It was 2330 (11:30PM) when we were called for the Midwatch. USS Tringa (ASR-16) was enroute Rota, Spain from New London for a regular Med deployment, steaming due East at latitude 32 North on a Standard bell at 13.5 knots. Night watches, unless some particular evolution was taking place, were generally pretty quiet. Frequently, quiet conversations would take place between watch standers, which might not take place during the day. As Navy sailors, our conversation would range from topics touching on our future operating orders, to women, to ports we might visit, to the bars in the ports, back to women and other relevant issues.
I hadn’t yet qualified as OOD yet, so I was standing watches with George, the Tringa’s Warrant Engineering Officer. This watch, the bridge conversation included the legend of the Flying Dutchman. Not long after that, we picked up a visual contact on the horizon. “Combat, Bridge, whaddaya got at about one three zero?” George punched up the Combat Information Center, or CIC on the 21MC squawkbox located at the centerline conning station.
“Bridge, Combat, we got nothin’ Sir. What was that bearing again?” The lilting voice of a sailor from Virginia, and one of our better radar operators, floated back on the 21MC. “Combat, bridge. We got somethin’ at about one three zero degrees. You sure you got nothin’?” George was not typically long on tact, but he was being remarkably good this night.
“Sorry Sir. We don’t have anything.” The radar operator was being honest, and sounded a bit stressed. A quick look at our own radar repeater on the bridge revealed that there wasn’t anything out there. But there was. On the horizon, growing larger by the minute, was a ghostly white visual contact. As it grew larger, it began to take on the look through the binoculars of a T-2 tanker, running without lights. Worse, the bearing was not changing, although the range was clearly decreasing – a recipe for a collision at sea. There was a slight inconsistency, in that the “angle on the bow” was not “dead on,” but no matter. We couldn’t just explain this one away. By the time the tanker’s bridge features were becoming fully distinguishable with the naked eye, George turned to the portholes to the pilot house.
“Captain to the bridge” he said. Whatever it was out there, it didn’t make sense, and doctrine dictated that when the bridge was in trouble the Captain should be called.
“NOW CAPTAIN TO THE BRIDGE! CAPTAIN TO THE BRIDGE!” At 2:30 AM, a 1MC general public address system call for the Captain on the bridge can be a chilling sound. It means that the ship is steaming into trouble, and that the best mind and the greatest experience is required to make sound decisions to avoid disaster.
To our Captain’s credit, he arrived in the pilothouse, in his underwear, in rapid time. Shortly after he arrived, and just as we were about to explain the unusual visual contact we had with no radar return, the moon broke out from behind the cloud formation which had made it look like the bridge of a tanker.
To his further credit, the Captain thanked us for inviting him to watch the moon rise, commented on what a memorable experience it had been and turned in again. Needless to say, bridge conversation for the remainder of that watch was rather absent.
Foto and story credited to Chris Williams, who served as a reserve officer on two ASRs in 1968 – 71. Billets included First Lieutenant / Diving and Salvage Officer and Operations Officer.
Here was Relief Crew 13.
Now . . . about Irene, here’s a link with advice for recreational boaters from Adam of Messing Around in Sailboats . . . .
Anyone have thoughts and reflections as Irene approaches? First priority is staying safe, but if you get any pics of Irene and the water, I’d love to use them.