Saturday, January 05, 2013

Memories after almost 50 years

Two ships, a beautiful day and still waters...but oh, so lonely.

Nothing stokes my memory of shipboard life like refueling at sea. I, of course, was on the carrier (Franklin D. Roosevelt) and you would find me standing right about where the after hose (the one closest to the rear of the ship) attaches. That was my vantage point every time we came along side a fleet oiler.

"Rosie" as we called her, held over 2 million gallons of Black Oil (Navy Special Fuel Oil) which allowed us to stay at sea for about a week at a time.

I got the assignment on the #7 refueling station when we first went to sea in early 1964. I was designated "Officer in Charge" but in reality, I did the least of the four or five of us who manned the station. When, by virtue of my position in our division, I could have moved elsewhere during refueling, I chose to stay at Station 7. It was all because of the people...the men who did the work around me.

The man who ran the station was  BM-2 (Bo'son's Mate second class) Brown. There were some BM strikers (jokingly referred to as Deck Apes, or Apus deckus) who did what Brown told them...and my phone talker, a BT striker fireman, whose name was Dennison. Brown and Dennison were the key players...I was there for show.

We spent hours along side tankers (all named after rivers in the U.S.) in my two years in Rosie. The longest was 10 consecutive hours after we came out of drydock in Bayonne, NJ in the fall of 1964 and were completely empty. At sea we usually could top off our tanks in 3 - 4 hours. It all depended on how new the tanker was and how efficient her pumps were; the newer, the faster.

I learned my geography during those two years: Truckee, Canesteo, Alagash, Kankakee, Neosho and others. We liked certain ones, but loathed others. The long hours spent gave us time to visit; get to know each other.

Dennison was a street kid from Baltimore. He had scars on his torso from being cut with knives and broken bottles. He was about my age, but we had little in common. I told him what it was like growing up on a farm in Western Pennsylvania; he told me about street life in Baltimore. He learned what my middle name was and called me that when we were alone on deck refueling. He wouldn't call me Tom because that would be disrespectful, so he settled on Alvah. When others were around, it was always Mr. Lutz...always.

Brown was busy working, checking, moving; constantly moving. Brown shot the line over to the tanker and on occasion he would do it the old fashioned way by slinging a Monkey Fist into the air. The shot line was attached to a plastic bottle looking device that was attached to a rod and was shot out of a rifle-like device with the force of a .45 calibre bullet. The line was attached to the metal rod and flew the 25-30 yards to the oiler's deck. The crew there would attach a clothes line, then a heavier rope, then finally a cable came across. These were would in on a winch that Brown and his men operated.

The cable was attached to the side of our ship by a hook (called a Pelican Hook in Navy lingo)  that was devised in such a way that it could be removed in a hurry. Once the span wire was in place the six inch hose came across suspended on a series of trolly wheels that rode the cable.

The big, black, rubber hose was attached to a "riser" or pipe sticking out of our deck by means of a Rob coupling...again, designed to be released quickly, but when secured for pumping it never leaked. If it had, Brown would have been very, very upset. He liked his deck spaces clean.

The hot oil (which was heated to make it flow better) would be pumped at a as fast a rate as we could take it, or in most cases, as fast as the pumps on the tanker could supply it.

Dennison was connected by sound powered phones to the Oil Shack which coordinated which tank would be filled at a given time. It was the Oil King's (the 1st Class PO in charge) responsibility to be sure the tanks did not run over and to keep the ship level by filling tanks first on one side then the other. If you notice in the picture, Rosie looks like she is listing slightly to port...too much fuel on the left side before switching to tanks on the starboard (right) side.

The space between the ships while refueling was fairly riled up due to the bow waves of the two ships coming together, but every once in a while we would see dolphins or flying fish and once we even thought we saw a whale come between us. The most exciting event was when we were afraid a ship approaching us did not see our formation.

Brown to the rescue. After ordering the tanker to stop pumping, he hit the quick release Rob Coupling to send the hose back (after it began to stretch like a rubber band) followed by hitting the quick release on the span-wire freeing the Pelican Hook which was drawn as taught as it could possibly be without breaking. Dennison and I took cover (at Brown's insistence) in the hanger bay. I saw him hit the hook freeing the wire and it literally "sung" as it headed back to the oiler. The two ships had already started to part ways to allow the rogue ship to come between us.

Brownie was the hero in my estimation...and I told my leadership so. He was a modest young man, but I know he was pleased with himself.

I saw some of the most beautiful sea water sometimes, and turbulent, foul weather on others..sunrises and sunsets. I have not witnessed anything like those sights since.

Most of the time we were bored, but looking back after almost 50 years, I know that I miss the fellowship that we developed on that sponson after spending hour after hour at sea on mostly beautiful, calm sailing days.

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