Sunday, August 20, 2023, we are in the middle of Hurricane Hillary, which thus far has been more of a whimper than a roar. The highest winds predicted in squalls around 45 MPH, are supposed to occur around mid-afternoon. That’s just below 40 knots for old sailors. Of course, the winds and the rain will be worse in the mountains to the east and lowlands could be facing some serious floods. There is likely to be some damage along the coast.
But we are just enjoying the light rain inside with my plans to read and listen to music — i currently am listening to a CD in a jazz anthology collection. This particular one is “Songs for a Rainy Afternoon,” rather apropos, i think. Maureen is likely to watch some television as well, probably a chick flick.
When i read the prediction described with fearful words, i laughed and remembered a time when i experienced a little more of that. i decided to include another earlier post out of sequence for my sea tales. That post included a Lebanon Democrat column from a bunch of years ago. The introduction described a number of other times at sea, storms were formidable.
Two events were left out.
The first occurred in 1975 about this time of year. The USS Anchorage (LSD 36) was transiting back to the states, having just left Keelung, Taiwan after picking up a 106-ton sea fueling buoy for an “opportune lift.” That experience is a sea story all to itself. The cylindrical buoy was supported by about four feet of logs on the well deck and welded to the batter boards on the bulkheads.
i was getting ready to relieve the watch and become the OOD for the evening (2000-2400) watch. When i reported to the bridge, CDR Art Wright called me over to the CO’s chair in the forward starboard section of the pilot house.
“Jim, the seas are already worsening, and I am a bit concerned about that sea buoy possibly breaking the welds in the shoring and breaking loose” he explained, “Would you go down to the well deck and stay there until the storm passes? I need someone I can trust to let me know if we have an emergency on hand.”
Finally, he cut off a possible excuse from me, “I will stand in for you as OOD until the mid-watch relief gets here.”
He didn’t see me gulp when i responded, “No problem, captain; aye, aye.”
i descended the ladders from the bridge on the 03 level down to the main deck, then the mezzanine deck, to the well deck. The buoy was all the way forward, almost to the mezzanine deck. i walked around the massive buoy and examined all of the welds on the buoy and the bulkheads. All good. I retreated to underneath the mezzanine deck above as the rain had begun to get serious. We were experiencing some rolls just a bit heavier than normal. i watched.
As the night deepened, the swells and the wind picked up. About every 15 minutes or so, i would circle the massive thing in the cavernous well deck, to check the buoy and the shoring as i had initially. i had rejected taking someone with me. i had thought of my BM1 Hansborough who was the well deck master, but decided if something went wrong, i wouldn’t want to put him in danger. By now, i was soaked and felt a bit lonely.
I had gotten there about 2015. The seas probably peaked somewhere around a Sea State 4. They began to calm around 0200, and were calm enough that the captain and i agreed i could secure from my post before 0400.
i have been in much rougher seas, but i don’t think i’ve ever been more concerned about what the seas might do.
The other event was on the USS Yosemite in 1984. i will save that sea story for later.
* * *
The original introduction:
Lately, in discussions with former shipmates and other old sailors, rough seas have been discussed. i experienced rough seas on my first night aboard the USS Lloyd Thomas in(DD-764) and fought back seasickness as the radar gang was trying like mad to make me sick (a ritual described here previously). My first ship after commissioning, the USS Hawkins (DD-788) experienced enough bad weather off of Cape Hatteras that she experienced her maximum roll of 45 degrees, dangerously close to her “point of no return,” i.e. if she went much farther she would just keep going and capsize. That was rough. i was chased by a typhoon across the South China Sea, forced out of Hong Kong liberty by another (my wife was there to spend a week with me), and actually in the eye of a hurricane when it was forming in the Caribbean. But in a weekly column in The Lebanon Democrat several years ago, i described the worst storm i experienced in 15-plus years of sea duty.
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.