Saturday, October 10, 2009

Return to Homeport

As a sometimes big boat sailor (BOUTWELL and HAMILTON), the words, "Return to Homeport," are usually spoken after three months of hard, monotonous days that are only occasionally interspersed with a few days of hectic madness when the ship gets a drug bust and gleeful port calls in tropical places. At least that's the way it was on my Eastern Pacific patrols.

On patrol boats in Hawaii, "Return to Homeport" usually means we've been out cruising for two or three days, and we get to pull in for a few hours or a few days.

This time, KISKA returned to homeport after 198 days. You've all heard me whine about the aggravations of our "extensive drydock," so I'm not going to do that again here. This post is all about how amazingly glorious yesterday was.

How come it is, that regardless of how much planning is done to take care of all the details, there's always a manic worklist right before something big? All this last week was ridiculously busy, capped off on Thursday, with a workday that ended around 5:30/6ish for most of the crew. We got a lot done, though. Including anther tsunami watch for about an hour due to the tremor near Vanuatu in the South Pacific.

Yesterday dawned clear and calm (photo from BSU Honolulu, looking towards downtown). I'd been watching the weather for days and was optimistic about the lack of trade winds and forecast for the channels. When the trades are strong, the channels can get pretty fetched up; it's not unusual for the Alenuihaha Channel (between Maui and the Big Island) to be 12 to 15 feet with swell and wind waves...which means we're beam-to (taking the waves on the side of the ship) for about 40 miles, or four hours. Yuck. I'm sure I'll have some pictures of that somewhere down the line. So I'd been watching the weather for days.

We went to Pearl Harbor first thing in the morning for an ammunition onload. The pier we had to get to was in a part of the harbor that I had never been to before. The sense of history in Pearl Harbor is inescapable, especially with hulks like this peeking out of the brush. The course in had a couple of sharp turns and it was really fun. XO said it was like a slalom course.

Makin the approach to the pier look easy, XO was set up for success with the lack of wind and current. Our linehandlers on the other hand...well, let's just say it's a little embarrassing for the guy who threw the heaving line, not realizing he was standing too close to the bow, to watch as the line got all caught up in the jackstaff (flag pole on the bow). I admit I laughed. It did take us an unfortunately long time to get that line to the pier. "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast," (thanks, Mr Brook), yeah, we've got to work on that.

The onload was over in 20 minutes...barely enough time for me to review the outbound trackline. We were out of Pearl Harbor by 9 am.

And it was Flat. Ass. Calm. when we got out. We rarely see days like this in Hawaii, maybe a dozen or so a year. This is the Kaiwi Channel between Oahu and Molokai. Glorious! And it was like for almost the entire transit. The Alenuihaha got a little choppier, maybe one to two foot wind waves, and a weird mixed northwest and southeast swell that made it a little googly. But if ever there was a day to have good weather, yesterday was a great day for it!

We transited the 212 miles between Honolulu and Hilo at 25 knots the whole way. It felt like we were only doing 15 knots.
Now, before someone accuses me of squandering resources going fast just for the sake of going fast, let me explain my rationale. First there's the weather. Trades were supposed to be back today. Hmm, a two-hour flat-calm channel crossing v. a four-hour get-your-cookies-tossed-all-around channel crossing...I know which one I'll go for every time.
And two of our watch stations (Officer of the Deck and Quartermaster of the Watch...the two positions onboard for making sure the ship doesn't hit another ship or bad things like rocks and shoal water and actually gets where it's going) are port and starboard, which means that there are only two people qualified in each position. XO and I are OODs, and I had to drop my BM1 down to the QMOW rotation so I had two people there. Port and starboard sucks because you stand six hours of watch on, and then have six hours of watch off...not nearly enough to ever get enough sleep. So, eight and half hours of transit v. longer transit, that's an easy choice.

And I had never transited into Radio Bay to our home pier. And it's tight. There's a rock wall about 30 yards off the trackline with a pole sticking out of it, so you can see where it is at high tide that MKC likes to call the "can opener." And we've got to back into the pier. That's all something I'd really rather not do after dark. My night vision and depth perception pretty much suck. So, daytime harbor transit v. barpatting offshore or anchoring 500 yards away from the pier overnight, while port and starboard...another easy choice.
Risk management, it's all about the risk management.
As we got around the northeast side of the Big Island, we were turning for 25 knots, but making more like 27. It didn't seem like we had a following sea, but the swells were still kinda mixed so it was hard to tell. We brought the engines all the way up to see how fast we would go. Here's proof that we got over 30 knots. Whoooppeee!!






We didn't stay going that fast very long. We were getting close to Hilo and had to make preparations to enter port, which included our navigation brief and the very important singing of Happy Birthday to MKC. I don't think he was very amused.

The transit through the harbor was beautiful. The sun was setting over Mauna Kea, and it was clear enough to see the top. And it wasn't raining...proof enough that we had some weird weather going on. It always rains in Hilo.

So that was the trip home, all eight and a half hours of it. Not even the newly discovered leak in the fuel tank (into the forward sound locker) or a hiccup with our communications equipment could dull the feeling of relief and triumph and homecoming.

Today...yoga, farmers' market, and snorkeling.

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