Those of you that haven't spent hours at a watchstation underway might wonder what a "Sea Story" is. In a functional sense, it is little more than an anecdote or short tale of an event or events that took place in the life of the story-teller while on-board the submarine.
For the story-teller, it could be bragging, boasting, decompression, passing on of critical truths, teaching the unqualified, or a hundred other things. For the listeners, it was always taken with a grain of salt, because sea stories had a way of evolving, in which the story-teller always became the 'good guy', and the tale, despite having taken on the proportions of Paul Bunyan and the blue ox, Babe, was still unarguably "true". Whatever it was about, it usually started with the expression "this is a no-s_____r".
Regardless of who was talking and who was listening, sea stories were a way of life, a part of the tradition of sailors from ages past, a way of passing time, that filled our endless hours and sometimes, for a brief moment or two, helped us escape the reality of the present.
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Editing photos for “Up Scope!” the other day, I was working my way through “The Seventies” post-processing and writing captions for twenty-or-so galleries of images submitted by Neal Degner for the years 1974-1977. I stumbled across a photo of an unusual ship, a haze gray catamaran with the Military Sealift Command (MSC) stripes on her stacks. Curious, I decided a little research was in order, partly because those twin-hulled catamarans were as rare as the Pegusus class hydrofoils during the 70’s and 80’s.
Thank you internet. A few clicks later, and the ship was identified as the USNS Hayes (T-AGOR-16). Named after Dr. Harvey C. Hayes, a pioneer in underwater acoustics and the former head of the U.S. Navy Sound Division of the Naval Research Laboratory, the “Hayes” class oceanographic research vessel was re-purposed in the mid-80’s as an acoustic research ship...
Well, it was just another rare day in port and I was standing Below Decks during the mid-watch. This was a Catch-22, since having to stand watch during the night or early morning could be EXTREMELY boring if there was nothing to keep your mind busy. On the other hand, at least on the mid-watch you could count on the various daily activities that had to be performed which helped the time pass much more quickly.
I had reached that critical point as a watchstander where you knew everything you needed to know to perform the required duties and had an air of confidence that made you feel that no challenge was too great.
On any given Below Decks watch, I had no trouble blowing San #2, bringing on potable water and checking in with the Torpedo Room security watch every 30 minutes, all while making my normal rounds to record the endless readings on the log sheets. On this particular night, I decided to push the bar a little higher by performing a number of these activities simultaneously. This wasn't an uncommon practice by the more experienced watchstanders and I felt I was ready to join their ranks.
I left Sub QM school in Groton for San Diego the last week of October of 1981. The QMCS at the school had said that the Billy Bates was a very Special Boat. I was one very excited QMSN.
My orders said to report to COMSUBRON on-board the USS Dixon or Sperry (I can't remember which one had our Squadron), for the William H. Bates at SUBBASE San Diego. So like a newbie, I walked down the pier and went right by the Bates, as my orders said report to COMSUBRON.
The minute that I requested permission to come aboard the tender, they had a Security Drill. I was stuck on board for about 2 hours!
Great sea stories have many things in common. They are all based (at least loosely) on some real event. They all hold the listener's attention (not usually too hard to do on day 58 of the 'Sea of None of Your Business' hostage crisis). They all generally start with the expression, "This is a no-sh___er."
The title 'Sea Story' can be deceptive. That name comes from the fact that they are usually shared at sea, when time, distance from friends and family, and general boredom coalesce into a fertile ground for the emergence of the shared community experience we called a 'sea story'.
Not every sea story, however, starts at sea.
This is one of those stories. And it's a no-sh___er!
This is a story about a cow, a cow that walked on water, the Jesus cow. And I'm not making this up. This is a no-s______!
It takes place just off the coast of South Korea...
You really have to love South Korea. I've been there many times since I left the Navy, and every visit has been exciting and interesting. Looking out over the night time brilliance of the Seoul city lights from the observation deck of the Seoul Tower, rivaling the Seattle Space Needle for majestic views. Scurrying along, crab like, 500 feet underground in the cramped invasion tunnels the North Koreans dug under the DMZ. Enjoying magnificent traditional Korean fare in restaurants hundreds of years old.
I've really come to love the place.
But all that was in the future back in 1985, when our Westpac adventures took us to the port of Chin Hae.
Sonar had been fighting some self-originated noise for days, if not weeks. It was killing our capability for the Spec Op, and the crew was feeling the pain. We scoured the boat for sound shorts. Days had been spent crawling around outboard everything, under the deck plates, and in the overhead, looking for this elusive noise problem.
Duty in Subic Bay. Just another day on the Bates. In fact, just another night on the Bates. Sometimes you just wanted to scream.
I wasn't a big fan of the night life in the 'Po, but stuck on the boat was stuck on the boat. I'd rather be sipping an icy San Migoo' and buying skewers of mystery meat from a street vendor's grill by the metric ton. Or a bucket of shrimp fried rice.
But I took my turn like everybody else. I was the Engineering Duty Petty Officer, and it was after midnight. I'd been back aft on a casual tour, and engineering, like most of the boat, was deserted. I shared coffee and stories with the Shutdown Reactor Operator, found a lighter for the Roving Watch, and then wandered up topside.
Anybody been sailing in San Fransisco Bay lately? I don't mean Sunday afternoon, lazing under the sun, draped around the cockpit of your 47 foot Carver. I don't even mean scudding before a stiff breeze on your 14 foot Hobie Cat hanging on a lanyard with only one hull in the water.
I'm talking about the serious, no holds barred, get dirty, get wet, darn near get drowned kind of sailing, best done in a 300 foot pleasure liner with more shaft horsepower than you can talk about and a power plant you only refuel once every twelve years, if you get my drift. I'm talking about taking the Bates into Alameda and Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Serious sailing.
Every sailor knows that the approach to San Fransisco Bay is one of the most dangerous in the world. The coastline and the wave action combine to produce truly horrendous sea states, with hard to predict wave action and treacherous currents. Rocks and shoals abound and eye your boat with salacious greed, ready to grind you up for a single mistake. Bridge crew have been lost here. Shipping traffic is nearly equal to the straits of Malacca, and the seascape and Golden Gate bridge combine to produce a relatively narrow channel. And that's when the weather is good!