Category Archives: Sea Stories

A Chief of Legend

This post is a old Navy sea story of mine and is really true. It is not for folks who are overly sensitive and certainly not for those who are politically correct.

He was notable, a legend amongst us, at least amongst Navy folks.

1970. Sasebo, Japan in mid-January. i was the new XO of MSTS (now MSC) Transport Unit One (gone with the wind of time) which road USNS troop ships carrying Republic of Korea troops to Vietnam and back. He was the master chief corpsman. i cannot remember his name for now. But he is indelibly etched in my memory bank, how frail and sketchy that might be. i met this jocular, white haired master chief shortly after i reported aboard.

First story:

The master chief liked to gamble a bit. So he frequently visited the game room (aka slot machine room) at the Sasebo Chief’s Club. As we were getting underway for our overnight steam to Pusan, Korea, i spotted him with a large bandage around his head and jowls.

“What happened to you, Master Chief?” i inquired.

“I broke my jaw,” he tersely replied.

“How?” i asked just as tersely.

“This woman, a dependent wife hit me in the chief’s club,” he responded.

Somewhat astounded for several reasons, i pursued, “How could that have happened?”

“Well sir, i went into the game room and grabbed a stool for an empty slot…at least i thought it was unoccupied,” he continued, “Well, this woman apparently had had a winning streak and left her machine for a moment. When she came back, she got mad at me taking her slot machine and hit me.”

“She hit you and broke your jaw?” i stated, even more amazed, “Must have been one big woman.”

“No sir, XO. She was tiny. i think she was the Japanese wife of one the chiefs stationed here.”

“She was a tiny Japanese woman, and she broke your jaw?” i stated, totally flummoxed.

“Well, sir,” the master chief embarrassedly concluded, “She hit me with her purse. It was full of quarters.”

Second Story:

The Master Chief was single. He had decided to get a vasectomy. The Navy medical facilities did not provide for such procedures in 1970, but he had found a Army dispensary outside of Qui Nhon, Vietnam, arranging for the procedure on our next port call.   As we were departing Sasebo for our overnight excursion to Pusan, i went down to the ship’s infirmary to the unit’s two doctors who had become good friends. The master chief was working furiously on a cardboard sign. i suspected it had something to do with the red light district in Pusan where most of the single unit members frequented when our ship was in port.

“What are you doing, Master Chief,” i questioned.

“Well XO, this is going to be my last port before my  vasectomy, so i’m going trawling.”

“Trawling?”

“Yes, sir. Just before i go on liberty, i’m going down to the galley and get a whole chicken, thawed. Then, i’m going to tie it on a long line and this pole with the sign on it. When i get down to about the San Francisco Club, i’m going to walk down the middle of the street with that chicken at the end of my pole. i’m thinking i’ll catch me several of those women.”

Although wary, i still asked, “Master Chief, what does the sign say?”

He held it up so i could see. In big block letters, he had scrawled, “Get the last live load.”

Yes, he was a legend.

Back at Chuck’s in Honolulu, But not for Mahi-Mahi

The other story about my visits to Chuck’s Steakhouse in downtown Honolulu is not so romantic.

For the younger readers, i would ask you to consider it was a different time. Things for which require pillories today were not considered improper, especially for seafarers. We lived hard, worked hard, and played maybe even harder. This is a story about working and playing hard.

The USS Okinawa was returning from a WESTPAC deployment in late 1981. I was one of the OOD’s in four sections for the roughly two week sail from Subic Bay in the Philippines to Pearl Harbor. i also was the sea detail OOD when on Saturday at 1000, December 11, Oki entered the bay and moored at Hotel Pier, the last pier to the west on the Naval station property and close to where people could catch the tour boat to the Arizona Memorial, significantly removed from the other mainland piers.

It was a long sea detail and what came next was taxing. The wardroom had planned a hail and farewell, mostly farewell, party that evening in Honolulu at Chuck’s, one of my favorite places in Honolulu that evening. But i had much to do before that rendezvous.

Because, i had spent ten months of that year in WESTPAC, deploying in January as Current Ops on the COMPHIBRON 5 staff, and after returning to home port San  Diego, having a month before flying back to join the Okinawa as Weapons Officer in Perth, Australia, i had been allowed to take the Command Qualification written exam on board the ship. But because of the many duties of the Weapons/First Lieutenant, i had not had the time to take the long exam. So the Captain (later Admiral) Dave Rogers decided i could take the test after we docked in Pearl.

The ship docked and after all of the details of and administrivia of arriving in Hawaii were concluded, i began the test around midday and finished just over three hours, handwriting seventy-two pages of my answers to wide-ranging questions from ship driving, weapons capability, engineering operation, weather, navigation, Rules of the Road, international relations, and much more. To say it was taxing is not an adequate description.

When i finished, i found Lou Rehberger had waited for me. All of the other officers who did not have the duty left as soon as they could get off the ship. Lou, the Marine Air Operations Officer, was a major and a good one. He and i had spent a lot of time running around the flight deck when available and in many of our liberty ports.

Before heading into Honolulu, we decided to go for a run. We ran Pearl Harbor, or rather we ran the perimeter for about six miles before turning around, a twelve-mile run. i needed it.

We showered, donned our civvies, and headed into town. Lou had rented a car. We went straight to Chuck’s Steakhouse, arriving over two hours before the party was scheduled in the party room in the back.

Lou and i sat at the bar and each ordered a Mai Tai while we decided what to do. When we finished, we decided they were good enough to have another before wandering around. The bartender cleaned our first glass, made our second Mai Tai’s in another glass, served them and handed the first glasses to us. They were high ball glasses with the “Chuck’s Steakhouse” logo etched into the side.

We asked, “What gives?”

The bartender explained they were having a special and if you ordered a mai tai, he would give you the glass.

Lou and i looked at each other and ordered another mai tai. It had been a long day. We had two nice highball glasses in front of each of us. We ordered a third. When we ordered a fourth, the bartender laughed and said, “Here, i give up.” He reached under the counter and pulled up a case of Chuck’s Steakhouse highball glasses and pushed them across the bar to us. We split them. i broke my last one about three years ago. i wonder if Lou still has any of his.

We took the case out to Lou’s car and by the time we returned, the officers of the wardroom began arriving for the hail and farewell dinner. To be honest, i don’t remember much of it, but i’m pretty sure i had a good time. At the conclusion, now well into the night, about six of us decided to go to the Bull and Crown, a British themed bar where it was rumored a lot of young women hung out.

The bar was crowded and everyone was having a good time. i sat down at the bar next to some guy and ordered a drink. The guy and i said hi and then did usual bar talk. He asked me a question. When i responded, i realized i was speaking some language of which no one else was understood.

i actually realized i had more than i should have, perhaps the four mai tai’s may have influenced that outcome. i went over to Lou who was talking to a nice looking young lady, touched him on the shoulder and told him i had too much to drink and i was taking a cab back to the ship.

i did. First time. i’m proud of that.

But i still miss Chuck’s Steakhouse in that just a bit out of the way hideaway in Honolulu.

Mahi-Mahi and me, Good Memories

Peter Thomas is a rather amazing man. He has accomplished many rather incredible things  in oh so many ways in his life. i have written of some here before. But more than that, our paths crossed back in the mid-1980’s and we have been friends, close friends ever since, even though it is nearly always a brief stop or long distance communication.

Peter is in Honolulu, Oahu, Pearl Harbor actually, doing his thing as a top manager in submarine maintenance. Yesterday, i received an email wondering if i would help him write a book. i, of course, replied in the affirmative, and then asked what kind of book.

Today, he responded to that with no real answer to my question but told me of dining alone and as he wrote “out here in Honolulu living the so called “good life.” “Solo.”  His wife Sandra, a rather incredible Scottish lass, is back at their home in Poulsbo, Washington, taking care of business.i wrote him a response, hit “send.” Then i thought i wanted to share my thoughts. Here is a somewhat redacted version of what i sent:

Peter,

 You bring back good memories.
 
Every time i went to Pearl, i went to Chuck’s Steak House in downtown Honolulu before Chuck’s moved apparently beachward and became “posh.” i, like you,usually was solo. Chuck’s was then located in the middle of a small nondescript street, i think either Seaside Avenue or Duke’s Lane, a couple of blocks inland from what was then the Princess Kaiulani Hotel. i couldn’t locate the spot the last time i was there. 
 
You had to walk down a few steps to enter Chuck’s. There was no view. i’m not even sure they had windows. It was a rather cavernous place with the bar to the left (there is a great story that goes with that bar) and a large party room in the back. The dining area was not fashionable or posh: wood tables and the decor was drooping fishing nets and old fishing floats hanging from the ceiling.
 
i always ordered a mai tai and then the grilled mahi-mahi with a house salad and baked potato with a glass (or two or three) of chardonnay (this was before i found chardonnay to be too “buttery;” now, it would be viognier). While enjoying my mahi-mahi, i would  watch the other diners, always finding some interesting, human, and humorous moments. After dinner, i would have a cup of coffee, black as if there was any other way to drink coffee for a sailor, pull out my spiral notebook or a piece of stationery and write.
 
i wrote some of my best stuff there. Most, if not all, were letters to Susan Butterfield, one of the most magnificent loves of my life (then; now she’s a happily married Mrs. Brooks and remains a very close friend).
 
After dinner, i often walked to Waikiki and strolled along the boardwalk looking out at the surf in the warm Hawaiian starlit evening. There was a comfortable emptiness there for me, difficult to adequately describe.
 
It was a lonely time but also satisfying. 
 
Now, i am not sure i could capture that feeling.
 
Thanks for letting me remember.
 
Take care, old friend,

The Good Ship Anchorage, Fighting Lady to the End

This post is actually a response to an email i received today from my long time and close friend Lee Dowdy. Lee received his doctorate in International Relations from Tulane. He and i worked as editor of the Castle Heights newspaper and annual respectively in 1962. Lee went to Duke and i went to Vanderbilt on NROTC scholarships. He fared much better than me. He had good study habits. Our families were so close they could be considered family, not plural. He saw an article in the Navy News Service and remembered i had served on the Anchorage. The story was about a U.S.  Marine rocket system successfully tested on the new Anchorage. It reminded me of a post i wrote about the USS Yosemite (AD 19) going down in a “SINKEX.” i have included the link to that  post at the conclusion.
Lee,
Good story, but unfortunately, it’s not my USS Anchorage (LSD 36), but it’s successor USS Anchorage (LPD 23). 
My Anchorage was decommissioned in 2003, lasting quite a bit longer than nearly all ships now, 34 years in active service despite some major problems. She remains the most decorated dock landing ship on the west Coast.
Her plant had bastard SSTG’s after a fire in a shipyard work building destroyed the originally installed generators. They were being worked in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, shortly after commissioning when the building caught fire.
She also had two four-foot diameter screws to hold the flight deck in place that did not screw back all of the way in. This happened when i was first lieutenant in a San Diego maintenance period. A sub-contractor located under the Coronado San Diego Bay bridge took them off to sand blast and resurface the flight deck grit compound. But no one had considered the well deck walls which held the flight deck in place (with the four gigantic screws) would move inward when the three flight deck panels were removed. They did just that. Then when the sub-contractor tried to reinstall the panels (each was about 15 feet in depth, linking together and about 50 feet across the well deck) they were a bit too long to fit.
i know this as i had the duty in 1975 on a summer Sunday when they were attempting the reinstall. A 60-ton crane was lifting them off the pier to place them back over the well deck. All was going well and i went back to the wardroom to read. i was lounging on an installed sofa when i was jolted with a huge bang. i ran out and discovered the contractors after unsuccessfully lodging the last panel in place were lifting it up about ten feet from where it was supposed to go and dropping the huge panels, which must have weighed more than a couple of tons each, trying to drive them in place. They had made three drops before i got back to the flight deck and had them stopped.
i know they never fully reinserted the screws because i took Sarah aboard in 1998 when she was a fourth grader and had chosen a Navy ship for her topic in an assignment. It was a wonderful moment. They bonged me aboard as “Commander, Retired” accompanied by four bells while we walked down the pier. The CDO personally took us to all of the spaces. When we walked down the wing walls to the stern, which was my primary position as well-deck master in well deck operations, i spotted the huge screw in the overhead, hanging out with maybe only half of the screw threads outside of where they were supposed to be. The COD was amazed when i told him the history of the flight deck. i still don’t believe those nuts were trying to drop it in place by dropping it.
In spite of that, she did so well on her INSURV inspection for decommissioning in the mid-1990’s, the board recommended she remain active and she did so, going on at least two, if not three or four more deployments. After her decommissioning and some political haranguing with the Taiwanese, she remained in Pearl Harbor with the inactive ships until she was sunk as a target in a RIMPAC exercise in 2010. It took over six hours to sink her. The missiles couldn’t do it. Finally, the USS Bremerton (SSN 698) broke her back with a torpedo.
She was an elegant fighting lady until the end.
My two years were the best two in my career even though my personal problems had begun. As first lieutenant i did everything. Never stopped. It was great for a mariner. Art Wright was my captain for most of the tour and he was one of the best CO’s i had. Great memories.
Oh yes, the “HIMARS” rocket the current Anchorage tested looked a lot like the JATO rockets we fired while on a Caribbean exercise in 1984 while i was XO on the Yosemite. It was one of the craziest things in which i was involved during my sea time. Yosemite was simulating an orange force enemy for the main blue force. The JATO rockets, apparently unlike the HIMARS except in looks, were not much more than giant Roman candles. But we fired about ten or so (as i remember). The exercise did give us about five days in Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Puerto Rico (and as usual, there are several sea stories about that stop).
It was also our underway period when we were in the eye of what eventually became Hurricane Diana as she began forming, yet another sea story.
Thanks to Wikipedia for helping me recall accurately…more or less.

A Sea Story (actually clean with no profanity: who’d thunk?)

Way back many years ago, there was a Naval Academy midshipman who became famous for his ship handling talent.

When he went on his third class midshipman summer cruise, he demonstrated an uncanny ability to stop the ship on a dime, make incredible maneuvers, and always get to and stay on station like a dime.

After he graduated from the academy and was commissioned, his legend grew. On every ship, he was immediately recognized as a superb ship handler and given every opportunity to demonstrate his remarkable skills.

About the time he was a department head, one of his fellow officers noticed just before this super ship handler took the conn, he would return to his stateroom for just a moment. The other officer and the superstar had parallel careers and served on several ships together before they both made admiral. Even then, commanding officers would ask the star to take the conn to demonstrate his amazing talent.

On one joint exercise, the two admirals were on the same flagship. On several occasions, the ship’s captain would ask the ship handling flag to show off his talents. Each time, the admiral would retire to his stateroom briefly. His fellow admiral’s curiosity could not be contained and he secretly asked the boatswainmate of the watch to follow the admiral to see what was going on before he took the conn. The boatswainmate reported back the flag officer would go into his stateroom, open the top drawer of his clothes chest and stare down into the drawer before closing it and returning to the bridge.

His fellow flag officer’s curiosity grew.

Then one day, the great ship handler had a heart attack and died on the bridge. His fellow officer after paying his due respects ran back to his buddy’s stateroom, ran to the chest and opened the drawer. And there the ship handler’s incredible talent was revealed. On a large sheet of paper was written:

Starboard — Right

Port — Left 

The Morning Watch: Now i Know Why

As expressed in previous writings, my favorite bridge watch was the morning watch.

i was overjoyed when i was senior enough to fall off of the in port watch bill. In the capacity of a duty officer, i remained on duty on board my ship for 24 hours, more or less (another sea story for later). My first ship had three section duty sections, then four, and then when deployed and in refresher training at Guantanamo Bay, two, or port and starboard as we called it — but in “GITMO” it was only after returning from our daily training at sea around 1800 (four bells) and on Saturday and Sunday. At one time after qualifying for Command Duty Officer (CDO), i actually had the duty for ten days in a row as all of the newly reporting department heads were working toward qualification. Duty in port was a chore. On the ten ships i served upon, we found a lot of humor (more sea stories for later) to make it bearable. But it was still ashore, not at sea.

Unlike duty in port, i bemoaned my fate when i became too senior to stand bridge watches. They were one of the real joys of being a surface warfare officer. And the morning watch was often the best.

For Navy folks and sailors of all kinds, that watch became the four-to-eight, or 0400-0800; for landlubbers, that watch would be 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. even though the original “morning watch” was the only correct term because of the actual time.

When i was in, and Lord knows everything Navy appears to have changed since i was in, on and off from 1962 until 1989, the Navy “morning watch” was my favorite. It began around 0315 when the bridge messenger of the watch found his way to after officers country, walked down the passageway (no, we didn’t have halls), found the last stateroom on the port side (there were many other staterooms where i was berthed, but i remember this one better than most), found the forward rack next to the centerline, and tentatively spoke, “Mr. Jewell  (until i made commander, then it was “Commander Jewell”), wake up; it’s time to relieve the watch,” making sure i was awake before hastily exiting officers country as quietly as he could.

i would scramble up, and to the dim red light from battle lanterns used in “darken ship,” put on the working khakis i had laid out when i hit the rack the previous evening , dash my face with water from the metal sink in the stateroom i shared with two other junior officers (JO’s), and stumble forward to the ladder leading up to the O3 level and the bridge. My olive green hook-necked issue flashlight with its plastic filter on the lens guided me with its red beam (good for preserving night vision).

i would pass by combat and quickly get the picture of our operational status and “contacts” (other ships) information before reporting to the bridge. There i would walk to the standing OOD, salute and announce per protocol, “I’m ready to relieve you, sir.” The off-going OOD would salute and give me his interpretation of what was going on. Satisfied — and unlike many OOD’s, i would not spend a lot of time on this, especially on the morning watch — i would salute again and announce, “I relieve you, sir.”

He would return my salute and respond, “I stand relieved” while already heading to his rack for a few precious hours of sleep before reveille. The Boatswain Mate of the Watch would announce, “Mr. Jewell has the deck and the conn.”

There i would be in charge of metal carrying about 300 souls, mostly wearing dungarees, blue chambray shirts, and white dixie cup hats in nearly 400 hundred feet of length, 40 feet of breadth (beam we called it), and 14 feet of draft at near 3500 tons with 60,000 horsepower to the four-boiler, twin steam turbines and more firepower than most Middle Ages cities to wield its firepower to…well, not much really at that time of day.

You see, the morning watch was nearly always a quiet watch. Flag officers don’t get up that early to order formation changes. So if formation steaming was the situation, we usually just sat in place (relatively) for about three hours. i would have relieved close to 0345: bridge watches usually relieved a quarter hour before eight bells. Because of the morning mess, the morning watch was relieved by the forenoon watch early, around 0700 or six bells. This was to allow the off-going watch to eat breakfast before morning quarters at 0745.

But there was more. After i successfully shook off the rack monster to stand by the centerline gyrocompass, i could contemplate the world. i could stretch mentally and then get ready for the coming day. My next watch would be the first dog (1600-1800) after the workday. But on the morning watch, the ship and the world at sea would begin stirring. Around two bells (0500), i would wander over and through the hatch to the starboard bridge wing. The Boatswainmate of the Watch would bring me some coffee. i would hang over the gunwale (“gunnel” is the correct pronunciation), sipping my coffee, usually jawing with my junior officer of the deck (JOOD). The quartermasters around the chart table just inside the pilot house would begin preparations to shoot morning stars with the XO, the appointed navigator on the small boys.

Once on the starboard bridge wing, i could smell the coffee brewing in the galley, which was located on the first deck on the starboard side. Then the smell of bacon and fried eggs, usually scrambled because if it was more than a week at sea, the eggs would be powdered eggs, not too tasty but still great aromas around three bells (0530). It was a great way to start the day.

Somewhere in there, usually shortly after reveille, the captain would emerge from his sea cabin and ask what was going on. i would catch him up as he sat in his raised bridge chair on the starboard side. He would then ask if there had been radio messages that had come in during the night requiring immediate response. Again, i would brief him. After enjoying the view for a while, he would alight from the chair and head to his stateroom a deck below his sea cabin, and then on to mess in the wardroom — on larger ships, nearly always when the commanding officer was, in fact, a captain (O6), he had his own mess, and the XO was president of the wardroom mess.

Shortly afterwards, the relieving watch team would arrive. The relieving process would be repeated, and i would head to the wardroom for chow.

The most negative aspect of all of this is i love to sleep and being aroused at 0315 was not, for me back then, a good night’s sleep. So long about 1000 or four bells, i would begin to fade. When 1130  (seven bells) signaled “knock off ship’s work” for the noon mess, i would head straight to my stateroom. The rack monster was calling and it was time for a “NORP,” a previously told sea story but the acronym stands for “Naval Officer Rest Period.”

i’m sure i have many misperceptions and faulty memories around my bridge watches. After all, the last one was thirty-five years ago. Also, i am a hopeless romantic and tend to recall all the good things and not many of the bad. This romantic idea was with me even when i was the senior Naval officer at the Texas A&M NROTC Unit. It was a particularly dark time of my life, and one night, i recalled a leg-pulling sea story about how to simulate standing a “mid-watch” on the bridge. i remembered how those watches were so solitary and let me escape to the wonder world of the sea in the depths of blue, sea and sky. So i thought i would try to replicate a mid-watch in my new home, fit for a single man.

i set the alarm and awoke to it at 2315. i had a cup of soup and a cheese sandwich in the kitchen. When finished, i dug out my khaki combination cover and put it on. i tied two bricks to each end of a short cord and hung them around my neck. Then, i moved in front of the picture window in the living room, peering out on the street. It didn’t work. i was still miserable and Snooks, my Old English Sheepdog, was utterly befuddled.

But i don’t think my romantic tendencies mess up my recollection of the morning watch, at least not too much. One example is the views i got to see. Watching the sea, especially in deep open ocean, go through the transition from darkest of night to first light to dawn to daylight is a beautiful experience no matter the weather. It can be howling seas with rolling, white crested waves and screaming winds with ocean water and spray crashing over the bow. It can be gloomiest of mornings with thousands of shades of gray. It can be a cloudless star-clustered sky receding to a recognition of light on the eastern horizon to the sun slowly claiming the day and the sea turning deep blue with flecks of white spume. But my favorite would be the morning watch when the old sailor’s weather prognostication was in full view: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”

This morning when i walked out to get the newspaper on the driveway, it was one of those warning moments at first light. My photo doesn’t do it justice: 

But i think it serves well enough (that’s a waning crescent moon with Venus below; the light at tree line is the just emerging sun). i wanted to go get my binoculars (i got some since A&M) and stand out there with them around my shoulder until it faded in coming daylight. But i figured the neighbors might talk.

Besides there was no ship deck below my feet. But for a moment, just a brief moment, i was back at sea on the bridge of an old steam destroyer, cutting through the sea. Alive, oh so alive.

A Near Collision…Not

With this post, i  have added a new category. i am going to try, i emphasize try to work on putting my posts in the correct category.

“Willie Nod” will continue to be children’s poems and poetry, which i now intend to self-publish within the year. i hope to continue to add to this category as time passes. Although my grandson Sam has almost outgrown such children things, i have six grand nieces and nephews i hope will enjoy them.

“Jewell in the Rough” is the wonderful phrase for a category Walker Hicks created as the title for this website. i am considering making this category about golf, my thoughts and golf stories.

“Notes from the Southwest Corner” was initially used to rerun my weekly Lebanon Democrat columns before the paper’s website made my columns more accessible. i have plans to revisit them and post columns from that era, which i intend to collate and edit into a book, primarily for folks back home.

“Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings” is a category i am thinking about adding later as my work on the book of that title gets some purchase. My idea is to publish chapters here after i conclude the first draft. In case you missed it, this is my take on the USS Anchorage (AD 19) deployment in 1983, the first for a US Navy ship to spend extended out of port time with women as part of the crew and wardroom,

And of course, the “Pocket of Resistance” category is for all things jim jewell with his rather bent, contrarian point of view.

i plan to go through previous posts with sea stories and move them to this “Sea Stories” category.

It was late summer 1975. The USS Anchorage (LSD 36) had just completed an unplanned month-long maintenance period in India Basin at the US Naval Base, Sasebo, Japan due to a stern gate mechanical failure. i had enjoyed Sasebo for that month almost as much as i enjoyed it when it was the re-supply port for the USNS Upshur (T-AP 198) and USNS Geiger (T-AP 197) when i was the executive officer of MSC, nee MSTS Transport Unit One, carrying ROK troops to Vietnam and back. We  spent roughly six days a month there throughout 1970.

But now, the Anchorage was underway again. It felt good.

My job as first lieutenant was the best job i ever had. Period. The first lieutenant on a landing ship dock is involved in almost everything. He is in charge of the deck department, which is responsible for most of the ship’s decks and spaces. The two ship boats, a motor whale boat doubling as the captain’s gig, and an LCVP, a small landing craft are also the first lieutenant’s. Add the two 60-ton cranes, the four 3-inch/50 caliber gun mounts (removed in 1980 after i was long gone) to the list as well as the well deck, the mezzanine deck, the magazines, and troops spaces for 600 marines. Any embarked craft such as LCM8’s and LCU, the embarked Beach Group  unit, and embarked UDT were under my responsibility, and i was in charge of all amphibious operations, including the well-deck loads, unloads, ballasting and deballasting and troop embarkation and debarkation. Oh yes, i was one of four Officers of the Deck (OOD) underway, the sea detail, and general quarters OOD, and because of previous Chief Engineer experience, filled in for ours when he was not available. Our CO, Art Wright, once declared the reason the operations officer billet was for a lieutenant commander is to ensure he was the senior watch officer so the first lieutenant wouldn’t have that job as well.

On numerous operations, i stayed on deck for 24 hours or more, the most being the 43 straight hours during the on-load of marine vehicles and equipment at Numazu before “Frequent Wind,” the evacuation of Vietnam off Vung Tau.

There were all sorts of weird assignments and loads. And you know what? i loved every minute of it.

But back to the story: the ship left Sasebo and headed north. i don’t remember why but as she closed on the Straits of Shimonoseki, between the islands of Kyushu and Honshu, i was relieving the OOD to stand the mid (0000-0400) watch, the operations officer, the OOD i was relieving who was damn near catatonic.

“She’s got all her lights on. All of them,” he almost screamed.

We were standing on the port bridge wing, and the lieutenant commander (who shall remain nameless here) was frantically pointing aft.

“She could hit us, she could hit us!” he declared in a higher pitched tone than normal, “Should i call the captain? What do you think?”

“i relieve you,” i said, “You don’t have to sweat it.”

i took a bearing on the ship, a very large cruise or party ship, from the gyro compass repeater on the bridge wing.

“I stand relieved,” the off-going OOD almost sighed.

“Mr. Jewell has the deck,” the boatswainmate of the watch announced.

i called the captain, told him i had the watch, that there was a ship aft not observing the Rules of the Road and looked like a party ship with all of the lights shining. i stated we were the “privileged vessel” and she was “burdened.” i explained this meant i should maintain course and speed and anticipated she would pass on the port side fairly close. i told him i would call him again after i took another bearing but combat (CIC) had already reported a slight right bearing drift with a CPA (closest point of approach) within 1000 yards. i asked him if he would like to come to the bridge.

“Ordinarily, I would come up,” Commander Wright replied, “I was getting dressed to come up as John Doe (the anonymous operations officer) called me three times and seemed distressed.” He continued, “I won’t come up now unless you need me or the situation changes. I trust you.”

“Aye, sir,” i replied dutifully and headed back to the port wing gyro compass. i took another bearing.

The bearing had increased about a half degree. i remembered one close call in the Mediterranean on the USS Stephen B. Luce (DLG 7) when a “burdened” freighter crossed our bow (Luce was “privileged) within about fifty yards. That’s when CDR Richard Butts, the CO whom i had called to the bridge, said, “See, you are not going to collide if you have bearing drift.” He and i had taken bearings alternately for the past two miles of closing with the freighter and we saw  less than half a degree of bearing drift at about 100 yards (obviously, it increased rapidly as she moved closer and passed just ahead of our bow. . He was correct, but man, was it too close for me.

i explained this to the off-going OOD who i discovered was standing behind me.

We stood on the port wing together and watched the party ship as she passed just over 500 yards from our port side (500 yards at sea is close, very close, and usually dangerous, but not as dangerous in a passing situation). John Doe, obviously relieved in two ways went below.

i could hear the Japanese music and the shouts and laughters of those embarked. They were having a good time and the ship was doing about ten knots faster than we were. i continued to watch as she moved past our bow and slowly begin to pull ahead of us. About an hour later, she disappeared over the horizon.

My point is near collisions at sea happen. They all could and should be avoided. That lieutenant commander, although senior to me and better schooled in many ways, had not spent the time at sea i had. Nearly all of my training for driving steam ships at sea was from, guess what, driving ships at sea under experienced senior officers, especially the very best CO’s: Art Wright, Richard Butts, and Max Lasell at the time. i also learned what not to do from one or two bad CO’s, obviously not to be mentioned here. I did not have very much school house training for driving ships.

Ashore training is good, very good and should be with all of the technical tools we have now. But nothing, nothing can replace being at sea and OJT learning from capable and responsible seniors. All of this posturing about too much time at sea and not enough time spent with the family is hooey. When i joined the Navy in the 1960’s, there was the saying, “If the Navy had wanted you to have a wife, we would have issued you one with your seabag. If you are a mariner, you love being at sea. You and your spouse should work that out. Hard? Yes, it’s difficult, but a Surface Warfare Officer’s duty is to be at sea.

And not sweat the small stuff…just the close calls.