New Year's Eve is a night that anyone can enjoy in some swank club or a lavish house party but it takes imagination to have a good time aboard a small Navy ship with a gruff coxswain in charge.
Thirty three years ago, on this New Year's Eve, the YP 433 was a long way from her home port of Gloucester, Mass., as she lay tied up alongside a broken-down pier in the Navy Section Base on the Miami River in Florida.
The VP 433 had seen better years before the Navy took her out.
Her name in civilian life was the Superior and she was more familiar with her weekly run from Gloucester to the Grand Banks and back with a loadof mackeral, than she was in the warm Florida waters, resting from hunting U-boats.
Her hull was painted gray andthe Navy placed three 20-mm cannon on her bow and some depth charges on her stern and manned her with a novice crew of 15, including the three ensigns who were in charge.
But it was New Year's Eve now, and earlier in the afternoon the three ensigns, looking splendid in white uniforms, asked to be rowed across the Miami River for an evening on the town.
We were the king of crew that would flip coins to see who would carry out orders and on this day I lost. So we set out for the short row to the other side .
About halfway across with the three officers talking about the great evening they were going to have, we were shaken by several loud blasts from a huge sightseeing boat coming right at us from the Everglades.
In the past few days we had enjoyed watching the Miami fire department when they came down to the river to test their hoses by spewing water high into the river.
I was rowing, and my only choice in getting out of the steamship's way was to head for the spray hoping the firemen would turn it off.They didn't.
My dampened leaders unanimously decided that I should be restricted that evening because of poor seamanship.
New Year's Eve aboard that ship left only what we called "second-class liberty." First class was when you could go ashore and second was when you could scan the hotels of Miami with a pair of binoculars.
The evening poker game started in the crew's mess after the dishes had been cleaned away. Everyone wanted to hold their money for the day we might get ashore so we played for cigarettes.
About 9 o'clock the cook said, "Look, I've been saving a couple of bottles of rye for a night like tonight, why don't we break them out?"
The coxswain, a dour, older regular Navy man who had been busted a few times for reasons only he knew, looked up from his poker hand and said, "You know the regulations about drinking aboard a Navy vessel."
Eight sailors sat around him in a democratic fashion and discussed regulations and what constituted a "naval vessel."
Suggestions were made and it was decided and voted on that you could drink aboard a "converted ship," one that had never had a bottle of champaigne broken over its bow.
"Why not have a party?" an engineman wanted to know. "We could send out for beer and celebrate a real New Year."
The coxswain got up and left.
We setout for a beer place up river and came back with three cases.
About 11:30, with spirits very high, the question of the midnight celebration was raised.
"Why not just shoot a round of 20s straight up, all those different colored tracer shells popping off up there, what a scene," suggested one.
A second sailor opted for flipping a depth charge up river and waiting for the giant explosion.
Thecoxswain sat on the deck as we spilled out of the crew's mess waving beer cans and wanting to be heard.
Realizing we were all probably headed for a massive courtmartial including with himself, the coxswain headed for the pilothouse and set resignedly behind the wheel.
Somehow mutinies fizzle in cold night air.The suggestions for merriment became softer and further apart as we leaned along the rail wondering about all the fun going on in Miami.
There was an occasional, "I dare you to fire off a gun," but the coxswain, staring out of the darkened pilot house represented the Navy and sobriety.
About that time a thin wail of noise became louder from the Miami shore as the clock moved toward midnight.
We raised beer cans and in a subdued mood attempted to salute the New Year, every one of us wanting to be anywhere else but aboard the ship that night.
It was then that the VP 433 suddenly became the old Superior, the fishing trawler out of Gloucester,as all the running lights lit up and the ships' whistlejoined the Miami din. The battle station bell clanged loudly along with the whooping of th collision alarm.
The coxswain, who had started all this, stepped out onto the flying bridge waving a verys pistol and pulled the trigger shooting a brilliant flare straight up.
We cheered andshook hands as sailors ran to ring the ships' bell and to bang on pans.
The din went on for about five minutes and died away only when the noise form Miami stopped.
The lights went out again and we sat around the deck finishing off the beer and congratulating ourselves about having broken a whole lot of Navy rules.
It was about 4 a.m. when the three ensigns were picked up by the row-boat. They climbed aboard, saluted and went to their quarters.
The VP 433 never looked more ship-sharpe, all evidence of merriment having been carefully disposed of two hours before.
A few of use sat on the stern flushed with a littlemore than victory and the secret that a regular Navy coxswain bent a little that night so the old Superior, a fishing trawler out of Gloucester, lived her old civilian life for five minutes on that New Year's Eve.