Aug 01, 2005
Permanent reminder of a temporary feeling
Heidi has a post today about being in Hong Kong. It reminded me of my time there, so I thought this might be time for another sea story. I'm thinking Heidi and I will have had radically different experiences in this most cosmopolitan of cities.
I've been to Hong Kong 3 times, between 1973 and 1976, all before the British's 99 year lease reverted the colony back to the Chinese. The first time, I was a newly minted quartermaster and I never even got to see the city. We pulled in, announced shore leave for the off-duty watches and set the in-port watch. I was on the rotation that put me on watch first (24 hour watches in port). We were just about through that first day when the captain announced that we had to leave port as a typhoon appeared to be bearing down on us. I reported on that particular joy earlier.
My next trip to Hong Kong was a little more satisfying. By this time I was qualified in submarines and I was the Leading Petty Officer in charge of the Quartermaster "gang" so I could set my own duty rotation. In one of my extremely rare moments of tourism, I actually took a sight-seeing tour. OK, I confess, it was to a San Miguel brewery. Still, it was quite a long drive and I therefore got to enjoy the countryside on the way up. When we got there, we really enjoyed the tour. It was the first time I had ever been on a brewery tour (since then, I've also done Coors in Golden, CO and an Anheuser Busch brewery in Tampa (at Busch Gardens) before they closed it). It was really quite interesting. However, the day was hot and the brewery was hot and by the time we reached the end of the tour, we were very hot and thirsty. They offered us a free glass of beer. What? A free glass of beer? Well, ok, if you insist. Everyone sat there sipping their beers. Not me. I was thirsty. I drank it down in two quick gulps. Instantly, another appeared in front of me. Seeing this, the rest of the tour (mostly my shipmates, of course) began gulping theirs down as well. After a few beers they brought out the catalog of stuff we could buy. I spent every nickel I had with me. I definitely paid for the beer.
I had been thinking about getting a tattoo for sometime. I was still the "pretty boy" aboard ship, had already been raped and was subject to no small amount of harassement for my somewhat boyish (read: feminine) appearance. I was proud that I had stuck it out, even when it got hard, and earned my dolphins. My dad had tattoos, my step-dad has tattoos. That's what real men in the Navy did, right? I decided that is what I was going to do. It is important to understand that this wasn't some drunken flight of fancy. I made this decision while I was stone-cold sober. Now, I did in fact get drunk the night that I actually got the tattoo. I don't care what anyone says, that damn thing hurt! I was a smoker back then and I literally bit through the butt of a cigarette as they were creating their artwork upon my upper arm. That need to be macho, to prove my manhood didn't last, obviously. The tattoo, however, remains (I did attempt to have it removed once a half-dozen years ago, but ended up having them just re-color it). It is a permanent reminder to me of Hong Kong, of the Navy, of submarines, and of a need to prove to people that I was something that I was not.
Jul 16, 2005
Get off my bridge!
When Heidi first asked to hear sea stories, I doubt that she had stories of my idiocy in mind. Nevertheless, this is what you get. Hey, I was only days past my 17th birthday when I joined, I *was* an idiot, what do you expect?
When I enlisted my step-dad gave me two pieces of excellent advice -- and I've tried to live my life by them: 1) Always ask for what you want; they won't just give it to you and 2) Work with your mind and not with your hands. It turns out that that second piece of advice, while important, may have been moot. When I took the pre-enlistment exam that the recruiter gave me, he told me that I had the lowest mechanical aptitude score that he had ever seen. So, he sent me to Signalman "A" school after boot camp (I did pretty well in that school, actually; I graduated 1st in my class). There was only one problem. Because I came in first in my class I had a higher priority in my selection of duty stations and I volunteered for both Vietnam and submarines (so, naturally, they sent me to the Grayback, the only submarine permanently deployed in southeast Asia at that time). Well, guess what? Submarines don't have signalman! So, without any schooling whatsoever, they made me a Quartermaster.
Like anything else (especially languages!) if you don't use it, you lose it. One day, a couple of years later, while off the coast of Korea and engaged in some "exercises" I was called to the bridge by the captain. We needed to communicate with one of the surface ships, but we also needed to maintain radio silence. He ordered me to bring the searchlight to the bridge. "But, Captain, I don't remember enough Morse to be any good!" "Brogan, you get your ass up here with that searchlight and you do it NOW. You're the only one on the ship that's been trained in it and you're going to do it." "Aye, aye, Sir."
A submarine does not have a full size searchlight, thank god. It is stowed in watertight locker just below the bridge in the sail. I scrambled up the ladder, retrieved the searchlight, set it up and proceeded to send the message the captain wanted. I had to start over half-a-dozen times because I kept making stupid errors. Every time, you could feel the exasperation of the captain building. Finally, we got the messages transmitted and received (I think -- my Morse is so rusty I may be sending him dimensions on playmate of the month).
The Captain came down from the bridge while I was coiling the long cable attached to the searchlight in order to re-stow it. He glared at me: "Brogan, you better not drop that thing on me." "No, Sir! Of course not, Sir!" He began to climb down the ladder. Less than 5 seconds later a young seaman came up from inside the sail where he had been working while we were surfaced. He opened the hatch to climb out. That is where I had been coiling the cable. The cable, as long as it was, weighed more than the searchlight. It fell down the hatch leading back to the control room -- the same hatch that the captain was climbing down. I made a frantic dive for it, but I was too late. The searchlight followed its cable down the hatch and struck the captain on the head, nearly knocking him unconscious. He was so angry he had me banned from the control room.
Jun 24, 2005
I haven't posted any sea stories for a while, so I thought I'd add one (have you noticed that being on vacation leaves me lots of time to update my blog, but also very damn little of interest with which to update it?).
In the Navy, and I suspect even more so on submarines, people don't live like slobs. There is no place for dirty displays on the ship's controls, much less for clothes on the floor. On a regular basis, then, the entire ship's company turns out for cleaning detail. It is called, inexplicably, Field Day. The Chief Of the Watch announces over the 1MC (ship wide loudspeaker) "Now hear this - all hands fall out for Field Day. Field Day, Field Day - all hands turn to for Field Day." I hated that announcement. And I also never understood the etymology of the term and I also never understood where "turn to" came from or why it means "get to work".
In the submarine that I served on we had two periscopes -- the main periscope and an attack periscope. The main periscope was a very high tech instrument with lots of electronics built in. This made it significantly larger in diameter than the attack scope (intentionally much smaller so as to leave a less visible wake during an approach and attack). Also, no matter how good the seals, it seems that some amount of salt water and some amount of grease and oil found its way into the well that the scope was lowered into when not in use. The bottom part of the well could be reached from an access hatch, but the majority of the well was inaccessible.
One day while in port we had the periscope removed for maintenance. Our chief got the brilliant idea that this was a good time to clean the well. But, even with the scope out, how to do it? He finally landed on the idea that we would lower a sailor down into the well, armed with handi-wipes and spray cleaner. But, even that would leave the bottom 5 or 6 feet uncleaned. OK, then, we'll lower someone down by their ankles so they can reach the bottom! But, who?
You guessed it. Even though I was the most senior, I was also the smallest person in the Quartermaster crew, with the narrowest girth and shoulders. I was selected. So with handi-wipes stuck out of all my pockets and in one hand and with the spray cleaner in the other hand they tied my ankles together and hooked up a pulley system over the periscope well and, with two sailors manning the rope, lowered me head first into the well. Have you ever hung upside down for any length of time? There is this little thing called gravity which tends to allow the blood to rush into your head. I wasn't down there very long -- maybe 15 minutes, maybe 10 -- but it seemed like an eternity. And, as I was lowered, I began to spin. This worked out well for the sides of the well as the handiwipes sticking out of my pockets cleaned the well as I spun, but it exacerbated the feelings of claustrophobia, headache and nausea. Then, naturally, as they began to pull me back up, the rope slipped and I dropped a half-foot or so. That scared the hell out of me.
Turn to, turn to, all hands turn to. Field Day. Blech.
Apr 08, 2005
Motorcycles and booze
After my Uncle Bill (Dad's younger brother) returned from his Navy service he bought a motorcycle and used to take me on rides all the time. I adored him, so I was always eager to go. But even after I got old enough to drive I never attempted actually riding one by myself. If the truth be told, I was both afraid and ignorant. I didn't even know how to shift gears!
Fast forward a decade - I'm now about 18. One night, late, I'm sitting in one of the favorite dives of the Grayback crew in Olongopo, Phillipines (I wish I could remember the name of that bar now -- it was owned by a former US submarine sailor -- but I can't) having my 5th or 6th beer. In walks a first-class cook (that's his pay grade, not a commentary on his cooking (although it was very good)). Tony says to me -- "Hey Debbie, you've not ridden my motorcylce since I got it all fixed up and had it tuned, have you?"
"No", says I. He tosses me the keys and his helmet and tells me to go "take it for a spin." I remember saying to myself as I walked outside "Ok, now remember -- you're drunk. Take this slowly." I sat upon the motorcycle (a Honda 250, if memory serves) and started it with the push button start. Ok, so far. I knew where the clutch and brakes and gear levers were so I fiddled with things until I got it in gear. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that you were supposed to ease out the clutch. The bike took off down the street with its front wheel up in the air. Amazingly, I held on and had enough sense about me to ease off the throttle. I pulled myself back up straight on the bike and cruised on down the street. I distinctly recall thinking "Hey, this isn't hard! I can do this!" I even passed a jeepney and felt all proud of myself (I only recalled later that I had never even turned on the headlight!).
Then, some people started to cross the street in front of me. I suddenly realized that I couldn't stop. All I really remember at that point was the motorcycle going in one direction and my dumb ass going in another. God protects children, drunks and sailors. I was all three so I was unhurt.
I was also aware that I was drunk and that I had no license. I frantically pulled the motorcyle upright and tried to restart it. Try as I would, I could not get it restarted. Within just a few minutes, the shore patrol arrives and the Olongopo city police arrive. The shore patrol said they were going to have to take me in. At this the police said that if the SP was going to bust me, they would have to bust me first and they had primary jurisdiction. The SP backed off. The police flagged down a jeepney for me and then helped me load the bike into the back and followed me back to the bar (where Tony was no longer). After we unloaded the bike, they -- literally -- held out their hands to be paid. I had very little money on me, but I gave them everything I had and they left.
The gas tank was banged up and I had to have it repaired, but other than that Tony wasn't even mad at me. But, I did learn a valuable lesson.
Do NOT drink and drive.
Apr 03, 2005
Drugs, Alcohol and Youth
Hard as it may be to believe this I have spent much of my adult life as the youngest person around. This started in high school when, as a sophomore, I hung around exclusively with the senior class. Then, after that year (at age 16) I dropped out of high school, got a job and an apartment (never mind that my mom had to bail me out (financially) some months later). Then, of course, I joined the Navy on my 17th birthday. (Although a non sequitur, I feel compelled to mention that I recently just had this experience again. I participated on a Speakers' Bureau panel where we were talking to a class of Psychology students. The panel was all about "older" LGBT folk; I was the youngest. The eldest was in his 80s!).
In the 1970s all the services were struggling with issues surrounding drug and alcohol abuse (perhaps they always were and perhaps they still are) . Each command was required to appoint a non commissioned officer (a petty officer) as the official "Drug and Alcohol Abuse Petty Officer." The role of that petty officer was to educate the rest of the command on the evils of drug and alcohol abuse and to be a resource to whom peers could turn for help if they were struggling with drugs and alcohol. I was appointed for the sole reason that I was the youngest person aboard ship. The captain literally told me this (he figured that since drugs were exclusively a young person's problem and that alcohol wasn't really a problem I was the logical choice (hey, no one ever said these guys had great critical thinking skills). I kept this job the entire time I was aboard ship. The only requirement of it was that I conduct an occasional seminar (I think I did one -- maybe two -- over a 3 year period). In those seminars I stood in front of my shipmates and said: "I don't care if you think marijuana is harmless. Don't do it. It's illegal and it'll get you busted and kicked off the ship." (In retrospect, don't you think it would have been easier to just say you liked to smoke a little weed as opposed to shooting yourself?)
Over those three years, I processed three sailors off the ship for using drugs. In each case, they were young non-quals (linked post contains a description of what it's like to not yet be qualified in submarines) looking for a way off boats. Not once did anyone ever express a concern over alcohol despite the rampant alcoholism aboard ship. It was a stupid system.
All of this is not to imply that I never used drugs; although, contrary to the Captain's belief, my experience prior to reporting aboard ship was limited to once smoking pot. While in Bangkok one time, I hooked up with a young woman who took me home with her and filled an emptied cigarette paper with hashish (that she said was "cured" in opium (whatever that may mean)). We smoked the whole thing, I think. I experienced the oddest "high" I've ever had. I call it the "slinky effect" -- I would lie on the pillow and turn my head from one side to the other and I could see my head turning, but it looked more like flipping through still photographs than watching a movie, leaving a shadow or a trail (like a slinky going down stairs -- one part will be on the lower stair while the rest of it still has to follow it down). It was bizarre.
But, in the end, drugs were good to me -- if not for my shipmates. I was a third class petty officer at the time (the lowest petty officer rank) when my two immediate supervisors (a 2nd class and his boss -- the "Leading Petty Officer" or LPO, a 1st class) both got busted while smoking dope off base. They were both processed off ship and I was left as the sole petty officer in the Quartermaster crew. I was promoted to second class and we had two others assigned to replace them (though lower in rank than me) and I became the LPO for the remainder of my time aboard ship (about 2 years at that time). I was the youngest Leading Petty Officer to ever have served aboard that boat. I owe it all to drugs.
Mar 25, 2005
This is too hard -- I quit
Sometimes, life in the military can be overwhelming. It can be particularly difficult in the "specialty" services like Airborne, or submarines. In close knit situations like those where one's life may well depend upon another's actions and reactions under stress people develop "hazing" routines that supposedly ferret out the folks who "can't handle it."
I don't know if that's true (indeed, I pretty much doubt that it is) but I have witnessed a couple of pretty severe reactions to it.
While I was in boot camp I was in the barracks one afternoon making my bunk when I heard a yell. I looked directly to my right across the aisle to the bunk opposite mine and saw a spurt of blood arc up from this guy's wrist and onto the fresh white sheets. I was literally stupefied. I couldn't move, I wasn't sure what I had seen. In that moment, he slit his other wrist and now both wrists were pouring out blood. Thankfully, someone knocked him down, wrapped his wrists and called for help. It wasn't me -- the guy would have bled to death if he'd waited on me to help. Six weeks later, as we were marching to lunch one afternoon we saw him in line at the chow hall, wrists bandaged, and starting over. Damn.
A couple of years later, I was topside one day while we were in port (I don't even remember what country we were in) and was walking forward from the aft hatch. As I approached the topside watch (I was headed for the gangplank to leave the boat) he pulled his weapon from his holster, cocked it (I later learned that he had loaded it earlier) and with no warning, swung around, put his foot up on the gangplank and shot himself in the foot. I was about 3 feet from him at the time and, again, I froze the instant I saw him cock the weapon. This time, the loud bang of the gun going off startled me enough that I was able to step forward and take the gun from him (it was empty; he had only put the one bullet in it). He accomplished his goal and was released from submarines, although I never heard what happened to him afterward.
I didn't like boot camp, and I really didn't like my first year as a non-qual aboard the boat -- but slit my wrists, or shoot myself? Nope. Not this girl; I'm way too chicken-shit for something like that!
Next week: Drugs and alcohol
Mar 19, 2005
I want my lawyer!
Of the many rituals that new recruits perform in boot camp, marching in formation is probably the most common and visible. As a "company" marches down the street and approaches an intersection a guard will break free from the formation and run ahead to stand in the middle of the cross street (at parade rest) in order to stop traffic. This is something you are trained to do "smartly."
One day, as that guard, I turned a tad too quickly or in the wrong direction or some such foolishness and wound up pulling a muscle in my groin. It was quite painful. They sent me to the infirmary to have it checked out and I was placed on pain medication and muscle relaxants. I was warned that the muscle relaxants might make me drowsy and that I should not engage in any heavy exercise for a while.
Please recall, as you read this story, that I am only days past my 17th birthday at this time. In other words, I'm young and stupid.
Every night as the company slept, guards patrolled the barracks (I never knew if we were constantly on the alert for an invasion of our boot camp or what). Moreover, other guards patrolled the guards such that every hour or so you could expect to see a supervising guard come through the barracks to see that all was quiet. I was scheduled on this night for the "mid-watch"; from midnight to 4 AM. I was desperately sleepy. I never even gave a second's thought to the idea that I should have put in a request to not stand watch because of the medication I was on. At sometime past 2 I had the urge to use the toilet. At sometime past 3 the patrolling supervisor and the recruit company commander were in the stall with me, shaking me awake.
I got "written up" and had to go before practically everyone in my chain of command. At each level, the officer in charge mused that he should drop the charges, considering the circumstances, but did not. I actually wound up before the captain of the base (in a military tribunal called "Captain's Mast" -- I think it relates back to old days when you stood before the mast on the ship and the Captain ordered your punishment). I was not even allowed to speak at this and was sentenced to 2 weeks in the brig at hard labor.
Hard labor in boot camp consisted of loading two large buckets with sand and then carrying them (with a rod over your shoulders) to the other end of the compound (running double time) where you emptied them, re-filled them, and carried them back. I spent the first night in the brig (a lovely little jail cell with bunk beds and bars) and thought about what had just happened. The next morning I requested that I be able to see a doctor who then wrote me a prescription ordering me confined to my cell (except for meals) such that I did not have to do the hard labor. Instead of being a punishment, it turned out to be a much needed rest. I was not allowed into my bunk during non-sleeping hours and was confined to a 1 foot by 1 foot tiled area (where I sat and read "The Bluejackets Manual" for 8 hours a day).
At the conclusion of my time in the brig, I was ordered to a different company; one that had started (and would therefore finish) two weeks after the company that I had started with. I successfully argued with the the Master Chief in charge of that assignment that because all I did during the past two weeks was read the navy manual I should be allowed back to my original company. Later, I was even promoted to "Recruit Petty Officer".
Unknown to me, my mom and Augie while on their honeymoon came out to San Diego and Augie (being a retired Master Chief) thought that they could come to the base and visit. They were told that, normally, yes they could, but not while I was in the brig.
Mar 09, 2005
Can I Kill?
(Note that I've added another photo album with submarine pictures in it to complement these sea stories).
Topside watch aboard a submarine is, inexplicably, always assigned to the least experienced sailors – those that are not “qualified” in submarines and usually not a non-commissioned officer (called a “Petty Officer” in the Navy). Topside watch is a watch that is only manned while in port and docked. The job is, for the most part, routine and very BORING. It consists primarily of logging activity (comings and goings of certain people, and some unusual events) and, every half-hour monitoring and recording the depth of the ship by noting the numbers painted on the hull at the bow and at the stern. The topside watch is issued a .45 caliber handgun and a separate clip with bullets.
On my first trip to Taiwan in 1973 we were all called together to be briefed about what to expect and what to be on the lookout for, as tensions were high between mainland China and Taiwan and the powers-that-be were concerned about espionage and sabotage. We were told to be extra cautious about what we said while we were, um, unwinding on the beach (remember that “on the beach” is a phrase that encompasses anyplace outside the base – it often means in the local tavern) and topside watches were warned to be aware of any suspicious activity near the submarine.
I crossed the gangplank and walked along the dock toward the bow to take my reading. I noticed something that I did not expect. At first, I was stunned and couldn’t comprehend what it was I was looking at. Suddenly, I realized that it was the stern of a mid-sized fishing boat. It was out of my view from on board the ship, but it stuck out about 2 feet in front of the bow and was therefore visible from the dock. I raced back aboard and climbed to the top of the diving hangers where I could look directly down onto the boat. I saw a man in the boat looking down into the water between his boat and our ship (he was about 2 feet from the ship and stationary). I yelled at him and he looked up in surprise. At that moment, another man surfaced wearing a dive mask.
My heart stopped. What the fuck? I drew my gun, inserted the clip, cocked the gun and checked the safety off. I aimed it at the two men. “What are you doing” I screamed. “Get away from here, you don’t belong there!” I did not know what to do. Should I try to drive them away, should I shoot? No one had ever prepared me for anything like this. What the hell could he have been doing there? My mind was racing and I was panicked.
The diver scrambled aboard the fishing boat and they both looked up at me in fear and waved their arms frantically in an effort, I guess, to implore me not to shoot them. I could not bring myself to fire (thank god!). They quickly pulled their boat away and I raced back down the ladder to contact the officer of the day and the below decks watch. We sounded the alarm to abandon ship. Divers were sent over to examine the hull and the ballast tanks, which are open to the sea (of course). Nothing was found. To this day, I have no idea what they were doing. Perhaps they were innocent fishermen who got their nets caught in our bow diving planes (but that doesn’t wash with me – what would a fishing boat be doing in the bay, that close to a warship in the first place?). Perhaps I interrupted them before they could do their mischief. I’m just so glad that I couldn’t pull the trigger.
Mar 05, 2005
Not the brightest candle on the cake
For some reason, I'm having difficulty remembering any good sea stories this morning. Maybe I could solicit one of my children to ghost-write one for me? :)
Everything I remember this morning has to do with idiotic things I did while in the Navy and not so much to do with actual Navy stuff or submarine stuff. So, I thought I'd knock a couple of these out and give y'all a laugh at my idiocy and my attempts to fit in with the crowd (this recount will NOT be all-inclusive; I've done a great many stupid things, this is just a partial list).
OK, onto the main event (have you noticed that I've been stalling? I've been hoping something else would pop into my head and I could avoid this stupid post).
Both of these stories relate to the Republic of the Philippines where the Grayback was home ported for 3 of the 4 years I was aboard her (do you think that may account for why I got married to a Filipina woman before I was 19? - well, that's a different story).
Swimming the canal
The US Navy base in the Philippines was located in Subic Bay, on a small island that was attached to the mainland by a short bridge. Between the two ran a canal where the locals dumped everything. It stank. During big storms (like typhoons, the storm in this story) the base would close down and no one was allowed on or off the base (the only way was across that bridge and there was an armed guard stationed there). One night, during a bad storm, some buddies and I got very drunk and decided that being in town instead of on the base would be a whole lot more fun since the base was closed there would be very few sailors in town and we could have it to ourselves. But, how to get there?
I think you can guess. We walked to the edge of the island (and the mouth of the river/canal) where we figured the water would be the cleanest and there would be less chance of someone actually seeing us. We put our wallets and small stuff into baggies and tied them to our belts. We figured we were all strong swimmers and the mouth of the river was less than 1/2 mile wide. Surely we could swim that anytime! Even during a typhoon. Right. All I can say is, thank god we all survived the attempt. The waves in that little river were ferocious and the undertow was vicious. We didn't get 50 yards before we turned back.
The shore patrol (Navy police) drove by us as we walked back to the barracks. At first, we were scared they would realize what we were doing, but then we realized that they couldn't know -- it was raining so damn hard that anyone walking would have been just as soaked as we were.
Out past curfew -- in marshal law?!?
The PI (as we called the Philippines) was under marshal law when I was there. Everyone -- and I mean EVERYONE -- was required to be off the streets by midnight. The police and military carried M-16s with them and were under orders to shoot first and ask questions later (at least that's what we were told -- along with horror stories of locals that were stupid enough to test it; now, years later, I have to wonder...still, we believed them at the time).
One night, again too drunk to be rational (what *is* it with sailors and drinking?), some friends and I found ourselves literally "on the beach" (that is also a term that sailors use to refer to anywhere off base -- not necessarily at the spot where water meets shore). We realized that it was past curfew and that we were several blocks away from our hotel. We decided that we could get there by walking along the water's edge (the bar we were at and the hotel backed to the water) and just being careful to look for guards.
We were almost there -- in fact we only had one more broken-glass-topped wall to cross and we'd be safe -- when we noticed a guard with his rifle in the ready position walking towards us. We had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. We dropped instantly to our bellies as our alcohol drugged brains worked feverishly to figure out what to do in order to save our stupid necks.
Finally, the obvious hit us -- we'd crawl out into the ocean! And, we did. We lay out in the surf, raising our heads to breath and clinging to the sand with our fingers and toes to keep from being washed ashore at the guard's feet. He walked right on by us and we scaled the wall and got safely back to our hotel.
I hope to tell other stories that don't highlight my stupidity and immaturity, but I'm not sure if I have any such other stories! Here is a sampling of future posts:
In the Brig
My first attempt at driving a motorcycle
Dropping the searchlight on the commanding officer’s head
Getting hit by a practice torpedo (this was NOT my fault! Our ship got hit, not me!)
Feb 25, 2005
My sea stories (note that I've created a category for them, so I'm not going to try and link previous entries every time I write a new one) are random. They are not chronological or in any other logical order. I will write them, as I said, generally once a week or so for a while (probably on Fridays or on the weekends) just as they occur to me without any predefined pattern. Today, I offer two related stories.
Before becoming a fully qualified quartermaster (again for you Army folk -- this is NOT supply as it is there, but navigation), I was required to stand my watches as a lookout while we steamed on the surface, which we did most of the time. Nuclear (and, yes, *I* can properly pronounce that word) submarines spend all their time submerged (generally speaking) but diesels need oxygen to run and to charge batteries and to, oh yes, breathe. Lookout can be a fun duty, if the weather is good. It can be brutal if it's not. The one time I actually tried to drink coffee was while standing lookout duty while we were patrolling off the coast of North Korea during the winter. Being wet and cold is no fun. But, on beautiful days, it can be the best place aboard ship to be!
This day was a mix of weather. The sky was clear, but the seas were heavy. It took some concentration to remain on your feet as the ship was buffeted by the waves. But, after a time, we learned their rhythm and were able to adjust. This particular day we had a green ensign as the officer of the deck. I was standing lookout watch on the port side (that's the left side when standing on the ship and looking forward or to the bow) and the seas were coming from starboard. The other lookout and I (and the OOD) had the waves timed such that we knew that every 7th wave would break over the sail (the tall part of the submarine where we stood watch -- it is 33 feet up from the keel, so you get an idea of how high those waves were). We would simply duck and the wave would crash over our heads.
The green ensign soon actually began to turn green. I had great sympathy for him because, as you'll soon learn, I was also susceptible to seasickness. He finally could handle it no more and he called below to request a replacement. A lieutenant (junior grade (J.G.)) officer, "maverick" (someone who comes up through the enlisted ranks and then becomes an officer) was tagged to replace him. This thoroughly annoyed the J.G. and he determined to embarrass the young ensign as much as possible. So, he arrived topside in a freshly pressed, crisp new uniform (we never wore such things at sea). Looking and sounding thoroughly arrogant, he stood facing the the starboard and, breathing the sea air deeply into his lungs, exclaimed what a beautiful day it was. I had been counting the waves, as had my starboard cohort. That was six. We ducked and the next wave hit the JG full in the face and completely drenched him.
I laughed so hard I could barely stand. Even the ensign managed a smile. As he headed below, the JG grabbed my ankle and shook it threatening "I'll get you for this, Brogan!" (he never made good on his threat).
My next close encounter with seasickness was not nearly so enjoyable. By this time, I was a full-fledged quartermaster and no longer stood lookout watches. We had been in Hong Kong (the place where I would, eventually, get my tattoo) when we got word that a typhoon was headed for us. Hong Kong was not a safe harbor and we were required to put to sea. Naturally, we tried to avoid the typhoon's path by cutting directly across its proposed track. Typhoons, like their hurricane counterparts, are unpredictable and it turned. Our top speed (going downhill with a strong wind at our back) was only about 20 knots on a good day and was decidedly slower in heavy seas. The typhoon got us.
A diesel electric submarine must ride out a storm on the surface for the simple reason that we didn't have enough oxygen to stay underwater long enough to be sure the storm would pass before we were required to come to the surface. A submarine's center of gravity shifts as it dives and surfaces and during that shift, it becomes particularly vulnerable. An inopportune wave could easily capsize us in that moment and send us to the bottom.
I got off my watch and headed for my rack (something that approximates a bed aboard ship -- very, very cramped on a submarine). I felt nauseous and just wanted to hide and, hopefully!, sleep. It was not to be. I no sooner got off duty when they called out "Man the reduced visibility watch!" This meant that my job was to head back to the control room and "man" the periscope, using it (in addition to the lookouts topside who were strapped in) as an additional pair (and taller pair) of eyes. I thought it was a stupid assignment. First, we had radar. Second, we had 4 people topside looking. And, finally, there was no frickin' way I was going to see anything out of a periscope that was in one instant looking at the sky and in the next instant was looking into the water -- and they were nearly indistinguishable from each other! All it did was make me even more sick.
I turned to the chief and told him that I needed a relief because I was going to get sick and he handed me a plastic bag and told me to stand my post. So, with one arm wrapped around the periscope and the other clutching my vomit bag, I stayed. I puked, but I stayed. That might have been the worst two hours (the time of my watch) I ever spent aboard ship.
Feb 21, 2005
Navy Stories - Part 1
In response to Heidi's request, I give you sea stories. These are distinguished from usual sea stories in that all of these are, to the best of my recollection, 100% true (well, ok, maybe 90%). To my children: yes, I know you will skip these as you will have already heard [most of] them dozens of times (in that regard they are not at all distinguished from other sea stories which tend to be repeated ad nauseam). Keep in mind, as you read these, that this was a time in my life when it was important for me to be perceived as male as I could be perceived (which, you may recall, didn't always help). I also remind you that I was in the Navy between the ages of 17 and 21, so I was a child.
I will likely post one a week (or more) for a while, until we all get bored with them (I will bore with them fairly soon, I suspect, so don't fret).
Kiss your ass good-bye
Kiss your ass good-bye
When I first reported aboard ship (USS Grayback), we were in dry dock. That meant that the submarine was up on blocks, completely out of the water, and had big holes cut into its pressure hull (a submarine has two (and in some cases, three) exterior hulls, but I won't bore you with a lesson in submarine construction; there is a scene from "The Hunt for Red October" when Jack Ryan goes to the Navy yard to consult with a friend and walks through a dry dock; that'll give you a good sense of what it looks like).
After months in dry dock, we were finally ready to put to sea. The first order of business was to test the ship's systems and watertight integrity. These activities were called, collectively, sea trials. We steamed to the island of Guam to conduct our sea trials (dry dock was in Yokosuka, Japan). Now, I don't know why the Navy decided to conduct sea trials in the Marianas Trench (the deepest part of the ocean), but they did.
During one of our initial dives (but not our very first dive), I was standing watch as Quartermaster (navigation and log-keeping). I was still new so I had a supervisor who essentially had nothing to do but sit and watch me. Our test depth (the deepest we were officially allowed to dive) was only 750 feet, but our crush depth was estimated to be closer to 950 feet. We were doing a deep dive (around 400-500 feet) to test systems, when suddenly a line leading to the depth gauge on the control station came loose (in hindsight we learned that the connection simply worked loose - at the time we did not know that). Salt water, at sea pressure, started spraying into the control room and, in the process, it short-circuited the planes indicator for the stern planes (the main surface - like a wing - that the ship uses to control its depth). The seaman on the stern planes announced that he had no control over them. The diving office (also fairly inexperienced) ordered him to test them, which he did - first by pulling them back to full rise position, and then pushing them forward to full dive. No change showed on the indicator. However, as you and I now know, it was the gauge that was at fault and not the stern plane control itself. The diving officer ordered the seaman to turn off the controls - which left the stern planes in full dive position.
All this time, sea water is spraying into the control room and people are shouting and we’re manning stations for collision (shutting down watertight hatches and ventilation systems). My duty was to put on headphones, take reports from other compartments and log the actions and orders of the officer of the deck as well as announce the depth. I began to call out the depth: "passing 600 feet, passing 650 feet, passing 700 feet, passing 750 feet, passing 800 feet", etc. The officer of the deck ordered the forward ballast tanks blown clear of water with high pressure air and ordered one of our ballast control tanks (called "negative") blown clear. The bow raised slightly and the depth gauge slowed its descent. Then, inexplicably, the bow dove again, and we quickly passed 900 feet. At this moment, the captain of the ship stepped up, ordered "Emergency Blow" and we popped to the surface like a cork.
As I was making final log entries and stowing gear, I looked back at my supervisor who had remained seated and quiet during the entire time. He was ashen. I asked if he was ok and he said that, in twelve years of submarine duty he had never feared for his life, but during that emergency - because he had no duties but to watch - he said that he not only kissed his ass goodbye, but that he had bent over and put a "lip-lock on the M*****F****".