Category Archives: Sea Stories

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

A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam) – Installment 22

Louis (Louie) Guimond, Part 1

After my personal introduction to NJP that summer of 1968, it was six years before i got to witness it in action again, or at least a variation of it (i think i’ve written of the sea stories before in other places).

i reported to my first ship, the USS Hawkins (DD 873)  in Malaga, Spain in April 1968, and  rode her on the last stages of her MED deployment (that is “Mediterranean” for landlubbers, not “medical”). i relieved the First Lieutenant as the ASW Officer would not rotate until late September that year at the beginning of an overhaul. In those days, the first lieutenant had a bunch of sailors in first division who were more likely to go to mast than most divisions. Not all, but most.

So once we got back to homeport, i spent a lot of time with report chits, XOI, and captain’s mast. The CO, Commander Tom Nugent, was…well, let’s not go there, but he was a stern taskmaster. Strangely, he was lenient at Captain’s Mast. i had several of my boatswainmates get off a lot lighter than i expected.

Then, while late on the evening (2000-2400) Officer of the Deck (OOD) watch on the quarterdeck, i learned the old way was still in my Navy. A very drunk seaman, one of mine in first division, came back from liberty and was so inebriated, i wasn’t sure he would make it across the brow. He was belligerent. When i attempted to calm him, he started cussing me out. As a fresh ensign i was trying to figure out how do deal with the kid while the petty officer of the watch (POOW) called the duty master-at-arms on the 1-JV sound powered phones.

The duty MAA was a first class gunner’s mate. He was big, burly, stout, and ugly. He had a crew cut and his muscles bulged from the tee shirt with one sleeve rolled up to hold his package of camels. He came up to the quarterdeck, saw what was happening and put his arm around the belligerent, drunken sailor.

“Come on, son,” he soothed, “Let’s go down to the boatswain’s locker and talk about this.”

They walked forward together, and i was relieved the incident was over.

It wasn’t.

The gunner’s mate took the young man down to the boatswain’s locker and gave him an old fashioned ass whuppin’.

i know this happened because i came from officer’s call the next morning to quarters for first division. There in the first rank was the offending boatswainmate. i expected him to look pretty bad because he had to be hungover, but he also looked like he had been through a meat grinder. The gunner’s mate had exercised the old style of discipline. My chief explained to me how it worked.

Wisely, i did not question what had happened.

Within a couple of weeks, i saw the old style of Navy justice at work again. First division had a strapping young seaman who was not overjoyed about being in the Navy and was often questioning authority. It did not help that he was also extremely prone to seasickness. If the ship rolled a little bit tied up to the pier or in a nest of other destroyers, this guy would blow lunch.

He had managed to piss off the First Division Leading Petty Officer (LPO), BM2 Carrier. i don’t know exactly what he did, but Carrier was my man second only to BMC Jones, whom i relied upon. Carrier held my hand and escorted me through some tough times. He also was old school, sailor, and back then, liberty cards were used to control who left the ship. The duty section would not be issued liberty cards at quarters. Those not in the duty section, would be given these cards to show to the quarterdeck to get approval to depart after liberty call. The division LPO issued the liberty cards at the close of morning quarters.

It was a Friday. When the LPO issued the liberty cards at quarters, he strangely could not find the seaman’s card. This was a frequent occurrence for sailors who upset the chief or LPO. This meant the seaman would be on board for the entire weekend.

Shortly before the noon mess and early liberty call at noon, i went down to inspect division berthing on the first deck underneath the fantail. The upset seaman was in berthing and seeing me, he became a sea lawyer, screaming about his rights and how the Navy couldn’t do this to him. Again, i was flummoxed and trying to decide how to handle this.

Chief Jones, was about 5-8, a soaking wet 130-pounds, wiry, wrinkled, and about to retire with 20 years in about a month or so. He was also checking out the spaces. Up on the main deck, he heard the seaman yelling below. Chief Jones slid down the ladder to berthing, ran over to where this 6-2, 190 pound kid was berating me. The chief grabbed the seaman by the front of his blue chambray shirt at the chest, pushed him up against the bulkhead and then lifted him up until the seaman’s feet cleared the deck. The chief then launched into a profanity laced tirade that would have made the coarsest of sailors proud, concluding with something along the lines of “don’t you ever confront an officer and deal with your problem on board; see  you at quarters Monday” (Well, i’m sure that wasn’t exactly what he said, but it was close).

LCDR Louis Guimond was the XO, a mustang coming up from the ranks after being a submariner in WWII. He was tough and the crew feared him as he would give them no quarter. Shortly after we went into overhaul at the Charlestown Naval Shipyard in South Boston (the USS Constitution is now moored there), the CO went on two weeks leave. Once again, i had a seaman put on report and forwarded from XOI to Captain’s Mast. i was very concerned. The acting CO the feared XO, who would conduct Captain’s Mast. The seaman had reported aboard almost six hours late and was an unauthorized absence. He had not divulged his reasons at my investigation nor at XOI.

Mast was held on the bridge. When the seaman stood at attention before the podium, Louie asked him why he had not reported as scheduled. Roughly, here is the seaman’s story:

Well sir, my flight got into Logan Airport a bit late, so i hurried to catch a cab. Then when we were going through Callahan Tunnel, the cab driver started hustling me about giving him my guitar. We got in an argument. So i jumped out of the cab with my guitar, i got lost a couple of times but i walked here from the tunnel.

i held my breath. i was waiting for the XO to lower the boom. Louie studied the man’s service record paused for a minute, and said,

“Son, i should give you the max: reduction in rate, half pay for three months, restriction to the ship for thirty days, and 45  days extra duty.

“But that is one of the best stories i ‘ve heard for a long time at mast.

“You are dismissed with a warning.”

And that, my friend, is Navy justice at work in the old days.

A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam) – Installment 21

Notes from the Southwest Corner: Stormy weather? It seems so calm to me

SAN DIEGO – Late last week (2013), a friend called early in the morning to tell me it was raining downtown.

“Rain,” I said, “What rain?” There was no hint of rain only several miles away. “Yep,” Steve responded, “It’s raining real rain here.”

Rain in June is rare here, spot rain even rarer. So there is yet another Southwest weather corner mystery.

The call regenerated thoughts of storms. Even though I was in the eye of a fledgling hurricane as I recently related, it was not the worst storm I experienced.

That storm came unannounced and unwelcomed.

In December 1972, the U.S.S. Stephen B. Luce (DLG-7) returned from a Mediterranean deployment with Destroyer Squadron 24. Being the holiday season, the squadron was allowed to exceed the normal limit of 15 knots.

After crossing the Atlantic on a great circle route to Charleston, SC, the U.S.S. Stanley (CG 32) detached and headed toward its homeport. The other five ships turned north toward Newport, RI, expecting to cover the 1000 miles in about three days, arriving two days ahead of schedule.

There were no warnings about what was ahead. Even without satellites, Navy weather stations normally did a decent job on weather reports, but not this time.

When the storm hit us, wind speeds approached 100 miles per hour, perhaps even more.

The bridge of the Luce was 75 feet above the water line, and green water, i.e. real waves, crashed against the bridge windows almost in relentless rhythm.

We tied bridge watch standers into their posts. Only the officer of the deck (OOD) and his assistant remained unfettered to frequently shift from side to side for better vision. Mostly, this OOD (moi) stood behind the center line gyroscope repeater with one arm around a handrail, making small course changes to find a better course.

The bow would climb up a wave and about one-quarter of the 500-foot ship hung in the air above the ocean before crashing down, the bow plunging under water before settling out briefly and starting up the next wave.

Foam covered all the sea except when the wind gave a glimpse of the dark blue ocean. The other ships were often within a 1000 yards but seldom seen except for their masts, the rest of the ship hidden by the waves.

Our watertight doors proved less than that, leaking from the pounding seas. Over a foot of water rolled about the main deck passageways. The galleys could not keep food on grills or steady in the ovens. We ate what was available, cold. We did manage to make coffee for almost five days.

The Luce took innumerable 45 degree rolls. Hanging tightly on a bridge wing, it seemed as if I was parallel to the sea.

When two other officers and I ate in the wardroom, the chairs were tied to the tables, unavailable. We propped ourselves on the floor against the port bulkhead. After a bite or two, the ship rolled fiercely. We lost our seating and tumbled across to the starboard side, sandwiches and coffee flying everywhere.

One enlisted man with the top rack in a three-tiered section was sleeping peacefully when another jolt tossed him out and down, across to the adjacent tier where he landed in the lowest rack with another startled sailor.

The Luce lost two days, arriving in Newport on its original schedule. Two older destroyers arrived about a half-day later. One newer class frigate arrived a day later. The final ship, another frigate arrived a day after that.

On the one frigate that was last in making Newport, a freak wave crashed off a forward bulkhead and ripped a three-foot hole in the back of the forward gun mount. The ship experienced flooding forward but successfully secured the breach with damage control.

When we pulled in, none of the Luce’s usual weather deck projections remained: life lines, fire stations, and damage control equipment were gone. Ladders (stairs to the landlubber) between decks had disappeared. Plenum chambers for air vents had been ripped back from the exterior bulkheads, eerily resembling giant wings.

Remarkably, we only had one major injury. At the storm’s onslaught, our assistant navigator took a dive into the brass around the chart table and cut a gash in his forehead, requiring several stitches.

Strangest of all, the sun shone daily through the entire ordeal.
Never before and never after have I been so glad to be home for Christmas.

A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam) – Installment 20

As noted, it was my summer for learning the Navy way.

A major lesson came mid-summer. i was with a number of my first division sailors who were cleaning the ship’s midship passageway. In addition to all of the weather decks and the hull, the deck seaman also had the responsibility for most of the shared interior spaces, particularly the passageways, what landlubbers would call halls.

Our Engineering Department had a special sailor on board. He really ran the deep hole engineering (fire rooms and engine rooms for the Chief Engineer, the Main Propulsion Assistant (MPA) in charge of the engine rooms, and the “B” Division officer in charge of the firerooms. He was unique and held a rating that only lasted for a few years. During those years, a chief who was a Boiler Tender (BT) or a Machinist Mate (MM), if he passed the requirements he would meld the two disciplines and become a “steam propulsion specialist.” Then, his rating would be SPCS (E8) or SPCM (E9).

Unfortunately, i do not know remember our SPCM’s name. He was a burly six-footer with thick black hair and a booming voice.

The passageway under maintenance was close to the engineering log room amidships. The log room was pretty much the engineering office where records were kept on feed water, freshwater, fuel, oil levels, test results, among others. It was also where our SPCM hung out. i was doing something with my sailors. i don’t know what it was. But i know it was the wrong way to handle things.

Our SPCM emerged from the log room, put his arm around my shoulder, and escorted me respectfully to the port side weather deck. Again, i don’t remember exactly what he said, but i know it had a major impact on me, and because of his counsel, i changed the way i dealt with my men, and it was a major improvement.

The SPCM and my BMC Jones were close friends in the goat locker, aka the chief’s quarters. As a result, they took me into their twosome, and continued to provide me with advice about how to be a better division officer.

After liberty call when we didn’t have the duty, Ensigns Rob Dewitt, Andrew Nemethy, and yours truly were spending a lot of time in Newport. On a Tuesday afternoon when Andrew had the duty, Rob and i repaired to The Tavern, what would be called today a sports bar. We had a beer and went to see a friend of Rob’s in a home nearby. When we left there, we stopped at The Black Pearl, then a shack that served as a lounge for the owner of the three masted schooner of the same name. Barclay H. Warburton III, owned the sailing ship and to have a place to relax, have a drink, and grub, transformed that shack on the pier now Bannister’s Wharf, which had been serving as a sail loft, into a small diner. It was wonderful. We had a sandwich, of course their incredible clam chowder, a beer, and headed back to the ship. It was around 2300.

As i drove down Thames Street, an older couple in a late model Buick pulled out of a side street with no warning. Although i was driving within the speed limit, i tee boned them. It totaled my car. Rob’s head went through my windshield, and i smacked the steering wheel with my face. My car was totaled. The couple escaped with minor injuries. They took us to the emergency room where Rob received stitches, and they patched up my mouth, the front of which had lost another tooth, bringing the total to three front teeth (ha, ha, Brenda Lee). It would be about two weeks before they could replace my two-teeth bridge with a three-teeth bridge. (i was cleared of any culpability).

After several days, Rob was back on the ship, and we returned to normal duty except it would not be a normal week. BMC Jones was retiring the following Monday. The ship was having a change of command on Saturday. So on Friday at early liberty around 1400, the SPCM and BMC Jones invited me to join them at the Lighthouse, a favorite pub for chiefs, to celebrate his retirement with a gin and tonic. the three of us in our summer khakis ordered gin and tonics and toasted BMC Jones. The SPCM did not think one gin and tonic was an adequate salute to my chief. He ordered another for the three of us, and then another. i finally escaped, leaving half of my fourth gin and tonic on the table.

i stumbled back to the ship. Ordinarily, i would have eaten in the wardroom for the evening mess, and then retired to my stateroom in forward officers. But that Friday evening was scheduled for the ship’s hail and farewell party to the outgoing and incoming commanding officers. i drank about a ton of coffee, dressed in a sports jacket and tie, and headed for the small officers club up the hill from the destroyer piers.

In the small club, there was a party going on, and the three star admiral, the commander of Cruiser-Destroyer Fleet in the Atlantic, and his wife were in attendance. i somehow ended up in a conversation with the two of them. Of course, the admiral asked me about my missing teeth while his concerned wife listened. i was still pretty…er, inebriated? i waxed effusively about the event, and they appeared glad Rob and i had not been hurt worse. i walked back down the hill to the ship and my rack.

The next day was a grand event: the formal change of command ceremony aboard the USS Hawkins (DD 873). Our commanding officer was being relieved by CDR Maxwell Lasell, a large, physically impressive Naval Academy graduate with a bald head long before it was de rigueur. The CRU-DES band was on the pier . Immediately beyond the quarterdeck, the fantail had a canvas shade rigged. Eight side boys flanked the entry to the quarterdeck from the brow. Just beyond them, in two ranks stood the honor guard awaiting to be inspected by the admiral and the outgoing and oncoming COs. The officer in charge stood in front at attention in his full dress white uniform complete with his Navy sword resting on his right shoulder…and three missing front teeth. It was Ensign Jewell.

The ceremonies commenced at 1000. The band played “Ruffles and Flourishes” three times as the admiral came aboard. After he was saluted, the admiral proceeded to face the honor guard officer as i ordered my charges to salute as i performed the salute with my sword, bringing the hilt to my chin with the blade pointed skyward, bringing it smartly to my side with the blade at a slight angle toward the deck. When the admiral returned the salute, i ordered “to” and brought the sword back to rest on my right shoulder.

The admiral then asked me, “How are your teeth, this morning?”

“They are fine,” i responded, “Thank you, sir.”

Behind him, i saw my new captain, CDR Lasell, silently chuckling.

i breathed a sigh of relief as they moved on toward the rest of the ceremonies.

i would bid adieu to BMC Jones Monday morning, The SPCM would leave shortly after we entered the yards the next month. And i had found a new mentor to add to the XO, CDR Max Lasell, commanding officer of the Hawk.

A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam) – Installment 19

Black Oil

Long before Navy ships became sophisticated power chains of today, most Navy ships were fueled by black oil. Black oil was just a step above crude oil. Environmentalists would probably have heart attacks just looking at it.

It was the fuel for ship’s boilers after coal and before “Navy distillate,” a cleaner burning oil. i have a number of sea stories about black oil and Navy distillate. This story is about black oil before that other stuff became the Navy’s fuel of choice. It was a thick, viscous, and clinging substance: think of B’rer Rabbit, B’rer Fox, B’rer Bear, and the “Tar Baby.”

In the summer of 1963, the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764) was on exercises in the Atlantic OP areas (operational areas). i was a third class midshipman. We were en route from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Bermuda and were refueling from an old Navy oiler. It was the time of black oil.

During the refueling operation, i was assigned to the “DASH” deck aft. i don’t think the sailors topside who weren’t on the refueling teams were wearing service dress whites as in the Goodrich photo, but they could have been. We were in our dungarees (far and away the most impressive, most effective, and most appreciated working uniforms for sailors ever) and in kapok life jackets. We didn’t wear hard hats but we did have on battle helmets.

Ray Bean, a member of the Facebook group, “US Navy Gearing Class Destroyers” posted some rather amazing photos of the USS Goodrich (DD 831) refueling that same year. Ray’s photo here shows the after refueling station on the DASH deck, just forward of the after gun mount:

The refueling hoses were secured to the post in the middle of this photo and the end was placed in a fitting which was a fuel line to the ship’s tanks. The hose was tied off with what we called a “pigtail” to keep the hose in the fitting.

On this particular evolution, the deck seaman in charge of securing the “Pigtail’ did not do a good job. When the refueling began, the force of the black oil through the refueling lines broke the pigtail. Black oil hit that sailor dead on, carrying him back into the lifelines in the upper left hand corner of the DASH deck as shown in the photo. He collapsed in the corner completely covered with the oily goo.

The disaster was reported to the captain on the bridge. He sent his executive officer back to the station to take handle the catastrophe. By the time the XO got to the station, the pigtail had been secured and fuel was being pumped into the tanks. But this old exec was proud of his self-importance. Seeing the fuel was pumping, he raged about cleaning up the mess. He pointed to the gunky mess in the corner and demanded to the officer in charge to get rags, clean the mess up, and to throw that oily mess overboard.

The officer in charge then said, “But sir, that’s Seaman Jones.”

The XO, startled, mumbled something about cleaning everything up and meekly went back to the bridge.

After we cleaned up the seaman, we all laughed.

A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam) – Installment 18

A Mid-Watch Lesson

It was summer school for me in 1968. Andrew, Rob, and i discovered The Tavern, the Black Pearl, and other delights. i was liking my liberty as an ensign. But the learning curve was almost vertical.

Another lesson came one week night when i had the duty. i was assigned the mid-watch (midnight to 0400) as the Officer of the Deck, in port, (OOD). A second class petty officer was my petty officer of the watch (POOW), and a seaman striker from radio was the messenger. It was a cool, comfortable evening and we were tied up pier side, not nested out with one or two other destroyers between us and the pier. We were port side to.

The watch had been very quiet. Liberty had ended at midnight for the crew. It was about 0200 when a very drunk seaman reeled across the brow to the quarterdeck. When i told him he would be put on report for unauthorized absence, the drunk young man went ballistic. He was cursing and threatening me. i was attempting to determine how i should handle the sailor without getting either of us in trouble when the POOW called the duty master at arms.

The duty master at arms arrived several minutes after the call. He was a first class gunners mate. He had on his dungarees but with a tee shirt rather than the chambray shirt. The left sleeve was rolled up to hold his pack of cigarettes above his massive arms.

Without much more than a polite recognition of the officer, me, he put his arm around the shoulder of the sailor and moved him aft. He said, “Sailor, let’s go have a talk in the paint locker.”

The next morning, i slept as last as i could and still partake of the morning mess. After the mess i walked to the forecastle for divisional quarters at 0750 and colors at 0800. The seaman was in first division and was in the second ranch. Chief Jones was laughing. The culprit looked like he might have been through a meat grinder. One eye was black and bruises were showing wherever there was skin.

The MA gunners mate had taken care of the problem. i don’t think the young man was ever UA again and never caused a problem on board because of drinking. The report chit disappeared before making it to the legal officer.

It was an awakening for me. The underground system for discipline at the sailor level worked well, but all of us would have been before a court martial today.