All Hands, Set the Special Sea Story Detail! Set Condition TINS!

Thumbs Up!

About 1970, on a Knox class DE somewhere in the Caribbean......

We were off the shipping lanes, testing our newfangled 26CX sonar on a housebroken SSN. We were gathering baseline data for the engineers, measuring signal strength and other esoteric stuff, so these were not tactical exercises. The boat would assume an assigned depth, course and speed, and we would take station on her and ping away while roaring along at about 5 knots. After half an hour or so, we would both turn around and go the other way for a while. This activity was definitely more job than adventure.

The only excitement had come on the transit to the area, when one of the OPS type Ensigns urgently reported to the bridge that a fire control radar off the port bow had locked on to us. Actually, the Bahamas not being known as a hotbed of hostile activity, nobody got too excited. A few minutes later a set of white sails popped up over the horizon and a red faced Ensign popped back down to CIC.

I had the midwatch in CIC, and it was about time to make one of the course reversals. As usual, we worked out a course, speed and time that would hopefully get us to our assigned bearing and range from the sub. Since we only had a vague idea of what the sub was doing, the solutions were more guesswork than science. But we dutifully whipped out the maneuvering board and dividers, and soon I was passing the word up to the bridge. Just as my fingers left the squawk box, I looked again at the solution and realized I had laid out the problem backwards. The suggested course and speed made no sense at all. Quickly analyzing the situation, I made the typical Navy decision to just ignore the problem.

A few minutes later, at the end of our recommended maneuver, sonar sent off the first ping on the new run. We were of course dead on in both range and bearing. The squawk box from the bridge rang out "Nice shooting, Combat!". I casually hit the switch and replied "That's what we're here for!".

And so it came to pass that we, the fossil fueled part of the equation, slipped below the LANTFLT standard for dead dinosaurs on board. On the way out to solve this problem, a sailor on the oiler sent to refuel us let his hand get between a line and a stanchion, causing a nasty injury and the possibility of losing his thumb.

This mishap caused a great deal of message traffic. Our little engineering project was a direct CNO endeavor, so the news went very high up the chain of command. Soon the decision was made. My Navy; our Navy; the country's Navy; the same Navy whose very reason for existence is to sow death and destruction on demand, essentially said "Screw the project, save the thumb!"

The oiler sent their man over on a whaleboat, and we headed for Nassau. I'm not sure what the official orders to the snipes were, but the effect was "Haul ass, I say again, Haul ass!". I wandered out to the fantail during this evolution, and remember looking UP at the wake. The PR for the ship said our top speed was "in excess of 26 knots". It certainly was, at least in this case.

As we moved through the Caribbean, the possibility of a helo pickup was considered. This was in the dark ages, before manned helos routinely visited small boys, but we thought about it. We actually had a helo landing team ready for action before a little arithmetic put the possible landing after dark and a bit iffy even for us.

The same arithmetic put our ETA at Nassau at about midnight. As the bridge crew began work on the charts, the XO appeared on the bridge. "Captain, we have just been advised that the range lights and beacons at Nassau are out of service at this time." The Skipper acknowledged this information and proceeded to ignore it. Nobody on the Bridge/CIC team had ever been to Nassau before, so this was only a minor annoyance.

Well, we managed to drag out deep-draft sonar dome into Nassau harbor, followed by the rest of our haze gray home. There was an ambulance on the pier, and I remember being irritated at how slow the medics seemed to work, compared to our expensive day and a half dash to get the man there.

My sea detail station was "In charge, Fantail" ( A bizarre misnomer, considering I was a Supply Corps LT(jg) and my assistant was a BMC, but the that's the way the Navy works ). After watching the troops clean up the square end, I headed for the rack. As I walked up the starboard side, at about 0200, I saw a splendid sight. About 50 of Uncle Sam's finest sailors, resplendent in liberty whites, were ready to hit the beach.

God loves a sailor, and so do I!

They all made it back in time, and we headed back to our submarine games at 0700 the next morning, although at a much slower pace than our medically inspired arrival.

On the second day of transit, we received word that the man's thumb had been saved. I guess the Navy spent well over $1 million dollars, counting dead time for the SSN, to save one thumb.

Seems fair to me.

All Hands! Secure from Special Sea Stories Detail! Set the Normal SMN Watch!