Tuesday, 5 June 2012


Bridge is a very sacred place for the executive officers on a ship; this is the place from where the ship is controlled navigationally and to some extent for exercises and operations. At sea, Bridge is the place that is humming with activity. There is a swivel chair for the Commanding Officer; irrespective of the rank, he is called 'the Captain'. If the Fleet staff is embarked, there would be another swivel chair for the Fleet Commander who is of the rank of a Rear Admiral. The ship's routine is divided into 'Watches'; viz, Forenoon Watch, Afternoon Watch, Dog Watches, First Watch, Middle Watch, and Morning Watch. Each watch is of four hours duration (eg, 0800 to 1200 hrs is the Forenoon Watch) except for Dog Watches, which are of two hours each (First Dog and Last Dog) so that in a three-watch system (the normal system on board during peace time) people won't be doing the same watches over and over again. The one officer in whose charge the ship is at sea is called the OOW or the Officer of the Watch. He may have an assistant OOW with him, communication staff, navigation staff etc. The Bridge is invariably supported by an Operations Room, which is normally a few decks below, from where all the ship's operations are controlled (sensors, weapons and operations with other consort ships, submarines, helicopters and aircraft).

A Bridge is to a ship, what cockpit is to an aircraft (Pic courtesy: ww2db.com)
Bridge (Contract Bridge), as you know, is also a cards game. People are as passionately involved with Bridge, the game, as, say, golfers are with clubs, balls and holes. Indeed, Bridge is one game that competes with Golf over the number of jokes about the game and the players and of course their spouses.

As a young Lieutenant I served on a ship that had, by a curious coincidence, over a dozen officers (nearly the entire officer complement) passionate about the game Bridge; and that included the Commanding Officer. So, after our sea sorties, when we would return to harbour, we literally secured from one Bridge (the navigational Bridge) and closed up on the game of Bridge. We used to have as many as three foursomes in the wardroom.

On one such occasion, the Fleet Commander was embarked on a sister ship. We came alongside first on a naval berth in Cochin channel and the Fleet Commander's ship was still a distance off from coming alongside our ship. It is customary for the Captain to receive the Fleet Commander's ship but seeing that she would take some more time to make its approach, our CO suggested that we don't waste any time in closing up on our other Bridge in the wardroom. In our foursome, I was partnering the Captain. The first two games went one each between our opponents and us. In the third game, we got very good cards, and between the Captain and I we arrived at a contract of Seven Hearts, a grand-slam. Captain had to play the hand and I was the dummy.

It was very exciting for us since it is not everyday that you bid and make a grand-slam. It required a great deal of concentration on the CO's part; to make the bid at least two finesses were required, one each from the East and West players. In the meantime, there was an announcement from the gangway that the Fleet Commander's ship was approaching and berthing party was required to close-up to assist that ship in coming alongside us. The announcement was clearly heard in the wardroom too but our Captain who had just made two tricks only with eleven more to go was in no mood to rush up on the quarterdeck to receive the Fleet Commander.
Bridge game in progress (pic courtesy: en.wikipedia.org)
Imagining that the CO might not have heard the announcement, the Officer of the Day (In harbour, usually, the ship is in charge of an OOD as opposed to OOW at sea) sent a sailor down to tell him about the Fleet Commander's ship approaching. By this time the game and hence the CO had become very tense. It required a great deal of dexterity on his part to have made four tricks and the grand-slam was nowhere near sight. Sailors are not allowed to enter the wardroom and it was a steward who conveyed the message to the CO. CO told him to convey to the OOD that he was on his way to the quarterdeck.

Meanwhile, we could hear a series of announcements on the main broadcast about Fleet Commander's ship making its approach, throwing heaving line and eventually passing berthing hawsers. The Captain was also very close now; he had successfully made ten tricks despite the East and the West players trying to make his efforts abortive.

The Assistant OOD came running down to the wardroom that a brow (gangway plank) between the two ships had been secured and the Fleet Commander's Flag Lieutenant (the Navy equivalent of ADC) had sent a message that the Fleet Commander would be leaving for shore shortly; and, since he'd be crossing our ship to do so, not only that our CO should see him off (as is the custom) but, (seeing that our CO had made no attempt to receive his ship) the Fleet Commander had expressed a desire to see our CO.

The CO successfully made the eleventh trick and now a smile had started forming on his lips as he sighted the first grand-slam in our wardroom (the one that would, no doubt, be talked about for months). He dismissed the Asst. OOD with, "Just tell him I am on my way."

As the CO made the next two tricks, we heard the four pips (quartermaster's pipe being blown sharply four quick times) on the ship's broadcast indicating that CO was required urgently as the Fleet Commander was crossing our quarterdeck.

He had triumph on his face for a job really well done in securing the thirteenth trick as he rushed up and back to the quarterdeck. This was an experience not to be missed. So as the CO went down to quarterdeck from the starboard (right) side, I rushed from the Port side.

He reached the quarterdeck, took in a glance the about-to-burst Fleet Commander, saluted him and said: "Very sorry, Sir; we were still closed up on the Bridge."

I don't know whether that bridged the gap between them or not but the Fleet Commander responded coldly, "In any case, it was nothing very important" and left the ship.

I am sure our Captain would have liked to tell him how important a Grand-Slam was to us.


  1. That was a fun-to-read anecdote. I am sure you have many such wonderful memories from your years at the Navy. I have heard a lot about Bridge but have no clue how its played.

    1. Seeing how much you and others have liked it, I shall be putting up more such anecdotes. After all if the Navy claimed you for 37 years, you'd have lots to tell.

      You are a lucky woman who doesn't know Bridge. It is intoxicating. Once the intoxication gets you, there is no cure. You HAVE to play a rubber (a set of two games won) or two.

  2. Loved reading this. Let's have some more Naval Yarns.

    1. Thank you. You will find some more coming up.


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