This is a No-*(@#(

You know a sailor is about to tell you a sea story when he starts out with the line, “This is a no-…” and he’s not talking about a head without a commode.

21 years ago, somewhere in the North Pacific, 72 ships from different nations had completed Operation Team Spirit ’89.  Operation Team Spirit is a drill to save South Korea from Northern agression.  In recent years, it has culminated in shots fired from the North ‘cuz they’re tiny bullies who are trying to prove themselves.  But that’s another story for another day.

So, on that beautiful sunlit November morning, we ventured out on fairly calm seas for morning quarters.  Our muster spot was on the starboard bow.  We could count 72 ships before the horizon.  That meant we were very close to each other in nautical terms.  Ranges were in the 100-yard range instead of the usual 2-3 miles.

Behind us were the behomoth carriers, USS Carl Vinson and USS Enterprise, with the amphibious command ship USS Blue Ridge in between.  Smaller ships were visible to the horizon.  The formation was set up so a high-flying aircraft could take a picture of us all.  Our speed was about 5 knots.

Off our starboard bow was the USS Antietam.  She was a brand-new gas-turbine driven ship.  The propeller shafts rotated at a constant speed.  Sleek and fast, she was much smaller than the USS Long Beach on which I served.

As we mustered for quarters, Petty Officer Sullivan read to us from the Plan of the Day.  It was supposed to be a formal military gathering, but we were a small division so it looked more like a large family at the breakfast table.

The staccato blast of a ship’s whistle broke what little discipline we had.  A destroyer, the USS Hewitt, came into view.  Her American flag had been lowered, and that morning I learned it was a sign of distress.  Hitting her whistle at the rate of 1 blast per second, she steamed across the formation.  It appeared she was oblivious of anything in her path – like the Antietam

We were close enough to the Antietam that we could hear her collision alert.  Apparently the captain ordered full-reverse, and the variable-pitch screws had her backing down so quickly that water came over the fantail (the flat part on the back of the ship).  It had been over 10 feet from the deck to the waterline just seconds ago.

Men on the Antietam scrambled and assumed “brace for shock” positions.  She began to turn to the left – directly toward the bow of the Long Beach, about 20 feet forward of where I was standing.  That’s when our ship turned hard enough to the left that we were losing footing.

Our turn cut off the Blue Ridge, which turned and cut off the Enterprise, which turned and…  Meanwhile, ships to our starboard were turning right to avoid the Hewitt which was still steaming straight across the formation.

This escapade was frightening when it occurred, but is funny in retrospect.  We found out later that there had been a loss of communication between the bridge and engineering onboard Hewitt.  She could no longer steer, nor could she change speed.

I can find nothing about this incident on the ‘net and I thought it needed to be there.  And, after my last post, I figured something with a little more meat may be a little more appetizing.


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