There's nothing like the ocean to make us feel completely helpless!
All content has been edited for clarity.
Submarine In A Typhoon
“I was on the submarine tender USS Emory S Land AS-39 and we had just pulled out of Japan due to an incoming typhoon. We only had a few hours notice and had scrambled to make sure everything was bolted or strapped down.
The ship ended up having to go through the typhoon. We were rocking harder than I had ever experienced. Some lists were nearly thirty degrees. A group of us were in a padded area of our workspace playing a game and a fellow sailor was a few feet away in an office on the computer. Those of us playing the game heard a loud thud come from the office and ran in.
Lying on the ground was a huge filing cabinet that had been so heavy everyone thought it had been bolted to the bulkhead. It was just a centimeter away was the sailor. The cabinet actually scraped her hand falling and if it had been just a little closer she would have died.
The ocean can be a scary place even when there is no enemy around.”
“There have been a lot of little incidents that were extremely dangerous, like the time we were in Bahrain in early March 1992. We were tied up to Mina Suleman Pier, the main Naval pier in Bahrain. This place did not have shore power where we were at. So the Ship either had to keep the boilers lit off to provide power to the ship, which sucked for the Engineering Department because for them it was as though we were still underway, not in port, or we would have a ‘Power Barge’ tied up outboard of us and the power barge would supply power to the ship via the shore power connections. The power barge itself was just a very large floating fuel tank with a superstructure plopped on top housing the generators.
So there we were. We were tied up to the pier, and the barge was tied up to us on the opposite side from the pier, with us sandwiched in between, nested.
This one morning the Bahrani crew of the barge started acting frantic crazy, running up to the brow leading across from the top of the Barge structure over to our midship’s quarterdeck. they were scared, terrified, and not one was speaking English. They just kept pointing back at the deck of the barge and making frantic gestures while yelling and screaming in Arabic. Something was wrong though and so the Master at Arms as well as the Damage Control Chief were called to figure out what was going on.
This was when the dense black smoke started roiling out of one of the vent openings on the barge superstructure. The Barge, with tens of thousands of gallons of fuel oil, was on fire, with us trapped between it and the pier and nowhere to go.
While the first hose teams were snaking their lines across the brow between our ship and the barge, the Damage Control Chief went ahead and investigated the situation. He took an inclined ladder down to the main deck of the barge, the Bahrani crew were frantically pointing at the deck. He bent over, felt the deck, and immediately leaped for the ladder yelling for them to open up solid stream at the deck itself.
Two hoses opened up and the streams of water just flashed to steam the instant they hit the deck. The fire was on top of the fuel tanks, just below the deck.
This was an all-hands situation. Everyone lent a hand no matter what. There was nowhere to run and nowhere to escape if this thing just decided to blow.
Myself, I was just helping out running OBA Canisters from the repair lockers to the Quarterdeck where we were going through them at a prodigious rate.
We had guys standing by with Axes fore and aft ready to just cut the lines as soon as the tug showed. The port authorities had a tug en route and were going to just tow it clear and let it burn out or blow in the middle of the harbor, clear of traffic.
Our crew got the fire out and under control just as the Tug was rounding the end of the pier and coming for us.”
Air Craft Carrier Balcony
“We were just off the coast of Japan, heading to Yokosuka from San Diego. It was a pretty active typhoon Season and the carrier was skirting the fringes of one storm after another, keeping out of the worst weather. As an Electronic Warfare Tech, I had special access to a balcony, that most others did not. On this balcony were two of our six Mk-36 SRBOC Chaff launchers Along with a pair of Ready Service Lockers to house the Chaff and Flare rounds.
Now there were four different balconies housing our Chaff launchers but this particular one was on the right rear corner of the ship, just below the flight deck. Because the landing portion of the flight deck was at an angle, this put our balcony directly under the ramp at the back of the ship where the planes pass over to land. I could easily underhand soft toss a ball into the air and strike a landing jet, that is how close they are passing directly overhead. What an awesome location to watch landing aircraft from, right?
So here I was. Not a Carrier sailor, having spent all my time aboard a cruiser. This was literally my first time aboard a carrier, having reported aboard the day before we left on deployment and we had not even reached our first port of call yet. There I was on this balcony located directly under the ramp and watching planes land right over my head in rough weather and a pitching deck. I was so utterly clueless.
It was late in the evening, around eleven o’clock at night. Not only was I watching the landings on probably the absolute worst place I could be, no one had a clue I was even out there. No one could even see my location from anywhere else on the ship and no one but us Electronic Warfare Techs had any reason to ever even go out on this deck. I had a watch to get up for and had not slept yet. I had to be on watch at three o’clock in the morning. Most of the planes had landed already and what was a plane a minute, was down to a plane or two every five minutes as the last few stragglers landed.
I did not see the last plane still coming in as I turned and left the deck. Had I seen it, I would have probably stuck around a few more seconds to watch the last plane. I had just closed the watertight door to the outside when there was a boom loud enough it could only have come from a crash on the deck.
An F-14 Tomcat from VF-51 struck the ramp and fireballed across the flight deck, wiping out where I was just standing not ten seconds earlier. This was the scariest moment of my naval service. Fortunately for me, the only injuries I received were to my pride and my underwear.
No one was killed in the accident. The officer on deck sprained his ankle when his chute came down on a parked aircraft on the flight deck and the pilot came down in the wreckage and flames and suffered severe burns, was med-evacuated off the ship and eventually back stateside to San Antonio. He returned to flying sometime later after recovery.”
“I was on my first ship in the South China Sea in the early 2000s. I was around twenty years old in the U.S. Navy.
We were doing an Underway Replenishment, where you get two multi thousand-ton ships within two hundred feet of each other, doing about fifteen miles per hour on a parallel course in order to transfer fuel and supplies. Sounds slow and easy, right? The next time you’re a passenger in a car on the highway, stick both of your hands out the window and try to keep them both going parallel in the wind. It’s not so easy.
This was the third attempt of the day. Which is to say, we tried twice during daylight, and the seas were just too rough. We kept getting pushed together or pulled apart. So, it didn’t happen. The third time was the charm. It was in the vicinity of sunset, all of this was now being done with lights and glow sticks, instead of visually. The seas had calmed, and everything was going normally.
We tossed our lightweight lines over to the refueler. They retrieved them and attach them to a heavier line. We began to haul lines over. We took in the pilot line, took in the messenger, and later hauled in the mainline. This brought the span wires over. Span wires are around one-inch wire ropes that connect the two ships, which the refueling hoses ride on. The messenger line has a pelican hook attached which allows the mainline and span wire to be easily attached to it.
We then began to haul in the fuel hose, from one ship to the next. It’s harder than you think because the refueler maintains tension on the hose line to ensure it remains controlled. The fuel hose fails to seat in the fuel receptacle. Not once, but twice. The refueler had to take the hose back about a quarter of the way twice, and we hauled it in again.
With the fuel hose finally seated, the mainline and messenger began to be sent back to the refueling ship. They own them, so we had to give them back. The sea had started to get a little rougher in the past hour. The venturi effect had started to cause harmonic waves to crest about six feet higher than average between our two ships. We were tired. This was the third time we had tried to do this. Only about half of the folks who were supposed to do this had shown up this time. As we passed the lines back, we became complacent.
The line dipped low and hit that higher crest of wave between us. All of a sudden, it was being yanked out of our hands faster than we were handing it back. We recovered and got it out of the water. It happened again and we recovered again. The third time was not the charm. At this point, the line was ripped out of all of our hands and careened across the deck, like a deadly pit viper over three hundred feet long. Remember that metal hook?
As the boatswain’s mate screamed, ‘Become the paint! Backs to the bulkhead wall.’
While pressed against the wall, I saw sparks, as the metal hook was careening down the deck at around thirty miles per hour.
I was trying to follow the mate’s advice and become the paint, all the while thinking about how this hook could skitter to the side and wrap around an ankle almost faster than thought and yank an unlucky soul, perhaps mine, through a roughly four by eight-inch oval in the wall.
I didn’t die. Nor did anybody else. None of us were maimed, thank goodness. But it was absolutely the scariest thing that I was ever a part of in my naval career. But we took on fuel and managed to complete the mission.”
“My father who had been a seaman for forty-five years was sailing on the North Atlantic in the winter somewhere in the 70s. He was the captain on a forty-five-hundred heavy lift vessel. The weather was really severe with waves approaching twenty meters high. In the middle of the night, he was steering the vessel by hand, with low speed and the waves were on the bow. The chief officer’s wife and also the chief engineer’s wife, who joined the vessel on their voyage this time, were on the bridge as well. Both were scared, as the wind was howling around the bridge and the waves, which broke on the vessel’s bow, slammed against the accommodation. At a certain moment, a huge wave approached from a different angle than before. My dad claims he felt the wave coming. The vessel lifted to more than forty degrees. My father was cursing and yelling to the vessel to rise up again at the wheel. According to my father, it was like the vessel was thinking what to do, rise up again, or turn over. Right at this moment, a small wave hit the vessel on the right spot, and the ship slowly went upwards again.
Later, when the storm passed, the chief officer’s and the chief engineer’s wife mentioned that my father was the bravest man they had ever met, as he did not show any fear. He told them he was more scared than both of them together, as he felt the huge wave coming.
Until the day my father died, he didn’t sleep on this night in February again.”
Rough Alaskan Water
“When I was on a sea-born search and rescue mission in the U.S. Coast Guard in rough Alaskan water, the small boat I was on found a person. He was on a narrow shelf of jagged rocks sticking out of the sea about a mile from shore. It was about ten degrees with rain, sleet, and wind all together at the same time. We had to run up to the rocks, quickly jump onto the rocks as the small boat backed off because the wave was receding. A tricky maneuver not for the delicate or faint of heart. I was the second person to do so.
At first, we thought the man was still alive. It looked like he had just curled up and gone to sleep but something was off. He had his heavy-duty rubberized long boots off and tucked under his head. He had let his feet freeze. Why was this? After we removed his body we found an old military weapon carefully tucked inside one of them. It looked like he thought that since his feet were already saltwater soaked he would use the boots to keep his weapon from freezing. It was the last thing he could be in charge of.
Unfortunately, we also found his old worn military dog tags. He had been in the Coast Guard. One of ours.”
“I was on the flight deck one night during carrier qualifications for pilots. I was up there because I was an aviation electrician and classified as a flight deck troubleshooter. During aircraft recovery operations I liked to stay partially behind the island so as to avoid being hit by any airplane parts that might come my way but not so far behind that I couldn’t see the airplanes upon landing.
One of the aircraft from my squadron was having trouble coming aboard and had several bolters and wave-offs. On His last approach, the right main landing gear hit the round down and sheared off the gear. Somehow they caught a wire and had a successful trap but the right wing tip was on the flight deck. I came around the backside of the island to see the airplane with both engines running at takeoff power and both crewmen out of the airplane, they had left the scene as fast as they could.
The deck crew was frantically trying to get the engines shut down but had to wait for a ladder. When the ladder finally came no one started to climb up to the cockpit so I did. I started to shut the engines down but hesitated when I noticed that the ejection handle on the right armrest was turned halfway to the eject position. Since I had to lean into the cockpit to shut off the engines I was having second thoughts about my decision. I completed the job and went to find the ejection seat guru to come and put the safety pins back in the seats. I wasn’t going back up that ladder!
There were more scary moments in my short Navy career but this one seems to stand out.”
“Ballistic missile submarines have two crews in order to maximize their underway time. Every hundred days or so, the crew rotates. The new crew spends a few weeks in port doing repair work, then it’s back out to sea for the crew.
Before heading out, it’s not uncommon to run a few trials where to test out the boat, a period jokingly referred to as ‘angles and dangles’ as the sub is pushed at flank speed in abrupt changes in depth and heading.
I was up in the forwardmost compartment on the ship, the torpedo room, and we were rocking, rolling, and diving at top speed when suddenly I felt the boat shudder as it hit something below us. For a brief, terrifying instant I thought we were about to lose watertight integrity, which at this depth would have pretty much been the end at the very least the end of me, as my job would have been to try and shut the torpedo room hatch right behind me before the water filled the compartment.
Fortunately for me and the hundred and fifty other men aboard, our Captain had a ‘feeling,’ and had ordered the sub to level out, and ended up just brushing the bottom of the ocean. The device that tells the depth of water below the keel was not working correctly.”
“My uncle got a degree in maritime engineering back in the ’60s. He was hoping to become a ship captain. But the war in Vietnam was winding down and long experienced naval officers were flooding the job market. He ended up with an odd but lucrative career working on boats and ships all over the world. Some of the best jobs were working on huge yachts for super-rich guys.
In the ’80s, a hurricane almost wrecked some rich guy’s fabulously expensive catamaran in the Caribbean so the owner put into Veracruz and sold his yacht to the insurance company. A dive trip company in Australia bought the damaged boat. My uncle was hired to participate in the repairs.
Major repairs in Mexico to a boat like this take forever. Ninety percent of my uncle’s time on the job was waiting around for repair parts and equipment. Then once the boat was repaired in a drydock, as they were putting it back in the water, they redamaged it by bending the drive shafts. The trouble was discovered while transiting the Panama Canal. Once again, the yacht, under sail now, was put into Mazatlan in Mexico for more repairs. Months passed.
On the west coast of Mexico, Americans would bring their yachts down from the U.S. and hire crews in the Mexican ports. The locals were not trusted so they would pay top wages for temporary employment for any American they could recruit. While my uncle and his comrades were waiting around Mazatlan, they shipped out on a pleasure boat headed for Panama for sport fishing.
There are hundreds of little islands off the west coast of Panama. At one point, the boat was put into a small bay on a little deserted island. It was such a pretty little spot that they spent three days there camping on the beach and snorkeling.
As they were getting ready to depart, one of the sport fishermen, a man from San Francisco, brought up a curiously shaped, heavy, barnacle-encrusted elongated cube-shaped stone as a souvenir. He had located a flattened pyramid-shaped pile of them in about twenty feet of water in the little bay. Obviously, they presumed, some ship from long ago had put into that same bay and unloaded their ballast for whatever reason and thrown it in the water. Life went on. My uncle returned to Mazatlan, the Australians eventually gave up trying to repair the catamaran, and everybody went their separate ways.
Four years passed then my uncle got a telephone call one day.
The guy from San Francisco had returned home and put the funny-shaped stone on the floor of his workshop and forgot about it. Then one day he got curious and cut into it. It was a forty-pound ingot of Spanish silver. It had an identifiable chop mark on it. It had been produced at a known silver mine in Peru three or four hundred years earlier. Now the men of the boat knew the truth about the pile of stones in that bay. A Spanish treasure ship was likely wrecked there and the cargo of silver had been abandoned. Historical records suggested it likely would have been around four tons of ingots.
But the problem was there was no GPS in those days. The men on that fishing trip could not remember where the pretty little island was. They all returned to the waters off of Panama for the treasure hunt. But there were too many pretty little islands and they all looked the same. They spent months searching and never found it. They had to do it surreptitiously or else the Panamanian governmentt would have seized anything they found.
They never located the little bay nor the treasure and came home. The pile of silver is likely still there.”
“Our fifty-foot ketch was crossing the South Pacific, a week out from the Society Islands. It was the middle of the night when my father, who had been on watch, quietly called me on deck. There was almost no wind, the sails were gently flapping and the boat was making no headway.
The skipper silently pointed astern. Miles away a large ship was overtaking us. Slowly it loomed closer, a very large freighter, holding a steady course. It is brightly lighted, but there was no sign of activity.
We swung our flashlights and lanterns. There was no response. I rang the ship’s bell and it was a tiny clatter in the vastness of the ocean. Without wind, we couldn’t maneuver.
The skipper swears under his breath, ‘Turn. Are you all asleep?’
The monster was less than a thousand feet away when we could be sure it was not pointed directly at us. Majestically, it passed a few hundred feet away. and we swept its towering side with binoculars. From stem to stern every foot was illuminated from the lifeboats to companionway to the wheelhouse but there was no sign of life. It was almost certainly on autopilot.
Then the wash of its wake reached us and we were almost swamped. For the next half hour, the Goliath slowly vanished over the horizon. They never knew nor cared that we had been there.”