Chapter 8: En Route Masirah, Oman

Chapter 8: En Route Masirah, Oman
     There is nothing, nothing in the world like being  underway at sea, especially on a Navy ship. Aboard the Anchorage, the Okinawa,  and the Yosemite “underway” was particularly enjoyable to me. They were either doing the job they had been built to do, e.g. Anchorage’s job was to load and unload equipment and troops by landing craft, boats, or helicopters; Okinawa’s job was to fly helicopters; and Yosemite’s job was to provide repair and maintenance services.
     The umbilical cords had been severed. Underway, the ship had become its own entity. True, orders from above dictated where the ship was to go and what it was to do when, but it was the ship and her commanding officer that determined how she would accomplish her mission and how well she would fare.
     i loved my time aboard five destroyers USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764), USS Hawkins (DD 873), USS Waldron (DD 699), USS Stephen B. Luce (DLG 7), and  USS Hollister (DD 788). They were true “greyhounds of the sea,” and could do so many things uniquely. They were either practicing in exercises or providing a forward presence for the most part. One could feel the sea when on a “tin can.” The landing ship dock, the helicopter carrier, and the tender were working ships. On cans, i felt like i was cavorting. On those other three, i felt more like i was serving my Navy and my country, working.
     And Yosemite was underway again. She felt good underway. Although I did not know how long we would be near Masirah, Oman, from experience I knew us being at work would make the time go faster. It was a good time for this Exec. He escaped from his desk with piles of paperwork, his inspections, and the lines of officers and enlisted outside his office to the bridge and watch junior officers at the task he had enjoyed throughout his career, usually on the maneuvering ship.
     Shortly after we cleared the toes of Diego Garcia and headed north we would be making US Navy history again. As discussed between the two commanding officers when McCormick was alongside in Diego Garcia, we transferred two of our women officers, Sharon Carrasco and Emily Baker, by small boat. The seas were calm and the boat transfer went off smoothly.
     They were undoubtedly the first women officers on a  deployed combatant in the US Navy. The plan, as i remember (but cannot find a source to verify) was for the two officers to remain on the McCormick until  the day before we reached Masirah, a period of five days. However, my recollection is we sent a radio message noting the transfer to our chain of command. Then we received a responding message with the order to transfer them back immediately because there were to be no Navy females, officer on enlisted, on combatants. It should be noted the commanding officer does not recall any such adverse orders and remembers Sharon and Emily’s time on McCormick was the scheduled three days and two nights, which was their actual  time aboard the guided missile destroyer. My recall, which can be spotty, may have been impacted by my sense then and now most senior officers in the Navy did not want the program to succeed.
     Regardless, the Yosemite’s time with The Lynde McCormick was good for our officers and crew. We had the opportunity to let our junior officers get a feel of Navy ships maneuvering. The McCormick began to make approaches alongside, giving their conning officers and ours training in what was a staple of ship handling in my time: underway replenishment.
     Yosemite, serving as the replenishment ship, maintained course and speed, normally twelve knots into the seas while the McCormick made approaches to approximately 120 feet off of our starboard beam. The McCormick’s conning officer would attempt to maintain station while our conning officers, under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Sitton and Captain Boyle, would ensure we maintained steady course and speed.
     There is no doubt in my mind our crew was excited and impressed and the junior officers learned a great deal about shiphandling.
     The two Yosemite  officers learned even more. After departing our company that day, they went off to do exercises at speeds the Yosemite could not approach. On the morning of the next day, McCormick conducted “man overboard” drills.
    a man overboard drill was one of the first exercises I experienced as an ensign aboard the USS Hawkins on her way back from a Mediterranean deployment in 1968. Admittedly, it took me a while to figure it out. The drill consists of throwing “Oscar,” a kapok lifejacket assembled to look like a person over the side.  Someone then yells, “Man Overboard, Starboard (or Port) side!” The word is passed to the bridge where the conning officer immediately begins to maneuver to clear the propellers from “Oscar” passing down the side, then reversing course to find “Oscar” and retrieve him with life buoys or since it is a life jacket dummy with a grappling hook (on bigger ships, small boats are used for the actual retrieval of “Oscar”). When Yosemite performed the drills, which was nearly always right after getting underway, Captain Boyle wanted the junior officers to learn difficult maneuvers and required them to get the ship close enough to retrieve the dummy with grappling hooks.
     Once “Oscar” is near, the conning officer maneuvers the ship as close as possible. If done correctly, the ship stops with “Oscar” right next to it. This is no easy feat. Knowledge of the ship’s turning radius, the engines’ action to take effect at different speed orders, the rudders’ responsiveness to turning, and the sea and wind conditions all must be factored in determining how to get close to “Oscar.”
     Ensign Emily Baker, when I asked (she is now married and her name is Emily Black), provided the following narrative of her experience during the drills on the McCormick:
…the Lynde McCormick‘s CO decided to hold man overboard drills. All the junior officers were assembled on the bridge wing and the fun began. It was a windy afternoon, which played havoc with the maneuvering. All the attempts resulted in some combination of being downwind of the dummy, surging past it, being dead in the water too soon, etc. Much backing & filling was required to retrieve Oscar each time for the next JO. The CO put me near the end of the line-up, which gave me ample time to study the wind and get a feel for how much the ship continued to swing after a turn and its momentum after stopping the engines. Finally it was my turn and I took the con. As we got back up to speed, I noticed that topside became quite crowded with sailors, compared to earlier in the exercise. Apparently, word had flown around the ship that one of the female officers was about to try her hand, and everyone wanted in on the show. I felt really confident and loved conning such a responsive ship. (Sorry, Yosemite, no disrespect intended!) After Oscar was tossed into the drink, I brought the ship around perfectly. We were at right angles to the wind, motionless with Oscar on the leeward side exactly below the bosun mate on the fo’csle. All he had to do was drop his grappling hook straight down to snag the dummy. The CO watched all this with a completely neutral face, then when Oscar was safely back on board he turned to his JO’s, raised an eyebrow, and said “Well, boys, you’ve just been shown up!”
     I felt on top of the world, and obviously I’m still feeling the glow decades later!
     This story continues to live on in family lore. I had my children at the tail end of my Navy career, and as a result they have no memories of my being on active duty. However, as they were growing up, my husband and I told them many stories of our military service. (My husband, John, was also a Navy SWO, although he didn’t stay in for an entire career.)  When my younger daughter started high school, her English teacher assigned the class to write a profile of someone they considered a hero. My daughter decided to write about me. She called her essay “My Navy Mother” and focused on how unusual it was in the early 80’s for women to serve on ships. She also included this story of the man overboard drill.
     I recall Emily recounting this story to some degree when she returned with Sharon on the small boat transfer. i thought to myself that being a conning officer on a ship does not require a man. I remember not only feeling like we were proving women on ships would work but more so feeling proud of Emily and Sharon and the Yosemite. 
     While the officers were gone on Thursday, October 27th, we lost our gyro. Long before GPS positioning, ships relied on the gyro compasses for navigating the ship. Celestial navigation was the definitive backup for the gyro system. Dead reckoning, using the ships course and speed and any available knowledge of current was a much rougher estimate of position on the ocean but that type of navigation also relied on the ship’s course, i..e. the gyro compass readouts. In other words, the gyro compass was critical for us to get where we wanted to go.
     The next day before we received the two female officers back aboard from the McCormick,  at 0509, the port shaft overheated. As I had learned earlier with the evaporator problem just before we left Mayport, it is a good thing to have your own repair department on board. The gyro and shaft problems might have been corrected by a combatant, but Yosemite could address such problems quickly and did in both of these situations.
     It was a good transit, but at “1708 OCT 30,” a Monday, the USS Yosemite anchored just over three miles off Masirah, Oman as had been agreed with the Omani government and our superiors in the chain of command.
     The next chapter in her deployment was about to begin.

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