deep waters

Anyone who has gone to sea for any length of time – and with a wink to my Coast Guard brothers and sisters I mean out past “ankle deep” (out of sight of the land) – knows the sea is vast.   And it really does not matter whether the vessel taking the mariner out is a sloop, a ketch,  a six-hundred foot Navy cruiser,  a thousand-foot aircraft carrier or nine thousand-passenger and -crew  cruise liner.  At some point, everyone realizes that we are but dots in the ocean.

For poets, scholars, kings, farm boys and  fishermen, the ocean casts a spell beckoning us to it,  and yet the depths and potential hazards have been a metaphor, even among land-lubbers, for danger and despair.  Who today has not heard or used the phrases “in over your head”, “you’re in too deep”, “the deep end”,  or being “out of your depth” to describe discomfort.

I sink in the miry depths,
    where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
    the floods engulf me.   Proverbs 69:2 (NIV)

But getting in over my head was never a reason for me to avoid doing something.  I did  venture to sea, most of the eight years I was crew on 3 Navy ships.   Perhaps it was due to my early introduction to water.   I think I was learning to swim almost at the same time I was learning to walk.  My mother used to tell me how, as a toddler, I would venture off the step in the shallows of the community pool –  and her lightning-quick mother’s arm would shoot out to rein me in as my head went under.  I was a budding Jacques Cousteau.   As a young teen,  I took a class in Lifesaving, in order to become a lifeguard, and the instructor- as I recall it- tried to drown me simulating a panicked swimmer.  I punched him.  Later, in the Navy class on treading water, I never understood how some of my peers had never learned to swim.  I never feared putting my head underwater.  And in my twenties I obtained a SCUBA certification and spent some years going diving.

Still, I have a healthy respect for water whether it is gathered in rivers, large lakes, or the ocean. Perhaps it is due to my experience with lakes that appear deceptively shallow, or water that was particularly frigid on a very warm New England May day.  Or with currents in rivers, in saltwater marshes with an ebbing tide where I tried to navigate a little rowboat across.  And I’ve lost my footing in a shallow beach tidal outflow and been sucked out to the bay.

There is a magical quality to looking out at the sea,  and witnessing the deepening blue hue of the deep ocean, turn gray-blackish and whipped into white foam caps.  When a calm sea could become a violent storm in a matter of hours, there were some, myself included, who offered prayers of thanksgiving to Providence for never having been seasick . On a bright sunny day,  as the weather turns into a full-force gale.

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore. Vincent Van Gogh  / brainyquote.com

In my childhood,  I was fascinated by nautical museums, sea captain’s two hundred year-old homes, touring lighthouses and old ships, steamers, and ferry boats.   And today I am blogging about such things now and again.   At my keyboard now  I remember the first work of fiction I wrote for a college literature class being a blend of all these memories.   And I quite clearly pictured Burgess Meredith as the crusty old Salt protagonist.

Dwellers by the sea are generally superstitious; sailors always are. There is something in the illimitable expanse of sky and water that dilates the imagination. Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Strangely, I never bought a boat after my assignments at sea ended.   While I have been on several since my career in the Navy ended,  I have never wanted to scrape barnacles, chip paint, or clean the salt-corrosion ever again.   But I still know port from starboard, and even on the maritime museum, the MIDWAY at the pier in downtown San Diego, I will still request permission to come aboard.  And I can wish for others a fond  time  getting  “haze gray and underway”.

CPO Sharkey

 

In 1977, I got off the bus from the airport at 0430 at Recruit Training Command, Naval Training Center, San Diego.  And my life has never been the same since.

Regardless of service, I believe all military members recall their bootcamp NCO. I certainly remember my Company Commander vividly.   Robert W Walsh,  ABE1, from north Florida.  Don Rickles might have modeled CPO Sharkey after him.  It is funny now to think how I was “Polack” to the CC,  and every other time some training command or support CPO would call out, ” Ssss—–” I knew they were refering to me.    ” it’s SA-RET-Skiii, sir!”

In bootcamp we were taught to call everyone “Sir” and if it moved, salute it.    But after we graduated and became, Seaman Apprentice, or Fireman or Airman, you would rather be stuck dumb and blind than call a Chief, “sir”.    There was always a colorful epithet attached to his retort (his, this was 1977)

“MY PARENTS were married, @#$@!”

“I WORK for a living,  @#$@! !”

“DO YOU SEE BARS on my collar?  @#$@!!”

And heaven help me,  with my nearsightedness,  if I saw two khaki-clad men approaching,  I was supposed to discern which, if either, had the insignia of a commissioned officer – on their cap or collar.   And that had to occur by a certain range as I was expected to salute.

I only screwed up in my first few weeks. With a Master Chief and a Lieutenant Commander.   The Master Chief’s response was far more “interesting”.  But with the officer, it was because I had NOT saluted.   He got over it.

The stride and bearing of a Chief, then as now, easily identifies my Mess Brothers and Sisters from an Officer at any distance.  And CPO Sharkey?  From this first episode, it brings back the memories of my formative days in the Navy.  He finds it ridiculous that sailors get bunks, mattresses and curtains.  And there is a part in this show when Sharkey is in disbelief that women might soon serve on ships.  In reality, about that time women had just entered the Naval Academy.   Then, in the 1980s, auxiliary support ships, tenders and others were integrated (genders).  And warships?   when female crew were first assigned to the USS PETERSON in the early 1990s,  I talked with a few of the Snipes about the prospect.  Once I proposed the idea in relation to more generously balancing each rating’s sea -shore rotation assignments,  my shipmates became all for the idea!

As for bunks and curtains?  I sure sounded like Sharkey when I heard about the redesigned berthing compartments, larger mattresses, lighting and space on our newest ships.   Has the Navy gone soft?!

Too funny.

VADM H. Denby Starling, II — honor365

Vice Adm. (ret) Starling began his last assignment as commander of Navy Cyber Forces at its establishment on Jan. 26, 2010. There he was responsible for organizing and prioritizing manpower, training, modernization and maintenance requirements for networks and cryptologic, space, intelligence and information operations capabilities. He concurrently served as commander Naval Network Warfare Command, where he oversaw the conduct […]

via VADM H. Denby Starling, II — honor365

Takes one to know one

The last time I boarded a vessel the size of the Allure of the Seas, it was gray and I was an enlisted volunteer(ed) carrying equipment. While an aircraft carrier does not deploy lounge chairs nor launch aircraft, on this voyage, my wife and I saw divers launch into a pool several decks above the waterline. This was all part of an entertaining acrobatic and sychronized diving show.

However, the most entertaining part of this trip has been having brief conversations with passengers who are fellow veterans. You see, I wore my “Retired Navy” ballcap boarding in Florida and disembarking on our first port of call. From the first greeting in the line with a retired Bo’sun while getting registered at the embarkation terminal, to the Air Force vet my wife and I sat with at a dinner, to the Navy Vietnam Nam-era airdale, there have been a lot of quick greetings and instant recognition.

” I can recognize veterans”, one Navy wife said.  I think she actually said, she could “smell ’em a mile away”, but I knew what she meant. I think people who served have an instant kinship. One of my fellow passengers, a man and his wife about half my age went snorkeling with my buddy, me and four others at our stop in Haiti. He smiled knowingly, when I remarked how cool it was to be zooming away toward our dive spot in a RHIB. Most Navy people recognize this acronym as Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat. Yet I think he or possibly his wife, was Dutch or German.

Yeah. The folks who are frequent cruise vacationing people also seem to have that camraderie. Many start around our age. I think cruise veterans and particularly Navy veterans get the best new sea stories to swap with one another from trips like this. It does “take one to know one”.

(Image) The last time I was off the coast of Haiti (USS PETERSON)

“when it’s time for leavin’ “

Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man,
Tryin’ to make a livin’ and doin’ the best I can.  – Ramblin’ Man, 1973)

American music lost another icon.   Tonight I read that Gregg Allman, a founder of the Allman Brothers Band,  died today at age 69.   By the time my musical taste broadened from the British Invasion,  Beatles Rolling Stones,  Elton John, the Who to Southern Rock, I was 18 and enlisted a year in the Navy.   My barracks room -mate, Ferdinand W,   was another enlisted Navy technician, a few years my senior at the training command, Great Lakes.  In the early morning hours, he would be returning from liberty (we had a rotating duty schedule and class) and usually wasted (very drunk).  He wrecked his sportscar, on base, on one of those binges.  But I remember him mostly for the southern Rock he listened to, and the squeeze box (concertina) he would play along.  A broken ankle from the car accident kept his partying subdued- and the while the Navy was investigating the incident.   download

When I was given orders to the cryptologic maintenance school at Fort Gordon, Georgia in 1978,  I had gained a little exposure to Southern rock- music of Lynrd Skynrd,  the Allman Brothers, Molly Hatchet, and Marshall Tucker Band.   About the time that the Navy students in my class were earning top marks, which gave us some early liberty ( we attended an evening schedule of classes) several of us found a small club in nearby Athens, Georgia that must have been named for the Allman Brothers’ song,  the Whippin’ Post.    Many live bands played there.  I remember one Saturday night,  whether a cover band – or the actual Lynrd Skynrd (I don’t recall) played there.  One guy kept screaming “FREE BIRD!!” In forty years, I forgot about those times when you could sit in a club twenty feet from bands that defined a rock era, and then next weekend do it all again.   But history dims with time.  I read a report from 2013 that the long-closed club was torn down.

May memories

A lot changes in forty years. In  May, 1977,  prior to my departure for Boot Camp at Naval Training Center, San Diego in October,  I was graduating high school.   Jimmy Carter was President, a fact that I thought, being a former naval submariner officer, would make him an excellent leader.   People didn’t want Gerald Ford as he had pardoned ‘criminal’ Richard Nixon, but I remember him for sending in Marines to retrieve the Mayaguez, which had been seized by the Khmer Rouge a month after the last battle involving U.S. troops of the Vietnam War.

In those last two years of the Seventies,  the Zumwalt-era of loosened grooming standards – longer hair, mustaches and beards worn by Sailors were okay.  Dungarees (bell-bottom style) and dixie cups, were the working uniform.   Pot was a problem on military bases including San Diego.   A community that now is marked by the upwardly-mobile, well-heeled beach crowd, Ocean Beach, was then a place where druggies and ex-military,  tattoo parlors and bars were less restrictive than up the coast near the UCSD campus.

A visit over the Coronado Bridge to the Naval Station Coronado, where carriers were berthed was my first view of a ship – the USS Recruit was a wood and metal reproduction on the Recruit Training Command, to introduce us to naming convention, etc – so did not count.  The ‘aroma’ of the interior of the USS Kitty Hawk was the first ‘knock out’ that I will never forget.  Jet fuel, grease, human sweat, urinals and generally,  the stink of at times, 3500 men (no women then) wafted fresh new sailors who had more recently been accustomed to PINE SOL clean scent.

At the time, I was a student learning to work on complex electronics and mechanical maintenance of teletypes.  Where I now cannot see without at least one or two orders of magnitude, I was able then to discern two from three centimeters adjustments.  The instructor was quite ADAMANT about that ability before graduation.   We had Iranian military students – this was prior to the Iranian Revolution – and when they were recalled by their government,  we were relieved.   Suffice it to say that American and Iranian hygiene were on different tracks.

In May of 1982,  with several of my fellow Russian Language students and the professor – I was able to travel  to Russia – prior to the end of the USSR (1989) – visiting cities – St Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and Tbilisi.  If only for all but one – a socialist-  the trip was very informative and probably saved them and their future families from the ‘snowflake’ sensibilities, the mantra of “coexistence” and “socialism’s great”.  The people may have been interesting and interested, but the economy was a shambles. Ambition was reserved for the underground economy — some of whom are today’s Russian millionaires and billionaires.

In May of 1984,  I had been out of the Navy four years, attending the university in Tucson, Arizona.  Four three of those four years I had been actively involved in the Veteran students organization on campus,  and while peers were pursuing commissioning programs,  I was looking toward a government job after graduation.  Strangely,  in my second year after graduation,  when my graduate school plans went unfunded – I re-enlisted in the Navy -Reserve – that is.  The entreaties of one of my friends finally had me join his unit, only to see him quit!

After petitioning to resume an Active Duty career in 1987,  the next major May milestone I recall was May of 1997 when I was transferred from Norfolk, Virginia to San Diego, California.    1970 Dodge Chargers, if you could find one in decent shape were then ten thousand dollars or more,  homes which had been an unheard of, eighty thousand dollars – for an ocean view, were nearly eight hundred thousand,  and NTC was closed but for a few administrative medical functions.

And in the twenty years since that time,  friends and mentors went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq,  the Soviets became Russian trade partners, the Chinese became the world’s second-most powerful economy, the Islamic world tried to separate the economic need for the non-Islamic world – from the ideology that wants to reduce infidels to ashes,  and we are again at some form of odds over military preparedness against the adversaries that were no longer adversaries?

 

 

Red Sky in the morning….

There’s an ancient mariner’s rhyme that says, “Red sky at night, Sailors’ delight; red sky at morning, Sailors take warning”.  From Wikipedia,

It is based on the reddish glow of the morning or evening sky, caused by haze or clouds related to storms in the region.[2][3][5] If the morning skies are red, it is because clear skies over the horizon to the east permit the sun to light the undersides of moisture-bearing clouds. The saying assumes that more such clouds are coming in from the west. Conversely, in order to see red clouds in the evening, sunlight must have a clear path from the west, so therefore the prevailing westerly wind must be bringing clear skies.

Talking with a elder friend and mentor this morning,  Jack related a story how, as a Navy man fifty or more years ago, he had been a Tin Can Sailor ( alternately known as a destroyerman)  on a World War II-era ship.  He had been a yeoman and the Captain’s bridge talker.   Jack relished telling me how he had been selected for that job by the CO as he could translate the southern drawl of the Engineering crew muddled by ship’s intercom system.  And he loved to share with me the story of his ship taking 40 to 50 degree rolls in a Pacific storm they rode out for a week.

1944_12_17_unk_dd_700x
A ship of Task Force 38

I too, was blessed with a strong constitution, riding out a few violent Atlantic storms in the destroyer PETERSON, ( launched in the 1970s) where most personnel not on the binnacle list,  were at their positions with barf bags at the ready.   I do recall the one or two times I foolishly ventured on the upper deck by our workspace – the “Oh- three”  (03) Level, to witness the power of the wind and the waves.  Metal bent or was torn away by the power of the sea.   Fortunately with modern navigation, we did not ride through the center of these storms where the waves were reportedly fifty feet high from trough to crest.

typhoon20cobra
Typhoon Cobra

I started to think what the Sailors of WWII dealt with – battling the Japanese in the Western Pacific and typhoons.   On a website this morning,  I discovered that an error underestimating the weather put a heavily armed Task Force, with some top-heavy ships directly through a violent typhoon – Typhoon Cobra –  with fatal results.   Ships were heavily damaged, some capsized and sank with hundreds of men lost,  and generally raised more havoc than the enemy they were to battle.