Close Call: Near Collision At Sea

Please bear with me. i’m reliving my past. This time, it was sponsored by the Facebook group, US Navy Gearing Class Destroyers. The admin guy for the page posted photos of radio central aboard the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (DD 850), which continues to be restored as a museum in Fall River, Massachusetts. A shipmate from my first ship, USS Hawkins (DD 873), Gary McCaughey, commented and added a photo of him as a second class radioman, ET3 Mike Rebich, and RMSN Michael Jury  in the Hawk’s radio shack in 1969.

i began to comment on the post, but decided i wanted to post my thoughts here because it is part of my story for my grandson Sam. i began with a question for Gary:

Gary, were you on another, ship, like a cruiser before the Hawk?

USS Hawkins (DD 873), circa 1969

Hawkins barely missed a collision with the oiler in rough weather that autumn (i believe it was autumn, October perhaps). i remember talking to a second class (i think) radioman in the radio shack afterwards. i’m wondering if it was you.

i had the 20-24 bridge watch and had the conn during an exercise for a sub testing a new streaming sonar array system. The oiler had replaced another FRAM, which had engineering problems.

The Hawkins had problems of her own as en route (i recall the exercise was in the op areas northeast of Newport, Rhode Island) a freak wave curved around a port side weather deck bulkhead and dumped at least 50 gallons, probably more onto the after switchboard (hmm, i think i’ve written of this before) requiring the damage control gang (LTJG Nemethy was the DCA) to run emergency electrical cables throughout the ship for the remainder of that time at sea.

The Hawkins and the oiler had made several runs on different patterns. Each ship’s CIC and bridge would work outmaneuvering board solutions for the designed run toward the sub’s location with a turn out as we neared the center of the plot, over the sub.

The next run would produce a CPA a bit closer than the others. i asked Captain Max Lasell (i think he had made captain by then) to remain on the bridge instead of going down to watch the movie in the wardroom, adding i would call the wardroom to have them hold the movie’s start until he arrived. Captain Lasell agreed.

For this run, the oiler did the calculations and ran the pattern correctly but apparently executed the maneuver a couple of minutes late. As i realized we were close to in extremis with CBDR, i shouted “The captain has the conn,” and he took over while i made sure his orders were understood and executed immediately. With the captain’s  emergency maneuvering, the oiler passed in front of us, port side to, by about fifty yards. i remember looking up and seeing their pilot house.

After the near collision, Captain Lasell and i discussed what happened as he sat in the captain’s chair on the port side. We decided i would have done everything he did although i was not sure i would have ordered the port engine all ahead flank. we weren’t sure we would have collided if i had retained the conn, but we knew it would have been closer.

After the watch, i went to radio to pick up my radio messages. The second class told me he had been on a cruiser that had a collision. We talked for about ten minutes before i went down for midrats. To put it mildly, it had been a bit more exciting than i would have preferred. i had learned some valuable lessons i would use in future close calls.

After my talk to the second class radioman (perhaps Gary), the possibility of what could have happened sunk in. It took me while to go to sleep that night.

This was written in Navy “shipese.” If you would like an explanation, just let me know.

1 thought on “Close Call: Near Collision At Sea

  1. I was onboard then. Good recounting ‘cept for 1 thing. He sat in “stbd” chair!
    And you might gave added….”as he puffed on his unfiltered Camel” . 😤
    P S. I stay in contact with Chuck Miller.

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