Commentaries, Reminiscences and Sea Stories
Bob Lord

Some Ship's Newsletter Memories
Posted on 2/2/2010

There was never a formal mission requirement for TAGS ship's newsletters/cruise books. Because of that, the ships weren't really equipped to produce them. Needing something constructive to do during off-hours at sea, many shipmates got together to collect news, stories, and pictures as a record of each cruise and of life at sea. They scrounged whatever resources they could find aboard to get something in print. Both the editorial and graphic quality varied widely, but the spirit of the crew was always there.

Early ships newsletters/cruise books were produced in one of these two ways:

Mimeograph Copies

The mimeo process was an early way of printing that was inexpensive and effective for print but not for graphics and photos. Its major characteristic was the eerie, hazy, purple print it produced. Something about the color of Quell (if you've ever been to The Gut in Subic Bay, you'll remember Quell.) It was limited to 8.5 x 11-inch pages, and the quality of the copies gradually degraded as more were made from each mimeo master. A master was made by typing or drawing on a special, multi-layer mimeo form that contained chemicals that allowed the purple, printing spooge to ooze thru to make a copy. A messy process, but it worked for the early publications. It also smelled better than a wiff of land after 30 days at sea.

(The process described above was "spirit duplication" a/k/a "Ditto", not mimeograph. The name came from the alcohol solvent that was used to transfer the purple/blue color from the master to the printed pages. -Admin 6/8/21.)

Xerox Copies

Xeroxing was available on the ships, but similar to the mimeo process, it was too contrasty to work well for graphics and photos. It too, was limited to 8.5 x 11-inch pages. Translucent, half-tone overlays were used to make photos look a little better, but they still weren't very good.

The main problem with the mimeo and Xerox processes was that they were both very high-contrast in nature. They didn't reproduce the subtle variations in tone required for graphics and photos. They were also limited in size. A larger print size would allow us the ability to print multiple pages in a pass, and ultimately more pages in an issue. More pages meant more photos, and photos were the key to capturing the spirit of our lives at sea and in port. Even a poorly-reproduced picture is worth more than a thousand well-reproduced words.

Later Processes I worked on the Bowditch cruise books from early 1972 through the Spring of 1973. In the beginning, we were using Xerox with half-tone screens, and the quality just wasn't good enough for us. During that time, Jim "Burd" Harris (our cosmic photog,) Jim Davis, Dennis "Flash" Johnsey, and a few others (sorry for forgetting names. Maybe Dave Strauss, Frog, and others?) worked on finding a new way to produce our cruise books. Our brainstorming sessions resulted in "The Dreaded New Process", which was the cover story for our issue around the Fall of 1972.

The Dreaded New Process

The New Process was built around the diazo print machine used to make NAVOCEANO chart copies. It was located in a room next to the photo lab. The diazo process used a special paper which was about 3ft x 4ft in size and coated with a light-sensitive chemical that was "developed" with fumes from an ammonia tank. One form of diazo printing produced "blueprints", which of course have white details on a blue background. We used the "blue line" version of the process, which resulted in dark details on a light background. It was also a positive printing process, which meant that we could paste up pages in positive form, make an acetate positive transparency, and print directly from the transparency to the final product.

The transparencies were produced using a xenon-arc lamp in a special, light box. The paste up version of the newsletter was placed in the lid of the machine, then a specially coated acetate film was placed on top of the original. A glass cover was closed and sealed, so the acetate was flat against the original. Then the lid was flipped 180° toward a xenon lamp inside the base of the machine. When the lamp was flashed on, it created a positive transparency from which to print the final product. The final printing process used the same light box, but with chart paper being exposed thru the acetate positive.

The most important characteristic of diazo printing for us was that it could be coaxed out of its high-contrast mode into something a little more suited to printing photos. After experimenting with diazo prints from positive transparencies, we were able to create the whole newsletter on a single 3' x 4' sheet, which we folded into something closer to 8.5 x 11 inches. This all made production a lot easier than with the mimeo and Xerox processes. It was also faster than lunch from a supermodel. Decent photo reproduction, quick, one-shot printing, and no collating made the diazo printer the toy to use.

Over time, we tuned the process to give us the darkest tones consistent with decent photo reproduction. The quality in the July '73 issue ("The Last Boat Drill",) for instance, was actually pretty good, all things considered. When I moved to the Michelson in the Fall of 1973, I took the process with me, and we used it to print more issues there.

Handling Photos

I remember many, many fun hours at sea collecting, sorting, and selecting photos from the whole crew for the newsletter. Early in my stay on the Bowditch we came up with the capability to process Kodak Ektachrome slides aboard. We discovered that Ektachrome (as opposed to Kodachrome) could be developed in a relatively forgiving, simple process called "E4." We mail-ordered supplies like E4 chemical kits, film cutters, cardboard slide jackets, and sealing irons for them. Afterwards, most of us shot color slides, because we could then process them ourselves, which gave us our in-port photos while at sea, rather than sending them off for finishing. It also allowed us to push film and fiddle with other special effects like posterizing.

The fact that the TAGS ships had fully equipped photo labs at all was a wonderment. Sure, each OCUnit was assigned a Photographer’s Mate whose primary job was chart reproduction. The production of charts required the diazo machines we used to create the newsletter, but they sure didn't require a full photo lab. Whether or not it was the Navy’s intention is not known, but the labs were great for crew morale. They were available for all shipmates for personal photography projects, and all the Photogs I worked with were more than willing to jump in and help with these projects. I have to say that, for me, our Photogs made life at sea a lot more fun and interesting.

Our Cruise Books were, of course, produced in black and white. (More like dark bluish-gray and maybe-whitish.) That meant we needed to copy our slides onto B&W film and print them in a size appropriate for our page layouts. The whole thing was very time consuming, but it was a labor of love. More importantly, now we all have a nice, visual record of our lives and our adventures in the world of TAGS.

(Many thanks to Jim "Burd" Harris for corrections and additions to this rememberance.)

A "Cruise Brochure" for TAGS Vets
Posted on 9/26/2010

Take a Cruise on the Last Operational Victory Ship !

Do you miss that deep, depressing feeling in your gut as your TAGS ship pulled out of port away from both human affection and adult refreshments for a whole month? Miss the sights and smells of decades-old steel rusting in salty air? Miss the chills of Channel Fever as you get within sight of land? Well, you can experience it all again. Some very dedicated Merchant Marine veterans have spent years restoring vintage Victory ships, and there’re now 3 of them moored as floating museums and movie sets on both the east and west coasts.

The ships:

SS Lane Victory (Los Angeles/San Pedro, California)
SS American Victory (Tampa, Florida)
SS Red Oak Victory (Richmond, California)

The S.S. Lane Victory

Lane Victory is the last fully restored, operational Victory ship. Her keel was laid within a month of both the Bowditch and Dutton’s in the Spring of 1945, although she was built in Los Angeles as opposed to Portland. The ship offers real-live, at-sea cruises from her berth in San Pedro, California out to Catalina Island, a distance of “26 miles, across the sea.” The Lane is one of 272 VC2-S-AP2 class Victorys, while the TAGS hulls represented three out of 141 VC2-S-AP3 class hulls built. The difference is primary one of horsepower. The TAGS class boasted over 8,000 hp, while the Lane’s class offered 6,000. The ships are otherwise substantially the same.

Prices for both on-board tours and sea cruises are extremely reasonable. The museum tour is less than five bucks, and the sea cruise is a little over a hundred for a full day on the ship. Check out [] for all the details, including some nice photos.

Go here for photos of my visit to Lane Victory.

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