Fitness on the High Seas
By Rick Burell, Former Navy SEAL and CrossFit Box owner
The need still exists to stay in some modicum of physical condition when providing Maritime Asset Preservation, (aka anti-piracy services), for the maritime shipping industry. CrossFit training on the fantail of ship while underway on a pitch-black night with your assault kit, night vision, and weapons systems at your side while trying to knock out “Cindy” is a challenge only a handful of guys have experienced. The fantail is the external, ass-end of the ship for you less-than-Jack Sparrow types.
I am typically the first in the chute to test the daily WOD to ensure the rest of the team can pull it off when they rotate off shift. If not, scaling the WOD considerably or changing it altogether is in order. This happens more often than not due to the sea-state. Did I forget to mention that you are always negotiating the ship’s 6-primary movements; pitch, roll, yaw, surge, heave and sway, and often simultaneously? Any attempt at General Physical Preparedness (GPP) onboard a ship experiencing more than 15-degrees of motion is damn near suicidal, as failure can mean plummeting to a dark, watery grave.
There was no way in hell I was going to deploy overseas for the next 4-8 weeks and not assault the WOD’s with the same ferocity when on dry land in the comfort of my own pseudo CF-box (this is equipment spread across a 10’x20’ “We Store Your Life” storage unit while Sandy and I try and locate a real box). Trying to CrossFit while at sea to prevent total physical and mental decay from setting in like hydrocarbons being destroyed by a bacteria, which is accelerated by the 24hr consumption of a shipboard diet of insulin-jacked, frozen, dated, and often water-added-to-box type victuals, is as necessary as breathing.
The only thing organic or fresh about foodstuffs onboard a ship is thequantity of surface growth accumulated on 2-day old fruits and vegetables purchased at the last port-of-call. Daily meal planning, if that’s what you call it, appears totally nonexistent. Few Stewards actually conduct real meal planning, much less make healthy meals for starving crews – at least not U.S crews. I’ve worked with both. I think ship Stewards do nothing more than pass 3 x 5 cards of old Sara Lee recipes producing budget, fast-food quality meals handed down by the last kitchen slug who probably couldn’t get hired by most fast food joints. Can you tell I’ve had enough of sea-legs, scanning radars, and dreading the next port call…in Mombasa, Karachi, or anywhere between 32°and 75° East longitude?
Try to maintain a Paleo or Zone-based diet and you will be ready to walk the proverbial plank in short order. In the end, I had to capitulate and eat what was served while experiencing gastric fermentation of the highest order. I am still paying the man! Thank God for the two Progenex Pro-Packs, Paleo Kits and fish oil I brought with me. Speaking of the Pro-Packs, is there any chance that a total vanilla flavor is in the works? While we’re at it, Progenex, please design a better sealing bag for this crack-like protein. Opening a bag of Progenex is tantamount to a war with a bag of your grandmother’s talcum powder, and clean up always requires a gas mask for breathing. I hate to sound like a rag, but at least include an 8-inch Chip-Clip.
Crewing onboard a steel-hulled ship can have debilitating effects on every joint south of your C1-vertebrae. This is one of the few instances that I highly suggest a shoe with some cushion, a tougher than usual toe box, but no more than 10-degrees of drop. The last thing you need is a bit more slope onboard a ship.
My bi-pedal skins of choice for anti-piracy work is a pair of La Sportiva Crosslites (10mm drop/1.0 version), in lieu of my usual Skylites, Trail Gloves, or Inov8’s.
I boarded my last vessel in Durban, South Africa, a trip ending just a week ago, with the mandatory half suitcase of equipment. Specifically, a Bulgarian Bag (26lb), Predator Bands, Metolius Rock Rings, Bone Crusher gripper (250lb), stretch bands, rings, chalk bag & medtape, AbMat, and a couple jump ropes. Once onboard I made a heavy-duty jump rope (1.5″ manila line) that would crush any entrant who makes it to the CrossFit Games in July, and a 20.1lb, hand sewn from a maritime exposure suit, lead shot-filled medicine ball (see photo).
Gary– my 18-Delta Medic (SEAL) who can perform damn near everything short of open-heart surgery – pretty much salvaged my entire trip by mounting a solid pull-up bar on the fantail. I do whine when I don’t have anything to hang from. Who the hell doesn’t like to do pull-ups? Johnny – my Comms guy – brought a portable kettle bell rig that worked better than the idea sounded. Keep an extra wide gap between for the down swing though. This is where ship’s roll can bite you in the…kneecaps. Who gives a crap about pirate confrontations, which usually last no more than a few minutes anyway, and besides, we are going to be sailing 24/7 for the next two months? Man has priorities ya know?
A definition of “Pirate” is in order: A pirate is a knucklehead – who the international community claims are pissed off innocent fisherman who have lost their prime fishing areas – who often forgets to pull the safety off the end of the rocket propelled grenade they just fired at you.
Prime fishing areas issue…are you freaking kidding me? I’ve sailed most of the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden (GOA), Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and a modest area of the Indian Ocean…are you freaking kidding me? Ninety percent of the local fisherman I’ve seen are in territorial waters (12 nautical miles from shore), and any of those trailing your 700-foot long vessel in international waters use 7.62mm fishing lures. Is the public suppose to believe that fishing vessels from everywhere outside of Somalia are sailing half a planet away to take a chance at netting some fish, and risk getting shot while doing so? Sounds like a regional problem to me. Here’s an idea; cut off the food aide, educate and enable the African population, and allow some natural thinning of the herd.
Now that I think of it, this almost sounds like a Crossfit-based natural selection to me. It will be intense, it will force adaptation, and it will be effective. Man, I can feel the emails burning a hole in my server. For those with their panties in a wad, do some basic research on the 3-4 U.S agri-companies, maritime shipping companies, and NGO’s that control U.S Food Aid. Fact: Food Aid has nothing to do with foreign subsistence. It’s all about generating revenue for big U.S business and unions. Again, do some research and visit a half dozen ports in that region – without a security detail – and let me know what you think. All of you gov-types can “lock-it-up” because working and living in consulates, embassies and US government provided housing does not constitute roughing it. I know because I’ve been there, done that too (8-years averaging 290 days a year overseas)!
I got off track there for a moment. No more snot-bubbling! All situations being equal, and they never are, my GPP workouts onboard went pretty well, but you are certainly not going to gain vast amounts of strength onboard a ship underway. It is great to come home, slap a quad of dinner plates on the Oly-bar, and hit it a power WOD with reckless abandon. I won’t lie to you, though I probably should after Sandy reads my next comment. After 7 weeks at sea I was definitely weaker than when I departed the U.S, but putting my hands on my Pendlay was better than sex. Well, not really, but damn close, given the former lasted longer than the latter. Cut me some slack honey, it was 7 weeks!
Certainly, some will squirm in their seats after reading this, others may be ready to go to sea to “git-sum,” however, a fair amount of folks are gonna be pissed off at me. I can live with that.
I’ll keep all your comments in mind when I go to sea again to provide protection for 40k tons of corn and soy meal – manufactured, processed and shipped by insanely rich U.S companies – that typically arrives 5 months too late for the starving. It puts food on my plate as well!
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