Flooding, flooding!

The practice of medicine is a thinker’s art the practice of surgery a plumber’s. Martin H. Fischer

There’s not too much concern in my neighborhood with the dangers at sea.  No real danger from collisions ( unless a Cessna on approach to the airfield makes an improbably short landing).  There is no danger of grounding.   Likewise, the chance of sinking is very slight at a few hundred feet above sealevel.   And until I attempted tonight to replace the fill valve in my toilet,  I never considered flooding.

As a homeowner, and a technically proficient electronics engineering technician,  I tackle most maintenance myself.  Unless my wife is at home, in which case,  I will opt to call someone to do maintenance.  Some tasks are a little complicated in an old house  whether replacing a dishwater fill line or tinkering with the gas water heater.    With my wife on travel visiting the kids,  I thought tonight would be a good opportunity to replace an annoying toilet fill valve.  For a “water-saving” device,  the last valve I installed has required two or three flushes routinely, and sometimes a manual intervention to the tank.

0512-0707-1115-1056Tonight,  my famous last words were “it’ll only take five minutes”.   I studied the new valve.  I even consulted YouTube.  Simple job.  But the line into the tank – at the bottom continued to drip onto the floor even as I tightened the nut.  I gave in and removed the valve with more water going on the floor,  needing to grab several towels, and getting sprayed from the line as I did not shut the valve from the main all the way.  The job called for and resulted in a few choice “Sailor” expletives after assembly and the tank still had a small leak.

The man who has experienced shipwreck shudders even at a calm sea. Ovid

I was about to resort to calling my neighbor when I noticed one small failure.  I had installed the rubber seal under, not inside, the inner (tank) seat of the fill valve!   And in my zeal, I had nicked the plastic nut which would cause leaking as well.   Fortunately, the old unit had a pristine nut that I was able to reuse.   The Damage Controlman and the Hull Technician can stand down.   Flooding in the compartment has been cleaned up.  General Quarters is secured.  All hands can get back to their Saturday evening.

I was planning to start preparing to paint the living room this week to surprise my spouse.  It would not take that long as I have all the tools, tape and drop cloths.  I have a couple days to call in some “expert” help before my wife returns.  On second thought, I shall postpone this Intermediate Maintenance Availability for another time.  I will not set a watch, but I think it prudent to check the compartment for flooding in the morning.

 

Condition Zebra

CPO_coverTwo retired Chief Petty Officers meeting over cigars one evening were only casually known to one another.  Two other veterans and two others, a high school wrestling coach and an auto mechanic were all enjoying the late afternoon absently watching a baseball game on the television.   As the cigar burned to a nub,  the two salt- and barnacle-encrusted old seafarers became fast friends.  It is the shared experience of Navy life. Deployments, wartime, and good and lousy beer five thousand miles away from home. Sharing stories of Red light districts and Shore Patrol.  Looking out for our shipmates who may have enjoyed liberty a bit much.

When did you serve?

Went to bootcamp, in San Diego, in ’77.

Oh, I went through RTC in Orlando in ’78.  I retired in ’99.   

You ?

2010.

Shellback ?  Oh yeah,  I remember those @#$# shelaylee (shillelagh)   

Went through 3 times. Wog first deployment and then Shellback for the next two crossings.

They used GREASE!  Took forever to get it out of my hair.  @#@#$@#!   

Did away with it ten years ago.  Sailors just aren’t tough anymore.

What about Chief’s initiation? They are bringing it back?  Great.

It was a great life.

Yeah. It was a great life!

Gotta be moving on.  CINCHOUSE is expecting me. 

Underway.  Shift colors.

w12-1-mail-buoy

Our other pals looked quietly confused;  all they heard was gibberish.

 

Haze gray memories

All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.
~John F. Kennedy , Newport dinner speech before America’s Cup Races, Sept. 1962

I have never learned to sail a wind-driven vessel, nor do I recall the difference between a sloop and a ketch. That said, it does not mean I have no familiarity with ships, storms, life aboard ship, or the special bond that seafaring men (or women) have as a crew at sea.  For eight years out of a twenty-six year Navy career, I was a member of ships company, on a Virginia-class cruiser, a Spruance -class destroyer, and a converted amphibious transport dock-turned-command ship (for the U.S. THIRD Fleet).  I have spent months at sea repetitively in the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, Mediterranean,  and Caribbean Seas.  Perhaps the readers of this blog, merchantmen and military navymen (and women) have also looked upon Naples, Italy with Mount Vesuvius as a backdrop in the early morning.  As a Petty Officer on a ship that was one of the very first Navy visitors after forty years of the Cold War,  made port in Varna, Bulgaria. On deployment to enforce blockade of Saddam Hussein’s illicit oil trade after the Gulf War, transited the Suez Canal and made circles in the Red Sea. Like the apostles of Jesus two millennia ago, I walked the streets of old Jerusalem, visited Cyprus and Crete, Turkey and Greece.  Gazed upon the ruins of ancient seafaring civilizations four thousand years old.   I’ve ridden trains on a day’s liberty time as a Pacific Fleet sailor between Yokosuka and Tokyo, Japan,  and as an Atlantic Fleet one from Marseilles to Paris, France.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.
~John Masefield

A man I have known casually for years at a place I have written about many times, Liberty Tobacco, a cigar lounge in San Diego, California, is another Old Salt.  We both have long careers in the electronics industry and worked at some of the same places in San Diego.   But tonight we learned that we have been to the same places underway on ships,  and to shore stations around the country.  Twenty-five or thirty years ago is a long time in an age where, in a social media-world, memories last minutes or perhaps hours till another attention-seeker replaces them.

We shared memories of the school buildings for our respective Navy trades being across from one another on the shore of Lake Michigan.  We were assigned to electronics schools ( perhaps five years apart) at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago.  And we both have been through the fire-fighting trainer in Norfolk, Virginia. This is a large complex of buildings built to resemble shipboard compartments where fuel-oil fires are set ablaze.  Into the heat,  dense smoke, and real danger, crews are trained to combat them,  and to become familiar with all the tools and roles needed to fight and preserve a ship.  At sea, there is only your shipmates to keep your vessel afloat.

Other memories of putting to sea on your first ship get dusted off and refreshed while talking.   The times standing watch on the ship’s Quarterdeck in the middle of the night alongside the pier in Italy, you can chuckle about the garbage barge alongside – with something moving (not human) in the shadows.  Or noting wharf rats the size of cats rooting around a dumpster in the dark at the head of the pier. And realizing what “rat guards” on your mooring lines are designed to block.

Memories of winter rain in Panama that will soak you to the skin in minutes.  One of the wettest places on Earth,  the year-round rain recharges the waters in the Canal Zone powering the locks on each end of the Isthmus.  Swapping stories of liberty visits in ports ten time zones away from home that are extended to a month when a casualty occurs.   For one it was the ship’s screw (the propeller, in civilian-speak).  Without a shipyard and drydock, this enormous thing had to be replaced underwater by specially-trained teams.  For the other,  when a gas-turbine engine has to be flown from the USA and replaced in the Netherlands Antilles.  Due to a prior transit in a freshwater river in the Northeast USA, killing the built-up marine growth – and then immediate transit to the Caribbean resulted in the cooling inlets for that turbine being choked by dead organisms and engine destroyed by overheating.

The sea speaks a language polite people never repeat. It is a colossal scavenger slang and has no respect.
~Carl Sandburg

While some of my friends have experienced sea-sickness on a harbor ferry in San Diego bay, and worn the medical patches when first putting to sea on cruise ships and small frigates,  these aids may become unneeded when accustomed to life at sea for months at a time.   With merchantmen and Navymen, the camaraderie of sharing shipboard stories,  having weathered hurricanes and strong gales in the mid-Atlantic and off the western coast of Mexico transiting from the Panama Canal, the memories seem only days old instead of a quarter-century.   My shipmates and I have marveled at the  different colors of ocean water, the patterns of currents, bright sunshine and placid seas turn gray-black and stormy within hours.  I’ve been concerned for brightly color birds alighting on our ship as we leave port and then been still there twenty miles to sea.  Crossing the Equator and the International Date Line,  as a Navyman I have been both Pollywog and seasoned Shellback during the traditional ceremonies of the “Shellback Initiation”.

And some of the other ‘initiations’ like standing a first watch on the bridge – learning to always check your binoculars handed to you,  especially at night.  Some salty Bosun’ mate (Boatswains mate) may have first smeared a little shoe polish in the eyecups.   Or being especially vigilant while  manning instruments and reporting conditions during underway replenishment.  Any sailor will acknowledge the gait at sea is unique, an adaptation to simply performing your duties while the ship rolls in heavy seas.   Huge waves breaking over the bow of your ship become commonplace.  Watching a smaller vessel in your group seeming to disappear in the trough of the waves and then pop up as the waves crash by.  While performing maintenance on deck, looking out and seeing a small sailboat, manned by an individual sailor, pass alongside hundreds of miles from shore.

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. Jacques Yves Cousteau (brainyquote.com)

For the many who are serving or have served honorably in uniform, we have a bond that few understand.  For those who have spent several months, several years, or a working life,  at sea, we have another strong bond that years and decades later we recall clearly.   Perhaps it is indeed the stirring of the salt in our blood,  the sea spray on our skin,  and the experience of working together in times of routine,  in danger and in emergencies when we all realize just how we are and will always be, Sailors.

[quotes, except where noted, via writebyte.net ]

Museum piece

Starting today, I am going to focus THTASS on funny observations, uplifting naval history and memories that are service-related that I find. As an old fussy Senior Chief, there’s plenty to ramble on outraged about. I’ll leave that to the Marines.

Every ship save on that I have gotten underway on, is rusting at the bottom of the ocean, or perhaps is reused as glow – in – the – dark blades. The one is the Queen Mary, a floating hotel in Long Beach California. And it, too, could use a little more upkeep.

All the electronic equipment I learned to maintain and operate is junked or in a museum. And even the uniforms I wore have been relegated to parades and retirement ceremonies. Of course, I can fit in them again.

My first voyage, not including the steamboat or submarine at Disneyland, was aboard the Cunard Lines RMS Sylvania in 1965. I was destined for the maritime life. I could swim. I never got seasick, and I could drink (sodas) like a Sailor.

But now I’m a museum piece. My stories about writing letters, 1 MB computer storage, and replacing vacuum tubes find a smaller audience these days. Maybe I can find a new audience for sea stories at the Midway maritime museum?

destroyermen tell no tales

4347_1153409202041_3983536_nOn a warship there are few times that anything without a strict mission-related purpose is permitted aboard ship.  Of course,  this does not necessarily mean trinkets  the crew buys in a foreign port of call have to be shipped home.   After a visit to Turkey,  there were many nooks and crannies aboard the Proud Pete that were stuffed with oriental carpets, leather goods and other swag. Another time, after a port visit in the Caribbean, many crewmen had Cuban cigars.  And all sorts of goods from stops in the Mediterranean.

The oddest thing to be brought aboard the PETERSON were the temporary port-a-potties welded to the forecastle.  But none of the crew wanted “that”.  It was ordered from the naval authorities during staging for our Haitian interdiction operation which might result in taking aboard refugees.  However is was my tenure’s last Commanding Officer who introduced something I could only guess was some private joke with those who knew him when he was an Ensign – aboard the PETERSON – fifteen years earlier.   It may now sit at the bottom of the Atlantic.

DD969“It” was a park bench the my Commanding Officer, CAPT. Edward Zurey authorized to be installed (welded) in the athwartships passageway near the Ship’s Store.  A corner that during his tenure became known as “Broadway and Main” (for the Main Deck).

 

bench

separating salt from the fake salt

I’ve had many occasions, at work, driving cross-country, at various public events to meet people who are veterans or on Active Duty with one or another branch of the military.  Driving around San Diego, I am saddened by the number of homeless on the streets.   As a veteran, I know that there is a substantial percentage of these men and women – or imply through the hand-lettered signs that they are down-on-their-luck veterans.   Many unfortunately are, but may also be in an untenable position due to alcohol or drug-addiction.   Yet I admit, I am more drawn into conversations  when encountering squids, jarheads, ground pounders or zoomies working in shops, service industries, Costco,  or government offices   mutually recognizing a military connection.   And whether it is initiated by a ballcap, t-shirt or window sticker, we can converse about shared life experience.

4347_1153409202041_3983536_nThere is something instantly bonding about men ( and women) who share the common experience of military service.   Yesterday, I was enjoying a little rest on my homeward commute at my little bastion of like-minded libertarians, and got interested in a conversation one of the guys was having about an exchange with a cop.  Turned out this cop was practiced – but not in a good way – of embellishing some prior Navy experience.  As it happened, my acquaintance, like most of those who have had some years in the military was correcting this cop’s recounting of his service by providing some firsthand expertise in the details (occupation codes known as NECs or MOS in other services, training specifics, locations) that this storyteller had fudged– as would have I in the same exchange.

4347_1153409082038_7039634_nThere is nothing more disingenuous than a person misrepresenting military service.  “Stolen Valor” is the term many may be familiar.  Most of the perpetrators are playing on the sympathies of the public, trying to obtain benefits not owed, or wooing the gullible.   While there have been several court cases deciding that ’embellishment for the purposes of misleading public opinion’ – politicians, editors, bureaucrats, teachers have not been worthy of punishment,  there have been equally social media shaming of these con artists who were bringing discredit to those who serve or served honorably.

Yet it was the exchange of sea stories with my shipmate which brought back great memories for us both.  Both of us entered the Navy a year apart in the 1970s.   He was a fellow technician, working with computer systems aboard ship before the Navy combined the ratings,  Many times, the Navy consolidated skills that had their own individual occupations with others,  as was the case with my own rating after my retirement.   Regardless of the fool trying to boast about details of service that other “salty” Sailors – ones with years of sea duty and military experience – could immediately call his bluff,  my conversation yesterday was refreshing in bringing the memories back to the surface.

4347_1153409602051_4092653_nIn those days, there were traditions and customs, regulations and deckplate leadership.  When some Sailors who were otherwise experts in their trade, had a little too much to drink on the prior night’s liberty, their shipmate including the supervisor would look ot for them.  As Mess Deck Master at Arms, a temporary assignment aboard ship,  the ability to encourage the crew, curry favor, or even to mentor and train some junior sailor were all part of my experience.     There is nothing that someone with sea duty, can really describe to a civilian about life at sea – noise,   drinking water with a little trace jet fuel (JP5) in the lines, the drills, the boredom, and port visits that another military member doesn’t instantly know what you are talking about.

4347_1153409362045_4581716_n

No, I did not sail with Noah

“Memories which someday will become all beautiful when the last annoyance that encumbers them shall have faded out of our minds.”
Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

I am reading my letters written in boot camp forty years ago. As an eighteen year old enlisted sailor,  I entered the training gate by military bus at four in the morning of 3 October, 1977.  This was my first real separation from family.  I wanted to share my adventures.  It is not gripping prose. 

27 October, 1977

Dear Mom,

Payday!  I went to cash my paycheck. After deductions for the ditty bag ( personal items, toiletries and shave kit, $65) and taxes, I have $173 for two weeks.  I am sending you $163 in a money order.  Use it for bills or put it in the bank for me.

We got big news today which made our Company Commander very happy: we earned a 4.0 mark on our barracks inspection which means the inspectors found nothing to report.  And we began a competition between companies which will mean a lot in the coming weeks.  After the barracks inspection, we had a personal inspection – uniforms, gear, shave and such.  In our third week, we took a test that I had been worried about.  It was very easy and I nearly aced it.

At our classification interview – to select which career I would follow, I went for the CRYPTOLOGIC TECHNICIAN, MAINTENANCE ……..  It seems I have been preliminary accepted into this field – part of the Advanced Electronics Field I signed up for.  But it means a COMPLETE security check as I would be dealing with ….. equipment.  I will be sending home a document to for you to completely fill out and return to me as soon as possible. I hope I can get into this “hush, hush” rating.  I sure hope that the investigators will not dig up anything to disqualify me.  …. the Navy will spend five months investigating me.  They will uncover everything and find and talk to everyone I was in contact with.   And five months of schooling.   According to the classification brief, school will pack two weeks of high school electronics training into a single 8-hour day!  If I should fail school I will be screwing up a six-year commitment and become a barnacle-scrubber!

Please thank Nana and Robin for their letters. They help a lot.  I will write again, probably on 4- 4 day next week when we cross the bridge into advanced training.  Movies, recreation room, and a Baskin-Robbins and hamburger joint available to us on our liberty time.  The hitch is that the Company Commander decides whether we earn a pass to visit these things.  Tell Senorita I miss her and not to bug Buttercup too much.

P.S.  Please send postage stamps as it is hard to obtain them here in RTC and I like to keep up a running commentary.    After all the physical training, you will see a definite change when you come here for my graduation.

I miss you a lot. Tons of love,