Fantail Kites

by kfrego

There is not much exciting about spending forty five days crossing the Pacific Ocean on a Navy AKA cargo ship. The USS Seminole had a great crew and our contingent of five marines were welcomed into their daily activities. We didn’t have any specific duty assigned on the Seminole. Our bunks were among those of the permanent sailors on board. We took any of the vacant bunks within their living quarters. We shared all of the activities of the Seminole crew, even participating in the daily work crews. It gave us something to pass the time.

We always started our day on the fantail of the ship doing calisthenics and other physical exercises before breakfast. Many of the permanent crew worked rotating hours and would sleep during the day at random hours. After breakfast we would make a round to see what the crew was working on for the day. Often we would fall in with them and help clean and maintain the ship. My favorite place to help was the ships shop area. It was small, but the sailors usually had something to repair or were making something. The little shop had a good assortment of materials and tools to work with. Somebody came up with the idea of making some home made kites so we could fly them off the fantail. Four of us gathered up the brown paper bags, wood dowel stock, glue, and string for the kites. We fabricated several different size wood frames and glued them together. We cut and fitted the skins from brown shopping bags stored in the shop. We carefully folded and glued all the paper lap joints to our wood frames. Every time a joint or lap of paper was glued it would take about twelve hours to set. It was a slow process, but we had all the time in the world. We lost the first two we made as they launched a very short distance and then plunged into the ocean. Once the kite was wet we just cut the string and let it go. The turbulence of air behind the ship required large kites with long tails.

We refined the designs and gradually were able to get the kites out further and much higher in the turbulent air. Everything went fine until one evening when conditions were perfect for kite flying off the fantail. We were in the middle of our best flight yet. The kite was up and down a lot, but responded well to corrections of the string tension. We had been at it for about an hour when the captain came screaming around the corner of the fantail and told us to cut it loose immediately. He was very agitated about the kite. He had been called to the bridge because the radar was picking up random low flying blips, but they couldn’t identify the source of the blips. He just happened to be looking out of the bridge towards the fantail when our kite popped up, followed by the holler from the radar operator. That resulted in our last kite flight.

We were the talk of the convoy for a couple days……………..even the captain had to laugh about our kite experience.