Coast Guard Cutter Torpedoes New Zealander Sub!

This happened in 1971, and the only reason i tell you about it now is that the cutter involved was the one I was sailing in at the time. That’s the Rush in the picture below, as she was many years ago, with the old 5-inch deck gun. She retired from the service this week, and I’m feeling nostalgic so bear with me. The story of the incident follows the photo.

And not for nothing — semper paratus800px-USCGC_Rush_WHEC-723

The difference between a fairy tale and a sea story, in most cases, is that one begins “Once upon a time …” and the other starts with “Now this is no s*** …” I leave it to the reader to decide which category this falls into.

This really did happen over 40 years ago, and it’s true to the best of my recollection, although four decades of intermittent retelling may have altered real events somewhat.

Right out of boot camp I sailed in the USCGC (US Coast Guard Cutter) Rush, call sign WHEC723, which, at 378 feet, is one of ten of the biggest, fastest, and most heavily armed ships ever to fly the Coast Guard ensign. The war was on and the Rush had returned from Viet Nam only a couple of weeks before, where among other duties she provided offshore fire support with a one-gun battery.

The day after I reported aboard, we cast off from the dock in Alameda, California for ASWEX (Anti-Submarine Warfare Exercises) in the Pacific near Hawaii. I never had been to sea in anything bigger than my uncle’s 14-foot fishing boat, catching grouper in the Gulf of Mexico around Padre Island, so I was ill prepared for the adventure, and, strictly speaking, quite ill in fact. I spent a great deal of time the first couple of days at the rail.

By the time we got to Hawaii, however, I had my sea legs, and we docked in Pearl Harbor and had weekend liberty before heading out to do battle with enemy submarines. I was assigned to the deck force – chippers and painters, deck swabbers, bridge watch standers, and so on, but my GQ (General Quarters or battle station) billet was as trainer on the 5-inch gun.

For anyone not familiar, five inches is the diameter of the shell fired by the gun, so this was a hefty bit of artillery. It is the trainer’s job to crank a wheel to turn the gun from side to side so the barrel is facing the target, while the pointer, who sits on the other side of the gun, moves the barrel up and down, and also has the trigger.

We took a few practice shots before getting down to the submarine hunt, and I have to say that sitting right next to the gun’s breech when 30 pounds of Cordite exploded not two feet from my head was quite the shattering experience. I didn’t so much hear the noise as feel the shock of it to the pith and marrow of every bone in my body.

Then we went into hunt mode and hunkered down to Port and Starboard watches, meaning six hours on and six off at our GQ stations. I spent many early mornings trying to sleep on the metal deck of the gun mount, my foul weather jacket snug about me, and my sound-powered phones on, not so as to hear if the gun captain said anything, but to keep my ears warm. It’s amazing how cold it can get on a bare metal deck in December, even around Hawaii.

In that fashion we hunted enemy subs, and frequently made sonar contact with subs that were hunting us. Ever and anon the alarm would sound, I would jump into my metal seat and light off the mount, which I did by throwing a nasty looking power switch in front of me by my feet, and then we would swivel the gun around to make sure it worked, and wait to see what became of the contact sonar made with the enemy. Usually the sub outran or out-maneuvered us after a couple of hours, and we stood down, and I got back to my cold but quiet deck.

But then, for three days we chased one particular contact. I never was sure if we were catching up to him or if he was coming back round to harass us at some ungodly hour in the night, but I clearly recall thinking that 3 am was no fit time EVER to waken someone from sleep, however cold and rubbish it might be, and make him crank up a gun left over from World War II.

Did I mention that the Coast Guard gets a lot of Navy hand-me-downs? Our gun came off a decommissioned aircraft carrier. In any case, I had no idea what we would do with a deck gun, regardless how huge or old, against a submerged opponent, but that wasn’t my lookout – ours not to reason why, and all that.

Then one late morning when I was out of the gun mount and getting some much needed rack time, we caught up with the annoying little beggar who had been dogging us and nailed him!

Apart from the deck gun, a couple of mortars for star shells, a few heavy machine guns, and so on, the Rush had torpedo tubes, port and starboard, mounted to the second weather deck.

Oddly enough, no one bothered to tell me that part of our mission was to test a new torpedo, and that was what the gunnery lads fired at the enemy. Its mission, this fancy, high-tech torpedo’s, was to race down to where the submarine was, come within a hundred yards, register the hit electronically – the shooting solution, as they say – deactivate its engine, and surface for pickup and reuse.

That was the plan, but the torpedo had other ideas. Again for those not familiar, even a torpedo without a payload of explosive is quite a hefty device, over a half-ton of engine and machinery, a mini-submarine, in fact, with a velocity of 40 knots or more.

This one had, for the time, the latest sonar, heat, metal and motion detecting equipment available – a target seeking underwater missile. All the torpedo’s systems worked except its communication, the part that says the drill is over, your job is done, time to quit.

It kept going, this overzealous dreadnaught, and slammed hard into the submarine’s port tail fin. Then, because it didn’t explode but merely bounced off, it got angry and smacked her again, twisting the boat’s port side screw. Exasperated perhaps at not getting the fiery, destructive, and gallant end it was designed for, the torpedo struck the fin once more, but then gave up and deactivated.

The submarine, our annoying nemesis, now battered but by no means bowed, surfaced and sent really, really annoyed radio messages to the Rush. I wasn’t yet a radioman but I can imagine the terse and barely constrained rage of those communications.

But I wasn’t thinking about that when I was rousted out of my cozy rack and sent on deck. The master chief bo’s’n’s mate, also the gun captain of my watch who also had been rousted untimely, set us to work lowering a companionway ladder for the benefit of the crew of the crippled New Zealander submarine now tied alongside.

The ladder was a collapsible aluminum staircase with a platform near the waterline when extended, but just a compact collection of metal at the first weather deck gunwale at any other time, and seldom if ever had been used, the ship being so new, so it took a while to get the thing dropped and secured.

When we had nearly done, the chief and everyone else disappeared, and I was by myself, dutifully checking, per the chief’s order, that all the tholepins at the ladder’s top were belayed.

And so it was that I, a boot seaman apprentice on his first voyage, stood alone on the non-burning deck when the Kiwi submarine captain, red of face and stormy of visage, stomped upward toward me, apparently prior to his scheduled time, if indeed there was one for such a visit, and demanded of me –

“Where the bloody hell is your captain?”

The bo’s’n chief chose that moment to reappear, as I gaped, unable to speak, and, with great relief and gratitude, I pointed to him, my jaw working but no sound emanating.

Upon our return to Pearl, all hands were instructed, cautioned, urged, ordered NOT to get in the way of any New Zealander sailors whilst on well earned liberty, and, as far as I know, none of us did. But I had to laugh when I saw the red painted Kiwi design that the gunner’s mates stenciled on one of the port side torpedo tubes.

The Rush has a new gun now, a more modern 72-mm automatic last I checked, and she’s berthed in Honolulu instead of Alameda.

But I’m willing to bet the Kiwi stencil still will remain on the torpedo tube right up to the time the ship is decommissioned, though few will know why.

That is all.

Mark out.

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The Zen of Tennis Ball Juggling

Hugh Laurie juggling Vicodin bottles

The other day Derek asked me if I could juggle. I said I could at one time, and asked why he wanted to know. He had his phone open to the internet, reading an article on how juggling improves one’s cognitive skills.

At my time of life – well, at anytime I suppose but especially now – I need all the help I can get, brain power wise, so I went to Target and bought a can of tennis balls.

You would be amazed at how thoroughly one loses the ability to juggle after only 30 or so years. Okay, maybe you wouldn’t be.

In any case, I discovered that I had lost most of that skill, and have spent quite a lot of time this past week picking tennis balls up off the floor.

But I refuse to surrender, and someday, perhaps even in my lifetime, I will recover the ability to keep going for several minutes at a time, as I once could. Right now I can get six tosses at most before I choke.

Still that’s three or four more than I could the first day I tried, and I am setting aside 15 minutes every day to practice. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s all I can handle before I become tired of bending over to retrieve balls.

The reason I am so determined is that all the while I do manage to keep it going, I feel absolutely centered, in complete control of my own body and of these three little balls. I love that feeling of focus, that shutting out of all extraneous stimuli. 

Somehow over the years I forgot what a wonderful experience this is, and now apparently it could even make me smarter. I have to thank Derek for bringing it back to me.

That is all.

Mark out.

Cold Weather, Hot Stones

 Isn’t this a pretty picture of a hot stone massage?

Well, probably not. I mean, it’s a picture of a pretty young woman with rocks on her back, and the title of the photo is HotStoneMassage.jpg, but she isn’t really getting a hot stone massage, not from anyone I know anyhow.

Yes, I understand that there is artistic license involved, and even more, commercial artistic license, and quite frankly the way I and everyone I know do hot stone massage isn’t very picturesque.

But hot stone massage, and massage in general, is for feeling, not seeing.

First of all, the client’s neck shouldn’t be twisted like that, and her head should be straight up and down in a face cradle. Second, the stones aren’t doing her any good sitting on top of her vertebrae. They need to be lined up on both sides of the spine, on top of the spinalis and rhomboid muscles, warming and relaxing them.

Also, and this is kind of important, if the stones are as hot as I use, 130 to 135 degrees F, they shouldn’t be sitting on her bare skin, but instead on a towel. Then I can fold the towel over the stones, drape the sheet and blanket on top of that, and keep the warmth close to her body instead of radiating off into the air.

Okay, so maybe this is a totally pedantic rant, and I should just shut up and enjoy the picture for what it is.

Yeah right. Pedantic is what I do. Anyhow, as I said, lots of artistic license here, and if it encourages someone to get a hot stone massage, I’m all right with that.

It’s certainly time for them since it turned chilly here today, after being almost obscenely warm the past week or so. Yesterday was positively sultry.

Not that hot stone massage is all that seasonal. I kept pretty busy doing them all summer. I’m just hoping lots more people will sign on for them now, because I really like keeping my hands that warm, now that it’s somewhat seasonably cool.

Hard to believe I lived in Minnesota for 20 years, isn’t it?

That is all.

Mark out.

Back To School!

It’s that time of year again, and as always the start of a new school term means excitement, anticipation, and yes, stress. So I’m trying to make an offer they shouldn’t refuse to the faculty and staff of the Gulf Breeze schools, the three within a mile of Emerald Coast Massage Specialists’ office anyway.

I’m offering my usual $60 an hour therapeutic and relaxation massage for $30, but only to teachers and other staff of Gulf Breeze High, Middle, and Elementary Schools, all three of which are lined up in a neat row on the south side of Gulf Breeze Parkway.

Some of my favorite people are teachers, or were, including my late grandmother and an aunt, along with one lady even closer to me than those two. So I know how fraught this time of year can be, and I’d like to be able to help.

I’m making the offer good for any appointments booked through Sept. 15th, but again, only for these specific and special folks.

With a bit of help from someone near and dear I was able to email Ms. Folse at the high school with this proposal, and Ms. Folse said she had printed it and put it on the staff bulletin board.

So thanks very much for the help, both of you lovely ladies.

All for now.

Mark out.

NOW I’m A Professional Massage Therapist!

For the first time today, I got paid for my work, and I feel great!

We put my table in Ted’s room at ECMS, and he and I did a couples’ massage this afternoon. The young people seemed a bit nervous since neither had ever had a professional massage before, but they floated, a bit wobbly but smiling wide, out of the office a while later.

Ted and I gave them a bit more than the hour, which he frequently does if he isn’t booked back to back, and it was delightful to see their grins when we’d finished with them.

Not that I ever had much doubt, but I think I’m going to like this job.

That is all.

Mark out.

Keeping My Hands In

Tuesday I got to work on someone. He wasn’t a paying client, and was in fact a friend and fellow therapist, but it had been much too long since I’d worked on anyone, apart from those folks on the picnic table, and it really felt good!

He has been at this job quite a while and was not displeased with my efforts, but I have to say he was a bit of a challenge for my first trip out of the chute in a while. Besides the usual issues massage therapists have with their own bodies – arm and hand fatigue and so on – he also runs and works out quite a bit at the gym.

Frankly the guy is built like a brick shipyard, and his upper back muscles are like granite slabs. So it took some doing to dig down into his shoulder girdle muscles, but it was worth it when I finally got under his scapulas. Then he showed me how to get up under his gastrocs to the soleus, which was way tight from all the running. He said it hurt, and that he was a real baby about it but I didn’t notice anything of the kind. Well, I knew it hurt when dug my thumbs up under there, but he must have a very different definition of acting like a baby. I may have heard him whimper once.

Anyhow, as I said, it’s good to be back at work even if there was no money involved. It will come if I just keep plugging.

That is all.

Mark out.