Sunday, February 28, 2010

Murphy Is A SonuvaBi..., Er, I Mean, Mr. Murphy, Sir

Very Important Note to begin with: my heart goes out to the people of Chile who are suffering through such devastation and fear after the earthquake yesterday. I have never been in such a natural disaster, so I have no idea what they're actually going through. I hope it gets better for them quickly.

Yesterday, I cussed about Murphy. You know, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and all that. We have a little problem with a busted bolt that wreaked all kinds of havoc. A Cat 4 CASREP is never a good thing, but it's really hard to deal with at 1300W (1 pm Hawaii Standard Time = 3 pm Pacific Daylight Savings = 6 pm Eastern Daylight Savings) on a FRIDAY! We were scheduled to get underway over the weekend to go do something that needed to be done. Well, hell...with overnight shipping meaning two days to Hawaii, getting underway when we were scheduled to wasn't going to happen.

I remember sitting in the office at about 3:30 pm Friday, in between making frantic phone calls to our operational commanders, while MKC was making frantic phone calls to the logistics folks, and XO was sending frantic emails to the supply people, saying something like, well, Murphy's a son of a bitch. And a few other things that are less publish-able.

Phone calls were made, schedules were changed, and parts were ordered (we thought). I went home.

Last night the phone rang about an earthquake in Chile, 8.8 magnitude, with the possibility of a tsunami being generated. We were under a tsunami advisory. Ok, no big deal, really. We've had tsunami advisories before that were quickly canceled because nothing was going to happen. That'll happen this time again.

Well, then the phone rang again at 1 am. The tsunami warning had been issued. Hawaii was in the path, with landfall expected around 11 am Saturday morning. I ordered the crew to be recalled, and be on the ship first thing Saturday morning. I still wasn't sure at this point if we were going to attempt to get underway or not. But I wanted all the crew to be there if we needed to go.

I laid there in bed,with the lights on, staring at the ceiling for a good 10 minutes, going through different scenarios about how we could possibly get underway from Radio Bay with only one engine. Crazy stuff, like using the line throwing gun to get a line over to the bollards at the end of the cut, and putting our small boat in the water to keep us off the rocks. I still wasn't sure at this point if we were going to attempt to get underway or not...maybe the surge wouldn't be all that bad.

At 3 am, I got a phone call from our operational commander, asking for an hourly phone call for updates. I called the ship to ask them to execute. I still wasn't sure at this point if we were going to attempt to get underway or not...I wanted more information.

At 4 am, I got a phone call from XO with the latest update on the tsunami warning...the predicted wave height was 12 feet. No question about it this time...we had to get out of Radio Bay before 11 am.

At 6 am (well, actually, 10 minutes before 6, because my alarm was set for 6), I got a call requesting to know what our plans were. By this time, I've decided definitively that we must get underway. My choice came down to doing nothing, which risks leaving the ship in the parking lot (not a good idea), or being proactive about getting out, which risks running the ship aground, or punching a hole in the hull by bouncing off rocks in the cut. I'd rather fail trying to do something than to fail by doing nothing.

I've said before, it's a tight mooring. Let me describe it a little better this time.

The pier lays at 000T, or due north. We moor up port-side-to. As we pull in to the pier, we have to drive through the "cut," which is an opening between the Hilo Harbor breakwall and the state pier. On the chart, the cut measures 100 yds wide; in reality, the cut is about half that, 150 feet wide. KISKA's beam (width) is 21 feet. That means we've got about 65 feet on either side of the ship before we HIT SOMETHING! Once we get through the cut, which is about 300 yds long, we've got to twist around to port, and then back down about 150 yds to come in port-side-to our pier. Shoal water (=bad) is very close aboard. The water in Radio Bay is usually very calm, but high winds and waves from the east can turn it into a churny mess.

Getting underway is a little easier. We heave around on line 1 with the capstan on the bow, swinging the stern away from the pier. Then we ease away from the pier, and make an 80 degree turn to port through the cut. Once we're through the cut, the transit opens up and becomes much less tense.

That's with both engines online and available for use, though. With only the port engine, turning to port becomes tricky, especially at slow speeds.

I got to the ship at about 6:20, riding my bike in so I could leave my car at the house on high ground. The lines at the gas stations were already about 5 cars deep. I've never seen Hilo so hyper, especially on a Saturday morning.

I went down to the cut to check out what we had available on the pier. There are no bollards for putting lines over in the cut (one of my crazy ideas) until the very end.

XO had been on the ship since 4 am, so he was prepared with a bunch of information to pass...plans for the families, injured personnel being left behind, status of assist teams, as well as thoughts on the unmooring and transit evolutions. He made my job so much easier by being thorough, thoughtful and "forward leaning." I think he may have been a little disappointed when I told him that I would drive out because, if anyone was going to run the ship aground, it was going to be me. But he saw the wisdom of it, and seemed a little relieved that I'd be driving.

To shorten the story, we got underway just before 9 am, and headed outbound. We did put the small boat in the water, and used them as a push tug to help move the bow around and straighten up in the cut. My guidance to the cox'n and crew during our pre-brief was that if it was a choice between messing up the small boat on the rocks, or messing up the ship, they needed to be prepared to save the ship and wreck the small boat. Thankfully, it didn't come to that.The planning, discussions, and contingencies considered turned a potentially harrowing transit into a calm, smooth and fast evolution. We were through the cut before I knew it. The rest of the trip out of the bay was uneventful, except that there were so many other vessels underway headed out of the danger zone. And whales were everywhere once outside the harbor! The small boat made approaches on a bunch of boats to let them know they needed to be outside the breakwall, in deeper water to be safe.

Our shoreside contingent did a great job of keeping us up-to-date with the happenings on land, sending text pages like, "the water is sucking out of the bay" and "water is surging back now." The families were all safe in housing; even the ones that didn't live there were made welcome and comfortable. We had a presence at the Civil Defense Agency's Emergency Operation Center.

It was a little eerie, though. The warning messages had said that the first waves could be expected no earlier than 11:05. I happened to look at the clock at 11:04, and thought, here goes...wonder what this is gonna be like. I looked again at 11:06 and absolutely nothing was different. The shoreline folks hadn't seen anything either. We didn't get the first reports until about 11:45. And we didn't feel anything different offshore.

Finally, at 1:45ish, we were given the all clear. There hadn't been any destructive waves come into Hilo. It was still very surgy in the bay, and beaches are still closed until tomorrow morning. But we, our families, our community were all safe. We sent the small boat in first to check that the harbor was clear of major debris and to check the depth, in case anything had been swirled around into the channel.

Mooring back up was a little less smooth than getting underway. But, again, we did it safely, if not prettily.

As we were wrapping up for the day, XO and I talked about the day. What went well, what we could have done better. Our conclusion was that everyone did an outstanding job responding to a bad situation. I've said it before, but KISKA's crew is a great bunch of people. Today was just another example of the crew's ability to persevere through unfortunate circumstances. But I definitely have a renewed respect for Murphy. I thought the Cat4 CASREP was bad; I had no *idea* that we'd get a tsunami warning on top of it!


John Willis said...

Glad to hear things went "well" on Saturday. Thanks for the insight into what you all had to go through.

Uncle Heathen said...

And through all that you still managed to fulfill your mission-instructing other boaters to get beyond the breakwater-very nicely done!

Debbie said...

You guys are true champions! With everything working against you - you did such a great job and then some! My son is a member of the Kiska crew - which makes me very proud.