Noilly Prattle: Looking Back: 9 - look out below

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Looking Back: 9 - look out below

"Sally" with uncrumpled port wing (with life preserver)

      The funniest event, in the way that seeing somebody slip on a banana peel is funny, aboard the Salinan was something that happened when we were chasing a barge that had gotten loose in a hurricane and was drifting around in the Gulf of Mexico. We were assigned to go out, find it, capture it and tow it back to port. The only problem was the hurricane wasn't entirely over yet and the sea was still pretty rough with very large swells. Large waves tend to bounce and throw the ship around, whereas swells cause it to roll queasily back and forth.

      We proceeded out of Key West, heading into the Gulf looking for this wayward barge. Eventually, with the help of radar and sharp-eyed lookouts up in the crow's nest (not really in the crow's nest, only figuratively—crow's nests went out with tall sailing ships), we found the old rust bucket helplessly bobbing around and rolling in the swells of the hurricane's aftermath. Needless to say, we, too, were rock and rolling enough to make American Bandstand dancers look completely arrhythmic. (American Bandstand was a popular rock 'n roll TV dance program in the 1950s.)

      I was on the wheel, as usual in tight circumstances, as we approached this rusty behemoth barge that was at least twice as big as the Sally. Our dipstick ROTC Ensign “had the con” (he was in charge of the operation) as we pulled in alongside the barge. The idea was to get a tow cable over and secure the barge so that it could be towed back to port. I looked out the wheelhouse portholes (windows to landlubbers) and could see this humongous derelict rolling dangerously close when I heard some shouting from the deck below that we were getting to close and should pull back before we collided. The Ensign, confused, didn't know what to do so, too late, the captain took over the con. By then, precious seconds had been wasted and the gap between us and the barge had narrowed too much. We were bobbing up and down and rolling left and right and so was the barge. Then the bobs and rolls lined up just right. Up came the barge and down we rolled onto it with our port (left) side bridge wing which caught and was pried up like the lid on a freshly opened tin can. Fortunately, everyone on the bridge wing scrambled quickly enough and no one was injured—except the Sally with her broken wing.

      Our Ensign, red faced, quietly slunk away. Being an officer, he would not be reprimanded publicly by the captain in front of enlisted men like me. But I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the officers' quarters later on. The captain was not happy.

      After the collision the deck crew managed to get a line over to the barge and board it. The towing cable was attached and we headed back to port with what must have looked like a very funny profile from behind with one crumpled bridge wing sticking up in the air. And I could only imagine one very unhappy and humiliated Ensign confined in the wardroom to his bunk with an ice pack on his head.

To be continued...


Anonymous said...

am really enjoying your stories, Joe…with the accompanying pictures and drawings (how DO you do that?). It is amazing how your recall things, such a long time ago, with such detail.

Noilly Prattle said...

I'm glad you're enjoying them. I certainly have a lot of fun writing them. I DO the drawings with a graphics program called CorelDraw; I've been using it for years. As to the memory for details, actually writing seems to jog the memory and you start to remember things you thought you had forgotten...of course I do take "artistic license" to fill in the gaps or to embellish a story line.

BTW, sorry to hear about your knee problem. Hang in!