Chapter Four, Crossing the Pond; part two
All of my previous transits in the Atlantic had been a SOA (speed of advance) of 17 knots. This was primarily because my previous ships in the Atlantic had been destroyers. At one time, the old Yosemite had been capable of a maximum speed of 19.6 knots. But age of the machinery and addition of lots of weight for new repair equipment, CAPT Boyle believed her maximum was about 16 knots. The transit from Mayport to Rota, Spain was planned at a cruising speed of 14 knots. I was pessimistic and suspected she would be lucky to grind it out at 12 knots.
Captain Boyle and Ken Clausen, the chief engineer discussed how the thirty-nine-year-old ship could handle speed. Captain Boyle had plenty of experience and knowledge concerning steam ships. He served in three engineering tours, was an engineering instructor at Navy Destroyer School and a senior examiner on the Atlantic Fleet Propulsion Examining Board. Ken had already established himself in my opinion as one of the best chief engineers with whom I had served.
Prior to departure, we had three non-crew members board for the transit across the Atlantic. Navy Campus for Achievement provided Mr. Mabry for conducting GED and CLEP tests and other educational services for the crew. The Fleet Weather Center, Norfolk sent a first class and a second class aerographer’s mates (AG’s) temporary duty to give us the most current and complete weather information. It was the season for tropical storms and hurricanes.
After our first night underway, AG1 Scollan came to me with a message from his command in Norfolk. A tropical depression off of Bermuda was developing and was being watched closely. In two days, the depression strengthened into a tropical storm and on September 11, it became Hurricane Chantal, the one I described in my letter to Maureen above.
Looking at the charts, Captain Boyle and I assessed our options. Both of us had significant experience with hurricanes, typhoons, and tropical cyclones and storms. We believed it would be safest for the ship to cross well ahead of the northern path of Chantal. To remain on the western side of the storm could put the ship in a precarious position without maneuvering room if Chantal moved northeast. The fleet weather center disagreed and directed us to stay east until the hurricane passed.
Frustrated, Captain Boyle with my agreement decided to obey the direction of the weather center. There was a very, very slight chance our crossing north of the hurricane track could put us in a dangerous position. Although we were sure this wouldn’t happen, if it did we would have no leg to stand on in defense of our actions.
By Monday evening, September 12, Chantal had dissipated and was no longer classified a hurricane, reverting to a tropical storm. We resumed our course to Rota. I was not sure the old “Busy Lady” could make up the delay to arrive on time. She proved me wrong.
Although Yosemite was expected to steam around ten knots, the boiler technicians used oversized sprayer plates for the boiler burners and the old grey lady made it across the big pond at an estimated SOA (Speed of Advance) of twelve knots. At times, she even topped out at sixteen knots. Beautiful old lady. She arrived in Rota as scheduled, Tuesday, September 20.
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In all of the other Navy ships on which I deployed, going to sea was an extremely busy time for all hands. Everyone had watches, usually three or four sections. If it was four sections, the watch sections would rotate through the four-hour watches, which gave them a different watch each day. Yosemite was in four-section watches on the bridge, Combat Information Center (CIC), lookouts, and engineering. But the vast majority of the ship’s complement was the Repair, Medical, and Dental departments, and none of those crew members stood watches.
However, Captain Boyle had determined early on the material condition of the thirty-nine-year-old ship was poor. There was a large amount of rust throughout the ship, especially on the weather decks. The first lieutenant, chief engineer, and the repair officer came up with a plan to address the problems and bring the ship back to respectable material condition by the time we returned to Mayport. Captain Boyle approved.
The plan went into effect as soon as we left Mayport. Nearly the entire ship kept busy throughout the transit, a massive effort by the Repair department was made cutting and welding rotten metal throughout the ship.
I was getting the feel of communicating with the crew. The POD became my daily connection with all of them. The POD was read, or at least was supposed to be read to all hands at morning quarters. I tried to convey good order and discipline was a primary concern for everyone, but we could take care of business and still have fun. I was learning on the fly.
I also was learning how Navy officers, chiefs, and sailors heeded my cardboard signs I hung on my office door. If the sign indicated I was out of the office and where I was, whoever had come to see me would leave, go back to work, and return later. However, if the sign indicated I was in, I qualified that information with additions. My normal sign was “Knock and Enter.” Then there was “Quiet Time: Please Do Not Enter,” “Conference in Session: Please Do Not Enter,” “XO’s Mast: Please Do Not Enter,” etc.
Then as president of the wardroom mess, I would sit at the head of the wardroom table. In one of the first days at sea at the end of the noon mess, I arose and announced, “I hear the rack monster calling (“rack” was the old sailors’ term for beds, which were canvas bottoms tied to a metal frame); it is time for a “NORP.” The old salts knew about the “rack monster” even though the new officers didn’t understand, and no one knew what a “NORP” was. When they all inquired, I explained “NORP” was the acronym for “Naval Officer’s Rest Period.”
CHENG and the First Lieutenant got together with the assistant repair officer. They had the repair department make another Bakelite sign. This one was blue with a gold background. Instead of letters, the threesome had the repair department paint Navy signal flags on the blue background for November, Oscar, Romeo, and Papa. One had to know the signal flags to read it, but soon everyone on board knew it spelled “NORP.”
No one seemed to pay attention to any of the other signs and would barge into my office regardless of what the sign said. However, when I hung the “NORP” sign on my door, no one dared to enter. It worked and continued to work until the day I left the ship.
One particular incident occurring on the transit to Rota was related to later events. The repair department had an informal leader who was a positive influence on the crew’s morale. ET2 (Second Class Petty Officer, Electronics Technician) Schmidt was constantly involved in supporting the ship’s policy. He was a leader in group physical fitness workouts and other social activities.
One late morning after I had conducted my messing and berthing inspection, he knocked on my door and sat down. In the POD that morning, I had inserted my hand-written assessment of the previous day’s messing and berthing inspection. In it, I had named a culprit of having a gross rack, in the engineering berthing as I recall. Padelsky decided the new XO needed a lesson in leadership. He told me it was not right to identify poor performers in public, that, as the old saw goes, I should praise in public and condemn in private.
I listened politely and then told Schmidt his idea might work somewhere else, but we were in the Navy and should be held accountable. I could put the poor and gross rack maker on report, which would lead to a rather lengthy NJP process, which was silly, or I could point out in public the rack-maker was creating a bad and unhealthy atmosphere for the others in his berthing compartment, which should put pressure on him to clean up his act.
I thanked him for his input and I would consider his advice in future POD notes.
On the fourth day after leaving port, a chief came to the bridge to report two sailors, male and female, had been found in a locked compartment. Apparently, nothing of significance had happened yet, but the situation was grossly inappropriate in our situation. The two went to Captain’s Mast and were dismissed with stern warnings.
This occurred as the captain and I were discussing how we should deal with male and female relationships when they went on liberty throughout the cruise. I went through the regulations concerning women at sea. We considered an incident during the previous regime when two crew members, a male and female kissed each other crossing the brow onto the ship. Of course, the sea trials incident of standing lights on after sunset and the two crew members locked in a compartment were also considered.
As far as I can recall, we never wrote any of these rules down officially, but it was known throughout the ship these rules were in effect throughout the deployment and continued once we returned stateside:
- There are no female or male sailors and officers aboard the There are only sailors and officers aboard and we are all going to act like sailors and officers.
- No two sailors or more shall ever be inside a compartment locked from within.
- No affection will be demonstrated between crew members on board or in any area controlled by the ship including the pier or landing areas for liberty boats.
It was a different time, different cultural mores and different fashion. An example was in my handwritten POD note:
- Shaved heads. General regulations on grooming standards state that the standards are based on “neatness, cleanliness, safety, military image and appearance.” While shaved heads might be clean, they do not project the military image and appearance. This is especially important when Yosemite enters foreign ports and represents the U.S. in our sailors’ appearance and conduct ashore. Consequently, no personnel will be allowed ashore after ROTA with shaved heads.
Then on September 16, Captain’s Mast was held for several sailors put on report. MMFN Edmunds, the deserter whose wife required me to write a letter of explanation to the First Lady, was one of them. The captain assigned Edmunds to a Special Court Martial.
At 1000, Thursday, September 20, Yosemite entered Rota Bay and tied up port side to the pier at Naval Station, Rota.
By the captain’s and my assessment, the transit had been successful. We still had a long way to go to reach our destination of Diego Garcia, the first of the four legs had gone pretty well. We had made our projected arrival date at Rota on time in spite of the threat of Hurricane Chantal. The crew had gotten their sea legs and all seemed to be faring fairly well. From our experience with this new idea of women in ships, we had been able to formulate some rules. It seemed the crew had bought into the idea they were sailors, regardless of gender.
It was now time for a short liberty port visit and to prepare to cross the Mediterranean.