matter really, there is a blue button at the bottom of the page that will allow you to join.

And Second, I would ask that you comment from time to time on the posts that interest you the most. This is an excellent way to let the crew of the Acasta know what you, the reader, is the most interested in seeing. It is always most gratifying to know what the readers like. For those of you that have commented in the past, we thank you for you support and interest!

If you find a post that you are particularly fond of... be sure to share a link with your friends, over Facebook, Tumblr, Google Plus, etc. so they can enjoy it too!

The Acasta log is generally updated every weekday at 8am CST, visit back often, and encourage your History/Royal Navy friends to visit us.

Thanks for reading!

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Tuesday, November 18

Cutting out the Cutter

Which the ship's cutter was found to be rotted in the hull and in otherwise poor condition and the Captain commissioned the senior Midshipman, Mr Raley, to take the carpenter, Mr Apple, and go and acquire another one from Brother Jonathan. He let Mr. Raley pick his own crew for the expedition and besides myself he chose Hobbs, Stone, Araiza and Williams. The Frenchman who is the surgeon's mate went along also, I think just because he was the carpenter's particular friend and he wanted to go. We was all right proud to be picked as blockade duty is tedious and the chance to be away made from it made this possibly dangerous chore seem like a frolic.

They took us up the coast beyond a village with a good harbor we had seen in the past. We put out a few miles north from it. We was to take the ship's old cutter and we was not much out of sight of the Acasta before the cutter begins to leak like a sieve. Which we are pumping for all we are worth, and Apple and Hobbs is pounding in oakum to fast to dance to. Araiza says to me that the Old Man is probably sore at Apple for not seeing the cutter was bad off sooner, and sore at Raley for something else, and we are all going to be drowned over it. I know he meant it for a joke, but it looked all to true at the time. After a bit Apple says "Boys, there aint enough oakum in Newgate to keep this tub afloat, we had best slip the spare sail under her".   So that is what we done, and it helped some, but we was still pumping like smoke and oakum all the way to shore.

 Before dawn Mr Raley  put us into a little cove that was hidden, and we was all proud to be there. He had been looking at a chart the whole while like us being about to sink was of no concern. We stuck fast a goodly ways out, on the account of our setting so low for taking on so much water. The bottom was mostly clean sand and not mud, which was a bit of good luck for us. By the time the tide was all the way out she was setting on nothing but damp sand.

Raley set Apple to doing what he could for the cutter, being she was now dry docked after a fashion. He sent Hobbs and Stone down the road, which was just up beyond the dunes, to the village. They was to spy out what was in the harbor that might suite our need. Hobbs had been a whaler, so I figured Raley thought he could talk shop with the Jonathans if need be.

Jas. Apple
Between some of us helping Apple, and other taking watches on the road from the dunes, the day passed lazy playing at cards under a scraggly little tree. The Frenchman found an odd bug he thought would please the Doctor, then he pulls out a little bottle of sprits and pickles it. A sad waste of spirits.  Raley kept going from the dunes to the beach and looking with his spyglass. I suppose with everything being on him he could not really rest easy.

As it was it was near evening when Hobbs and Stone come back. They said that the village was not that much of a going concern, but that there was two cutters at anchor there that would serve.  Which then we loaded back onto the cutter and waited for enough tide to float her.

Apple had done what he could for her, but she was still leaking bad. We was pumping all the way into that port, but it did not seem to attract any undue attention. It was well after midwatch when we got in.  And just like they said two likely cutters at anchor.

Raley directs us to the nearest one and Apple boards her to check her out. "She'll do" says Apple and Raley has us to start transferring everything of value on the double quick, because now she is taking on water even faster than before. I was the last one off and right as I step off the water comes up over the side and she sets on the bottom. On the account of her being settled we had to leave the spare sail under her.

The wind was with us but had turned feeble and it was slow going taking her out. In the road just outside the harbor was a sloop that looked like some manner of privateer. We all breathed easier when we was past her, but it did not even look like there was a watch on her.

So now that we were clear of the sloop and well underway Mr. Raley  looks around - the boat is all cluttered with all manner of things in a most lubberly manner- and says to put the boat in proper order. So we all set to it. Stone and Araiza take hold of a pile of canvas on a little foredeck  and give it a good yank - and out falls a little red headed squeaker no more than 7 years old! We all stand there staring at him like we was struck dumb. He looks around all bleary and says "Who are you?". Then he saveys what is going on and says "Your stealing me Da's boat!" and quick as a cat he jumps on Araiza, who was closest. He is punching, kicking and scratching like a hellion and Araiza's vest buttons are flying everywhere.

So Williams pulls him off and holds him tight. "Britishers!" he fairly spits. "What is your name boy?" says Mr Raley rather stern. "Davy Riley" he says not a bit timid. " You will learn to show more respect Mr Riley" says Raley. "We whipped ya in eighty two and we'll do it again!" he says- you could tell he had heard plenty of that claptrap before. He says it so defiant it even makes Raley smile "That is yet to be determined" he says and goes back to the helm.

Stone and Williams set the squeaker down between them. " You gonna sell me for a slave?" he says still all brave. "We Britishers don't have no slaves" says  Williams. "They'll probably make you a ship's boy- a real sailor" says Stone. " I'm already a sailor" he says "an' I don't want to be no Britisher".

Which after that he just sets there quite for some while, then he thinks of something that makes him sad and begins to snuffle. "Me Da was gonna buy apples" he snuffles after a bit. "We get apples sometimes aboard" says Stone, which is no help. "Me Mum would make a pie" he says and really starts to leak hard.

So after that everything is quite except for the sounds of the boat and the leaky little squeaker. It is all right melancholy.

Mr. Hobbs
After some time Raley says to Hobbs, who is at the tiller " Mr Hobbs, she seems to handle rather sluggish". "Ain't nothing wrong with Da's boat" snuffles the squeaker. "Oh, no Sir" says Hobbs "She handles right proper". "Are you questioning my judgment Sir?" says Raley . "Oh no Sir" says Hobbs "Sluggish she is- terrible sluggish, Probably a foul bottom, Sir". "Put her about Mr Hobbs" he says.

So back we go, but now the wind is against us and the tide is almost slack, so it is hard going. The squeaker is still leaking so Stone tells him "No worries mate, we're taking you back" but he just keeps leaking. "I  was spose to be on watch"  he snuffles "Da will know you took his boat with me on watch"
 "Tell him ya fought us off and we brung it back" says Stone. "I can't lie to me Da" says the squeaker. So Apple bends down with  quid of tobacco "Give this ta your Da." he says "Da won't want nothing give to me by a Britisher" he says. Apple squats down on his level. "Punch me in the chest- hard as ya can" he says. So the squeaker hits Apple good in the chest and Apple drops the quid when he does "There now- I didn't give it to ya- I dropped it when ya hit me". The squeeker is pretty pleased at this and he then ups and punches Araiza who has been picking up his buttons. Araiza looks at Apple, who nods, so Araiza drops the buttons back down. "Now him" says Apple pointing at the Frenchman. So the squeaker runs over and kicks him hard in the shin. The Frenchman cusses something in French and gives Apple a dirty look, but Apple just tells him "Go on Frenchy antie up". So the Frenchman drops a little pen knife. And so it goes till the squeaker has fought everybody except for Mr Raley. The squeaker looks at Apple who says "Aint proper for common blokes like us to fight gentlemen". So the squeaker sets back right pleased with things.

So we come back around the privateer and into the harbor at last. By this time it is almost two bells into the morning watch and the eastern sky is starting to lighten up. We come up to the second cutter and Raley says "allright lads on the double quick now" and we scramble to transfer our dunnage and get her underway. "And search thoroughly for children" Raley adds.

About the time we are hauling up the anchor the Frenchman says "reguarde la" and points with his chin. Almost up on us is a dingy with two coves. A big one is at the oars with his back to us, a smaller fellow behind him has his head down. "Damnation" mutters Raley and he crosses over toward them. About that time the smaller cove looks up and says "Bob.." Well Bob glances up, then jumps up with a boathook so sudden it almost overturns them. "Thieves!" he says and looks about to shout.

Real quick Mr. Raley draws his pistol. "Gentlemen" he says" it has been an extremely trying morning already. My patience is worn quite thin. Now, are you men crew or owner of this vessel?". Bob just stands open mouthed like a codfish, but the other fellow says "crew". "Well" says Raley "we are exchanging you that vessel " he points with the pistol barrel to where the mast of our cutter is sticking up from the water " for the vessel we currently occupy. Now kindly throw us a rope." Neither move so he cocks the pistol and the smaller cove scrambles around Bob to toss a line, which Wilson makes fast to our boat. "Now gentlemen please set  quietly while we go about our work." says Raley. Both sets down meek as lambs.

By this time the tide is on the ebb, which is good for us, as the town is coming about by this time. As we pull away from the first cutter the squeaker stands waving Stone's red neck cloth "If you need to steal Da's boat again we should be back in two weeks" he calls.

As we pass the privateer they are about making way. "Friendly as we pass lads" says Raley. So we wave as we pass them. "You too" says Apple and the coves in the boat give then a half hearted wave also.

When we finally get good and out we loose the two coves. A hard pull they had against the tide I am sure.

By evening we had sighted the Acasta. Hobbs pulls a flask and offers me a swallow. Pure American whiskey, so he had done more than spy out cutters while he was gone. "This little venture" he says "was not as I expected."

-James Cullen, Remembrances of Eight years before the Mast, 1834.

Monday, November 17

Meet Edward Brenton Stewart

Acasta Midshipman/Lieutenant under Capt. Kerr, c. 1814-15, aged approx. 19.

Edward Brenton Stewart, born 7 March, 1795, is son of the late Hon. J. Stewart, Judge of the Supreme Court of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

This officer entered the Navy, 17 Oct. 1807, as Fst.-cl. Vol., on board the Leopard 50, Capt. Salusbury Pryoe Humphreys, bearing the flag of Hon. Geo. Cranfield Berkeley on the coast of North America ; where he continued to serve, with occasional intervals, in the Swiftsure 74, flag-ship of Sir John Borlase Warren, Spartan 38, Capt. Edw. Pelham Brenton, Shannon 38, Capt. Philip Bowes Vere Broke, Asia 74 and Tonnant 80, bearing each the flag of Hon. Sir Alex. Cochrane, and Acasta 40, Capt. Alex. Robt. Kerr, until Aug. 1815. While employed in the latter ship he received a Lieutenant's commission dated 1 Sept. 1814.


Friday, November 14

Master & Commander 2!

My missive to Mr. Rothman concerning a sequel of some interest to those assembled here:

My dear Sir,

Though the agreeable news of Captain Aubrey's capture of the Acheron arrived here in the North American Station some time back, their too long silence has given us all so much uneasiness of late. It has been quite some time since any word was received from our mutual friends aboard H.M.S. Surprise and I will speak frankly when I say that we have all begun to fear for their safety. It is not that I doubt the skill of our Captain Aubrey or his men, but as you know, the perils of life in His Majesty's Service combined with the deviousness of Bonaparte's forces are not to be underestimated. 

It is my hope that you can forgive this impertinence, but your address was supplied to me by Capt. Aubrey himself some time ago. He suggested that if there were no news of the Surprise that you might be the man to inform us of her where-abouts. And as you may know, there has been no word of her these long years. It is my hope that you know something of her that we do not. I am very sorry to press you ; but if I had not reason, I should not have called upon you. 

Any word of the fate of the Surprise that you might be able to pass along would be greatly appreciated by myself and the crew of the Acasta. It would certainly bolster the morale of His Majesty's forces here in the North American Station during this long war. 

We are all, thank God, very well, and desire to be remembered to you; and be assured a letter from you will give great pleasure to all your friends here, but none more than 

Your Humble and Obt Servant, 
Dr. A. Roberts 
Ship's Surgeon 
HMS Acasta 
Navy Hall, Halifax
 You may contact Mr. Rothman yourself as instructed by Capt Aubrey if you wish by addressing your missive to the following:
20th Century Fox Theatricals 
ATTN: Tom Rothman (Master and Commander 2) 
P.O. Box 900 
 Beverly Hills, CA 90213-0900 

(N.B. It would seem that Mr. Rothman is no longer the fellow at the Admiralty to contact concerning Captain Aubrey and his company, but I am quite at a loss as to who I ought to forward this missive to. I should greatly appreciate any suggestions along that line.)

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Because you KNOW you'd love to see Master & Commander 2.
Get me Russell Crowe on the horn, stat!

Thursday, November 13

Nautical Images for Inspiration

Sometimes I find that I need to go back through old Acasta images for inspiration… click on any of the images below to enlarge.