Sea Stories

This is a no s___ter (Navy speak for this really happened) and as I remember it.

I was the off-going TMOW (Torpedoman of the Watch). It was deep in the middle of the night after mid-rats was cleaned up and the movie probably didn’t interest me at the time.

Being qualified in pretty much everything it was easy to get bored underway. I would usually find myself hanging out in control with the QMOW (Quartermaster of the Watch), often Tom ‘Spot’ Johnson, or in the Equipment Space aft of Radio conversing with the RMOW (Radioman of the Watch), usually David ‘Harry’ Harrison. These two gents were also my roommates in the barracks when in port in San Diego.

Tonight found me hanging in Control and so I had to be either visiting ‘Spot’ or studying to qualify as COW (Chief of the Watch).

My first boat was the USS William H. Bates (SSN 680) back in the seventies.

We spent so much time going north and south we began to think our home port was at sea.

We were getting underway for a four-month northern run out of Groton. We set the maneuvering watch, and as normal, the Diesel Operator assumed his responsibilities. Then he went to all A-gang spaces to make the last trash run, gathering the garbage and hauling it to the pier. He never came back.

Apparently, his wife had called him just before they set the maneuvering watch and said, "If you do not come home now,  she and the family wouldn't be there." He had to make a choice between being a submariner or being married and the father to their three children.

There were only a few books that I can think of that were permitted in Maneuvering. The RPMs (Reactor Plant Manuals), of course. Websters Collegiate Dictionary, so that our logs wouldn't contain spelling errors, was officially sanctioned. I think. It was kept in an aluminum can about 2 feet tall and 2 feet diameter that sat on the deck and usually resided near the sound powered phone mounted on the control panels. Just to the right of the RO.

I have a little niggling doubt about the dictionary because it was the final arbiter for the forbidden games of "Hangman" we would play while on watch. I mean, picture it: Doing ahead 1/3 for days, the reactor is at equilibrium xenon and there are 6 hrs to be used up. We're gonna play hangman. It was not without challenge. 

1976 porteverglades 002Editing photos for “Up Scope!” the other day, I was working my way through “The Seventies” post-processing and writing captions for twenty-or-so galleries of images submitted by Neal Degner for the years 1974-1977. I stumbled across a photo of an unusual ship, a haze gray catamaran with the Military Sealift Command (MSC) stripes on her stacks. Curious, I decided a little research was in order, partly because those twin-hulled catamarans were as rare as the Pegusus class hydrofoils during the 70’s and 80’s.

Thank you internet. A few clicks later, and the ship was identified as the USNS Hayes (T-AGOR-16). Named after Dr. Harvey C. Hayes, a pioneer in underwater acoustics and the former head of the U.S. Navy Sound Division of the Naval Research Laboratory, the “Hayes” class oceanographic research vessel was re-purposed in the mid-80’s as an acoustic research ship...

December 8, 2010.

Thirty years since the murder of famed Beatle John Lennon, on the sidewalk in front of his New York City apartment. Like the assassination of Kennedy, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the attack on and subsequent collapse of the two towers of the World Trade Center, there are a few events that were significant enough that people remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when the event occurred.

Now, I wasn't a big fan of John Lennon, and for the most part don't consider celebrities of being worthy of remembering where I was when they joined the choir eternal. Many famed musicians have shuffled off this mortal coil since I was born...Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Buddy Holly, Jiles Richardson, Michael Jackson...the list goes on. Of those, for some reason, I only remember where  I was when I learned of the passing of two of them: The King, and John Lennon.

Well, it was just another rare day in port and I was standing Below Decks during the mid-watch.  This was a Catch-22, since having to stand watch during the night or early morning could be EXTREMELY boring if there was nothing to keep your mind busy.  On the other hand, at least on the mid-watch you could count on the various daily activities that had to be performed which helped the time pass much more quickly.

I had reached that critical point as a watchstander where you knew everything you needed to know to perform the required duties and had an air of confidence that made you feel that no challenge was too great.

On any given Below Decks watch, I had no trouble blowing San #2, bringing on potable water and checking in with the Torpedo Room security watch every 30 minutes, all while making my normal rounds to record the endless readings on the log sheets. On this particular night, I decided to push the bar a little higher by performing a number of these activities simultaneously.  This wasn't an uncommon practice by the more experienced watchstanders and I felt I was ready to join their ranks.

Great sea stories have many things in common. They are all based (at least loosely) on some real event. They all hold the listener's attention (not usually too hard to do on day 58 of the 'Sea of None of Your Business' hostage crisis). They all generally start with the expression, "This is a no-sh___er."

The title 'Sea Story' can be deceptive. That name comes from the fact that they are usually shared at sea, when time, distance from friends and family, and general boredom coalesce into a fertile ground for the emergence of the shared community experience we called a 'sea story'.

Not every sea story, however, starts at sea.

This is one of those stories. And it's a no-sh___er!

U.S. Naval Institute News

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