Most sailors tales are legends, wearing truths disguise; just deep sea blue embroidery, and some are downright lies. But I'll tell you a true sea story, just the way it happened to me, on a windswept gun deck not far from the open sea.
In November of Ninety, I found myself posted to H.M.C.S. Huron, just in time for work-ups prior to going to the Arabian Gulf. Following an interesting two weeks of the usual fires, floods, and famines, we returned to our homeport of Esquimalt where a not-so-young subbie with an attitude joined us. Mister Scarecrow (obviously not the name his mother had given him, but apt) was a typical "I know it all" product of Ventures' Naval Officer Training Program. Predictably, within twenty-four hours of joining the ship, he had succeeded in offending ninety percent of the lower deck and the wardroom was not far behind.
One day, he paid a memorable visit to the foc'sle as Smitty and I were carrying out routine maintenance on Tulio, our five inch main armament. Wandering about, he complained about the state of the non-skid deck topping, scarred with rings exposing the metal below. Listening to his tirade must have caused us both to momentarily throw discretion to the winds. His next comment set us off. "Whatever could cause these unsightly rings?"
Smitty and I explained to him that it was the work of the North Pacific Deckpecker. The Deckpecker is a very large, dark grey bird with nocturnal habits. It flies about the sea, searching for ships to land on at night. This particular bird feeds on the parasites which burrow into the ship's paint; the parasites in turn live on the cordite residues which accumulate about the gun decks. The rings on a warships decks are caused by the birds pecking about their feet before moving to another position. Because of the bird's unique habits and dark colour, it is very rarely seen.
As we described the Deckpecker, he became more fascinated at each revelation. Eventually, Smitty even demonstrated the bird's call, a raucous sound which drew more crew members about to listen as we contributed further details and corrected each other over minor points.
When our impromptu lecture had come to a close, he looked about at our rapt audience and said, "You know, I read about that somewhere."
Within the hour, everyone from the lowest, greenest Ordinary Seaman to the Captain knew the story. Of course, you know that the real cause of the deck rings is the expended casings from the gun striking the deck. But the North Pacific Deckpecker lives on in sailor's mythology.
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Submitted by: William P. Sparling, Sr.