Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dockside Gremlins

Two months and over half-a-million dollars later, we're back underway. And for some reason it feels like we've been stupid busy.

We got underway on Sunday enroute Oahu to onload ammunition. It didn't take long for the gremlins to start showing their twitchy little ears. The first one was some loose wires to the batteries for the main engine starters. It took about 30 minutes extra to figure out why we couldn't get the NR2 MDE started. But the ninjaneers prevailed, and we were on our way.

The next gremlin is one who I don't think I can blame on dockside. Before we pulled into Hilo prior to dockside, we had a casualty on our steering system, and we had to drive all the way from Oahu to Hilo on non-follow-up. Not a big deal, but kinda a pain in the bee-hind. EMC Peltier tinkered with it for a while, found a solenoid that needed replacing, and we thought we were good. Not so much...we got underway from Hilo only to find that the autopilot wasn't working. Again, not a big deal, but really annoying. Kinda like running out of brown paper towels underway, having the napkins put in the holders upside down or trying to read the newspaper outside on a windy day with a cup of coffee in your hand (with nowhere to set the coffee down). Our break-in OODs are getting *lots* of hands-on driving time. NESU sent one of their guys to get underway with us on Tuesday to troubleshoot, and they've got some theories, but they really can't work on it until we're back at the pier and able to tear the system apart.

So those were Sunday's gremlins.

Monday was an insanely busy day. We pulled into Pearl Harbor first thing in the morning to pick-up ammo, got through that quickly, and then shifted over to BSU Honolulu to pick up more ammo. Normally when we pull into BSU, each department has two or three things that they have to get done, various people to talk to or projects to work on. This time, after having not been here at all for two months, each department had a solid six or seven things to do. A sampling:
Ammo onload (Deck)
Refuel (Engineering)
Safe repairs (Operations)
Awards (XO)
PCS reporting/departing stuff (XO)
Medical and dental appointments (Engineers and me)
Stores to load (Operations)
Printer to install (Operations)
Computer problems to work on (Everyone it seems like)
Range (XO, Engineering, Deck)
Dockside follow up (Engineering)

And we said Aloha to BM1 O'Brien who is headed off to Station Michigan City for his next tour with his wonderful wife DeAnn, who had been our Ombudsman for the past year. Safe trip and good luck, you guys.

My head was spinning by the end of the day. Especially since I wasn't used to sleeping underway, the mattresses are hard as rocks, and we had passing arrangements to make with about three different tugs during the transit overnight. I was a little tired at the end of the day.

Tuesday we were back underway in the morning. We were scheduled to do some fisheries work with Air Station Barber's Point up on the north side of Oahu. It was a delightful transit up the west side (despite having to actually steer the whole way), and we got on scene just when we were supposed to. We'd been patrolling for about 40 minutes, looking for boats to board, when we overheard Sector Honolulu talking on VHF-FM channel 16 to a vessel in distress. We could only hear one side of the conversation (Sector's), so we didn't get all the details right off. But we were able to copy a position, plotted it and found ourselves only 50 miles away from a vessel that was disabled and adrift.

We broke off from the patrol with Air Station, and headed out to the vessel. By the time we got on scene two and a half hours later, the vessel had a friend enroute to take him in tow back to Kaneohe Bay, but Sector wanted us to do a boarding on him anyway. We sent a Boarding/R&A (Rescue & Assistance) Team over, and they were able to get the boat restarted at least for a few minutes. He had clogged fuel filters, so he was by-passing the filters, and ended up clogging out his engine anyway. By the time we got done with the boarding, his friend was there, ready to take him in tow back home. We finished up, and kept heading east, south east. Without any intention at the start of the day, we ended up circumnavigating Oahu. I hadn't done that for a while.

Oh, and during all that, we had the NESU EM onboard troubleshooting the autopilot and at the same time we found out that we had a leak in the steering system. It was dripping hydraulic fluid from a fitting veerrrrry slowly, but enough that the alarm for low oil level kept going off. It was a little confusing there for a few minutes (at least for me) while we were trying to separate the two casualties and appropriate actions for each. We made arrangements to send the small boat in to Haleiwa to make a run for tranny fluid (I was "using resources" and asked my mom who lives close by to meet us at the boat dock to run errands with the guys...Thanks again, Mom!). But of course, we got diverted for SAR, and we had to adjust our logistics plans (Mom ended up picking up the tranny fluid and taking it down to meet the small boat at BSU late that evening. Double, triple thanks again, Mom!!)

The steering gear leak was from a fitting that had been put back on not quite right after some work on the cooler by the contractor during dockside. That is quite definitively a dockside gremlin. We'll fix it right the next time we pull into port...don't want to tear into it and risk busting it good without replacement parts easy at hand.

We spent Tuesday night on the Honolulu mooring ball. There was a nice south swell, so we rocked All. Night. Long. I guess I got some sleep.

Wednesday dawned clear and quiet. We stayed on the mooring ball until mid-morning. Rocking back and forth, knocking everything off the chart table again and again. About 9:30 am, we set the mooring ball detail to get underway to set small boat detail to send in the small boat to BSU Honolulu to pick up our newly arrived BM1 Ian Thompson (Welcome Aboard, BM1!), but couldn't get the NR2 MDE started this time. It turned out to be a loose card. Got that fixed within about 20 minutes, set the small boat detail and got the pax xfer completed.

We left the boat at the hip for lunch, and then did some much needed small boat crewman training. Four break-ins got some time making approaches and hooking up to the sea painter, including 1/C Curt Gookin who is onboard KISKA for six weeks this summer. It was a beautiful afternoon, with a nice breeze off the Waianae side of Oahu.

Once the small boat was put away, we kicked off a man-overboard (MOB) drill. It was BM2 Brian Goracke's first time driving for a MOB, and he did a good job setting us right where we needed to be to cross heaving lines over Oscar. And he picked up both life rings that were thrown over quickly and skillfully.

After the MOB drill, we had to cruise back to Honolulu for an escort outbound Honolulu Harbor. So there was a navigation brief on the way, both for Honolulu Harbor inbound and outbound, but also for inbound Pearl Harbor for later in the evening. The escort was quickly accomplished, and we headed back out to the west side of the island for a downswell ride for a chicken enchilada dinner (definite crew favorite, and one of FS2 Ed Stickel's specialties) and so we could get out of the congestion of harbor traffic for the evening's flight ops.

We had two helicopters that we were scheduled to work with. One was doing rescue swimmer operations, where we just need to be close by as a safety for them while they put their swimmer in the water. And the other was making approaches to the water prior to conducting hoists with us. We planned for three basket hoists, and got the fantail cleared of all extraneous gear; moved trash cans and fuel cans, dropped the flagstaff and life lines, secured everything loose in the small boat, and did a FOD (flying objects and debris) walk down. The helo finished up their approaches to the water and conducted their safety brief with us, telling us what and how many evolutions to expect. They also reviewed use of the grounding rod before anyone touched the basket to discharge the static electricity, and not tying anything dropped from the helo off to the ship. They were on their first approach, making a dry run to show their flight mech what the process looked like, when we got a propulsion alarm on the NR2 MDE on the bridge.

Yikes! We were at Restricted Maneuvering Doctrine (RMD) for flight ops, which means the engineer cannot turn off any equipment without notifying the bridge first. The EOW quickly called up and let us know that he had a small lube oil leak on the NR2 reduction gear, and was requesting MKC's presence in the engine room. We waived the helo off until we could figure out what was going on. They rose into a higher flight pattern and we declutched NR2 MDE and stood by. The engine room called up that we shouldn't use NR2 MDE anymore, and requested to secure it.

Turns out there was a supply line that was supposed to be protected by a metal cover to prevent damage to the line, but the cover had been misaligned so the supply line kept getting bumped. Eventually it got bumped enough to allow the lube oil to seep out. But we didn't know that yet, and didn't figure it out until later in the evening. We just happened to catch the leak while at flight ops. Better right before the hoists than in the middle of hoists.

So the ninjaneers shut down NR2 MDE, and we did dead-in-the-water (DIW) hoists with the helo instead of underway hoists. It wasn't exactly what we had planned, but at least they still got some training value from the evening. And so did we.

After flight ops was finished, we put everything back and secured in place, and we headed towards Pearl Harbor to moor at the X9S mooring ball for the night. X9S is the Cadillac of mooring balls, nice and protected in the back corner of Pearl Harbor. Everyone sleeps like a champ, waking up nice and refreshed. So I was excited about getting there for the night.

As we transited in, we noticed a marker buoy about 30 yards off the starboard side, marked with chem lights. It hadn't been there the last time we came into Pearl Harbor, and we started looking around for other markers. We found a few more, and noted their position.

We started our initial approach to the mooring ball, and found that the two shackles atop the ball were resting on each other, so that we couldn't get the happy hooker (yes, that really is what it's called) around both shackles to hook the buoy. We backed off a little to figure out our next step. Right about then we got another propulsion alarm on NR2 MDE. The engine room called up and said they had a low lube oil level alarm on the NR2 red gear, and wanted to secure NR2 MDE so they didn't risk blowing up the red gear. Not the best timing, again.

We secured the NR2 MDE. I took the conn and had XO take the deck. I'm sure XO would have done a fine job of mooring up to the ball on one MDE, but it was late, we'd had a busy day, and I just wanted to get there. Luckily, there was no wind or current, and I eased the cutter up to the ball, SN Ryan Andres jumped onto the ball to separate the shackles and assist with getting the mooring line through the shackle, and then jumped back on the bow of the ship. It took about three minutes.

The night of rest was all it was cracked up to be. The bridge watch called me a few minutes after 6 am to tell me there was a USNS ship working the marker buoys we had seen the night before, with divers in the water. Good to know we hadn't imagined them.

We got up this morning, did some gunner PQS and ran a machinery space fire drill. Then we got underway from the mooring ball and headed out of Pearl Harbor. 1/C Gookin got his first chance to drive the ship in restricted waters and asked all the right questions as he got the ship underway from the mooring ball.

He had also been the brave soul to mention to me that the Lakers/Celtics Game 7 was this afternoon at 3 pm, and could we possibly pull in for it? I gave him an incredulous look at the time, but realized that it was actually a very good idea. We've worked hard over the last few days, rolling with all kinds of punches, and a couple hours of watching the Celtics get whaled on by the Lakers would do us all some good.

Go Lakers!

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