A Tale of the Sea and Me – A Space Trip

It was time for the last operation at sea for me on the Hawkins. It was November 1969. That spring, the Hawk had been selected to be the backup recovery ship for Apollo 12. She would be the ship in the Atlantic on the takeoff in case of an emergency and after the spacecraft had landed on the moon and men walked on the moon for the second time.

First, we had to go to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard just south of Norfolk. Our fantail had to be strengthened to support the crane designed to lift the Apollo spacecraft fromN the sea onto our main deck.

Then, we headed to Bermuda, one of the most wonderful places in the world, where we we would stand out on daily operations to practice picking up a dummy replica of the capsule. i was the “Apollo Recovery Officer of the Deck” and felt like i had attained the top of my seamanship skills maneuvering to pick the dummy capsule in open seas.

This was serious and treated as such, but we knew the primary landing spot was the Pacific and the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CVS 12) was the primary recovery ship.

Finally, we went to our station in the Atlantic roughly halfway between coast and the Azores. We had franked envelopes that signified the ship and its crew was part of the team for Apollo 12. We listened on the radio waves from Houston. It was a happy moment even though we were a distant part of it.

Then, just after they took off, NASA reported the capsule had experienced two lightning strikes. As I recall, the rocket took two extra orbits around earth while the NASA team worked on the problem. We were told Hawkins would likely be the recovery ship if the problem could not be resolved. The astronauts switched to auxiliary power, which resolved the problem. But for several moments we went to full alert.

Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, and Richard Gordon were on their way to the moon. The Hawkins stood down from our alert status. We bored holes in the ocean, listened while Apollo 12 landed in the Pacific and headed back to Norfolk.

It was my last time at sea on the USS Hawkins. It had been a wonderful eighteen months. I’m sure i’ve omitted many of the sea story adventures and hopefully will remember them all and include them later.

i thought my next year would really distance me from the Navy, and i would pursue sports writing for a newspaper.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

But the Hawkins was one of my best experiences ever.

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