Thursday, February 12, 2009

Direct TV, The Big E's Hood Ornament and Seaman Recruit Johnson

I'm waiting here for the Direct TV guys or gals to come and install their satellite dish, hoping that the ones assigned to come here haven't been blown off a roof on one of their previous calls. The wind is positively raging out there. I wouldn't be surprised if it's gusting to sixty miles an hour as the weather people warned.

We used to restrict access to the flight deck on the Enterprise when winds over the deck exceeded 50 miles an hour, not an uncommon thing if we were steaming to get somewhere at twenty-five or thirty knots. At those kinds of wind speeds there was a real risk that an eddy would pick up a light sailor and fling him over the side. Not a good thing, even if he could swim and he was seen to go overboard. The flight deck was about sixty feet off the water.

At lower wind speeds we were often treated to the sight of a tall slim black sailor who liked to. . . Wow! I just saw a tree down by the pond break about ten feet off the ground and fall. That tree is about fourteen or sixteen inches in diameter, but it may have been weakened by rot. It's been dying and I've been thinking of cutting it for firewood for a couple of years. That's the first time I've ever witnessed the fall of a tree that I didn't cut myself or watch a neighbor cut.

I watched our neighbor on the right hand side as you go out the driveway fell an almost twenty four inch in diameter tree onto his house one day a few years ago. He didn't look like he knew what he was doing, and I almost went over to talk with him about the danger; but I didn't know him, so I figured it was best to keep quiet. He was lucky that the top of the trunk of that tree was rotted almost through because that caused the top to break off when it hit the house. If that top hadn't broken off it would have done a lot more damage. A two foot in diameter tree that's maybe eighty feet tall weighs a lot.

Anyway, that slim black guy on the Enterprise liked to position himself in the very center of the flight deck at the bow like a hood ornament. He would lean forward into the wind like a ski jumper. I never saw him from deck level but many was the hour that I glanced at him periodically from the bridge, wondering what was going on in his mind. When we were steaming up along the coast of South American toward San Francisco after going around the Horn he used to be out there much of the day almost every day that it was sunny.

Later, when we steamed across the Pacific he was again out there almost every sunny day, to the point where it was a standing joke for his status to be passed along to me when I relieved the Deck, and for me to report it on to my relief, along with course and speed, any expected changes of course or speed, any new standing order, any unusual conditions and such.

"The ship's hood ornament is in position and maintaining an approximately thirty degree lean into the forty knots of wind over the deck. The Captain is aware of his status." That's what I reported if the Captain had been on the bridge to personally observed the fellow during my watch as was usually the case. If the Captain hadn't been on the bridge I would tell my relief that "his status has not been reported to the Captain."

Captain Peterson used to glance at the hood ornament with his binoculars from time to time when he was reading message traffic or doing paperwork up in his chair on the Port wing of the bridge on such quiet days. The reason we knew for sure that the hood ornament's habit was okay was because the Captain had seen him and said nothing. And he wasn't the least bit shy about mentioning his preferences if he saw something he wanted changed. He had, for instance, given some very explicit direct orders the day we both noticed Seaman Recruit Johnson being escorted off the flight deck.

Johnson was still ambling around, obliviously taking pictures, quite a while after I had had the word passed over the 1MC for all nonessential personnel to stand clear of the flight deck. The Captain noticed Johnson from up in his chair. My Junior Officer of the Watch had the Conn and there was nothing except our escorts anywhere around the horizon; so I was free to quietly and discretely watch Johnson from a position a few feet behind the Captain's sea chair, hoping that he would get below before he was noticed by anyone else except the flight deck personnel who were assembling to do a FOD walkdown.

Very shortly thereafter Seaman Recruit Johnson was personally escorted to the bridge by the Chief Master at Arms and a Flight Deck Boatswain's Mate Chief after I informed the Captain that there was no reason to pass the word for his Division Officer to report to the Bridge since I was his Division Officer. Johnson was well meaning and willing, and more or less harmless; but he was also easily the dullest knife in my 50 man Deck Division, which was saying a lot. Captain Peterson merely grunted very meaningfully after I informed him of those facts in the appropriate technical human relations and supervisory terms.

A bit later Captain Peterson, who could become a bit volatile at times when provoked, had a surprisingly calm and quiet personal chat with Johnson, who had surely been coached by the Chief Master at Arms to properly request permission before entering the Bridge and whose chambray shirt was fully tucked fully into his pants, clear evidence of coaching. He was somewhat winded from his hasty several deck climb up to the Bridge. The two chiefs were less winded than Johnson; but they were a bit red-faced as they waited with me on the Starboard wing of the Bridge for the Captain to finish with Johnson. None of us would have been altogether surprised if the Captain had summarily ordered his Marine Adjutant to shoot Johnson right then and there; but as I said, the conversation stayed very calm; and it ended quite peacefully with Johnson marching over in an almost military fashion to report that the Captain wanted to talk to the Chief Master at Arms.

While we waited for the Captain to finish with the Master at Arms Johnson told me that the Captain had mostly asked him questions and talked with him about his home town, and why he joined the Navy, and how he liked the Navy and why he had been on the flight deck. Johnson also reported that the Captain had said he thought Johnson could be a real asset on the Mess Decks. He had also counselled Johnson that he really must make a special effort to listen up when announcements were made over the general announcing system, especially when he was on the flight deck or the hangar deck.

After Johnson and the Cheif Master at Arms left the bridge the Captain had a pointed little chat with me. Seaman Recruit Johnson, the Captain told me, was to be sent TAD to work with the mess cooks; but that would not to change the fact that he would remain a part of my division and thus my special responsibility. I was to meet with him briefly at regular intervals for counselling.

Thus it was that I got to know Seaman Recruit Johnson as well as I got to know any of the sailors in my Division. I met briefly with with him every couple of weeks for the remainder of the time I served in Enterprise; and I passed on the counselling duty to the Ensign who relieved me as Second Division Officer. If Johnson has continuously re-upped in the Navy for the past thirty- seven years he may still be mustering with the Second Division of the Deck Department; and he may still be being sent, every day, to do temporary duty assisting the mess cooks. He turned out to like that duty since he liked to eat and there were always sailors passing through the mess decks at all hours of the day and night to talk to.

As far as I'm aware Johnson got into no further trouble in the Navy except for the time when he was fingered as the sailor who almost surely opened a large valve in the salt water washdown piping system which he had no business touching. That earned me an invitation to briefly visit with the Engineering Officer in Main Control after a damage control party traced out the entire piping run and figured out why certain things happened which were not supposed to happen when the system was tested.

I had a somewhat intense counselling session with Johnson after that incident in which he admitted in his whipped puppy dog way that he "might" have turned the valve handle a little "to see what it did." He and I then walked the entirety of the area where he worked in the forward crews mess compartment looking at and talking briefly about every valve, switch and control that didn't have a lock on it. I extracted a very solemn promise from him that he would never again so much as touch a valve, a switch or a control without direct orders from a petty officer, and that further he would promptly report any such touching to me immediately. I warned him that the next time he came to my attention for any reason except muster and our regular little counselling sessions, I would take him up to the Bridge to see the Captain. I had no idea what sort of duty the Captain might assign him to in such an eventuality, I told him; but I was sure it would not be something pleasant like helping out on the mess decks.

From time to time thereafter Johnson would report to me that he had been required to touched a valve in the course of cleaning or painting or such, and I would have him lead me to the valve so I could inspect it and make him explicitly say that the valve wheel had not moved so much as a millimeter during the course of his touching it. Once when the valve involved was part of the aviation gasoline piping system I had Main Control send up a damage control technician to check the valve setting after thinking about it a bit despite Johnson's assurance that he had not turned the valve but had only polished it's brass nameplate as instructed; but I didn't let Johnson know that I doubted his word.

I never learned what division the hood ornament sailor was in. On the Bridge we suspected he was an aviation bosun's mate or some such in the air group from the fact that he had so much free time when aircraft weren't being moved around. He always left the flight deck before we passed the word for nonessential personnel to stand clear of the flight deck due to heavy winds. And he never lost his balance and fell over that I saw or heard of. He used to lean amazingly far forward at times.

Update 3:30 PM: On the other hand former Seaman Recruit Johnson may now be working for Direct TV. So far I've received about seven calls from their dispatcher asking me if their technician has arrived and I've received four calls from two different technicians assuring me that they're on their way; but there has as yet been no sign of either or any technician.


Anonymous said...

I had to laugh when you mentioned the "hood ornament".

Many years ago, we had a 14-1/2 foot aluminum Sea Nymph with a 25hp Yamaha engine.

One day we decided to take our beagle out on the bay. Well, if you think beagles like to stick their noses out of car windows, you should watch what they do when they're snorting salty fresh air up their nostrils during low tide.

As we got underway, she jumped up on the front seat, putting her paws on the bow of the boat. There she stood with her nose held high in the air, her long velvet ears gently held aloft by the air currents. She was the nautical equivalent of a Mac truck hood ornament. Thank God I had her on a leash, or she would have fallen overboard.

Apparently, we were not the only ones who got a charge out of watching her, for as we cruised along the bay, all the fisherman stopped whatever they were doing and began to point at her, laugh and wave.

Unfortunately, as much as she loved being out on the bay, she was not the sailor we thought she was. Within minutes of stopping, the rolling action of the waves made her turn positively green (you had to be there to understand).

Knowing what it is like to be seasick, I thought it best to forego fishing and for the rest of the evening we cruised around the beagle's nose pointing into the wind and her ears floating on air.


Sully said...

Very neat! I can well imagine how much a dog would enjoy being in the bow of a boat with the wind in his face.

I wonder if dogs are more prone to seasickness than humans. I can assure you that a significant majority of humans will get seasick under at least some conditions. Once when crossing the Pacific on a Destroyer we had a several day period when nearly all of the crew was seasick due to a sort of corkscrewing movement with both heavy rolls and heavy pitching.

We had barf buckets next to the helmsman's position and in other strategic locations. I spent about five days carrying around a pocketfull of crackers to stuff in my mouth after barfing. Shoot a star, puke over the side, stuff some crackers into mouth, chew and swallow, repeat. Only the Captain and a half dozen old salts were unaffected.

Other than that one time I was never seasick; but I learned that there is always the possibility.

Anonymous said...

I am fine on the bay or while the boat is underway, but if you take me out to the inlet on a rough day or out by the bell bouys with the rolling ocean waves and then cut the engines, I start to get sick.

The first time I became seasick, I made the mistake of going below decks to lie down. OMG! I should have taken the dramamine prior to getting on the boat; because once I was sick, it was too late to take the dramamine because I couldn't keep it down.

I think I finally passed out from the exhaustion of being sick. When I woke up, I felt terrific both physically and emotionally because I thought I had gotten my sea legs. I went up on deck only to discover that out of concern for me, my friend had brought the vessel back into calm waters.

After that, we had a great day flukin'.


Anonymous said...

One other thing...

When I was in my late teens, early 20's, I didn't have a problem with seasickness. Then I developed severe allergies at the age of 25 and it affected my middle ear. It can get so bad that I have to turn the volume on the TV up to 50.

Anyway, otitis media affects your sense of balance, so, now I get seasick. :\


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