Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Prepare to Get Underway

This is a continuation of a series of writings about my time in the Navy. The first in this series of posts can be found here or go here for the most recent.

The LST (Tank Landing Ship) was an amphibious assault ship used for attacking and securing beach fronts. Unlike most other ships it didn't have a deep keel to help it smoothly cut through the water. It had a much flatter bottom which allowed it to beach itself and more easily offload vehicles and troops. Out on the open ocean we'd often take a beating in our flat bottom girl that other sleeker ships wouldn't.

The most recognizable feature of the ship were the bow horns which protruded skyward and provided support for the bow ramp. When we were unable to get close enough to shore for the bow ramp to make contact we'd assemble a series of 'causeways' or floating road sections strapped to the ship's side which could be lowered and put in place to connect the bow ramp with the beach.

There was a huge well-deck in the belly of the ship where tanks and assorted vehicles were tied down and stored while underway. Vehicles could enter the well-deck through the front of the ship via the bow ramp or through the rear of the ship through the stern gate. There wasn't much wasted space of the ship's 522' 3". We had a crew of something a little less than 300 men and could carry and often did carry a similar number of marines on board.

We left Subic Bay in early August 1976 for Hong Kong and I'd soon find myself in some of the roughest water in the South China Sea that I would ever experience anywhere the rest of my enlistment. I remembered being at the Enlisted Men's club while going through A-School and listening to a guy who'd been out to sea before and his experience with seasickness. He'd said that the announcement alone over the loudspeaker, "Prepare to get underway" was enough to cause him to feel queasy. So far so good for me.

Underway we'd work 'port and starboard' watches, meaning you'd work 8 hours on then have 8 hours off. We did that for a 6 week stretch once with no days off and it got tiring. I remember not so much paying attention to what time it was but rather, monitoring our ship's position on a chart in Combat/CIC (the radar room also known as Combat Information Center) and the progress we were making across the ocean. One day seemed just like all the others but that chart was proof that they weren't.

Others on the ship who didn't perform an underway function worked their regular days and weeks with weekends off including holidays. At least I think that's the way it was. I wouldn't know for sure as I was too busy doing my own thing. A holiday out at sea or a day off; what was that? I could only wish. If you didn't sleep during your 8 hours off you'd end up being awake for at least 24 hours.

My job out at sea was to monitor the radar in search of other 'contacts' which we'd track and if they were close enough, recommend course and speed changes to the bridge to avoid the traffic. You could sometimes go for days without seeing another contact. Other days would be much busier.

It was my first time out to sea and I had to have a look at what was going on outside the bulkheads of CIC. CIC was located just aft of the bridge with a hatch/door separating us. I opened the hatch and stepped out onto the bridge with my camera in hand. The Officer of the Deck looked toward me and said "Port bridge wing". "Excuse me, sir" I said. He repeated himself, "Port bridge wing". I didn't understand. He said, "You're sick, right? The winds favor throwing up off the port side." I told him that "No, I'm not sick; I was just curious to see what it looked like out here." I was a wide-eyed curious kid and I felt fine. If I could make it through this I figured I could handle anything.

The seats we sat in at our two SPA 25 Radar Repeater scopes had seatbelts we'd strap ourselves in with. The belts were seldom used but on this day they were very much needed.

The ship would rise up between swells and come crashing back down sending a shudder throughout the entire ship only to repeat the process again and again. Sometimes the bow would rise up out of the water listing one direction only to come up the next time listing the other way causing you to continuously (and unconsciously) adjust the pitch of your body as you leaned into the ship's angle. In lesser seas you could get by without hanging on to anything. Not on this day.

I took the photo to the right in those few minutes spent on the bridge for the first time. It's a bit out of focus but I was happy to be able to get anything at all.

I was enjoying the ride for sure and the knowledge that seasickness wouldn't be an issue for me, or so I thought. Soon enough I would be enjoying the liberty boats in Hong Kong harbor connecting us to the mainland from our ship anchored in port.

To be continued...

1 comment:

NOVA TECH said...

Nice story; one that brings back memories. I was stationed on the east coast aboard the Manitowoc, LST-1180 during the same time.