Story of the “Indispensable” Sailor

Source: Academic and Creative Writing Journal Vikram Karve: Humor in Uniform – The “Indispensable” Sailor

The Story of the “Indispensable” Sailor

Link to my original post in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal:…


A Spoof

This story happened almost 30 years ago – in the 1980’s.


There is a saying: “No one is indispensable”.

However – in the 1980’s – with the induction of new ships with modern weapons/equipment and sophisticated propulsion systems – I observed that – on many ships – there were a number of sailors – especially in the Technical Branches – mainly Artificers – who were considered “indispensable”.

Whether these individuals were genuinely indispensable or not – I do not know – and I suspect not.

But the fact of the matter was that the Captain and Head of Department (HOD) wanted that particular “indispensable” sailor on board the ship during his one year tenure – so that his tenure passed without a hiccup – especially on that crucial weapon system handled by the “indispensable” sailor.

In fact – the Captain/HOD often got the transfers of these “indispensable” sailors cancelled – and I remember a case of “poaching” too – which resulted in an ugly exchange of correspondence, including signals, between the two rival ships involved.

Another offshoot was that these “indispensable” sailors acquired immense “expert power” (which sometimes overwhelmed “position power”) – and – thanks to their “expert power” – these “indispensable” sailors sometimes developed a tendency to bullshit.

Here is the hilarious story of one such “indispensable” sailor.

THE “INDISPENSABLE” SAILOR – A Spoof by Vikram Karve


On our ship we had a Chief Petty Officer – let’s call him “P”.

P was a part of the commissioning crew.

P had remained on the ship continuously without break for more than seven years.

Every time P’s transfer came, the Captain would get P’s transfer cancelled.

Every Captain wanted P to remain on board during his tenure, since P was “indispensable”.

P was indispensable since he was a specialist on a key weapon system.

With increasing years of experience, P gained more and more expertise, and soon he was the unsurpassed expert on the system.

Every Captain knew that with P on board, it would be smooth sailing as far as that crucial weapon system was concerned.

So every new Captain ensured that, during his command tenure, P was kept on board the ship.

It was a Catch-22 situation.

The more P served at sea on board the ship, the more P yearned to go for an appointment ashore.

But conversely, the more P served on board the ship – the more specialist expertise he acquired – and the more he became “indispensable” – and his chances of going ashore became lesser and lesser.

P was fed up – seven continuous years at sea were taking its toll on his health and, also, his family life was adversely affected.

P was delighted when he got his transfer order to a training establishment ashore as an instructor.

But unfortunately, the incoming new Captain got P’s transfer cancelled.

P represented against the cancellation of his transfer – he had served seven long years continuously on a frontline warship and desperately wanted to go ashore.

I took P to meet the new Captain.

I told the Captain the P had completed 7 years on this ship.

The Captain looked at P and assured him, “Don’t worry. You just remain on the ship for my tenure. The moment my transfer comes, I will see to it that you are transferred to some good place ashore – in fact, I will get you a choice transfer to the shore establishment of your choice.”

Despite the Captain’s assurance, P seemed dejected. This meant another year on board this ship – 8 continuous years of sea time away from family with no hope that it would end after even this sea tenure was over

When I tried to commiserate with him, P said cynically: “Forget it, Sir. Every Captain says the same thing. Captains come and go, all of you come and go, but I am destined to remain stuck in this hellhole forever.”

THE BULLSHITTER XO (Executive Officer)

A few days later a new XO (second-in-command) arrived – a hot-shot “spit and polish” Commander who had spent most of his time on training ships and shore establishments (stone frigates).

The new XO boasted that he was going to “kick us into shape”.

On the very first day of sailing – I was summoned to his cabin.

The XO was seated in his chair.

P was standing in front of him – not at attention – but in his usual casual manner.

P had the cavalier bearing of a sailor who has been at sea for a long time.

The Master-at-arms was standing behind P.

The XO shouted at me: “I was taking rounds and your Chief was moving around in a slovenly manner in the alleyway. He was almost nude he was dressed in a bloody filthy skimpy lungi  – and even his bloody lungi was at half-mast…”

“Sir, I was going for my bath …” P interrupted.

“Shut up!” the XO shouted furiously at P.

Then the XO turned to me and he said to me: “The bugger did not even bother to salute me…”

Again P interrupted and he said to the XO: “Sir in this ship we don’t salute below decks…”

This infuriated the XO – and he stood up to his full height.

The XO looked menacingly at P for some time.

Then – the XO shouted at P:

“Don’t bloody bullshit – and you don’t try to act smart with me – I have sorted out many funny chaps like you…”

“Sir why are you threatening at me? I told you …” P pleaded.

On hearing this the XO glowered at P – and then the XO angrily roared at P:

“If you misbehave with me – I will throw you out of this ship.”

P (a Chief Petty Officer) looked at the XO (a Commander) squarely in the eye.

Looking straight into the XO’s eyes – P said to the XO:

“Sir – if you get me transferred out of this ship – I will give you a party in a 5-star hotel.”

I almost burst out laughing but I controlled myself.

In order to avoid the situation deteriorating further and leading to an aggravated offence I quickly removed P from the XO’s cabin.

Such juicy “galley news” spreads fast and in a few hours the whole ship knew about the incident.

From then on the XO would scrupulously avoid P.

However – whenever their paths crossed – with tongue-in-cheek P would taunt the XO:

“XO Sir – when are you throwing me out of this ship…?”


I learnt two lessons from this story:

1. Some individuals are indispensable – especially those who have “expert power” .

2. Though most military officers resort to “bullshit” [“bullshitting” is considered officership – an essential part of Officer Like Qualities (OLQ)] there are limits to “bullshit” – beyond which bullshit can boomerang – and the “bullshit” can boomerang and fly back into your face.

3. If you want to have a comfortable life and long tenures – you must try to become “indispensable” (that is how some officers manage to spend long tenures in choicest stations).

Copyright © Vikram Karve
1. If you share this post, please give due credit to the author Vikram Karve
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© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

1. This story is a spoof, satire, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. All Stories in this Blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Copyright Notice:
No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.

Copyright © Vikram Karve (all rights reserved)

This is an abridged updated extract of my story FEAR – THE GREATEST MOTIVATOR First Posted in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal Blog on 29 July 2013 by Vikram Karve at 7/29/2013 12:52:00 PM in this blog at url:…

Now Re-Posted by Vikram Karve at 9/11/2015 10:31:00 AM

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