The fog had finally lifted and Seaman Recruit Connie Maloney scurried around the deck as the USS Vulcan prepared to get underway for a two-day cruise from her home port in Norfolk.
Working alongside six male sailors, Maloney, 20, helped tug loose the heavy lines mooring the ship to the dock and then carefully began coiling the thick ropes into neat piles for future use.
From one deck above, Petty Officer Larry Brown, an electronics technician who has been in the Navy 18 years, watched with fascination.
"The Navy has changed a lot," said Brown, grinning. "I used to be a line handler like that -- but it was never like that."
The repair ship Vulcan, at 38 the oldest vessel in the Atlantic fleet, is one of the first large ocean-going Navy vessels to have women serving on board, and Maloney and 60 other women assigned to the ship are making naval history. They also are proving what many refused to concede for so long -- that women in the Navy can hold their own at sea and not disrupt the shipboard (and male-dominated) routine.
The women on the Vulcan are holding down all the jobs that come with a Navy uniform, from sweeping and scrubbing the teakwood decks to learning to steer the vessel. And like thousands of male sailors before them, they are finding that joining the Navy to see the world also entails long hours of unglamorous shipboard toil.
"It's been hard work," said Christine Berringer, 19, of Glen Campbell, Pa., who prefers to be thought of as just another machinist's mate, or "grease monkey," working with the crew that includes 800-plus male shipmates.
"I asked to be trained as a machinist and I enjoy it," she said, winding up an exhausting 20-hour shift overhauling the ship's evaporators for the voyage to the Naval Weapons Station at Earle, N.J. Her hands and work uniform were smeared with grease, her strawberry blond hair tucked up under a cap.
"She does a damn good job. I'd like to have four more like her," said an admiring Machinist's Mate Second Class Frank McKay, who described himself as Berringer's boss.
McKay said he was worried at first that women assigned to sea might not be able to do the work.
"But I don't think that way now," he said, praising Berringer as "a good worker" who "gets a little burned out like the rest of us, but she never complains or cries. She works as hard as any man."
About the only problem McKay said he has had "is keeping the guys out of here" who want to watch Berringer at work.
The aging Vulcan, like most of the Navy's repair ships, spends little time at sea since most of its work can be performed on ships docked in Norfolk. Except for this working cruise to Earle, where the Vulcan crew will spend three weeks repairing two ammunition ships, most of the men and women on board live ashore.
On rare sea outings such as this, the women sleep in drab dormitory-style quarters containing three-decker bunk beds and communal bathroom facilities. Their living areas is strictly offlimits to male personnel, who have similar quarters.Officers have private staterooms.
The Navy has gone to great pains to prevent disruption of duties as a result of the women's presence on board. Shipboard fraternization is forbidden and three male crew members who were caught trying to get into the women's quarters earlier this week face courts martial.
"We don't permit courtship behavlor aboard ship," said Cdr. Charles L. Keithley Jr., the Vulcan's executive officer. He defined "courtship behavlor" as holding hands or showing any public display of affection, but he said the Navy "won't try to regulate our beople's behavior on shore."
Keithley said he was completely open-minded" about the prospects of welcoming women onto his ship. But he was also prepared for "the problems of getting the crew adjusted and getting used to living in a fishbowl atmosphere for a while."
The Navy set up special human rights seminars for the crew, with talks that warned against any discrimination against the women but also stressed that the men should not develop a protective attitude toward them.
Despite the orientation for the male shipmates, however, most of the women on the Vulcan are keenly aware of what one calls "the guinea pig" nature of their situation.
"It was harder for the men to get used to us than it was for us to get used to them," said Seaman recruit Martha Adams, 24, one of 12 cooks on the ship.
Adams, whose family lives in Wood-bridge, Va., was working in a restaurant and looking for a better paying job when she decided to join the Navy.
Although her father made the Navy a career for 23 years, Adams has found the life "a litte less exciting than I thought it would be. I think I'll just put in my time [four years] and get out."
While money is a factor for some in joining the Navy, education is the primary attraction.
Electronics Technician Third Class Mary Hazelton, 27, joined the Navy for six years in May 1977 after the District Heights, Md., resident decided she wanted schooling in electronics repair work.
"I wasn't sure what to expect," said Hazelton, who was not bothered by the initial ogling of male shipmates "because I knew the novelty would wear off of everybody watching the ladies."
Her biggest shipboard adjustment problem?
"Getting used to running up and down those stairs and ladders with my hands full of supply boxes," Haxelton said referring to the nearly perpendicular, chain-rail ladders that link the decks.
The men of the Vulcan, after some initial jokes, appear to have accepted the situation. A few still protest that "no woman can work as hard as I can," but most are either indifferent to the presence of women or else say they enjoy the female camaraderie.
Both sexes worried that women would suffer the most from seasickness, but on the ship's first outing earlier this month, the only crew member to get sick of public was a male who, much to his mortification, "upchucked on the deck while on watch."
The women, for their part, get tired of answering the same questions: What about dating and socializing with the men they meet on board? What about sex?
The answers are that it happens, but never on the ship -- as far as anyone can tell -- and not all that much on shore, either.
"I personally don't like to have that much to do with a person who works on the ship with me," said Anita Jones, a 22-year-old third class electronics technician from New York City. "It would be like going out with someone who works in the office, it's just too close to home."
Even so, the women admit privately that there is some dating going on among the male and female shipmates. There has even been one couple who have gotten engaged, although if they marry, the junior person -- probably the woman -- will have to leave the ship.
Three married women who joined the Vulcan crew last December were transferred off the ship when they later learned they were pregnant.
A Navy wife recently wrote a letter to the Navy Times, complaining that allowing women on ships with men was creating "a floating brothel" for the lonely husbands. "Ban the broads," the wife protested.
The women on the Vulcan find such speculation disgusting.
"The Navy wives shouldn't freak out because we're not here to steal their husbands and, having the sense that we do, we're not going to go for a guy that's married," said one crew member.
Besides, she said, echoing the views of men and women on the ship, "If a guy is going to go out on his wife, it's a lot easier while he's on shore duty."
Despite a few private reservations by some Navy wives, the ship's chaplain said no wife of a Vulcan sailor has complained or put pressure on her husband to transfer off the vessel.
Women are working out so well, in fact, that it is expected some 55 female officers and 375 enlisted women will be serving on 21 ships by October.
"I think the women are doing quite well," said Vulcan second-in-command Keithley. "They are capable and generally pretty cnthusiastic about what they are doing.They're contributing to the completion of the ship's mission."
But Berringer, who finds Navy life a lot more exciting than the book-keeping and college studies of a couple of her girl friends, thinks she has a more obvious reason for ship service by women.
"I wanted to go to sea," she said simply. "If the guys can go, why can't I?"