Far and away, one of the best things about deploying in my time in the Navy was leaving all attachments to land behind. That point in time was announced, even saluted by one prolonged blast on the ship’s whistle and the boatswain mate piping “attention” on his boatswain’s pipe followed by his announcement on the 1MC speakers, “Underway.” Such announcements were preceded by two even better announcements: “let go all lines,” and blessedly “all lines clear.”
All of this meant the ship was on her own. As mentioned in my description of our sea trials. The “all lines clear” did not only refer to the mooring lines and steam lines but also the phone lines. Back then, such cutting of umbilical ties meant no phone calls. It also meant no outside agencies coming on board to conduct inspections, no salesman trying to get their foot in the door, no superiors or their staff coming on board to give direction on how we should operate or address their particular area of expertise, no inspectors coming to check their particular bailiwick and disrupt the ship from getting done what needed to be done, and no dependents coming on board asking for us to do something to help them or their sailor.
“Underway” meant Yosemite was on her own to do what she, in 1944, was commissioned to do. As a career surface officer, it was a heady feeling to get underway for a deployment scheduled to last almost eight months.
At 1400, Friday, September 9, 1983, Yosemite got underway and would remain on her own power except for five brief port visits until 1200, Wednesday, March 21, 1984.
While writing this book, I came upon a shoe box full of letters I had written Maureen. Many are too personal to include here. But there are some that capture my thoughts better than I could now, thirty-four years later. The one below, as all of those letters appearing here, has been edited for grammar, sometimes to omit an item not really accurate in retrospect, or to delete a negative reference to a shipmate. This one was begun two days after Yosemite departed Mayport and was completed the night before we arrived at the US Naval base in Rota, Spain.
Underway. Sun so bright; sea so calm: we sail. I cannot hear the engine growl or the boilers rumble from up here on the open bridge – an archaic wonder, this open bridge I have come to love with the wind in my face. Dolphins, flying fish, and a giant sea turtle bigger than a small car, busily nosing about and poking their heads up and sometimes clearing the water in their entirety to peer at this strange sight passing by, this steel mammoth filled with 900 souls, these 900 souls ironically lonelier than if they were by themselves on a deserted isle.
The above was written several days ago – I have already lost track of time – when all was peaceful. A hurricane (Chantal), born in an unlikely area and following an unusual path has reared up to pester us (our pesterers actually are the ones who control our puppet strings reacting to lines on a satellite picture, not the hurricane herself) and awake me at all hours of the night to receive reports, analyze the graphs, and then look at the beautiful sea and attempt to read her dark and brooding mind to guess at Chantal’s course and speed to minimize our peril, avoid standing into danger. Then in those irregular moments throughout the day, recommend to the captain, a knowledgeable, capable seaman in his own right, a course and speed to keep us on a safe journey east.
But we cannot take the risk of the course and speed we both think is prudent taking us eastward, defying the desk-sitting analysts back in Norfolk, for if we were wrong, there would be hell, ours, to pay with swift retribution from the desk sitters on dry land.
So we avoid a danger that never really existed for us, a hurricane that died in a confused sea, a fate precipitated by her birth in an unusual place for such phenomena while several hundred miles west we fretted away the hours.
i spent my time being concerned about our being subjected to the lack of seaman sense governing us when i realized the captain was relying on my sense of the sea, my knowledge and experience, which was close to equal to his, and certainly greater than anyone else on board. Captain Boyle was listening to and taking my recommendations, often seeking them. He commented i communicated with the sea.
i communicate with the sea.
i had never had it put that way before. And it came from a man who knows. i do not possess the technical knowledge of oceanography and meteorology. i have the basics of sailing the sea and not much more. i, however, can look at the sea’s skies and her endless depth of blue, and hear her speak her mood. i used to feel her presence and interpreted the feelings i experienced at sea as an indication that god might really exist. Now, i know it was not a god but the sea trying to talk to me. Mystic nonsense? Maybe.
But maybe it is you who has given me this gift. Maybe experiencing you and our love has allowed me to understand this power of my communication with this frighteningly beautiful force such as she.
i rejoice in the revelation but acknowledge the responsibility i bear along with the talent(?). i am even more responsible for this lovely old ship and the souls on board. i must temper my abandon and romantic restlessness. i live comfortably within my communication with this power and love you even more for allowing me to live with both of you. These people rely on me. They all rely on me whether they realize it or not to give their lives a substance, a direction, a purpose.
The Captain is an idol, an object of reverence, a god at sea. i am the force, the dynamic driving force that worms into the spirit of each soul and claims my territory. Unlike many others, but not all, i have attempted to add humor, understanding, selflessness, credibility into this force. i hope have not engendered fear. i believe i am promoting respect; respect for the Captain, for me, and the ship, but most importantly for themselves.
There have already been mistakes. There will be many more. Hopefully, they will not have any adverse impact. i only hope i don’t burn out, don’t become so involved i cannot see the humor, pathos, and futility in this game of driving, leading these people down a path that has no real direction except for the immediate and eternal goal of the ship’s mission. i already have come to love this job, but i still occasionally wonder if this awesome responsibility of power won’t destroy itself, destroy me. i sometimes feel i am Luke, old cool hand lying on that table, those fifty eggs bloating his stomach, his body resembling a man on a crucifix after he told his prison mates not to lean on him.
i am an image i believe: an image our sailors would like to emulate. They know i am happy. They know i enjoy fine things. They know i am honest and upright, and they know i am married to a beautiful woman. They also know i came from the same roots as they. i can feel they identify with those common roots and see they, or perhaps their son or daughter, can reach this plateau.
The job is consuming. i started this letter the second day out. i started this last part at 0200 the morning we arrive in Rota. Every morning, i arise around 0530; sometime around midday, go for a run or take a nap (sometimes both); have one relaxing meal (breakfast is a working meal where i read radio messages and prepare for officers call), skipping the other meal. i normally hit the rack between 2300 and 0100 but already have had a couple of nights with only one or two hours sleep. There will be more. i really am not complaining because i am really into it and feel like i’m having a positive impact.
i’ve taken very little time for personal things. Sleep is my enemy. i want to stay awake forever and cram all of these things into my life, including being XO. i can’t so i’m trying to be selective and truly prioritize. This deployment provides me the time and requires me, quite willingly to focus on this ship, crew, and wardroom. My goal is to reach peak organization by the time we reach Diego Garcia. Once i’ve achieved that, i should have the time to focus on writing, and of course, you.
i am excited. i am excited about performing this job well and absolutely bonkers about us in the future. After these 183 days of deployment, i never want to leave you. i think about actually getting screened and assigned as commanding officer of a ship. It would be reaching my ultimate Navy goal, but it also would most likely mean at least one deployment, and the thought of being away from you that long again does not sit well with me. My wanderlust is fading, but i would accept a CO assignment in a heartbeat. But there would be some regret at the thought of leaving you.
“Whatever else you are, be a seaman, know the ways of the sea and the men who go down to the sea in ships.” Unknown
“Our will is to keep the torch of freedom burning for all. To this solemn purpose, we call upon the young, the brave, the strong, and the free. Heed my call. Come to the sea. Come sail with me.” John Paul Jones