Category Archives: Sea Stories

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

A Tale of the Sea and Me – A Load

USS Hawkins (DD 873) was certified and declared ready for full operations (April 1969). The only remaining limitation was no ammunition on board. Consequently, we headed south for something around 200 nautical miles, steaming through Chesapeake Bay and up the York River to Yorktown.

Loading a destroyer with a full load of ammunition is both hard labor and delicate. Almost the entire ship’s company lined up for transferring the ammunition from railroad cars loaded with small arms ammunition, five-inch shells and powder casings, grenades, and, of course, our torpedoes and anti-submarine rockets (ASROC) including perhaps some with nuclear payloads, which i cannot confirm or deny. The ASROCs and torpedoes came aboard on dollies, the ASROCs still in their containers, familiarly called “caskets” because of their shape. The other ammo was passed hand to hand from the railroad cars to the magazines on board. It was hard, hot, brutal work, but it was the only way.

Compared to the other ammunition, our anti-submarine arsenal seemed pretty easy, except for a few minor details.

We had to load 24 ASROC’s. eight in the launcher cells, and the other 16 in the torpedo/ASROC magazine, which was on the port side aft of the launcher. All were supposed to be loaded strictly by the approved procedure by using the new check sheets.

Loading one missile in the magazine racks by check sheet was about an hour procedure. This would take about 18-20 hours considering the “caskets” would have to be moved around before the next missile could be loaded.

Loading one of the rockets in its launcher cell, using the checksheets would take well over two hours, a total of at least 16 hours.

The kicker was the lone Nuclear Safety Officer, aka moi, was supposed to be leading each rocket being loaded, regardless if it was a nuclear weapon or not, another subtlety, i guess, in trying to fool the enemy wherever he might be hiding. In other words, the rockets were supposed to be loaded one by one, sequentially, not simultaneously.

That meant the load would take roughly 32 hours at a minimum. The Hawkins was scheduled to get underway at 0800 the next morning. Since we didn’t get started with the load until about 1000 that meant we somehow had to squeeze 32 hours of loading into 22 hours with no time to sleep, a very unsafe condition for loading weapons.

The LTJG Nuclear Safety Officer with the dual hat of Nuclear Weapons officer joined the CO and XO in the wardroom for a conference. We made the decision to require my presence for loading any nuclear weapons. If we had any, which i can not confirm nor deny, they were very few. For the nukes, if any, we would use the check sheets. For the non-nukes, we would use prudence and safety but load them as quickly as we could. We hoped the load would be completed by nightfall.

We began loading the magazine. When it obviously going smoothly, my GMT1 and i moved over to load the launcher. i think his name was Harris, but my memory is not that sharp, and i’m not sure. He saved my bacon a number of times. i am embarrassed i cannot recall his name.

The loader would have made Rube Goldberg proud. It was a conglomeration of gears and arms and stops and lord knows what else. We began loading one cell with the launcher when we heard a crunch. i’m thinking this doesn’t sound good. My GMT1 checked and found the pin in the latch that lined up the rail when the launcher and the loader had been manipulated to matching angles had broken. We lowered the ASROC being loaded into it’s “casket” and considered our bad situation.

Now, i can tell you then and even now, there are not a lot of ASROC loader latches in Yorktown, Virginia. After consultation with my GMT1, he said he could make it work. So, we loaded the eight ASROCS into the launcher while he stood underneath the loader to keep the rail aligned with the launcher cell (the rocket rode on the rail into the launcher cell). We did this for all eight cells. The GMT1 was the latch. He stood underneath with his arms up stretch to maintain the alignment for loading all eight missiles. We couldn’t have done it without him. i’m pretty sure he was tired with aching arms and shoulders the next morning.

Ship’s company had completed loading the five-inch shells and powder casings and all of the small arms ammunition around 1500 that afternoon. Our ASROC and torpedo magazine was completed shortly afterwards. We wrapped up getting the ASROCs into the launcher around 1700.

i am glad i had my ASROC Gunners Mate. And i am doubly glad no one saw how we did it.

A Tale of the Sea and Me – The Opening Scene of a Mystery

The Hawkins would go to sea again almost immediately to load all of its ammunition now that it was completely qualified for unlimited operations. While i began the nuclear weapons inspection, i had a couple of days with my friends, Doc Jarden and another guy from Norfolk who stayed in my upstairs apartment while the ship was in refresher training.

Their training was ending as we returned from refresher training at Guantanamo. The three of us had dinner at my apartment the night before they went back to Virginia. They invited two of the Salve Regina coeds they met at the Tavern. The group had come up with nicknames for fun. One was “Irene the Sirene.” The other was “Kathy the Drunk” (she had gotten at bit tipsy at the Tavern outing).

We had a great time. The young women were pretty and fun. It was perfect dining while looking across Easton Bay to Cornelius Vanderbilt’s mansion, the Breakers. i was taken by how much fun Kathy was and especially her great laugh that would make everyone else laugh, too.

We said our goodbyes. Doc and the other guy (i swear i will figure out the other guy’s name) took them back to the college dorm. They left the next morning. i was still how to deal with the broken and very short marriage. It was apparent there would be no reconciliation. I had to put that aside as we were headed to the Yorktown, Virginia Naval Ammunition Depot, the last step in becoming fully operational as a “Man of War” — and i still wonder why we considered ships female but called them “Men”).

Within the week, we set the sea detail, let go all lines and once again, stood out of Narragansett Bay for our next adventure, which turned out a bit more than i had anticipated.

Escape from the Doldrums

i have not written much in the last several weeks. Got into a funk. Went to a dark place.

Perhaps the dark place was a backlash to the wonderful octogenarian birthday blast that was just too good to be believed.

Perhaps it was getting lost in the weeds getting our tax records ready for our accountant.

Perhaps it was accepting my golf game is not going to get better and my “physicality” will continue to decline — oh, how i love to make fun of the talking heads that misuse that word on and on and on.

Perhaps it was realizing i will never spend enough time with my daughters, grandson, family, friends, and meet new ones.

It matters not.

Tonight, Maureen created this wonderful soup, along with her always perfect salad.

Afterwards, i walked out to our patio in the back, put out the cushions on a chair, and turned on the heater. i sat down with Mr. Dickel and resumed my voyage with Joshua Slocumb’s “Sailing Alone Around the World” describing his circumnavigation of our planet in three years in the late 1890’s. For me, it was a spiritual journey with the sea.

Slocumb is easy to read almost as if he wrote it this year, not over 120 years ago. And his accomplishment of rebuilding the Spray on his own and trusting in her for more than three years is just flat amazing. His stops in ports around the world give the reader an idea of what is was to live in this world long ago, long ago.

How i came to this book was also wonderful.

At my party, one of Maureen’s co-workers and close friend attended. Craig Augsburger also is a mariner. He crewed on several boats in the sailing races from San Diego to Hawaii. He lived on his own sailboat for quite some time and continues to upgrade and maintain the boat. After the party and reading my book, Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings, Craig asked to meet us for lunch with his wife Joan. We did. There he queried me about parts of my book my time at sea. We explored our reading of other books about sea ventures. Then, he handed me a copy of The Wager, a current best seller about a sea venture. It is next on my list of things to read.

Finally, he handed me one of his prized possessions. It was an edition of the book published in 1999 in Canada. It was thick and about the size of my hand, handy by the way to take to sea for reading pleasure.

Craig had been given the book by Charlie McInnes, including the Jack of Diamonds. He had signed his name on the back of the front cover. Craig also signed it and then loaned it to special folks he deemed enough of a mariner to read this special copy. His provisos were to sign and return the book including the one-eyed Jack. i will return the book to Craig in the near future after i become the 13th reader to sign it.

i was going to include several passages from the book here, but i will let you decide which passages are special to you. The book is now available but in a newer, larger version, i have sent copies to a couple of my favorite mariners.

i have been in the doldrums at sea, notably the South China Sea in 1979. Fortunately, i was on a steam ship, not a sailing ship. Still, the experience of dead calm in the middle of the seas is captivating.

i have been in the doldrums in my head while ashore: just couldn’t get any purchase on the lines.

But reading Craig’s treasured book of a sea venture was an escape for me. My doldrums were the darkness, and they are gone.

A Tale of the Sea and Me: Saved by the MTT

The day of reckoning was upon us. Or at least the reckoning was on CDR Max Lasell and me. The NWAI team from Atlantic Fleet arrived at precisely at 0800. We met to kick the inspection off in the wardroom. The captain greeted them cordially. The inspection team laid down the rules. i passed out the security manuals hot off the press, or rather, hot off the hands of third division. The team was about to end the meeting when leader of the Cruiser Destroyer Force Atlantic Fleet, a master chief ASROC gunner’s mate, stood up.

“i want the inspectors to know this is the first time the loading, unloading check sheets have been used,” he explained. They are the new standardized version and during the workup. We have discovered and corrected as many errors in the procedures as possible.

“However,” he continued, “We may have missed a couple. So any errors in the process from the checksheets is not the fault of the Hawkins ASROC team.” The lead inspector wrote some notes on his pad during the MTT master chief’s comments.

Then we got to it.

The inspection took about six hours. We went through the loading and unloading of the ASROCs into the launcher and magazine. The inspectors caught a couple of errors in the checksheets. No dings for my team. The MTT had saved my bacon.

Everyone met in the wardroom after the inspectors had consulted among themselves. Our captain sat at the head of the wardroom table. i quivered while seated to his left with the XO on his right.

The security manual met its requirements. We were graded a 98 on the inspection. We were certified.

But damned if they didn’t find three errors in my pen and ink changes in the abhorred SWOP 5-5.

Sometimes, you just can’t get everything right.

It was time to get it on.

Old Man Crazy in the Southwest Corner

Over my many years, i have been assigned many nicknames: Mighty Mouse, Junior Jock, JJ the DJ, Lieutenant Short Turkey, and Crazy Uncle Jim orCUJ, just to name a few, some bestowed on me, others created by own feeble mind. Stories abound about each one, but this about the latest nickname: Old Man Crazy or OMC.

You see, it’s been raining in the Southwest corner and many things have occurred since my turning old day about two weeks ago. It has been raining off and on. Then last Thursday, i earned my new nickname, Old Man Crazy.

You see, i have earned another title. i am a pocket of resistance. This probably started when i was around three years old. My father would admonish me, frequently with a smack on my bottom when i sucked my thumb. This happened enough that i took to sucking my thumb only when he wasn’t around. Then one morning, Daddy had gone to work. i asked my mother if Daddy was gone. When she said yes, i immediately popped my thumb in my mouth. Mother kept a paddle, unattached from the original rubber band and rubber ball, atop the refrigerator for a certain purpose. i’m pretty sure she didn’t wear me out that day with the paddle for sucking my thumb. i think it was because i had flaunted my disobedience to Daddy.

Several years later when i was eight or nine, Mother watched me very closely when i had checked out books, usually one or two a week, from the city library, that wonderful old home down on West Main with large rooms chocked with shelves of books, and the smell alone of old books could make you feel smart. Mother knew i was forgetful. One day, she instructed me to return the book i had or it would become overdue and i would have to pay. i decided i didn’t want to go. The next day, i took the book back, the nice old lady (probably significantly younger than i am now) checked the stamped date on that little check out card and charged me a nickel. i reached into my jeans front pocket and pulled out a nickel, my nickel. Mother never knew.

Somewhere, somehow, i also took on things that were unknown or having little chance for success. This occurred in many facets of life. i played racquetball against world class athletes. i hardly ever won, but i played them close. i ran with guys in much better shape and faster than me, but i finished. i volunteered for something unknown when i was on an amphibious squadron staff. The commodore asked for a volunteer with no explanation. i was the only one to raise my hand for what turned out to be one of the most challenging experiences in my Navy career and one of the most rewarding.

i remember when i laid claim to being a pocket of resistance. i was the first lieutenant of the USS Anchorage (LSD 36), to me one of the best jobs ever anywhere. It was late on the evening watch (2000-2400) about 300 miles off the coast of Okinawa. i had the deck and the conn. The weather was cloudy and heavy, i.e. miserable. The LORAN navigational fix machine was not working. The quartermasters were doing the required dead reckoning tracking rules to plot our course. They recommended i make a course change. i looked at the chart and their track. i looked at the weather and studied the wind and the current on the starboard bridge wing. i then ignored the quartermaster’s recommendation and came to a new course. The morning navigational fix showed i was correct. Somewhere in that process, it dawned on me i was a pocket of resistance. It was also the moment, i felt as one with the sea.

So back to last Thursday. The TMG golf group, formally the Friday Morning Golf (FMG) group, had studied the weather. It did not look good. In fact, it looked terrible. Most of us declared we would go to Sea and Air, the Naval Station, North Island golf course, have breakfast, and return home.

The first guy to arrive after me shortly before 0600 was Rick Sisk, a retired SEAL captain. He commented it didn’t look like the storm would arrive until around nine and perhaps, perhaps be benign until we finished the eighteen holes. i had agreed to breakfast only, but i felt something click inside. i knew i was going to play. Rick and Karl Heinz, another retired SEAL captain, and i teed off while the others who had showed were munching on their breakfast sandwiches with coffee.

The wind was pretty rough. We had some light rain intermittently until the seventh tee when it got serious. We were drenched by the time we reached the ninth green. During the downswing on my chip shot, the club slipped out of my wet hands; i bladed the ball; and it ran across the green to the rough on the other side.

i had made my point and headed to the car and home. Rick and Karl, somewhere between 10 or 20 years younger, plodded on in the rain. As i pulled out of the parking lot, i saw them walking down the tenth fairway in a torrent of rain. i wish i had continued on.

After all, i am Old Man Crazy.