Category Archives: Sea Stories

Fairly self explanatory, from what I can remember that is.

A Tale of the Sea and Me – A Real Sea Story

In the late 1950’s, an ocean going minesweeper home ported in Newport, Rhode Island, had a new executive officer report aboard. He was a very devoted Christian and abhorred the Navy’s liberal use of profanity and vowed to get rid of foul language on his ship.

After he had relieved the outgoing XO, he called for a meeting of all officers in the wardroom, and quickly launched into a long and tedious lecture on restraining from using profanity. After about twenty minutes, he began to wind down and came to what he considered his clinching arugment:

“There is never a situation, never any time, where there is not a better word to use than a cuss word. You should never have to use a profanity because there is always a better word or phrase to use,” the XO remonstrated.

The old warrant boatswain in the back of the wardroom, coughed, leaned forward in his chair, and raised his hand. Although the XO already knew the bosun was the salt of the earth, a crusty old seaman who cursed a blue streak, he reluctantly acknowledged him, “Yes, Bosun?”

“Well sir, if you’ll excuse me, I do know of one situation where that wouldn’t work. In fact, it happened on board just the other day.”

In spite of his dislike for profanity and disagreement with the Bosun’s claim, the XO was curious and allowed the Bosun to continue.

“You see, sir,” the Bosun politely explained, “Seaman Jones was the kid designated for the mid-morning geedunk run.

This was before the destroyer-submarine piers had been added to the Newport Naval Station, and the old MWR geedunk van, called the “roach coach” by sailors, would stop at the head of the pier around 1000 hours. The destroyers and minesweepers moored out in the harbor would make a geedunk run in their motor whaleboats after a designated sailor would collect orders and the cash to buy snacks and cold drinks.

“When they got to the pier, Jones ran up and bought all the geedunk. There was so much, he had taken the tops of two shit cans (trash cans) to hold it all.

“When got back to the whaleboat, the sailor handling the bow line had forgot to attach it to the bollard on the pier, and when Jones put one foot on the gunnel with one foot still on the pier, the whale boat begin to float away from the pier.

“Well sir,” the Bosun continued with a wry grin, “Ole Jones was doing the splits, inevitably going in the drink. He looked at the two shit can lids full of geedunk he was holding with both outstretched arms, looked around, and he said, ‘I’m fucked!

“And XO, there ain’t no other words he could have used that were any better for  that situation.”

A Tale of the Sea: A Sea Story from the Luce Med Deployment, 1972

Before i get to the historic journey home, there are two sea stories while in the Med i want to share.

Some time after we got underway from Korfu, the third division crew told me a story that still makes me laugh. The Luce had been in a regular overhaul in the Philadelphia just before the deployment.

The officer i relieved was a good guy, a lieutenant who went to the Naval Academy, and got married while the ship was in the yards. Just before the wedding took place when he was the Command Duty Officer on the weekend, he invited his future wife and her parents on board for lunch and a tour of the ASW spaces.

They toured the ASW fire control and ASW spaces on the third platform. He took them to the forecastle and showed them the ASROC launcher. They then went back to the torpedo tubes on the starboard side.

The second class torpedo man was there. He was resting against the bulkhead next to the tubes. He was wearing the classic dungaree working uniform with his Dixie Cup sailor pulled down and resting on his nose.

The lieutenant pointed to the three tubes in a triangle and proudly stated to his future wife and in-laws, “Helen, Mom, and Dad, these are my torpedo tubes.

The torpedo man seemed startled. He stood erect, pushed his Dixie cup back to the top of his head and said, “Beg your pardon, sir, but these are my fucking torpedo tubes.”

They didn’t tell me what ensued, but the torpedoman was right.

A Tale of the Sea and Me: Naples, One of a Kind

The legendary port was the Luce’s last liberty port. i believe it was over Thanksgiving during that ’73 deployment . It was legendary in the Navy, of course. i had stopped there for one night on my way to Korfu, Greece to meet the ship, but except for that wonderful meal of spaghetti at the off-limits area, i really didn’t know much about the city. But i found out. It didn’t disappoint.

We anchored in the bay and took boats into fleet landing. There was seemingly hundreds of people of every age, male and female, selling every possible kind of knock-off watches, trinkets of all kinds, other obviously fake goods. An officer or sailor had to push through the crowd to get to the street.

Several of us took a cab to where, i don’t recall. But we went down a road, which at least bordered the off limits area. Along a stone wall, sitting atop were a line up of ladies of the night, dressed in very suggestive outfits. i cannot confirm, but one of our cab riders claimed one was the actual “Humpty Dumpty.” She was the legendary prostitute of great girth who was considered the queen of Naples prostitution. She certainly looked the part: rotund with huge breasts and huge white legs popping out of a too small dress.

We didn’t stop.

We ended up in the night club district at a disco bar. The music was European “popcorn” dance music (or at least, that’s what i called it). We sat at a booth and some attractive young women joined us. i was married with a five-month old daughter but bought her a drink. When we had finished our beers, the women asked for another drink. That’s when i discovered her drink was mostly colored sugar water priced at $20 in 1972 dollars.

We left. Outside, we ran across a bunch of teenage boys playing soccer in the narrow street. We joined them. For about an hour, four Navy officers played soccer with the far superlative local teenagers. They far surpassed us in soccer skills…even if we had been sober.

Then, i took a trip that still resonates. i wrote a poem about it and later added an intro for a post:

In the autumn of 1972 on the only tour i can remember taking during my Navy liberty, i rode a bus to Pompeii. Much of the city had not been excavated back then, and from recent television programs about the city, much more information has been revealed about what happened .

i was enchanted. Ancient places, things now gone always move me, like the Petrified Forest in Arizona. When i returned to my ship, the USS Luce (DLG-7), i wrote this:

i went to Pompeii today in the rain;
left Naples on a tour bus
where at the front of the bus,
a fat little man
mechanically spoke his piece
about squares and statues, history,
as pimps, prostitutes, hustlers,
and
little boys selling dirty pictures
while trying to pick the target’s pockets,
along with everyday people
moved in masses
along the promenades
as we passed:
innumerable puppets in a large box,
highly seasoned with the filth of a city;

until we escaped to a smaller city
with polished tables of intricate design
and
mother of pearl cameo necklaces;

then a quick dash across the inland roads
to Pompeii
where the rain gently gathered
for the vendors to turn out
their umbrellas and raincoats
for a few lira to add to their take
selling photos and guidebooks;
the little fat man in his bemused fashion
told of the grandeur and beauty
of the ruins
before,
reeling off death statistics
before
dropping his voice suggestively
while showing rooms of licentiousness
among the ruins;
i wandered away from the tour
wondering about the people
before
they became death statistics
and
i was quiet, wondering;

i left Pompeii today in the rain;
near Amalfi, the clouds broke out
the sun in its harsh, unyielding glory;
the water far below the cliffs
on the narrow road
sparkled;
the hillside homes were bleached white
against the fury of the sea.

i left the bus to wait for hours
to make a telephone call
back home,
only to hear the unanswered ringing;
i walked to the pier
where i waited for the liberty boat
to take me back to the ship
alone.

at least the rain had stopped.

i did not mention a romantic lunch (but i was alone) at a cafe near the crest of the Amalfi coast.

After that, the Luce weighed anchor and headed to her homeport of Newport, Rhode Island. The real adventure was ahead of us before we reached home.

A Tale of the Sea and Me – Palma de Majorca

It was 52 years ago, and unlike when i wrote my book, Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings, i do not have the ship’s logs nor pretty extensive notes to give me exact dates. i’m pretty sure this liberty port was before our other liberty port was changed from Venice to Naples (naturally).

Regardless, it was my first time to visit the Spanish island of Majorca and its port city of Majorca. It is, i think, the second place i decided i should move to overseas after being out of port in Sasebo in 1970. But Majorca was more entrancing. Even now, i think i could live there.

i don’t remember a great deal of that week. i remember walking the streets of Palma with the old and beautiful buildings surrounding me. i remember stopping at a tapas bar and drinking sangria (a lot of sangria) with four or so of my sonar gang. i remember one other officer (i can’t remember who) driving around the perimeter of the island. It seemed about every five miles or so, there was a different European country had established that beach as their tourist spot. There was Spain, Holland, Britain, Germany, France, and on and on. i remember the difference in the bars at those spots. Mostly, i remember gaping at all the beautiful beach women who went topless.

i remember buying a lot of gifts, mostly leather in the shops in the Palma’s shopping district. On Yosemite, i went back ten years later. And all of memories were justified and then some.

Palma is a Mediterranean dream of an island. i would go back again.

A Tale of the Sea and Me – A Change of Mind

i had the afternoon watch (1200-1600) the next day after our close call with the freighter on the mid-watch.

It was a beautiful Mediterranean afternoon, bright sun, deep blue sea, a sprinkling of clouds in the azure sky. Captain Butts (i know, i know, he was a commander then, but ship commanding officers will always be “Captain” to me) sat in the captain’s chair on the forward starboard side of the pilot house as usual. i was standing by the centerline gyro repeater at the bridge window when Combat (we called Combat Information Center or CIC “Combat”) reported a contact.

It was a similar situation as the night before except the contact was on our starboard side. A more significant difference was there was a small bearing drift, i.e. she wasn’t on a collision course. The biggest difference was she was on our starboard side and therefore the “privileged vessel.” She was required to maintain her course and speed. The Luce was responsible for maneuvering to avoid a collision.

When she was at roughly eight miles, i spotted her masts. Our term for such a sighting was she was “hull down.” i tracked her with the repeater. She had a very slight right bearing drift, meaning we would pass ahead of her if we stayed on track.

Combat and my JOOD’s maneuvering board solutions concurred our CPA would be just over a mile as we passed the contact (i hope landlubbers have read enough of these things to catch all of the acronyms and Navy lingo). She was a freighter similar to the close call the night before. For ships at sea, a mile of separation is an uncomfortable distance. i recommended to the captain that we turn to starboard and pass astern of the freighter. He disagreed and ordered me to maintain course and speed. i, of course, replied “Aye, Aye, sir,” and continued as ordered.

We kept getting closer and the CPA remained constant.

Then, we were about 500 yards from crossing the freighter’s bow, Captain Butts changed his mind and told me to pass astern of the freighter. It was too close to turn to starboard toward the contact. i turned to port and did a circle to set a course to pass astern at about 1,000 yards.

The CO got out of his captain’s chair and told me he would be in his in-port cabin. He had a smile on his face.

i have tried to figure out what my commanding officer was thinking that afternoon. i suspect he might have been teaching me one more time about bearing drift and CBDR. But CDR Butts was a gentleman and courteous in all things, especially when following the nautical rules of the road.

There were several other close calls in the Med during that deployment. It seemed i was on the bridge as OOD on every one of them.

We had my hail and farewell party after we returned in May 1973. It was our home in Fort Adams’ very old officer’s quarters previously used almost exclusively for the Naval War College attendees. Earl Major, my childhood friend would also be at Destroyer School for the department head program.

Earl attended the party along with my fellow Luce wardroom officers and my brother coming down from Boston where he was a graduate student for a double masters in theology and philosophy.

Toward the end of the party, CDR Butts and Earl had a conversation. The CO told Earl i was one of the best OODs he had ever had, but he was glad to see me go. When Earl asked why, CDR Butts replied that every time i had the watch, we had a close call with bogies.

The best, for me, was yet to come.