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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Good Bye to a Beautiful Puff of Smoke

I am involved in a kitten rescue organization called For The Cat's Sake. My job is to socialize kittens to make them more adoptable. Sadly, some young kittens die, for reasons that aren't completely clear. Recently we lost a little gray kitten. He was about seven weeks old, but he insisted on playing with the older guys. He had great spirit, and was cute as a button. He would try to claw his way up my pants leg; I would would help him get all the way up to my lap, where he would squeak and frolic. I forgot what his original name was, but I thought he looked like a little puff of smoke. He ended up being renamed "Puff". Yesterday I got a call from the lady who runs our kitten facility. Puff was dying. Rose and I rushed over. Puff was taking nourishment, but he didn't look good. He died overnight.

Little Puff,
Short and sweet,
Playful and petite.
You said
A beautiful Hello,
Then sadly had
To go.
RIP

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Klaus - A Hurricane Story




It was another beautiful Caribbean sunset, but with extras. The clouds were especially thick along the horizon, and other clouds seemed to shoot up into the sky toward us from the east in broad swirls. After the sun had set, the smaller ships began to feel the swell build from the North Atlantic. By 2145 the Moon and stars had disappeared above the thickening clouds, and even our 550 foot ship was rolling a good twenty-five degrees. I made my way to the bridge, hand over hand, grasping for something to keep my balance with every step. Making my way through the gray joiner door, I was about to open my mouth to request permission to come on the bridge when an out of sync wave tossed the 7800 tonne cruiser a full forty degrees onto her starboard side. I flew across the deck, swinging on the hinged door, my back now facing forward. In the dim red night lighting I saw the bubble of the inclinometer read the ship's forty degree roll just before my hands reached up to grasp the heavy weather bar that ran across the entire width of the bridge. The ship held at the maximum extent of her roll for a second before snapping upright. In that moment I hung from the bar, my feet off the deck. When the ship had righted herself, I took a deep breath, and called out in a soft voice "request permission to come on the bridge." "I believe you're already here," answered a cheerful voice out of the darkness. It was the Captain. "Aye aye, Sir."

The chart house was illuminated by red night lighting. It appeared to flash on and off as the quartermaster moved about in there, working on his charts. I slipped in. The anemometer had the wind speed already up to fifty knots. The ship's motion was so wild that the wind direction indicators were twirling around unpredictably up on the mast. I turned to the chart table. Inside its case, next to the three brass Hamilton chronometers, was the ship's barometer, the single most important piece of weather prediction equipment onboard. I gave its crystal a gentle tap. 27.85 inches. It was moving down fast.

The Bosun piped "All Hands" and passed "All hands stand clear of weather decks during heavy weather."

The commander of our battle group had heroically and effectively flown fighters in Vietnam. But he apparently had no skill as a seaman. His aircraft carrier command had been a just reward, and although he had been a hero in the air, he was demonstrating that it was not heroic to steam a group of ships into the teeth of a building hurricane.

If he had been a seaman, he would have known that he was steaming his ships into the storm's dangerous semi circle, and that turning 180 degrees would head his ships to safety. But discussing common sense with some people is like discussing a bicycle with a goldfish.

I figured I should check the seas out, so I told the Bosun where I was going, asked him to keep an eye on me, undogged the port bridge wing door, and went out into the storm. Although there was no moon, I could still see the angry spray flying off the wave tops. Each time the ship came over a wave the bow would spray water out in both directions with a loud crunch. Then the bow would dig into the sea and come up, throwing tons of water back up at the bridge, soaking me. Klaus might not be a hurricane yet, but he was knocking on the door. By morning, we would be in the hurt locker.

A Block Island Sea Story




Early Fall, 1961

            The Gee Jay II was a 22 1/2 foot MacKenzie Cuttyhunk Bass Boat. She was a sturdy craft. Her builders, Morse Marine on Cape Cod, had made her a no nonsense boat; not a working boat, but one for serious fishermen. Old man MacKenzie would have been proud of her.
            If you ordered her in stock colors, you probably got her with a black hull, and a dado brown painted cap rail with gray decks. There wasn't a bit of varnish on her. They had built her stiff. She didn't work at all in a seaway. Her frames and ribs were solid oak, her planks mahogany. The planks were fasted with bronze rivets, making her tough as nails.
            She had a small cuddy cabin, enough for storage, temporary shelter, and a head, but no bunks. Just inside the cabin entrance was a shelf that held her gray and white Appelco marine radio. In those days, marine radios were large affairs, with vacuum tubes. Each such radio was somewhere between the size of a toaster oven and a microwave. It fed a tall antenna, which sat on the starboard side, by the windshield. The tubes meant that the radio also acted as a heat source for the cabin. It was on this same radio that Dad and I had once listened to the agony of the doomed Italian liner Andrea Doria as she sank slowly into the unforgiving waters of Nantucket Sound after colliding with the Swedish liner Stockholm in the fog bound approaches.
            The Gee Jay was powered by a single 125 horsepower Chrysler Crown, a flat head six, which was a converted truck engine. It was popular, but ours in particular was not known for its reliability, which resulted in my father having a close relationship with Mr. Al Feiler, the largest marine engine mechanic in the Salt Pond area. He went 300+ pounds, easy.
            We kept the Gee Jay II at the Snug Harbor Marina, near the south end of the Great Salt Pond. The marina was strictly a working affair, filled with charter boats and some serious private fishing boats. If you had a luxury yacht, this wasn't the place for you. There wasn't a floating dock in the place. You kept your boat at an eight foot fixed finger pier, and it could be a long climb down at low tide. When you came in, you pulled in to the main dock, gassed up, cleaned your catch, then moored at your finger pier to hose down your boat. The charter boats weren't the kind of "head" boats that are so popular now. If you wanted to go fishing, you called the office, and booked a day trip in advance on the boat of your choice, flat rate. Typically you could bring up to three friends with you, and you had the undivided attention of the captain and mate. Those guys knew where the fish were, but they kept it to themselves, unless you happened to know them really, really well. My father knew one of them, Honky Clark, but that didn't mean we necessarily got the inside skinny all the time. Honky was the kind of guy who lived on his boat. During the winter he picked up odd jobs at Holgate's Boat Shop. He didn't talk much, except to swear when he made a mistake, but he did show me how to cut in a waterline over Easter vacation one year. That was about as close as you could get to Honky, unless you were his mate.
            Dad kept his ear glued to the radio when we were underway, trolling for intelligence. Fishermen on the radio were blabbers, but notoriously closed mouthed about where the fish were. They generally spoke in code, if they spoke about what was biting at all.
            On this morning we got underway about seven, under a partly cloudy sky that promised to get sunny. A boat is responsible for any damage caused by its wake, so we cruised slowly toward the breachway leading out of Salt Pond, passing the fishing villages of Galilee to port and Jerusalem to starboard. Galilee was a pretty big port, with its own fish processing plant, and fifty or sixty draggers, most  of which were at sea by the time we got underway. I could see them dragging their nets on the horizon. These were the days before the big factory ships, when you could still see the draggers within easy sight of land, their outriggers already deployed. Jerusalem had maybe ten boats, mostly lobstermen. I doubt if anyone in one town knew folks in the other.
            A gentle wind gave the pond's surface a scaly appearance, but the flags fluttered only intermittently, so I figured we were in for a nice day. Once we passed the breachway into the Harbor of Refuge, Dad cranked the Gee Jay up to cruising speed and headed for Block Island.
            The Point Judith Harbor of Refuge is a protected area formed by a breakwater. The breakwater was created by depositing tens of thousands of boulders, leaving two entrances. On one end of the breakwater at each entrance is a tower with a light and fog signal. Each tower was a tapered latticework, with a light at the top, and a white enclosure about halfway up, which contained a fog signal. As we passed the tower at the western entrance, leaving the protection of the breakwater, we picked up the long, slow swells from Rhode Island Sound, and for just a moment we could smell the muscles and seaweed growing on the half tide rocks. Every few waves the Gee Jay would come down off a wave, and the spray rails would throw water out away from us with a low hiss, as the boat shimmied into the sea. The little bass boat punched through the swell beautifully, a tribute to old man MacKenzie's design. Within twenty minutes we could see the sand dune-like eastern cliffs of Block Island's Mohegan Bluffs peeking through the haze.  It was looking like a nice day, but when you are eleven, every day with your dad is somewhere between pretty darn good and great. I took out a thermos, and poured a cup of beef bullion for my father and I to share.
            In another hour we were off the north side of Block Island. We could see a sandy beach, and a low lying light house about three miles off. Dad throttled the engine back to bare steerageway, and turned the bow to starboard until we paralleled the beach. At this speed the engine exhaust made a "glug, glug" sound, but you couldn't actually hear the engine at all. He put a line in the water with a long hook covered by a piece of surgical tubing. It had a piece of pork rind on it. He let out about eighty feet of line, and slipped the rod into a holder on the port side. We were in about thirty-five feet of water. With the engine this quiet, we could listen carefully to the radio chatter, which was constant.
            As we drew even with the shade of the east side of the island, the westerly wind died, and the sea became like glass. The currents formed little road-like streams on the surface. Sixteen years earlier, a periscope had pierced this same calm water. Perhaps a U-boat captain had admired these tall, sandy cliffs.
            Neither of us knew it, but just a few miles to the east, on the bottom, lay the bodies of over sixty German sailors, asleep in their watery grave since their U-Boat had been sunk in 1945, on a day not unlike today. A few years hence they would be re-discovered, but for now, we trolled in the sandy shadow of Southeast Light, hoping to get into some bluefish.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Thoughts on a Bicycle Ride

On 20 February I had back surgery, and I have only recently been cleared to get back on my bike. Given my limited ability to walk, the bike has meant freedom. This is a beautiful time in the Virginia Piedmont. You see so much more from a bicycle seat than you do from a car seat. This evening, while riding, this came to mind:

The Redbuds
Are no longer buds,
They're flowering,
Telling their Story,
Of spring glory.
Can Dogwoods
Be far behind?
A white bud,
A red cross,
Look over your shoulder,
The wait's almost over.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

We Have Been At War a Long Time


From My Memoires:

Syria, Virginia

            I was paging through my Apple iTunes files today, and came upon an old favorite, Lee Greenwood’s I’m Proud To Be An American. Dated 1992, a full twenty-five years ago, it’s not necessarily a patriotic song. It’s more a song of admiration for one’s country. There’s been a lot of water over the dam since then. As if to remind us, yesterday United States Naval Institute Proceedings published We Have Been At War A Long Time by Captain John Byron, USN (Ret). The author reminds us that if you have a sixteen year old grandson, he has never known a time without war. We aren’t talking about war as a distant abstraction, where the Hotentots are fighting the Xhosa. We are talking about war where Americans are fighting and dying, though not to protect the United States, or even United Fruit.

Over eighty years ago a retired Marine named Smedley Butler wrote a small volume called War Is a Racket. I have the book. He wasn’t just a disaffected jarhead; he was a retired Major General, and the recipient of two awards of the Medal of Honor. He had become cynical about the employment of U.S. Forces overseas. If he could see the proliferation of our forces in over eighty countries today, he would chuckle at how things had only gotten further out of control.

U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan as long as we pay the Afghan government to host us. That government will never stand on its own. Afghanistan remains the graveyard of empires, and the “government” in Kabul, as well as the Taliban, must surely chat amongst itself in wry amusement when no Americans are about at the thought of our quest to establish a western democracy in their country. The Russians must be pleased as well.

As a former CIA field officer recently pointed out, we once had the Afghan war won, but we refused to leave.

To the southeast of Afghanistan, we are back in Iraq, to the tune of 14,000 troops. Once we finally leave that contrived state for the second time, either the Iranians will keep Iraq propped up, or it will fall down again - another one of our brilliant shots at a Muslim Middle East western style democracy for people who do not understand the concept.

We have special warfare troops all over Africa, training other country’s soldiers, most of whom serve corrupt regimes that often don’t even pay them regularly (that’s why the Malian Army ran away in the face of the Tuareg rebels marching on Timbuktu in 2015).

We have an ever increasing presence in Syria, with an apparent aim of opposing the current ruler, but no clear objective. Admittedly, continuing that civil war does bleed Iran of its ability to do evil elsewhere but at what price in human carnage? Vladimir Putin and the mullahs of Iran intend to keep the weak kneed ruler of Syria in power for their own reasons, and they have the focus that American presidents never have, so we are wasting our time in that unhappy country.

We seem desirous of depriving our own citizens of every possible social program, yet there is no end to the funds we are willing to expend on military energy world wide in efforts that appear to lead nowhere. None of these efforts benefit the United States in any way. They merely expend energy and national treasure as the “worlds only super power.” (Not for long. China has stolen most of our intellectual property, and our important secrets. Next, she will steal our place in the world).

If your son or daughter is killed in one of these adventures, these overseas adventures become less abstract. But in any case, the incomprehensible cost of these operations should give you pause. When the Congressional Freedom Caucus pledges to shut down the government if we don’t cut spending on social programs, tell ‘em to go where the real money is:

- Overseas Contingency Operations that are over funded - the extra money is harvested for military hardware goodies each year
- Two different flavors of new ICBMs - shore and sea based (one new one isn’t enough?)
- A brand new bomber
- A new fighter with flaws that should make the Pentagon blush
-    A new class of aircraft carrier so over gilded while at the same time flawed that the designers should be ashamed to claim ownership. If one of the ship’s new electro magnetic catapults must be taken down for repair or maintenance, all must be placed out of commission. What moron signed off on that design?

When we created the new “professional acquisition corps,” we were supposed to be getting a bunch of real pros, who would avoid the big mistakes, and streamline the process. It looks like we just got a new corps, instead.

Yes, war really is a racket. I’ve worked in the Pentagon; I have seen how this shit is sold. Yet no one is ashamed. It isn’t just that the Pentagon cannot get enough. The likes of Congress and HRH, Donald Trump can’t either. Smedley Butler was right.

First Run - March 1981


From My Memoires:

            We hit the sea buoy about nine forty-five in the morning. It was a slate gray Maine winter day. Strictly speaking it wasn’t winter anymore, but in Maine it would be winter for quite some time. Ice fishing for smelts would be a going concern for at least four more weeks. The snow would last longer.
            “Captain Rich has left the ship.” It was Petty Officer Kubala, our sea detail throttle man on the bridge. He’d sent the message down over the sound powered 1JV circuit. “The tug has cleared the ship,” called out Chumley, our engineering messenger of the watch. He had opened the viewport to weather, and so was the only snipe (engineer) who could see anything of the now receding Kennebec River. The viewport was a device that generations of sailors had called a porthole, but the Naval Sea Systems Command, NAVSEA for short, bowing to its compulsion to rename nearly everything, had decided that porthole was perhaps too old fashioned. Lucky for us, they never got around to renaming some really antiquated devices such as the ‘gun’.
            Captain Rich was Captain Bill Rich, the Bath Iron Works’ captain. He was a fully qualified Kennebec River pilot, as well as a Coast Guard licensed Master with enough tonnage to take any vessel on trials that the Iron Works might build. Being a reserve Navy captain, Captain Rich worked well with the commanding officers of the ships he was shepherding up and down the river. The Captain had more bridge time than any of the Navy COs he took down the river. He was a welcome source of ship handling characteristics for new Navy commanding officers who had spent the last few years in Washington, and might be a bit rusty.
            I heard the low moan of the old Detroit Diesel 71 series in the Iron Works’ little toot as she passed our starboard side on her way back up river. A whiff of diesel exhaust slipped in through the view port before Chumley dogged it down.
            The trip down the river had been routine. What could go wrong, you might think. Well, the most experienced operators of this highly automated new warship class were the Bath Iron Works operating engineers. When they went down the river for trials, they turned off all the automatic propulsion control features, except when they had to demonstrate them. That tells you something. But you can’t tell the Navy anything.
            The journey out of Bath, all the way to our new homeport of Mayport Florida began three days earlier. The Iron Works began loading a limited number of crew members’ cars on to the flight deck. Only a select number of senior crew got to take their cars. We carefully drove each into the helo hangars, where they were spotted, chocked, and chained, after being inspected for leaks, and to ensure that their fuel tanks were full. The Damage Control Assistant, Ensign John Daniel Zimmerman, made careful weight and moment calculations, ensuring that the vehicles would not adversely affect stability. The ship was built for two 13,500 pound helicopters, not quite this load out. A security watch would check on the cars every hour, just in case.
            Our two General Electric LM-2500 gas turbine engines began winding up as soon as the after lookout reported the tug well clear. The engines were controlled from the bridge, so those of us down here in the central engineering control station, or CCS, just watched the instruments as the ship passed twenty knots. Down here in the engineering spaces, low in the ship, we could barely detect the fact that we had passed out into the Atlantic. The long ocean swell, traveling all the way from Europe, was working on us now. In spite of the lack of feeling, I could see the effect on the pitch indictor on the port bulkhead. USS Clifton Sprague had gone to sea as a navy ship for the first time. We had been a Bath ship for so long. Some of the crew would really miss the place. A small, nucleus crew had lived there for nearly a year while the yard completed the ship. Many of us had witnessed final testing of ship systems. Some had established romantic relationships. At least one son had been conceived there. A few crew members didn’t want to leave. It was a curious feeling to finally be free of the building yard, but we were definitely a Navy ship, without a single yard bird aboard. We belonged at sea. As proud as we were of our ship, there was a certain shortage of experience, at least in our current jobs. At the end of this trip lay the first entry into our home port to the acclaim of hundreds of family members and our squadron commodore and his staff.
            In commissioning a new destroyer everyone must be trained. The two exceptions are the captain and his second in command, the executive officer. Their depth of experience puts them in the position of being responsible for ensuring the remainder of the crew is trained. Every crew member reports to the pre commissioning detail with training, but they must be molded into a team. All that is just fine, and quite doable. There is one thing, however, that rests on a single individual’s shoulders. The prospective commanding officer, the man who will assume command at commissioning, must determine who amongst his officers will initially be trusted as officers of the deck.
            The officer of the deck is entrusted with the safety of the ship and all the men in her when the captain is not on the bridge, and the captain cannot always be on the bridge. The OOD is the captain’s representative, empowered to make any decision necessary in an emergency in order to ensure the safety of the ship. Under normal circumstances, when a new commanding officer comes aboard a ship, she is an operating concern. There are officers qualified to stand officer of the deck, qualified by the incumbent. The new captain may find that he does not care for one or more of them, but he has a start point. But with a new ship, not only has the captain never seen any of his watch officers in action, neither has anyone else on the ship.
            The commanding officer of this ship took a cautious and sensible approach. He qualified his three line department heads (including myself), and no others, as officers of the deck. The captain wrote in his night orders that he wanted to be called at a reasonable time any time another ship was going to have a closest point of approach of less than 10,000 yards, and any time that we detected another warship. These were pretty standard orders. Depending on how much closer than 10,000 yards the other ship was going to come, and which officer was on watch, the captain might or might not come up for a look, no matter what the hour. That was pretty standard, too.
            We were equipped with some new systems, and not all of them worked all that well. You might think the Navy would know better, but you would be wrong.
            The second night at sea. I was on watch at about 2230. We picked up a radar contact about twenty miles distant, which tracked steadily in on a constant bearing. That meant that if neither of us maneuvered we would collide. I found it curious that at ten miles range his lights were still not visible. Our signalmen could also see nothing through their high powered binoculars. I gave the Captain a call; he told me to keep him advised. At five miles we were still on a collision course, and we still could see no lights. I called the captain back, and told him that I figured it might be a small fishing boat, though the weather was getting a bit rough for that sort of thing. The captain was a bit of a micro manager, so I was surprised when he told me to just keep him advised. I took that as a vote of confidence.
            As the range closed under three miles, I had the signalmen pull the red night filters off their signal lamps to use them as searchlights. The combat information center began feeding them search vectors. I called the captain back. I told him that radar showed us on a collision course, but we saw nothing. I had our searchlights trained out, and I intended to do visual avoidance. I took the conn from the junior officer of the deck, who is in training, and stayed out on the engaged bridge wing along with the lookout, who was directly above me on the flying bridge. The signalmen called out the range as they got it from below. Shortly the captain was next to me, watching. Finally, up came “contact is in sea return, collision should be imminent.”
            There was nothing there. No small craft. No debris on the sea to reflect an errant radar signal. Nothing. The contact was apparently being generated from within our own radar set. That was plenty disconcerting, though on some level, I suppose it was good that we understood the problem. The captain looked over at me in the dim moonlight. “That was scary.” He kind of popped his eyebrows up and down with a grin. “Better get a message off to NAVSEA in the morning.” “Yes sir,” I nodded, relieved that I wasn’t driving around the North Atlantic playing bumper cars with small craft. Radar was not a panacea, but it was supposed to be better than this. The Navy’s new, state of the art surface search radar left much to be desired.
            Early the next day things went to hell. We were making sixteen knots on a southerly course when I came up on deck to relieve the morning watch. I started out on the port bridge wing, where I didn’t much like the look of the clouds. The sky was slate gray and the sea state was at least a five. The ship was running in an uncomfortable quartering sea. These Oliver Hazard Perry class ships had big tall deck houses that ran a considerable of the length of the hull. All that sail area made them very tender in a blow. The bow was also nearly burying itself in the seas. The wind was veering some. I went into the chart house looking for a weather report. The chief quartermaster was in there working on the 0800 position report. His instruments were rolling around. Considering the fact that the Navy’s ships went to sea in all weather, you would think that it would build things like chart tables with all sorts of little compartments to hold navigational instruments. If you thought that, you would be wrong. Generations of sailors have had to tape little cardboard boxes and bits of double sided masking tape to their plotting tables to keep pencils, dividers, and rulers from flying around in heavy seas. The chief handed me a yellow sheet of paper. “Looks like a big bad storm’s a comin’”, he offered up. “Temperature’s to freezin’.” “Lovely,” I answered, “just lovely. Captain know?” “OOD called ‘im.” “Thanks Chief.”
            I relieved the officer of the deck. The watch was slow. We saw a few merchantmen at a distance. About 1045 the bow starting to bury about twice a minute, and ice formed on the bullnose. I called the Captain. He came up and sat in his chair on the starboard side of the bridge watching the ship work in the seas for a while. The bow was starting to bury regularly and throw up spray, much of which was accumulating on the forward face of the pilot house. I zipped up my foul weather jacket and went out to the starboard bridge wing. The wind and the sea spray were stinging my face, but the jacket kept me warm. I bent over the forward coaming. The front of the pilot house was coated with ice. I motioned to the captain to take a look. He looked at me. “At this rate, we’ll gain another couple of tons by midnight. Have the word passed for the XO to the bridge.”
            The chief quartermaster had overheard the conversation. He came over and mentioned to the captain that the barometer had dropped another two tenths.
            The wind kept increasing. The seas kept increasing. The ice kept increasing. The captain’s estimate of ice accumulation was modest. In the era of steam ships, a destroyer would use a steam lance to remove accumulated ice. We had no steam.
            We contacted the fleet commander and received permission to pull into Newport until the weather improved. It turned out that the fleet commander had already pulled in there himself with a half dozen units. That left no room for us at the former naval station. They stuck us up the bay at the fuel piers in Melville.
            I was the officer of the deck as we approached my old stomping grounds. Just as the Captain had no idea how much confidence to place in me when he first gave me the charge as an officer of the deck, so I had no idea what kind of stuff my junior officer of the deck was made of. The Junior OOD is in training to be qualified as an officer of the deck. Accordingly he performs many of the OOD’s duties under the watchful eye of the OOD, who has the actual responsibility. As an example, he will have the conn, i.e. he will “drive” the ship, as long a the ship is not in some tricky situation. He will also attend to the navigational plot, along with the quartermaster of the watch. But the ship had been underway for less than a week. I hardly knew my fellow officers as seamen. While willing to work with them in the open ocean, the restricted and hazardous waters of the coastal regions were something else. I preferred my own instincts as we closed the coast, so I took more direct control.
            The morning watch, which runs from four to seven, began tough enough. It was sea state five when I came on deck, with no moon. The world was flat black. In the dim red night lighting we could only hear the ship pounding into the seas, then rising to shed tons of water. I hung on to the taut cable that ran across the bridge as the ship rolled twenty-five degrees one way, then thirty degrees the other. There was little to be seen on either bridge wing. By the chart I could tell that we would see Newport by sunrise. I zipped up my foul weather jacket and went out on the bridge wing for another look. The sky was spitting ice. It was covering the main deck. Our line handlers would be in trouble in the morning. By now it was about five thirty. I called the weapons officer to warn him about the decks, then the Captain.
            The bos’n mate of the watch had gotten a good look at the situation and called the Master Chief Bos’n. “Request permission to come on the bridge.” “Granted,” I said. It was the Master Chief. He came out on the bridge wing with me. We leaned over the coaming, looking at the foc’sle. “This does not look good, Cheng,” he spat through his teeth through the blowing ice. I nodded. The ice was already accumulating on his ball cap. “I’m gonna roll some guys out early.” And with that he struck below.
            There was no sunrise. Let’s call it first light. The ice storm died out gradually as the light appeared. “Request permission to come on the bridge.” “Granted.” The Navigator walked to the chart table, communed with the Chief Quartermaster for a few moments over the navigation plot, then joined me on the bridge wing. “Heck of a place you grew up in, Cheng.” “There are sub optimal days,” I agreed. We heard the deck division scraping and chopping ice from the foc’sle right below us. The bos’uns worked for the Navigator. “Hey Boats,” he called down, “all those men get breakfast?” “Yes Sir!” The answer drifted back up through the wind and the hiss of the bow wave as we pushed through the North Atlantic chop. “The other half are eating now. We gotta git the lines out when they git back up.” “Roger that.” He turned to me. “THIS is fucked up. But it beats icin’ up some more. Shit. Richard’ll be up to relieve you shortly.” “Thanks Lou,” I said. He probably wouldn’t bother with breakfast. His department was in charge of mooring; this morning would be the first time we would do it. Ever. All the senior personnel had done it on other ships, but the USS Clifton Sprague team had never done it. Our nervous, micro managing captain, and our hyper micro managing XO were no doubt pleased that we were doing it in front of an audience of a few Navy civilian dock hands, instead of our squadron commodore and all the other ships in Naval Station Mayport. Still, it was the first time.
            The sky was a nasty gray, and the seas were angry, with white horses throwing foam off their tops in jet like plumes as the heavy wind beat at their tops. It was classic sea state six. We had no choice but to come right to line up for our approach into the bay, but in so doing the ship slipped into the trough and rolled worse. Breakfast would be a challenge. “The Captain’s on the bridge,” called the bos’n. The Captain had come up for a look before breakfast. He looked at me with a half grin as he shook his head. In the daylight the icing was frightening. At reveille we passed the word “all hands remain clear of the weather decks due to heavy icing.” John Zimmerman, the Damage Control Assistant, stopped by the bridge to let me know that the vehicles in the helo hangars were still secure. He came to me with a grimace, walking hand over hand along the athwartship heavy weather cable running the width of the bridge.
            It was easy to pick up the Newport/Jamestown coastline on radar - it was solid rock, with rocky outcroppings standing right off shore. It painted on radar in the exact shape as it was portrayed on the chart. I sighted the light of Brenton Reef Tower, two whites every ten seconds. The Ice storm had moderated without my even noticing.   As the ship passed Brenton Tower on our way into Narragansett Bay the lee of the land calmed things down considerably, though the biting cold remained.
            The XO had come up while I was out on the bridge wing. He was a strange man, a micro manager, which is a useful trait in an executive officer, but he was strung tight as a drum without a propensity to ever raise his voice. That was a curious combination in a naval officer. He sought to implement a weekly planning system on the ship without implementing it, which is to say he would sit down each week with his department heads to plan the week using his self created forms which he expected us to live by, but he would not necessarily share them. Still, he was not a bad fellow. He would have been a useful buffer between a micro managing captain and his department heads, but this captain could not be stopped from constantly reaching down to individual department heads, for fear that some small detail wasn’t being done properly. The Captain forever worried about getting in trouble with his micro managing commodore.
            I slowed the ship to twelve knots and walked over to the XO. “You look like the abominable snow man,” he said to me with a straight face. I realized that I was dripping water from the ice melting off my foul weather gear, hat, and eyebrows. “Sorry, XO, I lost track.” “Musta been a heck of a watch, Cheng (Chief Engineer).” “It was that. Time to set sea detail, Sir.” He gave me that strange smile of his where he cocks his head back just a little, then he slid out of the port bridge chair and ambled over to the Captain with that funny back and forth walk of his. Less than a minute later the bos’n piped “attention”, then passed “go to your stations all the special sea and anchor detail.”
            Three quarters of an hour later we had a bay pilot aboard, and I was in the engineering control station when Chumley, our phone talker reported “the Mount Whitney’s at the navy base, along with a bunch of cruisers and destroyers.” It hadn’t been a navy base for eight years, but the Navy still owned the piers, and used them for a variety of purposes. Mount Whitney was easy to spot. There were two of her class, one on each coast. She was the Second Fleet flag ship. “Open the port,” I told the messenger. A stream of frigid air streamed in from the other side of the control console as he undogged the cover. “It’s snowing,” the messenger called out, “sort of like flurries.” “Close her back up,” I ordered, “It’s too friggin’ cold.” He said nothing, but I could hear the exterior sounds cease, and the cold begin to let up. “She’s dogged back down, Cheng.”
            Later, we moored at the Defense Fuel Support Point in Melville, Rhode Island. It’s a lonely place; a big pier, big enough to fuel a cruiser, or take alongside a tanker to discharge her cargo. The series of large pipes on the pier leads through manifolds and pumps into huge underground bunkers where the Navy stores millions of gallons of diesel and jet fuel. It’s a lonely place. Aside from the pier and the piping, there is a pump house, and well over a square mile of land where stand the rounded concrete tops of the underground tanks. Grass grows between them, leaving the impression that the tanks grew out the earth like gigantic mushrooms. A single road, Burma Road, ran south through the fog between the tanks to the former naval base, now a training center. The Second Fleet flag ship and its escorts were down there in the fog. As the temperature rose just a bit a thick fog blanket formed over the ice. We would sit here for a bit.
            Just north of the fuel pier was a marina, planted where thousands of workers had hurriedly churned out PT boats and landing craft during World War Two. All that remains of their efforts is a plaque in one of the storage sheds commemorated their work.
            I walked out on the pier. Ice covered most everything. Two civilians were spreading sand everywhere. Petty Officer J. W. Purnell, my oil king, and two enginemen were hooking up a potable water hose to a hydrant. It was foggy, but it felt colder than shit out here. Keeping the hose from freezing would be a trick. Purnell saw me and came over. He saluted, then held up a pocket thermometer that read twenty-nine degrees. “It’s dropped four degrees since we got out here, Cheng. I’ll have a hose running over the other side, but we’ll have to keep an eye on things. Maybe put it on the sounding and security check list.” “Good idea,” I said. My foul weather jacket kept me warm, but the cold wind was biting right through my pants and long underwear. “It feels like it’s just gonna get worse, JW. I’ll talk to the DCA.”
            I thought I would rush back to the ship, but walking back up the brow felt like moving through molasses. The cold wind was killing. I plopped down in the wardroom with a cup of black coffee. Dan Baker, my Main Propulsion Assistant, came in. “Hey boss,” he said, “they won’t fuel us today. The sand crabs won’t work in this weather.” “I’m not surprised,” I said, breathing in the heat from the coffee that I was too tired to drink.
            I picked up the phone and dialed my folks in Pawtucket. My mother answered. “Hi Mom. I’m in Newport.” “Oh, really,” she said. “The weather was terrible, and we had to pull in. we’re at the fuel pier in Melville.” Silence. “Can we get together?” I hadn’t seen them in months. “Gary, the weather is horrible. We can’t go out. Have you seen the weather?” “Sure I have. I came in from the sea this morning. Sure. I understand. If the weather gets better, we’ll pull out in the morning, otherwise, we’ll be here longer. Take care.” “OK. Bye.”
            Within two hours the potable water line was nearly frozen. Purnell pulled the overboard line off, replacing it with another that gushed over the side. Two days later the weather let us out. We made max available speed for our home port of Mayport, Florida, where the afternoon temperatures were running about seventy degrees.
            Next winter we would be back in Bath for post shakedown availability. Gosh. That will be another tale. Two winters in a row in Bath Maine. To be honest, I had a great time  during both winters. New Englanders and winter - its like a tuned circuit.