Monday, January 21, 2013

Glory Days

I got a wild hair on Saturday and started to organize my e-photos. I think the way it really happened was that I went digging through a desk drawer trying to find a electronic thingamabobby cord and got totally fed up with the disaster that was my desk. So, out came all the random cds and cords and thingamabobbies and I spent the morning sorting them. The process was somewhat complicated by the fact that when I cleaned out Mom's house last year, I just dumped all her desk junk drawers straight into mine, thinking, oh, one day I'll get to that.

Saturday was that day, I guess.

But combo that organizing fest with hearing some of the guys at work get ready to transfer back to ships in the next few months, and I got a little nostalgic. I posted plenty of photos from my time on KISKA (and am *truly* appreciative of the crew's collective patience with having their pictures splashed across the web). But I've got lotsa pictures from the other ships I was on also. So here's my little trip down memory lane...oh the glory days -- I am *so* looking forward to Summer '14!

Local grocery, Petropavlask-Kamchotsky, Russia
My first "official" patrol on BOUTWELL was a D17 patrol that included a trip to Petropavlask-Kamchotky, Russia. It was March or April...and *cold!* I remember taking hours to Med-moor (e.g. Mediterranean moor -- backing in with the transom flush to the pier, with both anchors out to keep the bow from swinging; kinda like backing into a parking space), and the vodka, and the empty grocery shelves, and the beautiful furs the fashionista women wore (and they were all fashionistas).

Geting work done despite the weather, Petropavlask-Kamchotsky, Russia
It was my first foreign port call ever (I can't legitimately count Kodiak and Dutch Harbor -- as fascinating as they are -- still US soil). We had to wear SDBs when we went out in town, so we stuck out like sore thumbs. But all the locals just wanted to talk and were very friendly. I had a few words of Russian left over from the two years I took in high school and college, and really just succeeded in confusing the sweet woman who stopped to help give us directions to the local bank so we could change money.

Lenin's statue, Petropavlask-Kamchotsky, Russia

I don't recall how the timeline of that patrol unfolded. But we pulled into Kodiak a coupla times, Dutch Harbor at least once (on a Wednesday, of course...couldn't miss the seafood buffet at the Grand Aleutian). We boarded a bunch of fishing boats. We got a call to assist with a 6'6", 350-pound fisherman who had gone off his meds and was threatening the crew on his boat (I might be combining two or more medevac requests from that patrol, but I remember the helo crews' horrified expressions when it was suggested that they put a mentally unstable giant into their helicopter...I think we sent Doc over to see what the situation was first). And we were called to respond to the tragic loss of the F/V ARCTIC ROSE that sunk quickly in the early morning hours of 2 Apr 2001. All 15 crewmembers onboard were lost. I don't remember how long BOUTWELL searched; all we found was the bag to a survival suit.

And then we got our asses *handed to us* in a spring storm typical of the Bering Sea. I try my best not to exaggerate the conditions that night, but I know we logged 60 knot sustained winds (which means they were actually gusting up to 80 knots -- considered hurricane strength anywhere else) and 45 foot waves. I stood the mid-watch with Bos'n Rick Arsenault. I lasted a couple of hours, standing on the bridge, where the height of eye is approximately 55 feet, and looking *UP* at the crests of some of the waves as we crashed along at three knots, just trying to maintain our heading so we wouldn't turn broadside-to the seas. I was *terrified.* I finally told Rick that I was not getting anything at all out of standing the watch, other than terrorizing the crap out of myself. He was generous enough to let me go below for the remaining hour of my watch, to lie in my rack, wondering if the ship was going to bash itself apart on the water.
Yawn...just another gorgeous u/w sunset in the Eastern Pacific

I've spent some time lately thinking about that night. The storm was worst during the mid-watch and 4-8s. Just by the happenstance of the schedule, Bos'n and OPS (then LCDR Maury McFadden) had those two watches. And thank goodness they did. They were the most experienced shipdrivers we had onboard, other than the CAPT and XO.

One of my greatest fears when I went to be OPS on HAMILTON was spawned from that night on BOUTWELL, knowing that the crew would expect that level of competence from me...and also knowing that I had asked to lay below instead of face the fury of the sea that night. In my defense, I had been on BOUTWELL a sum total of five months, nearly to the day, at that time, and was barely able to find my way from my stateroom to the wardroom without getting lost. I was still in the throes of hating being underway.
Green deck -- HH65 cleared for landing

But this all goes to the discussion of "proficiency" that we've been talking a lot about in the office recently. Am I more proficient today than I was the night of that storm? Heck, yes! Am I fully proficient? No, I don't think I am. I still have lots to learn, more skills to hone (skills that have sadly atrophied over the last two and a half years), fears to overcome and experience to gain. Am I safe to sail? I think I am. I know enough about how the systems work (even if I might be hazy on some of the details -- I still think of the gyro as a magic black box), I have confidence in my crew and my ability to read them, I have a sense of my limitations.

Static refuel -- HH65 on deck
How much proficiency is enough? And what does the right *kind* of proficiency have to do with things? I have flight deck experience, TAO experience and patrol boat experience. CO, XO, OPS. Eastern Pacific counternarcotics experience; Hawaii fisheries and SAR experience; and joint/DOD interoperability experience. I *don't* have 210' experience, or migrant experience, or D7/Caribbean experience...all of which is what I want to gain in my next assignment. Life (and by my logic, proficiency) is a journey, not a final stamp of arrival. IMHO.

Go-fast booty, BOUTWELL/HAMILTON Hitron patrol
I included the picture of the fueling team for the HH65 just so I could tell about the baked potato (the guy in the silver exposure suit holding the fire extinguisher) and the grapes (the fueling team in the purple jerseys). The tie downs (the kids that ran out to strap the helo to the deck before anything else is done) are known as blueberries because they were blue jerseys. I love sailor humor :)

I did three patrols on BOUTWELL: the ALPAT described above, the 9/11 patrol which is a story in and of itself, and a joint patrol with HAMILTON which was the debut of HITRON in the Eastern Pacific.

 It was an exciting patrol, replete with go fasts, gun shoots, contraband watches, port calls, swim calls, fish calls, drills, flight ops -- you know...all the good stuff.

BOUTWELL outboard of HAMILTON, Golfito, Costa Rica
That patrol was late spring, early summer. Tour complete JOs were starting to leave to their next assignments, Ensigns were newly reported. I somehow ended up being the only qualified helicopter control officer (HCO) (or at least the only one who wasn't otherwise tasked as Landing Signal Officer (LSO) or boarding officer (BO)) onboard for at least a good portion of the patrol. The HCO is the liaison between the bridge, led by the Officer of the Deck (OOD) and the flight deck, led by the LSO. I could go look at my old OER to figure out how many flight operations we did that patrol, but I'm not gonna...I just know it was a *lot!* I got really good at saying the take-off and landing spiel. And I was *oh so grateful* when one of the new ensigns got qualified!

I felt a little sorry for the poor town of Golfito. It's a peaceful place, tucked into the eastern side of Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica, and it was overrun by the crews of two 378s for three days. I think we may have drunk a couple of the bars dry that trip.
BOUTWELL and HAMILTON, Isla del Cocos, Costa Rica

At the tail end of the patrol, we somehow (thanks, OPS!! (then LT John Pruitt)) were able to negotiate permission to visit Isla del Coco, a nature preserve governed by Costa Rica, about 300 miles off the coast of the Panamerican isthmus. The small boats ferried crewmembers into shore. We swam with the baby nurse sharks and hiked up into the hills. And then went back to stand the anchor watch so that our shipmates could go ashore for a few hours.

When we got back to Alameda, I was off to my next assignment...XO of WASHINGTON. In Honolulu. But that's a good story for another post. To be continued...

Shipmates at sunset

1 comment:

John Pruitt said...

Hello Shipmate,

So great to read your blog post and be reminded of our time sailing together. I often look back at our time underway with fondness! It was truly a pleasure!

Thank you for the great pictures too.

(now) CDR John Pruitt