Sunday, June 27, 2010

Storms from the Past

Yesterday, i entered a long explanation of why this site and my current status is bring about changes along with what is a radical poem for me (at least of those i've shown to someone else). Briefly, we are undergoing some life changes and the site was hacked, sponsoring my rededication to make the site different and hopefully better - with the help of Walker Hicks.
Please read the explanation in yesterday's post. One change is more frequent entries, aka posts. Today's is below:

Storms from the Past

SAN DIEGO – By now, the waters should have subsided in Middle Tennessee, and the 1000 year flood is a memory wreathed in the losses among those hardest hit.

Although storms are few and far between in the Southwest corner, I have experienced the force of storms at sea. As I pored through the staggering photographs of Lebanon, Nashville, and other Tennessee towns in the the flood’s wake, I reflected on storms from my past.

Hurricanes, typhoons, and just plain storms fill a small but significant part of my past on the bounding main. The most interesting one happened on my last ship, the “U.S.S. Yosemite.”

In August 1984 with East Coast ships scarce due to deployments, “YoYo” was tasked to play the role of an “orange” adversary in a Caribbean fleet exercise. “JATO” rockets were installed amidships, and we went off to fire them, simulating a missile attack on the carrier battle group.

With the conclusion of our part of the exercise, the fleet scurried over the horizon and “YoYo” turned her bow toward Mayport, Jacksonville’s Naval base, and started home at a waddling 10 knots, pretty close to the top speed for a pre-World War II, 400-pound steam plant. The weather turned strange. It was one of those times at sea when there is no horizon. Our entire vista was gray, different shades, but all gray.

Strange Seas

In 1984, satellites were not available for weather reports, and we had not received any radio notice of bad weather. We wondered about the quiet, still grayness and the muddled sea around us.

On destroyer tenders, the executive officer also served as navigator. Lieutenant Noreen Leahy served as my assistant while filling the billet of operations officer. Noreen was one of the first women graduates of the Naval Academy and well-schooled in celestial navigation and piloting. Captain Frank Boyle and the two of us had not experienced seas like this before. Although it was calm, it was almost creepy. We were perplexed.

From the depths of my memory, an excerpt from and old version of “Knight’s Modern Seamanship” emerged while I stood on the starboard bridge wing one morning. The theory was if you faced into the wind and threw your right arm back as far as you could (about 115 degrees) your arm would point toward the center of a tropical depression.

I tried out the theory by attempting to face the wind. I moved to the port bridge wing and then top side to the flying bridge. There was no discernible direction to determine a depression center.

Eye of the Storm

I consulted the captain with Noreen listening in, “Captain, I think we are in the center of a tropical depression,” explaining my reasoning.

He agreed, and we altered course to the northeast, moving through the least dangerous quadrant of a depression. The winds picked up and back where we had been was indeed the center. After we had cleared sufficiently, the depression quickly became a tropical storm and then Hurricane Diana.

Back in Jacksonville, my wife Maureen heard the warnings and called Jan, a Navy doctor married to the “Yosemite” doctor, Frank Kerrigan (we four had become close friends). They both were from the Southwest corner and had no idea as to what they should do. On the ship, Frank and I wondered how our wives were faring as we stood out of harm’s way, about 500 miles northeast of Diana.

As the hurricane moved north, the warnings moved with it and were lifted for the north Florida area. The “Yosemite” once again turned homeward, finally entering the Mayport harbor three days after our scheduled return.

My Wife’s Hurricane

Frank and I had been greatly relieved when Diana only threatened to come ashore in Jacksonville and moved northward. We were glad our wives did not have to board up windows.

Diana rolled on up the coast, building up to 135 mph winds. A frontal system precipitated what the weather guessers call a cyclonic loop, decreasing her winds to around 90 mph. She came ashore at Wilmington, N.C. Although she never became the storm of massive destruction like Katrina, she did claim three lives and caused $65.5 Million dollars in damage before exiting to the Northeast.

It was Maureen’s only hurricane experience first hand. For myself, I will never forget being in the eye of a hurricane as it was forming in the Caribbean.

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