Sunday, September 6, 2015

Murphy Was A Sailor

Sailors are a superstitious bunch. I was never so superstitious before the Coast Guard, but once I got onboard my first ship, that all changed. Don't whistle on the bridge; you'll whistle up a storm. Don't pack the night before returning to homeport; you'll get recalled (so true!! I've seen it happen). Don't bring bananas onboard; all kinds of bad things can go wrong. 

So I'm convinced Murphy was a sailor. Because it is an absolute truism that whatever can go wrong, usually will, and also usually at the most inopportune time. 

There we were, making our way at a pretty good clip towards our SAR case the other night. We were smack in the middle of the shipping lanes, with the closest merchant ship slowly overtaking us about 3 nautical miles (nm) off our port quarter, with a CPA (closest point of approach) of just over 2 nm. We had about 15 miles to go to get to the vessel we were enroute to assist and had just established radio comms (communications) with him and found out the nature of his distress. The OOD (Officer of the Deck; pronounced "oh-oh-dee," the person responsible for carrying out the CO's orders for that watch) was ENS JB; ENS EH had the Conn, breaking in and working on his qualification. We were just putting together our plan for responding to the medical emergency on the distressed vessel. 

SN WB calmly announces "I have a steering casualty," as the ship heels hard over to port. Welcome aboard, Mr Murphy! 

According to the Watch Officer's Guide's "Quick Rules of Shiphandling," Rule 10: When giving rudder/engine commands, generally follow the rule of 30: The sum of rudder and engine speed should not exceed 30 unless you are will to have the ship heel over hard; that is 15 degrees rudder + 15 knots. At 25 knots, use only 5 degrees, and so forth. 

We were transiting at about 15 knots. When the rudder drifted to left hard (rudder angle = 35 degrees), we did, indeed, heel over hard as well. It took a second or two for SN B's statement about a steering casualty to sink in. But when it did, the bridge team sprang into action. 

We came down in speed -- though I did remind ENS H later that a steering casualty at 15 knots in a busy shipping lane did actually consist of an emergency and it was ok to just bring the engines to all stop instead of walking them down in speed like the engineers prefer if we have the time. 

ENS B broke out the checklist that is on the front of the steering console, while BM2 CJ, the QMOW (Quartermaster of the Watch, pronounced "cue-mo") flipped to the more complete checklist in his emergency binder. BM2 J made the steering casualty pipe, notifying the rest of the crew of what was going on. Most everyone had already figured out something was up between the heeling over of the ship and the speed reduction. 

SK2 KH was the BMOW (Boatswain's Mate of the Watch, pronounced "bee-mo") and met up with MK3 CM, the Aux watchstander back in Aft Steering to see what the problem was. CO was on the radio with the closest merchant vessel, letting them know we had a casualty and requesting them to stay clear. 

The OOD was ordering the helmsman through different steering configurations to see if that would correct the problem. When nothing worked, the QMOW helped the helmsman break out the sound powered phones to establish reliable comms with the BMOW in Aft Steering. The OOD energized red-over-red navigation lights to indicate to other vessels in the area that we were "not under command." 

By this time, the BMOW and Aux watchstander were looking through the window into Aft Steering to see if "system is intact" or did we have hydraulic fluid spraying everywhere from a leak in the system. Thankfully, the system was intact, so they entered the space to see if they could figure out what the problem was. It was readily apparent that the tie rod had come unattached from the rudder post and was allowing the rudder to swing freely with no controlling mechanism. 

Once the problem was identified, the Auxiliary division including MKC JN, MK1 AA, MK2 AF, and EM2 TB quickly got the pieces reattached. We tested steering in all modes and came back up in speed to continue on to our SAR case. Murphy was onboard for a little bit, but we quickly got him contained by relying on training and teamwork -- Murphy's bane. 

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