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Memoirs

A NAVAL CAREER IN THE EYES OF COLIN ROSS – Pt. 36

We sailed for RIMPAC with the other fifty plus ships and had been divided into two opposing forces.  In the fleet were included the Japanese Navy and I believe this was the first time they had participated.  The Japanese Navy at the time was a purely defence force but their vessels were modern and pretty impressive.

For the next ten or so days we powered around the Pacific carrying out all sorts of actions.  The most impressive feature was being plane guard to one of the American nuclear aircraft carriers.  To take up and remain in station we were almost at full power for extended periods while they flew off their aircraft. Watching the carrier spit out aircraft was really mind-boggling.  No sooner did one take to the air than the next was being fired along the flight deck in its wake.

Powering around at 26-28 knots of course meant we were swallow copious quantities of fuel, so we were regularly required to fuel at sea.  This made for long and busy days.  I was regularly up during the middle watch, as the CO seemed to have a nightly wish to ring on over 200 RPM, which meant I was required in the MCR.

One night I made the mistake of entering the Operations Room just after we had come down in power.  Really was interested to see what was going on.  There were contacts everywhere on the radar displays and a lot of excited commands going from the Ops Rm to the bridge and vice versa.  There seemed to be ships heading in all directions and it just looked like chaos.  In seeing this I suddenly became aware how vulnerable we were during these exercises and it didn’t take much of a mistake to suddenly find we were on a collision course.  For some reason after this I didn’t sleep well at night on exercise!

The exercise obviously made its mark on the Ops Rm personnel and you could see the value in the exercise just from the experience they gained while working as part of a fleet unit.   I think everyone was glad to return to Pearl Harbour at the end and get some proper sleep.

When we berthed back in Pearl because of the number of ships we were berthed outboard of two other vessels with another outboard of us, so that probably gives some idea of the number of vessels engaged in the exercise.  One of the downsides of this berth was that I struggled to get ashore.

It seemed every time a plan to go ashore was hatched there would be either visitors from another ship arrive to see you or you would be high jacked going across the inboard vessels and have to go and have a beer or two on their vessel.  I don’t think I made the jetty once in that weekend.

The following week we sailed in company with three Canadian ships.  Whilst this was a lot more low key than the proceeding exercise the Canadian’s were very good at arranging exercises.  One was to get a senior crewmember to do the flag hoists.  I am sure the CO only knew my name, as I seemed to regularly be traipsing to the bridge to participate in another of these exercises.

The flag raising was interesting, although you had a Bunting Tosser telling you which flag and which way up it went it was surprising how difficult it was to achieve.  The wind across the deck would try and whip the flag away and even once you got the flag bent onto the halyard it was difficult controlling it during the hoist to the yardarm.   It did make you appreciate other people’s skills.

Another of the exercises was for a crewmember to become the Officer of the Watch, and yes up I went again.  This was a real eye opener; although the CO was on the bridge checking I didn’t wreak his vessel I never appreciated the difficulties of judging distance at sea with no real reference apart from the other vessels.  We were doing the age-old manoeuvre where the last vessel in the line pulls out of line and comes up in power to go to the front of the queue.

The pulling out of line and coming up in power was not too much of a challenge but turning back into line at the front of the queue and judging the course to make a tidy entry was a lot more difficult than I had thought, and we sort of over shot by a few metres when turning back into line.  However it was a really good experience.

There was also a night quiz between the ships, so a team was selected and up the Ops Rm we went to spend an hour or more asking and trying to answer questions from the other units.  I think we did fairly well as most Kiwi’s had a fairly wide general knowledge.

On passage there were also crew changes between ships.  The Chief Tiff from PROVIDER joined us for a day.  This was the start of a pretty good rivalry as we were aware that while we were in Esquimalt the McKenzie Marathon would be run and of course we were expected to participate.  Over a beer the Chief Tiff challenged me to race in the marathon, can’t remember how far it was, certainly was not going to be a full length marathon, so never one to turn down a challenge I took him up on it.

We had a couple of port calls before the marathon so I really should have taken the chance to do a bit of training, but being the lazy trainer I am I let the opportunity slide.  More of the marathon later.

The first port of call was Seattle.  We were there for the 4th of July and a spectacular fireworks display.  It was also the !984 election in NZ and as some will remember the Labour Party won the election only to be confronted with a Treasury that was nigh on bankrupt.  Within days they devalued the dollar.  This had a pretty drastic effect on the crew’s ability to go ashore and enjoy the local bars and restaurants as everything had suddenly become a lot more expensive with the dollar exchange rate being really a disadvantage from now on in the trip.

Whilst in Seattle a game of supposed Golden Oldies rugby had been arranged, so I was encouraged to find some rugby boots and join the older crew members in upholding our natural heritage.  We arrived at the ground to find the opposition all seemed to be 20 year olds.  The game got under way and we found we were chasing agile fit young fellows around the park.  At half time swapping our backline for theirs evened up the game.  I would like to say it was enjoyable but by the end I was very sore and absolutely knackered.

We had a few beers after the game and then went out to one of the local’s house for a barbeque.  The house was huge and stunning, right on the water’s edge.  No expense was spared and we were well looked after but I certainly was only looking forward to lying down to sleep.

From Seattle we went to Vancouver.  This again was a weekend visit and with our financial position most of the crew stayed on-board for meals and a few beers before going ashore, this cut down on the now expensive local food and drinks.

Quite a few of the engineering branch were flying their wives up to Canada, before we even left NZ we had agreed that those with partners would get a weeks leave in Esquimalt where we were to have a two week Assisted Maintenance period.  The two days of sea time between Vancouver and Esquimalt I had agreed to go on the watch bill and a couple of the CPO’s could remain ashore with their partners.

I was not however impressed when behind my back the remaining CPO’s had in agreement with the MEO set me up do the Breakdown Drills.  When this became apparent I informed them that yes I would do them but in future I would not help them out by agreeing to go on the watch bill to help them out.  I guess they may have got a laugh out of setting me up like this but in a sense it back- fired on them.

We duly arrived in Esquimalt and were to start our AMP, however the berth we were designated had no shore power or steam.  This was a pre-requisite for an AMP so it took some negotiating to get us shifted to a more desirable berth.  Then started a very intense couple of weeks of maintenance.  I am sure most people will remember how steam ships always seemed to have maintenance due or defects that require fixing.

We arrived on a Friday and this was the McKenzie Marathon day.  I couldn’t back out of the race so duly lined up and we were sent away to compete against the other ships alongside.  I only had one aim and that was to beat the Chief Tiff from PROVIDER.  I took off like a startled gazelle, and suddenly realized it wasn’t a hundred metre sprint so settled down into a manageable pace.  It seemed to stretch forever abut finally arrived at the finish to find the Chief Tiff puffing away a long stretch behind me.

As a result the beers were on him so the three Warrant Officers were pleased to visit his mess and drink his free beer.

To be continued

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