Seaman Billy Webb, who his shipmates nicknamed “Spider”, sat alone in the Junior Mess of the HMAS Hammersley, writing a long overdue letter to his mother in Innisfail. Although Innisfail is only eighty-eight kilometers south of Cains where Spider’s home port is, his parent are so busy with the sugarcane they never have time to visit and besides Billy promised his mom he’d write religiously every week. Unfortunately, he’d fallen a little behind. His first month on the Hammersley were filled with excitement and adventure which gave the young eighteen-year-old little time to himself.Putting pen to paper, he began to write:
Sorry I’ve taken so long to write. But since I saw you last at my graduation from the Australian Defense Force Academy, I‘ve been really busy settling in and getting used to life on a navy boat. It took a little time to get used to the rocking of the sea. I think I spent my first three days in the toilet. The medic aboard, Chris Blake, whom we call “Swain” because he also serves as the coxswain (chief security officer), is really nice and does his best to help with the seasickness and the Commanding Officer (who everyone calls Boss) Lt. Commander Mike Flynn was also very understanding. He explained to me that seasickness is not a new occurrence for newbie’s. He confessed that he also suffered from the same ailment his fist time at sea twenty years ago. But more about my CO later, Mom. Right now I want to tell you about a few of my shipmates who have become close friends. I already mentioned Swain. His medical assistant and head chef is Todd Cheffo. He’s a real character and loves to tease people. One guy who’s kinda close to my age is Jeffo. You remember him, Mom, ‘cause you met him at the graduation. We were lucky to get posted to the same ship. Jeffo has adjusted a lot better to sea life than I have and he’s forever getting in my face about it. But that’s okay; he’s a good bloke anyway. Our technician is Josh Holiday who we call ET because he’s the tech, and the communications officer is Robert Dixon. His tag name is RO for radio operator. The chief Petty Officer, who’s in charge of the engines, is Andy Thorpe but you guessed it, Mom, we call him Charge. He’s a big guy like dad and although he comes across as gruff, he’s a real teddy bear. We have two women on board. Our navigator, or ‘Nav’ as we call her, is Nikki Cateano. She’s just a little thing but she sure knows her stuff. The other lady aboard is our second in command who goes by the title XO for executive officer. Most of the time we just shorten it to X which she doesn’t’ mind. She is a no-nonsense officer. Kinda strict and hard to get to know but she’s new aboard warships. She comes from the huge Frigates so maybe she’ll warm up when she gets used to the command.The officer I answer to is Petty Officer Pete ‘Buffer’ Tomaszewski. He’s called Buffer because that is the colloquial title for the senior seaman sailor. My duties under him are to help with rigging and refueling; sending away the sea-boats, which are the small vessels we use to reach and board suspected vessels; and sea rescues, just to name a few. I also go on patrol duties on the sea-boats, do landings and other exciting things. Buffer is thirty-one years old and although he tries to come across as hard as nails, he’s also soft as butter. He’s a giant of a man who’s easy to smile and a great listener. He’s been so helpful and kind to me, helping me over my homesickness and awkward newbie feelings. He doesn’t baby me, but he does keep a close eye on me and is never too far away when we’re on a mission.
At first I thought I had more than just friendly feelings for him but soon came to realize those feelings tending towards the kind I’d have for that big brother I‘ve always wanted. I know he does have feelings for men and I suspect at one time, just by the way he and the CO act towards each other, there was something between them. I’m not sure if it’s still going on but I sure hope not because I really have a thing for the Captain of this vessel. It hit me like a brick the night he came by when I was sick in the bilges (toilet). He came in, rubbed my back and afterwards took a cool cloth to my face to wipe my brow. He had a gentle touch and when he brushed the hair out of my eyes, his hand sent signals straight to my private parts. (See Mom, I’m learning not to be so graphic around you.) It’s really hard to act upon these feelings on this small vessel. We’re only twenty-four members and privacy is pretty scarce. Besides the Navy rules about fraternization makes it even more difficult to show the Boss my true feelings about him.
One night when I was alone with Buffer on the bridge, we began to talk about how he felt about gays in the navy and he just gave me that little smile he’s famous for and asked me why I wanted to know. I was about to confess to him my sexual orientation when the XO came in. Later Buffer took me up on the deck to continue our conversation. He told me he came to the conclusion since I asked the question that I must be gay and he confessed to me he didn’t mind that because he too swung in that direction. He gave me some advice to be very discreet however. It is better to keep those things to ourselves he told me and I agree with him, for the time being anyway.I know when I came out to you and Dad, you both told me to be proud of whom I am and be true to my feelings but you know how things are in the military. So for now I’ll do what Buffer suggests and keep a low profile.
I mentioned before I was sure he and the CO had a thing going for awhile so I decided to take the chance on upsetting my superior officer and asked him directly if he and Commander Flynn had a relationship. He congratulated me on my observation and after a few quiet moments, he looked me right in the eyes and I noticed his big brown eyes get a little misty as he told me that yes, he and the CO did have a little fling but it ended when they both realized it would never grow into anything other than a sexual relationship."Mike needs someone to take care of and I’m not needy enough. We were both Tops and so we both knew there was no future for us.” I t was then, Mom, I took my bravado a step further when I asked him if the CO ever mentioned his feelings about me. Buffer let out a low chuckle before he answered me.
“You know, kid,” he stated, “Mike asked me the same question about you. He asked me if I thought like he did, that you were a little brat and needed taking care of.”I couldn’t believe my ears, Mom, or my good fortune. I’m including a picture of Mike in this letter so you can see for yourself why I’m so smitten. Besides being simply gorgeous, he is such a great Captain. He exudes a vigorous physicality combined with an air of quiet confidence and he also has a sly sense of humour. He can be as gentle as a lamb but cross him and a storm can be seen in his deep blue eyes. Many an adversary found out the hard way how dangerous it is to cross Mike Flynn when they tried to take advantage of his good nature. He has a reputation at Naval Command as a man who can get thing done even if he has to go outside the rules to do it.
Like me, he joined the navy when he seventeen and worked his way up the command chain. He’s done everything aboard from cleaning the mess to the bilges and, painting the decks. He learned his trade in rough seas and calm. He even trained in boarding parties and learned to love the close confines and easy going efficiency of the small ship. When he finally became Lt. Commander, he was posted back on the Hammersley. Since he’s done every job on the Hammersley that has to be done, he appreciates and never looks down upon us regular Juniors. The main thing he expects from his crew is to follow the values of the Royal Australian Navy: Honour, Honesty, Courage, Integrity and Loyalty.Well it’s almost time for my tour or watch as we call it in the navy. I know you got a computer for your birthday so send me your new email address and since we are allowed to email home once a day, I’ll keep you up-to-date on my adventures. The emails will only be general news. However, I will send you the more private stuff by regular mail.
I love and miss you both.Your loving son,
Seaman Billy “Spider” Webb
Spider placed his letter in the mail bag on his way to the bridge for his tour as helmsman. As he made his way to the bridge, he sent up a silent wish to the stars that the CO would be there. For now he would have to settle being close to him in this manner but maybe, just maybe, on the next shore leave which will be coming up in two weeks, he’d make a small move towards letting the Boss know his intentions. He smiled to himself as he opened the door to the bridge and heard the soft tones of the Captain speaking to the Nav. It was going to be a great shift.