Saturday, November 19, 2005

Weekend Sea Stories

Jack, Gary, Chief Kirk, and the rest of the sorry slobs on the bridge of the USS Constellation get the ship underway...

Jack looked across the bridge at Gary, who stood next to the captain's chair. "Officer of the Deck, are we ready to get underway?"

Over on the port side, thirty feet from where Jack stood, Gary cocked his head a quarter turn in the direction of the captain, and shrugged. Captain Julius "Zach" Taylor, slim, steely eyed, and closely shorn, sat in a raised chair identical to the gator's, his legs crossed at the knees, his back twisted, left elbow on an armrest, the forefinger and thumb of his left hand covering his mouth.

On the starboard side, Jack turned to the gator. "What's up with the captain?"

The gator leaned forward. "He's had a cork up his blow hole for three days. I figure his wife must have cut him off or he didn't pick up admiral this time around. Or both."

"Is he going to snap out of it so we can get underway?"

"I'll get this turd rolling." The gator swiveled his chair toward the port side and sang out, "Captain, all checklists for getting underway are complete, the ship is ready for sea."

On the port side, Gary saluted Zach Taylor. "Captain, request permission to cast off all lines."

Zach Taylor started, glanced at his Jap job, and spun on Gary. "Christ yes, cast off all lines. How the hell else are we going to get underway?"

Gary passed the word via walkie-talkie. From the starboard side of the hangar bay, sailors drew in mooring lines from the pier. Four tugboats eased the ship toward the turning basin. On the bridge, the duty bosun mate sounded one prolonged, throaty blast of the ship's whistle, shattering picture windows halfway across Coronado Island.

The tugs pointed Connie's bow toward the channel. The conning officer, a skinny ensign fresh out of Surface Warfare School, blurted, in a cracked alto voice, "All engines ahead one third."

Jack donned a headset that put him in communication with the Compass Kids, who were stationed on the open-air signal bridge just above the pilothouse. "Here we go, guys," he said. "We'll start taking one-minute fixes in thirty seconds. Everybody have your landmark?"

"Port, Aye."

"Starboard, Aye."

"Aft, Aye."

"Fifteen seconds. Ten. Five. Standby. Mark."

Jack wrote the reported bearings in a logbook and repeated them to the chief. Faster than the unpracticed eye could follow, Chief Kirk's hands manipulated a compass arm, a spacer, and a pencil across the chart taped to the top of the navigation table. "On track, excellent fix."

Jack, hovering over the chief to double-check his accuracy, said, "Concur. In fact, it's a tremendous fix, Chief." He announced, "Conning Officer, based on a tremendous fix, navigation holds the ship on track."
Officially, there was no such thing as a "tremendous fix," but Jack pulled non-standard crap like that all the time, so nobody noticed.

Stick Boy the conning officer, standing in front of the helm console in the middle of the bridge, halfway between the gator's chair and the captain's chair, croaked, "Very well."

Zach Taylor, standing by Stick Boy's left shoulder now, turned to the harbor pilot. "I think we're a foot right of course."

On the starboard side, Jack, Chief Kirk, and the gator looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

Standing by Stick Boy's right shoulder, the harbor pilot, an ancient, heavy civilian in a wrinkled blue blazer said, "We're okay for now."

Stick Boy, nervous as hell at being under Zach Taylor's close scrutiny, said, "What should I do, Captain?"

Zach grimaced. "Hold what you got for now. What little you got."

"Aye, aye, sir." Stick Boy didn't get the dig about "hold what little you got." It implied that you had a small penis and your balls hadn't dropped yet. Which in Stick Boy's case was true.

Jack saw a smirk growing on the face of Petty Officer Johnson, the enlisted helmsman, who actually controlled the wheel that controlled the rudders that steered the ship while the officers stood around and decided where he should steer it. Johnson glanced over at Jack. Jack touched a forefinger to his lips and turned his attention back to the navigation table, and got ready to help Chief Kirk with the next fix.

Pleasure craft blared their stadium horns and scrambled to make way for the thousand foot long warship as she steamed around the arc of the Coronado Channel. Thirty minutes after she left her pier, Connie steamed past Buoy 1SD and entered international waters. With the gator's concurrence, Jack secured (Navy talk for "dismissed") the navigation detail (the Compass Kids) and went to the office aft of the bridge. He shut the door, locked it, sat at his desk, and booted up his Smiley Macintosh computer.

A two-key macro brought up his favorite screen saver, a series of white concentric squares that chased each other across a black background as they caromed off the edges of the computer's tiny built-in monitor.

How many times had he and Liz argued over whether Jack could buy his own computer with his own money to use at work?

Didn't matter now.

Jack reached over and turned off the overhead lights. In the seat of his pants, he felt the slight roll of the ship you could sense this high, a hundred feet above the waterline. He breathed stale memories of the chief's pipe tobacco, which made him want a cigarette, a habit he'd given up in deference to Mom's wishes when Dad had died.

You don't want to hear about that sob scene just now.

Jack rolled his head and sighed. The vertebrae in his neck popped. He shifted in his chair to relieve the pressure in his lower back, which he'd sprained in a body surfing accident during his first sea tour. His eyes tracked the bouncing squares across the computer screen, and then they closed.


Fighting with Liz. Telling Mom he couldn't come out to Charleston because he had to go to sea. Keeping the truth about Liz and Joe from Grandma. That was a lot of baggage to be carrying around, even for a big strong boy like Jack.

He let himself wonder if standing late night Officer of the Deck watches on the bridge, in charge of the safety of the ship and the five thousand sorry slobs in her crew and air wing while Zach Taylor and the gator slept, was such a good idea. But the ship only had four qualified OODs. If Jack crapped out, Gary and the other two dip shits would have to miss sleep to pick up the slack.

And what would Jack do? Walk up to the gator and say, "Boss, I need to share something. I have issues right now, and I'd like to take a little time off, make some space, find my center?"

No. He wasn't going to do that. Way too vaginal. Plus, that would be taking an ax to his naval career, and his naval career was all he had going for him at the moment.


Two soft taps at the door.

"Mister H, you okay in there?"

"Yeah, Chief. I'm fine. Just sitting here playing with myself. I'll be done in a minute."

Chief Kirk chuckled. "Ain't no rush, sir. Take your time. Just don't get none on my desk, okay?"

Jack rubbed his eyes. "Roger that."

Feeling the hangover again, now that the rush of getting underway had worn off, Jack reached in his desk drawer, took out a bottle of eight hundred pound Motrins, and swallowed one dry. He shut off the computer, turned the lights back on, went out to the bridge, and relieved Gary as Officer of the Deck. After consulting with the gator, he ordered Stick Boy to set a northerly course for the Aleutian Islands.


  1. Love it. Brings back memories of my own. The on-deck relief of the Captain of the Ranger and the arrival of her new Captain, Pederson (pearl-handled 6-guns and all) and the day we tied the Enterprise up, a few minutes (okay HOURS) late the day before my birthday, 1983 (was on the Bridge, working with the CommET gang on the SPS-10 PPI connection and SASS phones to the Admirals Bridge) and that particular cluster-****.(Your blog, shipmate and I don't know the etiquette.) Missed the KGB agent in the Reactor gang, in 1986 and the MARDET action, as I had already repaired back to The Strand and Home.

  2. DEFuning,



    Glad this rings true for you.

    Made my first cruise on Ranger in '82, missed the Pederson era but heard plenty about it.