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.

2 thoughts on “A Tale of the Sea and Me – A Change of Mind

  1. Great story!
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