Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Welcome to Dockside

It's time for another photo essay. Welcome to KISKA's 2010 Dockside Availability. The ship is in our homeport of Hilo, HI, which is awesome! I made kinda a stink about not wanting to go to Honolulu for it, and the maintenance folks put in a lot of effort to make it work in Hilo. Thanks, SFLC PBPL APM!
This is the ship at our regular moorings, in Radio Bay. The small boat is on the trailer so we can use it if we need to. And there's tons of work going on everywhere.
The contractors set up a work area for themselves on the pier. The tarp is a necessity in Hilo, given how much it rains. They've also got a shipping container for storage and more work space.
SN Aaron Pasoquen is PPPing (prepping, priming and painting) the small boat crane. We've got a bunch of work PPPing stuff on the exterior of the ship, which is complicated in Hilo by the regular rain. Make paint dust while the sun shines!
These guys are making paint dust too (and dutifully sucking it away so it doesn't get into the water). SN Ryan Andres is manning the paint float for SN Mike McKinstry (seated) and BM2 Neal Bueno, while they PPP the hull. We took a beating on the paint job while we were at the state pier at the beginning of March, and they're trying to recover from some of the damage. SN Andres and SN McKinstry are our newest law enforcement ninjas onboard, just back from the Maritime Law Enforcement Academy's (MLEA) Boarding Team Member (BTM) school.
Up to the foc'sle now. Jeez, what a mess! But all that stuff's got a working purpose, so it's there for the duration.
This is, well, what's left of the hatch from the foc'sle into forward berthing. We're getting a bunch of hatches and quick-acting water-tight doors (QAWTDs) renewed or replaced. The ones that are being replaced have to be cut out, and this is what that looks like.
Other work being done includes having our bridge windshield wipers replaced. YAY! Yippeee! Whoopeee! I've been cussing those things for a while, and at the end of the last patrol, the one right in front of my chair on the port side of the bridge just stopped working. The ninjaneers didn't have the right belt onboard to fix it, and we were getting them replaced in dockside anyway...so, well, visibility wasn't so great from the port side of the bridge. Also in this photo, you can see where the portholes in the electronics space are being blanked out (the black plastic with a taped X just above the barrel of the gun).
The bridge didn't escape the work. The insulation from the overhead was removed for renewal. All the black plastic is taped up to protect "interferences," that is, anything that we don't want messed up while the contractors are working.
Moving inside, now. The QAWTD between the messdeck and CPO passageway (up forward) is also being renewed. I'm standing in the passageway, looking aft towards the messdeck. They had to remove the false bulkhead on the left that divides the passageway from Chief's stateroom.
And this is what the messdeck looks like right now. Yes, the messdeck. Ugh. The tables and benches are usually on the right, now piled on top of each other so the contractors can get into the forward sound locker to work on fixing the holes in the fuel tanks.
The top has been removed from the fuel tanks. Careful where you step! There's normally bulkheads enclosing this space. The one cool thing about major availabilities is that you really do get to see the framework, the bones of the ship. One more note in this space...just underneath the ladderwell in the left of the photo, the contractors took some UT shots designed to measure the thickness of the metal. Well, there's some bad metal just above the deckline that will have to be replaced. Bummer. Lots of interferences to be removed, and just a big pain in the butt in general. But that's what availabilities are for.On to the engine room now. The insulation blankets have been removed from the exhaust pipes. We found cracks that have to be repaired.
Two fine young engineers getting ready to do something that they need respirators for. FA Brian Callahan and FN Nolan Ryan.I like all the red danger tags hanging so cheerfully from the switchboard, kinda like Christmas ornaments.
MK3 Tony Collado is checking out what's going on in aft berthing. More fuel tanks are open back here to fix more holes.
Looking into aft steering, you can see a couple of contractors working diligently at needlegunning the bulkheads in the space, preparing the metal for PPPing, and checking for more weak spots.
These are the holes in the watertight bulkhead between the battery space and aft steering. Not so watertight right now.

But, with all the work going on, at least we're not dealing with this...
Gawd, what a disaster. This is a photo from 1996 (the ship was only 6 years old then!), and shows diesel fuel spraying from a hole the forward centerline fuel tank into the sewage tank. In the age-old tradition of pranksters, our temp PE sent this photo to his replacement right before he left Hilo, saying, have fun with this mess. Mean, so mean...but funny. Don't worry, Chris, this really isn't your hassle.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

I woke up this morning to drenching rain. It stopped in time for me to go for a walk around the neighborhood. I didn't have a planned route in mind, but rambled with purpose instead. As I was on my last leg back towards the house, the skies off to mauka (inland) were dark with menacing rain clouds...but in the true Hilo tradition, the makai (towards the ocean) side was clear with the sun shining brightly. There was a beautiful, full-arcing rainbow sitting right over my house.

Since I knew we were going to be in dockside for Earth Day, I've been working on some projects to improve KISKA's environmental impact. XO recommended we get reusable grocery bags. FS2 goes to the grocery store every two to three days, and when he packs in for a patrol, we usually have about 200 thousand-million plastic bags floating around the mess deck...ok, that's an exaggeration, but, I swear, those damn things breed and get everywhere! So before we're out of dockside, we'll have 50 brand-new, KISKA-logo'd cloth grocery bags that can be thrown in the wash and reused again and again. I had the thought of putting them on property as "highly-pilferable," but then realized that it was probably just me that would want to pilfer.

The next idea was to tackle energy usage at home. The Coast Guard owns five houses for crewmembers in Hilo, and since energy costs are about 30% more on the Big Island than Oahu, there's usually a good amount of visibility on the electric bills at these properties. One way we've been working with the members to reduce monthly kilowatt usage is to have them take HELCO's energy-usage survey. They can log into the survey, answer some questions, and then the system takes information from their utility bill to recommend changes they can make to improve efficiency.

I took the survey for my own use a couple of weeks ago. Now, I don't have air-conditioning (and everything in the house has a fine sheen of mold on it, especially stuff in the closets...kinda gross, I know, but that's the price for living in Paradise) and it's just me in the house, so my energy use is already pretty low. But the survey recommended that I change all my lightbulbs to CFLs and upgrade my refrigerator to a more efficient model. Well, I'm willing to do one of those...but the fridge is gonna be the fridge until I leave.

I'm expecting to see something of the same results for the folks in housing. Some things they can do, and some things that are more the Housing Office's responsibility. Once we get some good data, we'll forward up those recommendations...all we can do is ask.

Next on the list was the hazmat shed. It's been in poor shape for a while now, and since I'll be leaving this summer, I didn't want to just pass the problem on to my relief. I took some pictures, labeled the most egregious discrepancies and asked for help. And we got the money to replace it. Thanks, CEU Honolulu! (There is a little more to this story; I don't think CEU is in the business of just giving away money whenever someone asks, lest anyone get the wrong idea.)

And my last green initiative was to breathe new life into our recycling program. We have a program, sort of. I give it about 60% effectiveness. We do a decent job with bottles and cans (Hawaii has a redemption program, $.05/bottle or can), a reasonable job with paper, a poor job with non HI-5 glass/aluminum/plastic, and a pathetic job with cardboard.

The first step was awareness: announcements at quarters and gentle reminders when someone heads to the trash can with something that can be recycled. These are good guys, and I do truly believe they want to do the right thing.

The next step is practical logistics. And for some reason, this is where it gets sticky. My working theory is that people are more likely to recycle if it's easy. As good as these guys are, we're all basically lazy. If there's a trash can right next to the desk, that's where the paper/bottles/cans are going to go. I'm leaning towards putting a recycle bin underneath each desk in the office. My department heads are of the mind that people can be persuaded, possibly forcibly persuaded, into compliance. They want one or two centralized stations. I think it's a difference in basic theories and opinions about human behavior and motivations. I'm focusing on the ends, they're focusing on the means; both are important, especially in the larger scheme of things.

There is at least one other factor to consider. The people that do our contracted office cleaning may not understand our system, whatever it is. I don't want us to get stuff in the right container, just to have the cleaning crew pile it all into the rubbish bin.

I still haven't come up with a good option for how to compile and store recycle-able cardboard.

Have a Happy Earth Day, all!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Gnawing on the Kool-Aid

I usually stick to blogging about my direct experiences, whether onboard the ship, as a professional, or just on life in general. It's nice and comfortable that way. No one can argue that I'm right or wrong...it's my experience after all. But I'm gonna stretch a little on this post, and talk about A Big Coast Guard Issue. Consider it my practice for grad school. I'll try to keep it as relevant to KISKA as possible, so you guys don't all pass out asleep from boredom.

There's been a lot, A LOT, of discussion about modernization over the last few years in the Coast Guard. I never did quite understand why LANT and PAC were so different, whether it was from the AREA (operations/policy) or MLC (maintenance/logistics) side of things. Some folks have heard me whinge about the vagaries of geographic disparity especially as it related to treatment of habitability considerations for cutters in drydock away from homeport. I admit to being extremely pissed off when I found out that, not only did another (LANT) cutter (in drydock, away from their island homeport) have kitchens in their hotel rooms, they also had a messing contract at five local restaurants, despite being closely located to some government dining facilities, while KISKA's (PAC) crew was living with mini-fridges and microwaves in Waikiki, the land of expensive tourist-fleecing, high-calorie, oversized meals. All because two different offices were in charge of the contracts. I don't want to make this my signature issue, but it so clearly demonstrates to me the inconsistencies that (I think) modernization was designed to fix that I can't help using it in proving my point.

And the new construct can definitely take advantage of some economies of scale. OPCOM v. two AREA Command Centers; consolidation of training center oversight into FORCECOM; parts availability from a single source...there's lots and lots of information available about how modernization will make us more responsive and adaptable.

I have drunk the kool-aid known as Modernization, and I like it. Change is necessary for our dynamic times.

But I think the kool-aid might need stirring some more. There are some chunks that haven't quite dissolved enough to be totally palatable yet. I find myself chewing the kool-aid sometimes, and it sticks in my teeth a little (I think it's orange-flavored).

One of the (many, many) reasons I like working with my XO and MKC is that we have plenty of theoretical and ideological discussions, usually about CG topics (though sometimes to the detriment of worklist completion...after all, those logs will still be there tomorrow; right, XO?). Drawing from our collective and individual experiences, we ponder how the big picture issues (modernization, budget cuts and workforce management, environmental philosophies and carbon footprints) impact us in our little KISKA world. So we've been talking about what modernization means to us for a while.

I think the first discussion that I can really point back to being a light-bulb moment for me was while we were still in drydock, during all our shaft alignment problems. It was a discussion about the prices paid for restoring our materiel condition, long-term maintenance decision-making and operational impacts, and ultimately, who was responsible and accountable for the deteriorating condition of our ships and the increasing costs (people, money, time) for keeping them working. That was back in August or September.

Since then, we've gone a few more rounds, heard ADM Allen speak about a cultural shift required by modernization, and read LT Ben Goff's treatise (posted on COMDT's blog on 24 Mar 2010) about the surface sub-culture's endemic resistance to change, which is extremely well-written and to the point (I have to admit to reading it with a dictionary sitting next to me; "heuristic" may be my new favorite word).

As I understand the new construct, engineering and materiel condition are of equal importance as operational mission requirements, and are why we're moving towards the aviation model for preventive maintenance for ships and boats. If a critical preventative maintenance card is not completed, the vessel goes into a maintenance status. Maintenance for individual ships is managed heavily from a centralized point (Surface Forces Logistic Command, SFLC; Patrol Boat Product Line, PBPL for KISKA and other patrol boats), and becomes very black/white, go/no go.

We used to think that 85% PMS (preventative maintenance system, my least favorite CG acronym) completion rates for ships were pretty darn good. The first CO of my recent WHEC tour used to presciently say that there was no way that aviators would accept anything less than 100% PMS (I think it's called something else in the aviation world) completion rates for their aircraft, so why were ships allowed to run with 70% or less of their PMS done? PMS completion rates also used to fall on the shoulders of the Commanding Officer. If anything went wrong engineering-wise with the ship, one of the first questions asked was, why weren't these PMS cards done? Never mind that the CO had just brought the ship back from an operational patrol, packed with law enforcement missions, training, administrative reports and personnel issues (all managed with underway connectivity), the crew might only be home for the same amount of time that they had just been out to sea, and the local shoreside maintenance support was over-tasked with limited availability to assist because now there was another cutter inport. There's only so much time in the day, and operations always takes precedence over maintenance...I think because maintenance can be deferred, while operations are usually fairly time-sensitive.

So I totally agree that the old way is not the best way. But it's still a tough mental shift for me as a CO. The Coast Guard Regulations say, "The responsibility of the commanding officer...is absolute..." I take that pretty close to heart, and it's tough to define where that absolute responsibility ends.

I know that I'm not responsible for the fact that my ship is 10 years past her designed service life. I know that I'm not responsible for the nearly four-month drydock extension "enjoyed" by KISKA that royally screwed up the patrol boat schedule for Sector Honolulu last summer. I know that I'm not responsible for the holes found in watertight bulkheads yesterday...on day 3 of our dockside.

I know that I am responsible for documenting the materiel condition and machinery and casualty status for the ship, including CASREPing stuff that doesn't work, ensuring the EPO (Engineering Petty Officer) documents Corrective Maintenance Actions (CMAs) in CMPLUS (MKC and I just had a mind-boggling acronym-fest that left us both a little dazed) and CSMPs for the LRMP (see what I mean?) that gets discussed with the APM during the A-TM MTGS (now I'm just being silly). I know that I am responsible for training the crew so that they are able to combat casualties when they do occur in order to minimize damage and bring the ship back to an operational status. And I know that I am responsible for operating the ship in a manner that minimizes risk exposure when there is no commensurate potential reward (i.e., removing the ship from the pool of assets available for flight ops training while we were fighting the shaft vibration gremlin...'cause you know, just know, that little punk would have started the shaft vibrating with the helo right overhead with Murphy-perfect timing...bad for the ship, bad for the helo).

But where is that line drawn? Is responsibility for maintenance kinda like the 1964 definition of obscenity from Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward, "I know it when I see it."?

I don't know what the answer is here.

On a less lofty, more prosaic level, I'm concerned about the "people price" associated with the newly established product lines. I have not had any conversations on this subject with the individuals currently in the positions mentioned...please do *not* assume I'm speaking for them. These are my thoughts, my concerns and my observations.

In the patrol boat (PB) world, WPB 110s have two guys that do a fantastic job of responding to frantic phone calls 24x7x365 from nearly 40 different ships with sometimes mission-crippling casualties, all around the world, at all hours of their day. Every ship thinks their situation is the most critical of all, and the CASREP guys have to prioritize and talk down squeaky wheels. And they're supposed to do all this for four years straight. And if either of them takes any of the 30 days of leave they earn for the year, the other guy takes *all* the calls. That's the casualty response guys.

The Port Engineers (PEs) on the Availability Project Management (APM) side travel to be onsite for a ship's drydock or dockside availability so they can be the Contracting Officer's Technical Representative (COTR), working with the ship, contractors and CG Contracting Officer. While this sounds okay when the availability is scheduled for two months, the reality can be extended periods away from home with no hope of leave for the duration of the availability period. Of the three recent WPB 110 drydocks with which I'm familiar, all three were extended, two of them up to five-plus months. Five months away from home...that's more than most WHEC 378s, and chances are good that the PE has another availability back to back, especially if the first one gets extended.

And it's not the supervisors' fault either. They're doing the best they can with what they've got. I recently received an email about Port Engineer duties...my head hurt after the first three sentences trying to keep track of who was going where for what boat...three PEs trying to cover five availabilities all over the place. Yeeik!

Pretty soon, we're gonna run out of the good, dedicated people who are currently in those jobs. They're going to get burned out.

The difficulty with these positions is that they are single points of failure for maintaining operational cutters. If an individual fails in this position due to burn-out, lack of knowledge or experience, or just plain ol' nogivashittedness, cutters will not be able to get underway and operations will suffer.

Of course, bringing in more people levies different challenges, like the need for thorough and clear pass-downs between members so that details don't get missed, or the boats aren't answering the same questions over and over again. I'm not sure what the answer is here either.

I got this bit of advice from a good friend (she gave me fantastic feedback on the first draft of this post...thanks, Friend!): "Basically,...any problems that seem new to us only seem that way because we are new. There is nothing new under the sun and there aren't really any new CG problems-they come packaged with different labels and in different boxes but at some level we have been dealing with the same issues since our inception." Somehow, that just really speaks to me, and gives me hope that our leaders will find the answers to the questions that I'm flailing with.

So that's my take on some of modernization, at least for right now. Do you want cookies with your kool-aid? Oh, wait, that's not very healthy, and weigh-ins are this month...how about some pita and hummus?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Merrie Monarch Parade

The Merrie Monarch Parade was Saturday. It's just one small part of the annual Merrie Monarch Festival, a hula and Hawaiian heritage event, that's held in Hilo each year. I've heard about it since I moved to Hawaii, but had never been on the Big Island for it. This year we were here and able to attend.Mustered up beforehand. We were number 32 in line, so we didn't have to stand around for too long.KISKA was right behind the visiting US Navy Frigate, USS CROMMELIN, and the Navy Band. The crowds lined the street...way more people attending than the Veteran's Day Parade.Here's BM3 Brian Goracke (very, very soon to be "Dad" Goracke!) in the foreground. The Hilo Chapter of the Navy League provided the wonderful flowers that decorate the truck and small boat. Neal and Marilyn Herbert have been my main points of contact and are so helpful and generous! President David De Luz stopped by while we were setting up too, to make sure we had plenty of water and didn't need anything else. Awesome support!I love the ginger flowers crossed on the grill of the truck. XO, manning the starboard side.
BM2 Neal Bueno and MK2 Moises Arevalo, sharing some aloha. They're geared up in law enforcement gear.Sorry this one's kinda fuzzy, but you can see the Navy Band pretty well, and the dark, looming rain clouds that threatened to dump rain all morning.BM2 Bueno and MK2 Arevalo again, with ET2 Christopher Konyha, SN Ryan Andres and SN Mike McKinstry, all chillin' in the boat.The rain held off until very nearly the end of the walk for us, but then it DUMPED on us! But, being Born Ready and Semper Paratus, we were all prepared with our rain gear, modeled here by FS2 Ed Stickel.

I don't have any good photos of the rest of the floats or participants. One of my favorite parts of the Merrie Monarch parade is the beautiful women on horses all dressed up with leis. My friend, Jane, over at North Shore Notes has some nice pictures, here.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bits and Pieces

All those qualifications from the last post aren't the only things that happened during the last patrol. Here's a run-down from the rest of the week-ish.

We got underway on Sunday afternoon, enroute Station Maui in Maalaea. We picked up some MSST Honolulu folks on Monday morning so that we could go out and shoot big guns. It's tough with the weather conditions, range restrictions and small boat capabilities for the MSST to get their gunners qualified, so the last two gunshoots we've done, we've had them onboard as well. We set their gun up on one side, and our guns up on the other and switch sides facing the target. Seems to work pretty well.

Anyway, the weather wasn't too bad on Monday and we got some new .50 cal gunners qualified. And we shot off a bunch of 25 mm rounds. Anybody who knows WPB 110s and the 25mm gun knows that it's quite an accomplishment. GMC Dwyer from Sector Honolulu went with us also to make sure the guns all worked, since our GM was still recovering from a medical issue. It went fabulously. We got the last of nearly 200 25 mm rounds down range with 24 seconds to spare before the range closed. So that was a successful day, and we pulled into Honolulu at the end of it, delivering the MSST crew safely back home.

Tuesday was all the qualification boards. A great day!

Though it was a little hectic with all the different iterations of plans we went through. First we were going to get underway in the afternoon to get some fishing vessel boardings in. But then the fishing boats were delayed, so we were going to get underway in the middle of the night. But then a very smart BM3 Brian Goracke checked the weather and saw that it was blowing 25 kts on the leeward side of the island, with 11 foot seas predicted, and I decided that, even if we did get on-scene with the fishing boat, chances were good that we wouldn't be able to launch our small boat to deliver the boarding team, so we just stayed in port and finished all our qualification boards. Turned out to be a good use of time anyway.

Wednesday we had some tasking from Sector Honolulu. We went a ways offshore, and escorted a vessel into port. Now, the weather hadn't backed down any from the night before and it was still blowing a righteous breeze, solid 25 kts, gusting to 35 and 40 kts. Seas were two feet within 1000 yards of the sea buoy, and about six to eight feet three miles offshore. I thought to myself, standing on the open bridge, with 47 kts of relative wind whipping around me, bouncing through eight foot seas at 15 kts, salt spray coming over the bow and dousing us, that's its hard not to feel like a rockstar in my job sometimes. I certainly had rockstar hair by the time the escort was over (well, we'll call it rockstar hair...it was really more like wild woman of Borneo. And let me tell ya', it's not easy to get a comb through hair that's been blown about in nearly 50 kts of wind for three hours, especially with that nice coating of salt spray on top...that stuff's better than *any* hairspray).

We finished up with the escort. He only turned in front of me once without advising me of his course change first. When we very politely, of course, reminded him to give us a heads up about course changes before making them, he said, "I didn't have to do that the last time." Well, last time, he must have been escorted by someone who doesn't mind having someone turn directly in front of them, cutting them off at less than 1000 yards. I do, though. We got along pretty good after the reminder though, and the rest of the escort was fairly uneventful.

After the escort, we went to X9S, a mooring ball in the east loch of Pearl Harbor. It is the Best Mooring Ball EVER!! It's actually designed as a hurricane refuge for ships, and it's wonderfully protected, no swell and not much current, so the ship doesn't ride up on it and threaten to bump it in the middle of the night like most other mooring balls I know. The crew gets really excited when we go to X9S, because we all sleep like champs there.

We did some small boat ops for personnel and supply transfers to and from Rainbow Marina (yes, Steve, it did include a pick-up from Boston's Pizza...delicious!). There was a small craft advisory that day...in Pearl Harbor! These two photos kinda shows the white caps a little. Definitely breezy out. In the top photo, FN Brian Callahan is in the small boat, getting ready to hook the strap up to the crane, while ET2 Chris Konyha stands watching from on deck.

XO and BM1 Eli North (Newly-Qualified-U/w-OOD North) are safety observers from the open bridge cat walk, in communication with ET2 Konyha (Boat Deck Supervisor = BDS) on deck. They're keep an eye out on the "big picture" and generally enjoying the sunshine.

Still getting the boat ready to lower in this photo. From left to right, facing foward, is: SN Aaron Pasoquen, handling the black line; MK3 Allen Edwards, running the crane; and MK2 Moises Arevalo, being a pal. The boat crew is in the background, in their rain gear. I guess they didn't want to get wet with that small craft advisory.

So once everybody is in place, and all the lines are set, the crane picks up the small boat, swings it overhead and sets it down over the side, at the hip. It takes a lot of coordination, slacking and heaving around on three different lines, booming up the crane and winding out the wire rope, and then doing all that at once. Sitting at the mooring ball, nice and steady, it's not so bad; underway, it can get a little...interesting.

I love this next photo. They all look exactly like the totally competent bad-asses they are, focused and ready for action. From left to right, forward to aft is: MK3 Edwards (in the red hard hat), SN Pasoquen (blue hard hat), FN Callahan (blue hard hat), MK2 Arevalo (red hard hat), and BM3 Goracke (orange rain gear and boat crew helmet).

This next photo is of the boat getting secured at the hip. Once it's over the side, lines are shifted so that it can be lowered into the water. I think it's FN Callahan and SN Pasoquen in the photo...kinda hard to tell with the hard hats.

And then finally, the boat is lowered into the water, released from the wire rope, ladder dropped over the side, and boat crew sent onboard. The coxswain (cox'n) goes in first, to get the strap out of the way, lower the outboard, start the engine, and conduct a radio check. In the boat in this photo is SN Mike McKinstry at the bow facing aft, BM2 Neal Bueno in the driver's seat, ready for a radio check, and BM3 Goracke standing by to release the aft tending line. FN Callahan is up on the deck, tending the forward line, ready to release it when the boat is ready to take off.

During all this time, someone is still on the bridge, standing the mooring ball watch, making sure the ship is still attached to the mooring ball and that the mooring ball itself isn't dragging along the bottom. SN Ryan Andres is shooting a bearing to a visual land mark here and will use that bearing, along with a couple of radar ranges to fix the position of the ship. It's a team effort.

The process works pretty much the same, in reverse, when the small boat comes back.

We spent Wednesday night at the mooring ball. Thursday morning we got underway for some navigation drills, as we transited out of Pearl Harbor to "walk the dog." The drills were hugely successful, not because we did brilliantly at them, but because we pretty much failed some of them. However, failing them showed us where we needed to fix (ugh, sorry, horrible and completely unintended pun) some things and the nav team came up with some good suggestions of how to change their processes to improve their performance. We ran the same drills on the way back in with marked improvement...we still had a ways to go, however (note: you can still use the gyro ring on the alidade during an SCCS (electronic charting system) casualty; you use the relative bearing ring during a gyro casualty...small, subtle points of refinement). That evening we did some another damage control drill, and called it a night.

Underway, outbound from Pearl Harbor again Friday morning. The nav drills during our outbound transit this time were stupendously done, incorporating all the lessons from the previous few runs. The nav team has come a long, long way since that first tense transit out of Barber's Point for sea trials back in September. I'm proud of them.

We headed over off Diamond Head to conduct a training pyrotechnics shoot. I hope the folks at that big gathering of people at the lighthouse enjoyed the fireworks. Congratulations to anyone that might have been retiring after more than 20 years of dedicated service that day!

Then we had another escort and ended up on the Waianae side of the island. We did some RBS (recreational boating safety) boardings and then hung out in the relative calm of Waianae for the night. This picture tries to show the rainbow-ball above the hill.

More escorts on Saturday morning, then a commercial fishing vessel boarding, and then a couple more RBS boardings until the weather started turning choppy and snotty again. And then we moored in Honolulu.

Whew.

We stayed inport for a few days. I visited my mom up in Waialua on the North Shore (thanks for running me all over creation on errands, and sorry again about the ceviche). It was back to work on Monday though, with an ammunition offload in preparation for our upcoming dockside. It went very smoothly. It's always nice to have a working weekday at BSU Honolulu; we get So Much Done. Another unit will hear we're inport, and come over to take care of some business with us. We got a tempest inspection, reformatted computers replaced, most weigh-ins done, our stolen outboard replaced by the contractor, and we shot some people through small arms at the range. I requalified on the Sig. This is not an insignificant statement. I went through the three gun course at Blackwater two years ago as part of predeployment training (PDT) before going to Bahrain, and enjoyed a period of relatively easy requals. But those muscle memories have atrophied, and I had to shoot through the course twice on a previous day and then twice this day to score high enough to qualify. Disheartening. Apparently, I can't stay totally proficient only shooting a weapon every six months. Huh.

Tuesday morning we were underway again, back into Pearl Harbor for the rest of our ammunition offload. As we were approaching our first turn in the channel, another gremlin popped his head out of hiding and pulled the plug on our steering. There was a split moment of pause before all the training kicked in, and the Conning Officer, BM1 O'Brien, came to all stop and started his troubleshooting. This was my first actual steering casualty in restricted waters, and I was expecting it to be a little more tense. Everybody was very calm; we switched down from the open bridge with no luck; FN Burns, who was manning aft steering, quickly reported the system was intact (we didn't have hydraulic fluid spewing everywhere=good thing); we switched to non-follow-up and steering was restored. So we steered the rest of the way to the pier on non-follow-up. We don't practice this enough, but I think we all got our share of it this time. EMC Jamie Peltier troubleshot the system while we were at the ammo pier, but I didn't give him enough time to get through all his steps before I was ready to get back underway. We still had steering...it just wasn't very convenient.

After finishing the offload in Pearl Harbor, we started our transit home. Now this little steering gremlin may be in the same Genus as our last, shaft vibration gremlin, but is nowhere near as nefarious and dirty. The vibration gremlin was a piss-in-your-Cheerios gremlin. The steering gremlin is like your older sister parroting back everything you say for five minutes ("Don't touch me." "Don't touch me." "Stop that." "Stop that." "No, you stop that. " "No, you stop that."). Annoying, but not putridly so. We had to steer all the way home with non-follow-up. No autopilot. We're so spoiled.

But, the OODs all maintained a good attitude about it (much easier with only three-hour watches...I LOVE three-hour watches; they go by in a flash!), and we got home safely. We drove through the harbor from inside the main bridge, and switched up to the open bridge before heading through the cut. We stationed someone down below on the helm and hollered down helm commands. XO did a fantastic job mooring the ship with a umm, unique helm set-up.

So we're back in Hilo-town now. Gearing up for the Merrie Monarch parade on Saturday. Photos of that to follow.