modern Navy men know how to swim. Some
better than others. For quite a few men,
the act of jumping from
a tower into a swimming pool at Boot Camp was memorable.
To those sailors stationed on ships in such
home ports as
1972, my ship, USS
Kawishiwi, was sailing across the
was a big
ship, 37,000 tons or so. She was 650
feet long and it took 40 feet of water to float her.
She also carried about eight million gallons
of fuel for cargo and ship’s use. The
fuel was transferred to other ships by seven inch hoses that were
to other ships. We knew that our routine
would be to have a ship or ships come out to where we waited offshore
days and fuel up from us. When that
happened we would be extremely busy. There
would also be an occasional aircraft carrier and her
escorts to refuel, which would take hours to “gas up.”
steaming to the west, all by ourselves in that vast ocean.
A couple of the senior enlisted men, chief
petty officers in fact, came to me and said that the crew was wondering
would be able to stop and have swim call on some of those days when we
busy and would just be steaming back and forth. There
isn’t much recreation aboard a ship at sea. You
go to work. You
eat. You go back to your bunk. That
all there is. Swim call sounded like a
good idea so I went to the Executive Officer, the “XO.”
found the XO
on the bridge talking to the captain, who was in his chair observing
on watch handle the ship. I motioned to
him that I wanted to talk. The XO,
second in command, is the one who is in charge of “personnel” matters
the crew. While the captain has overall
responsibility for the ship, the XO handles the internal goings on
ship, the day to day routine.
told the XO
about the crew’s concern about swim call once we were at our station
think that a naval officer would know all the ship’s instructions. Let me tell you that the binder that holds
all those instructions weighs a ton. Keeping
up with all those instructions is a chore. More
than a few of them always needed
reviewing and changing. There is an
instruction for just about everything. Some
years later, when I was a Lieutenant Commander, I was
aboard a new
LST (Landing Ship Tank) USS Dubuque out
expecting a couple of pages of instructions. What
I found was several pages. I
couldn’t believe all the assignments given to men beyond what was
the regular watch that would be on duty. There
was a boat crew, extra lookouts, rifle marksmen in
case of sharks,
men to man the boarding net, and many others that I thought
questionable. By the time you manned all
most of the 300 crew would be left out of swim call.
went back to
the XO and asked about the extensive instruction on swim call. At first he frowned as he thought about
whether or not to explain it to me. He
finally gave me another one of those sly smiles, then told the story.
subject of swim call had arisen the last time the ship made a
deployment to the
sunny climes of the
here about wood chips aboard a Navy ship. When
a ship is pulling up to a pier, the captain can gauge
speed and whether or not she is stopped by looking at the pier. When you are at sea all you have is the waves
moving by, and that is not a good judge of motion to go by. At sea, or in a harbor, when you want to
anchor a ship, you want the ship to not only be stopped, but to
backing down. This is to set the anchor
properly. If you drop the anchor while
going ahead, the chances are that you will not only not get the anchor
properly, but the ship will run over the anchor chain and scrape all
gray paint from the bow. I know of one experience when this situation
am going to
stop my story long enough to relate another story.
A friend told me that his ship, a lean, mean
destroyer, was about to enter the harbor at
between the bridge where the ship is controlled and the forecastle
anchor detail is assigned is a sound powered phone.
A man on the bridge has a headset with a
plate on his chest held by a strap around his neck.
On the plate is a microphone that sticks up
right in front of his mouth. Kind of
like an old style switchboard operator. You
push a button on the microphone to talk.
steaming towards the opening in the surf that led to the harbor, the
looked down at the crew on the forecastle. The
port anchor (on the left) was the one they were going
to use. The phone talker, dressed in
whites, was on
the starboard side facing the anchor chain. Forward
of him, closer to the bow, were two chief petty
in khaki talking to each other. Near
them were two other petty officers dressed in whites.
In the middle of the forecastle was a seaman
dressed in dungarees and wearing a white hat. He
was standing between the two anchor chains, facing to
port, with his
back to the phone talker and the chiefs. He
was looking down at the stopper which was holding the
anchor chain on
deck. When ordered, he would knock loose
the stopper and release the anchor. He
was leaning on the handle of a ten pound sledge hammer.
told the phone talker to ask the forecastle if the anchor was ready for
go. The phone talker said, “Bridge to
forecastle, is the anchor ready for letting go?” From
his vantage point on the bridge, looking
down on the forecastle ahead of them in the bows of the ship, the
distinctly heard the phone talker, who apparently was only half paying
attention, say, “Let go the anchor.”
steaming at about eight knots. Before
the captain on the bridge, or the chief bosun on the forecastle could
word, the seaman standing in front of the anchor chain, swung that ten
sledge hammer and freed the stopper that was holding the chain. The stopper flew free as a collective cry of noooooooo came from the chiefs and the
captain. As the entire anchor detail
screamed at him the seaman knew, too late, that he had messed up,
dropped. It hit the water and was swept
away by the motion of the ship. The
entire forecastle crew raced for the safety of the superstructure under
bridge. An anchor chain usually goes
from the chainpipe in the deck straight to the fairlead in the bow, and
the water. There was over six hundred
feet of chain in the chain locker below their feet.
With the speed of the ship and the drag of
the anchor, now below and behind the ship, the anchor chain flew up in
in a large arc about ten feet above the deck before disappearing
through the fairlead
and into the water. It sounded like a monstrous buzz saw.
............The captain yelled frantically for the ship to “stop all engines,” but it was way too late. Even a ship the size of a destroyer has momentum and the captain was not going to be able to save the situation. Anchor chains are painted black. The last shot of chain is painted red. When you see that red shot of chain you know that is all there is to let out. In this case there was only a blur of red that flashed briefly just before the bitter end of the chain was reached. When the end of the chain was reached the shackle it was attached to tore the eye out of the bulkhead in the chain locker. It then blew out the chain pipe and disappeared through the fairlead in the bow of the ship, like the tail of an escaping dragon, and leaving a cloud of rust that blew back onto the ship’s bridge. It is a miracle that no one was killed.
wood chips and the swim call. As I have
said, this ship was big, and big means a lot of momentum.
From full speed ahead, about 18 knots (20
miles an hour), to a complete stop takes two, count them, two miles. On the day in question the ship slowed down,
all engines stopped. The captain threw a
wood chip down from high on the bridge of the ship.
He then threw another, and then another,
until he was satisfied that the ship was stopped. Then
“swim call” was announced over the
public address system on the ship. The
majority of the crew, happy for the break in the daily routine, dove,
and belly flopped over the side. The
happiness didn’t last long, at least not for the captain.
A quarter of a mile later, the ship really came to a stop. All that momentum, you see. The majority of the crew were treading water a quarter of a mile astern of the ship. The captain was frantic. The ship had to get underway and go get the crew.
............Remember all that momentum. The ship had to get steam back up to get moving. Not something that can be done quickly on a ship that big. Then there is the problem of maneuverability. That ship, when going slowly, has all the maneuverability of an office building laid on its side. It took about an hour to get the ship underway, make a large circling turn, maneuver back to where the crew was, and pick them all up. Evidently the sharks were snoozing while this was going on. The lengthy instruction on swim call was written shortly afterwards.
went back to
the ship’s office, made a copy of the swim call instruction, and went
for the chiefs who originally came to me with the idea.
I explained the problem to them without going
into the story as related to me by the XO. It
had happened before any of them had come to the ship.
After a few weeks, we were on station in the
............I was officer
of the deck one day on the bridge. We
were steaming south, parallel to the
Nobody said a word as we stared down at the object that passed close down the port side. There, lazily sunning itself on the surface of the calm sea, was a sea snake, a poisonous sea snake. After that, I never heard another peep from the crew about swim call. You see, sailors still have a fear of sea serpents.